It was 3 in the night when it began to drip again. Stephanie tried to muffle the sounds with her pillow, but knew it wouldn’t help. The drops struck the ground in a dull splat, each slowly eroding away at her carefully lined up defences. An all too familiar feeling of malaise and helplessness began to settle in around. She could feel her stomach muscles clench up in response. She could feel her stomach muscles clench up in response. She had searched the house many times, shut down every faucet, even clamped the main water pipe, but the dripping persisted. The sounds came every night with clockwork precision and would die down by early morning, leaving her drained to fall back into an uneasy slumber.
She had searched the house, shut every faucet, and even clamped the main water pipe. But the sounds would still come every night. They would die down by early morning, leaving her drained, to fall back into an uneasy slumber.
Initially the sounds irritated her. But with no apparent reason in sight, her irritation had quickly changed into a discomfiting feeling. Even the real estate agency who had advertised the house for sale had remained mum to her repeated queries.
She tried to ignore the sounds and sleep. There was still a lot of cleaning to be done. In spite of being at it every day, the house still looked the same. Several rounds of scrubbing the floor and dusting the furniture had not helped. She longed to make this place cheerful, put up some bright curtains, pick some wild flowers from the garden for her kitchen window. Make it into a home….her home
She curled herself up in to a ball and tugged her blanket closer.
But tonight was different. The sounds were more invasive, as if mocking her, chiding her for her failures. She felt a quiet rage building up and opened her eyes. The house looked back at her, cold and remorseless.
“Will not let you win this time! You hear me!” she screamed back at the house, her rage finally spilling out. She got up with a renewed sense of purpose. Today, she would find out what was making those sounds; even if it killed her.
She reached out in the dark for the match and the candle by the side of her bed. Once lighted, its quivering glow gave her some semblance of control over her situation. She started with the faucets, all 9 of them in quick succession. She then moved into the basement. The water pipe was still clamped shut.
Now only the cellar remained. She stood outside the oak door, hesitating. The cellar unsettled her. It was dark even during daytime and always smelled musty and dank. The cellar was used by the earlier owners for curing ham and smoked meats. Later it mainly functioned as a storeroom for the things the house had collected over the years. Old books, furnishings, utensils, lawn awnings, all harking back to a warm and welcoming home, now distant and empty.
But today she would leave nothing to chance.
“Just this cellar and then I can go back to bed.”, she comforted herself.
Armed with her candle in one hand and the other on the wall, she gingerly felt her way into the penetrating shadows of the cellar, a darkness so deep and consuming that even candle flame wavered for a second. She prayed she could get this over with and retreat back to her bed soon. The wall felt cold and damp against her hand. She shivered slightly.
Suddenly she stepped on something soft and stepped back hurriedly with a scream. It was merely an old teddy bear with tattered ears and one eye missing. But there was still something very endearing about this grinning one eyed gentleman. She hugged it close, its soft fur comforting her in the cold darkness.
After a few minutes, her fingers sensed something. This section of wall felt cooler that the rest. She peered to have a closer look. This part of the wall was whitewashed, while the rest had been painted. Putting an ear to the wall, the sounds seemed louder, she noticed, with growing excitement or was it her imagination? Hope tinged with fear tugged at her heart. Maybe this was it.
She looked around with a growing sense of elation. She could arrange for help in the morning and tear the wall down and shut down those sounds forever.
But did she want to wait another day?
“I can do this on my own!”, she thought with growing courage.
As if an answer to her prayers, she spotted an old iron crowbar lying behind the dresser. She picked it up, feeling its heavy reassuring weight in her hands.
Placing the candle carefully on the ground, she began a series of blows to wall, hitting away venomously at the very belly of this unfriendly refuge. At first there was no visible damage, but soon the thin plaster started to give away. She struck back with renewed vengeance, each angry strike bringing her closer to the sounds.
Finally one brick gave in, falling away with a loud crack on the other side, creating a foot wide hole.
She peered in. At first she could not see anything much. It was very dark. She could only make out the shape of something big and heavy swaying slowly in the dark. She poked the candle through the hole and tried to prod the object with the crowbar to bring it closer.
The object lurched ahead and what she saw made her fall back on the ground in horror, a quiet scream clutching at her heart, draining her of blood. Hanging on by the meat hook, the other Stephanie peered back at her with vacant lifeless eyes. The blood dripped slowly from where the hook had pierced her in the chest.
“No, this couldn’t happen. Her mind was playing tricks.”, she thought wildly.
Suddenly it all began to come back to her like an old movie spooling itself.
She was in the cellar, cowering behind the old dressing table, when Jack found her. Her dear husband Jack, the ever smiling Jack. He was smiling even then. She begged him, pleading for the sake of their little boy. But her 5 million inheritance was much more valuable.
Yanking her by her hair, he pulled her out screaming, his eyes cold and unyielding. As she felt his hands close around her neck, she tried one last time. Kicking him hard on the shins, she ran ahead, stumbling in the dark, flaying wildly at the meat hooks hanging from the ceiling. He struck her then.
She looked down in surprise and saw a red stain growing on her gown. Strangely enough she dint feel any pain, only a cold wetness and a deep yawning sense of loss seeping through her chest. only a gnawing sense of loss seeping through her chest. The loss of never seeing Tom grow up. She struggled weakly, but the hook only cut in deeper. Jack left her hanging like this, her blood slowly dripping her life away.
She walked away from her body, empty and listless into the house. The unrequited calls, the futile attempts at cleaning, the utter loneliness, all made sense now. How many years had she been wandering like this, she wondered. And what for? To discover betrayal…? She cried out a deep aching wail at the senselessness of it all and folded into the ground, her sobs ripping away at her soul. She dint know how long she continued to lie on the ground crying.
It was almost light when she got up. She felt strangely calm. It was as if her sobs had emptied her of all her anguish. At least the search was over, she thought wryly. She wandered to the half boarded window. Dawn was just breaking across the horizon with a wide purple pink grin.
And then she saw him, walking towards the house. She knew. It was him. The same fair hair, the same cornflower blue eyes, the same endearing way of cocking his head when listening to something. He was all grown up now, her Tom she realised, her eyes welling up with tears.
He was not alone. There was a young lady who came bounding up behind him, chattering gaily.
“Hey wait for me mister!”
“Aren’t you going to carry me over the threshold like a good husband?”, she stomped in front of him in mock anger.
“Of course Missus!”, Tom said with an easy laugh.
Picking her up in his arms, he looked at her for a long moment.
“Wish mother was here. She would have loved to meet you.”, he continued quietly.