The July Selected Story is by Alexandra Seidel
Please feel free to email Alexandra at: email@example.com
BONES FOR A PILLOW
by Alexandra Seidel
The first time I was absolutely certain that something was wrong was when I found long black hairs slithering out of the vacuum bag. They looked withered and dusty; straight. Staring at them I imagined that once they had been shiny, lustrous even, but creeping from the round hole of the bag they were as lifeless as ancient spider webs in a forgotten tomb. I should mention that I was the only one living in the house and also that I have shoulder length blond curls. These black hairs, they weren’t mine and that said, I had no idea whose they were.
I mentioned the house. I moved into it in the spring, while flowers were blooming all over the front lawn. I remember when I first saw it and how the realtor was telling me that everything was brand new, even the lively yellow paint on the outside walls. I realized two things immediately when I saw the big rooms and how the sunlight hit the shiny wooden floor boards: first, I loved the place; second, it was probably too expensive for me, never mind that it was obviously too big.
And that was why I was so surprised when I actually heard the price from the realtor’s lips. Not because it was higher than I had feared but because it was so very low. As I asked her why, she just shrugged and said that the owner had given her this price. When I think back, I can’t be sure, but I think that she would have liked to say something else, something more. But that moment passed, and whatever it was, explanation or warning, it died in her throat and was washed away with a sideways glance. At the time, though, I did not care and I certainly didn’t ask. The house was a gift horse after all, and I signed the papers almost immediately.
It really was a big house. While I was carrying in all my stuff and arranging all the furniture I owned, I saw that there was more room, more emptiness in this house than I knew how to fill. Yet, when I was sitting down on the floor one evening, the first evening in the new place, I realized I liked it that way.
It was that same evening--I remember it because I was trying to find a place for this very ugly vase my grandmother had given me--that I found a fingernail stuck in a crack of the floor boards.
It was not whole or shiny but chipped and battered, dyed gray with dust and dirt. I took the ugly thing between thumb and forefinger, disgusted as I did so yet determined to get rid of it, and I carried it out of my house and threw it in the trash. I figured that, since the house had been completely redone very recently, some construction worker had had a minor accident and so I didn’t think anything further of it. Only later when I found the hairs did I seem to recall faintly that the fingernail had been long, too long to belong to any sensible construction worker.
But back then, I was in high spirits and something so small and seemingly insignificant could do little to change that. My recent promotion, which had made the move necessary, kept me busy at work and I liked that. I was excited to attend a business conference a few weeks later.
It was at that conference that I met Darren. He came up to me, picking me out of the crowd as if he’d planned our encounter. Darren was cute and confident and I loved his smile and the way he walked like he owned the ground beneath his feet. He seduced me and I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy every second of it. But ours was not just a fleeting affair; funny enough as chance encounters go, he lived in the same city as I and we made plans to meet again soon at my place.
I think when he first walked through my front door, he said that he had lived in a house just like this. So you lived close by? I had asked him. He shot me a smile and said, Yes, you could say that. I hadn’t realized that he had given the words just like this when he referred to the house a funny twist. And his smile a moment later might have looked somehow odd. But I didn’t care. I was in love.
He had brought a bottle of red wine and we finished it off sitting on my couch. From there we moved to the floor, undressing each other and exchanging kisses. His strong arms pulled me beneath him, pressed my back and my buttocks against the cool wood. My hair curled around his fingers like wild vines and from there it flowed down to the floor boards, over them and perhaps, like roots searching water, quested beneath them. I slung my legs around Darren and pulled him closer, deeper. Our moans echoed around us like ghosts in my almost empty living room. When we were finished, the wood floor beneath us was damp with sweat and pleasure.
Darren came over often and that made me happy. It’s not like we never used the bed, but Darren preferred my living room floor.
Sometimes I thought I heard something else apart from his and my sounds of lovemaking: there was sobbing when we kissed and something like a toneless wailing when our hearts beat faster, but it was all so faint, so almost-not-there that I was quick to dismiss it as a trick of my mind. Despite my attempts at ignoring them, the sounds were always almost there. Almost. I was never sure.
And they followed me, all the way into my dreams. In the morning, I could never recall my dreams exactly but I did remember the sounds, no matter how faintly, I did remember them.
And that was when I found the hairs in the vacuum bag.
The sight of them alone made a cold shiver run down my spine. Was I scared? More disgusted at first, I think. I took the vacuum bag and threw it away, out off my house and into the dust bin. I was angry that those hairs had dared intrude into what I had come to think of as my home. And I was furious that I didn’t know how to explain their presence.
That day, I went to the living room to clean so I could work off my anger and confusion. While I was dusting the low coffee table I caught a glint in the corner of my eye and turned my head towards the part of the empty living room floor it had come from. It was where I had discovered the fingernail. It was where Darren would lay down my head and slide his tongue into my mouth. Nothing was there. I went down on my knees, leaned over and my face came close to the wood and the cracks where one floor board tried to meet but never quite touched its neighbor. I could smell the dust in the cracks. I was just about to get up again, assured that nothing was there, when I saw something white.
I couldn’t reach whatever it was I saw with my fingers and so I got a knife from the kitchen that caught the low autumn sun on its blade. After several tries, I finally succeeded in getting the thing out.
I sat there with my mouth open, a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach and nausea rising slowly like a balloon filled with hot air. I was staring at a tooth that shone like withered bone in the drooping rays of the fading sun. It was a human tooth, and it wasn’t small enough to be the tooth of a child either, to be explained away as a carelessly lost baby tooth of somebody who had lived here before me. A tapping sound startled me and it took me a second to realize that what I’d heard was the sound of my own tears painting dark circles on the shiny wood.
I called Darren. He eventually came over. He was very calm and reasonable and succeeded in convincing me that the tooth had been some remnant of a worker, some unfortunate accident but nothing to worry about. I don’t know if this was rational but it was a convenient thing to believe as it had been with the fingernail.
I never even mentioned the hairs to Darren. I wanted to forget about them and telling him would have made them more real, too real.
It was at that point that the nightmares came regularly. They ate at my energy and clouded my mood and it got harder and harder to keep my rising fear to myself. All I remember about the dreams is darkness and dread but no details. I woke up sweat-soaked nearly every morning before dawn.
That winter, Darren had to leave for a few weeks. His mother was in hospital and she wasn’t doing well. I was left behind, alone in the house with all the emptiness that I could no longer bring myself to like.
Daylight was a rare commodity as I had to work long hours, leaving before sunrise and coming home long after sunset. If I had to be totally truthful I think that I worked as much as I did in order to spend as little time as possible at home.
One night I woke up thirsty. I don’t think I’d had a nightmare. Not that night, anyway. I got up and went downstairs to the kitchen to get a glass of water. I remember the wooden floor as a biting cold touch to the pink softness of my bare feet. In the kitchen I recall the flowing water making gurgling noises in the sink before it filled my glass. When I was just about to take a sip I heard a sound from the living room and, ever so cautiously, I turned around.
I hadn’t turned on any lights, but a full moon shone through the window casting a pale light and strange shadows. On the floor I could see some curling inky lines that I couldn’t place. I suppose I could have gone back to bed then, but I didn’t. I was afraid as I’d never been before in my life but there was also this sick curiosity. I wanted to know. I had to know.
I went into the living room, my cold bare feet hardly making any sound. I squatted down. I looked at the curling lines and I just had to touch them to prove to myself that I wasn’t seeing things.
They looked like hair, long black hair growing from in between the cracks. It was the hair I had seen in my vacuum bag, the hair I had thrown out and tried to forget about. I thought back to Darren and me making love in this very spot and how my hair must have twisted its way to where this was coming from, how my hair had touched this, many times. It made me feel unclean and tainted.
My fingers reached out to touch the black strands, and to my shock, they were real. I took them in my hands and pulled but they wouldn’t come free. Then, they suddenly reacted to my pull by snapping back beneath the floor boards with all the speed of a striking serpent. I was struck with icy needles of shock and horror; naked fear. I tried to scream but my throat was dry and the sound was tiny compared to the size of my terror.
I scuttled backwards until my back bumped into a wall. There was a tapping from the floor boards. From the other side of the floor boards. It sounded as if somebody was drumming a small wooden stick against the boards.
I knew that I had to crawl back to the sound and investigate. I could feel the wood vibrate under my hands. I looked into the cracks but couldn’t see a thing. I moved my head down, so close that my lips were brushing over the wood. I could smell dust and something else. There wasn’t much light here but what little there was reflected off the eyeball that suddenly locked gazes with me.
I stared back, too shaken to move a muscle. Never will I forget that eye. Crazy with madness, angry beyond comprehension, and red, so very red. Blood vessels had burst or were about to, swollen on the white background. The iris was dark and the black pupil focused on my own.
There was a groan then, long wailing, and it ripped me out of my trance. I hurried to the garage on shaky legs to get some tools. I knew I had to tear open the floor boards, suddenly certain that the person under the floor was imprisoned and needed my help.
I pulled with all my strength, pulled and pulled until tears were flowing down my cheeks like rivers and sobs had made my throat tight. I put down the tools and I pulled until my fingers were bleeding, my fingernails having surrendered to the hard wood.
I was too late, of course. The first thing I saw was the white of fleshless knucklebones. Then an arm, pelvis, spine and finally the skull, veiled by dirty black hair. She was under the floor boards, caught like a rabbit in a snare. She was dead.
I was sick in the kitchen sink. My mind was reeling and I was wondering whether going mad feels like this and whether you can actually feel when you’re going mad. I didn’t know what to do, panic had left me helpless. I called Darren, I think because I wanted him to comfort me, to make me able to handle what I had just seen.
He agreed to come. He was there very fast, too fast considering that he was supposed to be with his ailing mother. But perhaps I was just in shock and confused the time, I cannot say. He let himself in when I didn’t react to the door bell. I never paused to wonder how. I hadn’t given him a key yet.
I was all in shambles but he was so very, very calm. He looked at the corpse but wasn’t really scared or shocked or anything. He turned towards me.
“Have you called the cops?” he asked.
“No,” I said, “I called you.”
He came over to me then and took me in his arms. He kissed me the way we usually kissed before we made love. I didn’t want to just then.
His kisses cleared my mind and made all the details burn bright in my consciousness, much too bright.
It’s so cold, my bare feet on the wood and Darren warm, but not to warm me. He pulls me close and pushes his tongue into my mouth. When I try to get away he grips my arm in a way that will leave bruises. My pajamas are torn off in seconds and he has me on the floor, underneath him. I hear him unzip his pants and feel unbearable hot pain between my legs. Adrenaline keeps me focused all the while. I do not want to think of the grave under my living room floor. I have left the tool box here and it is so close, too close. I fight as hard as I can, but he is stronger, he holds my wrists and keeps me pinned down. I see him grab a hammer, see the hammer come down, aimed straight for my head. The last thing I hear before I pass out is the sound of one of my teeth as it clatters to the floor.
Darren walks around in the house as if he owns the place. He cleans up everything and replaces the floor boards, the last one directly over my knucklebones. If my muscles still worked, I would drum them against the wood.
Darren’s muscles move visibly under his shirt, just as if he is used to that sort of manual labor. He smiles. How I used to love that smile! When he is done, he strips down and has a long shower in my bathroom and dries himself with one of my towels. His manner shows routine, even when he closes the door behind him and leaves, though his smile says he won’t be gone for long.
We stay, and every so often, other hair tickles our faces from the other side of the wood and in return, we let our own hair creep up and wander. Our fleeting eyeballs peer up sometimes and it’s not like we could help that, because beneath this wood, there is no room for us to turn our heads away.
Alexandra Seidel likes writing scary stories and poems. Incidentally, she also likes writing funny stories and poems; in the grander concept of things, that surely makes sense.
Alexandra’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Space and Time Magazine, Cabinet des Fées, Star*Line and others.
She was born and grew up in Kassel, home of the Brothers Grimm and their fairy tales (and of an eerie museum of sepulchral art and culture).
Feel free to check out Alexandra’s blog at: http://tigerinthematchstickbox.blogspot.com/