Elizabeth sat in her small kitchen, reading her newspaper when she first heard it.
Knock, knock, knock.
Looking up from her paper and setting down her coffee, the long haired brunette stood up and moved towards the front of her tiny cottage, to the wide front door made of solid oak. Peering out the peephole, she didn’t see anyone or anything… but nevertheless, she opened the door to investigate further.
She found nothing on the path leading through her garden from her white picket fence, which was still firmly latches and closed off. Morning dew glistened on the grass growing in her yard, undisturbed by any passerby. Her flowers, all yellow and orange like the sunrise far in the distance, were just beginning to open to welcome the sun’s warm rays. The one tree she had, a solid Cyprus tree that had been in the family as long as the cottage had been, sat lonely and unattended, the leaves on its branches rustling softly in the wind. A strong summer breeze carried the floral scents of the forest around, swirling in great clouds in Liz’s yard.
Shrugging, she closed the door and moved on into her home, passing by the staircase leading to the loft upstairs. Returning to her cozy kitchen, she moved the coffee pot off of the burner and onto a worn slab of slate that she used to allow things to cool. Pouring herself another cup of her bittersweet drink, she jostled when she heard it again.
Knock, knock, knock!
“It’s coming from the front of the house,” She said to herself, setting her mug and coffee pot aside. Turning, she looked down the hall towards the front door, watching it. She went from curious to intrigued when the knocking started again, but obviously not from the front door.
No, this knocking sounded like it was coming from beneath the stairs.
“Maybe the pipes are thumping against the walls…” She muttered, turning back to her coffee, stirring in two spoonful’s of sugar as she made her way back to her seat. “I’ll have to call a plumber out here soon.”
And so this was how Elizabeth’s day went, a great knocking occurring every odd minute or so. It persevered through her laundry, through her gardening and even through her pottery painting time. Finally, she had enough.
Walking up to the wall beneath the stairs after a particular rapid series of knocks, she pounded on the wall. “Keep it down, some of us are trying to work!”
Her shout silenced the house for a moment before a loud creak was heard from beneath the floorboards. Looking about she went outside, grumbling over the insanity of it all, as she fetched a sledgehammer. She was going to find out what that noise was, even if it meant she’d have to have a carpenter come by instead of a plumber!
Dragging the heavy sledge behind her, she moved in through the doorway and into the hall, the heavy hammer head making a dull thud with every board it passed over. Stopping at the widest point beneath the stairs, Elizabeth stared at the wall for a moment, daring whatever was making the noise to do so again.
Ever so slightly, as if now timid, she heard the knocking on the other side of the wall, a mere rapping of knuckles it sounded like.
That was enough for her, as she lugged the hammer up over her shoulder and brought it down in a wide arc into the wall, splintering the old wooden boards with the savage strike. Pulling the hammer free she struck three more times, opening a hole the size of her head in the wall, a cool cover of darkness hiding beneath the stairs.
Huffing and puffing, she set the sledge down and dropped to her knees, trying to catch her breath. Looking at the hole, she couldn’t see anything within it… and frankly didn’t know what to expect. The house had been in the family for so many generations that it’d never been mapped out where the plumbing was. Grandpa had tried after Grandma passed away, but he just didn’t have the energy for it. Looking at the dark hole, Liz blew out a sigh and stood up on wobbly legs.
“Now I just need a light…” She said, walking back into her kitchen to fetch a lighter. It’d belonged to a past boyfriend who smoked, something he’d left behind when he’d left her. The metal lighter could hold a flame for minutes with minimal fuss, so it would be perfect to use in looking into what was beneath the stairs.
Walking back into the hall, she smiled at her handiwork; busted plaster and fractured pieces of wood littered the ground… and the knocking had stopped! Now, she was finally going to get to the bottom of this!
Flicking the lighter on to a small, dim flame, she knelt down in front of the hole and cautiously stuck her arm in, peeking around to see what she could. The area beneath the stairs was dark, and cold… and filled with metal contraptions the likes of which Elizabeth had never seen. A large metal tube, split down the middle, sat across from the hole in the wall, while chains hung from the rafters. Everything was covered in a fine layer of dust, the room undisturbed for who knows how long.
Knock, Knock, Knock…
The knocking, this time, was coming from within the large metal tube, which upon further examination appeared to be shaped more like an acute V than a U, with five latches running up a seam in the middle. The knocking continued on, hollow and tinny as Elizabeth stared at it, wondering what could possibly be inside it.
“I don’t like this…” she murmured as she brought her lighter back into the warmth of her home, flicking it closed. Her resolve wavering, she just shook her head and told herself a carpenter was what she needed.
Then the knocking started up, this time, louder and longer than before. Ringing inside te metal of the tube, it echoed up from the hole and out into her living room, bouncing off her cottage walls and making her nearly scream in frustration.
“Alright!” She screamed, her speech slurring as she stamped her feet. “Screw this, I am tearing this apart even if it kills me!”
Taking the sledgehammer back to the wall, she spent the next ten minutes hammering out the old wood and creating a hole big enough for her to walk into, onto a set of creaking stairs that led down into the darkness of what appeared to be a basement she never knew she had. Fetching the lighter once more, she allowed the flame to dance as she stepped into the cold air of her newly discovered room. Looking down the stairs she could see an old writer's desk, the screen closed, along with several barrels that had been broken. Cobwebs spread over the remnants of long rotted food that sat in the midst of the wreckage, a foul scent wafting up to Elizabeth’s nose. It was a saccharine smell, mixed with the biting scent of rot and mold that she’d come across in the forest when she went out gathering mushrooms.
Slowly walking down the stairs, she kept a wary eye out for anything that would be the source of this scent, knowing that old rotten fruit would hardly cause such a stink. Passing by the writing desk, she stopped when she noticed a letter sitting beneath a layer of dust. Picking it up (and shaking it off) she saw the letter was written in her native tongue rather than German; odd, considering the fact that her cottage was technically on German soil. Lifting it up close enough to the lighter, she began to read.
To whoever finds this letter,
We have been without food for five days now and without water for two. We dare not exit our hiding place as the Gestapo has been searching houses more frequently, and our host is doing his best to hide us. But with heavy hearts we cannot allow our children to starve to death, nor can I allow my wife to watch as we handle our children. So I took it upon myself to end their suffering and am now preparing to hang myself. To whoever finds this letter, I truly wish that you have escaped the wrath of the Nazi’s and that you have dealt with the man who owns this home in a right and just manner, for he has trapped us down here. What other reason could there be for his absence?
Elizabeth was amazed at what she read. She knew her great-grandfather had been involved in the war, defecting from the Germans after France was retaken by the Allied Forces, but she would never have dreamed he’d have sealed a family in his cottage and left them! Thinking back on the few times she met the old man, he had always told stories of how France was during the war time, but never any tales of Germany. He had never even mentioned the cottage she knew he left to his son, her grandfather. How could he have kept this a secret for so long?
Knock, knock, knock!
Elizabeth spun so fast, her lighter went out, giving her only a momentary glimpse of what was behind her, knocking. Flicking the lighter once, twice, three times she began to panic. She could hear movement down here with her, along with a continual knocking of knuckles on wood. Finally, she sparked a flame to life, revealing a twisted form swaying back and forth before her.
Eyeless, with skin like leather and gums, pulled back into a horrid snarl, the creature moved forward with a sudden lurch as Elizabeth screamed, backing away. Shadows danced across the leering face of the creature as it pursued her, before inexplicably retreating back into the darkness. Breathing heavily, choking on the vile stench, Elizabeth struggled to gather herself, before shrieking as the creature lunged out of the darkness once more, this time turning to watch her drop the lighter, the flame catching on some scattered papers that littered the ground, creating a small fire that illuminated the rest of the basement.
The gruesome creature that had lunged out at her was, in fact, a man, or had been; a length of chain wrapped around his neck had long ago stopped his ill-beating heart. His clothes were dusty and tattered, his shoes merely dried up scraps of leather. Behind him was the body of another person, though this one seemed to have had their head caved in. Clutched to the side of the corpse were two other smaller ones, their heads bashed in as well. They were stiff from ages of dry, cold weather, but the larger corpse held onto them tightly.
“Oh my God,” Elizabeth said, bringing a hand up to her mouth. “This must be the Aldrich family…”
The crackling of the fire popped and snapped as she stared at the bodies, taking in the full sight of the dead Jews before her. How horrible must it have been to have starved before killing your family then yourself? Elizabeth shook her head, too afraid to do anything else.
The monster sniffed the air once, one long rattling sniff that caused its body to shudder as if in pain, or pleasure. It went still as it lowered its head until it’s empty sockets were “staring” straight at Elizabeth. Shaking like a leaf in the breeze, she stumbled backward as the monster approached her, walking calmly with fists curled up at it’s sides. She stepped on the burning paper, singing her foot enough to have her fall on the ground.
The creature dropped to all fours, crawling over her, its foul breath rolling over her like a fog. Looking at the fire as it slowly went out, the last image in Elizabeth’s views was the desiccated cadaver’s face pulling into a vicious snarl.
“Danke,” it whispered hoarsely, it’s hand slapping over the glowing embers of the fire to extinguish them before Elizabeth screamed, the monsters arms beating down on her with hammer blows, the third knocking her unconscious.
Author's Note: Next on the hop is Katie M. John across the pond in the United Kingdom! She has a book series out and is working on the next, and could use your input on what she should add! I'm certain she'll have other stories just like mine so go on over and check her out!