Teenage Catherine meets Devin and Vincent and falls in love - the question is - with whom?
Once in a lifetime, you find the one you really love
For now and forever one love that never ends
Once in a lifetime
when every star that lights the sky
Will shine for one reason
Leading your heart to the one love you find
Just once in a lifetime.
There was nothing. Nothing more to look forward to, no sight no sound no feeling… No, that’s not true. There was feeling but it hurt, it hurt like nothing had ever hurt before and it was tearing great chunks out of Catherine’s young heart. Her throat sore from sobbing, and a great aching void deep within her heart Catherine didn’t even have the strength to wipe her tears away, allowing them to glide down puffy cheeks, swollen eyes overwhelmed with a flood impossible to contain gushing over eyelids and running in crystal rivulets onto the pillow beneath her head. Catherine felt not the sodden pillow or her hair wet by tears and plastered to her face. In fact being able to hide beneath its sullen curtain suited Catherine. It created the dark shield that she needed at that moment to shut herself away from well meaning people that continued to bother her, cooing their sorrow asking if she was alright. What did they expect that she’d be jumping for joy? Of course, she wasn’t alright! She didn’t think she would be alright ever again. Fresh tears galloped behind those past and came out in great choking sobs that threatened to snatch her breath and kill her. Catherine didn’t care. At that moment if she died too, it wouldn’t matter. She’d give anything, anything to go where her mother had gone, even if that meant leaving her father alone.
With that thought in mind, Catherine wondered just where her mother was at that very moment. She found it hard to imagine since it had never been something she had reason to ponder before. Her grandparents had died before she was born and never before had she encountered a death in the family that gave her cause to speculate on life after death. It was abhorrent to her that her mother might be living where she could no longer see her, or touch her or feel her mother’s arms around her or tucking her into bed at night and singing her favourite lullaby. It were those things, the simple taken for granted things that Catherine would miss the most, as well as the love, love unbounded, a mother’s love for her only child.
Fresh tears fell and Catherine panted for breath and wondered if she might ever feel warm again. The room was heated but her skin felt cold and clammy and she ached to have her mother’s arms around her so much, to lay her head against her mother’s breast and know what it was to be loved.
Hearing the sound of the door cracking open Catherine remained motionless. If one more person asked how she was, she would scream. Poised for action she therefore relaxed when firm arms gathered her up from the bed and held her tightly against the roughened texture of a stiff new jacket, black in colour, scented with her father’s favoured aftershave.
“Honey, let it go, let it all go. I’m here, I’m here.” The soothing words crumpled her further and she clung to her father feeling the loss of her mother even more in his arms. He was all she had left now. The only solid thing in her world providing two walls where there had once been four, two walls so easily capable of falling down and leaving her totally unprotected and alone. “Don’t leave me Daddy.” Catherine sobbed.
“Never honey, don’t worry, I will never leave you.”
“That’s what mommy said.” She sobbed.
“And mommy meant it. Cathy honey, mommy will always love you, and she’ll always be with you and…” his words trailed away as his daughter cried, “but I won’t see her daddy, will I? I’ll never see her again will I?”
It was the hardest thing he had to do, but Charles knew he had to tell her the truth, “No. Not in the way that you mean. But she lives on in you and me, Cathy, we will never forget her and we still have each other. I love you darling.”
“I love you too daddy, but what happens when you have to go away?”
“I’ll take you with me.” Charles knew that could pose some problems especially when he was interviewing clients or in meetings, but he couldn’t do anything else now. To leave Catherine with someone now would be awful. She couldn’t undergo something like that, not so soon after her mother had died and his heart constricted at that thought. It was hard enough even for him accepting that his lovely wife had died. He didn’t think he would ever get over the loss, thank God for their daughter, at least in her he could find some comfort.
“But what about school?” Charles hadn’t thought of that. Sometimes he’d be gone for a week, not that one week mattered, but when he went often Catherine would miss a lot of schooling.
“Would you stay with Peter?” He ventured to ask.
“Peter? Our doctor?”
“Yes, that Peter. He’s known you since you were born. And you like Peter don’t you?”
Despite her grief, Catherine forced a smile, “Yes daddy, I like Peter. Do you really think he’d let me stay?”
“Oh yes most definitely, probably give him something to do.” Charles chuckled, he knew how Peter enjoyed Catherine’s company especially over the chess board, a game he had picked up from somewhere only recently and challenged everyone that visited to play a round with him. Charles had never beaten him yet for whomsoever had taught him had taught him well.
“Then I’ll stay with Peter. Is he still here? Will you ask him now?” Catherine pulled out of her father’s arms and gazing into his eyes waited anxiously for his reply.
“Yes he’s still here. Shall I send him in?” Catherine found a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth and she let it go until it brightened her sullen features into a full fledged grin, “Are you asking me to ask him, daddy?” She teased.
“Oooh transparent aren’t I? Yes, honey, how will he ever refuse you? He might make up some excuses if I ask him, not that he wouldn’t want to look after you, no not that at all, its just well you know Peter, he likes his space. Sometimes I wonder if I actually know him at all. It’s like for all the years we have been friends there are still some aspects of Peter that are a closely guarded secret. Hey maybe you’ll find out what that is!” He laughed, as did Catherine. She knew what her father referred to. Sometimes when Peter said he’d be home he was out but he said he was in which made them exceedingly suspicious and decide he had a girlfriend that he kept locked away at his house which was ridiculous but funny to presume nonetheless.
“Okay Cathy, I’ll send him in, want to go and wash up first?”
Catherine nodded, if Peter saw her face now he’d be all over her, thermometer in her mouth before she could say Jack Flash, stethoscope to her chest, his hand on her brow, concerned as only the family doctor and their friend as Peter could be.
“Give me five minutes.” Catherine told her father as he made for the door and she for the on-suite bathroom, “And don’t tell him I’ve been crying, okay?”
Charles hesitated at her words, “Just so long as you don’t withhold them when he’s gone. Its good to cry Cathy, tears are healing, don’t bottle it up okay, you’re mother wouldn’t have expected you to be strong.”
“Just so long as you don’t do too then.” Catherine replied knowingly. She knew her father was trying to be strong for her sake, but she would have preferred that they sobbed together, that way they could draw comfort from one another.
“I promise.” He brushed away an errant tear. “What say tonight we’ll get out all the photographs, pour over them and remember all the happy times?”
“I’d like that, thanks daddy.”
Drawing a deep breath Charles smiled, they’d be in for a traumatic evening, but both would come through it because they had each other, they just had to be strong and hopefully Peter in whatever capacity he deemed necessary would help out, friend or doctor they’d need both in the coming weeks and months ahead. Charles missed Caroline so much it was like something was eating its way through his heart and rendering it impossible to keep on beating. But for his daughter he would resolutely force such feelings away. Thank God they had each other.
Stepping from the room Charles watched his daughter go into the bathroom then checking his watch he made his way through the crowd of friends and colleagues searching for a glimpse of Peter.
*** *** ***
“Hi honey, can I come in?” Peter popped his head around the door and with a smile directed it at the young slip of a girl sitting upon the bed watching the door, “Were you expecting me?”
Forcing a smile Catherine nodded, “I have something I want to ask you.”
“Anything honey, you know you can ask me anything. What’s the problem?” Closing the door firmly behind him Peter walked across to the bed and sat down on its side twisting his body so that he might face her. There taking up one of her small hands in his he waited knowing whatever she wanted to ask would come in its own time in her own words.
“Peter, when daddy has to go away on business can I stay with you?”
“Honey of course…” His sudden acceptance trailed away, “How long for?” He asked as he thought of something.
“For as long as he has to be away. It might be a week, but he doesn’t have to go away anytime soon, will it be okay then?” Catherine was unsure, there had been something in Peter’s tone. That secret again she supposed.
“Honey, you can stay with me for as long as you wish, only there might be a time or two when I will be called out, but my housekeeper will be there so you’ll never be alone.”
“That’s okay.” Catherine told him brightly while inside she was thinking, mm housekeeper that’s interesting, is she Peter’s mystery friend?
“That’s settled then. Anytime your father has to go away on business, you can come stay at my house. You will still have to go to school though, no wagging, promise?”
Catherine laughed, “I promise, thank you Peter.” The bright smile that crossed her face at her reply slowly faded as she remembered once again what had rendered her time off school at that moment and a sob caught in her throat, “I miss her Peter.” She cried throwing herself into his arms. Peter didn’t need to ask whom, he knew how close mother and daughter had been, like two peas in a pod.
“There now honey, just cry, let it go, let it go.” He hugged her tightly allowing the tears to fall and soak his jacket without a care in the world, and Catherine found healing for her soul. Peter was different, he truly cared, not like those that had wandered in and out all day with their words of consolation and their advice on ‘don’t cry, dry you’re tears everything will be alright.’ How hollow such advice was. Had they never lost a loved one to death?
Briefly, Catherine wondered if her father and Peter were the only ones of a kind, she had yet to meet anyone that understood how she felt not only in grief but with everything. In everything, both had been there for her over the years, they and her mother. She had been cosseted and loved and wrapped in candy tuft where it was soft and safe and warm and she wanted never to leave that beautiful place.
Her father found them there when he popped his head around the door some half hour later. With Catherine in his arms, Peter supported her as her tears flowed, offering tender words of comfort and love and Charles’ heart went out to the scene he’d interrupted. Drawing the door to a close he let them be, knowing his daughter was in safe hands with his good friend Peter, and Charles thanked God for him too. Friends like Peter were few and cherished, hard to imagine that there could ever be others like him, but Charles supposed there were people like that out there somewhere, only he was yet to find them. People like Peter and Caroline were ones in a million and he had been lucky enough to find them. Maybe, hopefully in time his lovely daughter might find someone of her own someone that would compliment her as Caroline had complemented him. Charles hoped so, for his daughter was a wonderful kind-hearted soul that would blossom with someone as caring as Caroline had been to him and love like he and her mother had shared came only once in a lifetime. There and then, Charles prayed that his lovely daughter would find such a love and he prayed for it with all of his heart.
*** *** ***
In the weeks, months and years that went by Catherine spent many happy hours at Peter’s house. Some of those times were invariably sad whenever she thought about her reason for staying there, and the loss of her mother never completely subsided. Such a loss was never really eradicated in anyone. But in the main, Catherine learned to remember the good and happy times spent with her mother and because of it, her relationship with her father was enriched.
He in turn tried to spend less time away and more with his daughter never losing sight of the fact that but for Peter and his timeless patience, Catherine had become even more of a compassionate soul than the one she was before. And it didn’t surprise him when she announced that rather than follow in his footsteps and be an attorney she did in fact want to be a doctor instead.
Of course, at thirteen, Charles knew that his daughter had plenty of time to change her mind yet again. And he could only hope that by the time she graduated from school and chose her subjects for university she would again want to take over his company in law, but he in no way tried to persuade her from doing anything she had made up her mind to do. If she still wanted to be a doctor by then well so be it. Part of him greatly believed that a woman’s role in the working world was limited anyway. The time would come when she would leave off to be a wife and a mother and then any career would go by the board so nothing mattered. Still he would like to have had her work with him if only for a while, it might lead to the only way that she would meet and marry a lawyer, then he’d have a son in law to take over the reins of his business when Catherine had to stay at home to look after the children. He might even have grandchildren that would follow in his footsteps. Daydreaming wouldn’t get him anywhere though, Catherine would do whatever her heart told her was best for her, he knew that…still there’d be no harm in keeping his fingers crossed Charles reasoned, no harm at all.
*** *** ***
Startled, Catherine looked up from her studies and gazed at the open doorway leading into the study. ‘Whatever was that sound?’ she asked herself straining her ears to listen. It seemed to have come from down the hallway or more importantly from the basement to where Peter had gone.
Listening intently, Catherine reached absentmindedly for the cup of hot chocolate that Peter had brought to her on his way downstairs and she grimaced when she realised that must have been longer than she had assumed since the chocolate was now stone cold. That in mind, Catherine’s heart raced, what if that bang had been something falling on Peter? Worse still, what if that bang had been Peter signalling for help long after something had fallen on him?
Pushing back her chair, Catherine rose and exited the small cream and green room, with its light oak furniture decorated so to provide a relaxing atmosphere to would be scholars. Hesitantly, she hovered at the doorway wondering if she should really go down to the ‘off limits’ basement to see if Peter was well. She knew how he liked to go there to select certain files and in fact, some of the basement had been turned over to a laboratory. That last thought seized Catherine by the throat, what if…oh no…what if that bang had been something exploding into Peter’s face? What if he had been mixing chemicals and had added a bit too much of something. This thought made her quicken her pace and she hurried to the basement door reaching the knob and turning it just as it turned the opposite way from the inside. Stepping back, Catherine encountered Peter coming out and she gasped with relief, dismay and fright all at once.
“Catherine?” Peter queried. She could tell by his tone that he was not pleased to see her there.
“Peter, are you alright? Only I heard a noise, I thought…” Her words trailed away by the look in his eyes.
“I’m fine!” He actually snapped at her and Catherine felt hot tears prick at the back of her eyelids.
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t prying, honest. I thought you were injured. I thought something had fallen on to you or something had exploded. Peter, please believe me!” She shrieked the last.
His face softened and he apologised, “I’m sorry honey, forgive me. Only you know the basement is off limits to you. There are some very confidential files down there. Of this whole household, cleaners, housekeeper you, and any other personnel that has to come in from time to time, only I have the key to the basement.” And as if to prove that point he inserted the key from his hand into the lock, turned it and checking the door was secure, replaced the key into his pocket.
“Well at least you’re alright.” Catherine murmured suddenly intrigued. Something about Peter’s countenance told her that whatever was down in that basement had more to do with some ‘secret’ rather than old files and chemicals but she let it be. It was his business and his house after all. Then she giggled and couldn’t help asking, ‘is there a monster down there, Peter?” she’d intended it as some kind of Frankenstein joke but he really blew his top, and Catherine was stunned.
“What do you know?” Taking her by the shoulders he shook her hard, “Cathy, what do you know!” He demanded.
“Know?” Catherine’s teeth rattled, “What is there to know? Peter, it was only a joke.” She whimpered, “You know Frankenstein and basements and all that.” She mastered a grin.
Again, Peter’s face softened as dawning became apparent, “Forgive me, I’m sorry, but well I thought you had been down there…seen something…you know?” He spoke apologetically.
Catherine shook her head, “No, and how could I? You carry the only key.” She reminded him.
“Yes, of course, you’re right. But promise me Cathy, that you’ll go nowhere near the basement, ever. Do I make that clear?”
“Perfectly, sorry Peter.”
“That’s okay. Now would you like another cup of hot chocolate? I’m going to make one, it’s a long way back and I’m thirsty.” He told her absentmindedly.
“A long way back?” Catherine giggled, “Why how deep is that basement anyway?”
“I beg your pardon?” His eyes were once again alert and guarded.
“You said it was a long way back and you were thirsty, I just wondered…” Catherine’s words trailed away, she wished they could get off of this subject it was beginning to make her nervous.
He fumbled for a decent answer, “Oh nothing, sorry. I mean the stairs are steep, nothing more, sometimes it feels as though I have to travel miles to get back up here.” He grinned and averted his gaze giving Catherine the distinct impression that he was lying. She ignored it and replied instead, “Hot chocolate would be wonderful. I never drank the last one you left because…” She was about to finish that she had been too engrossed in her homework to realise the passage of time but he snatched up on her words immediately with suspicious intent. “Were you listening at the basement door!” He barked.
“No, Peter! No, I was doing my homework. You know that!”
“I assumed that you were, whatever you were doing on the other side of the door where I couldn’t see you, is another thing. You know honey, I think it might be better if your father found you somewhere else to stay in his absence.” Peter told her sternly. He was clearly suspicious of her.
Tears gathered and fell from Catherine’s eyes, “But I wasn’t doing anything wrong! Look, come and see how much studying I got done while you were gone. I even let the chocolate go cold because I was so engrossed, Peter believe me!”
Again, maybe for the third time in a few minutes Peter’s face softened, and he apologised profusely. “I must be tired, and there are some problems on my mind, you know work stuff, forgive me honey. Forget what I said about going elsewhere, of course you can stay here.”
“You’re sure?” Catherine asked timidly she didn’t want to be anywhere she wasn’t wanted.
“I’m sure. Now how about that hot chocolate? And we’ll forget all about this little incident huh?”
Catherine nodded, Peter thought it was in agreement with all that he had asked, but only Catherine knew different. She might be agreeing to the hot chocolate but in no way would she forget ‘this little incident’ as he so called it. For something was amiss down there in the basement, Catherine was sure of it, and if Peter’s demeanour had been anything to go by he was up to something, and she shuddered. For despite how ridiculous it may be the thought of Frankenstein’s monster simply would not be dispelled from her mind.
*** *** ***
Seasons went by, and the ‘little incident’ was never mentioned again, though there were times when on her approach to the study Catherine’s eyes were averted to the basement door just ahead of her and she would wonder about the ‘monster’ all over again. This was one of the reasons why she asked Peter if she might be permitted to study in the room she slept in while with him, unable to suggest it before because she knew his rules about refreshments in the bedrooms. Thus, she was surprised when he agreed without preamble. “What if I want a drink while I’m there?” She asked just to be sure.
“If you use a tray and keep crumbs to a plate it should be alright. And if there are any little mishaps well you know how to use a vacuum cleaner don’t you?” He had grinned, before adding, “So long as you don’t take burger and fries up there, a sandwich and a beverage should be fine.” Catherine couldn’t shake off the feeling that he was exceedingly happy that she had suggested using the bedroom to study, nor the fact that the reason behind it was so obvious. Way up in her bedroom she was as far away from the basement door as she could possibly get, leaving him free to come and go down there as often as he pleased without her ever being aware of it. And so up in that room with its sunny corner, Catherine set up her own little library and beneath the window would do her homework, looking up from time to time on the outside world as she sought for some answer or another set by her tutors.
Life was reasonably good, and at almost fifteen, she was perhaps, old enough to begin staying at her own home when her father was away on business. She never truly felt alone in that house. Memories of her mother kept her company. That was the difference to being at Peter’s where the room she slept in was void of such happy times and at school certain celebrations wouldn’t be so dramatic if she could stay at home on the eve or nights of such celebrations. Thanksgiving, Christmas among many, times when memories were particularly nostalgic and Mother’s day. The time when all the other kids at school would be talking about what they had bought their mothers. Such times, pulled on Catherine’s heartstrings and she was glad when her father’s trips out of town never coincided with these days. For then she could go up to her own room and feel her mother surround her as if she really was there. Yet there had to come a day when no such luck afforded her this sanctuary, when her father simply had to be away on business the very same day as every other kid was giving presents to their mother, and in turn was lavished with hugs and kisses for the gift of remembrance as much as the gift itself.
So trailing her way toward Peter’s house, books clasped to her chest Catherine ambled miserably along, wishing for anything that might transport her to her father’s house where she might curl up in her mother’s favourite rocking chair and dream her own particular brand of happy dreams. She’d stayed at school as long as she’d dared that day. Hoping that in so doing she might avoid the time she would have to spend in Peter’s house, able to mix with her tutors a while longer, able to put off the thought that it was Mother’s day and she had no mother to give anything to. That hurt, that really hurt and so she stayed at the school until the caretaker brought round the keys and ushered her out of the building. And so it was late when she arrived at Peter’s house, not that he wasn’t expecting her, but in the lull of her late arrival had presumed that her father had stayed in town after all and she had been able to go home. So that when Catherine arrived at Peter’s house and let herself in, Peter was nowhere to be seen and Catherine went straight up to her room to get changed out of her uniform and into her comfy jeans and sweatshirt.
She studied, emptying her mind of all she had learned that day onto paper, and eventually satisfied that her homework was done Catherine set off for the kitchen to make herself something to eat. Peter wasn’t there either, and the dining room was empty even though the kitchen afforded her with the truth that he had not prepared any meal for himself that evening. Briefly, she wondered where he was and if he would be long, and whether or not she should prepare something for him. And then she wondered if she could go to her own home, since she might as well be alone there with memories of her mother than alone at Peter’s house without them.
It was as the ping, of the microwave alerted her that her bowl of soup was ready that she made her decision, it was growing dark outside and as much as she’d like to leave for home, she would stay where she was. Peter would be home eventually, he was probably out on an emergency call and he would fret to find her gone when he arrived home.
Her soup and toast digested, Catherine stacked the dirty crockery into the dishwasher and switching off the kitchen light as she exited the room, she stopped outside in the hallway and pondered on her next move. Never one to pry Catherine was thus surprised when her first thought flew to that ‘little incident’ of months ago regarding the basement and before she had time to tell herself she shouldn’t she found her feet taking her in that direction. Along the way she kidded herself that she was going to the study, that she needed some books, that she needed a pen, some paper, an envelope, anything rather than accept that she was being plain nosy. And as she reached the study door she did in fact hesitate, her nerves getting the better of her and she went inside to sit at the desk in the cream and green room with its light oak décor looking about her as if she hadn’t realised what she had missed these last few months. It was indeed a spectacular room and gave off a relaxed air the moment she sat upon the firm leather chair behind the desk.
‘I’ll stay here.’ She told herself aloud, trying to convince herself that was what she had intended all along. Pulling some paper towards her and a pen Catherine began to daydream and doodle and it wasn’t until her eyes really focused on her drawing and she saw Frankenstein’s monster in front of her did she sit up startled knowing it had never been completely far from her mind. That accepted she swivelled the leather chair round to face the door, still ajar as she had left it and with eyes of X ray vision imagined what was beyond the door, down the passageway and inside the basement. She imaged many steps leading down, steep steps into a gloomy, dank and smelly basement. One light bulb swinging from a draught coming from somewhere outside, a bench whereupon lay some figure disjointed and weird, wired with all kinds of electrodes and Peter bent over some scalpel poised and wielding his own form of medical magic over the creation beneath his hand. Clapping a hand to her mouth Catherine stifled a shriek of laughter and berated herself on her stupid daydreams, followed by a fit of giggles as to what her Biology tutor might say if he knew what she was thinking.
She could picture him now; “I hold up Miss Chandler’s assignment, everyone, take note please. We see before us the blueprint of Miss Chandler’s ‘monster’ I have to ask…” he turned to face Catherine, ‘”Did you get the idea from Miss. Smythe?” Everyone burst into laughter and the tutor added, “Excuse me, forget I said that and if anyone should tell her I shall deny it okay?” He heard their chorus of agreement and disagreement. Though some thinking that the said Miss Smythe, the school’s head and oldest spinster and probably the oldest virgin ever to have walked the earth was indeed a good model for Catherine’s monster.
Catherine giggled and wondering if she might get a good grade for her creation looked with her mind’s eye again toward the basement, wanting to know what was down there while shrugging to realise that she doubted she ever would. No doubt that’s where Peter was now, no doubt he was doing whatever Peter did while down there, then she giggled again, maybe he kept his stash down there. Maybe he had narcotics and wine stashed away, maybe he was a junkie?
Laughing out loud Catherine shrieked when the telephone at her elbow sounded and startled her to death. She snatched it up as much to shut out the shrill tone as to answer it, ‘hello?’ she asked into the mouthpiece.
“Cathy? You are there. Its Peter.”
“Peter, where are you?” Catherine asked feeling invisible fingers crawl across her skin. She was alone after all, alone in Peter’s big house with that ‘monster’ in the basement. She wanted to slam down the receiver and ran screaming from the house.
“At the surgery.” He wasn’t but he couldn’t really say he was standing at a phone booth in Central Park having just left the tunnels by way of another route as he saw one of the residents to a waiting ambulance, could he?
“How long will you be?” Catherine asked nervously one eye on the study door, knowing the basement door was only feet away.
“Soon, I’ll be there soon. Are you in your room?” He knew she couldn’t be, there wasn’t a telephone in there. In fact, there were only two in the house, one in the kitchen and an extension in the study. Suddenly he was suspicious, the phone hadn’t rung many seconds before she picked it up, so wherever she had been in the house she had to have been in either of those two rooms. But why would she be in the study? It was months since she’d been down there.
“No.” Catherine’s mind was racing, what could she tell him? Where were the phones in his house? How many extensions were there, she remembered there was one in the kitchen but that was all, other than this one in the study of course.
“Have you eaten?” Peter asked hoping to glean her whereabouts from her answer.
“Yes, I had some soup and toast. I wondered if I ought to put anything on for you, a casserole perhaps?” she grimaced and hoped he wouldn’t agree, she had never made a casserole in her life. In fact cooking was probably her worst subject at school. Fortunately Peter knew this, “No don’t worry I’ll make something when I get there. I’m not very hungry as it happens, I ate out earlier.” It seemed improper to ask her again which room she was in, but Peter had to know. “Are you in the study?”
Catherine panicked, her voice too shrill she lied, “No, I’m, I’m in the kitchen. I was fetching myself a drink, some hot chocolate…where do you buy this stuff Peter, its delicious.” She hoped to pacify him. She didn’t. Two things Peter knew, speaking to his housekeeper from his surgery to his kitchen, certain sounds would echo back to him. The whirl of the storage heaters, the hum of the refrigerator beside the phone, both of these were absent and more importantly, the most important of all at that moment, the fact that he had used the last of the hot chocolate only that morning and had discarded the empty jar to the bin. Catherine was in the study…he was certain of it!
“I’ll be there in about ten minutes Cathy, don’t open the door.” After her lie she presumed he meant the door leading out to the street, but he had in fact meant the door to the basement and hoped that if she could realise he had seen through her façade she would know exactly what he was referring to.
“Okay Peter I won’t. I’m going up to my bedroom anyway. Think I’ll have an early night, I’ve to sit an exam in the morning.” She heard the relief in his voice with his reply, “Okay Cathy, pleasant dreams.” He disconnected the call.
Standing there, the receiver in her hand by her ear, Catherine listened to the whirling sound left behind until a recorded message told her that the call was ended and she put the receiver back onto its cradle. And she’d fully intended to do as she had told Peter to go up to her room and get an early night and she would have done too, if it hadn’t been for one fact as she left the study.
Down there in the basement, she was sure of it, something had moved, or exploded or woken from a deep sleep, and Catherine bolted for her bedroom and remained hidden in a wardrobe shaking violently with fear and dread. She remained there until she heard Peter come in some half hour later and call out and only then, did she leave the wardrobe and crawl beneath the blankets of her bed.
*** *** ***
After that day, Catherine adamantly refused to go back to Peter’s house and after many arguments on the subject, Charles finally relented to allow her to stay with a friend on the nights he was out of town. And a time or two consented to Catherine having what he considered a trusted friend from school to stay over at their house leaving the two alone together but with the knowledge that the other girl’s parents were only at the other end of a telephone line. In this, he was reasonably happy, though he couldn’t for the life of him understand why Catherine would not go back to Peter’s.
Peter too was suspicious, deciding that while he had been out that night Catherine must have seen something, or heard something that had scared her witless. Though she had been in bed asleep when he had gone to check on her, she had been awfully quiet the following morning, her eyes diverted in the region of the basement whenever he had caught her off guard. Even quizzing his friends from the tunnels had not revealed anything and when they had gone into his basement to collect some fresh dressings for the injured party, the one that hadn’t been able to attend the hospital, the tunnel people had sworn that they had been as quiet as mice. Still he wondered about that blasted door. It had always stuck on closing and only a hefty shove had made it close tight…if Catherine had heard that when he’d been out…well it would provide the missing link to the answer that he sought.
It grieved Peter that Catherine was too afraid to visit him. Though there had been times when her presence at his house had proved nerve racking especially those times when he had been needed below. He would remember all his life, the times that someone had come into his basement and used the telephone extension to call him down for on most of those occasions he had been watching television or in conversation with Catherine and he would have to make his excuses and leave to attend a patient. The thing was he had two options open to him either to sneak out of his house and then sneak back in to go via his basement, the shortest route and the better route for the benefit of his sick or injured patient. Or literally go the long way around that was out of the front door, into his car and up to Central Park, then through the storm drain and into the tunnels. All this took time and often meant him getting a parking ticket too, not that he minded that so much in the face of helping someone, but the worst of it all was the length of time that mode of transport took. So, he’d opt as often as possible for the basement, and that posed the greatest problems. How much had Catherine seen? Or what had she suspected? Whatever it was, it had frightened her enough to prevent her return and try as he might to tell himself it was probably better this way, he couldn’t deny the fact that he missed her. His house of an evening was empty without her bubbly presence and he wished more than once that she would come to stay again. Still Charles had explained to him that Catherine was growing up, something he couldn’t deny as their conversations had attested to. He had felt old when she had related the music of this band and that band, and he could only remember ‘The Beach Boys’ and was surprised that they weren’t still having hits.
Catherine had laughed herself silly over that one Peter remembered with a grin as he sat sipping a glass of wine late one evening. He’s been reminiscing all day about his evenings spent with Catherine, and how he had taken for granted what he’d had at the time, or more to the point had been aggravated by her presence in a situation where an outsider didn’t fit. Now, alone, with no call for help from below, Peter missed her young company, her fresh approach to life and he suddenly felt overwhelmingly sad and alone. So much so, that without forethought he found himself reaching for the telephone and dialling the number for the Chandler house, surprised when Charles answered. “Oh you’re home, that’s good. How are you Charles its ages since we spoke?”
He could hear the smile in the other man’s reply, “I take it that’s Peter?”
Peter chuckled, “Oh yes, sorry it is me.” And laughed again, before continuing, “This is a social call, do you have time for general chit chat?”
“Actually we were just sitting down for dinner.” Charles began and Peter butted in, “Oh I’m sorry, I’ll ring back later shall I?”
“No, look why don’t you come over? There’s plenty to eat and we’d be happy to see you. Please join us, that’s if you haven’t already eaten?”
“I have, thank you Charles, but I will take up that offer if you don’t mind. Not to the food, no not that. Tell you what I’ll drive over slowly and by the time I arrive you should be clearing away the empty plates. We’ll sit and chat over a bottle of wine shall we? I’ll bring one with me.”
“Oh yes your home made elderflower I hope?” Charles asked brightly, “I take it you did make some last year?”
“Yes, tons. Its in the basement, I’ll bring you a few bottles, you should have reminded me, I’d have brought some over sooner. I admit to making rather too much of it, last year was a good year for elderflowers, I went a bit mad.” Peter chuckled at the remembrance of his buckets and buckets of elderflowers all over the place. “I’ll be happy to have some space in the basement again.”
“That’s good then. Good for me that is. Bring over as many as you can, okay.” Charles laughed, “Catherine has started to drink it now without falling asleep.”
Peter smiled, as both would remember another time when Catherine had drunk some of his homemade wine, it had gone straight to her head and she had fallen asleep under a table.
*** *** ***
The two friends said their goodbyes with a promise to catch up on all the news that evening, and Peter replacing the receiver smiled as the thought of the lonely evening he had imagined he’d have swiftly left his mind.
Merry with wine, Charles and Peter’s faces were wreathed in smiles as they reminded one another of occasions past. It had been too long since the two old friends had spent time together to sit chatting and remembering the past. Caroline figured often in their conversation this evening, and though Catherine sat close by and listened she in no way felt saddened by tales relating to her mother, rather she was whisked away to that enchanted place that mothers share with daughters with memories of her own.
So, Peter had been at the Chandler house several hours before the lapse in conversation turned his attention to Catherine, who trying to hold back a yawn was failing miserably. “We’re keeping you up young lady. You should go get some sleep. We’ll try to keep the noise down.” Peter told her with a grin. “In fact, Charles if you don’t mind, I think its best that I spent the night on your couch, if that’s alright with you? I think I’ve possibly had rather more than one for the road.” He grinned apologetically, knowing that for a doctor he should never allow himself to be over the limit.
“Yes, that’ll be fine. I take it its all locked up over at your place? Alarm on and all that?”
“Oh yes, I did that when I left.” Peter paused there was one thing he’d overlooked though, “If I may use your telephone there is something I’ve forgotten to do.”
“To your house? Sorry I shouldn’t pry. Forget it. Yes of course you may use the phone, you know where it is.” Charles gestured to the other side of the room, where a white telephone graced the cocktail cabinet.
“Can I use an extension, you know out of earshot, it’s a private conversation.”
Peter missed the knowing wink that passed from Charles to Catherine, as their housekeeper joke was shared.
“Yes of course. There’s one in the hall. Catherine can stay here until you’ve finished then she’ll no doubt go to bed, Cathy?”
“Yes daddy, I am tired.” Catherine responded sleepily.
“Then I’ll just be a minute.” Peter exited the room and closed the door behind him leaving Charles and Catherine free to remark in his absence, “What do you think dad? Will the housekeeper be there?”
“At his house you mean? Not sure. Did she often stay over when you were there?”
Catherine shook her head, “Seldom. Most of the time it was just Peter and me.” She shuddered and Charles was quick to notice, “Why did you do that?”
“What?” Bewildered Catherine drew her brows together.
“You shuddered when you told me that there was only the two of you at the house. Is there something else? Something you’re not telling me? Is that why you refuse to go back there?” Charles was instantly worried imagining all kinds of horrors, though he couldn’t imagine that Peter would abuse his responsibility. And if he had Catherine’s attendance around him didn’t display any mistrust. So maybe it was something sinister, like an apparition perhaps.
“Like what daddy?” Catherine tried to ignore the warning bells and make light of his questions with a grin.
“Like a ghost maybe?” Her father asked her deadly serious.
“A ghost! Oh daddy!” Catherine screeched with laughter, all the same he was awfully close to hitting the nail on the head and perhaps it would do her good to get it out in the open now that the opportunity to do so was before her, “Actually…” she began, and Charles picked up on it straight away, “Yes? Cathy what is it? You saw something, didn’t you?”
“Not exactly saw, but daddy there is something in Peter’s basement…” her words trailed away to a shrill whisper, and Charles was unable to question her further because at that precise moment the door handle turned making them both jump as Peter returned. One look at their ashen faces and he chuckled, “Did you two see a ghost? What’s the matter?”
“Nothing!” Both Charles and Catherine cried together.
Letting it go, Peter returned to his seat, something was wrong, but they weren’t about to tell him, well touché, he wasn’t about to tell them why he’d needed the telephone or whom he had to call, so they were quits. Instead he beckoned toward the door, “You’re free to go to bed now honey,” he said looking at Catherine, was he imagining it, or did she looked decidedly unwell all of a sudden?
“What is it?” Immediately, Peter was on his feet crossing the room and laying a hand to Catherine’s brow, “your temperature seems okay, but honestly honey, you look all in… you must be jolly tired. Why don’t you go to bed?”
“I will.” Suddenly Catherine simply had to tell her father everything. If she faltered now, she might never find the courage to tell him again, but with Peter there, dare she? Would it be better or worse if he listened? Maybe he could throw some light on things, perhaps her imagination had been the cause of all the sleepless nights she had had since her last stay at Peter’s house. Mustering her courage Catherine began to speak, “Peter, daddy and I were just talking about your house before you came in.” Did Catherine imagine it, or did Peter’s countenance become defensive all of a sudden? His reply confirmed her suspicions. “What about my house?” He asked with a hint of accusation.
“That’s what I’d like to know.” Charles commented, “Ever since Catherine’s last visit to your house she has been different almost as if she is hiding something, or hiding from something. Cathy, honey won’t you tell us what bothers you so?”
Yes, Catherine thought, I will tell you otherwise I’m going to go quite mad. “Peter, what’s in the basement?”
The direct question stunned Peter, who deciding that if she knew anything she would lead up to it, did not know how to answer. His first thought was to bluff, his second was to laugh his third was annoyance. “What’s it got to do with you!” He flared making Catherine recoil in alarm.
“I’m sorry, it’s got nothing to do with me.” Catherine replied timidly, while Charles at first too stunned to speak by his friend’s sudden outburst finally cried, “How dare you speak to Cathy like that, Peter you should be ashamed of yourself!”
Contrite Peter apologised, “I am, I’m sorry honey forgive me, but you caught me unawares. The things in the basement are confidential, I told you before that there are medical files and all that. Nothing to worry about.” He pacified her then asked, “Why, what did you think was down there?” He had to know what she knew. Her countenance told him there was more to her question than met the eye.
Unable to tell him what she thought he had down there, for appearing downright ridiculous or nosey Catherine replied, “I heard something. A noise, twice, and when you weren’t down in the basement. It frightened me.”
“What kind of noise?” Peter’s mind was racing, he knew that the tunnel folk had free access to come and go into his basement for medical supplies as and when needed. Which was why he’d needed to make that call tonight, to have a helper pass on the knowledge that he wouldn’t be home and that his house keeper was due in early the next morning.
“A bang. It was definitely a bang.”
Alarmed Charles cried, “A gunshot?”
“No daddy, not that kind of bang it was more like that of a door slamming. But there was no one in the house but me, and the basement door was shut. So what was it, Peter?”
Tempted to shrug and say, how would I know, Peter decided against that. Catherine needed answers and answers that would pacify her and prevent her from snooping in the future. “Must have been the window.” He remarked casually, “Its okay, no one can get in because of the bars covering it, but the catch on the window is broken and sometimes the wind takes it to and fro banging it against the frame.”
For the first time Catherine physically relaxed, ‘a window! Of course! How could she have been so silly? A banging window would make sense. “Phew that’s such a relief Peter!” Catherine exclaimed, “I thought you had a monster down there!” Immediately contrite Catherine clapped a hand to her mouth her eyes wide and incredulous as she realised she had given the game away. Charles grinned, “Ah now we meet the crux of the matter, you thought it was a monster all along didn’t you honey, and don’t try to deny it?” He laughed loudly. Peter did too.
“Well, okay I did, but put yourself in my shoes. Peter sneaks off to the basement at all hours, and when he’s not in there, I hear banging. Well not banging, actually it was one loud bang on each occasion. I’m sorry I let my imagination run away with me. I thought you were recreating Frankenstein down there, Peter.” Catherine hung her head apologetically expecting Peter to be annoyed or laugh at least, when he did none of those she looked up to meet his steady gaze, surprised to find that his eyes seemed to hold an apology of their own. He seemed hurt and Catherine detected that he seemed incapable of saying anything further on the subject, almost as if he had slipped away into some secret other world of his own.
“Peter?” Catherine ventured when his silence continued. Charles too was becoming concerned and stole a worried glance in his friend’s direction. When Peter did not reply, Charles touched his friend’s shoulder, “Peter? Is something wrong?”
“What? Wrong? Er, no, nothing’s wrong. Sorry I was miles away, forgive me.” He drew a deep breath and looking directly at Catherine asked, “So I take it you will be happy to return to my house after school again from now on, young lady?”
Beneath her breath, Catherine uttered ‘oh I wouldn’t go that far’ but aloud she asked, “Do you think I might bring a friend over with me? Or is that taking liberties?”
By way of explanation Charles added, “Cathy often has one of her friend’s from school stay over here while I’m away, I think the two have become inseparable, though she would not admit to it.” He finished with a chuckle.
That said, any argument Peter may have made melted away, and he nodded, “I see no reason why not, but just be sure to keep your friend away from the study and basement area, we wouldn’t want to have her going home telling tales would we? I could get myself a bad reputation.” He tried to make light of it, but Catherine saw through his veneer. No matter how well he had disguised it, no matter how unimportant he had made it sound, Catherine still believed that Peter was hiding something from her. Still what did it matter? With a friend at his house Catherine wouldn’t be set for flights of fancy, she and her friend Melanie would have plenty to occupy themselves in Peter’s large house, and the basement area being off limits would pose no problems. No problems at all. A wry grimace passed over Catherine’s face at this thought. Who was she kidding? Every young person loved a mystery and she and Mel wouldn’t rest until they had solved this one. Melanie already knew all the facts and she was as eager as Catherine to get to the bottom of this particular secret. Whatever Dr Alcott was hiding in his basement was set to become public knowledge number one if Mel had anything to do with it.
*** *** ***
“Hey this place is neat.” Mel looked appreciatively around Peter’s large house with its three storeys the top of which housed the attic and the bottom the ground floor and then the basement. There was also a first floor where the bedrooms lay each with its own en-suite and television so there was no need to leave that floor, except to eat. Peter did not allow food in the bedrooms, so the three would meet at mealtimes in the kitchen whenever Peter was home and that seemed to be seldom these days. When Mel had first accompanied Catherine to Peter’s house, Peter had made certain he’d been there on each occasion, mainly to vet Catherine’s friend until he was certain he trusted her as well as he might. He was aware that young people possessed the fine quality of pulling the wool over their elder’s eyes, but having much to lose, he knew he would have to know everything about this young lady, before he left her and Catherine alone in the house together.
So finally, when that day came, Mel wasted no time in tracking down the mystery that she had gone there to solve in the first place. Nothing else would have inspired her to accompany Catherine to the old brownstone, for she had better things to occupy her evenings with.
“How long does he usually go out for?” Mel asked as they watched Peter’s car disappear down the street.
“That rather depends. If he’s going to the hospital, it could be hours or all night even. But if he’s on call and visiting a patient, he might be home in an hour. Mel, you aren’t still intent on finding out what’s in the basement are you?” Catherine quaked, unsure that they should pursue this.
“Too right I am!” Mel responded, surprised that her friend had even questioned the fact. “The gang and I are taking bets on it.” She laughed derisively.
“You’ve told someone?” Flabbergasted Catherine could only stand and stare open mouthed at her friend. “I told you not to.”
“Well so what? If it’s as the good doctor says, only files down there, then what’s the problem? Why would we be interested in someone’s old medical files anyway? Not only that…” Mel broke into laughter, “Ever tried to read a doctor’s handwriting? It’s nigh impossible. So, what’s his problem? And its not as if we know the patients is it, the chances of that are very slim. So come on let’s check out his story.”
“And if it is old files, what’s the point? If Peter discovers we have broken in down there I’ll have the humiliating task of explaining why. I think we should forget about it Mel.” Catherine told her friend seriously.
“Well I don’t! Come on Cathy, it’ll be fun. Peter will never know if we hurry.” Mel tugged at Catherine’s arm eager to go downstairs.
“And how do we relock the door behind us, if we’re breaking it?” Catherine asked very unsure. She had never done anything like it before and was nervous.
“I’ve been thinking about that. We might not need to go through the door. In fact, since a broken door would constitute the blame being apportioned to us, it might be better if we go in through that window the one that Peter told you bangs about in the wind. Where would it face, the courtyard or the street do you know?”
“I’ve never thought about it. I don’t know its position, but the basement door faces west, so unless it goes right under the house all the way along, then I guess the window would face the street.” Catherine replied.
“Better and better, though trickier too. A window facing the street could be broken into by anyone. The problem is we will have to take more care not to be seen by anyone. At least we won’t need a ladder, the window should be street level.” Mel was pacing the room making her plan. Finally, she grabbed Catherine’s arm, “Got it, come on, let’s do this thing!” She sounded so excited, but all Catherine could feel was dread, she didn’t like the idea of doing this one bit.
*** *** ***
Peter, putting his stethoscope back into its box straightened and gazed down at the patient, “Those pills should work within twenty minutes. Take one every four hours for a maximum of three days. If you don’t feel any better by then, give me another call and we’ll think of something else, but they should work.”
“Influenza does that to you. Drink plenty of water and stay warm. Sweating it out is the best policy but we don’t want you to dehydrate. Just call me if you need anything, don’t hesitate okay? I don’t need to tell you that this year’s strain is a pretty nasty little fellow.”
“I expect you’ve seen a lot of it then, with a remark like that?” The mother of the patient asked as she hovered over her son whom Peter had been to see.
“Yes, there’s a lot of it about, but most people are keeping it contained. I prefer to visit the patients rather than have them come to the surgery that only tends to spread the germ to those that don’t have it, naturally it’s the elderly and very young that worry me the most. A dose of the flue can kill them. You’ll be alright though.” Peter hurried to reassure his patient seeing the look of apprehension that passed over his face at that moment, “You’re fit and strong, not to mention middle aged, its rare that a dose of flue takes someone your age out of the big picture.” He chuckled to make light of his words and it had the desired effect, his patient grinned. A fell fledged grin peeping over the top of the blankets drawn up to his chin.
“Well I’ll be going then. Thank you for the tea Mrs Goodwin.”
“No problem doctor, anytime. Thank you for coming so quickly. I was so frightened when I read his temperature.”
Peter nodded, they had already discussed this, and he was eager to get home. He’d had his flue shots but each new strain was always a worry, besides he was afraid that he might become a carrier is he outstayed his welcome. There were no grounds to back that suspicion, but he worried nonetheless.
Moments later he had reached his car, flung his bag onto the seat alongside him, and started the engine. It was eight o’clock, the girls would still be up, no doubt watching television or playing their music and he had no wish to disturb them. Instead, he decided as he had the car he might as well visit his friend Jacob Wells, via the park entrance to the tunnels. He knew that the tunnel children were putting on a music recital and since he was only on call up until eight o’clock anyway before another doctor took over, he was willing to spend his evening relaxing in this way. The tunnel children were so talented and he rarely had the time to partake of their gift.
That decided he headed the car in the direction of the park to the area where he knew he might park without being summonsed and hoped that Catherine and her friend could manage by themselves for another couple of hours at least.
*** *** ***
They could. What was more they were grateful of the extra hours, though at the time they had no way of knowing how long Peter might be. With one on the lookout, namely Catherine, who still unsure of what they were doing, had opted for that scaredy cat position and the other, namely Mel intending on doing the breaking and entering. At least that’s what she had in mind. When it came down to it that was not to be the case as she discovered that no matter where she looked for that window, be it from the courtyard or from the street it just did not exist. Talking it over with Catherine watching from the study window where she could get a clear view of who entered the street from the top, Mel decided, “I think our friend the doctor is hiding more than he’s letting on Cathy dear girl. There is no window, which means that whatsoever made that banging noise was not something small made of glass and framed by wood with bars on the inside.”
“Perhaps he’s had it bricked up.” Catherine suggested hopefully. There had to be some logical explanation or why would Peter lie to her and not only to her but to her father as well?
“No chance we’d have seen evidence of that. Nope, face it Cathy, old doc has more to hide in that basement than he’s letting on, and I aim to find out what it is. You coming?”
“Where are you going?” Catherine asked somewhat dismayed. She wished that Mel would let it go, or Peter would return or something would happen that would put a stop to Mel’s plans.
Hands on hips Mel groaned, “To the basement dummy, where else?”
“No.” Catherine shook her head, she couldn’t do it, wouldn’t have anything to do with it, then if Peter asked she could feign ignorance and be truthful, well as near truthful as possible.
“Chicken!” Mel laughed, “Then I’ll go alone. You can stay here as lookout, okay?”
Defeated, Catherine could only mumble ‘yes’ happy to stay put and nervous for what her friend intended and for what she might discover, after all, if Peter really had lied about the window what was he hiding down there? Frankenstein’s image rose before her eyes threatening to scare her witless all over again.
Mel had been gone about fifteen minutes when Catherine heard the first curse emanating from her friend quickly followed by the second and then the third and despite herself Catherine went to investigate. “What’s wrong?” she asked timidly as she approached and saw Mel tugging at the door knob for all she was worth while sliding a credit card down the door jamb.
“It always works in the movies!” Mel snapped breathlessly, “But this door won’t budge!”
“You mean you haven’t tried this before?” Catherine asked incredulously, “By the way Mel had gone about it, Cathy had been left in no doubt about that.
“Course I haven’t you dork! Do you think I go around breaking and entering for kicks all the time? Come and help me. You pull at the handle while I try to slip the lock.”
Nervously Catherine stepped forward. The door seemed awfully large all of a sudden very domineering and challenging. Catherine quaked as she tried the knob, absentmindedly turning it as if she expected it to be open.
“That won’t work!” Mel exclaimed, “Lord, but you can be so dumb girl. He’s not likely to have left it unlocked is he?”
True the door did not open. Catherine felt very foolish, but she had been compelled to try, stranger things had happened. And it would be just amazing if after trying every which way there was to slip the lock the door had been unlocked all the time, in which case they would probably have unwittingly locked it.
When the credit card still would not open the door, Mel grew desperate, “There’s never a crow bar around when you want one is there?” Catherine’s eyes opened wide in horror, “You wouldn’t?” She asked, “Peter would really notice if the door had been forced.” She seemed shocked.
“Not really, that was metaphorically speaking, I wouldn’t really use a crow bar, but there must be something we can do. Are there any spare keys around the place, do you know?”
Catherine shook her head. In actuality there were a spare set that she knew of in the bureau roll top in the study, but she wasn’t about to say so. Mel fumed quietly, tousling the fringe of her hair in trying to decide what to do for she wasn’t going to give up on this. It had become a challenge to her and her disappointment was great. She had been so sure that by tonight she would know the entire contents of that basement and win her bet among her friends, that of the fact that Peter was experimenting on some human element. Whether it was monstrous or not remained to be seen, but Mel felt more and more certain as time went on that she would find human organs or limbs down in the basement and was quite prepared and excited at such a gruesome discovery.
“Give me your hair clip!” Mel’s jubilant cry stunned Catherine, who having decided it was all over on non production of a key, had begun to relax.
“My…hair…clip?” Catherine replied bewildered.
“Yes that thing there!” Mel pulled at the clip making Catherine cry out, “Thanks. Now stand back, I’m gonna do this if it’s the last thing I do!” She wiggled the hair clip inside the lock, this way that way, gritting her teeth as she concentrated, listening for every little click that might signify movement within, yanking on the door handle every time it did. Until finally, finally when neither of them expected it, when Catherine had just decided it wasn’t going to happen and had praised the Lord, it gave. The door slamming back against the wall as Mel let go of the knob in sheer amazement and stunned surprise.
For several seconds, they looked at the gaping hole in the wall as if they were seeing a vortex and just as timidly peeped to see inside. All was dark and there was no telling how many steps led down though Catherine remembered Peter saying it was a long climb back or words to that effect.
“You go first.” Catherine heard herself say hoarsely as she pushed Mel in front, “See if there is a light switch somewhere.”
“You’re coming then?” Mel asked suddenly nervous and trying not to show it. “Thought I was doing this alone?”
“You can do it alone if you like.” Catherine told her friend.
“No, that’s okay, I don’t mind if you come with me.” Catherine grinned, where was Mel’s courage now? Come to that, where was her own? It seemed to have deserted her forever when the evening had begun.
“I should keep a look out for Peter.” Catherine told Mel suddenly amazed that she had forgotten the possibility of Peter’s return.
Mel gasped signifying that she had forgotten it too, “Yes perhaps you should. Wait though, just until I find a light switch, or is there a torch somewhere?”
“In the kitchen.” Catherine told her, “Hold on I’ll get one.” She made to turn and leave her friend to it when Mel suddenly exclaimed; “Its all right there’s a sash” and immediately the well of darkness that had opened up before them was filled with light. Catherine stood and stared as the basement lit up before her noticing straight away that there were only five steps down to the floor and not the spiral staircase to oblivion that she had been led to believe was there.
Not only that but as the two stepped unsteadily onto the first and then the second step down, Catherine believing that was far enough as Mel descended all five, they noticed that the basement was sparsely furnished and devoid of all the endless rows of filing cabinets that Peter had made Catherine imagine had been there.
Disappointed, Mel shrugged, “So what’s the big secret?” She exclaimed, “There’s nothing down here. Well okay so there’s a surgical bed and some cabinets with medicine in, but apart from that….Cathy! There’s no mystery to this!” Mel exclaimed as if everything was Catherine’s fault. “Even the drawers are unlocked.” And as if to prove that point, Mel opened each one in turn showing that they were filled with medical supplies until the last that held some sketches. Children’s drawings Mel supposed, from a child’s wild imagination. She lifted one to let Catherine see, and both agreed that some kid must have a great imagination to sketch a creature that weird.
“So what banged?” Catherine peering into the basement and unwilling to take another step further down asked her friend. Mel looked around, there was nothing that could bang by itself, unless the cupboard door was open and Mel tried it to test the theory recoiling in stunned surprise when she met not a store room as supposed but rather a wall. There straight behind the door was a wall! Catherine gasped as from her vantage point it looked as though the wall was bricked directly behind the door. She was even more surprised when Mel vanished as if she had gone straight through it.
“Mel!” Catherine whispered hoarsely, “Mel!”
Mel returned, “Hey you’ve got to come and see this!” Her face was wreathed in a grin.
Catherine looked back at the door and Mel understood at once, “Hang on.” She left the cupboard and hurried back to Catherine’s side, “I might be able to relock the door. Give me that hair clip again.”
“Relock it!” Catherine gulped, “Mel no! We can’t stay down here.”
“We’ll have to. When you see what I’ve discovered you’ll not want to come back and then with the door wide open the old doc will discover where we’ve gone. Come on, hold it tight for me and I’ll try to get it to click shut again.”
Despite her reservations Catherine did as asked and miraculously because Catherine thought it was impossible, Mel actually got the door to lock again.
“Phew that was easy.” Mel exclaimed, “Now come on, believe me you have never seen anything like this before!”
*** *** ***
The wall stood back from the door by two feet maybe three, but was made to appear from certain angels to seem as though the wall was directly behind the door. Possibly the light did it, as beyond the glare of the basement what lay beyond the wall was dark in comparison, and Mel wished now that Catherine had fetched that torch.
“Can you see anything?” Mel asked through clenched teeth as she also began to notice how cold it was down there.
“No, and I don’t like this Mel. We might get lost.” For it had become apparent that they were not in a room but rather in some sort of passageway if the fact that they could put their arms out on either side of them and touch wall, was anything to go by. And Mel was anything but apprehensive about what they had discovered since this was the adventure that she had hoped for.
“Can you hear that?” Catherine asked listening intently, she was certain she could hear tapping, and it didn’t appear to be coming from any particular place, in actuality more as if it were all around them.
“Sounds like water dripping.” Mel replied not at all certain that was so, but knowing nothing else to identify the sound with.
They stumbled on, and Catherine began to wish she had brought something with her that might help them find the way back. Of course, looking back the lights from the basement…Oh no! “Mel, we didn’t turn out the lights!”
“So what we didn’t close the door either. Cathy don’t worry with the basement door locked any discovery Peter makes will just make him assume he left the lights on and the door open by mistake. We need the beacon of light to trace our way back, don’t forget.”
Catherine was surprised that Mel had thought of such a thing, but then decided in all probability she hadn’t, was just using that as an excuse now. Still Mel was right with the basement as the light at the end of the tunnel it was a sure fire way to guide them back.
Nevertheless, Catherine couldn’t quell the nervousness she felt. Wherever they were, wherever that were beneath they had no right to be there. It was possible that they were in the basements of the adjacent brownstones to Peter’s, how would they explain their being there if discovered? How could they be certain that the people living above were friendly? At the back of her mind Catherine consoled herself with the fact that Peter would never visit with people that were anything but, and then the other half of her mind asked the question why he had to go through the cloak and dagger theme, and not use their front door?
However, it was the freezing cold down there that got to Mel before the darkness did, “I think we should go back.” Her announcement startled Catherine who had surmised that they would be in it until the bitter end, while hoping that her choice of word had no real meaning for them.
Great! Thought Catherine, not needed a second bidding, she turned taking Mel with her who had been clutching her hand for the last few minutes, another thing that at the time had startled Catherine, Mel was always so cool about things and Catherine couldn’t imagine that Mel was frightened.
“We’ll come back another day well armed.” Mel was saying. “Coats and boots and torches, maybe some food and drink and pen and paper. And chalk, we should make the way out with chalk, arrows that kind of thing to get back again safely.” She was racing ahead, her eyes bright with enthusiasm though Catherine could not see it in the darkness though could however hear it in Mel’s tone.
“I’d rather we forget all about this, Mel. We shouldn’t be here.”
“Oh stop whining, will you!” Catherine felt Mel push her back as she marched ahead and Catherine stumbled onto her knees cursing as she saw Mel’s silhouette moving forward toward the basement light that shone out around the wall ahead. She tried to pull herself up holding onto the passage wall for support seeking handholds that would aid her and jubilant on finding one hefted herself into a standing position intent on catching Mel up. Suddenly the view of Mel ahead vanished from her sight and she felt herself falling again, only this time, there was no floor beneath her, this time she seemed to be falling through air into nothing. She screamed and heard Mel shout, “Cathy?” from a long way above as she came to a sickening thud on something soft yet firm and heard a strange voice angrily shouting, “Hey, who the hell are you!”
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To be continued in Chapter Three - click on 'Next' below:
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