I owed it to him, I suppose. He was my best friend, after all, and he had always been there for me when I was in trouble. Six months ago, Mike's uncle had died after a year or so of illness. Mike took the news hard; the man had been like a father to him. It had taken him those six months to build up the courage to head round to his uncles old place in the country, and get his affairs sorted out.
I say place, because you couldn't really call it a house. It was a big old building from the war, just a concrete cuboid sitting on long rotten foundations. Back during the good old days, and by that I mean the 80's, it had been a youth center. Run by Mike's uncle, it provided support for vulnerable children and teenagers. The funds dried up during the 90's, and the old man had to close the place down. It broke his heart, I guess. He lived on the site, in a self imposed sentence of isolation, right up to the winter before last when he fell ill, and was taken to a hospital. I guess the pills; the stress; and the heartbreak of being away from his site were to much for him, and he just let go.
We arrived at the property, which sat rotting in a fenced compound on the edge of the village, at two in the afternoon. The bright white sign that once proclaimed the title of 'Black-brook youth center' lay in the bushes by the entrance, consumed by ugly streaks of lichen and mold. As Mike pulled open the rusted gate, the clouds broke, unleashing of torrent of cold rainwater through the blustery skies towards us. We sprinted for cover, in the form of the grey wooden porta-cabin that sat at the side of the property, about two hundred meters from the shell of the main building.
When we were inside, and had shook of the rain hanging to a coats, Mike spoke for the first time since we arrived.
"Well, we made it" He half laughed, rubbing his hands against the large metal filing cabinet that was the only piece of furniture left in the room.
I nodded casually, and pushed my hand against the dirty plastic of the light switch. Unsurprisingly, I got no response from the lonely bulb that hung on the roof.
"Power's out" I commented to Mike, with a note of annoyance in my voice.
"The fuse box is in the basement of the main building." He nodded, still eying the room with some disgust.
The floor was an aging lino mat, checkered black and white, but with patches of grey, and seriously curled edges. It was coated with a generations worth of dead leaves, muddy footprints, and old discarded papers. Apprehensively, I wiped down the dust from the only window that faced the main building, to get my first good of the old place.
Through the rain, I caught a good glimpse of the distinctive red bricked walls. They stood, as I remembered, facing north against the rain. I wasn't sure if what I saw was real, or just a fractured memory.
A young boy is running across the lawn of the property, I am chasing him, my childhood self again. The red brick walls watch over us, a constant feature in the corner of my eye. The boy is laughing, and I want for all the world to join him, to laugh and play in the sun all day long. For a little while I continue running after him, but I soon slow to a stumble, and finally a halt. I just stand stock still in the middle of the lawn.
"Do you want to head inside then?" Mike's gravelly voice broke my thoughts.
"Yeah, I guess so" My voice felt funny in my throat, almost as if it wasn't my own. I laughed it off, thinking it was probably the dust and mold in this place.
We again sprinted across the soaked grass, splashing through the ever growing puddles towards to building. The front main entrance was boarded up, so we had to head round the back, into the porch of the side annexe. By the time Mike had slid his key into the rusty padlock, turned it, pulled off the chain, and ushered open the heavy metal door, we were both we through. Laughing, the two of us pushed into the kitchen, the overwhelming silence muting our almost nervous banter.
Muted light filtered through the cracks in the board, illuminating the dust particles floating through the dry air. The kitchen was a mess. The table was overturned, and dusty carcasses of what where once shopping bags or similar now lay on the floor, huge reeking sacks of mold. An identical mold grew on the tiled walls, consumed the once spotless surfaces.
Under his breath Mike muttered something, possibly a swear word. I looked around at him, but he was already pulling open the other door at the far end of the kitchen, and he headed through it.
Next was the hall. It was in a worse state than the kitchen, with tears in the walls, roof and floor. Cobwebs hung from every surface, clinging to the mildew stained wallpaper, and strung around the rotten beams and floorboards.
Again, I tried the lights. Still nothing.
"I'll head downstairs, see if I can find the fuse-box. You take a look around, the office is somewhere on the second floor." Mike was confident in his voice, but I could tell by his screwed up face something was nagging him. With a quick nodded, I gingerly skirted the holes in the floorboards, and headed off for the staircase just to my left. I heard Mike muttering slowly as he headed off in the direction of the basement entrance.
My footsteps echoed around the staircase like gunshots in the otherwise unholy silence. I couldn't even hear the rain from outside. I guess the walls were thick enough the stop any sounds of the outside world getting in. Or any sounds from inside getting out.
The door of the second floor was painted bright red, but the paint had started to flake, exposing the bare bone of the wood below. The handle was severely tarnished brass, and it was covered in hundreds of finger marks. It creaked angrily as I twisted it open, the hinges coated with a thick layer of rust. As I did so, a smell that was extremely out of place in this place wafted across my nostrils.
The delicious aroma of roast beef filled the room. In front of me, on the table was a delicate plate holding the source of the gorgeous scent. It was piled high with Roast beef, mash, roast potatoes, carrots, Yorkshire puddings... Everything a Sunday roast needed. A gravy boat sat next to the grand meal, steaming appealingly. Slowly approached it, mindful of the hushed footsteps and voices I could hear below me. The vapor curled off up into the air before disappearing.
I jump back in repulsion, eying the moldy remains of the meal. It is little more than mulch, covered in thick fungus, thin twisted mushroom stalks held up wide quivering caps. Cobwebs trailed over the table, the cutlery, and the gravy boat. All that was left of the gravy was a thin film of a mold covered brown substance on the bottom of the container. I almost gagged at this portrait of decay in front of me. Backing away, I didn't look where I was going until it was too late. my foot hit a rotten floorboard, and carried on through it.
The Floor gave way, and I fell in a shower of rotten planks and dust to the room below.
Drowsy, I awake on my back. My legs feel like they're on fire. The dust begins to settle again, reveling the hole in the ceiling I fell through. Breathing slowly, I realized I could hear something nearby. Tapping. It was an irregular beat, that sounded like fingernails clicking against hard wood. I turned to the source of the noise, and saw a figure standing in the doorway.
"Jesus Steven! Are you alright?" Mike rushed towards me. I turned back to him, and mumbled something. Pulling myself up, I winced. My left leg hurt like hell.
"It's just my leg." I finally managed to cough.
"You stupid Sod" Mike half laughed, as he pulled me up "Is it broken?"
"I don't know, it just hurts like fuck." I grinned back at him, in spite of the pain.
"I could hear you fall from the basement. You nearly brought the whole place down"
I looked around at the room. It was a classroom of a sort, hundreds of metal chairs were strewn in a tangled pile in the corner, while torn shreds of posters adorned the walls.
"Come on, I'll see if I can call a doctor." He helped me limp to the door, and sliding a hand round my shoulder, Mike walked me down the stairs. When we got back to the hall, I collapsed down onto the bottom step, out of breath.
"Shit" Mike swore, while patting his pockets nervously. "I left my cell in the car."
"No worries. Head back and get it. I'll wait here."
Mike nodded "Are you sure you'll be okay here?"
After much assurance I'd be fine, Mike left me with his flashlight, and went off towards the car.
Alone. The darkness clawing in at the edges of my vision. Alone. Why was I back here? After all the memories?
I swung my flashlight lazily around the walls, waiting for Mike's return.
A circle of children on the lawn. The grown ups are talking in hushed tones, I can't quiet catch what they're saying. Footsteps, on the floors above me. Something about funding, and cleaning supplies.
Jesus, what was taking Mike so long?
I look out onto the window onto the sun splashed lawn. That's not right, it should be underwater with all the rain we've been having. I can see about 18 children standing in a circle in the middle of the lawn. Behind me someone walks up, and places a hand on my shoulder. I can feel their hot breath on my ear as they whisper something into it.
Shit. I swing around wildly, searching for the source of the whisper, praying to God it's Mike. No such luck. The glaring beam of the torch yields only cobweb filled crevices, and empty doorways. A gentle tingling on the back of my neck sends me into spasms of disgust. I bring up my hand, and brush away the daddy long legs perched on the top of my spine. I shiver with revulsion as I watch it fall to the floor, and scuttle away, it's thin spindly legs scraping the wood.
Footsteps down the stairs. There was a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach, a growing lump of cold regret. The hand on my shoulder guided me down the hall to the door. A glowing entrance that seemed a lifetime away, but came all to soon.
The whispering again. It was still there in the corner of my ear, scraping away at my mind. I stood, determined to find the source of this disembodied voice. It was coming from the third doorway on the left, the door itself long since torn off. Slowly, with my heart straining to break the confines of my ribcage, I took a step towards it. Every step was agony. My hair stood up on end. Adrenalin pumped through my veins. Every fiber of my being was resisting with all it's might my assault on the door. But I had to know. Almost robotic, I turn through the door way.
The whisper had stopped. With horror, I saw that the doorway led down. A flight of stairs curved off to the basement below. Senselessly, I continued on my path. My path down. Footsteps echoing on the cold concrete. As my descent continued, I began to hear the drip of water, and to my disbelief, when I reached the bottom of the stairs, I saw the basement was flooded.
Why hadn't Mike said anything about this? Surely he would have seen this when he came down looking for the fuse-box.
The water was covered in some kind of green scum on it's surface, and it reached halfway up the stone walls, other slimy lines chronicling the rise and fall of the water-level adorned the wall above it.
Drifting pieces litter shone in the beam of my torch, like hundreds of dead fish. Old papers, clothes, cardboard boxes. Everything was soaked in the age old water. And the stench... God, it smelt worse than anything I'd ever smelt before, or anything I smelt since. Like a dark green mold forcing it's way up my nasal passage, and clinging to the base of my brain.
The light hit a rusted metal door, on the other side of the room. It looked sealed firmly, like it had been untouched for years, yet I could hear a faint tapping from behind it.
The door. What was behind the door. Sensing something is not right, goosebumps covering my body, I reach up, flick off the light, and retreat back up the stairs. Urgently heading back into the warm daylight.
I have to see what's behind it. Purely to resolve the fractured memories I have of this place, this room.
"What the hell are you doing?!" Mike's voice again fractured my calm, it now rang clear through my conscious like a bread knife. Loud and indignant.
"I just..." My voice trailed off. I couldn't think of what to say to him.
"There's an ambulance on it's way, I thought you were injured!"
"Why didn't you tell me about the flood?" I finally managed to cough.
"What are you talking..." Mike suddenly stopped. Cut off halfway through the sentence.
I finally turned round, to see what why taking him so long to reply.
He wasn't there.
"Jesus Mike, where the hell have you gone?"
I retraced my steps, and when I got back to the hall, I saw no sign of him there either.
"Mike!" I screamed at the top of my lungs.
Nothing. he was nowhere to be seen. When the echoes of my desperate shouting died away, I became aware of another noise, just on the edge of my hearing range.
That damn whispering. Again, coming from downstairs.
I flung myself down the stairs two at a time, growling instinctively at the distant voices. I pushed off, splashing through the water, cold murky fluid lapping at my knees. My trainers dragged up the sludge, pushing against soft unseen objects. Halfway to the door, a new terror broke through into me. terror of the water, terror of the door, terror of those goddam voices. It clenched my insides, clawing at me, until I came to a standstill in the center of the flooded room. Breathing slowly, I steeled my nerves, and continued my assault on the door.
When I reached the door, I pressed the palm of my hand against it. Beneath the flesh, the dark metal vibrated gently. Then, with a deep breath, I pulled at the handle with all my might.
As the door swung outwards, a flesh shape fell down towards me. It slumped down to the water level, half floating half sinking. To my horror, I saw it was a man.
Or the remains of one at least. His flesh was now nothing more than a mile slime clinging to the skull, fibers of veins and nerves crawled across the thin sticky membrane. It's head was almost completely free of it's body, only dangling by a few measly strings of rotten flesh. Hanging to the body were the tattered remains of some kind of uniform. Dark green in colour, they looked extremely old, and soaked in water and mold.
Looking around the rest of the room, I saw that it too was underwater. This room, unlike the other, had a curved roof, and was completely tiled.On the door I saw thick scratch marks, as if the man had died clawing the door. The very far end was shrouded by a thick unnatural darkness. This seemed to be the source of the whispers. Nervous, I pointed my torch, and flicked it on.
The beam of light illuminated something that should have never seen the light of day. An unholy mass of quivering legs, brittle and skeleton thin, but as big as a car. The legs where partly transparent, and swayed slowly, like grass in a meadow. In the very center of the creature, the mass, was a thin membrane, much like an eyelid, riddled with thin grey veins. I took a step towards the thing, despite my every cell twisting in revulsion for it. It was a state of disgusted curiosity that compelled me further towards the living beast, a creature that haunted my memories and my dreams.
As I got to with six or so steps from it, the thin membrane drew back. It revealed a slimy lump of flesh. A human face. Covered in the creatures bodily fluids, the face, that of a woman, seemed to fuse with the creatures membranes at the base of it's neck. I took one final, fateful step, and as I did so, the head stirred. It looked up, opened it's eyelids, fixing me with those grey empty pits, filling me with disgust and despair in equal measures.
Then it started to whisper.