The Desert Basement

Submitted into Contest #204 in response to: Set your story in a desert town.... view prompt

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Suspense Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

The Desert Basement

Veva walked around the house, needing the outhouse but too curious by the scraping sound she was hearing coming from the basement. When her grandpa had built the house he put the basement about 10 feet from the back of the house in case the rains came and flooded the dry earth, leading the basement to flood from the overflow of water. It was still underground but it was not used like her friends’ basements. They had canned goods and food for the harsh winters when no crops could be grown. Her basement had cells, cages she thought, where the salespeople who came to the door had to go. Grandpa said they had to go there. Veva wasn’t sure why but she knew she must never tell anyone about the basement in her yard; her grandpa had told her it was for the family to know only, and she didn’t want to disobey him. 

Scrape, scrape, scrape. The scraping had started early that morning. Veva knew because it had woken her up before the rooster crowed. Her typical morning routine included getting the water from the well pump so her mother could start heating it for the day's food. She would then get the eggs from the henhouse and see if the ducks had laid any eggs in the duck yard. By the time she was done with her chores, she would go use the outhouse and then get herself dressed for school. The school in town was small but the teacher was lovely and Veva loved going to school. 

On a typical day, Veva would walk into town, avoiding the deep trenches on the side of the road for fear of rattlers waiting to bite her ankles. They loved to lie in the dry grass at the edge of the road to catch any road kill that flew from under car wheels. Usually, it was just prairie dogs or low-flying crows. Luckily she could usually hear the rattle before coming close to the snakes. Her grandpa had taught her how to listen for their rattle. 

Veva walked slowly and quietly toward the basement door, pausing every few steps to see if the scraping was still there. Scrape, scrape, scrape. It was. She wasn’t sure why she was trying to be so quiet. No one lived close enough to see what she was doing or where she was heading and if Grandpa woke and saw her she would just tell him the truth, that she heard a noise coming from the basement. Grandpa might be mad that she went by herself, saying the people he put there were bad people and could be very dangerous. Veva wasn’t very worried though because she had seen one once and he had red puffy eyes like he had been crying and he didn’t say anything threatening to her. He had actually asked her if he could be let out of the basement. Veva hated when they asked her that, she would just ignore their questions and walk back out of the basement. Obviously, Grandpa had them there for a reason and she was not going to get him angry by questioning him. 

The dust blew around Veva’s bare feet as she walked closer to the basement. Scrape, scrape, scrape. The scraping sound was getting a little louder and it was definitely coming from inside one of the cells. Maybe she should just go use the outhouse and get ready for school, she thought to herself. Even if someone was scraping something down there, there was nothing she could do about it. She would have to ignore them if they tried to talk to her. She would just go quickly to see what was making that scraping noise. 

Veva took hold of the basement door and slid the board out from the locking hole Grandpa had nailed to hold the bar in place. Scrape, scrape, scrape. The scraping continued and she didn’t think the person in the cell had heard her coming. Sometimes when they heard her they would start screaming and yelling. Grandpa had been sure to put the basement on the side of the house that blocked any wind, so their screams couldn’t be carried on the wind to other farms. Scrape, scrape, scrape.

When Veva swung the door open the morning light flooded down the steps toward the cells. She could see the bars and the dirt walkway between them and, what was that? Veva took a few hesitant steps down into the basement, conscious of moving farther from the open door toward the cells. She saw the shape but couldn’t figure out what it was but it was in the walkway and it looked like it was moving. Suddenly, Veva knew what she was looking at. It was a foot, a foot no longer attached to a leg. Bile rose in Veva’s throat at the realization. She thought she would throw up but still, she moved down the few remaining steps until she could see inside the cell that the foot seemed to have come from. Slowly, she leaned forward to peer into the cell and that is when she saw what the scraping was coming from. 

Veva shuttered when she saw the person in the cell. They were laying on their back with their shirt open. There was a hole in the person's belly, blood and intestines spilling out of the hole. Their eyes were open but no noise could be made anymore, they were dead. The foot had been taken off with a tool that looked like a sharp, thick stick. The rat had the stick in its mouth and was rubbing it back and forth across the ankle bone. The stick scraping on the metal bar of the cell made an awful scraping sound. Scrape, scrape, scrape.

Veva gagged and held her hand over her mouth to stop herself from throwing up. She had never seen a rat saw off a limb before and couldn’t bear to see the man’s face anymore. She turned to run back up the stairs but stopped in her tracks. Her grandpa held the door open for her, the family’s soup caldron in his other hand. Grandpa grinned his gappy-toothed grin. Then the realization hit her, Grandpa had come for their breakfast. Now it made sense. Now Veva knew why the basement was never full. 

June 27, 2023 01:52

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