by Peter DiChellis
Am I alive? Dead? Dying? I’m
I can smell thick, fetid air.
I feel insects crawling on my
skin, beneath my clothes, all
over me. Tickling me with their tiny legs. Then biting and stinging.
But I can’t open my eyes.
Can’t stand or sit up. Can’t move
at all. Can’t talk. Can’t plead or scream or even whisper.
And through it all, my mind won’t
stop thinking and
Old man Stegmann saw us coming.
Saw Tommy and me. Coming to
rob him, to rob Steg’s Corner Deli. His neighborhood shithole. Old man Stegmann
let us get close, then shot Tommy in the face. I dropped my gun, and a cop
rushed into the deli yelling, “Police! Police!” Old man Stegmann shot the cop
dead, too. And now, alone with my mind in Stegmann’s basement, I think maybe
Tommy and the cop were the lucky ones.
Because when I ran scared through
the doorway to Stegmann’s
basement, he laughed. “You go down there, you won’t come back,” he hollered.
“It’s a special hell down there.”
And then he shot at me, again
and again. I heard the
bullets zip past and watched them rip open the wall. I stumbled down the stairs
to the basement, swallowed by the blackest darkness I ever knew. Heard low
buzzing, and slithering sounds, and soft crunching every time I took a step.
Then tickling and biting and stinging on my legs. Then numb dizziness and
bottomless gloom and the cold concrete floor against my face.
Back when Tommy and me were little
kids, old man Stegmann
terrified us. Fat and mean. Ugly as poison. Dirty and sweaty. We never went
inside his deli, of course. Partly because we never had any money. Partly
because we didn’t dare. But on summer afternoons, we stood on the sidewalk
outside the deli, watching cars go past. Wishing our families could afford cars,
too. Some days old man Stegmann would step outside, right onto the sidewalk, to
chase us away. We always ran.
One time a neighborhood kid named
Dooley said he peeked
through the grimy window into Stegmann’s basement. Said he saw dead people
hanging on meat hooks, covered with bugs. Tommy and me didn’t believe him. We
figured we would’ve smelled dead people, even from the sidewalk. But the next
day, the window was covered, and old man Stegmann seemed scarier.
Tommy and me finally got into
high school, and we decided
to rob old man Stegmann because we learned he bought a new Buick every year.
And we knew we’d have to ride the bus our whole lives, just like our parents
did. But fat, mean, ugly, dirty, sweaty, scary old man Stegmann had himself a
Buick. A new one every year. It was just too much for Tommy and me to stomach.
I remember it all, every bit of it, and it makes me wonder: Am I alive?
Basement” originally appeared at Spelk
Fiction, in October 2017.
Peter DiChellis concocts sinister tales for anthologies,
and magazines. Two of his mystery stories were Finalists in the 2019 Derringer
Awards for outstanding short mysteries. For more, visit Peter’s Amazon author
page or his blog celebrating short mystery and crime fiction, A short walk down a
This story is an original work of creative fiction.
and events described or depicted are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to
actual individuals or events is unintended and coincidental. Buick is a
registered trademark of General Motors Corporation.
Lunar Richey has
writings published in Rolling Stone,
Genesis, The Mammoth Book
of New Erotica, The Journal of Erotica, and The Best of the Journal
of Erotica (the latter two published in the UK).
Lunar also works with Lunar Ensemble (word & music projections).