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Lindsey Loucks
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longhallway.jpg
Art by Aisling Kerins 2012

In the Long Hallway

 

Lindsey Loucks

 

 

Someone beats on the door so loud, cat poop goes flying out of the scooper. I put my hand where my heart should be, but it’s jumped into my throat.

         

“Darned dang,” I mumble, and shovel the stray poop into the old grocery bag. Ellis twists her body around my legs the whole way to the garbage can in the kitchen. My heart’s still pounding. “You’re slowing me down, cat. I gotta throw your poop out before I get the door.”

         

Whoever it is pounds some more. It’s probably Belinda, come to collect her knitting needles after the nightly news.

         

“Just a second,” I holler while I tip the garbage lid and drop the gifts in.

         

As I step out of the kitchen, Ellis swipes at my ankles with a black-striped paw, suddenly in the mood to play. “Not now, cat.” When I round the corner into the dark hallway, she darts in front of me and springs up onto her hind legs. I stop and perch both fists on my hips, giving her a real stern look not to mess with her Momma.

         

Boom. Boom. Boom. The knocks start to shake the walls. The cat door flaps a little with all the booming. Maybe it’s someone lost on the country roads again.

         

“I said just a second. Don’t you have any manners?” I give Ellis one more evil eye, and she slinks off behind me with her ears flat. My bare feet stick to the wood floor in the hallway, making a slap suck, slap suck kind of sound.

         

I flip the hallway light switch, but nothing happens. With a sigh, I pull the door open. “Whaddaya need at this hour of the night?”

         

There’s no one there.

         

I lean out as far as my rickety hips will let me and look both ways like I’m crossing a street or something. But there’s just the night and the spray of stars between the swaying oak branches. A strange feeling rumbles my gut. I stand up straight again and close the door quick. Then I deadbolt it.

         

A pile of shoes sits in the corner. I find a matching pair and step into them since my feet are chilly from all that cool air I let inside. Now my feet are silent as I step away.

         

Boom. Boom. Boom.

         

I jump and yelp at the same time. A shiver skids up my back, and I turn around again to face the door. Three knocks. Didn’t Grandpap say one time that three knocks meant it was Death’s collector at your door? I shake my head. Nah, it’s got to be just kids getting their kicks.

 

“You darned dang kids. I’ll give you some extra holes with my shotgun if you don’t leave. Ya’ hear?” I holler, but my voice comes out shaky.

         

Boom. Boom. Boom.

         

The door doesn’t have a peek hole, and the window on it is too high. I move down the hallway and through the living room doorway. The heavy paisley curtains on the window rustle when I push them aside a little. The darkness holds up the sky, and there’s no one out there.

         

I move to the living room doorway. Something creaks the floorboards at the shadowy far end of the hallway. I don’t see anything, not even the broken grandfather clock at the very end. Must be just house noises.

         

Boom. Boom. Boom.

         

My stomach spins. Using the wall for support, I lower myself to my knees and crawl across the floor like a baby. I lift the cat door a tiny bit and peer through. Nothing.

         

Another creak, this time a little closer up the hallway.

         

I close the cat door and use the wall to stand, then back away from the door but not too far down the hallway.

         

Boom. Boom. Boom.

         

I slap both hands over my mouth to keep from crying out. My feet move quiet while I step backwards against the wall, looking down the hallway, then at the door, whipping my head around back and forth.

         

One more creak, even closer.

         

Somewhere close by, Ellis makes a low hiss.

         

All I can think of is my old hunting shotgun. It’s in the top of the closet in the bedroom so Ellis doesn’t get to it. In the bedroom further down the hallway. Past whatever’s making that creaking sound.

         

My eyes aren’t so good any more, but I don’t see anything coming at me down the hall. Nothing at all. I make my hands into fists and take a step.

         

Nothing at all.

         

Another step. Then ice floods into me. I can’t even breathe, it’s so cold. There’s a squeezing around my heart, like someone’s fingers are wrapped around it.

         

Ellis gives a deep growl, but I don’t see her. I never heard her that angry before.

         

Boom. Boom. Boom.

         

The cold pulls through me, then it’s gone. Warmth rushes back, and I take a long breath. But there’s no time to enjoy it. Had that been a ghost I’d stepped through? Was Death’s collector here for a ghost?

         

I hurry down the hall into my bedroom and swing open the closet. My hands shake so bad, I can hardly put the shell in. But I do. Then I step out and aim the gun at the front door.

         

Boom. Boom. Boom.

         

I cry out. The gun’s barrel is all over the place with my shaking.

         

Another creak in the hall. This time in front of me, almost to the door.

         

“I got my shotgun,” I yell. “I’m not afraid to use it.”

         

Three more booms send tremors down the hallway.

         

A creak, then the cat door opens out on its own. It flip-flaps closed.

         

My heart’s banging against my bones.

         

There’s a crackling, and a green glow lights up the window at the top of the door.

         

Then the doorknob rattles.

         

“No. You got what you came for,” I whisper. I level the gun at the door the best I can. And shoot. Bang. I’m knocked backwards into the broken grandfather clock. Glass shatters at my feet. My shot went wild. There’s a hole as big as my head in the ceiling in the center of the hallway.

         

The whole door quakes. The shaking’s so strong, I can feel the vibrations in the wall behind me.

         

I tighten my lips so I don’t scream. Ellis is crouched next to me, ears flat, hissing like crazy.

         

“You can’t have me or Ellis,” I say through clenched dentures. I glare at that shaky door and charge it.

         

Just as I get there, the cat door begins to open inwards by itself. I use the barrel of the gun like a cane to help me to my knees. The whole house is banging and shuddering so much I can’t hear my pounding heart. I jab the gun through the cat door before it opens much further.

         

Something snatches the barrel and yanks.

         

I grunt as my head hits the door. But my finger’s still wrapped around that trigger, and I pull it. Bang. And again. Bang.

         

The whatever it is lets out a wail I won’t ever forget, but lets go of the gun. The house stops shaking. The wails keep going, but get further and further away.

         

I pull the barrel back inside. My heart bangs against my back and into the wall when I lean against it. The cat door swishes with a flip-flap, flip-flap.

         

Ellis sneaks up to me, climbs on my lap, and rubs her face all over the barrel of the gun.

         

“You didn’t say we had ourselves a ghost, Ellis. Death’s collector took it but couldn’t take us, could he?” I stare up at the hole in the ceiling, then at the cat door, catching my breath. “Whaddaya say about becoming an indoors only cat?”

           

 

 

Lindsey R. Loucks writes horror, dark comedy, and whatever else she can think up. She is currently querying her second young adult novel. Her short story "Alpha Female Office Wolf" was published by Work Literary Magazine in May 2011. Two of her short stories will be published in future issues of Weirdyear and The Red Asylum.

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