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THE DEEP, DARK DUNGEON WHERE NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCRABBLING

Louise Mangos

We’re thrilled to share Louise Mangos’ winning short story, as featured on the Christmas Virtual Noir at the Bar show.

You can find more of Louise’s short fiction on this site here and read more about her here.

You signal to me as the apple crumble is brought from the kitchen and placed bubbling on the sideboard. Your over-excited niece, chasing her brother on all-fours, knocks into my legs under the table, but I don’t look away from your eyes locked with mine across the juniper wreath. Your hard look keeps me silent.
You stand up, begin gathering the plates from those either side of you and jut your chin towards my side of the table. I follow your lead, trying not to clatter the cutlery onto the top of the pile amidst pools of congealed gravy, crumbs of stuffing and the occasional Brussel sprout. I swallow and wonder if anyone has noticed my trepidation.
In the kitchen we place the dishes next to the sink and you leave through the door into the hallway, tipping your head, commanding me to follow. My heart pounds as I trip over a row of boots of ever-decreasing size, muddy water pooled around their soles from the traditional Christmas morning walk on the windy moor. I draw in my breath as their
regimented order scatters across the Victorian tiles. Will someone come through and see what caused the noise? No, they’re making far too much of a ruckus in the dining room.
This is your perfect cover.
You place your hand between my shoulder blades and shush me, before squeezing past to open the door leading down to the basement. My socked feet test each step on the way down in the dark, arm stretched out to steady myself against the wall. You seem so familiar with these stairs.
The harsh smell of the paraffin heater hits me as I enter the rear cellar behind you.
You must have lit it earlier. The air has warmed enough to take the chill off. But it has made the room heavy with a humid fug from the subterranean walls. The atmosphere between us is thick. What would they say upstairs if they knew you’d brought me here?
What would they do?
You slide the bolt closed across the door. I know what’s coming, but I’m surprised to see you’ve prepared everything in advance. The tools of your trade. I’m imprisoned in here now, and look at you with nervous anticipation.
You lift your arm, turn your wrist. The dim light glints off the face of your watch, a reminder perhaps, that in less than an hour it could be over. I lick my dry lips. You strike a match to the candle on the low table. Sulphur stings my nostrils as shadows flicker in a macabre dance across the walls. The flame reflects red and orange flashes in your eyes.
My teeth clamp down on the inside of my lips.
You push me down onto the old sofa by the wall. As my body unfolds I note the sensation of too much roast turkey pushing at the waistband of my skirt.
You turn to an old wooden cabinet in the corner. The drawer screeches open. I gasp at the abruptness of the noise in this confined space. In the ensuing silence we hear the purr and splutter of the heater. You bring out a box, place it on the table, and prise off the lid.
You beckon, two sharp snaps of your fingers, and pass me a blood-red velvet pouch, secured with a thin rope. It weighs in my palm, contents rattling. You lean over, undo the knot and reach into the bag. You pull out your hand, make it into a fist. You nod once, indicating I should do the same. Keeping my eyes on yours I reach inside.
As I pull out my hand, I open my fingers and show you what lies in the curl of my palm.
The letter A.
I get to start.