Fanny turned on the flashlight. Now she could just barely see the steps. Why had she volunteered to do this? Hannah and Jenny’s laughter spilled into the tiny den behind her. Wimps. It was Jenny’s own house, and she couldn’t even come into the same room as the basement door. Jenny’s whole family was crazy. Imagine being too scared to even change a light bulb in your own basement. As if there could be anything but a few mice down here. Not that Fanny wanted to see mice. Ugh.
She started slowly down the steps. The flashlight flickered. Had it gotten dimmer? It didn’t matter anyway. All she had to do to prove they were all morons was go down, take one look around, and come back up. She quickened her pace, and soon she was almost at the bottom.
“Fanny?” Hannah’s voice came from above.
“I can’t! I’ll stay here!” said Jenny, in an exaggerated whisper.
Fanny rolled her eyes. “I’m so fine. There’s nothing down here!”
Crack. Her foot crunched through the bottom step. “Aaaah!” Fanny screamed out of surprise, grabbing for anything to hang on to. She landed in an incredibly awkward position, with her left leg twisted behind her. Three-quarters of her right leg was stuck inside the step. How was that possible? She was already at the bottom. “Hannah! One of the stairs broke. Get down here and help me!”
There was no response.
Fanny listened for her friends’ voices. “Jenny?”
Silence. No one came down the stairs. No one answered her shouts. She pulled her leg from the broken step. Miraculously, there wasn’t a bruise or a cut or a scratch. She picked up her flashlight and flashed it around the room. The light beam caught dark heaps of unrecognizable objects and rows and rows of old junk on shelves. Cobwebs danced along the walls, leaping from corner to corner. She pointed her light at the ceiling, searching for the fixture. She wanted to change the light bulb and get back upstairs as fast as possible.
She imagined the look on their faces when she triumphantly returned. She’d call Jenny a chicken just to see her pout, and she’d tease Hannah about being a wimp just to make her cheeks redden. Fanny stepped further into the cellar basement.
She wasn’t afraid.
The scurry of tiny feet echoed around her. Mice! Fanny scrambled backwards onto the broken staircase. Little red eyes peered at her in the darkness. They came closer and closer until they clustered all around her feet.
“Go away!” She wiggled her flashlight at them. “Shoo!”
The mice paid her no attention. Instead, they bypassed her and ventured into the hole her foot had left in the wooden staircase. She scooted further away, pulling her legs into her chest with the hope that they wouldn’t touch her. One by one, a train of little black mice scurried into the opening. After the last tail disappeared, she stuck her light into the hole. Small round bodies ambled down another staircase.
“Hannah? Jenny?” Fanny yelled. “There’s a …” Fanny’s words lodged in her throat. She didn’t quite know what she was looking at. How could another staircase be underneath Jenny’s cellar? A cool breeze made its way through the opening. Fanny ripped away more of the floorboards. The stubborn wood creaked as she yanked it. After removing two complete stairs, she could see down into the hole. A subtle glow akin to moonlight washed over the bottom of the mysterious stairs.
The mice reached the bottom. They all turned to look back up at her.
Come! they said in unison.
Their mouths didn’t move. Rather, the word rang as clear as a bell inside Fanny’s head. She’d never experienced anything like it before, and she shrieked and stumbled back at the shock of it.
Come, Fanny, the mice said again.
Fanny righted herself and stared through the opening, down at the creatures. As her gaze met those beady red eyes, she felt a calm wash over her. Gone was the fear of the basement, of the darkness, of the mice. All she could think to say, as she felt that cool air and strange light brush over her skin, was, “How do you know my name?”
We’ve been waiting for you, they said.
Though not exactly an answer to her question, that was all the explanation Fanny needed. She rested her dull, useless flashlight on one of the undamaged steps and slid through the hole in one swift movement. The gap in the stair was just the right size for her body, and in one second flat she was descending the hidden staircase.
From above, the length of the staircase had been deceiving. Now that Fanny was walking down it, it felt like it was going on much longer than it should have. Down and down she traveled, and yet there were still more stairs in front of her. It was especially frustrating because with each step she took, the more she yearned to be at the bottom, amongst the mice and whatever else awaited her down there.
She couldn’t see much, other than the mice and the steps and the light, because there were tall walls on either side of her, blocking her view of what she would find at the foot of the stairs. On a whim, Fanny reached out and ran her hand along the wall. In the instant that her fingertips connected with the unremarkable gray cement, she felt a jolt go through her, as if every miniscule cell in her body had been given a shock with defibrillator paddles. It reminded Fanny of the time Hannah and Jenny had dared her to drink five Red Bulls in five minutes—only way better. She felt energized, and strong, and like she could do anything. She pulled her hand away from the wall and picked up her pace.
That boost of magical energy was exactly what she’d needed. Finally, Fanny reached the bottom of the stairs. The first thing she noticed was that, from her bare arms to her sandaled toes, her skin was glowing. The second thing she noticed was that there were a lot more mice down here than she’d originally thought. They were everywhere—tens of thousands of them, lined up in neat military-like rows, staring up at her expectantly.
The third thing she noticed was the room around her.
The floor wasn’t really a floor; nailed into the cement were rafters, like she’d seen on the ceiling of her own basement, or even Jenny’s. In fact, on closer look, it looked an awful lot like Jenny’s basement, if she crooked her head like she was upside-down. Right above her on the ceiling she saw steps, two broken in, like the ones she had just crawled into. Fanny tried to shine a beam on the rest of her surroundings, but as soon as she did this, the tiny bulb flickered out, leaving her in complete darkness. Oh no! The only sign of light now came from the crack under the door of the stairs on the ceiling.
The only thing she could see around her were the eyes of the mice. Cobwebs decorated the rafters, making the mice look like they were perched on clouds.
Fanny knelt down and peered into the eyes of one of the mice. No pupils. Just white. She found herself reaching for it, but the mouse sneered, his eyes glowed red and he went in for a bite. Instinctively, she fell backward and let out an ear-piercing screech. The angry mouse snapped back into line, its eyes falling white again.
“I need to get out of here,” Fanny said out loud. Her heart thumped and she thought the mice could hear it. She went to turn around, to leave, but found no exit. The long staircase she had descended had disappeared. “You’ve got to be kidding me?”
Suddenly, squeaking laughter from the thousands of mice echoed all around her. She looked down and saw that every last one of them was now pointing at the steps stemming upward from the ceiling.
“And how do you suppose I get up those stairs?” she asked. “Now, if this were a fairytale, or a portal into Wonderland, this would be the part where a little bottle would pop up and say ‘Drink Me’ and I’d drink it and suddenly have the ability to fly or something, right?” At this point, she figured she was dreaming. No, she definitely knew she was dreaming. She had to be, right? Maybe when I fell in Jenny’s basement I hit my head and was knocked unconscious, she thought.
Still, she looked around. No magic bottle. No magic beans to grow a beanstalk. Nothing. Well, except for the mice.
“Would you stop staring at me?!” she yelled, flinging her defunct flashlight into the flea-bitten crowd. Still, they didn’t break formation.
She threw her hands up in the air in frustration, only to notice her fingertips glowing. She remembered her skin glowing as she walked down the long cement staircase, but it quickly went away when she reached Jenny’s upside-down basement.
She turned her palms toward the ceiling, toward the staircase, and immediately felt lighter on her feet. Looking down, she noticed that she was, in fact, hovering over the ground. For a moment, she hesitated, but since she was certain she was dreaming, she figured she might as well go with it and reached for the wooden banister above her.
When her fingers grazed the wood, Fanny felt a pang in her stomach and everything around her flipped in one swift, uneven movement. She was flung toward the staircase, and when she looked up, the basement was right-side up again. She looked to see where the mice had gone, she found them still on the rafters, hanging upside down above her head like furry bats. Their white eyes stared down at her.
They watched her as she climbed the stairs back into Jenny’s house.
“Jenny?” Fanny called when she reached the top of the stairs. “Hannah?”
Goosebumps spread up and down her arms as an icy breeze froze her in place. She clambered up the basement staircase. She found herself shivering in Jenny’s once warm family room. Everything was just as she had left it. The sleeping bags in the middle of Jenny’s lush family room, the snacks scattered across the floor, even the movie Hocus Pocus was still paused at the exact same spot it was at when they dared her to go into that wretched basement.
Still, there was no sign of Jenny. Or Hannah.
A floorboard creaked above her. Oh, so they’re upstairs? They want me to be really scared now, huh? Fanny thought.
“It’s not going to work…!” Fanny yelled. Wait until they hear about what I’ve seen. The mice. The upside down staircase. The glowing hands and skin.
She huffed upstairs and checked every room, Jenny’s, her parents, the guest room, even her older brothers room that was always Off Limits. Nothing. No sign of anyone. Not even Jenny’s parents.
As she started downstairs, she heard what sounded like a body flopping on a tile floor. She raced down the stairs and into the kitchen. Nothing. They’re quick, Fanny thought, but not as quick as me. I’m the schools cross-country star, not Jenny, she’s way too fat to run. And Hannah, she’s not smart enough to think of all of this.
Fanny walked out the kitchen, thoroughly pissed off. “Hello? Umm, ok, not funny anymore guys. What started off like a page from Coraline became some cheesey opening scene from Scream 10. Over it,” she shouted.
As she reached the living room, she saw Hannah and Jenny standing with their backs toward her, watching the paused TV screen.
“There you are! Seriously? Where did you guys go? I have to say, you had me…” Fanny said, reaching for Hannah’s shoulder. Hannah didn’t respond. She tapped Jenny, but Jenny didn’t flinch; her body was hard as the cement wall she had felt earlier, and just as cold.
Fanny began to hear the pitter-patter of small feet scurrying around her. She looked behind her and saw the mice hopping on Jenny’s furniture. When they stopped, Fanny grabbed Jenny and whisked her around, hoping to get the attention of her friends.
That’s when she noticed Jenny’s face, her skin droopy and tarred, like it had been melting. Her lips were replaced by a zipper. Her eyes, stark white.
“Cut it out, girls,” she said, but it didn’t feel like a prank anymore. The lights flickered.
They both looked Fanny right in the eyes, and instead of speaking, let out little grunts, sounding like angry dogs. There was a sickening stench in the room, like fresh vomit and rotting flesh. Fanny couldn’t get her eyes off Jenny and Hannah. They looked so pale… so weird. She took a step back. Then she realized that the smell was actually coming from them. They reeked!
Their flesh was rotting. Little black shiny worms came crawling out of Jenny eyes. A fat gray maggot slid out of Hannah’s right nostril and began to glide across her face. Within seconds, a thousand red tubeworms were going up and down Jenny’s hands.
Fanny could feel beads of sweat collecting on her forehead. Then, she felt something run down her spine. It wasn’t just sweat. It felt like something with feet. Like a bug. She scratched her back, and felt something gooey and oozing.
When she looked at her finger, she found a dead fly where her forefinger should have been. She shook her palm, but the fly just wouldn’t fall. The lights flickered again. Fanny looked up to Jenny and Hannah had disappeared. In place of the television screen was a mirror.
And in place of her own reflection, Fanny could only see the fly. This couldn’t be real. She HAD to get out of the room.
She took another step back and bumped into something. Someone. She turned around to see Jenny’s mother, Mrs. Capelli. Only, she was much broader and larger than her usual petite self. And tinted blue?
“Stay for dinner, Fanny,” said Mrs. Capelli. Only, it didn’t sound like Mrs. Capelli. There was something hollow about that voice, like it was coming from the end of a long tube. That’s when Fanny noticed the gleaming blade of the giant knife in Mrs. Capelli’s left hand. Her white apron was stained with specks of brown. Blood. It had to be blood.
Mrs. Capelli began to walk across the room towards Fanny. “Did you meet our friends from the basement?” The lights flashed violently now. Mrs. Capelli got closer to Fanny. “They’re really quite lovely, aren’t they dear?”
Thud. Thud. Thud. The floor shook with each step.
Something gripped Fanny’s ankles. She found herself unable to move. She tried to lift her left leg, but it just wouldn’t budge. She looked down and freaked out.
Around each of her ankles was a wrist, one belonging to Jenny, and another one to Hannah. They were lying on the floor, on their sides, grunting and growling. Jenny began to gnaw at Fanny’s toe.
Fanny thrashed back and forth and screamed until she had no voice. Her head felt foggy and light. She heard her name.
Her heart threatened to stop.
Sweat soaked her cheeks.
Her skin itched. She was dying she was certain of it.
“Open your eyes!”
Fanny listened to the voice. Painfully, she opened her eyes. Both Hannah and Jenny stared at her. Jenny stifled a giggle, but Hannah’s face wore concern.
“You fell,” Hannah said.
“What?” Fanny croaked out.
“You tumbled down the stairs,” Jenny said with a laugh.
“Girls! What’s going on down there?” Mrs. Capelli stood at the top of the basement stairs.
“Fanny fell!” Jenny called back.
“Where are the mice? The staircase?” Fanny’s eyes darted around. “You were….you both were…”
“What?” they said in unison.
Fanny gazed around. Her head throbbed with pain. A knot formed on the back of her head. Each time she moved pain shot through her entire body. She was sprawled at the bottom of the step. “Nevermind.”
The girls helped Fanny to her feet. They started back up the stairs. Mrs. Capelli brought an ice-pack.
“Mom, I think Fanny broke one of the wooden stairs when she fell,” Jenny said.
Fanny gawked behind her. In the slit beneath the basement door, she swore she saw the red glow of tiny eyes in the darkness.
This story was written by Teen Writers Bloc members Mary Thompson, Dhonielle Clayton, Jess Verdi, Riddhi Parekh, and Steven Shaw, in a round. One person started the story and then passed it to another person to add, then that person picked up where the first person left off and added text, then sent it on. The story took on many dimensions. We hope you enjoyed it.
Photo Credit: Clitheroe Paranormal Investigators