Always Keep the Axe Sharp Pt. 2

by Scott Tauser 6 months ago in fiction

The Shape on the Stairs

Always Keep the Axe Sharp Pt. 2

Arriving at the old farm brought back a swarm of feelings and memories. It was always a sight to behold as one came up the old road, now nearly forgotten and overgrown with weeds and tree branches. It had gotten so bad over the years that the farmhouse and barn were barely visible from the road, just ghostly silhouettes against the gray sky. Approximately 1,000 yards or so from the farmhouse a large tree had fallen across the road so the car could not take me all the way, I was forced to walk the remaining distance.

The old dirt road had seen better days, same as the rest of the property, it was full of holes filled with fetid water, where the road survived grass had begun to grow. In a few more months, if unattended to, it would be as though there was never a road here at all. Maybe that's the way it should be, I found myself thinking. I had never felt at ease here, even when my grandparents and mother were alive, it always felt frigid and empty. Now that I was traversing this ground on my lonesome, it felt as though this was the only place left, that the whole outside world had disappeared.

The house was noticeably worn down as I approached the front porch, it hovered dark and sinister in the evening mist. The porch steps bowed and creaked as I slowly made my way toward the door, fumbling with the antique keys and mumbling to myself. As shabby as the outside of the house was, the inside was surprisingly clean and well kept, a shock for sure as I was expecting a catastrophic level of untidiness. My hand fumbled in the dark for the lantern I was told to expect just inside the door, finding it I brought it close to my face and tried desperately to remember how to open the damned thing. The farm was still strikingly primitive, compared to life in the city, being so far off from the beaten path had kept it isolated from modern advances. I suppose my grandfather had a way of doing, that as well he was a simple uneducated man and preferred things to stay as they had always been.

I finally got the lantern lit, I am embarrassed to say it took a turn longer than it should for an educated man such as myself. The amber light of the flame lit up the main room of the farmhouse, and I could make out the vague shapes of furniture and lamps, it was like looking into a long forgotten past, nothing of the last four or five decades had intruded into these somber chambers. Pictures of relatives I had never known the names of stared back at me from the timeless abyss, in the air was a slight scent of decay and pipe tobacco.

I moved toward the kitchen and lit a few standing lamps along the way, and the place began to feel a little less like a tomb and more like a place where actual people once lived. The kitchen was just as I remembered it, I had spent a large amount of time in that room as a child, helping my grandmother or playing on the floor as she cooked, while humming some forgotten tune from her childhood. For the first time, I felt a pang of mourning, for my grandmother though, not for Grampy. I still had no feeling one way or the other about his passing. After all he had been busy on the farm most of my life there, barely ate meals with us, and showed little interest in children's games. He was but a ghost of a spectre in the background of my memories, except for his sayings: "Always keep the axe sharp."

I lit the lamps in the kitchen and moved over to the sink, using a small pitcher of water I primed the pump that fed the sink and pumped the handle several times. Before long cold clean water came pouring out of the pump and I filled a second pitcher with this water. I let some water run into my hands and splashed my face, it was cold and refreshing after the long day of traveling. I dried my hands and face with a towel, and then poured some of the fresh water into a glass and drank deeply, the water had a clean and reviving quality that was sadly lacking in the city water of Arkham, which sometimes came out green sour tasting, often times it had to be boiled to it make it drinkable.

I opened several cabinets to see that the ushers who had taken care of my grandfathers' wishes had left me some canned goods and food as arranged beforehand so that I would not starve during my visit. The driver who had left me at the farm was due to return in three day, which I figured would be more than enough time to examine the property and it's contents and come up with a plan on moving forward with the sale of the property and anything of value on site. There was no way of assessing anything with the sun going down and the night encroaching, so I set off for the upstairs to find a room suitable for sleeping in.

I took the small narrow set of steps off to the side of the kitchen that once upon a time served as the servants' staircase, back when there were indeed servants to he had. That was a time well before my mother and my time here, and well before my grandparents time also. Still, the servants' stairs were the quickest way to get to the bedrooms, I left the lamp burning in the kitchen so I could see to get down the stairs in the dark of night, should I awaken thirsty at any point.

There were three bedrooms at the top of the servants' stairs, the main bedroom where my grandparents slept, and two smaller bedrooms where my mother and I slept respectively. The stairs led up to a landing that went around to the main stairs that led the front room, then the servants' stairs continued up to two small servants rooms, which my grandmother used as a sewing room and a storage room. I never liked those rooms, they frightened me as a child, and I always suspected them to be haunted, though I never spent enough time in them to test such theories.

I found, upon inspection, that none of the bedrooms were in any shape for harboring my weary body for the evening. The bed in my grandparents' room had already been dismantled and the mattress was nowhere to be found, and the mattresses in the two other rooms had practically turned to dust with age. Being more than a little tired and worn out from my travels I grabbed a quilt from one of the dressers and set out to sleep on the small couch that was on the landing in between the two smaller bedrooms. It was not the most comfortable piece of furniture to sleep on, but it was better than sleeping on the floor or in a pile of dust that used to be a mattress.

I laid down and covered myself with the warm handmade country quilt, the quilt had that smell of cloth that had been stored in an old oaken chest. From where I lay I could just see down the servants' stairs, and recognize the flickering light from the oil lamp I had left burning for the night. I wondered if there was enough oil in it to keep it lit until the sun came up, as it was the only light I had left on and the farmhouse suddenly seemed darker than I had ever known it to be.

I, until this point, had not been keenly aware of how quiet it had gotten as night fell, I had been stomping around, opening doors, and moving things; it hadn't dawned on me that I would soon be alone in the quiet and dark of this decrepit farmhouse. As a man who doesn't startle or scare easily I was surprised how unsettled I was by the dark and the quiet, this lasted but a few minutes, as I was so tired that soon my eyes fell shut and I was asleep.

I don't know how long I had slept, but at some point in the night, I awoke with a start and sat straight up on the couch. It was quiet and dark still, but something had woken me from my slumber. I could feel the static electricity in the air like just before a thunderstorm, all the hairs on my arms and neck were at full attention. It was clear that night, no storm was anticipated. My eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, and I fixed my gaze on the servants' stairway leading down to the kitchen. To my horror I could plainly see a black shape or mass, almost completely obscuring the light coming from the lamp I had left burning. Only a few rays broke through around the edges of the black shape letting me know that it was still burning.

I sat there in abject fear and terror for a few moments, before my rational brain could take control again. Before I could utter a word or move a muscle, however the mass shifted and moved back down the stairs. When I say moved it is a bit misleading, for I had never seen anything move in such a manner as this shape moved. To the best of my descriptive abilities, I can only say that it was as if the mass was the last bit of sand moving through the apex of an hourglass, that moved quickly and effortlessly as if gravity had just sucked it down.

Once again the light was visible and the stairway illuminated, with this I was again emboldened, I lept up and gave chase of this thin, down the stairs taking two and three narrow steps at a time. When I got to the kitchen however, there was nothing, likewise in the other rooms and the doors and windows latched and locked from the inside.

After I conducted my search by lantern light of the whole farmhouse, I concluded that there was nothing else in that house with me and proceeded to go back to sleep. After a quarter of an hour of tossing, I finally fell back to dreamless black sleep and didn't stir again until morning.

To Be Continued...

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Scott Tauser

A central Pennsylvania native who has lived in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Gainesville Georgia and now resides in Philadelphia. Scott draws cartoons, designs t-shirts, writes stories, does photography and freelance Graphic Design. 

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