Magnum Opus, Part 2 of 3
(For Part 1, click here)
The next few days were filled with unpacking, chores, and more playing in the basement. During one ill-fated imaginary scenario Sean used a bottle of white wine – which had the word PHANTOM on the label – to act as a rocket ship when it slipped from his hands and shattered all over the floor. He ran to the kitchen to grab a broom and dustpan so that he could sweep up the mess before his mother discovered it.
As he was coming back down the basement stairs he noticed the red light emanating from under the door to the dark room. He was fairly certain it hadn’t been on before, but he wasn’t entirely sure. He pulled open the door so that he could turn off the light when something caught his eye. Hanging from a wire was a picture of him playing with his superheroes and the still-intact bottle of wine. But how? No one had been in the basement with him, and his mom certainly didn’t know the first thing about developing photographs. Someone else had done it, had been watching him play and photographing him, and this realization made his blood run cold. It felt terribly wrong. He decided he would take his chances with his mother’s punishment for breaking the wine bottle, and ran up the stairs and into her bedroom where she was watching TV.
He told her what he had seen in a breathless flurry, and it took him a few attempts before Carla understood him. She agreed to go investigate, retrieve his superheroes, and not be angry about the broken bottle. She tucked him into her bed and went about her tasks. While Sean waited he pulled the covers over his head and listened for her footsteps to return to the room. When they finally did, he felt relieved.
“I’ve got your superheroes, honey. I didn’t see the picture.”
“You didn’t? But it was hanging right there on a wire! You have to believe me.”
“Well, it wasn’t there. But I promise that everything is OK.” She looked at him thoughtfully and cupped his cheek in her hand. “But for now, maybe stay out of the basement. Remember, we have people coming next week to look at all of the things my cousin left behind, so maybe stay out of there until after that happens. OK?”
Sean nodded. “But do you believe me about the picture?”
She smiled. “I do. I promise that I do. Come on. I’ll tuck you and your superheroes into your own bed.”
A few hours later, sleep was still elusive, and Sean had made a scramble of his covers after tossing and turning. He retrieved the flashlight from next to his bed and pulled it and his superheroes under the covers, shining the beam on them so that his mother wouldn’t notice that he was playing well past his bedtime.
“Where’s Batman?” he whispered to himself. He searched under the bed and on all of his shelves, but the action figure wasn’t there. This only meant one thing: it was still in the basement. Sean took a moment to weigh the risks – both the risk of bumping into something scary in the basement, and also the risk of getting in trouble – before deciding that he was willing to take it. He grabbed his Captain America shield and made his way downstairs while trying to ignore the fear bubbling in his belly. He opened the door to the basement and quickly flipped on the light switch, holding the shield in front of his face for good measure. When he peeked out from behind the shield he saw that the coast was clear. It wasn’t until he was halfway down the stairs when he noticed that something was different.
The dark window in the door less room was no longer dark. A rectangle of light was emanating from it as if a bulb had been turned on within the room. Sean’s curiosity trampled over any feelings of fear, and he set down his shield and pulled the footstool under the window. Finally, he would be able to see what mysteries and surprises those walls were hiding. He stepped up on the stool and stood on his tiptoes. His stomach swarmed with butterflies as he anticipated seeing a treasure chest, or dinosaur bones, or any number of amazing things.
He didn’t anticipate the face that appeared suddenly on the other side of the window. A feeling like electric shock slammed his body and a drum beat of fear thunked in his brain. The concrete floor met his spine as he fell backwards off of the footstool. Darkening the window was a man’s head. He was wearing a stocking hat over long hair, and two stinging white eyes peered out from a bony, soot-covered face. The mouth slowly opened in a silent scream.
Sean scrambled up the stairs on all fours, panting and whimpering like an animal being hunted. When he got to the top step he turned around. The head was no longer in the window. It was attached to a full body that was standing at the bottom of the stairs. A tall, lanky figure in a black trench coat stood there, watching him through those blazing white eyes in that soot covered face, mouth agape. Sean shrieked and forced himself to his feet.
“MOM! MOM! There’s a man in the basement!” Carla threw off her sleep mask and had the shocked look of someone who had been startled out of a deep sleep. In one fluid motion she turned on her bedside table lamp and wrapped her arms around her distraught, shaking son.
Twenty minutes later the police arrived. They searched for the better part of an hour, but found no sign of an intruder. When Sean described the man he had seen to the police, a wave of understanding hit his mother and drained all color from her face.
“Ma’am, are you alright?” the female officer asked as she placed a hand on Carla’s shoulder.
“Yes. Yes, I’m fine. I think I know what’s happening here.”
“Oh? Can you say more, ma’am?”
Carla thought for a moment before forcing a smile. “Never mind. It’s nothing. I think my brave boy here scared the man away,” she said, catching her son’s eye and winking. When the officers were finished, Carla thanked them and tucked Sean into her bed.
“The man you saw won’t bother you again, honey. I promise.”
“How do you know?”
“Moms know these things.” She kissed him on the forehead. Sean seemed satisfied with this answer and after a few minutes succumbed to sleep.
Carla stayed awake for a while, scrolling through her phone until she found the exact picture of her house that she was looking for. In the foreground was a tall, handsome man with long, dark hair and a face filled with joy. His cheeks were plump with no traces of disease, and his eyes twinkled with life. He wore a black trench coat and on his head was a stocking cap. The picture was captioned, “Move in day! Finally!” She zoomed in on his face and stroked it affectionately for a moment before turning off her phone and snuggling next to her son. She knew what she would have to do.