Author: well, if any one reads this please tell us what you think. We really really really want reviews!
Up the Coal Shoot
It was a lovely, perfectly ordinary fall afternoon. Not the sort of afternoon in which strange and wonderful things are likely to happen. The trees, already turned out in their brightest, autumn best, were just beginning to drop their leaves, to be swept away by a soft breeze that carried the barest hint of the coming winter. The distant cacophony of car horns, the hollers of street venders, and the general hubbub of city life wove through the fabric of the dying day, lending a grounded air of reality to the otherwise surreal and dark streets of East End London.
The houses were old and much dilapidated. Grime blotted the broken windows, and the dust of many years past collected in the crevices of the rotting and worm-eaten door jambs. Trash choked the mouths of the narrow alleys, and shadows hung thick through the streets, as though night never truly released its hold on that place. It was easy to imagine that time did not pass there, in that place. In the hush, fallen in the sudden absence of the wind, one could almost hear the voices of those who had lived and suffered and died there. It was as if the very stones whispered and muttered to the shadows and the dust, their only true companions. It was as though Jack the Ripper had never left.
A small band of children loitered at the entrance of the alley. Dressed in baggy jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers, the would-be band of adventures looked entirely out of place. They were engaged in a heated debate over a particularly rundown old pile standing on the opposite side of the street.
"Are you completely out of your bloody mind!" cried a young girl tremulously. "Just take good, long look down that street Henry! Does that look safe to you?"
"It's not an issue of safety Shannon," a flaxen haired boy said rolling his eyes, "It's all about the spur of the moment, the adventure." His eyes lit up as he gestured towards the house, his voice dropping to a reverent whisper. The girl to his left eyed him with amusement, while her companion smothered a snicker behind her hand.
"Of course, you do realize that this is all codswallop." she replied with disdain.
"Oh August", sighed Henry, "must you always insist upon taking the fun out of everything." He regarded his white haired friend with exasperation.
"I'm just stating the facts". August replied sulkily.
"Oh come on guys, are we going in the house or not!" demanded the tall, brown haired girl who had laughed at Shannon.
"Agnes you have no sense of morality what-so-ever. That's called breaking and entering!" said Shannon desperately trying to squash her friend's interests.
Henry smirked. "Since when has Agnes had morals?"
"Oh, probably never," August quipped.
"Hey!" Agnes cried indignantly punching her friend in the arm.
"It's too late anyways, what would my mum say?" whined Shannon.
Henry sputtered indignantly. "What would you're mum say? What would you're….why'd ye come in the first place Shannon?!"
Shannon flushed and regarded her feet shamefacedly, mumbling an incoherent explanation.
"Well," said Agnes, "if none of you cowards are going to come, I'm going by myself," and took off toward the house.
"Wait," yelled Henry starting after her, "One does not simply walk into the house of Jack the Ripper. You need a good paranormal expert."
"You don't even know if that is his house!" August called after them, "And since when have you been a paranormal expert?"
"Well if you don't want to come," yelled Henry over his shoulder as he and Agnes reached the front door, "You can stay right there….with Shannon."
August watched with a mixture of apprehension and curiosity as her two friends snuck through the door into the dark house. She prided herself on being a firm realist who repudiated any form of fantasy, be it mythical gods, ghosts, aliens, or (God forbid) talking animals. Anything that aroused a hint of superstition was to be taken lightly, since the reaction was merely due to a chemical imbalance in a body's biological system. Life was life and that's all there was to it. The world didn't need any fantastical or paranormal explanations to give it sense. Everything just 'was,' or so she and her fellow existentialists liked to think.
However, in this particular escapade, it was not just concern for her friends' safety that drove her to enter the crumbling building, but also a hint of curiosity. 'Besides,' she reasoned, 'think of all the history that's still (well supposedly) preserved in there.'
History was not so vague that she could disclaim it, well at least portions of it anyways. There had to be at least several documents, at least one primary account, and several secondary accounts to bolster history's claims and some good strong evidence such as bones, or preserved manuscripts. Otherwise, figures such as King Arthur who were steeped more in myth than in history could remain trapped in their fictitious realms for all she cared.
As she hovered there, caught in debate between her two states of mind, Shannon became ever more agitated, stepping at first towards the house and then after several seconds of hard consideration, scurrying back to August. This continued for several minutes until August, without a word set off toward the house.
"Hey, wait for me!" Shannon squeaked as she hurried after he friend.
The house was old, musty, and dank. Small shafts of light filtered in through the grimy windows lighting the room in a dim, dusty haze. Gray sheets covered indistinguishable lumps and looked as if the slightest exhalation would cause them to disintegrate. August, realizing that she had been holding her breathe let it out in an audible whoosh. This place was amazing.
There was no trace of Henry or Agnes except for the small footprints on the dust encrusted floor. There was a slight touch on her shoulder and she turned to see Shannon beside her. "What is all this?" she mouthed. August rolled her eyes.
"It's a parlor," she said clearly. "Everything's covered in sheets to protect it from….."
"Shhhhh!" Shannon shook her head violently, waving her arms like a frantic chicken. "Not so loud! We don't want to wake the spirits."
"Oh spare me the theatrics," she sneered and followed the footsteps towards a gloomy stair case. "Henry and Agnes are upstairs."
With one last contemptuous look at Shannon, August started up the stairs. Shannon hesitated a moment and then which a terrified whimper bounded after her.
They found themselves in a long forebodingly dark hallway. "I can't see a blasted thing," August muttered placing her hands against the moldy walls. "Henry? Agnes?" she called ignoring the shushing sounds Shannon was making behind her.
Silence. 'Where could they be,' she mused taking a tentative step forwards. As she opened her mouth to call once more for her friends, a hand materialized from out of the gloom, grabbed her shirt collar and yanked her sideways into a darkened room. Shannon shrieked and toppled in after her.
After several minutes of chaos, August managed to dislodge herself from underneath Shannon and rip the hand from her mouth. "Just what in the bloody hell do you think…." She started to cry indignantly but found herself once again silenced and staring face to face with Henry, his eyes round with warning, shaking his head wordlessly, a finger against his lips. "Oh not you too!" she tried to say, but it came out muffled, given that Henry's hand was still firmly clamped against her mouth. She tried to pry it off, but Henry became all the more insistent. He was hopping up and down pointing wildly towards the corner of the room. August stopped struggling to squint at the long curtains that were moving backwards and forwards against the window. 'Oh for God's sake!' she thought as Henry hauled her out of the room.
As soon as they were in hall, Henry released August who started shouting at the top of her lungs "What in the blazes is you're bloody problem! For the last time, there is no bloody ghost in this house!"
"Shhh!" all three moved forwards to quiet her, but she shoved them off and whispered "Ok, ok, I'll be quiet, but will you tell me exactly what is going…."
"It's a ghost August," Henry whispered terrified. "We saw it, Agnes and me. He was standing by the window pulling the curtains back."
"It's true August," whispered Agnes. Agnes, though like August did not have much faith in myth, usually joined Henry's exploits for the pure 'spur of moment.' She liked a good adventure and was more often than not the perpetrator of the friend's many jaunts. She was also an exceptional prankster.
She eyed Agnes' fearful expression dubiously. "Come on guys, really"
"No August, I'm serious!"
"Stop pulling my leg, I know you're joking."
"It's true," Shannon piped up tremulously, "I saw it too."
August looked at each of her friends. Henry appeared to be caught between fear and excitement, his eyes roving around the contours of the darkened hallway, tense and alert, Agnes was serious and pale, and Shannon was just plain terrified.
"Guys…." She said weakly. Although all her rationale was screaming against it, she was quite thrown by her friend's genuine fear. She felt her hair stand up on end, and a slight prickling at the back of her neck.
"It's getting cold," said Henry. They stood silent for a moment, shivering, their breaths coming out in puffs and then all of sudden without any apparent explanation, the door slammed shut.
"I'm leaving," stated Shannon, with just barely contained hysteria and headed towards the staircase in half a run.
"Me too," said Agnes and followed Shannon's sprint down the stairs.
Henry looked at August and smiled slightly. "Ghost," he attempted to scoff, though it came out as more of a squeak and then with a shrug took off after Agnes and Shannon.
August couldn't believe her eyes. Henry, the paranormal expert was running away from a slamming door. This, he would never live down.
"Guys," August shouted after them, "Guys, stop! We haven't even seen the house yet!"
August bounded down the stairs and saw the fleeing trio congregated around the front door, all in complete hysterics, tugging at an unyielding door handle.
"We're locked in!" shrieked Shannon collapsing in a sobbing heap on the dusty floor.
"This can't be happening," Agnes repeated over and over as though it would all resolve itself into being just a bad dream.
"It's the ghost," shouted Henry slamming up against the door in a desperate, but completely inane attempt to break it down.
"We're all going to die!" Shannon moaned into the floor.
"Oh for God's sake!" shouted August from the bottom of the stairs, "It's not a ghost! Will you lot just calm down for a second so I can explain! You're being ridiculous!"
"August," said Agnes seriously, "We saw the ghost, actually saw it. He moved the curtains aside."
"No," said August, "You imagined you saw a ghost, because first of all, ghosts don't exist!"
Henry who had decided that actually breaking the door down was an utterly useless endeavor, turned towards August, his cheeks red with fear, exertion, and anger. "He moved the bloody curtains, for Christ's sake!"
"That's because the window was open!" shouted August. 'Really,' she thought
'This was getting ridiculous.'
"The window was not open!" Henry shouted back to her.
"Then it was a draft," said August simply. "Come on guys," she pleaded, "You're minds are just playing tricks on you. We haven't even explored the rest of the house yet."
"You can explore the house. I'm leaving," said Shannon who had finally picked herself up off the floor. "It's already late, I'm scared, and I want to go home."
"But the door's locked," wailed Agnes gesturing helplessly towards the door.
"No it's not," said Agnes walking over to the door and opening it. "You've been turning the handle the wrong direction."
There was a moment of sheepish silence. "Alright," Agnes admitted, "Maybe we did let our minds run away with us a little bit."
August sighed with relief. She had a least won back one ally. She looked towards Henry expectantly.
"No," said Henry shortly.
"No what?" asked August, her bravado sinking. This was not good.
"No, there was a ghost upstairs and I'm with Shannon. I think we should leave." Shannon for a moment forgot her fear and regarded her friend in shock. August was completely gob-smacked. Henry agree with Shannon? Hell really had frozen over. Next thing she'd know, she'd be saying vampires really exist.
"Well then," she said in a mock pleasant voice, "only the upstairs is haunted, so I am going to explore the downstairs. If you three fraidy cats don't want to come, I'll go by myself," and with that she turned and headed to what was unmistakably the basement door.
"No August!" all three chorused and rushed after her, where she was peering down a long stairway that ended with one lonely door.
Henry gulped. "You're not going down there are you, really?"
"Actually," said August matter of factly, "I am." She descended the dark stairway and paused at the door to look up at her friends hovering at the top. "Come on guys, it'll be fun." When she received no answer she sighed and stepped through the door.
It was cold in the basement. Not the kind of cold that had chilled them previously, but a damp cold that smelled of mold and earth. The basement walls were uncovered and the stones glistened wetly in the shallow light from a lone, narrow, boarded up window in one corner. On the right stood a massive cupboard, and along the wall next to it, a line of nasty looking hooks. What these were used for, August had no clue, but they ignited a sudden sense of unease. She suppressed the prickling sensation with an indignant humph and started over towards a dark hollow on the left hand side.
As she drew nearer she noticed a darker larger shadow. She stopped short and cocked her head curiously. As she took a step nearer she saw the dull gleam of metal that has been covered over with black paint. 'It's a coal shoot,' she said to herself wonderingly. She leaned over to peer inside and with a whoosh she found herself sucked upwards.