Jack thought he heard someone in the house. Normally, this would mean only that his one of his sister’s kids were upstairs playing, but it was Christmas Eve and the whole family was nestled into the new house. He was only there to cover up the remaining furniture when he heard a series of ominous thumps through the emaciated ceiling, followed at length by the grating of unknown boots against the worn hardwood floors. “Is Everett still here?” Jack wondered briefly after a silent pause. Sometimes his older brother would sit, almost longingly, in the dismal master bedroom that had once belonged to their parents. Jack languidly recalled the sound of his father stomping in his work boots up to that room, exhausted after a long night in the mines. He could still smell the stench of coal that clung relentlessly to his father. It took him far too long to realize that the chalky smell was not only in his imagination, but also in the actual air. Dismissing this with a shake of his head, Jack placed the last of the white sheets over a water-stained table and startled when he heard the series of thumps from above again. Intent on getting whatever critter that was making the racket up there, Jack began to climb the stairs; that is, until he felt a fine powder where his fingers had touched the railing. Coal dust; he knew it well. “There’s no way it could be… is there?” All of the bones in his body suddenly begged him to get out, get away, get far away from this blasted coal dust. Still, he kept climbing the stairs. No matter what - or who - was up there, he was going to confront it. However, the closer he came to the huge carved Mahogany door at the top of the stairs, the thicker the smell of coal became and the harder it was to breathe. His lungs seemed to squeeze down on themselves, and he was forced back down the stairs to catch his breath. The memory of his father - the smell of coal, the sounds his work boots made against the floor - flashed through his mind, and he knew that he wasn’t alone. Holding his breath determinedly, Jack dashed back up the stairs. At the top, he thought his eyes might pop out of his head from the pressure and his burly face was undoubtedly red. Still he grabbed the doorknob and opened the great door a crack, and all at once the pressure seemed to relieve in one satisfying sigh. Hands suddenly cold and his heart steadily pounding, Jack pushed the door enough to stick half his body into the room, only to find the air clouded with black dust. Through the mist, he could just barely make out a hazy figure. “You aren’t-” Jack was cut off as he was pulled in by an invisible force, the door slamming behind him, never to be opened again.
October 26, 2012