Hey, all... there's so much amazingly delicious drama here that I had to involve myself. And meanwhile, I started writing something, so it works perfectly.
This was supposed to be for NaNo, but I epically phailed at that, so it's on my own time, I guess... I'd really like to finish it.
The chaptering is ridiculously strange. I have no idea how to break it up properly, so the breakoffs are kind of arbitrary... I tried to do it at Important and Significant intervals, and keep related bits together... but meh. I'm weird and I can't write something normal.
The hardest thing to pinpoint may just be where it all started. It could have started when they met, or when he moved out. One might say it began when she found it, others might say it was when she became enamored with it. And yet, for our purposes, it was none of these.
It started when Abby walked down the basement stairs tentatively, as if one might collapse underneath her if she stepped to hard or quickly. It was a terrifying journey for a ten-year-old, this one into the bowels of the house. The light switch was inexplicably at the bottom of the stairs, and the light streaming in from the window at the top of the stairwell cast a strange gray-blue glow over everything she could see.
She jumped over the last few steps and dashed toward the light. As it switched on and nothing jumped out at her she exhaled strongly, relieved. The basement area was oddly small, and most of the house's underbelly was only accessible via cramped crawlspaces. Boxes with various labels-- Christmas, Halloween, baby stuff, pictures-- were piled along the walls. The box Abby beelined toward was unlabeled; the 'junk box,' they called it. She clawed through it, tossing things she was uninterested in across the floor. They barely used the basement, and if someone else came down they would clean up, not her.
The things were generally small, but there were some larger ones, though she wasn't paying particular attention to the things she tossed aside. So, when one object met the cement floor with a striking crash and shatter, she nearly jumped inside the box for cover. Once she identified the object-- a picture frame whose glass had shattered-- she quickly went to work covering her tracks. The fear of getting in trouble with her mother was much more real than that of monsters in the closet.
She stretched her sleeves over her hands, corralled the glass shards into a pile, and pushed them into a small space in between two boxes... safely out of sight. She picked up the frame a stuffed it into the bottom of a nearby box, covering it with old Christmas decorations and wires whose use had long been forgotten. It took a while for her to locate the photograph that had been inside; the black and white picture blending in with the gray floor. She didn't know what it was and didn't bother to look. Soon enough it had been pushed underneath some crate and Abby was sprinting up the stairs, away from the darkness of the basement.
Claire and Bryan had been childhood friends. Their parents had been friends, and their siblings had been friends. As time passed and everyone grew older, the families did drift apart, but these two always remained in touch. When Lori was born, Bryan attended the Christening. When Claire got divorced, Bryan helped her move into a more reasonable house. When night school, forty hour workweeks, and two young children became too much, Bryan went as far as to move in with the women-- something platonic, temporary, and much appreciated.
The boxes had been stacked meticulously in the living room. There were neat piles, each one the same height. Claire stood and surveyed her work. It had been nothing but procrastination, really; she still had no true plan for where to put all of her friend's things in the small house. She had moved the girls into a shared room, something they had been oddly receptive to, and given Bryan Lori's old room. Yet even so, now there were doubles of things... simple things such as toasters, and more daunting ones such as furniture. She considered selling the stuff, but a garage sale would bring in a few hundred dollars and the most, and besides, what if the ever needed new furniture? A new toaster? She would be thankful to not have to spend money on something new.
In the long run, it seemed better to keep as much as she could of the practical things. Yet just because this was the best decision in her eyes did not make it the simplest. Stashing everything in the modestly sized basement seemed the most viable option, but would also require massive organization of her extraneous things. So she stood, staring, trying to decide whether or not it was worth it.
Eventually, Bryan walked in, back from returning the truck. “Hey. So, any decisions?” He eyed the neat stacks and rows incredulously.
She took a deep breath. “Yup. It's going to the basement. But we'll have to organize things down there a little, first.”
This was easier said than done. Upon getting down into the dirty and dusty basement, they discovered boxes that were empty, rotting, half full, and full of things Claire did not even remember she had. So many things had to be thrown away and so much completely redone and cleaned that the task seemed completely unreasonable. But once it was under way, Claire thought it was equally insane to stop right in the middle.
Bryan's boxes sat in their assigned places for a while, but eventually came there turn to be sorted, consolidated, and moved. Claire thought it would make more sense to sort through the things before bringing them downstairs, something that would hopefully lessen their load. Bryan, however, was insistent that everything be brought down, and that he be allowed to go through it at his leisure. They were personal things, Claire recognized, and it would be less work for her, so she hastily agreed to this arrangement.
The television flashed images and cast strange shadows on the wall. Claire tried to block the noise and light out and concentrate on her work. It had been a completely idiotic decision, she lamented over and over, to drop out of college to get married. If they had waited, she would have a degree and a better job. Maybe they would have realized they would just divorce anyway. Hell, she could have stayed in school after the marriage. It would have been a strain financially, but a much more intelligent decision in the long run.
But no matter how much she went through what her options were then, that did not change where she was. Brain exhausted, she tossed her pencil down and leaned back in the chair to stretch. She was done; the daydreaming and wishful thinking was her mind's white flag. Perhaps putting the girls to bed would recharge he a little. Probably not, but she had to do it and pegging it as something cathartic made it seem appealing.
The girls' beds had been pushed together as far as they would go. There was only room for the necessary things; two dressers sat in the only possible places the would fit, facing at odd angles. The walls were a muted pink, and the paper border near the ceiling was peeling. Claire didn't have the initiative to fix it, and besides, the girls were getting a little old for fairy tales anyway. A cork message board had grades and drawings and news clippings tacked on haphazardly. Over their respective beds hung wooden letters: ABIGAIL on the right near the closet, and LORELEI on the left near the door.
The girls knew the method well, and their mother being there was something they were used to more than something they needed. Eight-year-old Lori had been jumpy lately, some nights insisting a night light be turned on, but she had always been easily spooked. One bad dream could mean weeks of sleeping with a light on. Claire used to come in after she fell asleep to turn it off and save power, but Lori started to wake up during the night, horrified that the light had been shut. So on it went.
The girls said goodnight to their mother and let her shut the door behind her as she walked out of the room. As soon as her footsteps faded, Lori breathed heavily and Abby turned to her. “What'd you tell her for why you're scared?”
Lori stared at the ceiling blankly. “I had a bad dream,” she answered mater-of-factly.
“No.” She flipped over harshly, facing away from her sister now, and attempted sleep.
Lori woke up. The clock flashed 3:47 in her face. The bright red light hit her eyes and she winced. It took a second for it to register with her that the light in the room had been shut off. Terrified, she slowly made her away across the two beds and snuggled up next to her sister. She lay there, awake, until the sun started to come up and the room was light again.
Abby stirred. She tried to roll over, but her sister had migrated during the night, and she almost rolled on top of her. “What are you doing?” she demanded, annoyed.
Lori jumped a little, then surveyed the room. “The light went out.”
“Mom came in and turned it off. I heard her.” She shoved her sister, trying to regain her space.
“No she didn't. You're just saying that.” Lori slid into the space between the two twin beds, clutching her stuffed rabbit.
“No, I'm not. I heard the door open and shut, and it woke me up. I got up and the light was off. I even heard her walk back to her room. So chill out.” With another defiant push, Abby separated the beds and rolled over to get more sleep.