Welcome back to Abby the Hero. Last time (click that for Part 2) I wrote a lot of pretentious words about my protagonists discovering more about themselves and the world around them. To expand upon that, I think you could draw a direct line from Elsbeth to Abby to Matty DiCamillo, each expanding their consciousness in widening circles. But that’s really what a good story should be about, right? About the protagonist discovering more within her- or himself and, in turn, the world? That’s my own personal take on the matter. A story doesn’t work if the character barely changes.
That’s why I feel that this particular series of stories relates to my own life, in some way, to my own growth as a person; when I compare where I am now to where I was five years ago it becomes readily apparent that my own consciousness has expanded in ways that I could never anticipate. This may well be my way of following the inevitable conclusions down the rabbit hole.
Oh, and a side note – this is a slightly abbreviated version of this part, as some interesting things happen in getting Abby out of the house, but it caused this entry to run even longer than usual and ultimately didn’t make a difference to this version of the story. The end result, however, is that there are two versions of this story: the one you’re reading now and the longer one that will appear in my short story collection.
On with the tale…
Abby stood in the backyard, her hands on her hips as she gazed out across the harbor, into the ebony ocean. She could still see the waves breaking beneath her, but that was only thanks to the anemic moonlight that filtered through the gray clouds that hung low in the sky.
Rain coming off the ocean. It would not be pretty.
Her trip through the dreaded hallway and out into the small yard had surprised her; she had anticipated untold horrors after some of the shocks and threats that the house had thrown her way, but the place had looked relatively sane as she made her way toward the outside. She had held Trudy aloft before her, a magic wand to dispel the darkness that closed in around her.
At last she had opened the rather ordinary door at the end of the hallway and stepped out into the cold night, allowing the wind to assault her for a moment before she did anything else. Yes, that wind had been freezing, but it had been something, contained some sort of energy. She needed it.
This will all be worth it. She promised herself that, and stretched, reaching for the sky. She knew she was delaying now. Who could blame her, though? She didn’t think anyone, even the most hardcore urban explorers on the web, would be in a hurry to climb into that cellar after all she’d seen in the house.
She had to do it, though. Even with her reticence, she could feel that itch at the back of her mind that drove her forward. That same itch took her to places like this.
As she thought this, she felt the first drops of rain hitting the top of her head, spattering and running down her forehead in fine, cold rivulets.
That’s your cue to get in the cellar, she thought, and sighed, getting to it.
The cellar sat just where she had expected, a rude concrete protrusion jutting out of the rocky ground. Two small wooden doors covered the hole in the ground, folded one on top of the other, their surfaces shining from the slick rain. A rusted metal handle jutted from of the top door, the black eye of a small keyhole staring up at her from its center.
The rain became more insistent as she leaned over, pulling the key from her pocket. She slid it into the dark hole and twisted, listening to the sound of metal on metal as it ground in the lock.
Abby persisted, turning it with all of her might. At last something came loose inside the mechanism and it wrenched to the left, clicking when it hit the stop. She twisted once more, for good measure, before she removed it. She slipped the key into her pocket and seized the handle, giving it a gentle tug.
Nothing. Like the lock inside of it, the door had been frozen in place by years of neglect and the rain that came in off of the harbor.
Stubborn S.O.B., she thought. It had the upper hand, but she would prevail. She hung Trudy around her neck and squatted, wrapping both hands around the handle. She turned as hard as she could, but still had no luck.
Desperate, she slid her fingers between the edge of the top door and the door beneath it. She set her feet on the ground and pulled with all her might, but, again, the door refused to budge.
“You asshole,” Abby said and straightened up. The rain was falling hard and insistent now, plastering her hair to her forehead and wetting her to the bone. She had to get inside this thing, and would not be denied. Summoning all of her anger, she lashed out against the handle with one heel.
That did the trick; metal squealed and came loose, and the door bounced off of the one beneath it, at last popping open. Rust and loose wood fell down off of the door and into the hole in the ground.
Inside we go, she thought, and lifted Trudy with her left hand, covering the camera with her right to protect it from the rapidly-worsening rain. She used the night vision to guide her down the chipped concrete stairs and into the abyss of the cellar. Five steps and she stood inside the cellar, assaulted by the smell of mold, mildew, and…something else.
Fire? No, not quite, but close.
A burning candle. Yeah. She’d know that smell anywhere. She had amassed a small collection of candles at some point, though she had no idea where they might be today.
Maybe someone – or something – had been burning a candle down here recently. That idea didn’t sit with her very well, but she sure as hell wasn’t going back out in that storm.
The smell passed now, leaving the acrid mildew behind.
How odd, she thought, and now that her mind eased off of the throttle a bit she realized that the sound of rain filled the small space. She turned around and saw that a small puddle had formed at the bottom of the stairs. She sure as hell didn’t want to close those doors, but she also knew that the place would flood out in no time if she left them open much longer.
She reached back, pulling the doors back down on top of the cellar, making sure to leave an inch of space between the doors – just enough to peek out into the night and breathe fresh air if she needed it.
She turned back on the cellar, her heart ratcheting up in her chest once again. She pulled Trudy off of her neck, flashing her around as she struggled to get a sense of the cellar. For the most part, it looked like what she had expected: several rows of wooden shelves hung on the back and right walls, groaning with the weight of jarred fruit and vegetables, all lined in neat little rows.
The wall behind her had been left blank and unfinished, with cold cinder blocks stacked to the ceiling, bits of dirt sneaking in between the crevices.
As she panned right from that wall she froze, only lowering the camera after a long moment.
Has that always been there? She searched her memory. Surely she would have noticed the threatening red eye that pulsed in the corner in her first sweep of the room, right? Had she been too focused on the candle smell?
At last she decided that she might never know, and so she raised the camera, pointing it toward the angry eye. She breathed a sigh of relief; the eye flashed out from a familiar plastic case, its luminescence now beckoning rather than threatening.
This was the power button on a desktop PC. Someone had set up the PC on a small wooden desk in the far corner, tucking it away like the body of a murder victim. Why would they put this down here and hide it away from the house’s occupants?
She crossed the room and stood before the desk, running her hands over the thing’s keyboard. This was a near-full setup, including an old CRT monitor and a pair of ancient gray speakers. Of all the oddities that she had encountered here, this had to be the least expected of them all. What would a computer like that be doing in this cellar? Who would have put it here, and why?
More importantly, how in the hell did the thing still have power?
Abby sat down before the computer, setting Trudy down on the desk. She reached out and touched the mouse, letting out a soft sigh as the plastic comforted her. Something familiar. Something that truly felt like home.
The monitor leapt to life when she moved it.
“What the hell?” she said under her breath.
A video had been maximized on the screen. It showed a green, luscious field that Abby instantly recognized: it had been one of her favorite haunts not so long ago. Her newfound sense of relief melted at its sight, replaced by creeping tendrils of nausea that rose from somewhere deep in her gut. This was not a good scene, though she couldn’t say why.
She moved the mouse over the Play button and clicked it. Immediately the picture sprang to life, a gentle breeze blowing through the long, pixilated grass. She heard her own voice coming through the speakers.
“Okay all set up. If you’re seeing this, call me, will you?”
The camera continued to focus on the field, the wind roaring through the microphone. The sound stirred a distant memory in the back of her mind, some sort of fight to filter that sound out of her recordings. She had been there, though her memories remained fuzzy.
A tune broke through the idyllic scene, rattling her bones. She knew that song. It had once been her ringtone, but she couldn’t recall when she had changed it. She had forgotten that she even had a cell phone. She felt in her pocket for the cell phone and realized that it wasn’t there. How long had it been gone, and what else had she forgotten?
The Abby on the video clicked the phone on. “So it’s working?”
A muted voice came from the other end. It sounded like Daniel.
“That’s awesome! I…yeah, well…”
The next sentence died unspoken as a roar filled the air. The camera trembled with the power of something shaking the Earth.
The Abby in the cellar, present-day Abby, sat up, a hand to her mouth as a rotten door swung open in the back of her mind. She knew exactly what she witnessed now. Her memory came back to her, moment by moment, as she watched events unfold onscreen.
Great pillars of smoke exploded on the horizon in the video, and a moment later, large cylindrical shapes rose into the sky.
“Oh my fucking God,” said the Abby who lived in the video.
The missiles. Abby had been there when the missiles flew.
You can read Part Four here.