When Brian asked if he could share a story he wrote during my Halloween Extravaganza, I could hardly say no. Especially after reading it. Get comfortable and enjoy…
Warren hated that old house.
It was coming up on two years since he’d bought it. Everything in it creaked and leaked, from the basement to the roof, and everything between. It had bare, wooden floors that warped and leaned at crooked angles. Bathrooms wallpapered in heavy mildew and old cigarette smoke. Lights that blinked whenever he walked down the hallway.
And it was cold. Starting in the first months of fall, all the way through the dead of winter, the house was filled with a dampness that cut to the bone. Wind whistled through the old window frames, no matter how much he tried to block them up with blankets. Even when he could manage to stop a draft from coming in through one window, another would just take its place. The whistling unnerved Warren, like distant crying in the woods. He woke up shivering sometimes from the cold air pressing down on his chest. He’d started wearing thick socks and shoes around the house most of the time just to keep the feeling in his toes.
The real estate agent had called it a fixer-upper, but that was just a nice way of saying it was a money pit. A place where dreams went to slowly die.
Then there was the sound.
It didn’t happen every night, but sometimes, just after six-thirty, after he’d eaten whatever he picked up for dinner, it would start. Warren would be on the couch, trying to watch the news, when it would start somewhere deep down in the basement.
Ka-thump. Ka-thump. Ka-thump.
It was a thick sound, like footsteps but heavier. The basement door, which he always kept closed, was between the living room and the kitchen, where he rarely went. As he sat watching television, he would hear it move slowly up the basement stairs, one agonizing step at a time.
Ka-thump. Ka-thump. Ka-thump.
For an entire year he’d been trying to ignore it. Pretend it didn’t exist. But each day the sound grew harder to block out. Tonight, as he tried to watch a movie for a change, he was just getting comfortable, thinking that perhaps he’d been left alone for the night, when the familiar sound started at the bottom of the basement stairs.
Ka-thump. Ka-thump. Ka-thump.
Moving slowly. Climbing the stairs, one at a time. Warren turned up the volume and leaned in closer to the television, straining to hear the movie he could already barely follow, but the sound only seemed to grow louder. It was a hammer on his skull. He closed his eyes and counted to ten, praying it would go away, but each count was accompanied by the sound echoing up from the basement, like the heartbeat in his own chest.
Ka-thump. Ka-thump. Ka-thump.
It mocked him. Teased him. Attacked him until he thought for the thousandth time about moving out. But he had no money left after what the house had eaten up, and he had his pride to think about as well. What would the neighbors think of him if he packed up, tucked his tail and ran off in the night? What would they say about him when he was gone?
And still, the sound came through the basement door.
Ka-thump. Ka-thump. Ka-thump.
When he couldn’t take it anymore, Warren turned off the television, jumped up from the couch and turned to face the basement. “Stop it!” he shouted, his voice echoing off bare walls and a sagging ceiling. “Just stop!”
He knew the sound wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. There was nothing down there but a long set of wooden stairs ending in a hard, concrete floor. If anyone could see him now, yelling at the air, they would think he was crazy. But Warren lived alone those days, and there was no one to think anything about him. He glared at the unpainted basement door, drawing up his strength. Willing it to be silent. But still it came, louder and louder, slowly rising up the basement stairs.
Ka-thump. Ka-thump. Ka-thump.
A laugh bubbled up in his throat. He was being ridiculous, of course. Scared of a door. He walked to it, still not believing, still not letting the possibility of it into his head. Step-by-step, foot-by-foot, he crossed the living room, feet dragging slightly on the warped floor, until he reached the basement door.
Ka-thump. Ka-thump. Ka-thump.
With the breath caught in his throat like a fish, Warren stared at the unpainted door. It hadn’t been opened in a year. Even through all those nights of listening to the sound move up the stairs again and again, of holding his pillow over his ears and praying for sleep, he’d refused to entertain the idea. But it was time that changed. This twisted game had gone on long enough. He had to end it while he still had one last nerve left to do it with.
Tonight was the night Warren took his house back.
But then, he noticed something. In the minute he’d been standing in front of the door, willing his hand to reach up and touch the handle, the sound from the basement had stopped. Except for the house’s frame creaking under the wind outside, the night was silent.
Warren reached up, heart booming in his chest like a man trying to escape his jail cell, and slowly touched the handle. It was cold and solid. Real. He almost laughed again. The idea that he’d been expecting anything else was ridiculous. That he thought his hand might pass through it like a hook through a jellyfish. With a deep breath he turned the handle and slowly, very slowly, opened the door, the long creak of an un-oiled hinge overtaking the throbbing in his ears.
The darkness of the basement seeped through the crack between the door and the frame. One sliver at a time, the basement stairs he hadn’t seen in a year were revealed to him. That long path beneath the ground. Old, uneven slats of wood dipping down into a pool of black thicker than paint.
The sound suddenly rose up the basement stairs faster than ever before. It came at him. Excited to see him. As if it was about to crash through the door and leap out at him.
Warren slammed the door shut and ran, ran to the front of the house, ready to escape into the night and never come back so long as he lived. His body was electric. His heart felt like it was clawing its way up his neck so it could crawl out his mouth. He’d never been so terrified in his life, never so sure of the danger that came for him.
With his hand on the front door, he stopped.
He took a moment to think about what he was doing. Where would he go? What would he say when he got there? With nothing but a crazy story in his pocket, who would take him in? Who would even believe what he had to say?
Knock knock knock!
The door came alive under his hand. He stumbled back, almost falling. Warren stared at the front door, horrified that he had not one but two doors to be scared of. But even in his panic, he knew something about the knocking on the door was different. It was a normal sound. Nothing like the one he’d lived with for the past year. With shaking hands he approached the front door again, close enough to put his eye to the peephole.
A worried face. And red hair. He sighed. It was the neighbor next door, the young woman who liked to garden. She lived on her own, he remembered, something about her parents leaving her the house. She looked like she was unsure of being on his doorstep, her body language saying she was about to leave. Warren considered staying quiet and letting her go, but something in him needed to speak to someone. Anyone. Even a woman he’d barely said a dozen words to in two years.
He opened the door. She looked back at him with concerned eyes, waiting for him to say something, but he didn’t know what to say. What could he say?
“Hello,” he managed.
“Sorry to knock on your door so late,” she said, “but…are you alright? I thought I heard someone shouting.”
He stared at her a moment. “Oh,” he finally said. He thought of his outburst a few minutes earlier. Yelling at a door. He was embarrassed to think anyone had heard that. “I…I was just watching a movie. I probably I had the volume too high.” He motioned to the living room. She glanced over, the living room visible from the front door, and saw the television turned off. “I was,” he added. To be fair it was true, just not what she’d actually heard.
Her face relaxed. “I’m really sorry, I shouldn’t have interrupted.”
“No, I’m glad you did,” he replied. It was the most honest thing Warren had said in a long time. She smiled, and for a second he forgot all about the sound in the basement.
“What was it?” she asked.
He blinked. “What?”
“Oh.” He glanced sideways. “You know I already forgot?”
She put her hand to mouth and laughed. The friendly sound of it brightened his doorstep, and the night beyond. Was this what it was like to be normal? It had been so long since he’d spoken with someone, he’d forgotten what it felt like. To talk to a person. To make them laugh. “Doesn’t sound like a very good movie,” she said.
“No, I guess not.”
She nodded, brushing her hair over her ear. “Well, as long as you’re okay. I overreact sometimes, but honestly I’d hate myself if I didn’t do something and someone ended up hurt. I hear about this stuff all the time.”
“No problem at all. I’m glad someone’s looking out for me.”
She smiled, saying goodnight and apologizing once again for the intrusion. Before she left, she turned back to Warren, looking a bit unsure of what she was about to say. “Listen…I know you haven’t gone out much since…you know.” She shifted uncomfortably, as did he. “If you ever need an ear, I’m right next door. I know how lonely it gets in these big houses.”
“It does, I guess,” Warren said. Not knowing what else to say, he added, “Thank you.”
“No problem.” She paused again. “I never talked to her, but she seemed nice.” She smiled sheepishly, then gave a small nod and headed back to her house. Warren watched her go, then closed the door and locked it.
It was coming up on two years since he and Mary Lynn bought the house. Mary Lynn, with her black hair like a raven’s feathers, had been as nice as the red-haired neighbor when they first met. But the house had changed her. It changed both of them. Their fixer-upper consumed them until it was all they could talk about. All they fought about. When he thought of their last argument, his face still went red at the memory. That day he’d seen a side of both of them that still shook him.
The basement had fallen silent since he’d left. He went to it, feeling the deep embarrassment of a man who’d woken up from a screaming nightmare he’d sworn was real while he was in it. It was a completely normal, unpainted door, and he had to face the fact that what he’d been hearing, what he’d been experiencing in the last year, was the result of a man unprepared to move on.
He opened the door, not slowly this time, not with the reverence of fear, but like he would any other door. The squeak of its dry, brass hinges was brief, like the tiny yelp of a surprised mouse. Without flinching, Warren forced himself to look directly at the basement stairs, to see them for what they were. Earthly things of wood and nails, and nothing more.
As he looked down at the stairs, Warren felt a chill run through him. It started on his back, a cold spot like someone had pressed an ice cube to his spine, and it moved through his blood like a shadow over open ground. The tiny hairs at the back of his neck stood up as he felt the unmistakable presence of someone standing behind him, just over his shoulder. His nose picked up the hint of a familiar perfume. And yet he didn’t dare turn around. Didn’t dare look.
As he stood there, frozen in fear, Warren’s mind drifted to that day more than a year earlier.
“Can you please paint this today?” Mary Lynn stood in front of the basement door, her small hands on her waist. “Please?”
Warren put down the black garbage bag he was carrying, stuffed to the gills with broken glass, moth-eaten pillowcases and old wires he’d pulled out of the spare bedroom, the one they’d never quite gotten to. “The whole house is falling apart, why are you so obsessed with one door?”
“Because it creeps me out.”
“And painting it will change that.”
She frowned at him. “We won’t find out unless we try.”
He wiped the dusty sweat from his brow with his forearm, leaving the garbage bag behind. “You can paint it, too, you know.”
“Maybe I would if I wasn’t busy cooking dinner.”
“I didn’t ask you to cook dinner.”
“Well, I don’t see you doing it.”
“That’s right, because I’m not doing anything at all. Right?”
It went on like that for almost an hour. The two of them argued louder and louder, forgetting all about the dinner burning on the stove, an expensive piece of fish gone black. They’d fought so many times already, but this time was different. This time the fight grew bitter and petty. Warren and Mary Lynn, standing in front of the basement door, screamed at each other about every dripping faucet and rusty nail in the house, all because he hadn’t gotten around to painting one door. They came to the point where Warren was flinging the basement door open, shouting that he would just take it off the hinges and remove it if it bothered her so much. Each time he did Mary Lynn slammed it shut, screaming all kinds of nasty things at him, things he never thought he’d hear from the lips of the sweet girl he’d married.
And then, in the heat of the moment, he did something he’d never done before.
He grabbed her arm.
She looked up at him, shocked by his behavior. Before she could pull away, he wrenched her over in front of the open door so she could look at the stupid basement stairs for herself. When she had a good, hard look at them, he leaned in close to her ear, so she didn’t miss a word.
“You’re so scared of the basement?” he hissed. “Look at it!” He didn’t recognize his own voice coming out of him. It didn’t even feel like him saying it. But before he could stop himself, before the little voice in the back of his mind could ask him what he was doing, Warren gave Mary Lynn a hard shove toward the stairs that bothered her so much.
Warren shook, unable to move. A pressure overcame him, and his eardrums felt about to pop. Whatever it was behind him, whoever it was, he could feel the hatred coming off them in waves, pulsing like blacktop in summer. Unseen lips drew closer. Close enough they could kiss him. With cold breath drifting across his neck, the shadow behind him whispered into his ear.
“Look at it.”
And then he felt it on his back.
A single push.
Warren tipped over the precipice of the basement door. Either the fear or something else kept his arms from working, kept his hands from stopping his fall. His head was first to hit the basement stairs. He heard a loud crack as his neck bent sideways, and a deep, sharp pain shot through his body, followed by a messy tumble down the stairs. He felt every broken arm, every dislocated leg as he flopped and rolled down the long set of steps, ending in a hard stop on cold concrete.
Warren couldn’t move his legs. His body was shattered, his breath shallow. His eyes rolled in his skull to look back up the distance he’d fallen, up the stairs that looked a mile long from where he lay, all the way to the basement door.
It was coming up on two years since he and Mary Lynn bought the house, and one year since she’d died. Yet there she stood, black hair like a raven’s feathers, blowing softly in the draft that never left. She was pale and beautiful and cold, her eyes diamonds cut from pressure and pain.
“Please,” Warren whispered. It was all he could manage to pull from weakened lungs.
With a light touch of her small hand, she closed the still unpainted door. The dry hinge creaked like a dead tree in the winter wind. Then all light cut out, plunging both Warren and the basement into pure darkness. The black encompassed him, surrounded him, drawing the precious heat from his shattered body. Finally, the old house, the house he hated so much, was finishing the job of bleeding him dry. He could no longer feel his feet, or really much else beyond the slowing of his own heart.
Gasping like a fish, Warren summoned whatever he had left and focused on reaching the stairs. They were somewhere in front of him, in the dark. By some miracle he got his arms to work, and he began pulling himself along the frigid basement floor, useless legs dragging behind him.
Barely able to lift his head, he clutched the bottom step and pulled himself up it. The strain on his broken neck was too much to hold. His head slumped, pounding against the wood. Yet still he didn’t stop. He couldn’t, not until he reached the top. Maybe there he could call for help loud enough that someone would hear him. Maybe the nice neighbor with the red hair. There wasn’t anyone else close enough to hear. No one else who cared.
One step at a time he dragged his cold body up the stairs and toward the door, hoping to be saved, praying to be forgiven, and one step at a time, his heavy head fell and struck the wood. A thick sound, like footsteps but heavier.
Ka-thump. Ka-thump. Ka-thump.
Brian Martinez is a science fiction and horror writer. He studied Film at Long Island University, and has been known to watch a John Carpenter flick on repeat until people grow concerned. He lives in New York with his wife Natalia and their pack of dogs.
Martinez is known for numerous apocalyptic works, including A Chemical Fire, The Mountain and The City, and the Bleeders series. He also writes The Vessel, a Space Horror podcast on all major platforms. His works have appeared on screen and in print, as well as on Youtube and in audiobook. He is currently working on The Unseen, a major, multi-character Supernatural Thriller series.
He drinks too much. He can’t hold a marriage together. And he’s our only hope against the monster that just came to town.
Franklin Butcher is a young cop with a few rough years behind him. Freshly divorced, he decides to make a new start in the small town of Shallow Creek. What better place to coast until retirement than a town where nothing happens?
His plan doesn’t work. Soon people start disappearing, and Butcher is the only one who seems to want to solve the case. He believes a new couple in town are to blame for the vanishings, but the truth is even darker than he thinks.
Before he knows it, Butcher is drawn into an unseen world of supernatural creatures that has existed in secret for centuries. It’s also a world he has more connection to than he ever imagined. Because, like Shallow Creek, Franklin Butcher has a few secrets of his own.
The Unseen is a bold new take on familiar myths, from doppelgangers to vampires, to demons, monsters and more. This is a series that can’t be missed. But be careful- once seen, this world can’t be unseen…
Can the world’s biggest smart-ass survive the apocalypse?
All the news channels can talk about is the Red Flu, a nasty strain that came out of nowhere to wreak havoc on the population. There’s also something the government isn’t telling the public about the Red Flu- both the secret of its true effects, and exactly how it spreads.
Brody Tate doesn’t care. He’s a young smart-ass living in New York City, locked in a dead-end job. His only concern is telling his boss where he can shove it. Besides, the news only exists to scare people, right?
But something is wrong. There’s blood in his boss’s office. A woman is dead on the floor.
His boss is eating the cleaning lady.
He kills the man in self-defense- not that the cops believe him- and gets carted away for murder. As if his day wasn’t bad enough, his boss managed to bite him during the struggle. With the Red Flu tearing up his insides, Brody finds himself in a self-destructing New York, lost in the horrors of a crumbling city while fighting to stay alive.
The question now is, if the Red Flu doesn’t kill him, and someone with it doesn’t, what will be left of him? What will he become?
An epidemic has killed off most humans, turning the rest into beasts with sharp nails, keen senses and an insatiable hunger. Now, years later, a solitary survivor hides in a trailer above a dead city. This is life with the door and windows taped shut, where survival comes down to two, simple rules: stay quiet, and protect the air.
One day, a visitor comes up the mountain. It’s a meeting that leads to a fateful decision, and a sacrifice that will change everything.
Collected here for the first time, The Mountain and The City is a post-apocalyptic serial that has kept its faithful readers on the edge of their seats time and time again.