Cellar Door

 

“This famous linguist once said that of all the phrases in the English language, of all the endless combinations of words in all of history, that Cellar Door is the most beautiful.” Donnie Darko.

1.

Mr. Leiano sat looking at the steadily dripping tap. The droplets would land gently on the base of the sink before trickling away, disappearing down the drain and through the pipes to god knows where. He watched the water forming around the mouth of the spout. Eventually the weight became too much and the water drop would subsequently fall to its dark, dank death. Or perhaps a new life somewhere far away? Mr. Leiano wasn’t sure and he had never really asked anybody for his or her opinion on the matter, lest he seem a fool.

He glanced down at his socks. They were a mess of colours, red weaving into white, white weaving into blue, blue weaving into green and so on. The socks were his absolute favourites. He got up slowly from his stool and made his way over to the kitchen window. He looked down at the bustling city from his 40th floor apartment. Mr. Leiano was a painfully ordinary man, in an ordinary city, with a nine to five job, a closely shaven face, a tidy, combed over haircut, a neat suit and colourful socks. Everything about Mr. Leiano was conventional apart from his socks, however his day was about to make him very uncomfortable indeed.

Before leaving his small apartment, Mr. Leiano measured exactly one cup of milk into a bowl containing his favourite cereal. He ate the cereal in exactly 23 bites. He took an iced coffee from the refrigerator and made his way out of the door, stopping quickly to straighten his tie. He got into the elevator and nodded politely to Mrs. Brown, an old widower that lived down the hall

“Hello Leon, have you found yourself a nice girl yet?”

“Not yet unfortunately Mrs. Brown.”

“Well you never know, today could be the day!”

Leon Leiano smiled uncomfortably and shuffled his feet going slightly red. He had never had a serious girlfriend before. He was twenty-seven years old. He had only had sex twice, and both times had ended uncomfortably.

“Maybe. Have a good day Mrs. Brown.”

Leon left the building and hailed a taxi. He groaned loudly. He had missed John, his usual cab driver. He had chatted to Mrs. Brown for a second too long. Sometimes that old biddy really pissed him off. Now he was stuck with Phil. Phil had a terrible smell, almost like a rotten egg. He claimed that he was on serious medication that made him break wind constantly. Everybody was on fucking medication these days. The whole city was insane. Leon wished he would sort his problems out so that he wouldn’t have to smell them on the ride to work.

“Morning Phil. The Daily Word please and hurry if you could, I am already thirty seconds late.”

Phil grumbled something under his breath before pulling out into the long snake of waiting traffic.

Leon Leiano wrote a regular column for the Daily Word, an online news source with millions of readers. He called it ‘Mr. Leiano’s 2 cents’. He wrote about all sorts of different societal topics. Problems with the current government and the gross failings of society were his favourite topics. They were the easiest. There was so much old content on the Internet that he could easily adapt. He doubted anyone even read it. But it paid his bills. Just. With even enough left over that he could buy an occasional pair of new multi coloured socks.

Phil farted loudly and Leon did his best not to breathe. The taxi drew to a halt and Phil leant on his horn. Leon had to admit that Phil was an aggressive driver, and whilst it scared him, it made up for the days when he was running thirty seconds late.

“What’s the hold up Phil?”

Phil popped his head out of the window and looked down the street.

“Some kind of protest.”

Leon sighed, he hated protesters. He would just go to his place. Leon emptied his mind and entered. Much better. He was completely alone in a city of millions. He began selecting his most important, recent thoughts and considering them from an array of angles. Mrs. Brown, old, kind, annoying, odd smelling, intrusive, insistent, innocent, queer, frail, insect like, oak like, surprising fluidity of movement. Endearing, whilst simultaneously bothersome. Phil leant on the horn and Leon snapped back to reality. On days like these Leon was grateful for his ability to switch off. His mother used to tell people that he had ‘gone to his place.’ It was terribly embarrassing for him and he never told anyone about it. He had been teased for it all through school and then college. Sometimes though he gave in and paid a covert visit. It had earned him the nick name Nuff, because he had “nuffin between his eyes” as the kids used to say.

“I’ll walk the rest of the way Phil.”

Leon handed some money over and got out of the cab. He began to make his way through the crowd. The mob eyed him suspiciously as he pushed past them. One of the protesters held up a sign that read:

‘We ARE the people, we ARE the majority, we ARE the government, we ARE the Authority, we HAVE a voice and we WILL use it.’

Leon laughed. He had signed off his last column with almost that exact sentence. He had found it on some piece of old, Russian, communist propaganda. He had translated it and slapped it on the end of an article he had written about the push to raise the taxes of the 1 per cent. He had named and shamed a handful of elite families he had briefly looked into, claiming that they were ‘taking food off the table of the working class’. The protester had altered the end. He liked it. It was a nice touch. Not that he actually cared. Most of his work was last minute research slapped together with a few quotes. Occasionally he would write a story that genuinely interested him. He hated being a journalist and had only agreed because his father insisted. His father was now dead.

Leon pushed his way into the Daily Word and took the stairs up to the top floor. He needed the exercise. He had been 70 kilos since he was twenty years old. He weighed himself every day. The doctor had told him that this was his ideal weight. Yesterday the scales had tipped at 71. He was getting fat. He would have to add less milk to his cereal, or cut down on his ice coffees.

Leon cut cross the office to his desk. He would occasionally wave hello to people in a somewhat dismissive manner, hurriedly avoiding conversation. He was waiting for an email from a politician for his next column, which meant that he didn’t really have any work to do. Julia, the office secretary, yelled in Leon’s direction,

“Boss wants to see you.”

He got up from his desk and wandered towards his editor’s office. As he began to knock the door burst open and a young intern ran from the office hastily re-buttoning her blouse. His boss sat in his chair grinning wickedly after the fleeing girl.

“Come in Leon! Shut the door behind you please.”

Leon pulled the door closed as his editor; Mr Braiser picked up and placed a picture of his wife and kids back on the desk. Mr Braiser reminded Leon of a used car salesman. He was big, not fat, just big, greasy and all smiles. He looked a lot like a wolf. Mr Braiser’s face would often contort in a peculiar way when he smiled and his huge teeth and menacing eyes sent shivers down Leon’s spine. He felt he was being weighed up. Assessed for the amount of meat Mr Braiser could strip from his frame.

Mr Braiser motioned too one of the empty seat across his desk. Leon noticed that the chair on Mr Braiser’s side was much taller and larger than the others, accentuating his bear like frame.

“How’s the 2 cents coming along old mate?”

Leon looked uncomfortable.

“Well Mr Braiser…”

“Please call me Danny, Leon.”

“Sorry sir, I mean Danny. Mr Willbex the member of parliament hasn’t returned my emails.”

Mr Braiser leaned back and rolled his eyes.

“I fucking hate that prick.”

Leon fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair. Something about foul language set him on edge. When he was young he would cry every time someone swore in his direction, another thing that made him wildly popular in school.

“Alright, I know its not really your forte but there is a story about Siamese piglets that I want you to cover. I have arranged a car to take you out to the farm. The farmer’s name is Mr Highgate. Rich old bastard! As if he needs the bloody publicity.”

Leon couldn’t hide the look of annoyance that betrayed him as it spread across his face. Mr Braiser looked cross.

“Just take the Fucking story Leon. The fresh air might even do you some good. You are so stuck up. You know what I think? I think you are fucking weird. Don’t fuck this up.”

2.

Leon pulled up to the giant old farmhouse. The air was gloomy. Something told Leon there was more to this place than Siamese piglets. He drove past a horde of police cars and ambulances. A small girl sat sobbing on the front steps of the great old house. Leon approached her cautiously. She stared at his socks.

“Hello what is the matter?”

The girl finally looked at his face and blinked twice to see though her tears. A droplet fell to the dirt and quickly sunk through the millions of tiny fertile particles.

The small girl took Leon by the hand and led him inside. The house was abuzz with police. A small boy lay motionless on the floor in the kitchen. A stout, elderly, well-to-do couple stood holding each other sobbing. Leon studied the scene. He sat down and stared, fixated on the brittle shape on the floor. The little girl brushed Leon’s cheek.

“Don’t cry Jeffy doesn’t like it when you cry.”

Leon looked at the small girl and she ran back out onto the front steps. Leon closed his eyes trying to shut everything out, holding the sides of his head.

He took a long time driving back to the city. He wandered through the Daily Word. The office was a graveyard. The cleaner was sweeping the staffroom when Leon swiped in. He took his time walking across the now deserted space, abuzz only hours before. He sat down at his computer and stared at the screen. It was happening. His vision blurred, his senses numbed.

Leon awoke the next day in his apartment. It was 9.30am. He had grossly over slept. He glanced at his phone. 32 missed calls. His phone danced to life as he stared at it blankly. It was Mr Braiser.

“Hello Mr Braiser.”
“Leon! Finally! What the fuck did you do? The whole fucking city is talking about you! You’re fucking fired you stupid prick. The whole agency is fucked. Goodbye Daily Word! You stupid prick. I can’t believe you uploaded all those details! Shit the police didn’t even know. What the fuck Leon? How the fuck? Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! I’m doing my best to stem the fucking hemorrhaging. Don’t talk to any Fucking reporters ok? Don’t come into the office! Don’t show your face anywhere ok? Christ did you fucking kill the kid? Did you? Was it all bullshit? If not how did you… O forget it! You are fucking insane.”

Leon’s head was abuzz. What did he do? All he remembered was sitting down at his work desk and then he had woken up at home. A bead of sweat rolled down his forehead.

“Answer me you fucking lunatic. Of all the fucked up things you could have done! Are you mad? Fuck! I knew you were fucking weird but fuck!”

Leon didn’t know what to say. Mr Braiser hung up and Leon was left listening to the sound of a dead line.

It was happening again. He gripped the edge of the doorframe to steady himself.

“No!”

He screamed at the empty room. He couldn’t escape. He needed his wits about him. A sharp, quick knock sounded from the front door. Once, twice, three times. Leon froze. The knock came again. He stared down the small hallway hoping the sound would cease. He couldn’t take it anymore. He opened the door. Standing in front of him was a somewhat unkempt middle-aged man. Leon noticed immediately that he was one of those people that he liked to call skinny fat. Thin limbs and face with a stout belly. Although not incredibly physical, tall, or intimidating, there was an authoritative air that seemed to exude from the stranger. Leon felt obliged to provide him with everything he needed. A mess of black curls fell onto his face and rough, somewhat wild, hair peppered his jawline. A hooked, long nose was the final exclamation on a strange yet alluring canvas that came together to form a peculiar face.

“Mr Leon Leiano?”

The stranger was soft spoken. Leon noticed him staring down at his socks.

“Yes that’s me.”

Leon’s visitor reached for his pocket and flashed a weathered leather wallet that clung onto a shiny badge.

“I’m Special Detective Gerald Matthews. Would you mind coming down to the station and answering a few questions?”

It was only as the black sedan pulled through the police compound gates that Leon realized that he hadn’t even asked why.

3.

Mr Leiano sat staring at a blank brick wall. He stirred the coffee that sat cold in front of him. How long would they make him wait? His bothersome brain had tried to take him to his place a number of times and he was becoming agitated and extremely anxious. The door slid open. Detective Matthews sat on the chair across from him, stiff backed, gazing.

“What were you doing at the farm yesterday Leon? Can I call you Leon, Mr Leiano?”

Leon nodded. He took a breath.

“I went to cover a story on Siamese piglets.”

Detective Matthews softly whistled, between two rows of perfect teeth.

“That’s what your editor said. Mr Braiser is it?”

Detective Matthews didn’t wait for an answer and leant forward in his chair.

“He said the office got a call from Mr Highgate, the owner of the farm, asking you to cover the phenomenon. He said he specifically asked for you.”

Leon looked confused.

“I wasn’t aware he had asked for me.”

“See that’s where I get confused too Leon. Mr Highgate has no recollection of that call ever occurring. Smells fishy huh?”

Leon sat and studied the detective confused and anxious.

“You were then spotted at the farmhouse just after the homicide was dialed in sticking your nose into everything. Christ when the detectives moved the body you were hovering over it. The way you were taking the place apart, questioning everybody… They must have thought you were a cop, incompetent morons, couldn’t even close down a crime scene. Then to top it all off, you went and wrote a chilling recount of the murder and posted it up on the Daily Word’s website, full of details the forensic team hadn’t even put together. You outlined everything except your confession. So you see how bad this all looks Leon?”

Leon’s mouth was bone dry. He couldn’t remember doing anything like that. He sat in silence staring at the cracks in the wall, wishing he could squeeze through. Detective Matthews sighed.

“Leon you have to give me something here. My hunch is that you didn’t do it. Boy have I been wrong before though. You just don’t strike me as a kid killer. Then again, a lot of them never do”

Detective Matthews shook his head.

“If you aren’t going to give me anything we cant hold you until we find conclusive evidence. We haven’t even determined cause of death yet, despite what you wrote in your article and there aren’t any witnesses. Nobody is talking and the parents don’t have a clue. Too busy, never home. Poor little Kenny Highgate.”

There was a long drawn out silence and Detective Matthews’ eyes bore into Leon as he sat dumbfounded.

“Look Leon, as I said I wont keep you here. Legally we have nothing on you. You are free to go. Please though for the sake of the kid. Call me if you think of anything at all. Please.”

The gruff cop slid him his card. He got up and left without another word. Leon sighed, somewhat relieved.

4.

Leon took a cab home. He paid and made his way up to his apartment. He threw himself down on the couch, exhausted and began to drift off. His whirling mind wouldn’t let him sleep. It kept gnawing at him, pulling him, trying to coax him to the place. It became too much. Leon let himself go.

He stood before a beautiful cellar door, two heavy pieces of oak with ornate markings standing proudly on the front. He followed the carvings with his eyes and in the middle of the doors his name was scrawled, as if by the hand of a child. He reached out and opened the cellar doors. He was standing in front of the farmhouse. Police officers rushed into the house around him. He could hear screams. He moved forward. He noticed the rug upturned at the very edge of the living room. He saw the boy’s body, lifeless, no sign of struggle, blue. He noticed in the kitchen a half eaten pastry, lying just under a heap of garbage in the trashcan. He saw the farmhands tired and soiled. He saw a dirty, dreadlocked worker, staring towards the boy’s still body. He saw the little girl staring at the dreadlocked man trying to hold back her sobs. He saw himself wandering around the house examining things, staring and touching. He watched the little girl walk up to him and repeatedly whisper;
“Stop crying. Jeffy doesn’t like it when you cry.”
She would then glance over at the dreadlocked man and hurriedly look away from his lingering gaze. Leon looked out of the back window and saw himself and the small girl, hand in hand, running off into the garden. He looked for the farm workers. The police were questioning them. He followed his fleeing self and his small companion. The garden path twisted down away from the house. He seemed to fly down it. He felt as if he had covered a great distance when he came upon a small boathouse, decrepit and abandoned. He saw the small girl motioning him inside, whispering Jeffy lives here…

He stared at the wall of his apartment dazed and disoriented. He fumbled in his pocket for the card. Shaking he dialed the number. The phone rang three times.

“Hello Detective Matthews here.”
“Detective its Leon Leiano. I need you to look into one of the farm hands. His name is probably Jeff. He has disgusting dreadlocks.”

Detective Matthews stood in the boathouse by the lake, shaking his head in bewilderment. How in the world had he done it? He had thought Leon Leiano an absolute madman. He looked at Jeffrey Davies’ small bunk. He had worked as a groundskeeper to the Highgate family. He had befriended Kenny and then poisoned him. The poor kid had died in his own fucking kitchen. The piece of shit confessed to the murder but then wouldn’t talk, just kept muttering nonsense. Something like;
“I am merely an agent of the people.”
They couldn’t exactly put together a motive either. They had decided it was a politically fuelled killing. Davies had a history of anarchistic violence. The Highgate family had signed multiple contracts with various corporations for produce and factory farming. They were also under investigation for a number of wage related breaches and employee mistreatment, that had conveniently disappeared upon the signing of the contracts. It made sense. Thanks to Leon the evidence they had gathered was overwhelming anyway. Presumably he had pieced it altogether by wandering around aimlessly for hours. What a farce. Picked it before the forensic report had barely hit his desk. Sheer, dumb luck? He would never know.

Detective Matthews made his way back up the long path. By the time he reached his car it was nightfall. His wife Lara would just about have dinner on the table. His kids would have finished their homework. He sadly smiled as he thought of Kenny Highgate and got into his car.

5.

Jeffrey Davies was sweating profusely. Fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three. The muscles on his back taut, he did push up after push up. If anyone were to walk past his cell at that particular time, they would have seen inked across his back a collection of words.

“We ARE the people, we ARE the majority.”

Mrs. Brown put down her antique telephone. She pulled her gnarled old body up from her chair. Her rent was two months overdue. The owner of the building, Mr Fischer had given her a week to vacate. She hobbled across to her bedroom. A photo of a proud young man in military attire stood guard on her night table. Her dear William wouldn’t have let any of this happen. He would have stood up for her against those bullies. Mrs. Brown bent down painfully and undid her late husbands old war chest. She fished out an old revolver. Sitting in her lounge chair, she looked over at the wall. At least he had tried. Mrs. Brown had printed and framed an article. He understood the pressure people like her were under.
Her eyes scanned the last line.
“We ARE the people, we ARE the majority.”

Leon awoke with a start. A loud shot rang out through the apartment block.

One thought on “Cellar Door

  1. Eloquently written and simply captivating. I thoroughly enjoyed both your writing style and the creativity of the story. I especially appreciated the underlying message of the power of the media and the warning that, while media agencies may care only for profits and deadlines when sensationalising stories, vulnerable readers are susceptible to blindly accept what is published. This has dire consequences, as you have sophisticatedly demonstrated. I sincerely hope you enter further competitions on this website so I am able to enjoy more of your beautiful writing. Good luck.

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