Marcus Clark’s Darkson House, Chapter 4, The Cellar


I looked right back up to the door that the housekeeper had slammed shut. Jodie was nowhere to be seen. Slowly I retraced my steps toward the forbidding house. It had obviously been neglected for many years; bushes, shrubs, and trees had grown up everywhere.
‘Jodie,’ I called out. I listened for an answer. Silence. Perhaps she had fallen into a cellar. I cautiously walked right back to the bottom of the steps again and stopped. Where could she have gone to? I was sure she hadn’t been dragged back inside the house. I would have heard the door open and close. And I didn’t believe that she had turned into a bat, so she must be somewhere nearby.
The house had a small path, which I hadn’t noticed before, leading off the main one and around the side of the house. It was half overgrown with tree branches that bent low toward the ground. I decided to follow the path, more afraid than ever now at the disaster I imagined had befallen Jodie. How could anyone have dragged her away without her making a sound? And if someone had dragged her away, would they be waiting to attack me? Had Mr O’Brien come up behind her?
I walked carefully, looking about me all the time. ‘Jodie!’ I called out loudly. ‘Jodie, where are you?’ No answer.
The bushes and trees made it difficult to see more than one or two metres ahead. I walked along, searching the long grass in case she had tripped or something.
To my horror, I looked down and saw a stone body of a girl in the grass lying face upwards. My blood froze. I felt paralysed with fear, and indeed, I stood motionless.
I slowly bent over closer and closer until I touched the statue with my fingertips; it was cold and slimy from rain and moisture. I looked at the face carved into the stone, and it seemed to smile back at me.
In front of me was a “tunnel” beneath a huge bougainvillaea bush. I recognized the long razor-sharp thorns hidden beneath the leaves. The tunnel was just tall enough for me to stand up and walk through. I looked behind, checking to see if anyone was following me. There was no one there. If Jodie was anywhere it had to be through the tunnel. I started forward, carefully avoiding the thorns, watching all around me. The tunnel was almost dark, because the leaves overhead were so thick. As I was nearing the end of the tunnel, I called out: ‘Jodie! Jodie where are you?’
‘Karen! Karen, I’m over here.’
‘Coming!’ I called back. I hurried to where I heard her voice. But I couldn’t see her, and began to wonder if it was a trap. Was someone imitating her voice? After a few more steps I caught a glimpse of her about fifteen metres ahead, past the end of the tunnel. She was coming toward me. I ran to her and clutched her arm. ‘What happened? Are you all right?’
She stared at my face. ‘You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.’
‘Never mind. What happened to you?’ I was clutching her arm with both hands, afraid she’d disappear again.
‘When we went down the steps, I saw the side path and I said: “Come on Karen, let’s find the basement”. I thought you were right behind me. I was talking to you and I just went off down the path, and when I looked back you were gone.’
‘I was gone! Jodie, we are supposed to be best friends, so please don’t tease me. We were heading out to our bikes, and when I turned around you had disappeared. I didn’t hear you say anything about the basement. You shouldn’t have gone off like that—we’ve got to stay together.’
‘But I really thought you were right behind me!’
‘Never mind now. Let’s get out of here. This garden is ghoulish.’
‘Wait. We’re nearly there now, and I think that one of those windows over there will be the basement where his laboratory is. See how the windows are at ground level, as though they are to let light in downstairs?’
‘Yes. It could be—have you looked?’
‘No. That’s when I heard you calling out.’
‘Quickly then, let’s look so we can go home.’
‘Karen, don’t act so scared; it’s only an old house, with a silly old housekeeper and a crazy inventor like Doc Brown from Back to the Future.’
‘This isn’t an ordinary house … it’s—‘
‘Haunted? Nonsense Karen. There are no vampires and no witches. It’s just overgrown with shrubs and trees.’
‘Come on then, let’s look.’
We approached the windows, which were set level with the ground; small fixed glass windows. Sandstone blocks were laid around the bottom of the house, which had prevented grass and shrubs from growing up alongside the walls.
I went over to the window but the curtain was completely drawn so that I couldn’t see anything. Jodie was trying to peek into the next window, but it too was covered over. I went to the third window, the curtains were not drawn completely across. There was a gap of about five centimetres. When I looked inside it was difficult to see anything at all, because outside the sun was bright, inside the room was dark. But I could see it was a room below ground level, so it was the basement. All I could make out in the gloom was a table.
‘See anything?’ Jodie asked.
‘Not much, just a table. What about you?’
‘Nothing. The curtain is pulled right across the other windows.’ Jodie came over to my window and looked in for a long time.
‘You know we’re trespassing,’ I commented.
‘Oh for heaven’s sake! We’re just looking around an important historical building. Next year the council could be conducting people through here as a heritage museum. I can only see something that looks like a table. Okay, let’s go.’
We stood up and began to walk along the path. ‘This time stay with me,’ I said.
‘What a pity we couldn’t see anything in the basement.’
‘I suppose that is what he called the cellar in the newspaper story—or what Mrs Parsons calls his laboratory.’
‘Yes, I’m sure it is. Be careful of the ground it’s damp and rather muddy along here. There must be water seepage or something.’
We went into the tunnel of bougainvillaea, with its sharp thorns, until we got to the place where I had seen the statue lying in the grass. I stopped suddenly and Jodiebumped into the back of me.
The statue was now standing upright! I was sure it was the same statue of the girl.
‘What’s the matter?’
‘The … the statue was lying on the ground. Now it’s upright.’
‘Maybe it is a different one.’
‘No. It’s the same face. And look—here’s where I saw the moss on the hem of the dress.’
Jodie was staring at the face. ‘It looks real doesn’t it?’
‘It looks spooky to me, gruesome and mysterious. Like there was a real person trapped inside the stone. How could it have stood up by itself?’
‘I don’t know. It would be more logical to believe that we are not looking at the same statue, or that you only thought it was lying down, when actually it was standing up.’
‘But I’m certain it was lying down, and I’m also certain it was at the entrance to this tunnel of bougainvillaea.’
‘Hmm, well come on. I have a theory … keep walking.’
We walked on towards the front of the house.
‘Aha!’ Jodie said.
‘Shhh, what is it?’
And there, lying down in the long grass, was another statue of the same girl.
‘You see,’ she explained, ‘it’s the same statue of the girl all right, and it even has some green moss on the hem, but not on the same place. You remembered correctly, that when you went into the tunnel the statue was there. But when we turned around and went back we were actually at the exit of the bougainvillaea tunnel.’
‘Of course! But why would they have made two statues the same?’
‘Maybe they liked them. People often have pairs of statues outside buildings don’t they?’
‘I suppose so. Come on, we’re nearly at the front path.’ We kept going till the narrow side pathway rejoined the main path leading out to the safety of the street. ‘Be careful in case anyone is about,’ I said.
‘Oh why bother?’ Jodie said lightly. ‘If Mr O’Brien really is a vampire he won’t be out in the daylight, and if he’s not a vampire—well it doesn’t matter!’
‘Here’s the front gate. Oh, I’m so relieved to get out of there.’ And as I stepped on the outside footpath I felt a shudder of relief pass through my body. I silently promised myself I would never, ever, go back into Darkson House whether it was haunted or not.
How very wrong I was to be!
Jodie was bending over her bicycle chain, trying to put it back on. ‘Some gentleman, he wouldn’t even help fix my bike.’
‘Well it doesn’t matter.’
‘But it does. How can I prove Mr O’Brien is not a vampire if we haven’t seen him out in the daylight?’
‘I’ll believe you. Besides if he works at night, and sleeps during the day, then it could be months before he ever goes out into sunlight.
‘What a pity we couldn’t see down into the cellar, because I think that would have proved he wasn’t a vampire. I mean, vampires have to have coffins and stuff don’t they?’
‘Yeah, I guess.’ I leaned against my bike and looked back at that monstrous house. ‘We couldn’t see inside because the outside light reflected on the windows. It was too bright outside and too dark inside.’
Jodie started working on her bicycle chain. ‘But at night it would be dark outside. Can you lift the back wheel while I turn it, please? And of course it would be light inside because as we know, he works in the cellar at night with all the lights on.’
‘The chain’s on,’ I said. ‘Let’s go home. This weather is so hot; I can’t wait till you get the new swimming pool.’ I was hoping to change the subject. To be honest I’d had quite enough of Darkson House and vampires. I suspected she was about to suggest one of those crazy things she sometimes did—like going back to Darkson House at night!
We put on our bike helmets and pushed off down the steep hill. At least we’d have an easy ride back down to Byron Street. But just as we launched ourselves forward, I heard her say: ‘The answer is simple. We come back here tonight about ten o’clock, when it’s dark, and look in the cellar window.’