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Voices in The Cellar


Janet Owenby

Sixteen-year-old Tacoma reads the sign in the yard of the dilapidated Victorian home; 'Welcome to Wellington Orphanage'. Well, at least it was not another sanitarium. He exits his father's Mercedes and retrieves his luggage from the back seat.

"I'm sorry. I have to leave you here. I promise to visit every weekend," said his father.

Tacoma drops his head and walks slowly toward the door. He brushes back an auburn forelock and rings the doorbell. A poker-faced nun appears in the arch way of the open door. Tacoma stares at his Nike tennis shoes, and fidgets nervously with the fringe on his leather jacket.

Hi, I'm Sister Helena and you must be Tacoma. We've been expecting you. She carefully scrutinizes the young man towering over her. He was pale and extremely thin and his unkempt hair fell limply across his shoulders. His jade green eyes were expressionless, but his depression was evident in his appearance and stance. He did not look like the nefarious demon she had expected. She felt sorry for the teenager. "Come in," she said, with a warmhearted smile.

Tacoma follows her down the corridor to his room. "Lights will be turned out in thirty minutes. You had best unpack immediately and get ready for bed," she said, exiting the room without locking the door. He had not slept behind an unlocked door since his mother and Nathaniel died, eight years earlier.

Tacoma unpacks his belongings and slips on his pajamas. He takes the medication his father prescribed to help him sleep and crawls in bed. He awakes to the sound of Nathaniel's sobbing voice. He follows his voice down to the cellar of the orphanage. He silently descends the rickety staircase. "Where are you?" He whispers. "Answer me, Nathaniel."

"I'm over here," he answers, in a whimpering voice.

"Where? I can't find you."

"Turn on the light and close the door."

Tacoma switches on the light and closes the door. Nathaniel crawls out of a large storage box. Black circles surround his swollen eyes. Bluish-purple bruises cover his cheekbones. His platinum curls are plastered to his forehead with dried blood. He is thin and pale from lack of proper nutrition.

"Tacoma, Please don't let her hurt me anymore," Nathaniel said, looking up at Tacoma with tears streaming down his chubby cheeks. "You have to stop her. Do it tonight, before she kills me. You are big and strong. You can help me."

Tacoma was overwhelmed with tears of compassion. No child deserved this kind of treatment. What kind of monster could abuse a child this way. He wanted to stop her from hurting him, but Nathaniel had made him promise not to tell anyone he was down here. How was he supposed to help him? "What do you want me to do?"

"You have to destroy her," replied Nathaniel.

"What do you mean, destroy her?"

"You know. Kill her."

"Kill her! I can't do that."

"Yes, you can. I will tell you how."

"No, I can't."

"Are you afraid, Tacoma?"

"They will lock me up again."

"No, they won't."

"I will be sent back to the sanitarium. The psychiatrist will say I was physically abused by my mother. He will say I suffer from multiple personality disorder and the voices are in my head. I can't go back there."

"This time will be different. I promise you, Tacoma. You get her down here. My friends and I will do the rest. She has to pay for what she has done to us. Until we dispose of her, we will never be free."

"What do you mean your friends? Who are your friends?"

"You just get her down here and I will show you."

"Ok, but how do I get her to come down here?"

"You see that newspaper over there."

"Yeah, I see it."

"Go get it."

Tacoma walks over and picks up the newspaper. "What now," he asked?

"Do you have a lighter?"

"Yes, I have a lighter."

"Light the newspaper. Wave it under the vent and yell fire," instructed Nathaniel.

Tacoma lights the newspaper and yells, "fire!"

Sister Helena awakes to the aroma of smoke coming from the cellar. She rushes down the steps. She sees him holding a lit newspaper and a gallon of gas. The last thing she sees is his grimacing face, before she is consumed by flames.

Nathaniel pushes against the brick wall at the back of the cellar and it swings open. Skeletons lay in heaps behind the wall. They arise from the ground and stand behind Nathaniel. "My friends," he exclaims proudly.

"Who are they?" Inquired Tacoma?

"They are dead people, just like you."

"What do you mean like me? I'm not dead"

Tacoma hears his mother and five-year-old brother's screams coming from the cellar. He sees Sister Helena and the innocent orphan's faces mutilated by gasoline flames. It happened just like, the district attorney, psychiatrist, and his father said. He must have killed them all. He deserved to die today.

Doctor Brooklyn watches silently, as the prison guards secure Tacoma in the electric chair. It will all be over soon, he thinks to himself.

When they place the sack over Tacoma's head, he suddenly remembers the face of the man holding the lit newspaper, and gasoline can. It was not his face, but an older face he recalled.

He struggles against the restraints and screams, "I'm not crazy. I'm not a murderer." The executioner ignores his screams and pulls the lever. High voltage electricity rushes through Tacoma's body. He feels his mother's arms embrace him and carry him behind the cellar wall. The wall is sealed behind him and he hears Nathaniel's voice, "Welcome to Hell, Tacoma."

""Maybe, if I'd been a better father, none of this would have happened." Mr. Brooklyn said to his son's attorney. "I should have never left him at that orphanage."

"Don't blame yourself Dr. Brooklyn. I'm sorry I couldn't get him off, with another insanity plea. I know this isn't much comfort, but at least his troubled mind is at peace. He will never hear voices again."

Mr. Brooklyn leaves the penitentiary and gets into his Mercedes. He smiles and drives away. A mile down the road from the prison, he hears something scratching under the passenger's seat. "Daddy, daddy," he hears a voice calling his name. He glances over at the passenger's side of his vehicle and sees Nathaniel's charcoal figure crawling out from under the seat." This cannot be real," he exclaimed aloud. "It's my guilty conscience." He hears another voice coming from the back seat.

"Your conscience," laughed Tacoma. "You don't have one, remember."

"You set the fire in the cellar at our house that killed me and Mommy. You knocked Tacoma out with drugs. Then you murdered us and blamed Tacoma. You sent him to that asylum and had him pumped full of drugs. He started to get better and was released. You could not allow him to be free, because he might remember what he saw that night," said Nathaniel.

"You were afraid I might remember the truth, so you took me to the orphanage that day. After everyone fell asleep you snuck back to the orphanage and crawled through the cellar window, and then you set that fire, " said Tacoma. "You carried me outside, while I was still knocked out on the sleeping pills. It was you who placed the gasoline container beside me and put the lighter in my hand."

You beat us up and locked us in the cellar without food for days. When mommy threatened to report you to the authorities, you murdered us. "You have to pay for your sins, daddy," said Nathaniel, reaching over and grasping the steering wheel. The car swerves off the highway and rolls down an embankment. His father's body is trapped underneath the car. Nathaniel hands Tacoma a rolled up newspaper. Tacoma lights the newspaper and throws it on the overturned vehicle's leaking gas tank. The car explodes.

"Our souls are free at last." Tacoma said, taking his little brother's hand.

A passer-by sees the flames and pulls over. He sees a teenage boy leading a smaller boy across the pasture away from the flaming wreckage. "Are you boys all right?" He yells over the guard rail. The two boys turn and wave at the stranger. They join two women and several more children in a bright circle of light, then mysteriously vanish.

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