Fiction Friday is back!
I’ve been posting short stories online for a few years now, but the run I enjoyed the most was when I first started Fiction Friday. The goal was simple. Approximately 1000 words written, edited, and published in a single day. It’s where I developed my love for Flash Fiction and it’s when I wrote some of my favourite stories. Since I stopped Fiction Friday, updates of writing have been a little bit more sporadic. I’ve wanted to bring it back, but I’ve also wanted to move on from shorter flash fiction. With that in mind, things are going to be a little different. Writing will be going up on Fridays, but it will be serialised. Today’s piece, Balancing the Books, is part one of three. I hope you enjoy it.
Balancing the Books
The old Manor was even uglier in the night. Its crooked spire seemed to hunch against the moonlight like the building itself wanted to huddle in against the cold. At least it was a clear night, Walker hadn’t thought to bring a flashlight and the building’s electrics were probably ancient. He didn’t bother with the gate, he’d tried it earlier in the day. It was slow, it was noisy, and anyone but Alfred Hitchcock could squeeze through the bars. The house was empty. He’d checked the records in the library. Nobody had lived there since the thirties. Before that, it was little more than a vacation home on the coast. But it was here. It had to be. He’d traced the family tree back five generations, there was nowhere else it could be.
Once through the gate, he felt a little safer. He’d been here in the morning, but some kid on the street had spotted him. He didn’t want to draw too much attention to himself. God alone knew why. He only wanted what was rightfully his, after all. The cops wouldn’t see it that way. Cops never did. So he’d beat it, decided to come back when all was quiet.
He walked the long walk from the gate to the house a younger man. Secluded behind overgrown hedgerows and ancient walls, he might as well own the place. He laughed. He didn’t feel like it, but he laughed anyway.
He’d memorised the layout, but even so it was disorientating in the dark. He’d been heading for the old servant’s door. The staff quarters were far from the cellar, but they were also likely to be the least well maintained. If there was a rotten window frame, or an ancient lock then this would go a little smoother. Things hadn’t gone to plan, however, and he’d ended up fumbling his way to the front door. He placed a hand on the wood. It was cold as steel, but aged and rough. It was ugly too, heavy and oppressive. It loomed over him, daring him to try and feel equal to a door. He didn’t. God damn them, he didn’t. So he kicked it. It wasn’t locked.
Two steps from his goal, all that time spent, and he felt hesitation. Was it really worth it, after so long? Would it even make a difference? He thought of his father, dying in the hospital. Penniless and rotting away. Would it change anything? His father would not want him to waste his life looking for retribution. Hell, the old man died in blissful ignorance. Who was he kidding? The argument was over the minute he saw that crooked spire. He had come so far, he could not go back.
The entrance hall was illuminated by a large gap in the ceiling. The floor was damp and at least one of the walls had been torn down in some previous expedition into the dying house. Walker peered around him. His hand reached for his old lighter, but he stopped himself. He might need that later. His eyes were adjusting, and even through the dank gloom he could see the outlines of a glamorous home. The urge to explore was strong, but he pushed it down. There was no time for that. He recalled the plans in his mind.
He needed to get towards the cellar. The old manor had been built on the house before it, burned down in 1843 by the old General’s mad wife, or so the story went. Once there would have been a staircase beside the left wall, but that was demolished now. If the staircase remained, it did so under two tonnes of bricks, mortar and dust. He would need a new route. The stairs would take him to the family’s quarters, from there he could walk around the building and come down near the entrance to the gardens. He smirked. Lucky they were so rich, most people didn’t have two potential routes from the front door to the back.
He stepped on the first stair and knew instantly it was a mistake. He tried to withdraw as soon as he heard the wet creak, but it was too late. His foot went through, then it went through the floorboards below. The pine might as well have been wet newspaper, but the nails and the beams weren’t. They collapsed with the floorboards, but they held together and pulled their neighbours with them.
Walker had only a second to roll away from the collapse, and he made it, but half the staircase didn’t. He was starting to see what had happened to the other wall. He cursed himself. It was a stupid mistake. He shouldn’t even be here risking his neck. He got to his feet, part of the roof had caved in with the floor. There was a little more moonlight now. He could trace a line along the debris, piles of bricks holding their own. Piles of debris that held tight, maintaining the illusion of solid ground. A short climb and he could be back outside. He started to shift some of the wood, doing his best to brace the remaining structure in place. Anything that didn’t brace, he tossed down the hole. He didn’t need the extra weight.
Walker spun around. A woman’s voice. “Who’s there?” He called.
“Oh, no one in particular.”
Walker laughed. “I should have known someone else would beat me to it.”
“You want it too?” she asked. He couldn’t see her, the voice seemed to float up from the newly created hole in the floor.
“You bet I do.” But he didn’t want to share it.
“Follow me,” said the voice. “I know the way.”
Balancing the Books continues next Fiction Friday.