I still remember ‘the place’. That’s all we ever called it. No other name. It was as though, to our childhood minds, any other name might render it more frightening, more portentous, more chill.
We couldn’t risk giving it any other name.
My parents owned and ran a butcher’s shop in the main part of our town. Its ordered but somewhat grizzly facade with its displays of every type of meat was a happy neighbour to a newsagent, a convenience store and a hardware store.
At the front, everything looked wonderful, normal, and welcoming.
But behind the shops there was an alleyway, and nearest to my parent’s shop was ‘the place’ – a separate warehouse of some type. None of we children knew who owned the warehouse. It might have been a shared facility between my parents and the other store owners. Looking back with the prosaic eyes of adulthood, I suppose it was.
Bu back then, a staircase leading to a dark open door is a thing of wonder and dread. It looked bad. It felt bad. None of us ever saw our parents going in there, or coming out, but we feared this happened, far too many times. And as the years passed by and our father became more and more drunken, more and more violent, we thought ‘the place’ had changed him, bit by bit by bit.
Again, looking back now with a mind that understands economics and the vagaries of having money to put food on tables, I can see other reasons for my father’s decline and my mother’s misery. But then, but then, it was ‘the place’.
I have this one memory, you see, though honestly I do not know if it is true or something my fevered childish mind created in a dream. I do think, if I remember rightly, this did coincide with the summer when I had an unspeakable, inexplicable total body rash and I allegedly almost died from the onslaught of some – to this day unknown – allergy. So it may be just that.
Or it may be real, and the allergy might not have been an allergy at all, but something born of fear, or even something worse. Something I don’t dare remember.
What I do recall, you see, is one night playing far too late with my sister, near the back alley. And hearing what at first sounding like a mewing kitten, but which, bit by bit by bit, became something more, something like a moan,or a wail, or even a shriek. Yes, I think in the end. it was a shriek, then an awful gutteral sound, like water gurgling down a too narrow drain.
And, foolish children that we were, we ran towards the sound rather than away. Into the alleyway, and we saw ‘the place’ and those awful stairs, and up those stairs, something flickering it the darkness of the doorway, something moving, something alive.
And we ran, and ran, and ran, till we got home. And then I fell ill with the allergy. And that’s all I remember.
But I still remember ‘the place’. I could never forget ‘the place’.
I know I never will.
(c ) Helen M Valentina 2018