Tetsu reached over and clapped his hand over Kurt’s mouth. The quintet gaped at each other, frozen to the spot in the dark kitchen.
The phone rang again.
Footfalls hammered up the basement stairs. Darius looked around the kitchen. Kurt scrambled to a lower cabinet, pulled open the door and climbed inside. Tetsu followed his lead and climbed into his own cupboard. Sophie glanced at them, but the footsteps were almost at the top of the stairs. She pushed herself into the furthest corner of the room. Adelaide was frozen to the spot. Darius grabbed her hand and pulled her under the sturdy wooden table next to the banquette.
“Flashlights,” Darius hissed.
The room went dark as the phone rang a third time. The basement door slammed open and light filtered along the tile floor. The edges of it illuminated one of Adelaide’s sneakers. She pulled her legs in and made herself as small as she could under the table.
Darius heard footfalls in the kitchen. A smell reminiscent of pickles wafted through the air.
“What?” a male voice demanded. There was a pause. “Bring what you can get.” Another pause. “I need the material. It’s fresh, right?” The man sighed. “Fine, bring them. I’m here. Just rap at the basement window.”
Darius wanted to pull Adelaide in closer. He liked the way her shampoo smelled. He felt her shift as she pushed herself further away from the basement light and huddled against him. He’d let go of her hand as they crawled along the floor, but she took it again. It was soft and he squeezed it.
“Incompetent,” the man huffed as he slammed the receiver down. He opened the fridge, and light illuminated more of the kitchen.
One of the cupboards was ajar. Darius wondered how well Sophie was hidden in the corner of the room. All the man had to do was turn around. They were trespassing: breaking and entering. If the man noticed any of them, Darius would have to tackle him. His body tensed, ready to spring into action.
The man closed the fridge. There was a small hiss and then a beer bottle cap clicked as it skipped along the kitchen counter. The man took a swig. The light from the basement was blocked as he stepped through the doorway and then closed the door.
Footsteps receded down the stairs, but the kitchen was still for several moments. Adelaide started when Sophie stepped out from the corner.
“We have to go. Now,” Sophie urged in a loud whisper. She opened the cupboard Kurt was hiding in.
“No way, I want to know what he’s doing in the basement,” Tetsu whispered as he emerged from his own cupboard and turned his flashlight back on.
Darius squeezed Adelaide’s hand again, then climbed out from under the table. He offered his hand to her again to help her up as she emerged. The light was dim, illuminated only by a few flashlight beams, but he thought her cheeks were touched with pink. She dropped his hand.
“It’s dangerous!” Sophie insisted as she moved back to the hallway. “We’ll get in trouble. Come on, Kurt.”
Darius stepped toward the basement door. He was certain they could argue about this until the person on the other end of the phone arrived at the house and still not reach a consensus.
“Stop,” Adelaide said, and Darius paused. She sighed. “If we do this, we have to do it smart. Kurt and Sophie, it might be better if you stayed nearby, but you can wait outside for us if you’d rather. I’m staying here either way. Tetsu and Darius, you two can look, then tell us what you see. Be quiet and be slow. Got it?”
“We’re not leaving you,” Kurt said with a hint of a quaver in his voice.
“Fine,” Sophie huffed. “We’ll wait in the kitchen with you.”
Darius grinned. Adelaide was even more impressive than he’d thought. He waited for Tetsu to join him at the basement door, then he eased it open. He was about to take a step when Tetsu shouldered past him.
“Me first,” Tetsu hissed.
Darius stepped back and gestured at the staircase.
Tetsu’s tennis shoes didn’t make a sound as he lowered himself onto the first step, then the second. He eased himself down, stair by stair. They heard the man moving around the basement, but the bottom of the staircase remained clear.
Adelaide’s eyebrows pinched together with worry as she listened at the top of the stairs. Darius wanted to reach out and smooth her forehead. He wondered what it would be like to kiss her. He forced himself to look back at the staircase, and as soon as there was space, he eased himself onto the first stair.
Darius and Tetsu inched forward. The lower portion of the staircase was framed in, but did not have any walls. A third of the way down the staircase, the two boys crouched down and peered through the gap into the room beyond. The pickle-like smell was stronger now.
The floor and walls were concrete, illuminated by fluorescent lights secured to the ceiling. Darius saw a long table covered with tools, surgical instruments and an open bottle of beer. Thick bundles of wire ran across the floor to where the man stood, his back turned, next to two gurneys. One was empty. A body lay on the other.
Darius craned his neck to get a better look. The body, half-covered with a white sheet, was adult-sized, but stitched together from different pieces. The skin on its arm was a different tone from its torso. The man moved and Darius could see the body’s face. Its head was a different tone again. Darius grimaced as he realized a portion of the skull was gone.
The man positioned himself at the cadaver’s head and probed at the exposed brain. The creature opened its mouth and let out a long, low groan. Tetsu shuddered. Darius felt his dinner shift in his stomach.
Darius and Tetsu locked eyes and retreated quietly but quickly up the stairs.
“We have to go,” Darius whispered to the rest of the group.
“What did you see?” Sophie hissed. “Not here.” Darius glanced at Tetsu and the two of them hurried everyone out of the house.
Thanks for taking the time to read the fifth chapter of Legends of The Link!