The Laundry Room
She thudded ungracefully down the basement stairs, the laundry basket clasped against one hip, bumping against the wall with each step. The fifth step down gave a familiar squeak as she gathered scattered pieces of cat litter between her toes. She double checked the bottom step out of absentminded habit – months ago, she had stepped out for the concrete below too soon and twisted her ankle on an awkward landing – before clamoring the rest of the way down.
She turned almost 360 degrees and all but tossed the basket onto the dryer. It was simply too early to be awake, despite the fact that she knew if she went back to her warm covers and neglected these early morning tasks, it would catch up with her in the afternoon. Absently, she pulled the little string on the naked light bulb, illuminating the little room with weak light. The last incandescent bulb had burned out a while ago and she’d replaced it with one of those energy efficient ones that takes several minutes to warm up to full strength. Time which it never had since she was only ever down there two minutes.
The old socket and wiring didn’t seem to like the new hardware either. Three days after she’d put in the new bulb, it had begun to flicker. Twisting the bulb to different levels of tightness had no effect, and short of doing laundry in the dark there was nothing to do except tolerate the electric clicks and whiplashing light. This morning, it was no different. She measured out soap and softener to disco flickers, trudged back past the hole that was the sump pump as it shuddered on and began pumping water, and added both liquids to the washing machine.
She ground her teeth together, wondering with frustration if being in the dark would be so bad. And just as the finished loading the washer, the light gave up the ghost completely. Her movements continued with the ease of habit, closing the lid and pressing buttons until the machine began to draw in water. The dryer quickly whirled to life as well and she decided getting the laundry going was enough. She was going back upstairs to bed.
With careful steps, she moved to deposit the little cups back on their shelf and that was when her senses brought her a noise she had never heard in her basement before – a long, definitive scrapping of something sharp and hard against stone, against concrete. Her heartbeat ratcheted up several notches and she turned her head to look in the direction of the sound when it quieted. Sleep’s fog evaporated completely. Her slight rasps of breath were drowned out by the machines running behind her, and for a moment that was all she heard.
She was being stupid; spinning around, she headed for the open door, then stopped. Not because she wanted to, but because instinct screamed at her not to go that way and every muscle in her body bit down like thousands of tiny vice grips. A hot huff of air was blown into her face, strong enough to push her hair off her shoulders.
Why yes, she realized. Being in the dark was bad.