“Matisse, Come Down Into the Cellar”
A Serialized Story Collection
“Matisse, come down into the cellar. Matisse, join me.”
The voice spoke to me every morning on my way to school. I think I might have been the only person that it spoke to. It was an old man’s high quavery voice, but sharp in tone. I once looked down into the shallow stone stairwell leading to the mansion’s cellar, but I saw nothing but an accumulation of leaves and a heavy arched door. There was no window or slot for anyone to speak out of, yet I heard his pleading with me to go into the cellar like he was standing just behind my right ear!
At first, I would shout back, “I am not Matisse! My name is Corey! Leave me alone!”
Without any indication it had heard me, almost triggered by my voice, he replied, “Matisse! It is so cool in here. So dark and quiet. It is a good place to rot, Matisse! Matisse? Don’t leave me in here, Matisse!”
I never stopped walking. It had become like a truck beeping as it backs up or like the steady roar of a crowd at a baseball game. Just a sound to be ignored.
He did not call to me every day. Some days, I would hear a soft rapping sound. A tapping against the door. Occasionally, when I would pass by with my sister, who my parents had to drive to her elementary school, it would shout her name, but she seemed unable to hear it. “Marie! Marie! Can you hear me, Marie!? Come down into the cellar, Marie! Join me!”
One day, my sister and I were walking to the store just down the street. The cellar was quiet as we walked by the old stone mansion, but that was when she said, “Codey, Who is Matisse?”
I was stunned! “Do you hear The Old Man?”
“What old man? It’s written on your backpack.”
I must have looked surprised because she was laughing. I wasn’t laughing, I felt sick. I quickly shrugged off my backpack and flipped it around to inspect it. Hanging from the superhero keyring I had tied to the zipper was a large key engraved with the name “Matisse.”
I grabbed Marie’s arm and we walked faster as she protested and demanded I let her go. This was too important, we had to get away from the cellar door beneath the stone mansion.
Later, I told my only friend at school about the key appearing where it hadn’t been when I left the house that morning. I knew he wouldn’t tell anyone because Ham Sam was a guinea pig in our home economics class. I had been chosen to take care of him the first day of class and found that I liked the little guy. It wasn’t long before I was talking to him like I had never been able to talk to people. He tried to escape a couple times and bit me once, but that’s just the kind of things that friends forgive.
I looked at the key with a magnifying glass looking for any small indication of it’s origin. It was shiny in a semi circle around the hole designed to hold it to the keyring, but then, towards the key itself, got more dull and scuffed.Iit had been used regularly enough to polish the grime off of the key. Shining up the grimey part, a number could be made out. 1212, the address of the stone mansion with the cellar.
How did it get there? I had only been at home and at school yesterday. I hadn’t even gone by the house Friday because I’d had a ride with my folks as they took my sister to her softball game.
Walking home from school alone on a windy fall afternoon, the sun was bright and the smell of leaves added a crispness to the wind. Whirlwinds picked up leaves from the sidewalk and seemed to carefully deposit them behind the low wall that marked the 22 stone steps descending at the street side of the stately mansion.
My Dad said that the mansion had been built ages ago to take up the corner of a lot at the corner of Bowie and Laytreya Streets. Dad said that when he was little, it’s walls reminded him of the stone towers in movies that guarded away either men wearing iron masks or princesses with impossibly long locks of hair. On this side, most of the windows were 10 feet above the sidewalk and the only entrance was at the bottom of a stone stairwell descending beneath the street. Dad explained that workmen used to dump coal down there where it was transferred to a bin to be shoveled as needed. By the 1990s, coal was no longer the primary heating fuel and the mansion was converted to a modern heat pump. The heavy cellar door was then added to lock out vagrants, thieves, and curious kids.
Suddenly I found myself standing at that large, heavy door, the heavy glass keyring in my hand! The old fashioned wide key counter-balancing it.
I knew I should go home. I knew that there was probably just something wrong with my brain and I was better off just walking by, maybe taking a different route to school! I knew all of this, but I also knew that I had never really been afraid of the old man’s voice, even when I first heard the voice faint as a whisper the first time I was allowed to walk to school.
“Hello?” I addressed the massive wood and iron door.
No one answered. Leaves rustled in a light breeze. I noticed the leaves were piled against the door nearly an inch thick! This door had obviously not been opened in a very long time.
“Then where did the voice come from,” I asked myself.
The narrow landing before the door was maybe five feet of stone floor at the bottom of the stone stairs. The wall to the left was sheer and rose all the way to the street level. Likewise, the one ahead of him. To the right, the same sheer stone wall was interrupted by a fairly modern steel door with a curved top. To the right of the door was a small metal door labelled “coal.” The wall containing the door and the coal chute continued up unbroken until the first floor windows that lorded over the street.
Curious, I reached over and pulled at the coal door. It seemed to be latched from the inside. It wouldn’t even rattle.
Again, I looked at the key. The fob was made of a black glass with one side containing a white rectangle with the word “Matisse” written in a formal flourished, curled handwriting sealed under the glass. The key on the ring was an old iron skeleton key that would fit no modern door.
“MATISSE!” a voice from the large door sounded loudly making mejump! “Matisse, come down into the cellar!”
“Can you hear me,” I shouted into the heavy door. He only now noticed that the door was wet. It gave off a moist sheen as if it had just experienced a light rain. There had been no rain for weeks!
“Matisse! Join me,” it demanded. “Matisse! It is so cool in here. So dark and q…”
I tried to jump in before it could finish and shouted, “I have a key! I think it goes to this door! It has the name! Matisse is written on it.”
The voice paused. Then, slowly, as if deliberating, the high old man voice said, “It is a good place to rot, Matisse.”
The door had a large, iron lock. For being installed in the last 30 years, it was a relic from a much earlier time. I stuck the key into the damp lock with a deep click. An electric charge flowed from the key into my hand! I instinctively screamed and pulled my hand back!
Darkness. I hadn’t thought to bring a light.
After a quick check for horrible burn damage, I found found none. Actually, I was fine. I think the shock of the sensation was worse than the sensation itself. There only remained a slight numb sensation from my fingers to my elbow. Still, it took me a moment to notice the sound of soft clicks as the key weakly tried to turn itself in the lock.
“Matisse? Don’t leave me in here, Matisse!”
The key continued to rattle in the big old iron lock. It was as if it was being tapped from the other side, a clumsy wire or probe trying to impatiently turn it in the lock. Suddenly, I had a mental image of an unseen spectral hand trying to turn the lock in order to open the door and pull me into the darkness.