Restart Story

Flashlight ready, I went into the [[basement]].
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It seemed not much different from the rest of the buildings, scraped down to gray bones by the elements.\n\nThe windows were gone, without even slivers of glass remaining, and the porch had bowed and now held a stagnant pool of rainwater.\n\nThe [[front door stood open]] at an angle, its lowermost hinge having rusted and snapped in two.
I was late.\n\nI must have been late -- the alternative is that, for his own purposes, my brother arrived early, to see our father before I did.\n\nAnd I do not wish to contemplate [[why that would be|outside]].
<<if $mother eq "yes" && $brother eq "yes" && $myself eq "yes">>It seemed my brother wanted to put his mind at ease by checking up on our father, who had been left alone now for slightly longer than we had lived with him.\n\nOn the one hand I appreciated my brother's sentiment, even if I felt it was misplaced. On the other hand, I knew I could not stop him. His feelings toward Father had always been more lenient.\n\nThe only question was: would I [[go along with him]], or let him make the visit [[on his own]]?<<endif>>\s\n<<if $mother eq "yes" && $brother eq "yes" && $myself eq "no">>Of course, [[my experiences|myself]] played a part in my eventual decision.<<endif>>\s\n<<if $mother eq "yes" && $brother eq "no" && $myself eq "no">>Needless to say, my [[brother]] and [[I|myself]] had different experiences of our early home life.<<endif>>\s\n<<if $mother eq "yes" && $brother eq "no" && $myself eq "yes">>My [[brother]] had always been a bit more sentimental regarding the matter.<<endif>>\s\n<<if $mother eq "no" && $brother eq "yes" && $myself eq "no">>But I think our [[mother]] and [[I|myself]], due to our own experiences, had fewer questions than he did.<<endif>>\s\n<<if $mother eq "no" && $brother eq "yes" && $myself eq "yes">>Our [[mother]] never made such a request, rather happy to be rid of him.<<endif>>\s\n<<if $mother eq "no" && $brother eq "no" && $myself eq "yes">>My [[brother]] and [[mother]] had their own experiences in that house, ones which I can relate only partially.<<endif>>\s
He was always a tall, angular man, as the remaining pictures of him suggest, and to this day I can clearly conjure the marvelous image of [[my father's long, long legs|Hub]] striding over me as he emerged from the hole he was to spend years digging beneath our house.
No response came, but I grew more certain than I could hear, however distantly, the sound of Father's shovel.\n\nI called for him again, this time giving also my purpose for interrupting his work. "There's a man at the door!" I said. "He says he's my uncle."\n\nI stood and waited, and as I did so, the sound of digging [[stopped]].
The man on the porch was squat, but dressed neatly in a suit, coat, and hat. A pair of very small spectacles was perched on the end of his nose, looking miniscule in comparison to his large, round face.\n\n"Hello, young lady," he said to me in a labored voice. "Is your [[father home]]?"
<<fadeoutsound $shovel>><<fadeinsound $lullaby>><<timedgoto "aftermath" 33s >>
I once told my brother there is no such place as [[Hell]].
After learning I wouldn't accompany him, and despite my urging him to give up on the plan, my brother went anyway, alone.\n\nAfter several days of him not responding to my calls, I had no choice but to [[follow|outside]].
Whatever his reasons for leaving his family behind, my father did not wait too long before beginning a new one.\n\nI was born only a few months after my parents [[were married]].
My family lived on the southern edge of a certain Midwestern industrial city in an old house, old enough that its basement still had a [[dirt floor]].\n<<set $mother = "no">>\s\n<<set $brother = "no">>\s\n<<set $myself = "no">>\s\n<<set $labyrinth = 0>>\s\n<<set $crying = "no">>\s\n<<set $shovel = "digging.mp3">>\s\n<<set $lullaby = "lullaby.mp3">>\s\n<<set $combined = "combinedaudio.mp3">>\s\n<<set $sound = "no">>\s\n<<set document.title = "my father's long, long legs">>\s
"You're going to Hell," our visitor informed me, after I managed to get him to look at me.\n\n"That's where he's digging to down there," the child said, looking from me to my brother. "He's digging to Hell, and you're all [[going with him]]."
Nor do I know exactly what transpired when Father told Mother that they must go to the basement to discuss the matter closer to its source, for after the door shut behind them, my brother and I were left [[alone in the house]].
The changes were slow, but noticeable. Father began to grow paler, and by the time the factory closed and he could spend the whole day in the basement, he was as white as chalk.\n\nPerhaps it was this general evidence of wear, the change in skin tone and his subsequent emaciation, that made him look taller, as if his height increased in proportion to the depth of his project in the basement.\n\nMeanwhile, my mother put my brother into pre-school and sent me to a latch-key program while she worked to support us. In what seemed a deliberate contrast to my father, she grew somehow [[darker, and smaller]].
I never again saw the man who claimed to be my uncle, either that day or any day after.\n\nPerhaps not coincidentally, this is also my last clear memory of my father, and the one that returned to me many years later when my brother suggested we return to [[our father's house]].
"Are we really going to Hell?" he asked me one night, lying beside me in bed after a nightmare sent him to my room.\n\n<<timedinsert 3s>>I told him I did not know.<<endtimedinsert>>\n\n<<timedinsert 5s>>"But is that where Dad is digging to?" he asked.<<endtimedinsert>>\n\n<<timedinsert 8s>>I told him there was no such place.<<endtimedinsert>>\n\n<<timedinsert 11s>>"Then [[why]] is Dad digging?"<<endtimedinsert>>
<<stopsound $lullaby>>I did not [[find my brother]].
It seemed obvious to me that something was wrong with our home. Its wrongness was screamed, I thought, by the chilly terseness with which our mother moved through it, returning home from work in the late afternoon, serving meals, and retiring to her bedroom.\n\nThe wrongness was screamed, of course, by my father, who after losing his job at the factory spent nearly all day in the basement, emerging at irregular intervals to eat and use the toilet. (This is to say nothing of the physical changes he underwent as [[time went on]].)
<<set $labyrinth = $labyrinth + 1>>\n<<if $sound eq "no" && $labyrinth eq 4>><<fadeinsound $shovel>><<set $sound = "yes">><<endif>>\n<<if $labyrinth eq 15>><<goto "encounter">><<endif>>\n\nI [[called]] for my brother again.\n\n\n<<if $sound eq "yes">>I followed the sound of [[digging|paths]].<<endif>>\n\n\n\n\nI turned [[right]].\n\n\nThe [[musty smell of old earth|dirt]] filled my nostrils.
My father dug uninterrupted in the basement for at least a decade, and once I started high school he did not even leave the basement to join us for dinner.\n\n<<timedinsert 5s>>Then my mother <<replace "left him.">>left him.\n\nFather was sufficiently enveloped in his life's task that there was no need to replay the arguments from my childhood -- whatever desire he once had to [[keep us home]] with him had apparently fallen away, lost in the depths of that pit.<<endreplace>><<endtimedinsert>>
My brother's?\n\nThe flashlight seemed quite new. I flicked it on and pointed it down into the basement, but it penetrated far enough only to reveal the foot of the stairs.\n\nI called my brother's name again, and waited.\n\n<<timedinsert 8s>>There was still [[no response]].<<endtimedinsert>>
<<set $labyrinth = $labyrinth + 1>>\n<<if $sound eq "no" && $labyrinth eq 4>><<fadeinsound $shovel>><<set $sound = "yes">><<endif>>\n<<if $labyrinth eq 15>><<goto "encounter">><<endif>>\n\n\n [[Where|called]] was my brother?\n\n\n\n<<if $sound eq "yes">>I followed the sound of [[digging|nothing but darkness]].<<endif>>\n\n\n\n\n I went [[left]].
He had come to the Midwestern industrial town and secured a job at the same factory where my mother was working.\n\nThough a practical man, he read constantly and voraciously in subjects ranging from engine repair to philosophy -- a habit instilled in him, he had claimed, by [[his own parents]].
We decided upon a day to visit our childhood home, where we assumed our father still lived, and decided to meet there one afternoon the following week.\n\nBut there must have somewhere been a [[miscommunication]].
My guilt is heavy, do not doubt that.\n\nBut it is outweighted by the fear I experienced when I came face to face with that terrible result of Father's [[attempted renovations of a rotted world]].
Apart from him, there were three of us: my [[mother]], my younger [[brother]], and [[myself]].
I was not yet old enough to openly question a parent's behavior, but certainly old enough to recognize its oddness, when my father began [[digging]].
The stairs creaked beneath my feet.\n\n\n\n\n\n I reached the bottom,\n\n \n\n and when my flashlight returned only a slope heading deeper beneath the house,\n\n\n\n\n\n\n I knew my father had done [[quite a bit of work]] in the decade since we left.
Assuming the basement was anything like as I had last seen it, my brother could have easily gotten hurt if he went down without his flashlight.\n\nHe might have been lying down there just beyond the stairs, unconscious.\n\n[[I had to make sure]].
At first he told Mother that he was preparing to put down a cement floor, suggesting a prelude to a full or partial renovation of the house.\n\nAs a child, the movements of adults were still largely mysterious to me, and I do not know the specific circumstances under which Mother's realized this motive was [[untrue]].
<<fadeoutsound $combined>><<replace "my father's long, long legs">>//my father's long, long legs//\n\na [[twine|http://www.gimcrackd.com/etc/src/]] game by michael lutz\n[[website|http://correlatedcontents.com]] [[twitter|http://twitter.com/WarrenIsDead]]\n\nmuch javascript by [[leon arnott|http://l.j-factor.com/]]\n\nflashlight effect from [[here|http://www.mantlelabs.com/flashlight/#.Uhq4KpI8440]]\n\noriginal shovel sound effect by [[Ohwurm|http://www.freesound.org/people/Ohrwurm/sounds/64416/]]\n\nspecial thanks to victor and spam for beta-reading\n\n//inspirations//\n[[emily carroll|http://www.emcarroll.com/]]\n[[junji ito|http://junjiitomanga.wikia.com/wiki/The_Inn]]\n[[thomas ligotti|http://www.amazon.com/Grimscribe-ebook/dp/B00832399Q]]\n[[bruno schulz|http://www.amazon.com/Street-Crocodiles-Classic-20th-Century-Penguin/dp/0140186255]]<<endreplace>>
Somehow -- by my own luck or by some other's design -- I made it out of that darkness, though my brother has not.\n\nThere is a chance, I think, that he may [[still be alive]].
The town was considerably less industrial than it had been, though the taste of industry still laced our water and air. The old neighborhood, not the most affluent even in former times, had fallen into further disrepair.\n\nThe houses up and down the block stood weathered and, it seemed, empty. The sidewalks buckled around thick protrusions of sickly weeds, which reached out into the pot-holed street, protruding fingers of the overgrown lawns.\n\nThe only sign of habitation was a single car, [[my brother's car]], parked outside our old home.
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I retain only a [[single clear memory]] of the time before the situation became alarming, and my father forsook sunlight forever.
Within a few years Father made enough money that my mother could stay home and watch over me and, not too long after, my brother.\n\nThen one night, when my brother was perhaps only a year old, Father came home, pulled a brand-new shovel from the back of his pickup truck, and descended into the basement, where he began [[to dig]].
<<set $labyrinth = $labyrinth + 1>>\n<<if $sound eq "no" && $labyrinth eq 4>><<fadeinsound $shovel>><<set $sound = "yes">><<endif>>\n<<if $labyrinth eq 15>><<goto "encounter">><<endif>>\n\nI took a [[deep breath|dirt]].\n\n\n<<if $sound eq "yes">>I followed the sound of [[digging|dirt]].<<endif>>\n \n\n\n I followed the [[closest turn|stretched out]] in the path.
my father's long, long legs
My brother did not invite as many classmates over after that day, and I don't believe he ever invited any of them down to see "the renovations" [[ever again]].
I stood on the bottom-most stair that, as I thought of it, still properly belonged to our house.\n\nBy my feet was a stack of unfamiliar books. They were old, with blank but warped brown covers. Next to them was what appeared to be an antique child's rattle, caked with dirt, and several rocks chipped into various unnatural but vaguely instrumental shapes.\n\nI turned to the void and [[called for my father]].
This was all my father ever said of his family beyond us; any further inquiry into the subject caused him to leave the room, or bring up some other pressing issue.\n\nMother once theorized that Father had [[run away from home]].
Still in his dark blue uniform from the factory, skin and fabric blackened by the hot breath of machinery and further smudged now by the damp earth...\n\nI watch Father with the satisfaction of a child who sees in her parent a well of [[limitless capability]].
<<set $labyrinth = $labyrinth + 1>>\n<<if $sound eq "no" && $labyrinth eq 4>><<fadeinsound $shovel>><<set $sound = "yes">><<endif>>\n<<if $labyrinth eq 15>><<goto "encounter">><<endif>>\n\n \n I walked [[further onward|down]].\n\n\nI [[called]] for my brother again, and received [[no answer|stretched out]].\n\n\n<<if $sound eq "yes">>I followed the sound of [[digging|called]].<<endif>>\n\n\n The path branched, [[left]] and [[right]].
I left the man on the porch, the door locked, while I went to seek my mother's help. (Thus I discovered she was unresponsive, as she often was in those days.)\n\nThis left me with only the option to [[summon my father]] from the basement.
<<set $labyrinth = $labyrinth + 1>> \n<<if $sound eq "no" && $labyrinth eq 4>><<fadeinsound $shovel>><<set $sound = "yes">><<endif>>\n<<if $labyrinth eq 15>><<goto "encounter">><<endif>>\n\n\n<<if $labyrinth gte 2>>Was I [[going in circles|paths]]?\n\n How would I even [[be able to tell|eaten]]?<<endif>>\n\n<<if $sound eq "yes">>I followed the sound of [[digging|stretched out]].<<endif>>\n\n\nI took a downward sloping path to the [[left]].\n\n\n\nI [[called]] my brother's name.
<<set $labyrinth = $labyrinth + 1>>\n<<if $sound eq "no" && $labyrinth eq 4>><<fadeinsound $shovel>><<set $sound = "yes">><<endif>>\n<<if $labyrinth eq 15>><<goto "encounter">><<endif>>\n\n\n\nAround me there was [[nothing but darkness]].\n\n<<if $sound eq "yes">>I followed the sound of [[digging|right]].<<endif>>
Father had first attempted to dig straight down, but as the years went on he elaborated his original plans, angling outward from the center of the basement at a depth of perhaps fifteen feet.\n\nFrom there he had begun to hollow out the entirety of the basement with one long, looping path, threaded and bent around itself like some monstrous length of viscera, all the while continuing [[his march downward]].
On her own, Mother seemed to physically decompress, to become less bowed. She spoke more, laughed more. She had friends and lovers.\n\nWe [[did not see my father]] at all after we left.
Stepping carefully on the rotten porch, I slipped inside and found myself in the old living room.\n\nThe floor was littered with trash and chunks of plaster dropped from the ceiling. The television was gone, though a lighter patch in the shredded wallpaper marked its former location. The couch had collapsed and now seemed covered with mounds of some sort of gray mold or fungus.\n\nAhead was the central hallway of the house, and I could see that the [[door to the basement]] had been wholly removed.
I do not know what to tell our mother. I do not know where to go from here, what to do.\n\nIt is true I gave up my search, but once I saw what lived there -- had been living there for all these years, or more precisely what had //grown// there -- I [[ran]] from the basement.
<<set $labyrinth = $labyrinth + 1>>\n<<if $sound eq "no" && $labyrinth eq 4>><<fadeinsound $shovel>><<set $sound = "yes">><<endif>>\n<<if $labyrinth eq 15>><<goto "encounter">><<endif>>\n\n\nHow long had I been [[down here|called]]?\n\n\n\n \n\n I turned [[right]].\n\n<<if $sound eq "yes">>I followed the sound of [[digging|left]].<<endif>>
My brother was out with friends, having reached the age when he finally realized the awkwardness that resulted from bringing visitors to our home, and Mother had locked the door to her room and apparently gone to bed.\n\nFather was, of course, laboring in the basement, and I was doing homework in the living room while watching television.\n\nThere came a [[knock at the door]].
"This is not the real world," my father would say, or <<replace "something along these lines.">>something along these lines.\n\n"What we think is the real world is just a layer of dirt caked around <<replace "the true core of the universe.">>the true core of the universe.\n\n"And what is dirt? Inert matter! Dead weight! The remains of those who came and went before us, content only to further press down upon Creation with <<replace "their waste.">>their waste.\n\n"There was a time when human beings were giants walking upon a small Earth, but now the Earth has grown fat and hateful with our soil, while <<replace "we have grown small.">>we have grown small.\n\n"Starting here, I am scraping away this sediment, our coagulated filth, and returning us to [[our original glory]]."<<endreplace>><<endreplace>><<endreplace>><<endreplace>>
My father, for his part, stopped sleeping in the bedroom with her, instead taking to the basement, a decision which coincided with the first signs of his terrible [[metamorphosis]].
I still believe that to be true.\n\n[[But wherever my little brother is now...]]\n<<fadeinsound $combined>><<timedreplace 10s>>\n<html><img src="http://correlatedcontents.com/misc/FatherFiles/dummy.png" align="middle"></html><<becomes>>[img[http://correlatedcontents.com/misc/FatherFiles//rightleg.png]][[I wonder if he's grown as tall as our father?|end]][img[http://correlatedcontents.com/misc/FatherFiles/leftleg.png]]<<endtimedreplace>>
I believe my brother's friend came from a religious family, which may have been part of the problem, but that may also be something I recognize only due to my own biases.\n\nAt any rate, though his cosmology was different from my own, he at least shared some of my anxieties when he attempted to explain to my brother that our father's project in the basement was [[deeply unnatural]].
I emerged from the living room because, down the hall, I could hear crying. I knew that my brother had a friend over, and so was prepared for the worst.\n\nThe two boys stood outside the door to the basement, which still stood open. My brother looked up as I approached, at a loss as to how to comfort his [[weeping companion]].
Upstairs, my mother called out that dinner is done.\n\nMy father takes one last shovel of earth, turns it over the side of the excavation, and -- in a single incredible motion -- crawls out of the hole simply by pressing the sole of his boot to the lip of the pit and moving his whole body upward, walking right [[past me]], right up the stairs.
In the early days, when I sat on the stairs and watched him work, my father had given me dozens of flippant reasons for his project: <<cyclinglink "seeking dinosaur bones" "expanding the basement for a spare bedroom or a recreational space" "looking for buried treasure" "hoping to strike oil" "suspecting a natural hot spring flowed beneath our house" end>>.\n\nAll of these excuses had lost currency by this point, of course, and when asked what he was doing -- as, my brother told me, his religious visitor had inquired -- my father had [[other things to say]].
The wrongness was screamed by my own actions, the heavy worry I felt that at any moment the fragile equilibrium of our home would be upset and my brother's friends would witness the terrifying truth of our family's situation -- a situation I myself could not begin to articulate, but which I felt ashamedly that an outsider would.\n\nOf course my brother, young as he was, saw nothing wrong with inviting his friends to our home, and even taking them down to the basement to see what he called -- after our father's example, I believe -- "[[the renovations]]."
I am sitting at the bottom of the wooden stairs that led down to our basement. Ahead, in the dimness, stands my father, up to his waist in [[the hole]].
The squat stranger -- my uncle, who I remember smelled of sour milk -- seemed elated at his prospects.\n\nI led him down the basement stairs, his agitation growing exponentially until he saw my father standing at his full height (it must have been at least eight or nine feet then, I think) at the entrance of his renovations.\n\nI knew to take my leave, and as I ascended the stairs I heard the visitor remark that my father seemed to have "done [[very well]]" for himself, "all things considered."
A year or so before we left my father was the last time I [[ventured down]] into the basement.\n<<set $myself = "yes">>\s
I was so sorely [[mistaken]].
I assemble this manifesto from memory, from various iterations and variations Father offered us over the years, and certainly it was the sort of heresy that had offended my brother's erstwhile friend.\n\nStill, they were not satisfactory answers to us then, and would not be satisfactory for my brother as he huddled, fearing Hell, in my bed.\n\nBut frankly, I had no other answer for him, and let the matter lapse into silence.\n\nWhich is perhaps why, all those years later, he urged me to come with him back to [[our father's house]].
He did not respond when I opened the door and yelled down, though I thought I could hear, faintly, the sound of his digging.\n\nI looked back to the front door, where I could see through pebbled glass the rotund figure of the man who claimed to be my uncle, and [[descended the wooden stairs]] into the basement.
The friends never asked to return to the basement after my brother took them down there. Some of them quietly deigned to never return to our house at all -- much to my relief, though my brother was often disappointed.\n\nI recall only one instance, when my brother was perhaps seven, when one of his playmates made [[a scene]].
I went [[down]].\n\n\nI [[called]] for my brother.\n\n\nI walked to the [[left]].\n\n\nI walked to the [[right]].
The only light, as always, came from a single bulb hanging from the ceiling.\n\nMy father had learned to operate in these conditions, but for me, the lack of illumination cast the labyrinth below into a mess of confusing and seemingly contradictory paths of damp black earth and only [[slightly blacker shadow]].
My brother was young enough when my father began digging that it seemed to him an indifferent [[fact of life]].\n<<set $brother = "yes">>\s
I called out my brother's name and then stood for a moment, looking down into unremitting darkness.\n\nOf course the power was out. It was probably disconnected long ago.\n\nBut a [[flashlight]] lay on the floor just outside the basement entrance.
On the day we left for good he did not even come out of the basement, though by that point it was questionable how easily he could get through the doorway, so tall he had grown.\n\nIt was not until many years later that my brother suggested we pay a return visit to [[our father's house]].
The doors were locked, the windows rolled up. A hand pressed to the hood told me it was not warm, but apart from that I had no way of guessing how long the vehicle had been there unattended.\n\nAhead, [[the house]] waited.
My father emerged a minute or so later, unfolding himself from the narrow bends of his maze, his pale skin covered only by the rags of his clothing and everywhere dusted gray with soil -- including, I noted, the corners of his mouth, which seemed stained particularly thoroughly, and much more darkly.\n\n"Your uncle," Father rumbled, not quite asking a question. He then added: "My brother."\n\nI nodded.\n\n"[[Show him in]]," he ordered.
There are many things about my mother I do not understand.\n\nShe first found my father attractive, she admitted to me many years later, because of how [[unusual]] he was.\n<<set $mother = "yes">>\s
[[michael lutz|http://correlatedcontents.com]] | [[twitter|http://twitter.com/WarrenIsDead]]\n\nnote: parts of this game make use of sound effects. play with headphones for the optimal experience.
<<set $labyrinth = $labyrinth + 1>>\n<<if $sound eq "no" && $labyrinth eq 4>><<fadeinsound $shovel>><<set $sound = "yes">><<endif>>\n<<if $labyrinth eq 15>><<goto "encounter">><<endif>>\n\n<<if $sound eq "yes">>I followed the sound of [[digging|down]].<<endif>>\n\n\n\n\n The [[paths]] my father had [[eaten]] through the earth [[stretched out]] in all directions.\n\n\n\n\nThere was [[no sign|down]] of my brother.
"Who are you?" I asked.\n\nThe man tipped his old-fashioned hat back on his head, smiling with rubbery lips. "You would have no reason to know me, of course," he said, "but I'm [[your uncle]]."
<<set $labyrinth = $labyrinth + 1>>\n<<if $sound eq "no" && $labyrinth eq 4>><<fadeinsound $shovel>><<set $sound = "yes">><<endif>>\n<<if $labyrinth eq 15>><<goto "encounter">><<endif>>\n<<if $sound eq "no">>Only my own breathing echoed back through those [[chambers of barren earth|dirt]].<<endif>>\n\n<<if $sound eq "yes">>In the distance, the sound of shoveling did not break its rhythm, as if [[the digger|paths]] did not know or care I was there.<<endif>>\n\n\n<<if $sound eq "yes">>I followed the sound of [[digging|eaten]].<<endif>>\n\n\n\n I walked further [[into the darkness|down]].
My brother cried most of the night while I lay in my own bed, pillows pressed to my ears.\n\nThe next day my mother reappeared, quietly prepared our meals, and then locked herself in her bedroom shortly before Father returned home and commenced digging [[once again]].