The Creature Beneath the House

Ella Witney

An old Queenslander stood on the corner of Skew Street. The house swayed in the wind, the worn stilts creaking with every movement. It’s no wonder they knocked it down. As a kid, there was always something to be scared of. I was always scared of the worst-case scenario. I couldn’t see into the future, so I never knew how something I was scared of would turn out. Would I hurt myself? My fear always resulted in missed opportunities.

The tall yellow house cast a long shadow over the yard, blocking any light from the streetlamps. They only just turned on, the sky still pink and orange, signalling the coming darkness. All I could think about was going inside. I didn’t want to be out at night.

Juliet and I stood on the brown prickly grass, necks craning to watch a ringtail possum run along the wire between two electrical poles. It bolted out of the school across the road, scaling up the pole as if being chased. The possum danced like an acrobat – walking along a tightrope over a busy main street as cars rushed, their headlights blinding our eyes. Still we watched on, Juliet giggling and giddy. My eyes lingered on the shadows of the school, hoping nothing would jump out.

I wondered what the possum was running from. Were there monsters in the school? If the possum was coming this way, was it bringing the monsters with it?

It was getting dark.

The possum made it across the road safely. Juliet ran after it in the garden where it bolted under the old house. We exchanged looks. The possum was lost now. There was no way I was going under there—it was dark, dusty, and made alien noises. My feet felt like concrete and my muscles tensed, my spine locking into place.

‘We should jump on the trampoline,’ Juliet declared, her shrill voice sudden, making me jump. She always knew the best games. She was so cool.

She ran to the tap sticking out from under the tall Queenslander. A long green hose was attached to it, and on the other end was a sprinkler. I don’t think they ever used it on the garden. I think the trampoline just had its own sprinkler. Juliet climbed under the trampoline with missing springs and stuck the sprinkler in the middle. The tap was tight, digging holes in our palms, but together we managed to turn it on.

Water burst out of the sprinkler—hitting the underside of the trampoline—and little drops broke through the harsh mat.

I heard a rustle from underneath the house and I froze. I scanned the length of the balustrades, squinting between the gaps. I didn’t want to think of what creatures could be lurking under there.

The rectangular trampoline was tall and I struggled to climb up. I got one knee over the edge, and the springs clipped my skin. Juliet came over and took my arm and leg, pulling me the rest of the way up, and dragged me into the middle of the trampoline. Juliet squirted the detergent all over the black mat and emptied the whole bottle.

Together we jumped, the water-soaked mat sprung water drops with ever jump. We had to be careful not to slip into the hole that formed at one end. It was growing bigger. I didn’t want to fall down there – not with the spiders that lived underneath. I hate spiders. Especially the big black ones with the red stripe I always saw at home. Mum tells me to stay away from those ones. One time when we went camping, a boy got bitten and went to the hospital. I’d never been to the hospital before, and I didn’t want to find out.

The suds, the water, and the coarseness of the trampoline made my skin itchy and turn red and bumpy. We slipped about, and each time someone jumped too hard, the other got hurt. It was usually me. I really wanted a shower to wash the itchiness away.

The sky had drained of colour, now dark like the mat of the trampoline. The smallest of stars speckled across the night. We called it quits and rinsed off in the sprinkler. The tap was too tight to turn off, so we left it running.

Juliet took my hand and dragged me across the yard. I didn’t know how she could run across the bindies barefoot. She was so brave. I had to stop and pull them out. She brought me over to the grand old poinciana tree, avoiding stepping on the long seed pods.

The tree was thick with knots and the branches were so long they hung low to the ground. Juliet let go of my hand and climbed it with ease. She knew all the places to put her feet to launch herself into the branches. My mouth hung open as I watched. How was she not scared? It was dark and I could only see the shape of her among the leaves. Could she see? What if she fell? To take such a risk and not know whether you’d be okay or not by the end. Why take the risk at all?

I didn’t want to try climbing. Not to get hurt in the process. The bark was coarse under my hands as I held onto the trunk of the tree, watching as Juliet showed me just how high she could climb. I imagined myself up there with her. She could make it to where the branches grew too thin to hold her weight, and she could grab the seed pods right from where they grew. She wasn’t scared. Why wasn’t she scared? I don’t think I could ever be that brave. Not as a child chasing from monsters and experiences that were outside my comfort zone, or a young adult facing the brutality of the real world.

She climbed back down to where the trunk separated into branches and jumped across the roots and landed on the dirt. My heart faulted watching her jump. She landed on her feet, but she could have twisted an ankle.

‘Did you know there’s a monster living under our house?’ she said, turning to point under the wooden house. The underside was taller than the house on top, with half walls of wooden slats that we could easily see through.

Under the house scared me. It was crammed with old things like fridges, Christmas decorations, camping gear, and a barbeque. There were spiders and possums that lived in there – now monsters?

‘Mum says it’s a bearded dragon.’

There were dragons under houses?

When she ran over to the house, disappearing into the shadows, I could only follow. I didn’t want to be a chicken. Juliet wasn’t chicken. Even when it was dark out.

The ground floor was paved with concrete and a carpet of dirt, and small hard things that hurt my feet. In the small light of streetlamps and the headlights of cars that passed on the street, I could only make out the outlines of big things.

‘I saw it in this corner,’ she told me.

If there was a dragon here, then I didn’t want to be anywhere near it.

We stayed quiet, watching the corner. Overhead, we could see the lights on in the house through slits in the floorboards. Upstairs they were making dinner. The pipes that ran along the ceiling made noises as they filled with water, and the hot water tank made a low humming noise.

I didn’t like it under here.

There was a scuffling sound, like nails scratching the floor. Our heads snapped. It was coming from the dragon’s corner. My heart raced and I think I stopped breathing. The brooms stood up against the wall knocked over, hitting the ground with a loud clatter. The possum ran out, scuttling through the garden and up the tree. We looked at each other and screamed, racing out from under the house.

I look back on times I missed out because of fear – experiences I never had. Just because something was outside my comfort zone, didn’t mean it would hurt me. Fear has held me back from a lot, when in reality, I had nothing to fear at all.

Author: Ella is a Brisbane-based writer and poet. Currently she is studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Creative Writing at Queensland University of Technology and works on the content team for ScratchThat magazine. As a third-generational member of Brisbane’s folk scene and an Irish Fiddler, Ella is inspired by traditions and lore, and is always on the look-out for what can be amended to better suit modern audiences. Her works include elements of fantasy, psychological, and horror, and explores the way mental health affects individuals

Artist: Cyndra Galea (she/they) is in the third year of her Bachelor of Fine Art’s in Creative Writing with a minor in Professional Communications. When not found with her head in a book or three, Cyndra can be found radioactive antique hunting, fixing classic cars with her dad, drawing on her iPad, or writing and editing her manuscript. Cyndra aims to work as a structural editor when she finishes her Masters of Editing and Publishing, but also dreams of releasing novels of their own.

Editors: Brock Scholte and Euri Glenn