by Elliott Bell
I climbed down the steps, into the cool dusk of the cellar. The smell of mold and mildew filled my nose, just like it did in the rest of this dusty old cabin, but it was stronger down here, more potent. Pungent, almost fertile with the growth of rot somewhere. The room was dimly lit only from the cellar door above, and empty. No crates, no furnishings to speak of. Just walls paneled with old wooden boards that gave under the slightest pressure, spongy underneath my fingertips. I wrinkled my nose in disgust – and I wasn’t even to the bottom yet.
My stomach tied itself in knots as I stood in front of what appeared to be the way down into the sub-cellar. The only feature in the room, it was very small for a trap door – I imagined half the people I knew probably wouldn’t fit through it at all. And the second half would still find it a tight squeeze. There was no visible handle or hand-hold, just a plain square of wood set into a recess, the same musty old wood of the walls. I knelt down slowly, and reluctantly reached out to pry the wooden panel out. My fingernails dug into the crack between the panel and it’s frame with ease – this wood was as rotten as the rest. I glanced uncomfortably at the wooden slats beneath my feet – though they appeared to be holding my weight with no trouble, I didn’t want to waste any time staying in one spot for too long to test that theory.
The ‘door’ – such as it was – came out of the frame easily, and I set it down on the floor next to me, and idly peeled a small chunk of spongy wood off the edge, damp with rot. I dropped the piece of soft wood through the doorway – or rather, the hole – and strained my ears. Nothing. The wood was very soft, unlikely to make much noise. Still the silence was unsettling.
Couching above, I peered into the sub-cellar. The darkness below was deep, almost tangible. For a moment, I thought it looked soft, like velvet or the dust of a moth-wing. But the knot in my stomach quickly moved me past such esoteric musings, not giving me enough time even for my eyes to adjust to the obscurity beneath before making ready to enter it. Nervousness about the stability of the floor and anxiety to be done with my task spurred me along, but part of me knew that the longer I stood here, the greater my sense of dread would grow until I would be wholly unable to perform the task at all.
I lowered myself into the hole in the floor feet first, making a futile attempt to keep the nasty old wood frame from dirtying my pants as I lowered myself into the dark recess. In a moment, I was dangling there in that sheer dark, the cold prickling my skin even as the stench grew worse. I held onto the frame by my hands and didn’t allow myself the luxury of further thought, no opportunity for my fear to grow, and let myself drop into the dark.
The moment I felt the cold hard stone, only few feet down, just as it was supposed to be, beneath my hands, I came to a painful realization. With a sudden wrenching twist inside, I groaned. I felt the depth of what an unbelievable fool I was, blind to the scheme behind my instructions.
There’s no way out.