101 Bell Whistle
Chapter 3: The Tunnel
Copyright© 2010 by JimWar
Well fed and eager to get back to the basement, I left my neighbor's home and walked to my truck. After taking my Maglight and an armload of boxes out of the back of my truck I entered the house and headed straightway into the basement. My first priority was to tackle the jumble of books that made moving about in the basement almost impossible. It seemed incongruous to see the chaotic tangle of books among the order of the otherwise neatly stacked boxes and furniture. It was if someone had been looking for a book and stacked books in any convenient place and then in a hurry had knocked over the stacks. Although I was no bibliophile, I scanned the books for any of apparent value. I thought that I would donate most to the local library. Books were meant to be read and were of no value sitting in someone's basement collecting dust.
I had only gone through a handful of the books when I realized that the books were of two sorts, either first editions or cheap book club versions. It was easy to tell the two apart without even opening the book to the flyleaf. After separating and boxing the books I found that I had two boxes of first editions and eleven boxes of cheap book club volumes. I had deliberately packed the books in small boxes as books are heavy. Remembering the partially filled book shelves in the den I carried the two boxes of first editions up to the den and sat them there. Then I lugged the boxes of book club editions up the stairs and set them near the front door planning to dispose of them later.
This left an empty space next to a wall where I placed the other boxes after I went through them. I opened each box, scanned the items inside, repacked the items I decided to keep and labeled each with a summary of the contents. I sorted the contents into two categories. The first was mostly small decorative items, things I would call knick-knacks or bric-a-brac. I kept these as they were useful in making a room seem more homelike and lived-in. The other things were mostly the sentimental junk that all of us accumulate over time. I was careful in labeling the former and ruthless in eliminating the latter. I carried the boxes to be thrown out upstairs as I uncovered them planning to either donate them to goodwill or throw them in the small dumpster that I had ordered for Monday. After I had gone through the first long row of boxes I was beginning to think ordering the dumpster might have been a mistake as I had only carried three boxes of junk upstairs. Most of the boxes contained an interesting assortment of miscellaneous small curios, many of which were antiques.
I almost lost track of time as I stopped to examine many items, trying to fathom what the knick-knack had originally been used for. By the time I stopped for a breather I found that I had moved all of the boxes except for one small row in the back of the room. At that point I was more than a bit tired and realized that I had lost track of the time. Looking at my watch I saw that it was four o'clock, and being Friday I knew I still needed to inspect the two job sites and pay my subcontractors so they could pay their workers. Even though I was tired it was with some reluctance that I closed the windows, locked the door and walked out to my truck. For the first time I didn't see Elise sunning herself as I drove off to attend to my business.
At the two job sites I found both my subs had their crews still working. It was convenient that the two job sites were only a block apart. It didn't take me long to walk through each house and give them a final inspection as the crews finished up. Both jobs were small and I paid Hector and Jorge the agreed upon amount in cash. They appreciated being paid in cash as it kept them from running to the bank late on Friday. I reminded them of the new jobs scheduled for Monday and promised to be at the diner early enough for them to line up crews to get started. After that I headed back to my apartment where I quickly packed up some clothes, an extra set of sheets, my pillows, a toilet kit including towels and washcloths, and my laptop.
I stopped by the grocery store near my apartment and, even though it was already crowded with Friday evening shoppers, managed to get the items that I needed for the weekend. I wanted to clean out the refrigerator before I put any fresh vegetables in it but figured some eggs, bacon, milk, and a few frozen items wouldn't complicate that too much. My last stop was to pick up a super value meal at the burger joint of last resort; you know the one with the golden arches, and then fought my way through traffic back towards 101 Bell Whistle.
I pulled into the driveway after eight o'clock and parked in the front for a change. Moving bags and boxes into the house only took six trips. Then I dutifully moved the truck to the back of the house to park it for the night. I added a remote opener for the garage doors to my long list of things that I needed.
The super value meal was now super hard fries, super soggy burger and lukewarm watered down diet coke but it still filled the empty spot that had been gnawing at my gut. I also realized at that point that I had no radio, no television and no internet connection for entertainment. Luckily I had my cell phone so I wasn't completely cut off from the outside world.
After putting the groceries away and making up the bed in the master bedroom I decided to finish exploring the ground floor of my new home. The layout of this older home was unusual in that the first floor was much larger than the second. This feature was not noticeable from the street as the area of the house not covered by the second floor was all at the rear of the building. I thought that this may have been accomplished by adding on to the original construction but the builder had done such a good job that it could have been a part of the original construction.
There was a small entryway just after stepping into the house from the front porch. Going down the entryway I opened the first of a set of heavy wooden pocket doors on the right and found a formal sitting room. Opening the second of the set led me into a formal dining area. The dining room and parlor were connected by a common wall which was divided by an oversized set of pocket doors. I was surprised to see pocket doors on a house this old. Even more surprising was the ease with which the obviously heavy wooden doors moved on their tracks into the wall. Completely opening these oversized doors almost seemed to merge these two spaces into one large room. Both the parlor and the dining room had large brick fireplaces along the outside wall. I opened a single pocket door in the dining room and found that I was in a very short hallway that led to the kitchen.
Walking through the kitchen I found that it also had an entrance from a door at the end of the entrance hallway. That door divided what had originally been a much longer hallway that ran the length of the house into two shorter connecting spaces. Walking out into the back hallway from the kitchen I found the entrance to a small bathroom next to the entrance for the kitchen. As I neared the end of that back hallway I found one of two rear entrances to the house, the other being in the kitchen. Outside those two back doors I found I was on a porch that was smaller than the one on the front of the house which had wide steps leading to the back yard. I went back into the kitchen and noted that although it was a large country kitchen it seemed to have all modern appliances. I found that all of the spaces along the right of the hallway took up slightly more than one half of the bottom floor of the house.
I next went back out to the front hallway. On the left side of that entry hallway were three doors the first of which was another pocket door that opened into the den. This den occupied most of the front left corner of the house. The second door, three-quarters of the way down the front hallway, was the door that led down to the basement. The last door that I opened on the first floor was a single pocket door that led to a stub hallway fronting a small apartment. I walked into the apartment and found it contained two tiny bedrooms, a small sitting room and a bathroom. It looked like the two tiny bedrooms had been constructed from one larger bedroom as only one of the two small bedrooms had any closet space at all. Finally to the left along the back of this front hallway was the stairway leading to up to the second floor.
All of the rooms I walked through were furnished. I searched all the drawers, closets and pantry spaces and found nothing was left except for the china and crystal in the magnificent hutch in the dining room, those few chipped dishes in the kitchen, some odd pieces of cheap stainless steel flatware in the kitchen and a few assorted kitchen tools. The single bed in the smaller servant's bedroom was missing a mattress but other than that the small servant's quarters was completely furnished in older but serviceable furniture.
There were several drawers in the roll top desk in the den that were locked and I felt they would require a locksmith to open without damaging the desk. Except for finding almost nothing in the drawers and closets and the missing mattress and one empty spare bedroom the house was completely furnished and ready to be lived in. Since I had no need of servants the missing mattress was of little concern to me.
All of this exploration took some time and it was after midnight before I was finished and ready for bed. The excitement of being in a new house was finally overcome enough that I was able to drift off into a sound sleep soon after getting into bed.
Suddenly I was aware of something. I wasn't even sure that I was awake; it was more like I was on the misty border of full consciousness but not quite there yet. The process of waking wasn't maintaining its momentum and for a few moments I listlessly lay there again drifting off towards sleep. I was just on the edge of that expected blissful slumber when I felt more than heard a creaking noise from somewhere down below. With my brain now fully engaged I remembered the similar noise bringing me awake the first time. Still feeling quite listless I lay there listening for a repetition of the noise, a noise my subconscious was telling me I had heard before. I had just about chalked it up to old house syndrome, when I clearly heard it again. This time I was sure it was from down below and for some reason my mind immediately identified it as the same noise made by the creaking basement stairs.
I knew that I had to investigate and yet I was a bit reluctant to leave my comfortable bed in the middle of the night. My mind was still a bit fuzzy as I finally struggled upright in this not completely familiar environment. Wearing only my boxers and the same tee shirt I had worked in all day I searched the darkened room for my jeans. Finding them draped over the end of the bed I pulled them on and quietly stepped out into the hallway, leaving the light off and my door opened.
Moving as noiselessly as possible I grabbed my trusty Maglight and soundlessly moved down the stairs by stepping on the outside of the treads rather than the center. As I approached the bottom of the stairs I noticed a light coming from the slightly opened basement stairwell door. My heart was pounding by that time and I was almost frozen into a motionlessness stupor, rooted to the floor trying to summon the courage needed to descend into the basement. Taking hold of my emotions I had my hand inches from the knob of the basement door when I heard the sound of running water coming from the kitchen. For some reason having the noise on my level and knowing that I wouldn't have to descend into the basement washed over me as a great relief. Some of that anxiety returned as I crept towards the back hallway.
When I saw the light shinning from the open door into the kitchen I again felt my heart come up into my throat. Moving as silently as possible I crept to the edge of the opened doorway. As I was about to peer around the corner I heard a loud 'meow' followed by a very soft 'shhhhhhh." I was debating whether to look around the corner or turn around and go back upstairs and retrieve my cell phone and call '911' when I heard a small female voice whisper "We have to be very quiet now. He's just upstairs you know."
Hearing the soft voice and my mind identifying it as female seemed to negate the majority of my fears. Still I was a bit apprehensive as I peeped around the corner of the kitchen door. What I saw however completely calmed all of my worries. Sitting on the floor in the middle of the kitchen was what appeared to be a bedraggled young girl gently stroking the fur of the orange and grey cat that had mysteriously disappeared in the basement. So focused was she on the cat, who was silently lapping water from a saucer, that she didn't even notice me as I crept into the room.
As I quietly crept towards her I was first struck by how thin she appeared. The name Twiggy immediately sprung to my mind. Her clothes seemed to be clean and her well tanned appearance worked to counteract any impression that she was unhealthy. She had long raven black hair bound together in one long braid by a series of elastic bands. Her eyes were closed as she seemed to feed off of the cat's energy. All at once the cat stiffened and her eyes came open looking around in confusion. Then she caught sight of me advancing and she screamed, as if I was her worst nightmare.
She was quick as she jumped up grabbing the cat as she moved. I thought I had her trapped but she immediately bolted for the open door into the short hallway leading into the dining room. Visualizing where she was heading I didn't chase her but ran back out the door I had entered and made an effort to intercept her as she headed to the basement. I almost made it. As Maxwell Smart might have said, 'I missed her by that much.' She was just ahead of me as she fled down the stairs into the basement. Believing that I had her trapped I slowed up realizing almost at once that there was no use in falling down the narrow stairway.
Imagine my surprise as I calmly ambled into the basement and found that she had vanished. At first I thought that she was hiding behind one of the boxes or among the furniture. A painstaking half-hour of carefully probing each possible hiding place disabused me of that thought. During my search I vocally pleaded with both the young girl and the cat to come back; assuring both that my intentions were pure and no harm would come to them.
Tired and frustrated I trudged up the stairs wondering if the girl was real or some nether spirit sent to haunt me. With a sense of defeat I shut off the light and almost slammed the door to the basement. Thinking that at least I had them trapped I wedged a kitchen chair under the knob of the door ensuring that no one would come through it for the remainder of the night. Deeply frustrated I went back to bed where I tossed and turned as sleep eluded me. Near daybreak I managed to drift off into a troubled slumber only to have nonsensical dreams of endlessly chasing some wraith that over and over went up in smoke as I approached. In my dreams the spirit was constantly laughing at my vain attempts to catch her but even in the laughter she had a brooding, winsome appearance.
I awoke in the morning feeling like I hadn't slept in a month. I was tired, frustrated and yet for some reason worried about the mysterious girl. I woke myself with a shower that ended up being more cold than hot. I added finding and checking out the hot water heater to the long and growing 'to do' list in my wheel book. Still the cold water shower awakened me completely and brought to the forefront a gnawing hunger. I'm used to waiting for my breakfast most mornings until after I have visited the bank, which opens at nine o'clock so it surprised me that I was so hungry so early. When I put my watch on I was surprised to see that it was eleven o'clock. No wonder I felt starved.