Archive for March 24th, 2008

Home – Secret Passage

Sixteen stairs connect the first floor to the second. The wall on the left side of the stairs is white, and made of a kind of bumpy plaster that looks like the smooth surface of a fresh tub of cottage cheese. It’s always cool to the touch, though the little bumps just beg little fingers to pick at them – and after a long, humid, Midwestern summer, they are easily pried off.

Near the seventh step, there’s a small hole in the wall. The hole has always been there, and has nothing to do with small prying fingers. It’s about two inches square, and the lines are clean – the plaster is gone, revealing a piece of dark brown wood beneath. It looks like the result of a single sharp impact. Between the plaster that’s visible on the surface, and the wood that lies underneath, there’s an empty space. It’s hardly visible and can most easily be detected by running one’s finger along the exposed horizontal surface of the plaster, inside the hole.

The hole, and the empty space, function exactly like a candy machine, where a coin pressed flat into a circle-shaped depression will fall down, through a narrow slot, into a receptacle below. The hole in the wall is similarly suited for coin deposits. A penny pressed flat against the wall falls through the empty space below…

… and many, many long milliseconds later, can be heard hitting the floor somewhere down beneath the stairs. The sound echoes strangely, close enough to hear, yet far enough away to be problematic, and raise all sorts of questions. Is the hole in the wall the only known point of entry into a secret space that has somehow escaped discovery by previous residents? How big is this mysterious cavern? What else might be in there? Is there any way to access it? Is it big enough, maybe, for a kid to crawl inside and hide? Maybe a kid could dig through a wall under the stairs, find the cavern, and build a little room in there with just the basics; some books, a flashlight. A kid could live for a long, long time in such a hiding place.

Answers to such queries are elusive. Pennies can be hard to come by when you need them most, except of course for the forbidden collection of ancient pennies housed in a beer stein on a shelf on the eleventh stair. Attempts to tie a string around a penny so that it can be dropped and then recovered prove fruitless – the mechanics of such an operation are too complicated, though the lure of pulling a penny back from the brink of mystery is compelling. Maybe it would come back covered in phosphorescent goo, or even better, with a tiny note affixed to the surface – a message from the current occupant of the hidden chamber. The only thing to do is to keep dropping pennies through the secret opening, where they hit the floor, and occasionally, the other coins deposited over the years.

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