After I had finished my bowl of cornflakes, I went upstairs to brush my teeth and get dressed as mom told me to do. A few minutes later, Dad yelled upstairs to Bobby and me to get our butts moving as we would be leaving for Gramps house in a few minutes.

This had almost become almost a ritual for us, our taking the 2-hour drive from our home in Wichita to Gramps farmhouse outside of Salina every weekend. We used to only go every few months, but since Grandma died and Gramps had become ill, we have been going there more frequently, and now, it was almost every weekend.

I used to love to go to the farm to play in the hayloft in the barn and chase the chickens and the goats they kept around the yard. Now the chickens and goats are all gone. I don’t know if Gramps sold them, or they just died away. 

I remember how much fun it was when I was younger riding around on Gramps’ shoulders or sitting on his lap on the porch while he read to Bobby and me. Now I feel guilty as I don’t like going to go visit him anymore as it makes me sad to watch him as he can barely walk and when he hugs me I have to hold my breath because he smells so bad. Mom says it is because he is having a hard time now bathing himself.

I know from listening to Dad and Mom talking at night that this will not be a fun visit since Dad is planning on telling Gramps that he is going to have to sell the farm and move into a nursing home. Gramps has lived in that house on the farm all his life as it was his parent’s house, and his father built it. I am sure he doesn’t want to sell it as when Dad had mentioned this before on our visits, Gramps had always just turned away and ignored him.

The drive up there to Gramps is sort of nice in Dad’s flashy DeSoto station wagon he is so proud of, even after over four months it still smells like new. What would make the drive a lot nicer for me would be if my darn older brother Bobby wasn’t always pinching or punching me. When I complain to Dad or Mom, they always yell at him to stop, but only a few minutes later, he starts right back up. Bobby just turned twelve and can’t stop reminding me for the next four months he will be two years older than me. He is always picking on me and teasing me, and I hate him sometimes. I can’t wait until I get bigger so maybe he will leave me alone, or I get big enough so I can beat him up.  

While we are driving, Bobby and I started talking about the mysterious locked door at the far end of Gramps dimly lit basement. When we asked Gramps about it, he said it was access to a dirt tunnel that led into the hill in back and was locked all his life. His father told him that a few years after he had built the house, he and a neighbor had dug into the hill looking for Indian artifacts. They thought the hill might have been a big Indian burial mound. When Gramps asked his father if they had found anything, he said emphatically that they had not found anything good. He did not say anything more about what they found except finally that there were now a lot of vermin in there and the door was locked to prevent anyone from opening it up and letting them out. 

Gramps said he had once asked his dad if he could just peek inside, and his father said absolutely not. Gramps said what was very strange was that night from his bedroom window, he saw his father throwing something into the well which he was sure was the key to the large lock on the door. When he asked his father about it, the next morning at breakfast, his father got very angry, so he never said or did anything more about it. After all, his father had said, there was nothing good in there.

Every time since I can remember when we visited the farm, Bobby and I would sneak down into the dimly lit basement and stare at the scary small locked door with its big padlock. Yes, it was very scary as I could not imagine why great-grandpa would put such a large lock on the door and throw away the key just to keep the vermin out.  Bobby liked to frighten me by saying there was probably a hideous monster inside or that it was full of rotten dead bodies of people great-grandpa killed during the war.

Bobby said that since this might be the last time we would visit the farm before it was sold, we needed to open the door and look inside. I told him I didn’t want to do that, and he said I was acting like a baby and kept calling me a big “scaredy-cat.”  Finally, I told him I was not a “scaredy-cat,” but it didn’t matter as he had no way to open the lock on the door. At that, he reached into the front pocket of his jeans and said, “Yes, I do.”

When I looked over to see what he had in his pocket, he extracted a golf ball size horseshoe magnet with a bunch of kite string wrapped around it. He held it up and said, “We are going fishing in the well for the key.” I didn’t know what to say back as I hoped it wouldn’t work and didn’t want him to keep calling me a “scaredy-cat.”

That afternoon after lunch Bobby and I left the house and headed to the well in the back. We were sure nobody would miss us as a heated discussion had begun with Gramps about his selling the farm.  Bobby said they would probably be going at it all day.

When we got to the well, we carefully slid back mossy thick wooden cover that protected the shaft from debris and animals. Bobby then took out his magnet and unwound the string from it. I asked him if he thought it is long enough, and he said he is sure it is. I could not imagine how he could say that as I had no idea at all how deep is the well. I guess Bobby is just smarter than me.

Bobby slowly lowered the magnet into the well, and when he had let out about half of his string, it slackened as he had reached the bottom. He then spent almost an hour raising and lowering the magnet and moving it around the best he could as it kept getting stuck to the steel suction pipe. I was ready to quit and go back inside when finally, Booby was successful and brought up a large metal key.  It was rusty but not as bad we had thought it would be. Bobby said the mud must have protected it.

We took the key over to the barn and cleaned it up the best we could with a wire brush that we found on Gramps workbench. We also borrowed the flashlight we found hanging above the bench on a hook. We then went back into the house and quietly snuck down into the basement.

Standing at the locked door, Bobby asked me if I was ready for him to open it?  I told him, please don’t do it, and he told me to stop acting like such a baby. He then put the key in the lock, and after jiggling the key back and forth and several tries to turn it, the lock snapped open.

Bobby removed the lock from the hasp, turned the flashlight on, and slowly begun to open the door. I stepped back several feet and closed my eyes as I was afraid to look. The next thing I remember is Bobby saying dejectedly there is nothing there, just a crumbling old dirt tunnel.

I slowly opened my eyes, and there was Bobby shining the flashlight through the doorway down a dirt tunnel with lots of cobwebs that is even a bit smaller than the doorway opening. From the meager light of the flashlight, you could not see much, but it looked like the tunnel went down about 100 feet and opened up to the left.

I told Bobby that there is nothing there we could see, so we should just shut the door and lock it back up. There were no bodies, I didn’t believe in his monsters, and I didn’t want any rats getting out. Bobby said he wanted to go down the tunnel to take a look and see if there is anything good in the back. There might even be treasure stored there that great-grandpa was keeping there secretly.

I told Bobby there is no way I was going inside, and he said I was a little mama’s baby and that he was not afraid and would go by himself.

I watched Bobby slowly crawl down the tunnel with the flashlight and then at the end turn and follow it to the left where after a few moments, I could just barely distinguish the glow of his flashlight. Then suddenly there was a loud, terrifying, agonizing scream from the end of the tunnel, followed by Crunch, Crunch, Crunch.

I knew Bobby was playing games with me and trying to scare me, so I yelled down the tunnel that he is not fooling me and for him to come back out before Mom and Dad found out we are down here.

I called out several more times to Bobby, but there was no answer. I didn’t know what to do then. I was sure Bobby was trying to terrify me. However, after a while, I started to think that he might actually have hurt himself and needed assistance. 

I was going to go up and get help from Dad and Mom but realized that they would be very mad at us for opening the locked door without their permission and would definitely punish us both.

I didn’t know what to do. The longer we waited, it was likely Mom and Dad would come looking for us. After a few minutes, I finally got up my courage and decided I would go down the tunnel to help Bobby or let him play his silly game.

Very slowly, I started crawling down the musty smelling tunnel toward the dim glow of the flashlight coming from around the corner.  As I crawled, with the dirt scraping my knees, I kept calling out for Bobby, but there was no answer.

When I reached the far end, I peeked around the corner expecting Bobby to come leaping out at me. Instead, there was nothing there. The only thing I could see was his flashlight lying on the ground about twenty feet ahead further down the tunnel, and a sort of smell in the air like someone was cutting metal.

I continued to crawl very slowly down the tunnel forward toward the flashlight, squinting up my eyes, expecting to see Bobby waiting to scare me in the shadows. As I approached the flashlight, I noticed that the metal smell was getting stronger when all of a sudden my left hand plunged into something warm and squishy. As I looked down to try to see what it was something warm dripped on the back of my neck and I heard above me loudly Crunch, Crunch, Crunch.

Elliot Actor is a retired IBM marketing executive and did not take up creative writing until very late in life. Almost all his previously published writings were limited solely to articles and reports that were technical, marketing, or business-related. His first book published in 2015 on Amazon was based primarily on a fictionalized accounting of his memoirs while serving in Marine Corps Recon as a sniper in Vietnam. That novel for personal and legal reasons he published anonymously under a pen name. Although no advertising was done this novel has sold quite well, and Elliot learned he enjoyed writing, especially fiction, and had a talent for storytelling. To improve his writing skills Elliot took several online fiction writing classes and joined weekly writer’s groups. The Forgotten Bomb published on Amazon in 2018, and the follow on novel DESPOT, published in 2019 are a direct result of those efforts. His latest action/adventure thriller The Exiles published in 2020 is a further culmination of the development of his fiction writing skills.

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