Roughly two and a half hours later I’m woken by the bumps and turns of our gravel driveway with a stiff neck and a clear mind. It has been days and I still haven’t had any dreams. At this point I would settle for a nightmare, anything to get my mind off of everything.
We curve around the last bend of our hidden driveway, and the house comes into view. I’m immediately hit with the happiness of being home, and then sadness. The house is a beautifully restored medieval Victorian looking home with big bricks making up the first story and regular sized bricks making up the upper half. Slate grey with moss covered shutters covering the windows, it looks like something out of a fairytale, especially in the moonlight. Such a beautiful place should bring me joy, but knowing it’s empty, that my mom isn’t in there waiting to greet us with a warm hug and her famous chocolate chip cookies, gooey and right out of the oven, just left me with a pang in my heart. It was unbearable, like losing her all over again.
“Home sweet home” says Nathan dryly as he parks the truck. I can tell by the tone in his voice that he is thinking the same exact thing… Right now we will have to be strong for each other to get through the next couple of days. I have a sinking feeling in my gut that I’m not ready for this. Not ready to live a life without my mothers’ wisdom and guidance. I think to myself… who is ever ready to lose a parent? It changes everything, and nothing will ever be the same again.
Nathan kills the engine and exhales like he’s been holding his breath for a while, so I look over at him and ask “What’s up?”
“It’s just…” he responds, “I don’t think I can get used to not seeing her car in its normal spot…”
I look over to where she normally would be parked and take a calming breath, “I know what you mean. We’re fortunate you parked on the other side of the cabin. Otherwise our legs would be killing us, and we’d be exhausted from hitchhiking all the way here”.
“Ha, yeah” he smiles for the first time in days, “but then I would have to listen to you gripe and complain for a two day hike.”
“Oh yeah!” I retort, “Because I’d be the one complaining! Mister ‘I forgot my boots so I don’t want to go up the trails’.”
At this he grins, “Whatever! That was two years ago Luke! Let it go!” We both start to laugh at the memory. Nathan had never been the kind of kid who enjoyed physical activity. He’d rather read about adventures instead of going on them. He knows that as well as I do.
We get out of the truck at the same time, and I begin to walk towards the bed of the truck, “I’ll grab our… oh.” I stop myself as I remember that all of our stuff kind of blew up a little. “Never mind…” I finish lamely and follow Nate up the front walking path.
As we climb the steps of the porch I try to start a conversation, still being baffled about the explosion and the questions he asked my mother in private, “So Nate…” He cuts me off before I can get more than two words out. He knows that I don’t have nearly as much patience as him.
“Luke. Please, can you just not? Can we at least get inside?” He says as he unlocks the door and flips on the living room light. “I’m gonna put on some tea, and we should probably both get out of these suits. They’re pretty much ruined from the rain and mud already.”
He was right, as usual. I did want to change into something a little more comfy. Some basketball shorts and a loose tee sound like heaven to me right now. Also maybe some tea would put him in a better mood and get him chatty.
“Yeah okay, I’m gonna run upstairs, be right down,” I say as I make my way up the steps to my bedroom. The house itself is pretty easy to navigate, but maybe because this is the only place I have ever lived. As soon as you walk in the front door the living room is on the right, which looks like it was plucked right out of a magazine. Complete with a sectional wrap around couch that borders the north wall and sections off the dining area to the left. A large fireplace in one corner that has never been used, and our 50” HDTV in the other corner. To the left is the staircase and dining room containing only a large walnut table and six chairs. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember ever having enough people in the house at once to fill all of the chairs we have. North of the dining room is the kitchen with a fancy gunmetal fridge and matching appliances. To the right of that is the half bathroom which is between the kitchen and my mom’s office, that ultimately leads back to the living room.
At the top of the steps I open my bedroom door and flip the light on. At least nothing in here has changed. Clothes scattered across the floor, spewing out of my dresser and hanging unorganized in my closet. Just the way I left it. I walk past my weight bench to the bed and plop down, not even caring about the clothes folded on it, the little bit of tidiness in the familiar mess of my room. I lay there and take a deep breath. For a moment I just stare at the ceiling not wanting to move or have anything to do. So easily I could just close my eyes, crawl under the blankets and fall asleep. I would, but I still have some answers to shake out of Nathan. With an exasperated sigh I force myself to roll off and land in a crouch on the floor next to my bed.
I get up and strip out of my fancy funeral attire. I can’t find any shorts on my bed with the clean clothes, so I decide to recycle some from the floor… only because I know that I don’t have to impress anyone. As I take off my undershirt the locket that my mom gave me on my eighteenth birthday comes down and smacks me in the nose before coming to a rest on my bare chest.
Momentarily forgetting to find another shirt I sit back down on my bed, and pull the necklace over my head to inspect it. It’s a round golden locket on an ordinary silver chain. The locket itself though is pretty magnificent. Loops, vines and intricate spirals cover the top. The bottom is bare except for some sort of engraving, but I don’t recognize the text. It could very well be Latin or Hebrew for all I know. I fiddle with the knob on the side, just like I’ve tried dozens of times before, but again have no success at opening it.
My mother wore this thing for as long as I could remember, and never opened it in front of me. I was always too afraid to ask her to. Not knowing what could be inside, a picture of me or my father? A man that I know nothing about, and have never asked about. My mother had always been enough and more, I didn’t need to know anything about him. I let out a breath that I hadn’t realized I was holding in and give up. The damn thing will not open, and I don’t want to break it.
Suddenly I hear the whistling of the teapot from the kitchen directly below me. I put the chain back over my head and grab a clean shirt from my stack on the bed. I pull the loose fitting green tee on as I make my way out of my room and down the steps. I reach the bottom stair and don’t see Nate in the living room, dining room, or kitchen… and the kettle is still going off on the stove.
I walk to the back of the house, turn off the stovetop and move the steaming teapot to the back burner, thinking that he must have ran upstairs to change as well. When I turn around I notice the bathroom door is open, and I can see on the other side that the office light is on and the opposite door is slightly ajar, so I make my way towards it.
I place my hand on the door and hesitate. This was my mothers’ office, and I have never gone in without permission or her accompanying me. I had more respect for her than that. She had been secretive about a lot, but whatever she kept from us I’m sure she had good reason to.
I knock twice, not wanting Nathan to think I’m barging in on him, but get no response. I take a deep breath and slowly push the door open and take in the empty room. Well, not exactly empty. My mothers work desk still in one corner with the bookcase directly behind it… which isn’t all the way up against the wall. It almost looked like someone dropped something behind it, pulled it out to grab it, and never moved it back.
I walk up to the bookcase and ready myself to pull it out a little more, but when I go to pull it, it swings open easily on hinges, exposing a set of stairs leading downwards… “A door?” I say to myself. We have lived in this house my whole life and I had no clue that we even had a basement. Was I the only one who didn’t know? Nate would have told me if he knew… Right?
“Nathan?” I call down the dimly lit steps, but yet again get no answer. “Nate, if you’re down there say something!” Nope, still nothing. This has horror movie written all over it. I turn to my mom’s desk and grab a letter opener and stand at the top step. “Okay, if anyone is down there I’m letting you know now that I’m armed and dangerous!” I wait a few more seconds but hear nothing. “Alright, I’m coming down!”
I begin to descend the steps cautiously, they seem to be much older than the rest of the house. As I walk down they creak a little but seem sturdy enough and in no danger of breaking. When I think that I’ve reached the bottom, I’m wrong. They lead down a lot further than anticipated…
After another two flights of identical steps the air seems thinner as I reach the bottom. There must not be any air circulation or ventilation down here. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the lighting, and I’m able to see what I was able to smell before, books. Books everywhere, lining the walls and on tables in stacks. Everything from leather-bound, paperback, hardcover and even scrolls that looked absolutely ancient.
Then I see him sitting on the other side of one of the tables. “Nate?” I say but he doesn’t seem to hear me. It’s like he’s in a trance. I set the letter opener on the nearest table, no longer fearing for my life, and walk over. He is sitting cross-legged on the cement floor, a sketchbook in his lap and he’s drawing… I’m about to tap him on his shoulder and immediately his head snaps up, causing me to stagger back a couple steps at the sight. His usually dark eyes are bright and icy blue, glowing.
I feel frozen in place, he is staring right at me but doesn’t seem to actually see me. The whole time he never stops sketching. He looks back down and continues like I’m not even there. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest, “Nathan…”
At this point I’m officially freaked out and don’t know what to do. Again I approach him, but this time with caution. I am about to try to shake him out of it, but my instincts are telling me not to interrupt him… I can’t just sit here and not do anything though. I’ve never seen him like this, and he looks like he’s in pain… I decide that enough is enough and grab his shoulder.
In that moment everything changes, I can feel a burning sensation going from my hand, rushing up my arm. I’m literally blinded by the pain, and the next thing I know I’m crashing into a bookshelf and falling to the floor. The image of my mother’s locket burned behind my eyelids, but it looked different…
The wind knocked out of me I force myself to my knees. Slowly my vision returns, but I feel dizzy and the room takes a moment to stop spinning. The locket resting on my chest feeling like it’s going to burn a hole through my shirt. I’m about to reach for it when I see Nate sprawled out on the other side of the room.
What on Earth just happened!? It felt like I just got struck by lightning, there was no other way to describe it. Just as quickly as the pain came, it was gone. I crawl across the room to where Nate ended up, and I am very hesitant to touch him again, so I kind of just hover over him for a second.
This is ridiculous, I need to know he’s okay. I rest my hand on his upper arm and cringe in anticipation of being thrown again, but nothing happens. I shake his shoulder, but he doesn’t respond. “Nate! Get up!” Panic begins to swell inside of me. I try shaking him again a little more vigorously but nothing changes. “NATHAN! Please, wake up!” The only sign that he’s not dead is his deep shallow breaths escaping from his lips and his chest slowly rising and falling.
The next thing I know I’m scooping him up and carrying him up the three flights of stairs… I need to get him to fresh air. He is so light and small that I am able to carry him like a child taking the steps two at a time. I get back up to the office and let the bookcase close behind us while I shoulder the living room door open and set him on the couch.
Both of us are drenched in sweat, but I’m not worried about myself. I leap over the other side of the couch and sprint to the kitchen and grab a washcloth from a drawer and a bottle of cold water from the fridge. While I’m pouring cool water on the cloth I run back into the living room and a wave of relief washes over me when I see that his eyes are open, and he looks just as dazed and confused as I feel. At least they are back his normal deep brown hue.
He struggles to sit up so I rush over and help him lean against the arm of the couch. His eyes droop back closed, and I put the cool washcloth on his forehead. “Nathan,” I say to him once I’m sure he’s conscious, “Are you alright?” I know it’s a ridiculous question, I just want to know he’s okay and hear him say something, anything.
“Yeah…ughhh… no. I don’t know. What happened?” He looks at me with utter confusion. I shake my head. How do I even begin? I don’t want to freak him out about the scare he gave me, but it’s not something I can hide from him. Especially if it’s possible that it can happen again. “Well,” I start, “I was getting changed when the tea went off, so I came downstairs… but I couldn’t find you.”
Now he looked even more dumbfounded, which I didn’t think was possible, and he says to me, “I remember putting the water on for the tea, but after that nothing.” I continue on, “Well, the office light was on, and the basement door was open…”
“Luke, we have no basement.” Great, now he’s looking at me like I’m the crazy one. Maybe I am. I try to explain, “It’s behind the bookcase in my mom’s office, Nate.” Disbelief quickly turned to curiosity. “Really?” he asked, “That’s pretty awesome! Was there a dragon down there too?”
Oh. He was pulling my leg… I gave him my most ‘I’m serious’ look and reply, “Nathan I’m being dead ass. You we’re down there, and no… there was no dragon, just a shit ton of books.” Now I could see the genuine curiosity cross his face, he knew I wasn’t lying. At this new development he tries again to get up so I set my hand on his shoulder to stop him and sit down next to him.
“I don’t understand,” he says once I’m seated comfortably. “Luke, how didn’t we know about this after all these years?”
Again I shake my head, and I tell him, “I really have no clue, but I’m not rushing back down there this instant. You really had me freaked. When I got down there you were drawing something in a sketchbook. I didn’t get a good look at it though.” I hesitate at the next part and he must see it on my face that I have something else of importance to tell him. Sometimes he can read my expressions like a book.
“What? What did I do?” he asks, “Please tell me I didn’t hit you or something…” I can see the fear in his eyes at the thought of him hurting me, I snicker a little and his shoulders relax. “Noooo,” I assure him, “I kind of hurt myself. I tried to stop you and there was this bright light and then you were on one side of the room, and I was on the other.”
“Luke, you aren’t making any sense. None of this is… let me see that!” He says as he reaches for my locket. I don’t even remember taking it out from the inside of my shirt, but I must have after the flash. “Woah, A.D.D. much Nate? What about it?”
He lightly touches the gold design, “I thought I saw something… never mind.” He slowly pulls his hand away and casts his eyes to the floor.
I remember then that the image of the locket flashed to me when I was zapped in the basement, but it looked different. “Nathan?” I ask, “Did you see this at all tonight? But it looked different… like it was the same, except the design changed?” A look of recognition, then confusion crosses his face. He brings up both of his hands to either side of his head and I can tell he is getting a migraine. He looks over at me, and then back to the locket, “It hurts when I try to think about it, it’s like it was there in my mind, but then BAM! Just like that it’s gone.”
The last thing I wanted to do was go back down into the basement, but something was telling me we would find some answers down there… It was strange how he blacked out like that and couldn’t remember any of it. Then it clicks, “You know Nate, you’re not the only one missing some time or that blacked out recently. I can’t believe I almost forgot. We still need to discuss what happened back at the cabin, you promised…”
“Okay,” he said at last, “But show me the door first, we’ll talk right after. I need this headache to go away too, so before we go down we can have that tea and talk. Okay?” I nod in agreement. There was really no point in arguing right now. With so many strange things going on we needed to stick together and not tear each other apart. I stand up and extend my hand to help him up, but he waives it away and gets up on his own, his strength finally returning.
I follow behind him closely, just in case he falls or has a dizzy spell, that way I can catch him if I need to. But I’m worried over nothing. We walk into my mother’s office and stand next to each other staring at the bookcase. “Luke?” he asks, “How do you open it?”
I scratch my head at that, “Well, the thing is I think you opened it the first time, but I didn’t see how, and it closed behind us when I carried you into the living room.”
I look over at him and his cheeks are burning, “You carried me upstairs while I was unconscious?” he asks. I nod, and all he can do is shake his head in wonder and begin to search the shelves for a lever or a knob. Anything to open it. “Are you sure…” he begins, but I cut him off, “Yes! I’m positive. There is definitely a door here. I wouldn’t just make up some crazy story like that!”
We try for another couple minutes, trying to force it open. But it won’t budge. Just as we are both just about fed up with it and about to give up we jump at the sound of a knock on the front door. “Who could that be?” I ask Nate.
He simply looks over that the clock on the wall, “It’s a quarter after one. The only people up this late are creepers and weird people… the both of us included.” I was starting to walk to the living room but stop in the doorway and turn back to Nate, “Should we just wait for them to leave?” I ask him.
Another four knocks at the door, this time a little more impatient and persistent sounding. Nathan walks past me and into the living room and calls over his shoulder, “We might as well answer it. Our luck can only get better tonight, right? Maybe it’s a locksmith.” I can feel the sarcasm drip off his tone.
I jog a few steps and match his stride so we can answer the door together, desperately hoping he’s right about our luck. Not so much about the locksmith… I would be happy not having to go back down into that dungeon… I don’t know how much more I can handle at this point.