The secret basement
No one had tried, so far. We looked at the teachers, chatting beside the school building on the opposite side of the lawn, and Flavio whispered, “Three, two, one . . .” We bolted, disappearing swallowed by the secret ramp.
Exhilarated, bent over double catching our breath, we found ourselves facing a huge metal gate. A few patches of orange paint had escaped the rust, which made a filthy, big padlock look relatively new. The screaming of the other kids above us was muffled by the wall and the change in level. We knew we were not supposed to be there because we might get in trouble, and we couldn’t wait.
I approached the big gate, ears pricked for any noise on the other side: nothing. Flavio, at my side, put a hand on the gate, resting on a track which allowed it to slide sideways to open. He tried and it slid as much as the padlock’s chain allowed, making such a ruckus that we fled half way back up the slope till I ran smack into Nico.
“Chickens!” he taunted us.
I rubbed my neck. “Dude! Are you following us?”
Nico looked away, moping. “Of course not! I always hang out here.”
Peo growled, “Yeah, right.”
We all turned back to the huge, rusty gate, dark and silent, slightly cracked. Strangely, as I stared at it, I got the feeling that rather than light seeping inside through the crack, a beam of darkness, dust, and silence spilled out on the cement.
I snuck back to the gate. “I think I might be able to squeeze in.”
The other three trotted behind me.
Flavio blurted, “Are you crazy?”
The gate was eerie. The darkness emanating from the crack seemed to be eating the indistinct noise of the children above us. A strange smell exuded from the secret basement, of something old, worn out, and forgotten. I pushed my head through the slit in between the gate’s doors, peering inside and holding my breath.
Nothing: dark, dark, dark and quiet.
Nico whispered, “Is there someone inside?”
I shrugged. “It’s dark, I don’t think so.”
The light from the opening above and below my head had carved away a slice from the dark, revealing a grey concrete floor on which my shadow lay. Right on the edge of the gray light there seemed to be something, maybe old desks, stacked chairs?
I gathered all my courage, wanting to look brave in the eyes of my friends, and for some reason wanting to impress Nico. I was no chicken! I stepped into the secret basement.
The other three asked from outside, “What do you see?”
“It’s pitch black, Guys. It’s impossible to see the back wall.”
I swallowed entranced by a very bad feeling, remembering the Nothing that had swallowed Fantasia in The Neverending Story, one of my favorite books ever. Maybe this was where the Nothing fled after Atreyu and Bastian kicked its butt.
Nico chuckled. “Do you think that there is a back wall?”
I answered, “I’m gonna find out,” and took one step forward. They laughed nervously at my bravado. So, I took another step into the unknown.
Flavio whispered alarmed, “Lee, come on! You made your point, come back!”
I took another step, feeling the eyes of my buddies resting on my back. Their distress turned into excitement. “What do you see? How is it? What’s there?”
Truth be told, I couldn’t see a thing. I just focused on crawling forward with my arms stretched in front of my body to feel for the wall or possible obstacles, none of which seemed to come. The cold engulfing me made me even more aware of the sweat beading on my face. My heart was pounding.
I started to be able to tell the outline of huge piles of unidentified, luckily inanimate, objects stacked so high they might have reached the ceiling, if I could have seen one.
My senses were on edge, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something lurking in the darkness, ready to pounce as much as I was.
When I lurched into something cold I immediately withdrew my arms letting out a scream.
Flavio yelled, “EVERYTHING OKAY?”
I pondered, nothing was moving. I reached out with my hands and found the end wall. I yell-whispered, “Yeah! I made it! I found the end!”
My heart exulted as my friends celebrated. “Yippee! You rock, Lee!”
Everything happened within a couple of seconds. A sudden thump came from my left and I screamed again, as my friends went suddenly quiet and still. My adrenaline, which was already quite high, skyrocketed bathing me in a warm wave.
I turned to run toward the door for my dear life. I moved my feet as fast as I could in a frenzy of certainty that whatever was audibly moving not too far from me was going to grab one of my ankles at any moment to drag me into the Nothing forever.
To my surprise someone was pushing against the gate, trying to get in to rescue me.
I yelled, “Go, go, GO!”
Nico moved away and I squeezed out of the secret basement running up the slope where Flavio and Peo had jumped back horrified.
I didn’t stop there, but kept running, sucking my friends up the slope with me. The harsh daylight, even in the shadow of the wall, flooded my eyes, fresh air filling my lungs as relief washed over me, claiming me back to the kid’s screaming above us, life, normalcy, the trio…and Nico.
Why had he been the one trying to squeeze through the gate to help me?
-An Italian Adventure