Monday, 1 April 2013

Cellar Door

(A writing prompt from Write on the Edge)

Monsters live in cellars.    All children know this.    It's true of most cellars, but it is particularly true of cellars in old houses, cellars with uneven stone stairs and lighting that works only intermittently; cellars with odd corners and more than one room, and cobwebs piled up so thickly in the corners they look like ghosts' furniture or albino shadows.  Those cellars are always the haunt of monsters and they should not be carelessly explored except for the dullest of purposes and certainly not alone.

Cellar doors therefore are important.   Cellar doors are the boundary between one world and another, the world of television and electric light and games consoles on one side, and shadows and whispers and things moving out of sight and dusty smells  that come and go of their own accord on the other.    Boundaries are special.   Boundaries with sturdy locks are both special and sensible.

My cellar door was everything it should have been.  I crept up to it often, the smell of the house changing near it, an old smell of not-quite-damp and not-quite-clean that made my skin crawl.   It looked perfect, thick and sturdy, chunky and old and blocky.   The paint was old and cracked and had come off in places so you could see the layers of different colours like geological strata - gloss green, sickly yellow, off-white, faux-wood brown.    It was like a scarred face, and never looked the same twice.   The hinges were clunky iron  things that could withstand sledgehammer blows.   I was glad about that.

I'd press my ears to the wood and listen.   At times I was sure that I could hear movement beyond it.   Footsteps.   The hint of voices whispering -too quiet for me to be sure, far too quiet to make out words.  I'd lay awake at night and wonder what on earth they could talk about beyond the cellar door.

I didn't tell my parents.  They were practical and sensible and they would have dismissed my thoughts as mere imagination.    When they caught me with my ear pressed to the cellar door I was told not to waste my time, and not to go exploring by myself as it was dangerous.    They were probably worried about me falling, or breaking something, or any number of mundane accidents.   But I knew it was far more dangerous than that, and I was never really tempted to open the cellar door.

Until... 

Until one day when I was absolutely sure I heard a voice.  Not a whisper or a hint, but an actual voice.   A girl's voice, and she was singing.   My heart pounded in mingled panic and exhilaration.    I listened, enraptured for several minutes and then it simply stopped, and before I could do anything foolish my mother called me to eat and I left the door, and the song behind me.

After dinner though I crept back and pressed my ear against the scarred paint and closed my eyes, willing myself to hear the mysterious song from beyond one more time.  
And it was there.  It was faint but there.   And I knew that I could not ignore it any more, knew that in every life there comes a moment when the unknown must be faced.    I had never even tried to open the cellar door before, not once.   But now, with the song still faintly sounding from beyond, and heedless of the consequences I touched the iron handle.  It was cold, and it was solid and it was real, and I knew there would be no going back.
Holding my breath I turned the handle and the cellar door opened.   I did not look back at the safe, normal, secure world I knew.  I stepped through the door and into the house above in search of songs and a strange new world of sunlight and mystery.