Annie scooped the last of her clothes from her suitcase and stuffed them in the big dresser drawer that Grandma had showed her. She shoved the heavy drawer shut, then went to get the last thing out of her suitcase. Her flashlight.
All year, ever since Grandma had invited Annie to spend a week with her this summer, all alone, away from little brothers, she’d been looking forward to one thing. Annie clicked the flashlight on to check it. The beam shone bright and strong, thanks to the fresh batteries she’d put into it before leaving home. She had a second set of batteries in a plastic bag in her backpack, which she now slung over her shoulder.
“Grandma?” Annie called as she bounced down the stairs. They were wooden and old. The wood paneling on the walls were full of dark knots that looked like eyes watching her. Annie was way too old to be scared by that anymore, but a whisper of fear from when she was really little still tickled under her heart as she saw them.
“What is it, sugar?” Grandma called from the kitchen. She appeared in the kitchen doorway, wiping her hands on a towel with embroidered roses around the bottom edge.
“Can I explore your basement?”
Grandma frowned. “Basement? I haven’t got a basement, honey.”
“Yes, you do. I remember. There’s a door to it in your kitchen.”
“You mean the cellar? There’s not much to explore. It’s only the size of a broom closet. We used to keep things cool down there before we had a refrigerator, but I don’t use it for anything now.”
“Are you sure?” Annie asked. “There was a big basement. It was huge, and had a cement floor, and all these rusty metal grates covering roundish holes.” Annie slowed down as she finished telling the memory. It sounded kind of ridiculous, now that she said it out loud. But she had a clear picture in her head. She remembered finding the basement door and opening it, going half-way down the stairs before Grandma called her to come back up, and seeing that vast, underground space beneath Grandma’s house.
But who would have a basement full of holes in the floor, with rusty metal bars criss-crossed over the top of each hole? That was crazy.
Grandma shook her head and went to the narrow wooden door in the kitchen wall. She turned the oval knob on the lock, then pulled on the handle. A single dusty string hung down inside which Grandma tugged to light a bulb on the wall. Annie went to stand beside her and stare down into the very disappointing space below. It wasn’t much wider than the narrow stairs that ran down to it, and there were a few stacks of old newspapers at the bottom. The floor and walls looked perfectly solid.
“How about some lunch?” Grandma asked.
That night, Annie couldn’t sleep, wondering about her memory of the basement. Had she dreamed it? She must have. It bothered her so much she wanted to go back and take another look, just to be sure. But that meant she’d have to walk past the eyes.
She could do it. She’d just have to close her own eyes as she was going down the stairs. They weren’t really watching her, they were just panels of wood.
Holding her breath and moving as quickly as she could, Annie hurried down the stairs. It was cool, even though it was summer time, it always got cool at Grandma’s house at night. Annie wished she’d brought a robe, her pajamas were awfully thin. When her feet hit the carpet at the bottom of the stairs she opened her eyes and clicked on her flashlight.
In the kitchen she stared for a long time at the cellar door. What would she find in there? Probably just the cellar she saw earlier today.
She turned the lock and opened it.