I held on to the wall and went down one narrow step at a time, following the feeble beam of the little flashlight. The circle of light was weak and wavering, but there were no extra batteries in the junk filled drawer where I found it, or anywhere else in the house. On each step I stopped, and strained my eyes and ears trying detect any sign of life ahead. A whole hour had ticked by on the big clock in the kitchen, so my father and his friends were probably gone. But I wasn’t sure. And I didn’t want to be caught following them
There were twelve wooden steps. At the bottom I felt a stone floor and a smooth blank wall. Mama always said I was an adventurer, and I was used to going off by myself to explore. I prided myself on not being afraid. But the silence was starting to get to me. It was quiet up in the cabin, but now I realized the birds and insects had kept up a steady accompaniment there, a buzzing, chirping, twittering that was background and mostly unnoticed. In St. Louis the background noises were different, but always present. Here, heavy dark silence surrounded me.
I could still feel the draft of air on my face. Now it was coming from the right. I edged that way, feeling my way along the wall. The flashlight flickered out. My momentary panic was quickly gone because without the yellow circle I saw a faint greying of the darkness and found more steps running off at a right angle to the first set. There was light at the bottom and I was grateful to see it. I hesitated only a moment, then started down toward the faint light. The wall to this staircase was stones, not smooth and solid like concrete, but stones all set together like bricks. They were different sizes and shapes, I could feel the ridges between them with my fingertips. No railings, so I kept a grip on the wall and made my way carefully from one stone step to the next.
The steps ended in another stone wall, but again the flow of air led me. I rounded a corner and found an open space I immediately recognized as a cave, even though I’d never been inside a real one. The wall curved up and disappeared far above my head. There was light coming from an opening way off at the far end. Crouched down near the narrow slot that led back to the stairs and safety of the cabin, I waited and watched. Shadows passed back and forth, bits of voices drifted back, but I couldn’t make out the words.
One was my father’s voice, though, and I recognized the loud laugh of the man with the beard.