Emerson No. 3
“June! Honey, you gotta come see this!”
June Andrews looked up from the box of dishware she was unpacking, toward the basement door. With a sigh she set down the plate, still wrapped in old newspaper. Tucking a stray lock of her curly black hair behind her ear, she smoothed her floral sundress, and walked to the top of the stairs. Below, the rickety wooden stairs reached down into the dimly lit underground. They groaned ominously beneath even her slight weight, but they seemed stable for all of their appearance.
The bricks of the basement walls were a deep, ugly red, and crumbling with great age. The packed dirt floor was damp, the soil nearly black. A wet, earthy smell filled the air, the scent of an abandoned quarry or a lost ruin. There was a single light, a bulb hanging by a wire from the low ceiling. The pull-string which lit the bulb also set it to swinging wildly, causing shadows to dance in the pale yellow iridescence.
Keeping a close eye out for spider-webs, she walked over to where Frank stood: hunched low to avoid the planks holding up the floor above, a grin lighting his bearded face and warm brown eyes. His navy blue slacks and gray flannel shirt were dark with dirt and dust; and a pile of decaying bricks lay at his feet. Behind him there was a gap in the wall, in which broken bricks outlined a wooden doorway, like shattered teeth in a boxer’s mouth.
The door itself had once been an elegant thing; its dark wood paneling showed some hint of polish beneath the dust; its brass knob was heavily engraved with intricate whorls, mirrored on the filigree surrounding the keyhole. But after untold years sealed behind brick the varnish was peeling in places and the brass was tarnished. It had an air of antiquity about it, of the forgotten and lost.
“Isn’t it great!” Frank said, “I tripped into the wall and knocked loose some bricks. When I saw the door, I just had to get at it. What do think is back there?”
“I don’t know, but suppose it was bricked up for a reason.”
“Nonsense dear. Why, there could be anything be in there.”
June looked at him dubiously, then reached for the knob. It was icy cold to the touch, a cold so fierce it burned. With a gasp she jerked her hand away.
“What?” Frank asked.
“The handle is freezing,” she said, “I don’t think we should open it, we should have it bricked back up.”
Frank looked from the door to her and back again. Reaching out he grasped the handle, turned it, and pulled. But the door wouldn’t budge. Grunting, he tried pushing it, then pulling again.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I guess it’s locked. I’ll have to get a locksmith out here after we get settled.”
“Frank I really don’t think-”
“Oh, it’s fine. Come on, I’ll get washed up and then you can have me unpack all the boxes you want.”
Clicking off the light he marched up the stairs, his heavy tread eliciting tortured wails from the rough wooden planks. June moved to follow, but just as she was about to take the first step she heard a small noise. Pausing, she waited for Frank’s creaking footsteps to halt before the sink, and listened closely. From behind the doorway came a faint clicking, but as soon as she heard it clearly, it stopped. In the near dark, lit only by a narrow shaft of light from the kitchen above, the doorway was visible only as a patch of greater blackness on the wall. For a moment June thought she saw a faint rusty glow, shining weakly though the keyhole. She had a brief notion that something was watching her, and then the glow was gone.
Rubbing her arms to ward off a sudden chill she hurried upstairs to help her husband with the boxes.