By Mark Joseph Kevlock
I didn’t like to go down there, sometimes, because it was always so dark and damp. But usually it was a good adventure, so that made it okay.
First thing was I packed my flashlight and my rope. I took my Spider-Man lunchbox, too, in case I got lost. I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in there and a thermos of chocolate milk. I also took a big piece of white chalk to mark the walls, so I wouldn’t go in circles.
Then I was ready.
I looked around the living room one last time and opened the cellar door. I went down into the cellar, which wasn’t really a cellar because it used to be a storefront that opened right out onto Main Street. The real cellar was the deep cellar, which was in the back. It had a trap door that you lifted by a latch and a hook that went through a catch on the wall to hold the door open. It was made of old, wooden planks that smelled like old, wooden planks. The stairs going down were rickety and slippery, and you practically had to climb down them backward just to make it.
The deep cellar was where the mines started.
I turned on my flashlight and held my chalk tight. I had my rope looped over my shoulder like you’re supposed to on TV. The ceiling was low down here and had only bare bulbs and spiders hanging from it. As I crossed the room, the floor got squishy and soft beneath me. I always just wore my sneakers because I never had any boots like I should’ve.
Back over across the darkness was the entrance to the mines. I didn’t look around too much because who knows what I’d see. I might see things that weren’t even there.
I went into the tunnel where there was no light at all. I started whistling. Then I tried humming. I marked a chalk mark on the wall. Soon I came to a fork in the passageway. The right tunnel went downwards. The left tunnel went left. I took the right tunnel.
The slope was slippery with all those rocks under my feet. My flashlight only showed more tunnel ahead. I kept going down.
If I had gotten the walkie talkies I wanted for Christmas, I could’ve just radioed. But I got a lot of cool, superhero dolls, instead.
All of a sudden, I saw a drop-off ahead.
At first, I thought it was a dead-end. But it was actually a huge, underground cavern with a wide chasm between here and the other side. I slid to a halt just at the precipice, sending many pebbles to their death below.
Good thing I brought the rope.
A convenient stalagmite sat just within range of my skills on the other side. I made a lasso like The Lone Ranger and whirled it above my head. Then I let it fly.
The lasso caught on the first try, and I felt lucky. I took out a candy cigarette to celebrate. The cigarette bobbed between my lips and tasted pretty much like the chalk would’ve.
There were no stalagmites on my side to tie the rope to, so I’d have to swing across.
I’d get only one chance at this.
I took a deep breath and crossed myself. I had the handle of my lunchbox looped through my belt buckle and the flashlight in my teeth.
Then I swung!
My feet hit the chasm wall on the far side and I almost lost my grip. I hung suspended below the passage and had to climb up a lot of rope to get to the ledge. Good thing I had a rope out on my gym set to give me lots of practice. I finally made it up onto the ledge, but just as I got to my feet, I heard a screeching sound approaching from the blackness ahead.
Hundreds of them, coming right at me! I dove flat on the ground and covered my hands over my head. I felt their wings flapping past me.
Then it was over. The passage was clear. I took out my chalk and marked the wall and kept going. It seemed a long way with only the flashlight to guide me. I made a lot of turns and a lot of choices as I went. If there was an easier way back out, I didn’t know it.
Then I found the man who did.
At first, all I saw was a dim light. All I heard was the work of a pickaxe. I started to run toward the light. I knew what it was. It was a miner’s helmet.
And wearing it was my father, a miner.
No one ever knew what he was digging for down here. But someday, he’d probably find it.
He saw me and put down his tools.
“Hey, Dad. Mom says dinner is ready.”