The weather had been frightful the night prior, leaving basements flooded and denizens in a snare. Rue was not spared: her basement was less flooded than her neighbors, but still a nuisance.
In the early morning, Rue quickly rushed to the basement with cement and tools in tow. Her plan: to seal any leaks she sees. In hand were a three inch steel pointed trowel, a bag filled with cement, a gallon of water, and an empty bucket along with a mixing stick.
As to not disturb her children, she swiftly laid her tarp and started mixing in silence. Her home was a single story with a basement, so her daughters were soundly sleeping directly above where she was working.
The corner of the basement was the most troublesome. With water pipes running along the wall, it was an uncomfortable spot to be in. Nonetheless, she plowed on trying to make the area as leak proof as possible given that the rainy spring weather wasn't going to end anytime soon.
As she continued with her cementing she lost a bit of balance while crouched in a corner between the washer and wall. She tumbled to the side and heard a click as she bumped against the cement wall. Rue just laughed at her clumsiness, not noticing that the wall somehow opened a bit, revealing a cement door. She dusted herself off before looking quizzically at her newfound discovery.
She inched closer to the door and gripped her fingers along the edge to pull it open a bit more so she could look inside. She thought that perhaps it was a door leading to the yard that was sealed for safety. As she looked in she could make out, from the sliver of light of the dim basement lightbulb, that there were stairs descending into darkness.
Rue quickly stood and ran up to the basement stairs to wake her daughters.
"You girls aren't going to believe me!" She then realized she probably should’ve cleaned up a little, as she imagined her daughters waking up to a red-faced, sweaty, cement-dusted mother .
The twins, still groggy from sleep, groaned, “Turn off the lights mom, please.”
“No no no. Girls, there’s a secret pathway leading down under the house!”
“A what? Mom, are you serious?” said Loyola.
“Get up and get dressed now, let's explore what’s down there.”
Rue really wanted to explore, but she didn’t want the door to accidentally close and leave her daughters stranded and confused. She went back down to the basement and started looking for flashlights. Rue then decided to just get three backpacks filled with snacks, water, and flashlights in each. She knew that she was known for overdoing things, but “one could never be too sure” her mother always said.
Half an hour later, both Loyola and Mnamie joined their overprepared mother downstairs. The girls looked at the supplies and then at each other before shaking their heads.
“Mom, don’t you think that this is a bit much?”
Rue just ignored Mnamie and said, ”Come look at what I discovered.” She gave each girl a backpack and flashlight, grabbed her own then walked over to where the door was located. The girls followed. She opened the door wider and each of her daughters looked down the stairs.
“What is this? Could there be a secret room down there? Or hidden treasure?" Loyola wondered.
“Let’s go down and see.”
Rue was first to go down followed by Mnamie and finally Loyola.
It was dark, but each of them had battery operated flashlights and extra batteries just in case. Rue had seen plenty of movies where the flashlight failed at the worst possible moment.
The walls of the stairway were first covered in cement, but as the trio continued descending the walls turned to stone. As the hours passed, further down they descended until the walls were now made of dirt.
Mnamie was talking about how she would have spent her weekend if this adventure had not interrupted her plans.
“Let’s sing, I’m bored,” Mnamie suggested.
“You sing,” replied Loyola, too involved in the mysterious staircase to pay attention to her sister. She always tried to entertain Mnamie, but right now she wasn’t in the mood—she was tired and hungry. Loyola knew that no one would go through the trouble of making a staircase only to have them lead nowhere. She wondered whatever happened to the person who built the staircase; based on the walls that are now compact dirt, the builder either gave up midway or died before finishing.
“Mom, how long has this house been in the family?” asked Mnamie, already bored of her “99 bottles of beer” song. She had sung until there was a negative number of beers on the wall.
“Well, I inherited this house from mom when she passed away. Before that this house belonged to her aunt who was married to some guy that disappeared in the middle of the night.”
“But, didn’t you say once before that dad’s family were the owners?” commented Loyola.
“Yes, but mom’s aunt and her husband had been neighbors from when they were little. As they grew up the house was left to her husband. Eventually they got married and he signed the house over to her as a wedding gift. The husband was your father’s great uncle. When she died she gave the house to her only niece which was mom. Then mom passed it to me.”
“Don’t you find it odd how the uncle and dad both disappeared in the middle of the night?” Mnamie shuddered a little.
Rue hadn’t given that any thought. She figured that they both were rotten apples from the same tree. Though it did get her to thinking that perhaps they had descended the staircase after all.
“Mom, I started a timer when we began and it’s been three hours already, let’s stop or go back,” Loyola complained. Loyola timed everything: from homework to cleaning, everything needed to be calculated down to the second.
“Ok, let’s sit for a minute. I filled the bags with snacks and water.” With that, Rue released one strap and swung the bag to her front.
All three stopped and sat on the steps to eat. “What if these stairs lead nowhere? I noticed that they don’t go straight down, they wind a bit as we descend,” observed Mnamie, peering down the staircase while munching on cheese puffs.
“Shh, listen I hear a faint noise,” whispered Loyola, with one index finger on her lips and motioning everyone else to hush.
Loyola was known to have the hearing of a dog. As silent as Rue could be, if she made the slightest noise, Loyola would immediately question her actions. “What was that?” Loyola would scream as soon as she heard any noise in the house. Rue was so bothered that she installed noise canceling walls for Loyola’s room. Then she installed speakers around Loyola’s room so she could listen to white noise while she slept. This wouldn’t allow any noise to bother her. But here, surrounded so closely by walls, with only their breathing and footsteps, Loyola’s hearing was at its peak.
Everyone sat still trying to listen to silence. Loyola descended further down the steps past her sister and mother so she could get a better reading, “Did you hear that? It’s like rushing water.” She continued descending without waiting for the other two. Both Rue and Mnamie stuffed their food and water back into their backpacks then continued their journey.
They walked down for another half hour when the noise started to get louder and louder. Mnamie hoped that they had done some type of circle where it landed them somewhere in town. She dreaded the walk back up the stairs, and being so enclosed felt claustrophobic. As they walked down she just pictured herself laying on the grass in the park and just gazing at the clouds going by in different shapes and sizes. That was her plan for this weekend she did like an adventure or two with her mother and sister, but it was a rest day. Nonetheless, here she was with an obsessed mother and a nosy sister. Mnamie’s mind continued to wander: she thought about the park and flying her kite, then the cute neighbor who had just moved in that week. She ran her fingers over the dirt wall to try and make a dent, but the dirt was tightly packed. She would need a knife to carve something into it. Maybe, she thought, I should carve out our demise so someone could come looking for us. She quickly dismissed that idea from her mind out of fear, and the increasing paranoia only contributed to the claustrophobic feeling. She instead focused on the sound of the water which was getting louder and louder.
Suddenly, Loyola stops and looks back at her mother and sister. “There’s a clearing.”
Loyola went down a couple more steps, followed by her mother then sister, when she came upon an open space with the loud noise of a waterfall. They all stopped near the foot of the steps and looked around, shining their lights in different directions. Each braced herself out of fear for a creature emanating from the darkness ready to attack, but no such creature appeared. For the moment, the trio remained alone.
They had descended upon a cave. It looked to be completely closed off, but upon further inspection they found a very small, tight opening where they had to squeeze through to fit. The other side had some water on the ground. Rue tied a red ribbon to a branch that was near the small opening and jutted out of the packed dirt wall. As they each flashed around they noticed the walls of the area covered in mossy greenery. It felt very humid and damp—no ferocious animals in sight.
They continued on their walk towards the waterfall-like noise; by this point all three were intrigued. The sound was so loud as they got closer that they were screaming at each other to look at this or that. As they walked they could see that the walls of the cave were covered in the most beautiful flowers they had ever seen.
“In class I saw pictures of plants that look like this,” screamed Mnamie.
She distinctly remembered a scientist on the search for a plant that was said to have properties to heal all types of cancer. Mnamie knew that that was the plant. Her teacher also said that the scientist had been discredited and eventually was never seen again. Mnamie picked some of the plants and tucked them away into her Ziploc bags her mother had stuffed with snacks—now long gone.
As they walked they came upon a magnificent waterfall whose light source appeared to be emanating from within. To one side was a ledge where they could exit the cave, but it was covered in various foliage.
“Let’s go that way, just be careful where you step,” shouted Rue and continued after looking at the stunned faces of her daughters, “I’ll go first to make sure that it’s ok.”
She started to cross over followed by Loyola then Mnamie. Rue walked enough to let both her daughters accompany her on the ledge. As they inched across they were all taken aback by the breathtaking view of a beautiful world.