The Secret Passageway

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Chapter 2

The passageway was about as tall as the opening of the door frame, and Josh remained bent over as he stood just inside the entrance and panned the light around the walls and floor. He squatted down and aimed the light down the passageway but all he saw was more of the tunnel-shape as it took a bend to the left and the beam just illuminated the side of the rough wall. Josh had no idea how old the passage might be, but it sure looked as if it had been there for some time. Whoever had dug this, he thought, sure seemed to know what they were doing. It had no sign of having been reinforced anywhere as tunnels in ore mines often were, and Josh could see no evidence that any recent excavation had been done.

He stood again, making sure to keep his head well below the uneven juts of stone that poked through overhead from place to place and began to follow the it around the bend ahead. As he stepped carefully along, Josh noticed that the ceiling was beginning to get lower and lower. The bend to the left straightened out for a few feet and then a bend to the right lay ahead. The second turn then opened up into another straight section, but as he entered this part, the ceiling was now just a few feet off the ground and for Josh to proceed, he saw that he would have to crawl. He was not as a rule claustrophobic at all, but for some reason Josh thought it wise not to go any further without some more thought and preparation.

He spun around and made his way out, closing the door behind him, but leaving it slightly ajar again so that it would not be such an ordeal when he came back. Josh moved back by the crate and came into the main area of the basement to find that the lights were back on. He turned off the flashlight and went back upstairs, finding all the lights that he had previously turned on to be back on as well. Apparently, it had been a transformer issue after all. The rain seemed to have stopped, and the thunder had dropped off to just a gentle rumble in the distance with just the occasional flicker of lightning. Josh stowed the flashlight and headed up to the upper level to turn in for the night.

………….

Josh had planned to spend the day getting everything in an oversized loft area upstairs set up as his studio. But all he could think of as he woke was the tunnel he had discovered. In fact, he had not slept well that night as his thoughts were consumed with it…what it was, where it had come from, and what might be at the very end of the passage that he had declined to further explore. As he sat in the kitchen with a mug of coffee, Josh was getting more and more baffled, yet still more curious about what lay in his basement below. He did not want to set off any alarms in town about this, by asking around, as he was still a bit anxious as to what it all might be about. However, he supposed that a few generic questions about the old place, framed in the context of just being interested in the history of the house, might reveal something that would be of use.

To start, Josh just strolled around the neighborhood, introducing himself and saying hello to his new neighbors. No one seemed to know much of anything of substance about the house. As far as anyone knew, the older couple who had lived there just before Josh had been the original and sole occupants of the place. They had “been quiet and pretty much kept to themselves” was the story that Josh got over and over. Only one man who lived the closest to Josh, Herbert Tannerman, had offered anything more than that, but Josh did not give it much credence as the other neighbors had warned Josh about him, suggesting that he was a bit of an eccentric. The common description of Herbert that kept coming up over and over was that he was constantly seeing conspiracies in everything.

And all that Herbert had passed along to Josh was that from time to time he had heard odd noises and seen lights coming from the basement at very late hours of the night.

“Noises and lights?” Josh asked.

“Yeah…” Herbert replied. “Like things being taken in and out of the house. And vehicles that I had never seen before coming and going.”

Josh had thought briefly of getting him to elaborate, but based on what the neighbors said of Herbert, Josh was not really interested in getting into a discussion of alien adductions or government conspiracy theories. He figured if it was just Herbert that had seen and heard odd goings on, then it was likely not to be of much help. After the neighbors, Josh dropped by a bookstore as well as a couple other places in town that he knew had been around for years and that might have some more detailed background on the history of the house. Everyone was thrilled that he had finally taken on the place as a renovation project, but no one had any information on it than what Josh was already privy to.

Josh made his way back home in the late afternoon determined to make a second excursion into the passage to see just where the thing went. This time however, he made sure to take along some extra lights and batteries, his bicycle helmet to protect his head in case he stood up too high and bumped his head into the low ceiling or sides of the tunnel, a first aid kit, his phone—though he doubted it would have service so far underground— and two bottles of water. He supposed it might make sense to make a trip down there while it was still light out, but when he remembered how dark it was and how removed the tunnel was from any ambient light sources, Josh laughed at himself for even worrying about it.

He collected all the stuff he thought he might need, threw them into a small daypack and set off back down into the basement just as the sun was setting. Before going through the door again, Josh slid the boxes he could move on his own aside to make room for the crate which he then shoved away from the door that led to the tunnel. He checked all the lights to make sure they were all working. He slipped the headlamp that he used when backpacking over his head and flipped on the light, and then strapped on the helmet. He opened the door and stepped back through the entryway. From the back pocket of his pack he pulled out his phone, and sure enough, he was getting no signal from inside the passage. Regardless, he kept the phone handy in case there was something he came across that he wanted to get a photo of.

Josh moved along the tunnel, passing through first the left-hand turn, and then the right-hand turn until he reached the spot he had come to the night before where the ceiling dropped off to just a few feet. He removed the pack from his shoulders and placed it out in front of him so he could push it along as he crawled and not get it snagged on something above him or make him too big for the passageway ahead. Using a combination of his toes to push and his hands and arms to pull, Josh inched his way through the narrow opening. On several occasions he was grateful for having brought his helmet as he could hear the hard shell grind against the rocks overhead as residual debris from the contact spilled over his shoulders and back.

The narrow opening remained constant as he went along and after what seemed to Josh like maybe fifty yards or so, the opening began to increase and he looked up to see that he had hit a dead end. The narrow crawlspace had emptied into a small square room, maybe six feet square, and had a ceiling high enough that Josh could finally sit up. He moved his head around to take in the room in which he found himself in. The walls were smooth with a few recesses cut into the rock where it looked as if someone in the past had set candles or perhaps lanterns to illuminate the room. Josh removed a couple of the spare lights he had brought along and turned them on to light up the dark space.

He placed his headlamp into one of the recesses and put two other smaller lights he had brought on the shallow recesses cut into the walls that would hold them. He kept the long flashlight that he had used the night before and panned all around to see what this room might be. The square space seemed vacant and the idea of a root cellar or other storage room for food was obviously ridiculous. Even if it was, who would go to all the trouble of making it a major expedition to get in and out. Just as Josh was about to pack up and head out, still as baffled and in the dark—no pun intended—about the room and the passage as before, he spotted another recess that had been cut away into one corner of the room.

Josh saw immediately that unless you were really looking for it, the recess would have been easily overlooked. He shone his light toward the hole but did not see anything. Just out of sheer wonder, Josh leaned over and poked his light into the hole further.

“What the hell?” Josh asked out loud.

There in the reflection of his light, shoved way back into the deep recess, was a box or crate or some sort of a container. Josh reached in and found a leather handle on the front of the object and he gripped it tightly. As he pulled on the handle and the object began to slide with some resistance against the uneven stone floor, and was soon was visible, appearing to be an old wooden crate, much like the one outside the tunnel, just on a much smaller scale. Just as the box began to emerge from the recess, the leather handle snapped from one of its attachments, but Josh was able to grasp the box on both sides and slide it the rest of the way out so he could view it fully.

He ran his light over the outside of the small crate, but it had no markings of any kind that indicated what it might be or might contain. The box itself was obviously quite old, but still appeared intact despite its assumed age. The crate looked hand-made with a simple latch on the front secured with a small padlock, much like the one he had found on the door that had led him to the tunnel. Josh lifted the small lock and to his surprise, a gentle tug on the device sprung the thing open and the weight of the padlock hung loosely in his hand. Josh slipped the lock from the latch and set it aside as he grasped the sides of the box’s lid.

He was very curious as to what might be within, but at the last second, he hesitated to lift the lid. This whole discovery had been so odd and so peculiar, that his intuition told him to tread carefully. Josh was not getting the feeling that the container might be rigged with any type of explosive or other trap, but all the same there was something poking at his brain that told him to move with caution. He released his grip on the lid and sat back to just look at the wooden crate more carefully. It still looked just like a generic old box…nothing special or unusual about it. Josh panned his light around the room looking for something he might use to ease the lid up from its setting from a distance, but there was nothing in the space other than what he had brought along.

Without looking, Josh knew that there was nothing in his small pack that might work, and he thought briefly about crawling back out to the basement to see if he could find a tool of some sort that might serve this purpose. He sat back on his heels and stared at the unlocked crate again and sighed. I am really letting my imagination run wild, Josh said to himself. He set his light aside and touched the lid again lightly and eased it up as he held his breath. The lid stuck for a brief second or two, and then popped up off the bottom of the crate. Like the door that had opened to the passageway itself, the old wood had swollen over time and the lid was just tight. Josh hesitated again, but nothing happened and he laughed at himself. Been seeing too many movies and reading too many spy novels, he thought.

He gradually lifted the cover until it was fully opened and sat it upright, braced by the construction of the back side of the whole box. Josh retrieve his light and let the beam illuminate the interior of the container. His apprehension and reluctance faded away as the light revealed only a regular size mailing envelope on top of a standard size manila envelope, both sealed inside a plastic bag. Josh picked up the bag and sat cross-legged against one wall of the room as he turned the bag over and over in his hands. He assumed that whoever had placed this here was just wanting to protect it against any possible water damage. Neither the bag nor its contents appeared to have any indication as to what they were or meant. The light where he was sitting now was strong enough to investigate further, so he clicked off his flashlight and set it on top of his pack.

Josh opened the plastic bag and gently removed the envelopes. He set the protective bag aside, laid the manila envelope on top of it and stared at the mailing envelope. There was no writing on either the front nor back of it. The sealing flap, either from never having been secured in the first place, or possibly just having had lost its adhesion over time, sat at a smart forty-five-degree angle. Josh pushed the flap back and eased out a single sheet of paper that was inside and unfolded it. On this paper, unlike its holder, there was some writing. It covered about two thirds of the sheet, but as Josh scanned the page, he realized it might have well have been blank.

The page was filled with a mysterious and strange script intermingled with bizarre-looking symbols, none of which Josh had the slightest interpretation of. He had taken a few classes when he was an undergraduate in some indigenous world languages and writings, but the classes had been years ago. Even so, there was nothing on that page that even remotely struck a chord with him as to what they might be. Josh refolded the sheet and put in back into the envelope and traded it for the larger manila envelope he had set aside. Like the mailing envelope, this packet’s seal was open and the flap just tucked inside. Josh carefully pulled the envelope open wide and looked inside.

This time the contents, while again just a single sheet, were of a much different material…not the more modern-looking white paper that he had just found. The single document inside looked like it was made of maybe velum or some other ancient parchment and appeared as if it might be quite fragile. Despite his reluctance to disturb the document for fear of damaging it, Josh held the envelope wide open and with great care eased his other hand under the thin parchment. After making sure he had gotten his whole hand under the document, he again held his breath as he slowly eased it out. Josh held his hand steady, supporting the old paper and reached over and replaced the lid on the still opened crate. He then laid the well-worn paper on top of the crate.

The document was folded into quarters and Josh, against his better judgement, meticulously opened each fold until the paper was displayed before him in full. What he had found here, was even more peculiar and mysterious. The old, crinkled page was not a document of any kind, but rather a map. It was hand drawn, but the artist had obviously been trained in map-making based on the intricate and professional detail displayed. There was not any indication of what geographical region the map might refer to, as it was too detailed to show that. However, once again, Josh saw more writing and symbols on and around the map’s edges that was foreign to him. The positive thing was that as he compared both the map and the paper from the mailing envelope, both script and symbols looked similar…some even identical.

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