That was the last time I saw my Grandfather healthy. A month had passed when my Grandmother called us to let us know that he had collapsed in the bathroom and been rushed to the hospital. There was more to it than him just collapsing, she later revealed. She had been sitting in the living room, as it was too warm to be outside, when she heard a cry from the hallway and then the sound of my Grandfather running into the bathroom and slamming the door shut behind him. She had risen to follow the commotion. To her surprise the door to the bathroom was open and there was my Grandfather, lying in a heap on the tile floor.
They ran every test they could on him, but found nothing out of the ordinary. He complained of dizziness, headaches and suffered from a nasty cough that just would not ease up. We all believed it to be an age related thing and were pretty certain that he was going to get better, but as the weeks passed he did not improve. Since my Grandfather was the strong, quiet type he never spoke to us about how he felt, instead my Grandmother would call us with weekly updates and the picture she painted of his health became increasingly worrisome.
I returned to my Grandparents’ house in the beginning of the fall and was once again met with the list of chores to do. This time my Grandfather wasn’t in his study, but instead he was in the guest bedroom and this was now where he spent most of his time, too tired to read or walk around for any length of time. I went to see him and to sit by his side for a moment. I tried to disguise my initial shock upon seeing his form. In the three months that had gone by since I had seen him last he had lost about half of his body mass, his calves were as thick as my wrist and his skin was ashen. He had, as long as I could remember, always had a receding hairline, but was now almost completely bald with some tufts of white hair behind his ears.
He stared up at the ceiling as I entered the room and then turned to me, forcing a smile, but wincing in pain as he did.
I sat with him for a while and held his cold boney hand in mine. He tried to speak, but every time a wet coughing fit replaced his words. I handed him water and with a trembling hand he grabbed it and tried to drink, but most of the liquid ended up on the bed. I remained by his side until he fell asleep and during that time he never spoke one word to me.
I tackled my Grandmother’s list and tried to finish the tasks as quickly as possible since a lot of work time had been spent by my Grandfather’s side. I dusted books, cleaned out the refrigerator, repotted her plants and then lastly I was supposed to go back down into the basement. Seeing as how my Grandmother refused to venture past the first rung of the ladder I had to do it all by myself. I loaded up a box with jars and climbed down into the darkness.
Premonitions are a strange thing, it’s not until everything has been said and done that one realizes that the Universe was trying to warn you when the fork in the road is met. Had I known then what I undeniably know now, then the chill air that wafted from the basement and the musty, wet smell of mold that greeted me as I slowly stepped downward I would have turned and refused to place those godforsaken jars of jelly where they belonged. I held the flashlight in my mouth so I would not miss any rungs on my way down, placed the box on the floor and began depositing jar after jar on the shelves. In between the sounds of glass hitting wood I thought I heard another sound that hadn’t been in the basement before; the sound of water. To be more precise, the sound of water dripping and gently flowing over rocks like one might hear on a calm summer day on the beach when the wind pushes the lake ever so slightly to and fro.
I forced myself to finish the task at hand before I turned my flashlight on the rest of the basement to see where the sound was coming from. For whatever reason my first target was the spot on the wall that was covered by the wooden boards, but they were no longer there. Instead they lay in a pile on the floor and just above them, where they had been sitting, there was a square hole. That I became a bit unnerved would be an understatement, but nevertheless I slowly moved towards it. For some unexplained reason I crouched down when I moved instead of standing upright, which I easily could have done. The hole was not a natural formation, but very much man made. The square had been perfectly cut into what seemed like a solid rock wall. I touched it and it was icy cold and then I shone my flashlight inside. There was another room beyond the opening, barely half the size of the one I was in, but with a lower ceiling and where the floor would have been there was water.
The dripping I had heard was the sound of droplets falling from tiny stalactites formed on the ceiling and the flowing sound was the sound of water climbing over a kind of stone ramp, that led to the edge of the opening, and then smoothly sliding back down it. I let the light dance across the surface of the water and the walls to try to locate something in the space, but to no avail. As I was about to return to the warm upper floor something flashed at me as the light moved across it. I went over the same spot again and to my surprise there really was something reflecting the light back, right below the surface of the water. I leaned over the ledge, making a conscious effort to keep my legs on the other side, and let my left hand delve into the wetness. It was surprisingly warm, a stark contrast to the chill of the basement. My hand clutched something and I tightened my grip around it. At first I thought that the object must be stuck in the ground, for it would not budge and I decided to give it another try by placing the flashlight in my mouth once again and wrap two hands around the object. With a mighty yank it came loose and I heard a loud scraping sound as a box emerged from the depths. I continued to pull until I had lifted it through the opening and placed it on the basement floor.
I had my hands clasped around the lid of some form of chest; to be more precise I was holding on to a golden cross attached to a tented top. I gently let my fingers move across the surface of the object and closely let the flashlight follow my hand across what turned out to be very ornate and seemingly gilded wood. There seemed to be images carved along the sides and the opposite ends had some very odd images painted on them, but in the limited light it was difficult to tell. I felt for an opening along the sides and found a tiny space running along the side. I stepped back and tried to take in the entire object as a single piece.
The chest, I estimated, was about four by two feet in size as well as two feet tall and the more I stared the more the image of one of those old Gothic churches of medieval Europe came to mind. Was this a model of an ancient church perhaps? In my youth I had partaken in my fair share of role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and while during those formative years I would have claimed to be an expert on all things Dark Ages I know now that I was grossly mistaken. The space I had felt was clearly the partition between the lid and the box, but the ornamentation made it very difficult to discern. I moved closer again, but this time crouched down by one of the sides to get a closer look at the figures painted there, but before I got the opportunity to get a good look my Grandmother called me for lunch. I decided to leave the object on the basement floor, seeing as it would do now harm there.
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