This is the second installment of my novel, Cause for Alarm. It was orginally meant to be written for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where you write a whole novel of 50,000 words in just one month. I sadly only made it to 15,000 due to a sudden avalanche of coursework, but I will finish it once I get more time, after the exams are over and I am free!
For those who can be bothered to read all 2,000 words of chapter 2, feel free to comment on anything and everything.
When I first took the children in about three years prior, I knew that I had to prepare for instances such as this. I had just never thought that such a thing would actually happen to me. The basement was there when I bought the house back when I first moved in with Louis, my husband. He looked so pleased when he first went down there, showing me the almost invisible seams of the perfectly fitted door leading down a set of steep stone stairs. He had loved the privacy of it, and how cosy it was once you were down there. At first I had been a little dubious. The stairs were none too inviting, almost asking you to fall down them with the almost vertical steps. I followed him down, and he switched the overhead light on. The room was instantly flooded with a warm yellow light, and it surprisingly wasn’t cold at all, even though I had expected it to be. The walls were panelled with wood, so that the cold and ugly concrete beneath it could not be seen, and the floor was soft yet compact earth after many years of being trodden on. Despite the dirt floor, there did not seem to be any insects or sign of rodents at all.
On the walls there was shelf after mounted shelf, already full of tins. In one corner two single beds lay next to one another, and on the other side of the room there was a rocking chair and several ordinary chairs stacked up on top of one another. There was a tin bath taking up about a quarter of one room, and there was even a tiny cooker. I remembered looking at Louis in delight on realising that we had a perfect little den.
“It’s wonderful,” I had breathed against him as he embraced me tightly.
A week after we had moved in, Louis called me from the basement, excitement clearly in his voice. I had nearly fallen headfirst down the stairs trying to get to him quick enough. He pulled me closer to him, then gripping my arm hard, his eyes wide and gleaming he gestured to the wall next to the cooker. I shrugged, not understanding what he was seeing.
“Look harder!” He exclaimed. I moved closer, and saw it. Just like the trapdoor leading down here, there was a door in this wall. It was almost invisible. “I didn’t open it,” He burbled, “I wanted to do it with you.” I pushed him forwards gently. Tenderly he pushed it. It didn’t move. He gave it another push, lightly again. I barged past him, and used my shoulder. I fell into the space behind it. Dust and rubble, and several roots fell about me, coating my t-shirt and jeans. Louis pushed past me then, torch at the ready. He helped me up, then continued forward. After several minutes of claustrophobic crawling it was getting a little too small to continue. An exasperated cry issued from Louis’ lips.
“What?” I asked hurriedly, worried.
“It’s a dead end.” His voice sounded thick in the musky, dead air around us. I patted his back sympathetically. We headed back, scrambling backwards because there was not enough room to turn around.
When Louis was Taken, I knew I had to find out where that passage had really gone to. I was certain that it was not a dead end, but it had merely collapsed at some point. I took several tools with me to help and began chiselling away at the compact dirt. I had to tear my way through several thickening roots which I presumed were the cause of the cave-in in the first place. It was too dark behind the cave-in to see anything once I broke through, so I busied myself removing the dirt I had dug out and taking it through to the basement. I smoothed it out and it became a new layer to the floor. Straight after, I collapsed on the bed in the corner and slept for a solid nine hours.
I woke up feeling sore all over, but completely refreshed. The door was open, a black portal willing me to enter and complete my exploration. Finish Louis’ mission for him now that he could no longer do it himself.
Cautiously I switched my torch on and headed into the dark. After a few minutes of scrambling, and listening to the sounds of my own breathing as though it were right in my ear, I reached the place where the cave-in had been. Stopping only to regain my breath, I pushed on forwards, nerves warring with one another in my belly. What if it were to cave-in again, and leave me trapped here? Regardless, I kept on moving. Two minutes later I reached a dead end. This time I could see that it was not a cave-in, but the tunnel simply ended. Downhearted I hung my head, and sighed.
It was then that I realised that I could turn around, which was unusual, considering usually to get back out of the tunnel you had to crawl and scramble your way backwards. The second thing I noticed was that my head was not grazing the dusty roof. Feeling my stomach flutter with excitement, I looked up, and swung the torch upwards also. There was room for me to stand up almost completely straight. The roof above me was not dirt, but old wood instead, and now that I was almost at my full height, I noticed a nasty smell drifting in from above. Frowning, I put my hand on the wood, and pushed. There was a resistance but I could feel it starting to give. I put my torch down on the ground, and pointed it up so that I could use both hands. With a grunt I gave another heave, and this time it moved. Dust and grit fell down into my eyes, and a sudden burst of natural light made me flinch, and I let it fall back down. Brushing the dirt from my eyes, I picked up the torch, and this time, more prepared I pushed again.
Heaving myself up using my arms for the most part, and my feet when I could find a hold on the wall, I levered myself into the tiny room. The smell was worse now, and I realised why. I knew where I was. This was the outhouse that was shared on my street.
I got to my feet quickly, and looked down. The trapdoor was alike the one in my in the living room floor. It was a perfect fit, and was hardly visible at all. In fact, I placed the door back and I found that with all of the dirt that was on the floor of the outhouse it wasn’t visible at all. It was situated in one of the lavatories. I pushed open the door, and stepped out to the row of basins. In dazed wonderment, I walked back to my house, about a hundred foot walk and marvelled at the person who had built it in the first place.
Over the next week I tried my best to stabilise the roof, and to expand it slightly, so that it could fit an adult a little better and I carved out several holes to be used as rungs in the outhouse exit. I had no use for this tunnel, but I felt a little better for having done it. I knew it would have been Louis’ project were he still with me and I took pride in completing it for him.
Breaking out of my daze I checked the road to my left. There was a small road which connected the back gardens of each of the houses on the street. This was the way The Outsiders had come when they raided my house the night before. It was the only way I could think of getting to the outhouse without just waltzing past them and through my front door. I saw two Outsiders standing near my back gate, blocking the way into my garden. The outhouse was built on some of the land beside my house. The outhouse had several lavatories within, two showers and a row of sinks. Many of the houses in our cul-de-sac were without bathrooms, but we were one of the lucky ones.
An Outsider glanced my way, and I nodded in his direction and moved into my neighbour’s garden, hiding up the bike. The back door banged open and Mrs. Epstein bustled towards me.
“Floren-” I cut her loud voice off with a silent finger pressed quickly to my lips. She frowned, concern cutting lines across her face. She beckoned me inside.
The door clicked quietly shut behind her, and she sat me down at her large kitchen table. I clasped my hands in front of me, and studied the general clutter and disarray of her home. The table was covered with papers from her husband’s work, and many plates, some clean, some dirty. Washing both wet and dry hung from every place it could. Despite the business the room had, it all seemed de-saturated, much alike Mrs. Epstein herself. Her son, Jim, had died recently. He had been caught in the middle of a fight between some rebels and Outsiders on the street. Trying to mind his own business had ended his life. Since then Mrs. Epstein had not been the same. She was usually perfectly calm and composed, and always so organised but now here she was, all in a muddle, both mentally and physically. I wanted to hold her and tell her I knew how it felt, but it would be too awkward.
At last she sat down opposite me. A stern gaze settled upon my face.
“What’s going on, Florence?” I didn’t reply. An eyebrow rose of its own accord. “Why are you in my back garden? And more importantly, why are there Outsiders all over the street? What have you done?” So many questions. As she vocalised the last one I heard a panic breaking through. No one wanted the Outsiders on their street. It usually resulted in some form of interrogation.
“I don’t know why they’re here, ma’am. But they’ll take me away if they catch me, and I can’t say I want to just go and give myself up to them. I got to get my kids though... If I don’t-” She stopped me as a tear fell down my cheek.
“I won’t tell them I saw you, Flo. You mark my words, love. Just make sure you know what you’re doing, alright?” Genuine concern playing across her soft features now. I could tell she was frightened for herself more than my well being and that of the children’s, but I can’t say I blame her after all of what she’d been through of late. She’d surely had enough to do with The Outsiders to last anyone a life time and a half.
A new expression settles on Mrs. Epstein’s face.
“How are you going to get the children out?”
“I have a way. But I’ll have to go very close to them. Can I please have some clothes and maybe a hat?” I felt terrible asking, but I had to take everything I could to ensure that I wouldn’t be caught. A pained look flashed across her features, but then with a curt nod, she stood and beckoned for me to follow.
Ten minutes later I stood in clothes far too big for me and made for the opposite gender. I was so grateful to Mrs. Epstein, but words somehow didn’t come. She was doing a brave thing agreeing to help me, and giving me her late son’s clothes to wear at that.
I nodded my thanks, and stepped out onto the scruffy lawn of the Epstein’s back garden. I clicked open the back gate and let myself out, feeling as though I was shaking visibly enough for the guards to notice me. The glanced in my direction again, but paid no heed. I walked with legs of jelly closer and closer to them, then opened the gate to the outhouse. I stepped inside shaking with relief. One step closer. I headed for the lavatory with the trap door. I had no idea if the roof had held. It was such a long time since I’d last ventured this way. I had a tough time of trying to get the door up in the first place. As soon as I did, I dropped down. This time, I had no flashlight. I pulled the trapdoor back over my head, shutting myself off from the panic that instantly set within me. The air itself was muffled and the heat was intense instantaneously. My breath came in short, sharp gasp, rasping down my throat and grating into my lungs. It felt as though I were breathing the dirt itself. What felt like an eternity later, I managed to stop panicking long enough to start feeling my way forwards. Time seemed to stop existing in the tunnel. Only my heightened sense of touch and sound seemed to exist along with the walls. I felt it was hard to recognise if I was moving forwards or backwards, or even if I was the right way up. The fear was so intense, yet somehow I kept myself moving. My only motivation was the thought of trying to rescue the poor children. I had no idea what They would do to them if they were found.
A bead of sweat dew-dropped on the end of the nose and there was a hot plop as it hit the earth beneath my hands. I was crawling blindly on hands and knees, wondering how moles could possibly do this their whole lives.
What could have been minutes or even hours later my head knocked into something. I swallowed, hard, fighting the urge to hyperventilate. I could always go back if it was a cave-in. My hands reached out in front of me and then to the sides. A frightening black emptiness lay behind me, so I knew I hadn’t gotten turned around somehow. This time I felt in front of me more carefully. It didn’t feel like the earthen walls. Excitement gripped me. It was the door! I listened closely and I could hear murmurs and sobs from the other side. I began pushing, desperate to get in. Suddenly the door gave, and I rolled into the room. There was half a loud cry, which was cut off by a hand clapping over the culprit’s mouth. Then the whispers started.
“That’s not an Outsider!”
“They’ve found us!”
“Is that..?” The whispering stopped and the eldest boy stepped forwards.
“Florence?” He asked in a hushed tone. Dazed and disoriented, I pushed my hair back from my eyes, and looked around the room. It was like a furnace in the basement, what with so many bodies filling the space. In the back of my mind I marvelled at how there had been enough oxygen. The voice, a little stronger, a little louder this time persisted;
“Florence?” I looked up at the boy before me, Andy. I nodded.
“It’s okay. I’m going to get you out of here now. Don’t worry.” I hoped that my voice didn’t show that I felt as though I couldn’t live up to yet another promise. Some of the younger ones began crying freely and flung themselves at me. I hugged them all as one and stroked their hair.
“It’s alright, now. I promise, it’s going to be okay.”