It was a steep descent, winding into a cool, velvet darkness. The boy could just see to the seventh step from where he stood, lighting the way dimly with the flashlight he was grasping in his damp hand. He was nearly trembling with fear. It turned his stomach and kept him lingering at the top, undecided. One moment he had resolved to begin the journey down the staircase and was preparing to climb down the precarious wooden steps, the next he was unconsciously moving back from the edge again, feeling his heart hammering in his chest. He wanted to close his eyes to calm himself, but he didn’t dare. Not while he stood so close. He had to keep his eyes on that dark hole, had to walk down those steps. He had walked that way a dozen times, but never unaccompanied ....
You’re being ridiculous, he told himself. What could possibly be down there but old spiderweb and dust?
Still, he couldn’t move. He was paralysed with an irrational fear, the fear that there was something else in that deep abyss; perhaps not something tangible, but still, alive; crawling, even. Something that hid in corners, that would stand behind him one minute and in front the next. If he could only stop thinking about it … it wouldn’t take long to get to the bottom of the cellar, collect the jar, make his way back and shut the trapdoor again, not long at all. He just had to force himself to swallow his fright and make a move. But the jar was so big … so heavy … more of a bucket than a simple preserving jar. What if he couldn’t manage?
“Michael! What are you doing in there?” he started as he heard his mother call from the kitchen. “Get down there and find that sauerkraut if you want to eat. You’re not scared, are you?”
The boy gave it no more thought. He scurried down the winding staircase almost without seeing where his feet were landing, found the jar, and heaved it back up as fast as possible -- perhaps faster than he had thought was possible.
Nothing. There had been nothing down there but old spiderwebs and dust, just as he had known there would be. He laughed nervously at himself as he fastened the trap door, laughed at the fantasies that had filled his head. He was almost in tears now; but he told himself they were tears of joy. It was not until he had made his way safely to the kitchen and was breathing a sigh of relief that he remembered he had left the flashlight at the bottom.