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How did I get here so quickly? The moon cracked a smile over my shoulder as I stood in the entrance to Hazel’s grapevines. My bare feet imprinted the damp, cool ground below me as I watchfully made my way down the path. The night sky dimly lit the passage to her back steps.
The twisting greenery surrounding me tugged at my pajamas along the way. It was quiet—too quiet. The atmosphere was absent of any ambient background noise. Strange, I thought, making it to Hazel’s rickety stairs to her porch.
The house was dark.
I cautiously crept up to the screen door. With each step, the decayed wood argued, echoing in the silent night. I waited for a moment to make sure that no one heard me before opening the screen door to Hazel’s porch. The door let out a piercing groan, like the sound of a rusty swing. The penetrating noise dug deep into my eardrums. I instinctively clapped my hands over both ears, letting go. It slammed shut, reverberating in the floor below me.
I stood in the moonlit darkness listening, expecting to feel my heartbeat in every extremity, but I didn’t. I waited for someone to come and answer to the noise, but no one came.
Nobody’s home, I thought.
I ran across the rough decking to the house then lassoed my fingers around the iron handle of the double doors. Hazel’s necklace hung on the doorknob behind the screen. It’s here. As I propped it open to slyly snatch it, a stream of light presented from the door behind it, which creaked open, inviting me in once again.
“Hello?” I whispered.
The rest of the house was dark, except the glimmering light from Hazel’s pantry.
“Hello, anyone here?”
“Sssam…” the voice said, whispering in one ear.
“Who’s that?” I pressed my face against the open door, propping the other open.
“It’s me, Sam, come in.”
“Yes, Sam. It’s me.”
“Where are you? It doesn’t sound like you.”
“I’m down in the cellar,” she hollered, but the words were unclear.
“In the cellar?” I stepped into her kitchen, letting the screen door shut behind me.
“Yes, in the pantry,” she replied, sounding breathless, accompanied by the sounds of bottles clinking together.
“Why, why, are you down there?” I questioned, thinking about the reek that occupied it. How could she stand it down there?
“I’m taking the rest of my jam that I left behind,” Hazel echoed from beneath me. “Do you mind giving me a hand, dear?”
How could I say no?
The pantry door was partially opened. When I opened it the rest of the way, a wall of putrid vapor hit my nostrils. I folded my arm over my face, nearly dry-heaving. The gaping hole in the floor wafted its decaying air across my bare legs and feet, giving me the chills.
A ladder crept over the edge.
“Sam, no need to be scared. The ladder is safe.” I was sure Hazel saw my shadow dancing around the edge of the small room.
“I—I’m not.” I kept my arm over my face and nose and moved in closer to the unnerving gap in the floor. I peered down; a soft light glowed in the corner of the underground room and a single case of jam sat at the bottom of the stairs. I heard Hazel fumbling around in a corner that was out of view.
“I put a case on the floor. You can start with those.”
“Okay,” I answered—my enunciation hindered by my forearm. I released my arm, getting another whiff of the revolting fumes, gagging. My stomach knotted and released in quick successions. I quickly tossed my oversized T-shirt over my head, covering my lips and face. How could she not smell that? My hot breath bounced back at me as I tied the shirt tight behind my head. Having only a tank top and shorts on underneath, I could feel the moist frigid air encircling my nearly naked body and I shivered uncontrollably. The floor boards groaned as I leaned over to climb down the ladder.
“I’m coming down now.” I took my first step.
“Okay, dear.” Hazel’s voice ricocheted off the stone and clay wall, distorting it.
The flicker of candlelight bobbed around the room, casting strange shadows while I climbed to the bottom. My toes tingled as they pressed into the silty earth. A row of shelves, as old as time, stood crookedly next to a plank and stone wall. The wooden shelves were thick and jaggedly holding other antique items, dusted with a film of Mother Earth’s musty scent. A bucket candle sputtered its lonely light, illuminating only the corner where I stood. The rest of the room fell victim to darkness. A slight hissing noise slithered out of the shadows to greet me.
I whipped around. “Hazel?” I squinted into the dark.
“Come closer, dear. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you.”
Her honeyed voice sent a chill down to the marrow. My breath curled out in front of me toward the unknown.
Chicago-born author Tania Nicole Suarez, best known as T.N. Suarez, does her best writing on her backyard patio, as well as at the charming coffee shop around the corner with free refills. When she isn’t glued to her laptop, she spends time with her magical family, binge-watches Netflix, paints with acrylics, and tries very hard not being the worst tennis player in the burbs.
Tania began her writing career while working as an art director for an advertising agency. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Graphic Design and is an internationally published photographer. Her work has been featured in USA TODAY, Fox News, ABC News (Australia & New Zealand), New York Magazine, New York Post, Fuji Television Network (Tokyo, Japan), Asahi Television Network (Tokyo, Japan), EuroNews (Lyon, France), Huffington Post (Osaka, Japan), and Les Journal de Montréal (Montréal, Quebec, Canada).
Additionally, Tania is an active member of Chicago Writers Association (CWA), Poetry Society of America (PSA), Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA).