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The Trap In The Great Cellar







From: The House On The Borderland

I suppose I must have swooned; for, the next thing I remember, I opened
my eyes, and all was dusk. I was lying on my back, with one leg doubled
under the other, and Pepper was licking my ears. I felt horribly stiff,
and my leg was numb, from the knee, downward. For a few minutes, I lay
thus, in a dazed condition; then, slowly, I struggled to a sitting
position, and looked about me.

It had stopped raining, but the trees still dripped, dismally. From the
Pit, came a continuous murmur of running water. I felt cold and shivery.
My clothes were sodden, and I ached all over. Very slowly, the life came
back into my numbed leg, and, after a little, I essayed to stand up.
This, I managed, at the second attempt; but I was very tottery, and
peculiarly weak. It seemed to me, that I was going to be ill, and I made
shift to stumble my way toward the house. My steps were erratic, and my
head confused. At each step that I took, sharp pains shot through
my limbs.

I had gone, perhaps, some thirty paces, when a cry from Pepper, drew
my attention, and I turned, stiffly, toward him. The old dog was trying
to follow me; but could come no further, owing to the rope, with which I
had hauled him up, being still tied 'round his body, the other end not
having been unfastened from the tree. For a moment, I fumbled with the
knots, weakly; but they were wet and hard, and I could do nothing. Then,
I remembered my knife, and, in a minute, the rope was cut.

How I reached the house, I scarcely know, and, of the days that
followed, I remember still less. Of one thing, I am certain, that, had
it not been for my sister's untiring love and nursing, I had not been
writing at this moment.

When I recovered my senses, it was to find that I had been in bed for
nearly two weeks. Yet another week passed, before I was strong enough to
totter out into the gardens. Even then, I was not able to walk so far as
the Pit. I would have liked to ask my sister, how high the water had
risen; but felt it was wiser not to mention the subject to her. Indeed,
since then, I have made a rule never to speak to her about the strange
things, that happen in this great, old house.

It was not until a couple of days later, that I managed to get across
to the Pit. There, I found that, in my few weeks' absence, there had
been wrought a wondrous change. Instead of the three-parts filled
ravine, I looked out upon a great lake, whose placid surface, reflected
the light, coldly. The water had risen to within half a dozen feet of
the Pit edge. Only in one part was the lake disturbed, and that was
above the place where, far down under the silent waters, yawned the
entrance to the vast, underground Pit. Here, there was a continuous
bubbling; and, occasionally, a curious sort of sobbing gurgle would find
its way up from the depth. Beyond these, there was nothing to tell of
the things that were hidden beneath. As I stood there, it came to me
how wonderfully things had worked out. The entrance to the place whence
the Swine-creatures had come, was sealed up, by a power that made me
feel there was nothing more to fear from them. And yet, with the
feeling, there was a sensation that, now, I should never learn anything
further, of the place from which those dreadful Things had come. It was
completely shut off and concealed from human curiosity forever.

Strange--in the knowledge of that underground hell-hole--how apposite
has been the naming of the Pit. One wonders how it originated, and when.
Naturally, one concludes that the shape and depth of the ravine would
suggest the name 'Pit.' Yet, is it not possible that it has, all along,
held a deeper significance, a hint--could one but have guessed--of the
greater, more stupendous Pit that lies far down in the earth, beneath
this old house? Under this house! Even now, the idea is strange and
terrible to me. For I have proved, beyond doubt, that the Pit yawns
right below the house, which is evidently supported, somewhere above the
center of it, upon a tremendous, arched roof, of solid rock.

It happened in this wise, that, having occasion to go down to the
cellars, the thought occurred to me to pay a visit to the great vault,
where the trap is situated; and see whether everything was as I had
left it.

Reaching the place, I walked slowly up the center, until I came to the
trap. There it was, with the stones piled upon it, just as I had seen it
last. I had a lantern with me, and the idea came to me, that now would
be a good time to investigate whatever lay under the great, oak slab.
Placing the lantern on the floor, I tumbled the stones off the trap,
and, grasping the ring, pulled the door open. As I did so, the cellar
became filled with the sound of a murmurous thunder, that rose from far
below. At the same time, a damp wind blew up into my face, bringing
with it a load of fine spray. Therewith, I dropped the trap, hurriedly,
with a half frightened feeling of wonder.

For a moment, I stood puzzled. I was not particularly afraid. The
haunting fear of the Swine-things had left me, long ago; but I was
certainly nervous and astonished. Then, a sudden thought possessed me,
and I raised the ponderous door, with a feeling of excitement. Leaving
it standing upon its end, I seized the lantern, and, kneeling down,
thrust it into the opening. As I did so, the moist wind and spray drove
in my eyes, making me unable to see, for a few moments. Even when my
eyes were clear, I could distinguish nothing below me, save darkness,
and whirling spray.

Seeing that it was useless to expect to make out anything, with the
light so high, I felt in my pockets for a piece of twine, with which to
lower it further into the opening. Even as I fumbled, the lantern
slipped from my fingers, and hurtled down into the darkness. For a brief
instant, I watched its fall, and saw the light shine on a tumult of
white foam, some eighty or a hundred feet below me. Then it was gone. My
sudden surmise was correct, and now, I knew the cause of the wet and
noise. The great cellar was connected with the Pit, by means of the
trap, which opened right above it; and the moisture, was the spray,
rising from the water, falling into the depths.

In an instant, I had an explanation of certain things, that had
hitherto puzzled me. Now, I could understand why the noises--on the
first night of the invasion--had seemed to rise directly from under my
feet. And the chuckle that had sounded when first I opened the trap!
Evidently, some of the Swine-things must have been right beneath me.

Another thought struck me. Were the creatures all drowned? Would they
drown? I remembered how unable I had been to find any traces to show
that my shooting had been really fatal. Had they life, as we understand
life, or were they ghouls? These thoughts flashed through my brain, as I
stood in the dark, searching my pockets for matches. I had the box in my
hand now, and, striking a light, I stepped to the trap door, and closed
it. Then, I piled the stones back upon it; after which, I made my way
out from the cellars.

And so, I suppose the water goes on, thundering down into that
bottomless hell-pit. Sometimes, I have an inexplicable desire to go down
to the great cellar, open the trap, and gaze into the impenetrable,
spray-damp darkness. At times, the desire becomes almost overpowering,
in its intensity. It is not mere curiosity, that prompts me; but more as
though some unexplained influence were at work. Still, I never go; and
intend to fight down the strange longing, and crush it; even as I would
the unholy thought of self-destruction.

This idea of some intangible force being exerted, may seem reasonless.
Yet, my instinct warns me, that it is not so. In these things, reason
seems to me less to be trusted than instinct.

One thought there is, in closing, that impresses itself upon me, with
ever growing insistence. It is, that I live in a very strange house; a
very awful house. And I have begun to wonder whether I am doing wisely
in staying here. Yet, if I left, where could I go, and still obtain the
solitude, and the sense of her presence, that alone make my old
life bearable?





Next: The Sea Of Sleep

Previous: The Subterranean Pit



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