I hope you enjoy it.
Long ago, when Bianca was a child and her father still cared, he told her a story about a secret door, lost somewhere in the cottage house they lived in. He said it led to secret passages and a buried treasure. Fodder for her fertile imagination, she embellished the rest and created an entire world for herself. A world of dragons and faeries, knights and princess.
Running around the house in her Cinderella costume from the previous Halloween, little Bianca took a trip down to the cellar. Her birthday was coming soon and she spent every day secretly searching every room and found nothing. Not one darn present. The last place to look was the cellar.
She approached the closed door, unafraid. The hinges squeaked so loud she knew her mother must have heard and waited for her to appear. She didn’t.
Sunlight illuminated three of the stairs. The rest were shrouded in darkness. On tippy-toes, she stretched her five-year-old body to the limit, reaching for the light switch on the wall. Her fingers fell a tad bit short.
“Darn!” She could go to the kitchen and get the stool Mommy let her use to reach the counter when they baked, but then she’d get caught for sure.
Bianca looked down at the staircase, into the darkness and took her first step. The need to find those presents outweighed her fear of the dark. Daddy always said there was nothing to be afraid of. And Daddy was always right. He better be right, especially this time.
Her pretend glass slippers clickety-clacked as she made her way down the stairs into the darkness. She didn’t pause. Brave people did brave things, like Ariel in the Little Mermaid. This dark kingdom was an adventure, an undiscovered land full of secrets and hidden treasure waiting for her to find . . . and put carefully back.
It’s not too dark. Bianca stood on the last step and looked around. But there was too much to see. The basement was filled with old, dusty stuff. No one would hide birthday presents here.
Angry, she knocked over a box. Christmas decorations scattered everywhere. She heard the rapid click-click of her mother’s footsteps. The door opened and the bare light bulb overhead flickered on.
Bianca ducked into the nearest dark corner and pressed her back to the wall. If she kept really still and became part of the wall, maybe Mommy wouldn’t see her.
“Bianca, are you down there?”
The anger in her mother’s voice made her ease down the wall and curl into a tight ball. Footsteps echoed down the stairs, stopping midway. Bianca covered her mouth so her mother wouldn’t hear her breathe.
The footsteps tracked back up the stairs and the door slammed. Bianca jumped and her shoulder banged into the wall. Trapped. She couldn’t go back upstairs. Mommy might be waiting behind the door to punish her. She was in for it now.
Minutes ticked by before she pushed against the wall to stand. The wall moved and she fell through, into the darkness. She was Alice not Ariel, tumbling into the unknown. The landing jarred her enough to swallow the scream. A light flickered on, momentarily blinding her. She scrambled to her feet and realized this wasn’t wonderland and neither was it a hole. She looked behind her and saw the cellar. In front, a tunnel. A secret tunnel. Just like her Daddy said.
Curious more than afraid, she turned on her fairy godmother wand. The pink beam cast a cotton candy kinda glow. She followed the road.
Two days after the Roman’s wedding, Bianca remembered her adventure the summer before she and her mother left her father. The memories flooded back while she lay in her childhood bed. One-hundred-fifty yards from the mansion, nestled in the woods, was her father’s cottage. Beneath the swimming pool and the basketball court was the secret tunnel. She had played the distraught girlfriend, crying at the appropriate times so she could linger in her father’s home. Of course, she promised to behave and not disturb the newlyweds. They were not her current objective. The vault and its secrets were her new goal.
Three in the morning, dressed all in black with a hood to cover her blonde hair, Bianca snuck into her father’s cellar. This time, the door didn’t squeak. She ignored the light switch and flicked on the penlight she removed from her key chain.
The faint beam danced in her shaky hand while she re-acquainted herself with her surroundings. The room seemed smaller and tighter with the addition of more junk over the last twenty years. She walked to the corner she remembered and carefully removed a heap of boxes. After she cleared the area, the wall looked different. She brushed her hand along the surface. Didn’t feel old. In fact, it felt quite new.
“Darn it! He remodeled five years ago.” She pushed against the wall. It didn’t budge. She felt along the edges looking for anything loose, anything to allow her access into the tunnel.
“No!” She slapped the wall. Had they sealed it? Collapsed the tunnel at both ends? Why? She hit it again and a satisfying numbness streaked up her arm.