Emeline was 8 years old when she found the entrance to the tunnel. The frosts had ended and her mother was ploughing the field, preparing for the sowing. She was supposed to be learning her letters but feeling hungry and more than a little bored, she’d sneaked down into the cellar to find the apples, ‘mother wouldn’t notice one missing apple’ came the hopeful thought as she climbed up onto a chair and took the cellar key from the huge shell on the kitchen shelf.
The darkness overwhelmed her as she made her way down the wobbly, wooden steps and she almost turned back for fear of cellar monsters, bats and giant spiders but the gnawing in her tummy and the thrill of adventure, urged her onwards. Emeline uneasily felt for each step, blinking rapidly in an attempt to adjust her eyes to the light; it seemed to take forever and just as she thought she could make out the cellar floor, she lost her footing and went tumbling down.
She lay there for a while, unsure what to do, she couldn’t cry out, her mother wouldn’t hear and even if she did, she would be furious that Emeline had gone into the cellar! She sat up, and wiggling her arms and legs, thanked the Gods that she was unhurt. She looked around in the darkness, she could barely make out her own hand in front of her face, let alone find the baskets of apples but she had come this far and decided to carry on. She stood up and began blinking again, counting on the trick she’d learned when she woke in the night, to help her see into the darkness. She could just make out the rows of shelves at the back of the cellar and went in search of apples. The shelves were high and of course the boxes of apples were on the top shelf! Being a confident climber, she proceeded up the shelves, she was half way up when she felt the shelves wobble and shake, beginning to come away from the wall. She swiftly jumped back off, landing with a thump on her back ‘this is not going well’ she thought as she lay back, considering what to do next.
As she lay there thinking, flicking the sawdust on the floor, her fingers came across a metal ring, in a hole in the ground. Curious, she attempted to pick up the ring but it dragged her hand down as it was stuck to the floor, she tried again and pulled as hard as she could, whereupon the floor began to lift with it, startled, she quickly put it down. At this point she had forgotten about the apples, intrigued by what could only be a trap door, she needed to investigate. It was stiff and heavy but she was determined to see what was under there, she half stood and pulled with all of her strength; finally, there was a loud crack and the trap door jumped back and whacked her in the face, she yelped and fell back onto the wall. She waited in a quiet panic, her mother must have heard, she was going to be in deep trouble. Nobody came.
With the divided feelings of satisfaction and dread, she looked down into the deep hole she’d discovered. She saw steps going down and frowned ‘a cellar beneath a cellar?’ It was pitch black and although she was afraid to go down, she really wanted to know what was down there ‘Is mother a smuggler?’ she thought, ‘how exciting!’
Emeline heard footsteps pacing the floor upstairs and realised she had been down there far too long, her mother was back from the fields. She quietly replaced the trap door, brushed herself down, sneaked up the stairs, out of the back door and into the yard, after a few minutes she casually sauntered in, as if from a visit to the outhouse.
As Emeline laid down to sleep that night, she couldn’t get the image of the steps under the cellar out of her mind, she had to know what was down there. But it would be several days before she could investigate, her only days for secret adventures were Tuesdays and Fridays, when her mother worked the markets.
Tuesday came, Emeline was up with the larks and her mother, she counted down the minutes in her head as her mother listed the chores for the day, almost wanting to push her mother out of the door in her excitement. Once she felt the coast was clear, she climbed the chair and released her tightly held breath of apprehension as she grabbed the key from the shell. Her heart was pounding as she unlocked the cellar door, lit a candle and made her way down to the unknown.
She squatted down and with all of her strength, pulled open the trap door. With just a little trepidation, she made her way down the steps and found herself in a tunnel, she looked both ways uncertainly, thought ‘eeny, meeny, miney mo’ and turned left. The tunnel had rough walls, it wasn’t much wider than she was and it had an arched ceiling which she couldn’t reach, she felt as though she were walking in a circle. The thought came to her that she might be in a giant mole hole and just as was about to turn and run back up the stairs, she noticed that she had reached another tunnel, leading away from the circle. She stopped at the opening to the new tunnel, her breath catching in her throat as she saw a flicker of light and shadow at the end…