by Lauren Jones
That smell reminds me of summer evenings at my gran’s house. Tea mixed with the tang of strawberry ice-cream and the pears she grew at the bottom of the garden. The light was always golden and the kitchen always warm with its worn wooden table.
My sisters and I used to hide underneath that table and stick sheets of newspaper to its edges, blocking out the real world so we could pretend to be borrowers or hobbits. If my cousin Nick was around, we were Han Solo, Chewbacca and Luke taking refuge in the Millennium Falcon from the hordes of Storm Troopers outside.
When I was there alone, in my mind the space beneath the table was a cave dripping with stalactites in some far flung corner of Europe or it was the hollowed out space inside a giant oak tree where I hid from the monsters outside with Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. As I grew older, the adventures became more and more fantastical. From caves I moved to underground complexes, from hollowed out oaks to vast dark forests. I would sit and write my adventures down. No acting them out, just me, the paper and a couple of pens and that space beneath my grandmother’s kitchen table.
The rest of the house smelt of dust and old things, but in a good way. In a way that piqued the interest of little minds and set little hands exploring. Quietly though – explorers have to take the greatest care while they’re looking for hidden treasures lest the natives hear them and seek them out.
There was the pantry with its ice-cold floor and its towering stacks of sweets, chocolates and jars of sugar. There were the spare rooms with their old cupboards and musty shelves.
And then there was the Grandad’s Sleeping Room, so called because it was where grandad could always be found, usually asleep. It was lined with things brought back from his life in Africa – wooden carvings, brass plaques, handmade gifts from his old friends. What was treasured the most, however, was a small black and white photograph resting on the mantelpiece depicting grandad and his lion cub. Once Caitlin, the oldest of us grandchildren, was tall enough to see the photo, that lion cub became a central feature in all of our play-pretend games. It didn’t matter if we were in Antarctica, down a cave, under the sea or high in the sky, the lion cub was always with us.
But there was also the basement. Tucked away in an alcove down the side of the stairs, it was somewhere that would have made a fantastic hiding place. But we children never went near it. None of our parents would go there either. There was something wrong about it, something that made the hairs on the backs of arms and necks stand on end. It made your muscles tense and your feet ready to run. No matter how hot the day, the floor and walls around the basement door were always cold to the touch. Grasping the door handle was enough to make your hand go numb and if you didn’t let go quickly, that numbness would snake its way up your arm and across your body.
At night, the wrongness would climb up the basement stairs and force itself under the door. Then it would come crawling up the walls, over the ceilings and slip unseen into bedroom mirrors. It got into the doorframes and slept in the inches of air before the glass of the windows, waiting until someone woke up.
Those past summer days will never be forgotten, they will be kept safe in my mind. But that wrongness exists still. It waits for the day the basement door will be opened.
Lauren Jones is an 18 year-old aspiring writer. Her inspirations include three younger sisters, two mischievous tabby kittens and one year of university.