The musty corridor receded into the darkness. Silas, holding his lighter aloft, turned and beckoned me to follow. I trailed him as he crept forward, sweeping dusty cobwebs from the way as he went.
Before long we came to a ladder marking the end of the passage. It led up into the dark and down through a square-cut hole in the floor to the depths below. “We have a choice, sir,” said Silas, glancing up and down. “Which way do you suggest?”
I eyed the ladder, touching the rungs gingerly; they were cold, metallic. “This ladder is made of metal. And it’s not rusted.”
Silas peered more closely. “So it is, sir.”
“Looks like stainless steel,” I said. “Not the sort of material available in Civil War days.”
“Curious. Perhaps it was added at some later date.”
Something wasn’t adding up here. “I don’t even want to think about what’s below this house. Let’s go up.”
“After you, sir.”
I smiled. “No, I insist. After you.”
Silas climbed creakily up the ladder, awkwardly cradling his lit lighter as he did. He climbed more slowly than he walked, each rung a superhuman effort. I started up after him.
Eventually Silas reached the floor above: another dim, mouldy corridor receding left and right. More cobwebs. I pulled myself up and stood beside him (his prodigious height made me feel like a dwarf).
“So many choices, sir.” He smiled, showing whitened teeth.
“There must be a way out somewhere,” I said. “Let’s try left.”
The left corridor ended after twenty feet. “It’s the back of a secret door, sir.” Of course it was the back of a secret door. What else would I expect to find in this crazy house?
“I can’t hear anything, sir.”
“Then let’s get out of here.”
The door opened into a master bedroom, illuminated from above by a chandelier. It was lavishly appointed (if a bit old and worn) with a four-poster bed, antique cupboards and dresser, with floors of polished wood. I slipped over and tried one of the windows. It slid open, but the shutters beyond wouldn’t budge. “The shutters are jammed.” I tried another. Same thing. “This one, too. What the hell is going on here?”
Silas looked suitably vacant. “I’m not sure, sir.”
I sat on the edge of the bed. “How am I going to get out of here?”
Cold fingers grabbed my lower leg. I screamed.
To be continued…