They all lay on their stomachs, close to the cellar door.
“What do we do now?” Jimmy said, his voice low, but cracking at the end.
Billy stared at him. “We open the door, stupid. That’s why we’re here.”
“But what if he hears us?”
The “he” was Mr. Wilson, who owned the house.
“He’s at work,” Noah said. He flipped open the small spiral bound pad. “Left for work at seven thirty four this morning.” He flipped the pad closed. Noah was ten, like all of the boys, and wanted to be a policeman. He had noticed that policeman wrote their information on small spiral notebooks, and he made sure that he always had one with him.
“We’re going in,” Billy said.
The back yard of the Wilson property was shielded from the neighbors by a high fence and trees. There was a chance that someone could see them, but it was small. Billy stood and tried to lift the door, but it was heavy.
“I need some help here.”
The other boys stood and grabbed various parts of the door. Billy was on the other side of the door, pulling on the handle. Noah was at the base, and Jimmy had the tie rope in his hands.
“On three. One, two, three, PULL!”
They all grunted as the heavy, green wooden door loosened slightly and then started to lift up.
“Keep pulling,” he groaned.
They nearly drowned out the sounds of the rusted, screeching hinges of the door. It continued to lift and Jimmy nearly lost his balance as the edge of the door rushed up towards him. He leaned back, and then shoved at the door as it passed him. The two other boys continued to lift until the door pointed skyward. It hovered for an instant, and then fell open, the wood making a thud as it hit the ground.
“What a stink,” Jimmy said.
Standing at the top of the opening, he was the first too catch the strong odor from the basement. It smelled wet, and heavy, and a little sweet. Jimmy fanned his hand in front of his nose.
Noah turned and coughed. “Smells like something dead down there,” he said.
“How do you know?” Billy said.
“I know what something dead smells like.”
“It’s just wet down there,” Billy said.
“My dog found a dead raccoon at the park. Smelled just like that.” Noah took out his notebook and looked at his watch. He wrote the time in the book and tried to describe the smell.
“Maybe he killed something. Like Mrs. Wilson,” Jimmy said.
Noah looked at his notes. “He doesn’t have a wife.”
“Everybody has a wife. Our fathers have wives. All my uncles have wives. So maybe he killed her and buried her in the cellar,” Jimmy said.
“He didn’t kill anything,” Billy said. He didn’t think that Mr. Wilson would kill something and then leave it in his cellar, but he was not a hundred percent sure. “Well, you go first then.”
“I’m not going first.”
“This was all your idea.”
It had been Jimmy’s idea. The Wilson house was the oldest one in town. During a history project he discovered that in 1935 a bank had been robbed of nine thousand dollars and the bank robber Lee Williams had escaped to the Wilson house. He was seriously wounded in a shoot out with the police. The money was never found. Billy thought the money was still in the house.
“Well, it was my idea, but I’m not going in first.”
“Too chicken to go in a dark room.”
“That smells like something really dead,” Noah added. He wrote in his notebook.
“Give me the flash light. And when I find the money, it’ll be all mine,” Jimmy said.
“No, we’re splitting it,” Billy said.
Noah looked up from his note book. “Yeah, that was the deal.”
“But I found it and if I go in first, then it’s mine,” Jimmy said.
“Wuss, I’ll go first,” Billy said. “Gimmeee the light.”
The beam of light cut through the darkness but illuminated little at the end of the stairs. Billy turned and started walking down the stairs backwards, holding onto the small rail. The stairs creaked as he stepped, it sounded like someone yelling “e-e-e-e-e-e”. He stopped for a moment, shifted his feet, the stair groaned. He was trying to stall for a moment, get his courage up. The air in the cellar was cool and it rushed past him, making goose bumps on his arms.
“Keep going,” Jimmy said.
“I will. I will.”
His foot landed on the floor and he turned, sending the light beam in a broad arc around the room. It was staring into the bottom of the ocean. Darkness loomed all around him.
“What do you see?” Noah asked, pen in hand, ready to record his response.
Billy reached the end of the stairs, carefully extending his left foot to the ground. He nervously stomped it twice to make sure that it was solid. It was. He stepped down with the other foot and took a few nervous steps away from the stairs. He was now away from the light from the open door and was in the dark with only the small flash light to light the way.
“What now?” Noah asked, poking his head into the stairwell.
“It’s just dark.”
“No dead bodies?”
Billy froze, suddenly remembering the bad smell and the talk of something dead in the cellar. He sniffed the air, raising his nose like a rabbit trying to get the scent of a predator. The air was cool, damp, stale. And there it was again, the smell of something dead. He shivered.
“N-N-N-Nothing,” he said, but his voice lacked conviction.
“Is there a light down there?” Jimmy asked.
“Come and find one,” Billy said.
“You’re already down there, and you’ve got the light.”
“Here, I’ll shine it on the stairs.”
Jimmy saw the light swing and illuminate the stairs. He had to make a decision. Billy was already down in the cellar, but he had found out about the robbery and tracked it to Mr. Wilson’s house. It was his idea for them to be in his yard on the first day of their summer vacation. He did not want Billy to be the one that found the money and take all of the credit.
“I’m coming down.”
He turned and faced toward Noah and started walking down the stairs. There was not a hand rail, so he touched the door jam and the stairs as he descended into the cellar. The wood stairs creaked and moaned and as he put his left foot down the board sagged and he lost his balance. He started to fall backwards, swinging his arms in the air wildly like a log roller, trying to get his balance, but he fell to the ground and landed on his butt.
“You okay?” Billy asked.
“Yeah. It was only the last step.”
He walked toward Billy and the light. Billy swung it around the room, looking for a light switch or a pull chain. They saw the door at the end of the room and a set of stairs, probably into the house. It looked like there was a light switch near the stairs.
“Over there,” Billy said, dancing the light against the wall.
Jimmy started walking to the wall and the light beam went from white to yellow to off. Both of the boys were suddenly in the dark.
“Hey, stop messing around.”
“I didn’t do it. Battery must have died.” Billy smacked the flashlight against his hand like he had seen his father do when the flashlight stopped working. There was a brief flash and then no light. “Walk over to the light switch and turn it on.”
Jimmy knew roughly where the wall had been. He stuck his hands out in front of him as he shuffled his feet toward the wall.
Noah stepped down the first three stairs and yelled “The police are here. They’re in the drive way.”
Jimmy turned suddenly and his feet hit something on the ground and he fell down onto the long mass. He felt it. It was hard and wrapped in plastic. He wanted to run, but he felt the object, a round ball at one end, a tube or log, and then two poles at the end of the log.
“Dead body,” he yelled, crawling on his hands and knees and then standing and running toward the light at the stairs.
“T-T-T-There,” Jimmy said, as he ran past Billy. He ran up the stairs.
Billy followed him and the three of the boys lifted the heavy door and it slammed shut. They started to walk away from the door.
“Not so fast. Where are you boys going?”
They turned and saw Officer Jackson standing at the entrance to the cellar.