“The Descent”
Perry County, Pennsylvania
Thursday, April 14, 2011

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(Fiction story continued from Days 36, 37, 45 and 51)

Jonas reached deep down into his pocket and yanked out a rabbit’s foot.  In all the excitement, he’d forgotten it was in his pocket.  Old Mrs. Foger had told him it would bring him good luck.  But only if it was from a rabbit that he’d killed himself.  And it had to be a male rabbit.  And Jonas had to stare the rabbit in the eyes and pull the trigger, without the critter running away or screaming.  “Nothin’ worse than hearing a rabbit scream,” Mrs. Foger would always say.  Jonas didn’t have an opinion either way.  “An animal don’t have a soul.”  That’s what the Bishop said.  “So they can’t really feel nothin’.”  So why did they scream?  Jonas wondered.  Why would somethin’ that can’t feel nothin’ need to scream for no reason?  He had often wondered about that when he pulled the legs off Daddy Long-Leggers, one-by-one.  Or when he and the other boys would tie two cat’s tails together and watch them scrap and scrape at each other.  Or when they’d catch a groundhog and use it for batting practice with a club.  He, and the others, always saw it as fun, and didn’t think twice about how the critters felt.  Jonas was beginning to wonder.  But for now, he kissed the rabbit’s foot and jammed it back into his pocket.  The darkness was lifting by the minute, so Jonas had little working in his favor.
Slipping behind the shed and several trees, Jonas finally made it to the back door of the haunting house.  It’s windows appeared like eyes watching his every move.  He wouldn’t know, until it was too late, if the heathens had spotted him.  Jonas called them heathens because he knew heathens were bad people who went to hell.  And just by seeing them run from the woods and sneak into the house, Jonas knew they were bad men.
Pausing under the window, Jonas noticed a storm cellar door at the end of the house.  So he crept along under the windows and carefully pulled on the door.  No luck.  Rusted shut.  He decided to take a chance and peer into one of the hazy windows.  Nothing moved inside.  It looked like a living room, with much of the furniture still in place, only rotting and chewed by rats that had long moved in.  For everyone knows that rats steal what’s not their’s and quickly take over anything abandoned by men.  Jonas wondered if there were rats in hell.  He hoped so.  Because heathens probably deserved to live eternally with those nasty critters.  He and his friends even used rats in the barn for batting practice, when they couldn’t catch groundhogs.  The screeching creatures, as long as Jonas’ forearm and as plump as a water-logged zuchinni squash after too many days of rain, would leap from behind hay bales and the boys would club them across the barn.
Facing the inevitable, Jonas sneaked over to the back door, again, and eased the doorknob.  It turned.  His rabbit’s foot was bringing him good luck.  He pressed the door inward, slowly, carefully, holding his breath.  The door screeched on the hinges.  “Buggers”, he thought, and paused.  He yanked the rabbits foot back out.  Mrs. Foger had told him to kiss it, but Samuel, his cousin, told him it only worked if you’d rub it.  Why were things like this so confusing.  So he kissed it and rubbed it.  Twice.  Better to be safe.  He pressed the door inward again.  The rabbit must have forgiven him for taking his life, for the door eased open, silently.
Jonas knelt on the threshold, staring into a short hallway, listening for any movement, voices, or a sudden rush of violent heathens.  He wondered what they’d do if they caught him?  He knew that some “poor souls” who had left the Church were “excommunicated and given over to the heathens to save their souls”.  But what did the heathens do with “righteous ones” like Jonas?  Better not to think about it.  So he crawled one step forward.  And then he froze.  A man’s voice came from somewhere distant.  He listened.  He heard it again.  Muffled.  But was it up, down or on the same floor?  There it was again, only now there were two voices.  Jonas gained courage to crawl, then step, forward.  The voices drew him to a door cracked open at the end of the hall.  He listened again. The voices were clearer, but still muffled.  He eased the door open: stairs descended into the dim light of a cellar below.
Making his way slowly to the bottom of the stairs, Jonas was surrounded by a low ceiling hovering over old crates, milk jugs, and dozens of canning jars on shelfs covered thick with dust and cobwebs.  And still the voices came from somewhere else.  Jonas moved towards the sound and saw an opening in the floor.  There, before him, was a short ladder-like staircase descending into another sub-cellar.  Jonas crept to the edge, knelt by the opening and listened.
“Quit your doggin’ me.  I done right.  And we did what we set out to do, “ said a voice with a thin, whiney tone.
“You almost gave us away.  I’m warning you, if you don’t listen, I’ll beat you within an inch of your life,” said a deeper voice.  This heathen sounded like an untamed, wild horse with a mean-streak.  Funny how not seeing people makes you concentrate on how their voices sound.  And wondering what they must look like.
“Aw, come on, now, Jake.  We got this far.  Give me a little credit, now, will ya?”
“Just sayin’.  That’s all.  Burnin’ them to hell ain’t all we got to do.”  And then he guffawed.  “Come on.  Stash the loot, we gotta head out.”
And with that Jonas knew he had to either hide or run.