Writing Prompt: Hidden Places
Write about a hidden passageway.
They found five miles of tunnels underneath the old house.
Salem, Massachusetts, wasn’t without its rich history. From burning witches at the stakes to pirates landing on shore, modern day Salem attracted visitors from all over the world to hear stories of its haunted past.
Ghost and witch tours aside, the town preserved Salem’s history well. Old houses and storefronts still hinted at the charm of years gone by, no matter how dark its past might have been. That’s part of the reason why Olivia Drayton decided to move back after being away for nearly a decade. This place had purpose. It had roots.
Her family had lived there forever, with generations dating back as far as the Witch Trials. There had been speculation that her ancestors had even been witches themselves, but somehow had never been caught.
Olivia remembered how eager she had been to leave this place once she was old enough to go to college, choosing a school as far away from there and all the witch stories as possible. She couldn’t grasp why her mother felt content staying in the same town she’s always been. “There’s a whole world out there”, Olivia had said to her. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll miss out?”
Her mother simply smiled the same knowing smile she always did when Olivia challenged her on the subject; like she had a secret.
Well, if she did have a secret, then it died along with her, Olivia thought as she sorted through the boxes in the downstairs closet. The old colonial house on Chestnut Street had been passed down from generation to generation. Although she had no intention of ever moving home, the void after her mother’s passing made her feel lost and alone. When the will had come back saying the house was now hers, she didn’t hesitate to return to the old home if just to feel close to her mother again.
It had always felt full of life, but now, the monstrous house seemed quiet with only her there, making the void of her mother feel that much more prominent.
A knock sounded at the door, pulling her from her thoughts. Wandering down the long hallway, she pulled it open, finding her childhood friend, Eve Westford, standing on the porch with a casserole in hand. It had been years since they’d last spoken, but seeing her brought back a flood of memories.
“I heard you were back,” Eve said. “Thought you could use this.” She handed over the warm dish.
Olivia lifted the tin foil and let the delicious aroma consume her. “My favorite.”
“Your grandma’s beef casserole,” Eve confirmed.
“I can’t believe you remembered.” Olivia was touched. “Come in. It would be great to catch up. Plus, I don’t trust myself alone with this dish. I at least need someone to share it with.” Eve laughed and followed her inside.
“Wow,” she said, taking in her surroundings. “This place is like a time capsule. It’s almost like nothing changed since we were kids.”
“Yeah, maybe a new coat of paint and some different furniture, but you’re right. Mom loved this house and I think she did everything she could to preserve it.” Olivia brought the food into the kitchen and scooped two servings. “Water? Wine?”
“Red wine, if you have it.”
“Coming right up!” Olivia poured two generous glasses and brought them into the dining room.
“How’s it feel to be back?” Eve asked after they finished their meal. Olivia was surprised how easy it was to pick up right where they’d left off.
“Honestly? Strange. It all feels so familiar.”
Eve laughed again. “I would hope so. You grew up here, after all.”
Olivia rolled her eyes. “I know, I know. But it’s the first time I’ve felt like I belonged somewhere in the longest time. I’ve been nomadic the last few years.”
“How many states did you live in again?” Eve raised her eyebrows and looked amused.
“Six, but who’s counting?” Olivia smiled. “I guess all that change would make it hard to feel grounded, huh? But I mean it. It was like something was calling to me, bringing me back here. It just feels…right, I guess.”
“Well, I wish it wasn’t under the circumstances. Though if it means anything, I’m glad to have you back.” Eve squeezed her hand, and Olivia grinned in response. Another knock sounded at the door. “Are you expecting someone?” Eve asked.
Olivia furrowed her eyebrows and shook her head. “No.” She stood and made her way to the door, coming face-to-face with Declan Miller. Her breath caught in her throat.
Declan and Olivia had been high school sweethearts. Their relationship was passionate, and as such, it also was filled with heartbreak. The last time she’d seen him was the day she left for college. They had a huge fight the week before she left, so she thought a clean break was for the best. She could have a fresh start in Oregon instead of dragging on a long-distance relationship that was destined to fail.
She’d watched him through her rear-view mirror that day as she’d driven away. He had just pulled up to her house as she was driving down the road. She can distinctly remember the look on his face when he’d realized she had already left. And yet, he never called her to tell her why he’d come by. They haven’t talked since.
Now he was here, all grown up in an officer’s uniform. She had heard he went into the force after college and did outstanding work since joining Salem PD.
Declan had aged well over the years, filling out his uniform in all the right places. His five o’clock shadow grazed his defined jawline. Faint crows feet lined his eyes, but somehow they made him look good--interesting--rather than old and worn.
“Olivia,” he said.
“Declan.” She leaned against the door frame. “It’s been awhile.”
“Yeah.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry to come over unannounced like this. I just wanted to give my condolences. Your mom is...was a great woman.”
Olivia gave a small smile. “She was.”
Eve approached the door and wrapped him in a hug. “Hey, Dec.”
“Hi, Eve. How’s Brendan?”
“A pain in my ass, but I still love him,” she joked.
A sound came from the closet underneath the staircase, startling them all. Declan instinctively put a hand to his gun.
“What was that?” Eve asked finally.
“No idea. I moved some boxes out of there. Maybe one fell over?” But Olivia wasn’t sure she believed it. The sound they heard was more of a rattle. As soon as the words came out of her mouth, it started up again with more persistence.
“That’s not a box,” Declan said as he removed his gun from its holster and approached the closet with it drawn. “How long has this house been vacant?”
“I don’t know. A month?”
“Maybe it’s a squatter?” Eve supplied.
Declan swung open the door and tugged on the dangling string to switch on the light. He scanned the small space, unable to locate where the noise was coming from. He zeroed in on a stack of boxes vibrating in the back corner and stepped deeper into the closet to investigate. “Hey, Olivia,” he called out a moment later. “Do you know what this door leads to?”
Olivia entered the closet. “What door?”
“The hidden one shaking violently behind these boxes.”
Eve appeared. “I don’t remember that. I always came in here when we played Hide N’ Seek.”
“Me either,” Olivia agreed.
“I’m going to need you both to stand back,” he instructed as he approached the door. He cautiously turned the lock and opened the door, keeping his gun firmly drawn.
“What is that?” Olivia asked as she peeked around him.
“Looks like some stairs. Do you have a basement?”
“Not that I’m aware of, and not that I saw in the blueprints or deeds the lawyer provided.”
Eve grabbed Olivia’s hand and squeezed. “Where do you think it goes?” Eve questioned.
“Not sure,” he answered. “But I need to investigate. Something was causing that shaking, and it could very well be a person down here. I can’t leave here knowing you’d be sleeping in this house and someone could be lurking. Stay here.”
“No way. I’m not letting you go down there by yourself.”
“Ditto,” Eve chimed in.
Declan let out a breath. “Fine. Grab the bat over there and stay behind me.” He handed them his flashlight. “It’s dark down here. Make sure you have this pointed straight ahead so I can see what we’re dealing with.” They nodded and followed him slowly down the stairs.
“Um, I don’t think this is a basement,” Olivia concluded when they got to the bottom. “Wh-what is this place?” She took in her surroundings. Lit candles lining the dank, stone walls. Roots broke through random stones in the ceiling and small puddles were scattered along the floor.
“It looks like a long hall,” Eve said as she scoped out the perimeter behind Declan.
“Someone had to have been here to light these candles,” Declan said. “I don’t feel comfortable having you two down here. It could be dangerous.”
“I think I have a right to know what the hell is going on in my house,” Olivia argued.
Declan stared at her, challenging her to back down. When she didn’t, he let out a defeated sigh. “Come on then.”
They followed the long tunnel for what felt like forever, pausing occasionally for any movement. They heard nothing other than the slow dripping of water coming from the earth above.
“This has to be miles long,” Eve said after a while. “You think it’s one of those tunnels they used centuries ago to smuggle in goods?”
“No, those were all near the wharf,” Declan answered. “I have no idea what this is, but it’s nothing that’s documented.”
“We’ve been waiting,” a voice said quietly from the dark. They all froze.
“Who’s there! Show yourself,” Declan yelled. A woman in a long, tattered black robe walked into the dim candlelight. Her long, gray hair was pulled neatly into a bun at the nape of her neck. Her face was weathered and her fingers were gnarled. “Who are you?”
“I am Annelise Derby.” The woman looked past Declan. “I’m Olivia’s great, great, great grandmother.”
The name registered in Olivia’s mind. She remembered her mother telling her stories about Annelise. “That’s impossible. Annelise lived in the 1700s.”
“Indeed,” the woman agreed.
“So, you’re dead.”
“Who are you really?”
“I am who I say, dear. My human form passed on some time ago, but the afterlife is different for our kind.”
“What do you mean ‘our kind’?” She walked closer to the woman despite Declan’s effort to push her back behind him.
“We are witches. All the women in our family are. Yourself included. This tunnel leads to the realm that houses our version of the afterlife.”
“That’s impossible. This makes no sense.” Olivia’s voice shook. Despite how crazy the story was, something about what Annelise was saying seemed right. She felt it in her gut.
The shuffling of feet scraping against the damp, stone floor sounded behind Annelise. Another person appeared in the light.
“Mom?” Olivia cried out.
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