11.- First encounter with Evil.
Tommy let his brother guide him, as Santi told his story.
“I was in the kitchen preparing a really yummy sandwich when Luli came in. I offered her a bite and she didn’t even answer. I don’t get it – how can anyone turn down a bite of one of my famous sandwiches? ... Where was I? Ah, yeah, she went towards the cellar door ...”
“Santi, would you keep your distance while you’re talking? Your breath! What did you eat, a graveyard?”
“Ha, ha, very funny. Anyway, as I was telling you, I tried to stop her. You know Grand-Dad and Grannie have forbidden us to go to the cellar. But she didn’t take any notice. She was asleep ... kinda sleep walking ...”
They got to the kitchen, and there it was. They’d never paid any attention at all to the cellar door, but tonight it looked ready to swallow them whole. They went up to it and opened it silently. A steep dangerous staircase led down. Everything was dark inside, and they couldn’t see the bottom of the stairs.
Did the stairs have an end? Or did they just go on down and down to hell itself? Anyway, the boys started their descent. Luli was in trouble and must be counting on them. They mustn’t chicken out!
The darkness swallowed them. They took their torches out, and their lightbeams holed the black blanket enveloping them. Now they could see a few steps below them. They went on and on down until they got to the cellar floor.
Unlike the rest of the house, it was very dirty. Amanda obviously hadn’t been down there with her fantastic broom for a long time. The floor was covered with dust, and they could see Luli’s footsteps clearly. She’d probably been the first person to go down in years. It was easy to follow them, although the cellar was much bigger than they’d expected and strange walls formed what seemed an absolute labyrinth. They decided not to put all their trust in the girl’s footprints, so they tied one end of a large ball of twine to the staircase handrail. If they got lost, they’d be able to get back by following it. And they were right to do so, because only a few minutes after starting out, they found a number of sets of footprints identical to Luli’s, going in all directions.
They had spent quite a while examining the footprints and trying to decide which set to follow when the spotted a faint glow at the end of one of the corridors, which gave them a clue. As they approached the light got brighter, signaling that they were nearing the end of their investigation.
One last turn, and they were at the end of the labyrinth, a small space with stone walls. It was completely empty and they could feel a strong whirlwind in the centre of the place. In its epicenter was Luli, still in a trance, levitating almost a foot off the ground!
In her nightdress, with her curls tidily brushed, she seemed completely immune and indifferent to the hurricane-like wind speeding round her. Her arms were stretched out sideways, forming a cross. The strangely luminous glow which had guided them to the room was actually coming out of her, and an infinite quantity of small bolts of energy, like lightning, cut through the air from her chest to the wall she was facing, forming a kind of circular window which was slowly growing larger. They spotted little Brownie pulling on her nightdress with his teeth, as if trying to drag her away.
Now the window was large enough for a person to pass through. On the other side there was a nightmarish landscape, a murky world in shadows, lit up sporadically by explosions of lava coming from a number of strange craters. They could just see gloomy monstrous figures wandering hopelessly around the terrifying place, wailing in pain, moaning and cursing without end.
The boys were hypnotised watching the terrible scene when an enormous deformed hand, more like a claw than a hand, grabbed hold of the edge of the window, which now took up most of the wall. Then the other hand appeared, and they heard Brownie’s scream of terror. When the first foot came through the window, the two boys reacted.
“My God, Tommy! What’s that?” Santi yelled, terrified.
“I don’t know! But we have to get Luli out of here! Tie one end of a rope round your waist and the other to those pieces of iron, and get ready to jump! The wind will pull us towards her,” he cried, pointing at some iron rings set into the stone wall.
As they were tying the knots they looked back at the window and saw a head, hidden under a dirty frayed sackcloth hood, about to enter. They couldn’t quite see the face, but the eyes... red, shining, wrapped in small flames which had the edge of the hood smoldering.
This seemed to upset the creature, because it wet the tips of one of its claws in its mouth and reached up to put out the smoldering cloth. Its breathing was an uneven hiss, and the boys could hear the unpleasant patter of its abundant slaver when it hit the ground, after a free fall of nearly six feet.
Without thinking, despite their intense fear they both leaped forward and were immediately trapped by the violent miniature tornado. The wind spun them round the girl several times before they were able to grab hold of her. Santi wrapped his arms round Luli’s right leg, while Tommy hugged her neck, but they were a long way from being able to rescue her. To the contrary, now all three of them were in the same plight, without any way out in sight...
Then from the deep came a noise which made the air vibrate like the grinding of enormous rocks, and out of the shadows in a corner of the room appeared a figure the children recognized at once. It was the same person who’d saved them in the Pondporker place, and helped Tommy in the lost cemetery! It was dressed completely in black, with a scarf covering his face, and was wearing trainers and a back-to-front baseball cap. He started to move slowly towards the children, battling the wind, opening up a path through it. He got to them...
Only then did the grotesque creature in the magic window in the wall notice the newcomer, and it appeared to curse under its smoldering hood. The figure in black was obviously pleased to see it, and looking into the creature’s fiery eyes, and smiling under his scarf he took out a strange sword he was carrying across his back and cut the beam of energy emitted by Luli, which was holding the window open. The hole shrank immediately, closing in on the creature’s scrawny claws, trapping them. They flayed around, trying to force the hole back open. Slowly, the hole started to open again, inch by inch. With an enormous effort the creature stretched out and grabbed the figure in black by an ankle, pulling his foot from under him and dragging him towards the window, which had become a speeding vortex threatening to swallow them. He struggled wildly to get free, kicking in vain against the frightful claw with his free foot. The anonymous hero was nearing his end.
Tommy watched the scene powerlessly, not knowing what to do. How could a little kid help in a situation like this? Then he felt fire in his chest, set alight by his own rebellious refusal to accept the situation. He jumped forward savagely, with a furious cry, and when he stretched his arms towards the monster, he saw a ray of light somehow shoot out of the palm of his hand, hitting the terrifying aggressor violently on the forehead. With a howl of pain it let go its victim, and it disappeared back into the hurling vortex. The window vanished forever, the monster’s furious cries still ringing in the boys’ ears. They rushed to their sister who’d fallen on the floor, unconscious.
“Take her to your grandmother! She’ll know what to do,” said the stranger, checking for broken bones.
He took Luli in his arms and ran towards the cellar stairs, followed by Tom and Santi.
The way back was easy. It wasn’t necessary to follow the twine they’d laid, because the children’s rescuer knew the way perfectly. Moreover, the walls forming the mysterious labyrinth had vanished into thin air, as if they’d never been there. Brownie followed close behind.
When they got to the kitchen they made her as comfortable as possible on the floor, and tried unsuccessfully to revive her with water.
“Santi, go and fetch Grannie. She’ll know how to bring Luli round.”
“Right away, Tommy!” Off he sprinted
Tommy looked round the room for their strange saviour, but he’d disappeared as suddenly as he’d appeared.
A few minutes later Grannie arrived, wide awake despite the time. They told her what had happened.
“That’s impossible! This house is protected!” she exclaimed, worried.
“Grannie, protected against who? Against what?” asked Santi.
“We’ll talk about it tomorrow. Right now I have to try and help Luli. Immediately! Every second counts. Go to bed and try and get some rest.”
The two boys watched Grannie pick Luli up and take her away, and then they went to their room. When they got there, they found Amanda still prancing away. They turned off the music and she slowly stopped dancing and resumed her cleaning as if nothing had happened, as if she wasn’t aware of the time that had gone by.
The boys went to bed, but they were so excited they couldn’t help chatting.
“Tommy, what was that beam of light that came out of your hand? How did you learn that?” asked Santi, extending an index finger like a pistol and pointing it at the ceiling. “Bang, bang ... boom!” he added, as if he were firing it. “Will you teach me?”
“I don’t know, Santi. It just happened, because I had a feeling it would. I thought of the fight I had with the Indian guardian in the lost cemetery, when I thrashed him with the power of the light from my torch ...”
“Perhaps it wasn’t the torchlight that whipped him,” said the younger brother thoughtfully.
They didn’t fall asleep until dawn, not knowing it would be a long time before they got any more sleep.