Exclusive Deleted Chapter From HURT

Narrow Is the Way

            I hear the dog barking wildly like it’s some kind of recording put on high speed that resembles Alvin and the Chimpmunks. I sit up in my bed and reach the foot to just check on Midnight. Because I just woke up, I’m thinking I’m too groggy to find Midnight. But a few minutes of looking around the room tells me that I’m not.
            She got outside.
            It’s two in the morning and it’s freezing outside. I haven’t seen the zoo come back to visit us on our deck, but I never know when I might again.
            She’d make a nice little treat for a big, bad wolf.
            The barking goes again. They’re little yelps that sound almost funny if I didn’t know they were coming from Midnight.
            I grab my shoes and a jacket and tear outside down the stairs. When I reach the pitch black night, I realize I need a flashlight.
            Sometimes I really don’t feel equipped for this whole adventurer thing.
            It takes me a few minutes to find the light in my room. When I go back outside, I don’t hear anything.
            But I know she’s out here because Midnight’s not in the cabin.
            I call out her name but it just seems to bounce back off the trees. Maybe if Midnight has children, we’ll call them Darkness and Shadows and Spooky.
            I point the flashlight down the driveway. Then on the street below. I can hear the creek down below. But not much of anything else.
            There’s no way I’m going back in the house without finding her.
            What if someone took her?
            Then I’ll find whoever took her because they must be close.
            What if they disappeared in the tunnels below the cabin?
            I’ve tried my best to avoid thinking or going back down in those. I still don’t know what those are all about. But part of me doesn’t want to know.
            Maybe they want you to be the new guardian of the tunnels, Chris!
            My mind shouldn’t be running in circles after having been dead asleep on minutes earlier.
            Don’t say dead asleep.
            Then I hear her.
            A little bark. Then a yelp, a kind that I’ve only heard once when I shut the closet door on her tail.
            Coming from down below me.
            I aim the light on the street.
            No, below that. Further down.
            I sprint down there in my usual run-first-think-later mode.
            Ten minutes later, I’m standing there below the street on the sharp edge of the hill looking at the opened door that’s heading into the ground below. It’s so steep here that there’s no ladder inside the hole. The ground goes straight inside the earth. 
            Go on say it say it Chris! It’s tunnel time!
            Yet standing here outside with a flashlight looking into this hole in the side of the hill, I get a feeling that this is different. The tunnel going below my cabin—just like the one in that other tiny cabin above ours—seem narrow and dug into the ground for a purpose. While this opening is in the side of the mountain, it doesn’t look the same.
            But why?
            The ground itself is stone. Or brick or something hard. So are the walls. And it seems to spread out and get wider the farther it goes. I can only see about ten feet or so until it opens up on the right hand side.
            The really weird thing is the writing all over the place. On the ground and the walls. In black mostly, in different shades and different kinds of handwriting. Like a classroom full of kids all took black chalk to the walls and the floor. One word really close up appears to say HELP. Another looks like DEATH.
            Another in tiny writing that is very close to the entrance is a sentence that repeats itself all the way down like a kid with fancy cursive having to write on the chalkboard after class:
            Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
            For a moment, I hesitate to go inside. I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s dark and creepy and it looks like somewhere people were held prisoner.
            Wait a minute.
            I examine the door that’s opened and lying on the ground next to the hole. At first I didn’t realize that the door isn’t a regular door but rather a grated off door like you might see in a prison.
            This is some kind of cell.
            My voice comes out like a kitten purring. My entire body is numb.
            Tunnels in our basement and a holding cell just below our street. Wonderful.
            My voice is stronger and louder.
            I remember the first time Jocelyn brought me to that barn to show me Midnight.
            There’s no way I’m going to let whoever take her in the middle of this hole to hide out.
            I start walking into the opening when something nips at my foot.
            I jump and stumble back and then have to brace myself not to fall down the sloping hill. I lean over and see Midnight panting and wagging her tail at my feet. I pick her up with one hand and then kiss her forehead, asking if she’s okay and checking her out. When she starts kissing me on the nose, I figure she must be okay.
            As I climb back up the hill quickly to get away from this secret hideaway I found, I think back to the moment when I started to walk inside.
            The sound.
            It resembled something big and heavy starting to move, like an old, squeaky door starting to shut.
            Was the door going to slam behind me?
            Like many of the wonderful places I’ve had the misfortune to visit in Solitary, this is one site that I don’t think I’ll come back to anytime soon.
            At least not alone.

(HURT is the fourth and final book in The Solitary Tales. It releases January 1, 2013)

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