Beyond the Cellar Door

For five years the little boy had wondered. For five years had he suffered in suspense, and now, finally, it was time.

Abel first noticed the cellar door when he was five years old. He had seen it before. Seen it many times. But he had noticed it for the first time a few days after his fifth birthday, as he sat and heard a story about monsters from his mother.

Her description of the monsters was uncompromising. These weren’t the huge, three headed, many-handed monsters of lore. These were real monsters. When she finished, Abel shivered. He could swear there was someone behind him right then. All he had to do was turn, and the monster would notice. All he had to do was scream – cry out in fear – and the monster would take him, bleed him out and consume him. He shivered again. That was when his eyes had found the cellar door.

In less than a week, Abel was sure that the cellar door was the only thing separating them – him and his family – from a horde of evil, bloodthirsty monsters. They would stampede in as the door opened, toppling over each other fighting to be the first one to kill. They would spare no one. His mother, his elder brother, himself.

He asked his mother if there were monsters beyond the door. She laughed, as she explained that monsters were a thing of the stories – a figment of his imagination, and hers. But then her face turned stern and she said, ‘But you must never open that door, child. Never, you understand?’ Abel nodded. At that point of time, he did not want to.

In two years, however, Abel’s fear was slowly turning to curiosity. He was seven, now. He didn’t believe in monsters anymore. But what lay beyond the cellar door? He wondered if there was just eternal darkness on the other side. They didn’t get much light themselves, but what if beyond the cellar door, was a darkness darker than black? What if he wasn’t meant to open it because he would then be lost to the dark, unable to come back, or to hear anybody else’s voice again? He realized that he was still too terrified, too unsure of himself, and too worried about the consequences of disobeying his mother, to try.

When he was eight, he had overcome fear. And the suspense would not let him go. The mystery was like a real, physical, thing. Poking at him, making fun because he did not know. And yet, he wasn’t allowed. He had been punished more than once for being too adamant about wanting to open it. Most things in life that he asked for hard enough, he got. But the cellar door was untouchable.

Sometimes – only a few times – his mother would have to go away. How she went, and where she went, Abel never knew. She just did. And she would always come back in the space of a few hours. When she left, she would leave his elder brother as a guard.

His elder brother was different. He was fearfully obedient, terrified of both, the cellar door and their mother. Abel knew he would never be allowed to commit his small act of rebellion even at times when his mother went away. He would be stopped, violently if necessary.

When Abel turned nine, his elder brother started falling sick. There would be days on end, when he would just lie on his bed, complaining of a stiff neck and a headache. Soon, he was running a fever.  He would mumble unconsciously, shout, and say things incoherently. Over a period of two weeks, he became increasingly delirious. Abel’s mother had to go away more frequently when his brother was ill. She would come back quicker as well, with medicines for his brother. She would sit by his side with a wet cloth on his forehead to ease his fever.

And then, after those two weeks of endless delirium, Abel’s brother disappeared. His mother did not explain much. She just told him, that his brother was being a ‘bad boy’. That his ‘time had come’. Abel stared, confused, as his mother reiterated how wanting to open the cellar door, was a bad thing.

 Another year passed.

But today was the day. His mother had tried to avoid going away as much as possible. She had warned him, turned his brother’s disappearance into an object of fear. He was to never touch the cellar door. Ever. For one year, Abel escaped his mother’s conditioning, slowly building his resolve, and today – yes, today was the day.

His mother was away, his brother no longer there to stop him. His fears, no longer an impediment. He crept up to the door, caught the rusting handles and pushed outward.

As he climbed up, a gentle breeze touched his face. Dazzled, he shielded his eyes from the early morning sun.

For the first time in his ten years, little Abel saw daylight.

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