Morgan reached the elevator door just in time to see the hoist-cable snap taut, vibrating and humming like a huge bass string inside a gigantic grand piano. An instant later it burst and slapped the sides of the shaft with all the force of a massive steel whip. This was followed by a screeching, grating sound, and then a terrible crash. Then everything fell eerily silent.
Plunging through the choking dust, he peered down into the darkness of the shaft. The elevator car, still creaking and trembling with the force of its fall, was wedged tightly up against the wall, stuck between floors about two yards below his feet. In the beam of the flashlight he could just make out a small trap door in the roof of the compartment. From within the car came the muffled sounds of Baxter’s cries and the incessant tattoo of his frenetic pounding on the walls. Morgan slumped against the doorframe and groaned.
Part of him wanted to walk away and leave Baxter Knowles to his fate—to turn back and resume his examination of the mysterious door down the hall. The Knowleses deserve everything they get, he heard himself say.
But another part of him knew that he couldn’t do that. That part of him realized that, sweet as it might be, he didn’t really want to drink the cup of revenge. Not when he thought about his mom. And Rev. Alcuin. Besides, Baxter had fished him out of that hole in the street. One good turn deserves another.
“There’s only one thing for it,” he said to himself. “I’m going to have to climb down that broken cable, open that trap door, and pull him out.”
For a minute or two he hesitated. He thought about running back to town for help. Then again, he reflected, there was no telling how long that elevator car would stay put. He didn’t like to think about what might happen if it shook loose and went crashing to the floor below.
His mind made up, he tightened the straps of his backpack and slipped the sword, still wrapped in its flannel shroud, through his belt. Then he reached out, grabbed the cable and began to climb down hand over hand.
The elevator car shuddered and moaned the instant his foot touched it. He held his breath and waited. A minute passed. Then, still gripping the cable, he eased down slowly with all his weight. The car rattled and shook and slipped another foot or two down the shaft.
“Baxter! Listen!” he yelled, his pulse pounding in his ears like a drum. “I’m going to try to get you out of there!”
“There’s a trap door above your head! Can you see it?”
Again there was no response. Apparently Baxter could hear nothing but his own screams.
Stooping to examine the roof of the compartment, Morgan saw a thick metal ring, about five inches in diameter, bolted to the top of the trap door. Slipping his fingers through the ring, he tugged at it tentatively. It didn’t budge. He pulled again, only harder. One corner of the hatch gave way. Fifty years of rust, thought Morgan. But third time’s the charm.
Tightening his grip on the cable, he yanked at the ring once more, this time with all his might. Without warning, the trap door burst open and flew off in his hand. The elevator car rattled loudly and slid a couple more inches down the wall, squealing like a thousand fingernails on a giant chalkboard. Then the unimaginable happened.
As the cover broke free, a flood of light exploded from the hatchway. Not just a beam of light or a shaft of light, nor yet a square column of light. No—this was an entirely different kind of light, a light he had never seen or experienced before. It streamed out of the trap door in clinging fibers and strands. It welled up in stifling billows and suffocating clouds. It had mass and weight and force. It ruffled his hair and clothes like a hot wind. It shoved him from side to side as it flowed over his head and body. And even as it engulfed him, he seemed to hear, echoing in the back of his mind, the words Eny had used to describe the shining corridor through which she had descended into the Otherworld—dust-devils of luminosity.
Through the open hole he could see the blanched and howling face of Baxter, phosphorescent, glowing, his hair a flame, his mouth a boiling chasm, his eyes two white-hot suns. Morgan let go of the cable and dropped through the hatchway, grappling the other boy as he hit the floor. Leaning close to Baxter’s ear, he tried to shout, Hang on to me! We’ll climb out! But when he opened his mouth, nothing came out. He could see Baxter screaming, but couldn’t hear anything except the fizz and hum of the swirling lightstrands.
Then the floor gave way and they fell …
(To be continued …)