Haillie’s dreams of becoming a fearless firefighter take an early turn when she discovers the secret behind a hidden trap door.

What I’m Writing

This week I followed a writing exercise from Ray Bradbury. He calls it Nouns and Titles. He suggests making a list of words, then using those words to trigger a story idea. I started with “trap door” and here’s the story that resulted. I hope you enjoy it.

The Trap Door

Bob Gillen

The trap door lay flush with the wide-plank floor boards, hidden under an enormous oriental rug. Furniture anchored the rug around the perimeter of the room. The trap door would be almost impossible to find. Almost.

Haillie ran her toy firetruck back and forth in the center of the room. “Vroom, vroom.” She dreamed of the day she would be a firefighter, driving a powerful truck to an emergency, roaring down the streets with siren screaming and horn blaring. “Vroom, vroom.” I’m a brave firefighter, she imagined, climbing a ladder to save a child from a burning building.

“Haillie, can you keep the noise down? Please?” her mother pleaded from the kitchen. “I’m on an important call.”

Haillie cut the volume on her voice, continued pushing the firetruck across the rug. The toy truck hiccuped over a slight depression, a tiny blip under the plastic tires. She rolled the truck back and forth over the indentation. Weird, she thought. Never felt this before. She probed the tiny ridge with her finger, pressing hard to feel it. A few feet along the ridge, the indentation made a right angle. Haillie followed it, meeting two more right angles till she came back to the original spot.

She peered into the kitchen. Her mother was blabbing away on her phone.

Haillie lifted the front two legs of an easy chair from one edge of the rug, pulled the rug away, and peeled it back to where she had felt the indentation. She came upon a brass ring, set flush into what looked like a door or lid of some sort. It was the same wood as the floor, with two edges lined up along the floorboard seams. Only the other two sides intersected the floor seams.

Again, Haillie peered toward the kitchen. Her mom had retreated to the back porch to continue her conversation.

Haillie lifted the ring on the trap door. It came up easily, without a squeak. She tugged at the ring. The trap door rose a few inches above the floor. A chill rush of air puffed out from the opening. A dark smell, musty, old. Haillie pried the door up further. She spied a ladder leading down into a dark void.

I am a firefighter, she told herself. I go where I need to go, to rescue people in danger. Setting her feet on the ladder, Haillie lowered the trap door a few inches above her head, and shoved at the rug to push it away from the opening, enough to hide the door. She let the door close. 

Credit: Pixy.org

Total darkness. Oh no. I need a flashlight. She peered down into the void. There was a sliver of light far down into the void. She thought to go back for a flashlight, but she heard footsteps above her.

“Haillie? Where are you?” Her mother’s voice. “I almost tripped on your toy truck…Oh dear, you moved the rug. Why do you always make it harder for me?”

Haillie heard the rug dragged, the chair lifted and set down again. Only one way to go now. Down.

Haillie descended into the dark, one rung at a time. Dust coated her hands as she grabbed each rung. She rubbed them on her jeans, one hand at a time. She looked up and could see nothing. The trap door was invisible in the dark.

“Someone is in trouble,” she said in a whisper. “I need to reach them.” She moved down and down. 

Her left foot hit bottom. Hard bottom. Cement? Dirt? There was a faint glow of light here at the bottom. Coming from somewhere away from the ladder.

She wiped the last of the dust from her hands. Her nose wrinkled at the musty odor. She turned towards the light. The fire! They need me.

Haillie walked slowly, feeling her way with her feet, touching her fingertips to walls on either side of her. Must be a tunnel, she thought.

A tiny voice. You found me. 

Haillie froze. Listened.

You found me.

She peered into the darkness. No one visible. No shape, no silhouette. Only a voice. She moved ahead a few steps.

Her right hand felt a break in the wall. An alcove of some sort.

Here I am.

Haillie jumped back. She could make out a dark shape in the alcove, lying prone. Not moving. She took a step toward it.

I’m here. Don’t be afraid.

Did I find someone in need? Now what?

Haillie extended her hand toward the shape. She touched something round, hard, dry.

That’s my head.

Haillie jumped back again.

Don’t be afraid. You came.

Haillie shook her head. What?

I’ve been waiting a long time. I kept count. More than twenty years.

Wait, what? A voice is talking to me but there’s no one there.

I’m here. Reach out your hand. Move it around.

Haillie hesitated, groped with her fingers. Two holes on top of the round object. Teeth lower down. Teeth?

Keep going, the voice said.

Haillie took a step forward, ran her hand further along, felt ribs, arm bones.

Are you a skeleton?

“Are you a skeleton?” she asked aloud.

I am now. I didn’t start out that way.

“You’ve been here twenty years? How did you get here?” Her voice echoed in the dark tunnel.

I was eight years old. I died from a fall. Off the old oak tree in the yard.

“But why are you in here?”

My father was afraid everyone would blame him. He always left me alone while he went to work.

“That’s crazy.”

He was scared. He put me in here, and told everyone I ran away. I don’t know if they believed him.

“Where is he now?”

No idea…He never came back.

“My mom bought the house a year ago. It’s just me and her. I don’t know who she bought it from.”

What’s your name?


I’m Molly. Hi.

“Hi, Molly.” Haillie looked up and down the tunnel. “What do we do now?”

I think you can go now. Tell people I’m here. Then I can move on.

“How do I get out of here?”

Follow the tunnel to the end. It opens into the woods behind a big rock, at the edge of the property.

“My mother is going to be so pissed at me for coming in  here…She won’t like what I tell her.”

It’s the only way, Haillie. I can’t move on till they find me. 

Haillie detected a quiver to Molly’s faint voice.

“I found you. Isn’t that enough?”

No. People need to know my story. The truth. I didn’t run away. My dad didn’t hurt me.

Haillie reached out, probing for Molly’s hand. She gripped the bones. Shuddered. “I’m afraid.”

If a skeleton could cry, Molly was weeping. Haillie felt it. Felt the sadness, the desperation.

Take my ring. On my right hand.

Haillie probed in the near darkness till she felt a plain band. She tugged at it. 

“It’s stuck.”

Pull harder.

The ring came loose, along with a finger bone. Haillie shivered. 

Take the bone, too. People will believe you.

“Molly, this is so weird.” Haillie rubbed the ring, slipped it on her own finger.

Keep the ring. It will be our secret. Show everyone the bone.

“I’ll try, Molly.” She touched Molly’s skull, stroked it for a moment.

I hear you when you run your firetruck on the floor above.

“You do?”

Sure. I hear you pretend you’re a brave firefighter. You’re saving me now.

Haillie stood tall. “Okay, Molly. I’ll do it for you.” She squeezed the bone tightly in her fist.

Thanks. When you come back, I won’t be here… I won’t forget you.

Haillie nodded, turned toward the light.

“Bye, Molly.”