Chapter Five


    I have a Secret Passage Kit, just like my Ghost Kit. I have always wanted to find a secret passage, and now I was sure that at last I had the key to one. First I opened my Secret Passage Kit box and took out a flashlight, a ball of string, and some emergency supplies of cheese and onion chips. You need a flashlight because secret passages are always dark, and you need a ball of string so that you can find your way out again--I'll tell you how that works in a minute.

    You need emergency food supplies, as you never know how long you are going to be in the secret passage, do you? I mean it might be a really long one, and you could be in there for days. Weeks, even. Then I set off to look for the secret door. I thought that the most likely place was in the wood paneling under the stairs. It sounds hollow when you kick it. But finding the door wasn't as easy as I thought it might be, as every- thing was covered in Aunt Tabby's favorite thick brown paint. When I looked really hard, I was sure I could see a keyhole-shaped dip. I scraped off the paint with the end of the key and there it was--a small brass keyhole just the right size for the small brass key. It fit perfectly. So I turned the key and the best thing ever hap- pened--a secret door swung open.

    I switched on my flashlight and shone it through the doorway. It looked exactly like a secret passage should look--dark, dusty, and really, really secret. You could tell that no one had been in there for years. Weird, I thought, because now I was going in. On my own. I'm not saying that I wished Aunt Tabby was there with me just then, as she was the last person I wanted to see, but I wouldn't have minded a friend or someone like that. I don't want you to think that I was frightened of going in on my own, as I am quite used to doing stuff on my own and it is perfectly okay. No problem at all. Here's the thing about the string. When you go into a secret passage, you have to tie one end of a ball of string to something and then you unwind the string as you go, so that you can always find your way back again. There was a nail on the back of the secret door, so I tied the string to that. Perfect. Then I closed the door so that Aunt Tabby didn't notice anything unusual, switched on my flashlight, and set off along the passage, unwinding the string as I went. The secret passage was really strange. It -45- was very narrow and full of cobwebs and it smelled funny, kind of damp and moldy. I think it ran behind the wooden paneling of the landing, as it had really scratchy wooden walls. Although it was narrow, it was quite high and easy to walk along, even though I had to keep pushing really thick cobwebs out of the way. It's a good thing I don't mind spi- ders, as there were dozens of those. Really fat ones. I wasn't scared. Not really. After all, I was still in my house, wasn't I? But it was a bit odd when the passage suddenly ended at a wooden platform. I wasn't sure whether to step onto the platform or not. Anyone who knows about secret passages has heard about booby traps and stuff like that, so I stopped and thought about what to do.

    I shone my flashlight all around, but it wasn't much help. When I looked more closely, I could see that the platform had sides, a bit like a packing case, and there were ropes running up and down on either side. It reminded me of something, but I couldn't think what. And then I could! It was a dumbwaiter. No, I am not being rude about some poor old waiter--a dumbwaiter is a kind of eleva- tor. I knew that because there used to be one just like it in the first-kitchen-on-the-right- just-past-the-laundry-room, and that is what Aunt Tabby used to call it. I remember one rainy day I was so bored and I got inside the elevator and hauled myself up to the dining room. It was the best fun ever, and I spent all afternoon going up and down until Aunt Tabby caught me.

    After that she nailed a load of planks across it so that I couldn't go in it anymore, which I thought was mean. So I stepped onto the platform and pulled on the rope, just as I had before. The platform kind of groaned a bit, but noth- ing happened. I put my flash- light down and used two hands to pull the rope really hard--and the platform moved! I guess that bit was a little scary, as the platform started going down into what felt like a dark chimney, and I wasn't sure where I was heading.

    I was pretty pleased when I saw the top of an old door appear. I stopped the platform outside the door. I could tell it was a very old door, as it had big iron hinges across it and looked as though it had come out of a castle or something. But I couldn't see a handle and, when I pushed it, it wouldn't move. Stupid door. I gave it a really big push, I even kicked it, but nothing happened. It just wouldn't budge.

    Fitt Then I remembered what it said on the all Doors. " label on the little brass key--"Doth

    I didn't really believe the key would fit, as it was so small compared with the door, but when I looked carefully I saw a small brass keyhole, just like the one on the door to the secret passage.

    The key turned easily, and the door swung open. I shone my flashlight through the doorway, and it lit up a tiny room. The room had a small fireplace, some very dark and dusty pictures, and some big old candles in brass holders on the walls. In one corner there was a broken old chair with some tattered books piled up on it, and on the floor in front of the fireplace was an old rug. I just stood there for a moment, kind of holding my breath. It was so quiet that I hardly dared go in. But I did. I tiptoed in and swung my flashlight around the walls, looking for a door to the balcony.

    Of course there were no windows, but you wouldn't expect any in a secret room in the very middle of a house, would you? But sure enough, there was a door. Great, I thought. It took me three steps to cross the room. I put the small brass key in the door and it swung open. I nearly walked straight out, as I really wanted to get to the balcony by then, because time was getting on, but I knew that you always have to look where you're going in a secret passage. It's a good thing I did, as the door opened out into nothing. A great big deep hole, in fact. Scary. A gust of warm, musty wind blew up from the hole. It smelled kind of sooty and damp at the same time. I shone my flashlight and saw that there was an old wooden ladder leading down to . . . Where? But I didn't want to go down the ladder; I wanted to find the balcony.

    So I went back into the room and did all the things you have to do to make a secret door appear. I tried to turn the brass candlesticks, but they wouldn't Q move. I looked behind all the old pictures, but there was nothing there. I even kicked the old fireplace, but it felt as solid as a rock. There was no way out to the balcony--that was for sure. So I decided to climb down the ladder. It was a bit scary getting onto the ladder. It wobbled and creaked a lot, but I knew that you have to expect these things in a secret passage. Then the door slammed, and I nearly fell off. That was really scary. I set off down the ladder, which was quite difficult, as I could only hold on to it with one hand since I had my flashlight in the other hand--and the ball of string in my teeth.

    I don't like the taste of string. The other thing I didn't like very much was the way the air was getting hotter and hotter. I remembered about how it gets hotter as you get near the center of the earth, and the more I climbed

    down the ladder, the more I won- dered if I was getting too close to that bit in the middle where all the rocks melt. But just as I was wondering whether to go back up, I got to the bottom of the lad- der and stepped onto the ground.

    It seemed pretty solid to me, so I figured I hadn't got to the molten rock just yet. I was in a real tunnel now, with brick sides and a sandy floor. I decided to follow the tun- nel just for a while, in case the balcony was around the next corner. The tunnel twisted and turned all over the place, and the air became even hotter, which didn't make any sense to me, as I wasn't going down any- more. And then I heard it--a really horrible, teeth-grating, toe-curling, clanging noise. The exact kind of noise that you get when a ghost drags a ball and chain behind it. I have heard that those ball-and-chain ghosts are not nice ghosts to meet. I suppose they are grumpy -55- because they have to drag all that stuff with them wherever they go. I stopped where I was and switched off my flashlight so that the ball- and-chain ghost would not see me, but being in the dark didn't make me feel any better. In fact, it made me feel a whole lot worse, so I switched the flashlight on again. That was when the screaming started. Horrible, spine-chilling screaming. It filled up the secret passage and echoed all around me. It was the scariest sound I had ever, ever heard. And the worse thing was, I knew for sure what it meant--that the ball-and-chain ghost was coming to get me.

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