“A child needs a grandparent, anybody’s grandparent, to grow a little more securely into an unfamiliar world.” –Charles and Ann Morse
The elevator was rocketing downward so fast, Keisha thought she was going into free fall and grabbed the ornate wood and ivory safety bars that were attached halfway up the walls. Forcing panic and bile back down, she looked for a control panel, but all she saw was a handle attached to a semi-circular brass plate, with the words “Top” at the right side, “Ground” at the mid-point, and “Bottom” at the left. The handle was locked straight up at “Ground.”
Just before she thought she was going to die, the elevator quickly decelerated, slamming the girl on her bottom next to the duffel. Landing with an “Oof,” she decided she wasn’t going to escape this experience until she was covered with bruises.
The whining sounds of spinning gears slowed and the doors opened with a hiss, letting the thin clouds of steam and machine oil escape. A figure stepped through the mist. A woman’s hand emerged and beckoned, and Keisha quipped, “Go with you if I want to live?”
“Are you Keisha? Where’s my husband?”
“If you’re Isaiah’s wife, he said to hide me from the police.”
The woman grabbed Keisha’s right hand and yanked, and the teenager barely had time to seize her canvas bag before she was pulled up and out of the elevator car.
“We’ve got to hurry. Leah is still napping and Josiah is studying his figures. They can’t see you, not yet, and that’s ‘Mr. Covington’ to you, Missy.”
The woman, who Keisha assumed was Mrs. Covington, was wearing a long brown skirt that reached to the floor, a black, she thought it was called a corset, attached from abdomen to rib cage, and an off-white top with frilly collar and cuffs. She looked African-American, but spoke with a slight accent that sounded vaguely Jamaican or something.
She got only a vague impression of her surroundings, with the room containing the elevator looking like a cross between a museum and a lounge. Then she was being pulled down dimly lit stairs, around a corner, and through cobwebs and dust that made her sneeze. The woman pressed a panel under the staircase and it popped open. Keisha was roughly shoved inside with her bag.
“Stay inside and don’t make a sound. I’ll knock three times, pause, and knock two more before letting you out.”
“Why not just let me out? I’ll know it’s you.”
“Hush.” Then she shut the panel on her and Keisha was totally in the dark.
She hadn’t realized how creepy it was when there was no light at all and no sound. She could hear her breathing, and the tiny sounds her feet made against the stone floor when she fidgeted. She couldn’t remember if she’d ever experienced this kind of dark before. Even at night, in her bedroom, there was some light that managed to filter in through her blinds.
Then she remembered her smart phone. She unzipped the duffel as slowly as she could to avoid making too much noise, then rummaged around inside. It took longer than she expected to find it, and she discovered one of the things about being in a total blackout, is that you couldn’t tell the difference between twenty-five seconds and five. She might have been in here an hour or just a few minutes, but every clock tick of it was terrifying.
Finally, her hands enclosed around rectangular plastic and metal. She pulled her cell out and pressed the “Home” button. The time was almost eight at night. Pressing the button again, she entered her pass code. Finally the main screen came up providing much-needed light. Then it promptly died.
“What?” She was whispering, but remembered she was supposed to stay silent. What happened? The phone had been fully charged when she left home, and she hadn’t used it since texting Papa right before she left, so how could it be out of power? She pressed the Home button again, and didn’t even get a “Low Batt” warning. It was plain dead.
Keisha tossed it back into the bag, or thought she did, but in the dark, she’d missed. The phone skittered across the top of the canvas and then clattered on the stone floor to her left.
“Oh, terrific.” Reflexively, she rolled her eyes, and was about to lean over and feel around for the cell when she heard footsteps. “Finally.” Then she heard more than one pair and froze.
“I only store my canning and a little wine down here because it’s cool, Officer. Let me light a few more lamps so you can see better.”
It was the woman’s voice, and she sounded like she was talking to a cop.
“Just routine, Ma’am. Your husband’s airship was flying erratically, and we need to make sure there aren’t other matters involved besides, if you take my meaning.”
“Of course, Officer. What was your name again?” She sounded polite and respectful, almost the opposite way she had been with Keisha. Then she remembered when Josiah was learning to drive, and how Papa had taught him how to act if, or rather when, he was pulled over.
“If you’re wearing a hat, take it off. When you roll down the window so the Officer can talk to you, put both hands on the top of the door where he can see them. Don’t wait to be asked.”
“Aw, C’mon, Papa.”
“I’m serious, Josiah. I’m trying to keep you from getting hurt. Now remember, always say ‘Sir’ and don’t sass. Do exactly what he tells you to do, and keep your hands in plain sight at all times.”
“Officer Charles Reilly, Ma’am.”
Keisha heard the voices getting closer.
“Just some storage space down under here.”
They were right under the stairs, just a few feet from where she was hiding. Keisha held herself as tight and as still as she possibly could, and just because she knew she had to be quiet, she felt a tickle in the back of her throat that made her want to cough.
“I see, Mrs. Covington. Well, nothing seems amiss. Anything else down here?”
“No sir. Like I said, we don’t use it for much.
“When’s the last time you’ve had the cellar inspected? Better safe than sorry in the event of another quake.”
“Yes, sir. I believe the last time was…” Their voices faded as the pair made their way back up the stairs.
Now that she was alone again, the tremendous urge to cough had gone away, but her bladder was filling up and she was getting really uncomfortable. Even if her life depended on staying here, she needed to get out soon or else.
It was getting colder, and still she was alone in the darkness and silence. What had happened to Isaiah? Did he get arrested? His wife got mad at her when she called her husband by his first name. Everything around her seemed so old-fashioned, so maybe relationships were the same way. Grandpa said when he was young, you always called adults Mister and Missus, or Sir and Ma’am. The Police Officer called Mrs. Covington Ma’am. What sort of world was this and why did Grandpa send her here?
Keisha’s bladder was really complaining now, and her stomach was grumbling. It was colder than ever, but the flight jacket, thick canvas pants, and gloves kept her from freezing. When were they going to come back for her?
“Clomp, clomp, clomp.”
She heard someone on the stairs, but maybe it was something, because it didn’t sound like walking exactly. She heard more unsteady “clomping” sounds, then a sort of a thud accompanied by a tiny cry. After a pause, whatever it was kept coming down the steps, and after it reached the floor, she lost track of it.
Keisha didn’t know what it was, but it probably wasn’t anything good, so she tried to keep quiet and not move around, which wasn’t easy because she had to go really bad.
Then she heard a thump. It was right on the other side of the door. There was some rustling sounds, and then a loud giggle. “I found you. Come out.”
A rapid set of footsteps like machine gun fire peppered the air as someone ran down the wooden stairs.
“Leah Rachel Covington! You know you’re not supposed to come down here!”
It was Mrs. Covington, but who was Leah Rachel? That was Mama’s name.
There was a heavy impact against the panel in front of her, causing it to spring free. As it swung open, the lantern light in the basement blinded Keisha for a moment. As her vision started to clear, she saw Mrs. Covington bending over to pick up a little girl who couldn’t have been more than three.
“I wanted to see the lady, Mama.”
“You hush up, Baby. Let’s get you back up stairs.”
Then Mrs. Covington looked down at Keisha. “It’s safe now. You can come out.”
“That’s terrific. Do you have a bathroom I could use?” Now that light was filtering into her hideout, she saw where the smart phone had slid to, quickly shoved it in the duffel bag, and zipped it shut.
“Bathroom? You want to bath?”
Keisha pulled herself and the bag out into the open and stood. “Not exactly, you see…”
“Oh, yes. This way.”
“You got to go potty?” The little girl called gleefully from her Mama’s arms.
“Hush, little one. You’ll embarrass our guest.”
The adolescent followed the woman and child up the stairs noticing that the lamps Mrs. Covington had lit for the Officer had provided light for little Leah’s journey down into the cellar.
At the top of the steps, “You can leave your things here. The stairway to your upstairs bedroom is right here, and I’m sure you would rather not have to carry it around.”
Keisha looked and saw a closed door to her right that must conceal the steps going up. “Thank you.” She hesitantly put the duffel down. Isaiah said the book inside was important and she didn’t want to be separated from it, but then again, they were in his house, so she figured it was safe.
After using what Mrs. Covington called “the facilities,” she took Keisha into a dark and heavily accoutermented living room. It looked kind of like the setting for an old “Sherlock Holmes” movie.
Lace window dressings sheltered the windows with the thicker, dark curtains pulled aside. There was a fireplace to her right as she entered, but it was cold with nothing but a blackened log sitting as a silent witness to blazes past. On the mantle in front of a mirror was an old analog clock, like a baby-grandfather clock.
The front door was on the far left, and there was a sofa and two chairs, all stuffed and padded and decorated with brightly flowered patterns. She saw other burning lamps and lanterns, some on shelves and others wall mounted. Somehow, it had become night. How long had she been in that hole?
Isaiah was standing almost at attention near the center of the room next to a little boy about eight or nine.
“I suppose introductions are in order, Miss Davis. By now you’ve met my dearest wife, Mrs. Eralia Williams Covington, who is holding our darling daughter Leah Rachel.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Keisha felt like she was supposed to courtesy or something.
“You and I have already been introduced of course, although in undue haste. This is our eldest.” He put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Our son Josiah Bartholomew Covington.”
“How’d you do, Miss Davis?” He nodded his head and looked shy enough to want to crawl under the nearest chair.
“I’m fine. How do you to, Josiah?”
This was crazy. Isaiah had her Grandpa’s name. Josiah was her older brother, and Leah was Mama’s name. What was Grandma called? She died before Keisha was born and she couldn’t remember what Grandpa said her name was.
“I apologize for my rude treatment of you before, Miss Davis. As no doubt you’ve taken, it was an emergency, so I had no time for pleasantries.”
“That’s okay, Eral…Mrs. Covington.” She had always called grown ups by their first names and never thought a thing about it. This strange-looking world had even stranger social rules.
“You make yourself at home while I prepare a small supper.” Eralia put Leah down to the toddler’s protests.
“I help, Mama. I help.”
“Very well, Leah. You can help. I’ll get your stool out.” Eralia looked up at Keisha seeming slightly embarrassed. “She’s at that age where she wants to do everything I do.” Then she looked back down and extended her hand. “Come with me, Leah.”
“Yes, Mama. Bye-bye, Lady.” The little girl’s smile and giggle were charming and infectious.
“Bye-bye, Leah.” Keisha grinned and waved. The baby was amazingly cute.
Then, almost as an afterthought, Eralia added, “And don’t forget Mr. Covington, it’s your week to wash and put away the dishes.”
“Of course, Missus. I have perfect recall.”
Something on his wife’s face as she and Leah left the room told the teen that wasn’t exactly true.
“Please have a seat, Miss Davis, or do you prefer Keisha?”
“Everyone calls me ‘Keisha,’ so that’s fine.”
She took one end of the sofa which seemed a little too soft for her. Isaiah and Josiah sat in matching chairs on either side of an oval-shaped wooden table. The older Covington picked up a pipe and opened a pouch of what was probably tobacco. Grandpa used to smoke a pipe but quit when she was about Josiah’s age.
Packing the bowl expertly, he withdrew a match from a box and lit the tobacco. Keisha bit her tongue and hoped she wouldn’t start coughing.
“Josiah. Won’t you entertain Miss Davis with a recitation of your figures.” He turned to Keisha. “He really has a talent for mathematics, just like his Mother.”
“No, really. It’s okay.” Nothing could have sounded more boring to her. “Actually, I wanted to know where I am, how I got here, how you know my Grandpa, and how did you get rid of the cops?”
Isaiah looked almost panicked as his eyes shot back and forth between her and Josiah. “Actually, I planned to schedule that particular conversation for after dinner, Keisha.”
The expression on Josiah’s face told her he didn’t have the faintest idea what was going on, and Isaiah’s said that he wanted to keep it that way.
“Okay, it can wait. So, what about reciting figures?”
As it turned out, Josiah wanted to demonstrate his knowledge of numbers about as much as Keisha wanted to hear about it, but they both politely suffered through the next thirty minutes as Isaiah registered genuine pride in his son’s abilities.
After being called to the dining room for their meal, with Keisha and the boy trailing behind, she gave him a wink. “Nice job, kid.” She grinned and he smiled back, a secret sign between co-conspirators, both of whom would rather be having fun than entertaining adults.
As they were about to sit down around a table fully laden with wonderfully smelling roast chicken, potatoes, and green beans, “Now Mr. Covington, what is my rule about jackets and firearms when we dine?”
Eralia stood epitomizing the well-worn trope of the indignant wife, her hands balled in fists at her hip, and her face scowling.
“Of course, my dear. Totally slipped my mind.”
His pilot’s leather helmet had been missing since he appeared in the living room, and Keisha supposed he left it aboard the Delight, but he was still wearing his flight jacket, complete with still moving gadgets, gears, and gizmos, as well as his gun belt. Now that Keisha could get a better look, the holsters didn’t seem to be holding ordinary pistols. Like the rest of the technology she had seen, the guns were built with unnecessary or unlikely attachments and accessories.
Then she remembered she was still wearing her helmet and quickly pulled it off along with her gloves. With no place to put them, all she could do was hold onto them.
The gun belt went up on a hook on a coat rack, while the jacket was hung on a separate one. “Here, Keisha. You must be uncomfortable. Plenty of room on the rack for your things.”
“Right. Thanks.” She put the gloves back in her jacket pockets, then removed it, and hung it and the helmet next to each other. She felt sweaty and sticky, and it was a relief to get off her heavy gear.
Then the children sat, followed by Mrs. Covington. Mr. Covington waved his arm slightly indicating that Keisha should sit next, and finally he took the chair at the head of the table.
She decided she’d better watch everyone around her, since she had no idea what weird eating rituals they might have. Sure enough, Isaiah said the words she had been dreading. “Let us pray.”
Everyone bowed their heads and folded their hands, and Keisha was reminded of the time when she was twelve and Danielle had talked her into going to church with her. She knew Grandpa worshipped, but he never made a big deal out of taking her to services much past age nine or so. It was painful to be surrounded by people who were actually and sincerely praying while all you could do was endure until it was over.
“Dear Lord in Heaven, we thank Thee for Thy bounty and Thy generous hand. You watch over us with a benevolent eye and protect us against all evil. Thank Thee also for delivering Miss Keisha Davis to us, and continue to guard her and guide her in Your steps in the time she is with us. Bless this house, this table, and all who surround it. We ask these things in the Name of our beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Everyone else gave an “Amen” including Keisha who was grateful that the prayer had been short. Then Isaiah stood and began to carve the chicken, and the teen could barely wait to dig in after she was served. It was the most amazing meal she’d ever eaten.
“I’ll check on dessert.” Eralia stood and started for the kitchen.
“No, Leah. You stay in your chair. Mama will get you some pie. It’s apple, your favorite.”
The child giggled with glee and wiggled in her seat, but otherwise stayed put.
Keisha wiped her mouth with a real cloth napkin. The now empty plates looked like Mama’s old good, china, and the silverware really was silver. At home, they didn’t eat off of the fancy dishes except for Christmas and Thanksgiving, but it looked like the Covingtons did every night.
Then Eralia rushed back into the dining room empty-handed and whispered something in Isaiah’s ear.
Mr. Covington stood as his wife walked swiftly over to Leah’s chair and picked up the puzzled child.
“Where’s my pie?”
Isaiah walked over to the coat rack and put on his gun belt. “Keisha and Josiah, please follow Mrs. Covington to the elevator. I believe we are about to have uninvited and unwelcome guests.”
“Children, follow me right now.”
Josiah looked scared, shifting his gaze between his parents, but then he got up and moved toward his Mama.
Keisha got up and walked near Isaiah, “What’s going on? More police? Can I help?”
“That wasn’t a request, Miss Davis. Please do as I’ve asked and follow my wife to the elevator immediately.”
There as a crash in the kitchen and the sound of men running in. “This way. Get them.”
Keisha turned just as Isaiah drew twin pistols that looked something like the old west meets ray guns. She heard another crash from the direction of the front door as she spun to her right following Mrs. Covington and the children.
Gunshots rang out behind her, then another set of running footfalls. “Keep going.” She turned her head to look. It was Isaiah. He was still alive.
More gunshots from behind and others from down the hall. Men entering from the living room. She turned left into the elevator room, but only saw Josiah.
“Where’s your Mom and Leah?” He was staring at the floor at the room’s entrance terrified. Keisha looked down and saw a trail of blood streaming back into the hallway. She tried to see where it led, but Isaiah rushed in, turned back and fired in both directions.
“Eralia!” He was looking left, toward the entrance to the cellar. In the confusion, she must have gotten shot, and then separated from her son. She had Leah with her! “Eralia! Leah!” He was screaming in desperation and fear. Then several shots rang out and he ducked his head inside just in time to avoid the glowing green bullets.
“Boy, Keisha. In the elevator. Now.”
“But Mama and Leah!”
“Do it, Josiah! The Dakuwaqa!”
The nine-year-old grabbed Keisha’s arm and pulled her inside. He put his hand on the elevator lever, which was still pointing straight up to “Ground.”
Keisha hadn’t seen Isaiah reload, but several tubes and pods attached to his handguns were glowing emerald, and the gears were spinning blurs.
Isaiah was quickly walking backward as he kept shooting. Keisha could see masked men peaking around the corners, trying to get a shot off. The air smelled of steam and ozone. There were two thuds right next to her head, and she turned to see twin smoking holes. She and Josiah had almost been shot. Impulsively, the teenage girl spun, putting herself between the boy and the shooters.
Then Covington jumped back, stumbling into the elevator car. “Now, boy!”
Five men dressed all in black, handkerchiefs tied in front of their faces with hats pulled down low over their eyes rushed into the room. Some had a big lens over one eye, and mechanical arms with wheels and pulleys. They were shooting at point blank range just as the elevators doors closed!
Previous chapters of Keisha’s wild adventure are:
I couldn’t resist continuing the saga of Keisha in this strange, alternate universe, including another nearly fatal encounter, this time, with masked desperadoes intent on murdering everyone in the Covington home.
What happened to Eralia and Leah? Who got shot? Are they trapped in the cellar? How can Isaiah leave his wife and daughter behind to face almost certain death?
The adventure will continue next time.
The next chapter is Submersible Disaster.