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Drip, drip. Somewhere, water is creeping in, causing damage and decay. It’s dark. She’s standing, feet tight together, unsteady, unable to plant them firmly apart. Something unforgiving is binding her above the ankles, cutting into her numb calves. From the familiar drip, and the penetrating cold of the gritty stone floor, she knows she’s underground, in the back cellar. This ramshackle house was a project that never got off the ground; delayed by kids, work, money problems, everything else… The old place has two cellars, back and front. Each has its own lockable door. The front cellar stores books, pages warped from the damp, forgotten objects still wrapped in newspaper since moving day. It doubles as a makeshift laundry room, stacked with dirty clothes and bedding and a high-mileage washing machine. She knows she’s in the back cellar. She senses the sileage smell of the mower. The lawn now too wild to cut, the weather too wet. Tang of gas from the rusty clanking boiler. Fusty mildew on neglected camping equipment. Her hands are free at least. She tentatively reaches out and her fingers brush the rough wall and come away coated in unidentified residue. She takes a deep breath to counteract the clinging cold and fortify herself. Her chest is tight. She needs light. What time is it? It’s impossible to know if its day or night. Usually so many tasks, constantly checking the time, running late. She guesses the door is locked. The light switch is outside of the door. She’s trapped. Think. She remembers an old torch hangs on a hook on the door, amongst shopping bags stuffed into more shopping bags. If she twists her hips and shuffles her feet she can move, inch by inch. The dirt creeps between her toes. The bindings dig in. Something brushes her bare arm and she swipes at it, shuddering. A sound, she freezes and listens, alert to the slightest movement. Is anybody stirring above? Silence again. She reaches the door. Her fears are confirmed; locked tight. She gropes among the bags and locates the torch hanging by its cord. She yanks it free and holds her breath as she switches it on. Dim light, a small victory. She pulls air into her constricted chest, then breathes out deliberately slowly, like she’s riding contractions during labour. Stay calm. Scan the room. At the other end, how can she have forgotten? The coal- hole. Her escape route. Coal used to be dropped down from the yard, to heat the place. No cosy fires now, the chimneys only good for winter drafts, and dead birds. The hole is at hip height. Wooden boards are fixed across the entry. She can surely clamber up and out. The hole emerges into the enclosed yard, where it’s covered by a thick mossy flagstone. Does she have strength to push it aside? She stumbles as she hears voices, somebody moving around. The torch is dying. She’s moving, but paranoid she’s headed in the wrong direction. She’s at the hole. She reaches out, claws both hands around the edge of the loosest board, pulling hard. It easily wrenches free, surprising her and throwing her off balance. It’s rotten and weightless. She prises the others. As they come away, a smell pervades, a pungent familiar smell she can’t quite identify. There are noises like heavy breathing, or grunting. She peers up the shaft and makes out chinks of grey light around the slab. Is it dawn? With her legs bound, it will take all her upper body strength to get up into the hole. There’s a moment, as she’s turned off the torch, when she hesitates. Can she face what’s waiting for her out there? Is it easier to just stay down here and never come out? She focusses on the light. She can hear the pounding rain and feel cold air. She reaches up ahead of her for grips. Fingernails raw from pulling at the boards, she finds handholds between the uneven stones, and drags her knees up towards to her belly. Somehow (how?) she’s wedged sideways in the shaft now, in a sitting position, back against one side, feet pushed against the other, black with the remnants of old coal dust. She can reach up her arms and touch the flagstone. She’s able to push it upwards. It protests with a grating and scraping, but she can shove it aside, like she’s emerging from underneath a gravestone. Suddenly she opens her eyes, confused. Her body is stiff and she can move only her head. She’s in her bed. Above her the familiar spreading stain on the ceiling from the leaking roof. Chase up the roofer, get a cheaper quote. She can hear the rain thrumming on the old cracked window and the draft seeping in. Need to get a new window, the weather’s getting colder, how to pay for it? This black mould is no good for her allergies, her chest is tight. Her alarm says 6am. She turns it off before it sounds. She tries to move her legs and realises the dog is firmly wedged on top of them, leaving only her icy feet exposed, his tail is brushing her arm. He’ll need walking, in this rain. She looks left and the little body of an imposter, her youngest, is wedged between her and her snoring partner. With dismay she begins to sense the clinging of a wet sheet and the pervading smell of the child’s pee. More laundry. She can hear the older ones arguing in their attic room above. Is there anything for breakfast? She needs to shop. She’s on early shifts at work. She sighs, remembering her partner is travelling for work and will be gone all week. For a moment before she fumbles for the lamp, kicks off the dog, she hesitates. Can she face what’s waiting for her out there? Is it easier to just stay down here and never come out?