For as long as he lived in Amman, Paul’s eye had been focused on the old house. He had dreamed about it, fantasized about it, made plans for it, but never imagined it would actually belong to him. After all, it had been in the same family for generations.
In late autumn rumors began to circulate that the family planned to sell the old place. Paul made his way back over to Jabal al Taj once again to peer over the garden wall at his dream house. The plot of earth is quite large, as is the stone-built house. It’s a two-storey affair with the usual flat roof, shaded by a few ancient olive trees. The northeast corner is occupied by a lone date palm. The smooth, silvery barked sentinel stands perpetually at attention, observing the comings and goings in the street. The vine covered walls, shrubs and fruit trees give almost complete privacy in the garden.
Fairly quickly, the deal was made. Money was exchanged, and papers were signed. Paul was ecstatic! We had toured the house twice before making the decision, but now he wanted to see every centimeter of it. I want to be intimately aware of every nook and cranny. So many rooms! What on earth would he do with all that space? First things first. A lot of work was needed, so he rolled up his sleeves, called a few friends and got busy. The first thing to do was deciding which colors he wanted and get the walls painted.
A ground floor room with an east exposure was chosen for the office. As an early riser, Paul loved to watch the sunrise as he tried to pound a few words out on his next “best-selling novel”. Another attraction for that particular room was the built-in bookshelves. That’s something of a rarity in these stone and concrete houses. Paul knew exactly how it was going to look, too. First, the walls would receive a nice warm coat of paint he had specially mixed for the old place. The color is difficult to describe, but suffice to say it is a nice masculine color with overtones of orange and brown. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? It gives the walls a warmth and depth that welcome and embrace you. The bookshelves and niches would be painted with a darker brown with just a touch of red, much like the desert where they live. That would prevent the ever present dust from showing too badly, Paul thought.
He was happily painting away, imagining all the masterpieces he’d write in this room. Friends would drop by, sit with him and take coffee as they shared gossip. He was jolted from his reverie by a crack next to the bookshelf. It was almost indiscernible, but looking more closely he could see it was definitely a crack! “Damn. Now I’ll need to find some spackle to fill it in and wait for it to dry before I can finish. Frustration reigns supreme!” As he inspected the crack to see just how extensive it was, he was surprised to see that it not only rose from the floor, but was perfectly straight and two meters long!
A straight crack? Whoever heard of such a thing? Perhaps there had been a door here at some time in the long forgotten past. So, there is probably a crack on the other side and the top as well. Sure enough, there they were!
Moving down from the ladder, he reached out to steady himself and felt the shelf he grasped move just perceptibly with a definite click coming from behind the wall! Snatching his hand back from the shelf he stood on the bottom rung of the ladder and stared in astonishment as the entire section rolled back into the wall and then quietly slid to the left. It was a door! Peering nervously into the darkness he could see a narrow stair leading down into the inky depths.
The stair was roughly hewn from the bedrock on which the house sits. Not trusting the batteries in the flashlight, he grabbed a handful of extras and shoved them into his pocket. No way was he going to be caught in that darkness without a backup! He stood in the doorway, straining his eyes to see the bottom but the light couldn’t penetrate it. The thick, hungry darkness seemed to consume the light; swallow it down into God only knows where. Paul mentally gave himself a swift kick for letting his nerves get the better of him.
“It’s likely nothing more sinister than a storage cellar! Stop being such a Nervous Nelly, and get on with exploring it!” His words had little effect on the minor case of nerves he’d developed. Truth to tell, He had always been just a little afraid of the dark. His overactive and perversely sinister imagination had always concocted malevolent beings, real or fanciful, lurking in the shadows just waiting for his arrival.
He thought, belatedly, that he really should’ve called his friend, Nader to go down-cellar with him but he was embarrassed to admit being afraid. Better to let him continue with the cleaning and painting while Paul confronted what had now become, in his mind, the “evil abyss”.
Paul knew about little people; leprechauns and such. He tried to run quickly through his mental memory banks to see whether such creatures exist in Jordan and came up empty. Vampires and werewolves don’t exist as far as he’s concerned, so no worries there. Something kept tickling the back of his brain, though. Something that wouldn’t let go, but damned if he could get a grasp on it.
The rough stone surface was cool under his hand as he began the descent. The light only illuminated about four steps ahead. He could see to navigate his feet, but not much more. He stole a glance backward and was startled by how far away the door appeared to be. He’d gone down a mere eleven steps. Paul was one of those interesting folk who was compelled to count everything. Steps, tiles, windows, anything that has multiples absolutely had to be counted. He was never sure why he counted, and he could never remember the total of any of the things he counted every day.
On the fourteenth step, he saw a wall before him! “Oh no, this can’t be! A stair to nowhere?” He swung the light left and right and saw nothing but the chiseled walls of stone. The stair was a dead end.
With a wry smile, he turned to go back up the stairs to finish his painting job.
“Hold on a second there, Mister! The stair door was hidden; maybe there’s a secret mechanism here, too. Why would anyone dig a stair three meters into solid stone and just walk away? It was clearly done without any kind of mechanized tools. Such a project would have taken enormous effort. It’s damned unlikely that it would just be abandoned. Let’s get back down there and have a closer look.”
He held the light close to the wall and ran his hand over the rough texture, looking for any hint of a latch or other ‘trick’ that might open another door. It was difficult going; the stone had natural clefts and veins. Each one gave him an Aha! moment, thinking he’d found something.
By this time his mind had concocted visions of a cache of ancient gold and artifacts hidden away by the likes of Renaud de Châtillon or some other greedy Knight Templar. He imagined gold chalices heaped on great piles of ancient coins; emeralds the size of small kittens and diamonds as big as baseballs. His imagination knew no restraint.
Oho! What’s this, then? A tiny hole no bigger than his index finger, not more than a centimeter above the floor. Despite the coolness, sweat dripped from his brow, creating rough, darkening circles on the stone floor as he slipped his finger inside. Click! The door opened just a bit. Paul gave it a mighty push and it protested with the sound of stone grinding against stone, but it began to open!