Down the Ladder.

The word trap worried me. I couldn't imagine a roomful of pleasantness awaiting me pushing up through it. I could imagine much worse than any thing I'd battled in video-game RPGs. Up there. Up would bring me eventually to the top of the great tree. Into sky and probably the worst of the blizzard. Nowhere to go from up there. And probably not a hope of re-loading a game save here.

Down would bring me to the roots of this tree. To passages. Some way on, or out, or away.

KRAASH. The door behind me. It was holding. Creaking. Something on the other side was leaning against it.

My heart hammered. Down. Yes, down. I jumped the gap to the ladder. KLAANGED onto it like a bell. Caught one cold rung tightly under both hands. I fell the distance of both arms, yanking both in their sockets. My feet flailed, TAANGED and caught an unseen rung below.

KREEAK. Behind me. SNAP.

I started down. Hands holding tight. Feet feeling below for the next rung down. Lowering myself, feet first, then hands. Away from that straining door. Down, down, through the black.

I descended forever, it seemed. This felt like one of those rushed games where the player can't find the end of the map. At moments, experimenting, I slipped one foot off its rung, waggled it about in the void below.

Then at last my waggling foot scudded across a loose surface. A floor. Or ground. The bottom. In absolute black.

Hands holding the ladder tightly, I tested the dirt underfoot. It held my weight. It didn't squelch. Though there odour. A mustiness. Not immediately alarming, no. Like my Uncle Bob's ancient taxidermy collection.

Standing at last, and trembling down to the dirt underfoot, as I suddenly realized I could've fallen a bone-smashing long way, I drew in long breaths of the musty bottom air, to steady myself. It was absolutely dark. Still I shut my eyes. I exercised a yoga moment.

I became aware of my breathing. And of something else's. Before me in the black.

I backed from it. Backed against a dirt wall. I had no weapon, no unlocked assault rifle with unlimited ammo, no fabled sword. I remembered only then I had a cell phone in my inventory. I wished only I had deactivated its sound as I drew it from a pocket and switched it on. The flip-phone chirred like a Star Trek communicator.

Before me in the dark, my company at the bottom of the great tree snorted. Then it began snoring.

I held up the activated cell phone. My hand shook. In the light from the phone's pitiful display I saw my predicament. The dirt hole at the bottom of the tree. Three possible ways I might go...

The End

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