Our new house was an old house. We spent tons of money on renovations and upgrades before we could live there. The basement was particularly heinous. After a while, it started coming around, looking less like the pit of despair from when we bought it and more like the man-cave I dreamed of. Once everything was done, we finally moved in.
One of the kids was poking around in her closet the other day and discovered an old dumbwaiter. I never knew we had one of those. It led down into the basement, but apparently the compartment had been bricked up before we even moved in. When setting up my man-cave down there, I just plastered over the brick like any of the other walls.
My daughter was pretty disappointed when I told her I wasn’t going to break down the wall and make the thing functional again. She wanted to send me little presents from her room while I was watching the game in the basement. Still, she liked hanging out in her closet and pulling the thing up and down. I figured there were worse things she could find interesting.
During one of the worst snowstorms I can remember, we were all bored and stuck in the house. The two girls were playing in their room and my wife and I were trying to read in the dim light coming in from outside. The power had gone out about three hours earlier. Living in the middle of nowhere has its aesthetic perks but it’s definitely a tradeoff in the luxuries department. The kids were using the dumbwaiter, as always, sending one of their dolls down, making up a little story together, and then “rescuing” their doll when they pulled it back up from the bowels of the house. I heard a little bump when the kids accidentally bottomed it out in the basement. Then they pulled it back up.
The the youngest one screamed. I didn’t even flinch. They’re 4 and 7. They’re always screaming. But then her sister started in. And they didn’t stop. My wife and I ran upstairs and the girls were backed up against the far side of the wall wailing and crying. I tried to ask them what was wrong but they were inconsolable. The older one pointed at the closet. I went inside and looked. Inside the dumbwaiter compartment was their pet hamster, only really, really messed up. Its eyes were expelled from its sockets and all its guts were pushed out its backside in gristly tangles of rodent offal.
My wife tried to comfort the girls and they’d at least stopped screaming. They kept saying they never put the hamster in the elevator (that’s what they called it) and he never left his cage. We didn’t bother to chastise them for lying at that point – they were obviously too upset. My mind was elsewhere, though. I was trying to figure out what the hell happened to that hamster. It was inside the compartment, so it couldn’t have gotten crushed underneath when it was dropped. It almost looked like the poor thing got put in a vice and squeezed to death.
We let the kids sleep in our room that night. The power was still out. My thoughts kept going to that hamster. There had to be a reason for it. I grabbed the flashlight from my bedside table, tiptoed over the kids’ sleeping bags, and went in their room. The closet door was still open. I quietly worked the dumbwaiter up and down. On the third trip down, I felt the rope shudder when I accidentally struck the bottom. I hoped I didn’t wake anyone up. I carefully pulled it back up. I thought it had gotten caught on something; it was heavier than it should have been.
I gradually got it back to the top without making any more noise and locked the braking handle and opened the door. The empty eye sockets of my youngest daughter gaped at me as she tumbled out of the dumbwaiter, her entrails sliding out after her.