To Pry, To Build, To Bind, To Sever

Cleaning out the basement of his new house, Hugh came across a large wooden crate with a hammer painted on the side. There’d been other things that he’d found with that same stylized tool on it while he was cleaning, and a larger one set into the floor of the landing. “What’s it mean?” he asked the estate agent.

“Nothing, so far as I know. The old man who lived here was a little set in his ways.” She coughed, delicately, holding the cough in the cup of her fist. “Didn’t get along with his children, that’s for sure. He left the house to his daughter but she wouldn’t even come out to see it. Just sell it, she said, to whoever wants it. First decent bid. It’s in good shape, though. I suppose we could redo the landing, if it’s going to be an issue. There’s enough money for that.”

“No, go ahead and leave it. Doesn’t bother me.”

Most of what was branded he threw away, or sold, or donated to Veterans for the Blind. Junk, or books monogrammed with the tool, or furniture with the shape etched or charred into it. Ugly stuff, hideous and bulky; he stripped it away and refurnished, replaced the drapes with venetian blinds, unwound the house from its cerecloth.

The final nail came loose with a screech and he tossed the crowbar down. Sweat had soaked through his shirt, made his hands slippery. He nearly dropped the lid of the box on his foot, getting it off. Inside was circular hole lipped with limestone, set into the dirt of the cellar. A wide stairway led down, into darkness, into the earth. Carved into each broad flagstone were the simple, clean lines of a hammer.