The next morning, Astrid was ready. She was sure she had all the escape experience she would need, having already escaped from a car trunk and having watched both The Great Escape and Chicken Run several times each. She packed everything she would need into her backpack and left her room, heading not downstairs to breakfast, but to the music room. The northern portion of this large room, where she sometimes played her oboe, was directly above the kitchen.
In the far wall was the small door that opened to the dumbwaiter. The dumbwaiter car was down on the first floor, so she had to pull the rope to raise it up. As she did so, it squeaked slightly. She carefully removed a tube of Teflon lubricant from her backpack and applied it to the squeaky pulley. When the car reached her level, she climbed up into the box.
Closing the door made it pitch black inside the shaft. She pulled a cap equipped with tiny lights in the bill from her backpack, put it on, and turned on the lights. Working as quickly as possible, she used the rope to lower herself, past the opening to the kitchen on the first floor, all the way down to the basement.
The basement was huge and it was dark, illuminated only by the lights in Astrid’s cap and a small window near the ceiling on the west wall. The entire room was a maze of stacked ancient wooden crates containing nobody knew what. The whole place was just as creepy and scary as Astrid remembered from her childhood.
Along the north wall, not far from the stairs to the first floor, was an ancient boiler that hadn’t worked since probably before Astrid’s father was born, and right next to it was a coal chute—a sort of metal slide that led to a small door outside. In the past, coal was dumped down the chute to be used in the boiler. Astrid carefully climbed up onto the empty coal bin. She paused when she thought she heard a noise and turned to look, but the light from the bill of her cap showed nothing more than an old crate under the stairs labeled “Antarctica Expedition 1928.” She had worn her grippiest shoes, knowing how slippery the chute was. Carefully climbing up the smooth, slanted metal, she stopped at the top and jimmied open the latch. As she crawled out onto the grass, she congratulated herself not only on making it this far, but surviving the frightening basement.
It was a long way from the Maxxim home to the monorail station, and if Astrid was going to make it all that way without Mr. Charles Edward Toulson catching her, or even worse, being spotted by her parents, she was going to have to go some other way than her usual path with her friends. Fortunately Astrid had planned her route. Between the Maxxim and Bundersmith backyards was an alley, and in that alley was a cement slab with a metal door in it. It was all flush against the ground so that vehicles, like the recycle truck, could drive over it. Inside that door was a stairway that led down to an underground passage. Passages such as this one crisscrossed the town, providing access to electrical and information systems.
When Astrid arrived at the metal door, she found, as she had expected, no doorknob or lock. There was a recessed handle and a magnetic card swipe. She wasn’t sure, but she suspected that somewhere there was a computer logging who swiped their Maxxim Industries ID cards in what devices, and had someone been looking for her, they might discover her location by following this digital trail. The girl inventor had planned for this too. Before going to bed the night before, she had programmed a new key card for herself using the pseudonym of Jose Dumas. Swiping this new card, she stepped down into the darkness, closing the door behind her.
The underground passage was a cement hallway, not too much bigger than the hallways in an average home. Along the ceiling ran water pipes and electrical conduit. Astrid pulled out her phone and checked the time. She hadn’t allowed herself as much time as she should have. She would have to hurry if she was going to reach the monorail the same time as her friends. Thankfully, this corridor was a straight shot downhill to Main Street.
Astrid jogged down the tunnel. It was easy going. The floor sloped gently downward. After about two hundred yards, a cement staircase descended two dozen steps. Beyond the steps, several of the water pipes that ran along the ceiling had small leaks in them. Astrid avoided the dripping water, but now there was a small rivulet running down the center of the tunnel. Suddenly she tripped and went sliding face first across the rough cement.
Getting to her feet, she looked back to see that a small cement curb running along the wall had jutted out just enough to catch her toe. Examining herself, she found that her hands were scraped and the front of her school uniform was splattered with less than completely clean water. Her new cell phone had fallen out of her pocket too and had gotten wet. When she picked it up and wiped the water off, she saw that the screen was scratched.
“Bother,” she said, but she also noticed that if she didn’t hurry she was going to be late for school.
She continued on, picking up her pace a bit, but careful not to trip again. The little curb jutted out every fifty feet or so. She passed several sets of steps leading upward, but since the corridor continued to slope downward, she knew that she had not yet reached the business district. Finally the floor leveled out and she came to another set of stairs. She climbed up and swiping her homemade security card again, found herself in the alley just behind the Malt Shop.
Running toward the monorail station, she was disappointed to see the train leaving. Without checking the time again, she knew that this was the train her friends were taking on their way to school. There would be another arriving in the station in ten minutes, but not riding with her friends sort of defeated the whole purpose of her daring escape.