Kenny stomped several times on the chancel floor with his right foot. “Yeah. It’s hollow underneath here,” he said.
The chancel only stood a foot and a half higher than the rest of the old church, so Mike added, “I don’t know how much space could actually be down there, but I’m curious.” Mike walked across the chancel floor, pounding with each foot like he was Godzilla and hearing the hollow boom with each step. “The question is: if someone would get underneath here, how would they do it?”
Kenny said, “Well, I don’t see anything, but think about it. Who would you not want in there?”
“The Baptists coming to steal your treasure for themselves? I don’t know.”
“No, knucklehead. It’s obvious you’re not a parent. You wouldn’t want kids getting down there. Why do you think the door to the bell tower is locked?”
“To keep out the vampires who flew into the tower as bats? I get it. You don’t want kids getting trapped down there. Is there a cellar door outside?”
“I never noticed one. What about the pulpit? Can it be moved?” Kenny asked.
“We can find out,” Mike said, and as he stood behind the pulpit he held it with both hands and pushed. He raised one side a half inch up. “Come over here,” he said. “We can move it together.” They stood on opposite sides of the pulpit and started rocking it, and with each rock they moved it an inch. A dozen times rocked back and forth and they moved it far enough they could see the outline of a panel in the floor. “That looks like a door,” Mike said.
“Can you pry it open?” Kenny grabbed an old hardware store yardstick that was a part of a display of businesses from Thomasville’s past. The store closed when the big home stores moved in, but Thomasville Hardware lived on in the print on the side of the yardstick. Kenny said, “I think that I can fit this in just to pull it up a bit.”
“Don’t break that priceless artifact from the town’s past,” Mike said.
“Don’t worry. No one will know we used it.” Kenny wedged the yardstick into the space between the panel and the rest of the floor. He pried the panel up an inch. “See, no big deal,” he said as he got his fingers under the panel and pulled it off. Kenny and Mike leaned into the dark hole and saw a couple steps leading down into darkness.
Mike said, “I told you!” He rubbed the palms of his hands together. “The treasure awaits.”
Kenny said, “Hold up, Indiana Jones. Don’t quit your job just yet. Do you have a light?” Mike pulled out his keychain and grabbed a little two-inch penlight which he twisted on.“Great treasure hunting equipment. I’d hate to see what you have for a rope. I can help, though.” Kenny pulled out his cellphone and turned on its flashlight. “Let’s have a look.”
Mike put one foot on the steps and gradually transferred his weight to it, “I think they’ll hold, but be careful.”
“So is this going to be how it all ends for us. I can see the obituary: ‘They walked down the steps and were never heard from again.’”
“Dude, shut up and follow me in.” A dozen steps brought them down to a stone-walled cellar with a dirt floor. A few poles held the chancel floor up. After a few sweeps of their lights they could see the space was empty. “What is this?” Mike asked.
“Most of the old buildings in town have stone cellars like this. I’m guessing with the hidden door this one was hardly ever used.”
Mike pushed around on some of the stones in the wall hoping to find an opening to another space. “It all seems pretty solid,” he said. “So where’s the treasure?”
“You’re the one convinced there’s a treasure down here. You could take a metal detector to the dirt floor, I guess.”
Mike moved his penlight around the cellar’s walls, but he saw nothing unusual.
“This is real curious,” Kenny said, “But I think all we found is the cellar hardly anyone ever sees.”
“Kenny,” Mike said, “Look at this. It’s writing.” He moved his light back and forth along a space on the wall that housed a larger, flat stone. The light showed some letters roughly written, probably, with coal. “It says h . . . o . . . two fs . . n . . . u . . .n . . .g. I don’t know what ‘hoffnung’ means. Is it a last name?”
“Mike, you’d be lost in this without me. I did a semester in Germany when I was in college. I was the treasurer of the German club in High School. Hoffnung is German. It means ‘hope.’”
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict