A story by F.E. Hubert
Copyright 2016 by F.E. Hubert
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or other characters is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.
The Aldritch expedition
For some reason the Aldritch-expedition never makes it onto the unexplained mystery hit lists that get aired during the paranormal hour. That’s a mystery in itself, because that crumbling stone tomb hidden deep in the Amazonian jungle is shrouded in nothing but mysteries and strange disappearances.
For example, every single person that went on the expedition led by professor Aldritch vanished without a trace. Some say the guides killed them, took their equipment and disappeared into some backwater with their ill-found wealth. It’s possible.
But whatever happened, we can all guess it wasn’t something good.
Something in the dark watched them as they worked. Kim felt it every day they were inside the tunnels. First, she thought it was just her imagination running wild, but no matter how stern she talked to her inner voices, the constant feeling of being watched stayed. Tingling its alarm at the back of her neck. And there was the smell that sometimes replaced the flat mineral scent of moist stone. Dry, like old leaves, but without the pleasant connotations of autumn.
Hadwick felt it too. He kept staring off into the tunnel while he was working, into the shadows that seemed too dark to be simple shadows. She wondered if he knew how often he did that.
“This one’s new, make sure you get the edges sharp.”
Two gas lamps hanging on the wall above Hadwick were the only illumination in the part of the tunnel where the two of them worked. Down the passage to her right, Kim could see the glow of two similar lamps, hanging over a different section of the murals where Williams and Peterson worked.
She sat crouched on her heels, giving the archaeologist as much personal space as the narrow tunnel allowed without having her back touch the cold, damp stones behind her. The lamps gave everything they lit a warm, orange glow, but her gaze kept drawing back to the dense black that waited outside the circle of light. Its proximity made her want to breathe fast. Breathe fast, and run even faster. Run through the narrow tunnels as fast as she could, before whatever hid in the shadows could put its claws in her back and draw her into the hidden tunnels.
She drew a deep breath. She didn’t want Hadwick to know how scared she was. Didn’t want him to know that the slightest crunch or sigh would send her bolting for the door. The darkness seemed to have a weight here. She could feel it all around her, like a thick film that covered the orbs of light in which they worked, isolating them from the world outside. Everybody felt it. You could see it in the way they looked at the temple when they thought they were alone, frightened, worried. Not for the first time, she wondered why they didn’t just pack up and leave.
“Kim?” Hadwick held his finger down next to the figure he wanted her to copy. He cocked his eyebrow at the chipped symbol on the wall.
“Sorry,” She moved over and waited for him to give her the location to fill in at the top of the sheet. The professor and his other two university aides didn’t even trust her to do that. They filled it out for her, then watched to make sure she made a rubbing of the correct symbol.
“Why we don’t just copy all of them?” Not that she’d want to be in here a second longer than strictly necessary, but she couldn’t help wonder. It seemed strange to come all the way out here and then just bring maybe a hundredth of the writing back for analysis. What if you missed something? It wasn’t like you could run back for it like a carton of milk you forgot at the grocery store.
Hadwick crooked one side of his mouth at her and shook his head.
“Any idea how long that would take?”
She looked at the tunnel they were in, just two bends down from the entrance. The rows of minute carvings covered both walls top to bottom; the ceiling and the floor were covered in larger symbols.
“Too long?” She ventured.
Hadwick laughed. A cultured, polite sound. He had regular features with straw-coloured hair and an easy smile, but it was his attitude of casual certainty that made him handsome more than anything else. The fact that he knew it, took some of the charm out of it, but Kim still found herself blushing when he looked at her too long.
“Exactly.” When he stood up, his hat almost scraped the ceiling.
“There’s more than twenty of us, we could copy the entire temple in six weeks.” She heard her voice edge toward the stubborn tone her dad teased her with, calling her stubborn Annie. But she knew she was right: they could copy all of it, if they tried. They had boxes and crates full of the thin sheets they used for the rubs.
Hadwick laughed again, not so polite this time.
“You may have noticed that our local help doesn’t come into the temple,” She had noticed, but assumed the professor wouldn’t let them near his precious mural reliefs. “Well, they won’t. As always, there’s supposed to be some sort of curse on the place, so we’ll be lucky if they don’t all up and leave before the end of our expedition.”
She tried to sound neutral, but she felt her voice shake a little. Nobody’d told her anything about a curse.
“Yes, the usual bullocks. Old wrathful god will kill us all because we disturbed his beauty sleep, big Oeh-hoe.”
He stood behind her, but she could just hear him roll his eyes as he said it. The thought that she might find a curse disturbing didn’t seem to occur to him. And she couldn’t help but wonder if the blatant unbeliever pose was part of the story he told himself, to keep from being consciously afraid in here.
As if he heard her thoughts and wanted to prove he wasn’t frightened, Hadwick took the lamp on the side of the tunnel leading deeper into the temple and took a few steps toward it. The darkness retreated backwards, showing only more walls covered in the dense lines of ancient script.
“You go ahead, I’ll catch up in a moment.” He said, moving deeper into the tunnel. She hesitated for a short moment. It wasn’t a good idea to go down into the tunnel by himself. She looked over her shoulder, toward the tunnel that led to the exit. She could see the light from Peterson and Williams’ lamps fade as they headed out. She hurried to catch up.
Frowning, she held the lamp up above her head to enlarge the circle of light. One lamp didn’t do much against the complete dark inside the ruins. The tunnel in front of her continued straight on as far as she could see. She looked again, but she already knew that what she saw was wrong, very wrong. She should have reached the short corridor that faced the entrance by now. She turned around and took a step to look if she recognized anything in the direction she came from. Also a straight tunnel.
Panic squeezed her stomach into a cold ball. She must have taken a wrong turn getting to the exit somehow. Maybe she walked past the stone entryway, lost in thought. A small voice in the back of her mind asked how that could be, if she wanted to get out so badly, but she ignored it.
Turning back around, she took a few steps with the lamp held out in front of her. Nothing in the circle of light looked familiar. The dark, carved stones all looked the same to her.
No. No, no, no. She tried to slow her breathing. She took a few deep breaths, but her vision kept pulsing with the thudding of her heart. Looking around, the panic in her stomach deepened its grip.
Did she come that way? Or that way? How often had she turned? She couldn’t remember. At least twice. Maybe three times, or four? The clammy chill of the temple seemed colder here, more intense. Goose bumps sprouted on the skin of her arms and legs.
Breathing too fast, she pushed the tips of her fingers against her temples. She needed to think. The anonymous tunnel told her nothing about her location, but she knew she couldn’t be far from the entrance. Could she? How long had she been walking?
With a trembling hand, she reached to the side until she touched the rough surface of the stone wall. Something, anything tangible to steady her. She turned so her hand was behind her and stepped back, leaning her back to the wall. It wouldn’t make her any safer, but having her back against something solid lessened the naked feeling that something could get to her unseen.
The dark beyond the small circle of light was close enough to touch. She tried not to think about everything that could be hiding in it. The eyes watching her, under cover of the dark. Waiting for her to step closer, until – She heard a sound. Her eyes squeezed shut hard enough to force a tear over her cheek. Closer now, she heard it again. Her breath shuddered in her throat.
Then, something landed on her shoulder. She screamed.
“Wow, calm down. It’s me.”
She opened her eyes and Hadwick’s face floated in front of her. His eyes looked worried above the reflection of her lamp in his metal-rimmed glasses.
“Kim,” Hadwick stepped closer. His hand, his very human hand, warm on her shoulder where she’d felt the thing touch her. “Are you alright?”
The circle of light around her brightened with the light of his lamp. She leaned back against the wall, breathing in deep, giddy breaths that chased the fright back to the edge of the shadows. The stone leeched away her body’s heat, leaving a numb cold spot on her backside, but she didn’t feel it over the relief of not being alone in the dark tunnel anymore.
“Come on, the entrance is this way.” With a hand on her elbow, he steered her through the tunnel.
And then she knew: She would have gone the other way. If he hadn’t come for her, she would have gathered up her courage, and gone the other way. Deeper into the temple, until her lamp ran out. Leaving nothing but her and the dark. The goose bumps came back in force at the thought.
Two quick turns, one right one left, and they stepped into the moist heat of the afternoon jungle. It fell on her like a hot blanket, beads of sweat popped up on her face almost instantly. A bird screamed in the distance, adding to the comforting bustle of sounds from the jungle all around them. Looking back over her shoulder at the dark, ugly pile of stones squatting on top of the rise, she understood that their crew thought there was a curse on this place. It hung over the hill like a vapour. She could feel it reach out to her with cold fingers, even here in the hot afternoon.
“You alright?” Hadwick asked again, lifting her chin with a finger so she looked up at him. A worried expression creased his normally smooth brow.
“Hey guys,” The stocky figure of their guide Jake, came trotting up the path that led back to their camp. His khaki’s and the shirt that was a pale blue this morning, looked wrinkled and clung to his skin. “The rest is already in, so I thought I’d come check. What happened?” He asked her, taking of his sunhat and wiping the sweat from his face with his arm. The steel blue of his eyes seemed to look right through her. She opened her mouth, but didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t make her sound like a fool.
“Not sure,” Hadwick said, saving her the embarrassment. “I sent her out ahead of me, after the rest. A few minutes later, at the entrance, I thought I saw a flicker of light down the south tunnel, so I went to have a look. And there she was, huddled against a wall.” He shrugged. “I don’t understand how she got there.”
“I’d like to call you a moron for going into an unexplored tunnel, but it’s a good thing you did,” Jake clapped Hadwick’s shoulder. “Please don’t do it again.”
Hadwick opened his mouth, not sure he should be insulted or not, but she interrupted any retort he might have had.
“I’m sorry,” She said, rubbing her face with both hands. “I must have been daydreaming or something, making me miss the exit. So stupid.”
Jake put a hand on her shoulder to turn her so that they faced each other. Years of sunshine tanned his skin a deep brown, making it look like soft leather. Deep folds surrounded his mouth and eyes. She’d thought they were blue a moment before, but now she could see they were grey, like storm clouds.
“Not stupid. It happens to the best of us,” He didn’t change the pitch of his voice or the stance of his body, but she understood that his next words were meant as much for Hadwick as for her. “That’s why we never let anyone walk around alone. With two, there’s usually at least one who’s paying attention.”
“You walk around alone.” The words were out of her mouth before she realized this might not be the best time to point that out. Jake looked at her for a moment, a small grin around his lips, and then winked at her like she’d made a private joke that only he would understand.
“That’s because they pay me to be stupid.” He said, manoeuvring her in front of him on the path so he could keep a hand on her shoulder as they walked. “You’re all supposed to be exceedingly smart, so you get to stay in groups.”
He mocked them, but she didn’t mind. She thought this kind of open mockery came close to a compliment. It suggested that you were smart enough to understand why you did something wrong and to not repeat your mistake in the future. And strong enough to take the critique. She smiled, her scare in the temple all but forgotten.
They built their camp only a couple of hundred metres from the temple. Their feet stomped out a trail through the greenery, walking up with equipment and back down with rubbings and finds. The plants did their best to retake the trail, the tall grasses and wedge-leafed plants Kim didn’t recognize hung over the narrow line of downtrodden plants and earth, stroking her arms as they walked to their camp.
The tents were set up in a rough circle around a patch of ground that served as a fireplace and kitchen. A few large common tents were for storage, except the one that professor Aldritch used as his private quarters, the smaller sleeping tents were for her and the professor’s three other aides. Jake and his men shared open canvas shelters, but she’d seen some of them sleep on the open ground between the tents.
The professor sat in his tent, bent over one of their artefacts he took from the temple the first day. Kim could see the reflection on the afternoon light on the magnifying glass in his hand, when they passed in front of the open tent flaps.
To accommodate their guests, their helpers constructed a modern shower of sorts at the edge of the camp: A simple wooden construct with canvas sides and a large tank tied on top with lengths of rope for the water. Grabbing a towel and a change of clothes from her tent, she hurried to get clean before diner.
When she walked up, Christo stepped out from behind it with two of the old gasoline tanks they used to get their water from the river. He tipped his finger at her that she was good to go and walked off, the empty tanks slung on his back.
Closing the canvas curtain behind her, she started to peel off her thin cotton slacks. They stuck to her skin, making it a small struggle to get out of them. Not to mention the wriggling dance she would have to perform to get into the clean pair after she shoe showered. She tossed her dad’s old shirt up after it, hanging them over the side of the cubicle, next to the clean, still unwrinkled set.
She’d soaped her hair, humming to herself, but when she started to rinse it, the water stopped. She tapped the tank with a finger. Still plenty inside. Besides, she just saw Christo fill it.
Picking a safe spot on the wet ground, she stood up on wobbly tiptoes, looking at the showerhead: A basic model with a small gauze surface, more like a tap on a short tube. She pushed her face up close to peer inside the opening. Some water still dripped out, but not much. At this pace, she’d never get the soap out of her hair before dinner. She shut one eye and pressed the other close to the opening, to see if she could see something inside.
She slipped and fell down in the layer of thin mud with a shriek.
A moment later Jake ripped open the canvas curtain and stepped into the stall.
“What’s wrong?” He grabbed the towel from the side, lifted her up and wrapped her in it in one efficient movement. Then he picked her up and set her back on her feet outside.
“It moved,” She pointed at the shower with a finger that trembled with reaction. “The water stopped and then the shower – It moved.”
Jake stood underneath the faucet with his hands in his sides, peering up into the opening. It moved again.
“There! You see?”
He gestured to one of his men and said something in their quick, unintelligible babble. The other man ran off and came back with a packing crate moments later. Jake carried it around to the back of the stall and stepped up on it. Kim padded after him with tiny, towel-wrapped steps. She saw him open the small lid on top of the tank and tilt his head to look into it.
“Though so,” He grinned at her as he stepped back down. “We’ll have your shower back up in no time.”
Back in the stall, he screwed the nozzle off the short tube on the tank while the other man held a bucket under it. A black snake shot out of the tube, propelled by the pressure of the water.
“Poor guy got stuck,” The man holding the bucket walked off with it and Jake reconnected the head to the hose, dancing to avoid the steady stream that poured from the tank, now that the tap wasn’t on to stop it. “There you go love, good to go.” He took off his hat with a flourish, before he walked off back to the camp.
Back inside, Kim let out a long breath and looked up at the shower with a frown. She shook her head and tossed the towel back over the side. One innocent little snake and she’d been screaming her lungs out for the second time that day.
When she came back from her tent to get something to eat, she saw Hadwick, Williams and Peterson sitting off to the side, under the flap of one of the large tents, eating and passing a hipflask. The first few nights she’d joined them, but they mostly ignored her and only talked about the dig, so she quickly took her bowl and sat down by the fire with the rest of the crew.
“All clean I see. Shouldn’t you be having dinner with the smart people?”
She looked up from her food as Jake plopped down beside her on the ground. She shrugged.
“They’re not so interested in talking to me, so I thought I’d get out of their hair.”
“Their loss.” He said with a wink.
While he chewed on a mouthful of the spicy stew his men cooked for their dinner every night, he pointed at the small group in front of the large equipment tent with his spoon.
“It’s interesting to me how they want to learn things, about the temple for instance, yet they refuse to listen to anyone that isn’t exactly like them. Seems,” He thought for a moment, spooning in his bowl. “Silly.”
He grinned in a way that made Kim suspect that he’d been about to say something a lot less polite.
“So, why’re you here?” He asked, taking another bite of his food and looked at her with interest, while he chewed.
Kim pegged him at least forty the first time she saw him, but now that they were up close, in the flowing light of the fire, she realized she might have been fooled by the weathered face and the careless clothes. Still, in her world, the normal world as she called it in her mind, he would still be way too old to have anything in common to talk about, but here he was the only one that seemed even remotely interested in her, and, she smiled at her own surprise, she liked him.
“I won it.”
That stopped him short. He looked at her with big eyes, his spoon frozen in mid-air, temporarily forgotten.
“You’re here as a prize?”
She nodded, suddenly feeling like a trespasser again. The non-archaeologist, reeling at all the jargon and obscure references. The feeling lasted about three seconds. Then Jake let out such a whooping laugh, that she couldn’t help but smirk and ignore the curious glances in their direction, as he howled and slapped his knee. After a while, his laughter tapered off to snorts and hiccups. She smiled at him, a bit proud, like she’d pulled off a neat trick and expected praise for a good performance, and a bit curious to know what she’d done that was so funny.
“I’m sorry,” He held his fist before his mouth as he worked to compose himself. “It’s just,” He suppressed another snigger. “We usually have to pay people to get them to come out here.”
“I get study points?”
He shook his head in elated amazement, the light of the fire reflected miniature flames in his eyes.
“How are you liking it so far?” He asked, trying to keep a straight face and not succeeding very well.
She took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders “I hate it,” She looked at the man beside her with a severe expression. “But I’m sure it will get better.” She certainly hoped it would. He grinned and took another bite.
“That’s the spirit,” He waved his spoon at her, working to swallow before he continued. “I like that.” He looked at her again with those gleaming eyes, the way someone looks at a tire, debating whether it’ll hold or not. Seeming satisfied with what he saw, he continued:
“How about I teach you something about archaeology while those snots,” he jerked his chin toward the Professor’s aides. “Piddle about, making little rubs? There’s a lot out here to see that’s interesting.” He circled his finger to indicate the area around them.
Doubt must have been written on her face, but Jake either didn’t care or he was used to people doubting his capabilities.
“I used to be a professor myself,” He wriggled an eyebrow at her round-eyed surprise. “And a much better one than that mastodon.” His thumb inched sideways to point at Aldritch working in his tent.
Kim couldn’t nod fast enough to accept Jake’s offer. Anything that would keep her out of those dark tunnels.
Another scream broke the night. Not hers this time. She shot up from her sleeping bag, listening for more sounds over the thudding of her heart. After a moment, she slipped into her pants and shirt. She was still buttoning it when she saw Jake and some of his men gather beside the glowing remains of the fire. His gaze flicked shortly in her direction.
She couldn’t understand a word they said, but she didn’t need to hear to understand they were already looking for the source of the scream.
“Not you then?” Jake smiled at her when she stepped up to the group, in between issuing orders in the sharp tones of the local language. It didn’t take long to rouse everyone and do a headcount.
She saw a cloud of worry darken his face as he looked over the gathered crowd of bleary-eyes and hastily put on clothes.
He stepped on the arms of a folding chair and waved his hands to get their attention “Everybody gather. Someone’s missing. Now, I want all of you to look around and start checking if there’s someone you don’t see while we do a call-off. If you hear me call your name, please raise your hand.”
It took only a minute of confused yelling to discover that Hadwick wasn’t with them.
“Everybody stay here for a moment, Muz and I,” He pointed at one of his men. “Will double check all the tents to see if he’s here somewhere.”
“Not in your tent, I assume?” He whispered as he passed her, smiling in a way that roused something deep in her stomach. She was glad of the darkness just this once. It hid the deep flush that bloomed on her face.
“We can’t just leave him to his fate!” Professor Aldritch took the disappearance of his best student as a personal affront and wasn’t afraid to let everyone know about how he felt. He waved his hands around wildly as he bellowed at Jake. “We have to find him! Now! Before it’s too late -”
“We will find him,” Jake sounded calm, especially considering some of the things Aldritch said to him in his show of rage. “As soon as the sun comes up.”
Aldritch opened his mouth with a deep intake of breath, ready for another bout of shouting, but Jake held up a hand to silence him.
“We go off now, we’ll just lose more people. And I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be responsible for one of your other students getting lost or injured.”
To Kim, this sounded more like a challenge, but it seemed to be some magic formula and Aldritch went from red-hot to reasonable tut-tutting in record time. Jake put a hand on the old man’s shoulder and guided him back into his tent.
“The rest of you,” Jake circled his index finger at them when he stepped back out. “Try to get some sleep, but please don’t leave the clearing. We’ll set out guards, so you’ll be safe here. Nicj and Viko will get you a pillow or a blanket if you need one.”
At that he and Muz crouched near the entrance of the big tent and started talking in low voices, drawing on the ground with their fingers.
She woke up to the sounds of birds starting their day and Jake giving his men instructions for the search. They sat in a huddled circle and every time he pointed at in a direction, two or three of them would get up and start combing the terrain outside the camp in that direction.
“What can I do?” She asked, as she walked up behind him when the last team of three walked off toward the small river. Jake stood up to greet her as they left, a smile on his face.
“Take this,” He handed her a small backpack and a tall stick. “We’re going to check the path and up at the temple.”
She swallowed. The thought of going back into the temple dried her mouth to sandpaper.
“You had a real scare yesterday,” He paused his packing, looking back at her over his shoulder with vague concern. “If I’d realized it was that bad, I’d have punched his lights out for leaving you alone in there. Remind me when we find him.”
Her laugh was shaky, but real. His male bluster was exactly what she needed to take her mind of anything cold and dark.
He produced a sunhat from a pile of supplies, a smaller version of the tan adventurer’s hat he wore, and pressed it down on her head.
“Looks good on you,” He softly flicked the rim. “Ready?”
She took it off again and held it between her teeth while she braided her hair back. She put the hat back on and gave him a grateful smile and two thumbs up.
They prodded the grass to both sides of the path as they went. Slow going, but they’d never see any clues, or Hadwick, hidden in the sea of green so they had to feel their way through the undergrowth for anything that might tell them where he went.
“He probably just went for a pee and tripped,” Jake parted the grass on his side for a second look, but only found some decomposing wood gone soft. “Or, if he’s unlucky, he got bitten or stung.”
His shrug seemed to indicate that things like that happened and were a normal part of life in the jungle.
“Wouldn’t he have called out for us?” It seemed too unreal to believe that someone could step out of the camp and just disappear like that. “We would have heard him. Everybody was listening after that scream.”
“Then there’s that, yes.”
“You think he’s dead?” Until she said the words, she hadn’t realized she’d been thinking them.
Jake shrugged again and squeezed his lips together until they made a tight, downwards line.
“Could be. Probably will be if we don’t find him soon.”
Kim started prodding her stick into the tall grass on her side with new vigour. Hadwick had to be okay. He couldn’t just disappear like this.
It took them more than an hour to check the path up to the temple. The sun burned hot by the time they reached the steps that led up to the entrance. Kim sat down on the bottom tread and wiped her face on her sleeve, waving her hat for some cool air. Jake crouched in front of her and offered her a drink from his water flask.
“Gonna be a hot one.”
Kim just nodded. Looking up over her shoulder, she could just make out the stone lintel on top of the doorway.
“I’ll radio the camp if they found him.”
Because then there would be no need for her to go inside again. She read it on his face when he turned to get the military issue walkie-talkie out of his bag. It made her feel warm that he thought of her, even when the real danger threatened someone else.
From his half of the conversation, she quickly picked up that they hadn’t found Hadwick, or any clue where he might have gone. Jake rang off and wiped his face again, frowning up at the stone structure on top of the hill.
Making herself be braver than she felt, she got up and stepped up on the stairs.
“We better go and see if he’s up there then.”
The appreciation on Jake’ face was reward enough to get her up the rest of the crumbling stone slope.
Even though they were still outside, the air around the temple felt cooler. The trees grew up close to it, leaving it in the permanent shade of the dense rainforest. Jake knelt next to his pack, lighting a lamp and checking the oil.
“You stay out here.”
He held the radio out for her to take.
“That would be stupid.” She said, crossing her arms over her chest.
“No,” He shook his head. A moment later he laughed, a guilty grin made his face more than handsome. “Okay, maybe yes. But I’ll be going into parts that haven’t been cleared yet. It could be dangerous.”
“Wouldn’t that make it extra stupid to go in alone?” She cocked an eyebrow, wanting him to have a solid reason for her not to go inside, but at the same time knowing she had to go anyway. Hadwick came to get her when she was lost and now she would return the favour.
“It’s not as simple as that,” He stopped holding the radio out to her, though.
“Cocky as it may sound, I know what I’m doing. You don’t. We can’t afford to get lost in there.” Seeing her stubborn expression, he sighed.
“We have no idea what kind of traps might be set up in the tunnels deeper in, it really could be dangerous.”
“How many of those do we have?” She asked, pointing at the walkie-talkie and ignoring all he said.
“Just the one, why?”
“Just thinking,” She pursed her lips, still thinking. “If we could leave one outside, then they could find us, following the signal.”
“Good plan, except for two things,” He smiled, but it held no amusement. “One, the signal will get so poor once were inside that they will fall over us before they hear us on it. Two, who’s going to follow us? Not my men. And, somehow, I doubt the professor and his mighty sidekicks are up to it. But, good thinking.”
“Okay,” She shrugged. “Then we’ll just have to go in by ourselves.”
“If you insist,” He sounded gruff, but Kim though he didn’t mind she wanted to come with him and help. He started to knot a rope and slung it around her hips, then attached the other end around his own hips. “But you wear this. So I can find you, if I lose you.”
Ignoring the blood that crept up in her cheeks, she gave the safety belt an experimental tug.
“What happens if one of us falls down in one of those traps of yours?”
“Let’s just make sure we don’t. But now that you mention it,” He handed her a gas lamp of her own. “Watch your step.”
Into the Temple
“Left or right?”
The two lamps lit the short entryway, the tunnel led to the left and the right at sharp angles. Black pits welcomed them on both sides. The feeling that something watched her, watched them, from under its cover, was back. She took another sip from the water flask to wet her suddenly dry throat. She took one step into the tunnel, the little bubble of light bobbed inside with her.
Jake stepped after her and crouched down, briefly touching her leg. She could feel the warmth of his skin through the fabric of her pants. His lamp illuminated the floor where she stood. By her feet, she saw one of their lamps.
“We didn’t leave our lamps…”
“Seems like we’re going in the right direction then,” Jake shone his light over the floor around the lamp, picked it up and shook it. “Still full. Wonder how far he got without it.” He rubbed his hands on his knees. Kim noticed he did that when he made decisions that took more than instinct. He looked at the two tunnels and rubbed his knees again.
She looked left, to the tunnel they were working in. Would Hadwick go back there for some reason? She turned to the right hand tunnel. Goose bumps jumped up on her arms. Would he go there? Maybe he saw something the day before. If he had a choice in where he went at all. She shook her head to get rid of the image of Hadwick, dragged into the darkness by some invisible horror.
“You sure you don’t want to stay out here?” Jake asked, lifting her chin so she looked up into his eyes. “You look a bit pale around the nose.” He touched the tip of her nose with his index finger.
This was getting just too silly for words. He would probably think that she liked to exaggerate. Or maybe that she had a little touch of the old crazy. She took a deep breath.
“I have the feeling something’s watching us,” She raised her eyes to meet his. “It scares me.”
He looked at her with a serious expression and waited for her to finish her story. Warm relief flooded through her veins and now the words came easier.
“I know it’s silly. I saw you guys lift that slab of stone from the entrance with my own eyes. Nothing could have been in here since whenever they put that thing there and still be alive, could it?”
Jake stared at the wall in front of them. She wanted him to say that it was impossible, that of course nothing still lived in this ancient, dead temple. But the look of intense concentration on his face stopped her from rousing him from his thoughts.
“I’m a moron.” He said, and started digging in his pockets. When he found what he needed, he took a couple of steps into the left tunnel. A tiny flame sprang up from his hand. He looked at it for a moment, then shook his head and paced past her into the other side of the tunnel. She followed him in. For a moment she didn’t understand why he frowned at the flame dancing above the mouth of his lighter. Then she did.
“Draft!” She shook his arm to underline what she said. “That means there is another way in.”
“Or somebody left the toilet window open,” He took her hand. “Come on.”
The darkness tried to choke out the light of their lamps. She could feel it nibbling at the edge of the orange light behind her back, but when she turned to look, she saw only the empty tunnel. She didn’t know how long they walked down the tunnel, bend after bend, but she started to wonder how long the lamps would last. And, this she tried not to think about, what would happen if they ran out while they were still inside.
“Should I turn off my lamp?”
“No. I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t want you without a light if we get separated.” He gave her hand a comforting squeeze.
“There’s two spares in your pack.”
She let out a long breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.
“Then we should put one in yours,”
She used their momentum to stop and swing him around to face her. For a moment he looked annoyed, but the expression quickly made space for a smile.
“I brought Hadwick’s,” He stroked a stray curl from her forehead. “I’d rather you have the emergency back-up. Just in case.”
He tugged the rope that held her to him experimentally, when he looked back up, she could see the start of a smile. He opened his mouth to say something, when his face went slack. She could see it go pale, even in the ruddy light of the gas lamps.
He saw something behind her. She started to turn around to see, but the stark horror on Jake’ face stopped her. She tried to swallow, but her throat locked tight. What could scare her hardy guide like this?
Before her mind could come up with an option or two, something touched the cloth of her shirt.
Jake snapped out of his stupor. Dragging her along, he ran. Corners and hallways followed in quick succession. Until now, Kim counted the turns, now she just ran. Ran as fast as she could. The cold temple air burned in her lungs when Jake finally slowed down.
He shook his head. Looking behind them, he turned to a walk.
“Did it hurt you?”
“I felt something,” She craned her neck to see her back. “Doesn’t hurt though.”
He moved so that he walked half a pace behind her.
“As long as this isn’t you favourite shirt, I think you’re good.”
His relaxed tone forced a laugh from her throat. It had a nasty echo against the wet tunnel walls, but it made her feel better.
“You still know where we’re going?”
She almost didn’t dare ask, because she didn’t want him to say that they were lost. “Well, we’re not going back there, that’s for sure,” He held out his lighter in the tunnel that branched away from the one they were in. The flame danced. “So I say we follow the draft until we find a way out.”
“Maybe we can break it, make it bigger?”
Both their gas lamps had stopped burning almost at the same time. By unspoken agreement, they only lit one of the spares to replace it. That had been hours ago and Kim started to wonder when this lamp would flicker and die. The draft led them to a large room. A basin the size of a swimming pool covered half the room. A layer of what looked like ancient, rotted leaves came up to the edge. There was no way to tell how deep it went through the muck, but Kim had the sick feeling it was very deep.
Behind it, steps led up to an altar. In the wall some metres behind that, a narrow shaft led up and out. When the sun reached the right position, it would illuminate the altar and the squat figurine on top of it.
“Looks like it runs for metres, through solid stone,” He tapped a knuckle on the stone next to the shaft. She could barely hear it. The thick stones absorbed the sound into their cold silence. “So, no.”
Kim left him staring up at the slit in the wall. When she stood between the door and the narrow slot in the wall, she could feel the draft caress her skin. She stepped up to the raised platform for a closer look at the statue. From a distance, she thought it was black, but every step she took closer to it, it seemed to change colour. From charcoal, to the green of an avocado peel, to a dark mossy shade that reminded her of the old graveyard near her aunt’s house. And it looked wet. Her lamp reflected on its skin like a sheen of –
Jake grabbed her wrist and pulled her down from the dais with a sharp jerk. He caught her in his arms and looked at her with a stricken look on his face.
“Don’t touch that. Anything could happen, we have no idea wh -”
The look of horror on her face stopped him short. Pushing her behind him, he turned to the door.
She nodded, still staring at the thing in the doorway.
“We’re going to have to run, get past it.”
She nodded again. Then, realizing that Jake couldn’t see her, she hummed agreement. A raspy sound. She could barely hear it herself, but he understood. Or didn’t care if she agreed.
He walked forward, toward it. He held her hands to force her to walk along behind him. He stopped near the pool’s edge, where two sides came together in a point.
The thing that had been Hadwick last time she saw him, shambled toward them at a deliberate pace. A green light shone in eyes that were brown only yesterday. Cracks marred his skin, oozing liquid. It looked like dead blood. The dry smell came from him in waves, making her gag.
Jake pulled her to the edge, next to him and whispered in her ear.
“When I say go, jump across.”
She saw what he wanted. New-Hadwick walked in a straight line, following the edge of the pool, instead of making the short hop over the corner to where they stood. If he kept going like that, they would be able to jump across the corner of the pool to the other side, getting between him and the entrance.
Looking at the figure that staggered around the corner, she doubted he’d be smart enough to understand that they could step over the pool. His mouth hung open, a thread of yellow mucus dangled from his lower lip.
She looked at the statue behind them. It glowed in the exact same shade of green as new-Hadwick’s eyes.
She heard Jake shout ‘Now!’ like something that happened far away. He let go of her, so that she could jump. Instead, she ran toward the glowing figurine. She had to try. Maybe it would break whatever power it had over Hadwick. If only she could break it. Taking the steps two at a time, she just had time to glance over her shoulder. Jake was only a step behind her. His face desperate. His hand reached out for her, but his touch came too late. Her hand closed on the statue. A green flash filled her vision. The last thing she ever heard was Jake, shouting her name.
Thank you for reading Dark Temple.
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Tales of Mufroen and Dun
(Only Amazon, but available from Shakespir from end of May 2016)
[+ Sword of the Sands+]
[+ Book of Magic+]
[+ Sword in the City+]
[+ Isles of Krake+]
Swords and Magic (Tales of Mufroen and Dun 1-5)
Land of imagination
Strange things grow in dark and abandoned places. And the temple has been dark and abandoned for longer than anyone can guess. The local make sure to stay clear, but a famous archaeologist discovered the temple’s existence. He takes his team into the jungle to uncover its secrets. The expedition is a few days in, when strange things start happening… Dark Temple is the opening of a new series of thrilling short genre stories. They can be anything from science fiction, to horror, high fantasy and detective noir. Most will be stand-alone stories, so you don’t have to worry about reading them in order. The description will tell you what to expect in each case, so just pick one that tickles your fancy. This is a short story. A neat, complete package of excitement and thrill that you can read in the time it takes to travel the average commute. Perfect when you’re looking for a dash of entertainment or distraction in a busy schedule. Or when you love stories and monsters in dark corners. Ssshhtt… You hear that?