The Catacombs


She didn’t step as much as dragged her feet, bare millimeters off the floor stones, feeling with her feet and hands in the dark for obstacles.  Another step.  Another.

Her hands touched a cold, hard surface.  She explored with her hands, fingers dancing and delicate over the rough wall, until it vaporized in an abrupt opening.

She drew a nervous breath, then another, exhaled slow to steady her nerves.  She stepped, hand braced on the wall where it opened to the passage, and her foot felt another void where the floor vanished from beneath her.

Stairs.

She lowered her foot, tense, until the tread beneath her proved solid.  She shifted her weight to the lead leg, then moved the other into space, seeking the next step.  When she found the rhythm of the stairway, the spacing of the steps, she moved with greater certainty down, one hand on the wall to ensure she didn’t step off a curving or angled landing to her death.

Lower and lower she went, each moment longer than the preceding one.  Her heart throbbed in her chest, begged her to quicken her pace, but she denied her urgency.  She stared hard into the black, seeking any flicker of light.  Down, down … deeper.

At last she could find no other stairs.  Only a floor raced away from her.  She traveled along the wall with her palms against it, extended one foot ahead of her direction to feel the floor.  A sudden emptiness in the wall yanked a startled yelp from her.  Ginger exploration revealed an alcove, a clay vessel, dust, an artifact of some sort … .

The catacombs.  This is a sepulcher, the urn filled with dust and ashes of some long-dead monk or wealthy denizen, sealed here for eternity.

She pulled trembling hands back, afraid of what she might find within the alcove.  She ransacked her memory for the image from the tiny paper … the little drawing depicting the placement of the floor tile.   She pounded her forehead with the heel of her hand, jaw clenched, and focused, concentrated.

She drew a gasp, her eyes shot open though she couldn’t tell in the black.  A step back, then another, and she turned, hands extended and probing, feeling for the wall behind her.  She took a step … another, slid her foot over the rough stone floor, felt for obstacles.  Another step, and her fingers touched the clammy wall opposite her.  She winced at the contact on instinct, then felt for the void of the first sepulcher.  When her fingers sank into space, she waved her arms until she found the bottom of the little cave, and stepped forward onto the floor tile in front of it.

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