It was late afternoon, and darkness slowly crept over the city. The train entered the central train station Gare du Nord. It was a busy Wednesday evening. The train platforms were bustling with people of all ages. The lights of the digital advertising boards hanging high above the commuters were illuminating the halls in green, yellow, red, blue.
Baal’s scar ridden face stood out among the many people walking the platforms. Most people stepped away in order to not bump into him. The look in his eyes and his movements were determined.
The Lord told me they’ll be here. Baal looked across the platforms.
“We need to hurry. They close the catacombs at eight,” Amanda said, rushing to a taxi outside the station. Amanda, still getting into the taxi, told the driver to take them to the catacombs.
“On Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy?” the driver said in a thick French accent.
“If you say so. Please just take us there as fast as possible. Tout de suite,” Amanda said.
The traffic was heavy during rush hour. The impressive French architecture with its characteristic medallions, flowers, and shields on the many stone balconies of the apartment buildings rushed past the window. Michael didn’t notice the beauty of this city. Instead he was concentrating on the street in front of him as if he and not the driver was steering the car.
“Arrivé,” the taxi driver said, stopping the car in front of a tall, gray, stone building with a smaller building attached to it.
Amanda and Michael rushed out of the car toward the open door of the smaller building.
“Two tickets, please,” Michael said hurried to the man at the entrance.
“We are closing in thirty minutes, but you can join the last tour that just started,” the man replied.
“Okay. How much?” Michael said looking back and forth between the entrance to the catacombs and the sales clerk.
“Ten euros each, s’il vous plaît.”
Before entering the catacombs, Michael noticed a sign above the entrance. Arrêtez! C’est ici l’empire de la Mort.
Amanda walked ahead of him inside. Right after entering, they saw a tour guide surrounded by a few tourists explaining the history of the catacombs.
“The Catacombs date back to the Fifth Century. It’s a vast network of old caves, quarries, and tunnels stretching hundreds of miles, and the walls are lined with the bones of the dead. About six million corpses, to be precise,” the guide said.
Michael looked down onto the map, while the tour guide continued, “Originally, the Romans created the catacombs by excavating the limestone for construction. Later, these caverns were used to bury the dead. You may have noticed the sign at the entrance, oui?” the tour guide asked the group and continued, “Translated into English, it states ‘Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead.’” he said with a smirk, then paused to enhance the effect of what he just said and then continued, “Okay, let’s move on.”
“According to this map, we need to go straight down,” Michael said, uninspired by the background chatter of the tour guide.
They walked away from the group and passed another the small group of people making their way deeper into the narrow and dark hallways.
“That concludes our tour, ladies and gentleman. Please follow me outside,” Michael and Amanda could hear the tour guide say in the distance.
The last group of people left the catacombs. The sales clerk, lost in thought, looked at his wrist watch. 5:05.
“Fin du travail,” the clerk mumbled.
Just finish this article.
“Did a woman and a man just pass? Americans?” a deep voice asked the clerk at the entrance.
“Oui,” the sales clerk responded, not bothering to lift his eyes from the magazine he was reading.
“One ticket,” the voice demanded.
“We closed,” he mumbled in bad English.
“One ticket,” the voice demanded again.
The sales clerk looked up. Seeing the deep scars on the face in front of him made his body recoil.
“I’m sorry, Monsieur, we are closed,” he said in a weak voice.
“Is that so?” Baal said and walked right past the clerk.
The clerk jumped up from his seat and followed Baal inside, demanding that he stop.
“Monsieur!” The clerk grabbed for Baal’s arm to stop him from entering.
Baal stopped, turned around, and pushed the clerk forcefully back.
“What are you doing?” the sales clerk said, stumbling to the ground.
Without saying another word, Baal grabbed the sales clerk’s throat and started to squeeze firmly.
The sales clerk’s eyes became bloodshot.
* * *
“It’s past five,” Amanda said, looking at her wrist watch.
“Don’t worry. Let them kick us out,” Michael said, looking down at the map. “We should be there any minute,” he muttered.
Michael was fascinated by what he saw. A crypt had human skulls along its walls stacked up to the ceiling.
“We are close. According to the map, this crypt is not far from our destination,” Amanda said, now taking charge of the map. “Come on, Mr. Adams, we are not here as tourists.”
Suddenly the lights in the catacombs went off, leaving them in darkness.
“Great, perfect timing,” Amanda joked with a cracked voice.
“You’re not scared, are you?” Michael said and grinned.
“No, well, maybe, I just don’t like darkness.” She grabbed his arm.
“Wait I’ve got a flashlight in my phone,” Michael said pulling it out of his pocket.
The beam of light only illuminated a small space before them.
Amanda sighed heavily. “I can’t see anything.”
Walking slowly down the dark corridors made her feel as if time is slowing down. She became very silent.
She felt her scalp prickle. “Let’s just find that room, I want to get out of here. Being in the dark among all these bones is not something I want.”
“Don’t worry. Just focus on the task,” Michael sensed her unease.
Listening to Michael’s voice and his words calmed her pulse.
She took a deep breath and looked upwards. “You’re right. There’s nothing to be afraid about here. Everybody is dead already.”
She looked down at the map and said, “I think we need to walk down this passage.”
After several minutes of walking along the maze of the catacombs, they stopped at a wall.
“This cannot be?” Amanda said, scratching her forehead, looking down at the map.
“According to the map, we should be here, but I only see a wall.”
“Let me see,” Michael said as he took the map back again.
Amanda walked up and down the little hallway.
“Didn’t the tour guide say that these catacombs have been here since Roman times?” Michael said and added, “Perhaps this map was made before this wall was here?”
“Yes, that’s it. If we would have met under different circumstances, I would kiss you.”
Michael’s eyes widened.
“There have been constant reconstructions down here, adding and closing parts of the catacombs,” Amanda said, now looking over Michael’s shoulders at the map.
Michael turned his head toward Amanda’s and said, “Let’s start banging against the walls. Perhaps there is a hollow space somewhere.”
She banged against the walls. Michael started to do the same.
“Here, I think I found something,” Michael shouted over to Amanda.
“Let me see,” Amanda said, walking over to him.
The dull bang of Amanda’s bang echoed though the hallway.
“Yes, you are right. This sounds hollow,” Amanda said, putting her ear against the wall.
“We need something to break down this wall,” he said, looking around the hallways and continued, “Let’s spread out.”
“No way. You are not letting me stay alone here in the dark,” she said, shaking out her hands.
Michael took her hands and looked into her eyes, “Amanda. We are alone. There is no one else down here. Relax and focus. We need to break down that wall and we are faster if we split up.” His voice was low and steady. “Here, take my phone and use the flashlight.”
“But then you won’t see anything.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine,” Michael said and grinned genuinely.
Both started to walk in opposite directions into the darkness.
Michael walked down the tunnels and caves. His eyes slowly adapted to the darkness and he was able to make out simple details. He passed several galleries filled with human skulls. Eventually, the tunnel opened into a vast cave the size of a large living room. The barking of a dog alerted him.
A dog? Down here? There is no way a dog is down here.
Slowly he walked toward the barking sound. Michael loved dogs; he grew up having a springer spaniel named Ben. But this bark was a deep, aggressive bark. It made him cautious.
What if that dog jumps me? I have nothing to defend myself.
He stopped and grinned. No, I can’t do that. He recalls what he once saw on TV. If one is attacked by a dog, they have to stick their finger up the dogs anus and the dog will instantly get freaked out. The last thing on the dog’s mind will be to attack and bite you.
If that thing really comes to get me I better get ready.
Michael wet his index finger. Then he stopped again.
It sounds too generic. There’s no variation.
He wiped his damp index finger against his shirt. and started to walk rapidly towards the sound.
The closer he got the more certain he felt.
He stood in front of a small box. He opened it and could make out a small tape recorder attached to a red laser beam. A laser barrier? Here?
Michael hit a few buttons on the machine and made the sound stop. No longer distracted by the barking noise, Michael looked around to see if he could find a light switch. He walked along the walls using his hands to feel the surface. Suddenly he touched something which felt like a switch. The overhead lights came on. Michael squinted his eyes and raised his hands to block the light from his face. His eyes started to adjust to the light and he saw that the open cave resembled an underground amphitheater, with terraces cut into the rock and chairs standing in neat rows next to each other. He was standing in the middle of a cinema. There was a full-sized movie screen, projection equipment, and tapes lying on a table. Michael kept looking around. He entered a smaller cave adjacent to this one. The smaller cave resembled a restaurant. There were bottles of whisky and other spirits behind a bar. Tables and chairs were standing in front it. Also behind the bar, he saw a small pressure-cooker with some leftover couscous in it.
The authorities often struggled with people who tried to do more in the catacombs than the law allowed. Normally visitors were only permitted to see a tightly restricted section. It’s an offence to enter the rest of the tunnel network due to the fear that some tunnels may cave in and injure someone. However, this does not stop teenagers and secretive bands of so-called “cataphiles” to gain access to the tunnels mainly after dark through drains and ventilation shafts and hold what, in the popular imagination, have become drunken orgies, but what are mostly innocent, underground picnics.
“There must be something to break down the wall,” Michael mumbled.
He walked around the two caves and carefully looked at every corner. In a far corner, he could see a shovel leaning against the wall.
“Perfect,” he said, lifting the shovel.