House of God
My light fell on a rough brick arch, the first thing I'd seen distinct from the plain walls of this part of the tunnel system in so long I almost was unable to process it at first. Adrenaline was driving me forward, so I didn't falter. In an alcove on the back wall there was a small wooden door with iron rivets. I ran to that door so hard that I almost slammed into it while trying to open it. It wasn't easy to open, but I was so panic-stricken that I could have ripped that entire door off of its hinges just to get away from the catacombs.
I stepped through it into what was obviously a cellar of some sort. I didn't care where I was, as long as it was away from that noise and those people. I bolted the door and shook it to make certain the bolt was steady. I quickly surveyed the room. I still wasn't far enough away for my liking, and wanted to move through this room quickly. There were boxes everywhere, covered in tarps. It was musty down there, but it had obviously seen some use recently. The basement was pretty old looking, and it immediately made me think I was in a church. The floor was flagstone, and ceilings were all brick arches. There were pillars all over the room, and in the corner, there was a stone stairway leading upward. As I passed the rows of boxes on my trip to the stairs, I saw a dust-covered Frisbee resting atop one of the boxes. I'd never been so relieved to see a Frisbee in my life. This simple toy made me realize that I had done it. I'd found my way out, and I was going to be safe in a matter of minutes.
After climbing the stairs, I found myself in a short hallway. The walls were clean and white, and the carpet was in good repair. I called out: "Hello? I'm lost.", and was very shortly greeted with a woman's voice: "Of course you are, dear.".
She emerged from what appeared to be a study. I was in the back offices of the church, in the hallway between the parishioner's chamber and the library (which was really no more than a few bookshelves and a single table). Her face was definitely wizened by the years. I would say she probably looked to be in her late sixties. She looked at me and smiled: "Can't find your way out?"
I replied: "No, ma'am, I was exploring the canals under the old hydro-electric plant, and got lost in these sort of catacombs that weren't on my map. I..." I then thought about mentioning all the terrifying things that went on down there while I was lost, but thought better of it. "...I found the door that led into your basement. Where am I?"
She continued smiling, and replied "Exactly where you need to be. You are only a mile from one of the old plants, so you haven't gone far." she motioned for me to follow her into the study. I, realizing the state of my boots, quickly took them off as I stepped out of the basement. "If you'd like some coffee before you go, I'd be happy to serve you." she called out from the study as I strung my boots up to my rucksack.
At that moment, I was so glad to be above ground that I didn't question this woman's kindness for even a minute. I just assumed that she was an old church lady, and pictured herself the model of hosts. I should have been surprised that she would have so calmly reacted to how I emerged from the basement of her church. I should have questioned the strange way she was speaking to me, but I assumed that she was trying to weave biblical meaning into what she said to me. Of course I was "lost", and if I were lost, of course I was "where I was supposed to be", now that I was in a church. I assumed she was being a religious cook, rather than legitimately creepy. Looking back on it, it makes my blood run like ice water.
She sat me down with a cup of coffee, and we talked a bit about my exploration of the old pump station. I explained that somehow I'd found a tunnel that led into these bizarre catacombs that shouldn't have been there. Nothing that I had read about the plant mentioned anything like these tunnels. Over the course of the conversation, I became increasingly uneasy. I realized that this woman didn't seem all that old. She looked maybe in her late 40s in the study. I dismissed it as being the light, and that maybe I was still a little not right in the head from my experience in the tunnels. At this point, I was sure I had been hallucinating down there. The coffee was bringing my sense of clarity and vigor back.
I finished my cup of coffee after our brief conversation. I don't really remember a lot of what she said to me, but that feeling of unease grew and grew until I wanted nothing more than to be out of this church. I wanted to get back to my car and go to my motel room. I threw my styrofoam cup in the wastebasket, and began to thank her for her kindness.
"Why are you alone?" she asked, completely interrupting me. The question threw me off balance. It had nothing to do with what we were talking about. It had no relevance to anything that she would logically bring into the conversation.
"I'm sorry?" is all I could reply.
"Why are you alone?" she asked. "Did you choose this for yourself?"
"Well, my friend Mike didn't think it was a good idea." I replied, unsure why I was even answering the question.
"That doesn't answer my question." she stated. Her face was suddenly piercing and smooth. She was beautiful. Easily in her 20s now. Her tone was becoming harsh. I started backing away, but I was compelled to answer.
"I... Don't have anyone else." I stated. When I answered this question, everything else was gone. It was just the two of us standing there against a curtain of black. I could feel her eyes burning into me, fierce and intense. Her mouth was a firm line. She didn't speak any more. I could feel her words more than hear them. The room was ice cold, and my skin was clammy again.
"Why are you alone?" she asked again. Suddenly my thoughts were a blur. Every friend I'd thought I'd made in high school was gone. There was Mike, yeah, but our friendship was entirely material now. There was no relationship there anymore. I hated Jon, not for good reason, but because I envied his success and prestige. My marriage had failed while I was in the military, and fearing my friends had sided with my ex-wife, I abandoned all of them completely. All of my military buddies? I was never fully honest with them about who I was, so I never gave them an opportunity to be a friend with me. I didn't even live near my family deliberately, just so I could be alone. I had pushed every other person out of my life, and I was really and truly alone.
She was right in front of me now, her face next to my ear. Her hair was fiery red, and skin ghostly white. Eyes a powerful verdant shade of green. She was nude, and I suddenly realized that I was too. We were swimming together in an inky sea of black. It was oblivion. I was nothing. She was right there with me, but so far. I realized instantly that without her, it would be just me and my nothingness. I realized that one alone in the emptiness is themselves empty. The thought terrified me. Then it occurred to me. I had spent the last day in complete terror of the idea of not being alone, when in fact the thing that really scared me was being alone. The irony hit me like a ten ton sack of bricks, and I wept.
"Good." she wispered. I knelt down and pressed my forehead against her bare belly. I felt her hands on my neck and shoulder. She began to kneel down slowly. Her breasts brushed my forehead. I felt an indescribable lust well up within me, but also fear. I knew that she wanted to hurt me. She had already broken me. She had already destroyed everything that I once thought I was. I could feel her eyes on me, like those of a falcon staring at a mouse. And I wanted her to hurt me. I was in total submission. I wanted her to dominate me, and redirect my meaning and purpose. The alternative was emptiness. Given the choice between emptiness and suffering, I chose the suffering.