It is meant to be the end of everything, the Great Equalizer, the Ultimate Inevitability.
All that is born, breathes, thinks, feels, and loves will die. Even the things we deem inanimate and eternal, devoid of any semblance of life will eventually die in their own right. Mountains will be reduced to the sands of some future beach. Skyscrapers, bridges, roads, every monument man has erected in his ceaseless attempt to dominate all that he sees shall fall like the Tower of Babel, such is our folly.
It is meant to be the end of everything, but even the arrogance of man can pervert the natural order of the world, if only for a fleeting moment in the eyes of Time.
I finally inhale after what seemed like a millennia. The air was cold and damp, reminding me I was still in the crypt. My eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light filtering through a fairly large fissure in the once ornately carved ceiling, roots and vines snaking in and obscuring the motifs of old.
In an instant I sat up, acutely aware I was naked, the freezing stone floor and chill grave air numbing my exposed everything.
Had I not been clothed before? I’m sure I had been wearing something substantially more than nothing, at the very least an undergarment of some sort.
Why could I not remember?
A shiver coursed through my bones and into my very soul, nudity contributing nothing but instead the grim realization that I could recall only three things.
A crypt, a deep rumble and a man’s face.
Panic began to seize me.
A crypt, a rumble, and a man’s face devoid of one eye. They raced through my mind, taunting me, mocking me.
Memories of the past, that is all they are. Harmless, but even so, if I could only remember three things, why could they not be of family, friends? I had a family, friends, people who cared about me, someone who would notice my absence, didn’t I?
The feeling of dread left me like a wave only to be replaced by a hollowness that was infinitely more terrible.
Family, friends, even my favorite celebrities, no recollection of anything in the slightest, there was just…nothing.
How could there be nothing? Did I not have a family? Someone, anyone who would come searching for me? Was I not born? Did I somehow spontaneously come into existence with three random memories?
I had to have been born. Somebody must be looking for me. My only memories were not random, they must have something to do with my inability to recall anything before being in this crypt.
This crypt and the one I remember must obviously be one and the same. But then what was the rumble and who was that man? Was he responsible for my amnesia? How is it that his right eye is missing?
Looking around, I noticed that the recessed statues lining the walls, columns, and over all structure were in ruin, even more so than one would expect from an ancient sepulcher. From the level of destruction, I realized that the rumble must have been an earthquake, or at the very least a related shockwave. And curiously, there was also an apparent lack of a door or corridor from which I would have entered.
The only explanation then would be that I jumped in, rappelled down, or the ground opened up beneath me. Jumping seemed highly unlikely unless I was prone to risking a broken ankle for the sake of exploration but at the same time there were no ropes or gear of any sort dangling among the roots surrounding the breach. Perhaps the one-eyed man was my partner and he turned on me, knocking me over the head and abandoning me to rot down here for the rest of eternity. If I fell somehow, maybe he was with me when it happened and has now gone for help, if I hit my head crashing through that would explain the amnesia. But even the most probable of those explanations failed to explain why I was in the nude.
Regardless of what happened, I knew in my heart, memories or not, that the only person I could remember had knowledge of how I came to be in my current predicament.
I rose to my feet, shaky and with my joints popping as if stiffened by rigor mortis. In the distance I could hear the tell-tale plink of water droplets, my parched mouth salivating at the thought, ignoring the blatant unsanitary conditions of such a refreshment.
As I moved to the serenading water, careful of the debris littering the floor, I counted seven total sarcophagi, each with a relief of a knight in classic form, bearing sword and shield. Only at second glance did I notice another five that had been desecrated, lids thrown off, sides shattered, some reduced to chunks of mere rubble but all were missing their eternal residents, so much for resting in peace.
Dismayed by how little respect someone had for the dead, I traced a hand along the edge of the nearest stone coffin and felt something odd. Rhythmic and repeated etchings into the surface. I crouched down, my knees popping again in protest, the carvings were not deep, nearly imperceptible unless at the perfect angle. They were a mixture of different languages, that much I knew. Viking runes were mixed with what appeared to be cuneiform. I even recognized the alchemical symbol for sulfur or the soul but most I could only guess at their meanings and origins.
The mystery of what was written would have to wait, the sound of ever dripping water could no longer be ignored, my mouth so dry not even the smallest trickle of saliva could be produced.
Beneath the crack, illuminated by the light as though a gift from God himself, I found what my body so desperately desired. H2O, crisp and clear like that which flowed only from the purest of mountain springs, and a surprisingly deep crevice of it, disturbed only by steady drops from above that sent just enough rippling over the edge and into other fractures to prevent stagnation.
Any fears of bacteria gone from my mind, I dropped to my knees, hands cupped, inching forward, shaking with anticipation of the life giving sustenance.
My fingertips broke the surface and collected what they could, I drank it all expecting relief but received only disappointment. The paltry sum was not enough to quench the thirst of even a newborn babe.
Forgoing any self-control I simply drove my head into the pool and gulped what I could before my lungs began to protest. Bringing my drenched cranium back out, I saw I had drained almost half of what had accumulated but that was not what gave me pause.
My reflection, my very own face, eyes, nose, every feature seemed wrong. My entire facade looked so alien, even more than that of a complete stranger.
I tried to remember how I should appear and yet I could not recall even the color of my irises. Surely this odd mixture of blue and brown was not their normal color, was it?
Try as I might no combination I envisioned was familiar. Every shade of hair seemed off, every nose misshapen, my lips always unkissable, ears and chin were all disproportionate. Nothing was right, it would seem my face was not my own but if that were the case, then how do I know I am me when I remember nothing of myself?
These thoughts had to be stopped, I could not allow a crisis of identity to consume me, there were far more pressing matters to deal with before I could afford to dwell upon such things.
My thirst quenched for the time being, I began to look for some sign of hope in regard to my next obstacle, escape. Nudity was a concern of course, but I did not favor the idea of scrounging around in a crypt for burial garments that mights still be in more or less wearable condition. And besides, the embarrassment of walking around in my birthday suit was preferred over becoming yet another forgotten soul lost within these catacombs.
The most obvious way out was the breach in the ceiling, which my best guess put at approximately fifteen feet, well beyond what I could ever hope to reach without substantial assistance. And with no trampoline or bouncy house around the only available aid were stone coffins. But even if I could move one of the two closest into a better position, there was no guarantee that the additional three feet would be enough for my vertical jump to reach the height required.
So I yelled, at the top of my lungs, I screamed , I hollered. For a good few minutes I shouted everything I could think of to gain attention of anyone that might be within ear shot of the gaping hole above. Then I stood, quiet, hoping to hear anything akin to a human response, but there was only the drip-drip of the water, I didn’t even catch the sweet song of a bird, there was simply silence.
Even with no memory, I knew I had never felt so alone.
Not at all surprised that things would not be easy in the least, I merely sighed and began to examine the cracks in the walls more closely, praying that maybe, just maybe, I might catch a slight breeze, indicating another chamber or better yet an actual passage was just on the other side.
As I made my way slowly around the perimeter, I noticed that every statue appeared to be completely identical, aside from the ones damaged beyond recognition.
Each figure was covered in a floor-length hooded robe with their hands hidden inside of long, droopy sleeves which met just above the waist. Upon closer inspection, I noticed there appeared to be large, almost giant, wings protruding out of their backs which then seamlessly melted into the stone to become the niches themselves.
Angels, masterfully carved out of the wall itself, the finite details of the feathers, it all seemed so familiar. It was as though I had come here, to this specific crypt, to study these unique versions of angelic hosts, to know more about this sacred place, if only I could remember where this place was.
Growing continuously frustrated at my mental hindrance, I continued on, straining to feel even the smallest puff of air from the near infinite fissures permeating my current prison and probable tomb.
For what seemed like a lifetime, I danced my hands along the confines of my cell, like those of a masseuse, trying to tease out the slightest chance of escape but it all was for not. Every step seemed like another foot in the grave, every revolution yet another nail in the preverbal coffin.
I don’t know how many rounds I made before the weight of reality hit me and I just collapsed, bare skin scrapping against the cold, unforgiving stone. The sound of my own weeping the last song I would ever hear.
Then, against all odds, came a reply to my music of despair. On the nape of my neck, I felt it, the softest kiss of wind. So light and faint it must have been a trick of the mind but I sat, more frozen in time than the statues on either side of me, afraid to even breathe, waiting to be proven wrong, waiting for another caress from Mother Nature.
My heart pounded in my ears, my lungs burned, reminding me that I was still holding in my last breath. I gasped, trying to regain normal respiration and in doing so I found my last bit of resolve. Hallucination or not, I would take my chances and break through to whatever lay on the other side, false hope is only hope yet to be proven real.
I grabbed a hunk of rubble and pounded. The reverberations traveled through my arm, overshadowing the pain of that first strike in which I smashed my finger. I had too far to go before I could consider the condition of my second distal phalange.
Ignoring the revelation of some hidden anatomical knowledge, I carried on, each consecutive strike widening the crack ever so slightly. Soon though, my arm ached beyond measure and my makeshift hammer was reduced to half its original size so I took a pause to gauge my progress. It had nearly quadrupled in size, to the point where I could fit my whole hand inside. Tentatively, I slid it through, amazed to find it maintained its proportions internally as well. I was nearly to my elbow before I stopped and laughed in ecstasy.
The tips of my fingers were wiggling around in air. After roughly one measly foot there was nothing on the other side, nothing!
That could only mean two things, I had simply found another chamber in which to die or there was a passageway leading potentially to an exit. Either way, it was something different and in this case, different was all I needed.
For lack of a better word, I was giddy, escape was in sight! I quickly glanced around and grabbed an angular chunk the size of a cantaloupe and pummeled the wall with every bit of strength I had.
Bits of rock stung my face, my entire body succumbing to exhaustion, sweat beginning to trace down my skin but I soldiered on, forcing my new found energy to last until I was finally free. Every strike let out a ring that sounded like a church choir then, finally, the answer to my prayers.
A tiny chip of stone work bopped me on the head and I immediately scrambled back, knowing what it meant. In my state of exuberance I failed to notice that a spiderweb had formed, working its way up an additional three feet above where I had been smashing away seconds before. I had severely damaged the structural integrity and without the proper precautions I might very well collapse the entire ceiling.
Precautions be damned, I rose to my feet, tossing the piece of detritus in my hand, checking its heft then with one fluid motion, threw it like a seasoned pitcher.
It was a perfect hit. Just above the break I had been working on for probably only a few minutes, the now lemon-sized chunk of masonry exploded into a shower of dust but my shoulders slumped in defeat. It was not enough, the wall stood firm.
Cursing, I reflexively kicked a pebble in dismay then immediately turned and shielded my face from the wave of chalky powder.
That tiny little thing had finally brought down the barrier to my freedom.
Once the powdery remains had more or less settled and my coughing ceased, I opened my eyes to behold the glory that was. An archway, the closest example to ever come from the collapsing of a wall yawned before me. It was almost like divine providence.
Not waiting to see if any more of the room would come down or test the duration of this miracle, I shambled my way through the bits of rubble that had settled at the foot of my handmade masterpiece and breathed a sigh of relief.
It was a passageway and despite being plain, it was the most beautiful thing someone trapped could dream of.
There were no urns or alcoves to hold the dead, not even a single angelic statue. The wall sconces and torches placed periodically on either side were simple and possibly unlit for a half dozen centuries. The only light came from yet more fissures in the ceiling, none however, had grown to the size of the one in my original chamber.
I took a moment to look for any clues as to which way might be the best means of leaving these catacombs, only to hear what I had hoped to since the beginning, signs of other people. To my right came the distinct murmur of voices and even the soft pitter patter of shoes on stone.
Elated once more, I felt as if I were gliding down the hall but then reality set in yet again. I was still naked. How would I explain that to strangers? And further more, who would be down here to begin with? Archeologists? Priests? Grave robbers? That last one made me stop mid-stride. If they were grave robbers, they would not take kindly to me even if I were fully clothed.
Out of caution I kept my pace slow, hoping to see them before they saw me. Soon enough, I could tell that there were two or three having a discussion but I could not understand what was being said. Each one seemed to be sick or they were all speaking a language reminiscent of parseltongue, the snake dialect made famous by J. K. Rowling and her various novels.
As I continued on, the passage came to an intersection and I knew that whomever was in here with me was just around the corner. Ever so gradually, I peeked my head out, paused then clamped my hand over my mouth to avoid crying out in horror. The people having the conversation were infinitely more terrible than grave robbers.
Skeletons. Living, breathing reanimated skeletons. Well, not really living or breathing, but reanimated nonetheless. Two of them, each with flesh still hanging on in decayed clumps. Ambulatory, vocal, and armed to their boney britches in authentic looking hauberk style mail, leather pieces and short swords.
I shut my eyes and retreated back behind cover. Hallucinations, that’s all they are, brought on by the unsanitary water I drank. Or, perhaps, when the wall collapsed the ceiling did as well, crushing me underneath. Maybe it was hunger, thinking back I realized I hadn’t eaten since before I fell unconscious, however long ago that was. That must be it, I’m starving and my brain is playing tricks on me.
Choosing to believe that last rational explanation, I slapped myself to clear my head, took a few deep breaths then had another look and instantly regretted it.
They were still undead but it was much worse this time. My eyes locked with the sockets of the one facing me and despite the absence of any vision imbuing organ, I knew it sensed my existence.
He immediately let out a long, raspy screech like that out of a nightmare causing the other one to twist his skull around completely and join in the obvious battle cry.
Scared beyond any rational thought and like an idiot, I tried to run in reverse only managing to trip over my own feet and fall to the floor. The two skeletons advanced on me as a I tried to regain my footing while still crawling backwards. Lacking the necessary musculature, they were slow to move but in my panicked state, my limbs were not much better. Terror overpowering any self control of my own, I continued to clamber haphazardly until I bumped into something squishy and…boney.
I looked up, already knowing what it was. The third voice I had heard, yet another walking dead, only slightly more flesh than the others which is probably why he was quicker to react.
I never saw him draw it, maybe he already had it out for a quick kill, but the next thing I knew was a sword had been plunged into my chest. I never even felt it cut into me and within the polished blade my face looked even more distorted, especially as it coughed up blood.
Gazing beyond my dying visage, I took note of the first pair of skeletons. They were standing over me, side by side, their weapons carving smoothly into my stomach, all while a strange blueish light throbbed from under their chain mail.
Then, there was nothing.
It is meant to be the end of everything, the Great Equalizer, the Ultimate Inevitability.
And although the arrogance of man can pervert the natural order of the world, if only for a fleeting moment in the eyes of Time, sometimes even the Laws of Nature concede to his might until he has relinquished control.
I finally inhaled after what seemed like a millennia but this time was different, this time I remembered, and this time I knew…
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