Chapter 8- Through the Darkness
Sitting up, I groaned. I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear the drip drip of something spouting onto the floor nearby. I mussed my hair with my hands and felt a bit of something flutter down onto my shoulders. Brushing off my shirt, I carefully stood, yet I was bent in half as I choked on a rash of haggard coughs on the frigid, thick air. Barely regaining my breath, I swept my hands out in front of me, trying to find purchase. I gasped—my lungs protested, inhaling again what felt like shards of ice—when my hands slid down a wall on some slime.
“Gross,” I sputtered, wiping my palms on my jeans. Taking shallow breaths and placing just a fingertip back on the wall for guidance, I started to walk in what was hopefully the direction of the exit. A pain in my leg stopped me short for a moment. I was limping.
This was not going to help if I needed to make a quick exit. It was annoying, but I’d deal with it.
No matter how long I’d been in the dark, my eyes still hadn’t adjusted. I couldn’t see the wall. I couldn’t even see the little light speckles that your eyes are supposed to produce when it’s too dark. It was like I was blind. But then the lights flickered on. And kept flickering.
I cried out from the brightness and shielded my eyes. I swore I could feel my pupils constricting in my head, like they were surprised, too.
I peeked out from underneath my fingers when my eyes had stopped stinging. The lights were scattered down the length of the ceiling and their light glanced off the walls oddly, creating shadows everywhere that I thought might just eat me. I was—for the second time today—frozen into a silence that had nothing to do with the subzero temperature.
I was in some kind of shaft. Hallway. Mine shaft. I was stumbling down a creepy, wooden, metal, dirt-for-floor mine shaft. Every time my gaze shifted, trying to catch a shadow in the act of clawing my eyes out, it would vanish, and I swore I heard a deep, rumbling cackle.
My chest tightened.
I took a deep, slow breath, trying to breathe around the cold. Maybe this is the basement? Maybe I hit my head when I tripped and I’m still up there, just dreaming? I started to walk again. My leg wobbled.
The metal supports on the ceiling were hanging down in some places. And there was weird green stuff—not even grass or moss—like slime, but more with the consistency of stringy mucus and chunks of goo, that was oozing out from the cracks in the walls. And that smell from earlier was back. It was so much stronger down here that I had to cover my nose and mouth. I could feel the bile in my stomach roiling. It was so much worse than being nauseas. The sick was forcing itself up my throat even though I pinched my nose harder until it hurt. It took everything I had to keep from actually throwing up what I was gagging on.
I fell to my knees, both hands over my mouth. A white-hot jolt of electricity tore through my knee and up my thigh, and I stifled my cry of pain and queasiness against my palms. It took a few minutes of me trying to catch my breath against the will of the pain, but I managed to brace my hands on the floor. They slowly drifted to my leg; I was shaking. That fall had actually done a number on me. It had beaten me so bad that I’d forgotten to blow chunks.
I felt weak. I had fallen like that before, and nothing had ever left me this battered. I could still feel the pulsing ache keeping time with my heartbeat, but it was getting weaker and easier to handle with each passing breath. Finally, the pain was just a pinprick where the bruise probably was, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Surprisingly, the smell wasn’t as overpowering when I was down low like this. Taking shallow breaths through my nose so I couldn’t taste the rank or feel the bite of the chill, I shuffled slowly down the length of the shaft until a blast of warmer air met my face. Relieved, I stood with the help of the wall and gulped down the cleansing, welcoming air. But then I groaned again.
The mine had opened up to a library. An ancient library. What kind of house was this?
On my left were rows and rows of book shelves. Some were neat; others had piles of fallen books and torn pages scattered on the floor between them. I shrugged. That was normal. If I was lying to myself, I would’ve said that nothing was even remotely freaky about this room. Books fall. Animals can climb up the shelves and gnaw at the paper. That could happen. Wind scatters things. There could be a window open somewhere.
But I was trying to keep myself calm. My sweating, shaking hands knew the lie wasn’t that convincing. I had to force myself to stare, bewildered and terrified, at what was on my right.
Book shelves were toppled in heaps of splintered frames. Okay, I could handle that. I didn’t know why that scared me so much. There was dirt and rubble everywhere, like an earthquake had caved the ceiling in. Still, I was okay with that. But I couldn’t slow my breathing as it crept towards hyperventilation.
I think if I zeroed in on the fact that only one half of the room seemed obliterated, only one half of the room had carpeted stairs just hanging in midair, and that only one half of the room made my breath cloud into ice crystals… I was toast.
This isn’t right, I thought, stepping over a boulder the size of my head. It was way too warm in here for there to be condensation and breath-fog. I should not go over there. My leg protested with another jolt of pain.
I shivered through the throbbing, unconsciously rubbing my hands against each other to warm them and to keep myself from swearing.
It feels so wrong in here. I am so dead. I am so dead.
Something was pulling me forward, and it wasn’t the need to escape anymore. I needed to distract myself. I needed to find my way out. Yes, that’s what I needed to focus on. That’s the only thing that should be inching me forward. Even with my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I couldn’t get them to stop shifting long enough to really take more than a few steps, though. I just needed to find a way out. I needed to get out.
“Seriously?” I said aloud, exasperated. I jumped when my echo bounced back to me. “I’ve been in scarier places before,” I muttered. “I definitely have. Like that one time in the sewers.”
I pulled myself onto the stairs, grinding my teeth against the resistance of my battered leg, willing the stairs to stay cemented, however they were, to the spot of air where they were suspended.
“Or that time I walked in on the bank robbery downtown.” My arms flailed uselessly as I lost my balance. With a grunt, I fell onto my stomach on the stairs, my nails digging into the dusty carpet. “That time on the plane was damn close too,” I remembered with a huff, standing.
This place should not make me want to wet my pants! It’s just an old library! I thought, not comfortable actually saying this because I could’ve sworn I felt something watching me.
I looked around slowly. My panicked breath was still clouding in bursts of ice crystals and I swatted them away, trying to squint across the room. I could barely see the broken bookshelves on the other side of the room. There wasn’t anything there other than the shelves and the books tossed onto the floor. I looked over my shoulder to the bottom of the stairs. Something wasn’t right. I still couldn’t see anything, but now I was sure there was definitely someone watching me.
The whole thing made me frown.
Hastily scrambling up a few more steps, I was at the top of the stairs now. The gap between the ledge and the stairs was a little bigger than I’d hoped. And there was nowhere else for me to go. I internally yelled at myself for being so stupid. Why go up before searching for a door? Because in the sewers, up leads to daylight; in the bank, up leads to air vents, which leads to cover; in the plane, up leads to…well, not crashing.
“Here it goes.” I gulped, prepared, and jumped.