The hot days of summer were almost past. She finally had a day off and decided to explore the area she had been transferred too with little notice. It was normal for her to be in one area only for a short time. She didn’t mind it though. She thought it would be pretty cool to see the world this way in the beginning at least. Seven years into her three-year contract, which no one seemed to care was long overdue. She was growing slightly tired of picking up and leaving. She remembered the conversation with her mentor when she was seventeen right before she had signed on.
“There will be a day kid where your priorities will change. Things happen, and people grow, when that day happens, we will reevaluate and make the changes,” he said.
“I don’t think that will ever happen,” she said naively.
“It will, kid, you will grow up and reach the moon but none the less you will change your mind on this job at some point. Just know we can also change the job to fit you,” He said with a parting look. She had waved him off and had thought to herself it would never happen. She had repeated it so many times that when she had thought about changing her mind, it now almost seemed impossible. So much had happened in those seven years since that day but the one thing that majorly did change was she knew now, he was right.
Things did change. She changed most of all. She still loved her job, but she wanted more than to work and change locations every year. She looked at her Facebook feed and saw all her friends married now starting families, and she knew she wanted more than just this life of working. She couldn’t do that now, with the way things were. That elusive partner seemed to elude her at every turn. She knew what she wanted, but the difficulty was she didn’t know if that man even existed. She drank the rest of her coffee and looked up places nearby. One caught her eye, and she smiled to herself. That one would be her destination today. For some reason right before she left the safe confines of her apartment the hair on the back of her neck stood up, and a chill passed through her tiny frame, she shivered for a moment and then went on.
She pulled into the parking lot with a few other cars and wondered if it was even open. More so, where was the building? She walked past the fence that surrounded the area and made her way in the smaller building that was on the other side of the fence. She then realized her mistake and laughed to herself. She wasn’t going to tour a real prison of the modern day. This was a prison of a few hundred years back. It wasn’t a building it was underground. She smiled to herself as things had taken a different turn, but it would still be one of those things she could mark off her list of this she had done. She wasn’t interested so much in colonial times, but it was always interesting to see where different ideas came from. She filed away the information she collected on trips like this one in the back of her head and classified it as more useless shit she would never need to know in real life. That information, however, had helped in a few key cases she had worked before, so she always enjoyed ferreting out new things and places to go to.
Her father had installed a love of learning that she continued to this day. She often thought she didn’t learn what was necessary skills for the adult world in school, so she continued to teach herself new things as much as she could. Her goal was to see new places but to also learn about them and the people who called it home. Whereas algebra was a skill, she used in her job she thought there hadn’t been enough of history, which she found odd because that is the one subject that given enough time would and could repeat itself over and over. She wanted to live in relative peace, so she at least tried to remember it and learn from other’s mistakes.
The next tour of the underground prison would begin in an hour, but you could go down into it without a guide and just catch the tour as it caught up with you. She decided she really didn’t want to wait for the tour and she headed down the pathway to what was once the opening to a giant cave system that probably spanned the entire area. The northeast of the country was full of them, mostly left untouched they were a delight to go in and see what was inside and how the earth was formed. She smiled to herself as she neared the opening, and when she reached it again, she had the same shiver pass through her body, and the hair stood up yet again. She was not a superstitious person, but she had the feeling something was going to happen, or she was getting sick with a cold, it was one of the two. She reminded herself to check for a fever when she got back home.
She passed through the opening that had a small safety fence and started down the stairs to a dimly lit cave. As she went further down, she began to see the chains and shackles bolted into the walls of the cave. Off in the distance, she could hear the sounds of the chains being moved slightly. It was eerily and somewhat ominous. There was a feeling of dread that hung in the air, after taking a deep breath, she could also taste the regret of coming in here. The cave walls though vast and cavernous seemed to be getting tighter. She wasn’t claustrophobic, but she could tell that with every step she was descending into what was hell for the people that had been locked up in here.
She heard the voices of others as they toured the cave. The whispers they passed echoed against the walls and then sounded like hushed hisses in the distance. There was also water dripping. She looked around and then up in the center of the cave and saw the stalagmites jutting from the top of the cave walls. Dripping water into a giant puddle that collected at the middle of the cave floor. The sound though faint, was also a form of torture as she waited for the drip sound to hit she counted for some unknown reason. Fifty-five seconds between the drips it was almost a minute apart, and she wondered how many others had done the same, counting and telling time by the consonant sound of the dripping water. As she neared the floor still near the front of the cave system, she caught a smell in the dank, dense air. It was a smell she knew well because of her job. She looked around to see if the smell was coming from near where she was, as the scent was still faint she began to lose interest in the cave system itself, but instinctually she followed the smell. She wondered if it was just a lingering scent or if some unknown creature had stumbled into the cave and could figure out how to get back to the surface.
As she walked around the base of the room, she followed the scent and noticed it was getting stronger on the pathway marked out for the back of the cave. She slowly made her way toward the end of the cave up one path and crossing with another. The scent was growing stronger with every step until she could barely take it anymore. The area she was in now was dark, though still on one of the paths it was not as lit up as the other areas were. She stayed in one spot for a few moments, trying to see if the scent was further on or close by. She was trying to let her eyes adjust to the dim light in which she had wished there wasn’t any light at all. Her co-workers had often remarked on her ability to see almost as well in the pitch of night as she could during the day. At this time, however, the faint dim light that was supposed to add to the atmosphere of the area was screwing her eyes over. She was too focused on the shadows and not was around her. She was trying to breathe again, but the smell was overwhelming, so she took smaller breaths and through her mouth. She wished for her kit so she could continue with a more detailed look over everything, but she would have to go back to her car for that, and she didn’t want to move from the spot she was in. She stood still for what seemed like an entirety of a half hour, still trying to let her eyes adjust, but it wasn’t working. That was when the tour came close to her. She heard the tour guide say “The back of the cave is through there, but we have had some issues with the smell in that corner for some time now. I do not recommend going on those paths for the time being,”
She called out, “Excuse me?” she said as she moved on the stairs to where the guide could see her.
“Yea, Ma’am?” the guide said as he looked her over in the area, he just said not to go in.
“How long has it smelled like this?” she asked.
“To be honest ma’am it has for a long while, six months maybe? We have called the sewage plant a few times to have them come out here, but they can’t find where it is coming from,” he said as he turned to lead the party away.
“One more question,” she said, and the guide turned back her way.
“What is on the other side of that wall in the cave system?” she asked.
“Given the direction and the distance. I would say the basement of one of the buildings on the other side of the road,” he said with a huff and then continued on with the tour leading the small group away from the area.
“Six months,” she said to herself. “There is no way it could be an animal or even just a body.” She shook her head and moved back to the darkness and pulled her flashlight from her pocket. She was about to turn it on when she had the feeling she was being watched, and closely. It was one of those inborn instincts she had relied on for survival in the field. She turned to look around, but there was no one even remotely close by, no one was playing, and attention to her in the least but she couldn’t shake the feeling of having eyes on her. She had to assume it was the place that had her on edge with the scent of death in the air, it had awakened her instincts for self-preservation, but the smell seemed to be getting stronger as she walked in the darkness nearing the back wall of the cave. The feeling of being watched also grew as she made her way closer to the wall. She had to shake the feeling off more than once, and then she could feel a slight shift in the air and a rush of the smell again. It almost seemed to be pulsing around her in waves as it crashed through the walled off area. It wasn’t even lit in this part of the cave though it was on one of the main pathways. Her eyes finally had adjusted to the darkness, but she flipped her flashlight in her hand and pressed the button to turn it on. The area lit up, and she was looking at the floor and the back of the wall some distance away when a sound near her head got her attention, and she flashed the light closer against the wall. She saw there were cracks along the back wall in various places that must have been made when people had built buildings near the caves, she moved the light around still looking for something she couldn’t see, when she flashed the light onto a crack not very far from her head, and she saw an eye peering back at her. She nearly dropped the light as a voice through the crack whispered, “Help me, I’m next.”