VII. The Search for the Unclean
David backed up, trying to feel with his hands the way out in the darkness. Vision, faint and amorphous, began to return to him as tiny bits of sunlight gave out the faintest grey as the, afterimage of the lit envelope faded. He stumbled as his groping hands felt a great emptiness to his right, and he knew he had reached the second passage. He paused and held his breath, straining to hear once again the voices. Just above the rushing of blood in his ears, he could make out two voices talking to each other.
He turned his head left and right, trying to hear if the sounds were coming a particular direction. He clenched his fists as he realized that the straighter of the tunnels – the one from which he had descended – contained the voices.
“Boss says we need to make sure, so we’ll make sure, damnit.” It was the voice of Daniel.
“Should be your turn to do the digging,” Fred said.
“It’s either work the spade or carry the dirt, and carrying is the hard part.”
“I don’t like being down there.”
“Fine, I’ll dig, you carry. I don’t think we’ll find anything down there anyway.”
“I hope we don’t”
“Well I want to make sure we get paid. Should we drag the boss out here to have him say we done enough?”
“Maybe,” Fred said. “Maybe tonight or tomorrow.”
David felt a surge of panic as the sound of scraping, clear and present, came from the passageway. David ducked his head and scrambled down the other passageway, having to go from a low crouch to crawl to get through the confined space. Dirt fell in his hair and into his ears. His eyes watered as dust caught in them. Still, he moved as quietly as he could, trying to get closer to the light.
Finally, he reached the end of the passage, but his relief was turned into more panic as he realized that the passage didn’t open to the ground around the boulder. The daylight was coming in from a very small hole around some rocks. It was evident to David that the passage had not served as another entrance at all, but had been just another branch off of the first, abandoned when it became obvious it was beyond the monolith.
David put his back to the dirt wall and held his breath. Though the hole above was small, it filled the end of the tunnel with bright light, and David could not see far past the dusty halo of sunbeams to where he knew the two men likely were. He said a silent prayer that neither of them would think to turn down his passage. He saw a flicker beyond, the light, then a moving shadow.
“I’m thinking we maybe turn off the other way,” Daniel said. “That way we’ll make a cross underneath.” David could hear the voice clearly, like it was right in front of him.
“I don’t know. This rock could fall down.”
“Naw. It’s sitting on a few others. Here.” David heard the clang of a spade against rock.
“Alright, fine,” Fred said. “Where is that damn bucket?”
David heard the steady scrape of a shovel against hard earth, and allowed himself to take a deep breath. He rolled over and tried to get a closer look at the hole above his head. It was roughly a foot across, bounded on one end by the sheer side of an old piece of sandstone and on the other by twisted grassy roots and dry soil. David stuck his hand through the hold and tried to feel around. He felt more rocks around the hold, but also a few places of dead grass and dust. He gripped what he could of a weed and pulled downward, bringing into his narrow tunnel a large clod and another rain of dust. The hole got longer.
He felt around the other side and gasped as a large rock fell from the ceiling, hitting him on the top of the head, rolling off of his shoulder and hitting the floor of the narrow tunnel with a thud. Sun poured in like rain, but David’s eyes smarted with dust.
“Hey, what was that?” David heard vaguely the voice of Fred as he tried to regain his wits. He looked up and saw the widened hole. Without another thought, he put both arms up through it and began to pull himself up. A pain in his ribs bit him, and he felt his waistcoat tear against the rock that had fallen on his head, but he ignored both and pulled himself up into the sun and free of the hole.
His ears rang and his head swam. His eyes were now two spots of blazing fire, both from the dust that had collected in them and from the sudden blinding sun stabbing through the tree trunks from the west. He forced them open and pushed his body into a sprint away from the rock. He plunged through the meadow and looked around for his horse, which was nowhere in sight.
He reached to his head and felt the wet of blood. He felt dizzy, but forced himself to keep moving. He padded through the meadow to a close overhang of trees. With sudden relief, he saw his horse standing freely, where it had wandered nights previous. He ran to it and retrieved his musket, cursing himself for reassuring Ezra and subsequently forgetting to actually carry his weapon with him. He eased back the frizzen on the old lock and checked the prime, then shouldered the gun and waited.
Faintly he could hear, amid the rustle of the spring leaves, a pair of voices, but they seemed to be very far away and not getting nearer. He held his pose for another moment, then heaved his body, now feeling like it weighed twice as much as normal, into the saddle and kicked the horse into a full gallop along a game trail, heading back toward town as straight as he could manage.
If you are enjoying this story, keep your eyes peeled for the book’s full release in 2017. In the meantime consider checking out my supernatural samurai epic, Muramasa: Blood Drinker.