Prompt: Michael Juzwik brings us this week’s prompt for F3 – “You’ve spent the night deep underground in a cavern, one in a series of caves that have ‘drawn’ you, inexplicably, for years. You and your partner/guide settle in for a night’s rest, with no premonition of ill-doing. You are awakened by an unearthly sound and discover your partner/guide is gone. Is there someone, or something, down there with you? What do you do now? And, what happened to your guide?”
Word Limit: 1,688 (well, really, it was only 1,500 – I went a bit over)
Deadline: Wednesday, 24 October, 2012 @ 10:00 pm CT
NO TURNING BACK
By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw
Isabelle jerked upright in the sleeping bag… wide awake before the sound that had woken her had finished bouncing off the damp, craggy cavern walls. Her heart thudded in her chest, unnaturally loud in counterpoint to the dying echo in the huge underground chamber.
The memory of the sound… unhuman was the only description she could attach to that awful racket… seared her eardrums with an undertone of sheer terror. What kind of animal could make that sound? Surely, nothing human could have…
Isabelle’s hand groped in the dark… her slender fingers searching the hard space next to her sleeping bag for the flashlight. Grasping the cold, hard cylinder, she twisted the front end of the powerful Mag-Lite. A bright beam of light shot out in front of her, illuminating the dark surrounding them. She swung the bright beam around to her left where her companion lay, apparently immune to the unearthly sound that had woke Isabelle.
“Carly, did you hear…?”
Isabelle stopped mid-sentence… the green and red plaid sleeping bag laid out next to hers was empty? Isabelle arced the flashlight’s beam around the chamber.
“Carly? Carly… where are you? Carly!”
As she frantically swung the Mag-Lite’s powerful beam around the chamber, her shouts echoing off the domed roof of the cavern, Isabelle fought back a rising panic. If anything happened to Carly… it would be all Isabelle’s fault.
It was Isabelle’s obsession… there really wasn’t a better word… that had drawn her here… that had brought her and her lover of six years to this place, deep in the back country of Pennsylvania/New York, away from their… relatively for New York City, anyway… safe haven back in Manhattan. Isabelle couldn’t explain it any more than she could explain what made the sky blue… this ‘pull’ that had brought them to the almost undiscovered network of caves and tunnels in upstate Pennsylvania. If anything happened to Carly, she would never forgive herself.
Several minutes later, it was obvious that Carly was no longer in the chamber. Isabelle gathered up her backpack… an icy stab of fear shot through her heart at the realization that Carly’s backpack and flashlight were still next to her sleeping bag… both flashlights and several bottles of water and food-packs. The same certainty that had brought Isabelle here also told her that Carly had not gone back up to the surface. Nonetheless, before she headed deeper into the network of tunnels, Isabelle reconnoitered the path they had come in on. There were no marks of anyone exiting. Fear’s icy grip clutched at her heart.
Of the three other tunnels leading out of the chamber, two had ended in dead-ends only a dozen or so meters in. Checking her gear and zipping her coat against the sudden drop in temperature, Isabelle set out down the remaining tunnel. It was about four feet wide and perhaps ten feet in height, with a slight downward degree to the footpath.
With her flashlight sweeping the darkness ahead of her, Isabelle descended further into the Earth, determination to find her lover overcoming her fear.
After walking for almost two hours, the tunnel opened onto another large opening in the Earth’s underground. Isabelle found herself standing on the edge of a large chamber that extended in all directions. She shone the flashlight’s powerful beam upward… the dark ceiling was at least a hundred meters high… then downward… into a deep depression in the ground studded with crystalline spires. Were it not for the fact that Carly was missing, Isabelle might have better appreciated the beautiful formations spread out before her.
“Carly? Carly… can you hear me? Carly!!”
The echo of her own fear-tinged voice was the only answer Isabelle got. She slung the pack off her back and sat down on a large rock on the edge of the path. Isabelle wasn’t hungry but she knew that she had to keep her strength up, so she rummaged in the pack for some food and water.
After eating, she forced herself to sit and rest for another twenty minutes before setting off again.
Once Isabelle had cleared the second large chamber, the path narrowed to a tunnel and she was once again tightly closed in by rock and earth. As she walked, Isabelle realized that the air was growing warmer… and an unpleasant odor had replaced the general damp, earthy smell of before.
Without warning, the rocky ceiling and left side of the tunnel suddenly fell away, revealing a vast abyss. Isabelle jolted to a stop, reflexively pressing back against the tunnel wall and away from the path that was now no more than two feet across. Heart thudding in her chest once again and blood pounding in her ears, Isabelle shut her eyes tightly and whispered a silent prayer.
She opened her eyes after a few moments and swept the flashlight’s wide bluish-white beam of light all around her… left and right, taking small, careful steps on the narrow path before her. Isabelle aimed the flashlight down into the seemingly bottomless crevasse, but the darkness refused to be pierced and give up any of its secrets.
Just as Isabelle was about to move on, a sudden shift in the air pressure around her caused Isabelle to stop in mid-stride. A premonition of unease wrapped itself around her. A low, moaning-like sound drifted up out of the chasm and at the same time, a wave of terror and despair seemed to fill the air… it was almost palpable! Isabelle’s earlier fear, never quite leaving her, tightened its grip around her heart and despite the growing warmth around her, an icy tickle raced down her spine. Sorrow and agony seemed to rise up from the cleft in the earth in front of her.
Isabelle pressed herself against the rough wall of rock behind her and an involuntary moan escaped her lips. Her eyes grew wide and her breathing shortened to sharp little pants, her conscious overwhelmed with a sudden flurry of emotions and sensations. Isabelle’s imagination ran away a little from her as the miasma of human suffering drifted all around her.
With an effort, Isabelle shook off the fear that threatened to paralyze her and took off running down the path, the Mag-Lite’s beam bouncing erratically as she fled the terror behind her.
How long she ran, almost blindly at times, Isabelle could not later recall. The physical exertion of running finally cleared the fear that had overtaken her and the dark cloud of evil from the abyss seemed almost a figment of her imagination. Isabelle slowed to a walking pace and tried to collect her thoughts. That was when she came to another chamber.
And her destiny.
The long, narrow tunnel opened into a much smaller chamber than the previous ones… this one lit by a pale glow she couldn’t trace to its source. Isabelle ventured off the path and across the flat, smooth floor of the chamber, having spotted an opening on the other side. None of the fear or emotions conjured before were present.
Passing through the stone archway, Isabelle entered a much larger chamber… enormous by contrast… and lined with flickering torches, literally hundreds. The smooth floor of the chamber opened up like a huge dance floor, the flames from the torches both illuminating the chamber and casting fiery reflections on the polished ground before her.
Isabelle turned off the Mag-Lite and looked around her. The enormous cavern’s walls were lined with ornately carved sarcophagi and everywhere, the crystalline-studded walls and domed ceiling glittered with the light from the torches.
Looking down at her feet, Isabelle saw that a wide swath of black onyx with blood-red tear shapes inlaid had been set in the cavern floor. Her eyes followed the path of the stone… to a large blue-black throne.
The throne was occupied.
The dark figure sitting there beckoned Isabelle
With slow measured steps and more than a trace of fear, Isabelle made her way to the throne; she seemed helpless to not move forward. As she drew near, Isabelle realized the figure on the throne was a woman… tall with flowing, dark hair… dressed all in shimmery black silk brocade.
Inexplicably, only her face was in shadow.
“I’ve been waiting for you, child.”
“Did you take my friend?”
“She is not your destiny, Isabelle… I am.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Unbidden, the old recurring dream from Isabelle’s childhood resurfaced… she knew.
“I believe you do.”
“Yes… I do. You’re the Dark Queen… the Vampyre Queen… ruler of the Underworld.”
“You are to ascend to my throne, Isabelle… it is written so. Just as I, once a handmaiden to Elizabeth I, was destined to one day sit upon this throne, so you are as well.
“And, if I refuse my destiny?”
The Dark Queen rose from her throne and stepped down, walking over to Isabelle. Isabelle stood, heart beating wildly in her chest… the velocity of her blood roaring in her ears. It wasn’t so much that Isabelle couldn’t move… she realized that she didn’t want to move.
When the Dark Queen stood in front of Isabelle, the shadow fell from her features. Isabelle let out a gasp… her eyes went wide in recognition. A small smile curved the Dark Queen’s lips.
“Yes… we have met, have we not?”
The beautiful woman facing her now as the Vampyre Queen, Isabelle knew as Erin Yovanović, owner of a gallery on Manhattan’s West Broadway, L’autre.
The two women faced each other for several minutes before the Dark Queen spoke again.
“One’s destiny cannot be forced… neither can it be denied.”
“What of my… what of Carly?”
“Your lover? She will remember nothing of this… or of you.
“You will let her live?”
“Yes. You have my word.”
Isabelle’s heartbeat had returned to normal, now however; with the decision made…
Isabelle closed her eyes and tilted her chin up, exposing her long, pale neck.
Erin stepped closer… she turned her face to Isabelle’s upturned throat.
The Dark Queen’s jaws stretched wide…
Pointed ivory pierced pale flesh… sinking into the warm, pulsing vein…
~ fini ~
© 2012 – Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw. All Rights Reserved.