Warnings to the Curious VII
Niklaus nearly lost Sanders upon explanation of his plan. Werner, Big Paul, and the captain had arrived early in the afternoon and cleared a wide circle by the silos at Paul’s southern hay fields, over a mile from his house, with nothing but a canopy of grey gathering storm clouds to witness as the sky darkened. Sanders arrived as the sun set, pulling a wagon loaded with iron chains and manacles, enough for twenty men. When he stopped the wagon in the clearing, the iron chinked once more then settled. The men’s horses whinnied at each other, but Sanders did not dismount.
“Just what the hell is that?” he shouted, and the other three looked up.
Werner was lighting a torch. He shook out the match and rotated the torch as the flame grew. Big Paul dropped the stick he was carrying onto the pyre. The captain pushed on the post centered in the kindling, testing that it was securely fixed in place.
“What the hell are we doing here?” Sanders repeated. He shifted forward and back in the saddle. His horse huffed and shook its mane.
“You came,” said Werner, stepping forward, peering at the wagon’s contents and smiling. “It is good to see you.”
“You didn’t say…” Sanders raised an arm, shaking his forefinger at the pyre. “...you didn’t say nothing about this.”
“This is the only way…”
Sanders shook his head.
Werner handed the torch to the captain and approached the blacksmith, placed a hand on his horse’s bridle. He spoke gently. “Bullets do not stop her. We cannot destroy her by conventional means.”
“I won’t have anything to do with burning a woman.”
“Not a woman. A devil. An unnatural thing brought here by unnatural means.”
“Exactly what do you mean to do?”
“We find her in the caves. She’s hiding there, I’m sure of it. Now, listen. Bullets won’t stop her, but they will slow her down. We subdue her with lead bullets. We bind her with lead chains. Lead is a poor conductor of electricity. I believe it will decrease her power. We take her through the caves and bring her back here. And then we send her back to the hell from which she came.”
Sanders was still shaking his head, unable to look away from the pyre. Big Paul swung a length of rope around the center post.
“You will see with your own eyes. Tonight. Until then, you must trust me.” Werner released the horse, took a step back. “As you trusted me at Yellow Creek.”
Werner walked back to the pyre. He took the torch from the captain, and they lit another. Sanders finally dismounted, swinging his wooden leg over first, then hopping out of the stirrup and to the ground on the good one.
Werner handed him the second torch. Then he picked up two burlap seed bags, walked around to the back of the wagon, and began to pack the iron chains into the bags. “Sanders, you and Paul take the wagon back to the river,” he said. “Paul knows where we left the raft. Go downriver to Tower Cliff, to the old pirate cove. You remember where that’s at?”
Of course he did. The cave in the pirate cove was where Sanders had lost his leg. The three of them had hidden there after the worst of the fighting, as they made their way back home after Yellow Creek. Sanders caught a Minié ball in his lower leg, but the three men would not leave him behind. They carried him on a stretcher to the cave and they stayed there for five days, hiding, recovering, forgetting. And when they had seen the green and yellow streaks in Sanders leg, had accepted that his injury was fatal, Werner himself had saved Sanders by amputating the diseased limb. A pain of no words. A primitive pain. Born before language. The other three held him down. When they crawled out, they strapped him to a handmade stretcher and dragged him behind. He spent small windows in consciousness, looking up at the blue bowl of sky. He could smell the river before the pain forced him back to unconsciousness.
“Yeah,” he said, “I remember.”
The captain and I will go from my shop through the caves. There’s no exit besides the pirate cove. We’ll either catch her or flush her out. Either way, be ready at the shore.” He held out the bag of iron. Sanders stared at it, but it was Paul who stepped up and took it.
“Come on,” Paul said to Sanders. “I ain’t been to the river since this thing happened. I want to see it.”
When the two had gone and the wagon out of sight beyond the hill, Werner and the captain walked their horses through the field, and followed the creek back to town. Thunder rumbled far in the distance and every so often a thin blade of lightning soundlessly split the sky.
They rode in silence almost the whole way, but as they passed the livestock corrals that marked the edge of town, the captain broke it.
“How long you going to hold Yellow Creek over us all?” he asked.
“What do you mean? We were all there. How do I hold it over anyone?”
“You saved us all that day, Werner. I won’t deny it nor forget it.”
“Only did what I was trained to do.”
“No, you were a hero. All those men know it, especially me. I was supposed to be leading those men. You saved a lot of lives.”
“We all saved ourselves. No man owes me a thing.” Werner dropped his shoulders, pushed back his hat and looked over at the captain. “So you’re here because you think you owe me? That’s all?”
“No, I think you’re right about this devil woman or whatever she is. I think we need to take care of it, and we might be the only ones apt and able to do it. I don’t blame Sanders. None of us is eager to get mixed up in another battle of any kind. I believe we’ve all had our fill of that for one lifetime.”
“Even you? Captain?”
“Even me. I killed men I’d known since childhood. Boys I’d cut up with in Sunday school, fished with, played hooky and rafted with all the way down to Greene County.”
“They picked the wrong side, though,” said Werner. “They picked the side that wanted to enslave men, break from the Union. I couldn’t stand for that. I fight for what’s right. And if this woman has a power that’s unnatural, that ain’t right. She picked the wrong side. She chose to use power beyond what God gave her.”
“Yeah,” said the captain. “They picked the wrong side. That’s for sure. It’s just...when we were kids, we didn’t have those kinds of sides. We were all the same side, seemed like.”
They had reached Werner’s store front. A few doors down, the Black Horse hummed with the sound of men chanting and stomping inside. For a sharp moment, Werner heard the men of the German tavern of his childhood, stomping and chanting overhead and Tante Britta opened the cellar door. He flinched in his saddle, sniffed hard, blinked and was back in the present. The captain was tying his horse to the post. Werner dismounted.
“You’re right,” he said. The captain turned toward him. “I shouldn’t have pushed Sanders into this. I’ll go after her myself if I need to. And if you’d rather stay out of it, too...if you don’t want to dig up bad memories, I can understand that. Believe me...I can understand that all too well.”
“I went through a war. I think I can put one demon woman, or whatever she is, out of our town without succumbing to bad memories.” The captain slapped the dust out of his gloves. “In fact, I’m might curious about this woman. You can’t drag me this far and then let me go. I got to see her now. I got to see her shoot lightning from her fingertips or whatever.”
Niklaus nodded and unlocked the door. At the late hour, he expected silence, but as he closed the door silently and motioned for the captain to follow him to the trapdoor, he heard a soft, high voice from the loft. Anna singing. Nicky singing along. His wife murmured. His son laughed. Niklaus lifted the the trapdoor and motioned for the captain to descend first. Then he followed, his torch in hand, and when he closed the door above his head, the sounds of his wife and son were cut off, as if he had slipped into a world beyond their existence. He was not afraid. He knew this underground world, had known it since he was a child. Indeed, in some ways he had been raised within it, acclimated to it, trained to be the world’s only defender against its horrors.
He felt this truly in the deepest parts of his soul. He had chosen the right side.
Big Paul had no business being on the river so soon after it had taken his son’s life. As the first cool air of the river and the sweet smell of mud drifted over them Paul’s head fell into his hands. Slumped next to Sanders on the wagon seat, his shoulders jumped up and down, and he whimpered with despair.
They stopped at the blackened shore at the southern edge of town, beyond the docks. The place was deserted. In town, they could see the a dim glow of a few stoves still burning. Above them spread the bright canopy of stars, and all around them the scent of decay, of burnt and rotting fish, covered the normally pleasant smells of the river.
Sanders slid down from the seat, wincing as his peg leg smacked the cobbles. The old peg had been bothering him lately. He had rubbed a sore spot on his knee cap the night of the Tragedy, running back and forth, helping where he could, and the injury had not yet healed. He had not slowed down enough in the days since. But he did not have a wife or children, or any family at all to check him and nag him into taking care of himself, and so the sore knee continued.
He carried the burlap sack around to where Paul sat sobbing. “Come on now,” he said, “we’ve got to go or we won’t be in our place at the right time.”
Paul lifted his head immediately and nodded, sniffed, drug his sleeve across his ruddy nose. “I know, I know. I’m just a man that’s got to let his feeling out.”
Sanders left him to compose himself in private and walked down to the river wall where the water lapped against the stone and a raft had been tied to the post. In the dark, no one would know the raft was there unless he was looking for it. He sat on the wall and eased himself on to the raft. Paul followed within a minute and boarded the raft, dipping the whole vessel alarmingly to one side. The corner submerged and Sanders stumbled. He fell to his bad knee and cried out. Paul shifted his enormous weight, and the raft evened out. Sanders sat back, wincing as he knee throbbed.
“You all right there?” asked Paul. “Sorry about that. Never found a delicate way to board one of these floaters.”
Sanders nodded and launched them without standing, pushed off the post with an oar, and soon they were drifting soundlessly down river.
Soundless except for the occasional sniff from Big Paul. He had taken control of the rudder as a sort of apology for the almost-capsize Sanders guessed, and he sat sideways, one eye on their progress, but still watching the current, their gentle wake, and the trail of moonlight on the water behind them.
“Why’d you agree to this?” Sanders asked him. “You know it won’t bring him back. You know that well as anyone...more death don’t bring the dead back.”
He had thought Paul would stay silent. He thought he might have his say as they drifted downriver, but Paul sniffed again and answered.
“She’s already dead.”
“That woman. I don’t know if Werner’s right. I don’t know if she’s a demon. But she was dead. I heard it all. I heard it from the sheriff himself when I went to him after my boy died. I went to the sheriff for answers about why all this happened, and he told me. He said the scientist was experimenting with bringing the dead back to life, and that they think...they’re pretty sure he succeeded.”
Paul turned to face him. “According to the sheriff, and according to Werner too, this woman is dead but she’s walking around. And that ain’t right. My boy doesn’t get to do that, and this woman doesn’t get to do it, either. If you’re dead, you’re gone, and that’s the way things are supposed to be. So the way I see it...we ain’t really killing her. She’s already dead and we’re helping her get back to where she belongs.”
“Helping her,” Sanders repeated. “Will you still think that, I wonder, when she’s tied to that post you and Werner and the captain set into the ground. Will you be helping her by listening to her scream?”
He had hoped to make Paul angry. He hoped anger might somehow change his mind. But Paul turned back to the water behind them. “I heard plenty of screaming, seen plenty of death, and known I was doing the right thing.”
Sanders turned forward. He had also heard the same screams, seen the same death, and he had hoped it was all in the past. But his opinion was outnumbered, the same as it had been several times in their militia years. So once again Sanders questioned his own reasoning. If every other man thought one way, then most likely he was in the wrong, he hadn’t considered some element. He had been ready to die on the Yellow Creek, had seen no way forward in his physical body with the shredded ankle. But the other three had. They outvoted him, and now here he was, alive, no thanks to his own reasoning.
Werner said this woman was a demon. Paul was convinced she was already dead. The captain was only concerned of what the creature might prohibit to the town’s prosperity. All excellent reasons, and Sanders could not quite form a solid argument against any of them. He only knew a vague sense of unease, the same unease that followed him all through the war, all through his service in the militia. And try as he might, he could only narrow it down to a sense that he hated death, he hated killing. he could not abide to be the end of some living creature’s life. Had never been able to since he could remember. He once moved a family of baby moles from his mother’s garden to the meadow three miles away because he knew she would poison them.
He had no reasonable argument against destroying this woman, only that he knew he could not do it. So he would find himself again in the same situation as his military service: standing by and witnessing while others killed. A neutral party. A cowardly observer. He would not take part, yet he would not cross words or weapons to stop it, either. And what did that make him, he wondered? He looked down at his missing leg. What did that make him?
A strange, low bolt of lightning flashed. Sanders was broken from his reverie but not yet alarmed. The storms over the past week had not been the usual sort, but storms born of unnatural causes. Anyone could see that. The clouds built and receded like frothy waves on a beach but never dissipated. The rain came and went with no pattern. And the lightning...the lightning was always there. Sometimes with a crack of thunder it split the sky. Sometimes gently it peeked from behind a cloud, flashed, and disappeared.
This time, though, the lightning had come from the shore. Directly ahead and to the right, exactly where they were headed.
“You see that?” asked Paul. He pushed the rudder and angled them toward the shore.
Slowly, Sanders stood on the raft and lifted his torch. The tall grass hid the entrance to the cave, but he remembered exactly where it was, right in the center of cove they were now entering. A sharp wind blew across the water, bent the grass… “There!” he whispered.
A lamp, barely bright enough to see from that distance, flashed behind the moving grass.
Paul leaned forward, scanning the shore. “I see it.” he said and then shouted, “You there!”
The light disappeared. Sanders grabbed an oar, Paul the other, and they rowed furiously the remaining length to the shore. They’d barely scraped the mud when both men grabbed their rifles and then, Sanders carrying the torch, Paul the bag of iron, pushed through the grass toward the limestone cliff.
“Watch it!” Sanders threw his arm out to stop Paul. He waved the torch over the water-logged pit into which he’d nearly fallen.
Paul stopped short, “What in the name of Christ?” he whispered.
“It’s a trap,” said Sanders. He knelt down and examined the edge of the pit. He saw the gouges where something had clawed its way out. He swung the torch around. Surrounding them, the ground was covered in boot prints, a gentleman’s slim soles with squared-off toe and the even smaller, slimmer, pointed ones of a woman. “He trapped her.”
Sanders shook his head. “No way. They wouldn’t have had time to dig this out.”
Paul twisted this way and that. The iron clanked in the burlap. “I don’t see that light,” he whispered. “It looked like a lamp, like someone else was here.”
As soon as he’d uttered the words, a flash of light popped upshore, at the base of the cliff. For a second, the low, concealed opening to the pirate cave was illuminated.
Sanders stood up. He and Paul faced the cliff wall. The flash died. The open mouth of the cave once again black as the night. The weak orb of torch light enclosed the two men and the pit, pressing pitifully against the endless dark around them. Sanders suddenly realized he did not want to be here, in the dark, hunting some woman or thing or whatever she was. He didn’t care. Let her go about doing her worst. Who was he to decide her fate? Was she any more evil than the man who had shot that bullet and blown apart his leg? We all make our choices.
Beyond the rows of beer barrels stored beneath Werner’s shop, the cave narrowed to a space wide enough for only a single man to pass. Werner led with the torch and his rifle slung across his back. The captain followed carrying the burlap sack, his rifle over his shoulder.
After Yellow Creek, when the rest of the militia were making their way home across open ground, running into small factions of Confederate guerrillas, Werner had led the other three in the opposite direction, from the pirate cove down into the cramped limestone tunnels carved by errant river waters, the through the massive but secret caverns near the quarry, and finally into this narrow passages that hollowed out the underground beneath their very town, though few people knew of them. Theives, outlaws, some lawmakers, and the brewers, who needed a place for lager to cool.
But during those final days of the war, when they were gone in the militia, it was the caves that saved them. They had followed Werner for miles and miles through keyhole passages and enormous caverns, to the hatch in the floor of the general store.
He did not like the caves, but he felt it was his duty to be guardian of them. It seemed they had no end, that they could indeed pass under the earth, beneath the oceans, all the way to the old country where die hexe waited. All she needed was another child, and another, until she was strong enough to travel farther, anywhere on earth she wanted.
Werner stopped, cleared his throat, shook the memories from his head. He was a father now, a husband, a business owner. He was not a frightened child or a weary soldier. He was at his greatest strength, and he would show this demon the ways he had learned to fight monsters. For his life was a life with purpose, one put forth by fate, by a divine force, to train him to know of these monsters, to know the ways to destroy them. He might possibly be the only man who could lead such a crusade.
They walked, staying within the orb of light thrown by the torch, single file in the narrow passage. The limestone walls were cold and damp, and beneath their feet the rough ground gathered water into a trickle at the center that flowed deeper into the caves.
“How far are we?” asked the captain after a time.
“Almost there. This passage opens into a large cavern and from there we follow the water out.”
They emerged into the cavern a few minutes later. The stalactites here were tinted blue for reason unknown to either of them. They crossed, climbing over the uneven floor, the jagged fragments of rock that jutted from the ground, the stalagmites and columns, until they found the trickle of water at the other side that disappeared through a fissure into the solid earth.
The captain did indeed remember. He did not have to be told that they needed to squeeze through this impossible narrow fissure in the rock. He slid the sack of iron through first, wedging it in then hearing it drop with a clank on the other side. Then he slide through sideways, right arm first, rifle clutched in his fist. When he was through, Werner handed him the torch and his own weapon and prepared himself to squeeze through the keyhole.
He exhaled, feeling his rib cage sink into his guts. Then, holding his breath, he pressed into the fissure,
A drop of sweat slid into his eye, the salt burning, his vision blurred. He could not reach up to wipe his brow.
You might as well be in your grave.
He gasped by reflex, unable to hold his breath one moment longer. He felt the rock crushing him, his ribs, his lungs.
“Werner?” the captain asked. He held up the torch.
Niklaus squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to again exhale, to force himself through the opening. Then he was through. The captain handed him the torch and his weapon without a word. Werner took them, slinging the rifle against his back, and again took the lead. They had not gone more than a few years when the captain stopped and dropped the bag to the ground. He lifted his rifle to his shoulder, cocked it, squinted into the darkness ahead. Werner lifted the torch. “What is it?”
They froze, listening, waiting.
“Cut the torch,” said the captain.
“I got more matches in my boot. Cut it.”
Werner wedged the torch end into a crevice, and the light extinguished. The darkness was immediate and complete. In a cave, the light not only blocked, it is sucked out, vanquished, like a void in the earth, a hole where once there was warmth and light. The space was not only dark, it was empty and void of all natural light, a place no natural light touched or was ever permitted. The kind of blackness that is more than just an absence of light. Where it is easy to remember that dark is the prevailing force, and entity in and of itself, always just outside whatever dim flame we have conjured to hold it at bay for a time.
Stay with the light.
The captain breathed heavily through his nostrils, shifted the rifle. Slowly, Werner brought his weapon forward but did not yet engage it, wanting to keep silent. They waited.
There, a shimmer of light, like moonlight reflected on water. The light was far down the tunnel and passed away as quickly as it appeared. But in the dark they were both sure. A light.
“It’s her,” said Werner. Clutching his rifle in one hand, the smoking torch like a club in the other, he inched forward. Here, the passage was narrow and did not branch off into other tunnels. The water trickled softly beneath their feet. They had no danger of getting lost, and yet it was still unnerving to walk forward into that dark void.
“I smell the river,” the captain whispered.
Werner did too, the sweet mud smell so recently tarnished by the stench of burning. “We’re close.”
They waited, muscles tense, rifles at their shoulders, straining to hear, to see anything beyond the endless dark.
“There!” cried the captain, and he took off running down the tunnel.
Werner saw. It was a light, far in the distance, a mere pinpoint like a planet in a black night sky. He ran, too, unable to see anything but that point of light. Ahead, the captains boots thumped in rhythm on the rock.
The light grew closer. They were gaining on her.
Stay with the light.
Closer, closer, until Werner saw that it was not right, the color and presence of this light. It was a wavering flame, not the unnatural but steady white light of the woman.
“Stop,” he hissed at the captain, but the captain, yards ahead, had already collided with the bearer of the light, a man in a coat and hat carrying a lamp.
The captain stopped short, startled, but recovered first and overpowered the man who had no weapon, took his lamp and held it to his face.
“Who are you? Where is the woman?”
“You seek her too?” asked the man.
“Is she here?” asked Werner, stepping forward.
The man only shook his head again.
The captain extinguished the lamp and the dark covered them all. They heard the man gasp as the light left them, and he said, “No, she does not always glow, she can appear normal--”
He was interrupted by a scrape of boot against rock. Werner spun around and before his eyes, from the darkness a light bloomed forth, the woman appeared as a phantom. Her arm shot out, and she clutched the captain by the throat. The rifle fell from his grip, the burlap sack already abandoned at his feet. His hands flew to his throat, clawing at her grip on him.
Werner held his rifle on the demon, but she did not turn his way. She did not even acknowledge him. He knew now for sure. No woman would have the strength to hold the captain by the throat, to subdue a man with only one arm.
“Die hexe,” he growled.
That got her attention. She turned to him, her eyes pale-blue glowing orbs, and she grinned in that same exact evil way Niklaus remembered from his childhood. It was her. He raised his rifle.
Pain erupted at the crown of his skull. He gasped once as the vision of the demon blurred. She was still looking at him, grasping the squirming captain by the throat, but then...no, her eyes slid to something behind him.
The man with the lamp. Where is he?
It was his last thought as he collapsed to the floor. Die hexe stepped over him and the light went out for good.
Big Paul had trouble at the cave entrance, and for one frantic moment, Sanders thought the big farmer would be stuck in the opening and maybe that could be his excuse to Werner why they weren’t in position. But then with a frantic scramble of legs, his boots scraping the mud, and a road, Paul pushed through and was inside the cave. Sanders handed him the torch and slipped through. There was only one way to go, so Sanders led with the torch, Paul followed with the iron, and with the hilts of their rifles tucked under their arms, the two men followed the cave back into the depths of the cliff.
The ground sloped downward at a slight angle, and the water gathered into a slim trickle that ran the center of the passage, leading them by sight and sound deeper into the cave.
Then they heard voices. Sanders rushed forward, the flame of his torch wavering. He heard Paul’s heavy footsteps close behind. The passage opened wider, and they emerged into an underground room about the size of his blacksmith shop, lit by torchlight and also some unnatural bright light. But it was not a woman he saw.
A man. A stranger, dressed in a gentleman’s overcoat and dress boots, held high what looked like a candlestick with some sort of swinging ball-bearing on a string attached and by all that Sanders could discern of the sight within a few harried moments, aimed to bring the object down on Werner’s head from behind.
Sanders stopped short. Paul bumped into him. The woman--the demon--was also there. Glowing. She cutched the captain by the throat not ten steps ahead from where Werner aimed his rifle and behind him, the gentleman held his weapon unseen. This tableau, lit by torch flame, lamp light, and supernatural glow, held for a long moment. Then Sanders heard Paul gasp as the gentleman bashed the candlestick against Werner’s head, bringing their friend to his knees and loosening his grip on his rifle.
Paul roared and pushed through, pressing Sanders against the damp cave wall. He shoved aside the gentleman as if he were a tuft of river grass and tackled the woman. She fell, releasing her hold on the captain who brought his hands to his throat, gasping for breath. Paul jumped back up as quickly as he had brought the woman down. He opened the bag and dumped the irons on top of her.
The gentleman stepped forward, raising the candlestick again. Sanders did not know whether to help Paul, or the pitiful creature he was wrapping in chains, or the lifeless Werner on the ground. He stood frozen, watching the scene play out before him as the gentleman faced Big Paul and the woman tried to sit up and heave the iron off her small body.
But the captain had recovered. He lunged forward and twisted the gentleman’s arms behind his back. From the bag he had carried into the caves, he brought out an iron chain and wrapped it around the gentleman’s wrists.
Werner groaned, and Sanders went to him, knelt down, helped him sit up. He watched Paul turn back to the woman and begin to bind her with the chains. He wrapped the irons around her arms first. Then her legs. He clapped the manacles on her wrists and ankles. The woman had gone limp. She turned her face away from them all. She made no move to fight, no attempt to escape. She did not cry out. She did not even speak. When Paul had finished, she lay on the floor wrapped in chains, a pitiful thing. She was not a monster. She was barely a woman. Just a girl, really. A girl frightened and surrounded, chased, attacked by strange men.
What does that make me?
Sanders stood up. Werner groaned and rubbed the back of his head, but he accepted Sanders’ hand and rose unsteadily, leaning on him.
“All right,” he Sanders. “Captain, you take this man, whoever he is, back to the raft. We’ll figure out what to do with him afterwards. Paul, help Werner out and see if he’s fit to ride back. If not, we’ll put him on the raft, too.”
“What about her?” asked Paul.
“I’ll guard her until you come back. We’ll all take her out together.”
Werner was still rubbing the back of his head and blinking rapidly. Retrieving the gentleman’s lamp from where it had fallen sideways on the ground, the captain pushed him toward the cave entrance. Paul took their torch in one hand and with the other supporting Werner, slowly followed.
Awkwardly, Sanders held his rifle on the woman and the last torch in the other. He took one step toward her, then another. She lay still, her eyes away from him. He lowered the rifle, then placed it on the ground. He took another step forward and still she did not acknowledge him, did not even move.
He knelt down next to her and leaned forward, whispered in her ear. “You can trust me,” he said. “I don’t intend to hurt you. I aim to free you. You’ll be long gone by the time they get back.”
He found the end of the chain and began to unwrap them. From his pocket, he held the key to the manacles, a skeleton key he carried with him at all times that opened all of the simple locks he fashioned in his shop. As he loosened the chains around her ankles, her eyes slid over to watch him. She watched in silence as freed her from the chains that bound her legs together. He removed the manacles at her ankles, and then he sat back on his haunches and rubbed a sleeve over his forehead. The flame from the torch had warmed the close air in the tunnel. The woman sat up slowly, holding his gaze. She looked too frightened to even move.
“I promise. I’m letting you go. I’m trying to help you.”
Finally, she inhaled deeply through her nostrils, parted her lips and exhaled with a slow, shaky breath. Then, with the slightest touch, she reached out and touched a forefinger to his chest, just over his heart. Again, her skin lit up, the beautiful white light of a star. Next to her, the flame of the torch looked sickly. Sanders felt a certain pressure and vibration building up from the inside, as if all his innards had decided to expand. It grew uncomfortable, then agonizing, then intolerable. The orb of torchlight shrank to a pinpoint the size of an eyeball, and through that light he saw her face, and then it was over.
To Be Continued...