The Ossuary

📅 Published on March 5, 2022

“The Ossuary”

Written by Liam R. Woods
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 7.50/10. From 2 votes.
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Kicking in the boarded doors to the ossuary, Clinton shined his LED spotlight into the small church.  The bright blue light illuminated pews, a pulpit, and a giant, in disrepair crucifix above that, all draped in cobwebs.  The skeletal remains of nearly a hundred people stared at him from mangled, crunched positions around the small chapel.  They were morbid fixtures carefully lain in the white canvas-colored walls.  They encircled the church in a ring of remembrance.  Black, wide sockets glared at Clinton with unfeeling judgment.

Swallowing hard, he walked into the forgotten holy edifice, quickly inspecting its inner foundation.  Much like he had so many times before when entering a cave in search of lost items or hidden treasure.  Clinton carefully tapped the floorboards with the tip of his boot and scanned the walls instinctively for any odd formations or unusual shadows.  He wished he was in one of his caves right now rather than this tomb.  Everything was so different.

When you enter a cave, you have to “feel out” the foundation as well as observe it.  You have to watch where you put your feet, your hands – your everything.  One misstep and you could fall into a precipice.  It took work to get into a cave, and truly enjoy its warm, vibrant underground.  Here, it was like it was inviting him in, welcoming him to the cold, colorless nether.

Shaking his head, he proceeded further into the church, disagreeing with the whole scenario of what he was doing.  Clinton thought back as to how he had gotten into this situation.  Walking through the small town of Antuzula, Chile (South America was where he did most of his cavernous expeditions.  He had done some on out-of-the-way islands in the South China Sea, the coast of Japan, and even some exploring in Africa and its humid systems.) he had been delivered a letter from one Emmanuelle Costinance.  It said for him to meet her in a small restaurant just six blocks down the way at the Pimeto Sombra.  It was a pretty restaurant for being in such a poor town.

Clinton remembered it vividly.  A porch faced the shaded side of the street surrounded by a rot-iron gate, holding at least ten or so umbrella tables.  Emmanuelle was sitting under one of them, and tipped her glass.  A signal that she was waiting.  An expensive briefcase sat next to her.  A good sign she was going to pay him in advance.

Sitting down at her table, Clinton was slightly surprised by her order.  A strawberry martini with a hint of rum.  A light drink with a strong shot.  A drink not for such a petite woman of five-foot-five and seemingly a hundred-and-ten… maybe hundred-and-twenty pounds.  She drank it quickly while Clinton had a cheap shot of pure rum.  She got right to the point, and said that she would like to “acquire” a family heirloom of some sort.  She showed him some pictures of a silver ring with an ostentatious emerald jewel.  Her rosy, wet cheeks and tired, faded eyes told him she didn’t want it for financial gains.  Her cracking, sad voice told him she wanted it for a keepsake.  Unfortunately, the family member connected with it – her sister, aunt, or something – had been buried with it.  It had been taken to a church that was now off-limits to the general public.  The only thing allowed there was either the dead, or people attending to the dead, so, she was not allowed.  If she was caught there, she would be arrested.

Emmanuelle had heard of Clinton through some upper-class social circles, and believed he was the perfect man for the job.

Clinton had to disagree.  He was a spelunking expert and cave negotiating master.  On occasion, he was a paid hunter of dangerous animals.  Pilfering human remains was decisively out of his league, or, at least it was until he saw the kind of pay he would get for such a job.  Thirty-thousand USD and enough to pay for a plane ticket, first-class, to a destination of his choosing.  He dare not say no.

This was how he found himself in the dreary chapel with the full-moon high in the sky.  The lunar light cascaded through the jungle, surrounding the church like pillars of twilight.  The noisy orchestra of insects and fauna played loudly in his ears through broken, stain-glass windows.  Croaking frogs, buzzing insects, the occasional monkey hoot, and, every now and again, he would step on a shard of stain-glass, cracking it loudly.  This made the symphony play louder.

It didn’t help the already overwhelming anxiety he had from the stories he had heard, even before accepting the job.  The stories of a “damned church of the dead.”  Of “an unholy tabernacle that was so overcome by dead spirits, that no living thing was welcome there.”  Clinton believed in many things.  He had to.  Local legends and villager superstitions were where most of his jobs came from.  Even the lion he had hunted in North Africa was believed to be a messenger of The Devil.  It died to gunfire though, just like everything else – demonic feline or no.

It wasn’t a question of whether he thought the place was actually dangerous, he just knew it wasn’t anything like spirits or damned souls awakened from grim slumber by an odd-jobs man.  Some of the stories indicated that none would ever return.  Not a trace of them was ever found.  Maybe a few things on ground level, but that was it.

The church was a three-story building.  There was the ground floor, which was the floor Clinton was on.  The basement where the men of God had kept their paperwork, what little there was of it, with a few beds for the sick or the infirm.  Then there was the lowest, most confusing level: the underground catacombs, the ossuary proper.  There were nearly twenty thousand buried in the stone-walled labyrinth.

Clinton hoped he wouldn’t have to go down there, but he figured he would have to, otherwise his expertise was moot… it still kind of was.  Caves – natural caves – were unpredictable, but they gave you certain signs of which way you were heading.  If you heard water, you were heading to a drop-off so watch your footing.  If you heard wind, you were coming to an exit somewhere.  If you saw the flora of the cave get slim, you were heading towards an animal’s den.  He was at a loss for what to do if he found himself turned around in a man-made tunnel network full of corpses.  What was he supposed to do then?  Check to see which way the skulls were pointing and hope that might lead him out?

Sorry, lady, I stick with caves, Clinton thought.  That’s what he should have said.  This is way out of my league, why don’t you ask some reverend or a monk to go down there for you?  Any of that wouldn’t have been too hard to say.  He needed the money though.  He wanted out of South America.  Maybe he’d go to North America, and scour though some of their caves?  The Ozarks were always fun, short and uneventful, but fun.

He was next to the pulpit when he looked up at the cross.  The planks were covered in cobwebs.  Clinton’s light showcased the shadows cast by the webbing and crucifix.  That same sad, forlorn look on Christ’s face, one of agony and regret.  The cobwebs a stark, silken blasphemy against His sacrifice.  The cross looked like it was barely hung up.  The nails hammered in were old and rusted.

Even though, with all the obvious signs of disrepair, it still came as a fearful shock when it tumbled down from the wall.  It landed hard on the ground and broke into splintered pieces.  The white clay body of Christ cracked and separated.  If Clinton didn’t know better, he could have sworn he heard a scream come from the broken icon when it fell.

Finally catching his breath, he shined his light nervously at the broken crucifix.  The pieces were shattered remnants of The Savior; his face nothing more than a pile of white, dusty remains.  Even a few spiders scattered out from the broken body of Christ, no longer having a solid home.

Clinton wasn’t the religious sort, but he was still scared about going down into the bowels of the dark church.  A sign like that was hard to ignore, whether you believe in God or not.  If you did, then it speaks for itself.  If not, then you didn’t want to imagine what might happen when you reach the older parts.  They might just give way and bring the whole building down on top of you.

Thirty-thousand dollars, Clinton reminded himself.  An extremely hard payday to pass up.

Stepping over the broken symbol, Clinton found a door to his left.  It was a small wooden door that looked like it hadn’t been used in years, but he decided to turn the knob anyway.  It creaked with age and whined with neglect.  The gold-painted knob turned with some force, but even then, Clinton had to push with his shoulder to open the door.

Sidestepping in, he shinned his light down a long wooden stairwell with a stone wall to his right, behind the old door.  There were a few candle sconces on the right, but he had no means to light them.  All he had was his trusty spotlight with eight hours of battery life, a backup flashlight for emergencies, some road flares – which he dared not waste on candles – and a few glow sticks.

The bright LED beam pierced through the overabundant darkness; the steps barely visible even in the powerful ray of light… wooden, rickety steps.  It didn’t take an architect to tell Clinton that this wasn’t the safest idea.  Edging his boot onto the first step made it cry out, just like the door had with age.  Only this was more bass-filled, and it did feel a little sturdier than the door.  Didn’t mean that Clinton wasn’t hesitant to walk down them.  He sighed and proceeded down the stairwell.  Just like crossing a ledge, he thought to himself.

By the twelfth step, Clinton was feeling pretty good.  He only had a few more steps to go before he reached the safety of the cement floor.  This was actually easier than any cave expedition he had ever done.  Maybe I should accept more jobs like this? Clinton thought.  It seemed safer to scour old buildings like this than go cave exploring.

Stepping on the next step, Clinton heard that same creak and relaxed.

His weight suddenly gave way underneath as he heard a loud snap.  His spotlight flew in the air, spinning like a damaged helicopter, landing a foot away from him.  Meanwhile, Clinton tumbled down to the cement floor and landed face first.  His legs folded into a pretzel between the steps, and his chest ached with a punch from the last.

After Clinton made sure he was still alive, he tried to lift himself.  His left ankle locked up and a rack of pain ripped through that leg.  He groaned, clenching his teeth as he turned to look at his discombobulated legs.  He could feel them, but couldn’t see them in the overbearing darkness.  He pulled his right one out of the staircase just fine.  His left one, however, seemed to come with a price.  Pain again struck his ankle and leg like a lightning bolt.  He couldn’t see what had happened since his spotlight was pointed at the wall.  Not wanting to risk damaging his left ankle anymore, Clinton crawled over to his light and grabbed at it like a chained monkey after food.  Finally, he got his digits over the handle and pointed it at his bad ankle.

The damaged appendage was a stark tan and red of flesh and blood.  A breath of relief came from him.  Oh, it was damaged, no doubt about that, but it wasn’t broken or fractured.  There was quite a bit of blood seeping from it though.  A simple rag around it and it would be fine.  Leaving the light on the floor, Clinton ripped off a piece of his shirt, and wrapped it around his ankle.  He tightened it as much as he could, the knot made in the fabric was the worst part.

Still lying there, jumbled on the steps, Clinton could have sworn he saw something in the dark.  It was fast and blurred.  It looked like a person.  A person with gray skin and a humongous head.  It moved too quickly, though, faster than any person could have, or should have.  Not to mention that even if there was somebody in the dark, Clinton shouldn’t have been able to see them.  It was too dark to see your hand in front of your face.  He acted instinctively and grabbed his large flashlight, scanning for the mysterious person.


Sighing, Clinton stood up and favored his left ankle.  He slowly put his weight down and felt just a tiny twitch of pain.  It was already starting to feel better, however, his neck was a bit stiff.  He stretched his head a little, failing to get all the kinks out.  That was okay, he’d get a good massage later.

Forgetting about the gray person, passing it off as nothing more than a mind trick of the accident, Clinton walked further into the belly of the church.  His powerful blue light glided across the cement floor in front of him.  A long stone hallway lay before him with encompassing blackness behind him.

His light shined on a few different disturbing things.  One was a lonely-looking wooden dresser.  It had an icon on it and a candelabra.  Some hints of melted wax were on the candelabra but no candles.  Spider-webbing dangled from it, caught in the old wax.  The icon was an intricate crucifix.  The body of Jesus nailed to it in severe pain.  The cross’s three points blossomed out into another three cloves each.  It was a classic, expensive-looking thing.  Clinton wondered how much he could get for it.  The right buyer… he could stand to make a nice, extra profit.  Picking it up to inspect it, Clinton felt a great, searing pain streak through his hand.  He yelled out and dropped the crucifix.  It landed on the floor, and just like the one upstairs, exploded into pieces.  Clinton couldn’t help but curse, “Goddamn it!”  He usually wasn’t that clumsy with artifacts, but he usually didn’t get hurt by them either.  Shining his light on his hand, a long, red mark was across his palm, like the icon had been searing to the touch.

With his light ahead of him, Clinton saw two rows of cheap, metal-framed hospital beds.  They lay at opposite ends of the hallway, each one a stained, flat rectangle, identical to the other.  Years of abuse and neglect led to their sorry states.  He walked among them like in a graveyard full of unidentified tombstones.  Clinton felt a cold, unnerving chill run up his spine, and hoped that a body wouldn’t appear in one of the beds.  It was a ridiculous fear, but that didn’t cause him not to think it.

The last bed on the left had chains over the headboard.  Clinton stopped and looked at it longer than he should have.  An eerie, questionable feeling prevalent about the last one on the left.  He couldn’t help but whisper to himself, “Why would they need chains?”

Then the bed itself seemed to change.  It changed from its metal frame to a wicker frame.  Green, large leaves made up the matting, but not any trees from the South American tropics.  The cool chill in the hallway changed to a deep, arid heat Clinton recognized from the African Savanna.  The monotone buzz of mosquitoes filled his ears.  His mind and body were somehow playing this evil sensory trick on him.

It now looked like the deathbed of a little African boy he once knew.  The boy was stricken with Scarlett Fever, (The chains there to keep him pinned down so he wouldn’t hurt himself when the fever caused involuntary spasms.) and Clinton was hired to delve into a cave far East from the boy’s village for a plant that would save his life.  Unfortunately for the boy, a wealthy drug organization had promised Clinton a much larger payday than the villagers.  He had already been paid by the common folk on good faith, so he delivered the plant to the pharmaceutical company instead of the boy.  The boy was dead four days later, and Clinton was traveling, first-class, to a different country by then, having escaped their proverbial torches and pitchforks.

Yet, here he was, staring down an empty African villager’s bed… in a South American chapel.  The African sounds just as vibrant as they had been when the desperate villagers first approached him. Even the heat was as oppressive as it had been back then.  He was in Africa right now, back in that village, looking at an empty bed.

Turning from it, shaking his head, Clinton turned back and the bed was metal again.  The chains still hung over the headboard.  That cool, haunted air had returned.  A reminder of where he actually was.  Sighing with relief, he walked on.

Just an effect of seeing the chains, that’s all, he thought.  That was a long time ago.  So long in fact the boy would be a man by now, if he were still alive, but he’s not.  There was a comfort to Clinton in that thought.

Locking his light on a basin sink, he went over to it, and looked it over.  It was just a simple porcelain sink, it looked a lot like a big snifter glass to Clinton.  “Blessed be,” Clinton remarked scornfully.

Turning from the sink, he proceeded down the dark, stone hallway.  His light almost giving him a full line of sight.  When he reached the end, a metal plaque was to the left, and written on it, in both English and Spanish:

Please be respectful of the dead.

If, for any reason, you believe that you haven’t found a loved one

or believe that a loved one has been misplaced,

please get an Episcopal attendee immediately!

1- 20,000

This was it.  The descent into the labyrinthine underground tombs of the thousands dead.  Clinton took a long, thought-filled sigh, and walked down the stone slabs called steps.  One foot after another, he sunk into a sea of blackness, darker than the darkest cave he had ever been in.  It was even colder than it was on the sub-level above, giving Clinton goosebumps.  His skin broke out as his breath made a plume.  He could see it in the hint of his spotlight.

When he reached the very bottom, he stepped in mush.  Shinning his light down, he saw he was standing in dirt.  Dug-up, laid out, colorless dirt.  It looked like plenty of other dirt he had stood in, but somehow it was different.  The very idea that dead bodies were in it perhaps changed it for him.  He wasn’t sure himself, but this dirt was void black, looking like big clumps of dark pepper.  It had an ominous feel to it.  Like he would be buried in it.

Once again, relying on his trusty handle spotlight, Clinton walked through the dirt, onward.  Cautiously, he flashed his LED beam in all directions. (It was more of an instinctual movement than anything.  You had to be aware of your entire surroundings when in a cave.  Above, below, and all around.)

The skeletal remains of the dead surrounded him, each one lay in a small alcove in the stone walls.  A number beneath each, artfully carved.  Every skeleton looked roughly the same: lying down, staring upwards at their unseen bunkmate.

Clinton had taken a few turns in the box-like tombs, looking for his prize.  The underground crypts had fewer twists than he initially believed.  This still might be easier than he thought.  He knew the exact crypt number: 14,704.  Right now he was wandering through the 500s.  He had quite a ways to go before he got to the right spot.

The emotionless faces stared back at him.  Blank, dead, decomposed bones with cold, black blossom sockets glared at Clinton.  Almost like they were judging him for past deeds he had not yet answered for.  He wasn’t planning on answering for them, either.  He had done what he thought was right for himself.  These skeletal onlookers could gawk all they wanted, and judge him however they wanted, too.  They were dead.  What could they possibly do to him?  Though, he did wonder why he didn’t believe that.

The cold down in the lower ossuary was different from any other.  He wasn’t sure if that was because the ground was cold, or if it was something else, something otherworldly?  It skittered up and down his spine and delved into his skin, like unseen tentacles that pushed through his flesh.  It made him shiver as he headed through the dark underground.  A thin layer of sweat began to gloss his skin. Usually it was caused by the oppressive, humid heat of the South American rainforests.  Now, it was due to fear.

Progressing through the 700s, a smell began to fill his lungs.  It wasn’t a pungent smell, just a disagreeable one.  It was the smell of the long since dead.  It was an unmistakable odor.  After the horrendous, rotten stench of decay and bio-degradation had gone, this was the aroma that was left behind.  This mediocre, languorous air that catches your throat and stays there, making it itch and dry out.

Coming to the first of the 1000s, Clinton saw a few names seemingly of Argentinean descent.  Guvaro, Halbenero, Ferriaro… Elliot Knight.

Clinton stopped and shook with unbridled fear.  His eyes widened and he reread the name eight times.  “He shouldn’t… you shouldn’t be here!”

Yet he was.

Unlike the bones that surround the corpse, Elliot was nearly all intact.  His stomach freshly rend from his body with blood running down the stone wall.  His eyes wide-open with dead, dilated pupils that stared right into Clinton’s soul.  He looked just like he had when Clinton found him all those years ago in Africa, half-eaten and wide-eyed.  The red river from Elliot’s gullet ran over his carved name below his alcove, it made his name clearer than any number on any given slab.

Elliot Knight was a partner of Clinton’s a long time ago, during his lion hunt in North Africa.  He remembered everything About Elliot, even the way he had fed him to the lion to get away on the second night.  He remembered how he screamed in the savanna darkness.  A blood-curdling shrill that Clinton heard clearly as he ran for his life through the tall grass.  The same tall grass the lion had been hiding in… waiting for them.  Elliot’s life-ending howl echoed through the night like a dying impala.  A crystal clear reminder to Clinton that he was out of his league.

Clinton didn’t feel he had a choice.  He had shoved Elliot at the lunging, dark yellow torpedo when it came for them.  Neither of the hunters had time to react.  Clinton just reacted on pure instinct.  Elliot wasn’t as much of an expert as Clinton.  The young, zealous twenty-something was just starting out.

Of course he had to die, Clinton thought.  An inexperienced whelp like that – he should have thrown himself in front of the lion to protect me.  The expert cave explorer had agreed to show Elliot the ropes.  Train him up on how to hunt lions and other African wildlife.  The very notion to Clinton that he should protect that rookie was preposterous.  Elliot had to die.  He had to.  “You had to!” Clinton screamed at the blank-faced, ghostly white corpse of Elliot.

The red river made a pitter-patter in the dirt with crimson droplets.  His stone-carved name outlined by the sanguine falls.

Hearing a noise in the dark, Clinton whipped his light around, and shined it at multiple skeletons, not a one looking like they had moved.  They all lay there… motionless, skinless, lifeless.  Hovering the beam of light over each one, even flashing it up at the ceiling, he began to breathe hard, trying to listen for the noise again.

His light glossed over a figure standing not more than ten feet from him.  A humanoid figure.  Gray skin covered its emaciated body as it loomed in the light, its back to Clinton.  Its spine protruded through its skin.  Small skeletal bumps similar to crocodile spines, ran along its skinny torso from its gangly neck to its grotesque buttocks.  Long, dangling arms extended to its knees, swaying in the light, the figure dancing to some unknown music.  A massive round head atop its shoulders, too big for the phantom’s thin body to carry.  It bobbed to the left and right, unbalanced.

Clinton didn’t wait around to see what it truly was.  He ran from it.  The light in his hand bobbed up and down as he ran.  His left ankle dug into his leg with pain.  He fought through it as he ran, and turned corner-after-corner.  He hoped against hope to never see or hear the gray person again.  He lost count of how many corridors of skeletons he passed, how many forks he had turned down.  Random directions were all he chose, not really thinking about any direction at all.  He thought he was running, but what he really was doing was scampering away.

Finally coming to a stop, gasping for air, he leaned over and fell to his knees.  The loose soil filled his vision.  Clinton’s neck hurt him something fierce, and his ankle wasn’t treating him much better.  He shined his light on his left leg.  His ankle was now mangled and bruised.  Maybe he had re-injured it or something?  It looked worse now than ever.  A fist-sized, deep purple blotch covered it with bloodstains caked on his skin.  Grunting with pain, he nearly tumbled into the dirt.  His neck felt like it had hammers in it, and they were all pounding the same spot.  He tried to turn his neck, but it was encased in stiff, transparent cement.  Every time he tried to turn, it would scream with punches of pain.  Grunting again, Clinton stood up and growled at both his ankle and his neck.

Once he was to his feet, he looked around to see where he was.  Maybe he could find his way back from the numbering on the open crypts?  His light shined on one, reading: 2,435,667.

What?! His mind screamed.  That’s… that’s not possible!  There are not that many down here!  Not over two million!  Where the hell am I?!

Flashing his light around, confused and afraid, Clinton began to walk back the way he came, knowing that there was a turn.  He did come to a turn, but not like the last one he ran down.  This one branched in three different directions.  He could have sworn it hadn’t earlier.

Just a fork last time.  Just a measly fork!  Caves don’t do this!

Ignoring the new corridor, he tried to go down the one he had been through before.

All the skeletons still gawked at him, forever part of the walls.  They even seemed to be getting closer.  Maybe he was delusional?  Maybe he was imagining all this and he was just letting fear get the better of him?  Clinton tried to calm himself as he headed down what he thought was the right way.  Yet, he could have sworn they hadn’t been that close before.  So close that he felt there were only two feet between him and the looming dead.

The real problem though was the numbers weren’t decreasing, they were increasing: 2,458,889; 2,610,004; 2,825,677; 2,838,666.

Hitting nearly three million, Clinton stopped and gasped for air.  That thick air was now heavier and that told him he was getting deeper.  He had gone in a straight line though.  No matter what path or avenue he took, he had gone in a straight line.  There were no more steps, no more lower parts.  So how come he felt he was going lower?  That cold stillness felt the same, but he knew the elevation had dropped significantly.  He felt buried under miles of earth.

Shinning his light around to see something recognizable, he proceeded more slowly.  The numbers slowly ticked upwards to three million.  This wasn’t right.  Maybe if he went back?  He had already made quite a bit of progress through the corridor.  To head back would be heading back towards the gray figure.  He had to find a way out, regardless.  Going the way he was, he would hit bedrock by sunrise.

Sunrise, Clinton thought.  How good it would be to feel the sun’s rays again.  That warm, South American heat.  It was worth climbing, crawling, or even digging his way out of the accursed, maze-like tomb if only to feel the sun again.  Forget that stupid, useless, silver ring.  Emmanuelle could keep her paltry thirty-thousand bucks and first-class tickets.  Clinton could find another job… other jobs.  True, maybe not one that paid as well, but definitely something in a cave or a grotto.  Get back to his expertise.  He’d give almost anything to be in a cave right now, even one of those frozen ice caves in the Arctic Tundra, if it meant not spending another second surrounded by skeletal walls.

Smiling to himself, Clinton forced himself back.  He nearly jogged through the skeletal remains, confident he was heading in the right direction.  The long since deceased passed by him like a morbid Möbius strip, bone-pile after bone-pile went by.  He ignored the clawing pain in his ankle, the firm stiffness in his neck.  He was determined to get back to the surface, whether sun or stars, it was his primary goal now.  All he had to do was find the cross-corridors he had come by before.  Maybe he missed that extra corridor the first time?  He had run by it pretty fast to escape the emaciated figure.

After what felt like half a day of walking, and no crossroads in sight, Clinton fell to his knees.  A cold sweat broke out over his body.  Worn and waned, he sucked in more of that chilled, still lethargic air.  He shined his light at one of the stone alcoves: 7,432,211.

With a defeated and tired “Damn it,” Clinton sat back and leaned against the stone wall.  His breaths were akin to gasps, as if his lungs were trying to reach out for a sense of the situation.  He looked down both directions and saw nothing but the same, long stretch of stones and bones mirrored on each side.

Clinton had to bend his knees as he sat there, he made the observation that the walls were now closer together than before.  It was barely enough room to fit himself comfortably.  Before, he could have laid out and his head would have been pressed against the back wall.  Now, there was barely a foot from each wall, barely enough room to fit him erect, let alone sat there in oppressive darkness.

As he stayed crumpled up for more than half an hour, Clinton heard an all too familiar noise again.  The sound of bleak, short shifts in the dirt.  It sounded like sand being grated.  He shined his light down the way he thought he heard it.  To his left and right was emptiness.  The spotlight flickered down both corridors.  He brought the light to him and knocked on it, trying to get it to stop.  He even shook it a few times for good measure.  All it did was flash at him in defiance.

“Don’t… don’t you dare,” Clinton whispered at it.

The sound got closer.

What little was left of Clinton’s resolve and usually cool demeanor faded away.  Like before, with Elliot Knight’s mutilated corpse in the catacombs, a fear came over Clinton, stronger than any he had ever felt before.  It strangled his chest and seemed embedded in the darkness that surrounded him.  It drove into him like hooks, wriggling hooks that dug into his body.

His spotlight took a few more blinks of light and then faded away as it left Clinton in total darkness… cold, complete, unyielding, forlorn darkness.

He heard the noise again and had his hands around one of his road flares in no time.  He snapped it and it hissed to life with a bright, red glow.  A crimson luminescence pushed back some of the blackness, maybe more than his spotlight, definitely enough to light a good radius around him.

Getting up, Clinton held his flare like a strong torch.  He left his spotlight on the ground, and began to walk in a random direction.  Trembling like a withered old man, feeling about as strong as one, he took each step carefully, like he was entering a cave.  A cave that was getting bigger and bigger as the walls were getting smaller and smaller.  The bones around him were so close by now that if any of them wanted to take a bite out of Clinton, they could do so with little effort.  He sometimes scraped his shoulder against the stone walls as he slouched through the skeleton-riddled corridor.  It was a small pain compared to his aching ankle and his locked neck.

Clinton was so fixated on his goal, he hadn’t noticed that the numbers were gone.  Just blank slabs of stone underneath the skeletons were left.  Tight granite stonewalls littered with bones.  Bones and stones.  No more corridors or different routes, just a long pathway made-up of nothing but bones and stones.

The flare snapped a bit and then flickered out, leaving Clinton in the chill of buried darkness for a few seconds.  He pulled out another and struck it to life.  Like the first, it hissed with light, revealing the tight, claustrophobic catacombs in red luminosity.  Clinton walked onward, his feet like cement as he dragged them along. That ankle of his getting ever more painful by the minute, every step a strike of anguish.

Forever slouching in one direction that when he came to a turn it was a shock.  A smile came at this revelation, but it was short-lived.  He was met with a wall of night and heat.  African night – African heat.  Tall blades of grass brushed by his legs as he walked through the dim night.  The buzzing of mosquitoes traveled on the oppressive wind that blew past Clinton.  He nearly choked on it because of his stiff neck.

In the distance was an object.  It looked like a body.  Approaching it, Clinton saw that this was indeed a dead body.  It wasn’t Elliot Knight, though, or even the small boy he had abandoned in Africa all those years ago.  This dead body was his own, laid out in a clearing with his face down, his head nearly on backwards, his left ankle turned completely around with some wooden steps behind his corpse which led up into the sky.

“I remember this,” Clinton whispered out.  If he could have, he would have screamed, but he was far too tired and far too filled with fright to do anything different.  “But I… I lived.  Goddamn it, I got back up!”

Suddenly something tight, strong, and mean grabbed his shoulders and turned him around. Clinton barely managed to stay on his feet, jerked by the powerful force.  His road flare tumbled out of his grasp and onto the ground below.  The gray, emaciated, humanoid figure stood before him with its huge head.  A roar blasted out of its mouth, giving Clinton a clear view of giant, razor-sharp teeth.  Yellow fur covered its cheeks and forehead in the shape of a giant mane.  Green, piercing cat eyes stared down at Clinton with rage and hate swirling inside them.  The lion’s mouth enveloped Clinton’s head and bit it from his shoulders.  After feeling his neck sever, and all the blood spill out from his face, the inside of the lion’s mouth faded into total blackness.

Seconds later, Clinton was able to open his eyes again and he was sat in the stone corridor.  His first flare in hand with that light, sand-grating noise coming towards him.  He was back in the long, shrinking corridor of stones and bones.

Getting back up, he looked in the opposite direction of the noise.  Tired, hurt, beaten, and broken, Clinton began to shuffle his own feet away from the danger.  Despite his stiff neck and destroyed ankle, he pushed himself onward.

He had nearly no memory of what had happened to him before.  He knew something bad had happened to him, something that had terrified him to his very soul, but what it was… he struggled to recollect.  All he knew now was to get out of the labyrinth.  Maybe this was the right direction?  Once again, he left his spotlight behind and trusted nothing but the bright glow of his hissing red torch.  He was still very unaware of the vanished numbers as he pressed on through the darkness.  Didn’t matter how long the corridor may be, or how deep in the massive ossuary he was, Clinton would keep pressing towards the steps he had come down before to get out.  To get away from that horrid figure, he would press on forever.

Rating: 7.50/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Liam R. Woods
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Liam R. Woods

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