Monday, November 13, 2006

in obscurity

I am afraid of the dark. Even then, crawling my way through the void, that deep dark cavern, I was more than a little terrified. Water dripping on the back of my neck. Things brushing – crawling? – on my face. Cramped, with little room for movement, legs begin to seize up. Back spasms with each twist. Arms grow so weary. With each yard forward, a new stage of the fear was realised: with each yard forward, I was one yard further away from safety, one yard further away from the light.

I am afraid of the dark. Yes, even then, I was afraid. Of the darkness, of what my eyes could not see. Of the unknown, of what my hands could feel but not recognise. Crawling through the darkness, my fingers clawed at the dirt and rocks towards the artefact. I hoped. Even then I was drawn to the strange and unfamiliar even while I was frightened by it. That untried and unusual. That indefinite nothingness.


Flash to six months earlier and a time of light – breakfast in the stone portico of a tiny cafĂ© in Colmar. She sat sipping weak coffee, and I sat gulping strong Alsatian wine.

“Any progress?” she asked, knowing full well that I would know exactly what she meant. Her eyes shone with genuine contempt, something true, a sentiment so real bubbling up from within.

“A little,” I said, ignoring the hostility. “I’ve a general location in mind. Details in the documentation are sketchy at best, but at least I’ve my maps.”

“General location,” she snorted. “You say this as though it’s a good thing. And those maps – what good will come of them if all you’ve got is this general location?”

“A little triangulation,” I said, finishing off the last of my fourth glass of Silvaner. A wine fine, elegant, and strong – just like her. “A little trial and error. Some guesswork—”

“Guesswork!” she laughed, the mockery tinkling out past perfect white teeth and red, red lips. “You’ll never get by on—”

“Educated guesswork,” I corrected. “Remember, I’ve a general location in mind. I’ve narrowed it down, at least.”

“This location,” she said, accepting another tiny cup of coffee from our young server, “will it see you leaving the continent?”

“Would you like it to?” I asked, arching an eyebrow in jest.

“I’ll tell you what I’d like,” she replied, “I’d like to see you actually enjoy a glass of wine for once, rather than swilling it down as though it may be your last. It’s not even noon yet.”

I laughed, twirling a fresh glass slowly atop the table. “Yes, this new adventure will see me leaving the continent – but I should think that I won’t be gone for a long time.”

“When will you go?”

“The day after tomorrow.”

“So, we’ve tomorrow then.”

“Yes” I admitted, “we’ve tomorrow. I was thinking we could spend the day up in the Vosges. Beautiful this time of year, I think.”

She didn’t respond, choosing, instead, to stare vacantly into her coffee cup. Anxiety welled up from her clear blue eyes. Unease pulled tight her fine lips. Hate made her grow suddenly old. She didn’t respond – she didn’t have to. She knew that the next day would be our last together. She knew, as I did, that I was a leaver. All the time, I left. It’s what I did. I was actually really quite good at it. Notorious.

“Don’t you think you ought to be prepared,” she suddenly snapped. “Don’t you think you ought to think things through, plan things out a little further, before you throw yourself blindly into something?”

The morning fell away to lazy argument, as my cares were washed away in a sea of Silvaner. The sun rose, and the shadows played their usual games, slipping silently from one side of the portico to the other. All the while, we sat. All the while, we sat, frozen in argument, wasting our second last day together. Choosing the easy comfort of hate over the complicated awkwardness of love.


Crawling through that cave six months later, I was almost wishing that I had decided to bring along those spare batteries for the flashlight. Almost wishing. Hands blindly grappling at rocks on the ground, feet scrambling in the dirt, I was almost wishing, then, that I had been a little more prepared. But a year’s planning! What more could have been done?

I am afraid of the dark. Then, as ever, I was afraid of the dark and the secrets it concealed. Inching my way through that pitch black tunnel deep within the ground, I tried to think of nothing but the potential end result. Me, achieving my goal. Me, clutching that ghoulish article in my hands at long last. Me, somehow finding it in that swirling eddy of soggy darkness.

Thoughts flashed quickly from darkness to light and back again. From inky caves to sunlit porticos. To her and her advice. Think things through, she said. Plan. Prepare. Organise. But all of the maps and charts, diagrams and graphs on earth can not help the man who is determined to lose himself. I know that as well as anybody. I, the man who will brazenly act on the first tip, following the whispers of a stranger in a backwoods inn. I, the man so crazed for knowledge that he will cut his life short to get at it. I, the man who will leave his spare batteries behind just because.

Suddenly, my fingers met the fingers of another there in obscurity, and I desperately grappled my way up a sinewy, dead arm, its hardened, ancient flesh like lacquered rope. I tried not to think about how close our faces really were as I reached a twisted neck right about where it should have been, and felt the dull cold of a braided strand of precious metal.

Her face, right next to mine. Though she didn’t breathe, I imagined that I could feel her breath on my cheek, escaping from the gaping dead maw of her petrified head. Cloves. I could almost catch the scent of cloves whispering from her mask of death, skin pulled taut, lips pulled back, with rows of hideous yellow teeth. I didn’t bring the extra batteries for my flashlight because I didn’t need to see this. I didn’t need to see her expression when I pulled the necklace from her long, lifeless neck.

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