December 11, 1999
No telling how long I'd been out. I guess it didn't much matter, because Mark and Rick were nowhere around when I woke up. Thrown clear of the car, I figure I'd been overlooked in the dry brush when they were picked up; so they were apparently alive, but no telling what they thought if they'd looked for me. Anyway, I knew I was ok. I was lucky walking away from the accident apparently no worse for the experience. But it was getting dark and I was going to have to walk some distance to get help unless another car came by, so I set out down the road.
Buried in thought, I lost complete track of time. Twilight hung on interminably, the sky appearing frozen in a strange grey overcast. Already ridden with apprehension, I barely noticed the road was narrowing. I was walking a path barely wide enough for two people, that wound its way through desolate land covered by great thickets of dead foliage.
Thus engrossed, the mountain took me by surprise. The dark rock of the abrupt walls contrasted sharply with the dusty grey of the flat wash-bottom from which it erupted. When I stepped out into the open the path immediately widened to meet a cobblestone ramp that led right up to a massive stone entrance. Funny, I hadn't noticed it from even a few feet within the dead overgrowth. It appeared to be some sort of vault set securely into the side of the mountain. I stopped, startled, and inspected the entrance with curiosity. It was many stories high and well proportioned. The massive door stood half open. It looked to be almost eight inches thick, and no doubt took a number of very stout individuals to swing if they could do it at all. I chuckled at the thought. Who or what would require a door of such stature?
Aside from the entrance itself, the mountainside gave no clue as to presence or use of such a vault. Still curious, I took the few steps necessary to place myself within the mountain.
Before me spread an interior not unlike the anteroom of a sixteenth century stone castle, with hallways leading into the darkness in several directions. A chill went through my body as I surveyed the dank interior, which seemed to be dimly lit in an eerie emerald glow. Feeling very alone, I looked around, straining into the relative darkness. At first, I thought I could make out certain features on the opposite walls, but as the room became brighter I realized that I had badly misjudged the size of my surroundings and was stricken with awe at the true immensity of it all.
I stood on a vast stone floor of mammoth proportion. The interior was, in fact, so large that it was difficult to make out any detail whatsoever beyond the placement and limits of the closest walls. A rich patina of unidentifiable origin covered every visible surface. Straining my eyes upward, I detected no ceiling whatsoever. The room was unfathomably high, stone masonry walls rising what seemed like hundreds of feet into twilight above, and on into total darkness.
Many people silently milled about, walking the floor and climbing ladders. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of others labored in countless recesses up the walls and into the heights as far as I could see.
"Wha...what is this place?" I ask out loud.
"I don't know", my dark companion responded, "but we're not supposed to be here."
Overwhelmed by curiosity, I resolved to find out. I spent considerable time crossing the open floor, treading musty passageways, pondering enormous halls. My companion dutifully followed.
"One thing they have here is space."
We continued our exploration in silence, completely oblivious to time -- through massive arches and giant galleries, down corridors that seemed to disappear in the misty distance. One such room many stories in height contained millions, perhaps billions of books and tablets -- the world's total knowledge, I speculated.
"It's a library", I commented.
"Yes", he responded; then after a few moments, "Let's go! We're not supposed to be here!"
"I've got it", I said, jokingly, "We're dead."
"No!" he insisted, his jaw drawn with tension.
I suddenly realized it was Mark there with me. A shudder went through my body, chilled again I think by the clammy air as we turned and started back across the enormous entrance hall toward the portal.
After we had taken only a few steps, an attendant stepped out of the shadows, grasping my arm.
"Take a look", he said gently, motioning toward the work that was going on in the precipices, "the excavations are exquisite!"
I reluctantly glanced upward once again, studying the dark shapes that were taking form in the lofty recesses. Mammoth dinosaurs, monsters of the past...
"...present, and future", the attendant added out loud, completing my inner thought. "Pterodactyls, massive winged creatures with claws and razor-sharp teeth, demons with supernatural powers..."
As he spoke I realized that I could not recognize any of the most grotesque shapes being extricated from their stony graves. My head swam. A thousand shapeless forms seemed to leap from the lofty recesses, plunging, rushing downward at me from the heights. Staggering, I caught the attendant's arm to avoid falling. He steadied me with cold but reassuring hands.
"Of course you'll want to stay."
"No...no!" Mark insisted; "...well...maybe I could check out some books."
His increasing edginess gave way to a suppressed new interest. I sensed the change in his voice as he quickly worked his way through several of the nearest stacks, loading as many books into his arms as he could carry. But the greater his enthusiasm, the more apprehensive I became.
"We've got to leave now", I stated flatly; "Here, put the books down..."
He hesitated for a moment, then carefully relieved his burden in an inconspicuous corner.
"I'll pick them up later", he said rather mechanically; "we have to go."
I tugged at his arm with new urgency and we started once again toward the pinpoint of daylight in the distance. As we passed a figure standing in the shadows, a voice caught my attention.
Reluctantly, we paused and turned toward him. He stood there with his arms at his sides, looking upward.
"Rick? Thank God you're Ok!"
"God? You can't leave, you know", he said in a monotone.
I looked at him in disbelief.
"You're dead. We're all dead. We can't leave; we belong here", he continued with nonchalant indifference, still craning toward the heights above.
I stared in shock.
"Come on", Rick urged flatly, "There's incredible work going on here." He was hypnotized, eyes strained upward, drawn inexorably to the cliffs.
"No", Mark whispered, helplessly.
Head down, shoulders slumping, he dutifully stepped forward.
Staring upward, I strained to put new definition on the dark remains of untold monsters, demons of the underworld, my mind spinning with horror and then wonder. I blankly mumbled the attendant’s words, "There are excavations from the past, present, and future." "It's incredibly interesting."
"Yes!" A smile crossed Mark’s face. "The excavations are exquisite..."
December 11, 1999
Copyright (c) 1999-2011
Larry K. Fox
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