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Stony and Hopeless
…and close on empty air.
Shock. Horror. An anguished cry, my chest is heaving. Where is he? Where is my Mark? He can’t just be… gone. So far… so far from everyone, everywhere. Of all places, here, in the catacombs. There is steam, so much steam I can hardly see the other side of the circular chasm.
Ow! A stabbing chill shooting up my leg, my bare feet exposed to the cold blue stone beneath. A fit of weeping, uncontrolled heaving and shivering, my knees almost in my mouth, a memory…
…Mark is standing in a meadow, his handsome figure standing stoically in the middle of a patch of waving grass. He looks. I emerge from beneath the copse of trees where I have been watching, crossing slowly over the…
A jolt, a fuzzy muzzle probing my face. “Mmmmm mmm,” hands groping, they touch upon a fuzzy creature. Awake in a moment. Where am I? The steam, and the stone, and the… wombat? The catacombs! Mark! I must get out! …and a wombat. Wait, what? It is. Small, fuzzy, cute and cuddly. Brown, looks kinda like a little bear. Yep, it’s a wombat. “Hello there.” No response. Typical of a small, speechless, animal I guess. But it must have gotten to this dais somehow, which means there is a way off!
Eeee! Another stabbing chill up my leg, why is it so cold? It wasn’t this cold before! No shoes. Threads splitting, hem falling. Aw, that was my favorite dress, although these strips could make good foot protection. Warm, gauzy fabric engulfing my feet. Padding, a wall of steam, a bridge that wasn’t there before! Creaking boards and a gentle wind, a memory…
…The breeze picks at my hair, the long shimmering strands flutter gently. Out of the trees’ shadows, towards Mark, the wind begins to pick at my dress. It’s my favorite, long and creamy. It’s silky, and light like gauze. Mark gives a little grin, I extend my hand…
A sharp change in texture. The bridge is behind, the dais hidden in the steam. Wombat! Where did it go?
A sound. A caress of whirling fabric. A wall. The sound? There. Above, 15 feet up. The wombat. A warm smile. A little squeak and it’s gone. Another sound. A tunnel that wasn’t there before.
Warm fabric. Padding footsteps over to a ladder. A tight squeeze, a memory…
…My head is nestled gently on Mark’s chest. How long we’ve stood here, I can only guess. Like two intertwined pillars, standing in the middle of a bright meadow. The sun has sunk low, casting long shadows over the meadow. Mark leans in…
A huge expanse. Chamber above and all around. There, in the center. It’s the dais. The dais where Mark- No. Not now. I need a clear head. There will be time. A little tug on my hem, what’s left of it. Reluctance. Slowly turning. A long tunnel. Light from somewhere.
My feet hurt. A glance back. Nothing but miles of tunnel. A soft exhale, Goodbye Mark. A single tear. Slowing wombat. Another chamber. Reddish stone, a slow transition. Long and low. Head scrapping.
Neck pain. Head bent for hours. Thinking of Mark.
A clash of swords. A sharp clang. Craaack. Ow! That was my head. The swords? No. A dream. A brown lump resolving into a furry mammal. The wombat is here. Rolling. Staggering. On my feet. Itchy. Rough. Unwashed ropes passing through my fingers. Stray strands everywhere. Eyes closed, rubbing. Hands up, they meet with the ceiling. Turning. Gently onto the ledge. Reddish chamber into the distance. The gaping maw from which I entered. Head in hands, tears streaming. Interrupted by a squeak. A trotting brown fuzz ball. Off we go.
Polished stone sliding by all around. A gurgle, hardly registered. Getting louder. Around the corner.
Uh… Um… Hhh… Too much. Azure. Green. Brown. Palms. Tall trunks. Fronds. A huge pool. Cracks in the wall. Flowing, no, gushing. Euphoria. Strips off. Bare feet gripping at the floor. A memory…
…Spears of light shoot up the horizon. As the stars slowly fade Mark leans over and whispers, “Good morning, Arianne.” I carefully extricate myself from the soft nest that is the crook of his arm and sit up. He rises next to me and, with my head nestled softly against his shoulder, we look to the horizon…
Pool’s edge. The trees! So many, shooting straight up from the water, anchored to the rock below.
Clothes off in a second. Feet pounding. A hard push. Squeezing my ankles.
A cool envelope, clear liquid in every nook and cranny. Piercing through sweat and grime.
Breaking the surface. Arm over arm. Across the pool once, twice. Ropes dissolving into a silky floe.
A wary mammal, sniffing the water, lapping.
A high pitched tinkle reverberating around the chamber. Over to the falls. Cupped hands. Cool silk sliding down my throat, vanquishing the dryness. More, more, enough.
Shaking, doglike. Soft fabric cascading down my body. A last drink. A memory…
…Fire burns at my throat. “Whaa…?” I manage to choke out. “It says Peach Brandy.” He replies, looking at the label. “It’s… good.” Which is true, the fire-water has the sweetness of sugary peaches and the fire gives a nice kick. Mark smiles “My mom found it in the attic.” A high pitched tinkle escapes my lips and I gaze up into his face…
Trudging along. Strips abandoned at the pool. Soles aching. Soul aching. Mark. I miss him. How long has it been? Slept once. Walked three times as long. The pool is a distant memory. How long ago was that? A few minutes? Hours? A day? “It can’t have been that long,” Says Mark, “After all, you aren’t thirsty yet.” “But I wasn’t thirsty until the pool either, I was in shock.” I reply absentmindedly. We walk along in silence, hand in hand, trudging after the wombat. It turns, now left, now right, now along the middle fork. The stone has transitioned again, now it’s a bluish purple, not unlike the chamber. The chamber I had pushed to the back of my mind. It rises, unbidden, that dais where Mark disappeared. Into the fog. Just… gone. A reassuring squeeze comes from the hand holding mine. I gaze up into his face, the face of my Mark. He’s here now. Suddenly, on impulse, I throw my arms around his neck to hold him tight, never to leave me again…
…and they pass through empty air.
AUUUUAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHH! Hard panting. Crouching. Almost kneeling. Arms limp. Eyes half closed.
A scared squeak, a receding bum. Palms on the wall. Dripping. Dropping. Flowing down my face. A pool at my feet. A memory…
…Little crystal droplets fly in high arcs between us, cascading down into the clear pool. Mark’s laugh mixes with the low boom of the waterfall behind us and forms a reverberating wave that echoes up and down the chasm walls. I let the sound surround me, consuming it as it consumes me. I fling my arms high into the air, sending little crystals flying high, bending the sunlight. I’ve never felt so free…
…So chained. Chained to myself. Chained to Mark. Chained to the wombat that’s deserted me. Chained… to the catacombs. Curling up on the cold floor. Shaking. Blesse?d sleep.
The darkness writhes around me. I can’t see it but the patterns imprint vividly on my mind. Suddenly, they coalesce. Out of the fortress, felt rather than seen, steps a familiar figure. No! Go away! I cry hoarsely. He smiles and extends his hand. I recoil like a wounded animal. You abandoned me! And then you came back but you weren’t there and then it was horibbleandthewombatleftand… I’m suddenly blubbering incoherently, almost on the ground. He walks over and gently embraces my huddled form. He leans in and whispers “Don’t worry Arianne, you’ll find me…” and he dissolves into a thousand pinpricks of light that are borne away on winds of darkness.
Fuzzy images. Taking form. Huge disks. Inconceivably large holes… on a furry face! Up! Muscles straining, containing a smile. Embracing. Fur sticking through fabric tatters. Refreshed. Aches forgotten. Palms on the wall. Slowly up. Stretching. Neck cracking. A content smile. A memory…
…I’m walking through our meadow, alone this time. The wind sends ripples along the tall grass carpeting beneath my feet. I make my way towards the copse of trees in the far corner. Inside lies a small shack, and inside, a gift. Mark is coming home…
Hope. And green walls.
A battered figure reflected on the walls. Grime everywhere, knotty ropes cascading behind. Something. In the air. Hope looks like green walls. The wombat. Pillars shooting up from the floor. A widening corridor. Breath of life.
Chittering and chattering. Squeaks. A flash. Whirling. Dress flowing farther. Nothing. There! Hair flying. Nothing. Plodding. Pleasant warmth creeping up my leg. Up, up. Smooth incline.
Slowing. Sniehh. Sniehhhhh… Air rushing into my nose. Sweet, sugary air. Feet pounding. Around the corner!
W… Wo… Woahhhh…
Sunlight streaming from above. Huge rough brown stretching… no, flowing, high into the mist above. Beams piercing the fog, bathing the tree.
Orange, yellow, red. Juice. Shine. Grumbling. Pangs.
Jumping, grabbing, a wrenching in my shoulders. Feet gripping at the wood, scrambling. Snagging. Yanking. Rushing air. Rushing ground. Ooof. Half a dress.
Food. Undeterred. Up again. Quickly clambering.
So lush. So smooth. Juice flowing down my mouth. A grin. Hand across my mou-
…Too big… Fifty feet to the floor. Out of sight in all directions. Light green stone. Huge bough. Uncontrollable exhaustion.
Renewed. Stretching. Darkness, a wan light, a memory…
…The stars are climbing into the heavens. Whoosh. Whoosh. Streaks of light are streaming across the sky. The coarse blanket beneath us is no match for the comfort of Mark’s chest. I wiggle closer, nestle the crown of my head beneath his chin, and he begins to sing…
Against the wall. Cool stone gently caressing through a tattered covering. Three days. It pops, unbidden, brings back the- Skrrrrr Neck whipping up. A small, fuzzy mammal. Anger. Not at me. At the wombat. But what is it? Fuzzy, bushy tail, rodent like, a squirrel? Too late. Gone in a moment. Skittering. Up the tree. Angry chattering. Moving on.
Wummm. Wummmm. Wummmm. A beat. A heartbeat. Resonating. It fades. Eyes wandering. Smooth walls. Rough floor. Corner ahead. Absentmindedly around. Walking. Walking. Up an incline. Steeper. More work. Down. The warm stone on my cheek.
Sitting. Wombat under a stone. Listening. Breathing. Tears. Will I ever get out? Nevernevernevernever! Curling up. Tense. Clenching. Fists, legs, stomach, head, harder, harder. Slowly. Relaxing. A dim light, brighter than the chamber behind. Softly stepping.
Cavern. Flush with light. The sky. The moon! Beams caressing my face. No ceiling. A memory…
…”The angels in their gowns of light fly off to the heavens. As they approach the moon comes out to greet them. As if they were young children coming home, the moon embraces each one and they fly on, through the crags of heaven, until they come to their resting place…” Mark trails off and cocks his head. “What?” I ask. “Just thinking.” He smiles…
Across the floor. A gaping mouth. Reluctantly back into the earth. Walking. Winding. Up. Down. Pain. Aches. When will it end?
Numb. Numb feet. Numb legs. Numb mind. Air plucks at strips of fabric. Lighter. Brown walls. Brick patterns. Scones. Torches. What? A man made tunnel! Alert. Turning wombat. Up familiar stairs. A memory…
“C’mon,” Mark calls as he races up the rocky slope. I’m close behind, a bit hindered by my bare feet. Behind and far below lays forest in all directions, its green vibrant against the blue sky. An overwhelming urge to beat him to the top comes over me and I double my speed. He sees me coming and climbs faster, but I’m gaining. We tie. We flop down side by side, laughing. “So what did you want to show me?” I ask. “This way.” He replies, and sets of across the plateau…
A square room. A lit brazier. A memory…
…We’ve reached a small hole in the rocky floor of the plateau. “This is it.” Mark says, emphatically. “But what is it?” I reply. “The catacombs of Old Stone. Want to go exploring?” There’s that glint in his eye… I know that glint. Some decisions take a lifetime. I make mine in about two seconds. We enter…
Up the tunnel. Wind whistling. A memory…
…The walls are made of a brown brick. We head down the tunnel. It empties into a small square chamber with a brazier inside. We walk down the steps…
A light. The outside! Not ready… Staring at the wall. Fuzz nuzzling my leg. The wombat. It’s been with me. With me since Mark-
It’s time. Time to know. Before I leave.
Casting my thoughts. The brazier. The cavern. Hopeless. The tree. The squirrel. The fruit. Hope. Green tunnels. A Mark who wasn’t. Anguish beyond belief. The pool. The trees. The cool, silky water. The red room. The hidden ladder. The dais. The wombat. The steam. The…
…We’ve been exploring for hours. This place is so vast! We break; I rest my head on Mark’s shoulder. I wake, he’s not here! Suddenly he appears, coming down the tunnel. “I thought I’d let you rest,” he says, “You looked beat.” “Not anymore.” I reply, and give him a quick hug. We move on, hand in hand. By now we’re far down into the Earth, and descending. The tunnel finally empties into a vaulting chamber of bluish stone. In the center is a huge hole with thick steam oozing out of it. I can just make out the outline of a platform in the middle. It’s irresistible…
Too painful… No. I must know.
…We’re on the platform. No warning. I look around, confused, how are we here? Before I can think Mark suddenly has his arms wrapped around me, holding me tight. He mumbles something. I barely register he’s even spoken. He stares into my eyes. I stare back into those depthless pools. “I love you.” Hoarsely. He steps back. Tendrils dart out of the steam. They wrap around him, coiling over his arms, legs, body. He begins to fade. I jump, grasping desperately…
But why?! Tears. Streaming. The words. The mumbled words. “Trust your feet.”
I lead. The wombat trails behind. The doorway. Across the threshold. Legs resisting. Dim light pressing on my eyelids. Out. Salmon in the east. Down the mountain. Where am I going? “Trust your feet.”
Walking. Striding. Running. Down the hill. Towering trees. Feet guiding. Out. Carpet of grass. A lone tree. A copse on the far end…
Rolling fog. Thick. White. Moving. Surrounding. Tendrils… A coalescing form…
My Mark! Thicker. Solid. Desperate. Flinging out my arms. They meet with firm flesh. Bliss.
Purring from beside me. Little mammal climbing up Mark, chittering. A warm smile. “You’ve done well, Roddie.” A content squeak. Jumping into the vanishing fog. Gone.
Gentle breath. Eyes closed. No distance. Together.
An eternity. “But… How?”
“Because I couldn’t leave you.”
Pulling tighter. Cheek buried in his chest. A single tear. “I… I don’t want to know.”
Wind. Plucking at hair and dress. Light rising. Golden breath on a new day…