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All he could hear was the silence pounding in his ears.
He frowned, squinting into the darkness, but could make out nothing. There was nothing there to see, except utter, unchanging black velvet, thick and stifling, while still nothingness.
He wondered if he should go further.
His hands reluctantly felt the space in front of him, searching for what, he did not know, but he certainly wasn’t expecting the cold metal his fingers found. The touch startled him, but he did not pull away. His fingers continued to feel, finding dusty, uneven metal that wrapped around itself, and set on top, something even dustier, but softer, and not so cold. Waxy. A candle. This was some kind of sconce, meant to be set against a wall.
Except that there was no wall.
Where he should have felt a barrier, there was nothing but air. There was no stand, nor was the candle holder meant to be hanging, he couldn’t finding anything that could suggest that it was hung from any ceiling. It was simply there, with nothing to hold it up. Like it was floating, except that pushing against it did not move it at all. It was just, there.
He stood staring at it, or rather, where he guessed it was; there was still nothing but darkness to stare at.
The candle alighted.
He flinched, but did not step away. He stared hard at the candle, as if expecting it to explain how it lit itself. But all there was to see was the flame, flickering, innocent, no story to tell.
It finally occurred to him to look past the candle, into the darkness. Where there was once black velvet, there were now shadows, and shapes, flitting in and out of existence in step with the flickering light. There was nothing that showed outlines of a room; it was as if the light had just carved an opening in the darkness, and that beyond the light there was nothing but more black velvet. The largest shape was the one in the center of the floor, with sharp edges that caught the light and clearly defined lines and corners that took the form of a long box. It was about the length of a man, made of what looked like dull stone marble with, if he squinted, an inscription. Like a coffin.
He wondered if he should go further.
He took a step forward.
Then another. Another. One more. He could have reached out and touched the coffin if he wanted to. But that in itself was a question. If he wanted to.
He took one last step forward, placing himself directly in front of the coffin.
He paused. He asked himself the question again. Did he want to?
His head told him no.
His fingers told him yes.
They reached out and searched the surface, unbidden, leaving trails in the fine layer of dust. They searched the sides. What they were searching for, he did not know. But they knew. They picked out a crack on the front side and followed it across the length of the coffin. Followed it around the corners and across the sides. They knew it was not really a crack. It was too even and too deliberate to be a crack. They placed themselves on the sides of the coffin and stroked the crack with their thumbs. Then they pressed against the marble, palms pushing the sides, and eased the half of the coffin above the crack upward, stone against stone sliding smoothly, expectantly, until it was fully open.
He bent over to peer inside. At first he could see nothing, but as he concentrated on the dim light falling into the opening, he could see the outline of a body. A body rigid but relaxed at the same time. And at the head of the opening, he could pick out a face.
Its eyes were closed. Mouth set in a straight line, placid expression. Placid, except that the space just above the bridge of the nose was pinched slightly, as if its eyebrows were frozen in the middle of pushing together into a frown. It was old, but not skeletal. Not decayed, or ragged, or anything that could suggest that it was dead for a time. Yet it was dead, he could see that much. His fingers contemplated touching it, as if to feel for themselves that it was real.
Its eyes opened.
They were colorless, and no feeling came into them when they fixed onto his face. But its thin mouth curled upward into a parody of a smile. He stood, paralyzed, as one saggy arm brought itself up from the opening. His face did not twitch when a sharp, bony finger stroked the side of his cheek. He did not make a sound, as a voice floated up in faint, rasping singsong.
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
He did not remember if he closed his eyes, or if the candle had snuffed itself out. Only that everything became dark again. He did not remember any more.
The coffin was closed. The body inside was rigid but relaxed. Its skin was smooth and untouched, except for one faint red scratch along the side of one cheek. The trails along the surface of the coffin were yet to be covered over again with dust. The fingers that left the trails now hung limp next to its body. This time, it did not have time to wonder if it should have gone further. It did not need it. It now knew answer was no.
It was a little too late for that, though.