The Lair of King Crow
(Part three of a seven part series)
By Hunter Liguore
I spent the first few days taking notes of the entranceway, filling in bits of detail that I hadn’t gleaned from Rockwell’s notes, or any other scientist since his time. By the fourth and fifth day, I managed to make it to the edge of what is known in Rockwellian terms as the first-step. The room was rectangular and covered with hieroglyphs. The floor, something I had never seen, was painted with a feathered serpent, one that was more crow than snake. The ceiling portrayed an elaborate calendar, one with four separate, but interwoven, wheels that no one has had any luck interpreting. At the far end of the chamber, there was another doorway. Through the stone corridor the walls had magnificent paintings done in turquoise, burnt orange, and black. I started to take photographs that would allow me to translate some of the images at a later time, when a young child’s voice called out for help deep in the second chamber.
Instinct propelled me over the marked threshold of the first-step, into the second chamber, a place no one had ever made it back from. I was filled with anguish that the boy, Ferdinand, might be hurt or unable to move, and it being nearly a week since his disappearance, and me feeling chiefly responsible for his well-being, I tore forward without reserve.
I carried only a light rucksack, a torch, and my camera, wishing I had a gun or other weapon with me for protection. As I turned the corner into the second chamber, I was unprepared for what I would see. Rockwell’s missing pages never related such a sight. Upon the wall facing me was a towering crow’s head. It’s eyes were red rubies, untouched by thieves, and glowed an ominous red, enough to light the entire cave. On an altar, below the painting, was a circle of human skulls, each painted black. The open beak of the crow’s mouth was the thing that scared me. It looked so real, as if it would come to life any moment from the wall, and be fast upon me, seizing my whole form in it’s grand beak. When the child’s voice cried out again, I thought at first it was the bird squawking. I shivered and shook off the bone-chilling feeling, forcing myself to remain calm.
I surveyed the chamber. At first glance, there was not a second doorway. Then I felt a breeze coming from the direction of the crow’s mouth. I stepped forward into the dark beak, realizing the illusion—first a flat wall, then a tunnel—at the end of it, I saw the child. “Dr. Wainwright,” Ferdinand called. “I’m lost.”
I stepped closer, crushing bones to dust under my foot. Cobwebs and vines blocked my vision, as I knelt to see better, calling to him. “Here, boy, come this way.” My other foot had nearly crossed over the entry. I stopped feeling the walls and space closing in on me. Then the ground shook. The stone ceiling began to fall in pieces. I dropped to my knees for cover, glancing back to the boy, but he was gone. The torch dropped out of my hand, as I tried to go back, when something grabbed me by the shoulder.
Through the stone wall to my left, was a small hole where the face of an old, decrepit man stared back at me. His hair and beard were long and white. I tried to pull away, but he clasped my wrist. He was mumbling something, over and over, louder, and louder.
“The ceiling’s falling in, man. Let me go,” I yelled.
“Beware the king crob. Beware!” he said, his eyes bulging.
As I pulled away from him to run, something came loose in my hand. The rubble toppled in around me. I retreated across the chamber, until a stone slab caught my left leg, trapping me.
As the dust cleared, I lay on my back glancing up into the crow’s mouth. The red ruby eyes glowed no longer, and looked merely like faded red paint. Even the tunnel ceased to be real. I cast a stone toward the mouth, only to hear it bounce off a hard surface, and disappear into the stone pile around me. I glanced at my watch, but it had stopped working. The time upon the face was 8:11 a.m.; the precise time I had entered the lair. I tried to move the slab, but couldn’t, especially without risking injury. I yelled for Cook, but I was too far inside. After a while, the quiet and exasperation led me deep into sleep, where I dreamed of black crow’s sewing feathers to my skin.
I awoke to the sounds of hammer and chisel on stone. Behind me, I could see the way I’d come in had collapsed. Someone was digging me out. I sighed relief when I saw the faces of Cook and Amelia, along with two natives, peering in at me. Within the hour, they had managed to pull me free and take me back to camp. After my leg wounds were dressed, my pipe lit, and a bottle of wine opened, we celebrated being the first people ever to return from the second-step alive.
I recounted my adventure to Amelia and Cook over dinner and drink. Amelia, having spent longer than forty-five minutes inside the cave, had been left by her superstitious workers. The two natives had walked off, daring to take their luck on foot in the growing darkness.
When I had reached the part of the story with the old man, besides feeling like I was sharing a story from a book of fables, I remembered the thing I had pulled free from him. In my pocket I found an old threaded band. Upon closer examination, I could make out three faded flowers, perhaps white or cream color. I showed it to Amelia, who pointedly remarked that it was one of the good luck charm bracelets.
“It looks an awful lot like mine,” I said. “I thought you said they were handcrafted, you know, each one of a kind.” I asked to see hers, and made a comparison. Her bracelet had only two white flowers, and both had yellow at the center. Of the two bracelets, it was nearly identical to mine. I tried to make nothing of it, accepting Amelia’s assertions that a homeless chap must’ve stumbled into the place and taken up residence. I didn’t tell her about the ruby eyes or the strange tunnel that disappeared, not needing to sound anymore absurd than I already had.
We both agreed we should make an attempt to find the boy. Especially since she was stranded along with us, having left her cell phone in the jeep. Mine, along with the computer and other electronic devises all acted haywire and were useless. My compass shot to north in every direction indicating a heavy magnetic force, presumably permeating from the interior of the cave.
In the morning, Amelia and I packed up food and other supplies. I loaded my pistol and kept it holstered to my leg. Amelia said I looked a little like an English John Wayne, with my Panama hat, leather vest, and holster. Before we left, I told Amelia upfront that she didn’t need to come with me, and that it would be best for her to go with Cook to find transportation back to her work site. Something in my manner, I believe, challenged her. She wasn’t one to allow superstitions to keep her from a day’s work, she said. I think in the end it was curiosity.
“Besides,” she said, “we made it out alive. The stories have no merit now.”
I nodded, smiling. Though, I wasn’t so sure anymore. I told Cook to go for help if we didn’t return in three days.
He smiled, clutching a rifle. “Don’t worry, Dr. W, if anything happens to you, I’ll bring the cavalry.”
Cook’s words were comforting, though I doubted he’d find anyone to come with him inside the lair, especially if we’d gone missing.
The lair invited us inward. Everything was as it should’ve been, in both the first and second chamber. Not a stone fallen or ceiling collapsed. In fact, the entire crow painting and altar was gone, completely missing. In its place was the Second-Step depicted in Rockwell’s missing pages, complete with the inner fountain at the center, where initiates were thought to fill a cup and drink. It was symbolically meant to cure their thirst forever. The hieroglyphs adorning the turquoise well spelled out a saying. In English the equivalent meant something like, “May you never thirst.”
The well was dry upon entering the room, but after we were there for sometime, analyzing the text on the walls, we both stopped, hearing the trickling of water. Amelia checked it. She stuck her fingers into the cool trough, touching it to her lips. “It’s clean, no odor,” she said, and dipped a bandana into the water to wipe her face, then tied it around her neck.
We continued on with caution into the Third-Step. The excitement of venturing along Rockwell’s legendary path no longer held the sparkle it had when I arrived. Instead, I was filled with a frantic anxiety, confounded with the nagging feeling that all was not as it appeared. Though I didn’t let on to her, I was happy Amelia was accompanying me into the cold chambers, ones filled with miraculous light, so much so, that we didn’t need the aide of our torches. Where the light came from we couldn’t say exactly. Sometimes it appeared to be emanating from the myriad of gems, and sometimes it seemed like the sun’s rays were leaking in behind the cracks of the ceiling. Either way, the light gave me false comfort.
The corridors winded and turned. Some paths went uphill, like a steep ramp; others went down hill, by stairs. Sometimes it felt like were walking diagonal, then would circle back around. When we had been walking for what felt like over an hour, we decided to sit and rest. Up until this point, we found no clues to the boy’s disappearance. Further, the rooms and corridors differed from Rockwell’s pages, so much so, that I began to voice my concern that we weren’t even in the lair, but some other ancient site. Amelia was less of a skeptic, presuming that Rockwell may not have had time to detail the entire labyrinth, but only a sampling. I reluctantly agreed, asserting there was a chance we hadn’t found all of the missing pages.
After we rested our feet, we started off down a golden corridor, one similar to the Valley of the Gold Dolls, that Rockwell told of. He described the hall as a medieval type carnival where the faces of the dolls changed as he viewed them. Years ago, when I had read this, I assumed it was only figurative, but now being in the lair, seeing first hand the otherworldly type episodes, I now believed he wasn’t fabricating, but merely stated the truth as it appeared to him. Up ahead, I could see several carved stele, several doll-like statues, and a giant gold wheel, inlaid with emeralds and diamonds that sparkled.
The wheel was mounted on the wall ahead of us, and at least ten feet high. “It’s the Mayan Wheel of Fortune,” I said, not sure if Amelia was familiar with it. She was, and began to pick out the caricatures at various points on the wheel. “This point would bestow upon the initiate a full year’s crop,” she said pointing to a small glyph. “And this one, many servants to share the harvest’s burden.”
Amelia gripped the wheel to see if it would move. With little effort, she gave the wheel a spin. As it slowly turned, a bright light exploded into the room. A stone door opened behind her, and the room started to spin with the motion of the wheel. The room tilted. I grabbed hold of a stele. Amelia grabbed my ankle. The left side of the room, became the ceiling, as the walls in the room shrunk; the force weighing us both down, as if we were on a carnival ride, trying to move against the force of motion. We dangled in mid-air, as the room metamorphosed. “Hold on,” I called to her, trying to reach her hand, but the room rumbled, and rocks started to rain down on us. Amelia’s grip slipped. She screamed as her body disappeared into the dark hole beneath her. The room continued to turn and spin. I closed my eyes, hoping it would stop. But it spun and spun, wildly. Dizzy, my consciousness slipped into darkness.
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Hunter Liguore holds a BA in History and is finishing her MFA in Creative Writing. She enjoys writing in different genres, and even more so mixing genres, rather than limiting herself to one. Her work has appeared in diverse publications, including, "Katie Ireland," in Miranda Literary Magazine, "Piece," in Terra Incognito, and "The Wizard of Peillon," forthcoming in Mirror Dance. If you would like to follow Hunter Liguore on her journey around the world in thirty stories and thirty genres, visit: http://www.theworldinthirtystories.com
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