Yeah, giiiiirrll! It’s time for another installment of my neverending short story. I finished editing it earlier this week and I’m now inflicting it on close friends and relatives (like writers do). Here’s your weekly dose of my scribblings.
If you haven’t been reading along so far. You can catch up here:
Winslow awoke in perfect darkness. His mouth was dry and sticky. His head was a jumble of disjointed images and questions. His clothes were gone. In their place, was a long tunic of rough wool. His hands were bound. He strained against the rough, knotted rope briefly, but to no avail. As best as he could tell, the floor was made of stone. He lay still for a moment and was conscious of another form in the room with him.
It was scraping and shuffling for a moment. Then it spoke.
“Snickerdoodles!” the word dropped out of Winslow’s cell mate gracelessly. It brought back the evening’s events in a flood.
“Is that you, Jim?” Winslow asked.
“Hey kid, glad you could make it.” The voice was more measured.
“Where’s Alisha?” Winslow kept his voice low for fear of alerting their captors. There was a pause with some rustling as Frankel shifted his bulk.
“She ain’t on my side” he said.
Winslow felt around with his long legs till his feet made contact with the solid brick wall of the cell the two men shared. Nothing.
“Hey kid,” Frankel’s voice was uncharacteristically quiet.
“Did they take your clothes?”
“Me too. Had a pocket knife in my mine.” Frankel said. “What’s with this robe shit we’re wearing now?”
“Something to do with whatever insane ritual they’re about to perform.”
“Fuck that.” The older man spat.
In the near perfect darkness, Winslow heard rustling and a little grunting as his partner rolled to his knees. With a little more grunting, Frankel was shimmying his back up the brick wall to stand.
“Screw this place.” Frankel was on his feet and breathing heavy. With a little less grunting and straining, Winslow rolled over against the wall and drew himself up as well.
Both men stood quietly; waiting for their captors to return. Their breathing slowed as time passed.
“Hey Jim,” said Winslow. “Do you think we’re gonna die in here?”
“Probably,” Frankel replied. “We won’t go easy though.”
As though Frankel’s words had summoned the architect of their doom, footsteps became audible outside the door. Both men crouched, readying themselves to rush the door once it opened. Winslow knew the element of surprise would be crucial. With their hands tied, they would be at an extreme disadvantage. The footsteps grew louder and then stopped abruptly. They heard a metallic clanking sound followed by a shrill squeak. Winslow’s heart was hammering in his chest.
Out of the darkness, a brilliant rectangle of golden light appeared at about eye level. The two men blinked at the dazzling intrusion. Then, a square head with dark hair appeared in the rectangle. Wreathed in the golden light of the hallway, the face reminded Winslow of medieval paintings of angels and saints. The man’s formidable mustache did ruin the effect somewhat. Winslow had never seen an angel with a mustache.
“Zoltan?” Frankel asked.
“Hello, detectives!” Zoltan’s face broke into a hearty smile. “You will ah, bear wit me one moment.” The face disappeared and they could hear a metallic clinking and clicking through the door. There was a short pause, then a muffled “aha” and a loud clank. The door swung open to reveal Zoltan’s stocky form. The Hungarian was putting a small leather case into his jacket pocket. And who exactly carries around a lock picking kit? Winslow thought, but his curiosity was overtaken by his joy at the possibility of escape from Glinden.
Zoltan produced an antique looking pocket knife with a bone handle and began cutting the ropes around Winslow’s wrists.
“Very dangerous coming here by yourselves,” Zoltan whispered as he worked. “Very dangerous to confront the witch in her den. You should have told me.” Zoltan began sawing through the rope around Frankel’s wrists. Winslow rubbed where the cord had cut into the skin.
Once both men were free, Zoltan picked up a mop handle that was leaning against the stone wall, pressed a finger to his lips, and began leading them down the narrow, well-lit hallway. There were no windows and the air was cool. Underground? Winslow thought. As they went along, the faint sound of many voices singing reached Winslow’s ears.
“Alisha.” Winslow froze as he spoke her name. Zoltan turned to face them. His prodigious eyebrows rose.
“Vhat is a lee-sha?” he whispered.
“She’s a pregnant girl who was with us when that bitch drugged us and locked us up.” Frankel spoke quickly but made time for the additional emphasis on the expletive. Zoltan’s face turned deadly serious.
“If she still lives,” he said. “She is in great peril. I can save her, but not vithout your help. Come.” They went quickly and quietly down the hall in single file. They passed several empty cells like the one in which Winslow and Frankel had been held. They could hear the strange harmony of voices get louder.
Winslow’s mind was working faster now, and his powers of observation were returning. He considered the outfit Zoltan had worn. His unexpected savior wore a knee-length military-style double-breasted jacket, loose-fitting canvas pants, and a pair of sturdy, well-worn boots. He looked something like an unlicensed attempt at Indiana Jones. Just different enough to avoid copyright infringement, Winslow thought.
“Can’t we call for backup?” he asked.
“No time,” replied Zoltan. They turned left at the end of the hall, and the voices singing grew louder. Winslow wondered absently what the language was. The hallway came to a ‘t,’ and Zoltan held up a signalling them to stop there. Without discussion, Zoltan had become the de facto leader of the group.
“These people are powerful and dangerous. The Cult of Tanit has worked in secret since da fall of Carthage. They have gone by many names over the millennia, but their goal is always the same. Dey mean to feed their unholy ‘goddess’ vit your friend’s blood and da blood of her unborn child. These cultists believe dey can extend their lives in dis manner. If I make distraction big enough, you can get her to safety?” he didn’t wait for their agreement and continued speaking in an urgent whisper. “If you go left, you vill see two men in black guarding a door to da altar room. Stay out of sight. Ven I make distraction, dey vill run inside. Den you can enter after them to free da girl.” Winslow and Frankel nodded in agreement. Zoltan produced the pocket knife again and offered it to Frankel.
“She’ll be bound as you were,” the bizarre man said. “Use this.”
The singing grew louder and more intense. The congregants were building to a climax. Zoltan made a little bow and began trotting swiftly and noiselessly down the passage in the opposite direction. He lowered the mop handle in front of him like a short spear. He soon disappeared behind the curvature of the hallway. Winslow and Frankel turned to the left passage and walked abreast toward their post to await Zoltan’s signal.
They moved quickly, but carefully. Their bare feet were nearly silent on the stone floor. As the passage curved, they crowded along the right hand wall that must have bordered what Zoltan had called the altar room. Frankel took the lead and Winslow followed his greying head along the wall. The hallway was more dimly lit than the row of cells Zoltan had brought them from.