I was making the passage through the narrow dark when I met someone in the tunnel coming from the other way. They seemed to be in a hurry, the flames of our candles dancing in their anxiously shifting eyes. It had been a long time since I had come across another in the depths, so I grasped their arm with some considerable fervor and asked,
“What’s the hurry, comrade?”
“It’s behind me,” they said, neck stiff, jaw restrained as if tensing against a terrible force.
“What is?” I asked. I did not wish to move my own candle and like them held it close to my face, its hot breath singeing my nose.
“The monster. It’s waiting for me just behind. I need to get out of here as fast as I can.”
“I see nothing,” I said. It was completely dark behind them – empty, silent, dead. No monsters.
They let out a cry. “No. No. That cannot be. It’s practically breathing down my neck! No farther from me than I from my candle!”
“There’s most definitely nothing there,” I repeated. “What kind of monster is it?”
Their wide eyes twitched towards me. “Surely you are mistaken, comrade. It is there, massive and waiting. I cannot turn around, or it will surely take me, but I can clearly imagine its terrible stature, filling the tunnel. Yes, a skull-like mask as tall as I, sockets as empty as they are consuming. Long fingers poised at my throat. Yet it moves so quietly, so quietly – a testament to its power – surely it is quick too! And clever! It torments me like this, waiting for me to turn around and make my end. And yet you cannot see it!?”
“I see no such specter haunting you. Naught but the narrow dark – safe passage may we have, comrade.”
Their eyes narrowed and cracked lips pursed, but evidently they could not believe my words. In a place where the slightest burden is magnified, it is our duty to relieve those who we can, for we all must make this passage. So, I said to them, “I see your worry, comrade, but you can place your trust in me. If you would but turn, you would see you have safe passage. Let me help you to relax.”
At that, they cried, “Fiend indeed you are! Your words will be my undoing, whether you are fool, or blind, or even, yes, an illusion put forth by it to lead me to my end! Unhand me, and let me pass! There is nothing at your back to block me. You could never understand the terror!”
With that I released them, and they scurried past me.
A triumphant smile broke through my lips. They were the illusion, the trap! Just as I had expected. For I knew that behind me stood a beast of death, just as the one they had described, that none could scurry through.
I paused to collect my poise before passing onward, candle ahead, talons surely at my throat.
It’s a long passage through the narrow dark, my deadly comrade, so I mustn’t turn back yet.
May 2021 - May 2022