My fingers were clenched tight and the bony ridge cut into my fingers. I could feel my blood pulsing past the nicks and gashes in the dismembered skeleton I hid behind, as if they were my bones and it was my blood the floor was awash with. I was giddy with the scent of that coppery tang overlaying the reek of old blood, rotting and soaked into the floorboards.
The night bled around me and I hugged myself tighter to the empty body which scarcely concealed me. I had been warned about the cellar. But I still allowed myself to be drawn here by the soft music and the eager chatter of my friends. Perhaps this was one of them. We’d been joined as we walked down the long corridor by men and women whom I had seen when I was with my parents. I think they knew them, but my parents had steered us away when we met in the caverns. Time and time again we are told not to go off alone, especially at night, and especially to these places. I feel stupid now.
The thought of my parents distracted me from the awful sounds which came from the self-imposed darkness. I didn’t need to see anything to know that I shouldn’t have come. I knew no one would be coming for us. No one goes out on winter’s eve. If only I’d said no to my friends. If only I hadn’t argued with my mother and sneaked between the peals of the night time bells. If only I’d stayed at home.
The gnawing and ripping continued but my eyes were squeezed shut so tight I could see the angels in stark white relief dancing past me, grinning and offering their hands. I knew at least not to let go, no matter how close the snarls and meaty slaps became. I was safe as long as I was blind.
Perhaps I slept. I couldn’t have stayed silent and unseeing for so long. The idea that I might have dozed off scared me almost as much as what I had slept through. It was quiet now. There was no feel of blood lapping at my thighs as I knelt there, alone in the dark. It felt much later, perhaps it was morning now. My eyes ached with the fear that had kept them closed. My hands were sore, but clutched only each other now. I summoned my courage – I had to escape. The way we had come in would surely be open now, even if I would be leaving alone.
Tentatively I opened my eyes, hardly daring to relax my eyelids for fear of what I might see. I was right to be fearful. It was still night. Silent and staring one of the angels crouched before me. I knew it was too late, but I closed my eyes again because I did not want to see what would happen next.