Saturday, October 18, 2003 1:46:00 PM
by Robina Williams
|When a quantum leap hurls the Minotaur from his labyrinth into a strange building, he''s none too happy. Neither is Brother Jerome, when he is flung into a maze of corridors. And the friary Guardian is in a spiritual desert. Quant, quantum cat and seraph, has his work cut out.
When Brother Jerome returned to the friary orchard, he was surprised to find it was nighttime. With perpetual light shining in the afterworld, he had forgotten what darkness was. The moon glimmered behind a veil of cloud. Jerome looked through the gnarled trunks of the old apple trees to the black bulk of the friary beyond. He wondered whether to enter the building, but decided that there would be little point in doing so as he would be unlikely to find anyone around to converse with at that hour. He lifted his wrist to peer at his watch, gave a thin smile when he found he was no longer wearing one and remembered why he wasn’t, and thought he might as well take a stroll through the orchard since he was there.
He had been hoping to find Bernard sunning himself once more in the old canvas chair, for he felt like a chat with his old friend. He now had his fellow friars-in-spirit to talk to — and he was delighted to be in their company after his unwanted period of solitude — but he wanted to keep in touch with the friary he had left behind. The world he was now in contained mind-blowing wonders and shocks to knock him off his feet, but life in the friary on earth was still of interest.
Jerome wandered through the trees in the neglected orchard, admiring the sculptures of twisted boughs in the dim moonlight. The fruit trees hadn’t been pruned for many years — none of the friars nowadays having the skill to do it — but, though overgrown and untidy, they still bore fruit and provided food for friars, birds and insects alike.
Then he glided through the tall grass toward the old hut beside which he had found Bernard sitting on his previous visit to the orchard. He could see where the brambles and weeds and creepers growing up the side of the hut had been pulled aside for the door to be opened. He looked up at the ivy clinging to the roof as thickly as thatch, and saw a bat fly by. He wondered if he would have the strength to pull the door open himself, in his present insubstantial state, then remembered that he didn’t need to open doors anymore.
He stepped over to the dusty window and peered in, but could see nothing in the dark interior. Taking a deep breath, for he still wasn’t confident of his ability to tunnel through solid objects and emerge on the other side, he looked hard at the glass, concentrated his thoughts on creating a simple gateway for himself within the window frame, breathed deeply, and found himself inside the hut.
He gave a sigh of relief that he hadn’t ended up trapped like a genie in a glass bottle somewhere — for with his track record he might have ended up anywhere — and gazed around.
There was little enough in there. Propped against the far wall was the old folding chair that Bernard had taken outside to sit on in the sunshine. A rake leaned beside the door. Some empty sacks were stacked up on the floor. A few jars with murky liquids in them sat on wooden shelving.
There’s nothing of interest in here, he thought, and decided to head back to the afterlife. The novelty of finding himself in a nighttime world once more had worn off. The gloom was depressing him. He wanted to return to the brightness of the afterworld. Nighttime had seemed so welcome in past times, when he had wearily lain down to rest at the end of the day. Now the darkness of earthly night oppressed him.
A moment later he wondered if he had trodden on the rake and smacked himself in the face with it, knocking himself silly, for light of an impossible brilliance suddenly flared in front of his eyes. His feet shot from under him and he began to fall. As he fell, he registered the sight of the rake still leaning beside the door of the hut. He braced himself in preparation for the crack that he knew must come when he hit the ground, but he didn’t hit the ground, for a surge of energy came from somewhere and hurled him, with the force of an explosion, out of the hut. He was flung through air that felt red-hot. An enraged bellow close by indicated that he had just missed colliding with some furious creature being catapulted past him in the opposite direction and experiencing the same burning sensation.
Jerome landed in a heap in some place even gloomier than the hut he had just left. He cried out as he struck the ground, then lay in silence, wondering which bones he had broken. He remembered he no longer had any bones to break. He whimpered quietly. He put out a hand to touch the surface beneath him and found he was lying on a cold stone floor. Struggling to his feet, he took a few shaky steps. He could see little and stretched his arms out in front of him to try to make sure he didn’t bump into anything. Where in the world was he? He thought of shouting out in the hope that the cat would hear him, but he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. Who knew who or what might be around to hear him in this ghastly place? It would be best to keep quiet and try to get out on his own. But where was he? Well, he was obviously underground, in some sort of cellar or dungeon. Dungeon? In that case, he might never be free. What a place to end up.
It certainly looked like a prison of some sort. He was in a room that appeared to have been quarried out of rock. As his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, he was able to discern a pile of rubble that looked as if it might have come down in a roof-fall. He maneuvered his way around it, muttering as he stubbed his toe on a large stone. He now saw in front of him several long rectangular chests that looked decidedly tomb-shaped. It occurred to him that he might have landed in a burial vault. He shuddered and wanted to scream, then wondered why he felt such terror when he himself was dead. Gingerly, he approached the nearest chest and found that it was indeed a tomb: a terracotta tomb, heavily decorated.
Nervously he ran his hands over the intricately carved surface, his fingers tracing the patterns and lettering. He leaned forward and peered closely at the letters, but could not make them out. He explored their shapes with his fingertips, but he could not identify the script. What language was this? Where was he? Which land was he in? Whose land was he in? He patted the tomb in a placatory manner, as if to assure the occupant that he had not intended to intrude on his resting place. He fervently hoped that there were no angry spirits hovering around and annoyed by his alien presence in their home. He quickly apologized to all the dead in the chamber for having disturbed them and promised he would be gone just as soon as he could find the way out. He followed this up with a prayer of appeasement to their gods, whoever they might be. This was no time or place to be making enemies.
Anxious to be away, he looked around to see if there was a doorway by which he might leave, and spotted an archway cut into the wall. He found himself at the foot of a staircase cut out of the rock. He stumbled up the worn and uneven steps and saw that he was now in a corridor. Diagonally across from him stood a doorway. He went over to it and discovered that it opened into a large cave-like room. He saw, by the flickering light of a torch secured in a wall-bracket, that it was furnished with a couch, a table and a chair. Blankets and a fleece were thrown over the couch. On the table stood bowls of varying sizes, a tall double-handled jug and a goblet.
Jerome stood on the threshold, regarding the scene, then entered the room. He walked over to the table, peered into the bowls and saw that they contained nuts and fruit. He sniffed at the jug and smelt wine. He wondered who lived in the room and speculated that it was most likely someone with the job of looking after the tombs in the downstairs chamber. I wouldn’t fancy that job. He wondered where this guardian of the tombs was. He must be around here somewhere.
He went back into the corridor and noticed another doorway further along. He made his way cautiously toward it along the roughly hewn floor. Bales of hay, stacked up, appeared to provide the seating and bedding in this room, which was otherwise empty, apart from a big bowl of water placed on the ground just inside the doorway and something pale piled up in a corner. He crossed the room and found to his horror that he was looking at a heap of bones. A gleaming human skull stared back at him. A skeletal finger seemed to beckon him to come closer.
Jerome screamed in horror, turned and rushed out of the room. Unable to face going back down into the chamber where the tombs were, he dashed to the end of the corridor and threw himself up the flight of steps he found there. To his dismay, at the top he saw that he was confronted with a choice of more corridors.
Jerome gulped, looked round desperately and opted for the corridor on his immediate right. In his haste to put some distance between himself and the room that was obviously home to some ghastly creature that ate humans for its meals — and then piled their bones up neatly, now he came to think of it — he failed to notice that the passageway along which he was hurrying turned sharply, and he slapped into the wall. The force of the impact knocked him off his feet, and he lay on the ground, gasping.
As his breathing eased, he made a determined effort to control his panic, slow his racing heartbeat and try to force some sort of order into his thoughts. He clambered clumsily to his feet and stretched out a hand to steady himself against the wall. As he touched the wall, it occurred to him that its surface felt different now. He ran exploring fingers over it, and felt beneath his touch smooth slabs, not hollowed-out rock. This wall’s been built, not excavated. He was in a stone-walled corridor, apparently one of many. I’m in a building now, a building with lots of passages. What sort of building has passages like these? Was he still underground? It was hard to tell, for it was still dark and cold. He shivered.
He pressed on but had to slow his pace as the corridor began to slope downward. After a while it joined up with another corridor. At the junction he looked to the left and then to the right but both passages seemed to be identical. He turned left, and again found himself on a downward slope. At the next junction he turned right. A short distance on he took another right turn, then a left. He followed this passage for some way, then turned off to the right again, and was relieved to find himself finally within sight of a doorway. Hopeful that he had at last reached an outer door and would soon be in the fresh air —though where he was, was anyone’s guess — he hurried along to it. The door did not lead him outside, however, but into a room that had bales of hay stacked up along one wall; in a corner, a pile of something gleamed palely. Jerome shrieked. He was back with the bones.
He bolted from the room and tore along the corridor. He dashed down passage after passage, not even slowing down at junctions to try to work out which direction he should be heading in. He just wanted to be away from the bones, and away from whatever it was that had eaten the people whose bones those were.
Hang on. He slackened his pace. Hang on. He came to a complete halt. Was he rushing headlong into trouble? Something ate those people. Some monster ate them. But whatever ate them isn’t in the room now. So where is it? It must be roaming free. It could be anywhere. It might be just round the next bend. Jerome stood motionless, listening, a worried frown on his face.
Then he gave a despairing shrug. There was no point in running, for, not knowing where the brute was, he was just as likely to be running toward it as to be running away from it. Why, it could be lurking close by, for all he knew. He was trapped in this ghastly labyrinth of passages as surely as if he were confined within prison walls...with a man-eating monster on the loose.
Jerome slumped against the wall and let himself slide to the ground. He sat huddled in an ungainly heap, his knees drawn up, his head buried in his hands. There was no way he was going to get out of this place alive. Remembering that he was already dead, he smiled sourly and wondered how many times he could die. He raised his head and peered through the gloom. He probably wouldn’t even see the monster approaching until it took its first bite out of him. He pictured huge fangs tearing his limbs off, saliva dripping from gaping jaws, and shuddered. Then he shook his head as if to clear it of the horrific images, and, resignedly, leaned back against the cold stone wall. I might as well wait here as run round in circles. There’s no point in just tiring myself out. It looks like I’m going to die again — and horribly. Losing his footing in a cemetery and banging his head on a headstone had been bad enough, but at least it had been a quick death; being devoured by a slavering beast savoring every mouthful was something else — it made his flesh creep, just to think of it.
Jerome groaned, and wondered which god to pray to, for he was clearly in foreign parts and didn’t want to risk the wrath of the deity of the place by appealing to the wrong god. It might be better to keep his prayers to himself just for the moment. A thought flashed through his mind like a bolt of lightning: there was someone he could appeal to, someone whose intervention the gods wouldn’t resent, for he seemed to be on good terms with all of them. They wouldn’t mind him lending a hand — well, a paw. Jerome smiled as he pictured the little ginger cat from the friary. The friars thought their cat was called Leo, but his real name was Quantum — Quant, for short — and he could slip through dimensions as easily as slipping through a cat flap. One or two of the friars knew the cat was special but the rest of them had no idea their pet was anything out of the ordinary. Jerome knew that the cat was far from ordinary, however: Quant, with his wondrous powers, would be more than a match for whatever ghastly creature prowled this unearthly maze of corridors. Quant would rescue him. Quant would save him from being gobbled up by a monster.
Suddenly nervous once more at the thought of the danger he was in, Jerome leaned forward and listened intently. To his relief, he heard nothing. He was safe for the moment. He’d better get a move on, though. Throwing caution to the winds, he yelled, “Quant! Quant!”
Robina Williams - Angelos