D Is For Damien: Chapter 22
"GOD," DINO WHISPERED, "it really does exist."
"Amazing," was all Kat could get out.
A pause. None of them knew what to do next.
"How--how deep is it?" Father Damien finally asked.
"Only one way to find out," Damien answered, shining his flashlight in the tunnel. The others followed suit and watched as he crept inside, stooping to avoid the low ceiling of rotten wood. Mabarak took a breath and followed. The others, after waiting for them to make room, did so as well. The six of them vanished in the darkness.
Up further, Harvey and Ez had begged Damon to take them at least down and across the highway so they could watch the others looking around; he'd given in and sat down near the highway as they looked around the woods below, but now they were growing restless. They'd seen enough of trees. They wanted to see the tunnels.
"Come on, Damon," Ez wheedled sweetly. "Can't we go take just one little peek? That can't hurt, can it?"
"Damien said for us to stay here," Damon replied, "so that's what we do. Do you want him to yell at you and chew you out? I don't."
"I couldn't care less!" Harvey muttered, sitting nearby with his knees clutched to his chest. Then, brightening, he turned to Damon. "Hey, Damon, while we're waiting, can we play a game?"
"I don't know," Damon said uncertainly, a tiny little voice inside him telling him that this must be a trick. "What kind of game?"
"Hide-and-seek," Harvey replied.
Damon frowned. "I really don't think that's a good idea. It's getting too dar--"
Harvey jumped up suddenly and whacked Damon hard in the stomach. "You're it!" he exclaimed, running away with Ez, leaving their temporary caretaker bent over gasping for breath.
After several moments of near crawling the tunnel passageway grew wider and higher so the group found itself able to spread out more and explore its surroundings. The floor of the tunnel was almost perfectly flat, from where feet must have trodden years ago. The walls had been replaced by soil, packed tightly with tree roots and ancient wooden struts holding them together, meeting in a sort of archway at the top. An occasional rock jutted out as was expected. The soil was mildly damp and the air was cool and clammy, contrasting with the warm humidity outside. As they walked along they all got the feeling that no one must have been down here for many years.
"Probably the last person was your father," Mabarak offered, as if someone had spoken this thought aloud.
"Yeah," Damien said, "go figure."
"Hey, guys, it branches up ahead," Dino, now at the front, called softly, afraid the ceiling might collapse in on them at any moment. It was that minute touch of claustrophobia that pops up in everybody from time to time. "Which way do we go?"
They stopped, stuck. One tunnel branched off roughly to the northwest, the other continuing straight north. The right tunnel widened yet more while the northwest continued as it was.
"Should we split up?" Dino asked.
Everybody looked to Damien, who had obviously been elected leader of the group. He thought for a moment, then shook his head. "No," he said slowly, "that would be too dangerous. We need to stick together. We'll go north. I just have a feeling."
No one questioned him. Instead they waited for him to take the right, and then followed. It took only a few minutes for the last flicker of light to disappear behind them.
So far behind as not to be heard by the group, Harvey and Ez found the tunnel entrance and stood before it, awestruck. They looked at each other, excited.
"Cool!" Ez cried.
Harvey nodded, a huge grin spread across his face. They looked inside again, then he looked back at her. "C'mon!" he exclaimed, and they scrambled inside laughingly.
"Darn it," Damon gasped, still holding his sore stomach. He couldn't convince himself to follow; maybe they'd get scared and come back out, where he would--should--be waiting. Instead he just watched them disappear, then sighed and sat back down at the side of the road. He never noticed the third figure moving down through the trees, vanishing into the tunnel after the kids, clutching something in its hand.
Harvey and Ez ran along the tunnel excitedly until they came to the fork, and then, also stuck, they stopped and stared at it, wondering.
"Which way do we go?" Ez asked, suddenly feeling just the slightest bit afraid, though she tried not to show it.
"I don't know," Harvey said, also hiding his fear. "Umm...let's try the left."
"Why the left?"
"I don't know! You tell me why we should go right!"
"I never said we should in the first place, snotnose!"
"Well, let's GO, then!"
The two quit arguing and dashed off down the tunnel.
Far ahead in the right branch, Dino, now near the back of the group, stopped. "Did you hear something?"
The others stopped as well. Mabarak looked over his shoulder at him. "Such as?" he asked.
"I dunno.... It sounded like somebody was sayin' 'go' or something. I could swear I heard it."
There was a brief pause as everybody listened. By now there was nothing to hear, just the ringing stillness of the tunnels and the group's hushed breathing.
"Your ears are playing tricks on you," Mabarak finally said, continuing on. The others went on as well, their flashlights flickering around on the floor and walls.
Dino was left behind, listening in the near darkness. He finally snorted and shook his head. "I could swear I heard somebody say go," he muttered to himself, but he hurried to catch up with the others.
The tunnel went on and on and the group walked along for what seemed to be a very long time. It must have been nighttime already. Mabarak was looking at a compass while all the others, save Damien, played their flashlights on the walls in curiosity. Damien led the group, his eyes fixed straight ahead. After some time he abruptly stopped, and the others ran into him.
"What? What is it?" Mabarak asked irritably, sounding very much like Morris had. For a second Damien was inclined to believe that maybe the two weren't so different after all.
"Light," he said, pointing. "Look."
They squinted in the direction of his hand. Sure enough, far ahead could be seen a dim light coming from above. It looked as if there might be a chamber down there.
"Let's check it out," Damien said, and they went.
The light grew steadily brighter the closer they came to it. All of them held their breath in anticipation. Finally Damien stepped out of the tunnel and stopped abruptly again, glancing up and covering his eyes as a blinding blueness fell over him. The others came out and shielded their eyes as well, looking up in amazement.
"Holy--!" Dino cried. And that was it. There was nothing more to say.
They were in a giant underground chamber. The sides were rounded out and led up to a ceiling high above, into which was set a huge faceted window. Above the window they could see some sand and seaweed, but the sky above was blurred by water, upon which the full moon was shining, which was causing the blue glow. The glass only magnified the light even more. The water didn't appear to be very deep, and Damien saw some kind of structure nearby, fluttering like an illusion through the wavelets.
"God, that's the observation deck!" he cried. "We've walked all the way under Gordon Turner Park!"
The others let out their breath and started walking slowly underneath the window, staring up into the blue moonlight. Mabarak could only stand in the entrance, gaping at the astonishing sight and gasping.
Kat slowly circled the room in disbelief, still shining her flashlight though the glow from the moon shining on the water made it unnecessary. "Who--who built this?" she asked.
"I have no idea," Father Damien replied, equally stunned.
"Whoever they were, they did a dang good job," Dino remarked.
"More than that," Damien said softly.
They turned to look at Mabarak, who so far had not spoken. The lieutenant just stood there, moving his mouth but unable to speak. He only stared at the window as if it might burst open at any moment.
"It's a wonder it doesn't break," Dino exclaimed with awe. "That glass must be real thick!"
"There's another passageway," Father Damien put in.
They turned away from the window and Wolfgang pointed. Another door was in the right "wall," like a continuation of the tunnel they'd just exited. They moved toward it, still occasionally throwing back glances at that mighty window.
In the tunnel they were plunged into darkness and again had to turn on their flashlights. They walked in silence now, too awestruck by what they had just seen to say anything. Dino was struck with a look of dumb amazement while Mabarak had the jitters.
Father Damien squinted into the distance, barely able to make out what appeared to be another hole in the wall. "Is this another fork?"
"I think--it looks like--I don't know," Damien said, puzzled. "I think it is, but--no, it isn't, it's--" He quit trying to put it into words, for as they neared it and soon enough entered, there was nothing he could think of to describe what they were seeing.
Before them was spread a gigantic hallway. Here the walls were smoothed out flat and the wooden struts were replaced by stone columns which helped support the ceiling. Directly ahead, shrouded in shadows, stood some kind of statue. Damien couldn't tell what it was supposed to be exactly but decided Scorpio must have put it--and the pillars and possibly the window--there as "renovations." It appeared to be seated, and its hands were held out in front of it. In them something sparkled in the light given off by the flashlights.
"I can't believe this," Mabarak whispered.
"Believe it," Damien returned. He glanced back at the others, standing behind him, likewise staring at the statue. "Mabarak, Dino, come with me. You guys stay here." He turned around again and started walking toward the statue. Dumbly, the other two followed.
The statue loomed larger as they approached, Damien in the lead, the other two following and forming a sort of makeshift trinity. The object in the figure's hands was sparkling even brighter now, the flashlight beams glinting off of sharp angles and points. Damien held his breath as he ascended the base stone and reached for what was there. Father Damien put up his flashlight to shine on what he picked up, and they all gasped at what Damien lifted from the statue's palms.
Dangling from a rusted chain was a D, brilliantly shining in the otherwise dim light. It cast rainbows over the room like a prism and blinded them with the light of a million stars. Dino dropped to his knees, unable to stand anymore. Mabarak backed away from the statue slightly, leaving Damien's line of vision. Damien only looked at the D, the weight of their mission finally lifted from his shoulders.
"We found it," he said softly, and his words, quiet as they were, echoed off the walls of the chamber. "We found the diamond D."
Click-click. All of the joy drained quickly away as he felt the cold barrel of a gun touch the side of his head. He slowly turned and as he did the chamber seemed to lose its almost holy glow; the D ceased to shine and his eyes were shrouded in darkness. His face grew as dark as the room.
"I should have known," was all he said.
Holding the gun in Damien's face was Mabarak. He smiled cruelly in the dim light, finally revealing his secret.
"You've led me here," he said, "and you've found the D. So now, if you want to live, I suggest you turn it over right now."
"It was you all along," Damien said, ignoring the lieutenant's words. "It was you who broke into my house and put that knife in the wall. It was you who killed Morris. And you who called Luther from the police station when you left the room. And you who probably tried to attack Miss Clare!"
The cop's wicked grin deepened. "You're right on the mark, Damien. You're as smart as they say you are. I'm just surprised you didn't catch on sooner. Imagine how I laughed behind your back, with you leading yourself into the lion's den to be devoured willingly!"
As he spoke he pulled out his knife and started flipping it again. With a sick feeling of dread Damien finally remembered where he'd heard that odd whip-click noise in his dream--over the phone at Morris's house--as well as why it hadn't belonged.
"Damn you," was all Damien could whisper.
Mabarak merely laughed, the sound echoing in the chamber. "Yes, damn me, and damn you, and damn this whole crazy world we live in! But even a thousand curses won't help you now, Damien, because, as you probably already know, you're--how would they put it in the police vernacular?--surrounded!"
He gestured gamely; Damien turned to look. Sure enough, the others were backing against the wall with their hands raised as several men entered, pointing shotguns at them. Dino edged against the base stone, trying to make himself as small as possible.
The gun nudged Damien's back. "Hand it over. Give me the D, and maybe I'll consider letting you go."
"'Maybe'?" Damien said, and laughed. Mabarak's smile disappeared and his own eyes darkened. "Like you're one to live up to your promises! If you're going to get this D, you'll have to shoot me first, because I'm most certainly not handing it over willingly."
Mabarak shrugged. "Very well then," he said, and aimed straight between Damien's eyes, his finger on the trigger.
There was a sudden tumult from the doorway. All heads turned. Damien could clearly hear the voices of Harvey and Esmeralda, yelling from the tunnels in their best attempt to distract the cult members. Damien took advantage of the moment, tossing the D to his uncle. At almost the same moment he seized Mabarak's gun, twisted, and brought the lieutenant to the ground. The gun and knife skittered across the floor. Father Damien, Kat, Wolfgang, and Dino bolted for the door, Damien quickly following, forgetting to even snatch up the gun in their rush to escape. In the confusion the cultists didn't know who was who and so they managed to flee the hallway, dashing back toward the windowed chamber.
"Get them, you idiots!!" Mabarak screamed, holding his injured arm and grabbing up his gun and knife.
Behind them the group could hear the thudding footfalls and shouts. The Satanists were getting closer all the time. They poured out suddenly into the windowed chamber, falling over each other and looking around wildly.
"Where are we gonna go?" Dino cried.
"There was another tunnel a way back!" Harvey said. "It led aboveground someplace, but we came back because we heard noises!"
"Let's go," Damien barked.
"Isn't it dangerous?" Kat shouted.
"To hell with dangerous!" Damien shot back over his shoulder, and they ran. Not far behind them the cultists continued their chase.
Running as quickly as they could in the increasingly cramped tunnels, they came eventually to the fork and turned in the other tunnel. It grew smaller yet and they had to almost crawl on their hands and knees, until it widened again and they came out dirty and scratched. They stopped in another big clearing of sorts to catch their breath and just stood there, looking around.
"Where does it go to?" Dino asked.
"We don't know," Ez admitted. "We heard voices or something up there and we got scared and came back."
"We're going to have to take a chance," Damien said, and they started for the other side. But they all stopped when Mabarak appeared right in front of them, from the tunnel they were just about to enter. He grinned at them viciously.
"You overlooked the shortcut," he said simply, and raised his gun. In the terror of the moment everything seemed slowed down, and they could see his finger slowly pull back, until--
A shot rang out, and Mabarak yelped and fell to the floor.