Underground

Fumbling for the switch in the darkness, Amelia places her hands on the wall, blindly sliding them over the rough interior of the cellar. Edging, step by step, she moves to her right. The switch is there, she reminds herself, it’s always there. But still, she feels the dread certainty that this time she won’t find it, or the bulbs are burnt out, or the batteries died, or some other horrible contingency made sure she will wait out the night alone in this pitch black hole, alone hiding in this grave.

Not alone, the knight’s heavy breathing corrects. Quick inhales, punctuating long drawn out exhales, brings home the unbelievable truth. Excuses start jumping into her mind, ways to explain this to Zach. She reproaches herself for this undying habit as her hands brush the cold metal of the throw switch. The high hum and clinical white light of the fluorescent tubes instantly invade the darkness, piercing the ears and eyes.

Frowning, Amelia notices one of the bulbs has already burnt out. They were harder and harder to come by nowadays, and weren’t easy to dispose of. Sitting in the corner, his back against the wall, the stranger, gawking at the ceiling, turns his head side to side. His purple swollen arm, cradled into his chest, reminds Amelia, sickeningly, of the decaying flesh of the dead.

Moving closer to the stairs, she asks, “What happened?” Slowly, his gaze descends, and he locks eyes with her. They are hard, and reflecting the electric light, glisten like diamonds. He looks at her with the penetrating glare of a lion. Stuttering, she adds, “It’s just, I need to know, did, are you—”

“I don’t know what happened,” he interrupts, his voice nearly a whisper.

“You don’t remember?” she asks.

“No,” he replies.

The stone hard expression quietly watches Amelia as she eases herself down onto one of the steps. The buzzing lights flicker a moment, and she looks up to the ceiling. Turning back toward him, she finds the man unchanged, still staring at her with an unexplained intensity. “I think,” she mumbles, looking down at her feet, “If I were to break my arm, I’d remember—”

“One would think,” he interjects.

They sit quietly, the silence somehow encouraging the lights to scream louder and louder at every passing minute. She glances up at the clock, six to three. It always says six to three. Zach never did fix it. Cursing, he would shout that the clock should work, but it never did. Looking down at her shoes again, she bows her head, pulling her arms and legs in as tightly as possible.

The knight watches as she huddles into a ball, her long raven hair covering her like a tent. Fighting back the waves of nausea flowing over him, he keeps his eyes fixed on her as the rest of the room swirls in dizzying patterns. As darkness creeps in on the edges of his sight, he blurts out, “Keep talking.” Popping her head out from her ball, she sees his pale face. “Tell me who you are, or something. Keep me from falling asleep.”

“I um,” she begins, “my name’s Amelia.” Her mind decides to go blank after that. His eyes bore into her, driving her on. Biting her lip, she adds, “Do you need anything?” His piercing gaze, his only reply, half makes her want to turn off the lights just so he can’t see her. “Are you in pain?” she finally asks.

Nodding, he says, “Incredible pain.”

Unfolding herself, she stands up, and, rushing to one of the shelves, pulls down a box. After searching through it a moment, she turns back toward the knight. He has tilted his head back, his basilisk glare finally relenting. Dragging the box along the floor she sits down beside him, resting on her hip. Fishing through the medical supplies, she pulls out a bottle of aspirin. Fighting with the child safety lid, she twists it open. Pouring out a handful of the white tablets, Amelia hands them to the man. He looks at her again, and she feels her stomach tightening.

“Take these,” she stammers.

Taking the six or seven pills from her hand, he says, “Thank you,” and downs the whole lot with one throw of his head. After swallowing, he sits back with a sigh. “Amelia,” the name makes her start, “that’s a very nice name.” His belabored breaths ease as he rests his head against the wall. “Amelia,” he says again, “Why are we down here?”

“Because,” she points upward, “they are up there.”

“Who?”

“The dead.”

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