Wednesday, March 10, 2010
An Irish Mystery, Part 3, Roxanne Rustand
Patrick stared down into the black throat of the passageway and blinked as the distant, faint light flickered, faded, and then extinguished, leaving him in total darkness. Had he really heard Caryn's sweet, soft voice drifting on the night air? Could she possibly be here, after all these years?
Caryn was gone for good. She'd said she would always love him...and then she'd disappeared, taking with her the treasured filigree brooch that belonged to his family, along with a big piece of his heart.
Maybe his mum had seen a tourist with the same rich, auburn hair and flashing emerald eyes, but had only imagined a fairy tale ending to a story that had ended long ago. She was getting on in years, after all. Maybe she was even slipping into senility and starting to see things that weren't there.
Recalling all of the local tales about leprechauns and ghostly beings who supposedly walked the ruins of this castle, Patrick laughed at his own folly.
It didn't take senility to fall into the world of make-believe around here. For years, the villagers--mostly the ones who owned the quaint pubs and gift shops and B&Bs--had shared that nonsense with the tourists who passed through. Now, even the Ireland travel guides printed in America mentioned the fanciful history of the area.
Bracing a hand against the damp stone, he fumbled through his jacket pockets for the keys to his rental car. At the airport, he'd rolled his eyes at the big green plastic shamrock on the keychain, but now he breathed a quiet prayer of thanks as he pressed a button on its surface. God, you were looking out for me before I even knew I needed help.
The shamrock sent a thin beam of light lasering through the darkness, illuminating the solid wall of rock behind him where there'd been an open doorway just a moment before. He explored the rough surface with his fingertips, looking for some sort of trigger mechanism. Shoved at the unyielding stone. It fit perfectly, seamlessly--without even the smallest gap or variation in color to suggest that it hadn't stood in place undisturbed for the last four hundred years.
The roar of the waves crashing onto the rocks at the foot of the castle was muted now. Eerily distant. A menacing bank of storm clouds had swallowed the moonlight while he was making his way through the castle, and now he heard a crack of lightning so close it shook the ground beneath his feet and sent dust drifting through the air.
The narrow passageway closed in on him.
An all-too-familiar surge of panic rushed through his veins as images of explosions and fire and collapsing rubble overhead slammed through his thoughts, coupled with the sound of his cameraman's screams...and his own.
But this was lush, green Ireland. Not Iraq. And that was thunder and lightning outside, not the sound of gunfire and grenades.
He took a steadying breath and forced back the memories as he angled the tiny beam of light toward the downward sloping passageway. "Hello? Is someone down there?"
With a whoosh they seemed to collectively regain their bearings, then they poured down the passage way like a river of gray, barely distinguishable in the faint light.
If the bats headed that way, there had to be an exit.
And if he was lucky, it would be one he could fit through.
He tentatively shuffled forward, his hiking boots slipping on the west, mossy floor of the passageway. The dank smell of rotting timbers and another cloying odor that he couldn't quite name grew stronger as he pressed on into the darkness, the damp floor giving way to standing water that reached his ankles when he found himself at a massive wooden door with bars across the upper half...
And sensed that he was not alone.
"Caryn?" he whispered. "Are you here?"
No one answered. He studied the heavy iron hinges, then pressed his fingertips against the surface. Pushed harder. The rusted iron shrieked as the door slowly, slowly swung open.
A heavy footstep dragged across the floor, somewhere in the pitch darkness ahead. Then another...coming closer.
From somewhere farther ahead, in the bowels of the castle, he heard a terrified scream.
It had been ten long years since he'd heard that voice, but the sound of it arrowed straight to his heart. It was Caryn, and she was in trouble.
And now nothing--and no one---was going to stand in his way.