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copyright 2013, Brandi Kennedy
It took me half the night to finish dusting the last of the artifacts, and putting the broken vase back together had nearly killed me with the force of the headache. I was proud though, when I stood back and looked over what I had done. It wasn't complete; there were still pieces missing, but I'd done well with the pieces we'd been able to find.
It had been a long, weary night, dusting and sneezing, dusting and placing pieces of the vase, dusting and sneezing some more. I was exhausted and for the first time, the idea occurred to me to simply find a corner in the back of the cave and sleep the night away peacefully until the crew came back in the morning.
That's when I heard it: a clatter at the mouth of the cave room I'd been working in. I settled the vase as safely as possible, leaving my dusting brush on the table beside it. Standing, I dusted myself too, running my palms briskly over my clothes to loosen the bits of cave dirt that clung to my jeans and faded yellow tank top.
"Is someone there?" I asked, my voice echoing in the vastness of the cave, rattling out to sound again and again in the tunnel that led to the outside world. I heard scrambling in the tunnel; looking one last time to be sure the vase was secure, I followed the sound into the tunnel, acutely aware that I was trapped below the ground. There was no 'back way' out of the caves, the only way out was to follow the tunnel, which now held something -- or someone -- suspicious.
The only thing that gave me reassurance was the radio attached to my hip, the one thing that connected me with the outside world. My captain knew that I'd stayed behind, and if I radioed him with trouble, he'd send the guards down for me.
But first, I needed to know what was lurking in the tunnel. I couldn't request the guards, risking exposing them to our discoveries, only to watch them die if our research had unleash something horrible. And I certainly couldn't be the scaredy-girl who called for guards if the skittering were only caused by some animal that had become trapped in the tunnel and couldn't get out.
"Hello?" I called, carefully trying to control the tremor in my voice.
"Why are you here?"
The voice was male for sure, though it was rather disembodied, echoing through the tunnel. I sucked in a breath. "Just a prank, it's just a prank. One of the guys messing with the new girl," I muttered.
"You don't belong here, weak human. Woman."
"Oh, I get it," I replied testily. "You guys don't want me here because I'm not a guy. Right, no man-parts. Shame on me, growing boobs like I did. Being a girl, what a crime. But I'm the best archaeologist your team could find, so I guess I'm woman enough for the job."
"You are insolent, woman."
"Uh huh," I muttered. "Insolent. What I am, sir, is busy. So go back to wherever you came from. I have work to do."
He laughed, the sound bouncing chaotically around the tunnel and caves. "Come," he said, and I felt an unspeakable pull. My mind went blank and my feet began moving without my permission. "Come, insolent woman."
I walked slowly down the tunnel, turning in a direction I'd never been before. The tunnel was well-lit, bulbs floating as if by magic along a cord that followed the wall on one side of the tunnel. It occurred to me that I should stop walking, but my feet moved faster. Fear bloomed in my chest, filling my throat, strangling me, and I reached for the radio on my hip.
"Uh-uh-uh," he said. "That is not needed here."
I watched in shock as my mind fought the urge to obey, and yet my hand turned the power knob on the radio, tossing it gently to the floor of the tunnel as I walked on. Opening my mouth, I took a breath and cleared my throat. Finding that I was still capable of vocal noise, I spoke again to him. "Where am I going?" I asked.
Grinning like a fool, I realized the irony in his command. My body was obeying his wishes now, not mine. I would walk wherever he wished, and we both knew it. I rounded the corner, and there he was, black hair shining in the meager light of the tunnel, his face stark and angular against full pouting lips. He looked into my eyes and I stepped closer, suddenly remembering the fearful tales about the man who'd filled my job before I'd been hired. He'd left the post unexpectedly, raving that the vase could not be rebuilt, that it was impossible and that 'no force could hold it back.' I'd been hired to do what he would not.
Apparently, then, I'd succeeded well enough with the rebuilding of the vase.
"I have been trapped for so long, broken like the shards of that vessel you useless humans have been digging for."
"Apparently not too useless," I retorted, smirking before I felt the cold around my throat. He never moved, only lowered his brows in anger, but the cold was there, unmistakable. Suddenly, I was choking, dangling by my throat, panicked. I clawed against the barrier around my throat, but there was nothing tangible there to remove, only the sense of cold and the very real sensation of strangulation.
"And stupid, too," he continued, drawing me closer somehow, drawing my nose flush against the tip of his. "Insolent. Stubborn. But maybe not useless. I have been locked here by the forces of ancient magick for far too long. And now I am free. But first, I find myself hungry."
He stared into my eyes again, and I was filled with love, though I still fought for air. My head clouded but my heart filled, my skin tingling, my body wishing to edge closer to his. He smiled, his eyes crinkling slightly in the corners as I smiled idiotically back at him. As he pulled my closer still, he curled the tip of his tongue around one sharpened fang, tilting his head to bury his nose in my throat. The cold grew more intense even as my body heated to what it must have known was coming. He nudged my chin with the tip of his nose, urging me to tip my head back, exposing the length of my throat.
He licked the pulse in the side of my throat and I moaned helplessly, barely aware of the sting as his fangs pierced me. Flashes of his life flickered on and off like a damaged movie in my mind, slowing and growing more steady as my blood slowed. He clutched me tightly against him, one hand pressing me closer as the other cradled my head. He moaned softly, the vibrations of the sound tickling against the pierced flesh of my throat.
I filled with ecstasy at the sound of his pleasure, moaning back, my hands finding their way helplessly into his hair as he drained me of life, pleasing me mercifully as he murdered me. And then, he was done, and as he lay me gently on the floor of the tunnel to breath my last, I saw one final image in my mind.
Somehow, the vase was now complete.