Footprints – Part XIII

by Gaston Prereth

The shaft was dark. The only light came from the small circular hole of the hatchway above and, as Ruben had insisted on Frederick going first, the technician’s body blocked out most of the grey sky above. Everywhere around them was a damp musty smell that made the air feel thick and left a copper like taste on the tongue.

Frederick progressed slowly, holding on to each rung of the cold metal ladder with both hands and taking one step at a time, groping with his foot like a man hunting for his glasses. He could feel Ruben’s impatience above him, but they climbed down in silence, neither one of them knowing what they would find at the bottom.

It was getting colder. As they descended further into God’s creation Frederick could feel the cold air moving under his habit and chilling the backs of his legs. His breath started to feel hot and sticky on his hands, and the cold bars of the ladder were beginning to cling to his skin.

“I can’t believe Brother Douglas made it down here.” Said Frederick.  He had been talking to himself. Searching for something that would block out the thoughts of them descending down into an ice laden underworld, but his voice had echoed up the shaft as if he had shouted the words at the top of his lungs.

“We know he opened the hatch.” Said Ruben from above him. “He was a curious mind, so I don’t see how he could have resisted venturing down here. He’d been exiled for a long time, God only knows when he actually found this place or how many times he came back.”

“Maybe we should turn back? If God had wanted us to be here, he would have put the hatch in the village rather than all the way out in the fields.”

“If God had not wanted us here, then why put the hatch at all? And the ladder? Clearly this has been designed for us.”

“For all we know, the village is fine now. Why not go back and tell them about what we’ve found?” Frederick felt his foot slip a little on a rung of the ladder and he paused to catch his breath. His feet were getting numb from the cold and he was finding it harder to sense the ladder below him in the darkness.

“We can’t go back. I keep telling you. We can’t go back until we have something to show them, something important that will tell us about what is going wrong in the world.”

“If we want to know about the world, shouldn’t we be looking at its centre? In the village?”

“Frederick you are starting to sound more and more like a technician. Look, I’ve seen the work my order have done. I’ve seen us log the anomalies on the wall. I’ve seen us draw up endless maps. And do you know what? In the whole time I’ve been there, we have learnt absolutely nothing. The whole universe is created by God, so why should the answers lie on just one wall? However impressive and majestic it is.”

“Maybe God didn’t create the universe though, didn’t you feel it in Brother Douglas’ shack? It was so quiet. It was…” Frederick stopped talking as he felt his foot press down on something. It was hard and flat. It still felt cold but it didn’t grasp as his skin like the metal rungs of the ladder. “Ruben, we’re at the bottom, this is it.”

“By the decree of Cristden, head technician, all should gather at twelve noon in the hall of stars.”  The criers were still shouting out their proclamation, and the villagers were gathered around them like excited children watching a street magician. They had turned off all of their lights and they had unlocked all their doors; they had switched every switch they knew to its off position.

Now all they could do was wait. The doors to the hall of stars were still shut, and guarded by two friendly but forceful technicians, and with nothing else to do the whole village had come back to listen to the criers shouting out their message. Some villagers had started to join in, chanting along with the technicians as if it were a children’s nursery rhyme. Others sat on the on floor and watched with broad smiles on their faces. Something was being done, and soon everything would be back to normal again.

Children ran around the legs of their parents, playing tag or hide and seek in the forest of legs. Around the fringes of the square, the more elderly of the villagers were sat in their usual seats, watching the crowds before them with knowing smiles.

“This takes me back,” said a loose skinned old lady to her passive neighbour. “It was just like this for the Deacon’s inauguration.”

“There was music then.” said a man a few seats down the line, his eyes wandering through the crowd.

“What’s this decree if not music? God’s music, the path we have been shown.”

“Not that the Deacon would recognise it.” added another elderly woman with large thighs that spilled over the sides of her seat. “Who knew when he got raised to his position that he would be so blind to the world.” There was a murmuring of consent along the line, an audible wave of agreement.

“We shouldn’t have had music at his inauguration,” said the first woman, “we should have known then that he would lead us to destruction. Too much pride, and not enough sight.”

“Blinded by his own image.” agreed the woman with the large thighs.

“Not like Cristden.” said the elderly man, watching the closest crier with a faint smile flickering across his wrinkled lips. “Cristden will show us the right path again. He’s showing us how blind we have all been in following the Church and these arrogant monks.”

A crackle of sound, like the fabled crack of the dome, tore its way across the crowd. Everyone fell silent, even the criers, and looked up at the sky. They all expected to see the heaven’s split in two and for that to be it. For it to be too late.

The sky looked peaceful. There was no world ending smash across the dome. The crowd relaxed and started to mutter amongst themselves as the criers resumed their decree once more. Another crackle and then a loud buzz of a giant bee ripped into the square again. The villagers looked round at each other, as if expecting to see the world around them shattering.

“Oh Lord, let my sinful flesh touch upon your blessed stone and not get burnt. Let all who grow dwell within your infinite being without judgement of our weaknesses. Listen to us, oh Lord, let us show you we are faithful to your unchanging ways.” The voice boomed out across the village like God’s voice itself.

“That’s the prayer cycle.” Said a man in the crowd. “What are those damned monks doing?”

“They’re using those old speakers. The ones they used to use to announce prayer times and big events.” said another villager, staring at the chapel with wide eyes. The crowds of people all started shouting at once as the prayer cycle continued over them.

“Why haven’t they turned them off?”

“Is the Deacon trying to kill us all?”

“They want us all to die. They have too much pride to admit that they are wrong and Cristden is right.”

Finally one voice broke through the clamouring panic. The old man had stood up from his seat and spoke in the strong and confident voice of a much younger man.

“We have to stop them.”

The next chapter can be found here

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