Jolting awake with a start, Tomas’ eyes came in to focus on the little shoe. Recoiling in horror, he pressed his back to the cave wall, panting despite the abundance of air around him. Closing his eyes, he slowed his breathing and focussed on the dry mustiness of the chamber. Steeling himself, he peered along the ledge over to the shoe again, and his disgust lurched in to a deep sadness and pity. Tracking up, the shoe and leg belonged to the skeleton of a little child, whose still cloth-capped head was nestled in to the lap of a larger, now headless child. They looked for all the world like the countless groups of siblings he’d seen asleep on the car ferry, the elders looking after the little ones. Again drawn oo the shoe, he saw that the leg was bent in to a v shape. Snapped down the middle. Tomas felt suddenly ashamed of his actions, and reached out for the skull he had flung, now soaked in his own blood. Ignoring the deep gashes in his fingers, he placed the head alongside its owner. Oddly fascinated, he reached out to the smaller boy, who had something clutched fiercely between his hands. Gingerly, Tomas slid a mouldy leather satchel away from the delicate bones, and traced his fingers accross a rusted aeroplane design on the buckles.
A fresh wave of sadness swept over him. What the hell were they doing down here? How long had they been there? With a wave of fury he pictured the old man, and held the satchel tighter. He would get out of this and report that mad bastard. A sharp pain wiped the pale face from his mind. He looked down to see blood flowing from his fingers in a steady stream, dropping and swirling in to the water. The purple drops fell straight downwards, as did his spit which he sent straight afterward. Apologizing to the little child, he took the cloth cap and wrapped it tightly around his wounded fingers. The pain was excruciating, but honed his mind. There was no visible way out of the cave, nor any movement of air that he could see. The rope was gone. He already felt the burning acrid taste of bad air, and knew he had to dive down again. Shoving the leather satchel beneath his sodden clothes he took deep breaths, checked the torch, nodded to the other occupants and pushed in to the middle of the pool.
He felt sucked downward, and almost immediately was spinning. What could have been one or many long seconds passed, until he felt a fresher coldness and was swept sideways, towards a murky green light. Rising, he saw the light grow stronger and broke the surface. With a cry of relief he recognised the church spire in the distance, and the farm from where his parents bought eggs and cheese. Hauling himself on to the stream bank he stroked the long grasses, crying what were this time tears of pure relief. Were it not for the satchel he would have sworn he had dreamed what he had just been through. He pulled it out from his jumper and looped it accross himself, cradling his now throbbing hand in the cloth cap. Oddly galvanised, he jogged away from the stream, heading for the little house and his parents.
At the bend before the house, a grubby silhouette stood in the road. Gathering himself to tear at the man, the blue eyes stopped Tomas dead in his tracks. They were wide with adrenaline, and brimful of tears. With a broken, shaky voice he said “You found my treasure, petit monsieur. You found my sons”. He fell forwards as his legs buckled, reaching out to the bag that Tomas was wearing. For the second time that morning Tomas felt his disgust change to pity. Crawling forward, the man looked more ashen than ever as he smiled up at Tomas. ” They all thought I killed them, you see. Threw me in jail and called me mad for saying they went down the well looking for treasure”. The battered fedora fell in to the road, releasing a matted tangle of hair. “When I got out, they called me mad for sitting by the well. I just wanted to be near them. It was all my fault. I told the!m I had done it as a boy. With shaking hands he picked up his hat, and placed it back on. The intense look came in to his eyes again. ” One thing more brave boy. Go to the Tabac. Go now, and ask for Henri. Go”.
Tomas glanced behind him towards the Tabac and on turning around again stared in to thin air. The man was gone. Utterly gone, without a trace. As if sleepwalking he turned again and made his way towards the Tabac. A middle aged, thickset man was sweeping the bar as he staggered in. His reddened eyes went from curiosity to shock to amazement as he glared at the satchel, then snapped his head upwards to above the bar. The last thing Tomas saw before he collapsed was a framed front-page of a newspaper, with a black and white photograph of three boys, two holding hands and one noticeably more chubby than the others. Proudly looped over a smart blue coat was the satchel, shining and pristine as the little grinning face that owned it.
© Tom Tide 2016