Ruin

There was something inherently wrong with the ruin.

The walls were crumbling, once-gray stone cracked as tendrils of vibrant green cut through the rock. The explorers made their way slowly across the walkway, a deep pool of water still and calm far below. At the head of the group was a man, his back hunched as he walked across the wooden bridge. The others followed at a sedate pace, one holding the hand of a small child with too-large eyes. This small boy kept close to his mother’s leg, his slate-gray eyes flickering from one dark corner to another.

He decided, then, that he did not like this place. The boy told his mother this, voice a near whisper as he eyed the old man leading them further into the darkness. His mother ran a soothing hand through his hair, her voice light as she said, “We cannot turn back now, not unless we wish to get lost in the forest we just stumbled out of.”

“I’d rather be lost than follow this old man,” The boy replied, his gaze flickering back to the hunched back of their guide. He wasn’t sure which he liked least: the ruin their were in or the old man leading them through it. He decided on the first, as it felt like the shadows were watching them. Swallowing, he said, “Can’t we go back? Papa will notice we’ve been gone for a while and send someone to look for us.”

His mother frowned. They slowed, letting a few of the others get ahead of them. She knelt before the child, rested her hands on his shoulders as she said, “What about this place makes you uneasy?”

“The air is wrong.”

It was a fact, the boy thought. Surely she could smell it, he told himself. After a moment, he added, “And I feel like we’re being watched, mama. Too many eyes in the shadows.”

When they both looked up, the group was gone. They were alone on the bridge, darkness growing on one side and the barest flicker on light on the other. Without a light, they could not press into the darkness ahead. The old guide had not even waited, nor had any of the other lost souls they had traveled with.

Rising, the mother said, “Well, it seems there is only one way to go.”

They returned to the light and forest, to the jungle and the roaring rivers.

Behind them, caught in the darkness, a thousand souls screamed. Trapped within, a dozen more cried out. The old man grinned, watching as the pool they were swallowed in glowed brightly before the entire ruin was encased in darkness.