Welcome to chapter 6 of Arena of Souls, my new, Doc Savage-style, pulp adventure. A new chapter every week! If you missed the previous chapters, check them out here:
Arena of Souls
Chapter 6: The Room
A cool, damp breeze wafted out of the dark doorway, carrying with it a hint of mildew. Stone ran his hand along the rough stone wall.
“Now this is an interesting development.” Alex took a box of matches out of his pocket, struck one on the crumbling mortar between two stone blocks, and held it up. The flickering light sparkled on the flecks of mica in the granite wall, illuminating a staircase that spiraled down into the darkness. A few cobwebs clung to the ceiling. A narrow path ran through the dust on the stairs.
“I guess we know where Grandfather was going. Shall we?” Stone looked at Alex and Moses.
“How about I stay up here and keep an eye on things?” Moses asked. “Just in case whoever sent that man last night sends somebody else.”
“Thank you.” Stone retrieved an antique oil lamp from a shelf in his grandfather’s study, lit it, and descended the steps. Winding down into the darkness, he wondered at the secret his grandfather kept hidden. Had Stone not disappeared when he had, would his grandfather have shared this secret while he still lived?
“I wonder how far down it goes,” Alex whispered. “We must be a good twenty feet down already.”
“Considering the age of the house, it’s an impressive feat to build something so far below ground. Makes you wonder what their purpose was.” Stone ran his hand along the granite wall, feeling the rough, cool surface.
“It’s far too old to have been a part of the underground railroad.” Aaron fell silent. “I’m fresh out of ideas.”
“And we’re fresh out of stairs.” Stone halted in front of a metal door. He tried the handle and was pleased to find it unlocked. As he pushed it ope
n, he sensed a large, open space on the other side. Holding his lamp out in front of him, he stepped through.
He was inside an oval room that seemed to be hewn from the nat
ural rock. The floor was perfectly smooth, and shelves and cubbyholes filled with books and other objects lined the walls into the darkness beyond the circle of lamplight. Up above, the ceiling was stained with soot in places, likely from fires centuries ago.
“It’s a cave,” Alex marveled.
“But it’s much more than that now.” Stone noticed a handle on the
wall and raised it. With a heavy click, it slid into place, and a faint humming from an invisible generator filled the room as a series of electric lights slowly came to live.
The cave was much longer than Stone could have imagined. It was
at least a hundred feet long, and filled with his grandfather’s treasures: books, weapons, artwork, and artifacts gathered over a lifetime. At the far end, he could just make out several tables covered with pipes, tubes, and glass. A laboratory!
“I’ve never seen anything like this.” As if in a trance, Aaron made for the laboratory.
Stone headed for the large wooden desk set dead-center in the middle of the room beneath an ornate chandelier. On the way, he noted the relic
s his grandfather had collected. There were items from all over the world and from every major culture. How had he acquired them all without anyone knowing?
On shelves nearest the desk he found his grandfather’s journals, each
numbered on the spine, and dated on the front cover in his grandfather’s spidery hand. The ending date of the last volume was nearly a year ago. He supposed the answers to his question could be found in any of these, but he wanted to begin with the current volume, but where was it? The desktop was clear and the drawers held pens, pencils and paper, but no journal.
He looked around, trying to think like his grandfather. Where would he have hidden the journal? He’d left the Lost World as a clue to help Stone find this room. Could there be more layers to the intrigue? He thought back to all the times his grandfather had read the story to him. The Amazon, the rainforest, a plateau, primitive people, ape men and….
He smiled. Dinosaurs! As a child, his favorite scene had come towa
rd the end of the novel, when Challenger, to prove the veracity of his claims to the skeptics back in England, releases a live pterodactyl, which flies away across the ocean. He’d always asked his grandfather to read that scene at least three times during each reading of the book, and the pterodactyl had become his favorite dinosaur.
“Alex,” he called. “Do you see any paintings of pterodactyls?”
“No, only this skeleton,” his friend replied.
“Skeleton? Where?” Stone strode to the far end of the room, where Alex was inspecting an experiment in progress.
“Over there, affixed to the wall.”
Stone looked where Alex pointed. A replica of a pterodactyl skeleton, at least, he assumed it was a replica, stretched across the wall at the far e
nd of the room. The fabled flying reptile was huge, with a wingspan of more than twenty feet. Stone wondered what it would have been like to see this magnificent creature fly.
“Is it important?” Alex asked. He sounded disinterested, his attention focused on a vial of golden liquid.
“Perhaps not, but I have a feeling.” Stone approached the pter
odactyl, or pteranodon, if he didn’t miss his guess, and looked it over. If it held any secrets, he could see only one possible hiding place. He reached inside the huge beak and felt something thin and solid. Smiling in satisfaction, he withdrew a slender journal book.
“What is it?” Alex hurried forward, his interest in the experiment forgotten.
“My grandfather’s journal book.” Stone opened it to the back and paged forward until he found the final entry, dated the day before his grandfather had died. The final sentences grabbed his attention immediately.
“I must get word to Brock. He needs to understand how much depends on him. And he must know that he is in grave danger.”