I noticed my mother’s temper flatten back to its usual indifference to me.
“Where are we in Moscow?” I asked as the two of them began to wander away.
If my mother replied, it was incoherent due to our distance. With a final glance towards them, curiosity overcame the knowledge of duty; as when I had been in the art-museum, a different head sat on my shoulders, and I did still yearn for something other than the monochromatics of tourism. There dark mystery meant my adventure.
I set off towards the dilapidated church; perhaps I could unearth a story set into its shabby walls.
The graveyard was overrun by plants of foreboding. Amongst the headstones dotted shrubs just as easily grew wild as when they had been planted to fold their ways over the stone paths. Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to let certain shrubbery put me off my exploring; the curiosity in my veins bubbled at any hint of mystery.
The wooden door, half off its hinges, creaked as I edged it open. A flight of stone steps crumbled at my feet, and, with a grin coated in glee, I jumped down them two at a time, slipping slightly in my haste. I felt the adrenalin pour into me as, on the final step, a scrap of moss caused my down-fall to the cobblestoned floor. For a split second, it was not clear how I came to be there, lying on my elbows on the floor, giggling, at the foot of those steps. Then, as memories did, the answer came soaring back to me.
The antechamber of the church was as full of cold and damp as it could be. The dust cluttered up my nose. Peering through an archway, I noticed, the pews and the aisle, followed by the remains of an altar, all as equally faded.
To my other side, stairs towered up and down the break in the wall like an ivy-vine. I figured that one curve led the way to the old belfry, the other calling me. This was the spark of adrenalin I had experienced before, when I had been between a handheld gun and hard hydrochloric acid. This was the spark I had spent the last few days of my Moscow trip searching for. I no longer needed Carrie’s bitter words to justify my actions now that I had this glistening touch of excitement. Like a book-thriller villain, I was back with a deadlier knife.
A moment later, shame hit me. I lowered my head. It had come, then, to my attention that I had only been searching for my own thrills, rather than the answer to the conundrum I had been summoned here to solve. Yes, it was my own holiday time they were borrowing, but I had asked for it to be Moscow.
“Mea culpa,” I remarked, shaking my head. “Well, things are gonna change.” I ducked my head, jumping down the steps to the crypt.
Marble statues filled my eyes, greyed by the darkness and smeared from acidic corrosion that dripped down walls, sludged from oil and rain. The battered roof above did nothing to take away the inconsistent tarnish. Some headless, the statues cast their unseeing eyes down at me as I wandered between them; dim light could not deny that the fading relics were almost crumbling, supported only by whatever lurked in or around their ice-marble bodies. I no longer had that infamous torch of two years ago to guide me; all that light had gone when Josh had left me.
Feelings were, once again, nagging at my conscience. How could I walk about these faceless foes? I had no fear for them, and yet something that must have been respect walked alongside me.
I stopped a second by a monolith in steel, inspecting the faded writing that had once been carved into it. Whether the warmth above had fed to a darkness below, I didn’t know, but the further I crept into the crypt, the darker it began to appear. Finally, when my excitement, that thrill I had all but denied, had worn off, and I considered turning back, despite my penchant for staying amongst the dead, a voice called from the entrance to the tombs.
“Agnetha.” I turned. “Ah, I thought I saw you sneak off there.”
It was my mother in all her insane glory.
“I did think that you’d want to see the architecture of the Kasimir Tower, my chosen site.”
“I did- I do…but…” I shrugged. “I got distracted by the look of this church; isn’t it…wow.”
“Yes, Agnetha, though it’s not really my thing.”
The thin beam clicked on behind her; she’d brought a torch.
“Agnetha, where are you? It’s so dark in here.”
I nodded my head slowly, watching as the beam began to bob towards me.
“I know. It took a turn for the worst after I entered.”
“Yes. It’s difficult to know how dark a place is going to be when you’re standing on the outside looking in.”
I took note of the words she said. They were words very true about my ‘line of work’; a detective knows nothing but the dark when they step into a case, but soon the path is set alight by their ingenuity. However, I had no such skill, and nothing lay ahead of me; in this case that I was doing, I felt more at a loss than ever.
“I know,” I snapped, putting an end to the conversation. It bored me. And boredom was ever so frustrating.
I heard her heels clop towards me and the ghostly shape of her face hovered into view, followed by the rest of her body. By the strange wonderment in her eyes, I suddenly understood that she too was looking around.
The searchlight was sharp and it picked up those things that I hadn’t noticed before in my blindness.
And her footsteps and face strode past me, gazing at what I presumed was the wall- or a high tomb near it.
“My god...” she spluttered, squinting up at a dark block.
In an instant, my feet had left their stuck position and I was beside her, too peering up at the mass of darkness. It was not, however, a monolithic tomb that was part of the religious crypt, as I’d first assumed, but a block of a different stone.
“Mum, give me your torch,” I said, for nothing but the rules of darkness clouded over me.
It was clear that I could not see what she had seen, but as my eyes ran over the block of something very much like hardened lime-mortar, my hands and face went cold with fright. Though I expected to hear the clatter of a torch as it bounced on the paved flooring, the torch stayed in my hands, but not firmly.
There, poking out of the material was a hand. Not decomposed, but still grey with mould, and truly rotten, this extremity was not enclosed in a snug tomb like the other bodies dotted around my mother and I. Instantly, I knew that something was not right.
“Ring the police!”
My mother jogged out of the crypt. As she did so, I tried my best to thoroughly inspect what I could see of the body in the lime-mortar. The hand protracted from the wrist-bone outwards. The nails had dropped off or had been chipped so short that their indents were invisible in the poor light. I looked around the block for any other pieces of life, trepidation building as I waiting impatiently for a police-person to turn up at my side. Fingers crept out of the other half, and a foot was just about visible, jutting out at the base of the slab. I dreaded to think what had happened to this poor figure…and how such a person had come to be…encased. Those theories swept around my head, irritating flies only appearing to unnerve the young girl alone in the dark hall of death.
Then there was the ‘by whom?’ statement lingering too. This could not have been an accident, could it possibly? It was more suspicious than if Maripose Karkroff denied her favourite colour to be red.