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The Ancient Catacomb
The Ancient Catacomb

The Ancient Catacomb

Franc68Lorient Montaner

'Vulgu ab effectu atram mortem vocatibant'.—Pontanus

Verily, I shall not indulge in giving my name—or does it matter where I am from in the end. The only relevant thing you must know is the insidious name of the plague I disclose that persistently had tormented me, like an irrepressible villain from the chasm of hell. Its name you ask is 'The Black Death', the unmerciful reaper of the insurmountable souls of the deceased victims. Nothing more I know of this indomitable pandemic that destroys, with a macabre severity that is unmatched.

The year I shall not mention as well, for what is exceedingly significant is the tale I share with you, as a tale of sheer terror and dreadful omen. It all began one memorable day sober and gloomy in Paris within The Late Middle Ages, as the world that I had known was drastically altered for the worse in a sennight. No one had durst to imagine the portentous affliction that would consume the city like a fire ablaze, and cause the suspected and unimaginative death of millions. There was always mention of the impending breath of death erewhile, throughout the written pages of the ill-starred history of humanity.

None was ever as extensive and lethal with impress, as the implacable danger of the Black Death. Its anaerectic path was so cruel and unstoppable, and its wrathful vestige of horror was felt by the posterity that had forgotten the vile capacity of its bane and abject ruin. Everywhere there was the foul stench of absolute demise and despair. The Black Death did not discriminate, amongst the innocent peasants or the nobility. Its victims were anonymous to its apathetic growth and madness that had occurred afterwards without decreasement.

I was an alchemist of renown that had lain in a bed of an infirmatory very ill and attenuating, from the possible symptoms of the Black Death that was then swiftly spreading across Europe without surcease, and would experience harrowing lapses of consciousness with the oppressive plague, as I had languished distraught in my uncontrollable sufferance. I had headaches, aching joints, nausea and vomiting, with a strong feeling of malaise displayed.

Finally, when I awoke thereafter from my terrible, terrible nightmare that had consumed me with a phantasmagoric chill, I was lying temporarily purblind with a stupor, within the abyss of an immane and vertical pit underneath. There were putrid dead bodies all around me avaled. It was a ghastly image of utter chastisement and interment that had stirred my sentience, and embrangled me. Several large rocks, natural inclusions in the soil had protruded into the pit at various points, along the bottom edge.

At first, I was barefoot, until I had found in the pit, a pair of worn turnshoes in the soil. I was dressed in an indelible white twilled serge cloth that was marked, with the indicative words 'mortuus est'. The rest of the bodies were marked with these implicative Latin words, to denote the divine passage of my soul unto the afterworld. I was the only survivor it seemed, as no one except me had risen.

I had walked in a centrifugal manner, as I sought to be detected. I had smelt the familiar odour of the soil that surrounded me, and the whistling birr of the wind had stirred profoundly outside. Although I could not see but the stark darkness and stationary bodies that covered me, my faculties were keen and wary to alert my consciousness.

Quickly, I had reacted as I rose from my dormant stupor and struggled to free myself from the sepulchral pit. It was futile in the beginning, as my stiff and nipping hands had permitted me only to touch and free myself from the noisome corpse that was stacked upon me. I could sense the effects of the adverse circumstance. The cold draught of the wind I could feel reaching me, through the crevices in the walls, as I had felt an initial sensation of intense fright suffocate me. There was a feeble gleam of the pit that shone close to a cellar I had assumed. I besought the wandering souls to rid me of this inexorable terror, as I had vocitated.

Seconds became minutes, and the minutes became agonous hours incessantly; and the impromptu thought of being alive between supernumerary cadavers had brought such a hypochondriac hysteria and acrasia upon me that I failed to mitigate. This I had perceived, as a foreshadowing apprehension and chagrin.

Since the beginning I had pondered the claudent boundary of life, and the amorphous core of the soul in the active mind of the Homo sapiens—existing only in the belief of ephemeral fervour of dogma. Whence, the spectral breath of the dead of the pit dwells with the indefinable mortals that breathe that quotidian breath emerging in this surreal paradox I was dreading. Thus, I had included myself as one of those intrepid individuals that durst to ask the irresistible question from inference, where does this equivocal or recondite boundary of life meets death, as the enveloping conscious of the brain is daunted, by a phrenesis we shall never comprehend?

It is a surreptitious and transmundane place, where the necrologies are futile and serve posthumously only, as the token of a brief interval of redemption. A thousand times I sought through my purview, an inducement to investigate the thought that had troubled the involute psyche of man and the disturbing obsession found, behind the dread to eschew death.

Every time I had marvelled considerably, with this baffling intrigue to discover, such an unfulfilling quench I possessed internally. It is a quench to assuage the predisposition and influence that had lingered in the core of my soul. My heart had beaten faster and faster, with every minute passed that I could sense the veins of my heart twisting in a merciless convolution immediately. And this rapid throbbing was becoming unbearable. I had screamed and screamed from the top of my lungs, but to no avail!

I started to see the visible roaches that had entered through the buried pit, and I could hear the throng of foul rats quickening from the recesses, as they began to gnaw at the stiff corpses above that were prepared to be thrown into the pit. The intractable quandary I had found myself within would manifest, in quantum minutes of definite and sheer apprehension and vagous choler.

Suddenly, the wind began to howl and howl, deafening the ears of my audition, in a renitent madness that seemed to bear no surcease. The temperature in the pit was unknown to me, but the coldness of the air I had breathed was becoming less and less evident, as my oxygen was dissipating by every respiration taken. I was confronted with the direful fact and truth of dying inside an abominable pit that I had been mistakenly interred, since the beginning.

The rash roaches began to crawl inside the engulfing pit, and the gargantuan rats, desticating had raught the upper edge, as the dirt from on top then fell upon my gaunt countenance. Had I breathed a last mortal breath of my life, as the caws of the ominous ravens echoed with the imminent tempestuous wind? Was I truly dreaming and had not realised that my existence was insubstantial or was it something even more grievous, I was already dead and had not yet fully contemplated that extreme possibility of being in a state of suspended animation?

My irrational and transitory thoughts had hastened by the second with my solicitude and abjection. For a moment I had closed my eyes, and instantly succumbed to the perilous and intuitive conclusion that either way I was not going to get out of this awful and injurious pit alive. So many thoughts had tormented and oppressed my brain at once, within a morbific fear that I could not resist. The indispensable answers to my questions would be impossible to ascertain, if I did not understand the indefinite occurrence that I was experiencing.

The insufferable clutch of demise embraced me as my body had quivered, and my mind maddened with an aprosexia, as I began to verbigerate. Amidst the absolute indication of my abnegation and hazard, more dead cadavers were being thrown into the mysterious pit by an unknown individual, as a refulgent light was seen.

Then, the incontinent roaches had scampered on the ground, and the shriek of the rats abated as they fled as well from the pit. For a minute, there was complete silence in me—no howling wind heard—no sound at all, except the beating of my desperate heart. I had yelled anew, but for some unbelievable reason, the insouciant man did not harken to my plea for help.

Afterwards, the andromorphic man had avaunted and retreated to where he came from. I could see from below the cadavers that he had brought and stacked to a pile of deceased humans exposed. I had attempted to climb out of the inextricable pit that seemed to be out of my reach, and I was becoming wearier and thewless with the exertion. It was an abortive attempt, for I was writhing in pain. My rankled and vesicant feet could feel the sore calluses, as I had walked desperately.

Time had elapsed since I awoke to find myself, within this inhospitable chasm of horror. Time had also begun to elapse, since the mysterious stranger brought the dead corpses that were seen before. The foul stench of the impedimentary corpses in decomposition was too intolerable and unrelenting, as I sought a way to climb out of this gruesome inferno that had immured me perpetually I believed.

The unfolding and inscrutable madness of the cataleptic deceased was absorbing and infiltrating my rationalisation that I could ascribe any logical or cerebral inference expressively. Did the God of the heavens above, wrought no recourse of quittance for me? Manifold thoughts of doubtance had arisen from my anemic and fallible mind dissipating, into an unbidden fear I could not adaunt so easily.

The influx of corpses of defunction that had jutted were falling like boulders of a declivity, with such unmitigated harshness. The great calamity of death was present and transparent surrounding me. I had descried the unbounded consecution of terror that was continuously merciless. The voices, the indistinct voices of the dead had haunted me, as their souls clamoured for just tarriance. The darkling pit had demonstrated no leniency.

Instead, a dispiteous definement and cruelty that burdened me. The immutable darkness was more than a mere deceptious bodement, and the conspicuity of the reality was a token of my defeat. In the rear of the pit was a clear embrasure that was forming by the hour it had appeared. My inductive thoughts were becoming debile and obfuscated, with the gradual dissipation of my habitude and abidance. My options for escape were few and difficult to achieve.

Although I was not a man of precipitance, I had to react intelligently, and with precise deliberation and forethought. It was then that the amount of the vehemence had accrued, with such empirical immediacy. Once more, the mysterious man had appeared stacking bodies unto the edge of the deathlike pit, amidst the flickering light. I had decided to act dead, so that he would believe me, to be stone dead. This was the only option available I had to rely on instinctively.

My faint hope and foremind were merely to convince him of my absolute demise, then be able to climb out of the pit and escape, by clambering over the tect piles heaved of the dead. I lay peeping through my eye, as he began to throw the countless cadavers into the Stygian pit. When he left, I rose to my feet and started to climb just as I had planned over the rotten cadavers. Thus, I climbed the stairway of bodies in a tardigrade manner, until I had reached, at last, the edge of that sickening pit of the Black Death through my taction.

As I was nigh to the edge, I had heard the heavy echoes of the pit calling my name constantly. Had this madness overcome my plausible sanity and common sensations eventually? The endless echoes had increased and deafened my ears, with its fanatical passion, as I reached the top of the pit at last, in delassation.

Once ascended what I saw beyond the pile of lifeless cadavers in rigor mortis was the sight of a lone cavern that had led to a dim and drear subterranean vault ahead. Slowly, I had walked towards the recesses of the galleries attentive, but as I approached the final step towards the vault, the stranger returned to finish his task of disposing the dead bodies.

I was extremely fortunate and alert enough to react. I had sensed his return, and I grabbed the shovel that was left behind. I had sidled and hidden behind a wall, until he got closer. It was then that I had attacked him from behind, knocking him on the ground. When he rose to his feet, I had espied his guise at last and horrified I would be. The stranger had no definite and actual physiognomy to be described or depicted so plainly, for he was in disguise.

His lustreless mask of iron had hidden the contours of his face, and he appeared to be voided of any volition of his accord. His distinct clothing was a long gaberdine of a darkled colour and hose. Was he an ambiguous theomastix to condemn me then? Was he the grim reaper present and abiding, for my soul? Or was he the spectral guise of a tincture of death that stood before me, and had mistakenly interred me in the vorago that was the pit? He spoke no words or had muttered any utterance, as he bore an agelastic temperament.

Despite my awe and sudden reaction with his inconspicuous appearance, I did what my sensory instinct had implored me to do—throw the discernible stranger into the long pit of hell. He did not make any sound—no moans or screams as he fell. As I stood by the edge of the pit for a moment, I could not see him, as the brume from outside had developed and entered the cavern covering the hole. I had sought to leave that dreadful and indelible abode of fright behind me at once.

I could see then through the alabaster shape of the brume, a long corridor of the cavern ahead, and I had hurried to reach the corridor and escape. It was damp and murky, and the eldritch echoes of outside could be heard through the hollow walls of skulls that had encompassed me. I was unaware of the labyrinthine cavern that I had discovered upon my escape, from the clutch of the unthinkable burial pit that confined me to the centre of no return.

The quarry of death had vividly left its vestige upon the charnier galleries I walked through. The foul stench of death had followed me, from the terrible pit. I felt the dull darkness engulf me, as I had continued forward in my motion. I had no preconceived notion of what I would find, beyond the intricate walls of the vaults of the underground cavern. My lungs were starting to absorb the dust and grime that were affecting them, with my every breath inhaled. I was coughing then more than before, and was growing wearisome by the minute. The event that was unfolding had caused me to cark, amidst the uncertainty of my immediate danger.

It was becoming apparent that something had to give, either my demise or my extrication. The pressing need to solve the mystery of the cavern had made me hesitant and attempt to think rationally, but the embedded madness was devouring me even more, as my remaining thoughts stirred, with the howling wind that started anew to roar.

I took a deep breath, as I had noticed the ossuaries around me of the vault were violated and left wide open by the graves. There were macabre remains inside of the ossuaries, but there were only engraved names that were foreign to me, while others very vaguely known. I had passed ossuary after ossuary in irresolution, until I came across a fresh grave.

The incredible sight of the grave brought a direful chill down my spine and had caused me to scurry unto the corridor that led to the world outside of the perennial cavern. I had paused at first, but as I stood regardful before the postern arch of the narrow egress, I would be startled with an even more gruesome and daunting image of pellucidity.

What was this daunting image you ask unknowingly? It was an alarming image of what humanity shudders to accept, as an indefatigable reality. I saw the grotesque image of a dying man, whose body was covered with the common marks of the shade of the pandemic of the Black Death. The anonymous man was on the ground, by the entrance to the cavern.

It was an infallible token of an approaching death that had swiftly overwhelmed the populace with expediency. He was gasping his last earthly breath, as he had died afterwards, in such agony and depravation. I had contemplated assisting him, but upon witnessing the horrible state of condition he was in, I did nothing. I was in absolute dread and nervous about contacting quickly the contagious disease myself, if I had not borne the contagion already.

I knew the symptoms he bore were identical to the Black Death that I had abhorred. I tried to erase the atrocious image of the suffering and death of this man, who was nothing more than a mere stranger for me. I could only wonder what was awaiting me in the vast streets of Paris that I once adored, as I had climbed the spiral stairway that led to the world above of sheer horror. There were endless rows of dead maleolent corpses in a phosphoric radiance of commorient decay lying, within the stark pestilence of the umbratilous Black Death.

Their fingers were covered with acral gangrene, as they had turned entirely black. Their eyes were nothing more than a thanatoid whiteness, amidst the maggots. Swollen lymph glands in the area of the neck and teterrimous tumours, with a deadly gavocciolo that had propagated as evidence in all directions descried. Black spots, motley spots and extensive rashes had manifested, with a bold celerity and terrible implacableness. It was the unspeakable pathogen of the mask of the Black Death.

The deafening madness I had witnessed began to encroach rapidly, like a lurid shadow from the caliginosity that it originated out of a condign circumjacence. I had heard the shrieking caws of an unkindness of ravens that were plucking the flesh, from the fallen decaying corpses on every side. The heavy moaning and the querking had started to reverberate, beyond the deadly street and belfry. The foul stench of the Black Death had pervaded over the innumerable cobblestones of cadavers strewn.

I ran and ran, as the unremitting madness had followed me unto the Parisian streets. There was an absolute pandemonium everywhere to be seen plainly by the eye, as I had stood for a moment in absistence. The vast medieval city was devoid of any plausible semblance of coherence and succour.

The emboldened bats and the rats had swarmed the streets, from their hidden places, like ingordigious and recalcitrant scavengers. There was also pouring blood that had spilt unto the runnels and the Seine River that had overflooded the countless homes and tall and hard structures of Paris.

The Black Death had not discriminated from the poor and rich, or the fain and desolate. The bleak visage of delirium and death was apparent, and the disastrous pestilence was undeniably a heavy stench of putrefaction. The pungent smell was prevalent and completely unbearable. The horrendous images I could not avoid had left me bestraught and too aghast, as I forethought the pending finality that was waiting for me in vagation.

It was a finality that had bechanced sooner than later, and offered no capitulation or paction. I had approached a solid wall that appeared to be the edge to this atrocious cul-de-sac of demise, as I sought a place to subumber me. A vivid inscription was written on the wall to be seen clearly by the naked eye, and the inscription was in Latin, 'Hic est terminus in quo conveniant atque vitae' (This is the boundary, where death and life meet.) The intractable madness and terror of the Black Death I had witnessed began to encroach more, with the lurid shadow from the caliginosity rearwards.

The madness—the ceaseless madness mentioned ere began, with a terrible nightmare fraught with a sudorific chill of my last gasping spectral breath taken, as I had shivered. A facinerious stranger it seemed was standing behind me, wearing a long gaberdine and an iron mask, as the stranger in the pit. Was he my destined manqueller?

He had proceeded to ask me a question, 'Qui êtes-vous, monsieur?' (Who are you, sir?!")

I then had uttered back, 'Je suis un alchimiste!' (I am an alchemist!)

'La peste noire est ici, et vous êtes condamnés à mort!' (The Black Death is here, and you are condemned to death!) He had replied.

'Je suis vivant, mais j'ai été enterré par erreur dans une fosse funéraire avec les cadavres de la peste noire. Tu ne peux pas me voir? Je suis vivant!' I had exclaimed. (I am alive, but was buried mistakenly in a burial pit with the deceased cadavers of the Black Death. Can't you see me? I am alive!)

'Vous serez mort, monsieur! Vous ne pouvez pas échapper au cours de votre destin'. He answered. (You will be dead, sir! You cannot escape the course of your fate.)

I could not forget the intimidating mask that had covered his concealed countenance, or the haunting words that he expressed and wielded so intrepidly.

The implication that I was condemned to death had brought a profound panic in me. I felt a sudden loss of energy and fortitude, as the dominance of the Black Death had manifested, over the debile constitution of my attenuating vitality.

There in the impervious cul-de-sac of the noxious brimstone of the accurst in Paris had faded my voice in the menace of the horrific plague, and the shrieking caws of the unkindness of ravens. I harked for the imminent shadow of darkness that had enclosed the lengthy day, with the tainted gloom that covered the night, in the Cimmerian shade of an overpowering death of vacivity. And the capricious streets of a mirth and boutade of the vivacious revelers were silenced, by the Mephistophelian havoc and callous gradation of the Black Death.

Thence, I found myself in a lone, dull dungeon that had no recesses, except the dark recesses of my silent soul doomed. The fainting gleam of the light shone through the oubliette, as a lingering token of a cruel vestige of my sempiternal condemnation. There was no doubt then that I had been contaminated with the Black Death, as the familiar spots of the plague were transparent on my body, and I was left to die in that wretched place of desolation.

The deleterious disease had begun to destroy me from inside even more, as I struggled constantly to retain my sanity, and my bodily functions that were then gradually dissipating by every minute passed. The miserable nausea was stronger, stronger, and the thirst was unquenchable. The pestiferous rats were gnawing at my garment, as they gathered for the feast of human decay.

The shouting voices that had increased tenfold with the dying in the maze of horror that I listened to were deafening and unrelenting. The interminable madness seen in the Parisian streets and the tragic vestige of deceased corpses had overcome the placid nature of the medieval city of Europe. The infaust pestilence of the Black Death of the underground cavern had been hidden, by the ancient catacomb that was the avatar and seal of my irredeemable and irreversible demise.

For four hundred years, the myriad of bones and skulls of the pit had amassed. The dungeon and catacomb of Paris had remained silent and forgotten in impunity and sovenance, till the adamantine walls of the pit were finally traversed, by the soldiers of the French Revolution.

'Mortuis habitat in pace!'—In peace dwell the dead!

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About The Author
Lorient Montaner
About This Story
20 Jan, 2018
Read Time
20 mins
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