The weight of the massive arched door was unbelievable. Made from a single piece of solid black stone, it was nearly 10 centimeters thick. Round ‘stumps’ at the top and bottom of one side, inserted into notches in the lintel and threshold, formed the effective, if primitive, ‘hinges’. One area was worn smooth, presumably from countless hands pushing against it over long years of use.
Despite his overactive imagination, Paul half expected to find a cold dark storage area when the door swung open, perhaps filled with the detritus of many families who had spent their lives above this cellar. He still hoped for some ancient artifacts; perhaps some scrolls or stelae. After all, why else was the room concealed behind such sophisticated, if ancient, security measures? It was sheer luck he’d found it at all. How many people had spent their lives in the old house above without ever knowing of its existence?
An icy fear gripped his mind as a new idea made an abrupt entrance. What if the door concealed more sinister secrets? He could be stumbling upon the hidey hole of some macabre group practicing the Dark Arts, or worse! With the arrival of that idea, he was half tempted to bolt back up the stairs, close the door and pretend he’d never found it. He discovered that he’d actually climbed two of the steps before stopping. “Okay Mister, if you go back up, there’s no way you’re going to be able to forget this. You can’t unsee a thing! Maybe not today or tomorrow, maybe not even next week or next month, but sooner or later the curiosity will wear you down and you’ll have to get back down here. You may as well do it now. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe I shouldn’t be asking that question; it always seems to invite the worst…”
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is an ancient land with a mystical history dating back thousands of years. The secrets behind the basalt doorway could range from the banal to the truly horrifying. Paul attempted to swallow his fear, gave himself a mental kick on the backside and moved back to the bottom of the stair.
The stone was cold and dry beneath his palm. He took a deep breath and shoved with all his might. Oh, surprise of surprises! The door opened as easily and smoothly as the door to your local supermarket! Caught off guard, he fell into the room, ass over teakettle, landing on his back and blinked up at the smooth ceiling of a well-lit room.
He moved his head to the left. “What the hell…?”
He was in a largish room, softly lit by lamps nestled in niches carved into the walls. Dozens of candles glowed with a soft, surreal light on tables scattered about the room. As his eyes moved to take in everything, his astonishment grew. The walls were quite smooth with half columns carved from the stone. Niches here and there formed lamp mounts, shelves, and… are those shrines?
Raising himself to a sitting position gave a better perspective. Arranged all around the room were traditional Arabian pillows for lounging, resting, and receiving guests. Low tables were stationed near the pillows for coffee, tea, or other refreshment. Opulent Persian rugs were scattered about the room, giving it even more elegance.
Paul got up to get a closer look at what appeared to be shrines. The first one was a tiny statue. It was quite crude, made of what appeared to be plaster, in the general shape of a human. The face featured eyes that were painted with what looked like tar. Without lashes or brows, the wide open eyes gave the statue an expression of perpetual surprise. It reminded Paul of the ten thousand-year-old statues found at Ain Ghazal that were the first known artistic representation of the human body. Another niche held a small carving of the great winged bull, Lamassu. The powerful body of the black bull was covered with gold ornaments, with wings and a human head wearing a crown. Even the hooves were gold! It was truly a thing of beauty.
Paul was completely awed by the room. It was clean; neat as a pin and by far the most beautiful room he’d ever seen. But, what was it? Why is it lit? The questions gave him a fresh attack of nerves. Although he hadn’t seen anyone, it was clearly obvious that someone must be living here. That being the case, how did they get in and out? Where were they now? Am I in danger?
At the far end of the room was an arch leading into a short passageway. Was that a movement he detected there..?
Paul strained his eyes to see into the dimly lit passage. He was almost sure that he saw someone… or something dart through the semi-darkness and into a door on the right. Every nerve tingled as if an electric current was being passed through him. He wanted to run, but he’d never been particularly renowned for his common sense in situations like this. Cautiously, he made his way toward another arched doorway leading into the hallway.
Inching his way to the open doorway, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck standing at attention. Every cell of his body was on high alert. The slightest sound or movement at that point would probably have sent him right into coronary failure.
By now, he was no more than a foot from the door. He strained his ears, hoping for some sound to identify what he was sure he’d seen moving through the door.
Very slowly, inch by inch, he made his way into the semi-darkness of the hall. About a third of the way down, on the right another doorway slashed the dimness with a warm light. Paul was almost sure that anyone who might be inside could clearly hear the rapid, thumping palpitations of his heart. Sweat poured down his forehead, dripping off his nose and every nerve thrummed like a high voltage electric wire.
After listening for what seemed an eternity, he pushed himself away from the wall preparing to peek into the room. It occurred to him that it might be safer to have his first look from the other side of the passageway. It would give me a largish view of the room, not to mention an opportunity to run like the Devil was after him if he needed to.
What he saw was just as surprising as the first room; ornately carved half columns, more niches, grand rugs in rich colorful fabrics. The main rug was astonishing in its intricate design of trees, birds and fruits, reminding him of ancient mosaic floors he’d seen touring around the country. The center of the room was dominated by a low, round table carved from the purest white marble he’d ever seen. A tall granite vase stood in the center, surrounded by six small rose colored stone bowls. A beautifully wrought chandelier of heavy gold wire, laden with white candles hung over the table, casting its dim warmth over the vase and bowls.
There was no sign of another person though, until he moved perhaps two steps closer to the door. A shadow lay across the rug. Paul stopped stock-still to see if the person casting the very large shadow would confront him, demanding the reason for his trespass. The shadow was as unmoving as him.
The adrenaline-laced blood rushing to his brain was deafening in his ears. He feared that the sound of his thudding heartbeat must surely be audible. His hands trembled and his feet refused to budge from the spot where they seemed to have taken root.
“You can’t stand here until the second coming, move your ass!”
He was good at ordering himself about, but less good at obeying. He finally managed to pry one foot up from the floor and that got him moving… slowly. His eyes never moved from that shadow, waiting for even the slightest movement to send him racing back up the stairs.
Stepping into the doorway, his peripheral vision spotted it first. A very tall, muscular man with one arm upraised, waiting to deliver a killing blow!
He instantly dropped to the floor and rolled toward the center of the room, regaining his feet as he came to a stop. He didn’t expect that I would notice his shadow and be ready for him! Rising upright, he presented his best fighting stance and glared directly into his alabaster pale face.
More to come…