Hades Oven – Mid-Week Flash Challenge

Dead End by Svetlana Sewell

It was as black as velvet, thick with stifling heat, and she shuddered at the echoing drips in the narrow corridor. The breath she pulled deep into her lungs threatened to suffocate her in the clammy air. She shook her head, trying to rid her skin of the constant illusion of crawling ants, and tightened the frayed tourniquet tied about her left bicep. Yesterday’s wound was depleting more energy than she’d expected.

Today’s cuts and bruises were more superficial, and she took a swig of murky water from her canteen before stuffing it back into her damp rucksack. She was sweating more than she was drinking.

There was only one way into this broiling labyrinth of brick, and no other way out, and the men still waiting for her and the gem at the entrance knew it. She sighed and leaned against the wall, her head torch wobbling as she slapped the wall in frustration beside her. Her eyes stung as tears blurred her vision and defeat gurgled in her throat. The huge garnet jewel stowed in her canvas backpack, still grey with mud and dried moss, and heavy within its matrix rock, weighed on her shoulders and in her mind.

The gem, bundled inside her jacket, carried value she didn’t want to give up, but trapped inside the tunnels the stories she’d heard as a child were slowly resurfacing as desperation grew. Was the legend worth the aggravation? Could the myths carry truth? And, within the miles of hallway could she find the gem’s fabled haven?

There was always another way out, no one would ever build a labyrinth without an escape route; it was unheard of. And it was – except within the oppressive dungeons of Hades Oven.

She moved on, her fingers trailing over the ruby moss swathed brickwork. Never ending walls stretched through the obscurity, until she turned a corner and a silver doorway greeted her. The door stood ominously open, streaked with broken and decayed latticework shining in her torch light.

She tried to see beyond the darkness, but the rays bounced off the walls, artificial light glinting like a dead end. Fatigue pounded and her sweat turned cold. This was it, the end of the eternal hallway. There was nowhere else to go, nowhere else but back.

The noise of her own blood pumping through her veins thundered through her head as she gazed at the mottled silver smeared across the walls like fog, like ice. A wry smile flickered across her face. Her final moments of torture, as she baked beneath the earth, would be the imagery of ice, of mist, and of cool water running down the bricks. An illusion in her rattled and ragged dried out mind.

Then she moved across the threshold into the tiny room, and pulled the door closed, its hinges creaking tired and worn, until it clicked shut. She slipped her backpack off her shoulders and smiled at the weightlessness she felt as she slipped to the floor, the bag landing with a thud beside her. She took a last look at the small room, the beam of her torch flashing over the silvered bricks, and she switched off her light. Darkness enveloped the room and she sank into the corner to await her end in death’s antechamber.

It wasn’t completely dark. A burgundy glow emanated from her bag. Even through the thick canvas and dirty jacket the garnet smouldered. Trembling fingers tugged open the bag and turned it upside down. Dust billowed and the gem bounced on the concrete, and in the red light a tiny switch shone. She grabbed it and as the lever came away in her hand, bricks crumbled. Light, as white as heaven, flooded the tiny space, blinding her. Then the dust settled and running water crashed past the opening. Still squinting, she pushed out and gulped in cool fresh air. Without another thought she stuffed the gem back into her bag, and stepped out beneath the torrents of waterfall. A valley stood before her, miles away from the labyrinth’s entrance, and offering freedom. She’d found the haven and Hades would have to wait.

Really wanted to write something for this photo provided by Miranda’s Mid-Week Flash Challenge prompt. Something suffocating about this image, by Svetlana Sewell, that needed a story.

Write up to 750 words inspired by the prompt photograph.

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