In my novel, “There Has Been A Sighting”, sightings of Satan are tracked and confronted. An antechamber to such an encounter occurs in the crypt of the St. Marien church, in Berlin.
Dorkas removes the keys from her pocket. “Which is worse, do you think. Keys keeping things out, or keys letting things in?”
“They each – ” begins Breeze.
“You may as well have the flashlight.” Dorkas interrupts her. “Until we get the damn door open.”
Breeze has to hurry to stay in step, and almost drops the flashlight in her haste. When they reach the door, Dorkas quickly inserts the key. It works with ease.
“Fortune smiles on my enterprise,” mutters Dorkas.
“I don’t understand.” The young woman is perplexed as she looks around. “I’m certain when I was here, the painting was on these walls.” She watches Dorkas put the other key into a second door. “We didn’t go anywhere else.”
“What did Agnes tell you?” Dorkas opens the door, and glares down a darkened flight of steps.
“I’m not supposed to say.”
“Mother Ursula certainly expects me to go down into the gloom.” Dorkas is harsh. “Otherwise, why am I here?”
“I don’t deny that’s the way it is now.” Breeze stands beside her, peering into the dark. “I just wonder if it is what we would find tomorrow.”
“I may as well take their kind illumination.”
“Agnes only had a candle.” Breeze gives her the flashlight.
“Agnes could not fear half the terror I feel.” Dorkas shines the light down the stairs. “She expected to come back.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
“If I’m not forever, then I won’t be long.”
As Dorkas descends, the stone walls absorb the light, pockmarking the surface with rough shadows. She pauses before entering the room, perturbed by the dimness. Her light had shone brightly minutes ago, but now its beam seems submerged in water.
She slaps the flashlight against her open palm.
“I’d do better with – ”
She stumbles on the bottom step, twisting her right foot as she is thrown against the wall.
The flashlight falls and rolls across the floor. She hears its metal casing scratch over the stones, and watches the beam of light spiral like a demented beacon, until it turns around to shine back into her face.
“I won’t stay if that goes out.”
Dorkas deliberately speaks aloud.
“Whether I’m in Berlin for a night or a year.”
She tests her foot and finds her ankle is slightly injured. “If I break my leg, what will they do? Leave me down here?” She bends over to get the flashlight.
“A permanent fixture.”
As she takes the light, she points it away from herself.
The feet are bare, and dirty, and raising dust as they dance. A cloud of dust rises up their emaciated legs to their knees. Although Dorkas is in a crouched position, she jerks away from the figures, and sprawls on her back.
She starts to cough in the dust, and the ragged, whirling band begins to encircle her. The light gripped in her hand strays across their bodies, and catches the glint of bleached, protruding teeth as they grin down at her.
“A tomb.” Dorkas shouts.
She can not count the number of hands reaching toward her, their flesh mottled from the iridescence of putrefaction. The frayed cuffs of their funeral finery trail strands of unravelling cloth, and she cringes from the touch.
“You want me with you?” Dorkas struggles to her knees. “To end on your wall?”
Bejewelled rings and bracelets rattle against bony fingers and wrists. The sound fills her ears as the hands, extending to grab her, are jostled by the tempo of the dance. They can not stop their own feet, and they can not stop their partners who hurry them ever on.
“I won’t.” Dorkas holds the light in both hands. “Alive or dead.”
Der Totentanz becomes smaller as the figures tighten the circle around Dorkas. A whiff of their decay permeates the dust, and she turns her head, coughing even more. But she can’t avoid their movement, their grasping hands, their stench. Victory is etched upon their faces.
She barely hears her name as she huddles more closely to the floor. She is afraid to stand in case the frenzied dancers graze against her. She fears that the slightest brush – whether from their knees, their fingers, or even their rotting clothes – will lift her to her feet and make her a part of this final procession.
“Dorkas! I can’t turn on the electric lights.”
“You wouldn’t want to see.” Dorkas tries to shout, but her throat is clamped by hysteria. “This is worse than buried alive. I’d rather be in the dark.”
The dust of the dead is filling her mouth as she switches off the flashlight.
“Dorkas! For God’s sake.”
Breeze comes plunging down the stairs, scraping her hands as she steadies herself against the wall.
When she reaches the bottom, she stops in the blackness. Her hesitation is brief, and she starts forward at her usual pace, hands outstretched. She strains to hear the slightest sound.
“Dorkas? Did you drop the flashlight?”
“Are you alive?”
“Dorkas?” Breeze turns abruptly, for the voice is behind her. “Of course I’m alive.”
“Then I guess we both are.”
Dorkas gets to her knees, and slowly stands.
“Berlin proves to be as wonderful as I anticipated.” She brushes dust off her shirt. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Did you lose the flashlight?” Breeze starts to move toward the other woman’s voice.
Dorkas is momentarily puzzled, then realizes it is still gripped fiercely in her hand. She switches it on, casting a beam over Breeze’s legs.
“I thought you were it.” Breeze looks down at her legs, then follows the light back to Dorkas. “When you didn’t answer, I thought something had gone wrong.”
“I’m in Berlin.” Dorkas laughs harshly. “Everything goes wrong.”
She approaches the younger woman slowly.
“I don’t know where I would be if you hadn’t come to me.” Dorkas strokes Breeze’s arm. “Your intervention won’t make the others happy.”
“I’ll handle himself if you take care of the old girl.”
“Let’s take a look.” Breeze reaches for the flashlight.
“At the bloody painting.” Breeze is turning the light toward the wall. “I know it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but maybe we can figure how its now in a different place.”
“No.” Dorkas swats the flashlight with her hand. “If you accept that there is God and Satan, then you accept there are things beyond your power.”
She stands close to Breeze, the light between them.
“You do not invite what can destroy you – that is dangerous folly.”
“But you came here.”
“Yes.” Dorkas takes back the flashlight. “I came here. And that courage – and you – enables me to walk out of here.”
She looks Breeze in the eyes.
“I have light, and I have a friend, and I’m not going to be buried alive. Not tonight, at any rate.”
She shakes the flashlight.
“Not here, at any rate.”
Dorkas sighs deeply.
“But I’ve done my part.”
“These are distinctions I don’t understand.” Breeze begins to feel uncomfortable. “Here we are – standing right here. Haven’t you won?”
“If you tempt fate?” Dorkas speaks softly. “No – fate will always win. Fate has all the cards.”
“That sounds fatalistic.”
“Life is fatal.”
“Perhaps I’ll come back tomorrow and be a tourist.” Breeze wants to hear her own voice. “Will a bunch of loud Italians and pushy Americans keep the dancers in the painting?”
“It might make it easier for them to mingle.”
“I’m not going to see them step from the wall,” insists Breeze.
“I suggest you look closely at the mustiest Italian, or the most hysterical American.” Dorkas shines the light toward the exit. “And then keep your distance.”
Dorkas is impatient as she watches the young woman walk through the beam of light, and quickly begins to follow.
“Did you say something?”
“No.” Dorkas answers curtly, but she has heard it too.
It is a sound which stays in her ears, until the door is firmly closed and locked behind them.
The sounds of an interrupted dance, where she knows partners are still being sought.