The room is musty and cramped, the thick curtains drawn on this uncomfortably warm summer day. Piles of books and newspapers line the cracked, stained walls that look as if they could fall over in a stiff breeze. No family photos or personal mementos anywhere. My assistant, seated next to me, coughs nervously. In a room nearby a huge clock ticks away the seconds. “Sir?” I repeat. “Sir, did you hear me? Are you alright?”
The elderly man I’m addressing has been quiet for a while now. Finally, he sits up straighter, sighs, and rubs his wrinkled hands. “You wish to know of the cave, what we found. I’ve never told my story to anyone. No one wanted to know, everyone seemed afraid to ask. Maybe telling you is a way for me to be relieved of this.. burden.” He stares at the curtain-covered window a long time. A shiver passes over him. Fear? I try to keep quiet while grabbing the notebook in my bag. Finally, I’m getting some of the answers I’ve been looking for.
“There have always been legends about the mountain, all the surrounding villages had one. About what’s supposed to be under there. The cave of the great nightbeast that gorges itself on bad dreams. The chariot that crashed when our gods arrived on this world. The sleeping Lady of Heavens who kills those that wake her. So when some prospector discovered the coal deposits in the mountain we all thought it was a sign of good luck, a reward for the respect our ancestors had for these lands. The area changed almost overnight. Excavators and workers pouring in. The modern world creeping into the old one. I was one of those eager workers and toiled in that damn mine for nearly twenty years before… before my life changed.”
“We had a brash youngster with us that shift. It was his second week and he apparently thought he would’ve been rich by that time already. Stupid kid. We excavated a side tunnel in one of the newer and deepest areas, we hit an open space on the other side. There was a faint glow coming from the small hole we made. So this kid, this stupid, stupid kid, he thinks there’s gems on the other side. Keeps hacking away and smashes open the passage. Could’ve made the whole ceiling cave in and kill us all. It was a damn miracle that didn’t happen. ..Well, or maybe not.”
“On the other side of the hole was a natural cave. Some sort of fungus stuck to the walls, glowing. I saw something move on the wall, a living thing, but it also gave light. And suddenly there was the flash. Not light, but something… in my head.” He chuckles, and coughs loudly. After taking a sip from a dirty glass of what could possibly be water, he continues.
“In my head, yes. I saw.. I saw some type of ancient spirit. Or maybe it was a god. It had a shape, so perfect. Lights pouring out. I stood before it and felt as if I was being judged or called forth, like a challenge. It had been waiting a very long time for someone. It was so old, so.. hungry. And just as suddenly I was back in the cave again, hearing my colleague behind me cry and scream. The kid just stood in front of me, hands on his head and eyes bulging. To this day I’m still not sure how we got back to the elevator. Once we reached the surface the kid ran off and I never saw him again. My colleague never spoke another word after that day, and I thought I was going mad myself. Soon after our encounter there were rumors of people disappearing in the mines and others becoming sick. Everyone believed the place was cursed and it was closed off in a hurry. No one has set foot in there since.”
The elderly man falls silent and leans back in his chair, his face pale. He looks straight into my eyes, actually seeing me for the first time since I arrived at this rotting house in the middle of nowhere. “I spent years trying to understand what happened, gathering old books and tracking down ancient legends. I know its name now. Ixama. When it saw inside me, inside my soul, I saw some of it too. Maybe the others saw more of it and that’s why it broke them. But I know it is still there, waiting for someone. Ixama holds a great power for those that dare seek it and terrible, terrible death for those that will abuse it. But that won’t stop you, will it? You two will continue where I left off, go through the tunnels and into the same cave, and both of you will be changed by the path beyond.” The man’s voice is almost hoarse now and he looks completely exhausted. He angrily waves us out. As my assistant and me walk into the blinding daylight I feel like turning back, to thank the old man for his help. But I know he doesn’t think he helped us. He thinks he’s doomed us.