Excerpt:The Labyrinth and the Chamber, 6 May 1940
Two Yugoslav Royal Army officers trudged down the passageway, lanterns in front of them. Each carried a long wooden stake.
‘Will we ever find the twelfth?’ asked the Lieutenant.
‘We haven’t heard from him all this time,’ the Captain responded. ‘Someone must have killed him.’
‘The seepage is getting worse,’ the Lieutenant said looking around.
‘Bad plumbing in the garrison buildings above ground,’ the Captain answered. ‘Poor quality...cheap materials…the Austrians knew how to build things, but this lot…how I long for good German workmanship.’
They continued through the gloom until they came to an intersection with a marble sign that read IV/500 Kom. Gall. – Communication Gallery IV/500. They turned down a side tunnel until they came to the lock embedded in the wall. The Captain faced it, crossed himself, heard a loud click, and turned left towards the far wall. He pressed the wall open and descended the damp stairs, followed by the Lieutenant.
Their descent was halted by a clear stream that covered the bottom of the stairs.
‘It’s risen almost a meter since last year,’ the Lieutenant said.
‘They’re trapped,’ the Captain muttered.
‘Perhaps the water has also risen inside,’ the Lieutenant said. ‘Do you think they could drown?’
‘Perhaps,’ the Captain answered. He descended the stairs until the water reached his chest, waded to the door in the far wall and examined it. ‘The seals are intact,’ he called back.
The Lieutenant nodded.
The Captain touched the brick door, his fingers trembling.
Inside the vault all was black, undisturbed by daylight, lamplight or candlelight. No sound penetrated the chamber and all was still. Yet in the dark Natalija saw, and in the silence she heard…silence interrupted by the occasional drop of water falling from the vaulted brick ceiling high overhead into the ever-rising ankle-deep pool that covered the floor. The sound of each drop echoed preternaturally, magnified by silence and stillness.
She felt the captain long before he touched the door and sat up in her coffin in anxious anticipation. She sensed his presence, her heart pounding, as she waited for the door to open. But as before, it remained shut. And then she felt his presence recede.
‘Nooooo,’ she screamed. ‘Take me with you.’
‘Your time will come,’ the oldest said. ‘Patience.’
Natalija lay back down, still awake, thinking of the love that had sentenced her to this torment. ‘So this is eternal damnation,’ she thought bitterly.
And the water dripped.
And she mourned.
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Author BioJames Lyon is an accidental Balkanologist, having spent the better part of 32 years studying and working with the lands of the former Yugoslavia. He has a Ph.D. in Modern Balkan History from UCLA and a B.A. in Russian from BYU. He has lived in Germany, Russia, England, Massachusetts, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Utah, and California, and spent the better part of 18 years living in the lands of the former Yugoslavia, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia, and has worked in Macedonia and Kosovo. He has traveled widely, from Africa to Latin America to the Middle East, and all over Europe. He currently works in Sarajevo and bounces back and forth to Belgrade. In his spare time he likes sailing through the Dalmatian islands and eating Sachertorte in Vienna at the old Habsburg Imperial Court’s Confectionary Bakery, Demel. He lost his cat in the forests of Bosnia and can’t find it. If you see a black and white cat that ignores you when you call the name “Cile II”, a reward is being offered…provided the cat hasn’t turned into a vampire.
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