Death by the River
Leslie clung to him, wishing they were outside. “What is this place?”
“The cells.” Derek kept his voice low.
She squeezed his bicep. “I’ve never been inside The Abbey.” Leslie peered into the dim, cavernous corridor ahead, with only patches of light coming through the thick stone walls. “I wish we hadn’t come.”
“It will be fine, I promise.” He patted her hand. “Nothing will hurt you. I won’t let it.”
They crept along, their feet hitting sticks and fallen pieces of plaster from the crumbling walls around them. Puddles of water dotted the uneven stone floor and dampened Leslie’s tennis shoes. Mounds of dead leaves lay swept to the side. The low ceiling had roots coming through it, and the walls were cold and slimy to the touch. Derek shined his flashlight into the first room on the left. It was a depressingly small space composed of four walls and no windows.
It reminded Leslie of a jail cell rather than a place where a person would choose to live.
Scraps of paper littered the ground of the next cell they came across; another had a rusty metal frame of a bed. Several of the rooms had cracks in their plaster ceilings along with patches of mold. When they stumbled on a few rat skeletons, Leslie turned her head into Derek’s shoulder.
At the end of the passageway, sunlight snuck through a break in the wall. The intrusion of light was a welcome sight and Leslie’s fear abated. The jagged opening allowed green leaves from the plants outside to reach in, and a few creeping vines jutted up toward the ceiling. Along the floor, a thick pile of dead leaves hid the lower part of the opening.
“There was a cave-in along the wall here.” Derek brushed the leaves aside, revealing a fairly large breach able to accommodate one person at a time. “The other cells past this point are too dangerous to explore. We can get out here and avoid going back through The Abbey.”
Derek turned off his flashlight and handed it to her. He pushed the leaves back, pulled the vines down, and kicked the debris at the bottom away, trying to clear the opening.
While he worked, a glimmering light from inside one of the cells farther down the corridor distracted her. She flipped on the flashlight and angled it into the tight quarters beyond the cave-in.
The walls in this portion of the cells had deeper cracks than the rest of the structure. The fissures ran along the entire ceiling and down to the floors. Patches of black mold were everywhere. What struck her as odd was the lack of debris. It appeared as if it had been freshly swept without any leaves or rat skeletons littering the ground.
Derek came up behind her. “What are you doing?”
Leslie headed toward the room where she’d spotted the strange light. “I saw something.”
The smell of rot and mold filled her nose. Her skin brushed against the slimy walls, and she cringed. But something compelled her to keep going into the section Derek had deemed too dangerous to explore.
Naturally, she ignored him and pressed on, testing the floor with the toe of her shoe as she carefully progressed. Her heartbeat kicked up a notch, but this time a tingling sensation of excitement went with it. She felt like Indiana Jones exploring a lost tomb and waiting for a booby trap to jump out at her.
Her beam of light filtered into the room, and her heart crept higher in her throat. She rounded the edge of the wall and halted.
The cell was small without any windows, but this room appeared lived in. Along the far wall, below a pair of rusted pipes where a sink had once been, a green cot—army issue—had a pillow and green blanket neatly stacked on top. At the foot of the cot was a blue ice chest; on top of it, an assortment of red and white candles.
Leslie went up to the cot and caressed the blanket and pillows. Her foot tapped something beneath. She bent down and discovered an old CD player.
Footfalls came from behind her. She swerved the flashlight around to Derek, fuming.
“Did you do this?”
“Do what?” He shielded his eyes from the light and stepped inside.
She wanted to believe he had no idea any of this was here, but her suspicions couldn’t be silenced. The whole scenario seemed so well-planned.
“What the hell?” Derek came up to the cot and lifted the pillow.
She stood back, studying his reaction as he browsed the contents of the room. “I thought you said this portion was dangerous.”