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X. INTO THE UNDERWORLD


Chapter 5

Moments later, Skip trotted down the same staircase.

“They should’ve come through by now,” Gus explained in a low voice. “I don’t know what to do, but first, I want you to see something.”

He led him to the door of the Vault and waved his hand. “Notice anything, Skip?”

“What am I looking for? Are you still tripping?”

“Look at the treasure sign, the heart, you dummy. Dad always said he knew the moment he found it that a treasure must be within. But look, it’s geologically fresh. You’ve seen enough petroglyphs, you tell me if I’m seeing things.

“Yeah, okay, it’s newer, so what? Are you saying Dad made that? Why?”

“Maybe to interest people,” Gus said, nodding towards the back of the shop. “But you know, ow that I think about it, that’s not medieval but a sign from colonial Mexico. Who else knew of symbols used in New World mines? Did Doc put it there? And the big problem: why would Dad salt the site with an authentic artifact?”

“Don’t tell me Fatamorgana’s correct –” Skip began.

Someone among the stream of shoppers suddenly realized who they were. “Hey, look, it’s Clan MacLantis!” a voice called.

“Wow, Professor, way to go at the Debate,” another person said.

“I heard you were threatened, is it true?”

“Hey Prof, will there ever be another Vision?”

Skip tried to fend them off, but the clamor was mainly directed at Gus, who quickly became overwhelmed. Before his brother could stop him, Gus struggled through the crowd to the Danse. Worried, Skip followed closely behind.

“Wait, Gus,” Skip said, grabbing his arm. “Where are you going? Don’t be crazy. Maybe they went elsewhere or you missed them. You’ll just make it worse.”

Gus shook his head. “That was awful,” he said, “I kept flashing back to last night.” He looked at him, the whites of his eyes showing. “Call Agent Marcel. I’m going in after them.”

Skip objected, but Gus pulled away. “Sorry, Hell can’t be worse than this. Stay here: I’ve a death cart to catch.” He handed him a card and, ignoring the crowd, and hurried into the attraction, flashing his pass. Within moments he entered the Danse Macabre.

Gus plopped into a small electric wagon and closed the gate. His relief from escaping his tormenters was brief. The cart lurched forward automatically with much creaking and groaning. The sound effects were loud and grating, spookier than the dim torches lighting the way.

The narrow path of the cart snaked from side to side as it jerked slowly along. Gus rarely caught a glimpse of a tumbrel either ahead or behind. At every curve appeared another display lit by torches. A full seven scenes there were, one after the other, each of a skeletal Death taking a different type of victim of the deadly sins. The ride slowed as it passed each station.

Figures of young lovers resisted Death’s insistent invitation, a mother helplessly shielded her children, and a merchant grasped futilely at his wealth trying to take it with him. In other scenes, impudent Death plucked the crown from a king’s head, pulled a bishop with his own hook, and definitively closed a scholar’s book. The vignettes were fully as grim and depressing as the unchanging human conditions they depicted.

The cart rolled leisurely if jerkily past. Gus ignored the cries and diabolical laughter in the dark. Finally, the cart rounded the curve for the final shocking exhibit before the exit to the stairs leading up to the land of the living. Before him, yawned the Msw of Hell on the wall, a set giant mechanical clacking dragon’s jaws. Flames erupted from its eyes, flanked on either side by the beckoning figures of Death and the Devil, modeled after the bloody Grand Inquisitor of Depravity who brought the wrath of the Scolding Madonna down upon the town.

The clacking jaws of the behemoth slowly opened and closed in time to the flames. Gaping wide, the maw revealed a tortured manikin writhing upon a rack behind its ivory fangs. Gus gulped, stood and with a “Here goes,” he jumped into the mouth of Hell as it swung open.

 


 

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“And so I alone
returned
from the underworld
as if reborn,
with only these stone bones of dragons
from before the Flood
to prove my tale.”

Don Yago Ionas,
the Reliquarian,
1782

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