I peered through the arched doorway and saw the stone spiral steps leading downwards but also upwards. I squeezed inside and found it was a tight fit between the staircase column and opposite wall. Going downwards, I felt the rough wall with my hand and listened to my hiking bag scrapping along behind me.
It took me a moment to realise the steps had ended. I shuffled on, hoping to find a light switch or to see another source. The air was cold, almost crypt like, but I could smell no rotting bodies, it was just the scent of dampness still. My hand flew into an empty gap and I stopped. There was a hole in the wall.
Deciding there was nothing else for it, I swung off my hiking bag and put it down. My shoulders and back burned whilst a cold air rushed under my t-shirt and danced on my sweaty skin. I rubbed my back and listened to the dripping of water somewhere close by. Fumbling with straps, zips and buckle clips, I opened a side pocket and pulled out a glow stick.
Dim green light filled my vision as I cracked and shook the stick about. I blinked, refocused and took in my surroundings. Large flagstones covered in dirt lined the floor and just above my head was the ceiling. The doorway next to me led into a bathroom. The dripping water was coming from a sink beside a toilet.
Grabbing my hiking bag, I walked sideward then let the straps go as I inspected the sink. It was hard to tell what colour it had been as rust had now taken over. I shone the glow stick close to the water and watched as a red coloured drop ran passed. I turned the tap. It was stuck fast, but after a few tugs, it come loose and iron stained water rushed forth.
The sound blasted around me, unlocking the silence that had been weighing against my ears. I stole some glances over my shoulder, but could see nothing forming out of the shadows that had claimed their space back. I turned and waited for the water to change colour. When nothing happened after a few second, I placed the glow stick down and saw a shard of mirror had been left against the sink.
Cupping my hands, I put them under the water then took a careful sip. It tasted like old soil in which veg had rotted, but it was strangely sweet. Shrugging I had some more then went back for a few more handfuls. The water filled my empty belly and left a tangy, metallic taste in my mouth.
Picking up the glow stick, I bent and tried to catch my reflection in the mirror shard. I could just see the growing beard on my face and my long ragged hair drooping on my too thin cheeks. Standing up, I patted my stomach through my damp baggy t-shirt and carried on.
There was nothing else down here. Or if there was it had long been sealed up.
Returning to the staircase, the full weight of my hiking bag on again pulling me down, I trudged upstairs. There were more steps going up, but finally I found myself in a decrepit bell tower. The wooden floorboards looked okay, but there was a trap door in the centre that had been under the bell. Looking up into the roof, I could not really tell where the bell had once been attached too. There was no doubt in my mind though that it had been taken away to be used somewhere else or melted down.
The tower was open on all three sides, so cold and now rain could come in. I went to the nearest opening and looked out. In the fast building evening light, I could see the tops of trees and houses. A fire was burning a few miles to my left. I could see the smoke rising and perhaps a flicker of orange. It was hard to tell if it was a beacon or some vandals.
The rain peppered my skin, making me feel more refreshed as I went to the next opening. This one looked over more trees and houses. Chimneys reached to the cloudy, gunmetal grey sky, their bricks darkened by the rain. Was that the railway station? Maybe not, but it looked big enough. My thoughts darted back to last night when I had slept fitfully in a storage room.
Stepping away, I went to the third opening. This one looked out on a small graveyard. The headstones stuck up through the tall grass as if demanding still to be seen. A few trees grew on the edge then spread to create woodland. Most of the trees had to be evergreen because all the others were slowly surrounding to autumn. I could see no further as evening settled in.
Not giving into dropping my hiking bag, I went back downstairs. Coming into the church’s altar again, I looked round and tried to decide where the best place to sleep was.
To Be Continued…