From the outside, the building appeared to be like any other on the street. Once Clay walked through the green door, he stepped into a subterranean world few had entered, or knew existed. Noor, his escort, led him way down the labyrinth of passages, fingertip barely grazing the rock walls, as if reading a braille roadmap embossed on the stones.
The deeper Noor takes him into the maze, the more Clay wished he had remembered to wear other shoes. The passageway was littered with unidentifiable debris that alternately crunched and squished under his feet. With only flip-flops on, he felt the sludge seeping between his toes. As they went farther down, the temperature also dropped, making Clay also wish for a jacket.
Seemingly unaffected by the surroundings, Noor kept a relentless pace, neither slowing for the wet and cold, nor speaking to Clay other than to admonish him for lagging too far behind.
Clay knew not to complain nor attempt to engage Noor in any droll banter. Clay got no mercy. Noor had already explained that all that was required was Clay’s “unwitty compliance.”
After several minutes, Noor stopped at an alcove that led to the room Clay had visited before. Instead of allowing him to enter, Noor took him by the elbow and pulled him along the dark passage.
Wincing at the vise-grip hold on his arm, Clay stumbled as he was dragged along. Again, he thought his escort was more than a shriveled-up old, man or was it a woman. If only he could see under the heavy wool robe Noor wore, Clay mused, then shuddered to think of the possibilities of what he would find.
Gaining his balance, Clay pulled away from Noor but continued to follow. As they came to another turn in the passage, Clay saw a faint blue glow at the end of the corridor.
Noor stood at the juncture, waiting.
“From here, you go alone,” Noor said, pointing a gnarled finger in the direction of the light.
Clay squinted in the darkness, trying to discern some sort of expression on Noor’s wrinkled face.
“Down that way,” Clay said, stalling for time. “Then where?”
“At the end of the passage, you will encounter a set of stairs,” Noor said. “Go toward the light.”
At that, Noor left Clay in the dark. In mere seconds, Clay could no longer see the old minder. His only choices were to attempt to find his way out of the tangled warren of passageways or move forward into the unknown.
Walking to the end of the corridor seemed to take longer than the long trek down. The glow only grew brighter and eerier as he moved closer. Clay stood at the base of the stairs trying to build the nerve to climb the steps. The air felt energized, and the hair on his arms and back of his neck tingled.
Putting his hands on either side of the walls, Clay slowly took each step up to the brilliantly lit landing. At the top of the stairs, Clay got his first look at the light source. He stood, unmoving.
“I am so screwed.”