Short Fiction: Troglobite


Complements: Yoeri Vleer

A tiny figure emerged into the broken and decrepit hall that was once an exhibition wing of The Museum of Natural History. Any such label was lost to the ravages of time and linguistic change. The figure, which called itself an “Initiate”, would have struggled with the flowing vowels of such ancient text. The rituals and rote prayers imparted throughout childhood had left her with a staccato tongue, perfect for After-Noon Audience, but not much else.

She moved swiftly past hollowed alcoves that once housed dioramas of Mesolithic life. Plastic representations of maize fields tended by double-over Olmec farmers. Their painted backdrops were nothing more than plain gray swaths, cracked by centuries of neglect. None of this registered to her. They were as they’d always been. She was not aware that anything could be otherwise.

Before her, she clutched a circular pan. Initiates immemorial had proffered offerings upon it. Its face was milked over by countless scratches. Etchings carved from dread talismans to permineralized fossils; even cradle-boarded skulls of children. Detestable things. For generations, Initiates hadn’t seen anything so intricate. Brethren and Sistren long past had seen to abolishing such evils. Yet it was upon this offering that the lonesome figure gazed. She was transfixed by something she had not seen before.


Seismic quakes pulverized much of the Museum, shaking loose foundations that might see it into an uncertain future. Long before, every square inch had been picked over with dogmatic determination. Casualties from long years of robust practice and erosive steadfastness. Ancient sins had been prioritized; dismantling the most evil of aggressors first. The most heretical objects were held aboveground. Such brazen lies were cast before The Truth, tested, and summarily burned away.


Her feet wended through much traveled paths. They were holy alleys that pressed the green vegetation flat, like game trails. Her movements were dreamlike. Much practiced and performed with little afterthought. Elders spoke of accompanying assistants whose ceremonial drums kept the wicked at bay. But she was alone. Past her feet, she could still make out the worn pattern of a thousand soles.

It was these quakes that shattered most of the evil sequestered below. It was this very evil that still remained. Beneath the Museum lay countless vaults, many of them either destroyed outright by the elements or sanctified by the just. Others lurked where they had not yet tread. Hymns and prayers attested to the heaviness Initiates bore as they spread the truth into these long tortured places. Light spread into the darkness, where faith was but a candle’s flicker.


The central promenade was gutted. The tiered hall was split open to sunlight. Heavy shafts slanted serenely as the sun fought higher into the sky. The opening was congested with life. Vines snaked down, tasting the moist darkness below. Overgrowth sought purchase amid support pillars and stairwells. Cracked exit signs were the homes of fungal colonies. Sea birds called shrilly, coming to and from their nests. As she neared the veil, the Initiate eyed a plinth in the center. The altar.


It was these quakes that had effectively cut off the remaining vaults from purification, allowing time to flow, softening the tyrannical grip of scripture. The wheels of doctrine rusted. Without execution, practice waned. Creed, once tightly bound by contest, became lethargic and spread thin by contentment. Black and white began to see gradients.


Before stepping forth, the Initiate dipped the offering ever so slightly. An item tumbled along the tinny surface, bumped against her chest, and fell away. She moved, bound by ceremony. Stepping to the illuminated dais, she bowed her head in supplication. She thought of the place’s import as she placed the tray upon the faded platform. When she was on her knees, chin-to-chest, she heard the discordant hiss. The offering had been judged. They said the acrid stench was righteous. She bowed, stood, and bowed again before backpedaling from the lazily spiraling mist.

Once again in the dark, the Initiate paused. She relished separation. A strange sense enlivened her. Stooping low, she retrieved the tiny artifact that had fallen. She studied it fixedly. While treading resolutely from the sanctum, the Initiate placed a tiny fossilized trilobite behind her ceremonial sash.


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