George didn’t answer right away. He pushed himself off the ground. To everyone’s surprise, he was heading toward the center of the room, where an immobile, octagonal table sat. There was a seat on each side. George’s duffel bag was beside the table along with wrappers and empty packages scattered across the floor.
Reaching for his duffel bag, George stared at it dejectedly as he took out the only food left in the compartment: a sandwich. Then he unwrapped it, his hands trembling, and took a bite.
For a while, he ate quietly without looking up.
A huge wave of relief came over everyone. Apparently they had imagined something much worse.
Logan chuckled a little. “What’s so bad about it, buddy?” He pointed to a passageway on the opposite side of the room. It looked very much like the previous one, except without the torches. A dark, gaping hole yawned lazily at them. “We’ll just get out that way.”
George shook his head sadly. “Probably won’t work.”
“What?!” interrupted Andrew, bewildered. “Ya mean there’s another wall beyond the passage or somethin’?”
Several people gasped. They sure hoped that the cowboy was wrong this time.
“Well?” he demanded. “Don’t just sit there an’ scare the wits out of us! Hurry up an’ tell us!”
Diane gently pulled the cowboy aside. “George,” she said softly. “Can you please calm down a little and tell us what you were trying to say?”
There was a moment of silence before he answered. “The door,” mumbled George without looking up.
“What about it?” asked Diane patiently.
George took a deep breath. “It’s irreversible.” He shrugged. “Dunno. Think you can only push your way in. But not out.”
“What?” said Logan in alarm. He released his best friend at once and turned to watch the marble wall close with a thud.
George made a strange, choking sound. Then he sputtered something incomprehensible before he collapsed onto the floor.
Andrew seemed to be the first one to break out of the trance. He strode to George and shook him by the shoulder.
“Whatsa matter?” he cried. He looked sharply at the wall and then at George again.
George had his head in his hands. He was shaking his head.
A loud and piercing scream came out from the middle of nowhere.
Everyone turned to find George’s horror-stricken face. George was running toward them, his arms stretched out.
Logan was so glad to see him that he immediately ran over to give his best friend an awkward bear hug.
George, however, kept pointing at something behind the redhead. He was wide-eyed, and it was as though he hadn’t even noticed Logan’s existence.
Becky staggered. She whipped her head around in time and realized with horror that the wall was revolving around, and somehow she had a bad feeling about it.
Mark had an idea. “Could you move back a bit?” he asked Diane.
Everyone parted and backed away, giving him plenty of space.
Mark pressed his shoulder hard against the marble wall and pushed. He pushed until he felt the muscles on his arms and shoulders grow taut from all the pushing, but that didn’t stop him. He kept pushing.
The wall gave a small rumbling sound, followed by a faint quiver.
Everyone’s faces lit up. They scurried over to join him, pushing the wall with all they were worth. Nevertheless, the wall remained where it was.
“We got to do it at the same time,” Mark gritted his teeth. “I think.”
“On the count of three,” said Diane. “One, two, THREE!”
This time the wall moved forward without any warning. The sound of grinding marble reached their ears.
They found themselves bursting into a room on the other side.
“Nope,” he told the others in a low voice, passing the torch back to Diane. “Just crevices around the edges.”
It was true. The marble wall before them was only a slab of concrete, smooth marble. Nothing more, nothing less.
“It cannot be,” muttered Diane with a frown. She handed the torch absently to Logan, who put it back on the wall. “There has got to be one. Somewhere.”
Andrew looked aghast. “Y’all sure this ain’t a dead end or somethin’?” His voice wavered slightly and sounded a bit thinner than usual.
This time no one scolded the cowboy. Obviously everyone else but Diane was wondering about the same thing.
Diane tapped the block and shook her head. “George’s wrappers led us to here,” she insisted. “He cannot be far from here. I am sure of it.”
The others nodded, willing to accept any plausible explanation, yet unwilling to let their guard down. Especially after the tree trunk incident.
Diane brought down the flaming torch from one of the sconces on the wall and handed it to Mark. The flame flickered.
The others huddled together, waiting anxiously.
Mark waved the torch in front of the wall that faced them. Immediately the flare from the torch brightened the wall – well enough for him to look for signs of an opening to whatever was on the other side.
The same went for the passageway they were in. It wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that the passage might topple down at any minute.
Why hadn’t anyone bothered to restore them?
Mark guessed he would soon find out why.
Mark soon lost interest in the strange inscriptions on the ceiling. His mind wandered back to the buildings he had seen along the way.
He was rather perplexed by the various kinds of buildings in this place. Everything ranging from homes to castle-like towers. He also remembered seeing turrets and steeple-like structures beyond the remnants of lengthy buildings. Apparently either someone hadn’t done a thorough job with the foundational planning or, as Mark had theorized, a war was once waged in this city. Or else, why were there so many cracks and missing chunks of marble on the buildings they had passed by?
So down the darkened and chilled passageway they went. For a while, everyone was quiet, studying the strange, curving lines and symbols that spread across the convex ceiling above them like an intricate net. Looming overhead, they added an air of mystery to the tenseness that already lingered about the passage. The teenagers tried to absorb them like good pupils, but none could wrap their brains around them.
Mark followed Diane’s lead. He had never seen a passage with so many cracks, fanning out like a massive spider web. It could definitely use some repairing.
He let out a long, steady stream of breath, and muttered to Diane, “Let’s do it. The faster we find George, the better off we’ll be.”
At first no one spoke. No one made an attempt to move either.
Diane moved forward, her shoulders thrown back. She stopped at the entryway and peered into an ancient passageway with torches lit on both sides. When a stream of cold air came rushing out, the fire on the torches danced, making the shadows move on the walls.
Mark cleared his throat nervously. “Well,” he said. “I guess this is it.”
Two sculptures stood before him, guarding both sides of the entrance to the big building. They were in the form of soldiers, whose fists seemed about the size of Mark’s head and whose heights were two times taller than that of full-grown men. Both soldiers were holding long, sharp spears at their sides.