Clara awoke to the damp smell of rotting flesh and immediately felt a searing pain shoot up her leg. She blinked but only saw darkness. She was blind. They’d ripped her eyes out for sure. Then she remembered the painful moments before she’d blacked out. After the questioning, they’d dragged her down multiple tunnels, descending deeper into the earth and thrown her roughly into a pitch black cell. Maybe she wasn’t blind then. Even so, the darkness bore deep into her eyes leaving nothing to suggest otherwise.
She wondered if she was alone. “Hello?” she called softly into the darkness, but there was no reply other than her own shaky voice echoing back at her. She felt around on the ground trying to paint a picture of her surroundings, the ground where she lay was dusty, but definitely made from compacted earth, and was slightly uneven where many had trodden before. She tried to stand but her leg would allow it. She slumped back down and reached to her calf to assess the damage. Her fingers met with warm, sticky bloodthat coated her leg entirely. She prodded the wound, despite the agonising pain until her fingers met bone. She cursed the beasts that had taken her flesh, and indeed the men who had practically fed her to them. Their intention had not been to end her life though. That would have been too kind. They wanted to scare her, and cause injury as an insurance against her escape, granting them time to think of a solution.
How long had she been in here? Hours? Maybe days. It was impossible to tell with no hint of the sun’s rays. She licked her hands, salty with the sweat of her struggle, and tried to clean her leg wound with her spit, before she realised how parched her tongue was. They hadn’t given her much water for days during the interrogation; another one of their tactics. She strained her ears for any sign of life and heard the lazy hum of flies to her right and the unmistakeable drip of water just a little to her left. She shuffle towards it, every movement of her leg producing considerable pain until her left hand landed in a small pool of water. She could taste the sharp tang of soil as she drank but cared too much about survival to worry over cleanliness. She used several more handfuls to wash her leg, the icy liquid seeping into the open wound, but she gritted her teeth, knowing the flies could easily cause infection. The thought crossed her mind that the smell of rotten flesh might be from her own leg, but she dismissed it as she was certain the blood was too fresh for decay.
She had an urge to be more aware of her surroundings, try to find an exit, be prepared when they came for her. She dreaded the thought of being submitted to questioning again. Last time they had her strung up by her wrists while a pack of wild dogs were set on her. Before, they’d experimented with hallucinatory gas on her that forced her to live through her worst nightmares, and repeatedly beaten the hell out of her, trying to make her talk with brute force, but somehow this made her stronger. She would never give them information. That’s what all this was about. She had observed their system, during her time down here, their slave driving and illegal mining, and the lives they had taken along the way. She was the only person alive who knew of their crimes. But their greed kept her alive. She was also the only person alive who knew where the sole entrance to the greatest jewel mine ever discovered was. One might call it a hidden gem, miraculous find. But she knew the secret could never get out, not to anybody, especially not these crooks. She would quite happily take her secret to the grave if that became the only option of securing the information. She only hoped their hunger would keep her alive long enough for someone to follow-up her unusual absence.
Another shuffle backward found her sat against a rough stone wall, not bricks, but jagged stone, as if the cave had been mined, along with all their illegal stock of rocks and minerals. She allowed herself a moments recuperation, felt the water seep down into her body, giving her strength and clearing her mind. She thought back the cave. She’d been there when they found it, as one of the historical architects. She was on the team who had been excavating for ruins when they stumbled across the cave where every surface was glinting with precious metals and rocks. She was part of the group that made a pact to never tell of their discovery, and keep the cave hidden from society; the worth of that chamber alone was enough to bring down the world’s economy, bring greed into society and begin war. They’d all seen it happen with oil and were not prepared to be responsible for the next.
They used standard explosives to seal the main entrance, buried it under so much rock that neither human nor animal would reach it, or be aware of the treasures it held within. On pain of death would they tell anyone of its location, or return themselves, for death that would cause.
Then there was a surge in the gemstone market. Small at first, but gradually it increased. Rubies as big as grapefruits and Onyx like bricks were hitting the trade. Even Coal had emerged and was being traded to the highest bidder. This was causing an alarming amount of attention being attracted to their elusive source: an anonymous trader situated in South America who was growing richer by the second.
The group had all but disbanded since their expedition but were soon reunited by this occurrence. Everyone gave their alibis of their present lives, none of which fell through. That only left the sole member who hadn’t appeared at the rendezvous – Jim – who had been reported missing and presumed dead a few months before the gem trade picked up. Someone had an idea of where he would be, and all too soon their mission was set.
Killing one to save many was something Clara never considered as murder. Jim’s death ensured the happy future of the many oblivious people who never gave his death in the news a second glance. Despite their small victory in supressing their secret, there was an undeniable note of apprehension in the air as the group returned to their normal lives. Who would be the one to turn next? If they all went under the cave’s spell one by one, would the last remaining survivor break the pact with no one to stop them? What power that last man standing would behold…
In never occurred to them, in all the focus and determination of the chase, that someone else was hunting their secret.
One by one they were struck down. Mindless minions engineered to hunt for information and leave no survivors in their wake. Men dressed in white tracked them down, across the continent. They were discovered, interrogated and destroyed. Each member of the pact evaded being the guilty one to reveal information by pleading ignorance and giving names instead. The names of their colleagues allowed death to release the burden of secrecy. Until only one remained.
With no more names to give, the Ghost men were intent on using extreme torture, taking great care to ensure survival, until Clara gave them their cave, which they were all so longing to harvest.
In her cold prison, Clara recalled her performance during the last few attempts to break her shell. She had held out well, giving only enough information to make her plight believeable and keep the attention on her. The last thing she wanted was for them to dig up innocent people she once knew and loved. That might just be the last torture weapon they needed.
She shuffled around in the dark, keen to discover the scale of her cell. Moving away from the drip, she shunted in what she hopes was the direction of the next corner. She could feel the rough wall scrape across her back as she edged around the perimeter. What she assumed to be about six feet later, her shoulder met with the next wall. She shuffled along three more such walls before arriving back at the pool. A perfect square, yet mined only by man and tool, she thought. Clever. She hadn’t thought the pale forms that swarmed about the tunnels knew the meaning of the word. She had been watching them intently in between her torture. They scurried around the underground complex, as silent as shadows, performing menial tasks in a structured manner. None of them asked questions, or refused to whip their slaves. None of them showed mercy or sorrow, or any emotion at all. They simply executed the tasks given to them. Clara could only imagine the type of dictator that must install such loyalty into so many. But she could not yet distinguish whether this loyalty was born out of respect or fear. And they all dressed the same; completely white; no individuality. Their sheer, shimmering white drapes created the ghost-like presence from which Clara named them.
She decided to venture towards the centre of her cell. As she left the safety of the wall and darkness consumed her, the gentle hum of flies grew steadily nearer. She stopped when the fly swarm was buzzing around her head and airy fly feet were crawling over her face. The scent of rotten meat had grown to an almost unbearable stench and Clara was sure she would have thrown up if she had had any food recently to do so. She tentatively reached out to the ground, allowing a layer of flies to swallow her hand before flesh met flesh. Her finger met again with blood and bone, but this time it wasn’t hers.
A sudden grating sound of rock on rock broke the quiet and a flash of light flooded in. Clara had just enough time before the door snapped shut again to recognise the face of Bill Carlston, her colleague, fixed rigid in death. Her hand lay on the large open wound exposing his ribs where hundreds of flies picked away at his body. She was plunged back into darkness. Her throat tightened at the nightmare and her mind tried desperately to shut off the terror. Instead, she sat there numb, hand still in the corpse, oblivious to the smell of food wafting from the doorway. She bent over the body and wept.