Steps Down

“The truth is buried.  If you bring it to the surface, the sun will fade it.  No, you must bury yourself with the truth.  See it without sight.  Know it without light.”  — Eskra, High Priestess of Mabbadeg, AL 582-637.


Painting by Gabriel von Max

I slink through the temple, hiding my face in my hood.  I wander aimlessly, pretending I am not heading here, to the entrance.  To the steps that lead down, ever down, to the caverns of Ondegged.

The acolyte hands me a lamp.  She keeps her eyes closed, as if mocking me for needing mine.  They say the sightless ones guard the entrance so that nobody sees who enters and who leaves.  Nobody witnesses our shame.  But I know she is practicing for the day when she can see without sight, watch without light.

I lay my offering at her feet.  It is not the first.  Others have gone down before me this day.  I will not meet them.  Each finds their own path, in the caverns of Ondegged.  So say those who return.

My stomach clenches with terror.  I indulge in a moment of surprise.  I had thought I was at the end of all that, desperate beyond the reach of fear or doubt.  Now I see that the ending is only beginning.

The acolyte smiles; small, brief.  I wonder how much she can sense already.

I pause on the top step, studying the blackness below.  The flickering flame of the lamp seems puny, futile.  As it would, I realize, if it were ten times the size.

For in the caverns below, I face my own soul.  And no shadow could be darker than that.

Written for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange microfiction challenge.   Thanks for the inspiration Jane!  It’s not mentioned in the story, but for anyone who’s trying to keep track, the temple is dedicated to Mabbadeg, the god of mountains, rock, darkness, and all things underground and hidden.


21 thoughts on “Steps Down

  1. I feel a definite pull into a world in which the vengeful gods reign supreme. Mabbadeg is the goddess of the underground and darkness and is demanding and unforgiving. The sense of the main character’s terror at what lies ahead for her in those dark caverns comes across really well. I’m guessing from that last couple of sentences, it seems she (?) is guilty of some very dark deeds and has been summoned to Ondegged as punishment. I’m now wondering whether the line, ‘each finds their own path’ in the darkness suggests repentance could offer her a way out, or simply a way to exist for eternity in this awful place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the great comment Millie! Your impression was even darker than I intended — how interesting! My idea was that the caverns are mazes, and some who go in are never seen again, whether for divine reasons or because they met some more mundane fate. I saw the caverns as providing some self-reflection, facing your own fears and sins, communing with the god of the mountain and asking for forgiveness and guidance. The narrator (I was picturing a man, but there’s no reason it couldn’t be a woman) came here voluntarily, sneaking because he was ashamed to do so. Whatever he did, he worries about offering himself up to his god for judgement, but he’s so desperate that he believes this is the only way for him to move forward.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah… I seem to have read something into your story that wasn’t there! I like your ‘less dark’ version better. 🙂
        I wasn’t sure of the gender of the main character and kept writing his/her at first – which got a bit boring – so In the end I just plumped for a female.
        I really enjoyed reading your story and it looks an interesting challenge. (If only I had the time!).
        I’ve just done the award post – don’t drop – the one you nominated me for last February. I’ve been collecting a few up, so I’ve eventually done them. I nominated you for another, too, but I wasn’t sure whether you’d decided to become ‘Award Free’. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Your ‘more dark” version works well too, I think. There’s always room for interpretation, especially with these super short stories. I don’t believe the gender of the character matters — it would be the same experience for either a man or a woman. But I know what you mean, that it’s hard to write a comment without choosing a pronoun. I am really rooting for us to transition to “they” as the gender-neutral pronoun, which would solve this problem!

        I saw the award post was up but haven’t had a chance to look — I’m so far behind after just returning from 3 1/2 days at a writers conference. I am still debating whether to be award-free, but I’m leaning that direction. Just for the sake of time and priorities. Thanks for nominating me, either way!


  2. Another wonderful story, Joy. It’s a great look into the soul. I think there’s a reason folks are unwilling to self-examine and peer into their own depths. It’s a frightening prospect for all of us. I really enjoyed this.

    I haven’t heard from you in a while. I hope you’re doing alright. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Eric, glad you enjoyed it! Yes I agree about the fears surrounding self-examination. And the time when soul-searching is most necessary is often when that soul is the hardest to look upon.

      I’m doing alright, just really busy — mostly at work and somewhat on my novel, but also with getting ready for and then going to a 3-day writer conference this past weekend. Wow, so fun! And now I have about a thousand more ideas about how to fix the problems with my novel. Wait, how many changes? Yay? Hm, yes, yay!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Blog Award Time – 1 | Millie Thom

  4. Such a great atmosphere, Joy. You can feel her fear – I wonder why she needs to search her own soul? Can’t be good if she has to put herself through such a trial. Love the idea of the sightless ones too – that really rings true as a cult belief.
    The underground temple reminds me of mithraeums, temples dedicated to Mithras (worshipped in the Roman era) whose cult practices are still a big mystery even today. Though he’s always depicted slaughtering a bull. I wonder if your character will suffer similar trials. Excellently written, Joy

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad the fear came across, and the dread of soul-searching. I wanted to leave the “what sins?” question open, because sin and guilt is so subjective; I wanted the reader to interpret based on their own greatest fears. I hadn’t thought of the mithraeums, good catch! This religion’s practices are a mystery to others too, with their god of mountain and rock and underground secrets. I’m revising a short story for (hopeful) publication that delves more into this religion, so I had that in mind when I saw the image. In fact, it’s about the high priestess I “quote” at the beginning of the story. No bull slaughtering yet, at least not by the god, Mabbadeg. Possibly for sacrifices to the god; that happens a lot. Thanks for the great comment Lynn!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great story, Joy. There is nothing more difficult than turning our attention inwards and examining our own souls. After all, we can run away from everything else external to ourselves, but we can’t runaway from who we are and what we’ve done – and your story captures the concept and the fear perfectly. I loved the imagery you conjured – the maze, the darkness, the temple – as well as the mythology that accompanies it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading it so deeply, Sammi! Yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to get across, so I’m so glad you felt it too. Facing up to our own misdeeds, the shadows on our conscience, is terrifying enough. But to do it in endless mystic caves where your god is going to judge you, and you might gain insight or you might never return? Seriously ups the stakes. And Mabbadeg is a hard god, too (as you’d expect a god of rock to be).

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome, Joy. It’s a great story and I really felt it – the atmosphere, the fear of being judged, the self-appraisal in the dark, sacred maze and, there is only so much you can do to quieten that criticising, internal dialogue. And even Mabbadeg’s name sounds stern! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks especially for thinking Mabbadeg sounds stern. I recently submitted the short story about the high priestess of Mabbadeg to an online critique group and one person gave very few comments but one of them was that he didn’t like the name Mabbadeg. Well, poo on him, I say! 😉


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