The weight of the massive arched door was unbelievable. Made from a single piece of solid black stone, it was nearly 10 centimeters thick. Round ‘stumps’ at the top and bottom of one side, inserted into notches in the lintel and threshold, formed the effective, if primitive, ‘hinges’. One area was worn smooth, presumably from long years of use.
I expected to find a cold dark storage area, perhaps filled with the detritus of many families who had spent their lives above this cellar. I even went so far as to hope from some ancient artifacts; perhaps some scrolls or stelae. After all, why else was the room concealed behind such sophisticated, if ancient, security measures? It was sheer luck I’d found it at all. How many people had spent their lives in the old house above without ever finding this room?
An icy fear gripped my mind as a new idea made an abrupt entrance. What if the door concealed more sinister secrets? I could be stumbling upon the hidey-hole of some macabre group practicing dark arts, or worse! With the arrival of that idea, I was half tempted to bolt back up the stairs, close the door and pretend I’d never found it. I had actually climbed two of the steps before stopping. “Okay Mister, if you go back up, there’s no way you’re going to be able to forget this. You can’t unsee a thing! Maybe not today or tomorrow, maybe not even next week or next month, but sooner or later the curiosity will wear you down and you’ll have to get back down here. Why not do it now? What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe I shouldn’t be asking that question; it always seems to invite the worst…
This is an ancient land with a mystical history that dates back thousands of years. The secrets behind the basalt doorway could range from the banal to the truly horrifying. I swallowed my fear, gave myself a mental kick and moved back to the bottom of the stair.
The stone was cold and dry beneath my palm. I took a deep breath and shoved with all my might. Oh, surprise of surprises! The door opened as easily and smoothly as the door to your local supermarket! I fell into the room, ass over teakettle, landing on my back and blinking up at the ceiling of a well-lit room.
I moved my head to the left. “What the hell…?”
I was in a largish room, softly lit by lamps nestled in niches carved into the walls. As my eyes moved about the room, my astonishment grew with every passing second. The walls were quite smooth with half columns carved from the stone. Niches here and there formed lamp mounts, shelves, and… are those shrines?
Raising myself to a sitting position gave me a better perspective. Arranged all around the room were traditional Arabian pillows for lounging, resting, and receiving guests. Low tables were stationed near the pillows for coffee, tea, or other refreshment. Opulent Persian rugs were scattered about the room, giving it even more elegance.
I had to get a closer look at what appeared to be shrines. I walked to the first one and saw a tiny statue. It was quite crude, made of what appeared to be plaster, in the general shape of a human. The face was featured eyes that were painted with what appeared to be tar. Without lashes or brows, the wide open eyes gave the statue an expression of perpetual surprise. It reminded me of the statues found at Ain Ghazal that were the first known artistic representation of the human body. Another niche held a small representation of the great winged bull, Lamassu. The powerful body of the black bull was covered with gold ornaments , with wings and a human head wearing a crown. Even the hooves were gold! It was truly a thing of beauty.
I was completely awed by the room. It was clean, neat as a pin and by far the most beautiful room I’d ever seen. But, what was it? Why is it lit? That’s when I got an attack of the nerves. Although I hadn’t seen anyone, it was clearly obvious that someone must be living here. That being the case, how did they get in and out? Where were they now? Am I in danger? That’s me; always thinking of things when I’ve already gone too far.
At the far end of the room was an arch leading into a short passageway. Was that a movement I detected there..?
*More to come…*