It had been a great night.
The drink had flowed. There’d been laughter and song. And when the three rings of the bell had sounded its closing, we’d fallen from the pub, warm and content, into the freezing night air. It stood to reason, huddled as we were against the chill, that we needed a fast way home and out of the cold.
A quick moot court was held and O’Malley’s famous shortcut was suggested.
The shortcut was a thing of legend; a lesser-known route through the park and under the Black Hill. A route, supposedly, heated by the fires of Hell itself. When pressed for details, no-one can remember ever taking it save for O’Malley himself and even his recollection was sketchy at best. But, we were too cold to care and too drunk to reason so we ventured forth.
We’d made it as far as the park before the temperature and the volume of drink had Bill Tracey cursing his small bladder and begging us to pick up the pace. We did what any other group of close friends would when one of their own was troubled – we slowed our pace to a crawl.
The wooded park made for harder navigation than anticipated but, despite a few missed turns and Bill Tracey’s constant whine of discomfort, we eventually found ourselves at the entrance of the fabled cave. A draft, almost like a warm breath, issued from deep within the rocks and Mickey Coote was certain he’d heard the wails of the damned carried on it.
‘Silly sod,’ we all laughed and pressed on into the sulphurous air, albeit after a little hesitation.
We’d expected the tunnel to be dark and were surprised to find it lit with a strange orange-hued glow. The light was enough for us to trace the narrow path between the crags but it shifted sporadically and unnaturally. Each shift caused our shadows to twist and distort into monstrous images along the walls. Mickey Coote crossed himself in the way the nuns had taught him. We told him to grow up.
‘For fuck sake,’ Bill Tracey wailed. ‘I can’t hold it anymore’ and he unzipped, arching a stream of yellow urine into the shadows with a relived sigh.
There was a flicker of movement and a flash of scales in the darkness.
He gave a sudden yelp and leap back, splashing the leg of his jeans.
‘Jes-‘ he started. A low growl, not unlike that of an angry dog, cut him off.
The noise grew steadily and with it the shadows. It was as if a piece of the darkness had detached itself from the stone walls and was padding its way towards us with slow, stalking strides.
It stopped. Mountainous body blocking the cavern.
A pair of red eyes flicked open.
We couldn’t move, could do little but stare at the guardian of the pathway. Its hot breath on our faces and hunger in its eyes.
A is for Acherusia
Acherusia is the cavernous entrance to the Greek underworld, Hades. The entrance guarded by the three-headed hellhound, Cerberus.