The Devil’s Roar | Lydia Trethewey

Ancient caves house a modern secret.

The Devil’s Roar

Lydia Trethewey

For the EIGHTH WONDER award


Michael Ignatius Theodos grinned in the dark. The musty smell of ancient sands filled his nostrils as he inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with sparse air.  He flicked on the torch and swung the beam around the caverns, pillars of rock showing the sediment layers of geologic time.  Paintings of angular figures danced along the walls, around the horned head of a beast which might have been a predecessor of the cattle now grazing in the plains above.

“Can you believe these are still here?” he asked, walking towards the wall.

The soft footsteps of his translator, Didem, followed tentatively behind.

“I suppose you can,” he continued, reaching for the bare stone without touching it. “How long has your village known about this underground city? A thousand years?”

“You do us an injustice with your suspicion,” she replied, her pupils huge in the darkness. “Revolutionaries re-discovered these caverns during the war. It is modern history.”

Michael laughed, the sound echoing harshly into untold depths. “Me, suspicious? One old woman told me that if I entered here the devil himself would swallow me. Imagine, the eighth wonder of the world, kept secret because of local superstition.”

Didem remained quiet.

Michael Ignatius walked through a narrow opening, brushing the cool wall with his fingers. Didem followed, her eyes lingering for a moment on the painting of the horned beast.

For a while they crept in silence, the torch beam illuminating endless walls. Eventually the narrow passages and small rooms opened onto a cavernous chamber. The torchlight barely touched the upper limits.

Michael whistled. He looked sideways at Didem, saw that she had her eyes averted. “You don’t believe the old tales, do you?” he asked.

She lifted her chin, eyes like deep pools. “When I was a child, I heard the devil roar. The ground shook and our houses trembled, even though the noise came from across the desert.”

“It was probably an earthquake,” Michael replied, waving a hand. “You’d be surprised, but underground structures are the sturdiest. This place has probably outlasted an ice age or two.”

Didem shook her head slowly. “It wasn’t an earthquake. Some people from the town went to investigate, but when they returned they all grew sick, shrivelling up like something was eating them from the inside. The devil’s putrid breath infected them.” She shivered, but then her face grew impassive. “Of course, I was only a child back then, easily swayed by bedtime stories. The roar was terrible, but it wasn’t the devil.”

They crossed the chamber, the torchlight skittering around the vast walls. Another tunnel swallowed them.

Michael could feel the earth slanting down beneath his feet. His teeth chattered in the cold and he set his jaw firmly.

“What’s that?” said Didem suddenly, stopping still.

Michael pricked his ears. From somewhere above came the distinct sound of footsteps. He lifted a finger to his lips.

They stood like stone statues, hearts pounding. The footsteps grew louder, winding towards them from an upper level. Michael switched off the torch and they pressed back against the wall. Through the nearest door an orange light grew brighter.

A man stepped into view, dust coloured fatigues and a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder.

“Run,” hissed Didem.

The two of them turned, stumbling blindly in the dark. The man shouted something in Turkish that Michael couldn’t understand. Didem grabbed his hand.

They ran.

Pain sprung to his nose as he collided with something solid. Feeling blood on his lip, he flicked the torch on. A wall of collapsed rock blocked their path.

“This way,” he said, shining the torch into another opening.

More footsteps joined them, and glowing lights like orange flames licked their backs. Another collapsed wall, and another, as they twisted and turned through the labyrinth.

Finally they stopped, panting for breath. Ahead was a wooden door, bolted crudely to the rock. Michael pushed it open and dashed inside.

The chamber was low, and long. Against the far wall were a number of large, grey cylinders: undetonated warheads.

“Shit,” Didem said.

“Didem,” Michael replied, backing towards the door, “I think I know what makes the devil roar.”

The footsteps were upon them.