‘Mercurium’

We had been walking for days; first by road with the mules, then with porters, then, when the days got too hot and we would not stop, all by ourselves. Just the three of us under the weight of our equipment, shuffling one behind the other in the cruel Namibian sun.

Once we reached the end of the plain, we followed the path a river once made. It beckoned us deep into the rock where the cool air had sunk, into thin twisting passages carved like the gashes of vulture talons in flesh. They were always there, circling over us, croaking, almost laughing. Waiting for the end.

The funny thing was, it was the birds that gave it away. They couldn’t stop themselves; couldn’t hide that horrible cackle. It was about twelve miles in, and the canyon had grown so deep the sky was just a crack above. They were gathered round, their ugly hunched shoulders jostling to be first in line. I broke into the circle, and instead of scattering they stared me fearlessly in the eyes, and parted to let me in. I approached on my knees and whispered at my colleagues to stay back.

At first, it seemed like a wide puddle. Then I saw what they saw. It was a mirror; a tranquil silver liquid that quivered under my breath. Reflected in it, I saw myself as I never had before. I reached out to touch the surface. A paralysing coldness swept up through my spine and out of the hairs on my arms.

It was bewitching. They knew something beyond what creatures should, and in that moment, I did too.