Blood Oath was written as part of a contest, the finalists of which were published in an anthology which is available on Amazon.
by Laura Rittenhouse
“If you don’t swear the blood oath, we’re leaving you behind.” Mike glared at Billy over his sliced palm. Charlie’s bloody hand was extended, ready for the shake that would bind him to his friends forever and beyond.
This oath was a serious one. If Mike’s father, the local parson, found out the boys had ventured into the old coal mine, it would be the strap and a week of bread and water for Mike. His dad was known across the county for his sermons on fire and brimstone and all three boys knew he enjoyed practicing behind the woodpile what he preached from the pulpit. Charlie wouldn’t fare much better with his father whose fists kept his family subdued. Though Billy didn’t fear for his own flesh, he knew he’d have to keep the secret to protect his blood brothers.
Once their right hands were smeared with the mixture of their blood, the boys followed Mike through the hole created by last week’s cave in. Mike was the bravest – a hardness forged on the anvil of his father’s arm. He held the lantern in front of him and stooped as he worked his way along a fissure.
Charlie stayed within the ring of light given off by the lantern, near enough to smell the oil. Two paces behind him, Billy tripped over shadows cast beyond the reach of the flickering flame. His lack of real-world demons inflated his fear of horrors lurking in the dark.
A gap opened into one of the main tunnels that led further into total darkness. Mike watched his friends scramble over the last boulder, each placing their bloody palm on the same outcrop to steady themselves. The complete silence of the mine was punctuated by the short breaths of Billy – his fear resonating in gasps. Charlie punched his friend in the shoulder in the way boys everywhere break tension with violence. He turned to their leader, “What d’ya think Mike, left or right?”
Mike twitched his head toward the left. The ground sloped only slightly, but he was sure that way was deeper into the mine. He turned and walked, his only goal to go as far as he could into the darkness he couldn’t see.
As the lamp’s light receded from the edge of the fissure, the spot where the three boys had placed their hands began to glow. The glimmer was too dim for the human eye to see, but the heat that accompanied it and the humming coming from deep within the rock trickled down the mine like blood seeping from a sliced palm.
There was more space to move once they were in the main tunnel but the air grew uncomfortably warm and carried a smell like human blood. Mike quickened his steps and Charlie bit his lip. Billy had stopped thinking of anything beyond keeping Mike in sight. The humming behind him had grown to a pulse and he thought that if he stopped to listen, he’d be able to understand what the walls were saying.
After somewhere between five minutes and an hour, time had become immeasurable to the boys, they reached a junction. Mike set the lantern down and turned to look into his friends’ eyes. He saw terror and courage – neither wanted to be the first to suggest going back. He understood that he’d have to be the one to get them home. He smiled at the thought of fleeing home in fear – it amused him that any place could hold more dread than his own house.
As Mike opened his mouth to make a joke, to tell his friends he was too hungry to keep wandering through a cave like a tramp, the weak flicker of the lantern grew dimmer. Or maybe not dimmer. He turned his back to the flame and saw the walls were growing lighter. The weight of the air pressed on his chest. He struggled to draw in enough breath to speak but before he uttered a sound he realized the thumping roar coming from every stone would drown-out any noise he made.
When Mike reached behind him, he found the clasped hands of his blood brothers. As he wrapped his fist around theirs he made an oath to stand with them forever and beyond.