When all the candles were lit, Jason looked upon them as if surveying a lost ransom of glittering coins. Kyle had to admit there was a certain symmetry about the flickering flames and the shadows they cast against the walls, and into the darkness. Too much light, perhaps.
From his vantage, Kyle could see tiny shapes weaving endlessly between the faint circles of illumination painting the ceiling. In and out, they danced, skipping and whirling on each rift barring brilliance from gloom. Surely it was just a trick of the light—conflicting candles and random drafts batting at hot flames—playing games with his eyes. He shined his flashlight on a few walls, hoping to will a light switch into existence to scatter any doubts.
How could Kyle not feel like a dolt? Jason stared almost transfixed as the nimble sparks flicked through the air, the providence of moldering wax that ceased to burn clean, while he apparently performed his best impression of a frightened Yak. Kyle watched his friend's shameless glee, watched the glimmering spokes of the pentagram, watched it slowly spin a lazy blur.
Kyle blinked, momentarily confused. Spin? Jason noticed the new movement too, wearing a cautious frown and backing away as if any sudden movement would spook the churning mechanism.
"Uh, Kyle... what–"
"Shh!" he spat. He waved at Jason with a cupped hand. Get over here, you idiot.
Jason didn't need further encouragement. He practically bolted for Kyle's position, somehow managing to step lightly, or maybe his footfalls were padded by decades of dust. When he finally reached Kyle and turned around, the circle and candles were still spinning; an eerie carousel that wavered and shifted in his vision. "Kyle, what is that?" he whispered.
"You did it. Don't ask me!" he countered. He pointed then at the hazy spectacle, "Did you happen to build a dirty window in front of me while you were over there?"
Jason shook his head no, jaw agape. The platform continued to rotate, but the scene itself became insubstantial, transparent and doubled as seen through a badly focused lens. Just looking that direction made his head hurt: time itself appeared disjointed, rippling through a gamut from ridiculous speed to an almost timid lilt—but never stopping. Oh no, never that.
Then the room jolted. Not the result of an earthquake, but an echo of mental lies given presence. Kyle waved his right hand to retain his balance and noticed it too, was infinitely split into doubles, triples, and more. He tried crossing his eyes to counteract the effect, but like a drunken bum on a lifeboat over broiling seas, all his attempts to see straight failed miserably. Yet he realized, even then, that nothing had actually moved; only his equilibrium, spun down like a dead gyroscope, dizzied his body.
Then it suddenly ceased to matter for either boy. The central column lunged skyward, a gigantic piston from the Engine of the World, until it stopped only a few feet from reducing the candles to a fine wax coating. Its halt carried a metallic clang and the candles, retaining their momentum, rose temporarily from their mounts before gravity again caught them. Down they fell, each badly missing their home depression, all clattering to the floor before sputtering and snuffing to pour forth a hazy, acrid stench. And everything stopped.
Everything. The column halted its maddeningly slow churn, the candles finally rolled to a stop, and all objects regained their former crisp edges. Once more, the room only reflected the hazy murk of Kyle's and Jason's flashlights—somehow weaker than lowly candles—pointed toward the spectacle of what they'd just witnessed.
"What... what was that!?" Jason stuttered. "I... I mean..." He threw his arms up in defeat, letting them slap against his jeans where he punctuated with a coughed sigh.
Initially, Kyle felt the same as Jason. But when Jason threw his beam of light near the column's head, Kyle saw something strange. Don't look now buddy, but you dun broke it. Determined, he directed his light upwards, maintaining a delusional daydream that he wouldn't see anything amiss.
Jason noticed it first. "Kyle, what's that?" Quickly he brought his light to bear, adding more light to the riddle of darkness above. "Ohhhh–"
"Shit!" Kyle finished.
"So... uh... how'd your mom get here, Scruff?" Jason tried, lamely. Ever so meticulously, he backed away, still pointing his arm at the column.
Kyle just shook his head, and mouthed words that didn't come; too stunned to frame a rebuttal, he gulped and joined Jason's retreat. For what they'd unwittingly unlocked was not a demon, or scrawled being within the confines of tussled tongues, but a crimson shade—bubbling and smoking like a cauldron of liquid sunset—which reached and grasped air, ceiling, and pedestal with ravenous lust born of infinite reverie.
And it descended, continually enveloping the column inch by inch, oozing and wafting like vapors of dry-ice locked in torpid spirals. As it lethargicly sank—widening at the top like an inverted pyramid—it erased the pillar like turpentine poured over a fresh painting. Had anyone asked, Kyle would have sworn his flashlight passed through the reddish emptiness where it caressed the monolith it formerly straddled.
And oh, it drank. Kyle's flashlight perceptively dimmed every second it blared hot radiance at the volatile miasma; the beam itself seemingly a straw directly to the flashlight's batteries. He definitely noticed the imposing blackness encroaching on him and Jason, alive with rage at their presence, and giddy to exact revenge when their protective halos finally extinguished.
Neither Kyle nor Jason remained stationary while the animated desolation crawled and dripped and floated toward them. As it bloated and reached, they withdrew, unerrantly toward the door, though they walked backwards; subconsciously, knowledge of unceasing agony should they succumb, hastened and directed their flight. Neither spoke—they didn't even look at each other—so singular was their intent.
When they finally reached the door, a switch seemed to engage in Kyle's brain. Get out! Now! He didn't bother to argue with himself; it was now or never. He spun like an enraged wolverine and hurled himself through the door, the stairs themselves inconsequential. Jason hounded his every step, overeager to vacate the room and the thing within.
Outside, Jason nodded silently at Kyle, and both grabbed the heavy door they'd spent so much effort and pain opening, and flush with adrenaline, their combined strength moved the rusty iron like it was nothing more substantial than dry balsa. It slammed and reverberated through the sewer passages, prompting faint echos in the distance—Jason didn't notice, and Kyle didn't care.
Panting like his own dog Samson, Kyle wondered openly, "What... was that?"
"You got me, kid." Jason turned back toward the main sewer corridor and nodded to the left, the direction they were traveling before being sidetracked by the locked chamber.
Kyle got the hint. "Yup. Let's go."
"Ya know, we coulda really used those candles."
Kyle nodded in agreement. They could have used a lot of things. Most important among them: the exit. Now through their own bungling, they had to escape within a time-limit.
However slow that fluid nebula progressed, it would catch them if they lingered, they knew. And now, with weakened batteries and no extra candles, their situation was far more dire than before.
Kyle hoped he was the type of person who strived under pressure, because the ball was rolling, and they were invariably in its path.