The cave mouth opened 100 feet up, carved out of the cliff by the village generations ago. The wooden stairs had replaced the original ladder after the last pilgrimage to the Liar Oracle ended with three people broken on the rocks below.
Jamaal joined this year’s pilgrimage and set up camp with fifty others in tents at the base of the steps. The smoky, sputtering campfires illuminated the faces of his group as they ate and re-told the success stories of previous pilgrims. Building optimistic hope before the morning’s climb. Jamaal held a small brass key in his left hand close to his chest and prayed for a miracle.
The damp morning was full of wood smoke and the smell of cook fires. Jamaal’s stomach protested as he fasted in preparation for the pilgrimage. It was certainly only a coincidence he could not afford to bring provisions.
After packing up camp, he tied his hair up away from his face and began the climb. As one of the youngest of the group he arrived first and entered the cave where he saw, at the back and lit by a dozen candles, a small woman chained to the wall. Her grey hair covered her face.
“What do you want?”
“Freedom from the liege lord. I am weak and cannot fight.” Said Jamaal. He touched the scars on his face.
“And what do you offer.”
“This key.” He opened his hand.
“Come closer, my sight is failing.” As he did so, she swung a large stick at his head and he slumped to the ground. She dragged him by his hair and took the key from his hand.
Jamaal sat up and groaned. A large group of people sat in front of him in silence.
“What do you want?” he said.
My entry in the Mark Lawrence Flash Fiction competition. Story number 97.