I let my fancy run further. Once a man is born, he cannot but live. Fear of death aside, he simply lives on. This will to live precedes Christ or Confucius, and it continues on unchanged. It's not a matter of reason. It's simply the case that the will to live compels one to live. All men must live. At the same time, they know that they're fated to someday die. The question of survival is never far from their hearts. Those who once entered this room were certain to die. Only one in a thousand ever returned to live in the light of day. Sooner or later, they were destined to die. Even so, the great truth, from down across the ages, exhorted them to live, to persevere come what might. With no other recourse, they sharpened their nails. With the tips of their sharpened nails, they scribed a line into these hard walls. When they had done so, the truth of the ages whispered to them to live, to live on come what might. When their tattered nails had regrown, they scribed another line. While anticipating the axe blade, tomorrow's flying flesh and broken bones, they yearned for life. They left in these cold walls a first mark, a second mark, a line, a letter. The various marks left in these walls are the essence of tenacity, the tenacity with which they clung to life. Having followed the thread of my thoughts thus far, I suddenly felt the chill of the room permeate the pores of my back. Unwittingly, I shuddered. I realized then that the walls were somehow damp. My fingers, as they grazed the surface, glided on condensation. I looked at my fingertips. They were deep red. Beads of condensation were trickling down from the corners where walls met ceiling. Looking down, I saw on the floor irregular patterns of crimson laid down by the drops. This must be the emergence, I thought, of 16th century blood. The sound of groans carried from inside the walls. As the groans came gradually closer, they changed to a dreadful night song.
There's an underground cellar with two men in it. A wind blows up from the realm of demons, through fissures in the stone, and whips the flame of their meager lantern, obscuring the already dark ceiling and corners with wisps of sooty lamp smoke. The sound of song, heard faintly before, belongs without doubt to an occupant of this cellar. The singer, with shirt sleeves rolled high, is intently grinding a large axe on a spinning whetstone. Nearby stands a second axe that's been laid aside. It's white blade at times, as the air currents permit, gleams in the lamplight. A second man stands with folded arms and watches the spinning stone. His face protrudes from behind his beard and is lighted, in profile, by the lantern. His skin in the light is a ruddy carrot color. "With the boats bringing more each day, we've work aplenty chopping off heads," says the one with the beard. "True, just grinding the blades is a task in itself," the singer replies. He's a short man, with sunken eyes, caked the color of soot. "Such a beauty, that one of yesterday," the bearded one sighs with regret. "A beauty yes, but that neck of hers was awfully tough. Took a chip clean out of my blade." He sets his wheel to spinning with abandon. It rings out as sparks fly. He raises his voice and starts into song.