I took him by the shoulders. “What the fuck are you talking about? We need to get out of here! If we climb on one another’s backs we might be able to-” He stopped me there. “Nope, that’s why there’s five of us. We can’t even reach the cavern ceiling with just five. That’s why they don’t bring more at once.”
Tears began to flow, though I was so numb I didn’t realize it until some wound up in my mouth. “They? What the fuck are you talking about? You, me and the others? Who is “they”? You’re crazy. We need to get out of here!”
I tried without avail to rouse the others. Catatonic for the most part, or violent when touched. Nobody else would speak to me or even so much as look at me. It seemed like my only option, if I meant to make it out of here, was to cooperate with a madman.
“Listen. Maybe you’re right about me. Is that what you want to hear? Alright, nobody liked me. I didn’t ask them to. I’m not asking you to like me now. I don’t fucking want to run for mayor, I just want to get out of this pit I woke up in. I just want to get out.”
He wore an expression I’ve seen so rarely before that I can’t place it. Smiling, but mournful, as if I said something tragically stupid that I don’t yet realize the larger meaning of. “You could’ve made some effort you know. Cautious, friendly feelers were extended in your direction. Only to be stepped on.”
No, fuck this. I shoved him away and resumed patrolling the edge of the light. “It isn’t any use. There’s nothing but darkness in every direction, forever. It has you now, all over and done with the moment you crossed the threshold. The sooner you accept that, the better.”
I shouted obscenities at him. As if that would make him wrong. As if it would suddenly reveal some hidden passage to the surface that I somehow missed until then. Of course it didn’t, only more blackness.
Worse still, once I ventured far enough from the sunlit pool, I nearly lost sight of it. That’s when I first realized that the ever-present darkness down here isn’t simply darkness. There’s substance to it, like a thick fog. I couldn’t see but twenty or so feet ahead of me in any direction!
Fear led me straight back to the sunlit pool over and over. There was simply nowhere else to go but into darkness. Into the unknown. Right then I desperately wanted comfort, and the only comfort available was the faint warmth of sunlight on my skin. How I came to cherish it.
The light isn’t always your friend, though. I didn’t realize it was preventing my eyes from properly adjusting until, on one of my longer ventures into the darkness, I first spotted one. Well, the fourth time really, if you want to pick at nits.
Something like a gargantuan earwig, easily seven feet long. Or cockroach? It had anatomical features of both, as well as immense compound eyes. I gasped and took a few steps backward. It shifted subtly as though uncertain what I’d do next, but not afraid of me.
It was hideous and altogether alien. I mean, it looks like many other common insects I was no doubt surrounded with daily back on the surface, I just don’t normally see them so close up. At this scale, they make a lot of the same sounds any other animal makes. At least the ones related to breathing.
It grunted, issuing a billowy cloud of stench from its huge, bristly mouth parts. Now more fascinated than fearful, I studied the beast more closely. Only for two more just like it to approach on either side.
When I didn’t retreat on my own, the three of them began advancing on me. Shepherding me, slowly but surely, back into the light. Once I complied, they withdrew into the shadowy fog. Skitter, skitter, inch by inch, until I could no longer discern even their silhouettes. They melted right into it, as if they’re simply solid forms which the darkness takes on whenever necessary.
I didn’t stray for a long time after that. They’d be looking for me now. If I meant to escape, it would have to be the way I came. As I sat there by the pool, deep in thought, I noticed the poor demented fellow from earlier rubbing black slime on his arm.
“What is that stuff?” He turned very slowly to meet my gaze, smiling softly. Just once it’d be nice to see him frown, given the circumstances. “Nothing” he responded. “Does wonders for cuts and scrapes though. Not much point, but I like to stay pretty in between.”
In between? Between what? I brushed it off as so much nonsense. But as I watched, everywhere he covered a wound in the black slime, he then wiped it away to reveal unblemished pale skin. That much, I could not chalk up to his mental condition.
Is it really possible? I assumed the black slime was just runoff or something. Maybe the pit was used for dumping toxic waste at one point. I leaned in to study the gently bubbling surface of the noxious brew more closely. Within it, countless tiny wriggling creatures swam to and fro.
Tadpoles? Not quite. I picked one out of the goo and examined it. Once wiped clean, I discovered it was bone white and resembled a spermatozoa. “Oh don’t manhandle those” the other fellow babbled. “They’re what makes it all work. If they catch you hurting one…”
I didn’t need to be told twice, depositing the writhing, slithery little thing back into the putrid soup it came from. The light by this point was noticeably dimmer. The sun must be setting topside. Opposite me, the rest all huddled together.
“Do you want in on this or don’t you?” I asked what they were doing. “What you’d be doing if you were smart. You think it’s cold now, wait till the sun’s down. All we’ve got for warmth in this deep, black pit is each other. Last chance.”
I declined, opting instead to curl up on the hard, damp, cold cavern floor. I didn’t know these people and had my doubts about their sanity. Even in a place like this, I wasn’t about to let a bunch of naked strangers spoon me.
There was just no getting comfortable. I couldn’t stop shivering, and no patch of cavern floor was any better or worse than any of the others I tried. However I curled up, it did nothing to warm my body, as I had no blanket or anything else to cover myself with.
I lay there for a time, propped up against the base of a fractured stalagmite. Fresh tears retread the paths laid down my face by those before them. This can’t be the rest of my life, can it? There has to be a way out of here.
Somehow I actually managed to fall asleep like that. The others were by that time already sound asleep in their great, fleshy pile. I began to wonder if I might’ve made the wrong choice by turning them down earlier.
It didn’t make much difference when the bugs came for us. Just that most of the food was neatly piled up for them, that’s all. I only realized what was happening because they tore into the others first. But before I could get up and run, two of the bugs pinned me.
What follows remains the most excruciating pain of my life. I felt nerves and muscle tearing as they pulled my leg out of it’s socket, then ripped it free from my body. Blood gushed out of the ragged stump as two more fought over the freshly severed leg.
I couldn’t form words. Not that they could understand it if I begged them to stop eating me alive. It’s something that almost every living creature experiences, but which humans are uniquely safe from thanks to modern civilization. Except for certain unusual situations of course.
It turns out one of those situations is being devoured by giant insects as you scream until hoarse, blood bubbling up in your throat. My arm was the next to go. The still unbearable pain from before muted it somewhat, but I still threw up in shock when they ripped my arm off.
The sickening crack of splintering bone followed. Then eager slurping sounds as they separated the parts of the limb they wished to eat from the parts they didn’t, mandibles furiously moving about almost too quickly to see.
Soon their heads were absolutely caked with my blood. It dripped from every bristle, collected beneath their massive bulbous eyes, then pooled under them on the cavern floor below. I felt myself losing consciousness just as the creatures, apparently finished feasting on me, dumped my remains into the pit of black stuff.
Stay Tuned for Part 8!