Featuring Kristen DiMercurio of whisperforge.org/brimstonevalleymall
Godry is visited by another unexpected guest on the road to the city of the dead.
(We hear a small machine pumping)
I’ve found another cave to hide in. Gideon needed a rest. I can’t say that I’m not tired, but my sleeping has been erratic. Disturbed. I’ll rest again soon, but first I want to record more of the journey.
There are living things down here. Apart from the beast that searched me last time, I’ve only encountered plants. Some sort of moss. As I’ve gotten deeper, I’ve encountered a lot of it. Covering the walls and the floors. Gideon has slipped a few times, but I think he’s getting used to the terrain. We have to continue. The air has gotten thicker. Damper. I don’t know what these plants survive on. There is no light. Perhaps there is nutrition along the cave floor, but what energy? I didn’t take any chances, so I’ve burned away the plants from where I’ve set up camp. Who knows what digestive chemicals might work away at me while I sleep. I’ve turned on the filtration machine to filter out any harmful spores. I can’t be too careful.
I’ve also discovered a notebook. Leatherbound. I am not familiar with the language it’s written in, and anyway, there’s only two passages in it spanning a total of four pages out of a hundred or more. Certainly, there is some context I’m missing, but I doubt there are any huge revelations in it. I’ve added it to my saddlebags. The back pages might make good kindling.
I don’t know what it is that I find so terrifying about finding evidence that others were here first. The journey is so dark and so lonely. I think I am able to forget some of the terrible things I’ve seen and heard for a while and pretend that it’s just me and Gideon on a ride. That is, until I find something that reminds me about this horrible purpose. The book is in nearly perfect condition. I’m beginning to think that nothing decomposes here. That does leave the question: Then where are the bodies? Perhaps I am right to distrust this plant growth. Or the scavengers eat them. Or maybe they just die further down. I will find a corpse. Unless I become one first.
Maggie: Godry? Is that you, Godry?
Godry: Who’s there? Is that you, Darkness?
Maggie: Turn on your lantern fool. It’s Maggie. From the University. Wait, I’m not sure you’ll be able to see me.
(lantern turns on)
Godry: I see you. Sort of. The darkness must be playing tricks with my eyes. What are you doing here, Maggie? Am I… hallucinating?
Maggie: I’m dead, Godry. I was killed. The chaos… Something happened. It took out an awful lot of us. This must be what my spirit looks like. My body is long gone.
Godry: I’m sorry.
Maggie: Don’t be. I don’t think I can even feel your sympathy.
Godry: Did it hurt?
Maggie: I can’t remember. It was fast.
Godry: Why are you here? In The Dead, it says that this is the entrance for the living. The dead enter another way.
Maggie: I got lost. Or maybe I felt you in here. What can I say. I was never as good with the books and maps as you.
Godry: Don’t you feel a pull?
Maggie: I don’t think the city cares much how I get there.
Godry: Are you going to the city? I know not everyone makes it.
Maggie: I’m glad that you are still alive, Godry. Did you graduate yet?
Maggie: Another year?
Godry: Yes. And a hundred after that.
Maggie: Good. You should stay there forever, Godry. I don’t care what the magistrates said. The chaos is no place for you. It’s not a place for anyone. It’s stupid and vulgar, and pointless.
Godry: I have to do something.
Maggie: Do something? The administration wouldn’t have sent you here, Godry. Not you. So, if you’re not here on official business, then what are you doing in this tunnel?
Godry: I –
Maggie: This is a very bad place for you to be Godry. Are you here on purpose?
Godry: I need to visit the city.
Maggie: What, for knowledge? Like in those books you used to sneak out? Oh, gods, Godry. What an incredibly stupid thing to do. Do you know what happens if you die down here?
Godry: The texts were not clear. In, um, Secrets of Death–
Maggie: I… I can’t tell you. How strange. But you have to turn around right now. You have to go back. You can’t risk it.
Godry: Maggie, this is my last chance. There is nothing else I can do. There are much younger people at the University that perform rings around me. I’m an embarrassment.
Maggie: I remember your troubles, but you can’t just risk your life like this. Your afterlife. You can’t play with these forces, Godry. You can’t succeed. The game is rigged. You will die down here. And then, it’s just… terrible.
Godry: I will succeed. I have no other choice.
Maggie: You have all of the other choices in the world, you sad, foolish, pathetic man. This pain doesn’t have to be yours, Godry.
Godry: I’ve made up my mind, Maggie. I’ve… I’ve kept you from the city long enough. You should go.
Maggie: I’ll go when I’m ready, Godry. And I’m not done telling you to stop what you’re doing. It’s not too late. The path is simple. You can just walk out. Take your horse and leave.
Godry: Maggie, I need this. If I’m destroyed down here, then so be it. At least I’ve tried to do something meaningful.
Maggie: I just died doing something meaningful, Godry. It’s not worth it. Not when you could be living.
Godry: You don’t know. You haven’t even made it to the city yet.
Maggie: I can’t explain it, Godry. When you die, you know things. Things you can’t share. This is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done. I’ll follow you out. I’ll make sure you make it. You just have to leave. You have no idea what’s ahead of you.
Godry: I can’t, Maggie. What’s out there for me, it’s really not any better.
Maggie: You’re a bigger fool than I thought. That’s just not true. It was good to see you, Godry. Perhaps one day we will be reunited.
Maggie: What? Final thoughts for a dead woman?
Godry: I’m… I’m sorry about Jaf.
Maggie: What about Jaf?
Godry: You know, that he… hurt you.
Godry: If I had known sooner… If I had understood.
Maggie: Stop it, Godry. Everyone knew. You most of all.
Godry: If I could have prevented it…
Maggie: One of these days you will have to recognize that you were just as powerless as I was, as much as it might damage that pride of yours. I hope that’s not why you’re down here, Godry. I’m dead. Not because of him, but still dead. I can’t be saved. You always seemed to want my pain, but you can’t have it. I want you to live. I want you to be free. I want you to get out of this miserable place. Forget me if you can.
Godry: I could never do that.
Maggie: Maybe you should.
Godry: You meant too much to me.
Maggie: That’s the past tense. Let me be dead. Go be alive. Out of here. Quit the University. Farm. Clean bedpans. Anything is better than this. Live out your days in a drunken stupor. Just live them out.
Godry: I’m going to make it, Maggie.
Maggie: You’re a fool. Good luck, Godry. It was good knowing you.
Godry: Goodbye, Maggie.
In Rest Your Head Young Warrior: The Feminine as Psychopomp, Loa Wu describes the historical significance of women and the traditionally feminine as they comfort men and those exhibiting the traditionally masculine on their way to the next life. War and struggle used to be the business of the foolishly masculine, and grieving became the business of those left behind. In some of my more macabre fantasies, I used to lay awake at night imagining doing something great or heroic that resulted in an honorable death, and being held close by a beautiful woman as I slipped away. Of course, those fantasies were just that. I was never going to do anything great. But perhaps this is just what Maggie has done for me. She has seen me off on a journey that will not be easy. But more likely, I have seen her off to the other side. I have been her psychopomp. I only wish I could have been more comforting. Or that she had needed comforting at all, like I do.
Credits: The Hollow Below by Conrad Miszuk. The role of Godry is played by Conrad Miszuk. The role of Maggie is played by Kristen DiMercurio. The credits are read by Kitt Keller. The Hollow Below is written, produced, directed and edited by Conrad Miszuk. For more, visit hollowbelow.com.