CW: suicide, nonspecific violence towards women
Godry awakens at the bottom of the chasm only to find the true horror has just begun.
Maggie: Wake up, Godry.
Godry: What happened?
Maggie: You died.
Godry: Am I spirit now? Is this the city?
Maggie: No. This is the bottom of the chasm. You’re not dead anymore.
Maggie: I fixed you. I guess I can do that now. Well, once anyway.
Godry: What do you mean?
Maggie: I used some of my spirit. I reattached yours to your body. Your soul would have been scattered like dust down here if I didn’t. I guess I can tell you that now. It took a while for your bones to snap back into place. It would have been worse if you hadn’t fallen on this pile of corpses.
Godry: What? Oh Gods, I can feel them. How many are there?
Maggie: Hundreds. Thousands. I don’t know? All scattered, the poor bastards.
Godry: Where’s Timothy?
Maggie: Gone. For now. He was part of the Underworld, Godry. He wasn’t your friend. Not really. He was a trickster.
Godry: I waited with him for a month! We were friends!
Maggie: Godry, you weren’t getting across that bridge. He just wanted you to make it a few steps farther so you’d have farther to fall. The walls are steep, but you could slide down and survive. Not falling down the middle like you did, though.
Godry: My lantern.
Maggie: You dropped it on the bridge above, but there are some torches in the corner.
Godry: You can see?
Godry: Wait, what did you mean you reattached my soul?
Maggie: I stitched a bit of mine to yours. It kept it in you. But now you’ve got some of my spirit in you.
Godry: What? Oh, these memories.
Maggie: I’m sorry.
Godry: Oh, gods, Maggie.
Maggie: Please don’t say anything. They’re not yours. You can ignore them. You have to ignore them.
Godry: I don’t know if I can.
Maggie: And what of your memories? Why you’ve come down here? Your plans. And Jaf. Gods, Godry. You envied his power over me? His possessiveness. His control. You bastard.
Godry: Those are just thoughts. They’re nothing. Please forgive me. I didn’t understand.
Maggie: You should have turned back, Godry.
Godry: It’s too late for that. I will accept your punishment.
Maggie: There’s no punishment for you, Godry. Not for this. As ugly and weak as your mind is, you’ve done nothing wrong. Not really. You should keep moving. There’s plenty of punishment ahead of you.
Godry: Where are the torches?
Maggie: Follow my voice.
Godry: Shouldn’t you be at the city already?
Maggie: I couldn’t leave you. And now… Now I’ve given you something I can’t get back until you die. Maybe.
Godry: What does it feel like?
Maggie: Not great. I was better before you woke up. Before those wheels of yours started turning. I thought you were my friend. I thought you loved me.
Godry: I did! I do!
Maggie: No sense holding onto that. Now that I know you. And I’m dead. You’ve got the torch. Use the firestarter in your pocket.
Godry: I’m so sorry, Maggie.
Maggie: No, you’re not. This is you, Godry. This is how you are. And saving you is how I am. Now, light the torch. You have no idea what’s ahead of you. Don’t lose that part of me. I’m… fatiguing. I’m going to disappear for a while. We might not see each other again.
Godry: Thank you.
Maggie: Save it. I’m such an idiot for trusting you. You’re going to go and ruin that bit of me. You’re going to squander it. Goodbye, Godry.
I’ve taken stock of what I have after the fall. I lost my lantern, but I have a few torches. If I use them sparingly, they should last a little while. I have the fire starter. I pocketed the water filter before I started across the bridge, and I brought a canteen to store the liquids. I have a pocketful of food, but it won’t last. This can’t be a long journey.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what Maggie said. I can’t waste this part of her. I can’t let this all be for nothing. She may never forgive me, but I have to continue on. And maybe when I get to the surface, I’ll do what she said. I’ll find happiness. I’ll accept my abilities, limited as they are. I never wanted her to hear those thoughts. I used to fear that she could hear them in me when she was alive. She was always perceptive. Sharp. Alert. Vigilant. And I was weak. A coward. Prone to seeing horrors that were not there, and missing the ones in front of my face. I thought terrible things. And I would shut them out, with tears and clenched fists, and my teeth sinking into my tongue and lips. I thought perhaps the thoughts would kill me. The ideas were too powerful, too absolute. If they had the power to stop my heart, they would have. But they never did. I persisted, whether I wanted to or not. And now, I persist still, when no one wants me to.
Finding cover is getting harder and harder. I’m cold. I’m soaking wet. All of my torches are drenched. I have to wait until they dry enough that I can light my path. I’ve been navigating by touch and the spark of the flint in my firestarter. There’s a been a little bit of light in the tunnels as well, though I wasn’t able to find a source. Perhaps glowing fungi.
Once I lit one of the torches Maggie found for me, the extent of the horror of that chasm became known to me. Bodies piled who knows how high. People. Soldiers. Horses. Whole wagons. Whole caravans. And if I dug a while? Maybe even royalty. All of them frozen in time down there. Undecaying, but lifeless. I had to walk around the perimeter on dead bodies. Who knows how far down the stone floor was beneath them. Who knows how many thousands were beneath my feet. Eventually, I found a staircase leading out of the bodies and into another cave. The cave passage was long. I had no idea if it was even the right direction, but I didn’t see any other way out of the pit I found myself in, and the quicker I got away from all of the corpses the better.
The passage was narrow. The broad paths that took whole caravans were far behind me now. I’m not sure I could even have ridden Gideon through this passage. But it was large enough that I never had to squeeze through. And then, the passage opened up.
I found myself in a cavern I don’t know how large filled with what I am now certain were spirits of the dead. They stayed away from my light, but I could see them as I moved through. They were semi-transparent, sort of like Maggie, but they would also periodically turn solid and periodically disappear. I know that they turned solid because one of them struck me and knocked me down before stomping out my torch. I thought that was the end. I thought that they would continue to stomp on me, and that I would die finally, but they left me alone once the light was out. I learned an important lesson. From then on, I had to search for the exit by sparking my firestarter alone. It would shock the dead, but just as quickly as I had created the spark, it was gone, and I was hidden to them. I don’t know how many hours I wandered through the dead. The lost. I don’t know how many of them came into physical existence just long enough for me to bump into them or for them to strike me. Then they were gone. They were silent except for the sound of footsteps and occasionally some moaning. I was afraid to try communicating, afraid that I might be greeted with another blow. I was afraid I would wear out the firestarter, but it continued to spark until I found an exit. Another tunnel, faintly glowing. Feeling emboldened by this, I shouted into the cavern. I greeted them. I asked for directions. I insulted them. I never got a response of any kind. Just dead stares, and maybe what I perceived to be an occasional smirk. I decided it would be best to keep moving.
The next tunnel was shorter. I reignited the torch that had been stepped on. It had some life to it left. Then I found myself on a beach before a large underground lake. The water was dark, but I could make out the limbs of the dead nearing the surface. Dangling above the water in the distance I could see more of the dead. They were suspended by their feet as best I could tell, but I don’t know how, and I don’t know who suspended them that way. After backtracking through the tunnel looking for any pathways I might have missed it became clear to me that I would have to wade through this water if I was going to keep traveling. I’ve never been a strong swimmer. I scouted as far as I could with the torch. There was another island just off in the distance. I felt better having a direction to travel. I packed my bag as tightly as I could and then I started into the water in the direction of the other island. I kept one torch burning. I held it over my head as I stepped into the liquid. It was cold. Colder than any water I’ve ever swum in. After some convincing, I made it all the way into the water and I was swimming. I kicked with my legs and tried to keep my bag and the torch above water as much as possible. But then the hands above me grabbed the torch from me, and the hands below me grabbed my ankles.
In no time at all, it was completely dark again and I was totally underwater. The dead could only grab me for a few seconds before losing physical form, but when they worked together, I became quite certain that they would drown me. I began kicking frantically. Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I found that something in the bottom of the lake was glowing and that I could make out the faces of the dead. They seemed desperate, like they too were drowning, but attached by some force to the lake bottom. But they must have been down there forever. How could they possibly be drowning? My lungs started to burn as the pressure in my ears built up and I started kicking as hard as I could have. Eventually, I made my way free and swam in what I had hoped was the right direction. I would later learn that it wasn’t, but I did run into another island in this lake. I pulled myself out of the water and caught my breath. I thought I might lie there forever on that stone formation jutting out of the water. The hands in the water couldn’t get to me, and the hands above my head couldn’t reach me, try as they might. I blew on the firestarter until it was dry and I sparked it. I couldn’t see an exit, but I could see another island. At this point, the fear I had become accustomed to on the journey down had been far exceeded, and as with many extreme emotions, I found that I didn’t notice it as much. There was simply what needed to be done to get by, and my mind would suffer the damage of forcing the terror down. That would be a problem for another time. Even now, out of the water, I can’t feel what I’m sure is running havok inside of my head. If I’m fortunate enough to survive, I can’t yet imagine what nightmares I’ll carry with me for the rest of my days. What images will haunt my sleep. What thoughts, ever present at the back of my mind will always haunt my waking hours. How close I came. What horrors I saw.
I had no other choice, so… I got back in the water. I swam to the next island. I kicked the dead away from me. I fought for life. I sparked the firestarter again. I found another island. Back in the water. After what felt like a hundred islands, my muscles and lungs burned. I was afraid I would drown because of exhaustion. Then I found another cave. There might have been a thousand caves in there for all I know. Who knows if I picked the right one, or one that would eventually lead me to the City or the surface. But then, I saw the dead walking down the passage. No more than twenty. Some walked absently into the water. Others began climbing the walls. Digging in their nails, clambering inhumanly up the rock face. I shouted at them. They ignored me. One tried to push me back in the water, but he faded away before he could knock me over. They just slipped wordlessly into the afterlife. Underwater. Hanging by their ankles.
I followed the path away from them. I found a small area where the tunnel widened. It wasn’t safe. It wasn’t secure. But it was close enough. I fell asleep. I’ve only just woken up. Every part of me burns from exertion and exhaustion. I may never get up.
The texts I’ve consulted about traveling to the Underworld and the City of the Dead have been largely unconcerned with these other chambers where the dead reside. The Metaphysical Promise by Alan Jovim. The city isn’t supposed to be far from the bridge I fell off of. Now I’m on what I can only hope is a detour. Slumber didn’t fall. Owusu didn’t fall. Or if they did, it’s not recorded.
For understanding of what I’ve just been through, I have to rely on even older texts. Myths. Afterlife, After Death by Bendigo Corris. People believed that the underworld was a divine judgment. That areas of the Underworld dealt with sins. People who lived bad lives and hurt people, or hurt their own spirits ended up other places. There were stories of people turning into trees, or people being frozen. Pain and fear to control the masses. People who were good or virtuous ended up in the City.
Dark: The Underworld isn’t a reward, Godry. I can tell you that much. It’s just a place to keep all of the souls.
Godry: What decides where people end up? When they die. Why don’t they all end up in the city?
Dark: Not all of them are meant to be there.
Godry: Meant by whom?
Dark: The chambers aren’t a reward. They also aren’t punishment. There are just some places that people need to be. Where they feel right.
Godry: Feel right?
Dark: They live their lives a certain way, and the Underworld does not challenge them. It doesn’t change them. It doesn’t make them different. They continue as they did in life.
Godry: In the dark? Underwater?
Godry: Why would anyone settle into those spaces?
Dark: They do. That is all you need to know. Until it is your time.
Godry: You can’t tell me to turn back now. I’m not even sure I’d know which way to go.
Dark: No, Godry, I’m not going to tell you to turn back.
Godry: Then you’ve decided to let me continue.
Dark: Godry, I think you should kill yourself.
Dark: You’ve got the dagger still. You should kill yourself.
Godry: You’ve got to be kidding.
Dark: There is no turning back now. You can’t get out of here. You’re flat on your back in a tunnel deep in the Underworld. You have no food and no water. There is no hope, Godry. If you take your own life, I will watch over your soul. I will make sure that Maggie becomes whole again. I will prevent you from being scattered. I will make sure you end up somewhere appropriate for you.
Godry: The city?
(Godry draws his blade)
Dark: It’s simple. You can –
Godry: I know what to do.
Godry: I just…
Dark: Did you fall asleep?
Dark: Very well. Rest. You will need more strength than you know.
Credits: The Hollow Below by Conrad Miszuk. The role of the dark is played 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.