Godry plunges deeper into the underworld.
The hollowness. My bones. My strength. My energy. The pain from gut to limb. The lightheadedness. Can’t focus. Hunger. Like starving wolves eating me from the inside. The pain is so great, I dry heave. There’s nothing to lose. What drips from my mouth, I filter. I may need it. Fear prevents me from tasting the last of my rations. It’s not enough. It won’t fix anything. At best, it’s a last meal. A last taste of life before I become nothing. Is this what happened to the monsters? Were they people that wandered down here and lost humanity to the desperation of this darkness? There is no life. Only ghosts. Only monsters scraping together survival from the muck and runoff. All around me, there is only dry stone. Nothing to eat if I wanted to. And I do. Haven’t been able to move since I awoke. In a few minutes, I will move. I will drag my meat and bones off the cold rock and I will press on. In a few minutes. I have my timepiece. Only a few minutes. Just a quick rest.
I slept nearly five hours in the last cave.
I’ve been sitting here for what feels like days now. I feel terrible. I’ve eaten some things. Fungi. Plants. Animals. I’ve imbibed some strange concoctions. My mind feels cloudy. Focusing is difficult.
When I awoke in the last cave, I was in bad shape. I was starving. My muscles were useless. My dagger was across my lap. I seem to remember talking to the darkness. I knew I had to get up, and somehow I found a little bit more. I put a handful of the stimulants I brought into my bag before I tried crossing the bridge. Before I died. I took the stimulants and my body lifted itself almost on its own accord. Even in these dark caverns I felt a surge of confidence. But I knew it wouldn’t last. Walking on feet that felt like stumps under my ankles, I hobbled through the cave until I came to another opening.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. In front of my, there was an enormous feast, laid out on a banquet table. Beautiful table cloths covered the tables below the food. Multiple colors. And lights. Chandeliers hung down from the cave ceiling and lit the food.
I gathered what willpower I had and I paced around the table, looking for any signs of traps. I couldn’t detect anything, but I knew that didn’t mean anything. I also knew that I was starving and that I would die if I tried to go any further without eating. I started by stuffing my bag. Nothing spoils down here, so I should be able to keep anything. Then I started to stuff my face. There were roasted chickens, pork ribs, beef roasts, hard boiled eggs, salads of every color and variety. Beans and grains and root vegetables. Mashed potatoes with butter and cheese. Spicier dishes. Foods from everywhere. And as I ate, I found that the dead started appearing around me. I’ve read stories that caution us from eating anything in the underworld, but I had already eaten plenty of food in the Underworld. Then I realized that none of the food I had eaten had come from the Underworld itself. I have yet to see if this mistake will cost me. Everything has its cost, though.
Unlike the last few times I encountered the dead, these spirits seemed much friendlier. They still ignored my speech, but they would smile at me as we ate together. Once I had eaten my fill, I found myself heavy and unwilling to move. I sat down beside the table. One of the dead seemed to recognize my affliction and brought me a small glass bowl of a white paste. I motioned that I was full and had no interest, but then she put a candle under the glass bowl. The vapors that rose from it went straight into my nose and mouth, and almost immediately, the pain of my excursion was gone. I felt fine. I wasn’t worried at all about being how many hundreds of meters, thousands maybe, away from the surface, or that I was stuck so deep in the Underworld with no idea which way would take me back to where I meant to be. I felt relaxed. I laid back. I don’t know how long I dozed. All I know is that I was awoken with something in my nose that sat me bolt upright.
I still didn’t feel the pain that I knew must be just under the surface. I felt a rush of energy and confidence much like the stimulants in my bag, but so much more intense. I was out of control. There was music. The dead danced and it seemed like they were happy. I, too, was happy. I was content to keep taking everything they gave me. Inhalants, beverages, strange plants, things dripped into open scrapes, things rubbed on the skin, anything. The stimulants were first. Then they fed me things that changed my perception. Enhanced colors. The cave walls seemed to be breathing and I could feel the breeze of its respiration pass over me, first one direction, then the next.
In my current state of mind, it seems obvious to me that many of the dead around me were growing quite sick. They were vomiting off in the dark, but at the time I knew that they would be fine. Everything was fine. I was fine. Better than fine. I think the darkness might have tried speaking to me in that time, but I was unavailable. I was somewhere else. I was having a blissful, amazing time with these dead. They were kind to me. They smiled at me. Many of them attractive young people. They reminded me of the younger generation of my peers at the university that I have so much trouble connecting with. They don’t know what to do with me, an older student, or maybe I don’t know what to do with them. But I didn’t have trouble connecting with the dead. There were chemicals and concoctions to make me connect. At times, I would feel so amazing that I was far out of control. Other times, I would be experiencing things so strange and wonderful that I struggle now to put them into words. Feelings. Understandings. And other times still, I found myself unaware for who knows how long. I would lose hours. Maybe even days based on my hunger. But when I was hungry, the feast was always there to replenish me. And the dead were always there to give me intoxicants.
I… I don’t know how long I was there. It was definitely weeks. It could have been months. I’m not sure how time works here in the Underworld, but I think my absence has probably been noticed by now. I made the journey during the summer, when classes let out, but I have been down here for much longer than I ever expected.
The intoxicants ran out. And so did the food. Things grew much uglier for all of us. The dead began to fight with one another over what little was left. They would claw at each other and beat each other over the head to get at crumbs of food and crumbs of the intoxicants. They started to attack me at one point. They wanted what I had in my bag. They knew I had taken food, and that I had some stimulants left. I fought them off. During this phase they started to become less solid. I don’t know why some of the dead stay solid for seconds and others for what could have been months, but as the good times ran out, some of them disappeared. Others stayed and fought. I started coming to my senses and I decided it was time to leave.
I had to run. They were coming after me. At one point, they made me drop my bag and I had to take out my dagger to threaten them. I’m not sure what happens when you stab someone who’s already dead, but I was about to find out. They scattered. A few disappeared. I grabbed my bag and my things. And I ran. My body was healed, though I had done damage in many other ways. I found an exit opposite where I entered. Then I found the first cave that provided any amount of shelter from the main passage. That’s where I am.
My body has been fighting me. The habit of taking all of those drinks and powders has taken a toll on me. And now that they are absent from my system, the fear and pain have returned. I’ve attempted to wean myself with what little of the stimulants I have left. They’re almost gone. I’ve thrown up more than I’d like to admit. Fortunately, I have some food. I’ve filtered fluids back into my canteen. I think I may be able to move soon. I think I’ll be able to continue. I just need to hold on a little longer. A little more water. A little more food.
I’ve seen some of the dead walk by. This has to be the right direction. I just need to rest a little longer. I’ll be able to continue. I know it.
All I can think of is… is that where I’m going to end up when I die? An endless cycle of feast and famine? Aspects of it were so appealing.
Godry: I don’t want to talk to you.
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 credits are read by Kitt Keller. The Hollow Below is written, produced, directed and edited by Conrad Miszuk. For more, visit hollowbelow.com.