Godry gets much closer to his goals.
If I continue, I will succeed. If I continue, I will succeed. If I press on, I will succeed. I will succeed. I will find a way. I will find a way. I will find a way. I will find a way. I will find a way. I will find a way. I will find a way. I will find a way. I will find a way. I will find a way. I will find a way, I will find a way. I will find a way, I will find a way. I will find a way. I will find a way. I will find a way. I will find a way. I will find a way out.
I’ve been groping at these walls for days. Starving. Lost. Who knows when I’ll next come across a new cavern of horrors. Or if I’ll make it. Already, my bones are starting to protrude. There won’t be anything left soon enough.
I… um… Oh Gods.
I don’t know how to describe what I’ve seen. Or maybe I just don’t want to. Perhaps there are some things which shouldn’t be recorded. No one needs to know.
When I finally convinced my body to start moving, I found the corridor took me to a fork. The first path led to a cavern filled with red hot magma. I saw a few spirits jump into it. The other path led into another large open space. This one, a huge slope that led way up in the distance. I was happy to see this because none of my travels thus far had brought me higher. At least not noticeably. And I had that huge deficit to overcome from falling so far. But that’s where my relief ended.
It seemed that there was a sky above me. A dark, stormy sky, with frequent bolts of lightning illuminating the muddy slope. The winds were so strong and the rain was pouring down. But only inside the chamber. Standing just outside, nothing touched me. Standing just inside, I became soaked again.
I couldn’t see the top of the slope, but I knew I had to gamble on it taking me higher out of here.
I was never a child to play in the mud. But at this point in my journey, my clothes were already in tatters. My bag was barely holding together. My fingernails were broken. My body was covered in cuts and scars from the fall. I was prepared to climb this underground mountain.
The mud was viscous and difficult to get out of once you sank. I tried not to sink too much. Visibility was limited due to the fog. Onward and upward I went.
But then I found the dead in the mud. Many of them were climbing alongside me, sinking ever deeper into the mud. Others were in the mud. I never saw their faces. I only saw their hands reaching out of the muck. I had to beat them away from me or I would end up trapped and unable to breathe. I don’t know how I’d like to die, but my lungs filling with mud until the life is forced out of me is not the way. At times I found myself breaking the fingers of the dead to get their hands off of me. I had to muster strength that I just didn’t have. The climb up was incredibly difficult. Then, a bolt of lightning illuminated the foggy sky above me, and I could see another cave opening. My gamble had paid off. I kicked off the last of the dead and rolled onto the cave floor. My lungs and heart felt like they might explode from within me.
I lay there for hours. Finally, when I felt I had enough strength back, I continued. I didn’t have enough rations to waste time. My bag was already growing much lighter from the food I had consumed along the way.
A short distance away, I came into another room. This room was the worst yet, and I hope the worst of all. Just beyond the cave opening, the dark and hard stone gave way to brightly lit human flesh. Bodies. Thousands. Hundreds of thousands. Stitched together in a disgusting patchwork. Some of their faces I could see, and I could see the expressions of unimaginable pain. My body has been broken and beaten, and worked to exhaustion, and I hope I never have to feel what these dead must have been feeling.
To continue, I had no choice but to step out onto them. Under my ragged shoe, I felt the bones of a ribcage give under my weight. I heard a howl. A howl that turned the blood in my body cold. I tried to plan my steps carefully, so that I didn’t cause anyone too much pain. I had my purpose.
Once I was deeper inside the chamber, I could see that the walls and the ceiling of the cavern were also lined with the dead. Huge metal spikes also jutted out from the cave walls and floor through people, sometimes tearing them away from the tapestry and suspending them in the air by a horrible and bloody wound. The smell was overwhelming. Perspiration mixed with the earthy, iron-laden smell of blood. Excrement. Fear. A wave of hot humidity wrapped itself around my skin.
I thought about what the darkness had told me. That people end up where they are supposed to. Where it feels right. But who could end up here? This place? This never ending horror of violence. And all of the violence was broadly lit for all to see. Everything was exposed. The bodies were naked except where other bodies covered them. Huge metal torches thrust out of some sections of the human patchwork to make sure I didn’t miss a thing. Shutting as much of it ous as I could, I saw another opening far, far in the distance. I started toward it.
I had never been given so much light in any space in the Underworld, and I probably should have scouted to see if there were multiple openings, but the sound, the smells, the gore, the hot flowing blood, and the horror of it all propelled me to the first exit I could find.
I stepped carefully on the human bodies, but I moved hurriedly. And around the time I was maybe a third of the way into this nightmare, I heard different sounds. Not screams of fear and pain, but cries of anger. Cries of hatred. Cries of bloodlust.
They were behind me. In front of me. All around me. Men and beasts tore through the flesh tapestry in the walls and the floors to emerge through the bodies covered in gore. Some of them were human. Others had strange mutations. Large bones jutting out from under their skin. Huge teeth. Horns. Many of them were massive, hulking people.
And then they began to fight. They walked on the bodies of the others like they were common flooring, eliciting shrieks and cries, and they tore at each other like animals in cages.
I froze in my tracks. I had no idea what to do next. I hoped that if I held still, they might not notice me. That if I made myself small, they would ignore me. Many of them were too large and heavy to catch me. Others, though, seemed smaller and more nimble.
I witnessed a monster claw out the throat of another. Then it began pulling its organs out one at a time. Some of them it fed upon.
I watched many of the human dead and monsters fight and die, or seem to die again, in horrible and indescribable ways. Some of the things I saw I will have to take with me to the grave because they never need to be said aloud. And somewhere in that murderous mass, I could just barely make out Jaf. Maybe just someone who looked like him. In a way, they all looked like him to me. I couldn’t be certain.
As their numbers lessened, I saw an opening and started moving for the door. I was imprecise with my steps, and I stepped squarely on the face of one of the dead. He shrieked. I broke his nose. Then I saw all of the beasts turn to look at me. Some had tusks and heads that resembled predatory animals. Then they started to move towards me. After me. I sprinted as fast as I could over the bodies of so many miserable souls. I felt bones break under my feet. I heard moans and wails and so much pain.
Something tripped me and I fell headfirst into the pile of people. I scrambled up as quickly as I could, but not before I had bloodied another face by accident. I ran again. Somehow, they never caught me. Perhaps they are unused to prey that runs. Perhaps they always fight head on.
They didn’t follow me into the tunnel. Now I’m catching my breath. It’s probably a good idea to rest again. Nothing seems to bother me in these tunnels. They are outside the rules that govern the caverns. They don’t belong to any group of dead. I can borrow them.
Godry: I know what you’re going to say and I don’t want to hear it.
Dark: No. It’s not much farther now. Tomorrow, you will reach the city.
Godry: Are you lying to me?
Dark: No. Tomorrow you will reach your goal. You will see that it has always been a foolish goal, but you’ll make it.
Godry: Why are you telling me this?
Dark: Because I pity you. Are you sure all of this was worth living through?
Godry: You didn’t tell me what I would see.
Dark: I think you’ve discovered for yourself that it isn’t simple to describe.
Godry: The pain of those people. No one can choose that down here.
Dark: People don’t always realize what they’ve chosen. Or that they’ve chosen.
Godry: Where do I go? When I die.
Dark: I don’t know.
Godry: I don’t want any of those places I’ve visited.
Dark: Not even with the intoxicants? You don’t remember how much we talked while you were there, do you?
Dark: Oh, the discussions we had. The ideas you shared. You’re quite talkative when you want to be.
Godry: I don’t remember.
Dark: I’m surprised you left. You seemed content.
Godry: I wouldn’t call that content.
Dark: You made it out. It might not be the place for you after all.
Godry: I used the last of my stimulants trying to prevent a withdrawal. It was costly.
Dark: Everything about this journey has been costly.
Godry: Is Gideon okay?
Dark: That’s not a very specific question. How well do you think you know how I define “okay”?
Godry: Is he alive?
Dark: He is alive.
Godry: Good. I’m going to sleep.
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.