Day 7 of the Flash Fiction February Challenge. The prompt today is to write a story about a discovery.
Gaden hadn’t seen the light of day in a week. He hadn’t seen his family in even longer. Months had gone by since he had joined the exhibition to find a passage through the complex cave system of the Tirdanthe Mountains. He never wanted to go underground again.
The cold air was wet with the expected smell of damp earth. It was the whiffs of putrid decay that unsettled him. He knew the rest of them could smell it, too, but their leader, Jeron, insisted it was nothing to worry about. They continued to follow him from one tunnel to the next and then backtracking when they ran into a dead end. The work was discouraging and tedious, hardly ideal for positive moral.
Drop. Drip. Scritttchh.
“We will need to go back to where we started yesterday and try that other tunnel. It must open up to the cavern we are looking for.” They had reached another dead end. Disappointment settled on the group like a fog, souring everyone’s moods. “We will sleep at that last fork tonight.” The same fork they had slept in last night.
They made the slow journey back, crawling for long stretches through the tighter squeezes. When Gaden thought about all the rock, earth, and organic matter above him, he quickly distracted himself with the image of his wife and children back home, running through their yard and playing in the garden. His rapid breathing slowed and he was able to focus on the dark path in front of him.
“Does anyone else hear that?” Gaden asked the group when they reached the fork but no one replied. He shrugged and unpacked his bag, trying to ignore the noises coming from deep within the mountain.
That night he dreamt of giant worms and dark winds pushing him closer and closer to something he couldn’t see but felt. It reminded him of an ugly gruesome wound but with the emptiness of a void. It was pulling him in, wanting to consume him. He woke with a start and vomited up his meager dinner, much to the disgust of his team members. He couldn’t tell if the putrid smell in the air was from him or something else.
After restlessly lying awake for what felt like mere minutes, he was startled again by a sharp cry of alarm. “A light! I see a light!”
“Impossible. It’s the middle of the night. Above ground is still dark.” Jeron scowled.
“It’s coming from in there. Through that crack.”
“How did we pass by this before and not see it?” Another team member pushed past Gaden without a glance in his direction.
Gaden was sure something was there now. It was louder than before. “Can no one else hear that?” Before anyone could answer, the caves themselves answered his question. A brown blur with what appeared to be thousands of legs launched itself at the man who had just shoved past him. Gaden screamed and shuffled backwards. It was huge with pinchers like a crab and powerful mandibles for a mouth. It moved like a centipede but was the size of a small wolf.
A noise behind him made Gaden spin around, banging his head on a low spot of the tunnel wall. A bigger centipede creature was coming towards him. His stomach seized up and fear alone made him move back toward the group huddled by the crack, pushing past his team member still battling the creature. They watched in horror as more creatures approached and the crack in the wall began to grow, like a fissure in glass, it was slowly spreading up through the wall to the ceiling of the tunnel and the ground beneath them. The pale white light intensified as it broke through the crack. This was no daylight. Gray mists of putrid air wafted out through the crack, making them all gag.
More and more creatures gathered around them. Jeron pulled out a sword but the rest of them were unarmed. They had no chance to fend off the creatures that hissed at them as they scitter-scattered across the ground towards them at unusually fast speeds.
Gaden looked down just as he began to fall into the crack. It was darkness and light, swirling together to fathomless depths. He saw no bottom, only emptiness. After being in the tunnels for a week, the vastness of it startled him for a moment before reality set in and he screamed. Cold, wet air surrounded him as he looked up to see the faces of Jeron and his team members surrounded by pinchers and legs. Then, everything faded away through the mists.
He was free-falling through what appeared to be empty air. When he looked down again, his stomach in his throat, he suddenly gasped, for straight below him, surrounded by agonizingly bright white light, was a figure, a man, writhing in pain, as if bound by invisible ropes. Gaden’s screams were quickly washed out by the powerful screams of the man and before Gaden could process what was happening to him, he was enveloped by the bright white light and all his thoughts vanished as if pulled from his head by an unknown force. If he had the capacity to do so, the last thing he would have remembered was a plea from the bound man: “HELP ME! PLEASE, HELP!”