Then the whole crowd exploded in a tectonic laughter so enormous that it shook the tower that loomed above us all. God had to steady himself and dropped Winnie on the ground beside me. Behind the leader palpitations and choked gasps interspersed the groans of sore ribs and cheeks. Then the crowd crumpled in laughter too. I saw our chance. I grabbed Winnie by the wrist and ran around the tower. It seemed endless. No entranceways. No windows. No doors. No hatches. But we ran as if we were part-Suug and in doing so we came upon a crack. I almost missed it we were running so fast. It was just wide enough for a human to fit through, but certainly not anything larger. I skidded to a halt and stuck my head through. Darkness. Then I grabbed Winnie by the shoulders and pushed her through while looking back to check for God and the Ooo. There were still roars of almost panicked laughter coming from the mass of skyward pointed foot but as I popped my love through the wall she screamed and the sound of her scream sounded like she was falling upwards. I looked inside again there was still only darkness so I lunged inward and felt an absolute wind push me up from below.
As I called to Winnie I could only hear rushing air screaming past my ears. Even if she had been shouting at the top of her lungs I wouldn’t have been able to hear her, but I screamed for her to hold on, to not be afraid, that I was right behind her and that I would catch her if she fell. I was as scared as a child covered in raw bacon in an ultramonkey pit on feeding day. But I didn’t let on. I held tight and as the tower blew us upward, higher and higher, and clenched like an infant, waiting. It seemed like hours we were spinning up for but once a light appeared above us it was only a minute or so and we was slowing, then stopped, then falling at a rate that seemed faster than possible. Winnie was still above me and the light was above us then but it was fading quickly as we tumbled into the vast darkness below.
The speed at which I was falling grew and grew until I was deafened again by the noise and was flipped onto my back by the force of the wind caused by our falling. Then I saw her. My sweet, beautiful love, tumbling, silhouetted by a slightest light above us.
I screamed, “PUT YOUR ARMS OUT IF YOU CAN HEAR ME!”
She snapped her arms out and then tucked them back in.
“I’M RIGHT BENEATH YOU! DON’T BE AFRAID. I THINK I KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING!!”
I hoped I knew. It seemed the only logical thing, despite the madness of that place. Then it happened. We came to a sudden yet smooth halt and then floated the last few inches to a hard ground. Finally I heard Winnie, wailing in destress and approaching fast. Then her wailing squeaked into an audible unexpected curiousness. Then I felt her come to rest on top of me. I wrapped my arms and legs around her in exhaustion.
“You’re safe, Baby. You’re safe. I’m right her.”
She was shaking with fear and excitement.
“I’ve got you. It’s ok. It’s all over now.”
Then, as Winnie tried to speak her famously weak stomach gave the performance of a lifetime and I felt her wretch in my arms in the darkness before I felt a large pool of warm damp on my chest, my shoulder, my scalp, under me, down my legs and into the backs of the tops of my socks. Then the smell hit me along with the gentle whimper of self-disgust that only one who has undergone a total evacuation of one’s stomach onto he or she whom they love can express. Strange as it sounds, it was adorable.
“That was absolutely adorable, HAH!”
“Fuck me? Am I a little shitty shittster am I!?”
And then I felt her chuckle a sigh of relief. We were alive. Sort of. And we had made it through whatever the shore was. We stood, slipped twice in the puddle and then crawled in the blank absence of light through the coarse grit on the floor. I led Winnie by the hand and we both blindly inched our way to the edge of the structure we were in. Except, we weren’t indoors at all. Wherever we were the night was of such bleak darkness that it seemed artificial. We weren’t sure at first but of course we weren’t assuming anything. After what felt like about half an hour we heard a droning whine above us. It grew into a broad growling until suddenly a flash of light tore open the sky overhead with a deafening roar and illuminated all the ground around us in an orange glow.
It was just temporary though and lasted only as long as the streak took to cross the sky. Then it was dark again. In those few seconds of illumination there had been enough light to see clouds overhead and valleys in the distance and a great swathe of land around us that seemed harsh by design. There were ceaseless valleys that stretched out like dunes in a desert. Then, almost the very second that darkness swallowed us again we heard a nearby snarling. Whatever it was it had seen us in the burst of light. I dropped flat to the ground and listened for footsteps but there was nothing but an empty silence. We waited. And waited. Breath held tight like diamonds. But there was only silence. Then a huge thud ruptured the silence as something landed right beside us, the vibrations it made caused the ground to sizzle with settling dust and grit. Then, before I knew what was happening, Winnie was yanked away from me.
We couldn’t see anything but I felt her being jerked away. I held onto her wrist as tight as I could as whatever it was dragged us twenty feet along the coarse ground, cutting my knees and elbows. She screamed and I shouted to her but our assailant was utterly silent. No stomping footsteps. No screeching. No wings flapping. Just absolute and dead fucking silence. It was so strong too that it rolled us both over and dragged us back and forth for the same distance twice more. My hands were turning numb but I couldn’t let go. It was Winnie. We were so lost in that place, so alone together that our love had grown into an even deeper bond and I was resolved to die before I let whatever is was take her. And so we fought. We struggled. She kicked and it pulled. And then another stream of light screamed across the sky.
This next brief illumination exposed the ground around us. It lit up Winnie and me and the thing that was pulling on her but just as that orange glow shone on it, it vanished. It seemed to evaporate like steam. And as soon as it did it let go of her leg so I stood and grabbed Winnie and ran. The light died off just as quickly as it had come and in its dying breath I plotted a mental track ahead of us. It wasn’t much, maybe fifty feet, but we ran with all the strength we had. We tripped and crashed to the jagged ground but we were up just as quickly each time. It was a desperate run, a mighty dash of fear, and when we tripped for the third time I held us down and listened again out through the darkness.
No wings. No stomping. No screeching roars. No sniffing. Just silence. But I wasn’t fooled by that calmness. I held Winnie in my arms and shielded her with my body by lying on top of her. She silenced her breathing with her hand and I bit my lip to hold in the dread but just as another streak of light roared overhead I looked up and saw the creature sail above us at less than the height of a man. Its massive form evaporated as the light hit it and sizzled it blinked out of sight. Once I knew that it was gone I dropped my head into the sand in relief and as I did a tiny flash glinted in the darkness that the streaking light had left in its wake. I wasn’t sure if I saw it so I reached my fingers out to where I thought the glint had been and as I sank my hand into the upper layer of sand and gravel a small pool of liquid light broke though where I disturbed the ground. I hadn’t noticed it when we were running in panic, but looking back at our trail a dim light died in each of the shallow graves that were our footsteps. It was then that I realised just how narrow a margin that creature had missed us by.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Something is buried here I… no… wait… it’s… what?!”
“DIG! DIG NOW!!”
I clawed at the ground with my hands and great beams of bright blue light snapped and popped out of the ground around my hands. A huge ocean of light was just beneath the surface and as we dug it poured up and blinded us. Desperate to not attract the attention of whatever had attacked us we dug into the light. It was brittle, like ash, and once we pulled and pushed it aside a gaping illuminated tube revealed itself to us. It was dug out of the ground like an ancient warren and once we climbed down into it I could smell a dampness that was all too familiar. We walked the tubes with hesitation and turned every corner only after we had checked ahead. But nothing and nobody appeared. It was uninhabited and I could taste it in the air that who or whatever had made it was long gone.
Following the familiar dampness, my nose led us to a large chamber that had rotted wooden furniture arranged in it. Rows and rows of benches and an altar of sorts at one end of the cavern suddenly made sense of our surroundings. Whoever had mined that place was devout. It must have taken decades to complete and with the likes of that monster on the surface it seemed only natural that the inhabitants of that place lived belowground. There was a sonorous echo to the chamber too. The calmness of it was a stark solace from the raging darkness above. I rested Winnie in a nest of crumbled benches and had a quick look around for anything that we could use. Some lengths of wood were heavy but made decent clubs and a long shard of wood that was sharp at a breaking point made a decent spear. They made Winnie feel a little safer too and that made me feel more secure. It was then that I turned a corner and saw a row of matte stones which were cut into flat triangles protruding upward from the floor. They didn’t shimmer as the walls did and as I got closer to them I saw a kind of words carved into them. I couldn’t read it at first but after a blurry moment the carvings made perfect sense.
“There’s carvings! “Miish Lurittoh, Miish Duudan, Miisht Plii Ehan, Missht Plii Jaaks, Mii Miisht Plii Huul”. Looks like graves, Winnie. Come her and have a look.”
She snuck over, trying to be quiet in that long dead place.
“I wonder who they were.”
“Seems like they had titles, “Miish and Mii Miisht”. Maybe they mean some kind of rank if they were soldiers or priests or something.”
“I don’t like it here, James.”
“Nor I. Better than whatever that was up top though. Come on, let’s keep looking around. There’s nothing for us back the way we came.”
And so we walked. Mile after mile of bright tunnels carved from light opened before us and still there were no signs of life. Then it happened, a creaking sound that rumbled into a roar. Then a lasting flash. We fell and slid and tumbled and slid and slid and slowly stopped on a sheened floor. My face squeaked along the cold hard ground as we came to halt and once I shook my senses back into my head I realised that we were surrounded. A chasm had opened and sent us into some lower chamber where a gathering was in progress.
“Jikl, iki! Inna! Nomoo… are you!? Why are you here?!”
“I don’t know!”
“Where are you from?”
Whoever they were they were deathly shocked. In front of me a ring of short and very wide beings stood side by side. They couldn’t have been three feet tall but they were at least five feet wide. Their eyes were narrow and wide, through which all of their facial expressions came. Like toads or slabs of flesh that warbled in a low drone when they spoke these creatures seemed more animals than people and when they spoke it was not just one of them, but all of them, in unison, with exactly matching tone and pace and inflections.
“You are not permitted. You do not belong.”
“I know, we… ”
“… you must leave.”
“Gladly! We just don’t know how to… ”
“… leave. Must leave. Will leave.”
“But we can’t, we… ”
“… leave. Leave… ”
“… leave. Leave… ”
“Please, we… ”
“… leave. Leave.”
I looked to Winnie and she was stood with her arms crossed and her foot tapping on the ground beside her.
“… oh… ok.”
We turned and stepped out of the ring of short beings. Shuffling past them cautiously, being careful to not stand on them.
“…leave. Leave. Leave.”
Silence. These strange little strangers were all taken aback at my outburst. Winnie got a jump too and looked at me in surprise.
“There’s no need to talk to them like that, James.”
“… no need. No need. No nee… ”
“Don’t get in a mood, James. It never helps.”
“… never helps. Never helps. Never helps.”
“James, I’m sorry.”
“… never hel… ”
“… helps. Nev… ”
“For dragging you into this. If I hadn’t given in to you then you’d never… ”
“… never helps. Nev… ”
“Don’t. I chose you as much as you chose me. I love you. And I wouldn’t have you go through this alone.”
“… this alone. This alone. This… ”
We kissed and breathed one another in. Even there, wherever we were, we had each other. And that was more than we needed. I felt Winnie’s hand take hold of mine and as we kissed a hum originated from the ring of beings next to us. It grew in tone and volume and made the moment seem even more sweet. I could feel all of her on my lips and she was so receptive to my every thought and movement that we moved together in a unity like two wisps of smoke joined as one. We hadn’t noticed the humming reach a point so loud that we felt our bones rattle until our whole bodies shook and we were no longer able to kiss. Even just holding onto one another became difficult. Then, when the noise and vibrations were too much, a high pitched blast rang out and suddenly we were in a hideously violent storm.
It was daytime but so stormy that walls of wind and water washed away the suns streaming light. The sound was overwhelming so I knelt us down and put my hands over Winnie’s hands which were already over her ears. She was coiled under the weight of the noise and waiting for some other strange creature to attack or for some chasm to engulf us. But nothing came. Instead the storm blasted my back and all but pushed us flat onto the ground. But I hunkered down and held on even tighter than I had when that creature dragged us back and forth in the dark. I was beginning to feel used to those shifting worlds, their irregularity had become almost normal. Then the storm just stopped. Out of nowhere.
I was still holding my hands on either side of Winnie’s head when the silence slammed into us and dust and water and rocks tumbled to a halt around where we were kneeling. Then the heat of the sun crashed over us in a giant wave. It soaked right through us as water does to paper towels. Our skin tightened sharply and in a heartbeat our eyes were forced completely shut. It was an intense, dry heat and in seconds the storm seemed a better option. Only when we open our eyes did we notice that we were on a beach. The water next to us enticed the eye but the steam pluming up from it showed us just how hot it was so I walked us onward to find shelter.
Looking around us we saw nothing but flat ground. No buildings. No trees. No people. And behind us the ocean lapped at the shore beneath our feet. Further out it was calmer still. Out there where there were no waves the sun bounced off of the surface of the water and made it seem to glow like a sun of its own. We could hardly look at it for more than a second before being blinded. It was an astonishing soft silence of genuine calm. Then the storm returned, crashing into us at full speed. Like a madness of the wind that churned up water and dislodged rocks from the ground it span the world around us. It was impossible how fast it had returned. It seemed that it should have had to build up to that raging level but it didn’t need to, it just exploded around us. And then it stopped again. Sand and grit raining down around us. It hadn’t lasted thirty seconds.
“Baby, what the fuck was that?”
“I think that was another storm.”
“The same storm?”
“I don’t know. It seemed like it. But shouldn’t it have… ”
Again a blasting burst of water and wind and grit all swirled around us and toppled us to the ground. So strong a laden rage was it that as we lay there covering our heads with our clothes a layer of sand grew around us. Each second another inches walled us in and as it did we thought that we’d be swallowed by the ground itself. But again it stopped dead. As if a light switch had been flipped. Then the heat slammed into us again, tightening our sore skin.
“Baby, we have to get to cover now! This is too much.”
“I can’t see anywhere. Let’s just get moving, we’ll find something, anything. Just, whatever happens, don’t let go of me!”
She smiled as she said that and it seemed a form of magic. Her eyes empowered my tiring mind and as we walked we braced against the storms and calmness as they each flashed past at intervals of just seconds. It was almost more tiring in the heat between the storms but with Winnie by my side I was invincible. I led and she followed. I took the brunt of the calm and the crazed wildness’ and I held onto her with all the love that a heart can hold. It didn’t matter where we were. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know where we were going. All that mattered was that she was with me. I had been through so much alone that having found love in Winnie’s arms when all was lost I knew that I was never going to let her go.
We wandered along the coast for hours but after the first few miles I noticed that the frequency of the storm was diminishing. It seemed that the further we went in that direction the longer the intervals between storms lasted. And once I realised it I picked up our pace. Then I felt Sila in my heart again, booming through my senses. She wasn’t hurt or angry or sad, but she wasn’t happy. My little girl was so far away but I could feel her. I couldn’t feel Ola at first because I was so struck by Sila’s stagnant emotional state. It was deafening. So much so that I didn’t notice storms come and go for a few minutes until Winnie pulled me down to the ground and brought me back to that strange and violent place.
“What is it?”
“It’s Sila… I can feel her.”
“Is she ok?”
“She’s not in danger.”
“James, we need to keep moving.”
“The storms are getting shorter the more we move this way, Baby. I don’t know what’s out there but it’s better that walking into a constant storm.”
“Agreed! Come one! Get up!”
I walked and trembled so between the world of storms and calm and the silent and hallowed place in Sila’s heart that made me feel at home again. I longed to hold my daughter in my arms and comfort her and make her smile and hear her laughter. But I was forever away from her. Then she thought of me. I could see her imagine me in her mind. She pictured me at home with her, drinking tea and reading on either end of the same sofa. It was our favourite pastime. And as she thought of me and wished to see me I felt a crushing force on my skin. It was as if I was being shrunken. My arms and legs got very heavy and wanted, by themselves, to curl into a ball. When I looked at Winnie and she was already curled up at my feet. Then a storm hit with more force than any other had before and took us off our feet.
While in the air we were pelted with pebbles and water and sand. It stuck to our clothes and skin until a wave clattered us and sloshed the debris from our bodies. Over and over we were thrust up and sideways and down and down and up and sideways until utterly disoriented. The pressure built and built and as my limbs were forced into a foetal position I heard Sila scream out as a hard crunching slap of something solid crashed into me with a gasp.
“Nrghhh,… Sila… sweetie?”
Hands. Soft hands on my face. One on my shoulder and lips kissing my cheeks and forehead. Sila’s gentle voice calling me and the pain of a sore body as I rolled onto my back.
“Where is this?”
“Dad, you just fell out of the sky. Where did you come from?”
“Dad. Can you hear me?”
“Can you hear me?”
“Dad, it’s just you. I don’t know where… ”
Impact. Sudden crushing pain. Winded. Soft, long strands of hair in my face. The scent of Winnie.
“Winnie! Are you ok?”
“Dad, it’s Winnie!”
“Get. Her. Off me.”
“Come on girl. Here. Ok, gently. Can you hear me, Winnie? Winnie?! Dad, she isn’t moving.”
I rolled over and sat up, all my bones and muscles tight and sore. And there she lay. Her eyes open. Her lips slightly apart. Her beautiful hands limp on the ground.
“Sila, it’s ok. She’ll be ok.”
“Her eyes, Dad. Look.”
They were fixed in a disgusting stare that made it seem as though she was dead. But she couldn’t be dead. Of course she couldn’t, surely. But she was. There she was, in front of my eyes, gone ahead and I there with Sila lost from her.
“Who? Sila, what is it?”
“Sir, please. We don’t have much time.”
“What? Who are you!?”
“Sir, we need to take her.”
“You need to go and FUCK yourself!!”
“Sir. Please. It’s the way here.”
“Dad, what’s happening?”
This hulking creep with wide, flat arms reached down and scooped Winnie’s lifeless body from the floor and as he did I looked away in pain and saw the crowd around us. Faces awash with awe leered at me and when I turned from them I saw Sila’s face. She loved Winnie too. Her eyes streamed and screamed fear. To die and die again, what is there beyond the beyond?
“It’s ok, sweetie.”
“What’s going to happen to Winnie? Where are they taking her?”
“I don’t know, I… ”
Another huge being with flat, wide arms like long shovels stared at me with no emotion in its face.
“Sir, we are going to clean and prepare the body.”
“Prepare it for what?”
“My name is James!”
“Pardon me, Sir?”
“Sir, we need to hurry. Even here there are rules… old rules.”
“Sir. Come with us.”
I looked past my new friend and saw Winnie being carried away and without thinking I jumped up and ran after her. The thing carrying her was moving in a fluid glide just off of the floor. It’s feet, if that’s what they were, were hovering and pointed slightly downward. Again the second being appeared beside me as if out of thin air.
“It’s fucking James!”
“Sir, James, please.”
“Don’t fucking, “Please” me! What the FUCK is happening!? Where the FUCK are you taking Winnie?! How the FUCK could this FUCKING happen here?!?!”
“It’s ok, Sweetie.”
“James, when someone dies here we take them to the centre so that they can progress.”
“Just follow us… ”
“Sila, take my hand.”
I looked at her properly for the first time since the storm had brought us back and felt her hand shake as I took it. She was distraught. My little girl was quaking and her in my hurt and anger I hadn’t helped. My arm wound around her and pulled her tight to my chest as she struggle to regain herself.
“Where’s your mother, sweetie?”
“I don’t know. We were by a river and then I was suddenly here with you and Winnie.”
“Sir, please keep up. We cannot wait.”
“Come on, sweetie. I’m right here. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
I kissed her forehead and squeezed her and rushed her along to catch up with the two beings ahead of us, oblivious to where were going. Then they stopped and we stopped and they looked up and we looked up to an great scorching light. When we looked down we saw thick liquid grass up to our ankles. Ahead of us the thing carrying Winnie lay her in the green pool where she floated. Then the other one stood on the opposite side of her and reached out its big flat arms. The first mirrored the second and together they made a ring over Winnie’s body. I could feel Sila’s hand crushing mine with a strength that I never knew she possessed and although I wanted to kiss her and comfort her I couldn’t look away. Between the two beings, under the great light a ball of shadow appeared, like a void. It was small first like a grapefruit but it quickly grew to the size of a watermelon before it unfurled tentacles of darkness. It was not what I had expected. I hadn’t expected anything but it seemed a terrible things so far out of place.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey