Exploration. Short Story.

The three suns shone mercilessly, Porter took a swig from his water
bottle, then wiped the sweat from his forehead. Ahead of him the
guides continued on, uncaring of his struggles. Smith and Johnson were
somewhere behind him, the guides didn’t stop so Porter just kept
going, reasoning that they’d have to take a break for food sooner or
later. He had only been here for a few days but already he hated the
place. The soil was loose and sandy, shifting under every step, the
three suns provided scorching heat during the day but at night the
temperatures dropped below freezing, leaving them huddled in their
sleeping bags and tents. Up ahead the guides stopped and took a drink
from their own water bottles. Porter stumbled on a few more feet then
carefully sat down on the ground. He took another drink of water and
looked back, he couldn’t see Smith or Johnson, but he wasn’t worried.
It wouldn’t be the first time one of them fell behind. They just had
to follow the footsteps in the sandy soil. Porter took a deep breath,
the air was dry but stifling and heavy, he hadn’t felt a breeze since
they had entered the damn place. Land of the Dead, it wasn’t an
inviting name, but it described the place pretty well in Porters
opinion. For the next three months this place would be untouched by
any winds or breezes, then they would come in force, blowing through
the large and twisted rocks that sprouted from the ground. He hadn’t
heard it himself but he had been told that it sounded like the moans
of the damned. Up ahead the guides were putting away their water and
beginning to walk again. Porter stayed sitting, it was too hot and he
was too tired to continue on without a break.

After fifteen minutes Porter stood, he could see the others off in the
distance, though it was hard to guess how far away they actually were.
Things that looked far away out here could suddenly be there in front
of you in another few steps, while things that looked as though they
were right beside you could be miles away. Porter raised on hand in a
wave to the two and they waved back, sighing, he turned and continued
on, following the footprints.

The trio stood around the entrance, if Porter was being honest he was
thoroughly underwhelmed. He had expected to see a great building
rising out of the soil, instead it was just this, what looked like the
entrance to a subway. The door itself was about eight feet tall and
five feet wide, it was made from the same rock that seemed to be
everywhere in this place. There were no doors that Porter could see
and a long stairway stretched down and to the left. The guides were
all sitting around nearby, talking to one another in their strange
language. Porter had tried to learn it, but it was almost impossible
to speak unless you learned it from birth. He waited until it seemed
like there was a pause in the conversation, “Can we go inside?”
“Yes, enter. We wait here for return, not enter.”
“We should be up in a few hours.”

The staircase went much deeper than any of them expected, after what
seemed like hours they finally reached the bottom of it. The walls
were smooth and devoid of any markings, the staircase and the floor
were also free of soil, Porter had expected to find piles and drifts
of the sandy soil in the tunnel. They continued down the tunnel until
it branched off into three, one going straight with the other two
branching to the left and right, after a brief discussion, Porter took
the one on the left. “Ok, we explore, try to map out our area a little
and meet back here in say two hours?”
The others agreed and they set off.

Porter leaned against the wall as he took a break, the tunnel
stretched on and on, so far there had been no turns, no markings on
the walls, just a long, smooth tunnel. He took a sip of water then
stood, he had to get moving if he wanted to find anything. A few
moments later his watch beeped. An hour had passed and he hadn’t found
anything. He took a few steps forward, then stopped. No, it would be
stupid to go on, the others would come looking for him, besides the
tunnel continued on until it just faded into shadows. The guides did
say something about the place being a maze, so perhaps this was just
to throw off outsiders, maybe the others had better luck.

Porter had been walking for over an hour and still the tunnel
stretched out ahead of him. Had he gotten turned around? His watch
said he had been walking for an hour and a half, he should have been
back at the meeting point by now. He tried telling himself he had been
walking quickly when he started out and that he had covered more
ground than he had realised but the further he walked the more nervous
he became. The guides had talked about how this place was dangerous,
how it could play tricks on the mind. He just had to keep walking,
that was all. He’d reach the meeting point sooner or later, it was
just a straight tunnel with no branches or turns, he couldn’t be lost.

Porter drained the last few drops of water from his water bottle. He
had been down here for almost eight hours now and the light on his
torch was starting to fade, he hadn’t thought to bring batteries, or
food, they were only supposed to be down here for a few hours to get
an idea of the layout. The tunnels were warm, he hadn’t noticed that
when he first entered, it had seemed cool in comparison to the
scorching heat of the world above.

The torch was almost dead, there was no sign of the meeting point, the
tunnel just continued to stretch out into the darkness. Porter walked
with one hand against the wall, he didn’t want to get turned around,
especially once the light went out. He had little hope of finding the
others before that happened. His only reassurance was that it was a
straight shot so even if the light died he would still have a chance
of getting out. He couldn’t understand what had happened, where he had
gone wrong. Had he taken a turn somewhere without realising somehow?
Had the tunnels themselves changed after he had passed through them.
He had tried calling out a few times, but it was hard to tell if
anyone was responding or if it was just his own echo, he had given up
now his throat was dry and scratchy. The light went out. Porter froze,
then he started walking forward slowly, hand against the wall. He was
going to get out of here, he wasn’t supposed to die here like this,
alone in the dark. He had promised Jenny and the kids he’d see them in
a few weeks, that he’d bring them gifts, something strange and unusual
for each of them. He had promised. Porter stopped walking, had he
heard something? There it was again, so very faint, like fabric
brushing against stone. Was it one of the others?
“Hello?”
his own voice replied, then again a second later. The echo died down
and he was left in silence. Then the noise again. His heart started to
beat faster. “Whose there? I can hear you” Nothing responded but his
echo. Porter started walking again, straining to hear the sound over
his footsteps, it seemed to be following him and, if he was right, it
was getting closer. Porter kept going, he knew that if he just went a
little further he’d find his way out. It was a straight line, he
couldn’t be lost. He just couldn’t. He heard the sound again, it was
right behind him. Porter spun around but could see nothing in the
darkness. Something brushed against his face, something soft and
light, it carried with it a scent, bitter and musty. Porter began to
scream in the darkness.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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