“I don’t like this.”
“No one does their first time, trust me it’s completely safe.”
Brian looked at the walls, they were a light blue with swirls of darker blue running through them, a constant pulse seemed to be running through the walls, making it look as though they were undulating slightly. The floor beneath his feet was shiny and smooth.
“It feels like it’s pushing me in further or something.”
“Yeah, it’s a little disorientating. I’ve had a few people say it’s like walking down a giant throat.”
“I really wish you hadn’t said that.”
Karen chuckled, “Seriously, it’s just a cave wall, it can’t do anything to you.”
“What about how it looks like it’s moving?”
“Trick of the light or something. I don’t know, they don’t explain it to the likes of us, we’re not important enough.”
They kept walking, the air was warm inside the tunnel, he had expected it to be cold, the humidity was already causing his shirt to stick to his skin.
“It’s not much further, trust me the first visit is always the worst.”
“Well, can you at least tell me what to expect?”
Karen grinned, “Where’s the fun in that? Oh, when you throw up, try not to splash any on me ok?”
“What? What the hell is down here?”
A faint breath of air blew across them, it carried with it a strange scent, like musk and dust, there was a faint edge to it, damp and rotten just barely detectable. The tunnel rounded to the left and suddenly they were in the room.
A man was in the centre of it, his body was withered, like that of a mummy, he was propped up by spikes from the floor, large ones pierced through his wrists, neck and groin, while other smaller ones were dotted about his body. Brian looked at the man for a moment, feeling a little underwhelmed. “This is it? Strange burial rituals? What’s so awful about this? I mean sure it must have been a shitty way to die, assuming he was still alive.” He circled around the man, “How did they even manage to get him like this? Did they carve it out specifically to fit him?”
“I don’t know, that isn’t my department. Everything is kept segregated, even that.”
Brian shook his head, “I don’t know how you manage to get any work done at all if you’re not sharing information.”
“Secrecy is important, they’re careful about who knows what.”
Karen looked at the man, “Are you awake?”
Brian let out a yell as the corpse raised his head and opened his eyes. The mans eyes were a shockingly bright blue, they seemed to shine with an inner light that Brian couldn’t explain, the man nodded, “I don’t get much sleep these days.”
His voice was old and raspy, it sounded incredibly dry and painful to Brian’s ears, the noise of it was grating, he winced slightly.
Karen nodded, “Just giving him the tour.”
“Saving the best for last then?”
“Oh of course.”
Karen looked at Brian, “Doing all right? You’ve gone a little pale there.”
“Yeah, I’m fine, I just, uh. I need to sit for a moment.”
Brian leaned against the wall, then he jumped away, “It isn’t going to do that to me, is it?”
The man shook his head slowly, Brian expected his body to crumble and the head to fall from his shoulders. “No, just me. You are safe. They’re all safe.”
Brian sat on the ground, “How is that possible?”
The man shook his head, “I don’t know. I don’t remember. I have been here a long time. Longer than any human was ever meant to survive. I forgot who I truly was a long, long time ago.”
“Being down here though? All that time? How aren’t you mad? Doesn’t it hurt?”
“It’s agonising. Every second I am here it is a living hell. I long for death, but I know it will never come.”
“How are you even capable of speaking? How aren’t you insane?”
“I have my good moments. The walls, they speak to me and I to them. Sometimes they gift me my sanity. Sometimes they take it away. I think the walls know all about me, but they won’t tell me, they guard that secret quiet closely.”
Brian quickly stood again, “The walls are alive? How are walls alive?”
“How are you alive?”
“Don’t bother, it won’t get you anywhere. Trust me, I’ve tried, you won’t win.”
The man looked at Karen, “I don’t think you can ever truly understand until you are where I am.”
With that he lowered his head and closed his eyes, a thin, high pitched sound filled the air. “What is that?”
“He does it most of the time, I think he’s screaming.”
Brian felt goose bumps ripple across his flesh, the sound seemed to be getting louder, piercing its way through his skull, it felt as though something heavy and painful was pressing onto his head. Without warning Brian threw up, Karen sighed, “there it is.”
Brian coughed, then retched again, Karen passed him a tissue, “Feel better?”
“Happens to all of us. Congrats, you’re now inoculated.”
Brian spat on the ground, “What do we do about that?”
“There’ll be cleaners in shortly. They take care of the place, make sure he doesn’t get dusty. I think they spray him down with something too, something to do with germs.”
“I think I need to go outside now.”
Karen nodded, together they walked back in silence. Though it had felt like the walk in took only a few minutes, the walk out took over an hour. Brian started walking faster as he saw the light up ahead. He burst out of the cave and into the air, breathing deeply, he didn’t realise how oppressive the tunnel had felt, like the entire world was pressing in on him from all sides.
“Please tell me I don’t have to go back down there, I don’t think I can.”
“Don’t worry, you only have to go down there the once, you won’t be going inside again if you don’t want to. As I said you’re inoculated, you can’t hear it but that sound carries out of the tunnel, it can be heard from over five miles away. It does things to people, funny things. Once you’re down there though it doesn’t seem to effect you anymore. They don’t know why yet, or if they do they’re not saying. C’mon they don’t let us drink alcohol here, but I’ll get you a cup of coffee.” She started walking towards the canteen. Brian stayed where he was, looking up at the bright blue sky, it was the same blue as the mans eyes. It almost felt as though the sky was one giant eye, staring down at him. He shuddered, then looked down at the ground, focusing on the dry, sandy earth. “You coming?”
He jumped at the sound of Karen’s voice, he jogged after her. He never wanted to go inside those caves again, but there was a part of him, a small part, that longed to go back inside. To go back down to the impaled man and stay with him forever. Karen put her hand on his shoulder and gently pulled him along with her, “that feeling of wanting to go back will fade with time. It usually does.”
“What if it doesn’t?”
Karen didn’t say anything, she just kept walking, her hand a steady pressure on his shoulder.
Brian sat in the canteen, it was mostly empty, Karen had left him about half an hour ago, his cup of coffee sat in front of him, cold and half empty. He had his hands wrapped around it, more for something to do with them. He felt nervous, jittery. The double doors opened and in came a group of people talking amongst themselves, someone in the group laughed, the sound cut through his brain like a knife sending a spike of pain into the back of his eyes. He winced, then stood and left the canteen. The fresh air did little to help. He stumbled from the canteen and made his way to the bathrooms, he wasn’t sure if he could walk back to his room.
The bathroom was empty, with coldness seeming to radiate from the tiles. He looked at himself in the mirror, he was pale and sweaty, his eyes were a little too wide with dark circles around them. He turned on the tap, the sound of rushing water was oddly soothing. He cupped his hands and splashed some of the water on his face, the water was warmer than he expected. His mind flashed back to the tunnels, how warm they’d felt, how wet. He shuddered and gripped the sink, he felt like he was going to throw up again. After a moment Brian loosened his grip and turned on the cold tap, the cold water was soothing on his feverish skin. He grabbed some toilet paper from a stall and dried off his face and hands.
He stepped outside and squinted in the bright light, the sun seemed too hot, the sky felt strangely heavy, like the entire weight of it was pushing down on him. He started to walk back towards the canteen, hoping food would settle his stomach. As he walked he found himself thinking of the man in the cave, the way the spikes pierced his leathery flesh, the strange scent of him, the warmth of the tunnels and how it had enveloped him, almost comfortingly. Brian found himself standing at the mouth of the tunnel, he looked around in confusion, how had he gotten here? He’d been walking to the canteen. He turned around, the sun was lower in the sky, it was getting close to night, how long had he been standing here? He took a step forward, then another. It was like something was calling to him, pulling him forward. It wouldn’t hurt to go down and have another look, would it? It wasn’t like anyone would know and he was allowed down there. It had to be safe, if it wasn’t there would be guards posted or there would be warnings. There had been nothing like that, only the NDA they’d made him sign as soon as he accepted the job.
As he walked, Brian noticed how beautiful the walls truly were, the way the veins of different shades of blue ran through them, the low, comforting light they seemed to emanate. He felt better in the tunnels, without the heavy weight of the sky above him, trying to grind him into the ground.
Brian entered the cave, the man was where they had left him. His eyes were open and he was looking expectantly at the entrance. “I was wondering how long it would take.”
“How did you know I’d be back?”
“I can tell. The walls speak to me and they know everything.”
I…I don’t know why I came back.”
“Sure you do. You know the truth, you were just about able to grasp it with your feeble mind. The others couldn’t, but that is their loss.”
“I don’t think I should be here. I need to leave.”
“It’s too late for that.”
Brian nodded, he already knew that, he knew it the moment he was standing in front of the tunnels. He knew it when he had been sitting in the canteen, the steadily cooling cup of coffee between his hands. He’d known it the moment he had first seen those piercing blue eyes.
“You know me for what I am, kneel before your God.”
Brian dropped to his knees, not noticing the jolt of pain as he hit the hard floor, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the mans, the blue felt as though it was drilling into his skull. The man grinned, his dry cracked lips pulling back revealing two rows of rotted, brown teeth.
Finally, the man blinked and Brian collapsed, he didn’t know how long he had been kneeling there, staring at the man, his legs were cramping painfully and they had been for what felt like hours, he didn’t have the energy to move, he could only lie there in agony.
Brian painfully got to his feet, puffing and panting.
Brian stripped, letting his clothes fall to the floor in a small pile, he stood completely naked, sweat running freely down his body.
Brian turned and walked a few feet to the wall and leaned against it, flattening his body against the warm, blue rock. Shards of rock were suddenly piercing his hands and legs, Brian tried to scream but he couldn’t breathe. It felt as though every part of him was being torn apart, over and over again. His body was dragged backwards, an opening appeared in the wall and he was pulled inside it, the wall flowed closed again. The man in the centre of the room closed his eyes, the thin, high pitched scream filling the room again, Brian could hear it in the dark, even through his pain, there were thousands of those voices, maybe millions, and he screamed with them all.