The sandstorm above had been raging for three days with no end in sight. So intense, the winds toppled vehicles, trucks and all. They eroded away the road leading in and out of the mine, destroying the ramp, even the super trucks couldn’t scale the man-made canyon.
Workers have become sick. They had fallen weak; their skin had become yellow, not like jaundice, but splotchy yellow pigmentation. According to the doc, whatever this pestilence was, it wasn’t infectious.
“The mine’s sitting atop a massive motherlode of rare-earth metals,” said Gillian as we both descended down the deep crevasse. “Erosion didn’t create this cave .”
I noticed no smooth surface, just jagged, sharp edges. “Then what made this?”
“It’s a fracture. A lot of energy caused it. Maybe the impact of a meteor hitting the Earth all those millions of years ago.”
“This mineral lode originated from space.”
“What? Are we dealing with alien forces?”
Gillian frowned and continued rappelling further down the dark rift. The cave system was discovered by workers as they were excavating the fourth parallel tunnel. They discovered a solid tungsten deposit, lots of artefacts…
…and the cave.
When we measured the chasm with the laser, we failed to hit a bottom, so Gillian suggested we go down seventy metres, the limit of our equipment. What she was looking for, down in the darkness, I couldn’t guess. Evidence? Something to explain the sequence of events that had occurred above ground and below.
The loss of communication.
Everyone’s sleep is affected by demonic nightmares.
The miners had found artefacts. Tungsten skulls the size of one’s fist.
Nothing made sense…
We reach the end of the line and dangled in the darkness for a moment.
“What now?” I asked her.
“I’m going to vomit,” she answered, and did so.
I pointed the flashlight at her and waited for her to recover. “Everything okay?”
“Do you feel it?”
I did. Beyond my hyper-anxiety, my intense urge to panic, I felt…
What was vertical, now seemed horizontal. “What’s happening?”
Gillian swung to the side and placed her feet on the wall. She unfastened herself and stood, perpendicular to me.
I did the same. It took me longer to achieve balance, but when I did, up and down no longer existed. “Holy shit.”
The ability to walk lessened my phobia somewhat. It gave me a sense that I could escape. But the endless darkness, which not even the industrial flashlight could breach, hampered my enforced calmness.
“Let’s press on,” said Gillian.
“Are you sure?”
“More than ever. Something’s definitely down here. Enough to distort gravity.” She then looked at me. “Plus, what choice do we have?”
Trekking proved more difficult than the rope, due to the rough, uneven passage made of pure, solid wolframite. The further we progressed, the heavier our bodies became. The cave eventually evened out and widened, spilling into a cavern. As we walked through the darkness, it felt as if we were ascending.
“Hand me a flare,” ordered Gillian. She took the candle out of my hand and ignited it. The cavern lit up, the tungsten ore reflecting the brilliant purple glow. Gillian seemed stunned by what she saw. I really couldn’t blame her.
We were atop a hill at the centre of the cavern. A temple-like structure stood at the summit. Made of wolfram, its pillared design seemed organic – biomechanical. What struck me as more insane, was the other temple above, on the cavern’s ceiling, opposite our position, separated from us by a vast black void. A great cubical chain linked both temples. This time, the mineralogist in me, recognised the iron-ferrite.
“What the hell,” gasped Gillian.
We stood at the base of the chain and looked up at the other temple. “This is way above my pay grade.”
“We have to go up,” she insisted.
“And achieve what? Whatever this is, we are not equipped to deal with it. We should go back and tell the doc…”
“What? Tell him what?”
“When the storm subsides, we could get the word out.” I pointed to the chain. “THIS requires a multi-governmental response. Me and you can’t solve this.”
“The sickness causes cannibalism.”
“The doc didn’t want everyone to know.”
“How does he know that?”
“The B Crew have eaten most of the engineers, so yeah, Doc may be onto something with his diagnosis.”
That’s when I felt a new kind of fear, something I’d never experienced before, enough to drive me up that cube-link chain. Halfway up, I expected gravity to shift again, but that didn’t eventuate. The anti-temple was, in fact, built upside down. Spiral stairs awaited us and we both ascended quietly, without uttering a word.
We exited into another, grander temple. Biomechanical sculptures adorned the hall, which opened out into a street.
An urban street.
The sky was black, broken only by slivers of red cloud. The air was cold and putrid. Even a chemical engineer like me couldn’t place the toxicity. But the urban landscape around us, even the soundscape, was unmistakable.
“Where is this?” spoke Gillian.
“But where?” She walked across a street bordered by factory and apartment lots, lit by the garish light coming from the lamp posts and the neon glow of a late-night grocery store. Gillian stepped towards the entrance, intending to go inside. I rushed after her and followed as she pushed through the glass, sticker-riddled door.
We found nobody at the counter so we wandered the aisles, looking at the plethora of goods on the shelves, not one label was recognisable, and none of the writing was familiar. In the freezer section, somebody was busy stacking shelves. I should say ‘something’ because this clerk was far from human. With its orange-red flaky skin, duel tiny horns protruding from its temple, another pair from its jaw, and arcing shoulders, this ugly demon paused what it was doing and looked at us with yellow eyes.
Gillian shrieked and ran, pulling me along. Enduring the same terror as she felt, I complied. We ran out into the night and fled into the shadows. The one thing that struck me about this demon was, that it seemed surprised and afraid…