Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Last Gasp

Well, that didn't go very well. But, spoiler alert: I survived. Sorry if my handwriting gives that away.

This is going to be a long one. Fetch yourself a beer or suitable potation, avail yourself of the Honest Jakes, then come back and get comfortable.

In salvaging gangway trestles, Thoreau had to sacrifice other items
like this fireproof leather armor. You know.
As you know, I had a very solid plan established by which to safeguard my continued survival. In my skylarking about the facilities, I happened upon a large room with a broad patch of natural soil. This saved me the work of stumbling through mineshafts in a vain attempt to recall where I'd seen deposits of loam, collect these, and haul them back to my grounds. The dirt was already there, and most of the lighting by which plants photosynthesize their sustenance was present, in the form of a hotly glowing spill of lava. All I had to do was plant my carrots (there were three in my pocket) near the light and grind my skeleton bones into meal to hasten their progression.

But it wouldn't do to have lava spilling all over my crops, would it? So I constructed a fence from the salvaged trestles supporting the circuitous gangways. This promptly caught fire and spread more rapidly than I would have supposed. A third of the fence was lost before I could put the fire out—flames are startlingly susceptible to stone axes—but the carrots were safe. I tilled the soil, planted my roots, and dug a trench for the water.

Now: to find water.

I stood there and stroked my beard, deep in thought. I had seen water several times in my perambulations. I'd seen plenty of lava, too, of course, but I had no need for this whatsoever. And while I mused about which of the many exits from this chamber might take me back to the regions in which I supposed I should probably recall a source of water, one of those unnamed creeping horrors slammed to the earth beside me. The meaty thump of its corpore caught my attention one split second before its trademark ignition, so rather than flee I simply turned toward it in an idle curiosity, and was thrown back with much violence from the epicenter of its blast. Not only was more of the fence ruined, several meters of arable tract were pulverized, and my body rolled to a halt uncomfortably near the spill of flowing, glowing lava.

But where could it have come from? To land with such force, it must have fallen from a height, so I picked myself up, dusted off my trousers, and craned back to regard the ceiling, just as two A.C.M.s hurled themselves from a cavern several meters above my head. They were unfazed as they groaned hungrily and clawed at my topcoat. Snickety-snack, my sword was out in a thrice, and these ambulatory corpses of men were deprived of their chief characteristic.

Sagittal view of an ancient mineshaft. Ask not from whence it came.
Then came the spiders. And these are no smaller than the wood spiders that thrive outside my Yankee dwelling-house, but they are bluish where "mine" are brown, and these cave spiders are poisonous. They sunk their fangs into me and my world lurched sideways, my heart raced, and I tasted blood. Frantically I swung at one, then reverted to the bow for its companion, and though I ended them, yet did their venom course through my veins. I stumbled into my makeshift shelter, slammed the door, collapsed in a heap and waited for my palpitations to subside.

I was out of potatoes, needless to say, and the carrots hadn't yet cultivated. There was nothing between me and the Everafter but less than one inch of Yankee-forged steel. But as soon as I felt up to it, I leaped into action: I constructed my storage chests and unloaded nearly everything into them, save the most essential implements for excavation and combat. With scavenged wood I assembled a full brace of torches, and with these lit up all corridors, gangways and tunnels within my purview, for I have learned monsters may not generate in sufficient light. Everywhere I went were deposits of coal and veins of gold; despite, I charged forth on my mission to secure the surrounding territory.

Down one natural staircase I plummeted; up the rocky ledges I scaled; I spared nobbut one slim moment of trepidation before blasting down the halls like Vengeance itself, planting torches and dispatching the stragglers whose misfortune it was to happen upon me. There was one last dark crevice, and my fingers clawed at the very stone to access it, my nails turned to iron, my sinews like corded hemp. But it was a very short corridor, and my leathern shoes skidded to a halt before it dropped off... into a large chamber, embedded with dirt, into which a stream of lava flowed.

I had discovered the gorge from which the unholy beasts issued. I lit that bitch up and walled it off but good.

That was all well and dandy, but my stomach yet rumbled with my exertions, and water had yet to be... but what was that noise? I heard a gurgling beyond one of the stone walls. Sound travels with some efficacy through the densest of materials, in this world: in an empty room with only one exit, it is not uncommon to hear the scuttling, stomping, roaring and moaning of all variety of maleficent creatures as this earth disgorges, when all that lies between you and they is a meter or two of solid stone. It is a profoundly unnerving effect: in the words of Xenophon, the-... Hmm. I can't seem to recall my Xenophon just now. No matter: it was Seneca as well, who, in his essay...

Errm. This distresses me. I cannot seem to recall the classic masters, where once they came readily to hand.

Regardless: I headed toward the noise of flowing water and detected it running parallel to a previous corridor. I was about to hack it open and fill my bucket when a recently familiar sound emerged. It was a click, then a slowly building rush of fuzzy, crackling noise, concluded by a whip crack. If those bulbous nightmares were just on the other side of this wall, I would be thrice-damned before I ventured to open a door for them. But at least I knew I was somewhere in the ocean, if that was any source of comfort. And I suppose it was, strictly for the love of orientation: I was no longer below any island, that could be ruled out.

I paced another corridor, with no result. I turned a corner, headed off to the left, ran up the natural steps, canted right, sprinted, paused, ran off in another direction. To confess, I was uninterested in my orientation, as my new home base was fairly centralized and all roads seemed to lead to it. If I could only find a deep-earth spring, quite confident was I in my ability to return to my roost. And at length I did happen to turn down a gangway, following the rails to where they'd been washed out and dislodged by a waterfall! Huzzah! Yet my bucket resisted collecting any running water: only still water could be scooped and transported—yet one more arbitrary and nonsensical rule to this dimension. No matter: I would simply exploit another rule of this world and swim up the waterfall. It's quite possible to do, and one only need drift to the side for air to climb indefinitely.

In this case I accessed a higher level of mineshafts. My waterfall was formed by the runoff from another waterfall, which I struggled to obtain due to strong currents. Knee-deep as I was in the confluence of the streams, it was all I could do to hold position and not drift back down from where I came. Inevitably and as if on cue, a chorus of groaning voices echoed around the nearest corner, which meant the A.C.M.s were either trapped behind the wall against my shoulder, or they were staggering toward me this very moment and would be upon me soon.

Swearing (I regret this but it stands in testimony to my desperation and resolve), I swam against the current, accessed the second waterfall and strained upward. And then it wasn't the current that restrained me but a singularly awkward formation of andecite and diorite that pinned my arms to my sides and prevented me from drifting toward a gulp of life-giving air. This should have been the end of me, I'm quite confident, but from deep within my reserves I marshaled the imperative to kick away from the wall behind me, writhe in serpentine fashion between the mineral deposits, and strain against my lungs' demands up into the torrent of water above me. I could have sunk back down, desperately fought the A.C.M.s and anyone they brought to our shindig, dragged myself back to shelter and plotted another way to grow those wretched carrots. It would have been easier, it was certainly a known factor, and intellectually I wanted to learn whether I had the temerity to survive in such straits. Oppositive to this, however, was the one faint glimmer of escaping the caverns altogether and finding my way back home. And so I flexed, contorted, entrusted my fate to what passes for Providence in this realm, and attempted to swim.

This I did. The water poured through a floor of sand, and from this I emerged to find myself at the bottom of the ocean. Quite literally, the deepest part of the seabed. Below me was the small hole that led back to ravenous, mindless beings skulking about the labyrinthine corridors of insanity; above me was only an inky blackness and what I trusted, perhaps foolishly, to be my release.

I'd come too far. I had too little air and no strength, but I did not turn back. I kicked off from the silt and drifted upward. My clothes were heavy about my limbs; the heat began to sap from my chest, the ocean's chill stiffening my thighs and biceps. And there was no air. I ran out, and the blackness began to creep from the periphery of my vision. Three more seconds, I urged myself as the ice bath flowed over my vulnerable skin. Dark shapes swam about me, but I couldn't discern these from the playful octopodes of my domicile or the nightmarish aberrations that hunted them with lethal flashes of light, and I thought, two more seconds. I heard nothing, just the dull and faraway throbs of tidal pulse. My heart pounded, my lungs burned, and I experienced the terrible sensation of water, abruptly sentient, struggling to force itself into my throat.

And why not, I mused distantly, why not give up the struggle and let the sea take me. Worthier men than myself has it claimed. The recesses of my mind whispered, one more second, and the blackness above me faded.

I ran out of seconds. My heart skipped a beat. I couldn't see the sand, and I couldn't see the waves. I was in the middle of it all and I was done. My heart skipped another beat and my ribs ached for the lack of it. Thus endeth Thoreau, lost to this nonsensical alien world, no friends, no answers...

My scalp crested and the waves roared in my ears. I gulped nearly as much brackish water as I did air, fresh air, and as the vital fire began to return to my limbs, I saw this sight:

The author emerges a goodly distance from his Yankee home, beyond which the sun breaks.

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