Thursday, 28 March 2013

At The Mines Of Madness

He awoke, as he always did, in the Central Cavern. As consciousness gradually returned the terrible sense of déjà vu almost overwhelmed his senses. He fumbled in the darkness for his miners helmet and turned on the light. The air already grew thin, making it difficult to draw breath. He didn’t have much time. He knew what he had to do. He ran.

Somewhere above, an obscene approximation of music fluttered. Grieg. In The Hall Of The Mountain King. But he knew it was not music. It was the scream of the creatures who dwelt in this eldritch place. Another sound now, the clanking of the cavern’s guardian. A hideous automaton, eight feet tall, patrolled the tunnels. In its mindless and robotic duty it saw nothing. How many years, how many centuries, had it gone about this business? Unchanged by events, unmoved by the passage of time or the intrusion of visitors. It was a formidable presence in the massive cave system around it. It was not advisable to go near it, for its touch brought instant death.

The only way to escape this unnatural, twisted place was to open the gate at its far side. How many times had he already endured this nightmare? Each step, each climb and jump, were etched into his memory. The memory sickened him. He knew what else he would face beyond the door. Avoiding the dread automaton he collected the keys that would make the gate glow and then open. He understood the correlation but not the technology involved. It was nothing he had ever experienced, so advanced it may as well be supernatural. Or Alien. As he had so many times before he entered the gate.

He found himself, as he always did, in a frozen chamber almost as big as the Central Cavern. The scream of the beasts grew louder. This cavern contained creatures that resembled Penguins, those hardy denizens of the southern ice at the other end of the world. But these Penguins were as big as he was. He knew how to avoid them and find the key to exit through the gate. It glowed as it opened, a hideous, unsettling light that drew him to it. He could hardly breathe now and the first signs of frostbite were showing on his hands. He leapt for the gate.

The caves blurred together. Each more difficult and more terrifying than the last.  Unthinking machines went about their duties, their routine never changing. He wondered if they knew he was there at all. Some of the creatures he knew saw him. The giant ovoid beast that chased him as he ran for the gate would haunt his dreams forevermore. If he lived beyond his ordeal and was capable of dreaming again. The disgusting mockery of a giant ape, that was not truly an ape. It could not be an ape. He thought he had escaped from its clutches once, only for it to reappear in a later cavern, as if its very existence was only in jest. These creatures could not die.

As he progressed through the caverns he once more wondered about the beings who built this maddening place. It was clear that humans were not the first to create civilisation upon this planet. Something had been here before us, building in the deep places of the Earth. The remnants of this civilisation were all around him. It was also clear that at some point they had encountered humans. Many of their automatons resembled the machines and devices of man. Here a telephone, there a lavatory. Like some sickening cargo cult approximation of life above the ground.

The most common sight in these dread caves caused the most uncanny fear in him. Indescribable amorphous blobs, which in a brief moment of levity he allowed himself, he named Amoebatrons. But these beasts were no automatons. He began to wonder if they were the architects of this place. Again and again he encountered them, and their screams. The sound chilled him to the core of his being.

Yet for all his disgust, his terror, he could not help but admire their industry. This subterranean world was a marvel. An experienced miner and cave diver, he had never seen its like. An ancient race of beings once ruled this Earth. If only his brothers could see it. They were once inseparable,  but the economic situation had flung them to the far corners of the country. Harry was a farmer now, primarily in poultry. Monty… Monty had turned to a life of crime following the catastrophe that had destroyed their industry, their community. The last he heard he was on the run somewhere in Europe, living in the shadows and staying one step ahead of Interpol. He himself had become a treasure hunter, scouring the world for places such as this. Be careful what you wish for, he thought wryly. There were enough riches here to fulfil the dreams of Midas himself. He might as well be behind the bars of a solid gold prison.

The only way was forward. Forward to what must be the true exit from this labyrinth. Or forward unto death. With the uncanny hindsight he had developed he knew what to expect, and began to inch further than he had managed before. Could there truly be an escape? He had longed for death many times over. If he could just reach the final cavern, and find the answers he craved. The Amoebatrons watched him, floating above, the pattern of their movement changed not.

At length he reached what must be their power source. An immense generator that seemed to harness the very power of the Sun itself. He must be near the surface! The solar rays burst forth from the machine, cascading in all directions, seemingly at random. The noise was deafening. Somehow he managed to climb to the top of the chamber and reach the key. The gate glowed as it opened. How was this even possible? What terrible force kept this place as it was, unchanged by the aeons? What possible force could resurrect a human being again and again, for no apparent reason other than for sport? He had found the power that drove the caves, but the reason was alien. Unknowable.

The Amoebatrons screamed louder than ever. The sickening sound that was not music no longer sounded like Grieg to his ears. It was then that he knew these creatures were the true architects of this world. Their cry now sounded like a call, the structure of it that of a language. If it could be transcribed into his own tongue, it could only be written as Tequila Me! Tequila Me! 

Scarcely able to move his limbs from sheer exhaustion, he found himself at long last at his destination. The surface world beckoned him from above. Escape! And riches beyond his wildest imaginings! That was when he made his one mistake. Losing sight of the path in front of him, he thought only of the gate.
Too late did he see the beast. It was upon him. He screamed as it touched his skin, his body convulsed with pain. Willy died within a few feet of deliverance.

He awoke, as he always did, in the Central Cavern. As consciousness gradually returned the terrible sense of déjà vu almost overwhelmed his senses. He fumbled in the darkness for his miners helmet and turned on the light. The air already grew thin, making it difficult to draw breath. He didn’t have much time. He knew what he had to do. He ran.

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