Yeah Write Challenge #381. Prompt: “A confined space.” It will be no surprise to anyone who knows me why I chose this setting. Enjoy!
UPDATE: I am pleased to say that this story was given the honor of being chosen as the crowd favorite for this week’s contest! Thank you, voters!
In the Middle of Below
I slither through mud. My nylon pants scrape the ground, interrupting the oppressive silence. The light on my helmet is dim, barely penetrating darkness, while a pair of boots belonging to my guide float ahead of me, disembodied and awkward.
My chest squeezes as I consider the weight of millions of years pressing down from the surface. We’re deep in this cave, and I’ve been crawling for hours on my belly through a tight passage filled with razor-sharp limestone. My elbows ooze blood, mocking my tough-girl refusal to wear pads. Jake and his light inch further from me, leaving my thoughts to drift toward terrible shores.
“Jake! Slow down!” My voice is swallowed by the walls, and I’m not sure if he can hear me. “Son of a–”
I freeze. An angry hiss sends ice through my veins. Visions of leathery wings and pointy teeth battle my sanity as I search for the source in my increasingly limited cone of visibility. I can’t see Jake anymore which transcends my fear of bats; the terror of being alone here lends speed to my slithering. The tunnel wraps around me, stony arms stippled with claws which shred my thin shirt. Sweat drips down my face, the effort of my horizontal struggle taking its toll. It has been an eternity of crawling and I’m starting to lose faith that I’ll ever reach a place where I can stand and feel the air and space around me. I blink back my tears.
The passage bends at a sharp angle, and I contort my body to form myself to its shape. The light guiding me flickers and dies. I pound my hand against my helmet, hoping it’s a loose connection. Nothing. Darkness envelops me, seeping into my skin and burning my eyes. It’s a living thing, consuming all other senses and my rationality as well.
“JAAAAAAAKE!” I cup my hands around my mouth as I yell, hoping it will connect with his ears. I might as well be in a tomb where sound is kept among the dead. Anger body-slams fear and I get pissed. How can he leave me here like this? I berate myself for not carrying a handy backup light, and curse the fact that I’m stuck so tight in this passage I can’t access the pack with my extra batteries: it’s tied around my ankle, hopelessly out of reach.
Cautiously, I make the only possible decision and move forward into the inky well of nothing. My gloved hands are spread far out in front, sweeping back and forth to feel for sudden drops, inconveniently placed rocks, or watery pools.
Minutes feel like hours as I work forward, excessively careful; one mistake here, this deep below the surface, could be life-threatening. I occasionally call out for my guide and receive nothing in response. Bastard. Maybe he’s just playing a trick on me. That’s it, just a normal cave prank for a newbie.
A cool breeze washes over my face and I inhale the musty cave air as if it’s my last. Ever so carefully, I raise my head and discover it doesn’t touch the ceiling anymore. Pushing up on my elbows to explore vertically, I find I’ve exited the tunnel. I plop down cross-legged to remove my helmet and fumble for my pack. I search by feel, but can’t locate the batteries.
A brilliant white light abruptly shines in my eyes, causing me to wince in pain and relief. Jake stands in front of me, laughing.
“You jerk! I can’t believe you left me back there like that. My light went out!” I don’t let on how terrified I actually was.
It dawns on me then that Jake’s laughter is without humor. My eyes adjusted now, I glance up at him. The light he’s holding casts eerie shadows on his face, reducing him to eye sockets and bones.
“Looking for these?” He extends a hand full of gleaming AAA batteries.
“Yes!” I reach out, but he pulls away. A flutter of dread batters my gut.
“Good luck getting out of here, Alice.”
To my horror, he turns and leaves, taking the light. I scramble after him, dropping my belongings, but he’s too fast for me. Exhausted and numb, I fall down, tears dripping onto the floor of my grave.