Footprints – Part XIV

by Gaston Prereth

Frederick and Ruben were standing at the bottom of the ladder. A single column of light lit the ascent to the surface, as if the rock beneath them were a foot light shinning up into the heavens. Everything else around them was black. As Frederick looked into the darkness, he could imagine a thousand eyes staring at them from the darkness. Judging them. Criticising them for venturing further into God’s universe than their heathen flesh should allow. He squeezed his arms against his sides, pulling himself away from the shadows.

Contrary to the silence that Frederick had been expecting, the atmosphere was laden with excitement. He could hear Ruben breathing in shallow rasping breaths, but behind that there was something else. It wasn’t the hum of the universe, but a cousin to those familiar vibrations. More mechanical, more rhythmical. A series of regular dull thumps, every fifth one at least twice as loud as the rest and, behind them, was a more complex interplay of scrapes and clicks that continually fought to be heard.

Frederick turned his head to one side. As his head moved, the sound warped in the darkness, swelled, and then died away. Turning his head back, he felt the same transition wash over him once more.

Without a word, both Frederick and Ruben started to walk towards where the sound was loudest. The darkness deepened before them with each step, as if the void was backing away, not allowing them to touch it. Beneath their feet the ground crunched as if they were treading on broken glass and still the air reverberated with the strange rhythmical sounds.

Despite Ruben being stood within touching distance of him, Frederick felt more alone than he ever had done before. The cold air of clung to his habit and caused his muscles to tighten. If it weren’t for the crunch underfoot with each step, he would have felt like he was floating into the void of space, through the dome and between the distant diodes of the sky.

“That sound.” Said Ruben, his voice running away from them into the darkness, “It’s definitely getting louder.” Frederick didn’t respond for awhile. Listening to the sound as they kept walking into the infinite black hole. He kept expecting for them to come face to face with a wall or for them to fall into a hole that would take them deep into the centre of the rock, but there was nothing.

“It feels like the rock has a heartbeat.” Said Frederick. “As if it lives like we do. As if it is a beast fallen from God’s mechanical beauty like the rest of us.”

“Everything in the universe has a heartbeat. Even the mechanical has veins for electricity and a pulse of a beat. Where do you think this tunnel leads?”

“Somewhere bad. Somewhere ungodly. Somewhere that we shouldn’t…” A crack of electricity, a scythe of white and blue, cut through the tunnel.  They stopped walking as a buzz erupted around them, and then everything started flashing. Frederick felt Ruben’s hand grab at his arm, and they pulled close together. The ceiling was falling apart, dissolving in sharp sudden bursts. Turning from the infinite black of space, to the infinite white of non-existence.

When the flashes stopped, Frederick could still feel Ruben clinging onto his arm like a toddler holding onto the skirts of their mother. The whole ceiling had turned into glowing lights, disappearing into the distance like the trail of a comet. The walls of the tunnel were curved like the half moons and totally smooth but for the occasional slim ridge that appeared to corkscrew down the tunnel away from them.

It took a moment for their eyes to adjust and a further few seconds until either of them looked down.

“Oh God. Oh dear fucking God.” Said Ruben in a whisper, collapsing to his knees, his hand still holding Frederick’s arm. “This can’t be happening.”

Frederick stared down. Every inch of the floor that they had been walking on was covered in the inert bodies of spiders. Frederick shifted one of his feet and heard the crunch of the tiny spider’s bodies beneath his foot.

“There must be millions of them.” Said Ruben, stroking his finger through the mass of metal bodies as if he were looking for a particular spider amongst the rest of them. “Don’t you see Frederick. Those numbers in Brother Douglas’ ledger? Those number he was counting? What if they were spiders? Dead spiders?”

“But weren’t their numbers for the future too?” Said Frederick, “They went for a few more days didn’t they?”

“Yes, and then they stopped.”

“But how could he be counting the dead spiders in the future?”

“The same way he knew that in a few days they would either all be dead, or them dying wouldn’t matter any more because we would be.”

The next and final chapter is here

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