This Week’s Prompt: 100. Subterranean region beneath placid New England village, inhabited by (living or extinct) creatures of prehistoric antiquity and strangeness.
The Prior Research:In The Depths of the Earth
Tonight was the big night. After breaking curfew three times, tonight we’d finally have a go at the underground. I’d packed everything I’d need in my backpack: some saved up rations, a metal water bottle, a knife and another set of clothes. I’d stuffed some other stuff in my jacket—flashlight, health mask, keys and phone if I ever decided to come back. Which, I wouldn’t. But just in case something went more wrong then we expected.
Officially there’s no one out after lock down. Well, no one who’s not supposed to be. The streets go quiet, the only noise the gently roar of the Atlantic. The whirr of a patrol car or cycle. The occasional shout of someone else getting caught out and scattering. Sometimes a gunshot.
Everyone around town knew one way below. Our parents showed us when we were kids, or our friends showed us if we were new in town. The caves ran through the entirety of the underground, layers and layers of curved stone.
“They haven’t found this one yet—probably will soon though.” Jake had told me. “It’s now or never if we wanna make a run for it.”
They started just putting patrols outside the big one in the center of town. Then there were outposts watching all of them, especially on the coast. Big tunnels into and out of town were a hazard, a security concern. We were still allowed in, and they ignored the smaller ones. We could visit the old skeletal halls, the looming caverns where my parents said spirits walked.
Then, a month in, they covered it with concrete. There was a riot, there was a lot of noise—and a lot of gunshots. Even today, I can hear them pounding from the other side. Less now than before.
And then they started just dynamiting the rest. I watched one, as the carved statues crumbled down over the entrance.
Of course, tunnels under the town are a hazard. Spies could get in through them, or even enemy combatants. An entire fifth column could be built down there. And folks could get out.
This one was near the edge of town, a twenty minutes’ walk from the old railroad tracks. There was a big tree nearby, and the roots had covered most of it. It was…it wasn’t actually that big. Maybe four feet tall, and it down to three feet tall pretty quick. It was only three feet wide.
“Your sure this leads to the exit?” I said, gulping and looking down into the darkness. “Like, this actually connects with the rest?”
“Yeah.” Jake said, checking his own pack. “I did a test run—didn’t get all the way to the end, but hit tunnels I recognized. We’ll be fine.”
There isn’t much wind coming out of the tunnel—but there is some. I breath in, breath out, and look up at the searchlights.
I have to bend my back pretty low to get anywhere—its cramped, and cold, and wet. Its miserable for a bit, before at last the cave opens up. I’d say how long, but I wasn’t counting steps. And time seems strange down there anyway. I don’t breathe easily till we get to the deep cave.
The deep caves are the ones with the strange stones—they look like those terrible lizard things I see in text books. Not exactly like that, but long fingers in the stone. Small carvings rising from the ground Rib cages just poking out of the wall. And of course, this is where they are. We called them the friendly folk. They have their own name, but its—well, its not easy to say right, so they settled with friendly folk.
I’d grown up right next to them—but still seeing one out of now where in a dark cave was terrifying. Long limbs holding onto the wall, and its paper white face with red eyes smiled at me. It clicked and drummed its fingers. It thought all the ways in were closed.
“Not all of them.” I said, shaking my head. It clicked again, its fingers playing on the stone like drums. Sealing the doors was a breach of old laws.
“It—I mean, it doesn’t really matter if it’s legal does it?” Jake said shrugging. “They don’t care, they’ll drop a landmine down here if they get the chance. We need to get out while we can.”
“They’ll bury us all.” I said, shaking my head. “Look, we—we’re just looking to pass through, get out, before it gets too bad.”
It held out a hand, bending it’s face into a smile. I sighed and handed over one of those assembling cubes puzzles. They get bored in the dark, and puzzles that are more…kinetic are easier when you don’t have light.
It let out a high pitched giggle and drew an arrow on the wall, hovering just above the stone. Directions. Faintly glowing fungi grew from the wall—a glimmering trail out to the sea. Once we got to the beach, we could find a ship.
“You think they’ll demolish all this?” I asked, walking side by side now that the cave allowed it, careful to have the lights on the floor and ceiling. “I mean, these caves have been here longer than we have.”
“Probably not.” Jake said, frowning. “Probably expensive right? Loading up that much dynamite to smash out the foundations of an entire town.”
“Right, probably.” I said, turning to look at one of the more elaborate drawings on the wall. Friendly folk had drawn it. You could tell, with the bumps and rivets—no light meant most of the meaning was in the feeling. You could see additions from later visitors. Fudgier lines from thicker fingers, but more color shining in the light. It was a wonderful sunset. Running a hand along it, you could almost feel the warmth on the water.
“Bet they just concrete over all of it, and call that that.” Jake said, nodding. “And when the war’s done, everyone will take sledgehammers to it, break it open, and it’ll be like nothing ever happened.”
“What if they win the war?”
Then there was a boom. Then a crash of stones crumbling. The world shook.
We started running. Another boom shook and this time some stones fell down. I caught myself mid trip, as the small dark place began falling in.
“Not much farther!” I heard Jake shout. He wasn’t that far ahead, but he wasn’t slowing down—I needed to catch up. I needed to keep going, as I pulled myself and ran. I could smell the sea, and saw Jake round a corner—and then the ground shook again. The boom was ahead of me.
There were more lights. I heard Jake shout, and held myself against the wall. There weren’t any gun shots. But Jake didn’t come back around. I turned my flashlight off. Sirens. Another loud boom from behind. I turned into the echoing dark—where could I run now? I stepped back towards the boom. Where could I—
And then I saw those old pallid faces, leaning from the cave. Long fingers parting the stone of the wall—a third path I ran down. As they closed it behind me, I heard the thud of boots running by.
I started to breath again in the dark. The boots passed, again and again. I could see them, huddled around. Pale faces of the friendly folk, looking up at me. Not smiling, not angry. Blank and waiting. Their fingers were curled, clutching objects. One crawled along the edge, holding that old puzzle box. And held out its free hand.
I shook my head. I had nothing to give.
It drummed on the cave and chirped like a bird. It wasn’t asking for something. It was offering. Something it wanted me to take away from here, before the thunder got any closer.
“Take where?” I asked, looking around. Anywhere, it said. Anywhere but here.
“If you can get me out of here, I can get it out.”
It presented a stone box, maybe six inches long and four inches wide. When I took it, I felt the waves and faces carved on its exterior. Friendly faces. The friendly folk rushed around, and deeper and deeper down we went. I’d never seen these caves. They were blur of moss and mold, green and red things, pale things hanging from the ceiling, laughing noises.
They took me down further and further.
Until, I heard the sound of the ocean’s tide, coming in. The dull roar of the waves.
The harbor stretched out for ages—a small boat sat there, piled high with boxes. No sails, but a number of little fins along the bottom. As I got aboard, the crowd retreated. They left little gifts, and shoved it off.
And that’s when the shock started to fade, as I drifted out to sea, colorful mosaics on the cave walls illuminated by my flashlight. Eventually the tide and fins would take me to open see, with a gift from the friendly folk—and who knows where to. Just not here.
100 stories. 100 research articles. I feel like I should have something more to say than that. I’m just boggled at the amount of work this website represents—over four years of work and 320,000 words. Thanks to everyone who has read this blog, retweeted it, and even supported our patreon! This project isn’t even half way done (that’s still a few months away), and yet it’s already grown so much. And I even wrote a story I’m kinda proud of for the occasion! I think with some of these prompts, just starting with the supernatural makes the consequences of the story more impactful—sort of the reverse of the cat story, that I also really enjoyed.
To another 100 posts and another 4 years!
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