Malachite – Chapter 2 – Leaving Home

He stood up, picked up his coat and helmet, and moved farther away from the water. He didn’t register at all that he had been moving up the gravel floor since he had first entered the cavern. Hell of a tide. And he didn’t know what he was doing there; just that staying in the apartment seemed pointless. The water continued to rise. Slowly, but certainly. Oblivious to what the rising water might mean, he moved again. So, if they somehow swam thru the pool – a pool that ‘trained professionals’ said was impassable – they wouldn’t have had dry clothes or food with them when they got outside. Would they? The water continued to rise. Damn! I’m going to get wet even if I don’t want to go swimming!
It was then that he noticed that the small tunnel that he had come thru to get into the cavern had disappeared under the rising water. Too early to panic. But, I should keep that option open.

More time passed – how much, he didn’t know – the water level increased. I wonder how far it goes up? I wonder if I will be alive long enough to find out? How long can I tread water? He grabbed his coat and held it close, though he didn’t know why.

When the water level reached his waist, it occurred to him that it was not particularly cold. In fact, it was warmer than when he first got there. So, how hot does this get? He had to release his coat to scull the water with his arms, for the rising water had lifted him off the floor of the cavern.

He had stayed active his entire life, just for the joy of feeling good – or, at least feeling better than everyone else who complained about how bad they felt. The thought that all those hours of sweat might have been a waste crossed his mind.

Probably a little late to be looking around for a way out? But, he looked around anyway. Eventually, he looked up. Huh? A small opening in the ceiling was appearing. Had to pretty much be right under it to see it, and it was glowing brighter and brighter. Some kind of phosphorescence? He had that effect on rocks.

Mal’s watery prison was getting smaller and smaller. Unfortunately, the hole that apparently penetrated through the rock would not allow any air to be trapped while he waited for the water level to recede. Whether or not he could have stayed afloat that long was a question he never got around to asking. He paddled over to it and looked up into darkness. I wonder if I will have the arm strength to climb? Climb to where? Well, it’s not like I have a choice…now.

Soon he was in the vertical shaft. He stretched out his arms. The shaft was wide enough he couldn’t touch opposite sides. He was going up; that he could tell by having to reach out for new hand-holds. In fact, it seemed that he was rising up in the shaft faster and faster; barely able to keep his nose above water. So, is this a one-way ticket? No, wait: Jaz came back, didn’t she? But, did she come back in the same way? What would she have done, abseil? Without ropes? And what happened to Jade? Jaz didn’t seem to be the brightest person he’d ever met – although she figured out a way to use the pool to get out. Evidently. If she wasn’t making the whole story up, that is.

He stopped, and just seemed to float; the sensation of going up was replaced by one of hovering. The rock walls had stopped glowing. Yes, he was sure of that. Just hanging there was a bit unsettling. Not so much because it was effortless, but because there was no feedback: no footsteps, no sound, nothing to touch to give his brain information. It was frightening because he was so absolutely out of control.

But, he hadn’t stopped moving. True, he was no longer going up; of that he was certain. Yes, he was certain, wasn’t he? Now, he was being carried horizontally by the warm water. And much more gently. Yes, his boots were still on his feet; his coat just a memory. Helmet? What helmet? He relaxed. Then tightened-up again. Perhaps because he feared that his vertical flight could have instantly changed from up to down. Though why he no longer feared that this watery medium would suddenly cease to exist, he didn’t understand. Paranoid? Yeah. Probably afraid of my own shadow, if I could see it. But, at the same time, somehow this felt better. At least it was less turbulent, more peaceful. Floating on his back, at least he could look around, up even. No clues. It was as dark looking up as it was looking anywhere else. Would be nice to have the light on my helmet about now. He was used to the dark, he grew up in the dark. But this dark was different. This whole thing was different. Very different. Too different.

That’s when he heard a very low roar, presumably at some distance. But then again, “distance” had very little meaning when you have no visual clues. A feeling of moving, but how fast meant little when you had no way to measure, no way to gage how fast.

His breathing had slowed. Moving horizontally was less traumatic than moving vertically. But still, no idea where he was moving to. Very sure he was moving further and further away from home, however. Moving somewhere he had never been.

The roar was getting louder. His clothes had trapped some air and helped to keep him afloat. He was on his back, his legs extended, ankles crossed, his arms folded across his chest, looking straight up and seeing nothing. He was relaxing and that was dangerous: complacency kills. If not from falling asleep – for he was tired – then from making mental errors. Yes, errors in judgment could kill. Something else to be sure of. He had to keep his wits about him. Fine: wide awake, ready for anything. Knowing nothing. Pretty much the story of my life.

And that’s when the roar became deafening and the bottom dropped out. Simultaneously, the roar became painfully loud and he was falling. The water that had carried him up and gently bore him along now violently pounded him down.

He was fighting to breathe, but it felt like he was underwater. Or, almost. Not quite completely submerged; but every breath brought water into his nose and mouth. He flailed. He kicked. His fingers opened and closed on the water, reaching for anything, grasping nothing. He fell a long time.

Suddenly, he was very definitely completely under water and that wasn’t good. He kicked. Harder. He grabbed at the water. He knew this underwater feeling, and he knew he needed to find air. He fought panic as much as he fought the water. Panic meant death. Of course, to be under water too long also meant death.

He could hear the roar again, and it was diminishing. He also discovered he was breathing. When had he surfaced? He took deep breaths. Yes, he was breathing. But this air was different. It smelled different. Or was that the water he was smelling? He didn’t feel like he was falling, which was good. Was he in an underground river that he didn’t know? There were no clues. It was still just as dark as it could be. Or was it?

No, it wasn’t quite that dark. Not black, not the complete absence of light; more of a gray, a really dark gray. Looking up, up seemed lighter. If he was in a cave, it was a huge cave, the likes of which he had never been in.

He was tired. Physically exhausted. The adrenaline having served its purpose left him. He needed to get out of the water and to something solid, and that probably meant swimming across the current. Swimming with the current, in a river, would never get him to someplace where he could rest, catch his breath, and begin to figure out what had happened. Swimming against the current was a fool’s errand. He rolled over on his stomach and began a breaststroke. Slow and easy, for he had no idea how far away something to hang onto would be.

Looking up, the total darkness was now a layered palette of cobalt blue-to-gray, a uniform gray. His strokes became slower. This, whatever this was, was too big to be underground. Wasn’t it? There couldn’t possibly be a cavern this size. Couldn’t possibly. He had to be on the surface. Who you tryin’ to convince? On the surface? On Top?

There was now a jagged horizontal line where light gray met black. A black darkness that was now not quite as dark as it had been. Not as black as he was used to.

He was on top! He had made it to the surface! Rocks found his boots. Thank God I kept my boots on – and they stayed on! He was able to stand and walk. Using his arms to swim, he began to walk against the ebbing water. Everything got lighter and lighter. He could see the water’s edge. He could see something besides water in front of him. He looked over his shoulder to see a very large river behind him.

Dawn was giving way to day before it struck him that the sun – that unbelievably bright light that would first blind him, then burn him – was rising over the horizon. He had never seen the sun before. No one he knew had ever actually seen the sun. He had read about it; everyone had read about it. Many dreamed of seeing it. But, if he didn’t find shelter quickly, it would kill him – slowly. Generations of living underground had made their eyes very sensitive to low light; and completely unsuitable to the intensity of the raw, unfiltered sunlight On Top. Having spent his entire life underground, he was on the surface, for the first time. Ever.

The warming sun began to make his skin itch. He was already trying to shield his eyes. Gotta find shelter, or I’m gonna fry. Probably fry anyway – one way or another. His coat was a forgotten memory; his shirt and pants were thin and frayed. Yeah, gonna fry.

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