The roadway to hell was darker than I imagined. And damper.
I stopped at the metal wire dangling over the black hole leading down into the collapsed building. Roxx’s body dangled in the heavy darkness. His eyes were white orbs when he looked up at me. The rest of his body was a shadow amongst shadows.
“I’ll go down first. Make sure it’s all clear,” he said.
Safe? Since when was anything ever safe these days?
I nodded my head as he descended into the pit.What could possibly be down in this hole?It’s not like anyone ever came over this way. I’d been coming to the fairgrounds for the last several years and had never once seen anyone else even remotely in the vicinity. It was a private place. A foreboding graveyard and I was its gatekeeper. For some reason, that didn’t deter me.
I could just make out the circular outline of the Ferris wheel three hundred meters south of our current location. I had thought we were going to my workstation in the fairgrounds, but Roxx had made a sudden change in course and walked around the outer wall of the fence line adjacent to it, heading northeast opposite the setting sun. I had been through many cracks and crannies in Precinct 11, but never in this corner. We were on the edge of our precinct. The only thing that stretched from here was the empty expanse of red sand and the occasional wind tornado tossing and ripping the tiny pellets in the air. There were several of them as far as my eyes could see in the dimming light. Rather surreal and peaceful actually. I’d have to start coming out here more often when I needed a break from science.
It had taken us three full hours to get to this spot once we snuck off in the cloud when the Pavers had left. Due to the radiation levels at full capacity this time of day, we had to take shelter under an upheaved piece of the road until the sun shifted behind a part of the ozone that was still in tact. While the sun’s rays did their due diligence, we sat in silence conserving our energy until he peered at the watch around his wrist and leapt into the light suddenly. I followed in close pursuit.I wonder what the others were doing. Hopefully when they couldn’t find us they didn’t start to put two and two together and assume we were the culprits the Pavers were after. Well, I mean. They wouldn’t be entirely wrong if they were to assume that, considering the situation and all. But, I’d much rather keep my spine the way it was. No girl ever looked pretty with a crooked neck.
Roxx had us dipping and diving, crouching and crawling, or pausing every time he thought he heard something.And I thought I was paranoid when I came to the fairgrounds.After awhile I had stopped caring if anyone was following me. I figured, if they went to the trouble to stalk me for five miles outside of the precinct’s main radius, then maybe it was worth them seeing where I was going. It wasn’t safe being this far out by yourself, especially being a female. But, I could hold my own. Roxx had taught me some self-defense in my father’s absence. He claimed there would be a time and place when more than books and knowledge would be required. Brains could only get you so far in this world where muscle was demanded. And from the looks of it, as I peered down into the black abyss that Roxx had now fully vanished within, I would be needing some of those muscles right about now.How did he expect me to climb down that narrow shaft? God only knows where it led to!
My fears were answered.Someone must be listening up there.
“Come on down!” I heard him say. Roxx’s voice sounded muffled as if it had to carry and wind its way through thousands of tons of shrapnel and crumpled concrete and dirt. I leaned my head near the gap in the earth and shouted.
“Are you sure? How am I supposed to get down there?” I yelled into the hole. Wherevertherewas.
“Wrap the wire around your leg. Use your hands to lower you down. Like a pulley,” he said.
He made it sound so easy. I’ll have you know, this wire he was referring to was a two inch metal cord that was used to hold down telephone poles. It was also what held the carnival rides together. Needless to say, definitely not ideal for scaling concrete chunks with sharp iron staves protruding from every corner. If I didn’t die from the fall, I certainly would from being impaled on the way down. I knelt to my knees and etched backwards towards the opening of the hole. I wasn’t normally afraid of heights or anything, but something about the permanent blackness emitting from the depths of an unknown chasm put some fear in me. I really felt my heart lurch when my feet disappeared from sight.
I yelled back down into the hole.
“I’m not sure I can do this. I can’t see anything, and this cord isn’t exactly ideal for descents into unknown dark holes where death is the only sure visitor you’ll find.”Even in fear, my sarcasm found its voice.
His voice cut right through the rubble and my mental debating and hesitation.
“Stop fiddling around and get your rear down here. Now!” he ordered.
I don’t know what it was about the sound of a father demanding your obedience and trust, but it got me moving. I latched my right boot around the cord like he said. Next, I removed my gloves from my back pocket and squeezed my fingers through their slits. I may survive the plummet into the mouth of the earth, but I sure didn’t want to die of an infection from a rusted copper wire. Let alone a metal splinter.Yup, better safe than sorry. Such is the irony in a world that can kill you in a hundred different ways within a blink of an eye.
I looped my left arm around the wire with it nestled firmly between the groove of my bent forehead and bicep. And with my other hand I grabbed directly ahold of the black wire.
“Alright,” I yelled over my shoulder. “I’m coming down.”
Ready or not, here I come.
Slowly, painfully, I lowered myself into darkness. My eyes were ground level just as the sun was fading away behind the Smoky Mountains to the Southwest. I couldn’t actually see the mountains from here. We were roughly 500 miles from those rocky slopes. But I imagined what they must be like. Majestic, mysterious, and full of indestructible resistance to change. Maybe one day I would follow the AT all the way to the national forest and make camp there. Away from the system. Away from the heartache. Away from it all. It actually passed through not too far from our precinct and continued Northeast for several hundred miles. I watched the orange glow of the sun cast its eerie glimmer along the sand dunes and abandoned festival rides. Their metal hinges and swings creaked in the wind.
Something else was cracking. The strain on the metal wire from the heat and weight of the concrete blocks weakened its resilience and it started to fray. I felt my hands slipping before the sharp tug on the cord sent a rush ofcold dampair over me as I fell. I grappled with the metal wire with my gloved hands but could not gain traction. The metal was too damp.That’s odd. I felt my hands lose grip and my back lean away. I could see the orange glow of the sun peaking through the slit in the earth’s surface quickly shrinking as my body plummeted. The farther I fell, the colder it got.Here I come death. Open your arms and embrace me. I’ve finally arrived.
I felt a searing jolt of electricity fire off through my ankle and up my leg. I heard a pop and cried out in pain before the air was sucked right out of me. The wall had caught my tumbling. As consciousness faded, and a new permanent darkness swept into my soul, the glow of the sun far above was merely a speck in the distance. After all these years, this was how I would die.PerfectI thought.I’m ready for the next journey.
Then the water rushed down my throat and I stopped breathing.