I am suddenly alert and feel a cold sweat break out over my whole face. For some reason, I can’t quite figure out why this is happening. All of a sudden, as I try to suck air into my lungs, I realise that I cannot breathe. I squeeze all my weak and aching muscles, injecting energy into every single muscle and manage to turn myself over and force my lungs to take in a deep breath.
After my breathing becomes normal, I look to my side and realise that the reason that I couldn’t breathe was because my head was lying in a puddle of water. My chest feels very heavy and sore so I’m sure my head has probably been in there for a considerable amount of time. In order to prevent myself from dry drowning, I administer the Heimlich manoeuvre to myself and cough up quite an amount of water. After I’m sure that all the water is out, I remain on all fours to rest up a bit.
I try looking around and at least figure out where I am but the steamy air is so hot that it’s making it almost impossible for me to think straight. I try getting to my feet and walking forward but every single aching muscle in my body screams at me to stop. I immediately listen to their cries and collapse to the ground just beside the puddle I awoke in and stare at the ceiling thinking of what happened and how in heaven’s name I got here.
I guess I must be in a cave or underground cavern of some sort and it appears to be illuminated by an eerie red light coming from deeper into the cave. Okay, those were my first cohesive thoughts. I close my eyes and try to process more of them.
I wanted to jump off a cliff, or what I thought wasn’t a cliff so that Alex would forgive me but instead I ended up launching myself off the side of a real cliff and plummeting to my doom as Alex screamed my name. That’s about all I can remember until the time I awoke here a few minutes ago. Okay, now that’s more like it.
The ground under me is really hot for some reason but my body hurts so much that the heat is just a minor distraction. After a few minutes, I smell my hair burning so I muster up some energy from somewhere inside me and rise to my feet.
All my muscles hurt so much that I feel like collapsing back to the ground and wait for the sweet relief of death to embrace me but I quickly dispel that feeling and keep staggering forward through the sweltering cave.
I keep tripping and stumbling over nothing as I walk forward since I am battling aching muscles as well as a scorching and incredibly humid atmosphere. The path in front of me suddenly turns into a descent so in my heavily incapacitated state I couldn’t react fast enough and end up tripping and rolling down the hill, landing with a heavy thud on the rocky ground below. Any muscles that weren’t injured or aching before most certainly are now.
After a loud groan and a few shallow breaths to douse the pain, I try to get to my feet but that feels like a herculean task right now so I just settle for rolling myself over to try to see what’s causing that intense heat on the back of my head. When I do so, I am instantly blinded by the sight of a giant ball of fire that is floating in the middle of the giant room which has five giant cracks in its walls. It also kind of looks as if the ball of fire is drawing the five broken walls toward itself and keeping them in perfect balance with each other; this is quite a sight to behold.
Even though my whole body hurts badly, I manage to get to my feet purely through the release of adrenaline in my bloodstream and look over the ledge I am on. I immediately stagger backwards and hug the wall when I see that there is nothing below but a deep pit and the bottom looks endless. I also now realise why standing and walking in the cave was so difficult as I see my hairs keep getting pulled toward that thing floating in the middle of the room; the gravitational pull exerted by it is so colossal that it was drawing me toward it and making it almost impossible to walk.
One question keeps burning my mind though, well apart from that giant ball of fire just a few feet away from me. What in the world is that thing anyways, and how did it get down here?
I am neither an avid churchgoer nor a staunch believer in Christianity and its doctrines, although my early church-going days have imprinted in me an incorruptible belief in God. My faint belief in a ‘hell’ is immediately awoken with an almighty startle when I faintly see a menacing figure approach the ball of fire, look around for a bit then retreat deeper into one of the many caves that connects parts of this place to each other. Was that the Devil? Am I really in hell?
I’m not sure if this is the developing heat stroke talking or not but what if I kill the Devil? I’m quite sure I’ll become a cult hero among the Christians, and many people in general, well except his worshippers of course but they are just a few. I’m going to do this. Yes. I really am going to do this. I am going to kill the Devil.
I remove my prongs from my gear bag, stick it in my belt holder and wipe the beads of sweat that have formed on my forehead. I take a moment to collect my thoughts and then begin to descend down towards the cave I saw the figure in.
If this really is hell, then why don’t I just kill the Devil and become hell boss? I’ll get many hot (literally) hell-chicks at my service and Michael Jackson and other famous people could be my servants and bring me really hot food to eat when I get hungry. That sounds great.
I keep thinking about this as I climb down toward the cave I saw the Devil in. My foot almost slips off the thin rocks a few times while climbing down but I just about manage to get to a small ledge just adjacent to the giant ball of fire and take a moment to cool down, ironically, considering that the giant ball of fire is literally a few feet from my face.
I take a deep breath and try to regain my composure as I stand on the pencil-thin ledge but that is very hard when there is a giant ball of fire burning brightly just a few feet from your face. I remember my mission to kill the devil and get all the hell-fame so I begin to move slowly across the tiny ledge in order to reach my target. As I move tentatively across the tiny ledge, I can feel the air getting hotter and hotter and my eyebrows being burnt to a crisp. I feel my lungs melt with every one thousand degree breath but at least the uniform has held up pretty well under all this intense heat so kudos to Dr. Alfred or whoever designed it.
As soon as I reach the cave in which I saw the Devil, I leap into it and sink to my knees at the entrance. I try breathing out as much of the burning air as I can but soon I hear someone approaching so I get to my feet and hug the wall of the cave in a bid to remain unseen.
I grab my fully extended prongs tightly in my hand and get ready to finish my job and kill the devil. Hey who knows? I might even get a favour from God and he might be able to get me out of here. Forget all the hell-chicks and the famous servants; I need to get out of here, now! This place is hell! Literally.
I hear the footsteps drawing nearer than ever and tighten my grip on my weapon. I guess this is it... I countdown in my head, five... four... three... two... one... I turn around the corner swiftly with murder on my mind about to nail the figure approaching in the throat with my highly charged electrical weapon. I am literally a few inches away from doing just so but my hands freeze immediately as I stare deeply into those familiar eyes and immediately all my common sense which I lost for a moment returns.
I instantly drop the prongs and take her into a tight hug as I feel my brain working straight again. Thank heavens. I was really beginning to scare myself back there.
“Alex, it’s you! I can’t believe you’re here!” I say as I continue to hug her tightly. “What are you doing here?”
“We came to look for you silly,” she says as we separate from the hug.
“We?” I ask in surprise.
“Yeah, I came with Alfie and Dr. James.”
“So I guess Dr. Alfred has finally come out of his grieving?”
“Oh yeah like a couple of days ago; right after I told him what had happened to you,” she says as we continue walking through the warm cave.
“Wait,” I say suddenly as I stop in my tracks.
“Why, what’s wrong?” she asks as she also stops walking.
“How did you get down here anyways?’ I ask.
“Hmmm, well after you ‘fell’ down the cliff,” she says as she smiles at me for my incredible stupidity, “I had no idea what to do so I began to panic and just started sending random signals using the communicator and as luck would have it, Alfie and Dr. Whitford showed up. They told me to monitor your movements using the trackers in the communicators to see if you were still alive and after you had not moved for a whole day, we began to fear the worst but this morning, when you started moving again, we decided to come for you.”
“Wow, that’s...good,” I say as we start to walk on again. “So where are they?”
“They are up on the surface,” she says. “You won’t believe what we discovered up there; it’s gonna blow your mind.”
“Yes, let’s go.”
She grabs my hand and begins to pull me through a rising tunnel leading up to the surface but about halfway up, I feel my chest get really tight and breathing gets really difficult for some reason. I sink to my knees and think I’m about to collapse from dehydration.
“Dr. Blay are you okay?” she asks with fear in her voice.
“What do you think Alex? I can’t breathe,” I say hoarsely as I keep wheezing and coughing.
“Oh gosh I completely forgot,” she says.
“Forgot what?” I ask while literally on the verge of death. My face is as red as...well it’s very red. In my current state I can’t think of a suitable metaphor.
“Quickly, put on your hood!” she says. “The oxygen down here is very very thin and is filled with sulphur or some other stuff Alfie was saying.”
Oh God, why didn’t I think of that before? I think to myself as I put up my hood and take in a few deep breaths of air. I slowly get to my feet now that I can breathe again.
I inhaled all that incredibly hot and sulphur-filled air back there for nothing? I could have just put up my hood and that last twenty minutes in which I suffered my first ever heat stroke might have gone a little bit easier for me. I feel very stupid at the moment but instead of making this evident to her, I just sheepishly stretch my chest and shoulders as I feel the tightness releasing and air being welcome back in.
“Are you fine now?” she asks me.
“Yeah, I’m good. Let’s keep moving.”
We keep walking up the tunnel leading to the surface and once we come out of the tunnel, I remove the hoodie and take in my first deep breath of fresh-air I’ve had in days.
“Come, they’re over here,” she calls to me as she walks in a straight path toward where the others are.
The place we came out in looks very peculiar to say the very least. It looks in plain language like a sliced orange, like a series of five separate gorges. The first one, which we are currently in, has grass and all this luscious green foliage we’ve seen around here. The next two are quite barren with only few cases of vegetation among a lot of sandy soil. The one just adjacent to that one is also a snowy terrain which’s edges seem to be melting due to the proximity to the other side. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
“Is this normal?” I ask Alex when I realise that all the five gorges converge in a circle around something in the distance which is glowing bright red.
“Oh you’ll see,” she says as we keep walking.
We keep walking on the edge of the gorge toward the bright red light I saw and despite the fact that the journey seemed to take an age, we finally we reach it. I see two figures looking into what I now see is a giant hole and talking to each other.
Once we come into sight, they look up from the hole and both rush towards me and give me awkward bro hugs.
“Gosh you had us all so worried,” Dr. Whitford says as he releases from the hug.
“It’s good to have you back Dr. Blay,” Dr. Alfred says.
“It’s good to be back Dr. Alfred,” I say. “Alex tells me you’ve found something interesting?”
“Yes, it’s actually mind-blowing of you think about it. Walk with us Dr. Blay,” Dr. Alfred says as we all begin walking toward the glowing hole in the ground.
When we arrive before it, I peek into it and see that the red glow is coming from a very familiar source. In addition to remembering what it is, it reminds me of its gravitational pull when it draws me in toward itself and I almost fall into the hold but fortunately, Dr. Alfred grabs me by the collar and pulls me back to safety. I sit on the floor immediately and hold my hand to my chest to calm it down after it almost leapt out through my mouth after that scare.
“No problem,” he says. “In fact, this discovery isn’t merely an interesting fact alone but I think it has the potential to be ground breaking. It could turn out to be something that would make our entire mission a success!”
“Wow,” is all I can muster up really under the circumstances and I am taken to the exact point where they were standing and I look around.
“Do you see this?” he says once we reach there.
“Yeah, pretty amazing I guess.”
“Amazing? This is incredible! It appears that the force from the explosion caused a ripple in the earth’s core itself! And that split in the earth into, one, two, three...five parts, all held together purely with the gravitational pull of the core,” he says as he looks at the giant ball of fire.
“These are amazing, very amazing and all Dr. Alfred but I just can’t get over the fact I think that this seriously isn’t possible,” I say.
“What do you mean it isn’t possible?” Dr. Whitford suddenly asks.
“I’m not saying that it isn’t possible but, I’m just not convinced you know?”
“Not really but still to me, each of these parts, if I can call them that, each have their own weather and terrain while others have different ones, with some being more affected by the blast than others,” he says.
“Okay now that is cool,” I say.
“Now you say it’s cool,” Dr. Whitford says under his breath but I hear it with my super hearing. Why is he being so hostile and defensive all of a sudden?
“It is isn’t it?” Dr. Alfred says with a toothy grin. “This planetary traction of these five remaining partitions of the earth is just, mind-boggling.”
“Partitions? Nice term,” I say as I wipe some mud of my boots. “What is planetary traction anyways?”
“Traction Dr. Blay, as in AT-traction; it’s quite simple.”
“Yeah sure,” I say. “But you were right, this is fascinating. How in the world did this happen?”
“I think it might have been the explosion that caused it but there are so many other factors like a comet or something else that could have...”
He was about finishing his sentence but we are all startled into life when Dr. Whitford immediately springs into life.
“Look out!” he screams from behind us and time seems to have started to move in slow-motion.
Before I even have a chance to react, I see him throw himself in the way of an attack by...is that a post-humanoid? I think it is and the creature appears to have stabbed him right in the abdomen with a long, pointy stick. As it retreats, it tries to jump over the hole and misses the jump. It also drags Dr. Whitford who is still attached to the stick down the deep hole.
“No!” I say as I now process what is going on.
I quickly put on my hood and without waiting to think, I dive into the hole after him but sadly, the hole appears not to be big enough. I struggle and struggle but my waist won’t fit through. All I can do is stretch my hand out forlornly and call his name see him disappear out of sight. I turn my head away when he appears to hit the ball of fire and feel a strong wave of loss. He’s gone.
I am able to climb back out of the hole but can’t seem to process how that happened. He just sacrificed his life for Dr. Alfred and I’ve been so hard on him all this time. I’m such a jerk.
“Why, what’s wrong?” Alex says. “Where’s Dr. Whitford?”
“I, I couldn’t grab him in time,” I say as a small tear rushes to my eye. “The tunnel was too small for me to fit through. I don’t think he made the fall.”
It only takes a few seconds for this to register in her mind before she starts bawling uncontrollably. I get up and try to comfort her.
In between all this, I manage to get a glimpse of Dr. Alfred who’s lying on the floor squirming. All he does is just stare at us with pain in his eyes as he clutches his belly. His hand drops from his abdomen as he collapses and I see a deep gash in his abdomen through which blood is quickly escaping. We both get to our feet when we notice this.
“Alfie!” Alex screams as we rush to his side. “He’s out cold, we need to find him some shelter and water. Oh God what is happening to us? First Dr. Alice and Dr. Randy, now Dr. Whitford and Alfie? What if you go next, or me? What will I do? I’m, I’m...”
“Calm down Alex!” I say as I shake sense back into her since she was rambling nonsensically. “We are going to be fine okay; trust me, we will make it back home.”
I run through the forest in a bid to get back to the beach. When I arrive there, I immediately realise that I don’t have anything to fetch the water with. I begin to panic a bit before I look down at my meaty appendages and remember that I have hands. I fetch the water from the river, hold it as tightly in my hands as possible and begin to run back to Alex and Dr. Alfred. Once I get there, I don’t ask and just dump all the water in my hands on his face and he awakens with a start.
“That was for him to drink!” she says as she wipes his face off. He stares at her then to me and then back to her.
“Alexandria,” he calls softly.
“Yes Alfie, I’m here.”
“No, you need rest,” she says. “Please just rest. Don’t die! Stay with me you old fool!” She takes him in her arms and begins to cry on his chest as he closes his eyes, probably for the last time.
As I stand there watching and my heart breaking as this amazing woman is about to lose the last family she has in this world, I bend over and check his pulse and realise with joy that there is a faint one. He is still alive!
“Alex, there’s a pulse,” I say. “He’s alive! Let’s find somewhere better to let him rest in and recover.”
“Really?” she asks and I nod. “Then we have to get going.”She wipes her eyes and gets to her feet as I sling Dr. Alfred over my shoulder. We start to walk through the forest to look for somewhere suitable to set up camp. We really need to regroup right now.