Here's my entry to the @calluna and @bananafish Tell A Story To Me contest! You can find the original post, prompt, and rules here! This round is "Hollow Earth." I really enjoyed writing this one. Let me know what you think!
The blackness of the cave was so dark, so complete, I didn't think any light would even be capable of permeating through it. It had even crossed my mind that, perhaps, I had suddenly gone blind. I kept my hand firmly pressed to the rock wall to ground myself. I feared that if I moved my hand away, I would lose what was left of my sanity.
I took slow, careful steps forward. With each inch I traveled, I thought about how long it would take me to turn around and run back towards the light at the entrance of the tunnel. I tried to calculate in the steady slope. How much harder would it be to run up the slope? I didn’t know what could possibly be lurking in the dark, ready to pounce on me.
I tried to block out the fear and focus. I couldn’t go back, anyway. Armed men waited at the entrance, told to kill me on sight. There had to be a way out of the cave somewhere else. Regardless, I would rather die in the cave than by those men. Their leader accused me of many untrue things to cover his own tracks. I may not have been the most honest man, but I sure wasn’t the cold-blooded murder he had made me out to be.
It felt like I had been walking for days. My legs were growing painfully tired, and the thirst in my bone-dry mouth was unbearable. I sank down to the ground, my back pressed against the wall of the cave. I stared hard into the darkness. My eyes hadn’t adjusted whatsoever.
In the darkness, sleep took me before I knew it. I was startled awake by a light burning through my eyelids. Confusion pulled me out of my sleepy haze. I tried to open my eyes, but the light was far too bright.
“Aha! So you are alive,” a woman’s voice said.
I nodded, unable to find any words. I was afraid she was from the camp I had fled.
“Carl, turn the light down and aim it over there. If he made it this far, he’s been down here in the dark for at least 12 hours, if not longer. That light will probably blind him permanently.”
The light dimmed. I cracked my eyelids ad little as I could. After several minutes, I finally got my eyes half open.
“Hello there,” the lady beamed at me. Red hair framed her thin face, blue eyes peeking through her bangs. “My name is Scott,” she said, extending a pale, slender hand to me.
“Bennett,” I croaked, taking her small hand in mine. My sun-darkened skin made her pale complexion look even lighter.
Scout handed me a canteen. I sniffed at it, my eyes studying her face.
“It’s safe, I promise. Here,” she extended her hand to take it back, “I'll take a drink first.”
I watched as she took a large mouthful of water and swallowed.
I nodded, taking the container back and took a drink. It was the most refreshing thing I had ever tasted.
“Thank you,” I choked out.
“You're welcome,” she smiled. “Now, what are you doing down here?” Her tone was not unkind, rather curious.
I looked away from her, not sure if I should tell her the truth. It certainly didn’t make me look good. What if she didn’t believe me? What would they do to me?
Finally, I said, “I was chased down here.”
“Who chased you?” I could feel her eyes on the back of my head.
“Men with guns. I had nowhere else to go.” I looked back up at her, meeting her gaze. “They insist I did something I didn’t.”
She nodded. “That’s okay. As long as you will bring us no harm, you can come with us.”
I was shocked at how trusting she was being with me.
“I have no weapons,” I said, raiding my hands as I got to my feet. “You can check.”
“Carl, if you don’t mind,” she said as she gestured to me and looked at the equally as pale man holding the bright lantern.
Carl walked to me and patted me down. Satisfied with his search, he stepped back.
“He’s all clear, Scout.”
She smiled broadly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone smile so easily. “Fantastic! Let’s go!”
“Where exactly are we going?” I questioned.
“Oh, you’ll see when we get there.” Somehow, her smile stretched even wider. I wasn’t sure if I should be scared or excited. I followed behind as the two lead the way deeper into the dark cave.
Half an hour later, lights in front of us started to blossom. I almost stopped in my tracks. It felt like it had been days since I saw an actual light. It filled me with the hope that I would make it out of here alive.
As we got closer to the lights, I was even more amazed. The cave opened up into a gigantic cavern. It stretched out as far as I could see. Lights on tall poles lit the huge area. It was the closest thing to an actual city I had ever seen. I stared in awe.
I heard Scout and Carl chuckling beside me.
“I knew you were going to be amazed,” Scout laughed.
“H-how is this even possible? I heard stories about people living at the center of the earth, but I thought they were just tales to give people hope.”
“Yeah, we’ve heard for decades that everything was getting worse up there,” said Carl, sadness in his voice.
“You’re not the first to come running down here,” Scout added. “I’ll give you a tour. Welcome to the Underground, Bennett.”
Scout and I started down a row of small shops selling vegetables and fruits I had never seen before. They looked delicious and colorful.
“How does this stuff grow down here?”
“Special lights and soil. I don’t know exactly how they do it. I just know it’s taken generations to get it right. There used to only be things like potatoes that are grown underground naturally. With some new technology and a lot of trial and error, they finally got it right.”
“Technology. You guys are so much more advanced down here.”
She nodded. “We didn’t encounter as many issues as the people still above ground. Our people worked hard to build our home. No one here wants to destroy it or take over.”
“It’s a completely different story up there.” I gestured up. “It’s like a constant war up there.”
Scout frowned. “That’s just sad.”
We meandered through the city. Scout told me about the shops and her people. When the government fell over 100 years ago, her people went underground. The first people of the Underground had been preparing. It was said that Charles Brann and his family had found the original tunnel when they were building their underground bunker back in 2025. They abandoned the original plans and investigated down the tunnel. They found that the earth was actually hollow. If you burrowed far enough, you would find these huge caverns with gentle flowing rivers of clean water and edible fish. They found everything they needed to survive until things settled above ground.
Only, it never settled. Instead, they developed what they needed to continue to live underground.
“Bennett,” Scout said as I stared at the river flowing around the city. “You are welcome to stay here. The only conditions are that you help build the community and you bring us no harm.”
“Show me how to help,” I said, my eyes still following the river.
“My pleasure. Welcome home, Bennett.”