Lost and Alone
There is no reason to panic. There has to be another way out. I’ve got my pocket watch so I can track time, ration my food and water. Have faith is what father inscribed on it. Have faith in what? Whatever you need to he’d say with that wry little smile that told you that was something you needed to find your own answer for. He is emotional and intuition to my mothers reason and logic. And I am a child of both.
I will not going to panic. These caves have good air flow, I have three weeks of trail rations, and I found a stream with pale fish. I have water, food and I’m not going to suffocate. There is no reason to panic. I will find a way out even with this twisted ankle, my broken fishing rod made a better splint than I expected.
At least I don’t have to worry about light, there are green glowing mushrooms coating the walls down here. I wonder if they moved in after the earthquake that shut the mine down last year? Could they have grown this much in a year? There are so many of the tiny things. As a precaution I’m wearing my spare shirt as mask, though, if the spores of these things are a problem I doubt it’ll help much, and the fabric is doing little to filter out the stink of sulfur. Uncle Ediwn always said sulfur came with nefarious magic, had plenty of tales about it to.
I explored the western passage. There is no way out that way, it narrows too much. These mushrooms grow aggressively, I have found small bits of them on my clothing so I made sure my food is sealed. While the dried meat and vegetables are not exactly gourmet eating they’re the only food I have. I filled up my water and then the day seemed to vanish. It was barely noon when I filled my water and then it was eight and I was exhausted.
I have no recollection of the time. I was staring at the mushrooms after a breeze made them dance, and then the wind howed and broke whatever reverie they caused. What if these mushrooms are more than just that? Uncle Edwin used to tell tales of things in the old woods, spiders large and clever enough to eat a hunter, moss covered glens that would steal the life from anyone who slept in them, things twisted by old magic and the netherworld. He always said to be wary of the smell of sulfur. What if that rock slide wasn’t just some bad footing? What if these things caused it deliberately? Could their root network do that?
And what about that howl? Was it really just the wind?
I went south this time, avoiding the cavern I’m hearing the howl from. It’s just the wind and I’m being ridculous but, it sounded so hungry this morning. But, well, that was just me. I was hungry, so I thought it sounded hungry. That is all. Just as normal as thinking that sunflowers look happy when I’m in a good mood.
To the south I found what I thought was just a mound of odd mushrooms, and I wish it was. It’s a skeleton wrapped in glowing mushrooms, its hand clutching a journal not unlike my own. I screamed. Unlike my mother I’ve never worked as an undertaker or morticean, and really I think even this would alarm her. I almost left at that.
Curiosity apparently, outweighs fear in this instance. Ironic since it was curiosity about the odd coloration of the rock that got me into this mess. After all, what is a skeleton going to do? Attack me? I examined it a little closer, there’s the tattered remains of a embroidered shirt and his shoes are shined black leather. For some reason the mushrooms had no interest in them. He clutched the journal to his chest like a tailsmen, and maybe it worked as one for the mushrooms around it seem to wilt, and none touch the leather or paper. That alone was enough that I extracted from his grasping skeletal hands.
I’ll read it in the morning, for now I need more rest. I am getting tired so quickly. It’s just the pain. That must be it.
I had a nightmare, but it felt like more. The cavern was shrinking and shrinking until I was drowning in the water from the pond. I woke choking, for a moment, for a brief, heart stopping moment, I thought it was one of those damned mushrooms. It squished between my fingers, the slime of it slick, making it impossible to wrench. I couldn’t breath. Then the windy howl added to my terror, but my fingers grasped cotton, cotton slimy with nothing worse than sleep drool.
I calmed down by watching the second hand of my pocket. Have faith. In what? What can I trust when my own senses are uncertain? Mother says fear is a response to be analyzed and understood because when then you can act rationally. Or have a better chance to, anyway.
I’m afraid of so much. Of never getting home, of ending up like the skeleton. Of being eaten by whatever makes that horrible growl. It sends a chill to my very core. I’m supposed to be going to school, learning proper medicine, maybe some art, some philosophy. Not die here.
Enough about that. I started reading the journal once I calmed down. The first few entries are calm, he was a prospector looking to see if there was enough left of the mine to make it worth an investment. He wasn’t hopeful; the earthquake trapped almost everyone down here. The rescue attempts killed more people than they saved.
Then he was trapped down here. He panicked and it gets wierd. He talks about something to the east, wishing he had the courage to go, but he’s convinced there’s a monster. Something worse than the mushrooms, or maybe working with them. He’s not sure.
What if it is just the wind and these mushrooms turn the normal horrible? A mild hallucinogenic taking me from tense to terrified? Like when uncle Edwin put a few of his favorites in the soup last fall told one of his terrifying stories. I was convinced there was actually spiders crawling out of the fire that they had woven a funnel web in the door. I’m not sure my dad ever really forgave him for that.
Wish she was here now. She’d be able to step back and think though my… episode and deduce something. That it’s the mushrooms I’m really afraid of? That staying here, dying here, is the thing I’m really afraid of? To die like a fly caught in a spider web, struggling feebly?
I need to get out. It’s time to go east. If the beast is real or imagined I will slay it.
I had another dream. This one of home, dad was baking pancakes while debating with mother. I don’t remember about what. It didn’t matter. I was home, and safe, and looking forward to a good meal. I allowed myself to weep and now I’m already exhausted.
And it made the fact that those foul things invaded my rations all the more infuriating. Their glowing tendrils entwined the dried meat. I threw them into the water, and then I tore at the walls, grabbing them by the fist full and throwing them with fury.
The fish seemed to think them tasty.
In retrospect that may have been unwise. If they can survive in water, I may be quite thirsty in the future. I may end up like my skeletal friend, dying while clutching this book. I wonder, will someone else find my final words useful? Or will my meandering words confuse them? I hope they help. If you’re reading this go east. I don’t know what is there, but here there is only death.
No. I can’t afford to think like that.
I will not panic. I will not panic. I will not panic. I will not panic.
This morning, if it really is morning, I could have missed twelve hours.
This morning, and I’ve decided it is morning, I went east and found another cavern, this one entirely free of these damned mushrooms, but the stink of sulfur is nauseating. The cavern goes a couple paces in before it drops. The cliff face has scaffolding on it, the lantern light revealed old mining equipment. There could be a way out. And it would be better to slip and die in the fall than the stay here.
I am going to descend.
I went back to the stream; the fish are dead, their corpses now floating islands of mushrooms that search for the shore. For me. But they won’t find me.
I’m leaving these things here. The pen, ink, and these two journals. Maybe, if someone else comes this way, they will find the truth behind this.
I am going to have faith. Faith that I will find a way out of this place that whatever that growl was I can face it. I believe it was just the wind. I will not stay here, for fear of something that might be real.