Black Holes by Vrinda Pendred

Feltham had never been especially frightened of the dark or confined spaces, but when Kingdon announced they would be creeping their neo-bathyspheres into a cavern over 30,000 feet below the surface, something in his throat knotted up like a badly done tie.

“You look ill,” Kingdon observed. “What”s the matter?  You always knew we’d do this. It’s why we’re here.”

Feltham could only nod. The knot was preventing words from forming. It was true; it was why they were there. Why else would they have been living on a submarine, deep in the Pacific, then plunging down into the depths to nose around for holes?  Exploration. Scientific discovery. This was how you did it. And he’d done it uncountable times before.

But this was different.

“Charlie.”

Feltham turned. “Uh?” he made out.

“You’re gonna be okay, right?” Kingdon patted his shoulder with the affectionate concern of an uncle about to take his favourite nephew on an adventure they probably shouldn”t tell Mom and Dad about.

Feltham swallowed the knot down, where it jumped and kicked in his stomach. But at least he could speak again. “It’s fine, sir. I’m fine.”

Kingdon regarded him several moments, then moved away to speak to them as a group, via the microphone. “Alright, listen. We’re gonna steer straight into the black hole.”  He pointed through the reinforced glass at a spot that was almost indiscernible from the engulfing darkness…except there was a feeling about that spot that made it stand out, against all odds. Before they found it, they had been looking out for any deep-sea creatures swimming out of hidden spaces. But no creatures came from this one, and yet they’d found it anyway. In fact, it almost leapt out at them when they neared it.

“Keep in touch,” Kingdon continued through his headset, so the others could hear him in their own pod. “The last thing we need is to lose someone in the dark, so I expect constant conversation. Understood?”

Tobias and Sanchez voiced agreement. Kingdon glanced at Feltham. “You gonna be sick, Charlie?”

“I’m fine, sir,” he echoed himself.

Kingdon once again regarded him in silence, at last saying, “Let”s go.”  Feltham stared out into Kingdon”s “black hole”. He felt the bathysphere trudge forward, as if through jelly, and there was no turning back.

Small, white, dinosaur-like fish scattered around them, their electric bodies illuminating the freezing water in flashes just long enough for the men to make out their thin razor teeth and shocked empty eyes. An eel darted past, slapping the pod with its five-foot tail, and Feltham jumped.

Kingdon stopped the pod and turned in alarm. “Since when were you scared?  You’re usually five steps ahead of everyone. That”s why I wanted you with me.”

“I don”t know what”s wrong,” Feltham admitted, taking deep breaths to calm himself. “It’s just something about…that.”  He pointed to the black hole. “I’ve got a bad feeling about it.”

Kingdon was nonplussed. “You’re getting superstitious on me?”  Then his voice took on a softer tone. “Look,” he sighed, “if you’re getting jumpy, there’s part of me thinking I need to take it seriously. But on the other hand….”

“We didn’t spend all that money and time just to turn back,” Feltham finished. He nodded. “Yes, I know. Don’t worry. I wanna do this. Just bear with me if I’m a little creeped out.”  He laughed, hoping it would demonstrate some stability to his companion.

“Alright.”  Kingdon looked only half-convinced, but it was enough.

“I thought you said you wanted constant communication,” Tobias” voice rang through their headsets.

“And I thought we were moving,” Sanchez added. “Everything okay?”

“It’s fine,” Feltham jumped in. “We’re going. Now.”  He took control of the pod and moved them further forward until they were nose-deep in the hole.

“Take us in,” Kingdon commanded, though with soothing encouragement. Feltham did as he was told, drawing the pod into the hole, enveloping them in night – even blacker night than the general ocean floor. The second pod followed behind.

When they had travelled through that night at least a half hour, Tobias piped up: “Geez, how far does this thing go?”

“We knew it had to be long, if it was that black,” Kingdon rationalised, though something new coloured his voice.

“Hey, maybe we’re journeying to the centre of the Earth – like that movie,” Sanchez suggested.

Tobias laughed. “Yeah, maybe we’ll find dinosaurs.”

“Let’s not rule anything out,” Kingdon spoke with odd seriousness. “Remember why we’re here.”

They remembered. The strange screams that had been recorded from the bottom of the sea, and under volcanoes. There had been years of speculation, from paranormal investigators, and Christians determined to prove Hell was a place on Earth. Now they were out here in the Pacific to find the truth. It had taken them eight months to trace the scream down to this region of ocean floor. It might have been swifter, but they had to wait for the scream to come in the first place. It was a rare thing. The rest of their land team agreed they were astoundingly fortunate not to have waited eight years.

“Maybe it’s some underwater dragon,” Tobias teased.

Kingdon noticed the way his companion’s shoulders seized up. “Alright, enough with the mythical lethal animal comments,” he ordered.

Sanchez laughed. “Bet you never expected to have to say that.”

“Hey, is that light?” Feltham interrupted the banter.

“There ain’t no light in this place,” Tobias grumbled in his singularly Texan accent, the only American in the group.

“No, he’s right,” said Kingdon. “It’s just up ahead. It’s faint, but it’s there. Like a pinhole of white.”

“Actually…it’s growing,” noted Feltham. “As we get closer, it’s getting bigger.”

“How many times did you have to sit your exams before they let you get your doctorate?” asked Tobias.

“No,” Feltham clarified, “I mean I think it’s something big up ahead. Like we’re seeing the edge of a doorway into a big chamber of light.”

“I know he’s not talking monsters, but he’s venturing into the mythical, and I’d say that’s still not allowed,” said Sanchez, though he sounded uncertain.

“I realise it’s quite a guess,” Feltham conceded.

“But I think you’ve got a point,” said Kingdon, his eyes fixed on the expanding light ahead. “This isn’t just some cave. It’s definitely leading us somewhere.”

“But that’s ridiculous,” Sanchez snorted. “What you’re saying would imply this is a tunnel…made by something. Something living.”

“Anyone care to revisit the dinosaur theory?” asked Tobias, but no one replied. Instead, they broke their constant communication rule and lapsed into expectant silence as they inched toward the yawning pool of light.

“It’s a perfect circle,” Kingdon breathed when they were close enough to make it out in full.

“That’s just stupid. How would they get down here with all their instruments?”

“Shut up, Tobias,” Kingdon barked. “I’m telling you, the doorway is a perfectly shaped circle.”

“What you’re saying is impossible,” Sanchez argued.

“Only according to what we think we know,” muttered Feltham.

“Maybe it’s mermaids,” Tobias offered. “And they glow.”

“At this point, I wouldn’t rule it out,” Kingdon admitted.

The doorway loomed just metres before them. A deliciously cool white light flowed toward them, beckoning them in.

“After you,” Tobias spoke from the pod behind them.

Kingdon turned to his companion. “You still okay, Charlie?”

“Sure,” Feltham spoke with little conviction. The knot had tangled up with his intestines and they were all bouncing around inside.

“Listen up,” Kingdon resumed speaking to them all as a group. “This is a momentous occasion, whatever happens. No one’s ever seen this before. Just take a second to consider that – take it all in so you remember it later.”

There was a respectful pause as everyone did just that. A sense of surrealism swept over Feltham, like he was only just then hit with the magnitude of the situation. He was in a bathysphere, dropped to the bottom of the Pacific, miles below sea level, crawling through a black tunnel that took over an hour to get through, about to enter a mysterious room of light, where not even the fish had dared go. What the hell was he doing down there?

Then the moment was over. “Let’s move,” Kingdon commanded, and they lurched onward to the doorway, then through it and into the light.

Having grown accustomed to only the dim light thrown out by the bathyspheres, the new whiteness temporarily blinded the crew. Groans and cries could be heard through the headsets, until they adjusted and had a chance to take in their surroundings.

It was a dome-shaped chamber, with hieroglyphic carvings lining grainy grey walls in neat vertical rows. The light seemed to be coming from a spot on the floor, but it was so bright they couldn’t quite make out what lay there.

Sanchez was the first to attempt speech. “Is it just me or are we sli –”  His voice cut off as their pod slid into the light. Through the glass, Kingdon and Feltham watched their team members dance skittishly around what looked like a large ice rink.

“What’s happening?” Kingdon yelled into the headset.

The response was a lot of shouting, and panicked cries like, “Right!  Turn right!

Felltham’s knot worked its way back up into his throat again, but it brought with it all the other tangles from his stomach, and he was suddenly very certain he would be sick. “Sir,” he tried, but Kingdon was preoccupied, punching buttons on their computer and trying to get a steady image of the other pod and the crew inside it. Feltham turned and searched for an appropriate bag to empty out the contents of his stomach.

And behind him, the light went out.

But only for a second.

And just as it went dark, they heard a loud harmony of screaming from the second pod, before everything went silent.

The nausea came over Feltham in a wave, but it came to nothing, preferring to taunt him with suspense.

“Tobias!  Sanchez!” Kingdon was shouting at the top of his voice, echoing in their spherical chamber.

The silence persisted.

Blinking in the renewed light, Kingdon got a lock on the second pod and saw it had skid to the very edge of the dome, directly opposite their own pod and away from the light source.

“We’re here,” Sanchez finally voiced, trembling a little. “Sorry, we just…we were stunned.”

Kingdon let out a heavy breath. “Oh, thank God.”  Behind him, Felltham’s stomach relieved him by throwing up in the bag, which he immediately sealed and tossed in a containment box, before wiping himself clean with a cloth.

“You’re sure you’re okay, Charlie?” Kingdon worried. “Because to tell the truth, my nerves are feeling a little worse for wear, now, too.”

“I’ll be – fine,” Feltham said.

“What happened to him?” asked Tobias.

“He threw up.”

“Oh, joy.”

“What the hell happened there?” Kingdon drew them back to more important matters.

“I have no idea,” Sanchez answered. “We came in, and then we were sliding all over the place.”

Falling is more like it,” came Tobias.

“Falling!” Kingdon said.

“I think there’s something…in the middle of the light.”

The four were quiet a long time.

“It went dark,” Feltham broke the spell.

“Huh?” Sanchez asked.

“Just for a second. Didn’t anyone else see it?”

“We were a little busy trying not to fall into an uncharted abyss,” Tobias snapped back.

“Hold the sarcasm,” said Kingdon. “Charlie’s right. It went dark, and then it lit up again.”

“It was when we were pushed,” Sanchez remembered.

“Pushed!” said Kingdon.

“Yeah, something threw us sideways. Good thing, too, or you’d probably never hear us again.”

Feltham shuddered visibly.

“From now on, don’t go near the light,” Kingdon decided. “Keep to the walls. Let’s get moving, look around.”

The pods slowly started up again.

“Still think no one could have come down here and made that tunnel?” Kingdon asked.

Sanchez said, “I don’t know what to think anymore, sir. But I mean…we’re underwater. How did anyone get down here and make these carvings?”

“Maybe it used to be above water,” Kingdon suggested.

“And it sank over 30,000 feet to the bottom of the ocean?” Sanchez scoffed.

“Maybe no one tunneled in from the ocean, but tunneled out into it,” said Tobias.

“It’s a cave,” Sanchez pointed out. “How did they get into the cave, if not from the ocean?”

“God knows,” Tobias muttered. “This goes beyond anything I ever studied, if I’m honest.”

“I think that goes for all four of us,” Kingdon agreed. “I’ve heard of lost cities, but this is really baffling. I don’t think it’s really sinking in, for me.”

“If you’ll excuse the pun, eh?” said Tobias.

“Huh?  Oh. Right. I see.”

Then Feltham whispered, “It moved.”

Kingdon jerked around to face his partner. “What did you say?”

“That wall.”  Feltham pointed out to a stretch of grey across and slightly to the right of them. “It…exhaled.”

After a silent pause, Tobias burst out laughing so loudly, the sound distorted in their headsets.

But Feltham was undeterred. “I’m serious. It’s breathing.”

“Stop talking crazy,” Tobias gave a weak command.

“I hate to say this, guys, but I think he’s right…again.”  Kingdon stared at the gently pulsating wall, then realised it wasn’t just that wall; it was all around them. The dome was heaving, inward and outward, with rhythmic intensity.

“But it’s rock,” Sanchez tried.

“We don’t know that,” Kingdon noted. “It only looks like rock. We can’t be certain unless we touch it.”

“But if it’s alive,” Sanchez uttered the word like it was the dirtiest thing ever to pass through his lips, “explain the hieroglyphs.”

“Tattoos,” Feltham almost whispered.

“And you thought I came out with some corkers.” Tobias seemed to say “corkers” in air-quotes, as if mocking his British companions.

Then Feltham said the strangest thing of all: “It blinked.”

No one said anything immediately, as they attempted to interpret Felltham’s declaration. Then Sanchez shouted, “Are you telling me we were skating on some creature’s eye?

Alarmed, Kingdon pressed his face to the glass and looked deeply into the light, searching for the “abyss” his team almost fell into. “Holy God, there it is. A big black spot at the centre.”

“A pupil,” Feltham corrected.

“My God, you’re right. We were sitting on its eye.”

“How fucking big is this thing, if its eye takes up almost the whole room?” Tobias shrieked. “And what about the walls?  If you’re right, does that mean its face is inside some kind of giant fleshy tube?  Are we…inside it?”

“Do you really think I have the answers?” Kingdon snapped. “No one’s ever been here before, remember?  Your guess is as good as mine. And besides…this may just be a lot of paranoid guesswork. We have no hard proof.”

“We should go,” Feltham kept whispering, his gaze locked on the eye outside.

“No one’s going anywhere,” Kingdon growled. “We got this far, didn’t we?  We can’t turn back now. What would we tell everyone back at the surface?  And besides, don’t you want to look around?  We may never get to come back here.”

“I’m all for exploration,” Sanchez said, “but if it’s alive –”

“So now you’re a believer, if it means you can wimp out?” Kingdon challenged.

“Whoa, okay, let’s all calm down,” said Tobias.

Sanchez continued as if he hadn’t heard his colleague. “Kingdon, this isn’t like you at all. You think maybe you’re just a little bit scared, yourself?”

In his own pod, Kingdon swallowed hard, and then took a series of long deep breaths before responding. “You may have a point.”  He glanced at Feltham, whose face had gone white a long time before. “Okay, let’s just circle round the dome until we get back to our starting point, then exit the way we came. That agreeable to everyone?”

“Yes,” Sanchez said.

“Agreed,” said Tobias.

“Charlie?”  Kingdon turned to face his pod mate. “What do you think?”

“I think we should go,” Feltham repeated, still not looking away from the window.

“That’s what I said. We’ll go. We’ll go around the circle and leave.”

The pod began moving again, holding to the living walls. “Wish we could get samples,” Sanchez uttered as if just remembering his job. “The cameras sure won’t capture it.”

“We could test it, at least,” said Tobias.

“Don’t,” said Feltham, still not moving.

“How do you mean “test it”?” queried Kingdon.

“Bump it. See if it reacts. Then we’ll know if it’s really alive.”

Kingdon lapsed into brief meditation. “Okay, who wants to go for it first?”

“Leave it alone,” said Feltham, his voice rising slightly.

“It’s what we’re here for,” Kingdon reminded him. “To explore and study. We’ve explored as far as we’re willing. Now we need to study it. We can’t very well go back up and tell everyone we found a huge living creature with a massive glowing eye without being certain that’s what it is. It’s gonna take some work to get them to believe us even with some test results. Let’s not make it harder on ourselves. We’ll just try it once, let the cameras catch the action so we don’t sound completely mental, and then finish our circuit.”

“It’s a mistake,” said Feltham, his hands starting to shake.

Kingdon gripped him tight and yanked his head round so they were making eye contact. “Get a hold of yourself,” he urged. Releasing him, he turned back to the controls of the machine. “Okay, let’s go,” he said for the last time.

Twisting the pod around so it was facing the “wall”, Kingdon aimed ahead and nudged the grey material, inhaling sharply as the pod bounced backward, slamming into the second pod that had been coming up behind them.

“Do you hear that?” Feltham whispered once they re-settled inside.

“Hear wha –”

A low rumbling sound was rising all around them.

“These things are sound-proof,” Sanchez’s voice rang shrilly through their headsets. “How fucking big is this thing ?

The noise began to reverberate, shaking the bathyspheres as if in an earthquake.

“Jesus, if the roof caves in, if the roof caves in…,” Tobias started repeating over and over.

Turn back!  NOW!” Kingdon screamed down the line, already at the controls of his own pod, making a desultory attempt at turning back for the doorway.

“It was a mistake,” Feltham murmured, “a huge mistake.”

“Don’t you think I know that!?” Kingdon shouted right in his face, and then continued his attempt.

“No rocks falling,” Feltham noticed with eerie detachment. “And we bounced. Definitely not stone walls.”

“…if the roof caves in, oh God, if the roof….”

“Sanchez, shut him up!” Kingdon shrieked.

Then they noticed Kingdom’s words became magnified a million-fold until they could feel it in their chests, their arms, their feet. They slammed their hands to their ears, forgetting the bathysphere controls. Feltham and Kingdom’s pod slammed again into the living walls, while the second pod slipped away several metres, flying dangerously near the blind light of the thing’s iris.

What was worse was that covering their ears didn’t do any good. Their chests felt like they might burst from the bass, and their heads swelled with the sound.

Then, to the side of what they had decided was a pupil, a strange and horrible darkness rose up from the other side of the cave, bearing long white posts, sharpened at the ends. It made sense; where there were eyes, surely there was a….

Before Feltham could summon his vocal chords to voice what he thought those posts could be, the second pod jerked sideways, slid backward, and somehow landed between those posts, and Felltham’s worst suspicion was confirmed. The jaws opened, then clamped down around the bathysphere, one fang sinking straight through the reinforced glass window. Through the headsets, Feltham and Kingdon heard the other men’s screams quickly muffled with sea water. Kingdon threw himself at the window and watched as first Sanchez and then Tobias were speared by the thing’s teeth. Their pod was smashed with an astonishing speed that suggested unfathomable strength in those teeth – and then it disappeared, men and all, into the cavern that was the thing’s mouth. It was over in a matter of seconds.

At least the screaming halted.

Kingdon could only stare in shock. After perhaps 10 minutes, he made out, “What is it?”

Although he seemed to be speaking rhetorically, Feltham said, “I think it’s the Earth.”

Kingdon backed slowly away from the glass and looked at his remaining team member.

“We all decided this dome is part of the creature…yes?”

Kingdon nodded assent.

“But where does it end?”

Kingdon didn’t need to stop and think before answering, “Nowhere.”

“Exactly. It just continues out into a tunnel, leading to the ocean floor. So I think –”

“Jesus, if that’s Mother Earth, she’s one pissed off mother,” he joked weakly, hardly finding his voice. Overwhelmed by the severity of the situation, he tried the controls again, to leave. They were jammed, presumably jostled when the creature screamed.

“You think it controls things like volcanoes and earthquakes?” Feltham wondered.

“I can’t get this fucking machine to move!” Kingdon roared.

“Give up,” said Feltham.

“What?”  Kingdon was so startled by these two simple words, his hand slipped off the controls.

“It’s no use. We’re dead anyway. It won’t let us leave.”

Kingdon stared at him a long time, at last speaking. “I don’t have time for any more of your ominous bullshit.”  He turned back to his controls, thinking, thinking, thinking, but no bright ideas struck.

Then the glow of the dome seemed to diminish. It was like the cave had a dimmer switch.

Now what’s happening?” he grumbled, unabashedly panicked.

“It’s dilating.”

“Are you out of your –”  He stopped when he saw Feltham was right. The black hole of a pupil at the centre was expanding ever larger…and the glossy white iris was shrinking. And with it…the walls were shaking.

Kingdon threw his fists to his ears as a piercing siren sounded all around. Except it wasn’t a siren. It was a scream, and it rang even more painfully than the bellow that precipitated Tobias and Sanchez’s deaths. In fact, it was the very thing they had travelled so far under the ocean to investigate. But now he wasn’t sure he was so keen to know the explanation. The shriek grew so shrill it made his insides feel like jelly, as if he’d been electrocuted. His heart pulsed liquidly, but all he could feel was that scream. He tried to move, to get them out of there somehow, but his body would not obey his mind’s commands – probably because he could hardly get his mind to work, with that sound penetrating his thoughts. He knew if he ever made it out of that place alive, he would hear the sound in his dreams and never sleep again.

Helplessly, he had the vague awareness that their pod had jostled free and been bumped back onto the iris, edging closer to the pupil, but his head was so near exploding that he couldn’t even care when they tipped right in, and all he could think as they dropped inside was how relieved he was that the noise seemed to be fading away.

***

Tumbling down their nightmare rabbit hole, Feltham was the first to gain consciousness when they landed with a horrible squishy plop. He tugged at Kingdon. “Hey. Hey!  We landed. We’re okay.”

Kingdon looked at him groggily, his skin whitened, his eyes blackening as though they’d been punched with hammers, and said, “We may be alive, but we’re not okay.”

After all they’d been through, Feltham felt a little hysterical and started to laugh at that – a high-pitched teetering laugh that forced Kingdon to slap him across the face. They held each other’s eyes until Kingdon decided he’d had enough of eyes to last him a lifetime, and he turned away. “Where the hell are we, then?” he asked, as if Feltham could know any better than he did.

“I’m getting water,” Feltham said, and Kingdon nodded eager approval.

While Feltham dug through their supplies, Kingdon brought up the monitors to get a look at what lay around them, outside the pod. It seemed to be another cave, only this one shed no light.

“I never thought I’d be disappointed I hadn’t died,” Feltham whispered chillingly. Kingdon didn’t even bother looking at him this time. Out of his peripheral vision, he could sense Felltham’s blank expression, so blank that Kingdon wondered if maybe they had died, after all. Suddenly those theories about Hell lying at the centre of the Earth didn’t seem so outlandish.

“We’re stuck again,” Kingdon announced. Their pods were built specifically for this adventure. Previously, no other underwater vehicle would both travel to the depths they had and move like a standard submarine. Granted, this newfangled take on the classic bathysphere was restricted in speed, owing to its non-aerodynamic shape, but the technology was still a work-in-progress. They had been fortunate to get even as far as they had, for this expedition. And yet now the state-of-the-art pod’s controls seemed ineffectual – and Kingdon was trying not to let on how desperate he felt.

“We landed,” Feltham answered from beside him, handing him a water bottle.

“Landed in what?

“Now that is the question.”

Kingdon restrained himself from ripping open the water bottle and guzzling its contents. “How many of these are there?”

“30.”

“Thank God for Marcus” over-efficiency,” Kingdon mused. John Marcus, onshore, was the greatest worrier Kingdon had ever met, and he planned for every possible disaster. Kingdon swore if they ever made it back to land, he’d never laugh at Marcus” anxiety again. “We’ll still need to be sparing, though,” he decided.

“Who knows how long we’ll be down here.”  Felltham’s eyes glowed in the pod’s low-level lighting.

“How will we do for food?”

“Not as well. There’s probably enough to last us a few days.”

Kingdon nibbled at his thumbnail, something he hadn’t done in years. “We’ll have to be triply sparing with that, then.”

Feltham only nodded.

“Where do you think we are?”

“What’s behind the eye?” Feltham returned with a question of his own.

“The skull?  No, that surrounds it….”

“You don’t want to say,” Feltham noticed.

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“It’s too much to take in, isn’t it?”

“Charlie, stop.”  Kingdon yanked on the controls once more. “Hey, I think I’ve got it work –”

The pod jolted to the side, and then back the other way, but in waves, as if on the ocean.

Except we’re under it, thought Feltham.

The cave illuminated with bright electric purple – just for a moment, and then it was gone – replaced with bright pink, then blue, then green, then purple again, then a flash of yellow – and on, and on….

And through the lightning bolts, they saw what they rested on: a vertigo-inducing cliff, the edge of which their bathysphere clutched precariously. In the distance lay an endless series of slimy peaks, dipping menacingly and coiling around in familiar patterns. Then the thought Kingdon had been avoiding came to him with full force: they had landed on a heart-poundingly enormous gelatinous brain, shooting off electrical activity like some unfathomable Tesla Coil. With the sparks came the scream again, only it was more mournful this time than raging.

Kingdon took his opportunity and forced the pod to lift out of the brain’s folds and into the surrounding space, where he could pilot the machine. Once, twice, and then again they were nearly struck by rainbow lightning, but mostly it seemed to be firing off to the sides, and the pod hovered more over the top of the brain – as far as they could gather. When the scream died down, so did the lights, and once more they were left in a black sea.

***

It was on the 18th day that Kingdon spotted the dim glow of light suggesting a tunnel up ahead. Feltham lay curled up in a ball on the floor, shivering with a fever that had struck 3 days prior, snatching sips of water when he could, but with no food to nourish his aching stomach. Kingdon himself was drawn and wasting, but fighting to keep control of the situation as long as he could. When he saw that light, he thought perhaps he was hallucinating.

But when he steered the pod up in that direction, he saw it was real. “Charlie!” he exclaimed.

From his place on the floor, Feltham groaned.

“I think I found the tunnel we fell through!”

Feltham could hardly respond, but Kingdon carried on regardless. Had he been on his own in that place, he might have lost his mind two weeks ago. Felltham’s presence was all that kept Kingdon sane, even if he had spoken nothing but doom and gloom. Kingdon needed him, and so he kept talking to him, choosing to ignore the fact of his companion’s imminent death.

“I’m heading toward it,” Kingdon narrated for his ailing friend. Sometime later, he said, “I’m entering the tunnel. Mind your ears, it’s going to hurt. How far down did we fall, anyway?”  Then, later still, “We’re moving up it. Holy God…what is that?”  Hanging down the “rabbit hole” were long gleaming cream-coloured threads, tangled up into a knot up above him, like optic nerves.Was this really the planet?  “I hope it doesn’t start screaming again. I don’t know if I could find this tunnel again, if we got shaken back down to the…the brain. And I can’t believe that after all we’ve gone through, we may have worked out what’s screaming, but we still don’t know why…maybe Earth’s just a giant head spinning in space, and it’s lost its mind.”  He laughed shrilly, despite not thinking the joke that funny. He was the one about to lose his mind.

Then the light burst forth, and they were shooting out of the pupil, back over the eye. They screamed involuntarily. Felltham’s body was thrown against the back of the pod, followed by a nauseating cracking noise and the sound of supplies clattering on top of him before they hit the floor. Kingdon was thrust back in his chair, his skin tight and breathing constricted. It felt like they had been flung on the world’s most sadistic roller coaster. But the survival instinct kicked in, and somehow (how, he would never be able to say) Kingdon forced his hands to yank on the controls to direct them toward the dome’s exit tunnel.

“Not…right…,” Felltham’s voice croaked eerily from the back of the bathysphere, where his body was plastered..

“What?”

Feltham strained himself enough to speak once more: “Cave…not the same….”

Kingdon blinked several times, wondering what to say, and then decided to say nothing. Feltham was sick and rambling, that’s all it was.

After a long time, they made it out of the tunnel and into the water. The array of jellyfish and deep-sea sharks that met them was the most welcome sight Kingdon had ever beheld. Yet it unnerved him for some reason he couldn’t quite think of, yet.

Time to decompress. He began flooding the ballast tanks with air, bringing them up ever so slowly, one increment at a time. Even so, the length of time they had been underwater – not to mention the added unmeasured depths they had plummeted to when inside the…creature’s head – meant that as they rose to the surface, their ears nearly burst. Kingdon slowed their movement more and more until they could stand the pain. “You alright, Charlie?” he asked once, but he didn’t look to the floor; he didn’t think he could stand it.

He was met by silence, but he didn’t want to think what it could mean.

Some hours later, Kingdon muttered, “Something’s not right.”  It should have taken three times as long to reach just below the surface. And come to think of it, why were there jellyfish and sharks when he first exited that tunnel?  They’d been far too deep for that sort of sea life, hadn’t they?  And wait a minute. What about the manmade tunnel they originally traveled through almost three weeks earlier?  Where had that gone?

Damn it, what did Feltham say?  “Charlie.”  He faced the music at last, and saw that Feltham was indeed dead. How long had he been sharing that claustrophobic pod with a corpse?

Driving the thought from his mind, Kingdon steered the pod for a shadow he spotted in the distance, which could only be land – another clear anomaly. Studying the navigational instruments on the computer, he worked out the explanation. Somehow they had come out a different tunnel…a second eye…and were about to resurface somewhere near Bermuda.

***

The pod washed up on the shore around noon. Kingdon pushed his vessel right to the top of the water and unsealed the glass door, the fresh air punching him in the chest with its newness. He had almost forgotten how it felt to breathe normally. Sometime in the last week he’d had to switch the oxygen tank usage to “minimal” and often didn’t think he’d make it out alive. Now he drank in the sweet sea air – and clamoured for a drink of fresh water.

Locals approached with caution to see this strange Captain Nemo from the other side of the world. He had involuntarily grown a brief beard, his body had thinned, his eyes were sunken and dark. He imagined he looked alien – but not as alien as what he’d just faced.

They watched with fear as he dragged his friend’s body from the mouth of the sea craft, laying it in the tide to be washed clean with saltwater. He wished he could do the same for his other crew members. Where were they now?  Decomposing in the stomach of…- what?

He stood and looked out over the ocean, into the horizon. The sky was dark, the clouds thick and threatening to break. A bolt of lightning shot down, and somewhere a crash was heard.

______________________________________________________________________________

Vrinda Pendred has been writing stories since childhood and is currently working on a handful of novels.  She is also the Editor and Founder of Conditional Publications, a specialist independent publishing house for writers with neurological conditions.  In 2010 they released their first book, Check Mates: A Collection of Fiction, Poetry and Artwork about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by People with OCD, containing three short stories by Vrinda herself.  More information can be found at www.conditionalpublications.com.  Further samples of Vrinda’s personal work can be found at http://thymeoperator.blogspot.co.uk/

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