Under The Earth

While the city is in its darkest hour, two girls stumble up a street. The swish of Paris has been lulled placid by the moon, and they are completely alone. The flush-hum of lamppost fairy lights has been dulled, trees breeze soft rushes of shadow across nickel slick pavement. One girl wears extremely short shorts and thigh-high stockings; the other is sporting a very small, very tight dress. Both have glitter dabbed across their eyelids and lips painted with the hues of dark flowers. Both are wearing massive rubber boots.

The girls cross a once-busy intersection and arrive upon a smaller, cobbled street. As they walk, the girl called Belle looks around nervously at the dark buildings and deserted shops. “Come on,” says her companion, and together they hurry along.

After only a minute more, they stop, seeming to have reached some kind of destination. At first it is not clear what they have encountered, but then the second girl, Mallory, kneels down on the sidewalk. From her pocket she takes a small metal instrument, and together the girls unscrew a giant manhole, kissed with the imprints of countless shoe soles. Mallory begins to lift it from its notch.

“Here, let me…” says Belle, making a motion to help, but Mallory has already skimmed the thick dark disk to the side as if it were a dinner plate. Belle is unsettled by this. She peeks down into the hole, a smoothly yawning core of dark. She pulls back hastily. Mallory extends one leg down, then another, pulling her dress closer to her knees. Swift and spiderlike, with an almost inhuman grace, she eases herself down the insubstantial latter. It is a full minute before Belle hears something similar to the sound of a rock lobbed into a pond, the heavy swallow and gulp.

Carefully, she climbs into the hole. It takes enormous effort for her to fix the cover back into place. But no, that is no good, now there is no light at all, not even the hope of a lamppost, only black air thick as felt and tight enough to make her breath clot. She cautiously begins her decent, latter clattering in the absolute silence.

It seems a dark eternity before her feet find the last rung of the latter and step off onto some very soft ground. Belle looks up; she is in a small chamber, lit by a single red bulb strung from the stone wall.

“God,” says Mallory, who is leaning up against the wall, “I thought you weren’t coming. Let’s go, then, yeah?”

Boots sopping, the girls hurry along the cramped tunnel, muck squelching along beneath them and low roofs dripping from above. The tunnel is not well lit, and Belle hopes that Mallory can tell where she is going. Off to the side branch a countless collection of other passages, unspeakable and drooping with dark. Their journey is steady and for the most part unhindered. Occasionally, they trip over the bones of an ancestor.

It is many minutes before the tunnel begins to glow with vague, lurid pink light and vibrations sulk through the walls in thick, dark chords. The longer they walk, the swift twinges of revelry become more and more present, until they finally burst out of the dark and emerge into a grand, cramped scene.

Girls in tutus, boys in t-shirts, youths of both sexes in nothing but body paint are packed like eggs into this chamber, a hot, bulbous growth glowing a sickeningly ethereal myriad of colors and shadows and lights. Belle stares; she does not know what to make of this monstrous knot of pulsating energy, sex oozing dark and rich from corners of mouths, a disease so glittery and dense it snares the mind into insanity with a near-hypnotic ease. The small walls of this cavern are warmer than the hallways, much warmer, and someone has strung the low-slung ceiling with fairy lights. Mallory throws herself into the vast, thrashing sea, sliding right up to a girl wearing a tight silver jumpsuit and kissing her on the mouth. Belle slips into the crowd on her own, gradually, and is just beginning to enjoy herself when Mallory grabs her arm. “We have to go!” she doesn’t want to go, but she follows anyway and the two on them traipe

“But I thought you said-”

“No! Now! Come with me!”

With great difficulty, they heave themselves through the dense twine of people, hand in hand. At last, they break free and stumble into another hallway, Mallory pulling Belle quickly through puddles and over pitching slabs of limestone. The music eventually fades, and yet again they are left alone.

They walk on for nearly a quarter of an hour, steady and silent, as if the mere thought of speech would collapse this tunnel, easy as a pop-up illustration from the pages of a children’s book. It was clear that this tunnel was one of the less frequented ones; the ground appeared more uneven and less trodden-upon, and they had to stoop down in some places where the ceiling sipped low. Every drip is a clash of lightening, every fallen pebble an avalanche. Belle is again frightened to breathe, worrying that she might inhale a ghost.

Eventually, they come across a tremendous cavern, ominous and fragile and so large that its other side cannot be seen. At the center of this cavern are a great black pool, even and still and the color of liquorish. Belle stares at the pool and it seem to consume her, currant surface refracting impossible light. It takes her a minute to realize that Mallory is shifting beside her.

“What are you doing?” says Belle. Mallory doesn’t answer. Instead, she pries off her boots and lays them on the ground beside her. Turning so that she is almost facing away from Belle, she gathers the thick thrust of hair plunging down her back and twists it around her wrist, stroking it over her left shoulder. She reaches for the zipper of her dress, then slowly slides it down until it stops just above her tailbone. Rolling her shoulders back, she lets it slip into a soft puddle at her feet.

“We’re going swimming,” Mallory grins, and Belle looks back at the pool. “Okay, now you.”

Belle slowly takes off her boots, then her shorts and her top, until she is left standing freezing cold in her underwear. She looks around and realizes Mallory is missing from the scene, and is just beginning to panic when a dark haired head slides to the surface and a pale face turns towards her, patient.

Waving back, Belle walks to the edge of the pool, placing one foot into the water, then another. It surprises her how completely pleasant it is; everything from the temperature to the smooth, faultless bottom is immensely delicious. She is almost tempted to drink from it, but instead slips herself up to her neck, light hair splaying almost white against the black of the water. She bobs for a moment, then submerges herself completely and swims over to Mallory. When she surfaces, she is surprised to discover that this area is not nearly as dark as she had expected. Slicking the hair from her face and the water from her skin, she turns to Mallory, who licks her lips and smiles. She circles Belle, then wraps her legs around her and grabs her jaw. She pulls their faces very close together. Their noses touch. She doesn’t blink. After a long moment, she pulls away slightly. “I have somewhere to take you,” she says. And then she dives.

Belle looks around. She does not want to be left in this chamber alone. Where on earth is there to go? There is not a ripple, not a bubble of the slightest hint that Mallory will surface soon, or maybe that is simply the water. She shivers and makes her decision: tucking a last breath into her lungs, she dives.

Once under the water, she peers about for a clue to where Mallory has ventured. There is not much to go on, only a kicking slip of ankle and a rosy trail of toes. Bubbles teeming from her nose in bright blue clusters, she turns and swims swiftly, catching up with Mallory in a matter of seconds. Mallory looks at Belle and then continues on, silk dark blooms of hair sliding and churning through the water with every movement. Belle follows, and the girls fold away into deep dark.

Just as Belle’s lungs have reaches their boiling point and she feels as though she might succumb to the blackness cushioning in around her, her head slices through the surface. She pulls herself up onto the nearest solid surface, heaving and choking wet, and when the worst is over, she lays her cheek onto the stone and feels Mallory swish up beside her. A soft hand rubs her back in small circles.

At last Belle creaks open her eyes, static patters singing across her vision. She props herself up on both elbows and blinks heavily. And then she looks around.

“Mal,” she asks, slowly climbing out of the pool, “Where the fuck are we?” Unlike the first, this cavern is quite well lit, if one could even call it a cavern. It seems to stretch to infinity; the only thing she is sure of is that they stand in one minute corner of it. Belle gapes, whipping water from her lips. The eroding arks of buildings once been tower above them, eerily delicate and quietly crumbling. Structures of a whole world seem to rot as one, sliding through shadows and moss and bending against one another, as if waiting for a finger to tap one so they can all topple over. Towers and turrets and arches and walkways and bridges all twist together to create a sorry former glory, marble and gold making way for the yarn of a forest. The still green tentacles are wrapped round the city as though they mean to embrace a lover, completely and fully presenting itself to the vast labyrinth of stone.

At the core of this scene was a colossal clock tower, decadently designed yet yielding to the forest just as easily as its grand friends. It seems to be slanted forward, as if hunched over in pain. Mallory begins to venture towards it. Belle stays, clinging to her slice of average earth before Mallory turns back and takes her by the hand.

Together they walk, treading carefully through threads of green and wedges of grey, until they near the base of the clock tower. Belle can tell that this is where the forest began so very long ago; the roots enveloping the tower are far thicker than anywhere else that she can see. As they tread closer, Belle begins to ear something much like softly ripping paper. It takes her a moment to realize it is breathing. “Do you hear that?”

“Yeah…”

Both girls walk quietly around the base of the tower, and with each step the breathing grows louder. As they round the corner, they see that this is truly the center of the city, this is where the roots have started to crack from the streets and push itself across the land. A magnificent trunk has blasted through the streets, leaning itself sloppily against the tower, as if exhausted from the effort of consuming this place. As they step over thick tendrils and jagged slopes of stone, Belle begins to make out a small figure at the base of the trunk, bright against the fuzzy light. “What’s that?”

“Where?”

“There…”

They stumble towards it, dipping off balance on the uneven terrain. As they draw closer, Belle sees that this is the source of the breathing. It seems to be a young girl, completely naked and hollow looking, twined into the vines. From further away, it seems as though she is lying against the roots, but as Belle nears her, it becomes clear that she herself is a root. Vines pour out of her fingers and out her scalp, her ribs are easily counted. Her cheeks are stuffed, a slick, jewel black root pours from her mouth. Her jaw is unhinged. Her eyes are void.

Belle stands completely still, but Mallory moves forward and kneels down next to the body. Belle makes a sound of protest, but Mallory is close, much too close, and then her elbow brushes against the girl’s skin and the vines erupt, slinking around Mallory and cocooning her in an endless sliding sack. Belle screams and is vaulted back by the collection of fresh roots that have ejected from the ground, and the feels a swift pain in her lower back and tries crawl away and suddenly the roots unravel and the scene sinks back to how it was before. Belle is breathing hard, and takes a moment to right herself. She slowly walks back to the trunk, and then faster, and then as Belle kneels beside the base she realizes that the figure who rests there now is not the girl from before, but Mallory, with creepers peaking from twists of dark hair and hollow eyes and vines surging from her lips. She is smiling. Belle cannot breathe. Slowly, she reaches out a hand and slips it into Mallory’s.

Rachel Schwartz
Age 16, Grade 11
Convent of the Sacred Heart
Gold Key

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