Landing is a splash, smack onto the surface of sour-smelling, oily liquid. Gabe rolls face up, coughing and gasping. The liquid tingles on his skin, and he spits for a bit before resuming gasping. He is able to stand, the waterline reaching just above his waist. He looks up, but visibility is even less than before and the faint swarming noise of the tentacles can be heard from far above. The buzzing noise has subsided. He walks towards the wall that leads up to the spot from which he fell. The walls down here are not smooth, but they do not have the same hellish qualities as those above. Instead, bulging lines of fleshy material run up and down, unmoving and droopy. Gabe sloshes through the muck, moving slow and periodically glancing from side to side, though he is the only apparent moving thing within the stinking lake. Up ahead in the darkness an archway appears, almost the same shape as the tunnel their plane crashed in, though the ceiling is much lower. Gabe picks up the pace, but just as he does tentacles rise up from the muck, thicker than the previous ones and with what appear to be suckers on their ends. They open and close, like toothless mouths. They flap with wet, rubbery sounds.
“God dammit!” He lifts his legs higher in the liquid and splashes with his arms as well, a half swim, half run movement that propels him the rest of the way to the shore. The mouths move slow behind him and once he leaves the pool sink back into its depths, lips smacking all the while. Gabe stands bent, hands on his knees and gasping short breaths and shoulders shaking. The ground under his feet is even softer than that of above, his feet sinking half an inch into the spongy material until it meets with a hard interior. He stares at its mottled surface and a laugh escapes his mouth followed by a cough and a gag as he spits and he wipes his hand across his lips as though to rub away the false mirth.
“This can’t…” he closes his eyes shut tight, “… no. This is happening and I need to figure it out.” He stands up straight and looks ahead into the gloom. “Gotta keep moving, stay ahead of the…” he gulps and does not finish the thought. He starts forward, though as he moves his shoulders twitch, involuntarily and intermittently. The tunnel gets smaller as he goes, curving inward as though he were walking along the inside of a water tower, a tube covered in the same spongy material all around. It eventually levels out to a passageway about fifteen feet in diameter. Walls that were once pure grey now show tinges of yellow, barely noticeable in the gloom except when they move, flickering like parasites in a petri dish. The light level is low but constant since Gabe left the pool, and up ahead he sees a white circle floating in midair. He squints at it and his pace slows, but as he get nearer it becomes clear what the form is, and he halts.
The nose of the plane points at an angle, its circular form filling the passageway. It’s once off-white surface is now streaked with a veneer of translucent slime and the occasional glob of the same grey muck from where the plane originally landed. These are plastered to the side, gelatinous and unmoving. From where he stands, Gabe can see the open hatchway into the plane, internal lights no longer on, a tunnel within a tunnel. The wings slice into the side of the tunnel, bending slightly upward. There is no room to go around either side.
“In we go, I guess.” He walks over to the open door, craning his neck to see inside. There is no movement from within, and Gabe opens his mouth to call out but then closes it instead. He grabs the edge of the opening and pulls himself up into the plane, a small plastic sound as one of the buttons on his shirt knocks against the metal rim. Inside he can only see a few rows of empty seats in either direction, both the back of the plane and the cockpit door left only to the imagination. All surfaces inside are coated with the same slime found on the outside, and Gabe rubs his hands on his pants to clean them, taking care not to touch anything as he walks towards the back and the other emergency exit. His foot kicks the edge of one of the seats as he moves, hands partially held out in front of him, eyes wide in the dark. Each empty seat passed hides the one behind it, and several have lumps of blanket bunched up in their angles. He moves to the left a few steps and continues walking, the windows on his right becoming marginally brighter as he passes them. There is enough light near the end to see the second set of emergency exits. Gabe moves to the one on his right and yanks the levers in, pulling the small rectangular section of the plan inwards. The wall outside is inches away, but he manages to squeeze out in between it and the plane, the moist material rubbing against the skin on the back of his head as he sidles his way past, feet perched on the curve of the wall and hands pressed against the plane. He moves slowly but his heels slide as he goes, forcing him to step quickly until there is enough room to slide down to the more level center of the tunnel. As he passes the tail of the plane, the top quarter of which protrudes into the ceiling, a mist hits his face, colder water than before, and the sound of wind comes from up ahead. The path slopes slightly upward. A few minutes of walking later and a jagged, midnight blue circle can be seen, rain pouring past and the contours of clouds visible in the distance. He stops about a foot from the edge and leans over to look, wind whipping past and streaking droplets across his bald head.
“Altimeter wasn’t broken, then.” His words are whisked away, sinking almost as quickly as the feeling in his chest. He stares out at the sky, a view at once both expansive and restricted by the surrounding storm clouds. He bends upright once again and stares straight ahead. Closing his eyes, he takes a step forward. He swallows, stomach nauseated and body sore. “No.” Only he hears it. “No!” He steps backward, eyes open, and takes a deep breath. “I’m going to live. I’m going to make it.” He turns and looks back. “… how?” He puts his hands on either side of his head, teeth gritted through lips parted in a grimace. Then his eyes widen and his mouth falls open, and he runs back down the tunnel.
( ©2016 Sean Dorsey )