His head bounced off of his own helmet, crushing the carbide light. The claw marks on the left side of his face burned worse than fire, his eye socket a smoldering coal buried in his skull. But his fighting instincts overcame the pain.
The darkness above him swelled, giving away the presence of his attacker. Ripping his helmet out from under him, he swung it savagely into the suffocating darkness. With a satisfying crunch of bone and cartilage, Serge knew he’d connected with his assailant’s face. An angry gargling confirmed it.
Lightning quick, he shifted his weight to his shoulders. Burying both feet into his attacker’s gut he sent him hurdling backwards, crashing into a heap of rubble.
The same female voice snapped Serge out of survival mode, but he remained silent.
“Dear God! Are you okay?”
The attacker rustled loudly, still not down for the count.
“Hello?” The woman continued.
Ignoring her, Serge picked up a rock and jumped to his feet. Pinpointing the monster’s ragged breathing, he hurtled it—his best bean ball.
With a yowl the attacker clambered over a heap of scraping metal and disappeared.
“The logbook, yes!”
The dissonance between the soft female voice and his harsh surroundings dazed Serge, creating an otherworldly experience. He squinted, reducing his eyes to slits, but it was no use. He was lost—adrift in a strange cave with a monster and a babbling woman. All of them floating in the darkness of a space so terrifyingly large that Serge lost all sense of earthly anchor. Without narrow walls to confine him, limit his options, he didn’t know what to do. Finally, he spoke the first words that came to mind. “Who are you?”
“Found it. Oh God, I found it. Stay there. I’m coming to you.”
“Found what?” Serge struggled to breath after so much exertion, and the blow to his head hadn’t helped. “Who are you?”
“Huh? Oh. Gayle Sanders. I’m a scientist.”
“But how are you, I didn’t know there were any—”
“Women can breath underground too, you know.”
Serge realized her voice drew nearer quickly, and without the audible stress typically associated with utter darkness. “But how are you—” With frightening suddenness two yellow eyes whisked open right in front of him. “Huh.” He jumped.
“Oh, sorry. It takes a little to get used to.”
“But your eyes—”
“They’re yellow, I know.”
“But how come—”
“Look, they don’t really glow. It’s this.” She held the faintest blue light up to her face, the pale flesh of her nose barely illuminated in its dim glare. “But shut up and listen. It’s not safe here, for multiple reasons.”
“You’re telling me.” Serge winced as he put his hand to his face. His left eye worked, but the color of her eyes changed from yellow to almost grey when he closed his right.
“Sorry about that.” With startling intimacy she put her hand up to his face, her cool finger tips relieving the burn of the cuts. “It looks pretty painful.”
“Uh,” he stammered.
“Is the hair on your arms standing?”
“Um,” he ran his hands over his arms. “Yes.”
“Mine too. Here, follow me. There should be some masks.”
“But I can’t—”
“Hold my hand.” She reached back, already on the move, and laced her fingers through his. The coolness of her touch was uncanny. Not clammy in the least, but calming. It steadied him to feel the closeness of her petite frame, the soft grip of her smooth skin. The subtle smell of soap and rose water mingling with smoke and dust, the taste of blood in his mouth, all worked together to anchor him.
Moving quickly through the dark behind his mystery guide, his uncertainty from moments ago dissolved. With a sudden synapse he remembered his original intent for diving back into hell’s womb. “My brother. There are four miners trapped in #4. I need to get to them.”
“You won’t get there without breathing.” She paused, “And there’s something else. That thing that attacked you.” She took another strained breath. “I think there are two of them. And if we don’t do something to fix all this, there might be lots more.”