The Sum of All Fears
Journey to the Center of the Earth
By John Pirillo
No one knew how long they'd been down under as they were beginning to call their trek through the vast, seemingly unending tunnels and labyrinths of stone and molten lava rivers. Yet, no matter how far they walked, or how long, it seemed the path was never ending.
Once they had gotten excited when they found what could not be ignored: Proof that Jules Verne had actually made a trek beneath the earth. The only question was how he had gotten so far and how he had found his way back home. Perhaps more importantly yet, why?
Why had he made the journey?
Why had he risked his life and that of his party of brave friends?
What had they hoped to achieve?
If they could answer one of those questions it might yet help them determine a positive and perhaps saving turn in their own downward spiral...it had to be that...into the interior of the planet, Earth.
Rush, a former explorer, had been at the height of his career, preparing to ascend Mount Everest with the woman of his life, whom he had been fighting with in their mountain chalet in Switzerland when the Big One struck.
His fortune, his fame, his life, his love had all been swept away by cascading avalanches of snow, ice and rising walls of lake water.
Just like that Rush had lost everything. All hope. All life.
It had taken the Special Forces and their mission to enliven his heart again. That and finding men and women, who like himself, were haunted by a past they hoped to forget and a future they hoped to save.
Everett was a spicy Brit, a Professor, a climatologist who had warned everyone that something big was in the air, but no one had believed him. And after it happened, no one believed it then either. He had been there in London, just a short distance from the famous headquarters of the last two Beatles when the Big One had struck.
He had watched in horror as building had been lifted like child's toys and plummeted back to the ground in thousands of pieces, seen civilians smashed, rended, and torn by flying debris, collapsing edifices, and hurtling pieces of metallic cars that had lost control.
Both men had a lot to forget and now. And now?
Rush and Everett looked more and more like the cavemen they were beginning to look like. They had both given up trying to keep their beards shaved and their hair short. Now, they just threw their beards over their shoulders, and wrapped their hair in tight bundles on top their heads.
"If the President could see us now, he'd think he'd gone back in time." Everett grouched, picking at the tiny creatures that now inhabited his scalp and hair. Yeah. It was hell down there. Bugs were everywhere. All sizes.
"Rowlf!" Their tall bug like companion noted and both men just grunted, sounding like Cavemen too.
Rowlf barked in his grinding low voice and both men did their best to ignore his laughter. It was becoming more and more irritating and besides he was starting to look like a walking turkey breast. None of them had eaten for about eleven days now. Water was abundant. Their trek had brought them to an underground stream that poured downwards along their path.
Without the water, no doubt both men would have died long ago. Both were familiar with the concept of fasting, but neither particularly enjoyed having to do one because they had no other choice. It's one thing to fast when you know you can raid that frig at any given time, but when the only thing you can raid is an eight foot plus Insectoid, who also happened to be a friend, then fasting became distasteful as well as painful.
"Remember when there used to be KFCS all over the place." Rush reminisced during one of their more and more frequent stops.
Rowlf listened behind them, still as a statue, for some reason he'd become more and more quiet as the two men slowly starved to death. Whether it was because he feared for their lives, or was himself beginning to see them as walking meals, no one knew. No one wanted to conjecture or voice their own fears, knowing each had enough as it was to weigh their minds down.
"Yeah. And the fries at Burger King. Those new fancy ones that were low fat." Everett added, wiping at the spittle gathering in his mouth as his hunger pains kicked in again.
Last time they did that he had thrown up.
It was supposed to make you throw up. Being hungry, but when the stomach hurt that bad, it no longer obeyed the laws of the universe, but began turning in on itself. He could tell his body was beginning to eat itself up. He could put a finger around his wrist effortlessly. Before it would have taken his hand to do that.
Rush nodded. "And when grasshoppers and night bugs were the worst of it."
Rush glanced over at Rowlf, who was still silent. "My apologies, Rowlf, no insult intended to your family line.
"Rowlf nots buggy." He finally said, then lapsed into silence.
Everett looked at Rush. "See! Now look what you've done. You've insulted our meal...I mean our best friend."
Rowlf stomped off, leaving the two of them behind.
Everett pulled himself up and wobbled on his legs a moment, then sat back down.
"Great! Just when dinner was getting so close."
Everett chuckled. "You know I didn't mean it."
"Yeah, but he doesn't!"
Everett sighed. "Do you ever wonder...?"
"If we're the last humans?"
"Constantly." Rush said with a grunt, picking at another critter trying to get into his right ear. He caught it and held its struggling form out before his friend. "Whose turn?"
Rush made a face and popped the bug into his mouth and began chewing it. For a brief moment it struggled for its life before his teeth mashed it into bug matter and juices, which he savored for the length of time it lasted. About two seconds.
" For all we know the Hollow Earth Special Forces are just echoes streaming down towards the center of the earth now, hollow memories in a hollow world of hollow souls fleeing to nothing and nowhere."
"Wow! That was really philosophical." Rush pointed out with a sigh. He scratched at his head and clasped another struggling critter between his fingers.
Everett scowled at the creature and shook his head. "I'd rather die."
"You will die if you don't eat." Rush reminded him.
"We're dying anyway. They're living off us. We're living off them. The balance is shifting not to us, but to them. You know it. I know it. We're just meals on wheels."
He barked with laughter.
Rush joined him.
The two men stopped as suddenly as they had started.
"I wonder what it's like to be with a woman again."
Everett looked over. "What? My hair too much for you?"
"You idiot! I like girls, not Neanderthals!"
Everett made a girl swing of his beard hairs and a cutesy smile, fluttering his eyes in a mock flirtaceous glance at his friend. "Not even once...for old time's sake?"
Rush scowled at him. "There's never been an old time's sake and there's not going to be a new time's sake. We'll be dead first."
Everett let his beard hairs drop back over his shoulder again and sighed. "Do you think angels have sex?"
Both men got very, very tight faces and then they broke into a laughter so bright and clean that both got their energy back, even if temporarily.
Rush stood up, t hen gave his friend a hand up.
They leaned on their stone spears and eyed the direction Rowlf had gone. "Down or sideways?" Rush asked.
Everett snorted. "Does it even matter?"
"Well, for one the water goes down...."
"And for two, Rowlf went that way."
"He's our friend." Everett agreed.
Without another world both men made their way along the moss lit path that wound round and round great glowing lichen covered boulders and past glowing streams of lava that coursed in channels parallel to the water they needed to survive.
As they descended the path broadened.
Everett suddenly stopped and put a hand up.
Rush looked at him, almost falling over he was so weak.
Everett grabbed him to steady him. "You smell that?"
Everett pointed ahead. "That. That!"
Then Rush smelled it.
Both men held onto each other and hobbled as fast as they could to reach the origin of the smell. They forced their sore feet, their weak muscles, their tight backs and sore arms to carry them the hundred yards necessary to reach a weak fire, set by a stream of molten lava.
Rowlf sat there on a stone, while he rolled over with a thinner stone, shaped like a branch, several odd looking bloated things that steamed in a bowl of water he had forced from the flowing stream to lay next to the molten lava and warm it up to cooking temperature.
Both men stumbled to a stop as Rowlf turned to eye them. "Twaste wike chicken!"
He cackled and both men laughed.
"I don't care if it tastes like my old tennies right about now." Russ said, and then his eyes rolled up in his head and he fainted dead away.
Rowlf got up and hurried over to Everett who was barely able to lay his friend down, before he also collapsed. He lay beside Russ and closed his eyes.
"Whatever you do, Rowlf. Don't bury me next to that lice infected sonuva bitch, will ya?"
And then he lost consciousness as well.
A bright light flickered in his face.
"Go away!" He cursed.
The light flickered again.
"I said go away!" He cursed even louder.
Then something stuck him in the arm. He screamed, and then woke up all the way.
General Miles Davison loomed over him, watching with a smile, as Nurse Betty administered to him. She stabbed him with another shot, after which he cursed again, but not at her, instead at Russ who lay next to him, watching silently.
Russ reached a hand over. "We made it, pal."
Everett looked again at Nurse Betty. "Do you like to dance?"
She stabbed him with a third shot and he began to lose consciousness. "That isn't an answer." He slurred, and then vanished in a peaceful slumber.
She turned to Russ, who was looking ready to go out himself. "If it wasn't for your friend, Rowlf finding us, you'd both be dead. What in the world did you two eat that horrid thing for?"
Russ grinned. "When in Rome..."
General Miles sat down next to Russ and patted him on the knee.
Then Russ became aware that dozens of men and women were gathered about him and Everett, all smiling. "Did I die and go to heaven. And if I did, why aren't any of you wearing wings?"
Nurse Betty laughed and turned to General Miles. "Can I keep this one?"
And that sweet voice was all that Russ heard for the next sixty four hours as he descended deeper and deeper into the Hollow Earth alongside his best friends, Everett and Rowlf, as they searched for a way home.