Windfall

This is something originally written for my A-level coursework that I’ve quite enjoyed editing and writing about in a commentary I have to submit. If it’s wanted, I’ll post that too and link it at the end of this post.

Enjoy.

*****

Windfall.

 

Deafening noise isn’t really noise, its a silence of a different kind.

 

They walked upwards on a scarcely-visible footpath, hidden amongst overgrown ferns and three days of rained-on mud, the white noise of the open land absorbing all verbal communication. This was barren country, devoid of most human life and barely hospitable to anything else. Their only solace from the elements came from the hillside they were climbing parallel-to on their left. A tough world to live in, made even more so now. The voice of Odin himself seemed to echo around them, a sombre roar of empathetic pain as they crossed through his territory, lost.

 

He, the wary soldier who had returned to his homeland all-but-broken by chaos; she, the lone traveller caught with no way off that sorry island. He lugged a single-action rifle over one shoulder, she an old six-shooter handgun, both seemingly fitting the lawless wasteland they found themselves in.

 

The ground around them was hollowed out for miles, with old caverns carved over the millennia by fierce torrents of water twisting below. He was aware of the caverns themselves, but neither of them had any idea what might actually be under their feet. Regardless, they had to find out; the weather was getting worse and there was no other option. Rounding the corner of the path they’d been climbing onto a dip in the hill’s crest, up and to the left just over two-thirds of its full height, a renewed gale punched through them, coercing with the view and the fatigue to take their breath away.

 

Towering on their left, hidden from view until now behind the hillside, was a monolithic viaduct structure, with eight massive pillars of stone and concrete supporting a wide rail-track that connected the two valley walls. The central column had collapsed into a massive pile at the feet of the others, severing the arterial pathway that would have been so vital a hundred years ago, leaving the constituent parts as a Giant’s Kern in these high hills. In its finest state, the brick construction would have seemed like a hollow dam to the vast valley that stretched before it, opening out to their right beyond the dip in the hillside they had crested.

The two of them slowly struggled down the inside of the hill against the now-unhindered windfall with neither speaking nor needing to speak, the grim adoration and respect for their surroundings silently mutual. As they descended it was clear that the hill they were on was part of a huge circular valley wall and the expanse seemed to widen before them, the viaduct supports growing into the towering legs of Titans standing above the clouds, ignorant to the mortal plight below. The opposite edge of the valley they now stood in appeared an eternity away, an endless horizon of hill-tops meeting solidly with the consistent grey of the overcast sky. To their right the valley ended in a large lake, a barely-visible natural reservoir of rain water that had streams feeding it from this slightly-elevated end of the valley; beyond that, and to their left behind the viaduct, the hillsides folded in to enclose the valley floor like a prison, their approach a hole in the chain-link fence.

 

Finally, the woman was the first to speak up in a voice that surprised the man in its fluency, considering her silence up until now. No more than a young adult, twenty-one or so he guessed, she truly had just been caught on the wrong side of the ocean when they hit, unable to find whoever she might’ve been here with. Not that that did her any harm, obviously.

 

“We need to find some shelter before this shit-storm kills us!” she shouted to him against the wind, now laced with sharp bullets of rain. Clearly from a warmer climate, he thought, her voice seemed to hold sharp tones of South American-Spanish; perhaps Brazil? Of that he couldn’t be sure, having never visited outside of a few reconnaissance missions.

 

“Agreed!” he replied in suit, “Head down to that crack in the rock!” His own voice was offensively rough and Northern by comparison; he saw that she recognised the implicit familiarity in that fact that he must have had for this area. Visibly, she relaxed as much as she could against the onslaught of air and water.

 

He had been pointing to a fissure of sorts that had opened over the centuries, just barely visible at the opposite end of the viaduct at the valley wall bottom. At first she couldn’t see what he meant at all, the rain now a fine but fast-moving mist that obscured all vision like a thin fog, but after straining her eyes against the blur of moisture she could just about make out the dark line of the cavern against the green-grey of grass around it. She nodded her approval with a look of determination that somewhat amused him, leading the two of them up against the first leg of the viaduct to their left before starting across the valley floor. She knew her stuff, he thought as they trekked along, or she would have just struck out into the wind. Intriguing.

 

****

 

By the time they got to the other side of the valley, the sky had darkened into dusk such that the floor, valley walls and sky were equally greyed-out and indistinguishable from one another to the two’s tired eyes. It had taken them several hours to hike along the length of the viaduct, stopping behind each leg to rest before struggling through the gaps against howling winds and rain, both of which had gotten aggressively worse. Now they were standing at the entrance to the cavern, a thin crack by distant appearance hiding a deep wound in the landscape, simply angled to the left as it cut into the rock.

 

“WATCH YOUR – ah, sorry, watch your step” he said as he guided her down the stone of the thin passage way, his ears ringing in the striking silence of the cave compared to outside. Clean cut rock has no grip when wet and they held each other’s arms as they descended, the minimal light from outside disappearing and forcing them eventually onto their hands and knees. They couldn’t see their own hands on the rock two feet in front of them, let alone each other or the cavern they were dropping into, but after five minutes of careful feeling down the slope of rock they reached an edge, and the air chilled noticeably. Tentatively she called out into the void, but nothing came back to her except the faint sound of running water to their right.

“I guess it can’t be that big,” she reasoned vaguely in what she hoped was his direction, “…jump?”

“Oh yes…” he replied with an exhilaration in his voice that amused her,  “JUMP!”

 

The drop only lasted a few seconds, but the landing hurt nonetheless. Without light to guide their descent, he hit the floor at an angle and buckled, with her falling close next to him and tumbling with him into a puddle of ice-cold water. They lay there momentarily, the stark contrast of the environment outside with the complete emptiness of the cave stunning them into silence and fatigue. The world and its growing chaos seemed to be an age away even after minutes down below and they didn’t want to disturb the first calm moment they had had in days.

 

Slowly though, the liquid they rested in seeping into their clothes began to send shivers down their backs, until reluctantly they climbed up the bank of what turned out to be a two-metre-deep pit in the floor and sat on the edge. Finally in a position to remove his backpack, he opened it up with the ease and speed of someone using muscle memory in the complete darkness, cracking several bright-blue glow sticks and throwing the cavern into an eerie half-light. They cast shadows of their bodies against the wall behind them and leaning back against the rock, they both surveyed the stunning scene they found themselves in.

 

The cavern was actually a large dome that surrounded the pit they had fallen into. Stalactites of minerals and gems hung from the ceiling, reflecting the faint glow of the sticks and shimmering with reflected light, and the floor was studded with the same brilliant crystals. The only two entrances to the cave appeared to be the hole they fell from, several feet above their heads, and an ancient archway directly in front of them that appeared to warp the light around it. No matter how they looked at it, neither of them could see past the smooth and curved stone that surrounded the opening into the hallway beyond, nor did an extra glow stick being thrown straight at the archway help; the stick flew through the arch and disappeared.

 

“What the hell is this place…” she whispered slowly, “where have you brought us?” She glanced at him as she spoke, trying to gauge if he knew anymore than she did, and noticed that his rugged, soldiering look had softened in the glow of the place. He looked like a child, in total awe of something he didn’t understand. She couldn’t help but smile at the sight, this cold and emotionless man she’d been stuck with the past three days cracking in the presence of true beauty.

 

“Come on,” she commanded as she picked herself up and stretched, “You clearly want to see what’s in there and I can’t see… Ha,” she rolled her eyes in the dark, “That we have anything better to do.”

 

“Uuh-hu” was all he could muster in response, similarly retrieving his bag and equipment and stretching to wake up the muscles that had quickly set in their inactivity. They both slowly shuffled to the edge of the dent in the floor and, after several false starts and losses of balance, managed to gain a foothold on the thin edge surrounding the water. As they moved it became clear that the darkness hadn’t only masked whatever was beyond the archway, but also the sheer size of the cavern they found themselves in. It took several minutes to move around the edge of the water and the void-arch loomed ever larger as they approached, finally coming to 7 or 8 metres tall and at least 2 metres wide.

 

The Woman reached the threshold first, standing stock-still and staring into the opening, willing some sort of indication of light or presence to come from behind it. The Man fell in behind her, looking over her shoulder with a mixture of apprehension and curiosity that not even he himself quite understood. Thirty years of service, he thought to himself, and you still don’t see it all.

 

“What are you gonna do?” he asked her, relinquishing his bag to her as she groped behind her for it, not taking her eyes off of the arch.

 

“There’s nothing left for anyone out there anymore,” she said quietly, finding a flare in his bag and lighting it. The flame spat and roared into a bright orange glow, sparks bouncing on the floor like burning strobes reflected in every crystal in the room.

 

“I’m gonna see what the darkness holds.” She said firmly, and stepped through the door in one stride, carrying the flare in her hand.

 

The Man stood there for a moment, straining his ears to listen for any sounds of pain or exclamation that the other side was safe. Nothing. He waited, one minute. Two. Three.

 

Nothing.

 

He sighed, looked behind him at the hole they had fallen through, then chuckled quietly to himself.

“I used to enjoy this part.” He said to himself. He strode through, disappearing completely.

 

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