River of Red
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I fall briefly, my arms flailing in the dark. I land hard and I am left gasping for breath. My body is stopped by a solid surface deeper inside the ice hill. I lay still calming my heart, trying to regain my breath. Lying on my back I carefully feel around with my hands, checking the area around me before moving. My instincts tell me that the cave I’ve fallen into is large; I try not to move around too much incase I’m on a cliff or shelf of some sort I don’t want to fall again.
Noticing a glow above me, I watch as the blade of my shovel tumbles through the space above me. The red blade of the shovel is growing larger as it nears me. Pushing with my arm I shove and roll out of the way as the blade clatters down inches from were I had landed. I sit up and dig in my suit for a light.
Turning it on I move it this way and that, the beam cutting through the darkness searching the cavern around me. I seem to have fallen into an expansive ice cave, it was probably caused by trapped air as the ice hill originally formed.
The floor is slick, my hand and my feet slip out from under me as I try to stand causing me to land face first onto the floor. My visor smacks on the ice again and the shovel flies from my hand. Lying facedown, my eyes lock straight ahead of me through a clear ice floor at a faint red glow far below me.
For a moment I remain motionless, my mind trying to comprehend what I’m seeing. A loud snap brings me back to reality. The ice I’ve come to rest on is cracking. The floor shifts downward then holds. My breath catches in my throat, my heart quickens. Very gently I start to rise to my feet.
A loud groan fills the space as the ice floor gives way. Once again I find myself tumbling through the blackness. The faint red glow that was far below me is rising fast as my descent continues.
At this point I’m not even sure if I am awake or still dreaming. The all-encompassing darkness blots out everything but the glow below me. A scream is frozen in my throat and I’m aware of an up draft tugging at my suit as I fall.
The whole scene is surreal. I know I’m falling but with nothing except blackness around me I feel as if I’m floating. The only perception I have is the growing glow rising up to meet me.
Seconds, minutes, I’m not certain how long I spiral downward. I struggle to inflate my suit to capacity hoping that it will help cushion my fall if and when I make contact.
I think I’m screaming. The fear and adrenaline overwhelm my brain. Then complete blackness takes over as I pass out. I open my eyes briefly when my fall is abruptly halted with a bone jarring impact, the air build up in my suit takes a portion of the crash and I am aware as my body bounces and then finally settles.
How long I was unconscious I have no idea but when I awake I find myself sweating. That is something I have never felt before in my life. My home and my whole planet is a block of solid ice, so perspiring is very uncommon. The closest anyone gets to this is in the warming rooms and even there a person is more cool than hot.
The only time a person would experience any type of sensation close to this is as a newborn when we are raised in the incubation rooms for the first few months of our lives, but my memory isn’t that good.
My eyes blink bringing me back to consciousness. My eyesight is blurry. I lay totally still, dazed as my mind races to catch up with what I have been through. A searing pain works its way to my brain. I am lying on my side, my arm twisted beneath me. I move my fingers and have to stop as I pinpoint exactly where the pain is coming from.
Gingerly I sit up. The ground beneath me is soft and mucky. I raise my good hand up to my visor but my vision is still blurred. I shake gently to try and clear my head when I realize that my sight is fine but something is clinging to the outside of my visor. Wiping at my visor I realize my hand is covered as well so I use the sleeve of my suit to clear the outside of my visor than stare at my hand.
Mud. My glove is covered in mud. But how is that possible? Sitting up straighter I slowly turn my head. Behind me I discover the source of the red glow I’d seen from above.
A river of lava is flowing across the landscape a couple of hundred yards from where I sit. Slipping in the soft muck I try to stand. I slip and instinctively move my injured arm out to steady myself. A cry of agony leaves my mouth as I land on it once again. I hesitate, waiting for the pain to pass then I try a second time to get to my feet, being a lot more cautious this time.
Using my good hand, I half walk and half crawl farther away from the stream of lava. The heat is more intense than anything I’ve ever felt. My feet finally find a solid footing as I move further up the embankment to a spot where the heat is not nearly as bad. With the help of the faint light from the lava I search for a place to sit and evaluate my condition.
I know that my arm is in bad shape and the pain from it must be blocking out other receptors in my body from reporting injuries. Injuries, which I know will reveal themselves when the pain from my arm subsides. On a positive note, hopefully that means none of my other injuries are as sever.
I dig around in my suit for a strap and fasten my injured arm to the front of my suit. Then it dawns on me. With my good arm I reach behind my back and feel for my emergency kit. I let a sigh out. The shovel and flashlight I am certain are lost but from what I can tell my pack is still intact.
Unstrapping my bad arm I grit my teeth and work the pack off my shoulders. When I have the pack in front of me I fight against the pain and recompose myself. Using my feet to hold the pack still I undo the flap and search around for my medical kit. In the dim light I find a pack of pain reliever and try to attach it to my feeding tube only to discover that it was damaged in the fall.
Obviously the heating modules and the breathing filter in my helmet weren’t damaged which I never thought of until now, but the tube that I eat and drink through didn’t fair as well. If I was going to take the pain reliever I will have to remove my visor. On the surface this would mean instant death from the subzero air, but in this cavern I know that I won’t instantly freeze but that doesn’t mean the air isn’t poisonous.
Methodically I undo my visor. I am going to try to quickly consume the pain medicine and then refasten my visor. Holding my breath I flip up the visor and then grab the top of the foil envelope containing the medicine in my teeth and fight to rip it open. It takes longer than I want. My body is bucking, fighting for air. I finally tear the package open and pour the powder into my mouth.
Dropping the foil I hurry to reseal my visor. It’s awkward to do with only one hand. I can’t hold my breath any longer. As is human nature, I gasp and then take a big gulp of air to fill my lungs breathing in the cavern air before my visor can be sealed. With trembling fingers I manage to finish the task and then wait expecting the air to poison me.
I slowly relax my tense body still expecting to become violently ill and fall to the ground dying. I am not sure if something like that would be instant or if it would take a while. I don’t have anyway to test the air and I have never breathed air without the safety of my helmet before.
I forget about the pain while the reality of this new experience intrigues me. Mind you I’ve never breathed poison air before so I really have no idea how long it will take to effect me.
In the New Capital, we are told that the air in our ice settlement was toxic so at no time did we ever remove our helmets to breathe it.
Our ice dome is a couple of miles from the base of Mount St. Helens, close enough so that the elders are able to pipe heat to our small community but far enough away to protect us from the numerous eruptions that take place within the volcano. Close to the base of that volcano the same rivers of red run like the river that I am now sitting and looking at.
I close my eyes and take several deep breaths still expecting to fall sick and die. Leaning back I close my eyes. The effects of my ordeal begin to takes its toll and I fall into a restless sleep. I wake up several hours later from the pain in my arm and now my growling stomach.
The breath of air didn’t kill me after all. Do I risk removing my visor so I can eat or am I pushing my luck? I am too tired to move around yet. I contemplate my decision and give in to my stomach. Grabbing a food pouch I prepare myself to once again open my helmet. The movements have to be thought through carefully.
I set the pouch within easy grasp, flip my visor up quickly and then grab the pouch and tear it open with my teeth. I hesitate. I stop. I put off eating for now and instead turn the filter in my helmet way down letting the air in the cavern mix with the filtered air. I will try this for a while and if I don’t have any bad side effects than I will remove my visor for a short time.
I take a taste of my food pouch, and while I wait breathing in the mixture of air I pull the reading paper out and turn the power on. The page lights up. At least it didn’t get damaged when I fell. I will read a few pages to take my mind off my experimenting with the mixture of air from the cavern. I swipe my glove across the page stopping at a random entry.
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A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.