31.2 The Mine

755 127 72

The man plodded toward us, every step pain. His body was naked and swollen, his skin the greenish gray of olives. The veins in his arms and legs bulged purple. His stomach jutted out, bloated past capacity, the flesh stretched so thin that a wide grinning tear had ripped open beneath his navel. The wound had bled severely judging by the crust dried over his groin, but it was not bleeding anymore. He was dry, worse than dry, every inch of him flaking like dandruff except for the one place dandruff belonged, his scalp, which was bald and covered in scabs.

"Dad."

Carl Rascoe's head turned to Billy. His eyes, one black and one white and both shriveled into tiny prunes, sat far back in their sockets. He opened his mouth, revealing blistered gums and a tongue that resembled corroded steel. There were shreds of pink and white plastic caught in his teeth. His mouth hung open, breathless, and I saw how fat his throat was. His windpipe and Adam's Apple showed through the skin like a face pressed against a hanging bed sheet.

"Dad," Billy said again, softer.

Carl started toward his son, but his left foot caught on the safe and he tipped, falling with the great sluggishness of a Redwood. Billy backed away from him, still holding the package of explosives in his hand. PETN. The white packages were PETN. The pink were ANFO. My eyes went back to Carl's wide mouth, to the shreds of white and pink plastic between his teeth.

"Oh God," I said, understanding.

He'd eaten them.

All of them.

At the sound of my voice, Carl groped at me across the ground. The oven mitts had come off, and the nails on his fingers were long and cracked. I knew exactly how those nails would feel curling into my skin. I shoved toward Billy, who shoved toward Ash, who continued to shine Colossus on the blind man, frozen.

"Ash!" I said.

She shook her head like someone getting rid of a cobweb, then dodged into the gap between the driller and wall. The light escaped with her. Behind Carl, the mouth of the tunnel grew. Darkness gobbled up the safe along with his legs. His top half crawled after us, dragging its belly through the rocks. I followed Billy backwards into the gap, pressed in on all sides, my feet trailing out in front of me. Carl's hand pawed over my ankle. Before it found a grip, I gave one last push and passed out of its reach. Then Ash and Billy gripped me under the arms and yanked me clear.

"Thanks," I panted.

On the other side of the driller, Carl rose from the ground. He did it with the effort it took most men to climb mountains. Upright, swaying, he turned his enormous belly against the wall and pushed into the gap after us.

"There's no way," said Ash.

Way or not, he was coming. Inch by squeezed inch. Wiggle by wiggle. Where his skin rubbed against the damp rock it left a pale gray smear, like a slug's trail. He'd grind his body to the bone to get through, I realized, and he would get through. If it took him hours, if it ripped his stomach wide open and spilled his guts over his feet, he would get through. This was nothing next to the damage he had already done to himself, trapped down here in the dark. How long had it taken him to starve? How long before the only feeling left in him was the pain of hunger?

There was a grinding lurch behind us. The gate of the cage tried to close, only to pull back as it discovered Bitchmaster sitting in the way.

"That's Nip calling," said Ash. "Come on!"

Billy stood motionless beside me, staring at his father. I knew what he was thinking. It might have been a coincidence that Carl, the man with the strongest connection to the God-thing beneath Honaw, the man who had backpacked explosives down to the basement on the day all this started, had gone onto feed himself those same explosives until he ruptured his stomach and packed in his throat and made his own body the backpack. But I doubted it. I doubted it very much.

Poor Things (Wattys2018 Winner)Read this story for FREE!