The Center of Earth

  
Melanie Reynolds fell to the center of Earth, clutching her arms against her chest in an effort to stop spinning. Though she made no sound, her ears were full with the roar of air stripping past her and the whine of her whipping freefall. There were grooves in the side panels, she knew, carved from the sharp metal tines of her team’s AI cameras, but even if she wanted to reach out and grab them she couldn’t untangle her arms.

Nestled tightly around her torso was a poorly placed parachute bag. Its innards faced her stomach and it’s pull strap was tangled with the shoulder straps against her right elbow. The more she wiggled to better grab the life-saving mechanism, the more she spun out of control, deeper into the darkness.

It felt like years as she tumbled, the air pressing hard against her ears. However, just as her orientation began to fail her, a fire ball bloomed into life a thousand feet above her. The pressure and heat from the explosion hurtled her faster downward. Mel squinted her eyes. Tears streamed across her cheeks in terror, pain, and most of all, regret. The rest of her team might not have made it out of the pod in time, or had grabbed defective chutes like her own.

The burning hover pod cast dark shadows on the walls of the vertical tunnel. Mel spotted one of her cameras, a giant black specter of crooked, swiveling arms, glinting in the firelight as she fell past.

Though she had stopped spinning, her arms continued to fight against the parachute straps. Mel knew that whatever greeted her at the bottom would most likely lead to death. Even if she managed to save herself with the chute, she would be trapped in the Earth and it would take months for another rescue team to build another hover pod.

By then, she could be killed from some subterranean gases, starvation, or even a broken bone…

… or multiple.

Frantically, she pulled and gasped as she fought the parachute for control. After a few more panic-filled seconds of untangling, dropping, then grabbing for the string, Mel hastily tugged. Every second wasted was another second closer to death.

In a deafening roar, the parachute exploded in front of Mel’s face and unraveled into a protective mushroom cap. It cast a storm-like shadow over the scientist, and she yelled out in pain as it yanked her arms forward and nearly slipped out of her grip.

Mel wanted to scream as her torso was pulled and held at an irregular angle so that her back was facing the bottom of the pit. She hung like a fallen angel cast down to the depths of hell and dangled unceremoniously in the knotted straps.

Swallowing hard, Mel blinked the tears away. The only sound now was the crackle of flames and the soft hiss of dying embers.

She should never have pushed the Descent date so early… the hover pod clearly hadn’t been constructed well enough to make the voyage. Something had gone wrong… though they were deep, depressurization shouldn’t have been an issue. Before the explosion, the team had heard the pod expanding and contracting like the solid lungs of some subterranean monster.

In fact, she felt like she could still hear it.

Though her languid descent had put an end to the deafening roar of the wind, she felt a drawing of the air around her and then a subtle expulsion as if she were caught in a bellows. She tried to look behind her into the abyss, and after a few moments she was able to see what was below.

At first, nothing but shadows inhabited the tunnel. As the hover pod dropped more and more fiery ash, however, Mel’s eyes began to make sense of what she was descending towards.

Blinking like spider’s eyes, a cluster of red globes watched Mel’s unstoppable descent. Ghastly grey tongues flickered from what looked like was a singular, roiling mass, but very well could have been hundreds of smaller beings clustered together.

The parachute gentle lowered Mel towards the undulating mass where it watched her. She began to hyperventilate, her inhalations at extreme odds with the calm, deep breaths of the darkness. Kicking her feet, the distance closed and she began screaming as the mass ebbed and revealed a giant, gaping maw between the swaying tentacles.

Mel cried out as she realized that not only had her research initiative been futile, but there awaited something far more menacing in the Earth than science could have explained. And now, it only had to wait for the rest of humanity to come to it. She would not be the last.