Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Top Down

To see farther, climb a hill.

Simple, intuitive, clear. Clear hill? Clear sky? Clear eyes? Clear sight.

It depends upon so much out of one's control, but when conditions are right, success is almost guaranteed.

An easier way to see a different view is to fall. Fall down, fall from grace, fall into something new. Fall out of a rut. It takes things being taken away to appreciate them; it takes abasement to become exalted. Hubris is brought low by higher powers.

Yet we climb our mountains. We assume that at the top, we will have a better view. We assume there is a top. We assume we can get there, if we just try hard enough. We presume to be gods ourselves. In spite of ignorance and imperfection, we strive for something better, flying ever higher on waxed wings.

The let-down: we're all going to fall, in the end. You don't have a choice in the matter.

So does it really behoove us to live gloriously? It seems admirable to struggle against one's fate, but is it worth it? Are we certain that our goals, the things we fight for, are worthy of our devotion? Or have we chosen the wrong ones?

The most obvious challenge is to ascend that looming peak, to which all give de facto obeisance simply by living within sight of the giant. Even if shrouded invisibly in clouds, ignorance and imagination can make it all the more tempting to challenge such a titan. And all the more foolhardy.

This much is apparent, as is the danger of a fall. What about less obvious challenges? Even more foolhardy than challenging gravity to a duel.

I'm speaking of spelunking. Not going where you can see your lofty destination; going instead where the world winds away above you, where the next bend could be the end, or just the next stretch of the unending rabbit hole. Rabbit hole is no apt comparison – no rabbit could burrow a tunnel this deep or this bizarre.

Indeed, vertigo cannot compare to claustrophobia in terms of sheer hatefulness. Icarus could not loftily soar into the bowels which Dante explored, nor did any great glory accompany that descent. What he saw was the same world, only from a bird's eye. No free-wheeling feelings expand within your bosom deep in the earth; only the sensed oppression of continued compression. Nothing is familiar there: hardly a wonder that it should be the chosen setting of hell, the underworld.

Rather than being brought down by a shining god, Helios, one is accosted by Charon, beckoning bony fingers grasping at your soul from the darkness. By invisible Nyx, the mother of darkness whispering madness to unseeing mortals. One's fate is still at stake as on a treacherous precipice, but a winding descent is a more subtly menacing thing. The threat is to mind in addition to body.

So twisted are its workings that when it has finally deranged you irrevocably, you may not even realize it.

I have always considered it more admirable to descend into the unknown, where the perils are unpredictable. The challenges are many-fold greater, for they can be neither seen nor foretold. A man assaulting a mount can find a choice place to start. Choice is not so forthcoming, down deep. Where you are led is where you go.

Some are lost in this same way, without ever defying holy Terra by presuming to enter her. These souls are lost without wishing ever to venture out from under the sky: sinkholes may open and a hungry earth swallow them up. Faults appear and some of us slip through the cracks, lost to the light. Helios has no domain here below.

But to voluntarily go in is to challenge not the protruding behemoth of the surface, but the core and the basis of all earthly life. The foundation of earth, entering her body, behemoth of behemoths. But one must be worthy, else it is defiance in the face of a world; undermining a planet. It begins innocently enough; rappelling into some hole to see what is there. Some delve greedily for the riches to be found sub-surface, while others are merely the intrepid and curious, innocent of materially carnal intentions.

Their hostess does not differentiate motives, only worthiness, fitness to survive.

The greedy often hire others to take the risk, armies of canaries to brave the deep earth, vulnerable as an overseer and stakeholder is not. Such cowardly men have already given up their own glory to their miners, who bear risk corporeal and not merely capital.

These men were never above themselves or the ground, and so are not truly fallen. A true fall though, is most demonstrative of one's helplessness. My helplessness.

I was not greedy, but was always an adventurous digger. Holes in the ground - caves, the name they deserve - are fascinating, and I could never resist their allure. Their deep reaches must be explored, my mind tells me. Something amazing will be at the other end, something more glorious than any pot of gold hidden behind any rainbow, it says. I am compelled to seek beneath the earth rather than above it.

Caves allow some degree of freedom to explore since you can walk back out, but holes must be the earth's punishment for greedy fools, indiscriminate traps which catch the guilty and the unwitting. Sinks and slides, quakes and divides...all are rewarded for the selfish pursuits of a few.

But it can't be a coincidence that I was taken, though it was not for my own arrogance.

My reliance on equipment was my downfall. Taken unawares displayed my weakness, my reliance on the inventions of other men, but it has forced the hand of my strengths. All that is certain is that nothing will ever be the same for me. If my former self had been a seed, now I am sprouted. Perhaps with potential for further growth, my newfound moist dark home allowed my germination.

A womb for my rebirth, if I survive gestation. If my mother is a world-goddess, what will I be in my new life? Who is my new father? Perhaps death will tell me the answers, if I do not learn them myself.

It is said that many trying experiences change a person. As if seeing a ghost, time out of the sun makes you pale. Time in the dark wastes you, slowly kills you. The ghost you see is your own in the lightless depths. In darkling pools, someone unrecognizable reflects.

A fall, like a climb, gives longer vision, greater perspective. Not by virtue of position, but by virtue of necessity. It's an internal change, and climbing the highest peaks must cause the same bitter change in a person. But those who may rely upon technology in harsh environs will not change as I have changed.

What my descent has endowed me with is not greater knowledge of the familiar, but xenognosis, knowledge of things I had only glimpsed and imagined, wonders not famous but demonic, infamous and unknown, twisted in their ways such that no human could be the designer. No living thing is so cunning, so harsh.

My world was taken away, and now I appreciate the naiveté our species is allowed, on the surface.

From the cradle the the grave, I went...

I am not dead in this grave. To be reborn one must die, so this grave must now be my cradle. Here I am hunted and gathering...foraging for fungus and insects, while I avoid dangers which I have met. Unmet dangers lurk beyond sight, mercifully unacquainted.

These caverns and their hellish echoes are my home, until I should find a tunnel out of this dungeon.

So little light. I complain, yet of all my equipment lost, a hand-powered flashlight has survived. A trinket. A kind but empty boon granted to a condemned man in place of a pardon. At times it makes me feel more hunted, using the artificial light. Of all the things living here, the successful ones have shunned light altogether in favor of touch. Here, human technology feels antiquated, as if creatures here have advanced while we still cling to sight, with poorer night vision than even our nearest primate cousins.

Reliant upon electricity and our cunning devices in the dark.

Nothing I have met here can speak or make sound. Echoes easily damn you. Being sneaking and clever is much more useful than being noisome loud and inventive

I wonder if others have ever made it back. None have lived and told tales of what I have discovered in the subterrain, but perhaps the survivors have gone mad. Maybe they were so changed upon emerging, that they began new lives above.

Maybe they were so changed that they, too, grew to hate the light.

Could people survive down here, develop culture as have humans? The things that stalk me that I have seen are small...lizard- or insect-like, always scurrying and never daring to cross water or approach high heat. My one saving grace is that I may sleep where it's warm, or where I am surrounded by water.

But in caves, surrounded by water only helps if there's a high ceiling. I have an island only a few twists away where it's safe, but cold. A steam vent I had been using has extinguished itself, and my comfort and safety in sleep along with it.

Every day I hope to find a better place, perhaps even higher. I think must be at the roots of great mountains by now, but distance and space have different meanings here underneath. I dread the swim back to that rocky island. If anything lives in the water besides fish - something must make them its meal - it is only a matter of time before it tires of competition from me, finds me tired and swimming when my wits aren't about me...

My mind is playing tricks upon me. Fantasy and fiction suggest goblins, demons, monsters down here. Imagination is why we fear the dark. Sparked by the real presence of predators in bygone days, as one still meets in distant jungles. Ah, that fear must derive from forest dwelling human ancestors. So fearful of being taken at night, since they so depend upon the light.

So I am rendered one of my evolutionary ancestors, the last billion years a waste for this member of homo sapiens. Rational man, indeed. Rationality is a burden, and the pressure of the need for a twisted, unthinking mind in this place strains me so.

Falling into a rut again, now that I've been so thoroughly bounced out of the cart of humanity's cradle, earth's surface.

Echoes seem to be happening within my head. I almost didn't see this creeper because the reverberation hit my vision so badly. Is it me? Maybe it's a mineral deficiency of some kind, affecting my perceptions. We were never built for this. But no time for being in a rut, now.

I can barely outstep this one, either he's fast or I'm slow. Something about the ground is unfamiliar. If only I could squish him.

Missed again. Spongy. Is that right? Are my other senses betraying me? Et tu, Brute?

Now I hear more coming, they're going to surrounded me. I should have expected this, opportunistic feeders get edgy, have to know when food will be there, and it makes them hungry when they know. They know I'm weak. Smell it, or sense the vibrations.

They want to eat me.

I can see now where their eyes used to be, vestigial dents; still can't see if they're insects or reptiles. Squat posture, narrow legs, four? Six? Or is that the tail, their limbs move so quickly I can't tell. Scales or carapace? I'm shaking again...no it's all of the world, they feel it too! They're going to take shelter, it's an instinct I've seen.

Saved by the great bell that is this mantle of earth when it quakes! I am lucky, today. But the ground, it's still spongy, what the hell? Water seeping...it's coming for me. Run! Can't pick up feet, ground so soft under me, giving way...

Not a fall, not again! Oh Lord, please don't do this to me again, Terra I beg of you, no!--

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