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“One may attain the Metaphysical’s wealth,
All they have to trade is blood and good health.”
This was the message written on the mineshaft’s sign. My brother and I read it out aloud, mocking its corny Dr. Seuss-esque warning. We dared each other to enter the tunnel, which eventually escalated into him chasing me inside. It was fun at first, but as we ventured further down the tunnel it didn’t take long for us to find ourselves missing—stranded on a gravel path lit by wall-hanging lanterns.
“Nice going dumbass,” Kadeem said. “We’re completely lost thanks to you.”
“You’re the one that brought us here,” I replied. “Besides, we’re not lost. We’ll just turn back.”
“Care to show the way genius?”
“Fuck you Riley!”
And like the close brothers we were, we began to fight. When he wrestled me onto the ground—shoving my face with his kneecap into the stone floor, I noticed a large rectangular object in the corner of my eye.
“Wait…look,” I struggled to say. I pointed at the container not far from us with my free hand (since my brother trapped my other arm with an armbar). Almost immediately he let go of my limb. I stood up, brushing off any dirt that got on my face. We looked at a gargantuan leather box. It was enveloped in dust. Crude slashes decorated the majority of the box. Kadeem and I walked towards it, pondering what was inside. We bent down and lifted up its weighty lid and dropped it aside, causing a flurry of dust to nearly hit our eyes. Both of us peered inside the box. Once the dust cleared, we were left dumbfounded.
“Is that—,” I started.
“I don’t…I don’t believe this!” Kadeem shouted.
The contents of the chest were organized piles of five dollar bills. All of them mint condition. Kadeem’s eye sparkled with glee. Mine out of pure shock. My brother began to dance like a madman, throwing money in the air while maintaining a maniacal laugh. I knelt down and picked up a note, stroking my fingertips against the paper to test its authenticity. It sure felt real enough. There was something abnormal about them too; however, the dark setting prevented me from finding out exactly what.
I called Kadeem over to take a look at the note. He ran up to me and looked over my shoulder. I asked him if he saw anything unusual about the bill. He snatched it from my hands and glared at it two inches from his face. As he inspected the bill, he murmured.
“Red seal…is that a star next to the serial, no—no no wait yeah it is…”
“Can you see anything?” I asked.
“Just give me a fucking second,” he snapped.
He walked around the area, staring and whispering to the note. When he was finished he called me over and told me what he discovered.
“Riley,” he said. “This stuff could be worth a lot more than you think. The series on this bill says 1953.”
“So,” I said.
“So, old bills equals more money. If they’re uncirculated—but I doubt it—but if they are…then we’re looking at some serious cash.”
“What you mean?”
“Right. So my professor was talking about old dollar bills in economics the other day. These bills believe it or not. Anyway, he says that the ones for the red seal can sell for about seven bucks. If there’s a star in front of the serial number, then the price could go for double. If they’re uncirculated, their value skyrockets to about a hundred dollars. If we went by its true five dollar value, I’d say there’s $20,000 in that box at the very least. If we’re lucky, then we could be looking at over two hundred grand.”
My jaw dropped. Immediately I felt the joyous sensation that flowed inside Kadeem not too long ago. I bounced all over the place like a possessed pogo stick for about a minute, hollering and flailing my arms in windmills.
“Hey Riley calm down,” Kadeem said, holding me in place. “Breathe.”
I nodded, still smiling. I began to pant as an overwhelming exhaustion took over my body. “How do you not…get tired doing that?”
“Because my phys. ed program isn’t shit. Unlike gym class, training in the Army makes a man outta you.”
Kadeem patted my back as I tried to regain my breath. “Okay,” he said. “What I’m thinking is we carry as much money as we can back to my car. We obviously can’t get it all so we’ll return tomorrow and do it all over again. It might take a week or two to get all of it, but I’m pretty sure we can pull it off without people sticking in their noses if we’re careful enough. Sounds good?”
“What if someone does see us and tries something?”
“Then I’m leaving you on your own.”
“You’re such a dick.”
“I know. Come on, let’s get rich.”
We shoved what we could into any pockets we had on us. Jean pockets, jacket pockets, even a small roll of $20 was fitted in Kadeem’s pen protector. As we put on more weight, we talked over what we’d do with the money. Invest it in a fancy car, boat, perhaps a business (the idea didn’t appeal to him though), give some to our parents; our imaginations went wild. Even the unrealistic purchases seemed buyable just looking at the money. Every bill I scavenged made me feel a bit wealthier. The discomfort from the profusion of money I wore didn’t bother me. We were going to be loaded, and that was all that really mattered to me.
Out of the blue, the ground underneath us shivered. Startled, we halted our excavation and began to hightail it out of there. As we sprinted for our lives, the minor tremor enhanced to an earthquake. Rocks painted in the blue light began to fall like massive hailstones. Numerous stones thumped against the top of my skull, yielding varying degrees of pain ranging from tolerable to excruciating.
“Keep going,” Kadeem shouted.
I mustered all my energy into one sprinting burst. My chest felt as if it were about to collapse from the lack of breath. My legs ached. My head felt light. My body was being dragged more than it was being guided by my own perception. Hope and desperation swarmed me as the morning light at the end of the tunnel grew brighter.
Suddenly the ground gave way. We fell into the abyss alongside the rocky debris. Freefall lasted only but two seconds. During those two seconds, my thoughts played an instantaneous reel of my life, depicting it as a blur more so than a lucid film. I, along with my brother, polluted the darkness with our screams.
My back hit the surface with a hard thud. As soon as I felt the pain, I felt dampness soaking the skin of my clothes. I opened my eyes to see my body descending down a navy blue atmosphere. Wads of five dollar bills softly floated to the bottom with me. It took me a while to realize I landed in water. At first, I felt relieved that I was alive, but then fear took over the moment I started choking on water. I struggled to swim to the top. I regained my breath before swimming to the gravel shore a city block’s length away from me. Not too far from me was Kadeem just starting his swim to the coast. I called out to him and he looked back at me.
“Riley…is that you?”
“Kadeem! Are you okay?”
“Yeah, how are you holdin’ up?”
“Everything hurts like hell but I should be alright. I’ll meet you on land, okay?”
Once we got to the coast, I asked Kadeem what happened. He told me the floor collapsed in the dickish way he always does whenever I ask the obvious. I shrugged his condescension off since it wasn’t the appropriate time to fight. Immediately afterwards he said, “Screw the money, two hundred thousand dollars isn’t worth dying over. Right now I just want to get out of this cave. I sure as hell am not coming back here again.”
For the first time in a long time, I couldn’t agree with him more.
We stood up and caught a good glance of where we were. A titanic dome towered over us—at the climax was a jagged, distant opening. Thin, dim beams of yellow light shone down from it, shining upon the center of the black pool. Hanging from the base of the hemisphere were lanterns lit with cyan flame, scattered around in no particularly organized order. Their glow portrayed a million spots of gleam along the rim of the pond.
Kadeem and I walked on a straight path that exited the shore. The cyan-shining lanterns followed as we walked. My back began to feel the sore aftereffects of the devastating spine-on-water impact. I tried to rub the pain away with an equally sore hand. I talked to Kadeem to help me ignore the pain.
“What do you think life would’ve been like with two hundred thousand dollars?”
My brother, who was leading the expedition, looked back at me and laughed.
“I don’t know man,” he answered back. “$200,000 wouldn’t buy us Brad Pitt’s nutsack, but it could’ve given us something nice to work with. A better apartment for me. A used car for your eighteenth birthday. The rest could’ve gone to our parents, make their lives easier. God knows we’d do anything for them.” He paused for a moment. “Listen, I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to focus on getting out of here.”
Thanks for the car.”
Kadeem chuckled. “Don’t mention it.”
I stayed quiet for about ten seconds before speaking up again. “Mom’s gonna kill me for being out this late.”
“Jesus Riley you’re such a fucking puss—”
Suddenly a violent tremor shook the barriers of the alley, sending a deafening shockwave throughout the tunnel. I clapped onto my ears and gritted my teeth, trying to remain balanced until the earthquake subsided. I released my tension and went over to my brother to see if he was alright. He nodded as I helped support him up. After we got on our legs, we jogged further down the trail.
Several minute later the path abruptly ended, and was replace with the cliché rickety bridge leading to another path similar to the one we stood on at the moment. Underneath the bridge was nothing. Just a valley shadowed in a darkness that covered its floor. I inspected the trench, and instantly my heart sank into my stomach.
“Ready to cross,” Kadeem said, already walking the starting section of the overpass.
I took a deep breath. “I…I can’t.”
I gulped. “I’m afraid of heights. I just—I j-just can’t alright.”
Kadeem rolled his eyes as he approached me. “Not now Riley.”
“Are you fucking serious? Are you screwing with me? After all of that progress we made. After all of that shit we just put up with you expect us to stop right now?”
“I mean there’s got to be another way. Seeing how big this place is I don’t see a reason for there not to be. Besides, just look at this thing. It was probably built before Columbus was born. It’ll probably fall under us once we step foot on it.”
“I walked on it and it seems perfectly fine. Now come on you baby.”
“I’m. Not. Going.” I folded my arms and turned my back to him. I was hoping the gesture showed him how serious I was.
“You’re such a child,” Kadeem said. “Fine, I guess this is a perfect time to practice what they taught me in the service.”
“What are you talking abo—”
Without delay I felt a suffocating strain being put on my neck. I forced my fingers in an opening in an attempt to free myself, only to wind up getting my fingers trapped.
“Headlock. Gets em’ every time. Come on Riley, we’re going on a field trip.”
Kadeem dragged my body to the start of the viaduct. I dug my soles into the ground in a hopeless attempt to slow down his progress. Without trying he tugged me onto the creaky bridge. I liberated my fingers from Kadeem’s grasp, and used them to clutch onto the ropes. Again, his brute strength overpowered mine, leaving me with a severe case of rope burn.
“How’re we doin little brother?”
Coughing, I managed to utter a small “Fuck you”.
“That’s the spirit. Now you’re starting to sound like your old brave self.”
Halfway to the other end of the chasm, I saw something moving in the darkness. When I regarded it as a figment of my imagination, I began to see more. I squinted my eyes to get a better picture—realizing that those small objects were hands. Hands clouded in pure blackness, rising up from the shadows like newly renewed corpses from their grave.
“Kadeem,” I coughed.
“We’re almost there Riley.”
“Hold on baby brother. Don’t get your tits in a bundle.”
He tightened his grip on me. I tried to warn him a third time, but the choke he put on me prevented the words to come out of my mouth. I could only express the massive sight with inaudible murmurs. The hands slithered closer to us like snakes stalking their prey. I shut my eyes and turned my head away from them. I also shed a few tears, which somehow managed to catch Kadeem’s attention as we finally crossed the bridge. He liberated his stranglehold, dropping me onto the ground. Although I didn’t see his face, I could tell that our fear was mutual. With him walking backwards and with me on the floor, we gazed at the phenomenon clothed in black void looming over us. When it ascended at its peak, it froze for a split second before it started to crash down on top of us.
My brother picked me up and we sped off not a moment sooner. The monstrosity collided into the rocks behind us, causing them—and the bridge—to rain down into the abyss. While we were fortunate enough to avoid falling with them, the enormous, sudden earthquake that came after was enough to make me piss myself just barely. We dashed down the linear tunnel of cyan fire, unaware of any fatigue present in us. I looked behind me, and saw that one by one the lanterns were extinguished—behind that was darkness. I couldn’t tell if it was either the fiend or just plain shade.
We continued to run as the darkness slowly blanketed us. The illumination behind us vanished to black. The blackness slowly gained on us. We ran faster, encouraging each other to do so as we did, to try to keep up with the blue light. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t see anything within two feet of my proximity. I gave one more spurt of energy into a final full sprint. Once fatigue caught up with me, I dropped to my knees in a wheezing fit.
“Kadeem,” I yelled. “Where are you?”
There was a faint, yet agonizing howl echoing at the back of me. I lifted myself up and looked to see where its origin was.
“Riley, help m—AAAAHH!!”
A sickening ripping sound drowned out Kadeem’s cries. My body iced up. Goosebumps tickled me like a suit made up of cold centipedes. I stared at the emptiness, contemplating the dilemma. I took several steps towards my brother’s wails, only to chicken out the moment I heard a deep whisper heading my way. I wanted to help him, I tried to force my body to head in his direction, but fear as well as logic persuaded my legs to go the opposite direction. As I ran, I couldn’t help but feel guilty.
I scurried in the darkness for a good ten minutes or so. There wasn’t a glimmer of light anywhere. It felt like I was running in circles blindly. There were occurrences when I thought I lost it, but when I did, a low, blood-curling whisper trailed behind me. It seemed as if death was inevitable. As I dashed further and further down the path, drenched in sweat and exhaustion, my mind tried to convince me to give in—to tell me that no matter what I did, I was going to die. I tried to fight it. I tried to block out the doubt. But as I traveled deeper, I saw less and less hope. Eventually my body gave into the argument. I collapsed onto the ground, splaying my arms like a kneeling crucifixion victim. I didn’t want to die, I tried to feign optimism to give myself reason to press on, but it was too unrealistic.
A shroud of the familiar blue light suddenly ignited, engulfing me in a dome. Under my feet was a slimy black substance with elongated hands of the same hue protruding from the goo. In an effort to flee, I tried to lift my left leg. However, the matter kept it to the ground like quicksand. The ligaments shot from all angles en route to my captive body. Ten of each grabbed onto my legs. The same went for my arms. The cavern was soon obstructed by the slime’s evolution to the dome’s pinnacle. As the blackness crawled up the walls, a large pearl-white skull and decrepit heads masked with the slime jutted from it.
“We are the Metaphysical,” they whispered repeatedly in resonating pitches varying octave to octave. The baritones quivered my heart. The strident ones grated my ribs like ragged nails to a chalkboard.
As they uttered their chant, a fiery, dissolving sensation came over my arms. I couldn’t help but to scream. When I looked to see what happened to my arms they were gone. Completely erased from the shoulders. What remained was an evolving bloody mess staining my clothes. My limbs were being carried off by the Metaphysical as if they were precious artifacts—returning to their slimy residence with open palms and cautious manner. Soon as they returned to the walls my arms joined in on the wild choir—bathed in their bleak material.
“Sacrifice,” the Metaphysical whispered. “From death comes life.”
Below me, the hands disappeared, exposing the gravel path. Poking out from those minerals were cobras about the size of twenty foot pythons. They slithered away from me and inside the mouth of the skull in front of me. As I observed their migration, my legs started to experience the liquefying feeling that vexed my arms. One Metaphysical hand strangled my neck and held me up. The slime it was covered in felt like acid against my skin. The combined agony was so extreme to the point where I clamped my teeth together—causing the front row to shatter under the extreme pressure I put on them. The welling tears were like needles, stabbing the corners of my eyes as they crept out my tear ducts. Once my limbs disconnected from my body, the liquid-covered hairs on them grew into thin spider legs, walking my legs into the skull’s jaws, entering foot-first.
The Metaphysical retreated to the tiny corners of the cave. Everything was the same, except the lantern’s light. Instead of blue, they shone scarlet. The wall in front of me cracked open, revealing a portal to the entrance of the mine. To me, it felt very close. Practically inches away. But the fact that I was only a bloody stump taunted me. No matter how much I wanted to escape, I couldn’t.
Seconds after the gate opened, I heard faint footsteps from the other end of the portal. I struggled to fight the sleep inducing blood-loss I was faced with. My eyelids were as heavy as tons, but I managed to see whose footsteps they were. Almost immediately, I became overjoyed as to who I saw.
“Kadeem,” I cried. “Thank god you’re alive. You gotta help me!”
Kadeem turned his head in my direction. For a moment, I thought the troubled expression on his face was worry on my behalf. But he wasn’t. If he was, then he’d have come to rescue me. But he didn’t.
“Sacrifice,” a whisper behind me said. “A brother offered blood, and in return earned his life.”
Kadeem turned his body around to face me straight on. His leather jacket was dripping rolls of five dollar bills. But that wasn’t the major feature in his physique. It was the gory absence of his right arm.
“A most excellent trade,” the thing whispered.
Kadeem shot out the mine. I shouted for him to save me with no response on his end. He didn’t even look back. The last thing I saw before being dragged away was the path of money following him.
Credit To – Marquise Williams (aka HonestyAndCapacity)