Written in 2009.
I Read The Mind Of The Cyclops Empire!
by Andi Hagen
I was working in the 118 Sharpe Avenue Tower as an electrician. Weeks ago, trying to fix a broken fire alarm, I looked at a blue print of the tower’s basement. Really old, misfiled in the archive, it reeked like stale smoke and was ready to tear apart along its folds. I didn’t expect it to be much help, but I couldn’t find anything better—the archives are a giant mess.
The plan was a hand drawn net of crisscrossing wires. I admired it for a while, wanting to hang it on my wall, then I got puzzled. Something was weird. Some of the conduits ended abruptly without connecting anywhere. I wondered: Does the wiring hook up on a lower floor? Could there be another basement down there?
The archives are in a little nook office in the basement. No one keeps them up or even goes down there, so I took the blue print home to study. Staying up a few nights that week, I sketched my own diagram, borrowing other plans from the archive and tracing them onto my map. After a lot of revisions, eventually I had a complete layout of all the conduits and airshafts in the basement. I found a lot of inconsistencies—ducts with no vents, unfinished circuits. I grew more certain. There had to be a sub-basement with additional wires. Maybe, originally, two basements were planned, but one was left unfinished and built over? I don’t know the first thing about construction, but that seemed like a silly waste of time and money.
The next week, I probed the other electricians about the basement wiring. Most didn’t care or said that the old blue prints were inaccurate. Not satisfied, I dug into the archive again. I found specifications for the basement freight elevator and a few old elevator inspection reports. This sounds crazy, but the specs referenced a trapdoor in the bottom of the elevator shaft. I don’t know about elevators so I didn’t pursue it, but now, thinking back, it seems pretty fishy.
The more I discovered, the more curious I got. I had to explore—see for myself. Consulting my map, there was one duct I guessed would take me to the forgotten sub-basement. That week, pretending I was going to relabel all the breakers, I stayed late. After everyone left, I took off the vent cover. I tied one end of a rope around a big filing cabinet and crawled down with the other.
I dropped from an opening high on the wall, dangling the rope behind me. There were no lights, but by the clacking of my feet, I knew the floor was cement. I pulled my flashlight off my belt, clicked it on, and swung it around. The sub-basement was one giant room. The light could’ve been the glow from a wristwatch for all the help it was—the blackness swallowed the beam right up. Getting lost in the dark would be easy, so first, I decided to follow the wall and figure out the room’s size.
I turned around. Facing the wall, my heart was in my throat. Every inch was covered with weird pictures, like the inside of a pyramid. They were etched into the cinder blocks as if someone had drawn them with their finger into wet cement. There were one-eyed men, hunchbacked with razor claws—big brains with drooping arms, antennas, and tentacles—and the sun, with a leering mouth and demonic eyes. Some bigger pictures too: battles between the one-eyed men and men with squids for heads, chopping each other part with axes or smashing with clubs. There was writing between the pictures too, but it was no alphabet I had even seen. The letters were a snarl of curves and jagged edges, like fishhooks tangled together. Hypnotized, I circled the cavernous room, taking in the eerie imagery. There was no end to the pictures. They could’ve filled a hundred paperbacks.
With shaky legs, I walked into the interior of the room, sweeping my light back and forth across the ground. Still, I nearly tumbled into the hole before I saw it in the dark. Tottering on the brink, I fell backward to stop from pitching in. The hole was punched through the steel-reinforced cement foundation. By the curve of the rim, it must’ve been fifty feet across. Shining my light in, the walls were smooth, with a walkway running around the side, molded from the rocky dirt, spiraling downward. It was narrow, only big enough for two people to walk side by side. The dust was streaked with scuffs and prints.
Then there was the mist, drifting from the hole, looking like glowing ghosts in the flashlight beam. As I leaned over the edge, it wafted around my face, smelling clean and mild like running water. This is where the story gets weird: I could feel it going down my throat, into my lungs, floating inside of me. I got dizzy. Notions began to appear in my mind. It was as if my brain was reading a book without the rest of me knowing, absorbing new facts all by itself.
I learned that the hole is the entrance to a cave network running all through Earth—an underground kingdom thousands of times as big as the surface world. A giant alien brain lives in the core. It traveled through space, gathering rocks and dust around itself until eventually it grew into a planet. It burrowed the caves with its tentacles, then, from plant and animal matter frozen on the rocks, it made men—the one-eyed hunchbacks in the etchings—to populate the tunnels and protect it from whatever life was growing on the surface. Half animal and half fungus, these cyclops men are the oldest life on Earth. They think and make decisions, but they can’t remember anything. Instead, the mist, filling every cave, holds their memories. Actually a swarm of microscopic creatures, it creates an electrical field on which the cyclops men’s thoughts are imprinted. Inside the mist is the experience of an entire race and I was learning it all!
From the hole came the faintest noise. Warped by a thousand echoes, it could have been anything, but with the mist in me, I knew the cyclops men were torturing a man—a surface man. He was cuffed to a rock shelf and a cyclops man with a massive hammer was smashing him bit by bit. Starting with the feet, the torturer had pulverized each leg past his knees into a paste of muscle, blood, and chunks of bone. Horrified, I ran from the hole, along the wall, until I found my rope again. Back up top, I closed the vent behind me.
At my apartment, I wasn’t able to sleep, or even stop sweating all night and through the next day. I saw the scene of torture over and over. Questions churned in my brain. Who were they torturing? Did they kidnap him? Find him snooping? Why is the hole under the tower? Is someone from the surface in league with them? Since I breathed the mist, did they know who I was?
For the past three days I’ve skipped work. The cyclops men—or their surface allies—could be waiting for me at the tower. Eventually they’ll come get me. It’ll be one of my co-workers, stopping by to “see if everything is alright”. Or maybe they have a tunnel to the sewers beneath my building. I think I’ll go lay low at my parents’ place in the country. No, forget that. They have tons of limestone caves out there.
I need to buy a gun.