Web dug whilst I sipped the water we shared. Unexpectedly, his pickaxe bounced back in his hands. As the sound echoed through our tunnel, the flicking torchlights from our helmets lit up a red brick wall. Studying them through goggles, Web tapped timidly with the pickaxe point and the grey concrete crumbled away. He smiled, but in the torchlight it looked like a wicked slash on the side of his face.
Raising the pick, Web brought it crashing down as I grabbed my spade and ducked out of the way. I heard the familiar sound of metal on brick and turned to see large cracks forming across the surface.
‘It didn’t break,’ Web’s voice shouted above the ringing.
He raised the pick again; the blade edge glistened in the light. He dropped it with a sudden swing and a mighty roar left his mouth. Web had perfect aim and hit the same spot as before, but the bricks didn’t fall. I crept to his side and we studied the wall once more.
‘Seems pretty sturdy,’ he muttered.
I nodded, ‘Do you think on the other side is….?’
He eyed me and frowned, ‘They say it feels warm and the soil’s lighter.’
‘Still, this might be the first wall,’ I said, clinging to my hope.
‘Right. Stand back.’
I scuttled to the side as Web raised the pickaxe and then brought it down harder than previously. He swung with all his strength, whilst screaming. The point of the pick stuck and Web threw all of his weight behind it.
‘Stop! I smell something!’ I cried.
I grabbed his shoulder and foolishly tried to pull him backwards. Web was like an angry bull; all his muscles were tense, his feet were glued to the floor and red blazed in his eyes behind his goggles. Also, his breathing was steady and mine was coming out in gasps.
Web dropped the pickaxe, his body stayed tense, ‘is it gas?’
I sniffed, trying to catch the smell again now the pressure was on, ‘I’m not sure.’
‘Better not risk it,’ Web replied and pulled up the mask he had around his neck.
I did the same. Fitting the simple breathing device on and quickly pinching the side to save me from breathing deadly air.
Web pulled some of the chipped brick away from the hole and pressed an eye to it.
‘Do you see anything?’ I asked, my words muffled and breathy.
He shook his head and pressed his shoulder to the wall. Then he signalled for me to do the same. We pushed together and the wall gave way, causing us to fall though. Everything was shaking and I could hear so many sounds at once. My breath caught and then my body found the ground with a loud crack.
‘Ty? Ty, hear me? WAKE UP!’
Pain…excruciating pain…all over. My body flickered back to life and my brain went into over drive with the sudden flood of pain signals. I screamed.
‘Ty, you’re right. Come on, talk to me.’
I felt cold hands on my head, fingers pulling off my goggles. I tried to open my eyes, but the world stayed dark. Something warm brushed across my cheeks and suddenly there was light burning into my eyes. Sluggishly, I drew my left hand up.
Hands shook me and I wanted to throw up. I rolled over and pain roared in my right shoulder. I still made it though and started gagging.
‘Oh, no, don’t do that!’
A hand snatched down something that was across my mouth as I heaved and vomited. Fire burned in my throat and every mouthful of air stuck in my lungs.
‘You okay? Lie down….’
Strong hands grabbed me, pulling me back down gently and then they were on my face once more, pushing something back over my mouth.
‘Don’t shut your eyes, stay awake.’
I mumbled something as my head started clearing, the pain dulling down and things coming back into forces.
‘I should put your shoulder back.’
I heard him move, but felt nothing, until he started pulling. The pain shot through me, worse than before and I was sure death was coming. I screamed and flopped around on the floor, trying to get away. I felt a foot dig into my ribs and the pain reached a new height. My screams ripped from my throat then bounced back to me. I didn’t hear the sound of my bones clicking back into place or Web yelling at me till he’d slapped me twice.
I lay quiet, dragging in deep breaths, as the pain rippled and dulled away, leaving me feeling numb and cold.
‘Quit sucking all the air,’ Web snapped, ‘Control your breathing.’
I shut my eyes and began counting whilst thinking about each breath in and out.
‘We’re right,’ Web said, ‘We didn’t fall far, just brought shit down with us.’
He leant into catch my whisper.
‘I think so…Not sure about the air, but nothing’s moving.’
I reached upwards, grabbing at nothing.
‘Wait,’ Web pressed his hand to my chest, ‘How’s your head?’
I paused, ‘hurts a little.’
He took my arms and sitting up, I curled into a ball and begin breathing deeply, ‘Sent…for someone?’
‘I can’t leave you.’
He stood up and I watched him walk over to the hole we had fallen through. He brushed the wall, then started to climb. The soil gave away too fast and he was unable to scurry upwards. He jumped back to me.
‘Doesn’t look like it, but there must be another way.’
I held my hand out and he pulled me to my feet. I swayed and he grabbed my arm, ‘Whoa.’
‘I’m right,’ I replied, rubbing my painful chest.
‘Let’s move,’ Web spoke.
A shiver went down my spine as we started walking and I glanced around. The light from my helmet didn’t reach very far and I couldn’t make out a lot. The floor was covered with the rubble that had fallen down with us, but also there were white stones and strange impressions in the soil.
I tripped into something and looked down; there was a metal pole on the floor and bits of wood. I stepped around it and walked on, trying to have my eyes everywhere at once. Web was slightly ahead of me, feeling the brick wall with his hand. Then my light flashed across something and I had to turn my head back so fast that the pain started up again. I blinked quickly and then looked up; there was an outline of a metal shape in the space ahead of me.
‘There’s something…’ I pointed out.
Web turned and we walked over to the object. My breath was ragged and my heart beating in my ears. We got closer and saw that the shape was the back or front of a train. I reached out and touched the cold, dusty metal, leaving my prints there.
‘There’s a gap we can get through,’ Web called.
I watched him disappear down the side of the train, then followed him. My boots brushed against the wheels and I bumped into Web’s hand. He pulled me up onto the ledge and we stared around.
I’d seen places like this before; an underground train station. I was the third generation of my family to be born underground and had only heard of these things in fairytales. I took in the rows of blue plastic seating, the display boards with their yellow posters and the silent electric stairs. The place was so still, as if frozen in time.
‘Wow, check this,’ Web said and moved to a line of metal boxes.
I followed him and saw that there was a ticket machine and a vending machine. Web brushed the dust from the second machine.
‘There’s still stuff inside!’
‘Look, tinned drinks!’ Web grabbed me and pressed my face to the glass, ‘How’d we get in?’ Web banged a fist on the plastic cover and the sound echoed.
‘I don’t-’ the word stuck in my throat and I grasped my chest.
I doubled over, trying to breathe but not taking in anything.
‘TY! What is it?!’
I shook my head wildly and reached up for my mask. Web beat me, tearing the thing off and almost strangled me. Suddenly, I could breathe again, though my lungs were on fire. Web checked my mask and then pulled my head up. I had to stare into his different coloured eyes as he watched me breathe.
I shook my head again.
He grabbed my hand and pulled me over to an exit sign. My mask swung about my neck as he dragging me over to a flight of stairs. The next breathe caught in my throat and my mind filled with the wonderful idea of the freedom that the stairs could lead to. Web took me up them, though every breath had started to kill me.
My heart was hammering loudly as we reached the top. My whole body was trembling. We both saw the rusty gate barring the way at the same time. The hope died, my shoulders dropped.
‘I’m sure we can break through,’ Web said, walking over to the gate and considering a very rusted patch.
‘Think….safe?’ I whispered.
Web shrugged, ‘my great-granddad was the last of the sun-seers… He said, it was the idea of seeing the sun again that kept him alive for so long. But he knew the radiation would still be there.’
A hacking cough grabbed me and I stumbled backwards into the wall. I clutched my chest and then started scratching at my throat.
‘Stay calm!’ Web shouted, ‘I’ll get you out.’ He threw himself at the gate, only to bounce off it. ‘Break damn you! Break!’ he shouted and began kicking the sides.
I sink to the floor, the cough racking through my bones and then I vomited again. The sound of the gate shaking echoed in my ears. My cough faded, leaving me feeling better. Then my torch light caught what I’d thrown up……
‘Wed?’ I crocked, but he didn’t hear me, the gate had given up the fight.
In slow motion I saw the gate fall with Web on top of it and suddenly I realized that if he was injured, we’d never get out. I screamed his name and stumbled after him, only to trip and fall on to him.
‘Ouch,’ Web moaned.
‘You…hurt?’ I asked, pulling myself up.
‘No,’ he replied and got to his feet, ‘Do you smell that?’
I shook my head and put a hand on my chest.
He pulled me up and we walked into the main station. I doubled over. The pain in my chest increased as the poisoned air effect my lungs. Web yanked me over to a sliding metal door and with a few sharp tugs he opened it. A sudden fear hit my stomach, but then clean air floored passed me. I took deep breathes and tasted the rich, untainted air on my tongue.
Web snapped his mask down and started doing the same, ‘God, that’s good,’ he said.
I nodded and walked out into the sunlight.