It was warm. Beneath my heavy parka I had begun to sweat, rivulets running down the insides of my goggles. Snow still drifted into the cavern from the opening, now a small crack in the distant roof above me. I had tumbled and slid down a rocky outcropping, the sharp ice tearing at my clothes and leaving nasty gouges. Everything hurt, but that was a good sign; at the bottom of the world, if something went numb it normally meant an amputation was in your future.
I stood, wincing as my left leg took my weight. And then I gasped. Or at least I thought I did. After eight months on the ice, seeing your breath had become as natural as the breathing that preceded it. And yet down here there was nothing. Pulling my hands from the thick gloves, I touched my face, feeling the snow in my beard already beginning to melt.
Soon I was down to just my salopettes and a thin tee, and still I could feel myself sweating. With my hood gone, the sounds of ice melting could be heard all around. In the distance, I heard the steady burble of a stream. In the middle of fucking Antarctica.
“Basecamp, basecamp, this is Novacs over.”
The radio was good for twenty miles, but it was at least a hundred feet to the roof of the cavern. The walls were slick with ice, unclimable.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is Danny Novacs, out of Amundsen-Scott. I’ve fallen approximately four hundred metres north of my snowcat, I’m in some kind of cavern.”
Static. Fuck. I gave up after a few more tries on the mic. The snowcat had a transponder and I was due back in six hours. A rescue party would be out by mid-morning the next day. All I had to do was hang on. I didn’t even have to worry about the cold.
I headed towards the source of the water, breaking a glowstick so I could find my way back. My torchlight illuminated a wide circle of the cavern at a time, the beam sparkling against the drops of meltwater. The sound of rushing water grew louder, and soon I heard squelching.
“What the hell.”
My boot was muddy. There wasn’t any land here; we were standing on a kilometre of ice. The torch played over the ground, seeing mud, moss and small streams running through it all. And then my beam caught something and despite the warmth, despite my excitement at this find, all the heat left my body.
A footprint. The light caught it in sharp relief, but as I tracked backwards I found another closer. It looked human, like the kind left when you step out of the shower but the proportions were all wrong. The pad was huge, easily a size fourteen. There were four toe marks, each including a sharp groove in front of them. Almost like claws.
Suddenly the warmth wasn’t so inviting. The sheer walls closed in around me. I had to get out of here. Did I go back, stay in the meagre light? Or push on, try and find a way out further on? Fuck it. I took another step in the mud, then another. The trail of mud and monster led to a side-tunnel, the sound of water echoing loudly.
I had gone perhaps a hundred metres when I began to really notice the heat. At first I thought it was just my nerves, the adrenaline pumping through me. By the time I rounded the third bend I was wiping sweat from my eyes with a sodden sleeve. The tunnel seemed to be on fire, the ice glowing in undulating hues of orange and red. It took my mind a moment to realise it was light, reflected from up ahead. Killing my flashlight, I found myself drawn like a moth to a flame.
I don’t know what got to me first. The heat had become so intense, like opening an oven and crawling inside. Then the tremble, a deep vibration that turned my legs to jelly and made my ears pulse. Or maybe it was the air, the roiling fog on the ground that seemed to push against each footstep.
By the time I exited the tunnel, I was panting heavily. My t-shirt was wrapped around my head, trying in vain to provide some protection. As I dropped to my knees, the mist encircling me, I took one last look at the… the thing, that sat in the ice.
And then I passed out.
Prompt originally posted by Cannord on reddit and received 1 upvotes.