I don't do this very often, but here's a sneak peak at Federal Underground, my current work in progress. Not much to say except that I hope you like it. I'm sure you'll understand that I cannot reveal the synopsis at this time. As always, comments are appreciated.
By Jeff Bennington
My legs strained to climb the dark and musty mineshaft as I ran from the depths of the federal underground. My hands scraped the edges of the rocky wall, caking my fingernails with dirt and decades of filth. Every step I took injected a cold burn into my lungs, every breath thrust me beyond the point of exhaustion. My red jump suit smelled of the underworld and clung to my skin, wet and ragged. I stopped running for a moment and rested my body on the earthen wall.
I could barely stand.
My body trembled with terror.
I remember thinking that my legs felt like liquid tissue, jellifying beneath my skin. When I put my hands to my chest, I could feel my heart pumping to the rhythm of my fears, thumping, thumping, thumping anxiety through my veins. The running, my memories and the book had taken me to Hell and back. The climb through the abandoned mineshaft had become my last hope. I knew I was close. I knew the tunnel would get me outside; my friend, Seven, had told me so and I believed him.
Sweat flowed down the lines of my face like a river. I wiped lakes of perspiration from my eyes, but more followed. The resting eased the pain in my lungs and stiffened my leg muscles. I didn’t think I could continue. I felt so dizzy. Just breathe, I thought. Keep breathing…keep moving.
I looked back. They’ll kill me if I don’t get out of here. The thought was enough to push me forward. With my hands guiding my withering frame through the cave and a headlamp lighting my way, I lifted my eyes, inhaled the smell of dusty death and noticed a faint luminescence further down the passageway. The light invigorated my spirit and the rush of the whistling wind ahead strengthened my resolve.
Air. Real air. I had forgotten what it tasted like, what it smelled like.
I ran my hand across my hairless scalp and felt the heat—I was so hot—I took a energizing breath, pumping strength into my lungs. When I looked back into the darkness my eyes wrinkled and my throat filled with a fearful lump as I remembered the last forty-eight hours—two days that would forever change my life.
I stepped forward, climbed over a pile of fallen timbers and quickened my pace. The light drew near, shimmering through what looked to be a tiny crevice in the distance. The air felt thinner, smelled fresher, tasted cleaner. Tiny rocks and rubble shifted beneath my feet, but I kept my balance by pressing my hands against the narrow walls. The light grew brighter and I could hear the wind blowing, watch the dust stirring. I began to wonder what I’d see at the mouth of the cave: a mountain range? a river? I distinctly remember thinking I don’t care! Anywhere is better than here.
The path continued to rise and the burn returned to my legs. I squinted and covered my eyes with my hand, guided by the sunshine that streamed between my fingers. I could taste my freedom. My feet pounded faster and faster, dragging slightly from fatigue, fleeing the Hell that I had discovered below the crust of the earth. My mind felt as if it were a storm of trauma imploding my understanding of the universe. I staggered to the top of the mineshaft and my filthy body burst out of the mouth of the tunnel into a blinding bath of light, like a jet blasting through billowing clouds at thirty thousand feet.
I stopped, closed my eyes, swallowed the fresh air with my hands behind my head and fell to my knees. Blood rushed to my head and I was overcome with nausea and dizziness. I could feel tears escaping and a swell of stress rumble out of that hidden place where fear takes cover until it can safely escape. In that moment, I felt liberated and cleansed, but the joy of my deliverance was cut off by the sound of a click. I suddenly felt as if I were being watched. Although I knew my brain couldn’t handle the brilliance of the sun without disorienting my equilibrium, I opened my eyes, squinted into a blur of light and shadows. A gust of wind blew into my ears followed by an angry chorus of voices.
“Federal Agents! Get on the ground!”
I peered at the blurry figures, lost in the daylight and the openness of the vast blue sky. Queasiness filled my throat and chest, and my head began to spin as I feared it would. There must have been ten shadows surrounding me, clicking and shouting. “Get on the ground! Get on the ground! Now!”
Their bodies came into focus in that fraction of a second. They were human. They had guns. Their faces looked jumbled, but the desert like mountains, pines and shale cliffs in the distance began to take form. It was Dulce—Dulce, New Mexico. I knew where I was even though I had never been there.
Before I could fully lift my eyelids, a brief sense of gladness rose within me. I felt like weeping. I felt like laughing. And then I felt my face slam into the rocky ground with a thud.
One by one the men backed away, whispering as their feet shuffled over the ground. All I could see were the mountains far off in the distance, a sharp drop off and dozens of shoes, some military boots and some dress shoes.
I spit out a clump of dirt from my mouth and forced my head upward, hoping to catch a glimpse of my captors. The dark figures that stood around me huddled in groups of three or four, snapping pictures and taking notes on their hand held devices. One of the suits, looked familiar. When my eyes connected with hers, she took a step forward, bent down and stared directly at me. I knew her face, but I couldn’t speak her name. I couldn’t remember.
I watched her lips move. “Penn?”
Her voice seemed to blow with the mountain breeze. “Pennnn?”
The mountains, her face and the sounds coming from her mouth began to fade. “Pennnnn Miiiitcheeeellle?”
Her shadowy figure stooped closer to me. I blacked out.