Underneath.

Mikel shivered off the frost building on his coat as he muscled another swing of his pickaxe into the ground. It was a complete black landscape this far down, with the exception of the occasional flame of a cigarette, the spark of metal against a hard rock, and the feeble flashlights built into their helmets. He pushed as hard as he could, taxing every strand of his muscle fiber to its limit trying to be the honorable man that he knew his father would want him to be, but he never wanted to be a miner.

Every now and again a headlamp would go out leaving the worker fumbling around for their back up flashlight, always overcome by some innate fear of the unknown darkness, but in this man made cave, stories of wandering spirits had been spread since its inception some two hundred years ago. These talks had become more and more believable with every cave in, and every death; but were these the works of evil spirits? Mikel does not believe in such things, or anything at all, he just wishes to be a good man without a supernatural side even though his father was a devout Russian orthodox attendant until his death.

The pay was good for this part of the world, but for this particular branch of the mine it was the best. It had the hardest rock, the stiffest air, the coldest temperature, and the most cave-ins. This system was called the “toll-booth”, because the people said that, down there, people would willingly trade money… for their lives. Many people said that it was because of the dead miners coming back to take jealous revenge on the living, but not Mikel. He believed those unfortunate people would come down to this place scared for their lives, making terrible mistakes that untimely killed them. Nothing less, and nothing less. CRASH!!!

A warm blast of air caught Mikel in the face, almost knocking him over as he stumbled backwards away from it. Light filled his portion of the mine, mostly blinding him since he wasn’t used to seeing it for the past eleven hours, but where had it come from? He raised his arms to shield his eyes and peered through.

Ivan, a man who had worked beside Mikel since he was sixteen, walked over to investigate the apparition of light. Both were shocked by this unusual sight, and both were mortified by the implications. Was this a gas leak, was this an ancient pathway that had been covered up, well if it was they had amazing L.E.D lighting, or something else? The nearest city with any kind of tunnel system was over a hundred kilometers away in the south, almost nothing lived this far north so what was it.

The two men gave each other a puzzled glance, then looked down into the hole, and immediately broke into a run for the exit. They blew past their workstations, mineral carts, and coworkers in a mad dash away from that hole, and shortly thereafter the other workers joined suite afraid of some nameless threat. By the time they reached the guards of the mine almost its entirety of workers were in a full panic stricken run at them.

The headman ran outside of his office with a loudspeaker in one hand and a pistol in the other. He screamed through the speaker for the men to stop, which they all did with Ivan and Mikel in the front, doubled over sucking in air like an industrial vacuum. He asked through the speaker what the meaning of this was, and Ivan answered, “Secret.”

The crowd looked from one to the other in worry, for “Secret” was code in that area of the world for stumbling on anything from the Soyuz Sovetskikh sotsialisticheskikh respublik, or the USSR, and finding anything from that time could mean a different kind of death. The headman dropped his loudspeaker, walked over to Ivan, and asked him,” Where?”

“In the toll-booth” Ivan said.

“What did you see?” The headman asked.

“A tunnel.” Mikel said as the crowd around them began to murmur with suspicious wonder.

The headman looked over at Mikel, twisted his mustache a couple of times, walked back into his office, and made a phone call. While he was making a call the crowd descended on the two with questions and anger. These men were very afraid of the cave as it was, and now a “SECRET” had been found in it? Would they have their jobs in the morning? Would they have their lives?

After an hour of standing around, the iron gate of the mine was opened and in stepped sixteen soldiers carrying Kalashnikovs, at their lead was well dressed soldier with a scar across cheeks. The headman came running out of his office, without his firearm, and stopped just short of falling over the soldiers. They exchanged words and the well dressed soldier yelled, “Everyone here leave! All except Ivan, and Mikel.”

The mine quickly emptied leaving just the guards, the headman, the soldiers, and the two unlucky miners. The well dressed soldier walked close enough to Mikal for him to see every defining character of the mans scar on his cheek making him wonder what could’ve done something like this. Was it a knife, or a bullet, or maybe barbwire? Whatever it was certainly added to the large mans menacing face.

“Show me the tunnel.” The soldier spoke.

“I will, but please don’t kill us.” Mikel said.

“If this is what I think it is, we are the least of your concerns. Now take us there.”

Mikal led the way back through the deep darkness, causing the soldiers to switch on the lights on their barrels, and into the “toll-booth”. They walked for a few minutes more until a rather unfamiliar scene struck the headman, light this deep down into the mine. Fear, and wonder gripped him with every step over to a four foot hole that looked down into a thirty foot tunnel.

Pop out LED lights ran the distance of the tunnel in either direction. Along the black brick walls were no indication that it was connected to anything resembling the USSR, but that wasn’t stopping the soldiers from setting anchors and repelling down into the hole. Before the well dressed soldier repelled he looked at the three workers and said, “Wait here for us. Don’t mind the screams.” And jumped down.

The soldiers disappeared leaving Ivan, and Mikel alone with a man they didn’t really care for in the first place. The headman was always quick to dish out punishment, and before the fall of the empire he was also quick to dish out a hasty severance package with his PSS handgun. The years had not been kind to the headman, his hair had greyed early, the lines on his face deepened fiercely, and his hard calloused skin clung to his bones looking for the nutrition it so desperately needed.

Mikel tried his hand at small talk with this stone of a man but it was met with a power drunk rambling about how great he was and lowly they were. No further conversation ensured, until a scream echoed up the hole scattered down the mines, returning back with a horrific tone. The three jumped up from their spots of the ground to look down into the hole. They were met by a terrible sight.

A large man was standing over a soldiers body, but the body wasn’t moving. The man was dressed like he had walked out of the 1950’s, and never looked up. The three miners were very much afraid of the sight, and were not about to make the man notice them in case he was a crazy murder. RATATATATAH! Called out the assault rifle of limping soldier who was now without a left hand or right foot.

The unknown man ran down the tunnel in the opposite of the gunfire, and out of sight. The worry stricken soldier collapsed near his comrade and stared up out of the hole. He called, “Somebody HELP!”

“What happened down there?” The headman asked.

“There are people down here! There are people down here! We are dying! They are killing us!” The soldier cried.

“Who is killing you?” The headman asked.

“The Captain is stuck in there! We need HELP!”

The headman turned to Mikel, and Ivan. “One of you go down there and get that solider up, and one of you get me through these caves so I can make a call to the government and get some help for these soldiers.”

“I’ll bring you to the front.” Ivan stuttered.

Mikel gave his childhood friend a look of disbelief, and then accepted his fate. He grabbed ahold of the rope anchored to the floor and began his descent into the hole.The air-pressure changed instantly, the temperature into a damp heat, and a feeling of foreboding was emanating from the surroundings; all in all it was a very unpleasant place to be.

The soldier was still screaming as his eyes started to focus on the descending man. Mikel had only seen one other person with so much fear on his face and that was a man caught halfway under a hundred tons of earth and the mines. He looked up at Mikel, much like this soldier, and screamed for help… then he died. This soldier stopped looking afraid and contorted into sadness.

“Why did you come?” The soldier asked with tears streaming down his face.

“You asked for help.” Mikel replied.

“You shouldn’t have come, we are all going to die down here.”

“Nonsense. As long as you have that gun we should be able to get to you Captain and get out of here in one place.” Mikel reasoned.

The soldier looked down at his gun. “Do you think these can save you?” The soldier asked.

“Well, I’m sure they help. Now where is your Captain.” Mikel asked.

The soldier struggled up to his feet, threw an arm around Mikel, and they began to move down the tunnel. It was dark, even with the pop up lights, and deeply disturbing. Every so often a scream would emanate from deeper still in the tunnels causing the soldier to maneuver around Mikel looking for, what, he did not know. They came to a T in the tunnel but at the end was a man, wearing leather Cossack armor, and looking at the black wall.

“Hello?” Mikel said, but as soon as the soldier noticed what Mikel was talking to he opened up with a long burst of bullets at the person.

The person took off to the right of the T running faster than anything Mikel had ever seen before in his life.

“Why did you do that? He wasn’t the man from before standing over your comrade.” Mikel asked the soldier as he quickly switched his magazines, and counted his remaining ammunition.

“Don’t talk to them, and definitely don’t look them in the eyes. They aren’t human.” The soldier sputtered.

“What do you mean they aren’t hu-”

“Comrade!” A soldier, missing his right arm and his left eye, ran up from the left.

“Where is the Captain?” The soldier asked.

“He is down this way with some of the others. Have you seen Sergi S, Sasha, Piotr, or Sergi B?” The soldier asked as the group started to make its way to left.

“I was with Piotr when he… and Sasha was laying on the ground underneath the hole, with one of those things standing over him.”

“Did you kill it?”

“Can you kill them?”

“I don’t believe so?”

The group was silent for a while. Every once in a while they would see something shift in the darkness and pour bullets into it, after which a different kind of man would escape to the opposite direction, but they were quickly running out of bullets. Fear was starting to mount even crawling over Mikal as he carried the frantic soldier. Sweat was pouring from his forehead as the heat seemed to be increasing the further they moved along.

They entered into a completely dark area where only their flashlights could pierce. Their illuminated circles danced across the tunnel searching for them, the soldiers, the Captain… anything. And at the end of the hall was another one of those men, this one dressed as a Russian soldier from World War 2. The soldiers were about to plug it full of hole, when a screaming man ran from the left and tackled the faceless man to the ground. The attacker rained down punches on the faceless man, and as the lights focused on him they realized that it was the Captain.

His face distorted, missing both of his eyes, nose, even his scar.

“Captain! We’re here to help!” The soldier hanging onto Mikel spoke.

“It’s a trap! Run!” The Captain said as he threw another punch at the faceless man, but it was caught.

The faceless man stood up with the Captains hand in his own and looked into where the Captains eyes were supposed to be. The Captain screamed and his body burst into flame. Mikel screamed, turned in the opposite direction and began to run. The second soldier said,” there are many of them behind us right now.”

Mikel spared a glance behind, and sure enough there was atleast thirty of those things running in their direction. He didn’t see their faces but he knew that they were something evil. They got back to the T and took off to the right. Mikal glanced behind again and saw nothing. “THEY’RE IN THE FRONT!!!” The second soldier screamed as he began to fire his bullets into the crowd.

The soldier hanging onto Mikel fired as well, until he ran out of bullets. The soldier grabbed his knife out, pushed Mikel off of him and dove at the crowd yelling, “Get out of here!”

The second soldier emptied his last magazine, as the first soldier burst into flames, and also grabbed his knife. The two of them ran back to the T, and off to the left was another group of faceless men, without much hesitation the two sprinted down the right corridor. They ran for almost thirty minutes straight and crumpled over themselves in heaves of oxygen. They glanced around and didn’t see a single faceless man. but they did notice something… a rope and a hole. The two skittishly walked over to the rope and looked up into the mine. A wave of relief enveloped the two. The soldier reached out for it, and burst into flame.

A faceless man grabbed a hold of him and stared deep into his eyes. That’s when Mikel saw it, their faces was twisted, like a lizards but with purple eyes. And before he could move, he was surrounded. Each of the faceless men were staring at him. None of them reached for him, none of them did anything at all, just stared. Fear was gripping him so hard that when a hand grabbed around his arm and pulled him out of there, he passed out.

When he awoke he was just outside of the tunnel with a familiar face looking down at him.

“Papa?” Mikel asked.

“Yes.” His Papa answered.

“Am I alive.”

“Yes.”

“Are you?”

“More than ever.”

Mikel reached out his hand but couldn’t feel his father at all. This shocked him so much that he scooted back a few steps.

“Are you a ghost?”

“No. But I was allowed to get you out.”

“Get me out?” Mikel said as he looked over the hole and saw all the faceless men looking up at him. “What are those things?”

“Demons.” His father responded.

“Demons? They’re real?” Mikel asked.

“What do you think.”

“But I don’t believe in them.” Mikel said

“They believe in you, and if you keep living without Jesus, you will see them again.”

“What is this tunnel?”

“What do you think it is?”

“Hell?”

“Not exactly, but close.”

“Where are you at Papa?”

“In Heaven.”

“I want to go there. To be with you Papa.”

“Go to church, and learn about Jesus, and I will see you again.”

“Papa” Mikel said as light started to fill the tunnels and soldiers were lining the path. None of them looked down the hole.

A high ranking soldier looked at Mikel, shook his hand, handed him a check, and told him that the mine is closed. The next day they destroyed the mine, and Mikel went to church.

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