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The Underground This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

By , San Marcos, CA

The rhythmic shuffle of our feet on the cold stone floor was the only thing I heard. Not a single person spoke for we could not. Thousands of people all dressed alike, black jumpsuits with white tags that had our prison number on it, gray canvas wrapped around our feet to serve as shoes and black cloth tied around our mouths, and each one of us had our share of cuts and bruises from our captors. They were known as The Proof, they all were dressed in black army type armor, with black masks over their faces, all armed with batons. After the War of Forces had ended The Proof had formed and forced all survivors to obey them. They kidnapped all of us and trapped us all in theses tunnels where there was only one way in and one way out. I was pulled out of my thoughts when a Proof guard decided to whack me on the knee with his baton. I stumbled and fell knocking my nose hard on the floor, scraping my palms on the rocky uneven floor.  
“Get up,” the guard grumbled tauntingly.
I stood back up obediently, blood dripping down my face onto my uniform, the flesh on my palms torn and bloody. My knee double its size, feeling as if a hot knife was lodged in it. I hobbled on, following the seemingly endless line of men, women, and children all moving in symmetry. We continued on, kicking up dust clouds as we went through the musty tunnels, the smell of human filth filling the air, seeping into our clothes, the faint sound of water dripping through the many cracks in the ceiling.
We abruptly came to a stop when a Proof guard held up his hands gesturing for us to stop. He pulled down his mask and smiled at us no warmth reaching his eyes. He had snake like black eyes, a clean-shaven face, and a long white scar running down from his right eye to the bottom of his chin that danced on his face as he said to no one in particular, “It is time for the Proof to commence!”
We all looked at each other unsure of what was happening. This morning when we were aroused the guards told us that we were being taken to the grinder to work on the new tunnels. But then why were we being stopped now? The grinder was farther down the tunnel. Our question was soon answered. A squad of Proof guards marched through our lines hitting people randomly, adults and children, boys and girls, they just did it for the fun of it. I tried to act neutral standing stiff my face a mask of my true emotions. Trying so desperately to stay hidden in the crowd of people, to not stand out to them. The squad was now only a few paces away whacking away like there was no tomorrow. Then I felt it, a guard had chosen me, he hit me hard in the gut sending me to the floor coughing up blood. He walked away laughing. I looked up anger burning brightly in my eyes. I wanted so badly to fight back, to get my old life back, to return to the real world of light and warmth.
“Now I know that you surely liked that, well if you were me. But I do have a reason for this doing,” he said laughing. “Now you all know the rules here. Don't leave, don't fight, and you survive. But a small group of prisoners tried to escape.” He gestured for a squad of guards to reveal the escapees.
They protruded a group of seven people, three men, two women, and two kids all beaten beyond recognition. Now he gestured for the squad to go through the lines of prisoners. They were rounding up the people they’d just beaten. The guard that had hit me grabbed me by the scruff of my uniform and dragged me along with five other victims. The guard took us to the front of the group where the escapees stood. I winced, they looked so horrible, so pained, their faces drenched in blood and grime from the beatings.
“This what we do to people who try to escape,” he boomed his arm pointed accusingly at the escapees. “Now we will repay their favor.”
The squad advanced on us they came in with metal batons hacking away at us like pinatas. A guard brought his metal baton on my injured knee sending me crashing to the floor for the second time today. I groaned, biting down hard on my gag. The guard brought his baton down on me again, this time hitting me in the back, pain flared up in me spreading through my body. I screamed, crying out in pain! He hit me again and again, on my ankle, shin, shoulder, elbow, pain becoming a constant companion, the screams that came from us pierced the air after each blow. My mind soon left my body, floating away watching as a girl that looked like me, with the same brown hair, gray eyes, and tall, slightly muscular frame was beaten in front of everyone else. Her black uniform soon filling with the crimson color of blood. The blows of the metal baton no longer sting my flesh, but instead hurting the mangled bloody body in front of me.
“Enough, ” the head guard said his scar twitching as he spoke, “Now you see the consequences of escape. Not only do you hurt yourself but you hurt everyone around you.” He put back on his mask and led the group down the tunnel to the grinder.
They had all stood there watching us in pain. Oh, how I hated how easily we were discouraged. So what they had the weapons, so what they had the armor, we still had our identities and our strength in numbers. If all of us worked together then we could overthrow them. But we could not, I should not have hoped for something so sweet in a place so bitter. The guards dragged me and the others that were beaten down a smaller tunnel that led to a larger one where carts were waiting for us. The guards shoved us into the carts and closed the doors not even bothering to lock the back of them. They walked away laughing. Probably thinking that we were too mangled and in pain to do anything, much less escape. I just lay there, pain surging through my whole body, I was too in pain and shock to move. Just the jolting of the cart was enough to make me want to cry. The carts continued on for a few more minutes before coming to an abrupt stop sending us crashing on top of each other, too broken and disfigured to move, we just laid on top of each other waiting for the guards to come for us. The doors to the cart were opened and a guard walked in. It was the head guard. He took out his metal baton, poking at us moving hands away from faces as if he was looking for someone. He poked me with his baton and looked carefully at my face. He moved away bloody strands of hair from my face with his baton, seeming satisfied he grabbed my broken leg and dragged me out of the cart, me screaming in pain as he did. He picked me up and slung me over his shoulder like a sack of rice. He walked a few paces then dropped me onto a wheelchair. He strapped my torso to the back of the chair. I groaned as he tightened the strap around my broken ribs. He removed my gag and grinned at me like a madman. I inhaled large gulps of air trying to keep from crying out, the coolness of it stinging my lungs. He pushed me down the rocky tunnel the taste of blood filling my mouth. The tunnel soon flattened out and instead of the rocky unsmooth walls there were metal walls that shone brightly and electric light bulbs lit the hallway instead of dim gas lamps. The smell of human filth soon replaced with the smell of antibiotics. He steered me into a room with a thick metal door bolted shut with an intricate lock. He parked me off to the left as he worked on the lock. The lock clicked open letting the sweet smell of lavender fill the hall. He steered me into the room parking me in front of a metal table that was a part of the floor. He took off his mask showing me his scar then he pulled off his helmet revealing plated metal covering the right half of his head and stringy black hair on the left half.
He stood on the opposite side of the table looking at me as if he was observing a document and said, “So what makes you so special?”
The question struck a blank in my mind. I was not special, I was just like everyone else. I couldn’t be special, that would make me a target. That would make me important to the Proof, putting me in more danger.  I responded my voice sounding like a hoarse croak, “There is nothing special about me.”
“Oh yes there is,” he said pulling out a sharp knife from a hidden sheath in his boot, “If you don’t tell me then I’m gonna have to cut it right out of you.”
I gulped, fear filling me fast, and when I’m afraid I do irrational things so I said the first thing that came to my mind, “Let us go!” The words reverberated around the room knocking the guard against the wall as if I had physically hit him. His eyes filling with golden light that quickly faded away. The smell of oranges and the sound of bees filling the air.
I squeezed my eyes shut, expecting him to get back up anger burning brightly in his eyes, then to walk over to me and stab me with his knife. But instead, I got the exact opposite. His conscious winked into mine his thoughts and feelings becoming a faint whisper in mine. He walked over to me and unstrapped me from the wheelchair. He went to the back of the wheelchair and started pushing me out of the room and farther down the hallway a far away glance in his eyes as if he was hypnotized. We soon ran into two guards patrolling the halls.
When they saw us they asked suspicious looks on their faces, “Halt! Habibi what are you doing in these quarters with a prisoner? You know that they are not allowed in this wing.”
When Habibi did not respond I answered for him, “We are welcome here! Now leave!”
The same thing happens to them too! They were catapulted against the wall golden light filling their eyes. Their conscious winking into my mind, into my control. The smell of oranges and the sound of bees returning for a faint instant. Then they walked away in a hypnotized daze. Habibi pushed me on into an elevator and hit the level X button and we were speeding upwards. When the elevator dinged to a stop we were in a circular room cut into the rock with controls lining the walls and one table in the center with a microphone and a small remote that I could clearly see said on/off. The sound of multiple buzzing and beeping of controls quiet in the background and the smell of alcohol strong in the room. He steered me in the front of the mic.
He said gesturing to the mic, “Go ahead. Go tell your people that they are free to go.”
I flipped the on the switch and said the fiercest voice possible in my state, “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love or care for each other then I am nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak the word with power revealing the mysteries, making everything as plain as day and if I have faith to say to the mountain jump and it jumps but I don’t love and don’t have the heart then it means nothing. If I give all I own to the poor or even go to the stake to be burned as a murder that I was not, but I don’t love then I’ve gone nowhere. So no matter what I say, no matter what I believe, no matter what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. I have no power without love. So rise against our captors and show them your love! Show them your Power! Show them that we are not just tools, but people! Go now and show them!”
I could feel it. It felt like as if each person, each prisoner and taken part in my conscious. I could feel their hope and love wink into existence in my mind. I could see a faint golden light resonate around me then in a large burst of energy the golden light faded out, spreading to all of the prisoners the sweet smell of oranges and the sound of bees leaving with the light. Feeding them energy, strength, and hope. Habibi pushed me into a hidden room and strapped me onto a table. Then went back outside to power on the machine and stop any of the other guards that tried to enter. The machine was a donut shaped mechanism that went around the user that was strapped to the table. It was used to heal guards that were injured in seconds, but for me, it took a matter of minutes, due to my many injuries. When the machine stopped humming the straps fell off and I found myself decked in the standard guard uniform equipped with a baton and hidden knife. I walked out of the room fuming with anger towards my captors and filled with a new energy. I quickly left the mic room and returned to the main tunnel leaving Habibi in the dust to be dealt with later. I stood upon a ledge that looked down upon the main tunnel where all chaos was being let loose. I saw my fellow prisoners beating the guards taking batons and knives from the fallen ones. I felt something I had not felt in a long time surge in me. I felt hope for the first time in years. Then my hope was crushed, well it was more like I was being crushed. A prisoner from a different unit than me had shoved me over the ledge. I tumbled through the air my body feeling weightless and free. Then I hit the ground. The wind was knocked out of me along with my consciousness. I did not stay unconscious for long though. During my fall the mask had fallen from my face revealing my identity as a prisoner. A fellow captive helped me up. She carried me up to my knees and brought me back from unconsciousness. I looked at her. Her blue eyes were filled with anger and rage, her blond hair a nest. She had a cut on her lip that was swelling up, and her right arm was cradled against her body, a piece of her uniform wrapped around her arm soaking in blood.
“Thank you,” I yelled over the fighting!
“No problem,” she replied, “You would have done the same for me.”
“We need to find a way out!”
“Yeah, I know where the exit is, I was sent to work on that wing.”
“Lead the way.”
She started to run down the main tunnel away from the grinder.
“everyone,” I yelled, “This way! We’ve found the way out!”
Soon every single person had abandoned their fights and ran after us. We were an unstoppable stampede of prisoners. With my fellow prisoner in the lead and me not too far behind her. If we came across any guards we just trampled over them, leaving them in the abandoned tunnels.  We soon came to a staircase cut into the rock that led to a large opening boarded up with wooden planks, but we knew this was the exit. A tiny slit of light slipped through the cracks in the wood giving us hope. The smell of fresh air giving us energy to continue.
“On three,” I said. “One. Two. Three!”
On three the people in the front of the herd all rammed into the wood cascading a rain of dust and wood around us. Everyone cheered!
“Again,” I said!
We repeated that over and over again until the wood started cracking. The cracks spread over the wood, then it finally gave in. The wall barricade was broken down! We were finally free. We all ran out tears streaming down our dirt-stained faces. We shoved past a colony of vines that had grown in the doorway and out into the open sunlight the brightness of the sun stinging our eyes, momentarily blinding us. We had done it we were free. We continued running into the light into the unknown world that we had left. The cries of our captors screaming in protest. warning us about the terrors we would unleash. No longer listening to them we ran into the light into its warmth. We grinned finally free from the Proof from the countless hours of work and tormenting. Our prison quickly fading into the light, leaving us in a white environment, the only thing to be seen was us and we were soon fading into the light leaving this world to be returned to our lives. To our families. To our Homes.






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