Echo by Katerini Koraki
Deep in the eternal darkness of the planet’s caverns, the young miner thinks he is alone. He is the only one willing to do this work, this drudgery of putting on the heavy equipment and trekking down further and further into the recesses of this shaft. The monotonous view of the brown-black cave wall, slick with water and slimy mud almost lulls him into a trance. But he has to keep his wits about him. Sooner or later the walls will narrow and he will be jamming himself down blind to get to the ore below. With luck, he will only have to spend a few minutes at the very bottom, wrenching whatever green gems he can from the walls before heading back.
Seventy percent chance of survival was good enough odds, especially given the hazard pay that found its way into his bank account at the end of the month. But the company shop was expensive, so whenever the bosses asked for volunteers, he raised his hand. What kept the others far away was the whispers, the rumors of old burial pits and curses, of miners who went in and never came out. He couldn’t afford to care.
The man adjusts his harness again. Bored, he whistles an Old Earth folk song that his father taught him as a boy. The sound of the first verse echoes across the cave walls.
Another whistle answers back.
Immediately, the miner slams his hand onto his communicator button to call for help. He doesn’t wait for a response, rushing ahead into the darkness. In front of him, there is nothing but miles more empty tunnel. He doesn’t notice that the water is rising, gradually inching from the soles of his boots to his ankles. After he starts to feel the burn of exhaustion in his calves, the sound changes, gains an undulating rhythm not unlike the slosh of water at his knees. It’s a voice and it sounds like his mother singing him to sleep. His feet sprint forward.
When he finally stops, the water is up to his shoulders and the walls are too narrow for him to keep pushing forward. But he can see ahead, see through to the underground ocean where green eyes glitter at him from beneath the water. The woman, he sees, sits on the ocean floor and stares up at him with her green eyes. Waiting for him, he tells himself. Her too-wide mouth is open as she sings.
She doesn’t need to speak for him to know what he must do next. The miner rips off his helmet and harness and lowers down to his knees, down to her level, down below the water’s surface, ready to accept the feeling of her lips on his. This is why he kept coming back.
As he closes the distance between them, he doesn’t even feel her teeth sink into the flesh of his neck.
Katerini Koraki is a speculative fiction writer based in Boston. You can find her work published in Freeze Ray, Luna Station Quarterly, and Alternating Current, among other places. You can visit her on Twitter @KateriniKoraki.