7. Paltroon and Paltry

7. Paltroon and Paltry

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



Dear Diary, now that the nightmare’s over I am able to scratch my words on your pad and try to work out the why and how things happened. But until now I have been unable to concentrate on anything but preserving my life in the thunderous downpour of mighty rocks.

There was a continuous roar, the like of which I’ve never heard before, and huge piles of rock crashed down and landed on what I subsequently was to discover was a broad ledge not so far above our heads. A great deal of loose stuff splattered around us, razor-like shards of hard grit sprayed us until I dared say not one of us was free from bleeding streaks in the darkness. Anp pain: where we were struck and cut by the shards it hurt terribly. We all huddled together in the pitch darkness and I was blessed, for Timmy held on to me as if he was afraid I might be lost to him for ever.

It was comforting to me, knowing he was there, knowing his body was protecting me from whatever terrible disaster was coming down on us from a height none of us could imagine existed. I even thought we might die down there, be lost and never found though an eternity rolled past.

Some screamed, some roared, some, like me, remained silent and only gasped when painfully struck by splinters of rock.

Then, after what seemed an age in the total blackness of life on that dread subterranean road or whatever it was, the rumbling slowly ceased, the assault by grit and cold stone came to a gradual end, and we could try to breathe again. Not that we hadn’t been breathing of course, but now that relative peace reigned it seemed like a different kind of breathing. And there were voices again, whispers of people reassuring each other that they were still alive, shaking voices, dread hopes, but no longer hollering in fear and pain.

But then, as I assured Timmy that I was okay and he needn’t worry about me, I became aware of something unexpected. There was light high above us, not the dim yellow light of Paradise Hell but a pale colourless light. The darkness that had been all we had was slightly lifted and we could almost see where we were.

And where we were there was a charcoal grey rugged sort of tunnel that time or humanity had bored through a rocky world. We could see that much in the dim radiance because the rocks that had smashed around us had been, it seemed, part of the roof of our world, and now they lay piled precariously on a sort of ledge that I think must have been built as a pathway for pedestrians to use. We were pedestrians, I know that, but we didn’t know there was a special path for us, which was just as well because had we been struggling along that we would surely, to a man or a woman, have been crushed to death.

I marvelled for a moment at the magic of chance.

One by one and without anyone to guide us Timmy and I and those around us started moving off in the direction we had been travelling before our mechanical guide stopped working. It was kind of automatic as though we were afraid to discuss things in case some idiot persuaded us to go back the way we had come. We were on an adventure, a painful and confusing adventure, and there was to be no turning back. Yet as we set off we discovered that the bully boy had talked almost half of our number to return to our hovels, and we wondered if we’d ever see them again.

The way was difficult and became almost pitch dark again once we had passed the extent of the roof-fall, and the only way we could see anything was because the walls, in places, emitted a kind of dim glow, and though it was insufficient to light our way it gave us something to almost act as a guide. And so we staggered along, the blind leading the blind, slowly but surely, until exhaustion bade us pause. I don’t know about everyone else, but despite being uncomfortable, lying on the cold stone uneven surface, I passed into a kind of restless sleep with Timmy doing his best to comfort me. How much I loved that boy! For having nobody to console him in the almost total darkness, he had the strength to help me.

We had no food and when I woke up I was more hungry than I’ve ever been. Food in Paradise Hell is based entirely on the fungus grown in the subterranean orchards, mostly a kind of barely palatable bread together with what are called dried fruit but could be anything on Earth. They barely sustain us, but our systems are used to that kind of diet and we survive. But here there was nothing.

Cheer up! That metal guide must have known we would need to eat something if we had a long march ahead of us, and as it didn’t seem to have brought anything for us to munch on we must be near the end of our journey,” said Timmy comfortingly.

We need to be,” panted the surgeon, “for I am no young man and fear I can’t be far from the ending of my days!”

No sooner had this conversation come to a strained conclusion than a ray of both hope and light penetrated through the gloom from ahead. Not only did we have a chance of seeing our way than our hearts forgot the pangs of hunger that seemed to have shrivelled our insides because ahead and beautiful in a growing light was, as we neared it, we made out a almost familiar shape, the very twin of our guide who had fallen by the wayside.

But when it uttered words its voice was mellow and contained within it a great deal of warmth.

Paltroon,” it said, “what have you people done with Paltroon?”

We don’t understand…” mumbled the Surgeon, who, being the elder amongst us automatically assumed the task of spokesman.

Paltroon,” repeated the machine, “where is Paltroon? I am Paltry and have orders to await Paltroon…”

© Peter Rogerson, 19.02.21


© 2021 Peter Rogerson

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Added on February 19, 2021
Last Updated on February 19, 2021
Tags: underground, roof fall, tunnel's end


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..