Buried

Many of the conclusions of the failure of the Doyle Project are misleading, so I write in these memoirs the true story so as to set the record straight inasmuch as I can.  I am quite certain that those of a more critical or “scientific” nature would scoff at my assertions, but I make no excuses for what I saw and why many of my colleagues are now dead.  Regardless of what conventional science may say, these things truly happened and I urge those who read this to reconsider their scientific certainties.  We often stunt ourselves when we think we have arrived at the answers.

Evaluation of theory was at the heart of The Doyle Project.  I didn’t become involved until year seven, for it took this long from conception to funding.  I was meant to chronicle what would become a metaphorical and literal ground-breaking endeavor.  Jonathan Stephanus Doyle was the mastermind of the project.  He gave many reasons for the project to investors, from searching for renewable energy to seeking unknown pockets of oil.  Geothermic exploration and looking to populate below the Earth’s crust were also bandied about.  In reality, Doyle merely wanted to dig because he could.

“I want to touch the Heart of the Earth,” he said to me on more than one occasion.  “I don’t care how daft others find it, if mankind does not have dominion over every aspect of his planet, then what knowledge do we truly have?”

Granted, these proclamations usually came after the third or fourth bottle of the local brew, but they were nonetheless impressive and inspiring.

On the eighth year, six months after I had joined the project, Doyle concluded we would be able to begin drilling, and we moved our operation to a sparsely populated area in Mexico.  The Mexican government was happy to have us and keen to leave us alone so long as we paid adequate money in fees and permissions.  They cared not what we did, which sealed the deal.  We hired a great deal of local help, Doyle seeing himself as a type of philanthropist spreading U.S. currency to people who would live and die in poverty.  I never betrayed my feelings on the endeavor or the man, feeling it was nothing more than a project to fuel his own arrogance and my position on the team was there to present everything in the light most beneficial to Doyle.  I was paid well, at the time, to present the truth as told to me rather than offer my own opinions.  Now I write truth, never expecting to see a cent for it.  The truth never pays as well as a lie.

The first week saw set up of equipment and barracks for the workers.  We needed them on site for Doyle planned to drill day and night.  He had a small cabin constructed for himself, making sure to see it soundproofed for the equipment and drills were quite loud.  I was not expected to sleep in the barracks, but I did so anyway.  Knowing this to be a rare opportunity, I wished to interview as many workers as possible, not for their opinions on the project (though that was often discussed), but for their views and experiences of life.  A few of them had great wisdom which filtered its way into a few of my novels, but the majority were a superstitious lot that were more trouble than they were worth with their tales of El Chupacabara and the ghosts and the undead which lived in the jungles to the south.  They urged me to never venture there and, after the events of this project, I have seen fit to follow their advice despite feeling it rather primitive at the time.

Drilling progressed at a steady pace, day and night.  As we grew closer to the depth record, I noticed many of the workers becoming ill.  At first I thought it was nothing more than the pace, the heat, and the noise from the drill disrupting sleep.  But by the time we hit the depth record just over half our workers had grown sick.  Doyle, who spent much of his time apart from the men, grumbled often about the “Hispanic reputation for sloth”, but I knew from sleeping among the workers that this was not the case.  Not a night would pass without six or more men vomiting, some until blood was mixed with their incompletely digested food, and I both pitied the men and grew thankful that I didn’t share their fate.
Drilling, by necessity, slowed at this point, and our efficiency dropped to less than 25% of what it once was.  Doyle fired all the sick men, but they were too infirm to know or care.  When the men refused to leave, and truly, how could they, Doyle bribed the appropriate officials and the military arrived to escort the men from the project premises.  This plan backfired when the commander ordered the entire area quarantined.  Doyle was furious, but all communication to the outside world was cut off and had to be filtered through the military outpost, and the commander grew to hate Doyle with bitterness I had only ever seen between two women fighting over a man.

The second week of the quarantine, with no obvious improvement in the workers and no flexibility from the commander, Doyle ordered the healthy men to resume drilling.  He tripled their wages, which was incentive for even the most reluctant.  Progress slowed as we encountered a layer of stone that was harder than anything previously thought to have existed in this area.  Doyle ordered the drill speed and pressure increased, which proved nearly disastrous when it finally broke through into what we later discovered was a large cavern.  With nothing to counter the force, the drill shook itself to pieces and plummeted to the floor of the cavern.  The entire rig fell apart and despite being sunburned, Doyle grew at least two shades redder.  I thought him about to do something drastic and unpleasant to the workers, so I suggested that we procure a video camera and lights to send down the shaft while the rig was repaired.  This appealed to my employer immensely and he set about planning this new activity.

At first there was some concern if the camera would survive being lowered, but it emerged into the cavern intact.  We activated the camera and lights and attempted to view what we could via a computer on the surface.  Unfortunately, the lights were weak and the only way to get a clear look at things was to get the light close to them.  Given the width of the shaft, we had limited mobility.  We were able to determine that the rock layer that had given us so much difficulty appeared carved.  When we raised the camera to the where the shaft broke into the cavern, we turned it every which way we could and could only make out a smooth, almost imperceptibly curving surface.  The stone appeared to be situated in a dome-like surface and we had broken through a few feet away from the apex.  Again, we couldn’t manipulate the camera much, but there appeared to be carvings in the face of the stones.  The carvings were of a type that I did not recognize, even when I was able to make out one or two.  We lowered the camera deeper into the cavern, but saw only darkness as we went.  It was a bit disappointing.  Then someone, I forget who, suggested trying to activate the sound on the camera.  It was only then that we realized it was muted.  Doyle gave the order, and we heard the rushing of water.

“This makes perfect sense!” cried Doyle.  “A cavern would dictate water.  This is not so unusual after all.”

I exchanged a look with a few of the men.  I was unaware that water could carve stones into a dome or even cut symbols into stone.  But I’m sure we all made up our own stories to justify seeing what would knew should not be.

We lowered the camera deeper, trying to see if we could find the water.  It was with sudden shock that we began to see the rope we were lowering loop into the field of view of the camera.  The device was resting on something, but we could not see what for there was no visible surface in front of the lens.  Indeed, the rope continued to lower just out of view.  Doyle commanded that the camera be pulled up, and the workmen tried, but it seemed snagged.

“Put your backs into it, you worthless layabouts!” he cried, and the men immediately started straining against whatever impeded the rope.

I heard the sound of the workers losing their balance and falling, and I turned my eyes to the screen in time to see the frayed end of the rope flash past the camera’s lens just before the entire screen went dark.  The words, “no signal” never felt more ominous.

“We must continue digging,” said Doyle.  “If there is water down there, perhaps we can gain some sort of access to it.  We are in the desert here, so there could be a benefit to widen the shaft and constructing a well.”

He spoke to the men around him as I heard him speak to the investors.  His curiosity was sparked and nothing would stop him from continuing.  Not my misgivings, not the refusal of the men in the camp, not even his own fear of what could be down there.  He later confided in me that there is nothing to be afraid of down the shaft because science says there is nothing dangerous.

“If it were gas,” he proclaimed, “we would have had readings of it.  If it were oil, we would have a geyser.  No, there is nothing to fear down there.”

The next morning we found that all the sick men had died.

Morale in the camp had fallen and it took a few days before Doyle could convince the men to resume drilling.  They feared God was punishing them.  This made Doyle scoff even more.  In truth, I had some difficulty not agreeing with him.  God, as I understood him, was not in the habit of punishing people who dug holes.  Oftentimes such perceived punishment is nothing more than the natural consequence of the action taken.  That said, while the mystery of the cavern was certainly perplexing, it was hard to ascertain from where such consequences were arising.  I puzzled over these thoughts as Doyle reprimanded his crew.  It wasn’t until he agreed to another wage increase and to descend into the cavern himself that the men agreed to return to work.  I thought it odd that he would agree to such an undertaking on his own given his ambivalence to the physical work that had come before.  He confided in me that he wished to prove to the superstitious foreigners that there was nothing divine in what had befallen them.

“Earthly answers await us,” he told me.

I didn’t let him know that from the talk of the workers, they had every intention of lowering Doyle into the hole and leaving him there.  Not willing to see the murder of a man who was arrogant but posing no real harm to anyone, I urged the workers to at least leave the rope at the hole.  They reluctantly agreed when Doyle announced that I would be descending with him to chronicle whatever we saw.  It was at this point I felt incredibly grateful that the men respected and liked me.

Seventy-seven days had passed when the hole was widened enough for us to descend.  Doyle and I outfitted ourselves with thick clothing and plenty of gear for chipping away stone in case we got stuck.  We each took a coil of rope and two extra torches, along with headlamps.  We secured ourselves to the rope that would be lowered and spooled the rope through the pulley system that had been rigged at the shaft.  Doyle, showing quite a bit of courage, went first.  We waited as he was lowered slowly, speaking to him on his short-range radio.  He had little to report until he got to the cavern, where he told the workers to stop.

“I’m examining the ceiling of the cavern,” he said.  “It is astounding.  Those patterns that appeared to be carved do indeed seem to be some sort of writing.  I’m seeing lots of repeated symbols.  Can’t make heads or tails of it though.”

“How big is the cavern?” I asked.

“Can’t tell.  The ceiling stretches far beyond the beam of my light.  It seems to curve, though.  It may well be an underground dome.  I can’t really deny that this has to be man-made.  Maybe some ancient civilization that died out long ago.”

The men started muttering to each other.

“Can you see the bottom?” I asked.

“No.  So, there’s nothing for it but to keep lowering me.  Come on, chop chop!”

The men started lowering Doyle once more.  Five minutes passed and he said he was still in darkness.  Ten minutes and he reported that he could no longer see the ceiling beyond the light from the hole.  Fifteen minutes, and he reported that the only way to see the hole was to turn out his lamp.  Workers grew concerned as the rope neared it’s end.

“Ah, here we go,” came Doyle’s voice just short of the twenty minute mark.  “I can see some sort of. . . well, it appears to be a flat surface.  Honestly, if I didn’t know better, I’d say it was the top of a building.  How much rope is left?”

“Two, maybe three yards,” I said.

“Okay, I’ll attach my coil of rope to the one you are lowering.  That will give me enough to reach the structure.”

We all stood in silence in the blazing Mexican sun.  Everyone was quiet, the sounds of Doyle tying rope and the occasional buzzing of insects marking the silence.  Next we heard grunting from the radio, then the sound of a thud.

“Doyle?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m standing on the surface.  It is almost perfectly level, but there are carvings here as well.  These look more like pictures rather than a language.  Stick figures like you’d find in the caves of primitive man.  Could some early ancestor of man have constructed a city?  Do you know what this would mean?  Ancient civilizations that had died out long before we rose and took dominion over the earth!  Are we descended from them?  Did they precede us?  This is astounding, my friend.  Absolutely astounding!  You have to–”

Then there was silence, both from the radio and from the men around me.  We could just make out Doyle’s breathing, and it was unsteady, moving from excitement to a rising fear.

“Are you okay?” I asked when Doyle’s silence stretched for a few seconds.

“Um.  Yeah, just thought I heard something.  It sounded like–”

And then we heard it, beyond the ragged breathing, past the crackle of the radio, just barely perceptible a rhythmic tiktiktik, chattering like the clicking of a tongue or popping of saliva.  Rhythmic like an unfamiliar language, tik-tik, tikikiktik, tik–tik.

Then, with each exhalation, Doyle breathed two syllables:  “Don’t.  Talk.”

There was a click and it took me a moment to realize Doyle had switched off his headlamp.  Following that was the rip of velcro as Doyle opened one of the pockets on his vest and the beep and whir of a digital camera as it activated.

“Get the computer,” I told a worker.  “See if we can establish a link.”

The man grabbed the computer used earlier and the link, though weak, was transmitting.  Doyle had the camera on night vision, everything taking on a greenish tint, more shadows than anything else.  The man was obviously kneeling.  We could make out the faint pictures on the ground beneath Doyle’s feet.  In the distance there seemed to be a doorway leading deeper into the building, for that is what it obviously was Doyle was standing upon.  And from the radio, we head the inhuman noises.  What was originally from a single source had been joined by at least three more and with each moment that passed, others were added.  Then, from the doorway that lead deeper into the structure there appeared too orbs, much like the eyes of a feline once night has fallen.  Only they hovered higher than any cat.  Nor did they blink.  The eyes moved, swaying as if a lithe creature were moving and the accompanying sound of a wet slap gave rise to the image of feet slapping against damp stone.

The image of the camera began to shake as Doyle’s panic finally broke.

“GET ME OUT!” he screamed and his scream was duplicated by a horrific, war-like cry and as the camera turned as Doyle spun around, we caught a brief image the palest green skin and opaque, lidless eyes.  The camera fell, the rope began pulling through the pulley systems like a fish having grabbed the bait, and before I could get to it, the end of the rope vanished down the hole.

I stood at the hole for a few seconds, stunned, my mind trying to decide what was to come next.  I turned and saw all the men walking back to the equipment shed.  I rushed to the computer, but they had broken the screen.  I grabbed the radio and began calling for Doyle.  In my panic, I was not aware of the men as secured boards over the hole, and those boards were covered with cement.  I sat on the dusty ground, radio hung over my knees, and watched as they workers sealed the hole.

Doyle never contacted us on the radio.  After a few more days, the military checked on us and found that all the sick men were dead. Those of us who remained were checked out and deemed fit and the quarantine lifted.  I tried to tell the commander what had happened, but he said something about the desert swallowing its secrets.

Due to the acts of fraud Doyle had committed in his attempts to raise funds, the lies he told to investors, there was little call for investigation.  Many people seemed satisfied with the knowledge that he had died in the desert.  I abandoned my writing of the project and turned my attention to other subjects, but to this day, the image of the opaque, lidless eyes on a disturbingly human face haunts my dreams.  We think we understand this planet upon which we live.  We think with every advancement in technology we prove ourselves greater masters over nature, striking out to have dominion over the very planet God gave us, even if we do not believe in that God.  We still seek to control it, we still seek to understand it.

And every so often, when we have forgotten our place, when we forget who we are because we become so full of ourselves, our safe little planet reminds us of how very small we actually are.

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