The Fires of Progress
by The Teeth
I first noticed the smoke rising out of a dense wooded area over the hills. It was a muddy brown shade, toxic in appearance. Too controlled for a wild flame, with dark clouds that pushed steadily upward with plenty of fuel. No doubt this was the byproduct of some well hidden manufactory, but who would build such a thing in the middle of the woods? No access roads ran that deep, and trails were scarce through the uneven terrain.
The stench rolled in next—something familiar from years of hunting—but exaggerated beyond imagination. Dead meat, gutted animals, and excrement. Signs of a slaughterhouse, but way out here in the wilderness? Not likely, but the smell couldn’t be dismissed.
Curiosity gripped me. Good judgment placed the source of smoke about four miles from my cabin, a distance I could cover in just a few hours. Still, it was better to be prepared, so I packed some food and water. Heavy rain plagued the area with landslides, and pathways through the hills could give way at any notice. I didn’t fear a night in the woods, but if the worst happened I would be ready.
I made my way through the forest, eyeing the smoke but following the smell. It was overwhelming at a point, and I found it better to block my face with a cloth. Nearing the source, the sounds of machinery could be heard, along with the bellows of workers. Smog lingered amongst the trees. I could hardly believe the reality of industry so far out here, miles from anywhere.
I came to a clearing and gazed out at what appeared to be an open field. There was no structure as I expected, but this was definitely the spot. The thick smoke bellowed out from the ground itself, seemingly from nowhere. Mechanical discord echoed from the smoke, buzzing and chiming with deep bassy undertones. I approached the smoke, and saw no solid ground but a great pit in the earth. I could see the shapes of men working down in the pit, toiling away and completely unaffected by the toxic plumes which burnt my eyes like mace.
The men worked with picks and ropes to widen the sides of the hole. A great support structure went down as far as the eye could see. What were they digging for, out here? I commited to get a better look. Pulling out a pair of binoculars, I focused in on one of the figures, but what I saw made me recoil in horror.
I scurried back to the cover of brush, hoping desperately I hadn’t been seen. Rain began to trickle down, and I ran home as quickly as my legs would take me. I could hear a chanting coming from that dreadful pit, which seemed to grow louder even as I ran miles away. My cabin seemed completely unfamiliar by the time I arrived back home. Inside, with the door locked and tightly shut, I looked at myself in the mirror. There I saw a pale man, aged beyond his years. The past few hours wore on me like decades of passing time.
I gazed upon horrors in that pit which my mind had not prepared for. Those workers were not men, but corpses—bodies of the restless dead—clawing their way out of the noxious underworld. I swore to myself never to return to that awful place, but looking out the window now, I know I won’t need to. The smoke rises steadily, and it’s growing every day.