Mr. Schiff hits the ground hard.
There is dirt in his eyes. There is a swell of nothingness. He passes out.
When he wakes his body aches and his wrist is broken.
It was a single misstep, but a spelunker cannot afford missteps. Now he is in a hopeless place. Now he is buried forever in the caverns beneath Death Mountain.
StalaGmites grow from the Ground.
He fumbles for his flashlight. He turns it on. The rocks around him are gray and slick with bumps and mottles and veins of something sparkly. He plays the light upwards.
He is in an oubliette of stone. The ceiling is ten feet above him, with a narrow chimney leading from it towards safety. There are stalaGmites and stalaCtites but they do not allow him a way up.
And there is a stalaKpite.
StalaKpites love to Kill.
“I don’t want any trouble,” says Mr. Schiff.
He stares at the stalaKpite. He watches it warily. It does not move. Its serrated edges are cruel and its eyes are cold but it does not move.
After a time, he realizes that the stalaKpite is asleep.
“Oh,” he says. “Heh heh.”
StalaNthites love only Stalin.
He is bleeding onto the tiny, pebbly stalaNthites of the floor. He ignores them. He feels at his chest, his stomach, his neck; the wounds are too shallow to bother with, when other factors make him certain to die.
The stalaNthites ignore him. He has nothing to contribute to the Party. He is not a communist but he is not a threat to their dominion. He is simply Mr. Schiff.
StalADdites view Aaron with Disapproval.
“What am I going to do?” he asks.
He’s trying not to cry.
“I shouldn’t have spelunked below Death Mountain,” he says. “Nobody ever returns from Death Mountain. Not even Aaron, and Aaron was a god.”
There’s no real answer.
StalaLwites Love you forever.
He calms himself. He begins to play the light over the surfaces of his tomb. He is looking for something—anything—that could save him.
“I could make a ladder out of . . . stone,” he says.
It’s a feeble hope.
StalaMPvites enjoy Mashed Potatoes.
He is going through the list of rock formations in his head. He is muttering. “L for love. MP for mashed potatoes. R for rocket . . .”
There are no stalaRjites.
With a sudden shock of hope he says, “C for Climbing?”
But C is for stalaCtites. There are no Climbing stones. After a moment, Mr. Schiff laughs at himself, because that idea was just dumb.
His light comes to settle on a stalaAeite. Slowly, Mr. Schiff relaxes.
He sits back in the dark and begins to think, in the time he has remaining, of all the beautiful and wonderful things that in his life Mr. Schiff has known, and now and then the bitter ones.
StalaAeites bring you Acceptance.
“Sometimes geology sucks,” Mr. Schiff admits.