by Pierce Nahigyan
It had been two months. He had been crawling on his belly for months. Mud was caked between his toes, his belly was brown and crusty. He tasted dirt all the time now. It was not possible not to taste it. Whether it was a root he ate or a worm, or the thin and brittle bugs he had no name for, that made wretched scrabbling noises as they tried to wriggle out of his lips, the taste of dirt was in everything. He’d almost swallowed a rock in the darkness once. The others had to claw it out of his mouth. It was bad, but there had been a moment, a moment that lodged in his gut as tight as the rock in his throat, when he’d felt a wretched giddiness. Was death better? They’d pulled the rock out and he coughed and gagged and spat and howled. Nothing could dislodge that taste.
He had never been a particularly good hunter. He got a cat once that was on its last legs. It had made him sick as a dog. When he hunted in packs, he always managed to find his way to the back of it. And scavenging was his least favorite way to live. The neighborhood trash cans were often ripe with fresh and only half-eaten things, but the neighborhoods around here were generally armed and didn’t have qualms about shooting coyotes. That’s how his brothers had bought it. Not for him – no, sir.
This had seemed like a great idea. He was naturally cowardly so crawling came naturally. Moles can’t run, and if he found a hole big enough there would be no place for them to hide once he got down here. He hadn’t really given too much thought to getting out.
As it happened, the mole burrows were larger than he expected. Once he’d cleared the first few feet he was lost. Unable to turn around, he’d gone farther in, farther away from the light and the mountain air. All became fetid and moist. The earth was never silent; things lived in it. A dense squirming engulfed him made from the sounds and shudders on all sides.
The first mole he found he tried to eat, but he was so tired and sore from crawling that he could barely reach it. When he did, he could barely bite it. When he did, it shook him off and crawled on. After a long, black period, he awoke to a herd of them pushing him on, pushing him on down the hole. He wanted to snap at them but of course there was no room, so he led the train with them pushing and scrabbling behind him.
It occurred to him, if he wanted to get out of here, back to where the sun and the moon were more than dark memories, that he needed their help. He didn’t speak mole, nor did they seem to be talkative creatures. If they knew what he was they didn’t mention it. In fact, they were friendly for the most part, sharing grubs with him, pitching in to widen the burrows. The steady process of acculturation was met at both ends, he trying to learn enough subterranean choreography to find his way out of the pitch geography, and they doing their best to help along what they perceived to be either an inept visitor or handicapped kin. They slept in piles. That was the best part, because it was warm and snug. The gurgling that engulfed him was fuzzy bellies filled with grubs; something he could understand, his fuzzy belly also filled.
He did miss meat. He did miss the sun. His company, however, had greatly improved. His wretched giddiness for eating that rock had been a delirious bout of claustrophobia, almost too great to bear, fearful and in need of release. The moles had stuck their nails down his gullet and pried it loose. They rolled it down the hole and went on with their lives, together. Drifting to sleep in the pile that night he thought to himself, covered in it, smelling of it, surrounded by it, dirt was an acquired taste.