My mother always told me that it is a small world. If I ever get a chance to speak to her again, I will have to tell her that the world is much bigger than we think.
The day started off great. I was part of a group taking a guided tour through the desert. It was beautiful. Until the van broke down. As was the standard, we stayed by the van waiting for help to arrive. As the day went on and the water ran low, we started to get a little nervous. There were 6 of us. 4 passengers, a guide, and the driver. The guide was the first to go.
“Y’all stay here. I’ll be back in about 15 minutes. I’m just scoping out the land.”
“Don’t worry”, Billy, the driver said, “Jack’s great. He knows his way around the desert better than I do if that’s possible.”
Jack was gone for about an hour and a half before Billy went looking for him.
“We got the best 2 people out there”, I said. That’s when the air conditioning stopped working.
“It’s too hot”, Lynda, one of the other passengers said. “I gotta get out of here.”
She didn’t go far. Just outside the van. Joe followed her. They had a long conversation. I could hear them but didn’t know what they were saying. Soon their voices grew faint. I never saw them walk off. All I know is that I didn’t see or hear them anymore. I don’t even remember Randy getting out. But there I was, alone, in a blazing hot van. I got out of the van and just stood there looking. All I saw was sand in every direction. Everything I knew told me to stay with the van. If anyone comes looking, that’s where they’ll look first.
After a while, I grabbed what water was left and walked away, myself. I learned an important lesson that day. Nights in the desert can be just as brutal as the day. You’re in the oven during the day but in the freezer at night. It dropped to 20°F. I would have frozen to death if it wasn’t for the fact that a lot of rocks maintain heat.
I had 10 bottles of water left. I did what I could to conserve them. I had no idea how long I would be here. It’s already been over 24 hours. The issue now was, “What am I going to eat?”
Finding food proved to be impossible. “Why didn’t I pay attention to what to eat in the desert?”
I have not eaten in 2 days. My water had run out 12 hours prior. The sun was beating down on me at nearly 105°F. My life was over. I found a large rock. It provided great shade. I decided to just sit down and relax. If I was to die, at least I’d get some comfort from being out of the beating sun. Maybe It would rain. It did look as if that spot used to hold water. The thought of sitting in a pool of water made me relax. I leaned back against the rock and fell fast asleep.
“Welcome traveler.” A young lady speaks. “Come and we will revive you.”
I thought I was dreaming. I appeared to be inside a tunnel. As I looked around, it seemed as If I fell through the rock. As if it opened and pulled me in. And then a beautiful lady stood over me asking me to follow her.
I was weak. Standing was not easy. Neither was talking.
“Don’t waste your energy”, she said. “Your strength will return.”
She gave me some water. Not much. Just a swallow. But that swallow gave me the strength to stand. I was sure it was some kind of hallucination, but I followed her anyway. “I must be dreaming”, I mumbled under my breath. “Or dead. Am I dead?”
The mind has many different ways of dealing with certain death. Some people see a bright light. I saw a beautiful woman. Those who see a light are urged to head toward the light. I was urged to follow the lady. Why wouldn’t I follow her?
“No, silly”, she answered. “If you were dead, you wouldn’t be able to follow me.”
The tunnel was not that tall. I had to duck down to move through it. But the further I walked, the taller it seemed. The tunnel opened to a beautiful paradise. It was beautiful, like nothing I had ever seen before. Although underground, the top of the tunnel was lit up like the midday sky.
“Come. You must see our doctor. He will revive you.”
When I saw the doctor, I saw a friendly face. When he saw me, that changed.
“Clara,” he called. “I can’t treat him. He’s an outsider.”
At that, I fell to the ground. The doctor picked me up and put me on the bed.
“OK! OK!”, he said. “He needs rest. I’ll give him some food and water. As soon as he recovers, send him on his way. You better hope your father doesn’t find out about this.”
There was more said than just these words, but I was still sliding in and out of consciousness.
When I came to, there was something to eat and a small cup of water on the table next to me. I swear I saw a squirrel put it there. I was still out of it. I still wasn’t sure if this entire thing was just one big hallucination or not. The food was the best I ever tasted. The water was the purest. It wasn’t much but that little amount gave me the strength to continue.
“Now get him out of here”, the doctor said.
“I’m sorry”, she said. “The doctor is right. My father must not know you are here.”
“Why. Who is your father?"
“He’s our chief, and he doesn’t take to strangers too well. We must hurry.”
“What will he do to me if he finds me here?”
“He might just kick you out. But he may fear that you will tell others about us. If that’s the case, then he would…..”
“CLARA”, a voice called from behind us.
He seemed to have appeared from nowhere.
“Father!”, she said. “I hope you are well today.”
“Your leaving the city has endangered us all again. Now someone followed you back in.”
“No! I didn’t leave, and nobody ever followed me.”
“What is he doing here? He’s an outsider! How dare you bring him in here!”
At that, 30 guards surrounded me, armed with razor-sharp spears. They were not there at first. One moment there was nobody. The next, 30.
“You know the law”, he continues. “No outsiders may enter our domain. He can’t be allowed to live.”
“Father!”, she says. “Law one: If it is within your power, allow no harm. Father. He was dying. A lack of water and food made him weak. He leaned against a stone to get shade from the sun. He passed out and fell through the door.”
The truth is that the door wouldn’t just open because somebody leaned on the rock. Not without a special key. Someone from the inside must activate it. Although leaving the city was strictly forbidden, unless you were sent on a specific mission, Clara would often sneak out to see what she could find. This time she found a man. She found me. She didn’t get a chance to leave; I just fell inside the moment the door opened.
Her father was not about to argue with her. For the most part, she was right. I had done nothing wrong to break any of their laws. I didn’t even know it was there.
“Guards”, Chief Malleus called, “Take him away.”
“Father! You can’t!”, said Clara.
“I will not harm him. Yet! I only want to question him.”
His form of questioning involved something known as a Veritas Leech. Veritas being Latin for “truth”. I was bound, feet and hands. This leech was placed on the back of my neck. After only a few seconds, I started to feel lightheaded.
“Who are you?”, he asked.
“My name is Marcus Waters. I….”
“What is your business here?”
“She took me to see a doctor. I was dehydrated and…”
“How did you come to know about Infrarena?” He would ask one question before I could finish answering the last question.
“How many people know you’re here?”
“There were 6 of us. We got lost. I should have stayed with the van. But I didn’t. They have no idea where I am. They probably think I’m dead. My cell phone’s dead. They can’t even track me.”
With that, the questions stopped.
I have no idea how much time passed before they brought Clara down to see me.
“You must never leave the city again”, Chief Malleus said. “Clara will teach you our ways. Until you learn them, the dungeon will be your home.”
“Father!”, she said, “He’s broken no laws.”
“He’s an outsider. That’s a broken law in itself. The location of our city has been a closely guarded secret for generations. No outsider has come for over 2300 years. Until he learns to be one of us, his home is down here. That is my word, and it is final!”
It was easy to tell that whenever Chief Malleus gave his “final word”, it was best just to be quiet and comply.
“If I must teach you”, said Clara, “let me start with the history of my people.:
“Long ago, long before the first human feet ever touched these sands, and large stone fell from the sky. The impact left a crater in the ground 5 miles deep and 25 miles wide. It is believed that the heat from the stone set the sky on fire. Half of all life on earth was wiped out that day. The stone lay there untouched for many years. As the years went on, the fire gave way to rain, and the crater began to fill with water. The animals began to return to the land. They were the first to notice that something was different about this water.
“As they drank the water, they became stronger, healthier, smarter. They dropped seeds near the water. Trees started to grow, watered by the stone water. While the sun scorched the land around the crater, near the water, A beautiful paradise started to grow.
“My people arrived here about 10,000 years ago. The story of where we were before that is a guarded secret. It’s passed down from one chief to another. When my father's time is over, I will be given the secret.
We quickly learned to live in harmony with the animals. We learned that we both benefit by working together.”
I stopped her. “So, I did see a squirrel bring me food!”
“Yes. Please listen. The people of the city had a peaceful and happy life. We had everything we could possibly need. Over time, we became a technologically advanced group of people. We developed stealth which allowed us to go out undetected. We were able to take to the sky, each with their own flying machine. But from such a high vantage point, we were able to see other people slowly building cities closer to ours. So, around 6,000 years ago, we built a dome around the city. The city elders thought that we one day might need to keep out outsiders. This limited our flight. It soon stopped altogether. We still have them. But nobody uses them anymore. Not for personal use.
“The decision to dome the city proved to be a wise one. As time passed, we were able to strengthen the dome. And 4000 years ago, A flash flood covered the entire area. It’s believed that the entire planet was covered. One of the people who was exploring the land mentioned how he heard someone say that God was about to flood the planet to rid it of the violent people of the time. As peaceful a people as we were, we were safe.
“When the waters died down about a year later, our elders were determined to keep everybody safe. Laws were passed not to leave the city unless sent on an official mission. Some years later, returning from one such mission, my great-grandfather learned that the earth was again filling with violent people. With that, it was decided to bury the city under the sand. We used technology to our advantage. We caused an earthquake to bring our city underground. That is where we’ve been for thousands of years.
“Few people from the outside ever entered our city. Even fewer left. Over 2300 years ago, my grandfather had the privilege of teaching a man named Plato.”
“Wait. Your GRAND-father knew Plato. That wouldn’t be your great-great-great-great-great- and so on, grandfather?”
“What do you mean?”
“Sorry for asking what may seem like a silly question. How long do your people live?”
“Grandfather was 976 when he died. Father is 850. I just turned 500 a few days ago. Why. How long do your people live?”
“My grandmother died at 97. Most people would say that she lived a long time. I see why you would want to keep this place a secret. Outsiders will exploit it. Anyway. What about Plato?”
“He was a wise man. Yet he had some crazy ideas. He was the last one to enter our city and leave. The way he told it, many people were looking for a lost city. A city more advanced than anyone had ever seen. He was sure that this was that city. To keep our location a secret, he promised to steer everybody away by telling the story of a different city. In his, story, the city sank in the ocean, not the sand.”
“Stop!”, I said. “Are you telling me that I am in the lost city of Atlantis?”
“You are in the city of Infra Arena. It means Beneath the Sand. Atlantis! We still laugh at that today. According to Plato, people had all kinds of crazy beliefs. The name Atlantis played on their superstitions. The island of Atlas, the domain of Poseidon, the god of sea. Wow. Do people really believe that?”
“Not anymore. Some believe that the island did exist but not the “domain of Poseidon” part. OK. It sank in the sand but not underwater.”
“Now, we do everything we can to keep our existence a secret. That is why you may never leave.”
“I don’t think I want to leave. Just being here, I feel great.”
“You feel the effects of the stone.”
“But there is a problem. I was with a group of people. By now they will have a full search party looking for me. What if they find the city also?”
“What are you suggesting we do?”
“I don’t want to see these people die because they are trying to help me. Let me go and I will steer them away like Plato did.”
“You are from a more enlightened people. They Will not believe a story like Atlantis. How will you throw them off?”
“Your flying machines. Your stealth technology. If it can drop me off just one mile from here. If they find me there, there would be no reason to search anywhere else. They would never know that you even exist. Even if I mumble in my sleep about you, it will be taken as crazy talk due to heat exhaustion.”
“I have to talk this over with my father.”
A few hours passed. During this time, I was able to fill up one water bottle. It would be needed later.
When Chief Malleus found me, he was ready to throw me out. He said that there were people looking for me. “You must leave”, he said. “Never return. If you tell anyone about us, they will die. Their blood will be on your hand.”
“I’ve already promised that I won't tell a soul”, I replied. “My word is the most valuable thing I own. Even more than my life.”
He also said that my presence in the city could be a disruptive force, but my execution would prove to be worse. I was denied the right to take any of their technology. However, 4 stealthed guards took me 2 miles away. They left me near a nearly dried-up water hole. One of them showed his face. “You are destined to be great”, he said before he disappeared again.
I had to make it look as if I’d been there the whole time. I sat down in the sand and rolled around a little. I did what I could to make myself look disheveled. I drank most of the water from my bottle and filled the rest up with the dirty, but drinkable, water from the water hole. On the ground next to me, I placed half-eaten cactus fruit. I then built a small shelter. Something big enough for me to sit and lay down in, but not big enough to stand up in. I used whatever debris I found lying around. Twigs, bones, tumbleweed. It was things that would protect me from the sun but not the rain. I finished with a bang. On a pile of rocks and twigs set on fire, I placed a lizard. The perfect scene of desert survival. It looked believable that this is how I survived.
I laid down inside the shelter and waited for them to find me. It was only half an hour. In those 30 minutes, the thoughts of all I saw hammered into my head. An entire city, hidden underground for many thousands of years. Nobody ever knew they were there. Nobody ever will. Even if I did tell anyone, who would believe me? I closed my eyes just moments before Billy grabbed me.
“What took you so long?”, I asked with my best fake raspy voice.
“Please, don’t try to speak.”
He took my water bottle and gave me a fresh bottle. Apparently, If I would have stayed with the van, I would have been saved just 15 minutes later. But I also would have never seen Infrarena.”
We drove off and headed back to civilization. The world looked a lot larger than it did before. I wondered if there were more underground cities out there unknown even to my new friends. Maybe an underwater city still existed. There is so much we will probably never know.
We passed the stone where I rested before. Where I once saw a huge stone big enough to offer shade, it now was just a small rock sticking out of the ground. They made sure that even I would never find them again. How long would it be before they forget all about me? They lived for hundreds of years. I was just a small note in one day of their lives. They met me. They revived me. They told me their history. They kicked me out. I was nobody to them. Engulfed in the desert's parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.