CAVEDWELLER / Mike Corrao

You are sitting in the dark. Your face illuminated by the monitor. Legs crossed… In the neo-decadence of the 2020s… Watching videos of a shadowy figure tutorializing their descent into a remote cave. A cave is a mouth of the earth. Its entrance is marked by a wreath of stone. In fertile biomes, a mound of dirt or maybe peat. The interior is marked with semi-organic features. Moss growing over granite. Moss growing over rusted metal plates. Jagged flares of copper wire. An adhesive layer clings to the figure’s boots and makes an unpleasantly slimy sound with each step. As if walking through honey…

Your hunched pre-corpse is nourished by the darkness. Cilia growing from your every pore. Spreading as the small arms of something haplolepideous. Rooting your body to the walls. You remain seated. Data pools in your eyes. A wall of information… The figure trudges through the sinking cave. Looking for a source of light. Prodding their hands against any surface that they can find. Monitor singing the song of honeyed pads. The soles of my feet are pruned and wading… The air is heavy, pulling your lungs into the base of your abdomen. And the deprivation feels good. This body has adapted to the isolation of the cave… Are they in your cave? Does any of this look familiar?

It doesn’t, but at the same time, a cave can have more than one mouth. The earth is a body of many orifices. You have only come to occupy one. And if it is the same cave, what does it matter? Will they find you? Can something like that bear the sporific atmosphere of the subterranean? How long does it take for someone’s eyes to adapt to the totality of darkness? 

The light of the monitor drags your eyes back… The figure is having trouble moving. The adhesive film has become a shallow pool. The inorganic infestations have expanded into their own kind of artificial biome… A cave of corrupted circuitry… Flecks of gold and matte emerald. The walls feel like plastic…

Avert your eyes… a thin blade drags across the figure’s neck… A copper wire… A siren song… Flickering switches… A new window outputs raw text into a .txt file. Reading like an autopsy of the spelunker… Lacerations across anterior neck traveling between C2 and C3. The spine is intact. Minor damage to the vertebrae. All flesh eviscerated… You feel a morbid pleasure in knowing what’s happened. The figure is limp on the ground. Their face clinging to the honeyed floor…

Your cilia spread further. Through the feed, you see them envelope the deceased. Far beyond your vision. There is no evidence of your proximity. No light from your monitor. No echo of your humming. The body is integrated into its surroundings. The interior moans with pleasure. And you feel its ecstasy as the adhesive crawls between your every hair. Biting at the edges. Splitting ends…

 You siphon any remaining neuro-matter from the CNS and feed it from your fingers into the monitor. Jabbing your digits into the port until they are cut and bleeding. The light travels along your arm and illuminates in the gap behind your eyes…

A primitive interface materializes. Marking your coordinates, depth, lumens, framerate, connectivity. None of this really means anything. You don’t intend to move. You don’t intend to find the spelunker or map the cave system. You are pleased to remain where you are, in front of the monitor… The cilia will do all of this for you. They will crawl every corridor and explore the interior. You fantasize a cartographic ecstasy in which your unconscious has fully integrated into the cave, where your cilia have come to root. The cave’s layout intuitively mapped within your brain… The system feeding you new information–output into the .txt file… Update tunnel 192. Collapsed passage. Severing connection chamber 49 and 50. Update chamber routes… The mouth of the earth welcomes new bodies into your lair. Another video playing over the monitor. Another video of some shadowy figure entering the cave and attempting to map it / spelunk it / study its ecosystem…

Ferns grow from cracks in the stone. The haplolepideous biomatter spreading around each’s base. Seamlessly intertwined with your cilia. The interface is reading corrupted fluctuations in depth or coordinates. Perhaps both. The connectivity is weak at best. The new figure prodding through the cave’s entryway is slow and more meticulous than their predecessor. They have brought markers, flares, manually-charged flashlights. They mark a thread from the mouth towards the throat. Attempting to reach something deeper. The monitor, your original body. They are extracting biological samples from the ground and walls. Taking small segments of the adhesive. Snipping ends from your cilia. Everything into plastic sleeves. And then into a hard-cased backpack…

You watch through the monitor–you watch the monitor through your increasingly distorted interface… Red cords leading from the throat to the flat-face tongue. Laid out into the open sky. Yellow cords marking branches. Blue dead-ends / chambers. The figure systemically demystifies this thing that you live inside of… The monitor hums with a static displeasure. The cilia of your uncouth body finish digesting the nutrients of the first spelunker. Feeding whatever they’ve recovered back into your torso, through your bleeding finger, into the monitor… Copper hairs fray the figure’s outerwear. Pulling the innards from their coat. Catching loose hairs. When they think that nighttime has come, they are squatting next to a near-dead flashlight, eating some kind of gray paste, talking inaudibly into an audio recorder. There is a tarp splayed over the adhesive surface. Next to which the figure is starting a small fire…

Through the monitor you watch their face glow luminous. Rendered gaunt and monstrous by the kindling. Their features stab into the air. With yellow teeth. Their gnarled hands rubbing the paste onto their tongue. Wincing and looking around the chamber… chamber 26?… You finagle your finger around inside your skull, trying to muster some kind of more stable connectivity between yourself and the interface. Maybe pushing your eye back into place or reconnecting a jank wire. Puncturing a hole through the white slime residue…

You fantasize the adhesive film flooding chamber 26 and encasing the figure in hardening plastic. Your cilia prodding at their mummified corpse…

For now, they will feed on the edges of the tarpaulin, slowly approaching as the figure sleeps… Fire reducing to embers… When the intruder awakens, your influence over this place has only grown. Even in your own sleep. The body moves without motive or direction. It only knows how to expand… to continue reaching outward… You become less you. You become a sprawl of fleshed foliage…

The figure abandons their site and continues deeper into the earth, speaking occasionally into the audio recorder as they stake their thread… The cave system articulates a sort of computational planetarity. It expresses the potential for a functioning and even intricate interior system. Infrastructure for data to traverse in ways much faster than the surface is capable of. The fastest way through a circle is a straight line. The cave system appears to be the planet’s attempt to get closer to this truth… Serpent wires drip from their dwellings. Shards of matte emerald cut at the figure’s ankles… tear at the sole… You watch through the monitor as a light begins to grow over the horizon. Humming red through a translucent wall of cilia. Your body crumpled up in the radiance of the monitor. Suturing immobile limbs to one another…

When the figure attempts to cut through your biomatter, you can feel the wall of cilia trying to goad them back into the dark. Latching onto their arms like lamprey or thrush. Regrowing / reweaving whatever the figure has torn away…

A vein of red pulling your vision towards the mouth of the earth. Gaia’s agents hatcheting your remote dwelling. You do not want to end this hermitage. You want to be alone. Encompassing the planet’s interior. Eventually swallowing its core. Turning the crust into a covert exoskeleton… When the figure has heaved their way through the cilia wall, they find a pulsating mass on the ground. Plugged into the box-set monitor. Eyeless… Tongue cut… coated in a film of writhing hairs. They crouch next to you and try to snip a sample of your tissue…

The monitor hums an intense static. Mirroring your anatomy into your interface. You watch the figure pierce your skin. You watch the blooded cilia of your abdomen sprawl from this new orifice and engulf the prodding hand. Then the arm. The shoulder. The head. All as the figure screams for help. Trying to pull themself back along the red vein. Until their frame is limp, and your cilia are feeding on its remains.



MIKE CORRAO is the author of two novels, MAN, OH MAN (Orson’s Publishing) and GUT TEXT (11:11 Press); one book of poetry, TWO NOVELS (Orson’s Publishing); two plays, SMUT-MAKER (Inside the Castle) and ANDROMEDUSA (Forthcoming – Plays Inverse); and three chapbooks, AVIAN FUNERAL MARCH (Self-Fuck), MATERIAL CATALOGUE (Alienist Manifesto), and SPELUNKER (Schism – Neuronics). He lives in Minneapolis.

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