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Journey To The Deep
by Phil Bencomo
Creeping silently through a passageway, winding slowly downwards, that seemed to grow hotter with every step, the 2007 Chicago Cubs dripped with sweat -- from the heat of their rapidly approaching destination -- but shivered with enough fear to make blood run cold. Darkness, inky as the deepest depths of space and thick as fog, filled the hall like water fills the oceans; the flashlights that hours ago ceased spewing light had been discarded miles back. There was no comfort to be found.
Time seemed to mackle. Hours faded into minutes, minutes into seconds. Light became nothing but a word and a vague memory. The 2007 Chicago Cubs trudged forward.
With a thud, the team was forced to a halt: The passageway had ended. The team searched the wall frantically for a door. A handle was found, and with the creaking of something ancient the door swung open.
A bright light pierced their eyes; the burning pain seared; men cried out. Slowly, the pain faded as eyes adjusted, and the team looked worriedly upon the waiting room. A single candle sat neatly on a simple wooden stool, yet the room, a giant cylinder, felt like a furnace. The team scanned left and right, but the room was empty save the flickering candle in the center.
"Is anybody there?" the team asked timidly as it moved into the room.
"Can we at least get a fan? Or some water? It is pretty hot..." the team said.
"Sigh ... all this way for nothing. Might as well head back." The team turned to exit -- and found only a wall, solid as rock. The door was gone.
"What the... Hey! What's going on here?! We came all this way to die, cooked alive? We want some answers!"
"Well, if we're going to die, let's at least die somewhat comfortably," the team said sarcastically as it walked over to the stool and reached out to move the candle.
But the moment the team touched the candle, the flame roared, shooting up tens of feet in the air like a fountain. The team was thrown backwards, from both the force and surprise. Peering up from the hard, hot ground, the team watched in utter amazement and horror, unable to look away, as the flame morphed into the shape of a man in brilliant shades of red, orange and spurts of blue.
The room grew hotter still, and the team could find no words.
"Why have you come here and disturbed my peace?" the flame-man bellowed after what seemed like, for the team, hours of silence. His voice was steeped with rage, and the spurts of blue grew larger.
"W-w-we n-need answers and g-guidance," the team stuttered fearfully, eyes on the floor.
"HA! You must be desperate indeed to come here. Few even know of this place, and fewer still dare enter. Now, tell me: What drove you to the deepest depths of the earth and my domain?" said the flame-man, intrigued by the tired heap before him.
"W-we have lost one of our best men, and everyone is scuffling. We were doing so well... What is going wrong? What do we need to win?"
"It has been many, many years since someone last came to me, but I have waited, according to the agreement made ages ago," the flame-man said as he sat down on the edge of the stool, which did not burn. "And I am not one to go back on my word. I will give you the answers you seek, as I have always done.
"There is but one price. One of you must stay behind, to do with as I please. It is all I ask."
There was a long pause before a voice rose from the team, saying, "I vote Ronny." Murmurs of agreement filled the room, and Ronny Cedeno, with a stunned look on his face, was deposited neatly in front of the flame-man.
"You have paid the price, and so shall you receive your answers," the flame-man said. "Leave now, and when you reach the World Above you will find what it is you seek."
The door had reappeared, and the team filed out, unsure of what it would find.
* * * *
After what seemed like days, the team saw a light appear ahead -- the outside world. It grew larger with each passing step, and before long the team broke into a sprint.
Sitting at the entrance to the long, dark passageway sat a plain package. The team quickly unwrapped it, hands shaking with excitement. Small enough to fit in a hand, it was held up for all to see.
And the players gazed upon it, and in doing so, gazed upon themselves.