©2014 J Fries
A little something different in honour of the Halloween Tradition that many of us celebrate.
It was a beautiful fall day, the day before Halloween. It was marred only by Lynda’s cousin driving her maddeningly crazy for the last half hour. Her mom had put it perfectly. “I love Greg… In small doses… The smaller the better.” Lynda smiled at the memory.
In truth Greg was a nice guy; only a year older, handsome, witty, charming and very bright. Well, not exactly brilliant, but definitely bright. Slightly on the arrogant side, he could be a little annoying after a while and it had definitely been awhile.
Trying to buy herself some peace she had suggested they go for a walk. She lived in the country and Greg was from the city. Past experience with Greg told her that this put her squarely in control. She’d hoped he’d be too busy staying clean to be much of a bother. She was wrong.
Circling back on the trail around the final loop they approached the fork in the path. Greg turned left as Lynda turned right. She stopped, frustration evident in her rigid shoulders. She turned, calling in as pleasant a tone as she could muster “C’mon Greg, it’s this way.”
Pausing, he turned, a typically smug look on his chiseled face, “Right. I can see the road from here. This is a shortcut!”
Lynda shrugged her shoulders. Shaking her head she spoke slowly as if to a young child, “I know you can but it always ends up taking longer if you go that way. Just come back the way we came and we’ll be home in less than 5 minutes! C’mon, hot chocolate and cookies when we get there.” Her tone had become pointedly sarcastic.
He shook his head. She wished she could wipe the confident look off his handsome face. “No, you go that way if you want. I’m taking the shortcut. I’ll see you back at the house.” There was that condescending tone. She threw her hands up in exasperation.
Turning without a backward glance Greg headed toward the road just ahead. Lynda frowned, her hands clenched into fists, glaring after him and turned on her heel, marching down the right fork. She slowed, there really was no need to rush. A smile played at the corners of her mouth, there was plenty of time. She stopped to admire the remaining fall colours surrounding her, knowing with a twinge of guilt that his smile was probably already fading.
Greg shook his head “Girls,” he thought. A few steps along the path and he was almost there.
Silently, the ground disappeared beneath his feet. Sliding uncontrollably into the darkness, his scream muffled by the dirt tumbling around him, he dropped unceremoniously to the ground with a sickening thud. Gasping for air Greg groaned, slowly rolling onto his back. The blackness reached endlessly above. There was no light at the end of the tunnel.
Finally able to breathe again, he checked himself over. Nothing broken; he was sore and would likely be more sore tomorrow but beyond that he was unscathed. Brushing the dirt off his clothes, his eyes adjusted to the dimness. He was apparently under ground in some sort of tunnel or cave. He shivered in the cool damp air. Examining the walls, his fingers told him they were rough and cold, but not wet. He momentarily pondered whether they were natural or man-made. He reached up but it was obvious he wasn’t going to leave the way he had arrived. Feeling his way around the room he discovered a loose stone. Pressing it, the sound of rock grating against rock echoed off the walls. He stumbled backwards, heart pounding, eyes darting furtively in the dimness.
“What the…” startled, his voice trailed off. Greg had activated a secret door. He slowly let his breath out with a whooshing sound that seemed louder than it should. The doorway wasn’t tall enough to walk through so Greg bent down to peer inside. He discovered another dimly lit chamber, really more like a passage way. The stones of the walls provided the only light, glowing dimly in an eery blue.
Uncertainly Greg glanced over his shoulder and crawled quickly through the doorway. He nervously held his breath, sweat beading on his brow. His heart continued to pound in his ears. He was relieved that the door did not automatically close behind him. Taking a few slow deep breaths he steadied himself. “What the hell have I gotten myself into,” he whispered. Although the door was short he was able to stand in the passageway. Greg hated small spaces; especially small dark spaces. He turned to survey the length of the passageway and swallowed a scream. Floating a few centimetres off the ground were at least a dozen translucent apparitions. He realized he was shivering again as the coldness emanating from the phantoms seeped deeper into his body. Expressionless faces with empty eyes stared straight ahead, uncaring and unaware. Greg partially averted his gaze, not wanting to draw attention to himself. A ghost drifted closer, its head strangely canted as if almost severed. He forced himself to look directly at the other apparitions, their catastrophic deaths also evident. Wondering if he would soon join this ghostly guard, he tried to swallow but found his mouth too dry.
Slowly inching his way down the passage, his back against the wall, he could feel the hard cool stone through his thick shirt. Careful to avoid touching the aimlessly floating ethereal creatures, they remained unaware of him. Was that the end of the passage a short distance beyond where light glowed overhead? Greg heard a whirring sound growing steadily louder. The whirring became flapping and suddenly where the light glowed ahead a huge black cloud swooped down filling the end of the passage. Ducking and waving his arms to protect himself, the creatures flew at him avoiding collision only at the last second. Squealing filled the air and echoed terrifyingly off the rock walls around him.
Bats; huge angry bats. Sidestepping to avoid them he momentarily forgot about the phantoms. The ghosts remained oblivious to the bats, but not to Greg. He felt icy tendrils encircle him as a wraith floated through him. His mind grew numb, his muscles wouldn’t respond. At the last moment he realized what was happening. His heart raced again and he used every ounce of strength he had to propel himself forward, toward the light where the bats had swarmed from. The wispy tendrils tried to ensnare him once again but he stayed ahead of them. There were footholds in the stone. He wasn’t going to become one of them if he could help it; so he climbed. Pulling himself onto the floor above, he could hear the wailing of the ghosts below, but none followed. The sound of the bats squealing and flapping was only a hum in the distance.
Gasping, heart still pounding, he remained on the floor, slowly surveying his new surroundings. The ceiling of this chamber also rose high above, the glow of the walls was more green than blue. The air still felt damp and dank. Large rectangular boxes were in rows all over the room. He cautiously crouched and scurried toward the wall. He inched his way up, vigilantly scanning for the next surprise; by now he was certain there would be one. The room was still, no sound except his ragged breathing. Licking his dry lips and with as much stealth as he could muster Greg tip toed over to the nearest box. He tentatively reached out to touch it; cold stone with markings on the top. Still puzzled he moved to the next row. These were wooden boxes. He paused, recognition slowly crossing his face. Not just boxes but wooden coffins. Surveying them more closely he realized that all the lids were ajar; every one. It began to dawn on him, the swarm of bats that had raced through the passage weren’t just bats. They had come from this room; from these coffins. They were vampires! He stopped himself and muttered unconvincingly, “Greg, don’t be crazy. There are no such things as vampires,” But if those were empty coffins… what were the stone boxes?
Greg turned back to the first row to look more closely at the markings still unable to come up with a plausible explanation. They were decorated with roughly carved symbols. He hesitantly touched the triangle in the centre, his fingers barely brushing the surface. The sound of stone against stone echoed loudly in the chamber as the top of the box began to slide slowly to the side. Greg stumbled backwards as rat crawled out and ran along the edge. It sat on the lid, as if inspecting Greg. Another rat joined the first and then, a gauze covered hand slowly reached from the crypt and a mummy raised itself up, slowly setting its gaze upon Greg. Greg froze not knowing what to do. His breath came in short, shallow gasps, his feet felt too heavy to move. The mummy began to climb out of the box and Greg could hear the deafening sound as the other crypts began to open. Squealing rats and slithering, hissing snakes poured out and slowly, a mummy began to rise from each crypt and as they rose, each of them turned burning red eyes upon Greg. He tried to swallow but the lump that had formed in his throat prevented it. Greg’s brain screamed “RUN,” but he remained rooted in place.
He heard a new sound, getting closer. At first he couldn’t place it, but as it grew louder he recognized snarling. Seconds later he saw the fierce yellow eyes and the ragged grey fur of the largest dog Greg had ever seen. Standing on sinewy hind legs it raised its head as a high-pitched howl pierced the cavernous room, drowning out all other sound.
It was exactly what Greg needed to make him move. This was no dog. Instinctively Greg began to run, he ran like he’d never run before; not even at national track finals. Running straight down the row between coffins and crypts, gauze covered hands reaching for him as he went. His mind raced; how to get away, how to get out; he room seemed to narrow. “Please, please, please let there be a way out, please,” the words kept rumbling through his head, a frantic plea to who or what he didn’t care.
Rats scurried over his feet and past him as he ran through the dimly glowing tunnel. He tried to ignore the spiders dropping on him and he vainly tried to brush them off as he strove to escape, stumbling through the seething mass of snakes and rats. He could hear the sound of the werewolf’s claws scrabbling on the tunnel floor as he bore down upon him. The snarls and gnashing teeth grew louder each second and Greg could smell the rotting stench of death, certain it was the foul breath of the beast relentlessly pursuing him. Completely spent, his lungs were on fire. The pain in his side so sharp he gritted his teeth against it. Stumbling, his hands brushed against a wall; another wall of solid rock. Greg resigned himself. He sensed the werewolf lunge. Turning, arms raised in a vain effort to protect himself, he saw two fierce yellow eyes and a snarling mouth with dripping teeth; and then, a white light so bright he had to close his eyes.
It was done.
Arms still raised above his head, a scream still caught in his throat. Before him the sun was setting,a brilliant ball of red and orange fire. He gazed down fearfully. He was sitting just meters from the road, exactly where the earth had swallowed him; how long ago? He wasn’t sure. He tentatively stood up and surveyed the ground around him carefully. There was no sign it had ever been disturbed except for one very small gopher hole. He took a tentative step towards it, falling backwards in fright as a ground squirrel poked its head out of the hole for only a second before disappearing back down to the safety of its dark tunnel.
Gathering the remnants of his composure, Greg looked around suspiciously. No one else was there. A coyote mournfully howled in the distance. He shivered and another returned the haunting call. Greg got up and headed for the road, he could already see the farm-house. The kitchen light was beckoning warmly and his pace quickened with every step.
On the porch steps carved jack-o-lanterns glowed invitingly. The smell of supper simmering greeted him and he inhaled the delicious aroma hungrily. Lynda was quietly sitting on the veranda sipping a cup of hot apple cider. Without taking her eyes off the sunset she reached over and held a steaming mug out for Greg.
“We’re out of cocoa. Told you that short cut always ends up taking longer.” Greg accepted the mug and sat down beside Lynda. Absently taking a sip he stared at the prairie sunset and didn’t say a word.
©2014 J Fries
©2014 J. Fries and Rise Like Air *edited 2014 Nov 03
This isn’t our usual Rise Like Air type of post but we thought that given the Halloween season celebrated by many of us, it might be fun to change things up a bit. Hope you enjoyed this tale of mystery and intrigue.
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