Author: Shalini Bethala

Unholy Trinity: “The Hospital of Saint Cecelia” by Tim Law

Our church worships at the altar of the Unholy Trinity. Its gospels are delivered as a trio of dark drabbles, linked so that Three become One. All hail the power of the Three.

 

Part 1: The Patient

 

Songbird they called me, showering me with gifts and praise. I sang for everyone, even the Pope. What God giveth, sadly, He must also taketh away.

That was how I ended up at Saint Cecelia’s, a patient of my uncle, Dr. Francis Robertson.

“I will return your sweet song to you,” he promised. “Or I shall die trying.”

I certainly sang, as two hundred and fifty volts passed through me. Six seconds, then ten, and when that did not work Uncle pushed us both past breaking point.

One of us died that day; it sure as hell was not him.

 

Part 2: Dare

 

“I’m bored,” complained Suzanna.

The boys loved the arcade, but it wasn’t her scene.

“Where do ya want to go then?” asked Gary.

“Saint Cecelia’s?” suggested the girl, smiling mischievously. “It’s supposed to be haunted.”

Ben shook his head, arms crossed, but Gary and Suzanna would not take “NO” for an answer.

 

That was how they found themselves wandering the cold, dark halls of the asylum.

“Did you guys know Suzanna Robertson was a patient here?” Suzanna whispered.

“The Songbird?” asked Ben, surprised.

Suzanna nodded.

“She was my aunt, my namesake, I love coming here to listen to her sing.”

 

Part 3: Song

 

Will my torment ever cease? Cursed am I to wander these halls, to remember the pain, never to rest. The joys of life, the wonderful memories of a time when my voice gave pleasure, not pain.

Now, when I open my mouth all I release is fury and woe. Those who bear witness to my song have their very souls stripped away.

All but one, she who brings them, time after time. I sense my uncle’s spirit in her, his madness now hers to own. I try to warn the two beside her, but all I can do is scream.

 

 

Tim Law

Timothy Law is a writer of fantasy, horror, detective and general fiction from a little town in Southern Australia called Murray Bridge. Currently working at the Murray Bridge Library he has dreamed since high school of becoming a fulltime author. His stories can be found at http://somecallmetimmy.blogspot.com.au/ and other platforms.

Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eleven – Finale

  1. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part One
  2. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Two
  3. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Three
  4. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Four
  5. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Five
  6. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Six
  7. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Seven
  8. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eight
  9. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Nine
  10. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Ten
  11. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eleven – Finale

 

 

Part Eleven: Dread Knows No Escape

 

After what felt like hours, Jeffrey finally mustered the courage to turn the flashlight back on once he could hear only the faint shrieks from below in that cursed chamber. Reaching the final ascent, he scrambled up out of the pit by bracing himself against those sickeningly slimy walls. It was only once he reached the hallway after sprinting along the rocky passage that he felt his stomach churning once again and vomited onto the floor, collapsing from exhaustion after a few moments. The man-made walls around him contrasted with the rocky tunnel just a few feet away, yet he felt no sense of relief- no sense of escape from the pit. The straight lines of the hallway and the pristine, neat door at the end appeared as a façade, masking the crushing weight of the universe’s savagery all around. The cheap veneer of control and order- human might and intelligence- was corroded all around him by knowing the brutal reality of was to come. All he could see were the fleeting, distracting pleasures given to a pig being fattened for slaughter, but he knew they would never taste sweet to him again- not after this night; not after seeing the rotted substance beneath a ravishing face. 

Jeffrey pushed the door open and stumbled into the main corridor, tracking ugly mildew and slime behind him. The early hours of the morning had brought the first employees in for the day, and he was soon whisked away by guards. His limp body slumped into a chair at the table in the holding room after a dazed walk through the building as he was escorted past bewildered workers looking from their laboratories. 

“Where’s Mr. Survant?” a security officer curtly asked. 

“W-who?” Jeffrey asked.

“Alan Survant, the other custodian on your shift,” the officer clarified.

“In the- in the cavern…” Jeffrey answered after a long pause, trailing off as the shrieks filled his memory again; he realized he’d never heard Alan’s last name until now. 

“You mean the bore hole behind door 4135 in corridor S-2 where we found you?” 

“I-I guess that’s it. The hole at the end of the tunnel… that’s where we were.” Jeffrey rolled the guard’s words around in his head, reflecting on the pit’s man-made nature that had not occurred to him. The story about the abandoned mining operation returned to his mind now. 

“Why were you back there? And how did you get access?”

“I don’t know- I woke up there. Alan had brought me there I think,” Jeffrey recalled. 

“Are you saying he assaulted you?” 

“He had a gun… he said I had to go into the pit,” Jeffrey’s recollection blurred as he tried to recount the night. “We were down there- we saw all of it.” 

“You saw the tunnel, you mean?” 

“Well, it was the- the…” he struggled to find the words. “It was moving, there were bodies.” 

“Sit tight for me, I’ll be back in a minute,” the officer abruptly announced as he exited the holding room, leaving Jeffrey alone to process the images in his mind- the images which could hardly be distinguished from those in his dreams over the past months. 

“Jeffrey, right? My name is Dr. Rechian.” A woman quickly entered the room and sat across from him, setting her notepad on the table and preparing to write. “You say saw something after you entered the-”

“I fell into it,” Jeffrey corrected, feeling as though he needed to communicate that he would have never entered of his own volition. 

“Right, you say that you saw something. Movement or bodies of some sort?” 

“Like I told the guard, ma’am, I saw the- the thing down there. It-I-it was, at least I thought- yes it was moving. It was there,” Jeffrey stumbled over his words, noticing the increasing difficulty he had in remembering the horrific entity in the cavern. 

“And these bodies- How many were there?”

“They were people… they were bodies of people,” he explained. “You know all of this, right? You know about what’s in the pit, or the bore hole, right?”

“Just answer the question, please,” Dr. Rechian instructed. “How many bodies? 

“At least ten or eleven, I would say… I-I can’t remember, it was hard to tell when they were around us.” 

“Around you? What do you mean?” she sharply asked, clearly taken aback by his answer.

“Well- they moved- they walked… or moved somehow… they came right toward us. I left, I left and I had to push through, I…” 

“And this creature, where did you see it? Was it with the bodies?” Dr. Rechian continued after visibly processing his answer in her own mind for a moment. 

“They were all in the same place. The thing… I don’t understand how it was… I can’t see why it would be like that… it filled all the room in front of us.” 

“Okay, take a minute to breath,” she advised, seeing the terror of recalled memories creep across his face and fill his eyes as he spoke. “Can you tell me what it looked like? What do you remember?” 

“I-I don’t know… I don’t know. It was so much- there were so many- I don’t know why it was like that,” he continued to repeat, sinking in his chair as the crushing recognition of helplessness once again closed in around him. 

“Okay, Mr. Wright, thank you for your time.” Dr. Rechian stood from her chair and began to leave the room. “Wait here and a paramedic will be in shortly to check you out.” 

“Wait, please, I-I don’t know what to do!” Jeffrey had become visibly frightened, gripping the table with white knuckles. “Please, tell me what-I just want to know what- I need…” he trailed off in defeat.

“Mr. Wright, I don’t have answers for you. I’m sorry,” she had turned back toward him, softening her stance.

“Please, I don’t know how… I don’t know why it’s like this,” he strained for words to describe the dread inside of him.

“Look, I wish I could help you,” she said as she attempted reassurance, calculating how she should manage his pleas.

“Those bodies… why did they- why did they move?” Jeffrey again contemplated. “Those bodies-”

“Those bodies have been there for decades, Mr. Wright,” Dr. Rechian cut him off with a sigh, apparently resigned to the fact that giving him information would do little damage at this point. “Those corpses have been motionless in that cavern since before this facility was constructed to study them. They’ve somehow been preserved among the growth along the cavern’s walls since a mining operation sealed off the opening after the miners refused to keep working. The fact of the matter is that we don’t understand any more than you do, which is why you’re in here and not in the back of a patrol car right now.” 

“Then… because they’re moving now, are you going to do something? What do you plan to do with them?” 

“As of this morning, they’ve all disappeared- and we didn’t find Alan Survant’s body down there either,” she replied with an informative coldness, though her voice betrayed the unsettled and disturbed fear that had fallen over the entire facility. “A new branch of the cavern system seems to have opened, though. We’ll start our search there once we’ve secured the area we know about already. This thing can’t hide forever.” 

“Hide?” Jeffrey asked in bewilderment, recognizing the assumption that it was hiding to be entirely absurd. “You can’t stop it,” he muttered, the eon-old and foreboding revelations in the book and on the blade swimming through his thoughts. 

“We’ll do what we need to do,” Dr. Rechian insisted with a renewed confidence. “We’ll find it.” 

“You can’t stop it…”  

Unholy Trinity: “A Room in Hotel Purgatory” “He, Them Like String” & “Running Backwards” by Andrew Buckner

Our church worships at the altar of the Unholy Trinity. Its gospels are delivered as a trio of dark drabbles, linked so that Three become One. All hail the power of the Three.

 

A Room in Hotel Purgatory

 

The blood will wash off, but the indignity will not.

I was going in circles. My hotel room, an undug coffin, had already morphed into a rundown home. The home was previously a diner.

But, I did kill him. He was abusive. He wasn’t going to stop any other way. 

The ghostly, alien creature with my abuser’s face told me to leave my hotel, run around in the daylight, and stop to let everyone see the blood and I would be forgiven.

His body would walk again. The blood would wash away.

I just had to find my hotel room.

 

He, Them Like String

 

The rage red planet he landed on was a set for a television show of his life.

In the corner, his mother, an eight-legged spider, knitted another him.

In the living room, his two sisters, four-foot gray alien spiderlings, took the freshly knitted version of him and set it on fire. 

A script turned its pages in front of him.

It read: “THE FIRE SYMBOLIZES THE PASSION HE LOST IN CHILDHOOD. THE STRING REPRESENTS HIS SELF-ESTEEM. PRIMARILY, HOW THOSE CLOSE TO HIM USED AND MANIPULATED HIM.

A mass of rendered flesh, string, a web connected, unspooled bones, those around him.

 

Running Backwards

 

The tarot card flipped over. It revealed a creature running backwards, a strange symbol the psychic had never seen before.

The psychic started to speak but her eyes said it all. She’d never seen this card before.

“The circular movements seem to suggest…,” she started.

An animal-like rage built in me. Was this part of the fate forecast by the unknown card?

A growl was heard far away.

A glass broke.

Was the creature in the cards some type of ghost or demon?

“No, it’s running backwards,” I thought. “They are terrified of me. A power I had all along.”

 

 

Andrew Buckner

Andrew Buckner is a multi award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter. His recent dark comedy/ horror script “Dead Air!” won Best Original Screenwriter at the fourth edition of the Hitchcock Awards in 2023.

A noted poet, critic, actor, author, and experimental musician, he runs and writes for the review site AWordofDreams.com. Twitter/X @moviesforlife09

Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Ten

  1. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part One
  2. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Two
  3. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Three
  4. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Four
  5. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Five
  6. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Six
  7. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Seven
  8. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eight
  9. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Nine
  10. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Ten
  11. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eleven – Finale

 

 

Part Ten: The Horror Beneath The Veil

 

Both men tumbled into the void, sliding and rolling through the slimy tunnel of what felt like long, fibrous grass or moss of some kind. Jeffrey could see nothing when he landed at the bottom, pitch black surrounding them both. The floor was rocky but covered with a thick layer of the biomass. As he grasped at the walls for support, he noticed they too were blanketed. 

Jeffrey heard Alan stirring in the darkness near him and hurried over to find him. Feeling around for the gun, he found Alan’s flashlight instead. After clicking it on, he could see they were in a tunnel just tall enough for him to stand, with floor, walls, and ceiling coated in green and orange biomass. The passage extended beyond where they landed, winding deeper into the earth. The glint of the light on the gun barrel showed Jeffrey where to dig it out of the stringy mess on the floor. Alan had fully awoken and stared at Jeffrey with contempt. 

“What the fuck did you just do, kid?” 

“Doesn’t matter now, does it,” Jeffrey replied. “This is what you wanted, right?” 

“You smug piece of shit,” Alan growled, climbing to his feet but keeping his distance. 

“I guess we both-”

Jeffrey was cut off by a deep rumble that shook the rock around them, disturbing the biomass and stirring up that familiar, potent scent. The dizzying wave of toxins blurred his vision, and both men reached for the walls as their knees buckled. When he had recovered his balance, Jeffrey shook his head and cleared his vision to see that Alan was also rubbing his eyes. Keeping the gun aimed at Alan, Jeffrey shined the light down the passage and peered as far into the lengthy void as he could. 

A shriek suddenly echoed through the cave, as though coming from deeper within. Both men froze at the bloodcurdling cries emanating toward them. The shrill screams lasted only a few moments, and then ceased. Jeffrey took a step deeper into the tunnel, straining to peer through the darkness. 

“We’ve gotta help!” he suddenly exclaimed, surprising even himself. 

“W-what the hell are you talking about?” Alan grimaced with confusion. 

“Somebody’s down there, we have to help,” Jeffrey replied with an almost matter-of-fact attitude.

“Kid, there’s nobody there! It’s not real, it’s just trying to draw you in,” Alan explained.

“No, there’s somebody there, she needs our help,” Jeffrey’s eyes had dilated, and his voice was quivering with adrenaline. 

“Look, its fucking with you!” Alan became more agitated. “That’s not real, it’s just a-”

Alan was interrupted by another scream echoing from the darkness. This time, the shrieking sounded like a garbled cry for “help.” Jeffrey’s eyes quickly darted between Alan and the darkness. Waving the gun, Jeffrey motioned for Alan to proceed down the passageway. 

“You’re making a mistake, it’s not real,” Alan persisted as he slowly complied with Jeffrey’s zealous gestures. 

The two men started down the passageway, Jeffrey holding the light above his shoulder and keeping the gun aimed at Alan’s back. The tunnel wound back and forth, gradually descending farther into the earth. As they walked, the crying became louder and more clearly resembled words- those of a woman calling for help. The thick darkness seemed to oppress even the flashlight’s beam of brightness, and the cold, damp air filled their nostrils with that musty, increasingly fetid scent. 

Worming and winding, the cavern was filled with the shrieks, yet remained muffled by the mossy growth on that cold, ancient rock; but the wailing was no longer singular. Jeffrey now could make out what sounded like the whine of an infant. He prodded Alan along the passage even faster now, feverishly pursuing the haunting cries without ceasing. The tunnel felt as if it began to squeeze the men as they rushed along, constricting them in an ever-tightening embrace until, to Jeffrey’s surprise, the passage abruptly opened into large space. 

Waving the flashlight around, he could see that the room was tall, the ceiling looming at least twenty feet above, and the walls on either side made the space double that amount in width. The wall opposite the two newcomers was far enough away that it remained shrouded in darkness beyond the flashlight’s reach. Shrieks and cries filled the cavern, creating a horrific chamber of frightful and chaotic noise. 

“We shouldn’t be here, kid,” Alan warned with a grimace. 

“W-where is the-” Jeffrey stammered as he looked around for the source of the blood-curdling howls. 

It was when he took a step farther into the space that a new sound emanated from the darkness ahead and froze him in his tracks. The sound was no shriek or cry, but the movement of some lumbering behemoth hefting its weight around. Jeffrey strained to see into the blackness, forcing his feet to inch forward across the squelching cave floor. As if the dark void in front of him began to move, he could barely make out the silhouettes of massive, shifting parts. The beam of light slowly began to illuminate the entity festering in the shadowed depths of that eon-old chamber. Moving in all directions, expanding and contracting as part of it lurched between the walls of that opening in the rock, Jeffrey tried to fathom what oozed into the space before his very eyes. Nausea welled up from the pit of his stomach as he beheld that revolting, putrid abomination. His broken stream of thoughts flashed between bewilderment and his inner voice declaring that only the most debased and twisted of designers could have fabricated such a thing. 

Uncountable tendrils quivered and reached out from the various sections of whatever part of the body was visible in this section of the cavern, and gaps in the mucous-covered flesh revealed innards with functions and purposes no scientific inquiry could have explained. A heaviness accompanied all the eldritch thing’s movements as it shifted its mass around, slowly easing toward Alan and Jeffrey. The great fungal horror stirred and writhed about, filling the room with that potent, musty scent; vision blurred, and heads ached; heart beats sounded like thunder; the room seemed to peel away into expansive darkness in all directions, a bottomless pit of infinity leaving all feelings of gravity and anchorage behind. Jeffrey violently shook his head, trying to blot out the dread filling the very core of his being at the emptiness around him and the smallness of his own body.

Both men now recoiled in disgust, backing toward the mouth of chamber. Jeffrey surveyed the room with his flashlight once more, and, turning back toward the door, caught in his peripheral vision a slight movement above their escape. To their dismay, corpses in all states of decay suspended by long, fibrous tendrils were descending toward the door from the ceiling. Bodies of men and women and children hung as if on the gallows, and fungal coils served as nooses fused into the necks. As the corpses’ feet reached the floor the deteriorating bodies did not crumple or collapse, but instead stood crookedly, heads limply hanging to one side as the tendrils animated the bodies’ remaining muscular systems. Malformed shrieks and cries from decaying windpipes croaked from agape mouths. The bodies shuffled forward, arms reaching out with barely functioning hands and fingers to investigate the intrusion. 

Alan, noting Jeffrey’s preoccupation with this newfound horror, leapt and knocked the gun from his hand. The corpses immediately sensed the commotion and lurched toward the two men grappling on the ground. Jeffrey kicked Alan away and scrambled toward the exit. Alan, for his part, clambered after the gun while avoiding the grasp of a corpse nearby. Jeffrey pushed through the bodies as he launched himself back into the passageway, shutting off the flashlight just in time for Alan to turn toward him with the gun aimed through the horde. 

A shot rang out in the darkness, and Jeffrey heard a swarm of dragging feet behind him in the room as he crawled along passageway feeling the wall beside him. Then, a few more gunshots pierced the garbled cries, followed by Alan’s familiar voice shouting in terror and cursing Jeffrey with vitriol as the corpses engulfed him in the pitch black. Afraid to turn on the flashlight too early, Jeffrey continued to grope along the spongy floor as he made his way up the inclining tunnel filled for a few minutes by the echoes of Alan’s agonizing screams. 

Unholy Trinity: “Frank Harrow, Discount Occult Detective” By Joshua Ginsberg

Our church worships at the altar of the Unholy Trinity. Its gospels are delivered as a trio of dark drabbles, linked so that Three become One. All hail the power of the Three.

 

Frank Harrow, Discount Occult Detective

Got a supernatural crisis on your hands, but short of funds? More people than you could possibly imagine turn to Frank Harrow and The Four-Pointed Star Discount Occult Detective Agency to get the job done. Frank Harrow is a name you can trust. Mostly.

 

New Business Maybe

 

Frank Harrow appraised the couple through a hangover fog and five o’clock shadow that was getting on to midnight. At least they’d called ahead, giving him time to run a load of laundry.

He read the subtext of misery and desperation in their story and etched in their faces. It was all that ever brought folks to The Four-Pointed Star, Discount Occult Detective Agency.

“We just need to find our son,” the willowy blond said.

“…wherever, …whatever, he is now,” her dark-haired wife finished.

Frank didn’t want the case, didn’t like it. But he needed it.

“Give me twenty-four hours.”

 

Meeting at the Greenwood

 

It was for a favor that Frank had come to seek his former partner.

He refilled their rocks glasses, watched his old friend lift it to his blackened lips.

“Hey, remember that ghoul that couldn’t keep a low profile?”

Dylan laughed a cloud of dust. “Dumbass kept snatching bites from Hollywood Forever. Look folks, there’s Judy Garland! Oh, wait, there goes Valentino.”

The laughter faded. “Look Dylan, I got a new case, maybe. Can you run a background check for me?”

“Yeah, but you still owe me,” Dylan replied, poking a bony finger through a bullet hole in his shirt.

 

Case Accepted

 

The couple sat waiting on Frank’s decision.

“I’m different from other firms,” he began, “in that I’m a lot less money and a lot more still alive. I plan to stay that way.”

He gauged their reactions.

“Discount don’t mean free. Cash only, upfront. No credit, no souls, no exceptions. You want some other kind of help, there’s a crossroads down the way…”

 

From the cavernous, candle-lit cellar of a decaying mansion nearby, four hooded figures watched the deal conclude through an ancient mirror. 

“He’s taken the bait,” grinned the high priestess.

And the darkness whispered a promise of vengeance.

 

Joshua Ginsberg

Joshua Ginsberg is the author of Secret Tampa Bay: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure (2020), Tampa Bay Scavenger (2021), Oldest Tampa Bay (2022), and co-author of Secret Orland: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure (2023). His work has appeared in numerous print and online publications including Trembling with Fear (The Horror Tree), The Chamber Magazine, The City Key, 365 Tomorrows, and Atlas Obscura. He currently lives in Tampa with his wife, Jen, and their Shih Tzu, Tinker Bell.

Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Nine

  1. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part One
  2. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Two
  3. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Three
  4. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Four
  5. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Five
  6. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Six
  7. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Seven
  8. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eight
  9. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Nine
  10. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Ten
  11. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eleven – Finale

 

 

Part Nine: The Vanity of Mankind

 

The strands of colorful biomass lightly clung to Jeffrey’s face as he lifted his head from the rocky floor. His vision gradually focused enough for him to realize he was in the cave where Alan had caught him. A dim lantern cast orange rays on the cold stone, and the pit beside him seemed to swallow the light into a bottomless void. He could hear Alan shuffling about behind him, but Jeffrey was too late to feign unconsciousness before Alan realized he’d awoken. 

“Ah, how do you feel, son?” Alan rolled Jeffrey over onto his back with the heel of his boot. 

“W-What the hell is this?” Jeffrey asked, still suffering the fog of two strikes to the head. 

“You know, I’m not sure if I’m getting careless, or if it’s just your sheer fucking tenacity, but I haven’t had to do this before.” Alan leaned against the cave wall in exasperation, looking down at Jeffrey. “Most people leave well enough alone.” 

“What is this place? Why-” Jeffrey was cut off by Alan’s interjection.

“See, kid, any questions you have are honestly pointless. You know why you’re here.” 

“Let me leave, and we can forget about all of this.” Jeffrey became agitated now as he regained his mental clarity. 

“What did you expect would happen, eh? Did you think you were going to sleuth out the case? Figure out what I was up to?” Alan paced the room now, muttering as much to himself as he was to Jeffrey. “Did you really think I didn’t notice what you were doing?” 

“What do you want?” Jeffrey pleaded with a grimace.

“Nothing you can give me, I’m afraid. You see, as much as you think you’ve learned, you’re still just as blind as you were to begin with.” Alan stopped and made eye contact with Jeffrey from across the pit. “Did you expect some book to open up the secrets of the universe?” Alan sarcastically mocked. 

“I found the knife, too,” Jeffrey defiantly rebutted. 

“Oh, I know you did.” 

“And it’s already being translated. They’ll be here soon.” 

“There’s probably nobody on their way. People don’t see because they choose not to.” Alan began pacing again. “And I don’t blame them. This isn’t what life should be,” Alan declared, gesturing to himself and Jeffrey. “Better to die ignorant than live with a scenic view of ten thousand terrors beyond your wildest imagination.” 

“Once they’ve translated the knife, they’ll know what’s going on,” Jeffrey vainly protested. 

“They might. But they won’t translate that knife any time soon.” Alan pulled the ancient blade from his jacket, caked with dried blood. “It’s a shame you had to drag others into this mess. Did you really think I would let those idiots fumble around with something like this?”

“What did you do?” Jeffrey cried in horror. 

“I retrieved what you stole. Action, consequence. That’s just about the only thing in this world that stays true no matter how much you know about this god-forsaken place.” 

“I-I can’t-” Jeffrey stammered in disbelief. 

“It’s funny, really. What’s written on this knife makes the book a bit… misleading,” Alan explained as he turned the knife over in his hands. “See, the fellah who wrote that text so long ago thought we could appease somebody- that we could survive if only we had the right help from ‘above’ or something. Complete nonsense!” 

“Then what is this?” Jeffrey asked again, despair creeping into his voice.

“The knife tells a more accurate tale,” Alan continued. “Mankind is so self-absorbed we can’t imagine a world without us at the very center of it. What a strange story we’ve concocted. This planet, Jeffrey- it’s not our home.” Alan stood beside the dark void and looked down. “It’s theirs.” 

“What are they, then?” Jeffrey pressed. 

“No idea!” Alan answered with a whimsical tone. “How’s a person even supposed to comprehend something like this? Kid, we weren’t made to know what these things are. These words, here,” he said as he pointed to the knife, “they tell the first part of the story. Whatever these things are, they’ve been here since the beginning- at least since the early days of this planet. This place was built for them, not us. We spend ten thousand years here and think this place belongs to us? Ha!” Alan scoffed. “We don’t belong here. We were placed here, son. Those ‘great ones’ you read about in the book- they put us here, and they aren’t merciful or kind. They’re cunning, cruel masters, and we’re just fucking rats to them.” 

“Then why did you kill that woman in the cave? The one I found a few months ago?” 

“Pal, I didn’t kill her. The people that killed her have a copy of the book and think they’ve figured the whole thing out,” Alan explained with a sneer. “They don’t understand there’s no stopping this. We can’t appease anybody- we were put here for one reason.” 

“And what’s that,” Jeffrey asked, slightly shifting away from the pit.

“This planet isn’t some paradise of biological flourishing, Jeffrey. It’s a feeding ground. They put us here to die,” Alan sighed as he shuffled back around the pit and knelt next to Jeffrey. “It’s not our home, it’s our grave.” 

“H-how do we stop it?” Jeffrey asked, still straining to rationalize a solution of some kind. “Why are we still here if…” 

“Don’t know, kid!” Alan interjected again. “You can’t figure this one out. There’s no mysterious formula. They’ll wake up when they wake up, and that’ll be it. They’re already stirring- have been for the past couple decades. Who knows how long we have? If I’m being honest, my theory is that they’re being held off until humanity is… juicy enough,” he said with a sly grin. “From what I can tell, we’re in some gladiator match to see which species fills up the planet fastest. Almost eight billion and counting, that’s pretty impressive. I think these things weren’t supposed to wake up the first time. Humans were too few back then. Whatever these ‘great ones’ are must have had to come and put the brakes on the feeding frenzy until dinner was ready, if you know what I mean,” he concluded with a chuckle. 

“Then why are you doing this? If it doesn’t matter what we do, why are you trying to hide it?” 

“Can you imagine what people would do? Mass panic. It would be chaos. It’s all I can do keep idiots like you from blundering into this. The government hasn’t figured it out yet,” motioning down the passage to the rest of the facility. They know it’s something bad, so they keep it a secret for now. Fortunately, they don’t understand yet that all their efforts are ultimately in vain. They can’t stop what’s coming.” 

“I swear I won’t tell anybody- I understand now,” Jeffrey pleaded, feeling he needed to negotiate his way out of this situation. “I promise I won’t-”

“Look, kid, I have no idea whether you’ll keep your mouth shut. This is me sealing the deal,” Alan motioned to the pit. “Now, go ahead and climb in.” 

“W-what? You can’t be serious,” Jeffrey exclaimed.

“Oh, just get down there already,” Alan waved a gun he had pulled from his jacket. 

“Okay! Okay!” Jeffrey held his hands up in surrender, edging closer to the pit. “Please, you don’t have to do this!” Sweat broke out across his forehead, and his arms shook as he looked into the darkness. 

“Go on now, no need to drag this out. You won’t even know what’s happening once it starts, I promise,” Alan described in an almost reassuring voice. 

Jeffrey looked over the edge, his hands pressing into the soft biomass underneath him. The darkness seemed to reach out of the pit and embrace him, unknown terrors awaiting him at the bottom. The daze of his confusion over the past weeks cleared away, and his will to survive mounted. Images from his dreams danced in the darkness below him, taking on a thousand shapes in his imagination. Hearing Alan fiddle with the gun behind him snapped Jeffrey into action- with a sweeping turn he latched onto Alan’s leg as he dropped into the pit. 

Unholy Trinity: “Jumping Ship” “In Charge” & “Tourist Season” by Evan Baughfman

Our church worships at the altar of the Unholy Trinity. Its gospels are delivered as a trio of dark drabbles, linked so that Three become One. All hail the power of the Three.

 

Jumping Ship

 

There was life for Benny back on land! A future! He had to save himself!

If the others were meant to survive, they would’ve dodged Benny’s blows, would’ve grabbed the life preserver before he did.

As desperate pleas submerged under dark, roiling water, Benny thanked God, clinging to his circular savior. 

Nearby, a keeling vessel slumped to its grave, bow jutting moonward. 

Torrents of screeching rats spilled overboard.

Frantic for a flotation device, the stowaways swam for Benny. Gnashing, red-eyed waves overtook him, smothering his cries.

Bobbing in the wake of disaster, Benny choked on vermin in search of sanctuary.

 

In Charge

 

Bright sunshine. Flourishing foliage. Wonderful hike.

A roar shook me, silencing birdsong.

A grizzly exploded from green cover, straight ahead. Charged.

I shouted, aimed a cannister of protective spray. 

Irritant struck the animal’s eyes, snout. Even so, the beast barreled forward, swatting me aside.

I soared into briar, dropping spray. Landed on my backpack, overturned tortoise, powerless in a thorny thicket.

The bear continued its race. Vanished between trees. 

That roar, however, still approached. 

Not a grizzly’s bellow.

Something else’s. Something larger.

Heavy footsteps found me. An impossible figure loomed.

Bears fled this fanged abomination, true ruler of the woods.

 

Tourist Season

 

Well past midnight, the newlyweds cuddled lakeside across from Congress Avenue Bridge. Pierre marveled at tiny silhouettes twirling in moonlight. Anais shivered in the Texas heat.

She said, “Sorry, didn’t come to Austin for rabies. Let’s grab another drink…”

“We’re perfectly safe. At dusk, there would’ve been a huge crowd here, watching a million-plus bats leave their roosts all at once.”

Four creatures banked toward the couple. Encircled gobsmacked Pierre and cowering Anais. Transformed into imposing pale figures.

“Love taking holiday here,” one hissed.

“So easy to blend in,” another agreed.

“So many tourists.” 

“So many new flavours to try.”

 

Evan Baughfman

Evan Baughfman is a Southern California teacher, author, and playwright. A number of Evan’s plays are published through Heuer Publishing, YouthPLAYS, Next Stage Press, and Drama Notebook. Evan has also found success writing horror fiction, his work found recently in anthologies by Critical Blast Publishing, No Bad Books Press, and Grinning Skull Press. Evan’s short story collection, The Emaciated Man and Other Terrifying Tales from Poe Middle School, is published through Thurston Howl Publications. His novella, Vanishing of the 7th Grade, is available through D&T Publishing. D&T has also published his novel, Bad for Your Teeth. More info is available at amazon.com/author/evanbaughfman.

Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eight

  1. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part One
  2. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Two
  3. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Three
  4. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Four
  5. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Five
  6. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Six
  7. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Seven
  8. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eight
  9. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Nine
  10. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Ten
  11. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Eleven – Finale

 

 

Part Eight: The Text of Terror

 

Having arrived home from the tavern on a night off work, Jeffrey collapsed into bed and fell asleep, drifting into his now-typical nightmares haunted by the ever-nearing shadow in his peripheral vision. To his relief, however, he was soon interrupted by Clara climbing into bed next to him. Contrary to what he expected, she reached over to him with a warm touch and pulled herself next to him. Surprised by her affection, Jeffrey turned toward her and returned the gesture by pulling her into his arms. The passion of her intimacy that followed further bewildered him, but almost immediately confusion gave way to desire, and the frightening forms of reality melted away. Jeffrey’s sleep for the rest of the night featured few of the terrorizing dreams, and he slept clinging to Clara’s hand as an anchor. 

As sunlight entered the room the next morning, Jeffrey lifted his head from the pillow and looked around the room. She lay next to him, buried in the blankets with her arm still extended toward him and clasping his hand. Sitting up in bed, he heard the apartment door open and close as somebody entered. The crushing anxiety of the past few months immediately rushed back into his thoughts, with images of a shadowy figure gliding through the apartment toward the door. Fright quickly turned to confusion in a matter of seconds when he recognized the figure who appeared at the bedroom door was Clara. 

“Who the fuck is that?” Clara cried out in complete shock.

“I….” Jeffrey could hardly form words in his state of equal astonishment. 

“What are you doing?” she exclaimed. 

“I thought… where-” Jeffrey gave up on his disoriented response as Lila sat up in bed beside him. She looked with confusion at Clara and then at Jeffrey as she pulled the blankets around her.

“We’re done, you piece of shit,” were Clara’s final words to him before she stormed out of the apartment. 

“Who was that?” Lila asked after Clara had slammed the door behind her. 

“That- that’s Clara… I thought that…” Jeffrey still struggled to piece together what was happening. 

“Shit, you aren’t married or something, are you?” Lila said with a hint of suspicion. 

“No, she’s my girlfriend. Or…” he corrected himself, “she was.” 

“Why the hell would you call me if you lived with your girlfriend?” Lila scolded with a casual attitude as she slid out of bed and began to dress herself. 

“I called you?” Jeffrey asked, entirely bereft of any explanation. 

“Yeah, you called me like an hour after I left,” she explained, grabbing her purse and phone from the nightstand. “You picked me up and we came back here. Were you really that out of it?”

“I didn’t drink at all last night,” he replied, probing his memory for any trace of what Lila was describing. 

“Well, then I guess you’ve got a strange sense of humor, because this definitely wasn’t funny to her,” Lila said with a slight smirk.

“I- I just don’t remember what happened.”

“Okay, buddy. You’ve got my number.” Lila had put on her shoes and begun to leave the bedroom. “Maybe figure this out before you call me again,” she advised as she waved her hand in a circular motion.

Jeffrey sat in silence for a bit after Lila had departed, trying to understand how he had lost so much memory of the previous night. Though he knew his hallucinations must be worsening, he was loathe to acknowledge that his perception was deteriorating more precipitously every day. After pulling himself from the stupor of confusion, he made his way into the kitchen and pulled the manuscript from his backpack. Finding his spot once again, he continued to probe the ancient words. 

Their many slender branches of bright and beautiful color crept across the ground, winding through the doors of our very homes and embracing us in our sleep. Life could not return to those wrapped in them, and their flesh soon disappeared from their bones. The insatiable behemoths drank of our flesh from afar with their ever-growing reach.

The text continued for many pages in which the ancient author recorded the names of those having perished, describing each household and how it came to its end. Every account began the same way: a member of the family began acting strangely, worsening to the point of madness. The madness would consume the home, finally driving husbands and wives and brothers and sisters to a crescendo of violence in which most or all members lie dead or maimed. Even before the rest of the community found them, the colorful tendrils had infested the home and engulfed the bodies.

Beasts we found, too, were overcome by the ravenous feasting arms which traveled far from their bodies, and no tool could break their almighty grasp. The madness spread among the people, driving us to ever greater bloodshed as the land became a cistern of unfathomable sights in which we were drowning. 

So few of us were left when the great ones arrived, and our souls were broken. Oh, how gracious are they that restored the veil to our eyes. Violent bolts of light struck the earth from dark clouds above, setting fires even among the rocks. Incomprehensible speech like thunder filled the earth from above, plunging our ears into numbness. The terrors beneath the rock returned to their depths and their branches of death soon withdrew. When the dark clouds had cleared, the stars returned once more to the peaceful lights we knew them once to be, and as they remain to this day. 

The veil now covers our eyes once more, and this frightful world is hidden from us again. Most now can remember the terrors only as a dream. Some even venture to claim it never was. But upon these pages I save the memory of those times for a future generation should our appeasement of the great ones cease. Yet shall these pages remain hidden from the many until then, for knowledge of this terrible truth is a burden too heavy for the soul to carry. A person cannot think rightly knowing these things. I write this now as even I forget. We must forget. We must forget.

Jeffrey sat back in his chair, gaze fixed upon the final words in the manuscript before him. The crushing weight described by the author fell upon him with a finality he had yet to experience. He felt he knew now what was in store for him; his hands trembled at the prospect that his fundamental picture of the world was but a veil. His resolve became all the more potent as his curiosity mounted into an obsessive, consuming desire: he wanted to see behind the veil

As evening approached, Jeffrey packed his things for work, stuffing the manuscript into his backpack. The building in the gorge had already fallen under the mountains’ twilight shadows. The break room was empty when he arrived, and it looked as though Alan hadn’t arrived either. Finding it a little strange, he asked the departing crew if they’d seen Alan at all yet. He was surprised to hear Alan had called out sick, as this would be the first time Jeffrey had ever noticed him take a day off. 

Alan’s absence didn’t linger long in Jeffrey’s thoughts as he grabbed a cart and began his cleaning route. Slowly progressing from one room to the next, his mind raced back and forth between obsession and fright. Down long corridors and through dimly lit labs he muttered to himself, recalling the haunting words in the final pages of the text. A suffocating anxiety broke over him in periodic waves between bouts of manic curiosity. Jeffrey wound himself up into a frenzy trying to imagine what lay behind the veil. The shadow that had stalked his dreams for months seemed to follow him down the halls as he cleaned. Each time he could feel the shiver run through his body he would spin around to try and catch a glimpse of what he knew was there but still evaded his searching eyes. 

Corner after corner he wheeled the cart, entirely losing track of time as he went about his routine. His hands shook and his eyes darted about. The sound of shuffling footsteps suddenly drew his paranoid attention, but he was too late to avoid the dizzying blow to the side of his head. Jeffrey’s knees buckled beneath him, and he braced himself on the wall with one arm to keep from falling, only to have a second strike to his head send him reeling onto the floor. The room shrank into darkness as he saw through blurred vision that Alan was standing over him.