Category: Trembling With Fear

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

  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 Seven: Grasping at the Veil

 

Praise be to those above. Praise be to those above who have lashed and tethered the great ones beneath the rock. Mighty are their works and vast is their reach across the stars. When we awoke in the beginning, we knew not their presence or their ways. Our foolishness soon was brought to light. They rescued us from the terrors of the deep. Our ways have been set by the great ones, and we will call on them forever as the deliverers of our survival. May they see the works of our hands and smell the aroma of our sacrifices.  

Jeffrey pulled his eyes away from the page for a moment, reflecting for a moment on the text’s strangeness. The following pages detailed the sacrifices and practices these early people desperately clung to in hopes of securing their existence. Human sacrifices, spilling of blood into holes in the earth, and song and dance to “appease” the great ones in the stars. He came then to the recounting of the event which spurred this praise and specter of worship. 

Under our feet the earth moved, shaking and churning as the behemoths turned about in their uneasy slumber. Their long sleep came to an end, awoken by the great stones falling from the sky. The smell of fire in the air came from the stones, too hot to draw near. The trees and the fields withered, death overtaking both the plants and the beasts. A season passed, death and decay consuming the very land around us. Then opened the great voids in the land, rock splitting and revealing the dark caverns far below our feet. From the time we awoke in the gardens of the land we had not known of those beneath the earth. The great cosmos had awakened the sleeping ones in the deep.

The aroma of the watery depths poured forth from gashes in the rock, and we freely breathed the poison that would become stifle us. Before our very eyes we saw the frightful world around us. The veil was pulled away and we could see the stars now as steppingstones for the great ones. Madness ignited among the people. Our very souls were broken upon the rocks, and the frenzy spilt blood into the caverns. The terrors below now moved toward our world above, heaving their great mass to the openings in the ground. And we could then see those too abominable to fathom.

Jeffrey had dozed off as he read, desperately tired from his many sleepless days. His dreams were of the usual ilk, full of frightening images and the growing shadow behind him, lurking just out of sight. It was only when a hand nudged his shoulder that he pulled his head from the table and started up in surprise. The manuscript still lay before him, but across the table sat a girl about his age looking inquisitively at his odd demeanor.

“You okay, buddy?” she asked with a sly grin on her face. 

“Uh- yeah,” Jeffrey stammered as he collected the papers in front of him to avoid the curious eyes of his new table mate. 

“I thought you might want a heads up before you started drawing too much attention. You were making a racket,” she continued with a smile.

“Sorry about that, guess I fell asleep.” 

They batted around small talk for a bit. Jeffrey had nearly forgotten the manuscript and the cave and Alan for a few minutes while he spoke with Lila- having learned her name after an awkward pause. His hands rested ever on the papers, however, as an odd sense of possessive compulsion had attached him to the manuscript. 

“So, what’ve you got there?” Lila pointed at the pile of papers under his hands. 

“Oh, uh- just an old text I had one of the professors translate for me,” Jeffrey replied, trying to hide his blatant reluctance to discuss it. 

“An old text, about what? How old?” Lila sat forward, clearly intrigued. 

“Well, about as old as they can be, I think,” Jeffrey freely disclosed, surprising himself with his own willingness to share. 

“Woah! Maybe there’s some fame waiting for you,” she joked.

“Not so sure about that, but who knows.” 

“So, what’s it about?” Lila returned to her line of questions. 

“Earth, I guess? I haven’t made it far yet.” 

“Big thoughts floating around here, eh?” she teased.

“Maybe… I think maybe-” his thoughts trailed off with his sentence.

“Go on, pal.” 

“I think there’s more to this planet than we’re aware of…” Jeffrey answered in a moment of clarity that shocked even himself. 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lila could tell his demeanor had shifted, and his sudden realization had piqued her interest.

“I’m not entirely sure, to be honest with you. I just think that- I just feel like what we see around us isn’t quite all that there is.” Jeffrey struggled to find the words as his thoughts were finally piecing together the past few months’ puzzle. 

“Well, of course,” Lila retorted with confidence that took him aback. “I know there’s more to this world than what we can see.” 

“How so?” 

“I mean, the spiritual can’t be seen,” Lila explained as she sat back in her seat. “Anybody who denies the spiritual is just living with a blindfold on, right?” 

“I don’t think it’s spiritual,” Jeffrey replied. “I think it’s hiding all around us. I think it’s something we aren’t ready to see.” 

“You know, it’s times like these that I realize how disconnected we are from the spiritual realities around us,” Lila continued in her own thought. “You’re so certain it has to be right here in this world. Being in the middle of all these people…” Lila leaned in toward Jeffrey after gesturing around the room, “it really makes me think about how many people are out there seeking fulfillment.” Her words were slow and deliberate. “When I look at the world, I sometimes feel as though my own efforts are fruitless to awaken even myself, much less others, to the fact that there is so much more to life than the material.” 

“I think there’s plenty in the material world we still need to see before we should worry about the spiritual, to be quite honest,” Jeffrey responded with skepticism as his vision now began to grasp his true position in the universe. 

“But that spiritual fulfillment- it won’t come from you finding something in this world. That happiness will come from the spiritual world,” Lila fired back, pushing away his skepticism. “What really matters is how you feel each day. That’s what creates your reality.” 

“Sounds like a placebo if you ask me,” he argued. “Glossing over reality to jump into some spiritual world without even trying to understand the ground under our feet?” 

“That’s the thing, though… isn’t all of life just a placebo effect?” Lila rhetorically asked. “Everything we work for- the comforts, the things, the stuff, the labels- it’s all just a placebo to make us think we’re happy.” 

“I’m not so sure I know what reality is supposed to seem like anymore…” Jeffrey had now come to the point where his confusion drifted into dread. He no longer was unsure- he was certain that what he thought he knew was far from reality laid bare. 

“Reality doesn’t have to be anything,” Lila reassured him. “It can be whatever you make it. The simple truth is that our experience is what makes our reality.” 

“Then reality isn’t real? I think there’s probably only one reality, Lila,” Jeffrey answered his own question. “I just don’t think we can see it. And I don’t think our blindness is an accident.”

“Sounds like a conspiracy, then?” Lila teased him with a sly grin. “Who’s blinding us? Who’s got the bag over our head?”

“I don’t….” Jeffrey paused for a moment, contemplating for the first time the question she posed jokingly. “I think we’ve evolved not to see it.” In a moment of what felt like revelation, he looked across the table at Lila with a nearly dumbfounded expression. 

“Like, natural selection or something?” 

“We know life adapts to its environment, with species altering the very characteristics of their physical forms to survive…” Jeffrey pondered and searched for his words. “If we can change our anatomy to survive, couldn’t our perceptions also evolve to help us survive?” 

“Welcome to freshman psychology,” Lila retorted with mocking tone. “We’ve been doing that for millennia.” 

“But what if our brains have evolved to hide something from us… to keep us from knowing something that would otherwise jeopardize our survival.” 

“You mean keep us from being literally scared to death?” Lila’s tone sobered slightly as she tried to help coax Jeffrey to coherently share his thoughts. 

“If there was a truth so terrifying that it would drive you to madness, would you still want to learn the truth?” Jeffrey looked down at the text on the table in front of him suddenly feeling lightheaded, then back at Lila not expecting her to answer as she did.

“Nope. I’m happy. Why give that up for a bit of truth?” The smiled had reappeared on her face. “If you ever want to chat about more existential crises, give me a call,” she said with a wink, writing her phone number down in the upper margin of the translated text. “Time to study.” 

With that, Lila stood from the table and departed the tavern with a wave. Jeffrey sat for a moment without taking his eyes off the door, his hands still resting on the manuscript. After trying to begin reading again, he gave up when the dizziness returned, and his strained eyes blurred the words on the page. Stuffing the manuscript into his backpack, he left the tavern and made the perilous drive home with head spinning and thoughts swirling in a disillusioned fog. 

Unholy Trinity: Alzheimer’s by Dawn Debraal

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.

Giving Away

 

“Edna!” Hank Reynolds ran down the road after finding the screen door torn from its hinges, his wife missing. In the distance he could hear his partner of forty years screaming for help. He should have taken the truck, there was no way he’d ever catch up to her. His legs were tired, and he was out of breath. Hank bent over heaving trying to get breath into his COPD afflicted lungs. To hell with it, the woman had been on his nerves. Maybe it was the dementia that made him forget he could no longer run, maybe it wasn’t.

 

Giving Up

 

When Hank Reynolds reached home, he dragged himself up the stairway, completely drained of energy. The brain eaters, that’s what he called them, had taken his wife. He went after them, forgetting he had a truck. Hell, he’d forgotten how to drive. Hank ran until he could no longer propel himself forward wondering why they hadn’t taken him instead of his beloved wife… what was her name? Then he remembered he had dementia, his father had it, now he was afflicted. It most assuredly prevented them from harvesting his brain. Those abominations could smell a bad brain a mile away.

 

Giving In

 

Edna didn’t make a sound when the horde killed her, they fought over her brains as she was the last living human in the area, it was time for them to move on. 

“There’s a man back there, where we got the woman,” the thought ran through them collectively, they were of one mind and near starving. 

“We’ve got no choice, it’s him, or die.” Poor Hank succumbed in seconds his brainless body quivered on the ground.

“Where now?” The swarm asked their leader. “I don’t know.” The horde was doomed, by eating Hank, they were infected with his disease.

 

Dawn DeBraal

Dawn DeBraal lives in rural Wisconsin and has published over 600 drabbles, short stories, and poems in online ezines and anthologies. Nominated for 2019 Pushcart
Award, runner-up in the 2022 Horror Short Story Contest, 2023 Finalist Owl Canyon Hackathon. You find them on Facebook @AllTheCleverNamesWereTaken.

Trembling With Fear 3-3-24

Greetings, children of the dark. I’m writing this on 29 February, that day which only happens once every four years. Today, I’m struggling. I am so fatigued I can barely function. I wish I could blame the extra day, but I fear it’s just chronic health issues rearing their ugly heads. So, to inspire—and mainly to distract—I’ve been pondering the folklore around leap years. I jumped on Tradfolk.co to see what they said.  

There is, of course, the well-known tradition around leap day proposals. Back in the day, 29 February was designated as the day when women could propose to men—according to Irish legend, it was declared so by St Patrick himself. While it’s generally considered a myth, I quite like the idea that men who turned the lady down had to respond by giving her a gift of a frock or some nice gloves. Staying with the Celts, Scottish tradition says babies born in a leap year would only experience a life of hardship; there’s similar beliefs in Germany and Greece. Marriages that happen in a leap year are said to end in divorce or the death of a spouse in those same countries. And finally, they say in English folklore that a leap year causes broad beans to grow “the wrong way”. Whatever that might mean!

The question, dear reader, is what strangely dark and speculative stories you could be telling based around leap year lore? It feels ripe for the picking.

This week’s TWF menu doesn’t feature much by way of leap year-infused delectations, but it does seem to have formed a consumption theme. Purely coincidental, I promise. First, Joelle Killian’s all-consuming client has a certain need. That’s followed by the short, sharp speculations of:

  • Íde Hennessy’s webs, 
  • Bruce Buchanan’s tea, and 
  • AW Voelkel’s infestation.

Over to you, Stuart.

Lauren McMenemy

Editor, Trembling With Fear

We made a bit of progress on Shadowed Realms, we’re up to the formatting stage, and it shouldn’t be long after. On top of that, I was able to get some work done in a couple of short stories. I didn’t have much free time this last week and what little I did have ended up working on fixing some post scheduling issues that we were having. Smoothly sailing now though! 
 
 
Don’t forget – Trembling With Fear Volume 6 is out in the world, and if you’ve picked up a copy, we’d love a review! Next year, we may be looking to expand past just the Amazon platform. If we do that, what stores would you like to purchase your books from?

ATTENTION YOUTUBE WATCHERS: We’ve had some great responses so far but are open to more ideas – What type of content would you like to see us feature? Please reach out to [email protected]! We’ll be really working on expanding the channel late this year and early into next.

For those who are looking to connect with Horror Tree on places that aren’t Twitter, we’re also in BlueSky and Threads. *I* am also now on BlueSky and Threads.

If you’d like to extend your support to the site, we’d be thrilled to welcome your contributions through Ko-Fi or Patreon. Your generosity keeps us fueled and fired up to bring you the very best.

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

(more…)

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

  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 Six: A Dagger Sharpened Over Eons

 

One night, as the early frigidness of winter rolled in, Jeffrey lounged in the breakroom waiting for Alan to make his common appearance shortly before the end of their shift. His gaze meandered around the room as he could no longer fall asleep at work. Whether he deemed it good fortune or unlucky happenstance, he caught sight of a strangely textured object poking out of Alan’s coat pocket. Without even a second thought, he hurried across the room and pulled what he discovered was a blade from the pocket. Delaying inspection until later, he stowed it into his backpack and decided to leave a few minutes early to avoid an interrogation from Alan. 

Brushing past Clara as he entered the apartment, he set his backpack down and began to take off his coat in the kitchen. He had left the backpack near the door, and as Clara watched him shuffle around in the kitchen without speaking a word, she edged nearer to the bag. A suspicion and doubt had been growing in her heart for weeks; she knew he had changed but couldn’t understand why. Having tried all she could think of to bring him back, she decided there was little left to lose.

“How was your night?” she asked, the tone of uneasiness obvious in her voice. 

“Fine. You sleep well?” Jeffrey responded without making eye contact. 

“I guess so,” Clara muttered back as she gathered up the courage to test him. “Might be time to wash this backpack. I’ll do that for you,” she grabbed the bag from the floor and began unzip it.

“Put the fucking backpack down!” Jeffrey fired off in a burst of rage that surprised even himself. He had rushed over to her and yanked it from her hands, shoving her away in the process like an overly protective animal guarding its hard-earned meal. 

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Clara sputtered, shocked by his explosive reaction. 

“I-I… I don’t want you to touch the bag,” Jeffrey stammered, trailing off into a strange fog after so quickly descending from the furious peak. 

“I don’t know why you’re being like this, but you’ve got to come back to reality,” Clara pleaded as her eyes filled with tears of heartbreak and fear. “I can’t argue with you anymore. When I get home from work, I want a decision.”

“W-what do you mean?” he asked, entirely oblivious to the implication. His bloodshot eyes and mouth agape amply displayed the unwinding fibers of his reasoning. 

“Decide whether you want to snap out of whatever god-forsaken crisis you’re going though. I can’t keep this up,” she concluded as she grabbed her keys and stormed out. 

Jeffrey stood motionless for a few moments processing what had occurred, but soon returned his attention to the backpack without dwelling long on Clara’s ultimatum. Sitting down at the table, he reached into his bag and pulled from it the blade for closer inspection. The dagger was about ten inches long, and it appeared to be a single carved piece of stone that made up both the blade and handle. On the blade were symbols matching those in the book. The stone was rough, yet its edges seemed sharp enough to pierce the skin. He could tell it was old and had seen much use; the etched lettering was caked with dried blood, but at this point it didn’t disturb him nearly as much as he expected it to. Jeffrey turned the unhallowed object over in his hands, dragging his fingers across the handle and sharpened blade. Its weight felt almost absurdly heavy for its size, and he couldn’t tell what kind of rock had been used in its crafting.

After he’d had his fill of inspecting the dagger, he decided to bring it before the professor, which would also give him the opportunity to inquire about progress on the book’s translation. Arriving on campus, Jeffrey pushed through the crowds of students in the halls, seeing nothing more than faceless bodies brushed aside in his wake. His deteriorating mind had become singularly focused, unable to grasp more than one aim at a time; the professor’s office was near, and not even an effort for politeness could be spared from Jeffrey’s sleep-starved state. He appeared to the students as a haggard and gaunt reflection of a man gliding down the hall without even so much as brief eye contact with any in his path. They would have been shocked to learn he was only a few years older than themselves. 

“Come in!” the professor called after Jeffrey’s knock on the door. 

“Professor, I have something else to show you,” Jeffrey blurted as soon as he had closed the door, entirely doing away with small talk. “Look at what I’ve found,” he stammered as he held the dagger out with a jittery grasp. 

“Woah there, hold on a second,” the professor warned as he recoiled a bit from Jeffrey’s volatile approach. “Slow down, kid.” 

“Sorry to show up without calling first, I just thought you should see this as soon as I found it,” he explained as he sat down on the other side of the desk. He gently placed the dagger before the professor and pulled his hands away as if he had handled some sort of sacred object deserving reverence.

“Fascinating,” the professor mumbled after he had retrieved the dagger with a shifty glance toward Jeffrey. “Where did you find this?”

“I was out on one of the trails past route 23, pretty far down the gorge when I saw it in the brush.” Jeffrey was surprised how effortlessly the lie had slid from his mouth, unsure of when he had fabricated it.

“Lucky find,” the professor acknowledged as he inspected the blade and its markings. “These definitely match the book you brought me- which, by the way, I’ve got here.” He pulled the book from one of his desk drawers, as well as a typed manuscript.

“Is that the translation, then?” Jeffrey gestured at the manuscript. 

“Indeed, it is,” answered the professor. “The book is mostly translated, all except for the last couple of pages, it seems. The reason is a bit of a tragedy, I’m afraid. My colleague translating the piece died quite suddenly of a stroke. A real shame, she wasn’t much older than me. One of her teaching assistants sent it back to me while going through her materials.” 

“Sorry to hear that,” Jeffrey curtly expressed his condolence. “Have you read any of it yet?” 

“I have,” he replied with a sense of reservation. “This is dark material. It’s hard to determine how old it actually is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s been used in occult activity over its lifetime. Read at your own discretion.” The professor handed the manuscript to Jeffrey across the desk, eying him for his reaction. 

“And the dagger? What about that?” Jeffrey pressed, after flipping through the first few pages. 

“I suspect it’s connected in some way, as the script aligns with the title of the book. I can keep it here and we’ll look into it a bit more, if you don’t mind,” he said as he turned it over in his hands again. 

“Uh- sure,” Jeffrey replied uneasily. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt an anxiety sweep over him at the thought of parting ways with the dagger. “Just keep it safe, I guess,” was his final plea before he dismissed himself from the office. 

Jeffrey tried to shake off a strange feeling as he exited the building, still unsure of his own attachment to the knife. The cold breeze blew through his hair as he tugged his coat tighter around his body. It was now early afternoon, and his exhaustion had extended beyond the desire for sleep. His jittery fretting made the thought of sitting alone in an apartment rather unappealing. Across the lawn on the edge of campus he could see a tavern on the other side of the street with students milling about. The warm, bustling pub offered a sort of relief from the icy loneliness of recent months. After shuffling over to table in a dim corner, he sat with his back to the wall and spent time simply gazing at the energetic space in front of him. With a coffee in his hand and heat radiating from a nearby fireplace, he pulled the translated manuscript from his coat and placed it on the table. Turning back the cover, his eyes fell upon the title now more accurately translated on the first page: Beneath the rock, uneasily it sleeps. The next page began the narrative.

 

Trembling With Fear 2-25-24

Greetings, children of the dark. I have returned from the land of ghosts and hauntings much refreshed and inspired. The UK Ghost Story Festival last weekend was a triumph once again—I even got roped into speaking on a panel on the final morning, talking all things “grand reveal” with Sarah Jackson and Simon Fairbanks, two fantastic indie writers you should check out. 

I’ve said a lot here about my struggles with the muse (I often feel so damn egotistical about all my complaining!), but I do feel like I’m starting to let go of the big picture stuff, the lofty goals, the far-away objectives so that I can focus and enjoy the here and now. Last weekend helped by just getting me out of my head and scribbling during workshops. I proved to myself that I might still have some life in the ol’ creative mine. It’s time to just remind myself why I always wanted to be a writer—because, reader, I never had an undying dream to write sales copy or business blogs, strange as that may seem! Let’s recapture that ghost of our internal passions, yes?

It seems fitting that we’ve chosen a haunting for this week’s trembling main course: a spectre that’s taken almost everything from Peter J Larrivee’s dying man. That’s followed by the short, sharp speculations of:

  • Jonathan Worlde’s foreign fight, 
  • Lionel Ray Green’s mycophilic monstrosity, and
  • SG Perahim’s impish influencer.

Over to you, Stuart.

Lauren McMenemy

Editor, Trembling With Fear

Another week of catching up on a lot of reading of TWF submissions. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes progress happening lately. Also, I’m thrilled to share that I’ve been getting more writing in as well! 2 short stories completed this year, 3 outlines started, and 2 poems written (which, I feel aren’t great.) Still, I feel like I’m finally getting back into the swing of things. After I get a few more shorts completed (or at least first draft finished,) I plan on revisiting some of my novels and novellas that were getting close to being done prior to the start of pandemic and the beginning of the MBA program I enrolled in shortly after. 
 
Don’t forget – Trembling With Fear Volume 6 is out in the world, and if you’ve picked up a copy, we’d love a review! Next year, we may be looking to expand past just the Amazon platform. If we do that, what stores would you like to purchase your books from?

ATTENTION YOUTUBE WATCHERS: We’ve had some great responses so far but are open to more ideas – What type of content would you like to see us feature? Please reach out to [email protected]! We’ll be really working on expanding the channel late this year and early into next.

For those who are looking to connect with Horror Tree on places that aren’t Twitter, we’re also in BlueSky and Threads. *I* am also now on BlueSky and Threads.

If you’d like to extend your support to the site, we’d be thrilled to welcome your contributions through Ko-Fi or Patreon. Your generosity keeps us fueled and fired up to bring you the very best.

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

(more…)

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

  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 Five: The Mine’s Mystery

 

Jeffrey hurried back up the rocky path he had descended after finding the open door, preparing his response for the inevitable line of questioning. As he approached the brightly lit hallway, he could see Alan’s hobbling figure stop when he noticed Jeffrey emerge from the darkness.

“What the fuck are you doing back there?” Alan growled as Jeffrey came closer. 

“The door was open! I was checking to make sure nobody was back here before I closed it up,” he responded as casually as he could, attempting to ignore the Alan’s irritation. 

“Does that badge give you access back here, huh?” Alan sarcastically gestured at Jeffrey’s badge. “You been told you can go behind these doors?” 

“No, but I-” Jeffrey stammered. 

“Right, of course you haven’t!” Alan had stepped close to Jeffrey, waving a scolding finger. “You don’t go behind these doors unless I drag your ass back here to beat the living shit out of you!” 

“Okay, damn,” Jeffrey mumbled as he stepped back, shocked by the rage that seemed to consume Alan over such a minor issue.

“Don’t you ever step foot back here again!” Alan’s final warning came as he pushed past Jeffrey toward the dark, cavernous path. “And get the hell out of here!” 

With that, Jeffrey slowly began his exit, lingering only a moment to watch Alan disappear into the darkness at the end of the corridor. The break room brought a familiar dimly lit aesthetic, cluttered and quiet as usual. Jeffrey uneasily sank into his chair as he tried to process what had occurred. The odor he noticed near the pit clung to his clothes, and his nostrils seemed unable to pick up any other smell but that one. With an unexpected flare of panic, Jeffrey hurried into the bathroom and ran his face and head under cold water in the sink. Using his hands, he fruitlessly tried to wash the scent from his face and hair. In the mirror he watched his bloodshot eyes stare back at him, his pupils noticeably dilated and his mouth hanging open in a trance-like stupor. After shaking himself out of his own gaze, Jeffrey returned the break room still intoxicated with the odor but managing to hold himself together until the end of his shift. 

A hot shower brought a small amount of escape from the night’s worries when Jeffrey returned home that morning. The water seemed to moderately dilute, or at least mask, the scent. He decided to throw out his clothes entirely instead of risk permanently infecting his apartment with the pervasive odor. His fitful sleep was punctuated with the frightful visions that had become common by now, and Clara’s return in the afternoon brought little relief. She noted his exhaustion with concern, but his irritation at her inquiry repelled any sympathy she might have mustered after weeks of incrementally increasing friction between the two. 

Clara had repeatedly probed to try to understand why Jeffrey had become so distant, having begun to believe something else was going on unrelated to the discovery of the body in the cave. He regularly lost his temper, cutting deep with his biting retorts. More conversations ended in heated argument, and he soon noticed Clara reciprocating the cold demeanor he exuded from his very pores. Persistently he lay awake for hours as his imagination spun together fractured images of the abhorrent fiends in his dreams. Clara’s presence next to him on weekend nights brought no comfort anymore, for in the dark the silhouette of her body in bed simply became fodder for his brain to conjure up horrifying images of otherworldly terrors lurking in his room. 

He felt the musty odor from the cavern continued to linger in his nostrils, though he was certain it had to have long dispersed. As sleep evaded him day after day, he began with just a brief internet search on the land surrounding the facility. It occurred to him how little he knew about the history of the area and purpose of the facility where he worked. Only snippets of archived news articles and old photographs revealed a largely uneventful couple of centuries. From the time of its founding around 110 years prior, little of note had occurred. A slowly growing population had led the area through the typical patterns of development. Jeffrey discovered the town had been founded after a mining operation took root in the hills nearby, unsurprisingly. 

What did surprise him, however, was that the mining operation shut down after only nine years. A local historian’s blog mentioned the strange story in passing. The mine’s almost decade of operation produced a fruitful stream of income for the locals, and the population sprang up quickly as people were attracted to the local lakes. The mining operation had only a paragraph’s worth of information, though, and Jeffrey was disappointed to find almost no details about its closure other than the operators and management deemed it “untenable to continue digging.” According to the record, the mine shafts were sealed off and the site abandoned entirely within a few months. 

As Jeffrey looked at the antique map detailing the mine’s approximate location among the mountainous foothills, he noticed that, in relation to the town, it actually appeared near the facility where he worked. With interest piqued, he skimmed forward in the historian’s recounting to find where he discussed the facility’s beginnings. The land had remained untouched for nearly thirty years before construction began on the large complex seated in the gorge. As he suspected, the facility was built precisely on the location where the mining operation had sealed off its entrances. The only other information about the facility he could glean was that it was established to research “the unique geography of the local mountain range.” He scoffed at the intentionally vague description. By now he assumed the facility constituted more than a simple geology lab, and his imagination built all sorts of possibilities around the void deep in the rock underneath the mountain. 

For all his reading, little more than intensified curiosity resulted. Questions abounded and few answers were to be found underneath the rocks he kicked about. Days stretched on as he mulled over these oddities, entirely unaware of his own behavior’s increasing strangeness. Clara could see all too clearly his dissociation from the daily life they used to share, growing more anxious as he regularly lost track of conversations or simply broke off his sentences entirely in confusion. Jeffrey had ceased attending any of their typical social gatherings, and friends soon became acquaintances. Most attributed his decline to his discovery of the bodies, writing off his newly developed oddness as some sort of trauma response. Her resolve to remain sympathetic, however, had worn thin. 

Trembling With Fear 2-18-24

Greetings, children of the dark—greetings from Derbyshire, where I’ve been immersed in ghost stories and hauntings for the last few days. I made it to the UK Ghost Story Festival again, which is always a highlight in the calendar. I’ve come here because I’ve been coming here for the last few years, but also I’m hoping this little side trip to the dark side will leave me brimming with ideas to get back to the writing. That’s my goal this year: just play around with fiction again. No pressure, no goals, no Big Ideas. Just playing around. Getting my mojo back. Seeking the muse, who I’m hoping enjoys trips to the outskirts of the Peak District. 

So while I’m haunting the Midlands, let’s serve up this week’s trembling menu. Jennifer Lee Rossman takes us into the deepest reaches of space. That’s followed by the short, sharp speculations of:

  • Michael Davis’s medical experiments, 
  • Ria Hill’s personal grooming issues, and 
  • Alejandro Gonzales’s work woes.

Over to you, Stuart.

Lauren McMenemy

Editor, Trembling With Fear

I spent a lot of time reviewing fiction for Trembling With Fear and prepping formatting for our overdue SR release., my friends!
Somehow, I was also actually able to get some writing in this last week. First time that I’ve had the mental space to do that in months. Very happy to look forward to a rejection slip (as I’d be surprised if any of my first writing back is up to where it used to be!) 
 
Don’t forget – Trembling With Fear Volume 6 is out in the world, and if you’ve picked up a copy, we’d love a review! Next year, we may be looking to expand past just the Amazon platform. If we do that, what stores would you like to purchase your books from?

ATTENTION YOUTUBE WATCHERS: We’ve had some great responses so far but are open to more ideas – What type of content would you like to see us feature? Please reach out to [email protected]! We’ll be really working on expanding the channel late this year and early into next.

For those who are looking to connect with Horror Tree on places that aren’t Twitter, we’re also in BlueSky and Threads. *I* am also now on BlueSky and Threads.

If you’d like to extend your support to the site, we’d be thrilled to welcome your contributions through Ko-Fi or Patreon. Your generosity keeps us fueled and fired up to bring you the very best.

Stuart Conover

Editor, Horror Tree

(more…)

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

  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 Four: A Path to the Depths

 

Jeffrey’s desire to learn more of the book now captured his entire imagination. Fascination with the runic text and unnerving illustrations drove the obsession all night long after his conversation with Alan, prompting him to stop by his backpack periodically and peak at the ancient pages, running his fingertips over their rough and wrinkled surface. When morning came, he brushed past Alan and raced home. Briskly sending Clara off to work for the day, Jeffrey grabbed his laptop and soon found the contact information for a professor at the local university who specialized in ancient texts. Only a few days later he found himself in the scholar’s office presenting the book as an accidental acquisition at a yard sale. 

“This is quite the find, Mr. Wright,” the professor commented as he flipped gently through the pages. “Did the seller know anything of its origin? 

“Nope, just wanted to get rid of it. Didn’t really mention much about it at all,” Jeffrey lied. 

“Well, in my judgment it looks like the text resembles Sumerian, though I would assume this was transcribed at some point from original tablets. I’m not your guy for translating this, unfortunately. I have a colleague at another school, though, who could handle this volume better. Do you mind if I send this to her? You’d get it back, of course.”

“Oh, sure,” Jeffrey assented, feigning casual interest in the whole endeavor. “Just give me a heads up when she’s finished, I guess.”

“Certainly,” the professor replied as he placed the book aside and walked Jeffrey to the door. “By the way, a rough translation of the title on the front is something along the lines of ‘underneath the ground, sleeping.’ My colleague should do much better, though. Hopefully she can shed some light on it.” 

Jeffrey left the campus that morning full of intrigue, drawn further into this strange artifact’s mystery. Before delivering the book to the scholars, however, he had taken pictures of its various illustrations. As the days drifted on, he found himself looking over the pictures regularly, almost compulsively, whenever he got a free moment. But curiosity soon turned to suspicion and unease. He would walk the corridors at night with the ancient images flashing through his mind, his imagination bringing them to life. The pictures now took on a life of their own, growing and moving and writhing about as if animated by some force in his consciousness. Alan no longer spoke to him casually, only barking instructions or criticizing his work. 

What had been such an exotic and alluring mystery now became an object of angst as the shadows in the corridors and remote parts of the building seemed to hold ominous images themselves. The frightening depictions had consumed so much of Jeffrey’s thoughts that blank shadow became a canvas on which his mind painted the disturbing figures. A corner of Jeffrey’s thoughts also began to wonder about the strange smell Alan carried with him from time to time, normally in the early morning hours. He still couldn’t place the musty smell, but noticed it sometimes provoked a migraine that didn’t subside for hours. The dizzying effects of such acute migraines distorted the already misshapen images from the decrepit text. Sometimes he forced himself to look at the pictures once more just to remind himself of their static nature- that they weren’t actually taking the forms his mind had concocted. As his daytime sleep became riddled with nightmares to the point of exhaustion, his shifts at the facility brought no relief. Poisoned was his view of the building now, uncertainty lurking around every corner. Though his surroundings hadn’t changed in the slightest, Jeffrey now saw with new eyes a shadow not in one place or spot, but transient and leering. The ominous presence in the periphery of his dreams invaded his waking life, and the unnerving aspects were worsened by how fast this condition emerged. Only two weeks prior he had been in reasonably high spirits, discovering the book and poring over its pages with eager delight. 

This particular night had followed a day of little sleep as Jeffrey tossed and turned. Wandering the halls as he normally did after midnight, he staggered about and dragged his tired feet. He had lost his appetite for sleeping in the breakroom with Alan’s hostility and his own overall disquiet about the place. Turning the corner roused him from his daze, however, as he noted a door had been left ajar- highly unusual in the facility. After pausing for a few moments, Jeffrey approached the door with trepidation. The heavy door swung open with a solid push and a brightly lit hallway revealed itself to his tired eyes. White lights lined the walls as the smaller corridor extended straight ahead for what appeared to be about fifty yards. 

Jeffrey stood motionless as the internal debate raged in his soul over whether to simply close the door or plunge onward. In the final moments of the dilemma, his fiery curiosity was whet once again as it was when he discovered the book. His hunger for the unknown pushed him over the edge of the door’s threshold. Sterile white walls and black flooring were the only sight in his immediate path. With decisiveness returned to his steps he picked up his pace and soon saw that the brightly lit portion was coming to an end. The lights became dimmer, but intriguing Jeffrey more was that the floor had become rough before he even realized it. He now noticed that both the walls and floor were bare rock. Re-orienting his sense of direction, Jeffrey concluded that the corridor must have led directly into the mountain behind the facility.

Strings of work lights hung from the ceiling, just barely illuminating the passage. The path began to wind, gradually turning to the left and gently descending. Jeffrey had turned on his flashlight at this point, allowing him to watch the increasingly treacherous floor of the cave. With his eyes glued to the rocky terrain, he failed to notice that the passage had shrunk around him. He began to stoop unconsciously, still focused on the stretch of path lit by his flashlight when he unexpectedly careened directly into a low-hanging corner. The splitting pain in his head drove him to the floor in agony, and the flashlight fell from his hand. 

It was only upon stumbling forward and retrieving the light that he noticed the passage had opened into a large space. The ceiling rose about twenty feet from the stony floor, and the room was about as circular as you could achieve in a cave. The far wall bounded the space about fifteen or sixteen feet away from where he stood at the doorway. This second cavernous tour began to weigh on Jeffrey as he remembered his previous discovery underground. Before him was an entirely empty space with no obvious horrors to behold. The traveling beam of his flashlight soon revealed that the ground gave way to a dark hole in the middle of the room. As he inched forward, Jeffrey noticed the opening in the rocks dove far deeper into the earth. The shrouded pit before him was no more than three or four feet in diameter, but his estimation was only a guess because some sort of dense growth obscured the edges of the rock. 

What appeared at first to be moss or vegetation Jeffrey soon noticed was certainly not a plant this far below the surface. The strings of biomass seemed to extend out of the pit from somewhere much deeper. As he approached the edge of the dark void, a draft of cool air slid across his face. What should have surprised him only confirmed something he had wondered about since he found the door unlocked back in the corridor: the cool air carried a peculiar, and now familiar, scent past his nose. A musty sort of stale odor emanated from the pit- the same smell which on so many occasions had clung to Alan as he entered the break room. Jeffrey’s pondering on the scent was abruptly interrupted by the echoing sound of a door swinging open.