- Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part One
- Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Two
- Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Three
- Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Four
- Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Five
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.