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

  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 Scheduled for February 17, 2024

 

 

Part Three: The Book Discovered

 

It wasn’t until the early morning hours that Jeffrey came across Alan once again, this time in the breakroom where a familiar scene played out: Jeffrey found a comfortable chair to sit in and Alan quietly departed for a few hours somewhere in the building. Dozing in and out of sleep, Jeffrey’s dreams were clear of worry and angst. He would periodically awake to see the familiar breakroom and the clutter piled up on Alan’s desk across the room. When he had rested enough to get bored, Jeffrey began poking around until he came to Alan’s disastrous work area. One piece after another was turned over and shoved aside as he nosed through the various debris and junk. With a final sigh, he opened the long, flat drawer nearest to him. A slew of papers and pens filled the crowded drawer, but directly on top lay a small book which immediately caught his eye. Though not ornate, the cover and binding appeared impossibly old and fragile, displaying an odd picture on the cover. The mess of swirling lines and strange shapes portrayed geometries and figures he couldn’t entirely describe if he had tried to. In the center was a great mass, gilded in gold ink which appeared to reach in all directions. 

Jeffrey’s inspection was cut short when he heard the Alan’s shuffling shoes in the hallway. In an instant of impulse, he grabbed the book from the drawer and arranged the junk on the desk as it had been before. Slipping the book into his backpack, Jeffrey quickly sank back into his chair and pretended to be asleep as Alan made his usual entrance into the room. 

“Time to get the hell outta here!” 

“Oh yeah?” Jeffrey replied, feigning surprise and sleepiness. 

“Mhm! See you tonight.” Alan had grabbed his bag without a moment’s hesitation and quickly hurried from the room. 

Jeffrey stood from his chair and, as he made his way to the door, noticed that familiar musty smell he had come across once before. This time he breathed it in slowly, trying to associate it with anything he could recognize. He looked around the room to determine where it came from, but as the smell slowly faded he suspected it was indeed Alan himself who had carried the scent into the room. Without dwelling on the issue too long, Jeffrey finally grabbed his backpack and left for home. 

Falling into his bed, he sank his head into the pillow and soon drifted off to sleep as the morning light peered through the curtains. Jeffrey’s rest came in fits and starts, however, as the clearness of mind and peaceful dreams of the past couple days now yielded once again to tormenting nightmares. Bone-chilling images of death and decay swirled in all sorts of twisted scenes as his mind conjured frightening narratives in his slumber. More than once he found himself standing beside his bed clutching the nearest furniture for support or holding his arms out before him to hold back some abhorred shadow from his sleeping imagination. Ever the ominous darkness grew in the periphery of his dreaming vision, causing him to shudder without looking over his shoulder. The scenes of gnashing and clawing and corpses and unhallowed terrors tossed and turned him in his bed. Yet even after he abandoned sleep for the afternoon, the unseen presence lurking in the back corners of his nightmares continued to disturb him. Even waking rationality could not shake the uncanny feeling that the images in his nightmares were not his own mind’s creations. 

As Jeffrey sat at the kitchen table that afternoon before Clara returned, he remembered the book was still in his backpack from that morning. Having retrieved the book, he set it on the table in front of him to examine. The binding was old and fragile, and the paper was worn and creased. Strange symbols of a foreign tongue filled the pages, entirely unintelligible to Jeffrey. He could see that certain symbols and sets of symbols were circled or underlined by an author far less ancient than the text itself. Periodically a page contained an illustration or a map of some obscure region entirely unfamiliar- at least unfamiliar to a modern reader. He found drawings of odd scenes- some appeared to reveal humans in violent altercations, others showed grotesque depictions of humans and animals that had died in what must have been horrifying circumstances. The drawings were primitive but explicit. It was on the final page that he found the likeness of what he could only imagine was a dark hole in the ground. From the black opening in the earth were lines drawn as if to depict the long tendrils of something beneath attempting to climb out. Around this picture were symbols scratched onto the page by an anxious hand- one more frightened than that of the composed and well-drawn pictures and symbols earlier in the book. 

As Clara began to unlock their apartment door, Jeffrey quickly tucked the book back inside his backpack. He had no real reason to hide it from her but felt compelled anyways to avoid the conversation that might ensue. Her supportive attitude hadn’t waned since the incident at work, checking in on him and comforting him despite his insistence that everything was alright. Jeffrey now felt a certain loneliness that he could not articulate even in his own thoughts- a distance seemed to creep into their small talk, but it was not a coldness from Clara. In fact, she was in high spirits and wanted to spend time with him. What bothered Jeffrey was not anything that she did or said, but that the coldness seemed to wind its way ever so subtly into his own words from somewhere inside himself- a place he didn’t fully understand. 

He left for work after dinner, departing on good terms with Clara, who was putting on a smile for him despite her awareness that his mood had dampened ever so slightly. Arriving to work a few minutes early, Jeffrey paused before turning the corner into the break room. He heard a clambering and rustling from inside, accompanied by a string of expletives from Alan’s mouth. When Jeffrey finally decided to enter the room, Alan hurried past him and out of the room after ignoring a polite greeting. Alan’s work desk was cleared off, and all the drawers were open. Jeffrey’s confusion at the spectacle was only brief as he soon realized Alan’s distress was certainly provoked by the missing book. Jeffrey began to remove the book from his backpack to return it to the cluttered drawer, but a blended sense of curiosity and fear compelled him to keep the book a bit longer. He came to acknowledge that its mystery disturbed him, and that he wasn’t going to let it go without knowing more about it. Later in the evening, as he wandered the halls, aimlessly meandering in stride and thought, he turned a corner to find Alan standing motionless in the middle of the corridor, with eyes locked on Jeffrey’s as he grimaced. 

“You okay, Alan?” he asked uneasily, slightly taken aback by Alan’s obvious displeasure. 

“Uh, you seen a book around here? It’s an old book,” Alan finally answered after a painfully long pause. 

“Not sure that I have, sorry man,” Jeffrey replied with as casual a demeanor as he could muster. 

“Absolutely certain, eh?” the old man pressed further. “The book’s important. You haven’t noticed anybody nosing around my desk, have you?” 

“No sir, but we aren’t here during the day. Could’ve been the other crew, right?” Jeffrey tried to shift the investigation elsewhere as quickly as he could. 

“Coulda’ been,” Alan abruptly responded. 

“What uh… what kind of book is it, anyways?” Jeffrey followed up, trying to move himself out of Alan’s crosshairs while learning more about the tantalizingly strange text. 

“None of your damn business,” the old man snapped back as he turned and hobbled away down the corridor. 

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