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

  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 One: Tremors in the Night

 

Things more ancient than us will not suffer an end so early as our own. Humanity’s brevity rarely breaches the surface of our daily thoughts and fears, permitting us a comfortable blindness to the depths of time and expanses of space far outside our comprehension. Our finite imagination so mercifully precludes grasping at the primordial terrors which blink and miss the brief moment of our emergence and extinction in this world we mistake to be long since conquered as our own. Only in such a small corner of the universe could we, in all our feebleness, live without fear of the vast churning darkness that surrounds us, as well as forget that our existence is but a fleeting moment in the long eons of this rock on which we so vainly live. May we not strive so far or delve so deep that our eyes are opened to the true nature of reality and the immensity of its primeval dread, lest its enormity crush us.

The gale outside blew harder through the mountainous gorge than it had in many weeks, holding Jeffrey’s gaze as he watched how the whistling wind whipped around the large concrete complex that night. He stood in a brightly lit hallway which created a mirror-like reflection on the dark windows overlooking the shadowy wilderness outside. A noise from far down the long corridor wakened him from his daydreaming. 

“You gonna finish the floors or not?” croaked Alan, the hunched custodian who oversaw the building and grounds. 

“Yeah- sorry,” Jeffrey replied, hastily returning to his mopping.

Jeffrey had been working only a month or so and already knew Alan didn’t care much for his company. The job opening as a nightshift grounds assistant came at a good time despite Jeffrey’s dislike for the work. Duties at the marina had dropped off for the season, and he and his girlfriend had only recently moved into a new apartment. The facility was situated far outside of an already rural town, and he had questioned whether driving that far was worth it- the generous pay and benefits quickly changed his mind, though. After he had signed away the non-disclosure agreement and other stipulations, the job felt about as normal as any other. 

Most of his nights were filled with wandering the halls or sitting in the break room watching the late-night programs drone on into the morning. It didn’t take long for him to finish his work each night, leaving plenty of time to drift around without Alan chasing him down about this or that. In fact, he didn’t see Alan all that much- it seemed the old man liked to walk the halls and disappear for hours at a time. 

“Let’s wrap it up then. Don’t need anybody complaining in the morning,” Alan growled as he departed, leaving Jeffrey alone once again. 

Finishing up the floor, Jeffrey continued on, whisking away his list of tasks with at least three hours left in the shift. He found the break room empty as he normally did, and grabbed his favorite chair to sink into as he kicked his feet up onto the desk covered in debris and clutter of all kinds from years of Alan’s hording. Leaning his head back and closing his eyes, Jeffrey dozed off into an unusually fitful nap. He slipped into that hypnagogic state where conscious sensations are murkily swished around with the mind’s more extravagant unconscious imagery. A magnetic pull drew his thoughts here and there, wandering in and out of dark places and the events of daily life. Though never nightmarish, a shadow appeared to slowly slide into the corner of his sleeping field of vision. It grew more noticeable, blotting out parts of his shallow dreams with something deeper, until he felt as if the chair beneath him had vanished, and he was held in tension by the silence of the room.

“Sun’s up! Let’s get the hell outta here.” Alan shattered the silence as he burst through the door, shuffling about and gathering his things. 

“See you tonight,” Jeffrey said with a sigh as he grabbed his backpack from the floor and left Alan alone. Contorting his face slightly, Jeffrey noticed the old man had brought with him into the room an odd smell, like that of an old basement full of mildew and rotting structures. 

The week passed uneventfully. Jeffrey welcomed Friday morning when his weekend began once again. Clara, his girlfriend, would be home later that afternoon, so he decided to get some sleep after the long night of scrubbing handrails around the facility. Alan was nowhere to be seen until the early hours of the morning, when he returned for a second time carrying the peculiar smell. Jeffrey lingered for a moment, however, trying to resolve what it could be. An oddly penetrating scent, it drew his attention more than he might have expected. But when his head fell upon the pillow at home, his heavy eyelids soon closed and the strange smell was forgotten amongst the return of his shifting and jarring dreams- visions of his mundane days and nights, but ever creeping upon them was the shadowy shape he remembered from the other morning during his nap.  

“Jeffrey? Are you okay?” Clara’s voice roused him from his sleep. 

“Uh, yeah, what time is it?” Jeffrey had opened his eyes to see Clara leaning over him, her hand pushing on his shoulder. 

“It’s about 3:30, but are you sure you’re okay?” She persisted in her questioning to his annoyance. 

“Yeah, of course. Why, is something wrong?”

“I just- I don’t normally see you sleep like that,” she explained, gesturing toward his nightstand. He looked over to the nightstand, finally noticing that his hand was tightly gripping the edge of the table to the point that his nails had dug into the finish. 

“Oh, I- I’m not sure why I….” His voice trailed off as he unclenched his hand and pulled it back. “Must have been a weird dream or something.” 

“I heard you talking when I came into the apartment, so I thought you might be awake,” she explained as she walked over to the closet to get changed out of her work clothes. “Anyways, how was your night?” 

“Eh, it was alright. Pretty boring overall- Alan was weird as hell as usual. Other than that, nothing too spectacular.” 

“Yeah?” She had come to sit on the side of bed as he tried to remember the night before.

“He disappeared like he normally does. But when he came back this morning, he smelled strange.” The smell finally began to associate with something familiar he could grasp. “It almost smelled like a basement. You know that musty smell? But it was sort of mixed with something else, like a faint floral scent or something.” 

“Could be something sinister like an underground candle shop,” Clara mocked. 

“Wouldn’t doubt it,” Jeffrey replied with an eye roll as he got out of bed. 

“You should follow him one of these times, see where’s off to every night.” 

“Sounds like a great way to spend my night,” Jeffrey sarcastically replied. 

The weeks passed on in monotonous routine, and the tides of life seemed about as predictable as they could be. It was on a Monday night that Jeffrey decided to explore a little more than usual. Walking down the empty halls, he poked and prodded at doors and windows. His badge didn’t give him access to most of the facility, but he decided to traverse a different corridor and level each night. Each stroll brought him deeper into the building, with most of the facility built into the mountain. Lab equipment and sheet-covered racks holding unknown materials filled strange rooms with dim lights. The shadowy and inaccessible chambers fostered the mysterious ambiance that began to stir Jeffrey’s curiosity with every passing evening. The locked door handles and blockaded hallways began to pique his interest more than they ever had. He found himself peering into rooms more intently, standing in front of windows longer and longer with fascination as he tried to discern what was behind the drapes and curtains. 

It was a particularly quiet night on one occasion, and Jeffrey had drifted down to the lower levels in another meandering tour. Tonight’s corridor was one he had walked many times, and he again passed from window to window, his prying eyes scanning every bit of every room he could. All was as he expected until he came across a lab that struck his eye differently. He strained to see what looked like one of the curtains torn down the middle. The scene was challenging to make out in the dark, but he could just barely see the contour of an exam table through the gap in the damaged drapes. His eyes were fixed on what he thought was movement on the table, but after a while he determined it was nothing more than the darkness playing tricks on his tired eyes. As he pulled his face away from the glass, he started in shock as his legs felt like they were crumpling beneath him. He grabbed the wall and noticed the great rumbling in the corridor as the walls creaked and items in the lab fell from shelves and cabinets with a great clatter. After only a matter of seconds the quaking subsided and Jeffrey regained his balance. He dashed upstairs and into the breakroom once he’d gathered himself, finding Alan asleep in his chair. 

“Alan! Did you feel that?” Jeffrey burst into the room frantically. 

“The hell are you talking about?” Alan croaked with annoyance as he opened his eyes. 

“The shaking! It was like an earthquake or something. Did you really not notice?” Jeffrey was astounded Alan had slept through the violent episode. 

“I think you oughta get better sleep, son. These late nights are messin’ with you,” Alan said dismissively. 

Jeffrey was at a loss, unable to understand how Alan could have been undisturbed. To his surprise, Clara also hadn’t noticed any sort of quake in town. Not a single mention of an earthquake was in the news or on any site he could find. Her suggestion to get more sleep added to his irritation following Alan’s similar comment. The days after the quake brought even greater consternation, with dreams swirling each night featuring the growing shadow in his periphery. He struggled to shake the unsteady feeling and couldn’t escape the ominous dreams still waking him throughout the night.

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