Tagged: Jacob Calloway

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 Scheduled for February 24, 2024

 

 

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. 

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
  5. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Five Scheduled for February 24, 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. 

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

  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 Scheduled for February 24, 2024

 

 

Part Two: A Sacrifice to the Deep

 

The weather outside had begun to cool, and frost crept across each night as September rolled into October. It was a typical evening when Jeffrey was standing at one of the large windows overlooking the gorge below the facility, waiting as he normally did for the floors to dry after mopping. The wind had picked up and leaves were blowing from the trees, swirling through the corners and crevices of the mountainside. Though he couldn’t be sure at first, it seemed after a while that a small orange glow was emanating from the wooded hillside across the dark gorge. He strained to focus on the spot, but soon determined that a large bonfire was alight among a clearing of trees. It appeared that a small assembly danced around it, silhouettes of wild figures leaping around the flames. After looking about for Alan to no avail, he returned to the window to see the fire still ablaze, but no longer any activity or dancing figures. Worried that the fire could spread, he found the nearest phone and called for the fire department in town. Waiting for their arrival did little to satiate his curiosity, however, and he soon set out through the darkness to inspect it himself.

After clambering up through the gorge and finding his way among the tangled undergrowth of the dark forest, he came to the edge the clearing and saw that the fire still roared inside a circle of stones wedged into the rocky, root-tangled soil. He peered into the open area from the tree line, still seeing nobody around the fire, nor any movement among the trees except for the gusts of cool Autumn wind rustling branches covered in crisp leaves. After a moment of scouting from the trees, Jeffrey stepped into the clearing and approached the fire, his eyes darting about in search for the figures he had seen from the window. 

Looking around the clearing, he noticed a small, rocky path exiting the clearing up the hill. Pushing his way through the brambles that nearly obscured it, he followed it for just a short distance as it wound up the side of the slope. By the light of his small flashlight, he could now see that the short path led to an opening in the boulder-strewn hillside, tucked behind a large bit of shrubbery. Jeffrey inspected the mouth of the cave and looked back at the path once again before he cautiously entered the dark cavity. The passage provided only a foot or so of clearance above his head, and it was just wide enough for a person to comfortably traverse. As Jeffrey pushed deeper into the cave, he found that it widened and finally opened into a space about twelve feet wide and twenty feet long. Upon entering this small underground room, the sight before him sent pulsing fright through his flesh. The beam of his flashlight had caught only a glimpse at first, but he soon found the courage to again shed light on the display which had shaken him so violently. His hands shook and his stomach turned as the beam of light exposed the hideous scene. 

Lying face-up on a raised pillar of rock about waste-high was a woman’s corpse; her arms and legs hung splayed from the edges of the small mound of cold limestone large enough only for her small torso. Her clothes had been torn from her and strewn across the floor, and her lifeless eyes remained open as her head hung down from the alter-like outcropping of stone. Jeffrey began to inch forward, moving around the woman’s head to the other side of the space. He soon noticed that her throat had been roughly cut, and the blood had now slowed to a drip into a small channel carved into the rocky floor. When his eyes could behold the dead woman no longer, he turned his attention to the floor, following the small blood-filled canal to a crevice which opened where the floor met the wall on the backside of the cave. The crevice led deeper into the earth, but Jeffrey could not see far into the small hole. Standing back up, the beam of his flashlight now scanned along the walls. Words made of strange symbols were carved into the stone on all sides, none of which he could read.

Jeffrey finally stumbled his way out of the cave, realizing the firefighters would likely arrive soon. As he found his way back to the fire, he could see the lights approaching on the lonely road. At this point, the fire had receded slightly but still endured beyond his ability to put it out. The firefighters listened in disbelief as he described to them what was in the cave. They immediately called in the local sheriffs and Jeffrey was escorted back to the road where officers soon arrived and questioned him. Crime scene investigators followed, climbing the hill and shuffling into the cave to take in the gruesome display of cultish brutality. Jeffrey’s return home later that morning brought little comfort alone in his apartment, nor would his racing thoughts allow his eyes to close in slumber. He decided not to call Clara about what had happened, unsteadily waiting in the coffee shop near his apartment building until she returned home that afternoon. 

Relaying the events of the night before prompted Clara to keep him home from work that night, allowing him to sleep more easily to ease his exhaustion. He slept until early afternoon the next day and awoke having no memory of nightmares or the ominous dreams of the past couple months. His mind seemed clear in a way it hadn’t been for a while, and he felt energized and optimistic with only slight apprehension going back to work. The drive through the mountainous terrain to the facility stirred less fear than he thought it might, and soon he was going about his typical routine as the evening hours quickly darkened. Naturally, he couldn’t help but peer from the windows periodically to watch the activity on the other side of the gorge. Investigators were still combing the forested slopes late into the evening, and he could make out yellow tape and tents set up around the clearing and the mouth of the cave. 

“Rough stuff, eh?” Alan croaked in inquiry as he joined Jeffrey at the window.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Jeffrey answered, a little surprised by Alan’s interest in talking with him at all. 

“You, uh, you doin’ alright then?” the older man pressed with curiosity. 

“I’m fine, just a little shaken up,” he replied, not entirely interested in discussing the events as he expected Alan to do next. 

“Well, good to hear. You know, never in my forty-one years here have I ever seen anything like that,” Alan huffed with a blank expression. “The officers told me some of the crazy shit they found out there. Can’t believe it,” he continued. “You know, you’d have thought I might’ve noticed something like that before now. Guess these eyes are too damn old!” Alan gestured to his face with wrinkled hands, eliciting a chuckle from Jeffrey. 

“Well, hopefully it won’t happen again,” he returned. After a pause, Jeffrey’s own curiosity prompted him to ask, “so, you’ve been here forty-one years? I didn’t even realize this place was that old. When was it built?” 

“Oh, this place has been here much longer than that- built in the twenties I think.” Alan had begun to turn away.

“This place has been around that long? What are they even doing here, anyways? Seems a bit locked down for geological survey work. How much is there to study out here?” Jeffrey now followed him down the hall.

“There’s plenty to study under these rocks, pal,” Alan replied with a smirk. “What the hell do you know about what’s under the mountain? Could be tons of shit down there they want to know about.” At this, Alan turned off down a corridor and Jeffrey left him to whatever he was doing.

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
  5. Serial Saturday: The Cavern’s Memory by Jacob Calloway, Part Five Scheduled for February 24, 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.