Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
There are some stories that should never be told. Tales that should never see the light, or reach the eyes of the weak-hearted, innocent, frail. I relate this to you only in the hopes of protecting others from the same fate my friends fell to.
College is supposed to be fun, interesting; a time of growing friendships and budding relationships and coming into your own. At least, that’s what I expected.
The year started out so calmly (or as calm as one might expect the transition from high school to college can be). I managed to meet some wonderful friends, together comprising a group of seven. Seven silly, fun-loving, closely connected students drawn together.
I remember the night everything began all too clearly. I can remember Miranda, Hanna, Shane, and I were eating at the Qdoba, a common last-resort eating place when the cafeteria was crowded or closed. Miranda and I are quite similar in nature: introverted, shy, and your typical rule-followers. Hanna was a bit more outgoing, often prone to making those startlingly smooth sexual jokes, and not as much of a goody-two-shoes as Miranda and I tended to be. Shane was that influential friend who is aggravatingly adept at getting you to do what he wanted: be it good or bad. We were eating dinner, laughing and talking about Shane’s excursions into an abandoned and closed-off insane asylum; he was relating tales of the experience and sharing pictures and videos of the demolished architecture.
We started talking about the tunnels that ran underneath the old, worn-down amphitheater which sat empty and forgotten behind the building which housed the math department. I remembered sitting on the stone seats earlier that year, in a class meeting with a professor. There had been such a strange atmosphere surrounding the amphitheater then, and it sent a chill down my spine. Shane mentioned how one of his friends, Dan, had delved into the tunnels earlier in the year, boasting about it as if it were a rite of passage. We laughed, and trying to be brave and fearless, I claimed I could easily sneak down there without a problem. I ended up making a promise that would change my life forever.
It was late one spring night, and I was spending the evening in Shane’s dorm room, alongside Sean and Meaghan and Alexis. Sean was the loyal brother bear of the group, one of the most supportive guys you’d ever meet. Meaghan was incredibly smart, a hard worker, and with a soul too pure for this world. Alexis was silly and sassy, with a laugh that always managed to bring the rest of the group to stitches. Somehow the conversation circled around to the tunnels once more. Shane told everyone else about Dan and once again, I was confronted with the challenge to break into them. Had I known what I know now…I never would have agreed. I never would have laughed and pretended that I didn’t have misgivings.
“It’d be fun!” Shane said, adopting that smile that always managed to convince us.
“I think it’d be pretty cool,” I quickly added, “wouldn’t it be awesome to see what’s down there?”
The answer to that question is no. If only I had known it at the time.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea…” Meaghan said, looking between Shane and I. I shared her mindset, but wasn’t about to back down from my previous stance.
“As long as I’m not going in alone, I’ll be fine!” I said, trying to lighten the conversation.
“And who the hell’d go with you?” Alexis interrupted, giving me an incredulous look. I laughed, trying to act like I wasn’t that concerned.
“Okay, okay, alone then. But at least I’ll have my flashlight taser on me. If anything tries to jump me, I’ll tase it to death,” I said with a chuckle, and while the others joined in my laughter, I could tell it wasn’t entirely genuine. Everyone had an uneasy feeling about the situation, perhaps aside from Shane, who had gone on such an adventure once before. This wasn’t to say they were scared: Dan had done it before and there was no reason to be so worried, but the idea was still unsettling.
“Alright, so when are we going to do this?” Shane asked, returning his attention to me.
“Might as well get it done and over with,” I said with a sigh, “and while the weather’s warm.”
“This weekend?” Shane suggested. I was taken aback, and my heart leaped for a moment, whether from excitement or dread I cannot tell.
“Works for me, as long as you guys don’t leave me down there,” Sean joked.
“I still don’t think we should…” Meaghan said quietly, though she was drowned out by my own affirmation of the suggested time.
We settled upon Saturday night, when the campus police would be busy monitoring rooms for alcohol and drug use, watching for party-goers who might have broken the law, and patrolling for any issues along campus walk. When night had fallen, we met in my dorm and snuck out a back entrance, slipping through the darkness to the amphitheater. We came upon the entrance to the tunnels, a heavy metal door that was thoroughly rusted and held shut by an old metal lock. It was easy enough to open, and before long we were looking through the door into a long, dark hallway. Cold air wafted from the tunnels, bringing a strong odor of musty, moldy decay.
“Oh my god,” Alexis gagged, and turned away from the door.
My reservations became exceedingly clear.
“I can’t do this,” I stated, taking a step back from the door hanging open.
“No, come on,” Shane said, looking back to the tunnel. “Dan already did this, it’s fine.”
At that moment, a raccoon dashed from the tunnels and past us, startling me. I let out a shout, scared by the sudden appearance of the creature.
“Seriously Mary?” Sean said, with a good-natured laugh.
“I’m jumpy!” I exclaimed, blushing red with embarrassment. I didn’t mention it at the time, but I had seen more than a raccoon run in front of us. It hadn’t been the raccoon that had startled me.
There had been two shadows.
One had been significantly larger, much too large to be a raccoon. I tried to convince myself it had only been a mother and a baby. Mother and baby. Mother and baby. The hairs on the back of my neck still stood on end.
“Come on, just a few minutes and that’s all,” Shane begged, handing me my flashlight. I clasped it in my hands, trying not to show how shaky they were.
“We’ll be waiting out here for you,” Miranda said, giving me a hug. I swallowed hard and nodded, afraid my voice would crack in fear if I tried to respond.
I took a step towards the door. Then another. My heart beat faster in my chest. The air was pungent. The batteries in my flashlight were low, and the resulting light was dangerously dim.
Have you ever seen a horror movie and cringed at the stupidity of the main characters? I can remember constantly telling them not to do this, not to do that, aggravated and annoyed that they were making such basic and childish mistakes.
Funny how when you’re in a situation like that, you never listen to your own instincts. Images of horrible creatures flooded my mind, but I pushed them all back.
What’s the worst I can run into? Spiders? I’m not afraid of those.
Oh how I wish I had been.
I hesitantly entered the cavern. It was dark, and damp, as you might expect a decades-old tunnel to feel, but there was something…off. Something unnatural hung in the air. And I don’t mean ghostly and supernatural. There was a strong sense of dread that washed over me. But just as every horror protagonist ever, I kept going. I ignored my instincts.
I walked several hundred feet through until I came to a split, one to the left, and one to the right. I quickly checked down both halls with my flashlight, half-expecting to see some hideous nightmare creature looming from the darkness. Of course, I saw nothing. Both sides were equally unnerving, so I opted to move towards the left. It felt a little warmer in the left passage, and I came upon another branching path shortly. I turned left again, hoping I would be able to remember the way back. The air grew still warmer.
Geothermal energy? I thought to myself, trying to comprehend the sudden change in temperature, when suddenly there was a sickening crack beneath my feet. I turned my flashlight down, and jumped back when I saw what I had stepped upon.
There was the corpse of a rat, but it was unlike any corpse I had ever seen. Part of the bones were showing, where flesh had been dissolved off of them and left stark white. Other pieces were almost mummified, as if the natural decomposition process had been halted. The intestines were spilling out of a gash in the creature’s stomach, as if it were a fresh wound.
My breathing halted, and I began to feel overwhelmingly claustrophobic. I fought against the nausea that suddenly churned my stomach. That wasn’t natural. Nothing about these tunnels was natural. Why was the pungent odor getting much stronger? Why did the air seem to be getting warmer?
I raised my flashlight and froze. I don’t remember if I was breathing or not. All I could think about was what had just been illuminated.
There was a creature hunched down before me, maybe the size of a medium dog or…or a fox, or something like that. To say it looked humanoid would be…not quite accurate. It’s posture resembled a hunched over child, but it’s head was a little too big for the body below it. It’s eyes bugged out of it’s skull, taking up at least 1/3 of the head itself. There was no color to them, only dark black and an opaque, bluish covering. Long fangs extended from it’s mouth, but it lacked a lower jaw. A curled up tongue, similar to a proboscis of a butterfly, curled behind the fangs, hanging openly in the air. The claws that extended from it’s stick-thin limbs curved against the damp concrete beneath us. Every bone seemed close to protruding from the creature’s skin, which was a sickly green color, as if it, too, were caught between decomposition and mummification.
I couldn’t move. Slowly, the creature turned it’s head to face me, leaning forward. The tongue uncurled and swept across the floor, as if searching for a scent or abnormalities. Creaking, like the sound of a door, emanated through the tunnel as it moved towards me, slowly and methodically. It’s claws twitched slightly as it moved, the unlidded eyes pulsing.
I was petrified, and I couldn’t breathe. My entire being trembled with fear, but my brain seemed incapable of transmitting the signal to move. The adrenaline that rushed through my body couldn’t force me to turn and run. The taser upon my flashlight was long forgotten. As it neared, the air grew increasingly warmer, as if inside the creature a small inferno was roaring.
The rotten, decaying scent of death loomed closer, and suddenly my brain fixed the broken signal and my body leapt into action. I turned on my heels and ran, throwing all caution to the wind.
A screech echoed behind me, unearthly and ungodly, dying away into sounds eerily similar to the popping and cracking of a fire. I turned a corner, hearing the sound of something splattering against the wall beside me. There was a hissing noise, like gas being released from a tire, and my feet moved even faster. I turned a corner and saw the faint moonlight at the doorway, so much farther than I had hoped.
I dashed for the exit, calling out to Miranda, to Sean, to whoever was waiting for me outside.
My brain didn’t comprehend the fact that by running towards the exit, I was luring the creature to the people I cared about most. It didn’t occur to me that the tunnels had been locked up for a reason other than trespassing college students. It had been bolted, behind great iron doors, to keep whatever that thing was, locked away.
And I released it.
“RUN!” was all I remember shouting. I recall the confusion on their faces as they shone their flashlights through the tunnels. The recognition as they saw me. And the dread as they laid eyes upon the nightmare behind me.
They scattered, though I didn’t see Meaghan, Hanna, or Alexis. I only fleetingly considered that they had left early.
I glanced behind me, as foolish people always do, to see if it was still chasing me. The creature had paused, clicking and creaking, at the doorway. I slowed, wondering if it couldn’t cross the threshold. Then I saw the others.
There was more than one.
A whole colony of those things, hiding away beneath our very school. Unearthed by nobody other than me.
Sean, Miranda, and Shane found me, pulling on my arms and yelling at me to move, to get out of there. But I was petrified again, with all those giant, black orbs trained on me. I was pulled back slowly, towards my dorm, when something crunched beneath my feet. I looked down.
“No no no no…” I began to cry, feverish nonsense spilling from my lips. Miranda froze, staring down at the abandoned frames and broken lens.
No words could be spoken by anyone. Only Sean’s pushing moved us from our paralysis, and by then the creatures had begun to spill out into the surrounding area. They paced a decent distance from us, back and forth, like panthers about to lunge. Their movements jarred and shuttered, perhaps due to the sickening disproportion of their limbs. The hind legs were severely shortened, and the arms, including the claws at the end, were at least twice their size.
We ran. We ran as fast as we possibly could, but we couldn’t beat them.
I used to roll my eyes at the hero who sacrificed themselves for the rest of the group. Who, in a situation like that, would know they all couldn’t escape? How could they discern the danger so quickly and definitively? And who would be crazy enough to sacrifice themselves, and embrace death? How foolish I was. Sean…Sean fought them off. He knew we all wouldn’t be able to make it. Yet Sean…loyal, protective Sean…turned towards the creatures and charged. I think I called his name. I can’t remember. I was a coward. I didn’t go back for him. I try to make myself feel better by reasoning that his sacrifice was to give us more time to escape. That his death wasn’t in vain.
They swarmed him, I could tell that much from the sounds that assaulted my ears. I ran and ran, stumbling over everything I came across in my fervor. Then I almost tripped over something that made me stop dead in my tracks.
There was a body, unrecognizable, half bone and half mummified flesh, surrounded by a pool of dark red liquid. An overwhelming stench lingered in the air, and I gagged. I heard the screeching again, echoing in my ears, and I heard Miranda shout Shane’s name. I dared to look back, and saw her a couple feet behind me, watching in horror as the terrible scene unfolded.
It’s too difficult to describe what happened. My mind still cannot firmly grasp the reality of it, the sheer…brutality of it. But I must mention the few important things I learned about these creatures. They possess an acid-like venom they can shoot from their fangs, that dissolves flesh into a soupy mess. Their tongues serve as straws to suck up the liquid left behind by the venom. And their body, with the heat it emanates, is used to keep untouched flesh undissolved and free of decay.
Sheer panic overwhelmed me. I grabbed Miranda’s arm and dragged her along behind me. My dorm wasn’t that far from the amphitheater, but it felt like miles. Clicking and creaking and howling and screeching echoed around us, though not as unanimous as before. As if several of them had fallen back. Their cries chased after us. We didn’t stop until we had taken refuge behind the doors to my dorm.
Miranda collapsed to the ground, breaking down into sobs and incomprehensible cries. I peered through the window of the door, attempting to catch my breath and fighting back the weariness that accompanied the fading adrenaline.
They had stopped a couple feet back from the lights that illuminated the entryway, moving forwards only to leap back with loud screams. Their eyes shrank noticeably when they came in contact with the harsh light, and the creatures began shaking their heads violently. I kept watching until, with shrill shrieks, they gave up and faded away into the darkness, their shuddering bodies melting into blackness.
Someone discovered the bodies the next day. There was a fair amount of noise and concern created by the incident, but I avoided the scene as best I could. I texted every one of my friends, in the vain hope that it had all been a dream. No answers. I beat upon their doors, sobbing, trying to awaken them. It was no use. They were gone, and never to return.
The police only barely recognized the bodies. Hanna and Alexis had been identified only by fingerprints left upon the items they carried. Sean and Shane…well. I saw what happened to them. Meaghan was nowhere to be found, though her shattered glasses…answers that question well enough.
After that incident, I refused to be outside after dark. Especially once the disappearances began. Students would vanish for several days, only to be found in remote places on and off campus, their bodies torn and dissolved just as…just as my friends had been. They radiated outwards. Soon the citizens of the town began to fall prey to those horrendous creatures.
Police, after the incidents began to accumulate, began calling for the arrest and capture of somebody carrying knives and acid, or some other type of corrosive bio-weapon. They’ll never find the criminal. There’s none to find.
I know. Miranda knows. We are the only ones. Those creatures…cannot be stopped. They had been trapped, contained, and now…no longer. They’re free to prey upon the human populations they come in contact with, and at the rate they’re spreading…
I transferred once the semester was over. I moved to the college in my hometown, and Miranda followed me. Neither of us wanted to remain on that cursed campus. In that forsaken town.
I share this story in the hopes that helpless lives might be saved. Even if I must face the consequences of that terrible night. I beg of you, hear my plea. Don’t go out at night. Don’t travel without something to protect yourself. And please… if you hear creaking, or cracking… if you feel a temperature change, no matter how subtle… run.
Run for your life.
Credit: Mary Hoffman
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