It all started about twelve years ago, when Yuki and I were climbing in the Colorado mountains, near the Grizzly Peaks. It was summer, and the snow was melting in a slow but determined fashion, creating a warm, if not misty, view of the valleys below us. The mists billowed down around us as we scaled the near sheer cliffs in our ever-present need to see where we could reach in the heights of the local wilderness. We’d been dating for maybe two years at that point, and had been engaged for a little over three months, and I’m not ashamed to say that Yuki had promised me some “adult” fun once we reached the summit of the next vista. With her lean figure and trim muscles, she was a compelling package that I could rarely keep my hands off of. She always said the same of me, especially when I allowed my hair to grow out into a ponytail, which I often did.
We were in our early twenties, both going to a local college to become personal trainers. We’d met while learning about advanced nutrition from an older woman who was still in fit condition and insisted on teaching the class in workout clothes, as she would often have us run laps to get us to work up an appetite to eat some of the healthier snacks she’d make us prepare.
“How can you expect to promote it if you haven’t tried it?” she’d said as I’d gagged on a seaweed milkshake, much to Yuki’s amusement. I’d been just as amused when she’d sampled the jalapeno chips, so I didn’t feel too bad about the embarrassment I’d had that day.
We’d taken to each other like fire to wood, and of late had taken an interest in outdoor sports. This would have been our thirty-second time scaling the mountains, taking a new path each time so that we could enjoy the challenge.
Up on the mountain, we’d been steadily climbing since dawn the previous day, using pitons, rope, and harnesses to keep us safe while we used climbing picks to establish footholds. I’d had a cramp in my right leg for at least three hundred feet, but hadn’t said anything out of fear that Yuki would make fun of me. Suddenly, I heard her gasp from above me.
Looking up, my eyes widened as I saw her pulling her arm back from a hole she’d caved in through a thin sheet of shale. She looked down at me, her short black hair done up in a ponytail with her eyes wide.
“What?” I asked, curious. “Do we need to find a path around?”
She shook her head and cleared her throat, a sudden gust of wind tugging at us to pull us from the cliff face like beetles from a tree. When it passed, she just peered down at me with a growing smile.
“I think I found something,” she said, excited at the prospect.
“Like what?” I asked. It wasn’t uncommon to find old mines or hidden alcoves where natives had rested only to die from exposure while on a climb. Despite the summer weather we’d both been wearing long sleeves and tight, heat-trapping leggings.
“I think I found a passage,” she cried out as the wind passed, taking her pick and swinging with one hand, shattering the shale covering. Sharpened slivers fell past me and down into the mists below. I remember how it clattered noisily on the way down. Looking up, my eyes widened as I took in the sight of something I had never seen before while on a climb.
A door–well, a set of double doors, to be precise—made from some old wood that’d weathered the cold well enough. The solidly built doors hung on iron hinges and had handles that formed a V when they came together. A letter G had been drawn in flowing script on the surface of the doors, although it was hard to see as the paint was old and flaking.
Yuki climbed up into the tunnel, which ran about four feet before stopping at the doors. I followed after her, pulling myself over the lip onto flooring that had been laid with small flagstones.
“What do you suppose it means?” Yuki asked, walking up to the door to run a hand over the G, wiping away the top-most layer of dust from it. She turned and looked at me, eyes sparkling with inner light. “It looks like nobody has disturbed it, like, ever!”
“I’ve never heard of anything like this being out here in the mountains,” I said, shaking my head. I rubbed the back of my neck and reached into a side pouch to pull out my smartphone. Looking at it, I wasn’t surprised at the lack of cellular service. I flicked on its light and camera before pointing it at Yuki.
“So, Ms. Onodera, what do you think of your most recent find?” I asked in a mock-serious tone, causing her to spin around to stare at me.
She gave me a saucy wink and cocked her hip to the side. “Well, if I had to make a guess, I’d say that this is the work of aliens!”
“Really? Aliens?” I laughed loud and hard. “You watch that show way too much babe…”
“What? You know it can’t be any natives, they didn’t build with metal. And look,” she exclaimed, pointing at the iron hinges covered in dust and built-up grime, “metal! And this is on a sheer cliff! Who else would build into a sheer cliff?”
“Not arguing that it’s strange,” I said, shaking my head. “Just saying that jumping to aliens seems silly, as this could have easily been done by people. Lot of people inhabited America for the past few hundred years, who knows who did this?”
“I say we crack it open and look!” Yuki said, pulling her smartphone out as she reached for the handles.
“Wait!” I said, putting my hand on hers to stop her. “Are you sure that’s wise? It was pretty well hidden; what if it has some, I don’t know, historical value or something? Maybe we should climb down and get some experts up here?”
“C’mon Eric, don’t be a pussy!” Yuki exclaimed, throwing my hand off. “We’ll just poke around a bit and see what’s on the inside. If it’s some strange burial chamber, we’ll back out and leave it for the experts. I just want to see what we discovered.”
“I don’t know…” I said, looking out of the tunnel and into the fog surrounding the mountains.
“Oh, show some backbone!” she growled, slapping me on the ass as she pushed the door open. With a long and low creak, the door swung inward, its bottom grinding against the flagstone path set into the wide, squat tunnel.
Inside, our phones provided feeble light against the crushing darkness of the passage. I still remember the smell of old grease and iron that wafted in the stale air, the stench of an old workshop that’d been long forgotten.
The light from our phones was enough to light up most of the tunnel, had we kept them aimed in one direction, but Yuki was too busy running hers along the wall in search of any clue as to what this strange building was. Past the doors, the tunnel walls were made from slabs of cut granite stacked together like Lego blocks. The slabs were set seamlessly into each other, devoid of any mortar. I’d read of societies in Central America making structures from heavy stone by fitting blocks into each other and allowing gravity to hold them together, but I’d never expected to see an example of this in the United States.
“This is amazing!” I said, running a hand along the wall to feel how the seams were so closely pressed together, to the point where one could barely tell there was a difference between one block and the next.
“I know,” Yuki replied. She aimed her light to the ceiling, which prompted me to look up.
Great curved pieces of stone, each easily weighing over a ton, sat perched atop the walls. The curved panels converged in the middle of the room, each supporting the other like stones set in an archway.
Hanging from the roof were lengths of old chain that drooped like vines. None of them were the same length—it gave the impression that these chains had once supported something, but whatever it was had caused the chains to snap with the passage of time. I glanced around the chamber, but could not find anything on the floor that might once have been suspended from those chains.
Yuki approached a length of chain and studied it. An old, blackened crust sat at the end of it; the mass crumbled when Yuki prodded it with her phone. The links were stuck together, held in place by the gunk that seemed to be as old as the chain itself.
“What do you suppose that is?” I asked.
Yuki shrugged. “Maybe they used to hold candles, and it’s a buildup of wax?”
“Crunchy wax?” I asked, snorting at her suggestion.
“You have a better idea?”
“No,” I said after a moment, reaching out to poke at the gunk with a gloved hand. It crumbled like crystallized honey, falling to bits that reflected a deep violet in the light. Looking at flakes, I frowned. “They almost look like gemstones, but they can’t be.”
“Like amethyst?” Yuki asked.
I nodded, proud that she remembered the work we’d been doing on our one required science class. We’d both selected Geology because of how often we went climbing.
I looked her over as I lifted the chain a bit, turning it in the light. “Wonder what it is? And why the chain is embedded in the stone?”
“I think there’s more to this than we can tell at the moment. Think about it. The door looked out of place—Old World European, if I had to guess. The architecture in here reminds me of an old church. And hell, I don’t know how they shaped the rocks and got them into this tunnel so easily.”
I nodded. Granite wasn’t easy to cut, or shape, and here we had thousands of blocks placed in perfect symmetry to hold together a tunnel deep into the mountain. Judging by the scent of the catacombs, I guessed that the place was older than anywhere else I’d ever been. It smelled of old earth and dry stone. Not a trace of water could be detected, and the sweat from our bodies and frost dripping from us was the first moisture to have entered the chamber probably since before America was founded.
Rubbing my thumb over the crumbling bits of crust at the end of the chain, I frowned as a new scent filled the air. A coppery tang lingered the more I played with the chain, one that to this day reminds me of dark things lurking just beyond one’s sight The chain had a build-up of the material that, even to this day, confounds me as to its purpose. Once thing was certain, though—it reeked of blood.
But I’ll get to that later.
Moving on from that chamber, we entered another room that looked similar to the first. Yuki led the way, going on and on about how exciting the place was. Me? I was creeped out. The floor was covered with what looked like a bedding of silk that rose up to our knees. The further in we walked, the more I felt as if we were delving into some alien world.
We reached a spiral staircase heading downward. I had my doubts about pressing on, but Yuki insisted. The stairs wound around a stone column covered in spider webs and dust. Even through the grime, I could see some old writing carved into the stone. I brushed away the cobwebs and instantly recoiled as a dozen spiders spilled out of the webs I had disturbed. Their fat brown bodies and spindly legs flooded out of the opening as I jumped back.
“Are you all right?” Yuki asked.
I swatted at my arm with my other hand, brushing the spiders off me. “Yeah,” I huffed, “I think so.” My eyes settled upon the writing on the column, and I took a surprised breath.
“What is it?” Yuki asked.
Leaning in close to touch the writing on the column, I murmured, “It’s in English.” Cautiously, I swept away more of the spider webs and read aloud. “We know that we are all children of God, and the whole world is under control of the evil one…” I glanced at Yuki. “Odd. That has to be a Bible verse, huh?”
“Sounds like one,” Yuki agreed. “Makes you wonder about this place even more, don’t it?”
“Yeah. Let’s keep moving. There are spiders everywhere, so keep your eyes open for webs. Don’t want you getting bit.”
“I’d just let you suck out the venom,” she said, turning her head to wink at me.
She giggled when I slapped her ass.
The stairs let out into an open room that I would have mistaken for a cavern had it not been for the finished quality of its interior. The floors were tiled and the walls were polished smooth. Looking at the musty white stone flecked with sparkling bits of gold, I cursed under my breath.
Yuki noticed, and asked me what was wrong.
“The floor is covered in marble tile,” I explained. “Marble, Yuki. That means it was dug up from somewhere far away and brought here to be laid down. There is no way this could have been done by some rag-tag group of settlers or natives. This was planned, extensively.”
The clinking of metal on metal above our heads drew my attention. “And to top it off, the ceiling here is outside of our lights’ range, and has chains hanging from it. Have you any idea how difficult it might have been to build this place?”
Yuki nodded her agreement. “Look up there,” she said, pointing to a strand of chain that ended in a large hook. A dry-rotted basket hung sideways from it; its other support had broken off long ago.
“Well, that’s new,” I said, stepping forward to examine it further.
Ahead of us was a new section of the cavern that resembled a workspace. In with us were an anvil, a forge, and a dry-rotted workbench covered in ancient blacksmithing tools. To the right of the table was a pile of ingots, all dusty and mussed with detritus, which reflected a faint golden sheen when our cellphone lights swept over them.
Yuki stopped in her tracks, seemingly unable to speak.
“Baby?” I asked. “You okay?”
“G-G-Gold!” she stammered. “So much of it! Imagine what it’s worth!”
“Imagine how hard it would be to get it down from here,” I had to remind her. “We’re just two people, with canvas backpacks already loaded with survival gear that we need. Take some photos of it, and keep it in mind to tell our grandkids one day.”
“Surely one bar won’t be too much, would it?” Yuki asked, but by then I’d moved on to the forge. Within the furnace was a mixture of slag and refuse that would need to be cleaned out to make the forge serviceable again.
I turned my attention to the table. Atop a tarnished silver plate sat a chunk of meat rotted down to a shriveled husk. Beside the plate was a cup, its contents little more than sediment and murky sludge left behind after the liquid within had dried up.
“Someone left here quickly,” I said, looking back to Yuki as she stood up to face me. “And I mean fast. They left their meal here and didn’t come back. The forge has a lot of leftover trash metals in it, too—it would have been cleaned out if whoever was here intended to return to work.”
In a broken barrel beside the forge was a half-finished sword. “Look at this,” I said, pulling it out. The cross-guard was incomplete, leaving a bare handle wrapped in rotten leather. “See? It’s ruined. No blacksmith would leave this half-finished.”
I jumped when I heard a rattling of chains from above, and pointed my light towards the ceiling. I saw nothing but darkness and swaying metal links. Yuki was busy studying some intricate handles set aside on a workbench and didn’t seemed to notice, so I wrote it off as my nerves getting the better of me.
“Come on, let’s explore further,” I said, tossing the sword to the ground.
The two of us approached an open doorway that showed signs of a struggle. Its hinges had been broken off their supports. Shards of rotted wood littered the floor.
Walking through the narrow passage, we entered a massive hall that held a number of workstations. All around us were forges of various sizes with pipes leading from a vat that had a coal burning stove beneath it. The equipment was in a terrible state of disrepair.
I took a step forward and my foot bumped into something that made me stumble, but Yuki caught me before I could fall. When I looked to see what it was I’d tripped over, my pulse raced.
A human skeleton lay strewn out on the floor. The bones had been broken in several places, and from our vantage point, they almost looked hollow, as though the marrow had been sucked out. Its hand lay a few feet from where we stood. In its clutch was a rusted sword, its blade covered in the black sludge we’d seen earlier.
Yuki gasped and covered her mouth to stifle a scream.
Further into the room were four more skeletons. Like the first, their bones had been hollowed out and pitted. Following the trail of bodies, I stopped in my tracks upon finding a pile of bones as high as my hip.
“Jesus,” I said under my breath as I shined my light from one side of the pile to the other. These people had tried to fight back against what killed them. This much I could tell from the assortment of weapons among the bones—ancient weapons: morning star maces, swords, and hammers. It chilled my blood just thinking that they never had a chance. That these bodies were stacked so high in this spot meant whatever killed them did so quickly and efficiently.
Yuki took photos of the remains, the flash of her camera dazzling me for a moment. I turned and told her not to do that just as I heard the clinking of chains wriggling in the air.
“Yuki?” I said, turning to look at her.
She was stock still, frozen in place as eight chains slid out of the darkness above her. Each of the chains ended in jagged barbs. I tried to find my voice, but couldn’t, as I stared at the chains slowly easing themselves around her.
“What is it?” she said.
Those were her last words ever.
Suddenly, the chains all lashed themselves around her, the barbs sinking into her flesh. She thrashed against the restraints but it was futile—she looked like a marionette flailing against its strings. The chains ensnared her torso and legs, leaving one arm—the one with the cellphone—to thrash about helplessly.
I stared in shock as she was pulled up into the darkness, the light of her phone revealing a spider web of interconnected chains. The light flashed over a pockmarked vermilion mass of flesh. It had massive arms but no legs, and its skin was pierced with great iron rings from which the chains hung. I couldn’t see its face, or even if it had one, but its giant pair of golden eyes flashed each time Yuki’s light crossed them.
I screamed and ran. Blinded by panic, I headed further into the cavern instead of back the way we had come. The light from my cellphone barely illuminated my path. I soon found myself in a room hardly larger than a closet. It was stuffed to overflowing with the bones of those who had made their last stand here. I realized this too late to stop in time and crashed into a wall of bones. The impact put me on my ass and jostled the bones so they spilled out, nearly covering me. I scrabbled away on hands and knees, and once I was on my feet again, I snatched up a sword that had emerged from the pile and made a break for it.
Heading back through the chamber where the beast had taken Yuki, I kept my head down and ran for all I was worth. I could not see the monster or its chains, but I could hear it—it ate noisily, sucking on Yuki’s blood in horrible wet slurps as chunks of her meat hit the ground in sodden splatters. I was almost clear of the chamber when a chain lashed out and constricted around my ankle. It yanked my leg backward, sending me into a headfirst dive. I screamed as the barbs cut through tendons, ripping the meat from my bones. Meanwhile, the rustles from the darkness meant other chains were whizzing forward to take me.
I turned over onto my back and swung the blade at the chain. The sword lopped the chain clean off, leaving only the end that was still embedded in my foot. This bought me enough time to get back on my feet and start hobbling away.
I hadn’t gotten too far when the mass of chains caught up to me. I choked up on my sword and swung it like a baseball bat, lopping the ends of the chains off in one fell swoop. A roar of pain from deep within the cavern accompanied a shower of scalding oil that doused the exposed parts of my body. I screamed again, covering my face in the crook of my arm to protect my eyes as the chains I’d severed thrashed on the floor like cut lizard’s tails, each of them spewing more of that foul, stinging fluid. The creature drew back, buying me a few more precious seconds to get away.
I limped through the long tunnel that led to the entry portico, looking over my shoulder every so often for signs of the monster. While I couldn’t see it, I could hear the clinking of its chains following me from just beyond the reach of my light. When finally I could see the exit and the daylight pouring through it, I redoubled my efforts. I was almost home, I told myself.
And then it emerged again—great lengths of chain, like spider legs, surged forward and latched into crevices in the stone to drag the bloated figure along. Its lower torso consisted of ragged, torn flesh, looking like it had been pulled apart in a vicious accident. Its skin was burned and red, scarred beyond recognition, and heavily muscled. Its bald head was tiny in comparison to its torso, and set into it were those blazing yellow eyes, looking like a pair of caution lights.
With a final heave, I flung myself through the door to the outside world and dragged myself arm over arm away from the hatch. The monster recoiled from the daylight, stopping just short of the door. Glowering at me with its inhuman face, it flung something at me that was caked in gore before retreating into the shadows. The object skittered along the ground and came to rest beside my feet. Then, with a frustrated roar, the monster seized the door grips with its chains and shut the door on itself.
It took me hours to get back to civilization. By the time I did, I was weak and near delirious from blood loss. My foot was a mangled mess.
Naturally, the police got involved. They would never believe the truth, and so I told them that Yuki and I had been attacked by a bear in the mountains. I had to tell them something, or else they would suspect I had killed Yuki on our climb. I showed them her cracked and bloodied cellphone as proof—what the monster had flung at me before retreating—and it was enough to convince them not to charge me with murder-one.
But I know the truth of what really happened that day. I know the secret of Grizzly Peaks. I haven’t spoken about this in so long, and I doubt I ever will again. Every time I close my eyes, I see those monstrous yellow eyes staring back at me; every time I go to sleep, I hear it tearing Yuki’s flesh in gobs to suck the marrow from her bones.
It’s too much to bear, and I fear I don’t have long for this world. If you have any sense, you’ll think twice before you try climbing those mountains, else you’ll find the door and the nightmare that lurks behind it.
Credit : Nicholas Paschall
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