We hauled our bodies through a gap in the stone, entering into a narrow chamber. The walls were lined with skittering insects, and from beneath the stone far under my feet I could sense the flailing of eyeless fish swimming blindly in pools of black water.
A dim circle of yellow from our flashlight struck the cave’s wall. A bristletail, disturbed, crawled along the wall out of the light and retreated into the darkness. Katherine, my tall and tanned companion, grinned at me but stopped once she saw the expression on my face. She searched my eyes to check I was okay.
‘It’s fine. Just not much further… please? I don’t like how weak that torch is.’
‘That’s fine Mar. I agree. I don’t fancy feeling along the sides of the caverns blindly to make it back out. But it just seems such a shame to have something so exciting so close that you’ve never explored.’
Unable to think of a reply, I shrugged and let her lead the way. I lightly gripped the back of her loose overalls to let her guide me. Cowardice – that was the reason. I tried to shove the almost paralysing fear deep into my stomach. Best not to think of spiders, best not to think about what could be creeping, oozing, and scurrying from above and behind in the blackness. Push back your shoulders – open your chest – and just breathe normally. But how can you breathe normally when every step feels like another nail in the coffin?
‘Hey! A way out!’ I exclaimed. ‘Please Katherine, even if you want to keep going, I just need a quick breather.’
To the right, high on the wall was a circle roughly the shape and size of a manhole. Katherine pulled herself upwards, her feet kicking and peddling in the air. I followed her with considerably more effort, finally scrambling to my feet beside her. Looking up, I was immediately struck with awe and dread.
Grey blades of knee-length grass (if indeed it could be called grass) waved and curled like tentacles in the windless air. The cloudless sky was like the whites of one’s eyes, crossed over with veinlike streaks of black. We were standing amongst a field in a world drained of colour and, I felt, poisoned with some pervading and evil unnaturalness. The air was dead and deadly silent. A short distance off, the land declined and we could see smoke coloured waves that churned and broke angrily against a sandy beach.
Looking at the grass I wondered if this was what resulted when a person with black and white colour-blindness took psychedelics.
‘What the hell?’ Katherine whispered beside me.
I looked to the waves ‘why aren’t they making any sound?’
She looked at me incredulously. ‘Is that the only thing you’ve noticed? The sky, please tell me you’ve seen the sky – and the grass! Freaky…’ I nodded.
Katherine stepped deeper into the grass and shuddered as she felt the grass lick her hands. I simply watched as Katherine walked towards the beach and came out onto the sand. I looked down at my feet and contemplated following. But as I looked up, I realised she had gone. All of a sudden, I was alone in this strange world and started to panic.
I didn’t need to yell loudly for my voice to carry. But there was no reply.
I felt the fear rising and rising. I became unable to take deep breaths, and my whole body felt stiff and prickly. She’d left the backpack and torch by the entrance to the stone cavern, so after several minutes of standing waiting for her to return I shouldered the items. I’m not sure why – perhaps because I thought these things would make me feel safer.
I swallowed and waded into the grass, which moved around my legs like the strands of a mermaid’s flowing wet hair underwater. I felt strangely oppressed by that grey sky overhead and noticed that the black vein-like patterns I had noticed before were moving very slowly, like it was growing to cover the sky – almost like ivy does to old buildings and wooden fences.
Stepping through the grass was like trying to walk underwater. Every step seemed sluggish, my feet struggling to cut through that dense vegetation. After a while the grass stopped abruptly, and I stepped clear of it onto the beach.
The sand, I noticed now that I was closer, was not only grey but moved ever so slightly around my feet. Almost unnoticeable ripples broke out randomly and radiated outwards from wherever I stepped, in a way that was very… alive. These ripples did not last long before the protruding sand rolled back into its entirety.
I looked left and right, but there was no sign of Katherine, only endless beach stretching out on either side. I picked up a piece of driftwood and scratched an arrow pointing back to the way I had come, before turning right and walking in the direction I had seen Katherine go, all the while softly calling her name.
‘Katherine! Kath! Hey Katherine!’ I yelled, but my voice was all that broke the silence.
I walked for what seemed an eternity but grew uncertain. The beach stretched out uninterrupted on either side, so if she was on the beach, how could I not have seen her? Walking began to feel pointless, so I turned around and once again was paralysed with fear.
A figure sat crouched on the inclined plane of sand about 20 or so metres away, staring at me with eyes black and without pupils – like the eyes of a seal. It was cadaverous and skeletal, four freakishly thin and long limbs attached to a rib cage tightly bound with grey skin. The skeleton was in no way a human one. In its crouched position, the knees ended miles above the creature’s head, the arms extended in front and ending in ten curved, foot-long fingers, each tipped with a black claw.
It had no mouth – no, wait, it did. As I watched, the bottom of the face split like tearing fabric, and the lipless mouth peeled back to reveal a mouth filled with small teeth, but sharpened like our human canines.
I couldn’t make a sound. I couldn’t move. All I could do was stare back into that creature’s eyes, those old seal eyes, and stand there helplessly. Where had it come from? How could I possibly move back around it to get back to the caverns?
I heard faint, muffled screaming from up to my left. I kept my distance from the creature, circumventing it until I was standing in the grass rather than the sand. The creature’s head moved slowly, its eyes fixed on me. Painfully, I broke the gaze of the creature, but I wouldn’t dare turn my back on it.
I heard the screaming again and saw a splash of blue denim and blonde hair fanned out on the ground. The grass was lashed around Katherine’s body, but it also ran down her throat, trying to stop the screaming. She was covered in gashes, done neatly and precisely, in straight horizontal lines across her entire body. Blood splashed onto the grey grass, staining it red.
Christ. Oh Jesus, Jesus Christ. Katherine, Katherine Oh My God, Katherine.
I tugged at the grass around her mouth, her wide eyes staring up at me, her pupils minuscule in those large brown irises. I tore through the grass, still shuddering at the texture of it. Those strands that I managed to break withered and writhed before they went limp like dying snakes. In seconds, Katherine’s mouth was unobstructed and she coughed up more of the grass, which I saw had also sliced her tongue and the roof of her mouth. The moment she could speak, she screamed at me –
‘RUN! FOR GOD’S SAKE RUN YOU IDIOT!’
At the sound of her voice, the creature began to move. I turned towards him and our eyes locked once more. Ridiculously long, skeletal legs began to unbend, pulling the creature into a standing position. It was tall, impossibly tall, that disproportioned ribcage still hunched, that mouth growing wider and wider, revealing more and more of those tiny sharp teeth.
100 Teeth? 200? 1000?
It stepped towards me and Katherine. I knew it would only take a few to reach us. I kept tearing at that grass that bound Katherine, but even as I did so more of it grew, and all the while she’s screaming ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING MAR FOR GOD’S SAKE YOU NEED TO GO IT’S COMING IT’S TOO LATE GET OUT GO BACK LEAVE ME RUN’ but I keep tearing for as long as possible, and she’s thrashing in the grass, before the creature reaches us and he’s standing over us, and I RUN.
Some of the grass makes half-hearted attempts to bind my ankles as I go but I easily break free. I know that this world has been satisfied by Katherine. The creature doesn’t chase me, but I can still hear it tearing into Katherine’s body. The screaming stops and I just know it’s torn her throat out. The sand is pulsing excitedly, making strange shapes as if an expression of pleasure. The black streaks in the sky move faster. Back at the entrance to the caverns, I throw myself through the hole. I barely notice those bug lined walls, don’t even bother turning on the torch before scrambling through the gap in the stone, and sprinting through cavern after cavern until I’m thrust into a world filled with light and colour.
Crying, weeping, gasping, the blood from my cut ankles bleeding into the soil, I make my way back to my car, jam in the keys and drive as far away as possible, hearing with relief the sound of the roaring engine and birds and tyres and horns and wind.
Search parties roam the caverns. They don’t believe me, of course they don’t. There is no gap in the rocks, no grey and carnivorous world. But I can never forget it, can never forget the creature, can never forget the stare of those black, pupil-less, incredibly old seal eyes.
Credit : Rylee Nickel
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