18 Apr The Shadow Beneath Whelford
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"The Shadow Beneath Whelford"Written by
Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
December 25th, 1976. 11:00 PM. Christmas was winding down for most residents of Whelford. For its burgeoning police department however, the night was just beginning. A call had been received reporting flashing lights and loud noises coming from the abandoned coal mine, which lay just inside the border separating Whelford from the neighboring hamlets. The captain at the time, John Ford, had driven out to investigate along with another officer, anticipating nothing more than a group of teenagers out on a dare. Christopher Raymond was not included amongst the original dispatch, though he wished he had been. Most of his coworkers would’ve relished a day off on Christmas, but for the newly recruited officer, what should have been a day of merriment and celebration had, as per usual, turned into an excuse for his family to rag him out for his life choices. “Why would you ever leave Boston for this cow town? Why did you marry that Mexican whore? Why haven’t you and the whore given me a grandchild?” They never came to visit of course. It was a matter of principle for the elder statesmen of the Raymond family to avoid the perceived filth of Whelford. The lack of a physical presence from the parents didn’t make the obligatory Christmas phone call any less insufferable. The worst part of it was that his family was correct in at least one of their assumptions. Why had he up and left a promising position in a big city organization for a tiny no-name town out west? His wife’s status as a Mexican citizen didn’t bother him as much, and he was in no hurry to produce an heir to the now “corrupted” Raymond line, but the initial question still gave him pause. So when Christopher’s phone rang at 11:20 PM, with a frantic sounding sergeant practically begging him to drive down to the office for briefing, it was less of an unpleasant interruption and more of a godsend.
30 minutes later, Acting Captain Christopher Raymond was on the scene at Cunningham Mine. Everything was shaping up very conveniently for him to play hero. Both members of the original investigative team sent to the mine had completely lost contact with the outside world. The new recruits from Worcester and Boston were not arriving for another few days. And out of all available field agents, he had been summoned to follow up on this case. As he approached the mine, Christopher knew he had to force the uncomfortable sense that this was all too good to be true out of his brain. He was finally getting a chance to prove himself! An opportunity to get his foot in the door in this still foreign environment! Still, “that feeling” remained. The feeling that despite everything falling into alignment, something was off. It was a sort of paranoia that was a key tool in any effective policeman’s belt, yet it was especially pronounced for this occasion. “No time to worry now.” The officer’s thoughts dug their way through his brain and out his mouth for the first time in a very long while. He was quite correct in his assumption. The gaping maw of the mineshaft awaited him.
The scene that lay before the new captain as he entered the mine would not have been out of place in a geological freak show. The mineshaft was constantly shifting, wide to narrow, tall to compact. Every now and again a faint rumbling could be heard from somewhere deep below his current position, but this was the only thing he had noticed thus far that was even close to a clue. The more he wandered, the further he threw himself into the guts of the Earth, the more Christopher wanted to return to the surface. He was normally unfazed by the darker places of the world, but Cunningham Mine had a certain bleakness about it which chilled him to the core. Still, there was a job to be done, and he was not going to leave until his compatriots had been found. Taking a left at a rotting support pillar, Christopher called out, “Officer Ford! Officer Shepard!” His request for the missing officers’ presence yielded no reply. Right turn. The once-blinding cone of vision provided by the flashlight was now beginning to dim. Onwards, onwards, onwards, down into the endless, twisting halls of the mine. Faster now. “Officer Ford!” A rumble from below. “Officer Shepard!” A scraping noise from behind. Another right. And another scrape. Something was here. Down a slope. Faster. He could hear a squelching sound, closer than before. It was closing in. Christopher whipped around, gun in hand and…nothing. He turned forwards and began to run, then stopped himself. Had to stay calm. He began to explore once again, more prudently this time. Diligence and patience were key in these situations. Left. “Officer Ford!” Still nothing. Christopher rounded a bend and found himself facing a long hallway, a faint light at the end. Finally, a breakthrough. Once again, he began to run. As the light closed in, it became clear that this was the entrance to a room. A safe haven. And if luck was on his side, some answers. The light drew closer and closer, until finally – “Jesus Christ!” Officer Raymond skidded to a stop at the entrance of the room. Something was not quite right.
It was a bizarre sight indeed. Before him lay an abyss, the likes of which he had never seen before. It couldn’t have been a dynamite blast from long ago, gone badly wrong – the gap in the ground was almost ethereal in nature. The stone which made up these walls was different than the pale granite that comprised the rest of the mine. This made the smears of bright red strewn across them all the more striking. Pentagrams, pentacles, and far more ancient insignias from a dark, lost age adorned the sides of the artificial cavern. A doorway across the pit led deeper into the mine, but this chasm was clearly an impassable obstacle; a detour would need to be found. As Christopher cautiously wheeled around, taking care not to lose his footing, a muffled cry came from above. He shifted his gaze to the ceiling, and suddenly, the mission was complete. The missing officers had been found. Dangling from the top of the room was a sea of sickly-green pods, each containing the body of an individual who had found himself unlucky enough to venture into this primordial chamber. Hundreds of the pods, mashed together, swayed back and forth in the nonexistent breeze. Christopher could do nothing but stare, paralyzed by consternation, as the abominable container closest to him was ripped open slowly, the material comprising it stretching and straining against itself like a revolting sheet of plastic film. From inside of the shell emerged former Whelford Police Captain John Ford. Initially bewildered by his surroundings, Ford quickly remembered the purpose of his escape.
“Raymond! Get the hell out of here! They’re-” The ex-captain was cut off by a droning, guttural groan stemming from the hole which he swung perilously over. “Just go! It’s too late for us!” As if to prove Ford wrong, dozens of other pods began to open. Unbelievably, the bodies of the miners who had initially stumbled upon this unfortunate room had been perfectly preserved. Their wails echoed through the room and down the hallway – “Help! Help!” “For the love of God, get me out!” “Save us!” Their rapid movements only worsened their situation- one by one the pods dropped like icicles into the abyss. With each falling pod, the hideous noises from the pit became louder, and began to shake the room with increasing measures of violence. Yet still, Christopher was rooted to his spot. An unnatural gust blew in from the hallway behind him, and he was momentarily engulfed in a blinding cloud of smoke. Just as suddenly, the smoke cleared, the cavern was still and silent once more, and from the apex of the room, a booming voice both angelic and demonic, divine and unholy, rang out to address Christopher with three simple words – “Don’t look down.” This was enough to snap him out of his reverie. The pods were falling at a faster rate; the whole mine seemed to be collapsing. Ford was right. It was time to leave. Christopher bolted back down the hallway, feverishly working up an escape plan. Left turn. Right turn. Another left. The violence of the quaking seemed to increase tenfold with each passing second. Everything was slowing down. The hallways were spinning. Well aware that he was losing consciousness, Christopher attempted to stumble just a bit further, but to no avail. He fell to his knees, desperately grasping for a last moment of life. His vision blurred. His mind emptied. A shadowy figure skulked forward from the end of the hall. The blackness seeped in. And the mine was no more.
How Christopher had managed to end up in his bed by 7 the next morning was a mystery only to him. According to his fellow officers, he had never left it. There was no “John Ford” or “Haley Shepard”, nor had there ever been at the Whelford Police Department. The mine had been caved in for decades now, and Christopher had never gone there to investigate anything. He hadn’t come into work in the past few days in fact, and it was a relief to find out that he was okay.
This, at least, was the story he got. The town had a certain stillness to it that it had lacked before. The rowdy were docile, the children had calmed, and by the time he returned from grocery shopping that afternoon, Christopher knew that something was wrong. He had to have been to the mine. All of the memories were so vivid. This merited further investigation. Upon arriving at the mine for (supposedly) the first time however, the story perpetuated by those down at the station seemed true. A heap of rubble and wood blocked the entrance to the mine completely. He strolled up to the ruined doorway. Maybe he was just going crazy. But he had to be certain. His ear pressed up against the cool stone. And in a flash, his suspicions were confirmed. In that instant, Christopher Raymond ran from Cunningham Mine and never looked back. It may have been a trick of the mind, or perhaps just the wind. But from that point on, he would never deny that he heard something when he placed his ear up to the entrance of that accursed mine – the piercing screams of those still trapped in the recesses of a place that something beyond time, or space, or human comprehension called home.