26 Jan Smuggler’s Creek
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"Smuggler's Creek"Written by Savnak
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Estimated reading time — 25 minutes
Wednesday, July 12th, 2017
The dynamic of memory has confounded me for my entire life. Memory is itself a living being, eternally aging until it decays and fades away. Each memory lives through its life cycle. Full of vitality in birth and hollow and weak in death. Like the people in our lives, the existence of our past bases entirely on our acknowledgment of its significance. The strongest memories are those that we regularly return to our minds; those that we cherish. Those which we choose to ignore—to forget—fade away into an obsolete presence in the back of our mind. Lost memories are silenced and forgotten until an unsuspecting explorer uncovers them. At the discovery of these ancient memories, we unearth a forgotten view of the world. It is the intellectual’s hunger to learn that resembles our yearning to remember what we have forgotten.
Like an over-protective mother, we grasp onto the recovered Forgotten, imbuing their existence in newer memories. Like an obsession, the Forgotten enter our daily thoughts, forcing their significance upon us. We are the historians that give the Forgotten their permanence, writing lost memories into stories that transcend our own existence. It’s why we write down our thoughts onto notebooks; why we keep entire days in journals. This obsession lives inside everyone, for our memory, like ourselves fears death. Memory selfishly pursues revival and immortality; it craves attention. In that way, we are all slaves to our past.
I am a slave to my past. I spent months searching for the lost episode in my life. I was an archaeologist on the hunt to uncover a veiled truth that lay a thick fog over my adolescent memories. My curiosity became my obsession; it became my unhealthy addiction. Some untold grief possessed me in those months. My life centered on finding closure to silence the deafening questions which filled my mind. On the verge of madness, I’d spend days alone in an empty room, mining for answers. I had even taken to long sessions of meditation and dream therapy, but nothing came of it at the start. That was until last month when everything came rushing back in vivid detail.
What ensues is a collection of journal entries written following this resurgence.
Tuesday, June 13th, 2017
Today I remembered. For the first time in twelve years, I remember the summer of 2005. I remember the torment and terror that quaked my very soul. I remember the horror that my fifteen-year-old-self suffered within that year. It’s almost as if I’m still there. It’s like my life has split into two parts: the past and the present, and they’re fighting for control over my mind. Every time I close my eyes, or my mind wanders, I’m sent back in time, and forced to relive it all again. There’s no escaping it. But I guess this is what I asked for, isn’t it? I got my truth, even if it’s sharper than I could have ever imagined.
It was early in June of that year. School had let out just weeks before. My friends and I were so eager to go out and explore. We had our own little group of adventurers. God, we were a lively bunch of teens. Tommy and Ben would always want to explore the woods and search for lost treasure. But Anna and I would’ve rather preferred to search ravines for caves and waterfalls. In as much of an orderly fashion as a group of four can manage, we compromised. We decided that we would dedicate that summer to exploring the unofficially named Smuggler’s Creek, a local forest in the Appalachians. An ocean of thick forest and steep ravines, it offered an endless supply of excitement. Oddly enough, the area of Smuggler’s Creek had never held the presence of any smugglers. Instead, the creek was known for being the site of a few iron and coal mines. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Creek had an actual name. If it did, it didn’t matter to us. We liked Smuggler’s Creek and the adventures the name promised. If we were feeling adventurous, we would venture into the depths of the ravines in search of a cave to explore. But if we were lazy, we’d traverse the forest or walk down a creek.
Our focus was never solely on the exploration itself. Whatever it was that we were doing, it was a background activity to fill the rare silence in our conversation. Even in the few weeks since school ended, I had learned more about those three than I had in the years before. We each told our deepest secrets: who we liked, what trouble we caused—gossipy stuff that any teen enjoys discussing. The four of us were as thick as thieves. Hell, we spent so much time together that we referred to the group as our second family. But still, even in our family, there was a division. Not a rivalry per se, but a separation. All of us got along fine, but when it came to a group decision, we split in two. It was a separation caused by differing characters and beliefs. It was Anna and me on one side, and Ben and Tommy on the other. Ben always poked fun of how I would spend more time with Anna than Tommy and him. It made me blush at first; sometimes Anna would too. I would say that it didn’t mean anything or that it was because we were better friends. But still, I could tell he knew why—shit, I’m sure they all knew why.
You see, Anna and I were neighbors. That meant we went to the same school, the same church (well at least until my family stopped going), the same pool and the same library. When we started school, we ended up sticking together; half because we already knew each other and half because it was easier that way. We were childhood best friends. However, by the end of middle school, we had drifted apart. It was in seventh grade that Ben and Tommy became my best friends. And I was brought into their group of friends while Anna found her own. However, that changed at the start of high school in late 2004. I had almost every class with Anna (except for foreign language, since I took Spanish and she took French). We even took the same electives. Being the only person either of us knew on the first day, we became best friends once again. But it was different than before. In the two years that we had spent apart, I had failed to notice how much she had changed. She was quieter now—or perhaps more reserved, unlike the sassy cheerleader I grew up to know. She often wore hoodies and her once notoriously ponytailed brown hair draped down past her shoulders, sometimes even in braids. The change gave her a serious look but not in a bad way. During one of the many talks we had, while we walked home from school, I asked her about it.
“I grew up,” she replied with an embarrassed grin. I figure she had hoped that I hadn’t noticed it.
When I voiced my curiosity’s dissatisfaction with the answer, she frowned and, after a thoughtful pause, told me the truth. She explained to me her friends in middle school and what type of people they were. In middle school, she was a cheerleader. Popular and pretty, she got plenty of attention from everyone. Being a popular cheerleader in middle school meant that you were at the forefront of being exposed to delinquency and debauchery. She told me about the type of parties she would go to and how her friends would get drunk and hook up with guys, just to forget everything the next day.
“I wasn’t that type of person,” she said, her light brown eyes glued to the ground in visible shame, “no matter how hard I tried to be.” After a few silent moments, her shoulders relaxed, and she smiled at me. “I just had to change things, you know.” And she did. She stopped cheerleading and started playing on the high school soccer team. That’s how she got to know Tommy and Ben, whom both had been playing on teams together since the fifth grade. She left her middle school friends behind and became a primary member of our group of friends at school.
“Well, shit, that’s deep,” I joked stupidly, trying to break the tension.
She grinned at me with rosy cheeks.
“I’m glad you did,” I confessed mellowly, “I like the new you more.”
That was the day I told Anna about the summer plans that Tommy, Ben, and I had created. Perhaps it was my way of asking her out. Whether she knew it or not, I… I can’t remember. Going back there… it’s painful enough for me to relive it… such explicit detail. I don’t even know if any of this actually happened. It’s all so… unreal.
Thursday, June 15th, 2017
I still remember. The memory is as clear as day. And I keep going back… I can’t help it. It’s almost like I forget how painful it is every time I start. But I know it’s real now. I called my Dad yesterday. I don’t know; I guess I hoped he would tell me it was all just some fucked up dream. But he didn’t. He went deathly silent when I asked him about Anna. And then he told me what he knew.
On Sunday, July 3rd, 2005, I was temporarily admitted into a post-traumatic rehabilitation center. I stayed there until Tuesday, August 9th, 2005 when I was sent home. I was diagnosed with “minor amnesia” and declared functional enough to return to society. A week later I was sent to a boarding school near Philadelphia nicknamed “The Hill” and stayed there until I graduated in 2008. By early 2006 my parents had sold our house and moved to Ardmore, Pennsylvania. I vaguely remember waking up in a hospital following… everything, I guess. Anything since moving to “The Hill” is normal. In fact, it was there when I was a senior that I realized something was missing in my memory.
I’ve booked a flight to Pittsburgh this Saturday. I need to see it; I need to go back to Smuggler’s Creek. I need to see Anna. Until then, I must continue writing what I remember. No matter how much it hurts. It seems like the only way I can truly deal with this is by writing it down. It makes it real, but… I suppose it’s one step towards Acceptance.
The initial couple weeks of that summer were simple. Shit, I’d say they were great. I’d wake up every day at 8 AM, just as the morning dew settled. I’d eat breakfast, usually a bowl of Cheerios or something, and then, with Anna, would bike to the local gas station outside of Smuggler’s Creek. Once Ben and Tommy arrived, we’d all lock up our bikes and head into the forest. The gas station owner was friends with my dad so, as is common in small towns like ours, he didn’t mind us leaving them there. The fastest way to get to the heart of the forest is to take Delaware Path; a long winding trail that splits the whole forest in half. About three-quarters of a mile into the woods, the path breaks into two smaller lanes. One branch stays straight and continues deeper into the woods. The other, named Foothold Pass, stems down a rocky hillside and into a mile-wide, three-mile-long valley scattered with creeks and crevices. This valley, on our fictitious treasure maps, was the legendary Smuggler’s Creek. We often stopped at this fork in the path to determine what we wanted to do that day.
On that day, Anna plainly wanted to head down Foothold. Feeling adventurous as always, I happily sided with her, leaving the decision to Tommy and Ben. If they both decided that they’d rather continue into the forest, we’d have to settle the tie the old-fashioned way with a game of Rock Paper Scissors. However, before Tommy could utter a single word, Ben agreed to go down. Excitedly, Anna thanked Ben and began tumbling down the trail. I traced behind, trying to ignore Ben, who was staring at me with his unforgettable mischievous grin. When I finally caught up to her, she grabbed my hand and began murmuring her excitement.
“Let’s go into a cave!” she beamed at me radiantly.
There was something different in the way she was acting. It was as if she wasn’t even thinking about the cave itself. The way she held her body closer to mine. The way her eyes peered into my soul, and the way she smiled in satisfaction with what she saw. For that moment, she was the only thing that mattered to me. And for once, I felt like I was the only thing that mattered to her. Even now, I can’t help but wonder what had caused such a change in her attitude. I… I can’t find any reason why… unless…
I realize now that I haven’t made something clear. This pain I’ve uncovered… it’s not just from remembering what happened; it’s from knowing that I forgot. Before this week, I had no recollection of any Ben, Tommy, or Anna from my childhood. You understand? I forgot my two best friends… I forgot my first love. Something so clearly valuable in one’s life and I forgot it. And it’s not just that which hurts so much; it’s the fact that I still don’t remember. I can’t remember what happened to Ben and Tommy. And that terrifies me. Because I know that if I still can’t remember what happened to them, then whatever did happen is far worse than anything I can comprehend. And Anna… my memory of her is so delicate. It’s like I’m reading a horror story, except I only know the beginning and a fragment of the end. I know what happened to me, but I’m still learning about what happened to my friends. So, I must struggle through writing this all. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about them. Their memory…
I followed Anna into the deep ravine. Nearly twenty feet deep and more than six feet wide, the gorge Anna chose was the largest. A fissure of rough stone painted with moss; it was a narrow crack in the hillside. Deep cavities dug into the walls, carving small alcoves, caves, and even a mine into the rock. We’d never gone inside any caves before, but we’d always wanted to. Tommy was claustrophobic, and Ben just didn’t like caves, so we rarely got to chance the idea of going in one. It had always come to a tie that we would always lose. Whether it was a waterfall or a cavity-ridden rock-wall, Ben always found an acceptable alternative. I smiled. Today is the day.
Suddenly, Anna stopped in her tracks. She fell completely silent, peering apprehensively into the darkness of a mine’s portal. I attempted to ask her what was wrong, as we had passed this mine several times before without having gone in once. But at the first word, she shot me a look of creeping fear that sent me into silence.
“Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Ben asked loudly with heavy breath, having just caught up. “Are we going in—”
“Be quiet for a second,” she whispered with audible fascination.
We all went silent, listening to the forest sing. I half-expected Anna to yell out at any moment and smile at me with a giddy grin. But her face was far too sullen for this to be a joke. I waited, searching the silence for sound. Then, under the whistles of the wind in the trees and the chirps of birds, I heard it. From within the mine came what sounded like a… a little boy crying. They were trembling tears, like those of a kid who is scared for his life but knows that nobody’s around to hear his cries. Our faces went white as we all realized what it was that Anna had discovered.
“What is that?” Tommy whispered nervously, evidently spooked by the sobbing. He swayed anxiously as the weeping continued, waiting for someone to respond.
“It’s a kid, you idiot,” Ben quipped uneasily.
“No shit,” Tommy replied, unamused, “I mean who is he? Why is he here? And why is he crying?”
“Well, we’re not in your head, are we Timmy?”
“Shut up,” Tommy huffed, turning his attention to me. “What do you think, Ollie?”
“…The police never found Max Carter, right?”
Max Carter was a fourth-grader that went missing a few weeks before school let out. The entire county police force spent a week searching through the town and local forests for the kid. But they never found him, nor any evidence to suggest where he was. Max was last seen getting onto the yellow school bus for a field trip to some national park that day. But he wasn’t on the bus when it returned. He simply just disappeared.
“…Yeah,” Ben answered somberly, “what about it?”
“Wasn’t he a cub scout?” I asked Ben, who had been a scout all elementary and middle school. The scouts in our county had this buddy program, called the Scouts’ Alliance, where older scouts would pair up with younger scouts every month and do an assortment of activities together. When Max initially went missing, Ben took it hard. He’d been Max’s buddy a few times through middle school. A kid like that going missing takes its toll on anyone who knew him, especially those who knew him closely.
“Are you saying you think that’s Max?” Ben breathed, with hope in his voice.
“Whoever he is, we should talk to him regardless,” Anna murmured compassionately.
“Shouldn’t we just go back and tell the police?”
“This isn’t a decision, Tom,” I snapped quietly.
Tommy shut up, and we began discussing the plan. We knew he was already terrified, so we had to be careful not to scare him any further. We determined that it was the safest bet to go to him instead of hoping he would come to us. Anna figured she’d be the best one to go in first, with Ben following behind once she got to the kid. I agreed with her. Psychologically, the boy… Max, would be more comfortable with Anna’s female presence and Ben’s familiarity than with a pair of complete strangers like Tommy and me. They would try their best to comfort him and, once he was ready, help him out of the cave. After that, I would go back to the gas station with Tommy and call the police. Anna and Ben would bring Max, at his own pace, to the gas station, where the police would pick him up and notify his parents. I could tell that the whole group, even Tommy, who finally agreed to the plan, felt an aura of satisfaction that we could do something good together. We would be the heroes of the town after bringing back Max. Nobody admitted it, but we’d all thought he was dead by now. Barely anything more than freshmen, we all drooled at the idea of being a hero—arguably for our own reasons.
After everything had been decided, Anna made her way through the portal and into the mine. A few anxious moments later, she came back out, her face as pale as snow. Her eyes were stuck to me, her hands shaking, and her lips trembling. I went to her and grabbed her hands as comfortingly as I could. Her hands were melting ice cubes, so cold that they even made themselves shiver.
“What is it?” I asked her in a low voice.
“H-h-h-he’s not… not there.” Her words confused me, as the crying had not stopped, but I could hear enough terror in her words to believe her. Her shaking hands tightened around mine, and without thinking, I pulled her into a hug.
“What do you mean he’s not there?” Ben asked.
“I-I…” she paused for a second and gazed back at the portal. “Let me show you.”
Still holding onto my hand, Anna led the three of us into the cold mine shaft. The tunnel wasn’t big, but it was spacious enough that I’d feel uneasy if I were alone. The ceiling was held up by a few sets of rusted steel timbering, which only added to the already prominent uneasiness I felt. Every ten feet or so, a light bulb hanged down a foot from the ceiling. None of them were broken, yet they were still out, and I didn’t see any switch nearby to turn them on. As soon as we entered the shaft, I instantly knew what Anna meant when she said Max wasn’t there. About twenty feet ahead of us, a television sat on a little wooden table, powered by two wires that ran parallel to the one used for the lights. On the screen was a small crying boy with shaggy brown hair, curled up into a ball in a dark chamber. The camera looked down on the kid from an angle, the dim light that made him visible somewhere behind it. From the video came the sound of Max’s crying.
“Oh God, Max,” Ben murmured in astonishment, “I can’t believe it’s you.”
“Do you think he’s deeper in the mine?” Tommy asked. “What if this is just a recording and not a live feed?”
“Well, there’s only one way to find out,” I muttered, continuing forward into the mine. Every dozen paces, I glanced up at the wires to make sure I was following them correctly. I knew the wires would lead me to the camera, or whatever was playing the video on the TV. I didn’t dare to wonder why a camera would be recording a little boy crying. I needed to keep myself calm. Otherwise, I’d start a panic and do something stupid. I’d never been in any situation like this before, but I’d seen enough horror movies to know that those who freak are weak. A few minutes of walking in near pitch-black darkness and we finally came to the end of the tunnel. The wires led to a rusty mine elevator and continued down the shaft beneath it. It was simply a semi-open metal cage large enough to fit a few men and a minecart. In the back-left corner of the elevator sat another television, smaller than the previous one. Instead of playing a video of Max, the TV just played quiet static that buzzed through the shaft. The static, accompanied by the occasional creaking of the elevator, only further decreased my confidence in the mine.
Something was off. I… I can’t really express it. It’s like the feeling you’d get as a kid before a big storm. A barely noticeable, yet inescapable fear that things will somehow go wrong. I didn’t like the idea of going any deeper into the mine, but I hated the idea of leaving Max alone even more. I stopped and waited for Ben and Tommy, who had stayed at the previous television longer than Anna and me.
“Ollie,” Anna started in a clearly unnerved whisper, “I don’t like this. I know I was the one who wanted to go in a cave… I… I just thought it’d be more private.”
“I know, I hate this just as much as you do. But… but now we have to stop thinking about ourselves and do what’s right.”
“So, what now?” Ben’s eyes were looking at me, but I could tell he was focused on the static TV behind me; his face staring with indifference. I recognized that look on his face. The look of a scared teen whose too prideful to show weakness. It was the same look that I wore.
“Well, we’ve got a decision to make,” I huffed, blankly staring at the portal of the mine. “Either we leave now and tell the cops about this place, or we go into the mine and get Max. What do you guys think?”
“I don’t care what any of you guys say, I’m getting Max,” Ben muttered, anger lingering in his words. He continued forward into the elevator and leaned against the back wall, staring back at us. “You guys gonna help me?”
“But what if there’s someone down there?” Tommy started, “Look around, Ben. This shit has ‘crazy’ written all over it.”
“If someone’s down there,” Ben replied, pulling out his Ka-Bar from its belt sheath, “then I’ll deal with them.” I grinned at the sight of the knife. Ben had worn that knife every day since school let out. Ever since his dad got him it for his birthday that year, Ben treated the knife like it was his girlfriend (which probably made his real girlfriend a little jealous). He even once tried to cut down a three-inch-thick oak tree sapling with the knife. But, it didn’t work out.
“Wake the fuck up. You’re not Rambo. You can’t be a one-man-army.”
“Then be my army.”
“Listen,” Tommy pleaded, shifting his attention to Anna and me, “I think the best idea is for us to go back to the gas station and call the police. We’re only kids. We can’t just go down there and expect to save Max from an unknown number of kidnappers. The police will know what to do.”
“He’s not wrong,” Anna agreed. “I mean, we found Max, didn’t we? Maybe we should play it safe and go back to the gas station. Tommy’s right, the police will handle this much better than us.”
“I have an idea,” I started. “Tom, why don’t you run to the gas station and call the cops while the rest of us stay and make sure Max’s okay. Then we can let the police arrest whoever is in the mine without having to put ourselves in harm’s way.”
Tommy was silent for a few seconds, hesitantly cycling his gaze between Ben and me. “Okay,” he conceded, “I’ll come back as soon as I can.”
I could see the relief on his face as he hastily made his way out of the tunnel. Once he was gone, I returned my gaze to the static television. Ben stared at me critically.
“So, what? Are we supposed to just sit around for a couple of hours with nothing to do but listen to Max’s constant crying?”
“We’ll give him twenty minutes,” I retorted with a halfhearted grin. Ben sighed and began pacing up and down the tunnel, fidgeting with his knife in his hands. Anna walked up beside me and gave me a worried look. I hated how uneasy she looked, staring blankly at the ground while tapping her foot against the gravel. It weakened my confidence a little, but it was the amount of uncertainty in the look that got to me. Neither of us wanted to think about what was down there, but now it was the only thing we could do.
I had hoped that Ben would lose some of his fire while we waited for Tommy, knowing that he’d need to be clear-minded if we ever eventually went down. However, every time he seemed to calm down a little, Max’s sobs would get louder, and Ben’s pacing would speed up. Finally, he looked at me with an intense look of impatience.
“Are we gonna do this or what?”
I glanced at Anna, who in return gave me a hesitant nod. “I guess we are.” Slowly, I entered the mine elevator and stood in the corner next to the static television. Anna and Ben shuffled in after me while I began searching for the button to begin our descent. A few seconds later, I found a metal lever near the front of the elevator and, after making sure everyone was in, pulled it down. The elevator started moving immediately. Gradually, we began to pass below the tunnel at a slow speed until all we could see on all sides of the elevator was uneven walls of stone. The light from the entrance eventually faded from the elevator, the sound of Max’s crying fading with it, leaving only the light from the static television. In mere seconds, the elevator went from feeling spacious to confined like it was an actual cage. My ears began to ring as the abrasive sounds of the creaking elevator, and the static from the television intruded my hearing. Then, for some unknown reason, everything stopped. The elevator halted to a full stop, throwing all of us off balance, and the static television shut off.
Suddenly, all my senses were flooded with emptiness. I felt as if I was about to be crushed by the darkness like it would somehow seep into my body and drown my soul in the blackness. My ears grasped for anything that made a sound, filling my head with the sounds of my heartbeat and the deafening reverb of the cave. I reached for Anna’s hand in the darkness and listened to her gasp once I found it.
“It’s alright,” I whispered.
She shuffled nearer to me, and the sound of her intermittent breathing warmed my ears. For a few moments, we sat in nervous silence, listening to the indiscernible mess of noises. Slowly, I discovered patterns in the sound. The elevator’s creaks when we shuffled, our breathing’s rhythm, and the silence’s constant ringing. Upon finding these patterns, I noticed another sound. It had been quiet before, but it was gradually getting louder like it was creeping closer. Finally, when the noise was so loud that I could identify it, I realized what it was. A shiver ran down my spine. It was Max. He sounded far away, but his cries were different now… they felt more real.
“Max?” Ben yelled down into the mine. We all silently listened for an answer as Ben’s voice echoed through the cavern. No response came. A few seconds later, the television flickered on. On the small screen was a shot of the face of a man, staring with a wide yellow-toothed smile straight at me. Oh god… I remember him… so well. He had clay-colored skin with long black hair that flowed into a long beard. His eyes were black coals hung from a heavy brow that gave the face a menacing look. He wore an orange bandana on his head topped with a crooked black pirate hat.
“Ahoy, matey,” the man smiled in excitement. He spoke in a gruff accent like something straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. “I be Jolly th’ Pirate! Welcome t’ Smuggler’s Creek! Thar ne’er be any new scallywags these days. Alas, ye always be welcome here. Perhaps ye can be help t’ me… I hear ye be lookin’ fer ye mate, Maxie.” The man walked out of view for a few seconds, then came back and grabbed the camera. “Maxie bin wit’ me fer… errr… three weeks.” The man aimed the camera down at a small eight feet deep hole in the stone. Curled up in a ball against the back wall of the hole was Max. He was covered in dirt. To the right of him were two small pig-trough-looking containers, one filled with grain, and the other with murky water. “Say ahoy t’ yer mates, Maxie,” he gave a cheer that slowly became an unforgettably sinister giggle.
It was an awful laugh. It was so comically jolly, but at the same time, so creepily sadistic. He returned his gaze back to me, his wicked grin even wider than before. “Ye see, this be my mine ye be boardin’. I reckon ye be tryin’ t’ plunder me gold, aren’t ye?” He paused, staring at me expectantly. After a moment, his smile faded to a look of dissatisfaction. “So be it. Come find me.” As soon as he finished, the TV went static, and the elevator once again started its descent.
“What the fuck?” Ben muttered in astonishment.
I didn’t reply. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I was so… disturbed by what I had just witnessed. I suddenly wasn’t so sure about what was going to happen once we finally entered the mine. From the bruises and tears I saw on Max’s face, I no longer felt heroically confident that we could save him. What were we gonna do? We were just kids. The pirate had laid a trap, and we had fallen for it. He was the one in control now.
When the elevator finally stopped, we were greeted by another long ten-foot-wide tunnel. Once again, lightbulbs hung from the ceiling every ten feet. However, unlike the previous lights, they all began to flicker on within a few seconds. I now saw that the tunnel, about a hundred feet in, split at a junction. There was no sign of Max or the man anywhere nearby. I stood, frozen still and staring into the maze of tunnels ahead of us.
“I think we should leave,” Anna said under her breath.
I silently agreed, and, without waiting for Ben’s response, pulled the lever up to return to the surface. Nothing happened. “Shit.” I tried putting it back down and trying again, but still no result.
“What did you expect? The psycho obviously has control over the elevator’s power.”
“Ben, cool your shit,” Anna snapped. “There should be multiple entrances, right? Isn’t that a law or something?”
“I think so,” I muttered, struggling to think. I told them everything I could recall from all the history lessons about mines my dad gave me as a kid. If there were any other exits to the cavern, then, because of the shaft’s depth, there would most likely be elevators as well. Which meant the man could easily keep us from leaving by cutting off all power to the elevators. The only way out of the mine was to gain control of the power and turn the elevators back on. After a brief discussion, we came up with a plan. The only action to take was to do what “Jolly the Pirate” said and find him. We started by following the cables that powered the elevator and lights, which we decided probably led to where he was held up. Ben chose to take the lead, walking a few feet ahead of us with his Ka-Bar in hand. It wasn’t hard to notice his rage. He’d gone completely silent when we began following the cables, only occasionally grumbling every time we came across a sign of the pirate’s presence.
They ranged from incoherent sentences about gold written on the walls with chalk to various bottles of alcoholic beverages left either empty or shattered on the stone floor. The more signs of insanity we saw, the more disturbed I felt. We came upon several piles of bones, most were small and had many features to identify them as an animal. But it was the larger ones that seemed less animal and more human that truly shook me. I had never felt so horrified in my life. With every step, I felt the weight of fear drag my feet as if I was walking through mud. I just wanted to go home. This was supposed to be about Anna and me. It was all meant to be silly and inconsequential; to be fun… not this. This wasn’t fun. This was cruel and grotesque…
After a while of following the wires, we came upon another junction. This time the wires led towards what must’ve been a workshop. It was a small chamber with a few workbenches and shelves pushed up against the walls. A bunch of miscellaneous parts and metal bits were scattered atop each bench. I remember my dad telling me that the county officials made it mandatory for mines to have workshops built in the pit so the miners could mine themselves out in the case of a cave-in. It made me wonder what an insane man with a lot of time could manage to invent. At the back-left corner of the workshop, the cables passed through a narrow man-sized wood door to another chamber. I stopped in my tracks.
“Stand thar, Maxie,” the muffled voice commanded. “Now, don’t ye be movin’ or I’ll be ‘avin t’ shoot ye too.”
“P-please, Cap’n,” Max pleaded, “Why can’t you—ye let them take me home. I won’t tell nobody, I promise.”
“I won’t be lettin’ them take ye, Maxie. A pirate ne’er lets nobody take nothin’ from ‘im. Now, when says I, ye’ll take this ‘n use it t’ light this here string.”
“Don’t be makin’ me repeat meself.”
“… Aye aye, cap’n.”
Ben moved to open the door, but I grabbed his arm before he got to the handle. He whipped around at me, staring me straight in the eye. His face was furious, and tears ran down his cheeks. He tried to pull his arm away, but I held firm.
“Ollie, let go.”
“You heard what I heard. You can’t just go in there.”
“What else are we gonna do?”
“…I… I don’t know.”
“Exactly,” he growled. I tried to keep a hold on his arm, but before I knew what was happening, he slashed a wide cut across my knuckles and rammed into me, knocking me back into Anna, who thankfully caught me. In a split second, Ben opened the door and rushed into the chamber. I stood there, wanting to chase after him, but unable to move. I was too scared.
“Ben?” Max breathed.
Peering through the doorway, I could see Ben standing still five feet into the room. Ten feet in front of him was Max holding an old stick of dynamite and a lighter. Another ten feet behind Max was the man, pointing an old revolver at Ben.
“Avast,” the pirate grinned. He peeked around Ben and saw Anna and me through the doorway. “Ah, ye ‘ave mates too? Well, c’mon in, friends. Th’ lad first.”
Not knowing what else to do, I slowly walked through the doorway and stopped next to Ben.
“Good. Now ye, Poppet.” Moments later, Anna appeared next to me. “Hmm… Nah we can’t be ‘avin that neither. Tell ye wha’, Poppet, come here.”
“Ye heard wha’ I said. Come here.” Reluctantly, Anna began shuffling towards the pirate, but before she could reach him, Ben lunged at him with his knife. It all happened so fast I… oh, no… no… this is it, isn’t it?
As soon as Ben lunged forward, the pirate whipped the gun over and shot him in the head. A loud clack quaked through the entire chamber. An agonizing pain stung through my ears as they began to ring. It was as if the gun had been fired next to both of my ears. Instinctually, I clapped my hands over my ears and saw that Max did the same. My eyes watched as the stick of dynamite fell to the ground. As soon as it made contact, a thunderous explosion boomed through the room. Everything went black.
When I opened my eyes again, I was down on the floor. The stone felt so cold compared to the hot air. I looked around and saw chunks of rock and… flesh scattered around the entire chamber, plastered against the floor and walls. Where Max had been standing, there was now a small black crater. Thunderstruck, I continued scanning the entire chamber. Both Anna and the pirate were lying still on the floor, both covered in blood and chunks of flesh debris. And suddenly, I realized why I felt so hot. My body was matted with blood and gore and cuts from the rocks hitting me in the explosion. I couldn’t stomach it. I filled the crater with my breakfast, only to discover more remains of Max’s exploded body. I managed to stand up and struggle over towards Ben’s flesh-covered body. Blood seeped out from his skull, which had been blown open by the gunshot. I stopped. Instantly, I began scanning the chamber for the revolver. My heart began to race as I discovered that the pirate was waking up. A second later, I caught the pistol in my eye and staggered towards it. I grabbed the gun with my trembling hands and whirled it around at where the pirate had been laying. But he had already gotten up, and he now had Anna in a chokehold. I pointed the gun at him, shakily trying to aim it at his head.
“What do you think you’re doing, boy?” the man growled, his dark, gravelly voice now without the pirate accent. Anna, now just barely conscious, began to struggle in his hold but she couldn’t get free. He was so much stronger than her. Her wide eyes darted towards me, and as my ears continued to ring, I heard her begin to shout.
“Ollie, shoot him!” she screamed as I fought to get the gun’s sights onto the man’s head. “Oliver, please!” I finally found the man’s head, began to pull the trigger and closed eyes as I gave one more fateful squeeze. A loud crack rang through the chamber, and I heard a loud thump against the floor. I smiled with satisfaction, knowing I’d done it. But when I opened my eyes, the man was walking towards me… I was confused… Did I miss? Still, the man was limping towards me, getting closer and closer by the second. In a panic, I squeezed the remaining four shots into the man, one missing, two hitting his chest, and the last hitting him in the head. I heard another thump as his body hit the floor. My smile returned. It was finally over. I had killed a man, but also saved Anna. I scanned the room for Anna, but couldn’t find her. My smile faded… I thought I saved her… where could she have gone? Oh… oh no… God, please no…
A few feet ahead of me, I saw… Anna’s body laid motionless on the ground… a puddle of blood had formed around her head… oh God… no… no that can’t be right… I remember saving her… but… but I killed her… oh, God, I killed her… How did I forget? My world crumbled around me as my vision blurred and tears began to trickle down my face. I killed the girl I loved… the girl who loved me. I let the gun fall out of my hand. And with what little energy I had left, I stumbled over to her body. I remember waiting there for ages… sitting there in the dim light, just waiting for the nightmare to end. But it never did. A day later, a group of policemen rescued me out of the cave… and… that’s it… that’s what happened… there’s nothing else to write…
Monday, June 19th, 2017
I… I remember… I know it all now. So many lies… Why did I believe them… why couldn’t I remember the truth? I spent all yesterday back home, hopelessly reliving all the memories of my life before going into that cave. I went back to Smuggler’s Creek… I don’t know why. The gas station owner told me that Foothold Pass has been fenced off, but I still went. At the fork in the trail, a fence walled off the way into the ravine. There was a memorial there for Max and Ben… and Anna. I went looking for Tommy, if anyone else truly survived, it would be him. His family still lives in their old house… I visited them. Turns out Tommy continued living out his life after what happened… until he killed himself last year.
Thursday, July 13th, 2017
I remember the summer of 2005… it was… early in June… school had just let out… God, I want to forget it all. I need to escape it… but I can’t. You just don’t forget something like this… Oh, God, I don’t know what to do…
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