Day 359 of 365 in the “Marathon of the Dope” . . .
This is the short story in which Morley Fenn makes his first appearance, briefly at the end. It’s got death, horror and empty craniums - what more could you want? Enjoy.
By: Paul Darcy
Spelunkers, like swimmers, should always obey and follow the buddy system. But, like all manly men, Jake Talbot was beyond taking such childish precautions and had good luck throughout his life ignoring rules such as these, until now.
Several hundred feet into the tunnels, and with his ankle swelling up and hurting like a bitch, he was not so sure today’s choice was a wise one. His cell phone didn’t work all the way down here and there was no way, in his current condition, that he could traverse the steep and uneven declines he had already climbed down to get where he was. The last section, where he fell, was the absolute worst.
So, Jake thought, the only solution was to go deeper into the tunnels where the way was more even, and try to find an alternative way up and out. These caves had several exits he knew. What he didn’t know was how to actually find another one once he was deep down inside of this one.
He had water and food which would last him a few days if he stretched it out. That was not his real problem at the moment though. His real concern was that the batteries in his flashlight, plus the extras, would only last about ten hours. So, Jake had no real choice about sitting around hoping another spelunker would happen by, which was unlikely. He had been sure to go spelunking during early mid-week to avoid others. That choice may cost him a great deal, perhaps even his life. But he was Jake Talbot, and no bad decision or swollen ankle was going to claim him.
Rising from the cold rocks, Jake hopped onto his one good leg and tested his swelling ankle. Jake could not put his full weight onto it, but if he hop-stepped forward quickly and caught his weight with his good ankle he could make adequate time. There was also nothing down here to forage for in the shape of a crutch just a ton of rock and damp and the occasional spelunker’s trash in the form of candy bar wrappers or empty plastic water bottles.
Hobbling along, Jake made decent progress and the pain of his swollen ankle was bearable but certainly not getting any better. When he stopped for a sip of water, he gave it another inspection and did not like what he found. It had puffed up even more and spread down to his foot. His shoe looked like it was stretching to the breaking point. Jake loosened the laces a bit to relieve the pressure. Goddamn, he swore to nobody in particular, this day was shaping up to be a real ass-licker.
Still, Jake was determined to get the hell out of here and make his way to the hospital. But so far, any side fissures he had tried lead to nowhere, or choked off so he could not proceed. After about three hours of travel Jake was beginning to despair for real and no amount of cursing or self-bolstering of his courage was helping at this point.
Jake took another break to chew down some food and have a drink. He was wondering if he should actually backtrack and try to make it up the steep track he took down here. Could he even get back there now? Shit, could he even remember the way and his ankle was getting worse not better.
That’s when he began to hear something. It sounded like a hum or buzz, like a far off hornet or bee’s nest. Great, he thought, all he would need to do was run into something like that in his condition. A swarm of hornets and me, unable to run. Fucking great!
But, instead of a constant sort of buzz, it changed pitch and occasionally stopped altogether then would start up again. Very odd, he thought. Maybe it was the wind whistling down some convoluted pathways through the stone. Yeah, he told himself, that must be it. And where the wind came down here, there may be an opening to the outside.
With renewed vigor, despite the spikes of pain with every hop-step, Jake did his best to find the location of the buzzing. But every time he thought he had tracked it correctly, it seemed to come from someplace else and he was forced into more side passages. What he failed to keep a good track of was not only his direction, but also his upward vs downward advancement. If Jake had, he would have noticed that he was much farther underground now than when he had started.
He was rounding a jagged corner when he could have sworn he saw movement up ahead at the far edge of his flashlight’s range. It may have been a shadow or rock cast by his jerky flashlight movements, but had he to testify in a court of law, he would have sworn that he did see something relatively large moving just at the edge of his flashlight’s range.
The buzzing was getting louder now too, and he could make out distinct differences in some of the tones. If he didn’t know better he would almost think there were multiple sources and that they were moving around. Jake just made it to the next corner when his flashlight dimmed so much is became next to useless. Something, bats perhaps, moved quickly upwards in the distance with a flapping of wings and disappeared upwards and out of sight. He shook his flashlight hoping to get a better view but it’s batteries were all but dead. The buzzing disappeared as well. Was it possible for Jake to hear the sonar of a bat? It must be, for what else could he have been hearing if not the wind? And at this point Jake had definitely ruled out that possibility.
Struggling to fish the extra batteries out of his pack, Jake dropped one of them and heard it rolling away down the uneven tunnel. “Shit,” he exclaimed doing his best to follow the dropped battery’s sound while struggling to keep from falling again. After a few desperate moments, the buzzing returned and much louder than ever before. He had to find that goddamn battery!
Echoes of buzzing threw off his sense of hearing and direction and once the battery settled Jake wasn’t sure exactly how far or to which side of the tunnel it may have ended up. IN desperation Jake tried putting one new battery in with a dead one, but the flashlight did not burn any brighter. It was pointless. He needed that new battery and what was that horrible buzzing.
With no other options Jake got down on his hands and knees and made his way slowly forward sweeping and probing the floor with his hands as he went. All the while he was expecting some vampire bat swarm the descend upon him and suck all the blood from his body while he writhed in agony on the cold stone. But, it didn’t happen. That did not stop his mind from displaying before his mind’s eye new horrors.
After several futile minutes Jake’s hands and knees were bloodied and killing him, and he had not found the damn battery. He was about to give up when the rocky tunnel floor, at first seeming solid, suddenly gave way beneath him. Jake didn’t even have time to swear before his head struck solid rock and he blacked out.
* * *
Jake wasn’t sure what woke him first, the loud buzzing or the pain he felt all over his broken body. But, instead of waking in the dark at the bottom of some hole, he found himself in a dimly lit cavern. What he was looking at scared him into a kind of numb shock. He was lying on some kind of manufactured table and around him odd equipment blinked and hummed. There were rows of glass jars, and wires and tubes with coloured liquids running through them from one piece of strange equipment to another.
Through teary, blurry eyes, Jake could make out some sort of large flying creatures in the cavern as well, the source of the wild buzzing he know knew. He couldn’t focus on them properly through. When he tried to look directly at one it seemed to be fuzzy or distorted like it his vision was impaired. They appeared to be multi-legged and segmented like a giant wasp, but they were very dark and mottled and the head was unlike anything he could think of in the animal kingdom. The strange thing though was that the rest of the cave was not out of focus like these flying, buzzing creatures.
The pain was growing more intense now and Jake had a hard time focusing on anything at all let alone this strange place with the buzzing nightmares. The last image Jake recalled on this world, was one of the buzzing insect things hovering over him with some kind of hooked instrument. The horror and anguish were too much and Jake knew no more.
* * *
The pain was gone, but so was Jake’s normal perceptions. He was sitting on a shelf beside a lot of glass jars - each one looked to be holding a human brain in pale yellow liquid. Tubes and wires sprouted out of each canister.
Jake screamed, but instead of a human sound, what he produced was a buzzing which vibrated the glass his brain was trapped behind.
* * *
“And that’s the way you found him?” asked Morley Fenn.
“Yes,” stammered the shocked boy of twelve, “I didn’t do anything to him, I swear.”
“It’s okay, son,” Morley said. “Nobody is accusing you of foul play. You can go home now, and thanks for reporting this.”
Taking down notes, Morley recalled several other cases in the files from years back. Humans found, sometimes in bad shape, sometimes not, but having one thing in common - their brains completely removed and no trace of how it was done.
Just what the hell was going on around Chilton county? Strange lights in the sky, noises from the Bulford crags, people disappearing without a trace, and now this. It had been a bad year for Morley, but private investigators went through cycles. His luck would change. One day he would find out what really happened to his girl. Sandy Brooks didn’t leave him as the locals had believed, he was sure of that. They were to be married.
No, something, this place perhaps, took her away. If Morley had to spend all his waking hours putting clues together from all the strange cases in the county, so be it.
Next on his list for today, old man Brown. He said his cows were being rustled. Could be locals, could be something else.
Morley snapped his notepad closed and headed out to his 37 Ford Coupe. Sometimes he wondered why he stuck around here: looking at a snap of Sandy in his sunshade provided his answer. He cranked the car over and squealed out of the drive of the court house lot.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Short Story: Mi-Go Spelunking
Day 359 of 365 in the “Marathon of the Dope” . . .