Prompt: You know your town is old, you just didn’t know how old until a hurricane rips through it. An ancient tree is ripped from your backyard, revealing a door in the ground where it once was.
The hurricane tore through our town like a bullet through paper. We were evacuated throughout the entirety of it, staying nearly a state over at some ramshackle of a hotel. When the authorities said we could go back, though what we were going back to was going to be nothing more than a heap of debris and trash, I volunteered to one of the first few to go. I knew my house would be in shambles, knew my relics of archeological digs were to be destroyed, knew my degrees and awards from universities were obliterated, knew the rows upon rows of books that lined my walls and cluttered my tables would be bloated, torn apart, ruined.
But I still went. Jammed in with six people into a car that’s only supposed to fit four, I idly stared out at the window at the passing plains and gray sky for hours. The vehicle stopped about a mile from town. When I got out and stretched, I found that there was at least two dozen trees and telephone poles strewn across the road, as if God himself laid down a barrier to prevent us from returning. Well, fuck you God, I thought and began walking.
The flood prevention the mayor had put in nearly a decade ago did its duty, since there wasn’t much water left in the town. Granted some parts were so dicey I couldn’t swim across even if I tried, but the sidewalks and sections of the street were manageable. Trash littered everything; cars were flipped and destroyed; the vacant store fronts were nothing more than tombstones, the large windows shattered, and their signs gone, only the faint black outline on the wet bricks showed where they once were.
After about two hours, I finally made it to my parent’s house, although it had been mine for nearly a decade. My parents passed and left it to me, at first it was weird to live in a house that I had grown up in all my life, especially when I moved my things into their bedroom, but I grew to love the place all the same, even without them.
The large oak tree that I use to sit underneath and read whatever books I could get my hands on now laid yards away down the street, a soldier that lost the war. Its long, skeleton like branches were bare, which send a pang of sadness up through my stomach to settle in my chest. I remembered the leafy appendages reaching over the house, as if its only purpose was to protect me and my home from the sunlight.
I sighed then crossed the cement walkway, went up the leaf covered stairs and through the caved in front door.
* * * * * *
It’s not worth mentioning what was left of my home — for it was no longer a place I could call mine. I kept my tears at bay as I made my through the piles of debris and my broken belongings, and out onto the back porch. A hole was ripped out of the grass, where the oak tree once grew and lived. From where I stood, I couldn’t see any signs of dirt. That’s odd, I thought. I went down the stairs and out into the yard. The closer I got to the hole, the more I realized the patch of grassland land was actually some kind of trap door.
“What the hell..?” I murmured as I knelt and touched the damp wood. It had an old-styled rusted ring for a handle, and faded golden bolts vertically down its middle.
It was if I found some secret that I wasn’t supposed to know about, like when a child finds their parents’ secret stash of XXX movies. It felt wrong but weirdly exciting. I looked over my shoulder to see nothing more than the thick, gray sheet of clouds covering the sky and the soon-to-be dilapidated house. When I turned back to the door, I took the cold metal ring in both hands and dug my heels into the wet soil, pulling with all my strength. It wasn’t that stuck, as I soon found out. It gave pretty quickly and I almost fell on my ass from nearly losing my balance.
Stone stairs, set deep into the earth, winded down for a couple of yards before becoming lost in darkness.
One part of me wanted to close the gateway and return to house, start to clean and pick up things, and plan for restoration. Hell, the house was my parent’s home and now it was mine. Itself and what was inside it was all that I had and it would probably be the only thing I ever could call my own. No wife, no kids, no fancy cars, no nothing but research and my books.
But the other part of me — the archeologist — the side that pushed me forward into the unknown with curiosity and wonder, always looking for the next discovery, always praying that I’ll find something so noteworthy that I will always be remembered, wanted me to go back into the house, grab what equipment that wasn’t damaged by the hurricane and venture down into the depths of the earth.
The other side of me always won, that’s why after an hour I was back standing in front of the hole. My wet tool belt was strapped around my waist, filled with what little tools I could find; a bundle of flares stuck out from the bag hanging over my shoulder, and a rope was wrapped around the other; and I found a flashlight, that thankfully still had a full charge. I switched it on and a blade of light fell across the stairs, but hardly pierced the darkness beyond.
* * * * *
The sky grumbled as I took my first step, then another, and soon entered the darkness. The faint pitter-patter of rain echoed down into the stairwell. As if I walked into a freezer, a coldness enveloped me. My hands shivered, making the light from the flashlight jingle. The light hardly illuminated the ground, so I took a flare out and ignited it, then put away the flashlight. Reddish light exploded over the dirt walls, the ceiling, and the stone stairs.
The corridor slowly grew wider and wider as I went, until everything gave way to an endless nothingness, except for the stairs. The staircase spiraled into a void and continued downward. Looking into the circling darkness almost made me puke, but I gritted my teeth and kept it down. My feet and hands felt numb, and despite the coldness continuing to grow the further I traveled, sweat covered my face.
“Don’t look down,” I murmured, “don’t look down and keep going, don’t look down and keep going, don’t look down. . .”
The closer I came to the bottom of the stairs, the more the gloom dissipated being replaced by an eerie blue color, as if it were early dawn, just before sunrise. The subtle, comforting soft blue that told you it was too early to be up in the morning but you were anyway. But… this blue, well this blue seemed darker, almost sinister in a way, and the stench of ashes and burnt kindle gradually filled the air.
The red light from the flare revealed the floor at last, and moving quicker, I made it to solid ground. I sat on the last step, dropped the flare, and held my head in my hands, closing my eyes and trying to calm myself down. It must have been three hours since I started but it felt like three years. My body ached, especially my legs, which felt like noodles, and my nerves were going crazy.
I looked up to ensure myself that it truly was a long adventure, as if there were any doubt in my mind, but the moment I did it felt like I was sucker punched in the gut. The stairwell stretched no further than a few yards, not even half a mile; I could see where the dirt wall came into place, and even if I strained my ears enough, I could hear the rainfall up ground.
“What the hell…”
Just my mind messing with me, I thought. The change of perception could be excused for the strenuous journey into the bowels of the Earth.
I turned away and took in where I was. The blueish gray stone ground stretched into shadows, and although I didn’t believe anything could be darker than a shadow, there was a section in the darkness that made me doubt my beliefs. I stood up, lit another flare, and crossed the floor towards the deeper shadow. The abyss surrounding me reeled back I got closer. The deep-seated shadow pulled away, revealing a large, rectangular corridor cut out from a massive wall. The hallway stood at least forty feet tall and thirty feet wide, big enough to fit at least a thousand people at once, if not more.
* * * *
I took a reflective marker out from my tool belt and drew an X on the floor, then entered the hallway. Flanking both sides, carved out of the bluish gray stone, were even more doorways into nothingness. I didn’t bother to venture down any of them, only keeping my straight course, although I marked each entrance with an X. The smell of burning grew stronger and stronger, to the point that I believed the air itself was made from ash and charcoal. I could even feel it on my skin, the soot and dust.
When I thought I had gone at least three miles, I stopped and marked the floor. The blue hue hardly helped seeing anything with the thick darkness. Do I continue or return? I wondered. I had only two flares left and my flashlight was as useless as a match in outer space. My shoulder had grown tired from caring the heavy rope and it didn’t seem I would need it down there. Then there were the obvious pains in my lower back and feet. But… this place was new, unknown, and seemed to hold a secret. My curiosity got the better of me.
“Okay,” I whispered. “Just a few more miles.”
Then I continued. I wiped away the sweat from my brow to find my sleeve covered in a black, chalky substance. Jesus Christ, the air is really filled with soot. I wonder what caught fire down he—
A thunderous grumble echoed from behind, then a high pitched wail filled the air. I extinguished the flare and began to pick up my pace, nearly running. The floor began to tremble under the sheer weight of whatever it was, and each moment the trembling grew stronger. There was scratching, like razors on a chalkboard, but the claws sounded enormous. I broke into a run, then into a sprint. I felt hot breath on the back of my neck. Sooty air flew passed me, coated the insides of my nose, blanketed my tongue and teeth.I nearly gagged with the amount I inhaled, but I had to get away. More grumbling, more wailing; the smell of decay and death mingled with the stench of charcoal.
I abruptly ceased running, I couldn’t keep going, even if the monster laid in wait behind me. I hobbled over to a wall and bent over, trying to gulp up enough air into my shaking body so I wouldn’t pass out. I glanced down the hallway to see if I could make out anything, maybe see the creature that chased me. But… what I saw made no sense. The doorway of the corridor I entered hours ago, it was only a few feet away, and beyond… the spiraling staircase.
That’s not possibl—
I heard grinding, then the corridor shifted and the floor gave way underneath me. Plummeting, black air screamed in my ears, filled my lungs; then I fell unconscious.
* * *
I awoke on the floor, embedded in a growing layer of soot. It was snowing black flakes of ash and dust from seemingly nowhere. I sat up and glanced around. Nothing but the eerie blue and darkness. No stairwell, no hallways, no holes, nothing — it was as if I fell into a sealed box.
I stood and trekked through the snow-like soot. I came to a wall and began groping it. A subtle grinding noise echoed from somewhere, and the room shifted. I heard the steadily growing soot drop into an abyss, then a doorway appeared in the wall. I went to take another flare from my bag to find the bag gone, same with the rope, my tools and the flashlight. If it would’ve been any other time, I would’ve cursed the heavens and pounded on the wall, but I was so far gone then I barely registered the loss and started down the newly found corridor.
It veered in many directions, zigzagged upwards, downwards, diagonally. At some point I felt like I was walking up a stairwell on the ceiling, another I believed the stairs had corkscrewed diagonally down a bottomless well. The stairwell transitioned into another hallway, which took a the right. Down this way, I came to a door. A normal sized door, normal bronze doorknob and hinges. It was so out of place, it took me a minute to realize it was actually there and not a hallucination.
I shrugged, thought, what the hell?, and opened it. A polished wooden floor was beyond, a soft blue wallpapered wall with hanging portraits of my father and I fishing out on the lake. I entered my house and closed the door behind me. There wasn’t a scratch anywhere, nor was there any damages from the hurricane. Dumbly, as if seeing it for the first time, I went into each room. Each one was the same as it was before the hurricane hit. When I passed by a mirror I could only make out my blue eyes within the layer of ashen black covering my face.
I moved into the kitchen and looked out the window. Billowy, white clouds drifted listlessly across the soft, blue sky. The sun shined upon the lush, green grass that even through the closed window, I could still smell. Through the four-paned window in the backdoor, I could see the giant oak tree rising out of the yard, its long, stretching leaf covered branches reaching over the house, casting shadows upon the greenery below.
I opened the backdoor, ready to take in the beautiful scenery—
Darkness rushed and consumed everything. The light, the smell, the soft gentle breeze swept up by blackness and the odor of charcoal. The ashen snow fell all around.
“No. No, no, no!” I screamed and turned to the door to find it, and my house gone, replaced by another tall corridor, made from bluish gray stone.
That’s when I lost it, really and truly lost my marbles. I began shouting and wailing, crying and laughing, taunting the creature lurking in that place of hallways and stairwells. Aimlessly I trekked through the room, ran through the knee-high soot, jumped over the piles as if they were leaves in the fall. I prayed to be killed. I wanted to be done with it all. My tears had all ran out with my strength by the time I laid in the ash, hoping to drown underneath it.
Another stone against stone grinding echoed through the room, and the room shifted.
The floor fell away and I pummeled down further into wherever the hell I was. I didn’t care anymore. I just closed my eyes and waited. After a while, I opened my eyes and saw I was in another large, square room; in another pile of ash. I heard the thunderous grumble again, and felt the vibrations shoot up into my body from the floor. The smell of something burning grew stronger the closer, I knew, the creature got.
Underneath the veil of darkness and the subtle blue color, the monster came into view. It must’ve stood nearly fifty feet tall, for I could hardly make out what it looked like. Tufts of continuously burning fur covered its body, its four legs — its claws lost underneath the layer of ash —, its elongated opossum-like head and snout. Layers of flesh flapped back with its movements, revealing charred muscle that rippled as if it were alive of its own accord.
It loomed over me. Its snout sniffing around me, digging deep into the ash. This close I could see its eyes, or what was once its eyes; deep-seated enormous burnt, blackened orbs. The smell coming off its singed fur made me want to vomit, but I kept my mouth shut and prayed it couldn’t find me.
Its head lifted out of the soot like it was coming out of water, sending sand-like dust all over me. Then it leapt into the air, twisted, and attached to the ceiling and walked across to the nearest wall, still sniffing to find me. I couldn’t see its tail from before, but now I could. Long, sinewy, almost like a vine. Rings of dark flames licked air around it, to its tip where a bundle of loose flesh hung.
Grinding filled the room. The ceiling flipped like a card, then the creature disappeared. The floor did the same, then I dropped into the nothingness once more.
The darkness swam away, twisted and took shape into an ever-changing amorphous being made of stairs and hallways, of endless doorways and shifting floors. It grew and swelled like a balloon, then burst, sending wind and rain to fall over me. A hurricane formed over everything, wind and water wiped my flesh, cleansed me of the soot and dirt.
Images of the town, of the house rushed passed my vision like a kaleidoscopic gallery. Soft, blue hues danced over my eyes; a large creature loomed above like a cloud passing over the sun.
A giant oak tree rose out of the darkness, its trunk opened like a doorway and I was drifted right in. A comfortable warmth filled the crevice and put me into a listless lull, and soon I fell asleep.
When I awoke I could hardly breath in the heat, sweat soaked through my clothes and drenched my hair. Small pin-points of light fell through a wall in front of me. I could smell rain and fresh air through the holes. As much as I could, I began hitting against it, clawing at it with my chipping nails until my fingers began to bleed.
It gave way after a while and I crawled through it, falling onto the wet pavement. I gulped up the fresh air and welcomed the rain that fell over me, washing away the grime and ash.
The sky was a sheet of gray. I looked over my heaving chest to see my dilapidated house. The giant oak tree laid next to me, hollowed out with a yawning hole.
It was weeks before I looked outside again, but when I did, the closed trapdoor was still there. I bided my time with cleaning and fixing up the house, and the town was in repair. Eventually the stores were re-stocked and re-opened, and I made my trip to the department store; the gardening section to be more specific.
I returned home and went straight into the backyard. I cut open the bag of manure and soil and poured it over the door, then with my hand hollowed out a hole in the pile. The bag of acorns were opened and one was placed into the pit, then covered with dirt and watered.
A resemblance of the giant oak tree of my childhood would live again, although it was impossible to say if it would be the same size, but it would keep those shifting passageways hidden from anyone curious to open the entranceway.
The creature, the hallways, the rooms, the stairs; I never figured out what they were or what the place actually was. There were no records of it in the town’s history, and no mention in any of the books found at the library. Maybe it was a old, kept secret from years and years ago and whoever or whatever carved it out of the earth is long gone. I don’t know and I don’t plan to find out.
I just hope the day another hurricane hits, that the new oak tree will withstand its fury and not reveal the insanity hidden beneath.
Read my previous prompt, “A Superhero’s Lament.”