This Week’s prompt: 101. Hideous secret society—widespread—horrible rites in caverns under familiar scenes—one’s own neighbour may belong.
The Prior Research:Conspiracy!
After the fifth surveyor refused to go down to Elderbir, I just accepted I had to do it. I’d been down there already once this year—my pa insisted in being buried in the cemetery down there, with the rest of the Bulric family. It had been a bit harrowing, a lot of unfamiliar faces among the stones. Mom and I never really came back home. But they all knew me too—apparently my dad was proud of my practice. Talked all about it all the time.
That sort of reception made the first surveyor’s response a bit odd. They said they wouldn’t be able to complete the survey do to unexpected hazards. The next two just wouldn’t go out that far. Fourth sent me a bill for their trouble, and said it wasn’t possible to fully inspect the house without further payments. And number five just came clean with it.
“Yeah, listen, Bobby, listen. We went out there, started doing some measurements and such. And these guys—these guys started poking around. Asking questions. One of them was leaning against a truck, patting a hunting rifle. Another had a hammer—no a mallet, and was talking about some big holes they had dug to find a broken pipe. I’m not saying it was a dangerous situation. But I’m not heading back out there, no way no how.”
Which…okay. To be honest, as I pulled up outside the house, I had to admit. It was an isolated big house, atop a hill, nothing for a good half a mile. Not exactly a welcoming place. The survey info I did have—which was a bit old—said the entire place was on a limestone shelf. Which…well. Not a great place, all things considered.
I ran into Joe while I was going out for my second suitcase trip.
“So, finally moving back in?” Joe said, leaning over the wooden fence. “It’d be nice to have a Bulric back in the neighborhood.”
“For now, for now.” I said, sighing. “Just getting a feel for the place you know? Before I decide anything.”
“Decide anything…you’re not really thinking of selling it, are you? I thought those guys that came down worked for the bank.”
“Well, glad to know you gave them the Elderbir welcome.” I said, lifting the trunk out. “But I figure I’ll give it a try for a bit—I can work from home well enough, take a good hard look at it all you know?”
“C’mon Bob, wasn’t seven years a good enough look.” Joe said, laughing. “Remember that time you snuck into the cupboard and it fell down? Your dad and I had to both lift it all back up again.”
“Twenty years makes it tricky to remember.” I said. And I was four at the time, Joe.
“You know, if your looking to sell…I think old Mr. Joneson would give a decent price.” Joe said, scratching his head. “Keep it in town you know.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” I said, raising an eyebrow. Mr. Joneson wasn’t exactly known for his generosity—I’d rather not sell to a miser.
The lights and gas and water were all still on—good for this brief habitation, although I wondered where the money was coming from. I hadn’t done the leg work of calling banks about…well. There was a few cable bills and advertisements in the mail. More awkward phone calls.
The wind battered at the window panes, and it was a bit hard to see outside. Most of the area was a field—the limestone around it meant the roots didn’t go too deep. Not great for farming, I understand, and even a brief walk around had found some sink holes and dips. The entire house seemed to creak and moan under the weight of the storm. It was so bad, I could barely see the fence—and too loud to sleep well. An empty house is already far too loud.
The only thing I could make out that night was a small shape at the edge of the property—looked like a big dog poking at the fence. Too tired to really read, I focused on the shape for a bit as it prodded around. Poor thing was probably looking for shelter. I was sad the thunder scared it off.
I met with Mr. Joneson about his offer—about 15k for the whole place, which I politely said I’d consider. I mean, it was better than literally nothing. But a large quaint country house? I figured I could get more. Wasn’t like Mr. Joneson needed another house anyway. He and his owned like half the town even when I was growing up. I could cut down the price for someone needy but, well, he could do better.
Given the rain last night, I thought now was a time to get to know the land better. To walk about and see the newly formed lakes and dips that formed in the field. Not stuff to include when you sell a place, but you never know what you’ll need to know. Before I got far, however, I spotted a weird…color on the hill behind the house.
Not that weird, but…leaning down, it was a dull grey. The dirt had washed away to reveal a smooth gray—cement. I dug a little with my hands. Whatever it was, it was pretty big. I came back with a shovel and started clearing it out. It was a misshapen lump—about eight feet tall at the tallest. Tapping it, there wasn’t anything on the other side. There was a…well, something drawn on the front with faded chalk. I still have no clue what it means.
And well. Something beneath the house? That was something I needed to know more about.
“Doing some home improvement?” Joe asked as I took the heavy tool box out of the garage.
“Yeah, found some old planks that need to replaced.” I said, nodding a bit, and looking towards the cement. “That and some rocks that need moving—hey, did pa mention anyone else living here? Do any improvements or the like since I left?”
There was something about Joe that had me a bit on edge. Something vaguely menacing about his stops…Maybe it was just this house putting me on edge.
“Not that I remember—I mean, he wasn’t toolsy, you know?” He said, shrugging. “Figure you’d know more than me, you know?”
“Yeah, well, he wasn’t always the quickest to talk about things.” I said, shrugging and heading back around the house. “Chat later, want to get this done while there’s still daylight.”
It took twenty minutes of hammering—I’m sure someone noticed or heard the cement cracking as I hammered away. It two and a half inches thick, and I didn’t even clear out all of it. Just enough to get in and under, into an old limestone cave.
I remembered this, from when me and mom still lived here. I vaguely remember old caves in the hills, that I thought were full of dragons and treasure. I didn’t remember one beneath the house.
Taking a step in, I saw the remains of a wooden scaffold—probably what was used to hold the cement when dad poured it. But why seal up an old cave? I get filling it, I guess. You know, prevent a sink hole from forming right under the house. But this was…not that.
A bit of that childhood wonder took hold of me. Maybe there was treasure down here. Maybe some inheritance that had waited long forgotten. Maybe some old film reels covered in salt or books promising land somewhere far away. Who knows?
So I clicked on the flashlight, and began to go down deep. The tunnel was wide—and carved out in places, to keep it wider. Eventually the curves and almost organic appearance of the cave was chiseled away—and eventually, maybe five minutes of walking down the dark passages, I came across the arch.
The top was hewed from the rock—maybe from some huge broke stalagmite. The sides, though, were heavier and stronger—granite blocks. Carved on them were two great serpents, one uncoiling top to bottom, the other bottom to top. The snakes both ultimately emerged from the Janus like head at the top of the arch—a three-eyed figure, with a third eye between the two faces’ ears.
And from the room came strange smells, of burnt hair and alcohol. Walking through, I found wooden chairs arranged, and broken bottles of wine—mostly pushed or swept to the side. There was…a stone something there. I think. It was…porous to the touch. Felt almost like a big stone sponge…and as I touched it, I felt something sticky stained on it. Red…wine maybe?
There were other tunnels from the big room—other carved arches. Along the walls were drawings in chalk—a few I think were portraits but others were just elaborate fractal shapes. So many looked like eyes…eyes in the great, dark, quiet place. I coughed a little—and heard it echo in all directions, bouncing around. It sounded like something growling in the dark.
This wasn’t old stuff. That meant someone had been here recently. And that therefore, someone had been beneath my house recently, and that someone couldn’t have left through concrete. So. Down into the echoing tunnels I went. Just me and the stone and the terrible echoes of my own footsteps. Always just behind me.
Two went nowhere. They went to just—more concrete…But the third. The third went to a big metal door. A big metal door that I heard sounds from the other side of. I think I heard Joe say something. I think it was Joe. It was hard to make out. It didn’t sound happy.
I heard something clatter behind me. Down back where I came. Some…maybe some wind had knocked something over. I slowly walked back down that cavernous route. I heard the crunch of broken glass beneath my feet, echoing out again. Echoing back, echoes in echoes. As I came back into the main chamber, with it’s walls crowded in eyes and the sticky smell of alcohol and burnt hair. And there was…just a knocked over candle, dripping wax.
Dripping wax down…onto some squirming small shape. Something like a spider beneath the wax. A bunch of unfurling legs, pushing up against the wax. A breath of warm air in the deep…Something was here with me. Something was here, just out of sight, in one of the corridors, in the echoing. Something.
I don’t remember running out of the tunnel and pushing the concrete back into a crude covering. I just found myself forcing the layers of dirt onto the shards and chunks of concrete that I had piled at the exit. I locked the doors that night, locked the windows as best I could.
I turned all the house lights on. I couldn’t stand the dark. I still…there were these little patterns in the wall at night, that looked like they were eyes. They weren’t, just wears in the wall paper or tiles that had an odd crack. Just the normal shapes of an old house, that looked and felt like eyes.
I couldn’t sleep, so I just paced the halls that night. Still keeping all the lights on. I’d say I was going through some things if I was asked. I just couldn’t sleep. The storming outside had continued with earnest that night, rain pelting the roof and thunder shaking the walls.
It was while I was pacing, checking the window locks, that I saw something out back. There were five or six people down there, huddling at the bottom of the hill, around the concrete. That damned dog was with them too. I couldn’t hear them over the wind and rain. I could see one had a baseball bat slung over his back. He occasionally tested it’s weight.
They split up after a bit, and started walking around the house. I followed the one with the bat. He tested some of the windows, tapping them a bit. They marked a few spots with chalk. I followed them all the way around to the front, where they piled up into a truck. I think it was a red truck—maybe it was Joe’s? It was parked behind a big tree, branches and leaves covering their exit.
I was at the local diner early that morning. I didn’t sleep after that little visit. I didn’t bother. I had showered, stretched, and in a haze made my way to get some food to ground me and some coffee to replace the lack of rest. As the waitress left, I heard the door chime open. In walked Joe, Mr. Joneson, and another guy wearing a black hoodie. I opened the menu to cover my face as they ordered—but I heard the other guy murmur something and some shuffling.
Sure enough, their they were in the booth across from me.
“Hey, Bobby. How’s the house going?” Joe said, smiling. His hair was still wet. Maybe he’d just gotten out of the shower.
“Going fine.” I said slowly, eyeing the other two for a moment.
“Yeah, Peter here says you were doing some digging out back.” Mr. Joneson said, nodding to the mystery man. “You gotta be careful doing that. Dig up too much, and you’ll hit the old limestone.”
“Dangerous, dangerous stuff.” Peter said, shaking his head. “Storms lately, that’ll wear down fast.”
“Might even open up a sinkhole or something beneath the house.” Mr. Joneson said, nodding. “That’d be a damn shame really, costly too. Real costly, and a historic house gone too. Got to be careful what you start digging around town.”
I nodded slowly, bridging my fingers. I was too tired for this. Too tired to deal with any of this.
“Yeah.” I sighed. “Yeah. You know, I can’t be here keeping up with it constantly. And…well. Maybe it’d be best to leave it with someone who knew it as well as you do.”
“That quick a turn around?” Joe said, raising an eyebrow. I shrugged as I sipped my coffee.
“Fifteen thousand, it’s yours.” I said, waving my hand. “Can’t really sleep there anyway, and it might be falling apart. Sinkhole underneath the place would shatter the value. Take it off my hands, and were’ in the clear.”
I don’t know why Pa left it to me—maybe he didn’t know about what was going down there. Maybe he thought I’d never check…or maybe he thought I’d be thrilled. Maybe it was some sort of attempt at a patch up. I don’t know. It was a nice house. But frankly, I think if I was there another week, I’d have gone missing. Hell, no wonder half the surveyors ran off.
I’ll be glad if I never hear about the house again. I’ll be glad if it never rains again—and I never think, for half a second, I see someone at the door on a rainy night. And those eyes…those eyes.
I’m mixed on this end to the decade story. On the one hand, I like the build up to the discovery of the cave–and I even like parts of the cave. I think the ending, however, is far too sudden and anti-climatic. If I had an appropraite second prompt, I might follow up the ending, and have the horror follow Robert home or trap him in the town–just walking away is simply a bad ending. But the story had been delayed long enough…Perhaps next year for Patreon, I’ll come back to Elderbir a fourth time. Speaking of:
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