Personal art completed with graphite and charcoal on toned gray sketch paper.
Personal art completed with graphite and charcoal on toned gray sketch paper.
I never paid attention to that old building as I rode my sport bike to work at the general store every day. It was on the other side of the tracks, so what would you expect? It was beyond old and forgotten. There weren’t any signs attached to it. No special colors to grab your attention.
But one closing night changed all that.
Conveniently, it was Halloween. And, of course, a full moon lit up our small town with an eerie, silver light. I had just finished sweeping when the familiar ring of the bell that hung on the door echoed through the empty mart. Lifting my head, I saw them. The five guys who paraded themselves around as the town’s gang.
The leader—aka “Swag”—peacocked up to me. “It’s Halloween.”
My grip tightened on the broom handle, ready to convert it to a staff weapon. “If you want free candy, you’ll have to go somewhere else.”
“We decided you’re going to be our sucker this year.”
“Like I’m going to let you dare me into one of your stupid stunts.”
Three of the other four laughed. Swag leaned against the end of an aisle. “We dare you to go to the Factory.” His posse silenced.
I had heard the rumors. The stories. Supposedly, the Factory was what caused our town’s erection. What the Factory produced is anyone’s guess. I don’t know how the rumor started, but supposedly, there’s a mutated monster in there forever searching for a way out. But I never believed such ghost stories. They were made up to scare children into behaving. I shrugged. “Okay.”
Swag looked over his shoulder at his gang and snickered. He turned back to me. “We leave now.”
My arms immediately crossed. “We leave when I get my helmet and lock up.”
“Well, hurry it up.” Jeers came from the rocker-clad group.
I dropped my jaw and used slow motion to pivot on my heels. I remained in slow motion as I took step after step to get to the break room.
“Hurry it up, princess. We ain’t got all night.”
The slow motion role had gotten old. But I still took my time gathering my belongings. I knew my life didn’t hang in the balance. They called themselves a gang, but a two-year-old could take them out. When I returned to the front of the store, Swag and his buddies had moved outside to their turbo-charged, four-cylinder imports. I snorted. Anything could out-run those things that possessed weed whackers for motors.
Time was very much so taken as I locked the grocery store doors. I even dropped my keys. On purpose, yes. But I made it look accidental. I made my ritual of swinging my right leg over my Ninja and settling into the seat. I enjoyed how the black metal flakes were reflecting in the deep plumb purple paint. A smudge on the gas tank snagged my attention. As I moved to rub it away, Swag pulled up beside me in his Honda Civic hatchback. “You’re going to follow me. Eight-Z, Flash, and Bats will flank you, so don’t even bother chickening out.”
My eyes rolled. I pulled on my air brushed helmet to keep from saying smart things to dumb ears.
The procession moved forward. I was in the middle with a car in every cardinal direction of me. And I realized how stupid the town’s “gang” really was. Every Halloween, they dare people to do idiotic stunts or pranks. Take this, for instance. I have to walk up to an abandoned factory that’s supposedly haunted. How, exactly, does this make them any cooler? The only reason I complied was so they wouldn’t egg my bike. I valued my bike far more than my pride.
Swag’s moaning Civic crossed the railroad tracks. Of course, I followed suit, the other Honda, a Subaru, and an Acura flanking me. We carried on until we came to the building I never cared to notice. Our group of five vehicles halted on the outskirts of what was left of the overgrown parking lot. The gang got out of their cars while I remained seated on my bike, removing my helmet. Their self-proclaimed leader walked up to me. “Go up the steps and inside.”
I merely shrugged. “Whatever.” This was stupid. But what did I do? I walked up to the steps anyway. This was for my bike. However, I did stop to take in the dilapidated building for the first time.
Vines clung to the sides, as if the crumbling cement gave them life. The tin roof had rust spots waiting to merge and eat out the roof entirely. Large double doors with dirt-encrusted windows patiently waited for a troublesome teenager to disturb their slumber. Well, I supposed I was that “troublesome teenager.” Eh, but I didn’t care. My feet carried me up the cracked cement stairs.
“Hurry it up, princess,” Swag called.
I had to grin at my defiance as I once again used slow motion. One. Two. Three. Four steps to the doors. Slow motion guided my hand to a long handle. Now the suspense killed even me. Regular motion resumed, I pulled. The door held fast. My brows furrowed. I grabbed the other handle and yanked both simultaneously. Still, there would be no entering.
“What’s taking so long?” Swag hollered.
“It’s locked from the inside.”
I heard him whine something. Then he began walking. “We’ll go around back. Come on, gang.”
I rolled my eyes as I turned to my left. This was ludacris.
The five guys joined me. The cousins, Eight-Z and Flash, were pushing each other around. Bats laughed at their antics until Eight-Z punched him in the gut. Swag and his brother walked beside me. Even though the trailing three were obnoxious, the side of the building kept my attention.
Like the front, vines clung for dear life. The roof had about a three-foot overhang, however. There were windows all up and down the wall. Three by three feet, all three feet apart. As we descended the slant, basement windows appeared. Four feet by three feet. All were covered in grates and thick bars. They had tried hard to keep people out.
My eyes studied a basement window. Or to keep something in. Shaking my head, I went to the side basement door. I scrunched my eyebrows. Ran a hand along what should have been a crevice between the wall and door. A large, rough weld brushed under my palm. Cold to the touch.
Swag’s brother, the only quiet one in the bunch, stepped beside me to examine the door. He said nothing as he, too, ran his hand down the weld. But he glanced over at me.
“Ninja, can we get in through here, or what?”
Ninja silently sighed. A gesture of irritation I understood.
Flash came up, pressed his ear to the metal door, and pounded a few times. “Nope, I don’t think we’re gonna get in this way.”
Swag yanked him by the collar. “Thanks for the news flash, Captain Obvious. Let’s go around back.”
I glanced at Ninja, who reluctantly followed his brother. Then my eyes shifted to the well-sealed door. They had really tried hard to keep people out. A chill ran down my spine. Or in. No, I didn’t believe in ghost stories. This was supposed to be ridiculous. We continued on.
A black shadow from within slammed the nearest window to us.
The guys screamed, with the exception of Ninja.
The shadow rattled and pounded the barred window over and over. With no prevail, it screeched loud enough for us outside to clearly hear it.
We all ran madly to our vehicles and sped home. Heart pounding, I couldn’t get the inhuman scream out of my head. I crouched lower to the gas tank and shifted to highest gear.
That haunting screech sounded exactly like a cry for help.
You know when you have an idea, and you just have to get it down? That’s what happened to me yesterday after I woke up from a nap. I had this idea of a shadow/darkness spirit. She was drawn with graphite, charcoal, and ink. It’s been while since I’ve just drawn from inspiration without any sort of procrastination. There was much joy in this creation. I apologize for the picture quality.
He pivoted. Stared down the tunnel he came from. The monsters lurked outside. This, he was certain. But he had another piece of armor. And it would be hard for them to get his heart now. Assuming that was what they wanted. What did they want? Did it matter? Their vile nature didn’t seem to frighten him as much. So he began a slow pace forward, the radiating breastplate lighting his way through the darkness.
Ignoring the bones lining the walls around him, he continued back toward the valley. Kept his eyes on the exit. Even when bunches of maggots dripped from the ceiling of the long cavern. Well, he tried his best to ignore that. It disturbed him beyond what it should. How could it not? Determined strides kept him going. He still knew not if he would live. But he had chest armor. That, he was most thankful for.
Then he heard it. The grinding of rusted metal against bone and the hiss of smoke-escape. There was no laughter. Not yet. But it waited at the mouth of the cavern. Paced back and forth. He could see its glowing eyes. Its talons dug into the muck, ready for him to come to it. It wanted him. Wanted to devour his soul and spit out his leftover bones. Or maybe let his disfigured carcass rot with the numerous others. His stench of death would simply mingle with the rest.
He breathed deep. Paused a few moments before stepping out into the valley. How could he face the monster? He may have found another piece of armor, but he remained weaponless. Did he have a choice? He needed to push on. Needed to find a way out of this nightmare. Perhaps the only way he would wake was by finding the valley’s end. Perhaps by dying. Was he supposed to die by the horrendous combination of flesh, bone, and machine?
There was only one way to find out. He emerged from the protection of the tunnel. The pacing creature stopped. Giving off a horrifying shriek, it stumbled away from him. While remaining close. Close enough to snap at him if it needed to. Its head lowered. A form of grating growl escaped its jaws. The glowing eyes seemed to darken.
Was it mad? He looked behind him. Then down at the breastplate. His brows furrowed. Perhaps there was a reason the piece’s owner died in a cavern. Away from the monsters. Did they not like the soft glow? He stepped forward, toward the beast. It lurched back. Gnashed its fangs. The spiked tail swayed back and forth angrily. He surveyed the breastplate again. Continued on his path down the valley.
The monster stalked him at a small distance. Occassionally making noises of unfamiliar sound. It never laughed. He never looked back. The new addition of armor seemed to have power over it. Not that he wanted any control over the beast. There was at least an essance the monster hated. Did he tease it, now? He remained at a walking pace. His toes were sticky. As long as the maggots stayed out of his socks…. Shivers coursed through him.
A cracking sound made him stop and cringe. He glanced over his shoulder. The fiend snapped its jaws, repeating the sound. It echoed throughout the valley. Another gruesome crack. Chittering responded this time. Chittering of a thouand creatures. His eyes widened as he looked all around him. There was nothing to be seen except for the monster following him. How many were there? He swallowed and returned his gaze to the unseen destination.
What else did this valley of death have in store for him? Monsters worse than the one behind him? He couldn’t see the end of the valley. Didn’t know if there was an end. He just knew he had to reach it. Didn’t he already go over this at one point? He couldn’t remember. Surely, he was losing his mind. Movement caught his eyes as multiple mounds rose and sped through the bones.
See? Who pictured things burrowing under the muck of the valley floor? They were like sharks moving under a water’s surface without breaching their fins. More cracking made him cover his ears. None of this could be reality. But how did he get back to his previous life? What even was his previous life? All he could remember was the valley. Waking up to this hellish atmosphere. He wanted to go back. But what did he have to go back to?
Shaking his head, he took a couple unsteady steps. He couldn’t falter now. He had to keep going, though he knew not where. Did it matter what his reality was? Certainly, anything was better than this. Nothing could be worse, right? He sucked in a breath of rancid air and straightened. Still, this situation unsettled him. The zooming mounds closed in on him. He broke into a run again. Not wanting to see what would finally surface. However, one particular mound possessed an unusual shine to it.
He chased it. Pursued it until he was close enough to dive. And he dove. The mound simply dispersed, bones clattering on themselves as they settled back to the muck. He scoured through the dismantled skeletons and thick blood. Did whatever creature take the shiny thing with it? He had to know what was there. Had to know if it was more armor or perhaps a weapon. Something. Anything other than bone and blood. Please let it be something helpful.
His fingers touched metal. Gasped when he pulled out a pair of armored boots. The joy of having new boots brought tears to his eyes. His shoes were so moist, he assumed they were washing off his feet. But first, he thrust his hand in them. Making sure they were empty. Thanking the mound for accidentally giving him dry armored boots, he hurridly swapped the old shoes with the new. Stood in them. Vibrations shook the ground. His heart beat fast. However, the shoes gave him certain readiness for what lied ahead.
The chittering increased, echoing off the hollow bone walls. Bone walls of the valley. He scrambled to his feet. Readied himself for an attack. Sweat beaded from his pores, though the ghostly chill remained. There was not enough rancid air to fill his lungs. He pressed a hand on his chest. Hoping to keep his heart inside his rib cage. It pounded dreadfully.
He blinked several times. Vision granted since the first time he opened his eyes. The darkness seemed a better option than this visible nightmare. Swallowing down a lump in his throat, he surveyed the dead area around him. He was, indeed, in a valley. Not too horribly wide. He reckoned maybe three football fields. But he could not reason how high the walls rose. How deep was he?
Everything appeared in faded black and white, slightly tinted blue. Except there was more red than he would’ve liked. Not a bright red. A red that had most of the pigment washed out. It stained almost everything. Especially the soft ground. Blood. Oozing, saturating blood. He fought the urge to inspect his feet.
Bones littered the terrain. No, bones made up the terrain. The walls, structures resembling trees, and he could only assume bones made up the ground underneath the muck. No wonder the place reeked of death. How many people had died down here? Was he next? He had never feared death until now. Nover thought of a preferred way to die until now. He certainly didn’t want to die down here.
The chittering picked up again. They refused to show themselves. He ran. Searching for anything he could use for defense. He wasn’t ready to use the bones of another as a weapon. However, he may not have a choice. The squishing sounds under his feet sickened him. It sounded worse now that he knew what he travelled on.
Another moist sound he couldn’t describe echoed off and on in his ear. He assumed it came from the muck until he stopped by a bone tree. Not that he wanted to stop. But he was human, after all. He needed to catch his breath. His eyes found the skeletal structure. Thick blood poured from between the spaces. Plump white specs dotted the red. He peered closer. Maggots tumbled to the ground, their plasma casing relocating.
With another exclamation, he jumped back. Careful not to fall to the disgusting floor. Maggots lived in the blood? That could only mean the larvae touched everything, too. He dared not look down. His skin crawled with the theory of his shoes being infected. A shriek snapped his head right. Mutated maggots? That was all his brain could conjure. And it wasn’t a pretty image.
An unsettled breeze passed his left. He pivoted, but nothing could be seen. He didn’t understand. What good was this new-found sight if he couldn’t see what truly hunted him? Glancing around, he jogged forward. The soaked bottom of his pants slapping his legs. But he still dared not look down. He kept his eyes on the darkness out of reach up ahead. This valley had to have some sort of end. Surely it couldn’t go on forever.
Or did it? He paused at this thought. What if he made a never-ending loop? Never meant to find the end. Caught in an eternal cycle of hellish nightmares. He didn’t know where this valley existed. Didn’t know if he existed any more. Refusing to accept this as his fate, or as fact, he pushed on. What else would he do? Stand and do nothing?
The unnatural cackle reverberated off the valley walls. He swallowed. Not this again. He had no weapons. Which still wouldn’t do any good if he couldn’t see the thing. Another round of laughter stood his hair on end. It edged closer. The creature made its way toward him. But he couldn’t tell which direction it came from.
Cracking bones made him cringe. Covering his ears, his eyes widened. A mound of bones rose in front of him. The form shifted and settled, sending blood in every direction. Its size increased with every passing moment as it emereged from the ground. Until it reached roughly twenty feet high. Then the creature shook off the mess of bones and muck, revealing its true form.
Its body comprised of a grotesque mixture of robotics, bones, and decaying flesh and muscle. Front haunches peaked its height as its back sloped to a mechanical tail ending in a spike. Black ooze and green-tinted liquid seeped from all parts of its body. Thick smoke escaped its spine grinding into place. A large, mutated animal skull served as its head, eyes glowing bright red.
He backed away in horror. Chunks of rotted flesh, swarming with fat maggots, fell to the ground. How was he supposed to fight this? Wicked laughter escaped the nightmare’s jaws. A constant sound of moving bones headed toward his back. He glanced over his shoulder. Something burrowed under the muck to get him. Once again, he had no choice but to run.
A serrated metal talon from the beast in front of him barely missed his head. Falling to the ground, he rolled back to his feet. Dodged the skeletal maw. More laughter sounded. He did not look behind him. But this was the creature that chased him before? Why did he have to put the belt on? Why did he have to see? He liked the darkness better.
The moving mound caught up to his left. It swelled like a wave ready to burst free from the ocean of blood. A cave in the valley wall caught his eye. Vaulting the mound, he made a break for it. Pumping his weakening legs as hard as he could. He barely made it into the carven as the mound mowed by. Fought his breath trying to escape. His eyes adjusted to the dim light.
Then he squinted. A white haze pulsated from the back of the cave. Curiosity sunk in. He crept to the source of ligt. A shriek from outside quickened his pace. Nothing but more skeleton piles lined the back wall. He fell to his knees and pushed bones out of the way. Ignoring the sound of feeding maggots. A breastplate emerged. And it was the cause of light. He ripped the piece of armor from its previous owner. Slipped it over his head. His chest swelled. The breastplate filled him with a righteousness he had never known before.
His eyes fluttered open. Vision clearing longer than he would’ve liked. A ghastly chill stole away any heat his body produced, yet his breath was not visible. He thought his eyes still needed adjusting. The darkness seemed darker than normal. Where was he? Lifting his head, he saw a faint light far above him. He reasoned he sat in a deep valley. A valley full of shadows. He covered his nose with an arm as all his senses became aware. A valley full of shadows that reeked of death. High pitched shrieks made his skin crawl. He feared evil.
Pushing himself to his feet, he reached out for something to grasp. Nothing could be seen in the darkness. He stumbled a few steps forward. Fell back to the moist ground. Moist with what? He raised an unseen hand to his nose. It smelled metallic. He rubbed his fingers together. It was sticky. Blood? It had to be blood. A chill worked its way down his spine. Where was he?
“Hello?” he called. “Can someone help me?” His voice echoed into the distance. Chittering made him whirl around. “Who’s there?” Shrill laughter consumed the damp air. He desperately searched the void. His vision refused cooperating. Or could it really be that dark? Movement brushed the back of his neck, standing his hair on end. He flung an arm. Hoping to strike something.
The chittering picked up again. This time, it seemed all around him. Was he surrounded? By what, though? The survival classes he turned down sounded fantastic right now. But he didn’t even know how he ended up here. He had no memory of previous events. Did someone knock him out and drag him here to die? But where was he?
He took a curious step forward. The ground squished beneath his feet. His stomach churned. He didn’t want to know. Though his imagination suddenly became creative. He tried blanking his mind, but every grotesque squish branded new images. The smell of this place alone made him want to vomit. What horrid thing could be rotting so badly? The foreign creatures?
A rush of air on his left froze him. Whatever loomed out there was venturing closer. Swallowing, he continued. The mushy ground becoming deep enough to swallow his feet. His skin writhed as the presumed blood soaked through his shoes and socks. Why was he here? What sin had he committed to deserve this fate? If memory served him well, he wasn’t a psychopath murderer or anything of that nature. Was this Hell?
Silence became evident. The creatures had stopped their unintelligible babble. His head became a swivel. That couldn’t be good. “Is this Hell? Are you demons?” A sharp hiss filled his ears. Grimacing, he fell to one knee as the sound continued grating his nerves. But then it stopped. As abruptly as it started, it ceased. He looked around again. The darkness had not lightened.
Maniacal laughter filled the void. Rising and lowering in non-patterned pitch. Three, four, ten breezes passed him by. If he didn’t move, death would surely be upon him. He continued his sloshing pace. The laughter followed. Glancing over his shoulder, he still saw nothing. The unnatural sound continued at an accelerated pace. He pushed on. Broke into a full sprint, which proved difficult.
He had a good pace going. Though he ran blindly in the darkness. The creature yeilding the laughter pursued closer. He heard its breathing, heard its claws scathing the ground through the muck. It should’ve overcome him, but it didn’t. It remained a few steps behind. He didn’t know why. He expected searing pain at any second. Expected jaws to crush his bones. But nothing of the sort happened. It enjoyed chasing him, enjoyed teasing his life.
His legs burned as he pushed himself harder. He didn’t think he could run faster, but he had no choice. Part of him wished the thing would get it over with. He hated this predator and prey game. His lungs felt like they would explode from the lack of clean air. The stench prickled his nose worse the further he progressed.
The hellish fiend behind him gnashed at his heels. Crying out, he stumbled forward several steps before tripping over a stiff obtrusion. The fell beast passed him over in a great rush of wind. He covered his head until he knew it passed. Remained still, listening. Waiting. Nothing made a sound. The silence terrified him.
Leaning back, he caught his breath. Allowed the coolness of the muck to soothe his limbs. Though he still assumed the substance was blood that would never dry. So he sat covered in some other thing’s blood? He pushed the nasty though away. Mud covered the ground. Sure it was mud. He could believe that. Why would blood cover a valley floor anyway? Assuming he was in a valley. Where on earth was he?
He shifted his weight, and his hand brushed up against the thing behind him. His heartrate increased from excitement. Was it something he could turn into a weapon? Something he could defend himself with? He felt along the object. Stomach bottoming when he put together it was a mangled skeleton partially sunken in the muck. He jerked his hand back, but metal brushed his fingertips.
A sword? He prayed it was a sword. Almost reluctantly, he returned his hand to the pile of bones. Felt along the metal. His heart sank when he realized it was nothing but a belt. Yet, he fumbled with it until it could be removed. Sat with it in his lap. Waiting for the creatures to devour him. Waiting for death to crawl upon him. All he received was silence.
Clearly, he had no other option but to move. Unless he wanted death by starvation and dehydration. He would rather the unknown beasts shred him. Perhaps there was light at the end of the tunnel, not just far above him. He decided on keeping the metal belt. Who knew? Maybe it would come in handy. He strapped it around his waist. Screaming, he fell back over the skeleton. The belt granted him the truth of the valley.
Weapons were made to harm others, not yourself. She repeated this over and over in her mind. Hot tears streamed down her cheeks. How many times had he told her that simple phrase? How many times had he walked in on her when she held the dagger to her wrist, contemplating whether or not she should do it? Too many for her to remember. She held the dagger now. Fingers trembling. Palm sweaty. Here they were again. He begged her to put down the weapon as she tightened her grip on the smooth handle. But this time he was on the floor. This time she stood above him. And she still had the dagger. She refused to live this life any longer. Her whole body trembled. Breaths coming in short bursts. Sweat beaded on her neck and forehead. The one light slowly swung back and forth. Shadows coming and going. All she could hear were his desperate pleas. How many times had he tempted her to take her own life? Where do you think she even got the blade? Weapons were made to harm others, not yourself. Oh, she was going to harm another alright. She would harm him so he couldn’t tempt any other naive souls to bleed themselves to death. Death…it sounded so sweet and comforting. Sounded familiar. She looked at her wrists. Both had scars running across her main veins. Her flesh was pasty and white. What…? Death. Her eyes lifted. The sensation of tears and sweat fading away. She was dead. She had bled herself to death. By the manipulations of him. She was dead and could no longer be killed. So she plunged the dagger into his heart. Watching him choke on his own blood filled her with so much satisfaction. He tried holding on, but the light faded from his eyes. A faint smile touched her blue lips. Weapons were made to harm others, not yourself…