September 2nd: …Simon Wegman’s hobby was Geocaching. For those of you that spend all your time indoors reading blogs, Geocaching works like this: someone puts a logbook and maybe a few trinkets into a small container and leaves that container in a secluded spot, usually in the wilderness. That someone then puts the coordinates for that container on a Geocaching website for other Geocachers to try and find. They find it, sign the logbook and maybe take one of the trinkets with them, or leave one of their own behind.
I guess it’s kind of like hiking but with paperwork.
The last time anyone saw Simon was when he parked his motorcycle in Thatcher Park’s parking lot. He wasn’t the kind of guy you missed, not with the roaring customized Victory Vision 8-Ball cruising motorcycle and bright silver crash helmet. He was fifty-five years old, had been married four times and had been an avid Geocacher since the very beginnings of the hobby. GPS and bag lunch in hand he set out for the Indian Ladder Trail.
Perhaps if he had known how many people had gone missing in the park recently he wouldn’t have set out alone. Or maybe he wouldn’t have set out at all. But as far as the local authorities were concerned those disappearances were isolated unrelated incidents. That’s six unrelated, isolated incidents for those of you keeping score at home.
I can’t know what happened to him. I can’t know what happened to any of them besides saying that they were all ‘abducted’, but that’s a loaded word isn’t it?
What I think happened is that Simon found what he was looking for, a small cairn of rocks too symmetrical to have just happened on its own. An army surplus ammunition case was under those rocks, in that ammo case a journal with a hundred or so entries, a cross pen and about thirty little monster finger puppets. You know the kind you can get at a junk stores and dollar shops all across the country.
You and I, dear readers will be the only ones to ever appreciate the cruel cosmic joke of those little hunks of misshapen plastic.
Because within minutes of finding that dollar sized treasure trove Simon Wegman was dead.
Around 7 p.m. Simon Wegman’s twenty year old girlfriend made a Facebook post about him not coming home. She wasn’t worried about him cheating on her, she knew he was cheating on her and he knew she was cheating on him. Somehow they made it work.
Her worries were not with matters of the metaphorical heart but with Simon’s actual heart. That heart had recently been augmented with a pacemaker. She knew where he was, she knew what he was doing and she had visions of him suffering a cardiac arrest all alone in the wilderness.
The poor bastard should have been so lucky.
Her Facebook post got passed around and eventually found its way to the Geocaching online community and then from there it went to Twitter.
And lo and behold one of the dozen or so remaining Twitter users that weren’t Spambots forwarded the information to the ‘Fear And Truth’ forums
Mike Whitehead the admin of ‘Fear And Truth’ had been keeping tabs on the disappearances for me. His frantic instant message sent me speeding to Thatcher Park.
I got there a little after sunset. I remember thinking to myself, “Fuck.”
No matter where I’m going I always get there after sunset.
But there was nothing else for it, I had to strike while the preternatural iron was hot. I had the coordinates Simon had been heading for, a fairly decent handheld GPS, my smartphone and a flashlight that in a pinch could probably knock someone out.
The Indian Ladder Trail begins as a metal stairway that makes its way down an escarpment. Both the metal railing of the stairs and the stone of the escarpment were cool to the touch. At the last step the trail proper begins, it’s well-worn and there are enough signs to keep tenderfoots from getting lost. It didn’t take long for the coordinates I had programmed into my GPS to lead me off that well-worn trail and into the woods that bordered the base of the escarpment. The green LED screen glowed in my right hand and the flashlight in my left cast an unsteady circle of illumination ahead of me. My tread was careful, my imagination was filled with visions of rattlesnakes, steel-jawed traps and murderous hillbillies.
I was, frankly, terrified but it was more than my standard fear of lions and tigers and bears oh my. Could these disappearances be the work of alien beings? Everyone on ‘Fear And Truth’ thought so, except for that one woman that liked to blame everything on the Obama administration.
The woods grew darker and darker as I wandered around like a legally blind Cub Scout. Finally, inevitably, I found the coordinates I was looking for.
The cairn of stones had been toppled over and the rusty old ammunition box was on its side nearby. The little plastic finger puppets lay where they had fallen. Simon Wegman was nowhere to be found. I did find the journal however, it was torn and soaked with blood.
There was blood everywhere. It had soaked into the soil darkening the rocks.
It made for a trail that was easy enough for some fool with a blog and a death wish to follow.
The blood trail led me back towards the escarpment; I could hear one of the nearby waterfalls rumbling and hissing. This was going easier than I liked. If I had found traces of one of the missing, in the dark for that matter, why hadn’t any of the authorities?
There was a cave entrance near the lower edge of the escarpment. It gaped low to the ground, it was set in stone but it somehow didn’t look right. No animal, no matter how wild, would dare to make a home of it. I was sure of that..
The blood drops led right to it.
If this had been a movie what I did next would would have sent you throwing up your arms in disbelief and disgust. You might even have walked out, gone to get your money back so you could watch something light and fluffy starring Sandra Bullock or something with a series of well-timed car chases and explosions.
I got down on my hands and knees and entered the cave.
Pebbles and grit pattered against me as I dragged myself deeper and deeper. My shoulders dug against the walls as I clumsily shone the flashlight into the murk ahead of me. At times like this you discover a lot about yourself, just then I was learning that I might be a little bit claustrophobic.
“Oh Brian,” the voice of my landlady and employer Mrs. Vincenzo, whispered through my head, “what are you getting yourself into now?”
I whispered back, “Same old same old Mrs. V.”
After a while the cave widened out to the point where I could stand and walk.
Now, I thought to myself, Here’s where I get myself really lost.
Years ago I had visited Howe Caverns for a grade school field trip. Those caves had been wide and cool, odorless and majestic.
This place was nothing like that; it smelled wrong, it felt wrong. Everything about it was wrong. A fever-hot breeze was coming from deeper down the tunnel. The walls were clammy to the touch. Was it condensation or blood I was getting on my hands? I didn’t want to know.
More steps forward, the flashlight beam lighting the way but revealing nothing. My free hand was on the cave wall, I was sure that if I kept to the right I would be able to trace my steps back again.
Assuming of course the whole place didn’t collapse and seal me in here forever. You think about things like that a lot when you are deep under the ground and with slimy rock at all points of the compass. What would it be like if the roof caved in? I wondered morbidly, Not enough to crush me instantly, just enough to cripple me. Maybe it would just be my head sticking out of the rockfall, everything else would be crushed and pinned. Oh, how I would scream.
Then my foot caught in an indentation in the floor and I went sprawling. I sobbed as the flashlight tumbled from my grip but it didn’t break. Once I had it back I hugged it like a teddy bear for a little while as the dewy rock floor soaked my clothes and hair.
“Going back now,” I said to no one in particular. “I’m going back now.”
I sat up and shone the flashlight on what I had tripped over, it was a wide depression in the stone floor; it was about the size of a trashcan lid and maybe just a few inches deep.
It wasn’t empty though, it was filled with all kinds of stuff. There were ripped and stained clothes, cell phones, ipods, plastic canteens, photographs culled from wallets and an ugly looking piece of torn paper.
A second glance showed me that no, it wasn’t paper I was seeing at all. It was a scrap of flesh marked by a tattoo. I raised myself to my knees to look more closely, my free hand fumbling for my Iphone. Which pocket had it put it in?
Then I heard the sound behind me, an insectile sibilation, ugly and beautiful all at once. I spun around to see…
I must be very deliberate now, and choose my words because I have to make you believe something that I’m not sure I believe myself.
The pale creature framed in my flashlight beam was squat with slender limbs that bent outwards and ended in a wide, five-fingered metacarpus. It’s head was smooth and featureless, set low on a thick neck. The shrill sound seemed to come from somewhere deep inside the creature. It had the cadence of a faulty motor and with each ugly reverberation the thing’s joints shuddered making it vibrate in place.
No scream came from me, I didn’t have the breath. I was very conscious that I was still on my knees, a posture perfect for begging.
In one swift movement the lower half of the creature’s face split open to reveal lamprey-like mouth surrounded by a mass of writhing feelers. The buzzing sound came again but louder this time and heavy with alien frequencies. My eyes blurred, my nose began to bleed.
Lashing out I swung the flashlight in a wide arc, striking the creature hard on the side of the head.
The creature stumbled backwards. The flashlight’s illumination flickered and went out.
I ran, not caring that I couldn’t see, that only my hand against the wall was there to guide me. Sometimes the buzzing howl echoed from far away, at other times it seemed to be rushing up behind me. Was I getting closer to the surface or was I blundering further and further down down into the Earth?
There was a flashlight feature on my phone but I was afraid to use it, afraid that the illumination might help the thing to find me. But how could I be sure? What if it had other, better senses and was just toying with me? I glanced backwards again and again seeing nothing.
Time stretched out. Every moment a lifetime. Every haggard breath and racing heartbeat a creeping agony that tried to make my knees buckle and pull me down. It was inevitable now, something would bring me down. The only question was if it would be exhaustion or my pursuer.
The third option, that the floor would drop out from beneath me never occurred at all until I was falling, limbs flailing against nothing. Then I struck the ground with a muffled crash, pain making the darkness briefly white. I more than felt something break. I had thought at a moment like this I would scream but all I did was sob quietly. The song of the creature, that ugly piping, was on my right, growing closer.
I tried to stand but my one leg was bent back. I was starting to feel the fracture now, a whole new world of ugly hurt opened up to me.
So much hurt, and I still had that half-faced nightmare to look forward to.
The flash of pain-light had faded, but there was something else. Behind me a pale yellow illumination was creeping up over another drop off in the floor a few yards away. I started to crawl towards it, not sure if i was looking for sunlight or suicide. I didn’t think I was going to get a chance for either, That droning, piping sound was too close. Were there words buried somewhere in that sound? Was it pain and terror that had me hearing the word “Monster” over and over again in accusatory tone?
It was too much. I gave up. Lying flat on my back. Waiting with my eyes closed.
The creature was directly over me. I could hear it. I could feel it. I started to cry. We all tell ourselves we won’t beg at the moment of truth but we always do. Bravery comes from hope.
Another buzz filled my ears. Then another. Then there was a chorus. Unable to help myself I opened my eyes and saw more of those shapes congealing out of the yellow light.
The blackout that claimed my thoughts was so sudden and utter that I thought I had died.
Item: I am not dead.
I was found by park rangers at the base of the metal steps that led from the Indian Ladder Trail back up to Thatcher Park. My left leg was broken, a simple fracture, easily set in the emergency room and generously paid for by Mrs, Vincenzo.
Item: The authorities followed my directions but they found no cave, just solid rock. They didn’t even find my footprints. He told me I must have fallen off the metal steps and knocked myself silly. Everything else had been a dream, the work of an overactive imagination.
Item: In 1945 an author named Richard Sharpe Shaver claimed to have encountered a race of strange, patient and cruel beings living deep under the Earth he called ‘Deros’. Despite his account being published in an issue of the weird fiction magazine Amazing Stories both the author and a good many readers insisted that the underground civilization of the Deros truly existed. Some readers even believed they had been in contact with the creatures, that they had been made collaborators in anticipation of the great retaking of the surface.
But nowadays most people now believe Richard Sharpe Shaver was nothing more than paranoid schizophrenic with one Hell of a literary agent. Still though, there’s something about the name ‘Deros’ that just feels right.
Item: The disappearances have stopped.
What can I say about that? Do you think I scared the Deros off because I sure don’t.
And how did I get out of that cave with a broken leg?
Those other… Deros, had they rescued me? The Hollow Earth version of cavalry come to save the day?
Does that mean my attacker was an aberration? A mad violent escapee from that strange underground world? Or had this all been a scouting mission that had gotten out of hand? Are the Deros still waiting for the time to be right?
I hope it’s the former. I hope that those things are content with the Great Below because, if not, the Earth will shake and tremble before them.
And so will we.