The Horror from the Deep
Only one word could be ever be used to describe it: Monolithic. Only for a second was it perceived by him, starkly illuminated by the ever closer tempest's wrath, His shadow fell exactly upon the entrance.
"George! George?" There was no answer, -of course. Nor had there been for several minutes, but he could not turn around now. Driven by curiosity and the desire to hide from the foul storm's fell tendrils of light, he dragged his beleaguered body through the wind-lashed quivering shrubs, and into the stone's still heart.
"George!" In desperation, but there was no hope. At best he had perished quickly in the unexpected squall. Easter Island had seemed a dead end in the archaeologists' search; why would a mighty empire that fled over the sea millennia ago have settled on this barren rock of the Pacific? Besides, this island was thought of as unlucky by archaeologists, (especially cartographers such as himself) as a previous expedition had reportedly gone missing around a century ago.
Having seemingly escaped the worst threat his thoughts turned to his shelter. This huge pillar was on no map; there were no records of it anywhere, and yet his weary eyes recognised the clear style of the faint wall carvings. This was where they fled.
There was no hope in waiting for his loyal assistant; the darkness outside was total, except for the few bolts of lightning that lit up nothing but the black clouds whence they came. He turned around to find that the passage extended to the back of the edifice then down, and with nothing else to do, it coaxed him further from the gale.
Quite suddenly the untamed shrieking of the wind subsided to a distant memory; only the occasional falling drops of water and his footsteps pierced the near silence. The promise of a great discovery invoked disregard of the darkness, he instead took out a small torch and proceeded. As he studied the marks that adorned the sides, it became clear that there had once been a thriving community residing in the tunnels that this passage must lead to, but no signs to suggest why it appeared to be forsaken. He concentrated so on the etchings that he did not notice the object on the floor ahead of him until his foot caught on it, causing him to stumble and fall against the wall. Retracing his steps in order to examine the impediment that had rolled up the passage, it became noticeable that this was no ancient implement. It was a gas lantern that must have been dropped and smashed.
"But nobody else has…" he muttered, before realising that anybody who had previously ventured this tunnel need not necessarily have returned. "They must have lost their way when they tried to return" The whisper carried no echo, although the tunnel must have continued for far longer than he thought. In light of his discovery he resolved to lay down stones he had found on his travels over the island at any junctions or splits in the tunnel.
At length, he reached a large stone door covered by a single but incoherent symbol; it had a clear marking indicating that the door could be opened by pressing two areas on opposite sides of the door whilst standing on a small panel. Fortunately whoever had preceded him left the door ajar, saving him the discomfort of having to adopt a position looking back up the tunnel.
Something very strange happened when he pulled the door; on the other side was a writhing mass of legs that quickly scuttled up the tunnel the moment they saw the door had opened. A few spiders had evidently been crushed, but others were long dead and decaying.
"How peculiar" he thought, as it seemed as if the little creatures were trying to get away from something. Seeing no harm in it, he continued down a few steps of the ever steeper passage to find that the passage split into two ways, and on the wall was written a short message in clear English:
"Day One: After discovering this passage when finding shelter from bad weather, the expedition has decided to explore the catacombs that scouts report now surround us. This appears to be a city of the Forgotten Empire, traces of which were uncovered Indonesia two years ago. For now we will explore deeper and return when our rations begin to run low.
Expedition Leader, 21st October 1912
Underneath was an arrow pointing left, clearly the direction in which the party had set off one hundred years ago to the day. They must have lost their way in the passages, and so he laid down a stone to mark his way and set off down the left tunnel.
Many more arrowed junctions ensued, for each he laid down a stone and followed. As he progressed, he became aware of a ridiculous feeling that he was being followed. The tiniest of patters subdued by the tunnel's dampening nature intruded his mind. His imagination, surely? It certainly wasn't enough to bother checking behind. But the seeds of dread had been sown long before, and it seemed as he turned a sharp corner into large domed room that they had been nurtured to flower.
There was nothing immediately wrong or intimidating about the circular chamber, and yet as he entered it dread took hold of him with such terrifying force that he became certain of another presence. Spinning around to restore faith, he thought he perceived a shadow on the floor that was not from him nor the stone walls. Then his light flickered and died.
Blind panic drove him to rush as far away from the entrance as possible, where he cowered before the suffocating feeling of malice, flailing his limbs and screaming like a struck-down crow, but the feeling of dread had lifted, and as suddenly as it was extinguished, his torch spluttered back to life. To illuminate no figure but another message on the wall, whatever foul ink had been used to write it was still running down the cold black stone:
"It has taken me, and it conspires to take you as well. Flee whilst you can, be wary for the arrows are treacherous and do not turn back. It is coming."
"George! Why ever did you hide from me? I thought you dead in the storm, you certainly scared me there." Amused elation quickly gave way to watchful irritation as not a sound came in reply. "George, there is no need to deceive me, I know you are there." The torch flickered once more, in the darkness more words appeared below the message:
There were two further passages leading from the room. One, that was arrowed by the expedition a century ago, appeared to head upwards. There even appeared to be light in the distance. The other was as dark as a crypt; a foul air moving from it caused abandoned cobwebs to sway over the entrance. There was no chance that he would go down there, and yet "the arrows are treacherous and do not turn back". But he could turn back after a few steps, so why not make sure that it was in fact George playing a devious trick on him by following the arrow, and then just- "do not turn back". The thought made him stop at the threshold of the arrowed door, but he continued. How could his assistant be tampering with his thoughts, they were after all archaeologists that had found a lost city.
A few steps had long passed by the time his suspicions were raised. A way down the tunnel at the first corner he discovered the second expedition diary entry, at once noticeable to have been written more hastily than the first.
"Day Two: Progress has been made, especially regarding the carvings. How peculiar that when we should be as delighted as yesterday we feel odd; there is something unperceivable in the air, it is for no better words the silence before the storm. All of us feel it: something will happen, it will not be good. Even now something malevolent watches us, waiting. I hope this is just our imaginations, but we all doubt this. Tomorrow we continue, but afterwards we have agreed to retreat and see if the storm has abated.
Expedition Leader, 22nd October 1912.
After a short gap the writing continued, this time scrawled. His imagination had by now begun to affect his hearing with strange sounds from behind.
"We have decided to retreat back to this passage due to the strange happenings of this day (day three). Upon discovering a chamber similar to the one previously entered on the way to this point our Leader vanished with just a strange, almost strangled cry. This happened as he ventured away from the group, claiming to wish to examine a carving on the opposite side of the room. Upon further inspection this carving consisted of a crudely carved skeleton, contrasting with the elegant and elaborate carvings elsewhere. We have unanimously voted to return in search of the team leader, accepting that such a thing might happen to ourselves."
Underneath was another arrow pointing further along the tunnel, evidently leading beyond the knowledge his torch suffered him and into the second chamber. Of course, he should probably return to the first room in light of the Expedition Leader's disappearance, however he was probably found, surely? Then why hadn't the expedition returned? Lost as previously suspected or something more sinister?
After considering all courses of action and their foreseeable consequences, he decided that it would be best to travel to this new room at least before returning to check the weather, if not to sate his newfound curiosity about the expedition then to at least see a few more ancient carvings.
Many hours had passed since initially escaping from the storm, the archaeologist had now travelled far into the deep unknown. Many turnings and junctions had been marked with a stone by the time the arrows led him to the chamber spoken of in the wall diary, and when at last he came upon it the noises had returned. They were at first as intangible as before, but soon what had started as his mind's delusions of pattering feet became soft, harsh whispers just beyond verification. Always from behind.
His dimming torch light seemed even fainter in the room, shadows of nothing stalked the gloaming walls. Being much larger than the previous room, light did not reach all corners or extremities, and so only after careful but slightly hurried searching did he find the skeletal carving. It stood life-sized with the very blank look that he had envisioned from the diary; it's eyes stared beyond him into the abyss, devoid of all emotion.
"What happened here? What happened to the expedition?" These low half-hearted murmurs had barely left his lips when his torch again flickered, drawing his attention away from the skeleton in an attempt to beat the light-source back to life. When after a moment successful he returned his gaze to the wall, he detected a difference. A small change within the markings, but what? Pictures cannot move. And it hadn't.
It was in exactly the same position as before but for the face, realisation gifted him, the corners of the foul thing's mouth had risen slightly. It was smiling, smiling with all malicious intent, not at the void, at him. The torch flickered again.
In the instant of light deserting him; the monster had raised one arm. It's crooked index finger above all else bent slightly, pointing up to where no one would ever had searched. Pointing towards the object swaying in the sudden cold breeze. As what remained of the expedition leader saw light for the first time in one hundred years, the archaeologist not hung from the neck until death recoiled to the ground in horror of the leader's fate. Dread once again began to consume his mind, more potent and direct than before. And at the height of his fear, George returned.
Rasping contorted whispers that were a mockery of George's voice grew louder and closer.
"It toook usss, it broke usss, it ruined us in our wanders." The voice contained no more humanity than the cold stone around him. And yet it jumped from high to low and soft to piercing at abnormal places. In this instant of panic it became clear that George had not been alive for many hours, but he was coming closer all the same.
"You left us, in the cold, and it found usss weeping, waiting for you to come out of the rocksss. And now we are no more, in the forgotten city, to be forgotten ourselvesss. By this time it was so close that freezing breath could be felt upon his face.
"You heeeded our warning not, it approachesss from the deep. The arrows are Trecharousss; and do not turn baack."
With that last word, the torch flickered back to life. The room was as it was before. Terror had replaced dread, urgency malice, and out of a passage he fled from the room, too fast to notice that the skeleton-carving now held George's head, nor the single word written in his blood on the opposite wall: 'Traitor'
Down an unfamiliar passage he flew, escaping he thought a room of cruelty. He minded still to place rocks at corners, perceiving that he might otherwise become lost. Many miles he ran through the contorted passages of the Empire, gradually widening in a way that escaped his notice. He ran as far as his fear-aided legs could take him, and as far as his arms could drag him, but to his dismay when he finally stopped he discovered another wall diary entry, nearly too incoherent to read:
"Something is wrong, very wrong. Of the fifteen that entered these foul catacombs only nine of us remain. Vanished in the night, or snatched from ahead of the party, they have been taken from us one by one. We now strive to return before we all suffer this fate, but we are lost. Ahead there is a large chamber with another entrance. I believe that this will lead to the surface, where we can escape this pit of hell. Exhausted, he did not hear the steady clinks that came from up the passage, but stood up and re-read the last part that could only be described as scrawled.
Something was distracting him; he could not focus on the haphazard script. Behind him, something was behind him. He could feel it, and felt it could feel him. 'and do not turn back', closer and closer; the urge to sun back and find his waystones overwhelmed him, and he span to begin to run.
Just then something flew past his head; it was close, very close and nearly had hit him. It clattered to the floor a few metres away; the sense of being followed had stopped. His beam of light illuminated the projectile; much to his surprise and horror it was an all-too-familiar piece of rock that he had picked up on his travels, and distributed throughout this dungeon.
"Damn!" he exclaimed as he looked back to find his assailant. There was a neat pile of rocks arranged in a pyramid, with the top rock absent. Just, he thought, like his prospects of escaping the way he had entered. The only choice left was to continue to this large room, to which he now hurried.
The chamber was huge, the size of a mountain, and lit by the luminous glow of myriads of insects on the ceiling. It was immediately obvious that this was the centre of Imperial culture: hundreds of seats ascending in rows radiating from a central podium, each seat occupied by a body. They all seemed to recoil from the centre, many had what was left of hands shielding them from an unseen foe. More worryingly, most appeared to be missing their heads and those that remained had been caved in with incredible force. On the dais was a pair of shattered chains; something had evidently broken free from them in the last few moments of this civilisation.
Beyond the amphitheatre of seats were the reasons that he had unwittingly risked his life in the first place: artefacts. Statuettes and idols and tablets were all visible in the murky green; but none shone as the centrepiece: a huge map of the island with directions to their lost lands; the light illuminated the colours of the sea around and obscured what appeared to be place names. It was far too large to bring back, but saw he approached he saw several small scrolls at the map's base that replicated the map perfectly. He took one, and turned to see if there was any other exit than the way he came.
The skulls covered the floor in front of him; all facing towards him unmoving where there had been no trace of them before. He took a step back, for the nearest were at his feet, only to hear a sickening crunch as he applied pressure to the ground.
"What? Where?" and many more questions raced in his thoughts. Of course these were the skulls of the seated ones, but how-? A last ray of hope from his torch fell on the final resting place of the Expedition, high in the galleries above. They had died in the act of opening a huge door that had not moved in time. Their decayed bodies all in a position of resignation, cowering before what would kill them.
Whilst he was looking far above, the skulls had moved in closer. Looking back down it seemed that they were amused at his predicament; mocking him. There was a single staircase heading upwards, the only way of escape if it was one. He rushed towards it around the skulls, and up into the lofty heights of the dome. Very soon he had reached the level of the great door and quickly approached it; but once again whatever infernal creature had animated the terrors below showed it's presence through the dead. The skeletons from the expedition had moved to block the door rendering access at it's just-ajar state impossible. In desperation he tried to wrest the door from it's position but to no immediate avail.
Little by little, the door gradually opened; just enough to cause the corpses to collapse providing ample space for escape. The skulls had already reached the gantry that circled the dome and in the split-second he saw them, they seemed almost disappointed that their quarry was escaping. Into the darkness he plunged once again.
The torch was now so dim that it offered little help in his reckless rush to move as far away from the great hall as he could, he ran with such insanity that one trip would send him flying to certain death, but then not to was to ensure death anyway. Turnings he took at random, as long as they appeared to head upwards. He paid no more attention to the carvings on the walls than to the way he took.
Finally, when he could run no more, he saw light at the end of the tunnel. Escape from this death-trap to the dawn sunlight seemed inevitable in that delirious state. It took him far too long to realise when he had reached the end of the tunnel, that it was no sun that produced the light, nor moon nor stars, but the same insects that covered the roof of the great chamber. The very same.
At the very top of the dome, a mile above the broken shackles he stood at the edge of the drop. And waited. It was swift, it came for him soon. He felt a single tap on his shoulder that made his spine quiver. Then another. Should he cast himself off? It might be a better fate. Another tap, harder, insistent. But there could be no escaping the horror from the deep; and he knew it.
He turned around.
We found poor Mallory the morning after the storm, wandering the moors calling for George. George we never found, partially because Mallory was unable to recount anything of that night. He was mad, raving about various nonsense that none of us could make out. I helped take him back to his house, we have yet to decide what do with him, in fact, I should write a letter to his and poor George's family today, when I get back to my house. It was very strange, I do not recall there being any great number, or any at all for that matter, of skulls in his house. They were in the most unusual places, and he seemed quite scared of them; in fact one of the few coherent things he said was 'They took me, they took him and now they conspire to take you' whilst pointing at one of them. He absolutely refused to go near them; quite insane, you see.
Upon opening my bedroom door, I was confronted by something quite strange; there on my bed was one of Mallory's blasted skulls, but, the strange thing is, is that well, it appeared to be smiling at me.
I turned around.