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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is the second in a series of three short stories I'm writing, based on creatures I came across in John Stephens book, 'The Emerald Atlas'.

Submitted: August 20, 2016

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Submitted: August 20, 2016





Toby wants to take me exploring. He has something special, he says, that he really wants me to see. Since moving out here from the big city Toby is the only friend that I’ve made. Not a boyfriend as such, but who knows? He is so eager, so enthusiastic about his plans that I really can’t say no.


“Okay, Toby. I’ll come with you.”


“That’s great, Em. You are going to love this place.” Toby looks a bit smug. He knew I was not going to refuse him.


“So when are we going? And where is it? Do I need to wear anything special? I don’t want you dragging me to some party or something looking like I’ve spent all day gardening.”


Toby laughs. “No party, Em. It will only be the two of us there, I guess. As for what you should wear....tracksuit and boots, if you’ve got them.”




“What?” he looks genuinely confused.


“When are we going to make this trip?”


“Ah, yeah. Sorry. Tomorrow morning. I’ll call for you at 8.”


“Toby! It’s my holiday. I don’t even open my eyes before 10.”


Toby was adamant. “8 o’clock, Emma. It’s quite a walk before we even get there.” He starts to leave but then pauses, turns back. “And bring some snacks and water with you. There’re no shops or anything so make sure you bring enough.”


* * * * *


Mum finds me in the kitchen raiding the cupboards. With such an early start I want to get everything ready before I go to bed.


“What are you doing, Emma?” Mum says, in her stern tone of voice.


I stop what I am doing, and turn round, a big bag of crisp packets in my hand. She’s smiling, not cross at all. Well, that’s a relief.


“Toby’s coming round early tomorrow. He’s got some sort of trip planned and I just wanted to sort out some stuff to take with me. Snacks and a drink.”


“Well, let’s see what we can find. From what you’ve got here I guess there’s quite a few of you going?” Mum asks.


“No. Just the two of us.”


Mum laughs and starts moving stuff around. “I thought it was more like an army!”


We spend a while together in the kitchen before going to watch tv. I was going to have an early night. Mum had done an excellent job of sorting out my bag, with a selection of snacks that were healthier than I’d have taken. I’d made sure to pack a few of the more.....unhealthy options, too.


By 10.30pm I was ready for bed. I planned on getting a good night’s sleep so that I woke up refreshed and ready for anything. It didn’t work out like that though; I spent most of the time in a state half-way between sleeping and wake-fullness. There was something worrying me, nagging away at the back of my mind, but I couldn’t work out quite what.


* * * * *


Okay, my grey tracksuit is a long way off the height of fashion. My walking boots have rarely been worn so I am a bit worried about them. I squash an old pair of sneakers into my backpack – just in case.


I am outside the house, ready and waiting by the time Toby arrives. He too is wearing a tracksuit and has a backpack slung over one shoulder. I look at his feet and notice that his walking boots are well worn in. Hopefully that means that he knows exactly what we are doing.


It starts off with us walking through a light mist. Everywhere seemes to be bathed in light cloud, but it doesn’t take long for the sun to break through. Toby is taking me up the mountain path and as we get higher the views became more and more spectacular. My house is just like a speck in the distance.


“Wait ‘til you get to the other side, Em. That can really take your breath away.”


As we reach the top I see exactly what Toby means. A rocky beach stretches out below us, the sea lapping gently at it’s edge. I have a city-girl’s romanticized view of the sea, but I had only been to any beach twice since we moved, almost nine months ago. I had never been aware that this place even existed, and from the top of what I now realise is a cliff, it looks fantastic.


“Okay, one last look, Em, then we must get going. There’s caves just waiting for us to explore.”


“Caves?” This was the first time Toby has mentioned caves and it makes me kind of nervous. That restless dream-state......hadn’t there been caves involved in that somehow?


“Don’t worry. I’ve been here several times before.” Toby is trying to reassure me, so shrugging off my unease, I follow in his footsteps along the downward path in front of us.


It isn’t the nicest beach ever, I think, as we finally reach the bottom of the cliff. It is very rocky, pebbles piled everywhere. There is a smell of old fish, rotting seaweed; not the most pleasant aroma I’ve come across. And there seems to be quite a few dead seagulls littering the area, far more than I would have expected to find on a beach this size.


“I know. The beach is rubbish. Nobody really comes here and it doesn’t get cleaned up.” Toby gingerly steps over a gull. I could swear it’s throat had been cut! Shuddering, I move quickly to catch him up. “The caves, though.....they are something else. You’ll see, Em.”


I was going to tell Toby my thoughts on that seagull but he seemes so eager to get to this cave, wherever it is, I don’t want to spoil it. He would only have laughed at such nonsense, anyway.


* * * * *


We trudge further and further across the beach, passing many more seagulls that look to have met increasingly gruesome ends. There can’t really be anything unusual about them though as Toby doesn’t even seem to notice that they’re there. And he says he comes here a lot.


“Look, there it is, Em. It’s not far to the entrance now.”


Looking in the direction that Toby is pointing I can see it, an opening in the rock. It’s not exactly inviting though, being small and dark. I’m not sure I really want to go any further. The idea of actually walking into this rock suddenly seems incredibly scary. There is a voice inside my head screaming ‘danger’ which I try to ignore.


“Are you sure this is safe, Toby? It looks a bit creepy and I’m not too fond of small spaces.” I feel bad about questioning his judgement but I’m having serious reservations about setting foot inside that tunnel.


Toby looks at me, gives me a smile that strikes me as being strangely blank. “Of course it’s safe. I’ve been here loads of times.” Tony sounds so reassuring that I carry on going forward, following him into that tunnel.


It is high enough, but very narrow. I do not have space to stretch my arms out to the side. In some points I can feel the cold and clammy rock touch me even when I keep my arms straight beside me. The light is fading away behind us as we walk further inside the cliff.


“Not much further like this, Em. The other tunnels are bigger and you’ll soon grow accustomed to the dimness here.” Toby’s words sort of echo back to me.


“Tunnels, Toby? How many more of them are there?” I had been thinking that this was the only one, that this was going to lead us straight to the cave.


“Five or six if I don’t get us lost. Stop worrying.”


“No, Toby. I want to go back. I don’t like it here......Please.” I turn round but I can no longer see the gap that leads back onto the beach.


“Would you just stop fretting?” Toby sounds angry. He’s never got mad with me before. “I’m going on. You don’t want to come with me, don’t. Turn round and go back, but you’ll have to do it on your own.”


Well, that’s telling me! There is no way I want to wander around this, or any other tunnel, on my own. I’ll have to resign myself to continuing onwards. “Can we at least stop for a snack or something. My feet are killing me.”


“When we get to the cave, okay. It won’t take us that long now.”


* * * * *


As we carry on from one tunnel to the next, Toby starts to talk. He is telling me of the local legends that surrounded this place. Although nobody seemed to come here it hardly seems to be unknown.


The first story predictably concerns pirates. It was rumoured that groups of them would meet up inside this cave where they swapped and bartered whatever they had been able to plunder. The stories told how sometimes there would be as many as five ships afloat on the sea while their crews were busily occupied in the trade cave. I don’t know whether to believe this or not but I admit to myself that it is possible.


Toby then goes further back in time. He tells me how a dragon lived here for many years until one day a knight stole through the tunnels and took the one egg that the dragon had been minding. Hunger had forced it to go for a hunt and when it returned there was no sight of the egg and a very strong smell of man. In a fit of rage the dragon left the cave, making the tunnel walls close up to the width they are now as it passed through them. It flew across the town setting fire to as many buildings as it could and was never seen again.


This tale keeps us going as we venture even further into the cliff. I’m not sure if it is my imagination or if the rocks that form the wall were giving off some kind of phosphorescent glow. There definitely seems to be a greenish light in the tunnel.


“We’re almost there now, Em.” Toby’s voice echoes around me once more. There is no denying the resonance now. “We just have time for me to tell you about one more of the legends.”


Toby proceeds to talk about creatures that were rumoured to inhabit the cave; creatures like no one had ever seen before. They were strange beings, sort of like goblins, crooked and warped in both mind and body, with skin so pale it was almost white. They had large bat-like ears, disproportionate to the overall size of their heads. Their mouths were crammed full of teeth that were pointed, sharp.....and their hands were more like talons, with razors for nails. The oddest thing about them was their total lack of eyes. It wasn’t that their sight was bad – they had no visual organs at all. They emitted an almost constant chittering sound and used the reverberated signals to navigate with.


Bat people! That is my impression. It all sounds just so weird but then some people will believe anything.


Toby is still talking. “Their similarity to bats does not end there though. It was said that they roost on ledges high up on the walls, as near to the cave ceiling as possible.”


“So what are these......blind goblin things called?” I asked, more to prove that I was listening than out of any real interest. They sound too creepy to me, especially when we are heading in to the cave.


“Oh, yes. I didn’t tell you, did I. They were known as the salmac-tar and this is where they dwell....I mean, dwelt!”


* * * * *


Somehow we have made it into this enormous cave. How could the cliff stay standing with such a massive gaping hole at the bottom of it? I cannot understand how the whole thing has not imploded, filling the gap as it went. It must be at least twenty feet in height and I have no idea of the width as I can’t even make out the furthest wall.


The rocks are worn smooth but there are ledges all over the place. It would be quite easy, even for me, to scale the walls. And the entire cave is lit with this green glow. I look at Toby and he appears almost inhuman in the strange light. It smells damp, musty, death. I suddenly have an intense desire to vomit.


“The salmac-tar!” Toby repeats those creature’s names again. He doesn’t look or sound like the Toby I know and I am getting seriously scared.


“I’ve seen it now, Toby. It’s great, really impressive! But I want to go now, okay.”


I start to walk back the way we had come when I become aware of a noise, a chittering in the distance. Bats, I tell myself. Bats just love places like, this but I don’t love bats at all. The chittering is getting louder now, nearer. It seems to be coming from all directions.


“Come on, Toby. Let’s go.”


I might as well be talking to the rocks themselves for all the notice he pays me. It is almost like he is in some kind of trance or something. And he just keeps on repeating the same thing, over and over. “The salmac-tar. The salmac-tar.”


Okay, I’m not going to take this any more. It can’t be that hard to make my own way back to the entrance. There weren’t that many junctions in the tunnels. I’ll do it. I’ll get myself out.


But what is happening. It looks as though the very walls are moving. And the chittering – I can feel it as well as hear it now. There, over by the wall.......there’s something moving. And over by the other wall too. Everywhere there is a movement, but I can’t make out any details of what it is that’s causing it to seem that way.


Until something lands in front of me. Eyeless, big ears, so many sharp, sharp teeth. It’s reaching out towards me and before its hands even touch my arms I can feel those razors cutting......I scream and scream for as long as I can.


I try to run. I try to make my escape, but they are coming at me from everywhere. Too many, I can’t struggle. I have not got a chance.


The last thing I see is Toby, standing, impassively observing. “Salmac-tar,” he says.




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