Beside The Caves

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic


A chance encounter brings back haunting memories and tragedy.

Submitted: August 08, 2018

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Submitted: August 08, 2018

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Beside The Caves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ronan came to an abrupt halt, as nameless faces roamed the high street assuming nondescript expressions.  His heart pounded, the afternoon sun searing his eyes, blazing through orbs mercilessly, permitting nowhere to hide - he did not want to look back.

He could have kept walking, willing the coil of panic to dissipate, releasing paralysed limbs into his control once more.  That would not happen. 

The spectre had been fleeting; a momentary visitation from his history with no recognition or salutation as the man brushed passed him, older, but still with hard face of granite which evoked fear by merely glaring in a child’s direction. 

That was when he had last seen it - as a boy; the pale visage like the chalky manicured fingertips that belonged to it, writing perfect script on black board, smooth and brittle, white dust caked to black cuffs and cassock.  There had been no serenity there, no pity or human fellowship- instead a rage- held in, confident of unrepressed expression at a more suitable time.

He turned on his heal, in reluctant pursuit of his phantom.

 As he continued past shops declaring bargains to the gullible, he knew that ghosts really did walk these ancient streets – he was following one, not dead, but once thought of as the demon slain, from age if nothing else.

Ronan was near the end of a long through way, which led him out into an area of old architecture formed into a perfect square, houses all uniform in Georgian splendour, embraced by a large park bordered on every side by black painted railings.  He scoured every inch for his quarry, almost relieved at not spotting him.

He stood at the public gate, then entered timidly.

 The afternoon had grown cool, a slight breeze caressing the neatly kept hedging, ruffling the varied plants with concern as though trying to take away a deep and cutting frown.  Ronan noted the few patrons, sitting on benches with crumpled newspapers, or mothers with children by the hand, protecting them tightly – not permitted to play.

He drew towards the dark lake where even daylight was afraid to penetrate and heard the voice

 “Sorry, what?”

The phantom gestured with his forefinger and thumb.

“Do you have a cigarette?”

Ronan’s hand went to the breast pocket of his shirt while approaching the sitting figure on the bench.  There was a slight tremor in his hand as he held the cigarette out towards the reaching claw, which snatched it zealously.

“Thanks.  I was gasping for one, been trying to quit.”

A waft of blue smoke ascended into the air like incense.

“Nice, this time of evening.”

Ronan nodded.  “Yeah, peaceful here.” After a pause “You on your way from work?”

 “I’m retired, actually.”

 “You look like a teacher.”

The man looked at him sharply.  “What makes you say that?”

“I dunno.  It’s like being a guard; you can always spot one out of uniform.”

His companion nodded.  “I guess.”

The cigarette had been sucked away and was flicked into the lake.

“Well, it’s been nice meeting you.  Thanks for the smoke.”

The phantom was rising stiffly to leave.

“I was going for a drink; don’t suppose you’d like to join me?” Ronan offered.

The middle-aged man was appraising him now, sizing Ronan up in a way that made his skin crawl.

“Well…sorry, what’s your name?”

“Ronan.”

“I’m Phil, by the way.  What I was going to say was I hadn’t really planned on it, although I do have a nice bottle of double malt at my house.  Do you drive?”

***

He could have said no - one of those defining moments that alter personal biographies irrevocably.  Even as the car doors closed in the underground car park, there was a chance the demon would bolt away from him, disappearing forever except when Ronan dreamed at

night.

As they reached the city limits, on through anonymous suburbs, both were silent.  Fleeting faces zipped past in an instant, pursuing the daily act of living, but none of them were totally innocent; men cheating on their wives or taxes; bells chiming in apartment blocks where brothels were hidden; children climbing up walls to escape another parental beating.

The landscape changed in a millisecond and the sea cut through man made vistas like an apparition.  It was getting on towards late evening, the sky darkening, threatening rain that seemed to draw heat away from the earth, leaving her forever cold.

“Almost there,” Phil was pointing, “Just at the top of the hill.”

The house was larger than it had a right to be, as the dipped headlights announced the way up the narrow drive.  Phil undid his seatbelt with Ronan slower to do so.  They were alone now.

“No one else here, Phil?”

“I like the solitude.”

The hall lights flicked on, illuminating a long hallway with a thick muddy wine threadbare carpet running its length, a lonely coat stand the only piece of furniture resting upon it.  A large mirror hung slightly off-centre on a flaking wall, where tiny grains of paint lay on the floor like ancient dandruff.  A staircase perched between the ground and first floor.  Despite the luminosity, shadows seemed to cling tightly to the corners like a rigid spider’s web.

“You go on in, on your left, Ronan.  I’ll fix us a drink.”

Phil reached around a corner of the wall distractedly, putting another fingerprint on a light switch, then disappearing straight ahead, leaving his guest to enter.  The room was spacious, the wooden floor once highly varnished, a large grubby rug placed in the centre, frayed edges turning up.  A television languished in the corner opposite a bargain basement settee, while several over laden bookcases looked on dispassionately. 

Ronan removed his jacket, catching sight of the few pictures designed to mark it as a home, innocuous and superficial.  The smell of must and damp hung in the air like an invisible haze.

 The daylight had transformed from blue and maroon to deepest, secretive dark, the shadows inspiring depression.  It took a moment, but the gentle roll of the sea echoed from somewhere below the house, always ready to swallow the unwary, careless walker.

“Living in the city, it would take you a while to get used to it.”

The phantom was standing behind, glass in each hand.

Ronan nodded, “Soothing, though.”

His host joined him, handing over his drink, which he sipped gently.

“Not always.  We can have pretty rough storms up here.”

The air of anticipation was palpable – with an edge to it, not excitement, but menace.  Phil beckoned towards thee settee.

“Why don’t we sit down, take a load off. Want another drink?”

Ronan nodded in the affirmative, knowing the phantom would not drop him back into town after a second generous glass of hospitality

***

What had been his plan?

 His mind cast up a number of scenarios, but his quarry passed out beside him with an empty bottle had not figured in his thinking.  Now contemplating the slumbering figure beside him, he realised that this was to be an anti-climax; there would be no confrontation. The things he needed to say – which had been spewed out like vomit to a therapist hundreds of times would mean nothing to the phantom, because he was a man, alcoholic and alone.

Getting to his feet, the room spun wildly for a few seconds, before equilibrium restored itself and he realised he would have to call for a taxi.

 Ronan went in search of a phone, which he found just off the doorframe to the kitchen.  He tried to remember the number for a cab service but it eluded him.

Then he noticed the door.

Even before he opened it, he knew it was not a cupboard.  Externally it was just a harmless piece of wood with an old-fashioned knob, but as Ronan gripped it tightly, a malign essence escaped it, up through his hand and arm, stifling his breath; the type of door that, in nightmares, should always remain locked and forever bolted.

Within was completely black, and he almost stumbled down the homemade steps, before steadying himself.  Ronan descended slowly, sweat clinging moist and chill under his armpits, feet landing on concrete at the bottom.  Instinctively, he pawed the air, palm closing over a string, bringing the one bare bulb to life. 

Ronan was standing in a meticulously clean storm cellar.  To his right a workbench, devoid of any tools, over which an array of cabinets jutted, all firmly shut against the world.  Immediately to the left were ten or twelve empty cardboard boxes of varying sizes, no dead bodies or ghouls sleeping in their coffins.  He took a few steps towards the boxes, looking at the pictures of nameless abused within. 

His breathing was beginning to ease when the door clicked shut from above, then heavy footsteps started down, each footfall deliberate like a solemn drumbeat.  Phil’s face came into view, only now it was older, ravaged by the evening of drinking, the red eyes obliterating and drowning out the eyeballs.  The light overhead cast a pitiless shard down from the dome of his head, creating a stark silhouette, so that the skin revealed its deep craters, hanging to bone tenuously, his hair wiry and receding like a dying lawn. It wasn’t granite anymore.

“What are you doing, Ronan, trying to rob me?”

Phil took several steps closer, threatening, all pretence discarded.

“I know who you are,” Ronan responded, backing away involuntarily.

 “And who might that be?”

“You were my teacher then.”

Phil didn’t flinch, but comprehension dawned across his face.

“That was a long time ago, Ronan, almost a lifetime, maybe thirty years.”

“Then you do remember me?”

“No, can’t say that I do.”

Ronan turned from him.  “You have that luxury,” he said hoarsely.

“Let’s go upstairs and talk about it.  I’ve sobered up pretty fast.”

Ronan looked at him again, shaking his head.  “I don’t want to talk.  I just want to get the hell out of here.”

Phil stood aside.  “Then go.  I won’t stop you.”

He brushed passed Phil, taking the stairs carefully, resisting the urge to run, expecting restraining hands to grip his shoulders, and perhaps break his neck.  He was at the summit, looking back for one last time.

 Phil stood motionless at the bottom. “I thought you were too eager.  It can be good when it’s like that, sometimes, but you can drop your guard when you’re lonely.”

Ronan was making his way down the hall.

“I’ll call a cab for you, Ronan.”

“No need.  I’ll walk.”

The front door was open.

 

 

“What about your car.  I don’t want it here.” Phil slurred, coming after him

“I’ll be going to the authorities.”

Ronan was walking quickly down the drive, not looking back, disorientated by the unfamiliar surroundings.  His legs felt themselves moving down a steep hill slope, as the front door banged urgently behind.

 The roar of the surf assailed his senses as if it had stood up to meet him suddenly, and Ronan realised he was on a beach, his foot steps soft and cushioned, the smell of salt and seaweed overpowering.

“Ronan, wait!” 

He ignored the call, coming up on the mouth of a cave, trapped again, forever a prisoner, the beachfront ending here.  He would have to turn and face the phantom once again.

Phil had been running feverishly, but slowed as he caught up.

“You can sure walk fast,” he said, out of breath, hunching over, reaching for Ronan.

.“I know you’ll keep it between us,” Phil was saying, smiling.  “Besides, it wasn’t so bad, was it? 

The large rock was in Ronan’s hand in an instant, and he brought it down against the phantoms’ head repeatedly, feeling it crushing the skull, his hands covered in blood and hair.  Ronan felt to the sand, tears burning his cheeks.


© Copyright 2018 Declan J Connaughton. All rights reserved.

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