The torch in my hand did little to diminish the echoing darkness. Indeed it seemed to give the shadows substance and sinister speed as they fled away, only to close in again behind me greedily once I’d passed. It was the silence that got to me, though. My footfalls and heartbeat hiding it along the way, it closed in at the black threshold. The space beyond had an eerie, oppressive quiet. I fought a wave of panic telling me that either I was about to die or that I should wish I had, just to escape this crushing sense of fear. Neither being an option, I stepped into the room.
I couldn’t fight the sense that something was watching me from the darkness. Was there something else down here? My imagination took off. It was behind me. Breathing. I thought I heard something. A creak, a scuff… the sounds didn’t repeat themselves and after a while I had to let reason take over.
I found that residing in the shadowed side of my mind there was a voice that sounds an awful lot like that part of you that speaks up when a tree limb is tumbling toward you and “jump!” could save your life. It’s a shadow voice; the one that says, “there’s someone behind you,” or, “what was that?” I tried to calm it with reason but all of my arguments felt like they were shrinking. Nothing I tried worked and the shadow voice grew stronger.
“Is that the sound of breathing?” it said. “If you turn around right now, there will be a monster behind you, ready to swallow you whole.”
I began telling stories to the darkness. It was a better solution than turning around every other minute or pounding back up the passages screaming in terror. I found that it helped. I told myself that the monster, no longer lurking, was listening, and I tried to make the stories sound bigger and more magnificent. I gave names to the characters and their counterparts and challenged myself to give their winding tales as much life as I could manage. Finding the courage at last to venture further down the corridor I hesitated at the doorway.
“Goodnight monster,” I said with a smile at this small silliness.
“Goodnight,” a wispy voice replied from somewhere nearby.
“Hello?” I called. “Is there somebody up there?”
I heard sounds of movement approaching and took a cautious step toward the doorway.
“This isn’t funny!” I added, trying not to let my rising panic tremor my voice.
“Do not be alarmed,” the voice said, closer now, and on my level.
“Show yourself,” I commanded, holding up my torch. It did no good. The room was enormous and my trembling hand tossed light around maniacally.
“I will,” the voice said, “though not yet. I merely wish to thank you.”
“Why, for telling these stories,” it replied. “I have enjoyed them and I wonder if you wouldn’t return tomorrow, now that you know I’m listening, and tell more of them?”
I considered this carefully. The forests above were getting more dangerous. These subterranean channels had seemed heaven sent but now… I sighed. I wasn’t in a position to be picky. Whatever this was, it didn’t seem to be trying to hurt me. It probably would have attacked already, anyway, if that had been the plan.
“You have a sense of the world above that I do not,” it said. “The colors and smells that those like me hear mentioned, but do not know.”
“Have you never been above ground?” I asked, trying to imagine such a life.
It didn’t answer right away. “That is a story I may tell you someday, but not today,” it answered. “Will you come tomorrow?”
I bit my lip. Why not?
“Okay,” I said.
“Do you promise?” it asked.
“I promise,” I said. After all, the wolves in the forest above were a growing threat and this place was warm and dry.
I noticed movement at the edge of the circle cast by my torch, though I couldn’t make out shapes exactly. Then I saw it. It looked like… no, it couldn’t. I shifted backward. A sharp brown spike entered the light. It looked like a spider’s leg, though it was taller than me. Another came into view, and then I was running.
My feet carried me at the speed of fear. I didn’t slow as light began to filter in. Scrambling up between tree roots and snow covered leaves I tripped finally into the reassuring light of the forest. Panting against the bark of a tree, my shadow voice asked how many spiders there might be in a forest, and the sensation of being watched skittered over me.Written by W. C. McClure. This may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or events depicted are meant to represent anyone or anything this side of dreams. Comments are welcome! Also, please help support this indie author by telling your friends about the excellent short story blog at
http://www.farsideofdreams.com and buying W. C. McClure’s books at http://www.wcmcclure.com. Thanks for reading!