View Full Version : Excerpt from horror novella

December 21st, 2013, 04:27 PM
This is just a sliver of a horror novella I'm toying with set in Tennessee in 1913. I've had unimaginable formatting difficulties with this... Keeps getting lost when I save, so, just be patient if it explodes when I upload it again...

When the ancient door crumbled and sprawled across the floor with a clatter of fist-sized stones, William Wells didn't flinch. He stood still and stoic while stone scattered around his feet, and stared into the yawning darkness that stretched out ahead of him. Henri struck a lamp and stepped up behind him, casting a light into the cavern to throw off the mystery and reveal to them what had been mortared up behind that wall countless ages ago.

The flickering yellow light danced on the curves of skulls--dozens of them stacked along the sunken burial pit to form a sort of crude circle. It was almost a macabre work of art--not unlike the Catacombs of Paris. But this seemed less artful than purposeful, and all eyes lingered on the pit of bones to wonder what that purpose might have been.

Concentric rings of skulls faced outward, empty sockets watching out in all directions in silent vigil. Mushrooms grew on the brows of those ancient dead, poised like delicate tallow, showing translucent in the first light that had ever touched them. Perched in the midst of them--hoisted on a sagging cradle of animal hide--lay two skeletal bodies twisted together in embrace.

"Have you ever seen anything like it?" William asked his fellows.

They all shook their heads, mumbling to themselves. Henri was quiet, his eyes wandering over the chamber. He sighed and shook his head,stepping closer with his lamp held high. Light flashed on the back wall of the chamber like lightning on glass, and a shining plane of silver cast a dark and hazy reflection of the cavern back at them.

Low whistles echoed from the men behind him, but Henri was not impressed.Something seemed wrong--ominous. He swept his gaze around the interior and sighed again. Water jars, food baskets, bedding and remains of a fire pit. Even a raised rock surface at the rear of the cave with a grinding stone in its center told him what he needed to know.

"This was never meant to be a grave," he said quietly. "It's a house. Not for the dead, but for the living. And they," he nodded toward the macabre weaving of sinews and bone clinging together in the cot. “—they are not like any people who are native to this place. They aren't Cherokee, not even Koasati. This dwelling is all wrong. If it wasn't obviously ancient, I'd say it was an elaborate hoax.”

“These hills are old,” William grinned. “Some of the oldest mountains in the world, worn down by time. The secrets buried under them haven't seen the light of day since the world was young. God only knows what could be found under the forests if we could but scrape them off to the dirt below.” He swept a lingering gaze over the dark interior and nodded. “What ever have we stumbled upon, Henri? What wondrous knowledge can we glean from this tomb to share with the world?”

But,Henri had been made wise by the world, and when he looked across that dismal cavern, he did not sense a wealth of knowledge to share with the world. He felt a creeping dread that made his stomach turn sour.

“There is nothing to do right now.” William said. “Impatience is the enemy of such delicate work. We'll come back with the proper tools in the morning.”

They collected themselves and left the cavern the way they found it. Not a moment passed in the evening that William did not mention to Alice the unique find and its possibilities. She fostered her husband's passion for scraping buried secrets from the earth, listening with a patient smile as he gave voice to dreams of what might lay hidden in that silver laced cave. Alice, however, had no love for her husband's sport, and believed rather firmly that things which had been buried,were hidden from the eyes of men for a reason.

She spent a restless night listening to William toss and sigh, unable to sleep for the thoughts of what wait for him in that hole in the earth. Finally, in the hours before dawn, William sat up and turned awry smile to his pretty wife. She knew the look only too well, and she rolled away from him, chuckling into her pillow.

“Go,”she smiled. “Have your fun. Maybe I'll get some sleep.”

He leaned over her and kissed her cheek, smoothing a hand over her side.“I'll take Michael and Dempsey with me, and we'll be back for lunch, I promise.” he said.

She watched him slip out the bedroom door and vanish into the dark of the hallway. She was asleep again in a few moments, content that her husband was truly happy discovering secrets lost in the dirt.

But,some hours later, when the sun had climbed over the trees on the hill, she was startled awake by a sound she couldn't quite place. She lay there for a long moment, listening, trying to determine if she had merely dreamed the sound. When she heard it a second time, she sat up in bed, her heart leaping in her chest and goosebumps rising on her flesh. It was a distant sound, almost too difficult to make out. Her mind raced to make sense of it, but deep down, some part of her recognized the primal sound only too well.

Henri stumbled down the front steps, pulling on a shirt. He squinted towards the fields, searching the morning haze for any sign of trouble among the livestock. He saw nothing out there, but the sound came again.Henri knew that sound too well. It was a part of his life that he never seemed to be able to shrug off and leave behind. In his youth,he had worked as a guard in the Cottonport Sanitarium. He had seen every kind of hell that can dwell in a man's mind. He had heard every kind of scream a man could make--pain, fear, regret, torture. He heard every agony in that scream, and twisted over his shoulder to follow the sound back to its origin. He turned to face the big house still under construction, the first rays of morning light blazing over the tip of the rooftop. He swallowed a bitter lump in his throat as the sound came yet again, resounding over the lip of the bluff from somewhere down below.

Alice slipped out the door, pulling her shawl around her, her green eyes wet with worry as she padded up to Henri's side.

“Where is William?” he asked her, dread rolling in the pit of his stomach.

Alice turned her pale eyes up to his and a tear sliding down her cheek. “He left early, before first light.” she whispered. “He went to the cave with Michael and the dog.”

“Get in the house,” Henri told her. “And keep the boy close to you. We'll come back with him, Alice, I swear.”

He spun away from her, sprinting down the slope of the hill toward the houses dotting the treeline. He called the names of John Ashby and David Howell as he ran. Both men stepped out of their meager dwellings, pulling on pants and shirts.

The screaming continued, each cry sending a chill down Henri’s spine that settled in the pit of his stomach with a cold nausea. He knew every kind of torment that a man could suffer from in the prison of his own mind. He'd seen just about every harm man could inflict on others—or himself. He had seen a fragile old woman grin and titter as she bathed in diseased blood spilled on the asylum floor. He watched men claw at themselves, digging trenches into their flesh with their nails to rid themselves of the vermin they believed to dwell under their skins. It unsettled him to hear a sound of horror and madness rising over the bluff and hanging above the trees where he and so many of his friends lived.

John Ashby sprinted up the slope of the hill, his dark eyes clouded with fear. “What in the name of God is that?” he asked.

“Trouble,”Henri said quietly. “Come with me, John. William took your brother with him to the cave this morning, and I fear something terrible has happened.”

John sprang into a run, brushing by him, and calling for his brother as he mounted the high bluff behind the house. Henri turned on his heel,rushing to the same cliff, dread heavy in his stomach as his long legs carried him easily to John’s side. The two of them slipped over the lip of the bluff, and made a hasty decent of the narrow path towards the rock landing and the green water below. Henri slid to a halt on the wet stone lip, his eyes snapping to William's broken shape heaped on the black rock just outside the mouth of the silver laced cave. His friend was curled into a sloppy ball of limbs, head wrapped in both of his arms, one knee pulled high to shield his skull. His nose was crushed to the stone, a pool of spittle under his lips. He screamed again against the stone beneath him, the sound amplified by the rocky bluff. John Ashby jumped and took half a step back, eyes wide as he swallowed a lump of fear in his throat. They all watched William suck in a ragged breath, only to howl against the rock again and again. His tortured vocal cords stretched each sound out into a terrible nasal grunt, too much like the honking of a goose. His pitiful cries wracked his body with every gasp for air and violent constriction that forced it out again to form the horrible noise.

He was caked in mud and blood, his shirt torn away and his britches ragged all the way up to his thighs. His shoes were gone, only one black sock still on him, hanging wet and floppy at the toes of his left foot. His hair was matted with blood, his face shockingly pale and smeared with the same mess that sullied his hair and clothes and skin. And there was hardly an inch of him that wasn't covered in ropy welts that ran along his limbs like bulging veins.

Henri reached for his friend, hesitating to move closer. The sound William made wasn't human. It repelled him like the heralding horn of madness, the sound of a man broken, whose mind was stolen away by horrors he could not fathom.

“Shut him up...” John shuddered, slapping his hands to his ears. “For God's sake, shut him up!”

Henri silenced the younger man with a hard look over his shoulder, then crept slowly to William's side. He sank into an easy crouch, reaching out to touch his friend. “William,” he said softly. “William,it's me...Henri.”

William peered up at him through the tangle of his arms, his wide eyes wetting instantly. He stopped screaming and let out a pitiful sob. He scrambled on his belly, throwing an arm around Henri's waist and burying his face in his lap. He wept like a child, hugging close to him, trembling and heaving sobs against his thighs.

Henri stared down at him for a few seconds, not certain what to do with his weeping friend. Finally, he put a hand on the back of William's shoulder to reassure him.

“My God, man,” he said quietly. “What happened to you?”

“...Dempsey...”William groaned. “Dempsey found it...

“The dog?” Henri asked, casting a glance to the mouth of the cave.“Where is Michael? Did he go in with you?”

William shook his head and sobbed. “Gone. Gone. So far away now, he never was.”

“I don't understand,” Henri frowned. “You're not making sense. What happened to Michael and the dog?”

“Dempsey!” William spat, rocking back only to lunge at Henri and snare his head in his hands. “Dempsey! He found it...” His urgency melted away to tears, and he collapsed to Henri's lap again. “He saw it in the dark...saw it in the mirror.”

“Saw what?” Henri asked.

William fell silent and rolled his cheek to Henri's thigh. He was perfectly still, eyes staring off toward the mouth of the cave for a few long seconds.

“It'snot a grave,” he mouthed the words almost inaudibly.” He wasn't dead.”

“Who wasn't dead?” John asked. “Where's Michael? William, where is my brother?”

William shuddered, hiding his face in Henri's lap again. He sucked in a ragged breath and sobbed. “He's in me,” he wept. “He's in me,and I can't get him out.”

“William…”Henri said softly. “Please, tell me what happened to you.”

William slid his cheek on his friend’s thigh, turning his dull eyes to opening of the cave once more. He heaved a quiet, shuddering sigh and sobbed softly. ”…this was as far as I could run…” he whispered along Henri’s thigh. “But, he caught me here. This is where I died…”

He sucked down another ragged breath, and he began to scream again,clawing at the ropy welts on his arms. Henri wrestled with him, tearing William's hands away from his flesh before he could injure himself any more. The three men seized him by the arms and dragged him back up the bluff toward the house. His screams yielded to weeping again as they topped the rocks and began their track down the gentle grassy slope to the back door of the unfinished house.