Under The Earth
Story by Micah Castle / Illustration by Toe Keen
5 July, 1935
It was an early morning. The sun had not come out yet, and the sky was still a grayish blue that reminded me of winter. I was finishing loading what was left in the one bedroom apartment into the moving truck. Odin, my dog, and I were moving into a new home, one that I stumbled upon in the paper a week ago. It was affordable, quaint, and had no neighbors. And despite the lack of backyard, it was a deal that no sane man could pass up.
Once the truck was loaded, Odin and I said goodbye to the one bedroom home we shared for the last four years. It held memories like most homes do: the night I wrote my first published short story, The Creature From The Cup; it was where I brought my once lover to share the remainder of the evening with; and where, the following morning, left me at the doorstep to never return; but the best thing of all is that it is the first place Odin had ever known beyond the pound.
With a sigh, I entered the truck. Odin was already inside, sitting next to the window with his tongue dangling from the side of his open mouth. I ignited the machine, then in a hum that was only interrupted by the exhaust pipe coughing, it revved up.
When I pulled out onto the road, we were off, to our new home in a small town called Woodell.
6 July, 1935
It was evening when we arrived, and I immediately realized the sellers of the house excluded something from the description. There were two long flights of stairs that eventually lead to a large wooden deck. With a grumble, I exited the vehicle and escorted Odin up the stairs to the porch, then walked back to the truck. With a pull of the latch, the trunk swung open and I began moving what I could to the porch, one by one. It was ironic in a way. I was thankful I possessed so little at that moment. It only took a few trips to get all my belongings from the vehicle to the porch.
With my things resting on the deck, I unlocked and opened the front door. Entering the new home, my feet dragged against its white carpet and hitherto, I did not notice my lower back throbbing with dull pain. The act of moving seemed to take a greater toll on my unathletic body than I anticipated. However, I pushed on. I set a small goal for myself that morning: To see the entirety of the house before going to sleep.
In the entryway was a nook, where a largish bookshelf would fit perfectly. To the right was a stairwell, and to the left, where I moved to, was a living room. Beyond this laid a dining room, with a polished dark wood floor that I loved. Continuing on, it connected to a small kitchen, equipped with the essentials, like a sink and stove. From the kitchen I could look out the backdoor and see, what one could consider, the backyard.
However, I could feel the exhaustion creeping up inside me, so I did not bother to look outside just then. Running back to the entryway, I moved up the stairwell that lead to a narrow hallway. The corridor branched off to three separate rooms: the guest bedroom (where my study will be), the restroom (nothing worth nothing there), and the master bedroom.
In the master bedroom laid two windows, one of which I peered out and saw the backyard in its little splendor. Then, in the guest bedroom, I looked out one of its windows and discovered the magnificent view of Woodell. The sea of gable roofs, the looming church tower in the middle (that I learned chimed out over the entire town at noon every day), and the rolling gargantuan mountains on the horizon.
Once I took in everything the house had to offer, I gradually moved my belongings into the living room, then closed and locked the door. As I did so, I called for Odin. He came running out from the kitchen, his husky gray and black fur bouncing with every step. Putting my hand to his head and scratched, his tail began whipping back and forth and his piercing blue eyes shined.
I guided him into the living room, where I had placed a blanket and a pillow. Laying onto the blanket and resting my head on the pillow, Odin came over, laid against me and I wrapped my arm around him. Within seconds, I drifted off to sleep.
7 July, 1935
The next morning, while rubbing my lower back, I stood at the backdoor while water heated up on the stove. Inspecting the backyard, I could see it was more of a hill than a yard. There was little room for Odin to run around and play, let alone do his business. From the doorway was a cement block that stretched out to something like a moat, and beyond the moat, was a small stone wall that looked like it held the hill in place.
The mound was nearly vertical, but possessed enough of a slope that, if I dared, I could walk up. On top of the hill was a small forest, filled with lush green trees. One of which stood closer than the others, and towered over the house. Its branches stretched out and dangled over the house like a giant arm. As the sun trickled in through its leaves, the chirping of birds and rustling of squirrels amongst the brush could be heard faintly in the distance.
Opening the door, and stepping out into the world, I looked to my right and examined the first abandoned house. Its walls were a sickly yellow and caked with dust, and its windows were either removed or shattered. Moving closer, I kneeled down and looked into its basement through a paneless window. The smell of garbage lingered up through the hole, and the floor seemed to be submerged in debris and trash.
Disgusted, I moved away, and walked over to the other abandoned house. It possessed chipping white paint, a faint blue trim, and a porch that seemed to be built from the cheapest materials available. Looking at it alone gave the impression that it was not safe to be around, let alone be in. Thus, I did not bother to get any closer.
As I aimlessly inspected the house, a high-pitched whistle brought me back to reality. It was the steel pot alerting that the water was now boiling. With a kick in my step, I moved back inside, closing the door behind me. In a matter of seconds, I had made myself coffee and went into the living room, mug in hand, to begin the long and tedious process of unboxing my belongings.
The remainder of the day was spent organizing, taking tallies of what was needed to be purchased the following day, and dealing with the empty boxes.
12 July, 1935
The house is as complete as it ever will be. Although the rooms on the first floor are vacant, the more important rooms, like the study and master bedroom, are finished for now. However, despite the good tidings I have had thus far, something queer has been occurring outside in the forest.
At first, I believed it was an animal. I was told by a neighbor across the street that deer, groundhogs, and even sometimes coyotes, move along the forest. But the noise seemed to be, how can I put into words, out of place? It was a shriek, an ear shattering, air piercing, shriek. It was as if someone replicated a human scream and amplified it by a thousand.
It occurred during the middle of the night. Awoken in a cold sweat, I sprinted to the window, terrified that perhaps Odin somehow escaped and got attacked. But when I threw open the curtains, the moonlight poured in, and I found Odin sleeping in his bed in the corner of the room.
With a sigh of relief, I turned away from Odin and faced the window. The forest was still. The trees were not swaying, no animals appeared to be moving around, and the house beyond the forest was darker than the night itself. Perhaps, I thought, it is my imagination. A bad dream that seeped into the waking world. “Yes, that is possible.” I said aloud, as if I was talking to someone.
Not thinking any further after a few moments, I closed the curtains, and slide back into bed.
13 July, 1935
The shriek has haunted me since that night. My mind cannot focus on anything else. It was forefront when I was writing, it was there while I bathed Odin, and it was even there while I cooked supper. It triggered dozens of questions, ones that haunt me too. But, only one question stood out: What type of creature could make that kind of noise?
It could not of been something that normally lived in the forest, I believed. Absolutely no squirrel, deer, or groundhog could make a wail like that. Perhaps… it was an animal dying? Or one being attacked? Savaged so much so that its screams became so loud and shrill it was a bloodcurdling shriek? Yes, that was possible… but, what if, it was not?
As the thoughts became endless and the questions continued to fill my mind like water in a glass, I simply could not continue my daily routine. I had to stop, sit down, close my eyes, and attempt to calm and control my mind.
Why was I so obsessed over that one noise?
That particular noise… A noise so loud, so out of place, that it startled me enough to wake me from my deep sleep.
After what felt like hours had passed, I finally gathered my thoughts, and pushed on with my daily routine.
15 July, 1935
A little before midnight. For a reason unbeknownst to me, Odin refused to stop barking at the backdoor. When he left the bedroom, I thought he was simply going to eat. But a snarl and a roar thundered upstairs, and as quickly as I could, I jumped out of bed, and ran downstairs.
He was in a fighting stance: legs pivoted, lips drawn back, brow lowered, eyes fierce, hair bristled, and mouth open, his fangs ready to rip whatever or whoever came through the doorway.
I tried to pull him back by his collar, but I was immediately met with his snapping teeth. Not trying anymore, I stood back and watched silently as he barked and growled. Minutes later, midnight came, and strangely he stopped barking for a few seconds, let out a howl, then he continued on barking.
Despite the madness of constant barking, I never left him. But abruptly, it ceased. It was as if he was possessed and the foul demon left his body. His demeanor changed completely, and the companion I fell in love with the minute I saw him at the pound had returned. I watched him turn away from the door, and stroll back upstairs. When I entered the bedroom, he was in his bed, fast asleep.
It was a queer occurrence, yes, but I did not question it.
Animals are odd, sometimes.
18 July, 1935
I have taken a break from writing to look after Odin more closely. He has become stranger and stranger ever since the fifteenth.
For instance, this morning, he would not stop scratching at the backdoor, so I opened the door and let him out. As if he were a bullet, he shot out from the house, and leaped from the cement slab to the hill. Then, on top, he began obsessively digging. From one section of the yard to the next, he sniffed the ground, then dug. He continued this ritual for hours without ceasing.
Around noon, I dragged him back inside. (He was oddly docile as I took him back into the house. Perhaps his mission was accomplished? Or he was simply too exhausted to continue?) His paws and snout were caked in dirt, so I carried him upstairs, into the restroom, to bathe him.
20 July, 1935
Since the eighteenth, Odin refuses to be inside. He continues to dig, and dig, and dig on top of that damn hill in the backyard. He has not touched his food or water, nor has he really even slept. I cannot for the life of me determine what his obsession is.
I have checked every hole he has dug, in hopes to see a glimpse of what pulls him there, but only dirt and stone can be found.
Its gotten to the point that his paws began bleeding, and his nails were chipping. When he grew too tired to escape, I got ahold of him and carried him into the master bedroom. There, with his water, food, and bed, I locked him inside. After a few hours of continuous barking, he eventually fell asleep. That was when I crept in, disinfected his paws with rubbing alcohol, and wrapped them in bandages.
My plan is to search the top of that damn hill tomorrow. Hopefully I will find something, anything really, that will give me an answer to relieve Odin’s relentless and obsessive digging.
21 July, 1935
Damn it! Damn everything! When I opened the door to enter the house, Odin bolted out from the kitchen and leaped onto the hill. I have no idea how he got out of the bedroom, I still do not know now.
…It is difficult… It is difficult to continue…
Before I could… Before I could turn and sprint up to get him… He was — he was… he was pulled in! Yes, pulled in! I cannot explain it better than that! Before my very eyes I watched him lean over one of his holes and yelp! A yelp that still haunts me now! And was pulled into — yes, into! — the hill!
Without a second thought, I flew to where he vanished. In a panic, I scanned the ground, but nothing was out of the ordinary. I scrambled to my hands and knees and dug my fingers into the dirt, looking for any opening or crevice that he might have fallen into, any opening that would give me hope that my beloved companion was still alive, still able to be saved, under the earth! But nothing… nothing but dirt and damn stones I could find…
I pounded on the ground for hours, screaming for Odin until my throat was raw and the taste of blood was strong. And I cried, cried until my eyes felt like they were burning in my skull. My hands became bruised, blood began seeping out from underneath my fingernails, and with every movement my body screamed. I do not know when, but at some point, I fainted.
Hours later I stumbled down from that horrible, horrible hill, while tears streamed down my face and my eyes were ablaze, and went back into the house.
I love Odin more than words can describe. He was more than just a companion, more than just a dog… Ever since I got him from the pound, we shared a connection, an unseen, indescribable connection that excelled beyond two different species and without him, I find my life having less meaning with each passing moment.
I love you Odin. I pray that you are safe, wherever you are…
15 August, 1935
The shrieking has returned. It began the day Odin was… taken away. Every night, at three o’clock, it bursts through the air and fills the entire house. When it started, I attempted to block it out with pillows and blankets, but as the days went on, even those were of no help.
I searched the hill for what was emanating the hellish noise. But like before, nothing could be seen beyond the grass and dirt. I did notice, however, that it became louder the closer I was to the hill. And when I put my ear to the earth — I shockingly realized that it was coming from inside.
It was maddening, utterly maddening. And the queerest thing of it all, was that it appeared only I could hear it. I ran across the street and questioned the neighbors. Each one, every single one, said they did not know what I was talking about. I must have looked insane, a madman standing on their doorway in the middle of the night asking about a shriek that only he could hear.
But it is so loud, so very loud! Even from across the street it was as maddening as it was from my home. Hell! Even the cities ten miles away could probably hear it!
I may sound like a lunatic, but I believe they were lying, all of them. There is a deeper meaning unbeknownst to me, there must be. A secret, a town secret, that I have not been allowed to know, a gateway that I have not been given access to.
Or, they, perhaps, are truly telling the truth?
If they are speaking the truth, then how can I only being hearing it? And what of Odin? Is his disappearance only known to me as well? If another person was there that dreadful day and witnessed Odin being pulled into the earth as well, would I still be only one who could tell the tale?
30 August, 1935
I purchased a spade and an electric lamp from a store in town. My plan is to dig, like Odin, as deep as the spade will take me. I will learn what pulled my beloved companion down into its depths, and learn what hellish creature makes those shrieks at night.
And when I discover it, I will kill it. How? By shooting it, with the revolver my father gave me when I moved out from his home.
15 September, 1935
It appears my entries have become sporadic, but it is needed.
On the thirteenth, I dug into the night. When the moon hung overhead and gave everything a soft white glow, I finally discovered something.
Beyond the earth I found a tunnel. It appeared to end where the outer hill sloped. I did not dare venture into the dark cavern, but I did what I thought was safe. Laying down onto my stomach, I gripped the electric lamp and lowered it into the underground corridor. The walls were made from some type of smooth, brown stone, that was cool to the touch. Carved into them where strange crude patterns and images, as if a child had drawn them.
Dangling my head into the hole, and gripping the other side with my free hand, I peered as far as my eyes would allow. The light from the lamp did not fall far, it seemed that the darkness had form, like a thick morning fog. It appeared to… appeared to consume the light.
After several minutes, I could not see anything, so I began to pull myself up. The lamp was pulled up first, then placed onto the dirt. Darkness flooded the tunnel and that was when I heard something. Deep in the depths of thick blackness, I heard scurrying, sniffing, and a faint whisper. Despite my body telling me to escape, I leaned further into the tunnel, both hands now gripping the rim of the hole.
It sounded like a dog smelling the ground, but it also sounded like a rat moving along the floor. And the whisper, I did not have the faintest clue. I sensed whatever it was was growing closer. Silhouetted against the darkness, was a shadow. But before I could strain my eyes to make out any details, a shriek resonated through the tunnel.
It was like a torrent of wind from a tornado, but it was frigid, cold as midnight on a winter’s day. The stench of its breath was deadly, like a crypt long forgotten. And the noise was immense, all I could hear once it ceased was a high pitched ringing, and I believed my ears were bleeding. The silhouette starting moving closer, and the smell grew so much so I nearly vomited hanging upside down. I did not want to take a chance with whatever lurked under the earth, so without a second thought, I listened to my body and jumped into action.
Pushing away from the hole and springing to my feet, I sprinted down the hill and into the house. As I entered the kitchen, I threw the door shut, locked it, and continued to run towards the room that was further way from the hill, the guest bedroom.
Once in the room, my body gave way and I collapsed onto the floor. Sweating profusely, I tried to catch my breath, despite my heaving chest blazing with heat. While focusing on calming down, a thought dawned on me: The revolver! It hung from my waist and I had forgotten when I was overwhelmed by terror. I could have killed it, whatever it was!
I muttered between breaths, “Damn it. I must, I must use it next time.”
I did not hear Odin in that tunnel. I pray that he is safe.
25 September, 1935
Ten days? Has it been ten days since my last entry? Apparently so, but surely I do not know, time has seemed to slip away from me. If I recall correctly, I went and stood over the hole the following evening.
It was becoming night, I remember. The sky was turning a darkish blue, and soon it would become black. I gripped the revolver in one sweaty hand, and held the electric lamp with the other.
“This will be it,” I said to no one. “I will find what shrieks at night, kill it, and rescue Odin.”
I stood for quite some time, locked there as terror swirled in my mind. A cold sweat doused from my body, and I could hardly catch my breath. My heart felt like it was going to burst from my chest, and my eyes never ceased burning.
When the moon was coming over the horizon, giving off enough illuminance to see without the lamp, I finally broke the fear-induced spell and walked closer to the hole. Kneeling, I shoved the lamp into the hole, forcing the light to travel as far as the darkness would allow.
Like before, it did not travel far. The blackness engulfed it like a thick, shadowy, fog. So I leaned down and pushed the lamp further in. I had to see what lurked in the shadows before jumping in, regardless of the overwhelming drive to kill what lived there.
But… what I saw — what I saw for a brief passing of time was more than enough to make my limbs go cold and my fingers go numb. The lamp slipped from my fingers, fell into the hole, and crashed against the stone floor. Stumbling back, I fell onto my backside, and groped the ground for anything that could protect me, forgetting the revolver once again.
A shriek reverberated out from the hole, so loud and powerful it shook the brush on the ground and the leaves overhead. Without a second thought, I gave up searching for a weapon, gave up on my venture to kill whatever lurked inside, scrambled to my feet and ran back into the house.
The world was a blur, it felt like time stood still and my movements dragged on. My stomach felt like a giant hand was tightened around it, and turning it upside down. I stumbled and fell as I ran, but eventually I had made it to the toilet. Collapsing onto it, my body purged what little food and energy that had been stored inside me.
When I attempt to remember what I saw exactly, my mind seems to force the image out, like a nightmare too horrible, one that is better left forgotten.
But there are faint glimpses. I believe it was some type of beast, a dreadful, horrible, beast. It possessed long lanky limbs, its back was elongated and thin. It had hair in patches, strands of long gray and black. Its skin — oh God — its skin looked like it was burnt greatly without any healing. Pink, red, and yellowish ooze seeping out from underneath its rippley flesh, and coagulated black blood nearly covered its entire body. And the beast was peering up at me — peering up at me with glowing yellow eyes that pierced the darkness as if they were stars.
That was not worst of all, my dear reader. Beyond that ungodly creature was a faint outline of another, and another, and another… There was an entire colony of these horrible, burnt scabbed beasts! An entire species of these bloody abominations living underneath the earth! A race of creatures hiding, waiting, for a poor soul to create an entrance into the living, breathing, unscathed world above them!
I am sorry to say… I was that poor soul, that poor, pathetic soul.
29 September, 1935
It is three o’clock. The shrieking is louder. I can hear the ground crumbling, and movement in the grass. The doors and windows are locked. The backdoor has been boarded up. I write in the guest bedroom, by flame.
Poor reader, I apologize for my handwriting. My hand shakes uncontrollably, and the sweat that seems to never leave has made it difficult to hold a pencil properly.
I have found it difficult to stare at the page for more than a few minutes, as my eyes burn without sleep. I have not slept a wink since that dreadful day of discovering those terrible beasts.
I pray tomorrow will be better.
30 September, 1935
I fell unconscious soon after my previous entry. Upon stirring, and peering out the window, I grimly discovered that the creatures can climb. My windows, on the outside, were scratched — thousands of long, thin, claw marks deep in all the panes in the windows. Thankfully they have not gave way, yet.
I do not believe they go out during the day, as they are accustomed to the darkness that only the bowels of the earth can offer. Thus, I will leave what is now my sanctuary to purchase canned goods, boards of wood, and other necessities.
2 October, 1935
All the windows on the first floor have given way. They are now boarded up with planks of wood. The floors are covered in shattered glass.
If only my sanity were like the windows and could be boarded up. Madness seems to seep in with every passing moment. I spend my days in the corner of the guest bedroom, trembling uncontrollably, while my mind lingers on better days past. I have not showered or shaved in days, nor have I slept in what feels like eons. I am terrified to look into a mirror, horrified to see what I truly have become in the passing days. I believe if I were to peer into my own bloodshot eyes, I would merely rip them out and eat them.
Despite my retinas burning, and the throbbing pain in my neck, I refuse to look away from the door. That is the only entrance to the room, and I know they will come through it. Any time a noise is made outside, my grip on the revolver tightens.
It will either be used against them — or against me.
3 October, 1935
I had forgotten the bullets, the gun is useless. I have found a knife in the closet, thankfully.
4 October, 1935
On the wall.
I write this.
It is night.
Shrieks are louder.
Boards are gone.
Hear them coming.
Pray blood stops.
“Vinny The Scallion” By Matthew David Brozik
Illustration by L.A.Spooner