Bogleech.com's 2016 Horror Write-off:
Diary Found Beneath the Trap Door
Daniel Hale (email)
I cannot deny that it took some doing; the grants committee was more obstinate than usual to listen to my proposal. Initially dismissive of the numerous local accounts of nocturnal howling (the notion that even today academics could be so unwilling to hear the stories of peasants astonished me almost as much to find that peasants still exist), even they could not discount the geological data of the valley, nor the carbon dating of stones taken from the site.
Faced with these alone, the committee was still skeptical. Which is why I left my most astonishing piece of evidence for the last. The specimen was freshly preserved, and almost completely intact. There could be no denying that it was unlike any creature known to the animal kingdom.
In shape the body looks something like a large, fattened bean, its skin black and its six legs thin and stick-like. Its mouth is wide, and puts me in mind of a frog. Most absurd, however, are the thing's eyes, placed on the very top of its body and so close together they are very nearly touching.
I found it hard to believe that such a thing could be anything more than a teratological aberration, some unfortunately deformed fetus. And yet the trapper who sold it to me assured me that not only had the thing lived, but it moved with great speed and climbed over every available surface like a mad, fat spider. What is more, he said, the creature constantly gabbled in a low croaking that sounded almost like laughter.
I have used the trapper before, and have never had suspicion of him lying to me; it was from him that I first learned about the castle, and the locals' refusal to venture near the place for fear of the subterranean horrors it supposedly protects.
I tried to keep my presentation as formal as possible: my suspicion that an unusual ecosystem might have inadvertently flourished beneath the ruins. The university suspected me of a fanciful turn of mind, and were wary of any romantic inclinations that might lead me to an expedition. In the end, it took Belking's influence to win them over. The dean had a soft spot for me, being something of a romantic himself. I'd seen his watercolors: garishly colored monstrosities that would do Bosch proud.
Still, I have succeeded. The committee has seen fit to fund my expedition, provided that I go it alone. This suits me fine. I would rather observe for myself what an experienced man would be inclined to ignore. I am, however, instructed to procure a guide from the village to lead me to the castle. Again, I cannot complain, as the site is surrounded on all sides by wild marshes. It would not do for my corpse to sink beneath the murky bog, taking the committee's expensive equipment with me.
I know now that stubbornness is not a condition peculiar to academics. It also afflicts the uneducated, particularly into believing that this benighted country is in any way habitable. It is a depressing plain of gray, rocky ground and thin, malnourished plants. The sky is perpetually overcast, and prone to thunder, yet remarkably reticent on actual rain. If I were as romantic as the university suspected, I might feel as comfortable here as the likes of Poe or Lovecraft. As it is, I am very nearly fed up before the enterprise has even begun.
The ‘inn' where I am staying is a laughable hovel of only two rooms, the larger of which has been given to me. The innkeeper sleeps in the other with his wife and two daughters. Meals are prepared on a fire in the back and consist largely of a fungal gruel. The mushrooms are unusually large, the caps red and white spotted. I saw the innkeeper's wife beating one against the side of the house, for all intents and purposes as if to stop it struggling.
It has taken me two weeks to find a suitable guide. The merest mention of the castle and the surrounding marshes has sent most of the villagers scurrying, and they have since seen fit to keep away from me.
They are a curious folk, and not just in behavior. Stout in body, despite their accommodations, with a strange cast to their skin that is not so much dusky as dusty: pale white, with a suggestion of chalkiness. I suppose they must see the sun so rarely that tans are unlikely.
At last I was approached by a swaggering young man named Boone. His confidence and litheness of body is at odds with his fellows, who shook their heads disapprovingly as we met.
"You need a guide through the marshes?" He spoke the language slowly and loudly for my benefit (I was still struggling with it). "See the castle? I can get you there." His grin was wide, his teeth a brilliant contrast to his dusty gray skin. There was a hint of arrogance in his demeanor that I did not find wholly agreeable. I asked him how well he knew the area.
"Better than anyone," he assured me. "Went there all the time, little and big. Went there to hunt, hey? Be a monster hunter." He snickered; his manner was beginning to repel me. I almost rejected his offer.
I cannot afford to be choosy. Before I left Belking came to see me. He urged me to keep in mind that this was my one and only chance to get into the university's good books. They wanted evidence that I was a serious scholar, and if I could not find the slightest scrap of evidence that my theory is justified then I will not be granted a second chance. They had set themselves against me, he said. His influence would only protect my reputation for so long.
So I agreed to take Boone as my guide. I told him emphatically that payment would only be granted upon my safe return from the marshes. To my surprise he agreed. Perhaps my fears were unfounded after all.
Confounded bog! Every step I take is a hazard, the water sucking at my boots as if it means to suck me in. The water is clouded with a ghastly pink. Bubbles burst constantly upon the surface, bringing with them an appallingly foul stench, more like rotted meat than sulfur.
Boone cannot help but laugh at my struggles. He takes over the ground quickly in bare feet, scarcely pausing long enough for me to catch up before he is off again. I begin to worry that he might take it into his head to do me mischief, perhaps by pushing me into the bog.
At least his competence is without question. Tonight he was able to catch two fish for our dinner. I call them fish; they seem almost crustacean, with their hard shells and segmented tails and black, pupiless eyes. He prepared a fire, gutted them and served them.
I asked him when we would reach the castle. "We make good time," he told me. "Nothing stopping us yet. Probably see it tomorrow, if they not noticing us."
I asked him who ‘they' were.
"They got no name. Things in the valley. Under the castle. Sometimes they get out. Some of them live out here. If they not see us yet, they let us through." He glanced at the sky, and the surrounding waters. "All sorts of them. Some fly, some swim. Nothing yet. Maybe we be fine."
I cannot tell if he was serious, or was trying to scare me. His words seemed calm enough, but the suggestion of craftiness has yet to leave his eyes. It occurred to me that he could leave me to die in the marshes taking all of my valuables with him, if he so wished. I doubt the university inquiry would probe too deeply; it would vindicate their expectations, more than likely.
I tell myself to get a grip. These are not thoughts fit for a serious scientist. Whatever his demeanor, Boone will not want to risk losing his payment or attracting the attention of the authorities by disposing of me.
Even so, I find myself too nervous to sleep, and told Boone I would take the first watch. He seemed amused by the idea, and told me to wake him in three hours' time, or if I saw anything untoward. Before long he'd fallen to gentle snoring, and I settled down to watching the sky.
I woke with a start (I must have dozed off) to find that a fierce gale was blowing. Boone was on his feet, crouching and scanning the sky with evident fear, as if to follow the passing of...what?
"Yes!" He let out a whoop. "Best time." He waved me over. "Come. We start. This is best time."
I had difficulty interpreting what he was saying; I confess my understanding of the language was not as great as I'd originally thought. That we had to move at once was obvious enough, but the reason why was lost on me, as was the greater thread of his words.
The sky was only marginally lighter than when I'd fallen asleep. I wondered if the sun ever saw this benighted land. The vegetation was certainly thick and vibrant enough to assume so. Everywhere I looked the trees curved and twisted in unlikely shapes, crawling with creepers and bedecked with more sickly colored foliage than might be seen outside an opiate sot's wildest dreams.
The water—if such the pink sludge could be called—pooled everywhere in fragrant puddles, still bubbling fetidly. Like everything else in this country of shadows, the water plays tricks on my eyes. The pink is too thick to see through, but occasionally I perceive at the edge of my vision an overlarge bubble or wave, and mistake it for something rising from the bog. I swivel back and forth, too exhausted by my fitful sleep to care that I look foolish.
Boone remarkably passes no comment, but stares straight ahead, ducking under branches and weaving over rocks almost as an afterthought in his haste to reach the castle at this ‘best time.' I am still willing enough to take him at his word; he could hardly have arranged the flurry which woke me, but I do not allow myself to think for long what it might mean. For the first time it begins to dawn on me that I might be on the path to some truly extraordinary discovery.
This feeling only grows as the vegetation begins to fall around us and I first set eyes on the castle in the distance. The structure has no name that I know of. The peasants do not wish to speak of it, and the few travelers to see it no nothing of its history.
At first I mistake it for some freak creation of erosion; a blackened stone monolith that divides into twisting crenellations at its apex. In shape it does indeed look very like a castle, but of such twisting and eccentric complexity I could not imagine it having a human architect. But surely the shape is too regular. There are unmistakable windows in the rock, and battlements and towers. Unlikely as it seems, this had to be a made place, a literal stone castle; not just one of many stones heaped together, but actually carved out of the bedrock.
Boone says nothing as I gaze at the place, not quite able to stamp down my misgivings. "It looks dangerous," I state lamely.
He shrugs. "Not so bad now, if we hurry," I think he said. He waved back behind us. "Away. Away."
The clouds seem to converge and darken above the castle. For the first time, I am keen to make an end to this enterprise.
I took a deep breath, and asked Boone how we got inside. His eyes widened. His mouth hung open stupidly.
"Go in? You not say in. You never said you wanted in!" He was shaking his head, trembling all over. It was such a change from his earlier devil-may-care antics that I was thrown.
I told him the whole point of this was to go into the castle. Surely he'd gone in as a child?
"Not all the way," he said miserably. "Never all the way in."
I was soaked in stinking liquids, and tired. I smelled horrible. I forgot all about my previous fears of this idiotic local and demanded he show me the way inside as he'd promised, or leave me, unpaid.
That did the job, in the end. With a crumpled, put-open look, Boone led me to the front door: a wood-rotted hulk, slumped in the aperture and riddled with suitably wide cracks.
We squeezed our way through, stomachs retracted to avoid splinters. The hall ahead was pitch black; I raised my lantern. Immediately subtle constellations reflected off the walls.
They are built of many colored stones, largely scarlet and purple, sometimes ranging to deep blue and white. They are stacked so efficiently together that I cannot make out the slightest suggestion of mortar. I wonder if these are precious elements; they certainly sparkle greatly in the light of the lantern. The spark is not dissimilar to the one that has returned to Boone's eye.
Boone insists that this place was not constructed by human hands, but by "them beneath." I am not quite convinced of this, though the interior does seem at odds with anything a human architect might contrive. Apart from the use of these stones as building material, the hallways are abnormally long and winding, while the rooms tend to be smaller. Most of them are completely bare, but a few contain what are unquestionably human artifacts: rooms of brass pipes, of elderly furniture and stacks of old, dry books. Gilt mirrors and dressers and shelves of parchment, vases and chests, all of them crowded together any which way as if the previous tenants had not had time to get properly settled in before moving on.
Beyond the entryway we came across a small foyer with a single set of colored stone stairs and a doorway. The corners were crowded with more abandoned pots, vases and rolls of parchments. I realized that I had yet to see a speck of dust, though the place did smell musty and un-lived in.
A trapdoor is set in the middle of the floor: large, wooden, with heavy hinges and a large iron knocker.
I told Boone that we would make camp in this room, from which we will explore the rest of the castle. I cannot begin to imagine what sort of knowledge might be contained in these abandoned books; they cannot be half as old as this place. Perhaps they were left by some previous explorers. Perhaps they might shed some light on the history of the castle, and the legends of the things below.
As I write this, my eye keeps straying to the trapdoor. Like everything else, it seems unusually well preserved, though it must be unimaginably old. Perhaps it was placed here by those last scholars, though for what purpose I cannot say.
We may not be alone here.
We began our investigation with the door beyond the trapdoor. Immediately there was a rustling as if something was startled by the intrusion and sought to bury itself as deeply as possible. Metal clanged as something fell to the floor.
The place is apparently a kitchen, even more cluttered than the other rooms. It is also utterly caked with soot and grime, the first filth I've seen. Counters are crowded with pots and pans. A large stove stands against one wall, alongside piles of some grimy mass of garbage. I cannot make out much of the contents of these piles; rotted fruit, perhaps, or scraps of discarded meat.
Boone became wary as soon as we entered, eyes darting from left to right. I imagined the hairs on the back of his neck were raised, like a predator intruding on another's territory. I asked him what was wrong.
He shrugged, unable or unwilling to say. It may be that my initial paranoia had infected him.
All the same, we both felt considerable trepidation as we proceeded. I noticed that the air around the oven was warm, as if somebody had recently finished cooking. The implications of this are worrying. Could it be that somebody lives in this place? And if so, why were they hiding? Why had they not made themselves known to us? None of the possible reasons boded well.
Boone was in favor of seeking out this lurking presence and forcing a confrontation. I put a stop to it; not only did we not know for certain that someone was here, but what hope could we have of finding them? In all likelihood they knew the castle better than we did. Surely if they meant us any harm, they would not have allowed us to enter in the first place.
Boone grumbled, but agreed that for now the best course was to wait in the foyer. I can only hope I have not set us both for a possible ambush.
There are noises coming from beneath the trapdoor. I hear the soughing of wind, high and faint, from below, and rumblings quite unlike the ever present thunder. It is more like the crumbling of rock and the stomping of colossal feet, or perhaps gurgling produced by a stomach of massive proportions.
It is late; were I alone I might think that I was dreaming, or mishearing something natural. But Boone has heard it as well, and began watching the trapdoor with greater fear than he showed in the kitchen. He muttered something like "not be here, should not," I think.
"Am I to take it, then, that this was not the best time you thought it was?" I asked with more nonchalance than I was feeling.
He did not seem to notice. "Thing left. You heard it."
"Thing. Thing!" He flapped his arms, hopped up and down in an absurd way. "You saw! You felt! It went away! Up there." He pointed to the ceiling. "It left."
"What is it? What is the thing?"
But Boone shook his head miserably and stalked away to the corner to sulk. His foot scuffed something; I heard it clunk on the floor. When he looked down to see what it was, he yelped and leapt away with an alacrity that did nothing to help the current level of esteem I held for him. Except, perhaps, to diminish it further.
It was a skull: clean, perfectly white, and undeniably human. It had sat in a little alcove beneath the stairs.
Anatomy was not my strong suit, but I guessed that it had belonged to a male. Most peculiarly, the jaw had been wired on firmly, if somewhat inexpertly, with a thick twine. This further served my theory that someone of a scholarly bent had once occupied the castle, perhaps was even still occupying it.
It seemed to me what must now be going on was a great misunderstanding. Some hermetic philosopher, terrified of having his sanctuary thoughtlessly violated, could be now cowering in some cellar. I resolved to seek him out.
Boone barred my way through the doorway, shaking his head with a strange look in his eye. "No leave," he muttered. "No leave." My guide was afraid.
With a huff of frustration I decided to humor him for now, and turned to a pile of books in the corner. I should have done this from the very beginning, I thought. What better way to learn the history of this place?
Alas, my hopes were in vain. The book was big, thick, and musty with age. The cover creaked as I opened it, but the yellowed pages stayed intact. I was surprised to see that the writing was English, and for a moment it was enough to get me back up and barrel through Boone in search of my missing scholar.
As I read on, however, my resolve faded to bewilderment.
Globbits an ferther globbits, it read. Drut run away and Bonny ent tocking. Cant go look for him or Him Upstares will go off at me. Stoopid Rog, I sed watch him and duz he? Duz he never. Bonny still not tocking. Gotta keep looking.
The writing was shaky, the spelling atrocious, the sense unattainable. There was almost a poetic sense to it, a sing-song logic. No doubt the college authorities would have thought it my cup of tea, but I found it wholly distressing and not a little confusing. Perhaps our missing host was some kind of mental incompetent? Someone who had lived here alone for perhaps years. With nobody to talk to, their mind might have turned against them, and they'd written this nonsense as a way to stave off the boredom.
Yet they filled me with a sense of disquiet that I could not at first account for. Now I felt an air of otherworldliness all about me, in the unnatural stones of the walls, the skittering and faint moaning to be heard from below. This was not, I was now sure, a human place, though humans may once have come here, as the skull suggested. Drawn by curiosity, by an ache for romanticism, by a lust for the macabre they had come and settled here, for a time, but they could no more account for their surroundings than I can.
Boone does not speak to me, still eyeing the walls and stacks as if expecting an attack from all sides. Occasionally an over-loud noise penetrates the trap door, and he starts. I ignore it; it is becoming familiar now.
The devil take Boone! The fool has murdered.
We've found our shadowy host; he appeared so suddenly that I hardly knew how to react. I was still poring over the incomprehensible texts, trying to discern some deeper meaning, when he rushed through the door, jabbering in a low voice that I barely recognized as the local language.
His skin was a deeper color than others I'd seen; indeed, it was almost a perfect blue. Additionally, he looked better fed, his paunch considerable and his legs squat. He wore no shirt, and his breeches tied on with twine.
He stopped short as he saw us, but he did not seem more than mildly surprised. He looked at me, then at Boone, then back to me, before adopting an annoyed expression and speaking to us in aggrieved tones.
I looked to Boone, thinking this was some acquaintance of his who had appointed himself caretaker. Boone, however, looked as lost as I was.
The man's words was a complicated mishmash that, I was shocked to find, contained a few traces of vaguely English words. Globbitz an' further globbitz! And similar nonsense. Whatever their meaning, my guess was that he was not happy to find us here.
He waved his arms. He spoke to the ceiling and the walls, as if asking rhetorical questions of invisible entities. It was almost comical, and I'd nearly forgotten Boone's earlier terror until he leapt at the man with a length of wood in his hands.
The man fell as Boone smacked it across his head. Boone was on him then, beating and beating with fury. I was almost too paralyzed with shock to move, but my efforts were in vain as Boone pushed me away and proceeded to beat the man's skull to a pulp.
Boone hissed as the man breathed his last. "Thing! One of things!" Then he tossed the plank away and stalk back to the corner, watching the body for all the world as if it would leap up and attack him.
I ran before he could stop me, up the stairs and away. I do not know if he is pursuing me, or if he has abandoned me. I do know that I cannot allow myself to stay in the presence of that unstable madman. I confess that I ran with less care than I should have; the hallway seemed to stretch forever before I found a room of pipes. Hopefully I shall be able to find my way back.
I will wait to see if I can hear him pursuing, and my heart has stilled. If he has gone, I will resume my search.
Boone is gone. But he did not leave.
I heard the trapdoor slam open (these halls wind more than I thought; I was only feet away), followed by his screams. I do not know if it was my sudden fear for his life or my horrid desire to see that pulled me out of the room and back down the hall. It seemed to take an eternity to find the foyer again. When I found what was in there, I wanted nothing more than to make away and hide again.
The trap door lay open. So did Boone; something had borne him to the floor, pulverizing his body into a bloody mash. Only his head was intact, and it stared at me mouth open in a silent scream.
The body of our former host was where we left it, and standing over it...it looked like a hairless ape, long armed and powerful. Its head was curiously bullet-shaped, and likewise hairless. It had a thick drum of a lower body, but no legs that I could see. Its feet poked out from beneath it like flat flippers.
It was absurd, and horrible.
It was staring down at the body, lowing quietly in the manner of a bull, but the sound contained an undercurrent of something I could almost recognize. It was animal, but not completely. This creature was in despair.
I must have made some sound, for the creature swiveled in my direction. Its eyes were small, and as human-looking as the bottled specimen I'd presented to the college committee. Its mouth look was a trembling little slit, apparently without teeth, but that served nothing to diminish the menace it now expressed towards me. With tremendous speed it began to charge me, walking on its knuckles.
I'd left my lantern behind; blundering in these endless hallways, pitch dark and frightened of this animal, this creature that could not be, that had lived beneath the castle along with who knows what else. I was stumbling tirelessly up endless stairways, trying to stifle my cries of fear, and begging for an end.
At last I reached well-lit room, or so I initially took it to be. In fact, the ceiling and roof had been completely torn away, the place open to the skies. Looking about I feel as if this might have been a grand bedroom at one time; the carpet is a faded red, and the remains of a battered dressing table lay against one wall. There is a pile of broken glass beneath an empty gilt frame.
In the center of the room are mattresses; large, thick, obviously high quality at one point yet now piled senselessly together and well worn. They are also covered in dried yellow stains.
Above me the sky is as clouded over as ever. It could be day or night. I shall never know.
I dare not try and find my way back to the ground floor yet. Perhaps if I wait the beast will return to the trap door. If there were sheets of cloth I might fashion a rope to rappel down the outside walls, but I doubt I could find enough to reach it anyway.
My mind is awash with fear. My hands are shaking; writing does not help calm me but is instead calling my plight to greater attention. What can I do? Shall I die here, exposed to elements? Better that, surely, than to be at the mercy at some improbable monstrosity from the pit. I do not know. I need to calm myself.
Something left the castle.
Boone said it was the perfect time, then, to explore it. I doubt he knew any more than most the truth of this place. Perhaps though he guessed from the regular periods of strong gusts when to come, and when to leave it alone.
But he thought that was all. Did he know about the trap door, and the world beneath it? Did he ascribe all of the stories to this singular thing that came and went with regularity? That is my theory, but I cannot verify it.
The room has no ceiling.
The wind is rising.