Bogleech.com's 2018 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by Sam Miller (email)
With the terribly bright sun balefully glowing over the whole of the world unendingly, the explorer and his entourage crest a snowy hill in the vast Antarctic landscape, scanning the wide horizon behind thick goggles and warm clothing. His name is Waldemar von Thuringen, a German archaeologist and explorer of a rather eccentric bent, accompanied in this expedition into the heart of the unexplored land of the frigid south by only two companions. He gestures to the both of them, urging them on as they trudge in the flurries and snowy dunes with their primitive snowshoes. A vaguely humanoid shape, wrapped up tight in scarves and coats, catches up with the archaeologist Waldemar, pulling down the thick cloth which hides her mouth and speaking with him, just barely yelling to be heard over the whispering wind of the dreadful south.
“Waldemar, we should make camp… there!” the woman points to a small recess in the snow some distance away, “the short barrier which surrounds it would be a good way to block out this devilish wind.”
“Ah, good thinking Sayen! Make sure that our friend catches up with us, I shall go down there and begin to set camp.” Waldemar and Sayen nod to one another, as the archaeologist slides down the snowy hillock and trudges over to the campsite.
Waiting for the slower woman to catch up, Sayen turns back and looks down the sloping hill, seeing the third companion slowly march toward her. A small plume of black smoke begins to float toward the sky behind her, as she gazes upward to the pallid white sky, veined with wispy clouds.
After some time, the third companion catches up, and Sayen half yells over the whipping wind, “Haha, guten tag meine kleine Schwester!” Laughing softly, Sayen points down to the site of the camp, where they could vaguely see Waldemar building up the barriers around the campsite, the long plume of dark black smoke spiraling up into the great white sky. The two women slide down the snowy hillock together, trudging along over to the campsite.
The sun does not set, only sluggishly dragging along and looping in the wide empty sky, casting a sickeningly white glow over all that sees the baleful thing. Huddled around the fire and wrapped up in blankets and sleeping bags, the three companions chat with one another, shielded from the ceaselessly whipping wind by squat walls of packed snow and portable, quickly erected barricades. Waldemar scribbles into his small leather bound journal: “November 12th, 1913: Some penguins seen waddling, little else.”
Sayen, her brown skin glowing and warm in the fire, glances over to the bundled up woman sitting next to her, a brown haired German lady named Ilsa Sternberg, smiling kindly as she holds a slightly dented metallic cup of coffee in her hands. Waldemar looks up from his notebook and gets up, going over to the two huskies that the small team brought with them, doling out small amounts of food for the both of them. Returning to the fire, Waldemar sits across from both Sayen and Ilsa, smiling at both of them with that wide, moustached smile that he always has, his eyes behind small pince-nez glasses. As the small pallid sun overhead twists and turns, they strike up conversation.
“Do you honestly think that there will be anything like what you’re looking for down here? I mean, not to demean your positions, Professor Waldemar, but,” Ilsa stutters in slight embarrassment, “well, uh, I was reading in an American publication that the whole ‘hollow earth’ thing was a bunch of bunk, to use their phrasing. I mean, sure the Volkisch people like to bring stuff like this up, but you can’t honestly think that there’s anything extravagant like that down here, right?”
Sayen nods a little bit, but just looks over to von Thuringen, who laughs a hearty laugh and pushes his small wireframe glasses up his nose. “I half expected you to think that this was a hollow earth expedition. Nothing of the sort! Of course the earth is not hollow! If it were hollow, I would not expect the sorts of sudden changes in geography to happen without the planet collapsing in on itself, how could, uh, how could Mu sink beneath the waves if a thin hollow earth would just break up and collapse in on itself on a simple earthquake! Pah, nothing but buffoonery and bunk, as you put it.”
Sayen jumps into the conversation, “Yeah, I was reading some of your stuff actually! Really quite fascinating, really!” She blushes slightly, smiling a bit before glancing over at the somewhat confused Ilsa.
“I thought you couldn’t read German?”
“Some of his articles got published in a Spanish periodical back in Patagonia, it was mostly in opposition to your great ideas” turning to Waldemar, she punctuates the statement, “but I was able to very much appreciate your conclusions either way!”
Responding with laughter and another great wide smile, Waldemar states, “Well I hope they did a good job translating it! Hah!”
Laughing along with the anthropologist, Sayen nods and smiles nervously. Ilsa juts in, “So, if you aren’t a hollow earth theorist, then why are we down here? So far your discussions have been very vague, Waldemar.”
“Oh, my apologies Ilsa! Well, as I have spelled out in my studies of the peoples of Patagonia and Tasmania, there is to be expected an isolated people here in the frigid lands of Antarctica, though they are likely all long dead and gone by now. My goal in this expedition is to go to what has been reported to be a strange ice formation here, only a few dozen miles off of the coast, to see if my theories are true, and if these people did, in fact, come from migrations from Patagonia and Tasmania. I have come to calling my hypothetical Antarcticans the Tsalal, after a really just dandy story I once read,” Waldemar explains, beaming with excitement and vigorous pride in his work.
Ilsa incredulously responds, “People, living down here, at the frozen bottom of the world? Waldemar, not to be too rude with regards to your research, but I find that very improbable. How would they live, where would they get their food from? A society can’t subsist on penguins and hard to catch ice cold fish for very long.”
“Ah, but you see, this land has not been cold for very long! My theory is that, when the continent of Mu sank beneath the waves, the water displacement affected the global temperature of water, freezing some landmasses and making others hotter. This coincides with the end of the Ice Age back in Europe and America, and caused the great big glacier at the center of the Antarctic landmass to cover the whole area!”
“Hmm that sounds reasonable…”
Her eyes wide in fascination, Sayen leans her head on her hands, listening intently to the discussion. The sun begins to set for a very short night as Waldemar, Ilsa, and Sayen chat and talk, until they each grow increasingly tired and turned over, bundled up in their coats and blankets, sleeping the cold, cold night away. Yellow, wet eyes gaze down on them as they sleep, before the wide-eyed thing scrambles away, causing a bit of snow to tumble down into the encampment.
In the morning, the three intrepid explorers gather their things, smash the small snow roads surrounding their camp, and set off toward the mysterious icy outgrowth which the anthropologist claims hides the ruins of his mysterious Tsalal. The cold wind whips around them, freezing and frigid to the touch of what little flesh of theirs not covered by warm garments or protecting goggles. They trudge through the ice and snow, their feet only lighting on the bright white frost beneath their wide snow shoes.
The slow, stomping crunch of their snow shoes the only sound in the windy Antarctic cold, the group of three explorers clamber up a tall hillock of ice and snow in the wide wild frozen wilderness, climbing to its peak to gaze below and see it. There is a tall, looming outcropping of pure ice, a sinister blue glow emanating from its gaping maw of an opening, revealing the sloping innards of the Antarctic underground. Waldemar and Sayen jump in excitement and joy at seeing the strange outcropping, and the three of them hug each other and rejoice at their expedition reaching its zenith. They clumsily crawl down the side of the snowy peak and eventually reach the bottom, stomping over to the gaping opening in the empty wilderness.
“Oh quick, quick get a picture!” Waldemar shouts out as they approach the cavernous maw, and Ilsa quickly pulls out a sophisticated camera apparatus, setting up its tripod stand and getting under the dark vacuous cloth for the photoshoot. Waldemar and Sayen stand at the cave opening, beaming with pride and joy at their hopeful discovery. Following a bright flash, blinding the two of them, Ilsa folds up the traveling camera and puts it back in her bag, eagerly following the pair into the light blue void deep below.
Sliding down the icy underground surfaces, clinging to the frozen rock and packed ice with ice pick and rope, the three explorers descend into the dark depths beneath Antarctica, the only light the small headlamps upon their foreheads. They are suffused with an eerie blue glow, the effect of the lamps lighting upon the translucent luminance of the smooth ice walls which surround them on all sides. A strange dark shape can be seen through the ice, but it is only noticed briefly as the group steadily crawls down the almost sheer decline into the depths.
After some time of descent, Sayen is the first to reach the bottom, lifting up a lantern high and being the first set of human eyes to see it. Before them towers a looming stone construction, some strange white rock with a look so wet and shining in the lantern light so as to seem as if it were sweating in some half forgotten summer heat. It is pocked with perfectly circular openings, each stylized in the form of some gaping mouth, with needle-like teeth shaped and carved directly out of the sweaty pale stone. The shadows cast upon the construction give it a half alive quality, writhing under the lantern light.
As Waldemar and Ilsa reach the bottom with her, they all gape and gaze up at the great looming thing, as Sayen turns to the pair and asks, “Uhm… Is this the sort of thing we are looking for?”
Waldemar, after a silent moment of simple gazing, answers, “W-well why yes! Surely! It is quite obviously carved by human hands, nothing like this,” he punctuates the statement by stepping forward and touching the tip of a fangly tooth with his finger “could have come about naturally.”
Sayen takes out a sketchbook and begins to draw up the stone facade, her charcoal pencil dirtying her sweaty ungloved hand. Her brown eyes dart up and down from the construction to her sketchbook, half watching Waldemar and Ilsa explore the ruin further. Her eyes are down to her sketchbook when Waldemar screams and tumbles backward onto the slippery ice, Sayen’s concerned face quickly turning to the two, seeing Ilsa helping the archaeologist back up to his feet.
Sayen shouts over to the two as she gets up from sitting, “What happened? Are you okay?”
Ilsa frantically responds, “There was uh, there was something in the tunnel, there was something in the hole!”
In confusion and panic, the three explorers quickly slide over to one another, crowding around the toothy hole as the lantern light pierces it and reveals the slick and slimy form of some sleeping thing.
“What is it? How is it down here?” Sayen asks, her hand only loosely clutching her sketchbook. She thinks the thing somewhat cute, as it lies there peacefully.
Ilsa juts in with a suggestion: “Is it… a salamander?”
Waldemar leans in, his frigid ragged beard rubbing against his friend’s shoulders, “It looks… bigger than a salamander. Never seen one so big before. Ilsa, check to see if it’s alive.”
Ilsa reaches into the deep hole with her padded clothed arm, softly poking the salamander on its soft slimy forehead. Its eyes snap open, wide and wet, a bright veiny yellow with only a single pinhole in its center. A single webbed foot slides out from under the thick slimy body, stepping forward in the sweaty pale tunnel. The three step back, watching as the fat newt writhes and wriggles past the needle-like fangs, which open wide as if a doorway. Once its slimy wetness slaps against the frigid ground, it lifts back onto its hind limbs, standing just under Sayen’s height.
Sayen smiles giddily, turning to the other two, “Look at how cute it is, standing like that! ...Also this will be a major discovery, of course!”
The salamander’s eyes blink slowly, opening and closely with quiet squelching noises, as it clumsily steps forward and attempts to snatch the lantern from Sayen’s hand. She pulls it back at first, but after a short discussion with Waldemar and Ilsa, she ultimately hands her lantern to the slimy salamander, as the other two each light their own lanterns.
Looking it over in its little webbed hands, the salamander places it in its toothy mouth, clutching it tight between its tiny teeth, as it turns around and crawls into the same tunnel it came out of. The spindly fangs of the opening do not close behind it, leaving a wide beckoning hole.
Ilsa resolutely suggests, “Well, uh, why don’t we follow it? We could learn a lot from whatever is on the other side of the tunnel.”
Waldemar responds, with some concern in his voice, “I am fairly certain, fairly certain, that other than Sayen, we cannot fit through that hole. But…” He reaches into his pack, pulling out a pair of hammers and chisels, “we could easily make the opening wider, now couldn’t we?”
They each remove their hammers and chisels, and begin breaking away at the pale sweaty stone, the pallid wetness and frigid air surrounding their efforts. Great shards of stone flake off as tooth after tooth and rock after rock fly about them, hours upon hours taken to only expand the tunnel so as to fit the three through it. Ilsa, her eyes straining to see through the white stone tunnel, seeing the flickering yellow light of the burning paper in the hands of the salamander beyond, its dancing and prancing shadows cast onto the blue ice on all sides.
Ilsa is the first to clamber up into the widened tunnel, ragged with the chisel marks on all sides, and crawl through into the chamber beyond. Her eyes widen in surprise as she sees the strange sight before her, a great bonfire of burning muck at the center of a massive hall of tall cyclopean columns and walls of sloping sweaty ice. She sees swarms of crawling salamanders flitting about the room, each holding a burning piece of paper or glob of mucus in its mouth, climbing the dripping ice to steadily melt the whole chamber. As Waldemar and Sayen climb through the tunnel, their eyes gaze around the massive room, full to the brim with the slimy things. The kicking webbed feet of salamanders emerge from frozen walls of ice, the great wide yellow eyes of the squat amphibian things gazing out from their icy prisons.
Sayen is the first to break the silence of the group, speaking in hushed tones beneath the dripping of melted water and the flapping of slimy salamander feet, “What uh, what are they doing?”
Ilsa responds, “It looks like they are melting more salamanders out and… dancing?”
She points to the great slimy bonfire, an unhealthy green glow within the flames, where the salamanders are chanting and prancing about in a circle, occasionally grabbing globs of flaming muck from within the fire without so much as a reaction.
The group barely move, just watching the short amphibians melt more of their kin out of the ice, seeing the throng grow further and the sloping ice walls recede further. The naturalistic carvings which encircle the sweaty pale chamber are revealed, bony forms of birds and reptiles and frogs. The high walls of the wide hall are thick with the slimy dark forms of the salamanders, looking like flies in the far distance. Sayen takes out her sketchbook to draw up the image before them, while Ilsa and Waldemar take notes on the salamander’s behavior, walking forward to examine further their surroundings and their slimy inhabitants, the amphibians steadily ignoring them as they walk about.
“Scheiße!” calls out Ilsa, looking up and forward into the dark, unlit depths of the great wide white hall, seeing some vague shape within.
Waldemar looks around, confused, “What, what is it Ilsa? Wha-”. Looking up into the hall’s depths, he sees it. A great shimmering shining thing, slick with slime and goo, one single luminous eye gazing out of the half-lit darkness, then another. The floor vibrates steadily beneath them as this thing emerges out of the deep recesses.
Ilsa and Waldemar turn completely around, running back toward the half green fire at the nearer end of the pale lit hall. Behind them a massive shambling salamander, its eyes beady, its mouth wide and full to the brim with neverending teeth, its skin crawling with innumerable amounts of its smaller brethren, picks up speed, starting to catch up to them. Waldemar trips on his own feet, falling behind Ilsa as they run toward the great bonfire, though he gets to his feet and picks up speed once again. Turning to face him, Ilsa sees the gruesome sight, as her friend and business partner is crushed underfoot, leaving nothing but a pile of viscera and red smears on the wet stone below. The wet crunching sound that accompanies his death resonates through the hall, just as Sayen begins to notice the steadily louder vibrations in the smooch stone floor.
Looking up, she sees the quickening dancing of the salamanders around the bonfire, and then she looks beyond, to see the great beast chasing Ilsa and only Ilsa. She jumps to her feet, gathering her things together and frantically rushing back to the wall of tunnels from where they came. Ilsa stumbles and rushes past the great bonfire, kicking salamanders out of her way as she leaves papers and notebooks in her wake. The massive salamander beast, while still tumbling forward at incredible speeds and shaking the stone chamber with its hard foot falls, tenderly steps around each salamander it comes across, making sure to not interrupt the circular dance of its slimy sisters.
Sayen steps up and crawls through the widened tunnel, reaching the other side in but a few moments, and immediately turning around to watch Ilsa as she rushes to the wall, the great beast behind her. Ilsa reaches the wall of tunnels and starts to take a step, Sayen reaching her hand through the tunnel and grabbing her friend’s hand, only for her fingers to slip out from Sayen’s fingers as the salamanders grab Ilsa and pull her back, slimy squelching noises calling out through the tunnel as Ilsa screams. Panicking, Sayen turns around, rushing to the ropes used to rappel down into the icy blue depths, squirming in her boots as she hears Ilsa’s screams suddenly stop, leaving only the tittering of salamanders deep beneath Antarctica.