Big Rock Road
by Robert L. Steele
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Two days go by. I spend them searching diligently for something that will help me save Hattie. Sitting quietly in the town’s public library, I finally get a clue. An old and large book bound in leather and titled Obscure Local Myths and Legends. I skim through the pages and my eyes scan each tiny word until they stop on something familiar, something that stops my heart and steals my breath.
The second chapter reads: The Domain of Malzone. I read on and am caught by surprise when I learn the origin of this legend. Malzone is the rock. The damned rock itself!
The book explains there are lesser creatures that worship it. They serve as its minions. These are foul, vile and loathsome things that live off the filth of the earth. Their only purpose is to serve Malzone.
As far as I can tell from the book, the only purpose of Malzone is to possess or consume a person whose beauty is rare and pure. This can only be done once every fifty years.
I must go back and find Hattie at any cost!
I flee the library and hurry to ready myself for nightfall.
* * *
It is getting dark; I have gathered the things I think I will need. Once again I have a flashlight. But in addition I have some candles and matches; a large knife and some other, smaller knives from our kitchen; my baseball bat; a hammer; the handle from a mop I have sharpened to a deadly point; and some rope.
Nightfall arrives and once again I enter the house. Slowly my flashlight plays around the room. The dolls are gone. Only outlines in the dust remain to tell they were ever there. As I begin to move across the room I can hear the scurrying of many clawed feet in the darkness around me. They seem to be racing just ahead of my flashlight beam. Maybe they are dodging it.
From the far side of the room I hear the screeching of rusted hinges and the slam of a door where no door should be. My ears are playing tricks on me and my mind is being fooled. Steeling my nerve, I cross the room moving carefully around the broken chairs and tables. I do not want to fall again.
I shine my light all around. On the floor there is a pattern in the dust; it is like a trail made by many feet. Getting down on my knees, I shine the light where this trail ends and notice a gap in the wood. A trapdoor. Leading to what? The tunnels of hell themselves? Really, I don’t care to know, but I must go down. I must find Hattie.
I shine my flashlight down in the darkness. The ladder goes down at a steep angle, and I must descend with my back to the tunnel below. This makes me uneasy and my hands begin to shake with fear. It is at least twenty feet to the floor of the tunnel. The floor is made up of hard-packed earth, as though many feet have traveled this way over the years.
There is a weak light but I cannot tell where it is coming from. It seems to emanate from the very wall and ceiling of the tunnel before me. I feel I will still need my flashlight, but for now I will try to navigate without it, fearing the beam will give me away.
I move forward. Although the floor is hard and packed, it is uneven. I stumble and fall. Reaching out to stop my fall, my hands slide into a pile of what feels like small arms and legs. I jump back, bringing some of this disgusting pile with me. Bile rises in my throat and I feel I have no choice but to turn on the flashlight and see what abomination lies before me.
It is the dolls. They lie in a huge pile. The arms and legs are ripped and dangling from the bodies. Their heads have been torn free and lie haphazardly across the tunnel. But the worst part is the eyes. They are all gone. The heads lie in a helter-skelter pile staring up at me sightlessly with only holes where their eyes should be. I should not have come! I should not have come!
I must continue for Hattie’s sake. I stand and collect my courage. My breathing is heavy, and my heart once again is hammering in my chest as though it will burst.
I move farther into the tunnel, using the sharpened broomstick as a blind man might use his cane to guide him. By my estimate I should be getting close to the base of the big rock, Malzone.
There is a turn up ahead, and as I get closer I hear what can only be called voices, but they are more a hissing and spitting of words then anything. The very sound repulses me.
I have reached a corner in the tunnel. Staying snug to the wall and moving slowly with a great deal more caution than necessary, I creep forward until I can look around the corner.
The tunnel opens into a cavern, which seems to be alive: the floor moves and gyrates and the walls pulsate. All the while there is the steady sound like the ocean breaking on some rocky and unstable shore. The weak light is again reflected back in a thousand points of light.
The room is full to overflowing with foul creatures. Some walk, some crawl and others slither along leaving trails of slime, like slugs. A few are covered in fur, others are more reptilian. Some posses the form of insects, and some are covered in a fine pus that seeps from their bodies. Then there are those with a combination of everything. These are the worst abominations. But all have one thing in common: their eyes.
They are the eyes that have been torn from the heads of the dolls. At first I think they must all be blind, but I am proved wrong. From behind me a great hissing goes up, and all these foul creatures turn in my direction. I have been discovered.
The one behind me is hissing and dancing back and forth. My first thought is of a centaur but more repulsive. It has the body of a centipede, with its thousands of legs. The chest, arms and head are that of an ape, no... a monkey. The mouth and pincers resemble those of a large beetle.
I strike out with my sharpened broomstick and skewer it. The wooden stake slides through its thick skin with ease. There is sound that I can only describe as... slimy. It wiggles and squirms while all the time it gives out a loud hissing screech. I can hardly hold it. Using the broomstick, I throw it into the advancing mass of foul creatures. Some scurry away and others fall on top of the skewered beast and begin to tear at its flesh.
I am not sure which is more disgusting, the sounds being made by the creatures as they tear into the flesh of their own kind, or the wailing of the one being torn apart.
I sweep the cavern with my flashlight in the hopes that the beam will blind them, but still they come towards me. As I move the beam around the cavern, in the center, it strikes what I could only call an altar. And lying across it is Hattie. Over the noise of the creatures I call out to her, but there is no response.
With a few exceptions they are small creatures, two maybe three feet tall, but they are many in number and they have started toward me. I move forward wading into the very center of the advancing horde. They swarm around me. I kick at them and swing my baseball bat. I
I make a path to the altar. I can see her clearly now.
Too late I realize even for their size their mass in numbers is defeating my strength. They claw, scratch, bite and leap at my legs. My pants are in shreds, and blood is oozing from my many wounds. Some creatures have leaped onto my back and sunk their teeth into my flesh. They claw their way up and tear into the meat of my shoulders and neck. But the worst part is becoming apparent.
Some of the vile creatures that have bitten me have also injected their venom. My legs are becoming weak. I am dizzy and unable to stand. Forgive me Hattie, for I did not think this through. And now I am afraid I have killed us both.
I have fallen, and the hideous things began to slither and crawl all over me. They scratch, gouge, pinch and some leave trails of fluid which burns my skin. Others lick at me with their foul and rough tongues. But the worst are the very small ones. They try to get in my mouth, nose, ears and eyes. I keep batting and wiping at them but my strength is going and I fear I am about to pass out.
From somewhere in the darkness of the cavern beyond there comes a high pitched squeal accompanied by the eerie sound of something heavy being dragged. All movement around me stops and the creatures, as one, turn and go back to the cavern.
I am left lying alone on the floor in the slime and bile they have excreted. Most of my body is in pain. It burns and stings from a thousand bites and stabs. My legs are numb and covered with lesions. I refuse to let myself lose consciousness.
I try to stand and fall back against the tunnel wall. I try to steady myself and reach out my hand. It strikes the flashlight I have dropped. It still works. I point the beam into the cavern and through my blurry and burning eyes I can see the horrendous crowd of slithering beasts. They have lifted Hattie off the altar and are carrying her to the base of the rock, Malzone.
* * *
Cold has flooded into the air. My breath is frozen in my lungs and my heart is struggling to keep a steady pace. They have my Hattie and they’ve had her this whole time, all these years. They move quickly and keep low to the ground, lifting my little sister above their putrid, malformed bodies. Working together, they carry her closer to the big rock and closer to their master, Malzone.
The big rock has begun to hum and give off a dull blue light which grows brighter and brighter. It draws the creatures in with an angelic glow. The herd come to a stop under the big rock. Planted deep in the earth, it protrudes through the top of the cavern and shines down from the ceiling like a light fixture.
The vermin thrust Hattie upward until she is directly below the rock and illuminated with the brightest part of the light. As one, they surge forward, forcing Hattie into the light, into the rock. Malzone is absorbing her. Her body is becoming one with the rock. Her flesh is hardening and drying up. As this happens, minute fissures begin to form up and down her body. There is no blood because a stone cannot bleed.
I am screaming but it is a scream without sound, a scream that cannot be heard. Then in my pain and agony, I lose consciousness.
When I wake, I am confused and feel a sense of vertigo. I have no idea how much time has passed. I am no longer beneath the big rock, but out in the tunnel surrounding it. There is no sound, my flashlight has burned out and the weak light that emanated from the walls of the tunnel is gone. I am in pitch blackness.
I am able to move, but when I do there are great spasms of pain that wrack my body. My legs are unsteady, but I am able to stand. The creatures are gone and only their filth is left behind.
I find the candles and matches I brought with me. By this feeble light I slowly make my way into the cavern, and the place I last saw Hattie.
The rock, Malzone, is transparent at this point. I move close and stare into it. Hattie is there. I can see her but her features are hard like the rock that holds her. She seems to float within.
I stand with my face and hands pressed against the surface of the rock, like a little kid at a candy store window, watching Hattie. She moves close to me and in her eyes I can see her silent scream. I slam my fist into the rock until my hands are slashed and torn but it does no good. I leave her there and make my way to the surface.
* * *
It has been fifty years since I saw Hattie die. It has been suggested several times over the years that the old house should be torn down before it totally collapses, but for some reason it has never been done. The roof fell in a few years ago and now there are only three walls remaining upright.
But still it stands.
The cycle has begun again. At night there is movement within the remains of the old house. The kids who live on the cul-de-sac have begun to cross the street rather than walk in front of the house. None of them will play in the little park next to the big rock, and everyone has stopped caring for the lawn around it; now the grass and weeds are growing higher.
The tunnels still exist. In just a few days from now I will go back, and Hattie and I will suffer no more.
Copyright © 2009 by Robert L. Steele