Beneath the Earth, Nightmares Dwell

📅 Published on July 8, 2021

“Beneath the Earth, Nightmares Dwell”

Written by Kyle Harrison
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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I knew my time at the Rossetti University was going to be something special the minute I learned of its intriguing history.

Originally used as a battle fortress during the last years of a strange land war amid pioneers of the Northwest, the last remaining soldiers actually died as the result of a massive flood from the nearby river.  Some say that it was a demon from a nearby mysterious church that caused the river to rise; others just chalk it up to Mother Nature.

That same river was where I met the current headmaster, Albert Schmidt, who explained to me that entry as a student for the college required more than simply good grades.

“The dormitories have specific rules for their initiation ceremonies.  It’s meant to be a test of mental strength, to show how clever you are.  To be honest, they demand perfection from their initiates, and we allow it because we believe it could better our entire staff.  Or at least, we used to…it’s the type of stuff I guess that frat houses care about.  We’ve allowed the tradition for as long as I can remember, but I must admit some of the activities aren’t particularly safe,” he said.

“But you don’t have any proof to charge the different frat leaders with misconduct?” I guessed.

Albert gave a soft smile and commented, “I knew your father, Robert, so I recognize how much getting into this school means to you.  You’re a bright young man with a good head on your shoulders and a goal for the future…which is why I’m telling you what you will need to do in order to ensure that you remain a student here at Rossetti.”

“You want me to spy on the frat houses?”

“In a way.  I have recently received reports from the Miska dormitory that their hazing rituals have caused two initiates to be injured and three to leave the school entirely.  Those sorts of numbers are not what we need to get funding.  Truth be told, rumors like that could shut us down.  But sadly, no one has come forward to the campus board or me so that we can verify Miska is doing anything wrong.  That’s where you come in, my boy,” he commented.

“It sounds risky.  What reassurances do I have that if I do this, I’ll be given a proper education?  If I’m found out, none of the dorms will want me,” I pointed out.

“I don’t believe in favors, Robert…but these are unique circumstances.  If you can handle the task I have given you, I will make sure that you not only get the best education possible, but your future here at the University is secured as a part of the staff and potential future board!” Schmidt stated.

I could tell that he was serious.  I had no idea how precipitous the dangers these frats were causing was, but from the way the headmaster spoke, I could tell he meant that the future of the entire college was at stake.

Of course, I accepted the offer, not fully understanding the dangers ahead.  He gave me the information of the presidents of the Miska frat house.

Their dorms sat directly on the west side of the river, perhaps a good twenty-minute walk from the main campus, meaning that they could easily do whatever they wanted here away from prying eyes.  The building looked old, probably originally meant to be a watchtower of sorts to alert the rest of the fortress of incoming threats.  It seemed symbolic of the way that Schmidt said they always were somehow aware of what the entire college was doing and had a leg up against competing frats.

Other rumors swirled too; some claimed that ten members of the frat swore allegiance to dark gods in order to excel, naming the president as their leader even unto death.  It sounded very cultish and a bit silly, but I soon learned as I was taken in for the interview process that some in the frat took it very seriously.

“Robert Ward.  Your family is from North Haven, yes?” the secretary asked as he took my information and checked all of my paperwork.  Schmidt had made sure that my application was appealing to the frat house.  According to him, the type of student they wanted didn’t necessarily have to be the top achievers.

“They’re searching for a different type of mettle,” he explained.

When the secretary mentioned my family history, I immediately felt offset by the inquiry.  “Yes…that’s right.  But how did you know that?” I asked.

“North Haven has been a long-standing supporter of our local chapter.  Jeremiah, whom I believe was your cousin, graduated with flying colors just last year,” they responded.

“Yes…we hadn’t heard from him since then, so we naturally assumed he got a job somewhere on the east coast,” I said.

“Well, enough chit-chat.  I take it that you want to see if you can survive the maze?” he commented.

My throat ran dry.  I knew little to nothing about the challenge ahead except that, apparently, it was dangerous.  And I wasn’t even doing this for the reasons they thought, meaning the chances of my survival were probably less likely than a willing participant.

“Is something the matter?” the secretary asked.  Then I heard the shuffling of feet from the back of the room and saw an imposing six-foot, six-inch tall man come into the office.

“Did I hear that we will have a Ward participating in the maze this time?” the man asked, running his fingers through his beard.

I smiled cordially toward him, the man’s eyes shining as he extended his hand in a greeting toward me.

“Mitchell Whiteclff, President of the Miska Chapter of Rossetti University.  I truly hope you are just as amazing as the other Wards that were students in our halls,” he commented.

“I really had no idea my family was even connected to this college.  I’ve never heard anyone speak about it,” I admitted.

Whitecliff gave me a knowing smile.  “Once you endure the maze, you won’t either.”

I wasn’t given any more details other than to arrive at the frat house around 7:13 that evening and bring with me only the bare essentials.

I took that to mean food and water and maybe a few first aid supplies, but when I arrived for the event, Mitchell took one look at what I had brought and snatched it from my hand.

“All of this stuff would give you an unfair advantage down below,” he explained as he slapped an old campus map onto the table in front of me and three other initiates.

I wondered if Schmidt had offered them the same deal or if they were here for ulterior motives.  Unfortunately, with Whitecliff breathing over us, it was impossible to even learn their names.

“Do you know how it was that this fortress fell during the pioneer days?  The watchtower thought that all of the armies would be coming in by land and had excellent views in all direction from above.  But from below…they were vulnerable,” Whitecliff said.

I tried my best to memorize the labyrinth underground tunnels, amazed by how expansive they were.  “These go across the entire campus,” I commented.

“Once the base fell, the new owners decided to make sure that the strategy wouldn’t work again, so they dug as many tunnels as they could.  There was no rhyme or reason to any of them.  It was, in short, a maze fit for a Minotaur, and even some of the workers wound up so disoriented and confused that they didn’t know how to leave.  They died down there,” Mitch said as he offered the map to us.

“This is the only tool you will need tonight.  Not that it will do you much good.  There are at least five different versions of this map that were sketched out, and no one can agree on which is the accurate one.  The rules are quite simple.  For the event tonight, you will all be blindfolded and led to the depths of the tunnels.  First one to escape before sunrise will be given a membership here at Miska,” Whitecliff told us.

A dozen different questions buzzed through my head as one of his charter members put bags over our heads and commented, “I will have you all grab ahold of this rope, and I will tug you along in the direction you need to go. When you feel that the rope has fallen, you may remove the bag from your head.  If at any time you do this beforehand, you will be immediately disqualified.  Any questions?” the other frat member asked.

None of us spoke a word.  And then we descended into darkness.

It was disorienting being led into the depths of the earth with nothing to guide me except the sound of footsteps and the gentle tug of a rope.

The trip was quiet and foreboding, the air stiff and full of strange smells that I didn’t even want to imagine what they belonged to.

It took us about fifteen minutes or so before the rope finally dropped, and the man announced, “You stand here for five minutes.  Do not attempt to follow me.”

I listened until the sound of his footsteps was gone and finally took off the plastic bag to get a good look around.  It didn’t help much.  The tunnels were dark and lined with limestone and brick with hardly any distinguishing features except the occasional graffiti and spiderwebs.

“This should be a piece of cake.  I memorized the turns on the way down here,” the guy next to me said, and he ran off to the left tunnel.  I studied the different paths, debating which way to go.

“If you want, we could travel together for a while.  If we get out together, they have to let us both in, right?” I told the other initiate.

“Sure.  I’m Jon, by the way,” he said as we started down the tunnel straight in front of us.

“Robert,” I replied.  There were signs of crumbling brick everywhere, the decay of generations.  It made me claustrophobic.  And then as we turned the corner, a skeleton.

At first, I jumped, and then I tried to calm myself and talk through this.

“They must be trying to scare us and confuse us,” I told Jon.

But he looked like he had seen a ghost.

“A buddy of mine got lost in these catacombs about a year ago.  Somehow, he managed to keep his smartphone on him, and he thought that would help navigate this tomb.  But instead, he used it to document what he found.  This body is likely the first of many,” Jon explained as we started down some stairs.

The next level of the tunnels reminded me of a subway station with tile on the floor and a wide-open dark tunnel with rails on it.  “What could they possibly be moving down here?” Jon asked.

Again, I talked aloud to reassure myself all was as it should be.

“They probably haven’t used this in years.  It’s abandoned like the rest of this place,” I said, climbing down onto the rails.  To prove my point, a few more minutes into the tunnel we hit water, and realized we couldn’t go any further unless we swam.

“This way must be blocked,” I told him.

“Do you hear something?” Jon whispered as we stood there.

I could only hear the echo of our voice at first.  Then it dawned on me.  Low hissing noises from the walls.

I didn’t want to alarm Jon, so I recommended we turn around immediately.  But it seemed like as we returned to the station, the hissing noise was persisting.  In the dim light from god knows where I soon discovered why.  There were at least three scorpions on my friend’s back, all of them with their stingers raised and ready to strike.

“Jon…do not move,” I warned him.  I had nothing to offer to swat the predator away but slowly reached down to take off my shoe.

As soon as he saw the small arachnids, he froze and began to hyperventilate.

“Jesus Christ, I knew this was a bad idea,” he said.

“Just…don’t panic…” I advised.  The tiny creatures started to skitter toward his exposed skin.

“Easy for you to say…”

And then, from somewhere else in the tunnels, we heard a scream.

Jon leaped and ran, and I tried to call out to him, but it was too late.  He was gone.

I tried following his trail, figuring that he would get disoriented on his own quickly but soon found I was traversing the tunnels for another hour in complete silence.

The darkness was overwhelming.  It was beginning to take its toll on my mind.  I would sometimes hear the scorpions again and freeze, imagining they were now on my body.  Other times it felt like the walls were closing in.  Nothing in the tunnels seemed familiar anymore.

After further wandering, I found a long flight of stairs that led upward and figured it was my best chance to get back to the surface.

It felt like it was leading directly out of this maze.  But soon, I found myself standing in what looked like a war bunker of some kind.

There was exercise equipment stacked in different corners that hadn’t been used in ages, along with a dried-up swimming pool, which even had an old kayak as though preparing for the Olympics.  As I explored the area further, I found athletes’ lockers and uniforms, all of which looked as though they had been rifled through.

Then I heard a noise.

“Don’t make any sudden moves!” I shouted.  I didn’t want them to be aware I had nothing to defend myself with.

Then, from the shadows, I saw the other initiate stumbling and looking like he had just seen his worst nightmare.

“You need to leave this place.  Before they keep you here forever,” he said, grabbing me and shoving me against the locker.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“I’ve seen what they do to us.  To the ones that survive.  This is no contest.  It’s a trap.  It’s a mind game.”

“You’re delirious.  Stay with me,” I said as I helped him out toward the equipment.

He slapped my hands away and snapped, “Don’t you fucking get it?  This is all a ruse.  We were led here to be experimented on!!”

Then he ran off to the same flight of stairs I had just climbed.

I looked toward the other end of the athletic center and saw another flight of stairs to what looked like a fire exit.

My curiosity about his strange behavior got the better of me, and I decided to investigate.

Something about this had felt wrong from the beginning, and as I descended again into another murky part of the catacombs, I felt as though this time I was going to the depths of hell itself.

The farther I went, the stranger the environment felt.  There were rock formations and strange carvings in the walls, almost as though meant for some ritualistic purpose.  And then, just as darkness completely overtook me, I hit a wall.

I felt around the edge of the wall, trying to get a sense of if this was really a dead end.  It didn’t make sense to me that the other initiate would be upset about something so normal.

Then I felt a handle, and I pulled.  A soft whirring noise filled the air, and the entire hall behind the door I was in front of became illuminated.

I stepped into what looked like a secret laboratory.

There were security monitors, medicine cabinets and countless rows of data storage, supercomputers all watching every aspect of the campus above.

As I explored, I soon realized that not only was this strange, secretive place still in constant use, but the things they were keeping an eye on were actually people.  Students on the grounds above, each monitor labeled with numbers and symbols.  What were they doing here?

I moved toward the rear of the room, listening to the continuous hissing noises, the memories of the scorpions flashing in my mind.

Then I saw something far more nightmarish than any insect could be.

There were cryo tanks, the kind that you only see in strange B movies.  And each one of them appeared to be growing what looked like a human husk.  Most of them were unfinished, slowly metamorphosing before my eyes as my jaw dropped and I felt a chill run down my spine.

This was worse than the headmaster realized.  But still, I needed to know why they were doing this.  I sat down at one of the terminals and tried to log in.  Unsurprisingly the network was completely secure.

Then I heard a strange groan from somewhere above me.  It sounded like someone in pain.  I found the stairs and climbed up, wondering if maybe some of the finished specimens were kept here.

Instead, as I approached the next floor, I found the guide that had led us here, heaving and trying to stand.

He had been injured.  Attacked by someone or something.  When he saw me, his eyes flashed in paranoia.  “Get away!  Don’t get near me, do you hear me??” he snapped.

“What is this place?  What have you done?” I whispered.

“You wouldn’t even understand.  You have no idea how involved you already are in all of this,” he spat back.

“Tell me now, or I will leave you here to die,” I snapped back.

He laughed in a mad way.  As though he wasn’t even worried about that.

“Don’t you understand it?  This place was designed for perfection.  We find the students that can become the next generation of that perfection.  We choose them from all sorts of different places.  You aren’t special, Robert.  You aren’t even a candidate for this college,” The man said.

I think I was about to give him a smart comeback when I heard this low guttural noise from the other side of the chamber.  I turned and saw it.  It was this strange-looking, half-human creature lumbering toward me, covered in blood.  It had clearly not developed properly, or had been released too soon and was now struggling to survive.

As it got closer, I screamed and realized that it had my eyes.  My face.

This was a replica of me.

I stumbled to where the guide was hunched over and shouted, “Do something before it kills the both of us!”

He laughed again and shouted, “I told you it made no difference.  You were brought here for a reason, Robert.  Same as others before you.  Perfection must be obtained!!”

I ran, pushing past him to find another way out.  The creature lurched and attacked him, its jaw opening wide to snap at the man’s arm as I found a ladder and started to climb.

I could hardly breathe, hardly think, as I found my way up to the next level.  Now I understood my colleagues’ fears.  They were making monsters down here.

Soon I found myself in a darkened elevator and started to climb up a rope.  It was barely hanging on, but it would get the trick done.  I could see sunlight, and it spurred me onward.  Down below, I could hear the creature.  It smelled fear; maybe even could trace the scent.

The rope buckled, and I dared not look down.  The creature was climbing after me.

I kept scrambling up, my palms sweaty.  I was going to make it.

And then the rope broke, and I fell toward darkness, into a void I couldn’t escape.

I blacked out.

When I came to, I was under lights in what looked like a college clinic.  Headmaster Schmidt was there, along with an older lady I guessed was the campus nurse.

“What…where am I?” I asked, looking around.  It felt like I was above ground, but I couldn’t see outside, and for a moment, I panicked.

“Luke, one of the other initiates found you passed out in the tunnels.  I’m guessing you were either dehydrated or starving.  You were lost for three days,” the nurse explained.

“Three days…that doesn’t sound right,” I said.  I felt hurt, like I really had fallen from a great height.  All the memory of what happened rushed back, and I grabbed the headmaster’s wrist.

“I need to speak with you privately,” I told him.

He nodded and dismissed the nurse, his brow furrowing.

“Sir…you need to be aware of what is happening down there.  What Mitchell and his frat house and maybe others on the campus are up to,” I said.

“There is so much that I can’t even properly explain but I will do my best…”

He listened as I gave him the story of a lifetime.  He paused and asked a few questions here and there but, other than that, made no interruptions.

“And you’re sure this is what you saw?” he asked me.  He showed genuine concern not only for my well-being but the others that might be lost forever.

“Yes, sir.  I would stake my entire life on it,” I said.

He sighed and looked down at his feet.

“I was afraid of this…what is this school coming to?” he turned to call the nurse back in.

But instead, Whitecliff appeared from the doorway.

“Wait…what is he doing here…” my mouth felt dry as the two men shared an unspoken look.

“Robert, you are far more like your cousin than you may realize.  Both of you have been failures in our experiments.  We are striving to create perfection here.  And to do that, you must endure this trial until you are the perfect candidate for our school.  We need the funds you see, and to do that, we are going to create perfect students,” the headmaster said.

“This was a test.  You have been doing this to students for years.  You have been creating and crafting them in those underground lairs as your puppets,” I realized.

The thought of the hundreds or possibly thousands having endured so much torture, cast aside when these instructors decided that they didn’t meet protocols.

“Nurse, can you get Robert a sedative?” Whitecliff asked as I felt a cold chill fill the room.

“We need him healthy for the next exam.”

I knew they meant to take my life and then recycle my body for another horrible experiment.  When the nurse came in, I screamed and thrashed, hoping maybe she wasn’t a part of this horrendous situation.

She gave me a sad smile as she injected me, and the world went black.

* * * * * *

I’m alone now, trapped here, waiting to be put back in that maze.  I keep thinking about the lives I have led.  Dreaming of the tunnels and the rats that are down there.  Rats like me that I will transform into until I can outsmart the scientists.

I can hear the walls closing in already, and I think I don’t want to go back there.  I can’t; I have very little left I can do except perhaps to warn others.  For some reason, I have been allowed the opportunity to move about my room.  Perhaps they think I am no longer a threat?  I’m not sure.

I have found a way to access the Wi-Fi for the campus.  Whitecliff hasn’t come to confiscate my phone yet.  Maybe they believe it will make no difference, and maybe it won’t in the end.

But the only way this madness can stop is to get word out to others if I can.  Warn them of what this place is doing under our noses.

Don’t come here.  Perfection is not worth it.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Kyle Harrison
Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Kyle Harrison

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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