07 Mar Two Stories of the Haunted Cave
“Two Stories of the Haunted Cave”Written by William Dalphin Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 14 minutes
“Where are we going?”
I was seated between my brothers Roger and Greg in the back of my brother-in-law’s black Scirocco. It was three days until Halloween, and our parents had left my sister and her husband in charge as they went to attend a school function. After dinner, Jodie and Carl piled us into the car without a hint of our destination. The sun was setting behind us, and the sky was fading from a deep brick to a morose purple.
“We’re going to a Haunted Cave in Dayton,” Carl said, turning down the radio.
“Haunted Cave?” Greg asked. There was a hint of anxiety in his voice. Greg was the youngest, and the most timid. We got him to watch an episode of The Twilight Zone once, and he’d had nightmares for weeks.
Carl pulled off the highway and onto a one-lane road. Open fields blurred past as he floored the Scirocco. Roger and Greg grabbed the car’s “Oh Shit!” handles instinctively, and I, with no other recourse, covered my eyes. The acceleration pushed me back into the cold leather of the seat. My stomach lurched as we went over a slight hill. Carl loved to go fast in his Scirocco.
“It’s located on a farm.” He glanced at us in the rearview mirror. “There are people who set it up every year. Some wandering theater troupe. They build a path through the tunnels and…well, you’ll just have to see.”
“Have you been there before?” I asked.
Carl didn’t answer. We all sat, waiting for him to respond. The moment of silence lingered uncomfortably long. Finally, Jodie looked at him and whispered, “Was that the year what’s-his-face disappeared?”
“Turkish,” Carl replied, his voice cracking slightly.
“Who’s Turkish?” Greg asked.
Carl looked in the rearview mirror again. This time, his expression seemed very dark, very somber. “Someone I knew ten years ago.”
“I used to be friends with this kid named Jasper. Jasper was friends with Turkish, so all three of us hung out together. Turkish was a prick, though. He picked fights all the time, got kicked out of class and was always on the verge of expulsion. One time he told me that he’d buried a neighbor’s cat up to its head and then ran a lawnmower over it.”
“Poor kitty,” Greg lamented, staring wistfully out the window.
“One October, Turkish found out about this Haunted Cave in Dayton and talked Jasper and me into going. Turkish was a horror fanatic. He used to ramble off information about obscure serial killers he’d read about. Jasper agreed to go because Jasper didn’t care what he did as long as it got him out of the house for a weekend. His father was an alcoholic. I went because I wanted to keep Jasper out of trouble. You see, things had a way of going south whenever Turkish was around.
“We agreed to meet up at the cave, which you’ll see in a couple of miles. Turkish showed up late as usual. He’d stopped to get his most recent girlfriend’s name tattooed on his chest. It was his idea, and he made us wait for him. That’s the kind of guy Turkish was.”
Carl paused his story. Ahead, we could see tall lights illuminating what looked like a fairground. There were hundreds of cars parked along the side of the road and in a makeshift parking lot across from the main thoroughfare. People were everywhere, most dressed in heavy jackets for the weather, but some were decked out in costumes. I counted half a dozen witches, two werewolves and one ghost in a bed sheet who looked kind of lost. There were more zombies than I could keep track of.
We pulled into the parking lot and climbed out of the Scirocco. Greg squeezed Jodie’s hand tightly as we crossed the road. People milled past us, some laughing, a few crying and clinging to their friends. We followed Carl over a slight rise where most people seemed to be congregating, and there was the cave.
It was as if the Earth had been punched from below by a fist the size of a house. A gigantic hill of jagged rock with a black, gaping maw in the center the size of a bus. Dripping torches lined the sides of a plank walkway, descending into the mouth-like hole. In acknowledgment of the cave’s monstrous form, two equally enormous papier-mâché skeleton hands had been erected on either side, ushering victims into the cavern to be consumed. Screams and the sound of roaring and chainsaws emanated from the darkness.
Greg hugged Jodie’s side. His eyes were full of panic. “I don’t want to go in there!”
“Just stay close to me,” Jodie rustled his hair, “and if it’s really scary, just close your eyes and hold me tight.”
We got in line behind a family of four who seemed to be having similar difficulty with one of their crew. A little girl of probably eight or nine who just would not stop crying and tearing at her mother’s pant leg, begging her to take them all home.
I watched her with interest. I’ve always had a bad curiosity for the macabre. Even when I knew things would scare me to tears, I had trouble looking away. I sympathized with the fear Greg and the little girl were feeling. I could feel the skin on my arms trying to shimmy its way up to my neck. Something in my stomach made a noise like it wanted out, and I was afraid it might just find a way. At the same time, I was shaking with anticipation.
“Looks like we’ve got a few minutes before we reach the front of the line,” Carl said, standing on tiptoe to see over a few heads. “Anyway, where was I…oh, right. So we got in line, and Turkish showed us his tattoo. I remember laughing at it because it turned out I’d named my car the same thing. So to me, it looked like he’d tattooed my car’s name on his chest.”
“What was it?” Roger asked.
“What was what? My car? It was a Gremlin.”
Jodie hissed. “Ew.”
“No, what was the name?”
“Oh,” Carl scratched his head for a moment, looking up at the night sky. “I forget. M-something. Matilda or Melissa. Anyway…”
“…Turkish got ticked off when I laughed at his tattoo, so he pulled a switchblade on me. I wasn’t really afraid he was going to use it, but people around us didn’t know that. Before he or I had a chance to react, the guy selling the tickets –this huge brute, big as a refrigerator– grabbed Turkish by the wrist and twisted hard. Turkish screamed and dropped the knife. I thought, That’s it. We’re not getting in. But the ticket guy picked up the knife and said, ‘Now you can go in.’
“Well, Turkish was turning beet red. Everyone could see he was on the verge of going apeshit, but was holding back. First time in his life, I thought. We went inside, and after we were out of sight of the ticket guy, Turkish started swearing that he was going to go back and kick the ticket guy’s ass. There were some fake corpses, and after ranting for ten minutes, Turkish climbed over the railing and started taking his anger out on the props. He was just going crazy on stuff, tearing the scenery down, and Jasper and I were like, ‘Let’s get out of here before he gets us arrested.’
“We bailed on him. Just walked off into the rest of the cave. Of course, that led to some very loud swearing when he realized we were gone. We could hear his tantrum change into absolute rage five minutes later, echoing through the tunnel system.”
Our group approached the cave entrance, where a tall man cloaked in a Grim Reaper costume was taking money and stamping people’s hands. He wore a grey shroud that concealed his face. A rather real-looking scythe was strapped across his back.
“Your guide will be along shortly,” he said in a voice that could curdle milk.
“We don’t get to just go in alone?” Carl asked.
“We’ve had…incidents in the past,” the Grim Reaper replied, reaching up to stroke his chin. “People getting…injured. Too many lawsuits.”
Greg continued hugging Jodie tightly around the waist and whimpering. She hunched over him and petted his head, saying his name over and over again, trying to console him. Carl looked at me and rolled his eyes.
“I guess they don’t want people ruining the cave for others,” I said.
“I wonder if he’s referring to Turkish?” Roger remarked. He rubbed his hands together to keep warm.
The Grim Reaper cocked his head with interest. Everybody looked at Carl.
“Well, when Turkish caught up with us in the tunnel, his hands were all bloody. We asked him what had happened. I was scared he’d attacked someone. He told us he’d torn his hands up when he tripped getting back over the railing and fallen on the rocks. I wasn’t sure whether to believe him or not. The night was ruined, as most were when Turkish got involved. I just wanted to get out of the cave and go home.
“But we didn’t get a chance. Before I could say ‘Let’s get out of here,’ we heard someone very angry shouting. Other people started screaming. There was this thundering sound and the floor shook. And what came out of the tunnel, but that fucking gargantuan ticket guy! He came barreling at us like a monster, scaring the living piss out of everybody that got in his way.
“He came right for us. It was like a sixth sense. He knew exactly who he was looking for…Turkish. I knew we didn’t stand a chance against that guy. Jasper and I turned and ran. Turkish stood there, trying to look tough, but just as the guy got within arm’s reach he shrieked and fled. Fortunately, the guy was big and slow. We made it out of the cave without him catching us. Once we hit the open air, we ran into the crowds to lose him completely. Let me tell you, being chased by that guy was scarier than the cave itself. The look on his face…it was like he wanted to tear us apart.
“I spent a good fifteen minutes just circling around people and cars and trying to keep an eye out for Jasper and Turkish. I ran into Turkish first, unfortunately. He was practically insane with rage. I swear he was frothing at the mouth. Jasper found us a couple of minutes later, and we hung out by the cars to have a smoke, trying to relax.
“Turkish just kept kicking the car next to him and shouting, ‘That fucker still has my knife!’
“Jasper and I were like, ‘Forget it, man. Get a new knife. That guy will pop your head off if you go back there.’
“But Turkish was…well, stupid. He kept waving his bloody hands around and swearing he was going to come back and beat the shit out of the ticket guy and get his knife back. Then he was glared at us and said, ‘Are you guys with me?’
“‘Fuck no!’ I told him. ‘We’re not going to fight that gorilla for your stupid knife!’
“Turkish turned fuming red again. I swear steam was coming out of his ears. He stamped his feet and then flipped us both off and stormed off toward his car. I didn’t care. He’d be over the whole thing in a week, I was sure. I remember the last thing I heard him yell before he slammed his car door and drove off…the last thing he said that night and ever.
“‘If you assholes aren’t with me, I’ll just bring a friend of my father!’
“The next Monday, when he didn’t show up for school, Jasper told me ‘a friend of his father’ was Turkish’s way of saying he was going to go home and get his father’s Beretta.”
“What’s a Beretta?” Roger asked.
“It’s a gun. We thought for sure he’d gone home, gotten the gun, and done something stupid, as usual, and was now in jail. But he wasn’t. He was just gone.”
“You never saw him again?”
“Never. I’ve only told a few people that story.”
“And a riveting story it is, my friend,” the Grim Reaper said, crossing his arms. “If I see your friend during my journeys, I will tell him you still speak of him.”
Carl gave the Reaper a sideways glance and frowned. I couldn’t help but smile a little.
A gaunt man walked out of the shadows in front of us. His face was long, pale, and his eyes hollow and dark. He wore filthy overalls and a plaid shirt covered with multiple wounds. On his head was a straw hat with a torn brim. Greasy, black hair hung down in his face.
“Welcome, travelers,” he groaned, lifting his arms like they were weighted down by pails of sand. “If you will, please follow me. Keep together, do not stray, and do not cross the railing, for your own protection.”
We followed him as he requested: Roger, then Jodie with Gregg hugging her back, me and Carl in the rear. The ground dipped down almost immediately as we entered. The fake torches were replaced by cheap light bulbs that ran along the ceiling and cloaked the ground around us in shadows. The railing and path were made of rotten, old wood. It looked slimy, so I kept my hands tucked into my armpits.
After descending for a couple of minutes, the tunnel curved into darkness. I reached out and put my hand on Greg’s shoulder to not get lost, but my sudden touch made him scream, and he buried his face in Jodie’s back. She glanced back at me and gave me her patented death stare.
“Greg, it’s okay!” Jodie sighed. She reached behind her and patted his head.
“Sorry, Greg,” I said. “I wasn’t trying to scare you.”
The tunnel widened into a chamber of smoother rock. Several glass cases had been set up around the perimeter. Fake-looking cadavers were propped up in them, mutilated, dissected and crushed. Dim spotlights were set up in front of each display to illuminate its contents, casting a nauseating yellow glow about the room.
I stepped out from behind Greg and looked in the nearest case. A pair of hands, severed at the wrists, two legs, lost below the knees, blackened feet, a torso…a head crushed beyond repair. I was mesmerized by the gore. It looked so real. I stood there, taking in all the details. Something inched up my back, and I twitched with panic before I realized it was just my nerves going haywire.
“These are the bodies of previous explorers.” the guide said somberly. “Be careful, lest you join them on display.”
I stared at the corpse, the sounds of distant screaming echoing in my ears. Greg’s sobbing muffled by Jodie’s jacket. The image of that case’s contents etched itself into my brain. I closed my eyes and could see every detail as clear as if they were still open.
After a minute, the guide made a sweeping gesture with his arms and we were escorted out of the room and back into a narrowing tunnel. The lights were gone. Everything around us was pitch-black. Greg sobbed harder, causing Carl to tell him to calm down. I put my hand on his shoulder again, and he flinched but didn’t scream. I held onto him, suddenly afraid to let go. Something in my head whispered, “If you let go, you’ll be lost forever.”
We inched forward, step by step. Somewhere ahead of us, a buzzer sounded, followed by a strobe light. Jodie screamed, causing me to look up. The walls around us were sectioned off by large panes of glass. To the right, a man was sitting in a sturdy-looking chair, his arms and legs bound by leather straps. A metal cap sat on his head, and he screamed loudly at me as sparks flew out of the top of it and smoke billowed out around his head. I screamed with him.
Roger shouted up in the lead, and I turned away from the electrocution scene to see another cage light up. Inside it, a woman was laying on a table while a man in a pig mask brought a chainsaw down on her abdomen. Blood sprayed over the glass wall, concealing the carnage, but I could still see the woman’s arms and legs sticking out stiffly on the table. I breathed a sigh of relief, realizing they were fake. The woman must have had her head sticking up through a hole in the table with a prop body tied down on it. It was an impressive special effect.
Greg shoved himself into Jodie’s back, screaming like I’d never heard him scream before. This was too much, too realistic. Greg had no business being there. None of us did. I pushed Greg forward, causing Jodie to yell at him. I didn’t try to tell her it was my fault; I just wanted to get out of that room.
We shambled forward as a unit, the guide swaying his head like the horrors around us were just another day in his life. He turned to look back at us and, catching my stare of disgust, smiled and winked at me. I shook my head as if to say, “No more.” He tilted his head to the left as if to say back, “Just take one more look.”
The last glass wall was illuminated from the other side, revealing a teenager in a torn-up baseball jersey and filthy jeans. The look on his face was of absolute terror; it didn’t seem fake to me at all. The boy was yelling, but the glass there must have been soundproof, because the only sound we could hear was the man screaming while being electrocuted behind us. I tried to read his mouth movements, but the only word I could figure out was “help.” As we watched, a large, muscle-bound man in nothing but a pair of black leather pants appeared from a dark corner with a very large axe. The blade on the axe was grimy and dull-looking.
The teenager went wild inside the glass case. He thrashed against his restraints. The lights went out for a moment, causing Greg to give a short scream, and then came back on. The man with the axe turned to look at us, and I heard Carl whisper.
“Oh, my God.”
The axe man hefted his weapon up over his shoulder, turning back to the panicked teenager. At the same time, Carl started shouting, “Let’s go! Everybody out!” I tried to look over at him, but I was hypnotized by the scene unfolding on the other side of the glass. The kid in the shredded clothing was crying. I could see that he had pissed in his pants. This was no prop body. How were they going to pull off this effect? I couldn’t figure it out. The axe man tensed his arm, then leaned back before pivoting as he swung the axe.
That’s when the lights went out. Greg’s screaming was making my ears ring. I heard Carl shove past Roger and the guide. Jodie was shouting his name over and over again and I could feel Greg being jerked out of my grip. I stumbled to keep up as we fought our way through the tunnel. Left, right, right again. I almost ran into the wall a couple of times trying to keep up.
We turned a corner and the tunnel lighting returned. Carl was storming for the exit, not saying a word. Roger was running to catch up. Jodie was dragging Greg, who was stumbling with his head buried into her back. I looked around and realized that the guide had somehow gotten behind me. I looked over my shoulder, and there he was, staring back at me. His expression was blank.
The path went over a small underground lake, and as we crossed it, a huge form rose up out of the water. It was a man in a hockey mask, though, at the time, the reference was lost on me. Slowly, methodically, he strode through the water toward us as we crossed the bridge.
“Go,” I whispered to Greg, but we had caught up with the group ahead of us, and we were stuck. “Go!” I said louder, pushing Greg. “Go! Go! GO!”
The man in the hockey mask began climbing over the railing, and I lost it. I started screaming. The guide started laughing. Greg hadn’t stopped screaming through any of this, but it was clear his throat was getting raw from it. Jodie screamed at Carl, and Carl started shoving through the group ahead of us, who started shouting because they didn’t know what was going on.
We were running when we came out of the cave. Greg collapsed on the ground crying, and Jodie picked him up to cradle him in her arms. Carl was white as an albino, and his eyes seemed wild and panicked. Only Roger appeared to be unfazed by everything that had happened. I hated him for his calm.
“Let’s get out of here,” Carl said, and that was it. We didn’t even get to stop to catch our breath. Jodie gathered up Greg, I went over and held Roger’s hand, and we walked away from the hellish place.
“I’ll see you later, Greg!” someone shouted from behind us. I turned to look, and the guide was standing there, waving goodbye to us.
Nice touch, I thought.
We rode back in silence, except for the sound of Greg crying uncontrollably in the back seat. I got to sit up front because Jodie elected to sit in the back and try to comfort him. She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly, and his body shook with wracking sobs. Roger sat quietly, looking out the window. I watched Carl with curiosity, but he stared blankly out at the road. This time, we didn’t speed, though there was a clear sense of urgency, like we had to get away as quickly as possible.
“Carl,” I whispered, to keep Greg from hearing. “What happened back there?”
“It was him,” Carl said, not trying to lower his voice. “That man with the axe. That was the gorilla that chased us out of the cave ten years ago.”
Greg was still crying when we pulled up in front of the house. Our parents hadn’t returned yet, so Jodie and Carl read stories to him to try to help him sleep. It took them half an hour to calm him down, and I think in the end, they may have given him something like Nyquil to assist them.
I lay in bed, looking out the window, listening to his sobbing in the next room until it died down. I shivered, lying there, thinking about everything I remembered from that night. All the horrible imagery burned into my skull. I relived it over and over in my head, as I am prone to do when something traumatic occurs. Eventually, Jodie came in and sat on the edge of my bed.
“Jodie?” I looked at her for a moment to make sure I had her attention. She had dark circles under her eyes. “Promise me we won’t ever go back there.”
She sighed. “Oh yeah, I can definitely promise we’ll never take you guys back there.”
“No,” I said, looking her straight in the eye. “Promise me you’ll never go back there either.”
“Pfff, hell no,” Jodie frowned.
I turned and stared out the window at the black October night. “Madeleine,” I whispered.
Jodie looked out the window with me. Her brow furrowed for a moment. “What are you talking about? Who’s Madeleine?”
“Carl’s first car.”
She stood up and looked down at me. “How do you know that?”
I pulled the covers up to my chin. I could feel a shiver developing in my arms and legs, and uncontrollable trembling that seemed to want to shake my internal organs loose. I could feel my fingernails digging into my palms even through the thickness of my comforter.
“I saw it tattooed on the chest of that dismembered body in the first room of the cave.”
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableWilliam Dalphin Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A