Fear of the Dark, a short story by ADPenson. Date added: 2012-06-25. Times viewed: 656.
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- Intro: A daring bank robbery from under ground takes a terrifying supernatural turn in the claustrophobic subterranean tunnels.
I first came up with the idea whilst speaking with the barmaid at the Ferryman pub. I had come in out of the rain to find myself the sole customer that night. The barmaid in question was in a chatty mood, so I obliged her by half listening as I drank my beer. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to hear that the pub was closing down the following week. My new friend proceeded to tell me, in some detail, the pub’s long history and its association with piracy over the centuries. I must admit my attention wandered as she talked, down to her ample cleavage, but was retrieved at the mention of a secret passageway. Apparently, this passageway ran from the cellar below us all the way through to the town hall. Nobody knew exactly when it had been built or why, but this building was several hundred years old so it was safe to assume that it had been there for some time.
I spent the next hour or so flattering and flirting with the barmaid, and eventually brought the subject back round to the cellar and the mysterious passage. I told her I would really like to take a look and would she be able to take me down there? At first the answer was an unequivocal no. However, after some persuasion and establishing there was unlikely to be anyone else, staff or customers, coming in that night, she relented and agreed to show me at the end of her shift at eleven o’clock, if I was willing to hang around until then. I was.
The hour arrived and the girl beckoned me to join her behind the bar. She opened the trapdoor and ushered me down to the cellar. We both descended and I looked about, seeing nothing but the expected bottles and barrels until I was pointed in the direction of a dilapidated wooden door in the far corner. As we approached it, the look on my companion’s face was that of a naughty schoolgirl who knew she was doing wrong and enjoyed it. I returned her sheepish smile and took hold of the rusty old door knob. After the initial tug which was required, the door swung open easily enough with a light creek. It had crossed my mind that I could have a little fun with the barmaid, whose name I had now discovered was Tracy, whilst we were down here, but on stepping through that ancient doorway into the cold, foreboding darkness any amorous thoughts instantly disappeared.
I had never had any problem with the dark before that night, it can often be a friend in my line of work, but stepping into that tunnel felt like sinking into a pit of tar and being enveloped by it. Anxiety and despair knitted into a tight ball in my stomach, which I felt rising higher into my chest with every step I took into that abyss. I only just managed to stop myself from crying out when I felt fingers take a tight grip on my arm. It wasTracy, of course. She was obviously feeling a similar sensation, as her previously bubbly demeanour had vanished and she looked at me with a quivering lip.
“Please, we have to go now!” She said to me.
I agreed. I had seen enough for now.
The next morning I started making phone calls. Despite my trepidation the previous night, this was too good an opportunity to ignore. That passageway ran the length of the high street and underneath at least three banks. Thieves have had some limited success in the past tunnelling under banks and up into their vaults. In this instance the tunnel was already there, I just needed to put together a team who could tell at which points to dig up and, of course, who had access to the necessary equipment. Luckily, I knew just the right people:
Sam Jenkins was, to put it politely, an eccentric, but he had an unparallel knowledge of the city. He had started collecting maps and plans during his last incarceration and had carried on collecting and studying obsessively since then, hoping to use his knowledge to pull off the perfect job and, subsequently, retire. I knew he was going to jump at this opportunity.
Fred Mortimer had spent many years as a coal miner up inYorkshirebefore being laid off. After which he had moved south and taken up a new career robbing post offices. He was an old man now but his experience of working in tunnels would be useful. Age aside, Fred was still a big, robust man and had past these attributes onto his son, Jim, who was currently following in his thieving father’s footsteps. Both would be valuable additions to this team.
John Matheson was a little bit different in that he was only a part time crook. He owned his own construction business, which meant he had a van and all of the required machinery for this job. The recession had hit him hard so there wasn’t much convincing needed to get him on board.
I spent the best part of that morning on the telephone to these individuals but it was well worth it. I was due to meet with them all that evening.
A social club may not seem like the perfect place for five criminals to meet to plan a crime, but nobody ever asked questions in this place as long as you paid your annual membership fee. The place was a good size and we managed to find ourselves a suitable corner a comfortable distance from any other customers and their ears. We discussed the intricacies of the plan and any problems we may encounter. The main issue was time. From my conversation withTracy, I knew that the pub was closing down next week and we had about another week after that before metal plates were put up over the windows and doors. Although more preparation time would be preferable, the best way to do it would be to break into the pub before those plates went up and accessing the cellar from inside, rather than going through the outdoor cellar hatch, this meant being ready to go in about a week and a half. Here is the plan we came up with:
Sam was to study the appropriate maps and find the closest bank to the start of the passageway. We had no idea how stable the tunnel was, so we didn’t want to be down there any longer than necessary. Remembering the sensation I had experienced last night, I certainly intended to be in and out as quickly as possible, not that I mentioned that to the others. Meanwhile, I had to go back to the pub and find out how soon after its closure people were due to come in and collect the furniture and fixtures. The last thing we needed was workman walking in on us. Tracyhad told me she was working the evening shift every night this week, so I should be able to go in and pump her for more information. The next step, once the dates were worked out and the pub closed, was for John and the Mortimers to break into the Ferryman and from there get down to the cellar and into the tunnel. At that point they could work out what equipment was needed and set about placing some support beams. This would have to be done after dark. During the day Sam and I would go to the chosen bank, claiming to have an item to place in a safety deposit box, in order to take a look at the layout of the place. Once Sam had seen and committed it to memory, along with the positioning of the bank on the street, he and our tunnelling experts, Fred and Jim Mortimer, could get together and draw up our own map of the underground passageway including the points at which we had to drill up into the bank. This part relied more upon instinct than I would have liked, but these were the three people in the world I could absolutely trust to do it.
Sitting in that dimly lit corner of the club, I began to feel very uneasy. The dark seemed to be moving in towards me. That cold, hard ball began to rise in my chest again and I could feel my heart beating faster. What made it worse was that nobody else appeared to notice the encroaching blackness. It was definitely time to leave.
Ten days later everything had gone according to plan and we were ready to go ahead with the job. By this point the pub had closed its doors for good and all of us had now been down to the tunnel and got our bearings. The worrying thing was my increasing fear of the dark. I looked it up and found that there were several names for this particular phobia, the most popular apparently being Nyctophobia. Knowing the name for it did not help, I don’t know why I thought it would. My nerves were already jangling as I sat in the back of John’s van with Jim and Sam when Jim opened his mouth. What he said was not comforting.
“Can I ask you two something?” He said as he leant forward. His voice had a low conspiratory tone. Sam and I both nodded. “Did anyone else get a funny feeling down in that tunnel?”
“What sort of feeling?” I asked. You may have thought I would find some comfort in the knowledge that I was not alone in my uneasiness down in the passageway, but I did not.
“Well…” Jim replied. “Dad said it was just my eyes playing tricks on me in the dark, but I’m sure I saw something moving down there.” I glanced over at Sam, who was now visibly shaking. He had spent as much time in the tunnel as anyone in order to pinpoint the best place to drill up, but his nervous disposition had worsened considerably with each visit. He looked up at me, then to Jim.
“It felt like being watched.” Sam said. He stared down at his own hands, which he had been wringing non stop since he got into the van. “Every minute down there felt like being watched.”
Jim and I shared a worried look, and then Jim spoke up again. “Dad was probably right.” He spoke with a more up beat tone this time, and attempted a reassuring smile as he slapped down a big hand onto Sam’s shoulder. “It’s just the dark playing tricks on us.”
I was sure Jim was right. What I wasn’t sure of was exactly what tricks they were.
The van backed up to the rear entrance of the Ferryman by way of a secluded back alley down to the side of the pub. There was no question of entering through the front door, even on a quiet night like this. Jim’s main source of income was armed robbery, but he dabbled in burglary and had made short work of the back door earlier on in the week. The van stopped, we got out of the back and carried pneumatic drills across the small courtyard which used to serve as a beer garden/smoking area. John and Fred left the front seats and joined us. Before going in, John asked if he could have a quick word. He said he thought someone should be keeping watch up top. We didn’t want some nosey passer by wandering in or, worse than that, the police. He suggested that he fulfil this role. It was not actually a bad idea, but I knew exactly why he wanted to stay behind. It seemed the only person still not rattled by that pitch black pit was Fred Mortimer, the experienced coal miner. I didn’t blame John for wanting to stay up top, and I let him.
So it was that four of us entered the tunnel that night. Fred and Jim led the way, followed nervously by Sam then myself. We all wore miners’ lamps which barely cut through the blackness. It seemed to take hours trudging through that passageway, although it couldn’t have been that long. It felt like we were going deeper, but I knew we weren’t. Fred was right about your mind playing tricks on you down here. As we got closer to our destination the air started getting colder, I could see my breath in front of me in the torchlight. The Mortimers had set some basic support beams to prevent any possible cave-ins. The light from our lamps must have been hitting these and causing shadows to dance on the tunnel walls, because there looked to be movement in the dirt that surrounded us. The others must have noticed this too, I saw them looking about themselves nervously. Even the unflappable Fred Mortimer appeared on edge as I watched him flinch at the shadows. Sam was walking no more than two feet in front of me. I say walking; it was really more of a reluctant shuffle. He was obviously not fairing well in this unnerving and claustrophobic atmosphere, I think I may have even seen him shed a tear. As we approached our decided upon drilling point, I thought I’d better say a few words before proceeding. I gathered everyone in a circle and spoke.
“I know we’re all feeling uncomfortable down here; it’s dark and cold and claustrophobic, and our eyes are playing tricks on us, I know mine are…” My motivational speaking was interrupted by a shout in the darkness. I recognised the voice as being that of Jim Mortimer.
“What the hell was that?!” He said
“What was what, you daft bugger?” Fred replied.
“Something touched me.”
“I don’t know.”
“Calm down!” I said. We had to get to work but, at this rate, all any of us were going to come away with was a nervous breakdown. “There isn’t anything else down here except us, so let’s just stay focused and think about the money, okay?”
That seemed to do the job. Before long the tunnel was filled with the deafening sound of pneumatic drills. A couple of hours later we were through the foundation and, hopefully, nearly into the vault. By now all minds were definitely focused on the money, until another sound broke our concentration. The drilling stopped for a moment but, instead of the expected silence, there was a nerve shredding shriek. Three sets of eyes snapped to the source, Sam Jenkins. We were never to find out exactly what had terrified him to that extent, all any of us saw was Sam’s shape disappearing back up the tunnel. His heels kicked up dirt that formed clouds in the lamp light, clouds with shapes moving in them.
“There, I definitely saw something that time!” Jim exclaimed.
“Shut up and stop being such a bloody idiot!” Fred intended to sound angry but there was more fear in his voice than anything else. I followed him up into the bank vault.
“Fred, I know it sounds stupid but I think there actually was something else moving down there, and something scared Sam enough to do a runner.”
“That nutter may have his uses but he should never have been down here. As for my boy, he’s a good lad but he’s no genius. I never had you pegged for being soft headed though.”
Standing there in the vault, we became aware of the cloud coming up through the hole in the floor. Fred and I shared a confused look.
“Sam didn’t kick up that much dirt.” I said.
“I think we best just take the money and run.”
I agreed. Thankfully the cloud began to dissipate as we filled our bags. We had handed most of them down the hole to Jim and were almost done when we were interrupted by the third scream of the night. This one sounded different, though, it curdled the blood. We threw the remaining bags into the tunnel and jumped down after them.
“Jim!” Fred called out for his son but there was no reply. This was the first time I had ever seen the big man panic. I called out with him for perhaps a minute or so. When we stopped there was a terrible silence. I had to collect my thoughts and try to say something reassuring before old Fred had a heart attack.
“Listen; you know Jim was getting a bit jumpy down here, he probably just lost his nerve and ran for it. Him and Sam are probably back there with John right now waiting for us to come back and give them a bollocking.”
Fred calmed down a little and nodded. “You’re probably right.” He said. He looked down at all of the bags we had filled then back up at me with a slightly embarrassed smile. “He could’ve taken a couple of these sodding bags with him…” He trailed off as the smile vanished to be replaced by a look which was beyond fear. My miner’s lamp cast a shadow over his face that gave the appearance of some kind of ghastly death mask. He raised a trembling hand and pointed at something over my shoulder. His voice trembled too.
“What’s that?” He said.
I slowly turned to look at the thing he pointed to. My light gradually illuminated the grinning skull as it sank back into the tunnel wall. I stood paralysed with fear for a moment before I could move my head to shed light along the rest of the wall, what I saw froze me again. Maybe a dozen faces protruded from the dirt and looked in my direction, some with big, bulging eyes, the lids and the flesh around them long since decomposed, and some with only dark sockets. Below them other body parts emerged in varying states of decay. Fred also turned to look at the wall behind him. More dead faces looked out at us. A breeze blew from somewhere and moaned as it swirled dirt around us. Meanwhile, the corpses continued to pull themselves from the earth, some missing limbs and others dragging their dusty viscera behind them. They were closing in on us. I shouted for us to run, Fred needed no encouragement. We grabbed a bag each and ran as fast as we could. Despite his age, Fred was quick and took the lead. As we made our way back up the passageway more decaying bodies were emerging. In the dim torchlight, the tunnel walls looked as though they were moving as far ahead as we could see. Just then something struck me a glancing blow on top of the head and I fell flat on my back. Lying there I looked up and saw what had hit me; they were coming out of the ceiling too. I pushed the petrifying fear to the back of my mind and began rising to my feet, then I saw something which shook me more than anything else I had seen so far that night; Jim Mortimer. My light fell upon his ashen face descending from above amongst a multitude of grotesque skulls, his staring eyes penetrating to my very soul. As bony fingers grabbed at me I felt sure I was going to be ripped to pieces, or be drawn up into the walls to join my friend forever in this black pit, then a different kind of hand took mine, a living one. Fred pulled me to my feet and we were running for our lives once again, the bags of money now dropped and forgotten. I thought I could see a glimpse of our exit and a glimmer of hope when a voice stopped us in our tracks.
“Dad.” It said.
We both turned and saw Jim’s body now hanging from the ceiling. I say body because there was no doubt he had died, no man could have survived the gaping hole which was torn into his torso, exposing shards of white bone, and the creatures had clearly rend him limb from limb. The only remaining one was his left arm, which now beckoned his father. Fred and I looked at each other.
“There’s nothing you can do for him now.” I said.
“I can’t leave him down here.” He said with a quiver in his lip I had never seen before.
“He’s dead, you can’t…”
“I’ll catch up to you.” He said as he ran back to his son. He must have known as he said it that it would be impossible. The creatures turned their attention towards Fred now. I used this to my advantage to make my escape and tried to block out his screams as I went. There really was nothing I could have done to save him.
My heart lightened as I reached the open door to the passageway. My relief was short lived, however, as another familiar face crossed my path. Sam Jenkins had not made it out alive. His expression was fixed in the terrified grimace he must have had when he died. This face stared at me as it hung upside down maybe a foot from my own, suspended from what could only have been poor Sam’s spinal cord. Behind this aberration miscellaneous bones protruded from the walls and moved across the doorway, knitting together and blocking my exit. This time was sure I would be entombed in here, devoured and trapped forever down in the darkness with the rest of these dead things. I had no hope that John Matheson, standing up there in the world of the living, would have any notion of what was happening, but I was wrong. He had heard the screams of our doomed companions and fetched an appropriate tool down to the cellar. That sledge hammer crashing through the wall of bone was the most welcome thing I have seen in my life. Sam’s face contorted into a howl of rage as I threw myself past him and through the newly created hole into freedom. John took hold of my arm pulled me into the cellar, slamming the old wooden door behind me and wedging it shut with one of the spare beams we had brought down with us earlier. We got into the van and drove away from that place, and carried on driving until morning.
John asked me what had happened down there. I told him and, to my surprise, he believed me, he had sensed the evil in that place. In truth, we all had but our greed had spurred us on. The bank would be opening soon, the hole in the vault floor would be discovered and so would the underground passageway. Men were likely to be sent down to investigate. I hoped that good men would not provoke the evil the way we had, but I could not be sure and I would have to live with that, along with the nightmares and the Nyctophobia. John and I had come away without a penny for our troubles. That was okay, the dead could keep the money, I had learned a lesson which was far more valuable. Hell existed, I had been through it that night and escaped, been given a second chance, and I had no intension of ever going back again.
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