Wednesday, December 23, 2015
By Daniel Skye
It emerged from the dark mouth of the tunnel. Its skin was black and rough as shoe leather.
Ten angular appendages–five on each side of its malformed torso–helped it crawl out from the tunnel like a spider.
But this was no spider. This was a monstrosity. A creature not of this world.
Kirsty Shaw stared into its glowing red eyes. As red as the blood that coursed through her veins. Her brain told her to run, but her legs refused to accept the command. Her feet were glued to the winding path that had led her to the ominous tunnel.
She just stared in awe at the creature and its enormity. Its mouth alone was the size of a manhole cover, and its teeth looked like they could chew through one. A forked tongue slithered in and out between two rows of jagged, needle-like teeth.
Run, Kirsty! Her brain was screaming. Run for your life!
But Kirsty was paralyzed with fear. It crawled along the path, picking up speed. It was now mere inches away; its mouth stretched wide, ready to devour. She closed her eyes and screamed.
Then she snapped awake. When she opened her eyes, she was alone in bed.
“Just another nightmare,” Kirsty muttered under his breath. “Get a grip, Kirsty. Get ahold of yourself.”
Kirsty wiped away the beads of cold sweat that had accumulated on her forehead and tried to sit up. Her sheets and pillowcases were drenched in perspiration. And though the familiar sight of his bedroom was enough to remind her it was all a harmless nightmare, it did nothing to alleviate the chills that crawled down her spine.
It wasn’t the first time she’d dreamt of the creature, and it surely wouldn’t be the last. But what did it all mean? Was the dream a sign? A warning? A manifestation of her real life fears and anxieties?
To Kirsty, figuring out these nightmares was like connecting the dots. Sooner or later, she’d put it together. Make sense of it all.
She glanced at the alarm clock on his nightstand. 7:55 AM. Kirsty was scheduled to open at eight that morning.
The holiday season was upon them. Kirsty worked in retail, and contrary to popular belief, the holiday season was not the most wonderful time of the year. Not for her, not for anyone who worked in Cherrywood Mall.
Knowing she was already going to be late, Kirsty sprang from her bed and quickly donned the acquired work attire–beige pants, plain black shoes, and a green T-shirt that promoted Horne’s Department Store.
Kirsty had no time for breakfast, no time to shower, no time to do her makeup, no time to even brush her teeth. She rinsed with mouthwash and combed the knots out of her long, silky, jet-black hair. Then she was out the door, in her car, and racing down the block.
It was unlike Kirsty to speed, but she was already running late as it was. And she was trying to avoid another lecture from her boss.
Mr. Cox–who Kirsty felt was aptly named–was an intolerable man. He always had a complaint or critique to express. Kirsty was convinced he talked so much because he loved hearing the sound of his own voice.
He might’ve loved hearing it, but Kirsty did not. To her, that shrill, nasal voice was like nails on a chalkboard.
Kirsty arrived at a quarter after eight. Mr. Cox was standing behind the perfume counter, tapping the face of his wristwatch.
“Mr. Cox, I can explain,” Kirsty started.
“I’m not interested in your excuses, Shaw. Do you like being employed here? Do you like having a job?”
“Yes, sir,” Kirsty nodded.
“Then start showing up on time. If we have to have this conversation again, it’ll be the last time. Got it?”
“Got it,” she nodded again and bit her lower lip to avoid saying what she really wanted to say.
Kirsty worked the perfume counter, but Robbie Vane worked sporting goods. He was the only employee at Horne’s that was the same age as Kirsty. They had graduated high school together and were currently attending the same college–Hofstra.
She didn’t find Robbie particularly attractive. He was paper thin, his arms about as thick as twigs. His face was scarred with acne and his hair was never combed or styled. It always looked like he just rolled out of bed.
But Robbie didn’t have many other friends, so he wasn’t one to blab or gossip. He could keep a secret. And their mutual hatred for Bill Cox instantly made them friends.
So when they had time a cigarette break later that afternoon, Kirsty confided in him about her nightmares.
“Dreams and nightmares don’t mean anything, dude,” Robbie told her. Even though she was a girl, Robbie still called her dude. He called everyone dude or man or bro. Potheads tend to do that. “I have bad dreams all the time. They don’t mean shit.”
“These are different,” Kirsty said. “They’re so real, so vivid. I know myself. And I’m just not that imaginative. There’s got to be something that’s triggering it.”
“You said this thing lives inside a tunnel?”
“As far as I can tell.”
“What’s the tunnel like?”
“It’s an old tunnel below an abandoned train trestle. Too narrow for any vehicle to squeeze through. But it’s deep. In my dreams, I can’t even tell where it ends. It’s too dark to see. And there’s a long, winding path that leads to it. I remember every detail. I remember the path, the trees, the dry brush, and sound of birds tweeting.”
“You’re reminding me of a place not too far from here…” Robbie said and trailed off.
“What are you talking about?”
“You remember that nature preserve near our high school? The one where all the potheads used to go to blaze? If you walk far enough, there’s this long winding path that leads to an old tunnel. It’s exactly as you describe.”
“You’re going to have to show me this tunnel.”
“Why would you want to waste your time?”
“To put this crap behind me. To prove to myself there’s nothing to fear. I’m getting too old to believe in monsters.”
“Not me, dude. I love monster movies. Monsters in real life would be a dream come true. They’re not scary. They’re just misunderstood. Like Frankenstein.”
“Didn’t Frankenstein kill a little girl? Isn’t that why the townspeople were chasing him with torches?”
“Well…maybe he was having a bad day.”
“Tell that to the parents,” Kirsty quipped. She had a dark sense of humor sometimes.
“After work, you’re showing me this tunnel.”
Cox poked his head out the backdoor and yelled, “Vane! Shaw! Get your asses inside! You’re not getting paid to stand around and smoke!”
“See you after work,” Kirsty whispered.
* * *
Robbie didn’t want to go, but Kirsty wouldn’t let up. So after work, they drove down to the preserve and started walking.
“He knows when you are smoking. He knows when you are baked. He knows if you’ve done crack or shrooms. So just smoke for goodness sake.” He sang the words before lighting a joint. He took two big hits, held in the smoke before releasing it, and then offered it to Kirsty.
“Pass,” she said.
What Robbie lacked in good looks, he made up for in personality. Kirsty couldn’t deny that he made her laugh. He was a fun guy to be around. And it wasn’t just the pot or his random jokes and one-liners. He had a natural charisma that even he was unaware of. But Kirsty saw it.
And Robbie was the opposite of Kirsty. He always had a smile on his face. He was always in a cheerful mood. Nothing could bring him down.
Kirsty was a girl of pensive sadness, always trapped in her own thoughts to escape the threat of reality. She was always thinking, but never expressing herself. And if she didn’t look sad while she was silently thinking, she looked miserable. She didn’t even realize she was scowling until Robbie pointed it out to her.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. “You’re not feeling the Christmas spirit?”
“Not particularly. How can you enjoy Christmas when we work retail? Christmas means mobs of people, ignorant and impatient shoppers, last minute gift buyers, thousands of returns. It’s enough to make my head spin.”
“I try to look on the bright side of things,” Robbie said and shot her a smile. His smile was infectious, because it broke her scowl and forced her to smile for the first time that day.
“What’s the difference between an elephant and elephant seal?” Robbie asked with the joint dangling from his lips.
“What?” Kirsty asked, waiting for the punchline.
“Fuck if I know,” Robbie shrugged.
The path they walked was long and winding. The scenery was just as it was in her nightmares.
“If I remember correctly, the tunnel should be just up ahead.”
“This is definitely the place,” Kirsty said and shuddered.
“What makes you say that?”
“It’s exactly like my dreams. This can’t be a coincidence, right?”
“Sure it can. Maybe you saw this place before when you were younger and something about it scared you. Maybe it’s been drifting around in your subconscious this whole time, and now it’s trying to force its way out.”
“I’ve never been here,” Kirsty said. “I’m certain of that. Only in my dreams.”
“I told you before, dreams don’t mean shit. I had a dream once where I was a pirate. What does that tell you? Nothing.”
“Thanks for sharing,” Kirsty said. “I feel very reassured.”
“Hey, look,” Robbie pointed. “There it is.” Without realizing it, she drew closer to Robbie as they approached the opening.
Nothing was visible beyond the mouth of the tunnel. But the very sight of it chilled her to the core.
“See?” Robbie pointed with the hand that now held his joint. By then it was practically burning down to his fingertips. He flicked the roach aside and added, “Nothing to be afraid of. No monsters. No Frankenstein’s. It’s just an old tunnel.”
A hideous screech echoed through the tunnel and reached their ears. Robbie gave her a look as if to say, no, it can’t be possible.
Kirsty stared at the mouth of the tunnel and watched it emerge. Its glowing red eyes stared right back at her. And then they turned their attention to Robbie Vane.
Its forked tongue wagged back and forth, brushing over its sharp, needle-like teeth. It skittered across the path with its long, angular legs, moving like the biggest spider Robbie had ever seen.
Kirsty was paralyzed with fear, just like in her nightmares.
But this was no nightmare. And the creature that seized Robbie with its ten angular appendages was no spider. This was your worst fears brought to life. Was it alien? Was it spawned from the depths of hell?
Kirsty would never know. Its origins would forever remain a mystery.
Robbie screamed–a brief, weak, muted scream that could barely convey the pain he felt.
And Kirsty shut her eyes, praying when she opened them, she’d wake up in her bed, safe and sound…