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What Lies Beneath

Epigraph

Part 1

Main Content

I wasn’t prepared for what I discovered. I thought I had it all figured out from the moment I got the call. All the signs pointed to a big ferocious werewolf. Maybe my expectations were clouded by my own ambitions. I mean, how cool would Werewolf Slayer look on a resume? From the conflicting witness accounts, the isolated little community and it even happened during a full moon. It was all so… obvious. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I don’t want to bore you with the details of the week leading up to that night. I’ll just say that I wasted my time trying to verify my preconceived notions about a werewolf and its connection to the silver mine.

I’m not proud to admit that I even began to suspect a werewolf conspiracy. Why else would a whole town willfully isolate itself from our ever shrinking world? Wolves are best in packs, right?

I thought I was prepared that Sunday night, the night of the full moon. In a holster attached to the waistband of my pants was a pistol loaded with silver bullets I had made for this very night. I carried two blades made of silver in sheaths strapped to my body, one on my right ankle and the other at my left hip, in case I might have to grapple with some beast. I wore dark slacks and a sport coat to hide the weapon at my back. I was confident I could handle anything the night had in store. I was eager for the impending confrontation. I felt powerful.

I entered town as the sun was setting. I grew inconspicuous in the shadow of the local store. It wasn’t long before I noticed the apparent migration of the town’s inhabitants toward the direction of the church at north end of the town. It seemed that everyone was on foot. I did my best to not draw attention to myself. Little did I know, there was no need to be so stealthy. The townsfolk showed an eagerness for the evenings proceedings that rivaled my own. Without speaking amongst each other they exhibited a single-minded determination to reach their destination and noticed nothing beyond the progress they made.

Confident that I could move about the town without being noticed, I left my half-hearted hiding spot. My intent was to move about the houses in an effort to gain insight to the living conditions of the residents of Dark Ember. I spied a worn footpath between two houses. Curious, I followed the trail into a secluded yard. Trees and overgrown shrubbery acted as a privacy fence from the surrounding houses. Three small dogs of no particular breed darted from between the bushes and ran past me upon the path I had followed. The small dogs were followed by what must surely have been the largest dog in the world. It had an appearance similar to a Great Dane with bits of Rottweiler thrown in. None of the dogs paid me any notice. I now understood what caused the worn path.

I heard what I believed to be singing coming from the direction of the church. The steady chorus of voices was strangely soothing and I found myself mesmerized. I too began walking toward the church. I did not understand the words being sung, but that didn’t matter. It was as though the words were designed to lure. I tried to halt or even slow my pace as I neared the church. I could see a handful of stragglers entering the church, their faces contorted into a grimace of blank rapture. They, too, were singing. I still couldn’t comprehend what they were saying even as they looked directly at me.

Grudgingly and against my better judgment, I stepped up the first step of the church and then the next, with a purpose that was not my own. Dread welled up inside me. I thought my heart would explode from the force of the hammering in my chest. I suddenly did not want to be there anymore. A child-like terror gripped my stomach. I wanted to flee the chanting, for indeed it was chanting, and leave this accursed town. In that too brief moment I think I might have done just that if my left hand had not shot out and grabbed the railing that led up along the church steps. My body acted of its own determination to take me inside the church. With that the option to flee was no longer mine to make. Confusion caused my mind to swim. I lacked the will to resist and resigned myself to the inevitable. I rose to the top step with a conviction I did not believe in. I strode the few final feet toward the door.

I took the handle in my right hand and swung the door open. In that moment I not only knew and understood what it meant to go mad, I embraced it. With the scene of the unfolding horror before me, insanity was my only recourse. Everything I thought I knew was turned inside-out. As I peered through the door of the church at the assembled congregation and the object of their worship, the altar of their belief and the reward of their faith, my sanity officially divorced reality.

The church had little resemblance to what the word implies. There were no pews, no basin of holy water, no cross or depictions of saints. There before me was a large room the size of a small gymnasium, maybe 50 feet by 80 feet. It was almost the size of a small basketball court. At the center of the room was an altar made of a carved block of stone. The stone stood three feet high. It looked about four feet wide and five feet long. Throughout the stone were quarter sized holes with no discernable pattern on every surface. The amassed congregation stood in a circle around the altar. They were bunched closely together. They continued to chant, faces upturned to the thing above the altar.

If they noticed me they showed no sign. I found myself moving further into the room. I stared in horror at the abomination on the altar. Revulsion welled up within me. What is the appropriate response when faced with something that simply should not be?

On the altar stood a man, or what appeared to have once been a man. From the holes in the stone altar oozed an oily black ichor that was neither quite smoke nor liquid but similar to both. The putrid substance impossibly flowed up the altar to the man standing there. As the black miasma covered his body, he ceased his chanting and raised his arms out from his sides. When the effluvium had covered most of his body, his face became visibly excited and he yelled out several times, “Yes! Yes!” as in response to something only he could hear. Around him the assemblage continued to chant.

The dark contagion had nearly covered the man’s entire body. The tar-like tendrils coalesced and tightened pulling the man’s arms together in front of him. His legs were also pulled together until he resembled a rigid and upright mummy. The nebulous corruption covered his face and head. The malignancy flowed over his encased body like inky soup. The form rose into the air several feet above the altar. A vertical slit appeared in the contamination where the man’s face once was. Abruptly, the slit split as wide as the man’s head to reveal a large and terrible eye. The iris of the eye was long and slitted like a serpent’s, but horizontal. The iris was dark green with luminous streaks of yellow throughout. The area around the iris was dark blue, like cold-fire. The most horrible aspect of that repugnant eye, the thing that will surely haunt my nightmares the rest of my life, was that it was looking directly at me.

My grasp of reality shattered and fragmented. I felt as though I was no longer in my body. I watched the next several moments as if from some point across the room. I saw the gun in my hand pointed at the monstrosity as it slowly drifted in my direction. I saw myself thumb the hammer back. The gun fired.