Chapter IV: Vaults Of Delirium
Chapter I: https://mijkediablo.wordpress.com/2017/10/23/the-shadow-of-a-dream-i/
Chapter II: https://mijkediablo.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/the-shadow-of-a-dream-ii/
Chapter III: https://mijkediablo.wordpress.com/2017/10/27/the-shadow-of-a-dream-iii/
As my senses revived themselves, I found myself flat on my back, pinned down by dozens of claws. I could hear Ant sobbing, somewhere nearby. A figure loomed above me, a stooped shadow like those which had callously slaughtered my brothers so long ago, in a different lifetime. The figure spoke that same, strange yet somehow familiar language. As he rhapsodied in that shrill voice, I began to recognise some of his words, although their form and delivery was so alien to my ears. I realised, through the fog of terror that he was speaking in some bastardisation, some parody of the English language, albeit in a dialect with which I was unfamiliar.
“Glowlanders,” the thing shrieked, “Bring death. Glowland man kill brother, so Ungers kill Glowlanders, no?”
A piercing screech went up from the mob that surrounded me unseen. I recognised the assent in their accumulated chorus, and knew with a surprising clarity of thought, a startling calmness, that I would die there in that subterranean chamber of horrors.
Then, a woman’s voice piped up. “Smanta speak. Glowlander kill brothers, so he killed. This end. Glowlanders friends, could bring much bites. Keep keep keep.”
After much debate, some compromise was reached over our lives, and Ant and I were carried on a sea of claws, away from the stone plinth, away from the chamber, deeper still into the earth.
The mob deposited us in a dark place far beneath the ground. It was blacker than the grave, no light gave any indication as to where we were. I was hauled roughly to my feet, and shoved through some narrow stone archway. I heard a metal door clang shut behind me. The rats of terror began gnawing at my intestines, and as I slumped to the ground, my thoughts were overwhelmed by the certainty of my impending demise.
I heard a gentle whimper close beside me. “Ant,” I called out, “Is that you?”
“We’re going to die in here,” he whispered, his words almost swallowed by poorly concealed sobs, “Here in the darkness.”
Somehow, the hefty man’s despair lent me strength and courage that I had thought extinguished forever. I had failed to save my brothers or my parents, and had led Walker to his grisly demise; perhaps I could redeem my failures by saving this blobsome, wimpering wreck?
I pulled myself cautiously to my feet. The roof of this cave- if there was a roof- must have been far above, for I found that I could extend myself to my full height. I scrabbled around in the darkness until my hand fell upon Ant’s head. Startled, he pulled away.
“Come,” I said, my voice far stronger and more certain than my mind, “There must be a way out. Let’s find it together.”
I knew that the doorway through which we had been cast was directly behind me. I backed up until I felt its cold permanence press against my searching fingers; then, with one hand on Ant’s shoulder and the other against the damp stone, I followed the wall around. Sure enough, inch by inch, I circled round the perimeter of the cell until I realised that it was, in fact, some kind of passageway. Deprived of sight by the unspeakable blackness, I was surprised and, indeed, a little proud of my ingenuity and clarity of thought.
Our progress along this passage was painfully slow; however, progress it was. The tunnel seemed to have a gentle downward inclination. We were travelling further still below the ground, away from the sun and air and everything we knew; however, we had no choice but to continue. Should I panic, should I lose my touch on the stone walls, we would be lost forever to the blackness.
We followed the walls at that pace for hours, days, or even weeks, before I felt a gentle tickle of a breeze wash past my cheek. Whatever lay ahead, perhaps it truly was the way to our freedom? Could this tunnel lead to some opening through which we could make our escape? After all, that breeze had to come from somewhere! Perhaps some long-forgotten Victorian sewer system, or some unknown breach in the earth?
We followed that subtle suggestion of a draft, always staying in touch of the wall, until, some way ahead, I thought I saw a dull glow. This had to be it! I quickened my pace somewhat, and made my way in the direction of the light, the breeze, and liberty! The light grew larger, brighter, until I was close enough to realise with dismay that it glowed in some enormous yet entombed cave. The cave was far larger than the chamber where Walker had met his fate; it was so long and so wide that my eyes could scarcely discern its perimeter. The roof of this cave was a hundred metres or more above my head, and its concave walls seemed unassailable even if there were any hope of escape from above. I could not discern the source of the subtle light that burnt my eyes; it seemed to be some unearthly luminescence that pulsated through the very air before us.
A bizarre rattling noise forced me to stop. I tried to search for its cause, however my eyes failed me as they struggled to acclimatise from the unspeakable darkness of that interminable tunnel.
Then, I saw movement somewhere way above, on the opposite wall of the cave. I fell to my knees in terror as I made out the detail. The creature was enormous, with its strange body the size of a bus. It had dozens of legs thick as tree trunks, but with the locomotion of a monstrous spider as it scuttled down the wall in our direction. Atop its long neck was a head unlike anything I have seen before or since. It was a big, sturdy head like that of a bull mastiff or a hippopotamus. In place of a mouth were two dozen long, pink tentacles, each curling and flexing; these awful tentacles enframed a gaping maw filled with a hundred translucent grey, razor-sharp shards, like fangs hacked from flint.
The monstrous spider-thing dashed towards us with alarming speed. I panicked and, to my eternal shame, I reached out for Ant and threw him in the way of the beast as it rushed at us. I saw his body tense as the creature seized him with its betentacled mouth, and slice him into chunks with those flint-like teeth. It crunched him feet-first into slivers half a foot thick, before sucking them into its terrible mouth. It took Ant whole minutes to die; his screaming and death throes did not cease until the creature had bitten off to his chest.
Finally, the paralysis of fear deserted me and I fled back into the intolerable blackness of the tunnel Ant and I had traversed. This time, I did not use the walls to navigate by. I just ran and ran until I could run no more, and I crashed into the metal door that had once condemned me, but now became my saviour.
The days or hours that followed this terrible experience, I knew not whether I was asleep or awake. The dreams that have always plagued my sleeping hours now filtered into my waking mind. I saw visions before me; I saw the prison cells in which I had been ensconced as a troubled younger man. I saw Ant, persecuting me for my treachery, rightfully condemning me for my part in his demise. I saw my father’s joyous face as he held my mother and I close, and I saw his desiccated corpse lying bundled on the floor. I saw Mr and Mrs Dalton, weeping over their lost sons, and their accusatory grimaces as they inspected me afterwards. Most of all, though, I saw that terrible spider-thing, its razor-sharp flint teeth slicing me to pieces as I laughed the maniacal laugh of the doomed madman.
Then, my salvation came. What I am about to tell you may have been yet another cruel hallucination. Perhaps this is all part of a dream induced by the darkness of that subterranean cell; perhaps I am still there now, and have dreamed you up. I can never know. I will never be free of this uncertainty. My whole life could be some sadistic vision for all I can be sure. However, what I am about to recant to you is what I heard and saw. Its veracity, I can only leave to you to decide- if, indeed, you have any corporeal existence beyond my feverish, dying dreams.
I heard footfall from beyond that metal door. All I could think of in that moment was the terrible crime I had committed in pushing poor, frightened Ant to his death. I hoped, in my shattered mind, I prayed that the stooped monsters with the scorched faces had decided to slaughter me, to put me out of my misery. All hope of freedom had deserted me- now, all I wanted was to sleep and never awaken.
The door creaked open, and a voice I half-recognised whispered shrilly into the blackness. “Mans?” came the whisper, “Mans?”
I found that I could not speak. Instead, with what little strength I had left, I tapped the hard floor thrice. That reply was enough for the interloper. “This one Smanta.” The high-pitched voice sounded terrible to my ears, which had become accustomed only to the voices of the dead. That word- Smanta. I had heard it before. Where had I heard that word? Had I dreamed it? Yes, I must’ve dreamed it.
Finally, all of the terrible psychic strain I had endured overcame me, and I passed into an interminably black unconsciousness. No dreams, no visions- just the blackness of sleep akin to death.
I awoke in a hospital bed. The nurse tells me I was found passed out at the side of the motorway, half-in and half-out of a drain. Could it be that my weeks of torment beneath Leland House were nothing but a delusion? I scoured the local newspapers, social media, every source I could think of, for some clue, some missing piece that could solve the mystery. There was nothing. No news of strange happenings at Leland House, nothing about two missing ex-cons, no remains found; nothing. It was as if Walker and Ant had never existed.
I no longer know where reality ends and delusion begins. That terrible subterranean world populated by the stooped, scarred faces and terrible betentacled spider-things might exist, or it might not. This hospital bed could be just another delusion conjured by my mind as I slowly rot in that black cell; or the black cell could be the delusion, or both, or neither. I can never know.
That is why I have decided to do what I am about to do- to kill myself. There is only one way to escape from this waking nightmare, from the morass network of ever-darkening tunnels that have been riven through my mind. A bullet through the brain- one tunnel to end them all.