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 Category:  Horror and Thriller Fiction
  Posted: June 5, 2020      Views: 68

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 ABOUT
JAKE P. 
Husband, father, grandfather, retired middle school counselor, and beginning writer. One self-published middle grade novel on Amazon titled "Cat Through the Wormhole". Member of CyFair Writers group. Interested in joining NaNoWriMo in November.

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Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of language.
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Hiking alone can be dangerous.
"The Thing" by Jake P.



His boot slid on loose gravel, and a hollow thud sounded as his body hit the ground. Splintering wood crackled, and his heart began to thump hard in his chest. Was there wood below him? The surface collapsed in answer to his question. Falling. His heart raced. Blackness. Like the earth was swallowing him. Then pain as his back landed on rock and gravel. He didn't know how long he had blacked out, but when he opened his eyes he was staring at a circle of light more than twenty feet above him. Fragments of the rotted plywood that had covered the hole lay in chunks around him, and dust from the cave-in still hovered in the air.

He tried to calm himself, but awareness of his predicament prohibited that. Nice move, Stan. Hiking alone in the desert out of reach of a cell tower wasn't enough. Nah, you needed even more danger. And now you'd better find a way out of... he looked around at the rocky, dirt walls and up at the thick beams supporting the sides and girding of the roof... an abandoned mine by the look of the place.

"Shit!"

He tried to stand, but his arms were shaking and weak. It took three tries to roll over on his knees. Pain in the right side of his hip made it hard to get his feet under him.

"Double shit."

It felt like a bungee cord was holding him to the ground. Pressure pounded in his head like a thunderstorm sending lightning strikes to his temples. Struggling to his feet, he dragged himself to the band of light shining from the hole above. Something snapped away from his hip. He felt lighter. Like a weight had been lifted. In the brief glimpse it looked like a hairy strip of rubber.

"What the hell was that?"

A chill flooded his chest. There was something in here with him. Something alive. Something dangerous. He needed light.

The cell phone may be out of reach of any tower, but the flashlight will work. He pulled it from his belt and panned the light around. Rock, dirt, a piece of rusted chain, pools of standing water.... The feeble light penetrated only a few yards into the darkness.

There must be other openings to the surface. He extinguished the light of his phone and looked for a source of sunlight. He saw nothing, but he felt a tug on his arm. He had stepped away from the beam of light from above. He hurried back and stood in the light with a fluttering heart. He couldn't stop the trembling.

Light. The thing shied away at the light. He needed more light.

Gathering the rotted plywood, he stacked it at the edge of the circle of light from above. He was grateful that he had thought to wear his fanny pack. He remove the lighter and lit the splinters of wood. As the flames grew, light spread out, allowing him to search for more wood. He found a collapsed wooden beam and added that to the fire. It should burn for a few hours.

A few hours of light. A few hours of life?

Bullshit! He was stronger than that.

He tore a two foot splinter off the beam and held one end to the fire. A good torch would require a rag and some oil that would burn, but this would have to do for him to search the shaft for more fuel for the fire.

The feeble light allowed him to maneuver slowly through the cavern. Beyond the light, a suffocating darkness weighed heavy on his composure. When he looked back he could see the glow of the fire, and he resolved to never lose sight of it.

In the darkness behind him, he could hear a scrunch-scoooch, and he imagined the contraction and release of muscle of a huge worm or snail. He told himself he was making the thing more frightening than it really was. Then he remembered the strength of the tentacle that attached to his hip. He turned and stared at the fire behind him hoping, to get a glimpse of the thing in the shadows.

He wished he hadn't. A large black mound of something rose high with the 'scrunch' blocking the view of the fire, and then flattened our with a 'scoooch'. A dense gelatin-thing with muscle. When it stopped moving, it looked like a big mound of dirt covering the entire floor of the tunnel.

He picked up a stone the size of a brick and threw it at the thing. He decided to refer to it as 'the thing' like the movie with Kurt Russell. Unlike Kurt, he had no flame thrower or gun. He had an inadequate torch and a stone.

It made a soft thunk like it hit soft sand rather than a louder clink on rock or hard cement.

Holding the torch high above his head he scanned the far edges of the light. Flames now were about ten inches from his hand. He had maybe ten minutes to return to the fire, if he could get back past the thing. He stumbled at the next step, and when he looked down he saw a small gas can. It sounded hollow as it rolled away, but he picked it up and shook it. Nothing.

Then he spotted an old kerosene power generator and his heart thudded. He unscrewed the cap of the gas tank. It would be foolish to hold the torch too close. He spotted a rusting pick-ax leaning on the generator, and he inserted the wooden handle into the tank. It came out with about an inch of liquid on the bottom. Less than a gallon, but every drop would help. An old oily rag lay near the tank, and he wrapped it around the handle of the ax and dipped it back in the tank, swishing it around.

Twisting the wet rag around the metal of the ax, he lit it with his torch. Flames leaped and light swept deeper into the blackness. It was then he spotted two other five-gallon gas tanks. He leaned the torch on the generator carefully to keep it lit, then shook first one then the other can. One was empty, but the other sloshed some liquid. Pouring carefully, he emptied it into the gallon can he had stumbled on. It filled only a few precious inches. Two cups? Four?

The shorter torch was burning low. He headed back to his fire at the opening he fell through. With a torch in each hand, and the gas can tied to a shirt tail bumping against his thigh, he moved as quickly as he dared.

The shadowy mound just out of reach of the light seemed to flow away on the floor and up the sides of the cavern. Fearing it would gather on the roof and drop down on him smothering his torches, he held the kerosene torch very high.

The small torch was burning his hand before he made it back, and he threw it on the fire. He smothered the cloth-covered one on the pick to save it.

A possum skittered past close to the wall of the cavern, and he jerked at the movement. He was thinking that he'd missed a good chance for a meal when he heard it squeal in the darkness. It made a meal for the thing instead.

Would the pickax make a good weapon? He laughed. It would be like stabbing jello with a knife. No, the only weapon he had was the fire, and in time it would burn out. Absorbed inside gelatin. What a way to go. How painful would it be to have all the nutrients sucked from your body? Would there be a skeleton left?

An innocent hike. Like ones he had done dozens of times. Now he was facing an agonizing death from some creature that wasn't even supposed to exist.

He rubbed his face with filthy hands. Maybe he should just go to sleep and let the inevitable happen. A knot twisted in his belly, and he knew he could never accept that fate without a fight. Would it be like Br'er Rabbit punching the Tar-baby? He smiled at the story line. Perhaps he could plead with the thing to please not toss him back out of the hole.

Why couldn't he have just stayed home today?

He considered grabbing a burning log and throwing it at the thing. Would it burn? Was it oil-based?

When the fire began to dim and collapse into embers, he could see the blob move closer. He took a last swallow from the water bottle, cut the top off, and filled it with kerosene, and set it nearby. With all that remained in the gas can, he poured it over his shirt and led it absorb down to his jeans. It was the only plan left to fight back.

He stood as the firelight died.

Facing it, he stared at the ten foot mound. It looked like it was covered by a hairy tarp. The blob crept toward him, crunching up then flattening out. As it neared, tentacles formed from the glob like rubber ropes, stretching toward him. Ropes that would encircle him and pull him into the gelatinous glob, dissolving him and absorbing his life-force. Four feet away. Three. The form stretched up ten feet into the air like a pole of tar. No eyes or mouth. Just a column of hard, black jelly.

Stan turned his back to the probing tentacles keeping his arms free to do what had to be done. Tight to his kerosene-soaked clothes, he held a the jar of the fuel in one hand and the lighter in the other. Take me. We'll burn together.

Rope-like tentacles skittered around his body from head to foot, drawing him in. When his back touched the creature, he flung the liquid over his shoulder onto the beast. Before he could ignite the lighter, the tentacles snapped away. It had sensed the potential danger of the liquid.

He was free. He turned, and digging fingers and toes into the creature, he jetted up the black column leaping toward the walls of the opening above. Mid-air he flicked the lighter and dropped it. Flames leapt from below, mere bare inches from his feet as he clung to the walls. He feared his clothing would combust.

Struggling to hang on. A tentacle whacked the wall beside him, covering the toe of his right boot. It stuck to the stones, and with his right foot anchored to the wall, he moved his left foot to a higher purchase. He grabbed the rope-like arm and pulled himself closer to the opening. Freeing his right boot from its grasp, he was able to advance another foot.

Other tentacles slapped the walls nearby. One provided another hand-hold. It was enough. His arm finally grasped the surface of the hole, and he struggled over the edge. He lay there breathing hard. When he was able to sit up, he could see no sign of the tentacles.

Though exhausted, determination allowed him to build a short stone wall around the surface of the hole. There was no other way to leave a warning to others. The creature could still be alive. There could even be others down there.

He looked to the stars shining bright above him. He'd find his way out of here. Tomorrow. There would have to be old roads to the mine. He'd find them when the sun came up. For now he was just grateful to be alive.

The Thing contest entry
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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