By: Duke Raulston
Art By: Teddy Whittenbarger
I didn’t tell my folks I was here. I couldn’t very well tell them where I was headed, could I? I camped across the road from Booger Holler. I have spent many nights camping in the mountains. I am used to things that go bump in the night. But I gotta tell you, it sounded like the whole forest was moving past my tent. I could hear the crunch of leaves all night. I would roll over and look out of the tent flap and there would be nothing there. Once I saw a branch shaking. There was no wind. It was just shaking. Someone or something had to have brushed against it when they ran away. I saw nothing. Then there was that knocking. As if someone was beating a tree trunk with a stick. Thunk-Thunk-Thunk-tap-tap-tap-Thunk-Thunk-Thunk all night long. Like a mad telegrapher, desperately sending an SOS message from a sinking ship.
When the sun came up, I tried to get out of bed. I just couldn’t make it. “Another hour.” I said. I drifted into an uneasy sleep. It was late afternoon when I finally woke. I choked down a quick breakfast, then headed up the hollow. I was losing light and I wanted to snap some pictures.
It was not easy going. The path was strewn with chunks of limestone and choked with saw briers. I clamored up the trail leaving a generous blood sacrifice along the way. I found the place Uncle Dan had spoken of all of those years before. At least it looked like the place. I saw the altar and the ring of stones, and across the creek, the limestone boulder Uncle Dan had hidden behind almost a century ago. I snapped a few quick pictures. I walked into the ring.
At the time I thought it was my imagination. Hysteria caused by Uncle Dan’s stories, my nightmares, Dr. O’Shea’s folktales, and being someplace that had been forbidden ground all of my life.
I know now that it was all very real. I could feel the hair stand up on my arms. I felt power surging through my body. I pointed my finger at the altar and I could see blue sparks crackle on the ends of my finger tips. At first it felt really good, then it became really frightening. While I was in that circle I could hear clicks and whistles. Some were close, some really far away. I know this sounds crazy. I could tell I was somewhere in another dimension. It was too late to run. I knew that. I decided to hide behind the boulder just like uncle Dan.
I scrambled up the slope, and wedged myself behind the boulder. I didn’t have to wait long. Grey goblins poured out of the labyrinthine caves and holes in the limestone bluff, like so many yellow jackets pouring out of a nest in the ground. They looked like the grey aliens that UFO hunters describe. They were only three of four feet tall, with disproportionately large heads, and bulbous, expressionless black eyes. They wore no clothing but there were no other distinguishing features that I could make out, except that the creatures had three long long fingers on each hand. The greys were soon joined by a group of humans..
I was shocked and relieved to see Sheriff Gentry emerge from the thicket. But that feeling vanished quickly as I saw that he was leading a twelve or thirteen year old girl by a rope around her neck. Her hands were tied behind her back. Next came Mayor Goodman, Jeanette Jackson who runs the local bank, David Robinson that owns the funeral home, Faye Stout that runs the post office–in fact it was a who’s who of Stinking Springs. Sheriff Gentry and Mayor Goodman grabbed the girl roughly and picked her up. “No!” She howled, “Please don’t!” Her long red hair blowing in the breeze.
The Moon was rising above the valley and there was just barely enough light left to see. What were they doing? Why were they going to harm this child? What could I do? There were so many of them. The sheriff, at least, was armed. There was no way I could help her. The Sheriff and the Mayor placed her on the Altar. I could not quite see the altar from my vantage point, but I could hear the girl screaming, pleading and I could see the Sheriff and the Mayor holding her there. I could barely make out the faces of the town folk that were gathered around but they were all leering at the altar. I swear Jeanette Jackson was licking her lips like a wolf.
Then one of the goblins stepped up to the altar. I saw a silver blade flash in the moonlight, and I realized to my horror that this poor child was a sacrifice. Before I had time to think the Goblins thrust the blade down and the girl screamed. Her scream merged with my own. I fled down the mountainside in search of the protective stand of Mountain Ash. I could hear the Greys running just behind me. Once I felt three clammy cold fingers touch my shoulder, a rush of adrenaline took me just out of reach of the creature. I could feel my heart pounding almost to bursting, my lungs and my thighs burned as if they were on fire. I had to find that thicket soon. I could not run much longer. Then I burst into a clearing, the moonlight showed several rotting stumps that had once been a stand of Mountain Ash. Two deputies stood in the clearing. One of them clotheslined me as I ran past. The last I remember of the clearing is my head cracking against a stump. When I regained consciousness, I was stretched out by the altar.
My eyes shifted into focus. I was not quite sure where I was. The little red haired girl leaned against the Sheriff, quite alive. The wicked little Sprite was smiling at me! Dr O’Shea was kneeling beside me. “What are you doing here?” I asked, confused.
“Easy boy, that was quite a knock you took back there.” The Sheriff said.
“Jack,” O’Shea searched for words, “we are all here because of you”.
“You gotta be joking, is this some kind of a sick joke.” I slurred.
“No joke Jack,” O’Shea answered, “No one comes to this hollow unless the others choose them. You see Jack, you were chosen long ago. That is why uncle Dan told you those stories, it is why your
folks didn’t want you around him, it is why you showed up at Black Mountain and met me. Everything,
everything that has happened in your life has happened for a reason. They wanted you to be here.”
“What, What are you talking about?” I asked
“Everything son, everything that you want is yours for the taking here and now. Wealth, women, power, fame you name it son it is yours.” Mayor Goodman said.
“They want you to go with them Jack, just for a while, just for a year and a day. It is just like the old stories. You will live with them, in the sidhe.” O’Shea said.
“What if I say no?” I asked
“Son your not leavin’ this holler.” The Sheriff said nodding at the altar.
“It would be better if you went willingly. It’s just a year and a day Jack, and you will never want for anything again.” O’Shea said.
“Sort of like signing up for the Army.” I said with a laugh, “I guess I don’t have any choice.”
“Not really Jack. It will be better for you if you go willingly.” O’Shea said.
So here I am. They didn’t tell me everything! These creatures thrive on perversion, horror and panic. That was what the fake sacrifice was about. That is what they do with us day in and day out. They call us breeders. They don’t participate. They just watch.
I have lost all sense of time down here in the depths. There is no sunrise, no sunset unless we pass under a sinkhole or by the mouth of a cave, but that rarely happens. They feed us well, but it is mostly mushrooms. Some of them are hallucinogenic. They don’t speak. At least not the way we do. They click and chirp but mainly they communicate with their minds. They use their psychic abilities, manipulate us, and make us see horrible things. At least I think that they are hallucinations. Between the mind games and the mushrooms I can’t tell what is real and what is not. One other thing–not everyone who comes into the caves leaves.
The grays are just intermediates between the subterranean world and our world. There are things that live further down. I haven’t seen them but I have heard the screams when others have been taken down there. The greys serve those creatures of the abyss. Those of us that survive this will too. That is what this is about. An initiation of sorts. Those of us that survive will have everything that we ever wanted. The price is servitude to the monsters of the deep. The worms of the Earth. They must be fed. Usually they take people from the surface. People that won’t be missed. Sometimes their hunting parties come back empty handed. Then they feed one of us to the beasts.
The hunting parties have come back empty handed. I don’t know if I will survive to see the surface again. If I do, I will become a monster, just like them. I will spend my life helping them prey on the weak and the poor. I might be better off if they fed me to the things that live in the deep chamber.
I will know soon. Here they come!