Deep Sleep (Part 2)

I’ve told you before about my wife’s nightmares and the strange condition that caused her to fall in her dreams, passing through the bed and everything below it. I’ve told you about her disappearance and my frantic attempt to rescue her from the depths below our home. There’s more.

I went down to the basement upon hearing the sheriff’s yelling, and found him and the deputy getting ready to leave. Sheriff told me that they’d received a call from across town and needed to go check things out. I didn’t ask questions, I already had enough on my mind. Before he left, Sheriff Thompson turned back and gave me a long, piercing stare. I expected an accusation, maybe even a threat. Instead all he said was “Be careful.” Then the two of them left.

Liam and I continued our work, scraping shovel after shovel of dark, hard earth from the bottom of the hole. We didn’t talk. I was just glad my boy was there with me. It was in the early morning, around 4am, when Liam climbed up to get a drink of water. Ever since I had started digging in the basement, there had been strange, barely noticeable sounds from below. As the others and I started making progress the noises got louder and louder. It seemed to me that the sounds where coming from the ground itself, not something below it. I had hoped for a while that it was Karen calling out from down there in the ground, but I didn’t believe that anymore. It wasn’t human, and if it was, it was a sound that only a great big crowd of people could make. It was like a drone or chant, like dozens or even hundreds of people exhaling all at once or whispering the same low word without stopping to breathe. Now that I stood alone in the pit, surrounded on all sides by the metallic stone walls, it was louder and more persistent than ever.

I stopped digging for a moment to listen to it. The sound became like an echo, or many echoes, of many voices blended together in a long, undulating chant. The rocks vibrated with it, as though there was a pulse flowing through the stones all around me. The air in the pit throbbed, and I started getting dizzy.

Above me, standing on the edge of the pit, Liam was staring down. He looked worried. He opened his mouth and shouted something down at me but all I could hear was the deafening roar in my ears. Slowly, deliberately, I lifted my shovel and drove it hard into the earth at my feet.

The floor of the pit collapsed.

I fell, screaming, into the void below. There was a brief moment of darkness before I felt myself engulfed in cold water. When I opened my eyes I could see stones and debris sinking into shadows all around me.

As I swam to the surface I was shocked by the silence in the cavern. The bizarre chanting had stopped completely and I could hear Liam shouting to me from above. In my fall I had swallowed a mouthful of water in shock, and as I spat and choked on my way to a nearby ledge I realized that it was salty, like the ocean. The light from above made it clear that I floated in the center of what looked like a small subterranean lake. To either side of me I could see a ledge that ran around the perimeter of the pool, and I swam over and pulled myself out.

“Dad,” Liam shouted down, “are you okay!? Talk to me!”

I hollered back that I was alright, nothing broken, but I could still sense the panic in his voice as he scrambled to look for a way to get me out. I could hear him up there in the basement looking through shelves for rope. One of the ladders had fallen through with me and it was sunken somewhere beneath the black water of the pool. I thought about diving down and trying to retrieve it, but something in the back of my head shut that idea down immediately.

While I was in the middle of trying to figure out how big the cavern was and what direction it reached, I heard a hushed noise coming from above. The sound of clanging and shuffling had stopped.

“Liam,” I called out, is everything okay?”

Instantly I realized what an idiotic question I was asking of my son. In that same moment I understood what the hushed noises were and why Liam had gotten quiet.

“It’s okay, son.” I rubbed the salt and sweat from my eyes. “Don’t cry.”

I comforted him as best as I could. I tried to help him regain his confidence – that confidence that I had seen in him since he was a boy. That same confidence that allowed him to climb trees and race bicycles and dive from wharfs into the ocean with a smile on his happy young face.

But looking back now I know that I could have done more. I could have made him feel safer. The truth is, my tired mind was distracted – all I could think about was searching for Karen. If I had survived the fall, she must also be alive down there somewhere.

Once Liam was back to work, I asked him to do something for me. It would take time to prepare the rope in a way that would allow him to come down and for us both to climb back out, so I asked if he could get me a flashlight. If I was going to wait, I may as well take a look around the cavern. Liam dropped something down the hole and I swam out to retrieve it, taking care not to linger for too long in the middle of the pool – something made me not want to stay in the water for too long at a time. He had placed a flashlight in a plastic shopping bag and blown up the bag with air before tying it tight. When I got back to shore and pulled out the flashlight, it was a little wet but when I flicked the switch it flared to life and illuminated the cave around me.

It was even larger than I thought. The cave ceiling towered about 20 feet above my head, reaching a high point at the center where I had fallen through. The walls down there were even darker than where we had been digging above, almost perfectly black. When I ran my hand over the surface it felt as hard and smooth as glass. Careless, I nicked my thumb on a sharp edge of cavern wall. As I watched a thin line of red well up on my thumbprint, the sound of the chanting echoed for a moment across the waters of the cave. I felt the skin across the back of my shoulders tighten, and after a long moment I realized my vision was starting to go blurry.

Shaking my head, I snapped out of it and saw for the first time that on the opposite side of the pool the cave narrowed into a tunnel or hallway and wound off into the subterranean dark. I started to make my way around the ledge toward it, doing my best to keep my balance and ignoring the beginnings of the familiar hallucinations that came with sleep deprivation. Around me the walls of the cavern began to ripple like waves. Shadows loomed in the corner of my eye and for a moment I actually considered lying down to rest. I fought it off, and soon I had made my way around to the narrow tunnel and shone my light inside. I couldn’t see more than a hundred feet ahead, because after that the tunnel curved off the right and out of sight.

I was about to go back and check with Liam on how he was doing but at that moment the chanting sound came again. A lone, brief echo vibrated through the walls of the tunnel and then I knew for sure that that source of it was somewhere down that dark and narrow passageway.

I felt something then that I hadn’t noticed before – the sound had a kind of alluring quality to it. It frightened me, but at the same time it seemed to call to me. I admit, I found myself wanting to be closer to whatever it was that was making the sound. When I glanced back to the cavern pool, I saw with a shock that I was already at least fifty feet into the passageway. Had I been walking without realizing it, or was it the sound that had drawn me in?

I walked a little further in, just to see what was around that bend up ahead. I walked around the bend and onward down a wide, low-ceilinged part of the tunnel where low rumblings could be heard coming from the floor beneath my feet. From there, I stepped out into what I can only describe as a dome. Looking around, my eyes began to blur again. I could hardly believe what I was seeing.

Around the dome where at least a dozen other passages, maybe more, winding off out of sight throughout the underground. At the center was a deep, wide pit, rounded with an ancient stone stair that wound down into blackness. What was really strange, beyond anything else, was the wind moving around the cavern. It was so slight, so subtle, that it took the whole walk from the tunnel where I had come to the edge of the pit to notice it. Air was flowing, slowly and almost imperceptibly, out of the pit. After a few seconds, everything became still, and then that low and droning wind would flow back into the pit, followed by another brief pause of calm. The air pulsed, throbbed, around me. It felt like the breath of some enormous, sleeping thing.

I felt a droplet of water on my neck and looked up toward the ceiling of the dome. I realised, then, how far I’d walked. If my sense of direction was any good, I figured that the cavern where I stood was somewhere below the town harbour.

As I made my way back to the underground lake, I could hear Liam’s voice echoing down the tunnel. He wasn’t alone, and it sounded like the voices were coming towards me. As I reached the edge of the water, I could see Liam walking around with two other men, each of them holding flashlights. Through the glare, I could make out the faces of the Sheriff and Deputy flanking him on either side.

I told them what I’d found, and begged them to come with me back down the tunnel. Before I could go, though, Sheriff put a hand on my shoulder.

“The call we got,” he said. “The emergency.” The sheriff paused and glanced at Deputy Colby before continuing. “A boy’s missing. Disappeared. Mother checked on him after putting him to bed. He was just…”

“Gone,” Liam said, his voice shaking. “Just like Mom.”

I led them to the dome, all of them now believing that this was real. The four of us stood at the edge of the pit, staring into the darkness for a good long time. I looked at their faces, their eyes staring into the abyss. I could tell they could feel the breathing too. My hand was hurting, stinging with a sharp, cutting pain. When I looked down, I realized that I was still clutching Karen’s ring in my fist, so tight that it was pressed into the skin. I put it in my jeans pocket and started toward the grimy stone stair.

“Let’s go,” I said.

Down and down and down we walked, in circles around the pit that seemed to grow wider with every pass. The darkness around us was so absolute that it almost felt dense – solid. The beams from our flashlights were pathetic, illuminating only the winding steps directly in front of us with a pale, orange glow. The sounds of our footsteps on the stones made noises like the crunching of bones. Our breath trailed behind us in a mist.

After a few minutes of slow, careful walking, the stairs moved away from the wall and outward into the darkness. We walked out into that great big blackness, moving cautiously along the metre-wide walkway with unknowable depths on either side. We called out Karen’s name and the name of the lost boy as we walked, but there was no returning echo in that place. Our voices just died out without so much as a whisper, and I couldn’t help but feel like we weren’t underground anymore. I knew we were still in the cavern, somewhere deep below the harbour and the sleeping town, but looking around me it felt like we were walking through… nothingness. The darkness was endless. It was like we were somewhere in the cold and vast reaches of outer space – but there were no stars here. No lights except our own.

I could hear something out there. I could feel it. Something enormous. Moving. Breathing.

“There, ahead!” Sheriff Thompson shouted.

I shook myself out of the trance I’d fallen into and stared in front of us. My throat clamped shut and I wanted to scream out in relief but I was so overcome with emotion that all I could do was run to her. My Karen, my wife – there she was and she was alive! Alive! Before I could take in the scene or try to understand anything else I was there, wrapping my arms around her and sobbing. For that moment, those few seconds, nothing else in the world mattered. It was joy.

But it was all wrong.

Karen was alive – I could feel her breathing; her skin was warm to the touch – but what the hell was this thing she was sitting in? It was like a… a chair or… a throne? It was carved from what looked like solid bone but bones don’t get that big. It was all grey and dusty and covered in carvings that didn’t make sense to me. And why wasn’t she waking up? Why the hell were all these other people here – all resting in these bony chairs with their heads thrown back, silently sleeping? Who the hell were they all? And, Christ, some of them looked old. So old I couldn’t imagine them walking all the way down here. And why wasn’t she waking up?

Liam and I both shook Karen, shouted to try and get her to move but she wouldn’t open her eyes or respond. I tried to pull her up to her feet but it was like she was being held down by something. I couldn’t take her.

Sheriff Thompson and the deputy were both running around, shining their lights at the people seated around in that big circle trying to figure out who they were and if they were all okay. They found the boy – he was there too, nestled in the seat of his dusty throne. All told, there were eight. Men and women, the boy and another child – a young girl – all sitting, sleeping on this great stone platform in the middle of that impossible darkness down there under the ground. Across the circle from Karen, another seat waited. Empty.

As I fought to try and get Karen free, the hallucinations started again. The shadows around us swelled and bulged, and I saw the darkness as a vast, rippling curtain, holding back something that pressed on all sides around us. I squeezed my eyes shut, slapped my head to try and keep myself straight, but I was on the very edge of losing consciousness and I could hear the world growing quiet. I reached out a hand to Liam’s shoulder to try and steady myself but my hand just moved through the empty air. Liam was gone.

“Son,” I said as I turned around and saw him staring at the empty throne, “stay here with me.”

“Don’t you hear it?” he asked, not looking back. He took another step away from Karen and I. “It’s like it wants me.”

I didn’t know what to say, because the truth was, I could hear it. The sound from before, that echoed chanting, was back. Glancing over at the other two men and seeing their faces made it clear they were hearing it again, too.

“I know,” I said to Liam, walking towards him, “it’s been calling to me, too. Ever since I fell down here. Don’t listen to it.”

But he took another step toward the throne, and when he did the visions – the hallucinations from my sleep deprivation – got stronger. The air around me was boiling with movement. I made a move toward him and reached out, but my boy moved away from me.

“It’s where mom is,” he said. “I can talk to her there.”

“Your mom’s here!” I shouted, pointing back at the silent and sleeping Karen, “She’s right here! We just have to get her out of here and everything will be fine.”

“Listen to your dad, Liam” the Sheriff said, talking a step. “We don’t know what’s going on here but we all need to get ourselves and these people out – now.”

The chanting rose around us all, no longer distant but howling. My eyes widened in terror when I saw that the people around us, seated in the thrones, were now chanting along with it. Their eyes were shut – they were still asleep – but their mouths opened as they cried and moaned in unison with that sound, that otherworldly song that filled my mind with pain and longing. I saw the sheriff and deputy throw up their hands, trying to cover their ears and block it out. I stumbled ahead, trying to grab onto my son and hold him back, but I was too slow, too late.

Liam closed his eyes and walked calmly to his throne. He reached out a hand and grabbed hold of the bony structure, throwing himself into the seat. Then, all together, the nine in the circle whispered one short, sharp sound.

Then, silence.

Everything came apart. The world around us was shaking, rumbling. Screams and curses filled the air as the nine sleepers around us all woke and fell forward onto the ground. Liam whipped his head around, staring in shock at the throne he’d fallen from and clearly confused at what was happening. I ran to him, pulled him up. Together we ran back to Karen and she was moving, scrambling to her feet. She screamed our names and held onto us, her hands gripping like claws as the shadows in that deep place swirled and tore apart and rejoined again.
Deputy Colby scooped up the young boy in his arms and the Sheriff was trying to do the same with the little girl that was there but she kept fighting him, “No!” she kept yelling, “you don’t understand!” Finally, he was able to get a hold of her but she kept biting and thrashing in his arms.

“Okay,” Sheriff yelled above the rumbling noises, “We all need to-”

But he never had a chance to finish. Before he could so much as address the five adults that had gotten to their feet on the platform, they had run to the edge and thrown themselves off into the darkness.

“RUN!” I screamed, as dust, stones started to rain down from above. Liam and I both held one of Karen’s hands as we raced across the ledge and up the stairs of the cavern. The cops followed, hoisting the crying boy and the struggling, cursing girl over their shoulders. We ran as fast as our bodies could allow, our feet scratching and pawing at the stones as we climbed. At the stop of the circle stair we could see water rushing into the cavern from above – the ceiling was starting to cave in and all that water in the harbour was going to get down there in a hurry real soon.

We fled along the passageway back from where we’d come, back through the curving tunnel with the sounds of the collapsing earth all around. The smell of saltwater was strong in the air and wind was starting to rush out of the cave behind us.

Back at the underground lake we sent Deputy and Liam up the rope first so they could pull Karen and the boy up. Her hands were weak and she could hardly hold on but they got her out of there. Sheriff made me go next and he crawled right behind me grasping the still-struggling girl, the rope burning my hands because of how tightly I gripped it. We didn’t stop in the basement – we ran up the stairs and out onto the lawn with the crashing thunder noises following us.

The seven of us collapsed out onto the grass in the crisp dawn air and lay there listening to the rumbling sounds coming from below the ground. Everything was shaking. Then before our eyes, the house collapsed, exploding in a blast of sea water that rushed up through the cavern and pierced through the structure a good sixty feet into the air. The windows, walls, roof and all toppled and came tumbling down, drenched in the spray from that torrent of water. Everything we had, everything we owned was destroyed. Everything gone.

But we were alive.

Before long Sheriff had some other cops from the station come by and pick us up. They brought us all to the station where my family and I sat wrapped in blankets and holding on to one another, laughing, crying… not really knowing what to say or do. We held on, not letting go. Not for hours. The boy was okay – no injuries but clearly shaken and disturbed. His mother and father were there to get him in less than ten minutes, haphazardly dressed and clearly without having slept through the night. They asked Sheriff if this had anything to do with his nightmares, the awful nightmares he kept having and Sheriff shook his head but said nothing in reply only “He’s alright now. You’re alright.”

The girl, though… Nobody could figure out where the hell the girl had come from. She didn’t match the description of any missing persons case in the area, or even the province. Her clothes were strange – a ceremonial gown sewn by hand in a style that looked old-fashioned to put it lightly. She wouldn’t tell them her name and she fought so hard with them to try and get away that they had to lock her in a cell until she could be transferred to a facility. We could hear her muttering from down the hall of the station, whispering and talking to herself in a language that we couldn’t understand. The cops wouldn’t let us talk to her even though Karen insisted – she wanted to try and understand what had happened and she thought the girl might know something. She never did get the chance, though.

In the morning when the cops went to check on her in the cell, she was gone. No trace left behind, no means of escape. The security footage – according to Sheriff Thompson – revealed nothing.

The talk around the town was that during the earthquake the entire harbour damn near dried up, with water rushing in from the ocean and being swallowed in a great big crack as fast as it could go. All the boats were sitting lop-sided in the muck, fish flapping around on the seabed. It was the better part of an hour before things went back to normal and the damages to the boats and properties were catastrophic. It was on the news and everything, and there’s talk of geologists going in and surveying the area.

Some people said they saw something else, though, after the harbour had filled up with water again. Some sort of shape came moving out of the crack in the seabed, they say – a big thing that caused a swell of current behind it as it moved. Folks on a crabbing boat up the coast said they saw something too – some kind of big shadow moving under their vessel. Too big to be a whale, they said, more like a dozen whales or so all joined together, or something else entirely that caused a great big swell of waves and moved north along the coast faster than they could keep up with it.

We ended up getting out of town after all that went down. Karen took some time off to wait on a transfer and I gave up the work with the boys. My brother took us under his roof in the city. We’re closer to Liam now and get to see him more often. We still haven’t found work but that’s alright – we can live off the insurance money for a while and the two of us don’t need a big house anyways. Maybe we’ll look for a nice little apartment. We don’t need much – we’ve got each other, now.

Sometimes I’ll ask Karen about what happened but she doesn’t like to talk about it anymore. She did say one thing that bothered me. It still bothers me. She said that if Liam and I weren’t there when she’d woken up in the cave, and if we weren’t holding onto her as tightly as we were, she would’ve jumped too. She would have thrown herself off into the darkness to fall forever into whatever it was that waited below.

She hasn’t had the nightmares since, but I still can’t let it go. I can’t sleep while she’s dreaming. I lie awake watching her with a coffee, book or whatever I need in hand to keep the sleep away. There’s plenty of time to sleep when she’s awake – plenty of time to relax when I know she’s busy. Besides, I don’t like falling asleep that much anymore. My sleep used to be peaceful oblivion – no thoughts or dreams to disturb me. Nothing but pure rest. That’s how it used to be.

Sometimes when I’m alone now I’ll think about the darkness down there below the earth. My mind gets stuck on that empty nothingness and I imagine being one of those poor souls who threw themselves over the edge, or that strange little girl who disappeared from the station. I imagine falling forever, expecting to hit the bottom of some dark and terrible pit, but continuing to just fall. Down, down, down.

I’ve starting dreaming about it, too.

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