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Author's note: This is my entry for Cornconic's Liminal Spaces story contest.



Cuniculum_Bestia_-_ABANDONED_FACILITY_STORY

Cuniculum Bestia - ABANDONED FACILITY STORY

A few miles away from my old childhood home, a small house on the outskirts of Kansas, there was a small, abandoned warehouse, built during the Second World War. According to the occasional yet fervent Google search, it was used in the 1960s as a storage facility. A storage facility for what, nobody knows for certain, but the people I've asked about it say that it may have been where weapons were kept during World War II, or perhaps for important government documents. Some people on the weirder corners of the internet even claimed there was some connection to the UFO sightings that were so prevalent in Kansas, that it was where they kept the flying saucers or some crazy shit like that. It was not a UFO storage facility. Let me just get this out of the way quickly.

It was not a UFO storage facility.

Whatever its original purpose, it went neglected and mostly forgotten for several decades before I decided I wanted to visit it at three in the morning one day in August. That day was boring as hell, so I decided, fuck it, I'd go check it out. By this time I'd moved to a different city, but it was only about an hour and a half's drive away. I drove out there in the small hours of the morning in my shitty rental car. I found myself that afternoon underneath a clear blue sky standing before the large building that sat along Interstate 35, equipped with little more than a rucksack, a set of bolt-cutters, a handheld torch, and a Lumix TZ80. The warehouse loomed before me, its corrugated metal walls rusted and dented.

I made sure all my equipment was within reach, ensuring everything would work if I needed it, and finally I decided I was good to go, and with that, I made my way towards the derelict structure ahead of me. It looked even worse close up than it did from afar, a dilapidated, rusting hulk of metal that towered over a vacant field strewn with twigs and old equipment. There was a large chain across the door. From my rucksack, I pulled out the bolt-cutters, walked up to the door, and in seconds I’d made short work of the chain, and pushed open the door. Once I’d managed to gain entry, I pulled out my torch, made sure my camera was safely stowed in my rucksack and looked around.

The place was cold and unwelcoming. The air was stale and smelled of chemicals and dust. The room I’d found myself in was a large one, covered in graffiti left by past urban explorers who got bored and decided to spice up this industrial relic with their personal brand of abstract shapes, cursive writing, penises, and other delightful imagery. A few pieces of abandoned equipment lay there, the things people before me didn’t find interesting enough to take — a tool rack littered with rusting tools and unused spare parts; a set of moldy, stacked-up filing cabinets; a ladder leaning against the far corner of the wall; and a row of dusty barrels. In this room, at least, there was nothing of interest.

A little annoyed, I made my way into the next room. There wasn’t much in this one — there were no windows, and the only light seeping in came through cracks in the ceiling — so I turned on my flashlight as I surveyed the place. Even then, it was dark, but I was able to faintly discern shelves, parts strewn haphazardly across the floor. A plastic chair sat directly in the middle, an indicator that whoever had been here before me had perhaps sat down and had a look. Picking up one of the books from the floor I tried to read their titles, but besides an Arthur C. Clarke novel, Childhood's End, the layers of dust and grime had rendered them inscrutable.

For a brief moment, I could have sworn I heard a noise. It was rhythmic, a quiet sound like footsteps.

“Hello?” I yelled as I swung my torch around.

In the darkness I saw nothing. I shrugged it off as my mind playing tricks on me, the result of the paranoia I had as a young adult. The noise had already stopped by now, so I decided to cast it aside as little more than my anxious mind playing tricks on me.

Up ahead of me, there was a very long, very dark hallway. I didn’t quite process the significance of it at the time. To a younger and infinitely more stupid me, it just looked like something of interest, a long corridor that led to a mysterious place that I just had to check out. Curiosity got the best of me, and I made my way forward. And looming overhead was a copper pipe that led, perhaps, to the very depths of the building. Curious as to where this old pipe could lead me, I followed it around the abandoned property with no particular goal in mind.

After a few minutes of following the pipe, I started to notice something strange. The light of my torch seemed to be getting weaker. Cursing a little under my breath, I decided to keep going for as long as I could. I was here for a reason, after all: to finally satisfy the curiosity I'd harbored since my childhood. So, against my better judgement—and, looking back, common sense — I pressed on. Eventually, I arrived at a short stairwell leading down to the basement level, and after finding a metal door — unlocked, surprisingly — I descended the steps to see a set of tunnels. Above me the copper tube branched off as I approached a three-pronged fork in the tunnel, with the thickest being right in the middle. I went down that one.

Eventually, visibility grew so poor that I decided to use my camera instead. Fortunately the light on that was very much working, and as I looked through the lens I could make out some of what lay beyond. I quickly found myself putting it away, though, because up ahead, out of apparently nowhere, there were lights. That should have been when I realized something was very, very wrong. But in the moment I saw it as little more than a relief. Up ahead, as I progressed, I came to what can only be described as a vertical fork of some description. The copper pipe split in half, with one half rising up to the ceiling and the other staying within arm's reach. Straight ahead of me was a hallway, with lights stretching around the long corner; below me was the same thing, but downwards, with a long staircase.

Contest image 29

The photograph I took in the tunnel.

It was around here that I decided to take a quick photograph of my surroundings. I'm not entirely sure why I did it. Perhaps it was some spur-of-the-moment thing, an attempt at recording my route, or simply an attempt to document my findings. Regardless, I did it, and without a second thought I put the camera back — but not before noticing the fact that the battery was down to just one bar.

“Shit,” I whispered, stuffing the camera back into my rucksack.

I cursed under my breath. Without the dim light of the camera, I’d have no way of making it back to the surface without the risk of getting lost. I wasn’t exactly sure if the “keep your hand on the wall” trick worked backwards, but I was certainly willing to try it. The other possibility would be to proceed through the labyrinth as far as I could and hope there was someone there that could help me, or something there I could take to light my way home. A rational person would likely choose the former option. Being — in retrospect — an absolute fucking idiot, I of course, opted to keep walking towards the precipice. My first step was far noisier than I’d intended. Apparently I’d made too much noise, because the next thing I knew, there was another sound coming from further down the tunnel.

Shuffling.

It came from the hallway in front of me, echoing from around the corner. It paused again briefly, as if whoever or whatever was there had stopped in its tracks, and then repeated the same action. My rational mind told me it was another person, maybe a homeless guy seeking refuge, but now that I looked at the tunnel, that made no sense.

“Hello?” I yelled, wondering if it was a homeless guy after all. “Is there anyone down there?”

As soon as I spoke, I realized that something was very wrong. The distance somebody would have to jump to get there would be too far, unless they shuffled along the very thin walkway that lined the right wall, then either jumped or fell onto the adjacent floor without falling onto the stairwell below. None of it made any sense any more. The architecture, the copper tubing, and the damp chill that permeated everything were odd enough. Add someone’s shuffling footsteps and there seemed nothing left to the imagination.

Something was very, very wrong.

I started to back away from the precipice, pulling out my broken torch reflexively as I backed up into the darkness. I was about to book it out of there, when I heard clanking, when about twenty feet in front of me, around the corner, I saw a slight hint of movement.

Then it emerged.

From the depths of the tunnel, it crawled out fast, a morbid, inscrutable mass of muscle and keratinous flesh whose existence made absolutely no fucking sense whatsoever. A tiny skull-like head, covered in calcium and possessing a strange sort of dorsal “handle”, stretched out from a long, sinewy neck covered in blackened flesh. The creature's breaths were horrific, a wheezing, gasping sound amplified by the inflating bellows that adorned its rotting hide. From between its sprawling, vampire bat-like wings, a set of coiling tendrils emerged, stretching forward, and weaving about in jerky motion, pressing against the copper tubing while its back ground against the ceiling, drawing a black liquid from its insides.

I froze, not knowing what to do or how to respond. I wanted to run, to scream for help, but I knew that this thing would catch up to me almost immediately and do God-knows-what to me. My entire body just totally froze up as the thing drew closer. It slowly came to a halt a few feet from the precipice, seemingly studying me, sizing me up.

As I stood my ground, awkwardly fumbling for my camera, the writhing monstrosity reared up, its eye holes seeming to take on a yellow glow. It craned its neck out, and that's when I picked up the stench, somewhere between a rotting corpse and ozone, that escaped from beneath its skin. This creature made no sense, it didn't fit into the natural order of things. It was like a demon, or something embodying the madness of every man, woman and child on this planet.

“Jesus!” I blurted, more of an involuntary response than anything.

A sphincter on the thing’s chest drew open, and I winced as some strange organ, shaped like the bell of a jellyfish, came out. It began to vibrate rapidly, pinging in a frequency that was somehow audible only in my head. Maybe it was sonar, or some other strange way of detecting the outside world, working out the intricacies of human anatomy. The pinging dulled as the thing craned out its neck even further. I staggered back, and the thing approached, its body language seeming to suggest curiosity above overt aggression.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I recalled some advice I’d heard about facing dangerous animals: you just make yourself look bigger and more dangerous than it is. Of course, I was heavily doubting that the thing before me was an animal of any description, but I had to try. And so, probably looking more like an absolute lunatic than an intimidating threat to the thing, I started yelling incoherently at it, flailing my arms around to make myself seem bigger.

There was silence again for a second.

Now the rancid smell of its rotting skin made itself known more clearly, almost pulsing, burning through my nostrils with agonizing regularity as if the thing was releasing it as a sort of self-defense mechanism. It drew back its small head, raised it to the ceiling, and emitted another reverberating ping from the strange chest organ. I yelled at the thing, loud as I could, torch in hand, threatening to bash its skull in at any moment. But it remained impassive, uncaring, disturbingly apathetic.

“F … fuck off!” I yelled at the thing, any pretense of bravado fading with each passing second.

It pinged again, and from somewhere on its underbelly there was movement. The creature looked downwards for a moment as those muscular, batlike limbs raised off the ground for just a second, and a set of jointed appendages, each tipped with wicked talons, emerged. They were held like those of a praying mantis, folded against the bottom surface of the lower arm in an almost uncomfortably tight fashion. The tendrils wrapped around the base of these new arms as if to strengthen them as the thing looked back up at me, tilted its head, and from the depths of its throat it let out the most godawful screech I’ve ever heard.

Now in a state of sheer panic I backed up, torchlight held as if it would do jack shit against something like this. Something in the back of my mind told me that this was it. This was the end. I backed up towards the outer edge of the light cast down by the hanging lamps, away from the strange intersection thing, but the creature followed me, its pursuit slow, lumbering, obscenely clumsy. A series of sonar pings emanated from that weird structure on its chest, and the next thing I knew that disgusting head was splitting radially along its length. My next realization was that it wasn't a head at all.

It was a set of feeding appendages.

That realization was enough to elicit a reaction from me, and a very strong one at that. Without even realizing I was doing it I threw the torch at the thing . As I turned around I saw the torch striking one feeding tube, immediately getting pulled into a cavernous maw, full of teeth and backswept papillae like a leatherback sea turtle. And then I ran, stumbled down the pitch-black hallway as fast as I could, my mind numb with sheer terror. From behind me the sound of a deafening screech echoed along the corridors and passages of the abandoned structure, chilling my spine, but at the time I didn't give a shit about that. I just needed to get out, needed to get in my car and get the fuck away.

Looking back, I'm honestly quite surprised I managed to make my way through the tunnel without one of many horrific fates befalling me. But somehow, I did. As soon as I hit the main entrance to the building complex, I threw open the door, staggered outside and slammed it shut with such force that I almost fell over. I pressed myself against it, trying to control my erratic, heavy breathing, but then I realized something.

Without the chains, nothing was stopping it from breaking out.

That was enough to get me moving again, sprinting away from the facility as fast as I could, tripping over, landing face-first in the fucking dirt. But at the time I didn't care. I just got myself back up again, reached into my pocket, pulled out my car keys and unlocked it straight away. I practically threw myself into the car, slammed the door shut, locked it behind me, and then finally I just sat there, trying once again to calm my shot nerves. I tried telling myself to breathe, to use the pause between breaths to focus on my irrational hyperventilating, but none of that worked. Instead, every neuron in my body was somehow hyperalert, still buzzing from whatever I'd just seen. But eventually, after what must have been half an hour, I decided I was calm enough. I turned on the ignition, reversed, and absolutely floored it all the way home. I'm not ashamed to admit that I was probably speeding for most of the journey, but frankly I didn't give a shit.

When I got home that evening, the first thing I did was call the police. I know it was a shitty idea, with the place's backstory and the fact that I was blatantly trespassing, but to my surprise they were actually very responsive. After mostly calming me down they took a statement. Now, of course I couldn't tell them I saw some sort of eldritch monstrosity, so I told them I'd encountered an armed individual that attacked me. Later that day they sent a squadron into the building to perform a thorough investigation. And what did they find?

Nothing.

There was nothing in there. No creature, at least. But they found the tunnels. Apparently they sent a few more people down there. By their reckoning, the tunnel system extended for at least six hundred feet, but beyond the brief patch with functioning lights visibility was incredibly poor. But there was no creature down there, which leads me to one final conclusion: whatever I saw on that day, whatever monstrosity lurked in those tunnels, isn't down there any more. It's free.

And it’s all my fault.



Written by Palaeontologica
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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