Alyn, and his wife Charlotte, had travelled to the Irish town of Mullaghbrack during one hot summer in the hopes that a brief weekend away would save their relationship. Alyn was an intelligent young man with an abrasive personality, and a crippling sense of entitlement, that had made dating deeply difficult for him. Charlotte, in turn, was a passionate young woman who was prone to erratic, and manic, behaviour while affecting an unfortunate flair for drama. She was even known to occasionally burst into spontaneous poetry. Both of them knew, on some level, that they were each other’s only hope, even if they struggled to get past the fact that they hated one another. Although, they did at least hate each other less than they hated everyone else, so that was something, which they thought made the relationship worth trying to save.
Mullaghbrack was a perfect choice for them both. It was famous for its extensive, and ancient, catacombs. Nobody knew who had made them, and they were notoriously difficult to navigate, but they contained the remains of thousands individuals, as well as numerous featureless tunnels. It was hard for researchers to ever find the same place twice, but at least three had gone in and returned clutching infant skulls that were later dated to forty thousand years old. One had returned with grainy images of cave paintings that they swore were real, despite the images showing animals no one could recognize.
So the place had an ancient history, and that appealed to Charlotte. But it was also cheap, and that appealed to Alyn. And on the first day, during their tour, it was, in a strange way, the happiest they had ever been while on a holiday together. Charlotte threw herself from wall to wall, running her hand across the surface and crying about the pain and the souls she could feel flowing up from Gaia below. Alyn, meanwhile, wouldn’t stop pestering the guide for the explicit details regarding the supposed infanticide, genocide, and mass rape that had occurred in the tunnels throughout its long and gruesome history.
The guide, bless him, was a patient elderly man who just took the strange couple with a pinch of salt, and walked them through the pre-appointed path, represented by a bright blue line that took you from one cavernous opening, to another not too far away.
“But we’ve seen so little! We barely walked for half an hour,” cried Charlotte as they emerged at the end of their tour.
“And we never got to see the room with all the skulls on pikes!” exclaimed Alyn.
“You won’t find the same place twice,” stressed the guide, “don’t go looking for rooms you’ve seen on the internet neither! Most of 'em are from Paris, not 'ere.”
“Oh please…” begged Charlotte.
“Look here,” said Alyn as he stepped forward, pushing a folded up ten-pound bill into the old man’s sweaty fist, “I have a high ranking position in one of the most profitable claims management companies in all of South West England, I’m sure we can arrange a tour with a bit more meat on the bones!”
“Look,” sighed the old man, growing desperate, “the only other tour is one with a tether and a safety line and I already told you about it, and I already told you the price, and I already told you we only do it on a Saturday! So just wait your dam..”
“Marvellous,” cried out Alyn, “see you there tomorrow mate!” Before he walked away, with his arm around Charlotte, oblivious to the old man’s blatant exhaustion and anger.
They went back later that night, of course. They had tried to enjoy some coffee in a village café, and they had gone back to their hotel room and had sex, and then they had watched a movie, and at the end of it all they had exhausted a meagre three hours, and it was only seven o’clock. The pair of them then tried to just hold a conversation, but that was the worst part of the evening. So Charlotte recommended a walk along the beach, and Alyn agreed to this.
They maintained this false premise until they finally passed the entrance to the tunnels, at which point Charlotte said, “Oh look Alyn, they don’t even bother locking the gates!”
“Ha!” he laughed, “It’s not that dangerous then is it, honey?”
“You know…” she giggled, “I don’t think it’s that big a place either. Otherwise we would have read about it more. Maybe we could go in and just…”
“Yes,” Alyn concurred, “it’s not our fault the Irish can’t navigate a maze!” And they laughed heartily, and entered.
Three days later, and Alyn had never regretted anything so much in his entire life. He was feeling crippled by hunger and thirst. And it had taken only a few hours of walking before he had lost all pretense of knowing what he was doing, and admitted to himself that the endless repetition of cramped dirt tunnels was beginning to bother him. Three days later and this feeling had grown only worse. And he told himself this silent panic was because of his fear of death, and nothing to do with the way that the oppressive sway of the shadows created by his flashlight, which bobbed in rhythm with his every move, created all kinds of strange and ethereal illusions. At one point during their endless hike, he had passed a branch in one of the tunnels and sworn that he had seen some crooked and bent knot of twisted legs fill one of the tunnels. But he knew nothing for sure.
Charlotte, on the other hand, did not really experience regret. She just did what she had always done when things weren’t the way she wanted them to be. She blamed someone else.
“I don’t understand how you lost sight of the blue line,” she hissed, quite suddenly, as he turned a corner, and squinted in hope of spotting some sign. “And why can’t I have the torch!? I can’t see anything.”
“Because you’d lose it,” snapped Alyn. “You know what you’re like. Remember the bloody cat!?” Immediately Charlotte began sobbing,
“You always bring that up!” she cried, “How was I supposed to know it wouldn’t dry in the oven?”
“Shut up,” yelled Alyn. “This won’t help.”
“I keep seeing things,” Charlotte sniffed. “You won’t give me the torch, and I keep seeing things!” Suddenly Alyn felt Charlotte grip his arm, crying out in fear. “It’s there,” she yelled in a shrill pitch, and as she grabbed Alyn her weight forced him to fall down to his knees. He immediately turned around and began swatting her away, shouting,
“For God’s sake you silly girl, stop it! There’s nothing in these fucking caves but bones, and I need the torch to go ahead and see what’s around us.”
“B-b-b-but,” Charlotte began to sniff and stammer, “I thought I saw something. God it was so hideous Alyn! What if there’s something in here with us? What if Mother Earth is angry with us? We shouldn’t have mocked her secrets! I knew my mother was right abo…”
Alyn snapped. He hit her. He’d never hit anything before, and so when he felt her little head thwack against his fist he couldn’t help but feel good, really good. It was a moment of such power for him. And during the brief pause after the first strike, when he most expected to feel a sudden pang of guilt, he heard her pitiful little sob and it just made him even angrier. And so he hit her again. And then he hit her once more, and then he gripped her auburn hair and began to awkwardly swing her head around in a pointless rage until he felt the jagged, rough wall, of the tunnel brush his fist. And then, as natural as anything, he gave into the compulsion and smashed her skull against the rock, again and again, until she stopped screaming and his exhaustion caught up with him.
He fell backwards, panting, and laughed a little. Looking around at the tunnels he began to grow hysterical in his laughter as he realized that no one would ever find her. He felt giddy at the prospect of never being caught, and he felt a resolve the likes of which he’d never experienced before. He became determined to escape, and to be free of the damned place so that he could leave Charlotte’s limp little body rot away, and really get away with it. He had acquired a new lease on life, and he was determined not see it end in those caves.
Even better was that Alyn was no longer afraid! ‘And why should he be?’ he thought. He stood up, covered in blood, and heaving his chest like a caveman, and realized he was the scariest thing in those tunnels. He was the killer, and he was the only monster Charlotte should have been scared of. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew past him, as though God himself had just been waiting to free him, waiting for him to become the man he was meant to be. The wind smelled of the salt, and the sea, and it was beautiful. So he ran towards the turning at the end of the tunnel they had stood in, and rounded the corner only to see the floor slope upwards, meeting the ceiling in a dead end.
He glanced around, certain it was where the gust had come from, and crawled up the slope, towards the roof, and began to claw away at the loose soil. He knew he couldn’t be that far if there was mud and not stone, and he began to feel so excited as he ripped lumps of soil down from above until, finally, he pushed his fist up through the hole and out to the other side. There he felt some type of strange and soft grass. Immediately he began to cry out in happiness and he grabbed the strands as hard as he could and pulled until a clump came out in his fist. Yanking his arm back down he shone the light on his hand and saw what he held.
It was a chunk of auburn hair, caked in blood. Alyn didn’t understand what he was looking at. ‘Was it hair that had was still stuck to my fingers all along?’ he wondered. He backed down from the slope and leaned around the corner so that he could shine a light back down to where Charlotte’s body was. But, when he did, he could see that it was no longer there. Instead, there was just a lonely little black shoe that had been on her foot barely moments ago. Alyn, desperate for some explanation, crawled back up the slope and began to pull at the soil harder and harder until a hole, big enough for his head and shoulders to fit through, could allow him to see what was above.
He pushed as much as of himself through as he could, and it broke his heart to see that there was no daylight. But he hoped that he might at least understand what was happening, and as he swivelled around desperately trying to get his bearings he finally noticed Charlotte’s twisted, lifeless, face staring back at him. He could see only her head, poking out from around a corner just a few metres away. Her eyes were fixed on him, or so it seemed, and he could barely keep himself from screaming when her jaw began to lower. But there was no noise. Her head just awkwardly shuffled, and moved, as her body slowly dragged backwards out of view.
He fell back down the slope, and shone the light around him desperate to get a sense of where he was. But for the last few days he had seen nothing but those brutal and lifeless black tunnels that stretched and twisted for what seemed like a thousand miles. He thought he might be going insane. He was terrified, exhausted, and so very hungry, and as his mind raced he suddenly heard the crumbling of soil behind him, and felt the gust of wind once more. His mind grew calm. It was coming from behind him. And this time he realized it wasn’t the healthy, heart-warming, smell of the sea, but instead the stomach churning foul stench of rotten fish and meat. He could feel it growing closer, all warm and wet against the back of his neck, breathing and sniffing just inches away. A mass of stringy mandibles and antenna dropped beside his shoulder, and lingered in his peripheral vision, before briefly brushing against his sweaty skin. It tickled, but he didn’t move.
He realized it was tasting him, and so he closed his eyes to wait. And the last thing Alyn ever thought was:
“God, I hope I don’t have to look at it.”
Written by ChristianWallis