Let me tell you my story. The one that isn’t true.
I’m known as Monk’s Cave and have been for the last eighty years. For a hundred and fifty years before that, I didn’t have a name and didn’t need one. I was a garden feature, you see, a manmade cave built over a natural spring. My bubbling water fed into several ponds surrounded by thick grass and pretty flowers much as it does now. And as it rose from the rocks below me, the sun shone on to the ponds on the other side of the grass, and the breeze played in the trees. A lovely sound which now, no matter the strength of the wind, always reminds me of the old days.
My land was quieter then. No traffic on the nearby parkway, no planes overhead. And there are many more houses. They’re less than a mile away, all larger than the homes I knew decades ago – even the house that once sat behind me. It’s gone now. Gone since the war that took the family who lived there, to be replaced by grass and a meandering path that nobody ever uses.
Long ago, I was a fine part of a fine garden. Years went by and I became a lost part of that garden. That is where my legend started as near I can work out.
Such a shame that there is no truth to that legend.
They say I was built during medieval years as a secret shared only by a small group of monks. They say I am made of tunnels which go on for miles into the centre of the city and lead to the cathedral.
Wherever it started, I’m sure it was just a tale designed to entertain or perhaps a use of imagination which is all too rare these days. In any case, I became Monk’s Cave and have been so for dozens of winters and summers, dozens of long, still days with nothing to look at but the grass and the trees. Time enough for my story to become accepted fact. Time enough for metal gates to be erected at my face, obscuring my view of the land I have known for more than two centuries.
None of that is as important to me as much as what I have become. A lie.
It has bothered me for years. I want to be more than a lie. I want my own story.
Now I know what I must do.
It’s summer now. Autumn is coming, though. It’s just a matter of a few weeks before the sun will rise later and the chill air of the fresh mornings coats the city. I know that because of the boys who come to the grass around the ponds every evening.
There are three of them. Two blond boys and one dark. All no older than fourteen. They come on bicycles and they sit beside the ponds to smoke and talk. Occasionally, they look at me and they talk about the girls they’d like to bring to me. I’m a secret place, they say. It’d be easy to bring girls to me and do the sort of things that boys their age have been discussing for centuries.
I listen to this. And I plan.
They arrive at seven o’clock in the evening on the last day of August. There is a little less than an hour before sunset arrives. Time to smoke and talk while the summer dies and the new year of school closes in rapidly.
They drop their bicycles in an untidy heap. Their voices float to me, words of girls and parents and little else. I let them talk for twenty minutes before I whisper to them. Suggestions. Ideas. Images of my interior.
Their conversation falters and they glance my way as if expecting someone to be watching them from my shadows in the leaves and rocks.
“You ever been in there?” the dark boy says. “Actually inside it?”
“No chance of doing that. There’s a gate in front of the cave,” another replies.
“Yeah, but it’s got be old. It’s probably falling apart,” the third says.
The first boy stands. “Come on.”
They leave their bikes on the grass and walk towards me, cigarettes hanging from their mouths, the red bumps and dots of teenage acne dotted about their faces. They crouch when they reach the rocks surrounding my stream. One pretends to push another into the water. The other boy swings a punch, swearing as he does so.
I whisper to them, bring up images of the private darkness inside. It’d be fun in there, I tell them. A secret place for them and girls. They’d be free to smoke and drink and talk and more than any of that, how could the girls resist such a private place?
One of the blond boys stands and pulls on the rusty lock. It barely moves. He pushes on the gates. They grate on the wet stones below.
“How old do you think this is?” he says.
I want to laugh. How young of them to be unable to consider anything much older than they are.
“You think they just built these?” the dark boy says and rattles the gates. “This cave’s been here for years. Centuries.”
“It goes right into town. Right below the streets.” The boy tests the lock. “Anyone ever been inside?”
“Don’t know. Maybe before they put these gates in.”
The dark boy turns in a circle, studying the ground and large stones. He spies one, bends and yanks it from the stream.
“What are you doing?” one of the other says, obviously knowing and impressed.
“Get the bikes. We can’t leave them there.”
The two blond boys run back to their bikes and wheel them towards me. The first boy waits until the bicycles are obscured under damp leaves and branches and the others have returned to him before he smashes the stone into the lock repeatedly. The noise is tremendous; he keeps hitting the lock and I understand him. There’s nobody around and even if there were, he wants to get inside, wants to see the secret dark inside Monk’s Cave.
The eighth time he strikes the lock, it breaks. Old metal falls to the water and he kicks it away. Silently, the boys push my gates open and peer inside.
“Stinks,” one says.
“Let’s have a look.”
“No way. It’s soaking in there.”
“Step here.” The dark boy points to the narrow circle of black stone that surrounds my spring. “It’s wet but not too bad.”
Grimacing, the other boys follow him into my cave, their steps slow.
“We could sit there.” The leader gestures to a short line of rocks that form a seating area. Once upon a time, that’s exactly what they were. Now they’re just damp stone. The boys test them and sit.
One lights a cigarette. “What about the bikes?”
“They’re all right. There’s nobody else around here.”
They talk in the gloom. They smoke. I learn their names and don’t care about them. One fiddles with his phone, cursing when he discovers he has no signal inside me.
Half an hour passes. It’s a breath to me and an age to them. As they drop their cigarettes to the water at their feet, they stand. The shadows grow larger and thicker at the gate, almost looking as if they’re rising from the ground and grass.
“Hey. Check this.”
One of the blond boys rubs his hand on the wall beside an opening they have not noticed before. The shifting light has revealed it and in his imagination, he’s looking at the opening to one of the legendary tunnels that lead to the cathedral.
“It’s got to go for miles.”
The dark boy stands beside him, closer to the wall. He’s the one in charge. He will claim it with his touch.
They look at each other.
I whisper again.
“You think this really goes all that way?” one says.
“Yeah. It’s years old,” the dark boy replies.
I whisper. Ideas. Images.
“What about the bikes?” one of the blond boys says.
“Don’t worry about it. Nobody can see them.”
They glance towards the stream and the little they can see of the ponds through the shadows. Night comes in quickly on my land. The shadows rise; the rabbits and other animals go into hiding, and the wind shifts through the leaves in the tall trees to make them hiss and whisper.
The boys turn from the gates and descending sunset. They study my walls. I tell them about my tunnels and passages and the route to the centre of the city. They hear how grand it would be to walk underground, to come out miles away and what a story that will be. The three friends who walked below the earth to do what nobody had done in years.
What a story.
They listen. They touch my walls and their fingers come away wet. My stone is damp. The opening into my wall winks at them. They don’t think about the lack of light or their bikes. My whispers are in their heads and that is all they know.
The dark boy is first as I knew he would be. He slides into the gap, rock rubbing against him. A moment later, the second boy follows, then the third. They vanish into the dark of my tunnels. Outside, the final few minutes of the sunset flow by. Darkness is enclosing me, my land and the boys’ bicycles.
Their voices come, muffled by rock; their realisation that they can’t go any further because the tunnel isn’t wide enough, that there is no room to manoeuvre.
The realisation that they can’t back up.
I listen to their cries and screams. I relish their desperate attempts to pull their useless phones free from pockets. I feel the rock pressing into their faces while they are buried alive ten feet from safety. Night rushes in to sit in the cold water of my spring and on my seat of rocks and worm its way into the opening towards the panicked children. All the while, the only reply to their desperate shouts is the dumb trickle of water from the spring below me.
Their tears and screams roll around inside me, their shouts grow hoarse; the rock against their mouths cuts into their lips and the salt of their blood soaks into the dark stone.
It shouldn’t take more than three days before dehydration and exposure kills them. I can listen to their screams for three days if it means I get what I want.
Their story will be told when their rotten bodies are eventually found, the bones and mouldering flesh trapped so close to the exit. They will become the dead boys who haunt Monk’s Cave and the ponds.
Their story will grow as will mine.
All I have to do is wait for the bodies to be found.
Luke Walker has been writing horror and fantasy fiction for most of his life. His novella Mirror Of The Nameless is available from Dark Fuse while his first two novels, the horror The Red Girl and the dark fantasy ‘Set, are published by Musa Publishing. Bear, a short piece, features in Serial Killers Tres Tria from JWKFiction. Another short story, Echidna, features in Vol 4 of Postscripts To Darkness. A number of his short stories have been published online at Dark Fire Fiction, in the emag Penumbra and at Death Throes webzine.
He is thirty-five and lives in England with his wife and two cats. He’s now had enough of writing about himself in the third person and is going for a lay down.
Did Luke scare you?