21 comments

Fiction Drama Horror

He descends further into a realm where he will never be found. He seeks an awful truth others cannot fathom. The difference between who he thinks himself to be and who he really is. He already knows of the grande disparity between the man below and the man above. He marks his discoveries in a series of dogeared journals. Everything before has lead him here. Either a conclusion or new beginning.

At dusk the insects are so heavy that they scratch about on the terrestrial floor like wildcats wondering aimlessly for prey. He searches in the black of night until nearly falling lifeless and dehydrated. In the torrid depths swirl colonies of insects and savage rats. Their glowing eyes and buzzing torments trace his every move. The spiders of below are hairy or bald and naked. The clustered water pools harbor collections of amphibian puppets splashing about like reckless theater marionette dancers, the spider’s silk torn in the midst of their rampant play. 

The search takes on an alien topography. Wretched bats dangle in bunches like clusters of furry black fruit. A tapping of unending water plays throughout the underworld like the temperamental oscillation of ringing church bells. He records all this in his journal, the flint of a rusty zippo sparking and burning with a dragonfruit orange circumventing an acetylene blue ridge. He stares until his eyes burn while the crisp air works at the flame’s subtle decay.  

On occasion he presses a rubber coated flashlight button, steadying the beam of light long enough to observe the unfamiliar surroundings. He stops to catch his breath and then pushes the button once again to illuminate a filthy basilica. Above him muddy arches scratched by vampire bats loom. Vomit colored sewage percolates through fault lines and dark pipes stick out like rotting organs from the city’s wretched underbelly. A grim slime slithers and oozes quietly in the dark.  

Dirty boots slosh through the swampy mouth of a hidden cave. He dives aimlessly deeper through surfaces where only creatures of the dark are familiar. On occasion he passes a trace of abandoned utility work where the terrain was unfit for men to brace the outlines of civilization. Split trees blacken with moss and rot. Shattered fragments of asphalt and brick spread like shrapnel. He finds a cracked bucket surrounded by bones. He does not know to what or whom the chastened fragments may have once belonged. Their origin contaminated and lost by the chittering teeth of voracious creatures having gnawed and dropped the pieces once they were absent of flesh.  

In a skull wriggles a slick centipede. Brown fibrous hairs flail and tether to the cranium with lengthy brown tentacles. It slithers in and out in criss-crossed stitching through cracked orbital eye sockets. His shaky hands drop the skull and it clatters on a jagged rock, smashing the centipede’s body like a broken train. He steadies his staccato breathing and uses his flashlight to expend a conical wormhole of light in order to brush the squirming centipede from the skull. He shakes the relic in a puddle to cleanse it and cuts the light to feel the skull in both palms, careful to not crush the moist find. He cautiously tucks it away in his satchel.

He finds an archaic church pew bench and sits so he can rest his weary legs and observe the discovery in greater depth. He pulls the skull back from the satchel and resumes writing. He jots about something ancient found in a hidden place. He compares the grooves and ridges of the round orb to bones diagramed in pages of old. Neither bird nor cat, he concludes. Something more familiar. Perhaps, he considers, someone.  

He explores further and notices the corridor of the cave draws to a stony impasse in which the walls seem to terminate all at once. The air suddenly becomes so cold it cuts his lungs and he pulls his flashlight to study the dark arches of oblivion. He looks at the wet ceiling. He carefully records every detail on a page containing a previous blueprint of similar design. As the flashlight hovers across scribbles on a mangey page his eye is caught by a breathtaking beauty. Before him lies the most potent and terrible place he has ever laid eyes upon. The places before held failed hopes and an inevitable sense of defeat. Here and now, he realizes the potential of actually discovering the truth.  

His senses are mysteriously heightened. The flashlight bulb feels like a scorching fire. The faint breeze becomes a brazen gust. Drip-drops from a distant void resurrect a cacophony of thuds drumming through his brain and synchronized with his beating heart. Something inhuman pushes his trembling body forward. The flashlight fails and his trembling hand drops it to the ground where it falls with an audible crash.  

He journeys further into the darkness, unaware of where he goes. He ignores the pain of a sharp rock that nearly forces him to fall. He clings to his satchel with its precious contents of the sacred artifact. A baptismal lake lies a few strides beyond, clear and pure. Void of muck and filth. He flicks his lighter and the dancing flame makes it glimmer like a desert oasis. 

A force beyond his observation robs him of free will and his mind observes his body being piloted. His rigged limbs stiffen and flex as he’s pulled nearly chest deep in the ice cold waters. As the satchel is immersed the skull slips from the ragged folds. It begins to mysteriously dissolve and the water suddenly illuminates with a bright pearl opalescence.  

He tries to reach for the decaying skull but the aqueous solution slips through his fingers like a grainy ooze. He’s able to recover the journal floating by his side but as he holds it the pages begin to burn. He feels no sensation of heat as it sits in the bonfire of his hand until finally falling between his knuckles like snowy ash.  

Looking at the waters with as much horror as amazement he sees his own reflection and he begins to moan and holler. His face begins to sag and loosen. His skin wrinkles and folds over itself and he is held in a merciless trance. His eyes scale and begin to flake and he no longer sees. The last thing he hears before the world goes black is his own screaming.

December 12, 2021 22:43

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21 comments

Graham Kinross
22:16 Dec 21, 2021

Was he in Hell? Your description was really poetic. It reminds me of the parallel world the kids visit in Stranger Things or what the world might have been in The Mist by Stephen King.

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Dustin Gillham
02:55 Dec 22, 2021

Funny you mention the upside down because I was thinking about that a little bit when I was writing. I suppose it could be hell. I just was going for something super eerie and dark without making it too tangible. Wanted to let the reader decide. Thanks for reading, Graham. Always excited when you comment on my stuff.

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Graham Kinross
03:02 Dec 22, 2021

It reminded me a bit of the creepy vaults in space in the Revenger book by Alastair Reynolds. If you’ve not read it or the sequels, they’re really good. A bit like a very dark Indiana Jones in space series.

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18:52 Dec 20, 2021

Well that was dark...I love it!

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Dustin Gillham
20:57 Dec 20, 2021

Thank you for reading Jaden. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Mohamed Sarfan
14:28 Dec 24, 2021

It's Valuable Content. All The Best My Dear Friend; Write More Congratulations

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Dustin Gillham
01:36 Dec 25, 2021

Thank you so much Mohamed. Happy holidays and best wishes to you and your loved ones.

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Ruth Porritt
05:02 Dec 22, 2021

Hello Dustin, "He stares until his eyes burn while the crisp air works at the flame’s subtle decay." This sentence is one of my favorites in a clear description of (what I assume is) the beginning of one man's journey to Hell. Anyway, for myself (as a reader) the point of this story isn't important. What sticks out about this work, in an outstanding way, is the detailed description of what the main character experiences, second by second. This story reminds me of the best short pieces from Poe, Hawthorne, and Ramsey Campbell. (with a t...

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Jamie Gregory
19:48 Dec 21, 2021

Wow, what a chilling atmosphere you created in this story! It captured my attention from beginning to end. Two of my favorite lines were, “The clustered water pools harbor collections of amphibian puppets splashing about like reckless theater marionette dancers, the spider’s silk torn in the midst of their rampant play.” and, “Vomit colored sewage percolates through fault lines and dark pipes stick out like rotting organs from the city’s wretched underbelly.” Well done! PS: I’m a newbie here so any feedback you have on my stories would be g...

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Zaara Rajaji
09:51 Dec 19, 2021

Your writing has a captivating essence, I was engaged throughout the entire story. Well done:)

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Dustin Gillham
19:37 Dec 19, 2021

Thank you Zaara. I'm grateful you took the time to read my story!

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13:40 Dec 13, 2021

Deliciously dark! My favorite line was…”dark pipes stick out like rotting organs from the city’s wretched underbelly.” Wow! Seriously, this was some of the best use of imagery I have ever read. I was just a little confused about what had actually caused the destruction of this world and what had caused the pool of dangerous water at the end…I would love to know more about your character and read more details about this mysterious place and the horror that occurred here. Another chapter to come perhaps? You are a terrific writer. You really s...

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Dustin Gillham
20:35 Dec 14, 2021

I am thrilled you enjoyed it. I plan on writing more. Definitely another chapter. In Basilica my hope was to allow the reader plenty of space for letting his/her imagination run wild. Taking advantage of this prompt was fun because it had my character looking for something very specific - I was thinking eternal life as I was writing it but was worried of restricting the searching and the horror to something too specific and rather cliche. As a flash piece I wanted readers to enjoy, but also go... hmmm? I am humbled by your comment Heat...

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02:14 Dec 13, 2021

Wow.. super eerie and your descriptions are phenomenal!

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Dustin Gillham
20:28 Dec 14, 2021

Thank you so much Alexandra for taking the time to read my submission. More will be coming. Blessings, Dustin

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Philip Ebuluofor
20:25 Dec 16, 2021

The last thing he hears before the world goes kaput is his own screaming. Is there any other better phrases to end a story than that? Remove kaput and put black or any other word and it would still be captivating. Fine work Dustin.

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Dustin Gillham
22:44 Dec 16, 2021

I wrote black not kaput. Not sure how you got that? I wouldn't choose to use that word either. Thank you so much for reading my story.

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Michael Regan
16:52 Dec 13, 2021

Wonderful imagery. So many great descriptions - the one that caught my eye was "burning with a dragonfruit orange" it works so well if you know what dragonfruit looks like ;-)

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Dustin Gillham
20:37 Dec 14, 2021

Thank you Michael. I was hoping readers connected to some of the more specific nuances and description. Thank you for taking the time to read Basilica. I'll keep improving and posting more. Blessings.

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John Walsh
02:15 Dec 13, 2021

Your vivid use of language keep me moving in this story despite my confusion about what is actually happening. Well written!

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Dustin Gillham
20:29 Dec 14, 2021

Thank you for the compliment John. I'm glad you enjoyed.

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