Writing Catalog

Aidan Moll

Grade: 10

University School - Hunting Valley

Instructor: Ashley Worthington


Short Story


Jackson awoke with a start on the dank ground. His head was ringing as he sat up. He tried to look around, but everything was pitch black. He sat there in the dark for 40 seconds, futilely trying to get his bearings until he was finally able to make out a vague shape in the darkness. He got up on his feet and took a few tentative steps towards the small object on the ground. It was a cube-like object with a rough top and base and smooth, cool sides. He lifted it, and as he did, something miraculous happened: a little light came on in the cube. "A lantern…" Jackson muttered to himself. How this tiny movement activated it was beyond him, but he wasn't about to question his only source of hope.

Jackson took this time to figure out where exactly he was. Raising the lantern and walking around, he was able to identify a cave. He seemed to be in a specific chamber with one exit that he was not looking forward to using. It was a very cramped cavern that he would have to squeeze through. There was a thin layer of water on the ground, causing his clothes to hang on him uncomfortably Jackson frowned

How had he gotten here? His brain kept trying to tackle this question to no avail. Where is here? And where was I before here? These questions nagged at his brain. Suddenly, the lantern began to flicker, and the flame danced and shrank. A chill ran down Jackson's spine. He was far beyond making any logical executive decisions, but every bone in his body was telling him to run. He only had the one place to go. Bracing himself and holding his breath, Jackson squeezed through the passage and fell out on the other side.

The faint glow of the lantern on its side was enough for Jackson to quickly get up and regain control. As he picked up his lantern, he saw something strange in the center of the room. It was an old book. Leather bound, must be a journal, Jackson reckoned. He picked it up and, aided by the light of the lantern, read aloud:

"Day 1(?). It is hard to tell now. The expedition was uneventful for the most part, until Rogers told the rest of us that he'd found something. It was a deep sinkhole. Many hundreds of years old. We found a stable stalagmite to tie our rope around and rappelled down, one by one. Rogers, Thornborough, Quince and I, along with our trusty Hugo set about the exploration. There were strange cave paintings on the walls of something-or-other. None of us were able to discern any meaning from them, that's for certain. We stood in the center, looking at the paintings, when suddenly, the blue pigment in the paintings began to glow! Water began leaking out of the pavement. I couldn't make out a crack, but then, I didn't have much time to examine. The water began to gush and fill the sinkhole. The whole cave began to shake as a stone began to move overhead. With the aid of the glowing painting, I could see that the passage was closing. I thought that would be it, and we would die slowly, but that wasn't the last of it. Out from the walls burst tentacles, the same color as the pigment, that began to wrap around the limbs of my companions. They wrestled, and fought, but, well, never try to fumble with a flintlock under water. After a few seconds of horror, I realized that I was not targeted. I moved around, now completely submerged, to find a hole where one of the tentacles had broken in. I swam in and was coughed out onto the floor of this cave. Seconds later, the dutiful Hugo broke through as well. We caught our breath and turned around with every intention of coming back for them, but the wall had closed. Silently, instantly, the passage was gone. This was some time ago, I think. It could have been hours. Days, maybe. There is no indication. Hugo and I have kept a-"

Jackson wanted to continue reading, but his light was dying again, and he knew he had to move on to the next corridor. He stuck his thumb in the page he was reading then located and squeezed through the corridor on his right.

A horribly fascinated Jackson picked up right where he left off as he paced in the new chamber of the cave. "Hugo and I have kept a steady pace. We would stop and rest, but every time we remain in one chamber for very long something begins to happen. Our torches begin to die out, and the most horrible creeping feeling overtakes us. Indeed, the fact we have been unable to rest might provide a more exact range of how long we've been away. They say a man can only go so long without sleep. but maybe these wretched caves, maybe something within them is sustaining us far beyond our mortal limits. Ah, my torch seems to be flickering now, so we must be on our way. Once I have enough information for a subsequent report, I will make one.

The Honorable Nigel Williams"

Jackson's mind was swimming. "Jesus," Jackson thought, "how long ago was this? This guy was on an expedition when he found his cave entrance, so how did I get here? And, back up," he thought. "This guy is old. Like, old, old. Like a century or two old. So, when am I from? Modern times, of course. But what the hell does that mean!" All Jackson could remember was the sensation of drowning. A person can never forget the feeling of being drowned. He remembered the energy leaving his limbs as the hope left his mind and the oxygen left his lungs. And then this place. Maybe he was dead. In his own special hell. But then there was this explorer in what he could only assume to be the same cave system. This thought spiral was once again interrupted by whatever force was following him. As his lantern began to flicker, he made up his mind. He would see whatever this thing was. Whatever had been following him. He planted his feet in the ground. His lantern was growing very dim. A few distant but heavy footsteps echoed out in front of him. Every molecule of Jackson's body was screaming at him to leave, but he remained resolute. He stood in the same spot, until he crumpled to the floor, unconscious.


Jackson took a deep, frightened breath when he awoke. He was in the water. Treading water. Where was he? There was something illuminating the area. What was it? Something massive and on fire was in the water next to him. He looked below him and saw a cloud of red and black in the water. This discouraged him more. His arms, the longer they moved, seemed to be turning to stone. His breathing was becoming more frantic and labored. Right at the point when he would run out of energy or will or some mix of the two, he blinked, and he was back on the ground. Jackson was lying on the dank ground of the cave once again, with two familiar objects next to him.

His head once again ringing, he gathered his items, and began on his way. It seemed that as he was condemned to the same looping corridors again and again, his only way of learning new information about his situation was in that book. He skimmed through to find where he left off and read the following.

"Day ???

The issue of the skeletons

There has been little new about these infernal corridors beside one small horror. Erstwhile, we came upon this old pile of eroded bones. We couldn't distinguish what they were, and then the time in the chamber ran out, and we moved on to the next. The next chamber was identical, as they've all been, but there the bones were. And the bones, they… Every time we see them, they- I understand that there is a high chance that no one will ever lay eyes on these ramblings, so I suppose there is no reason to censor myself for polite society. Every time we see the bones, they seem to have more meat on them. What at first seemed ancient, began to smell. At around the tenth chamber, once the bones had taken a clear form, we knew what they were. Two human corpses, or what was left of them, laying on the floor. This was not the worst of it. When we made it to the thirtieth chamber with the remains, a large pit appeared in my and Hugo's stomachs."

Jackson knew the drill by this point, and for safety he moved on the next chamber before continuing. He thought about his own experience in these caves. Had he seen any bones? He couldn't think of any in the moment, but then, he wouldn't be surprised if he had overlooked something somewhere. Maybe the rest of the entry would tell, he figured. It continued:

"The skeletons, or rather, bodies, which had become more and more fresh, now had some discernible clothing garments on. I still find myself hesitating to write these things, as if I'll be called insane, when I'm already so far beyond the realm of reality that it would be a relief for these ideas to once again be disbelieved and joked about. I recognized the tattered clothing of me and poor, innocent Hugo on those godforsaken corpses. I want to stand still, to not get any further along, and not recognize anything else, but whatever has been propelling us seems to be getting faster. Less time can be spent in each chamber before it approaches. All of this, it brings a certain numbness to me. I feel I know in my heart of hearts that I deserve this. I should have stayed, and fought, and died with my compatriots, rather than be condemned to this purgatorial nightmare. And Hugo. He shouldn't be here with me. He has always followed me, and he's been a great assistant, but he never truly knows what he's getting in to. That doesn't matter when it means 12 hours in a library, but now I feel I've dragged my most loyal friend to hell. This journaling, it is not helping me. I must leave this book behind if I have any hope of survival. If you have found this, maybe it will help you in some way, but for me it is far too late.

N. W."

Jackson stood there stunned. He didn't for how long. Minutes, it seemed. Then he felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle. Whatever had been following him should be here. His lantern's flame was steady, and despite this eerie feeling, he was too. Maybe this should have comforted him somehow, but it certainly did not. Jackson found himself running. He had dropped the book, and with just his lantern he squeezed through corridor after corridor, chamber after chamber, until he narrowly avoided crashing into… himself.


The pale face with the massive bags under the eyes certainly belonged to Jackson. He glanced around and understood. He was looking at a mirror. He was in a bathroom, and judging by how cramped it was, it was an airplane's bathroom. He took a shaky but deep breath, opened the little plastic sliding door, and stepped out into the hall. He looked around. Every seat seemed to be filled. The people were strange, though. They had large trench coats and big fedora hats that were obscuring their heads. Every single one of them, it seemed, was smoking, which created a foul-smelling haze in Jackson's face. Jackson had no idea what to do or where to go, so he simply walked through the hall slowly. He could've sworn he saw passengers move their heads to watch him as he walked. He made it to the door that should open to the cockpit. Seeing no other option, he twisted the knob of the stark white door and attempted to open it. The door was locked, though. Jackson didn't know why this knowledge disquieted him so much.

Suddenly his heart skipped a beat. The plane hit a bump. In fact, it seemed it was now tilting down entirely. Jackson whipped around. Every seat was now empty, and the haze was gone. He did the only logical thing and ran to the other end of the aisle. A little under halfway through the aisle, his left leg started to stiffen. He dragged it for a little longer but then the arm he was using to stabilize him went stiff too. He was reduced to an awkward sort of army crawl. Two feet away from the door to the bathroom, his vision went black.


He awoke with water in his lungs which he quickly coughed out. Jackson was in a large body of water. No land in sight. The burning wreck of the airplane loomed over him. It was the only thing that gave him sight in this darkness. Treading water was becoming harder, and he could feel his joints stiffening. This wasn't like in the plane a few moments prior. There, something supernatural was removing his control over his faculties. Here, it was as natural as running out of energy and sinking. Time was ticking away until… until…

No, Jackson thought. No, I can't. I won't die here. I won't drown. That word echoed in his skull. Drown. Drown. Drown. It was as if a chorus were repeating it again and again, louder, and louder. Drown. Drown. Drown. Jackson's legs were no longer useable. Drown. Drown. Drown. His arms were getting slower, and he was bobbing more and more. Drown. Drown. Drown. He felt an incredibly sharp pain in his throat as he could tell he was exerting himself beyond his breaking point. Drown. Drown. Drown. He was submerged and could feel the water entering his lungs despite his protests. Drown. Drown. Drown. His vision gave way to a murky blackness. Drown. Drown. He found himself on the floor of a cave, with no memory of how he got there.


So that was it, Jackson thought. That must be how I got to the cave. He sat there for a minute in the darkness. Then, having gathered his thoughts, he searched around for his trusty lantern, which, sure as ever, lit itself for him. Then the unseen force returned and forced him out of the room. The next chamber would not be, like the others, identical, however. Before he even finished squeezing through the passage, he heard it. A voice. No, two voices. One voice in conversation with itself. Two voices that were identical yelling at each other.

"Get back, goddamit!" an old sounding British accent yelled.

"What the hell are you!" responded an identical voice.

"You, you spawn of Satan, I don't know what you are, but I swear to God I will rid this earth of it!" This was followed by the sound of a conflict. Metal objects were clattered together, before one of the voices cried out in pain. Another voice, also British, but higher in pitch, cried out as well. Jackson had the creeping suspicion he knew exactly what had just occurred. He squeezed the rest of the way through and had a millisecond to survey his surroundings.

A middle-aged man with a large handlebar mustache, blond hair, an explorer's outfit, a crazed look in his eye, a torch, and a sword dripping with blood was standing in the middle of the chamber. The man was breathing heavily. Behind the man was another of similar age and much smaller in frame. He was holding a knife that was similarly bloodied. As Jackson had guessed, to the side there laid two bodies identical to the men standing in front of him. Dr. Williams looked to Hugo and said breathily "It has returned…" Before heroically walking forward.

"Dr. Williams!" Jackson shouted out. He was so relieved to see another person and be able to address them by their name, that he did not at first register anything as wrong. The explorer did not seem to hear him. Instead, he brandished the blade which he had so recently used.

"You… You are the thing that has chased us. I will run no longer. DO YOU HEAR THAT!" He screamed at the top of his lungs. "I WILL NOT RUN. Beast," He began in a lower voice. "I do not know if you take corporeal form. But mark my words. I will destroy you." Jackson was incredibly confused. He must be talking to him, there's nothing else in the room.

"Please, you don't understand, I'm just like you! I'm lost, same as you!" Jackson pleaded. Some part of him knew that this wouldn't get through. The old man took a big swing with his sword.

"Get back, damn you. Back!" Jackson was forced against the wall to avoid getting cut. The explorer did not seem to be aiming for Jason's body specifically, rather something abstract in front of him. Jackson couldn't help but notice that his light was flickering again and winding down. He tried to move forward but the explorer would not let him. He knew whatever was chasing was moments away. He eyed the crack he had come in through. An inky black goop poured in through the hole. He needed to get farther away, but that meant becoming confetti at the hands of the good doctor. Jackson was trapped. His light was flickering and beginning to go out altogether. He prayed for something to save him. And, just like that, the light was out.

Jackson wouldn't wake.