Well, it has been a while since I put some fiction of my blog, but I’ve been trying to get away from Flash Fiction and start writing longer stuff which takes a fair bit more time, so I’m spreading the work out more. This isn’t much longer than an old Fiction Friday post at around 2,500 words, but it’s an idea I’ve been meaning to write for a while and I think it turned out pretty well.
A word of warning, however. I don’t write much outright horror, I’m usually more of a suspense and thriller guy, but this is a genuine gruesome tale so if that’s not your thing, then you might want to give it a miss. If you feel brave, read on.
Jessie hesitated for a second before launching herself after it. At a hump on the grass, all four paws left the ground as she launched into a mess of weeds and brambles, before emerging triumphantly with the battered old tennis ball. She trotted back with it firmly between her jaws and then dropped it at Sam’s feet. At least he was wearing gloves today, the ball was sodden with dew and drool, and was one good bite away from tennis-ball heaven. A good reward for five years long service. Sam lobbed the ball again and Jessie was gone, over the hill and through a net of thorn bushes. Sam walked on.
It was good to get out early. The new house was big and bright, just the sort of house Claire wanted. He bought more out of spite than anything else, but it was empty, imposing and judgemental. He hated every moment he spent in it, but it was his now and he needed at least ten years of pretending to like it before he could move on. The isolation was nice, at least. He had a good walk to the next house, and a patch of scrubland behind him for walking the dog. One afternoon he’d brought his notes out with him and got a good but of work done between pitching long throws for Jessie. That almost made it worthwhile.
She wasn’t back yet. He walked a long arc round the corner of the bank, before the fence lining the furthest reaches of the old farm started to box him in, until he was pointing in the direction Jessie had gone, and started off in that direction. She’d be distracted by a squirrel or a rat or something. She was only a mongrel but she had the nose of a bloodhound, and the attention span of a sparrow. As he neared the patches of thorns, he whistled, but there was no response.
“Jess!” He yelled, he thought he heard something, but it was faint. He walked on, circling the worst of the bushes and finding the old patch. “Come on, girl.” He heard it again, a whimper. She’d probably run through the thorns and lodged something in her paw. He followed the noise until he found the gap in the soil. It was a small opening, just big enough to climb down. Halfway between a cave and burrow, with a large rock embedded in the soil above the entrance. The whimpering came from inside.
“Come on, Jess.” He whistled again. Either something in the bushes had scared her down or she’d chased something in and become stuck. He slipped off his jacket and crouched down. It would be a tight squeeze, but he could probably make it. He pulled out his phone and pointed the light from the screen down the burrow. Jessie still whimpered somewhere inside, but he couldn’t see her. He would have to go in.
There was just enough room to crawl down, holding the phone in front of him for light. The soil at the entrance was dry, but got a little muddier as he went. He’d crawled about half the length of his body when he saw her. She’d become tangled in a mess of roots. He reached out a hand, and started unwrapping them from her back leg, but she was panicky and pulled about. “Easy, calm down.” It didn’t do much good. “We’ll be out of here soon.” He freed the last of the roots from her leg, he couldn’t make out much from the light of the phone, but he could see her turning. He started to inch back the way he had come.
Jessie was facing him now. He could see she was panicked, but it still caught him off guard when she bolted. Laid down in the burrow like this, she didn’t see, much smaller than he was. They were almost out now, but as she tried to force her way past him, something shifted. He felt soil crumbling over his feet and then pain. Sam could only guess, but the weight that now squeezed his right leg felt a lot like the stone that had been lodged in the soil. The burrow was completely dark now, he tried to move his leg but couldn’t, he couldn’t even feel his foot. He tried to shout for help, but that set something off again. Jessie was still in the burrow with him, and the more she moved, the more she pushed his body away from his leg. It felt like it would wrench his foot off. He tried to lift but it was no good.
Sam was trapped.
His first response was to struggle, but it was a waste of time. He couldn’t shift his leg in such a way as to free it from the stone, he couldn’t push the stone with his other leg without driving it further into his leg. Besides, the more he struggled, the more his fellow prisoner pushed up and down the tunnel. She barked. She was only a small dog, in the tight space it was deafening, and he reached a hand to stroke her. She was still distraught, but calmed at his touch.
The pain in his leg had been bad, but was easing now. His leg bled. He could feel it, but the wound could be treated if he could just get out. At last, he remembered his phone. He’d been using it for light, but hadn’t tried to make a call. His heart sank as he peered at the harsh, bright screen. No signal. It was rough out there at the best of times, now he was beneath a layer of soil. He felt his heartbeat pick up a little faster, his breath got away from him. He couldn’t seem to get enough air in his lungs, and when he breathed deep, he filled his nose with the smell of dirt and rotting leaves. It made him want to gag. Jessie picked up on his fear too, the light from the phone caught her eyes. They were wide and flicked about the place.
Sam told himself to stay calm. The way back was trapped, but the stone had not covered the entrance completely. On his bare ankles, he could still feel a trace of wind and on the air was the smell from the old brewery at the edge of town. He would not suffocate. That was something. Getting help would be a little harder, he thought about digging with his hands, getting enough space to let the dog squeeze through, and then hope for the best. She was hardly Lassie, but his options were limited. He started to pull clumps of soil out, but the weaving roots that had tangled her up in the first place were threaded through the top of the burrow. One hard pull and he’d bring the whole lot down on himself. He would have to wait. If she got desperate enough, she might just tunnel back the way they came and free some room for his leg.
Sam watched time pass on the phone. He turned down the brightness of the screen as far as it would go, and felt a little more nervous every time the battery indicator dropped a percent. He alternated between leaving it off for as long as he dare, and watching it intently hoping to see the phone pick up a signal, but it was no good. Jessie was still nervous, squeezing from one end of the tunnel to the other. Occasionally she would stop and sniff the air, but he couldn’t smell much beyond the damp soil now. His leg itched and tingled now.
He must have fallen asleep, because he was woken by the sound of a motorbike. Only a little engine, some off-road scrambler. Kids from town sometimes brought them on to the hill and bounced over the banking. This was his chance. He screamed at the top of his voice, he saw Jess get nervous by the noise. “Come on.” He shouted at her, his voice was tired and cracking, he needed her to make some noise. He felt a rumble in the earth just as Jessie started barking. The noise was almost deafening, but it was no good. The sound of the bike became more distant. They must have passed right over. Sam shouted for what felt like an hour after, but nobody came.
He was too scared to look at the phone now. The battery indicator had gone red. He didn’t know how long he’d been down there, and he was starting to get thirsty. Night must have fallen outside, because the tunnel seemed darker than ever and he started to get cold. He tried to keep Jessie sat by him, to borrow some of her warmth, but she was twitchy and couldn’t stay still. He heard her attempt to nibble a root and give in quickly. Though the space was tight, he was glad he was not trapped alone. He started to fall asleep again, but some glimmer of hope nibbled at the corners of his brain. It had been Monday when he walked the dog, if it was night now, in the morning it would be Tuesday, and on Tuesday the local Wildlife Spotters were usually out on the hills.
Jessie whimpered, walked in a little circle before sitting again and he placed a hand on her back. If they could just hold on a little longer, if he could just stay conscious until tomorrow morning, they might make it.
Sam’s head shot up. At some point he had fallen asleep. It was dark, his throat was sore and he was in pain. He knew he was not supposed to fall asleep, but he could not remember why. He tried to look around, but it was pitch black, and he remembered where he was. Why he could not sleep. Wait for people. He had to be awake when they passed or he wouldn’t have a hope. He doubted he could last another week down there. And yet he was exhausted. It was still night, he hadn’t slept for long, he could tell.
But why had he woken up. In he dreams, he had felt a sensation in his leg. That old pain from the rock, he worried it was becoming infected, and he hadn’t felt anything in his foot for too long now, but there was something. A sensation; a noise.
“Jess?” The noise stopped. He tried to reach down to his leg, but he could just touch his shin with the tips of his fingers. The skin that had been tacky with blood and grit was wet and smooth. The dog pushed past him and sniffed around his face. He heard her lick her lips. The fear took a while to set in, but when it did, it consumed him. His leg was still trapped, and the sickening smell that now filled the tunnel was clearly coming from him, but it was having a different effect on Jessie. He tried to count up the hours they had been trapped their, and while he counted, he heard her whimper and fuss. Even in the pitch black, he thought he caught a glint of white teeth hiding in her mouth. He was cold, and wet, and hungry, but so was she.
He shifted his weight to the side, tried to block her from getting to his feet. He told himself he had nothing to be scared of, that the two of them had only to wait until morning. She couldn’t be that desperate yet, but the smell of his festering wound seemed to be filling the air and the more he tried to keep her back, the more she struggled.
He lost focus again, the tiredness a constant threat, like the dog and went he came to, he could feel her sniffing at his leg again. The leg was numb to the pain, but he was still aware of her nose and tongue poking at the wound. With his other leg and kicked out at her, hoping to put her off the idea, but he caught he harder than he meant to. She snarled and barked in response before pushed past his ribs again and curling up in front of his head. There his listened to hear breathing, near his fast. The sound was not soothing, but its repetition became like a trance and the heat of her body rocked him closer and closer to sleep. He tried to fight it, but it was no good. Sam slept again.
In Sam’s dream, he was not in the burrow. He told himself to stay awake, to fight until morning, but it was no good. There was no need anyway, he told himself he was at home, in his own bed. Back in his old house and Claire was beside him. No, she was moving now. Sam slept until the pain hit his leg, for a split second he was awake and understood completely, but the old numbness soon returned. The smell of rot and decay still hung around, but there was a new smell. Something fresh, something clean. In the pit of his stomach he felt hunger again, but he was getting dizzy now. He would sleep for a few more hours, and then see what they were having for breakfast.