Within The Darkness
“He’s a big chicken!” Richie yelled while pointing a chubby finger at the group of ten-year-old boys who stood wide-eyed and gaping at him.
“There’s no way Stuart will go into the cave alone.” The other boys in the group stood motionless. Their eyes pinned on young Stuart, waiting to hear his reply.
Stuart shuffled his feet in the soft leafy earth beneath him, which belonged to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Northeast Georgia. These mountains were older than time itself, and so were the stories about the mysterious caves within them. They were said to hold dark secrets. On occasion, people claimed to have seen ghostly apparitions of people who had entered the caves long ago and were never seen again.
He looked at his friends, then at Richie. As dark as the night was, with only a sliver of moonlight, there was no way he’d go into that cave alone. At least this once, Richie was right. Stuart furrowed his brows and replied.
“Well, what if I don’t want to!” Quick to anger, he clenched his fists and took an angry leap at Richie, who jumped away just as the other boys grabbed Stuart and stopped him.
“Hey man,” said Ralph, who was two years older than Stuart. “Don’t let him bully you. I don’t want to go into the cave either!” He looked around at the other boys as if to verify his words. “I mean, who would what with all the stories we’ve heard about it.”
“Yeah,” chimed in another boy. “My pops says the older people sing songs about it.”
Suddenly a cold October wind kicked up as if to somehow urge the boys home. They pulled their jackets tightly around their torsos and turned towards the trail leading home.
“I’m leaving,” Ralphie called out. “Your all a bunch of chickens.” He started walking briskly down the trail. Stuart wondered who the chicken really was. He seemed to be in such a rush to leave the area.
Stuart watched the other boys leave but not him. He stood there a few moments longer, gazing at the dark entrance to the cave. He felt a strange tingling sensation course throughout his body, almost as if the cave itself was beckoning him to enter.
He shook off the feeling but not before confirming in his mind that someday he would return.
TEN YEARS LATER...............
Stuart Upton sat on the porch of his grandmother's old farmhouse. He’d lived in these mountains all his life. He knew every inch of them except where his grandmother forbade him to go. The caves.
As he swung to and fro on the ancient swing, which was so old, it seemed permanently engraved into the farmhouse porch, his thoughts went back to that night in October when he was only ten years old and the cave called to him.
Stuart’s gaze fell way beyond the trees of the old homestead resting on the mountains in the distance. He remembered how scared he felt that night. And that jerk, Richie, who taunted him every day after that for most of his life. Stuart did everything he could to escape him, but Richie always found him.
Stuart stood up from the swing just as his grandmother poked her head outside the rickety kitchen door.
“Stu? Come on now, your supper is getting cold.”
Feeling his stomach grumble, he wasted no time in seating himself at the table in front of a steaming bowl of chicken and dumplings his grandmother made. He looked down at the fluffy dumplings floating in the fresh broth, picked up his spoon, and began to eat.
After a few moments, he broke their silence and asked his grandmother a question, “Gran, what do know about the caves?” He shoved a spoonful of chicken into his mouth.
Without looking up, his grandmother replied, “I think them stories are a bunch of nonsense.” She raised her eyes and glanced at him quickly, but he didn’t notice. Gran set down her spoon; unable to contain her concern, she set it neatly beside her plate and pointed a weathered finger at her grandson.
“Don’t you get any notions to visit them caves, you hear? They’re evil, and that’s all there is to it.” Her voice was sharp and angry. She grasped her spoon and began eating again, her face buried close to her bowl.
Stuart grinned, but Gran didn’t see him. Sure as rain, those stories weren’t nonsense. He decided to find out for himself one of these days, and soon.
Gran didn’t look up from her plate for the rest of the meal. She was afraid of what she might see in her grandson’s eyes. Blind curiosity wasn’t always the way of the wise. This she knew for sure.
# # #
A week or so later, Stuart was in town doing errands for Gran when he ran into Richie. Rickie, being the mayor’s son, wore neatly pressed slacks, and an ironed short sleeve shirt. His brown hair was slicked back with hair gel or grease. Stuart wasn’t sure which.
Stuart, on the other hand, wore his favorite overalls and a red checkered hunting jacket. His prized Georgia Bull Dogs cap rested snugly on his head.
“Hey, Stuart,” said Richie, “What are you up to? Still, doin little boy chores for your Gran?
Stuart, his back to Rich, rolled his eyes with disdain for the chubby young man behind him and turned around. He removed his cap and scratched his head.
“Why no, Rich. And you? Are you still holding out your hand to your Daddy every week so you can drink away at Hank’s Bar?”
Rich frowned. Stuart turned his back on him and continued to load groceries for Gran into the back of the truck. Just then, he had an idea.
Facing Rich again, he asked in a sarcastic manner. “Actually, Rich, I was planning on going to the caves tomorrow. Want to come along?”
Riche’s face grew serious. His eyes darted back and forth to avoid looking at Stuart, who saw the fear on his face for just a second, then it disappeared.
“Are you up for it?” Stuart challenged him.
“Of course, I ain’t scared. Never was when we were boys neither.”
Stuart set down the flour sack next to him on the sidewalk. “Good, then we’ll meet tomorrow, say, at 4 O’clock at the same spot?”
Rich nodded. “See you then.” He turned and quickly walked away.
Stuart watched him go while he carefully loaded the remainder of groceries bags into the bed of the pickup truck.
“Stupid son of a bitch,” he thought to himself. “We’ll see whose scared.”
Stuart never forgot that night in the woods, nor the many years Rich tormented him with name-calling and bullying at school. He glared at Rich as the young man rounded the corner and disappeared. Stuart smiled to himself and eagerly waited for tomorrow.
# # #
The next day, Stuart arrived a few minutes before four. He sat only a few hundred yards from the mouth of the cave, watching the dark entrance for any signs of movement or unusual activity. As predicted, Rich appeared right on time.
“Hey," said Stuart
“Hey yourself,” replied Rich. Stuart noticed he was breathing hard. Probably the walk up the hill, but he decided to ask.
“Are you scared? Having second thoughts?”
Rich stared at him.
“Scared? Of what? Stories don’t mean anything. Just folks talking trying to get everyone else riled up is all.”
Stuart stood up from the boulder he was sitting on and dusted off his overalls.
“Then let’s get going.”
“Do you have a flashlight?” asked Rich.
Stuart promptly pulled a flashlight from the pocket of his hunting jacket and smiled. The young men began walking towards the mouth of the cave. Stuart led the way this time with Rich close behind.
The entrance was nearly 12ft tall. It appeared as if the closer they got to it, the taller it became. The day was bright and sunny, but when rich and Stuart peered inside the cave, they were met with darkness.
Stuart flipped on the flashlight.
He looked at Rich. “This is your last chance. You’re not chicken, are you?” He referred to that night ten years ago.
“Not on your life; let’s go.”
They slowly eased from the sunlight into the darkness. The cave felt cold and damp. With Stuart’s flashlight, they saw the cave’s walls and various boulders here and there. Oddly enough, he noticed a large round circle about 6 feet in circumference a few steps ahead.
Rich picked up a stone and tossed it into the circle. Both listened for the sound of the stone hitting the bottom, but they heard nothing except silence and the thumping of their own hearts.
Suddenly Stuart began to feel dizzy as if the entire cave chamber were spinning and he with it. He momentarily lost sight of Rich, who had fallen to his knees beside the circle.
Stuart looked at Rich, and incredible anger washed over him. Rich, the source of his torment, was kneeling dangerously close to the edge of the dark circle, helpless and vulnerable. Hate filled his entire being.
Stuart stumbled towards him and grabbed him by the scruff of his jacket.
“Rich!” Stuart's eyes were filled with frenzied anger. Rich tried to shake him off until finally Stuart let go.
“You stupid fat son of a bitch!” Stuart yelled at him.
Rich suddenly felt afraid of Stuart.
“Whoa, man, whoa.” Rich tried to back away from Stuart.
“You made me the laughingstock of the school. I never had any friends because of you. Everyone hates me and looks at me like I’m trash!” Stuart was seething by now.
As Rich took another step away from Stuart, a mysterious force surged through Stuart as he lunged for Rich. He grabbed Rich by the shoulders and said, “Goodbye, Rich. You will never bother anyone again.” Before Rich knew what was happening, with a mighty shove, Stuart pushed Rich into the black circle.
Rich disappeared within. His screams were heard throughout the cave’s chamber, growing fainter and fainter until they disappeared completely. Stuart noticed a strange silence hovering in the damp air.
He laughed, remembering the terror on Rich’s face. One less idiot in the world, he thought. No big deal. He picked up his flashlight and backed away from the menacing black circle. As he did so, he bumped into something behind him. That’s strange, he thought. He didn’t remember a wall being so close.
He turned around just in time to find himself up against a large oval boulder. Stuart tried to free himself, but a strong magnetic force held him against the stone.
Terror besieged him as two long bony arms reached out from each side of the rock, holding him tight to the stone. The skeletal hands pulled him in, his body slowly disappearing along with his screams. Before completely disappearing, he heard an invisible voice say, “Welcome home, my son.”
About the author
Writing is my source of peace. I write short stories: memoirs, fiction, and on matters of the soul.
Writing could have been a career for me but I let it slip away. It’s never too late to start again. I hope you enjoy what you read here.
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