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Shale Mine

by Kimberlain O'Driscoll, MBA, M.Ed 2 months ago in monster · updated about a month ago
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...that thing is still in there and its hungry.

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. An old man once lived there. Nobody knew what he was afraid of, but he seemed paranoid. He built the cabin with double walls made of heavy logs with rocks filling the space between. Even the roof was reinforced. Children were told to stay away because there were deadly pit falls with spikes and steel bear traps set all around. Lanterns which burned all night could be seen through the windows which were set with bars. It was a fortress. Despite being asked many times, he never said what it was he feared. Occasionally he’d glance eastward, then check himself when he realized. The old man died in solitude from whatever kills men his age a few years back. It took three days before those in the village noticed. He’s buried in the cemetery somewhere. Nobody visits his grave.

It was young William Bentz who noticed the faint light as he made his way to the outhouse. He didn’t think much of it at the time. The next day he casually mentioned it to his parents. Ivan Bentz, his father went to investigate. The door to the cabin was still tilted at an odd angle. When old man Mann still lived there, he kept it barred from the inside. The door had to be smashed open to recover his body after he died. There wasn’t much in there aside from an old bed which was now a nest for what seemed to be squirrels. The hearth was covered with cobwebs. Surprisingly, the small table he was sitting at when he was found was dust free. Ivan remembered both that table and the chair being knocked over as old man Mann’s dead and stiffened corpse was carried out. On the table sat a now extinguished simple copper oil lamp that had seen better days. It was dented and more green tarnish than metal. It was this lamp and not a candle that his son William had seen. Next to it was an old book with a cracked leather cover, a tin inkwell and a quill pen that was weathered and stained. Ivan opened the book, glanced at the aged pages, and recognized it for a journal. Whoever wrote this was shaking. The words were like scratches, but legible. The ink committed to it was fresh. He began to read.

“My name is Richard Mann. I’m writing this down for any who find it. There are many things in this world that cannot be explained. But of all that I have seen and heard, there was one terrifying event from my youth that plagues my soul and haunts my dreams. Every town has its share of scary stories. The old-timers loved to tell tales of ghosts and werewolves, and creatures in the sea that would drag an unsuspecting soul to their watery grave. But those weren’t real. What I am about to tell you actually happened. I’m not crazy.

It was early autumn. The last harvest of the season had been brought in from the fields. When the work which took many weeks was finished, it was time to celebrate the harvest festival Tandenfest. Most important to myself and my friends was the night before; Tandhall Rite, when according to legend the dead and other hellish nasties walk the earth from sunset to sunrise in search of living flesh. These days, Tandenfest isn’t really observed anymore. Nether is Tandhall Rite. But when I was young, it was a chance to dare the Fates and enjoy a little mischief at the expense of those who were superstitious and easily frightened.

Our plan was simple. About five miles down the road lay what used to be the town of Shale. Many years ago, Shale had been a coal mining community. Back in 42, the Bryant River overflowed during one very rainy spring. As a result of the storms, a new branch was carved out, redirecting the flow and permanently flooding the town of Shale as well as the old coal mine. Shale was transformed into what is now known as Shale Marsh. For weeks, bodies of those who drown were recovered as their bloated corpses rose to the surface. Those who could be found were buried at a newly established cemetery nearby. It is said that the spirits of the dead from that flood still roam the marsh on Tandhall Rite in search of their lost homes and missing loved ones. My friends and I decided we would spend Tandhall Rite at Shale Marsh to sit in vigil, hoping to see a ghost.

Aside from myself, there was Ben Leers, Daniel Meric, and Stewart Brandson. We each packed an overnight bag with food and a blanket roll to keep us warm, as well as candles and lanterns. Each of us told our parents that we were staying at one another’s houses for the night. I said I was at Daniel’s. He said he was at my house. Yes, we lied. We couldn’t tell our parents what we were really up to. Even if one did not believe the marsh was haunted, everyone knew it was dangerous. The edge of the marsh was littered with broken rock fragments which were now covered with moss and very slippery. It would take nothing to lose your footing and slide into the dark water to be sucked down by the many bogs which had formed, or get hurt on the jagged remnants of the many submerged houses.

We headed out late in the afternoon so we would have time to find a good spot to make camp. We got there about an hour before sunset. After gathering enough wood to last the night, we built a small fire and waited for it to get dark. The marsh was very spooky that night. As the air chilled, a gently swirling mist formed over the black water. With it came a complete absence of sound. For several long minutes nothing happened aside from what our fear driven imaginations could conjure. When after an hour or so had passed and still nothing happened, we began to relax. That was when Ben started telling ghost stories. He began in a cautious whisper as if worried we'd be heard. Before long each of us was taking turns trying to scare the others with our own gory tales of horror and dread.

Splashing in the water silenced us. We waited a moment and heard it again. There was something walking in the marsh just beyond our view. The faint form of what could have been a person moved slowly. It’s dark shape, like a shadow within a shroud of fog seemed to be carrying something large. I was frozen in terror. I didn’t even have to look at the others to know they were as well. Whatever it was seemed to be heading toward the entrance of the old, flooded mine.

When it was gone, I was done for the night. I started to quickly pack up my things. Daniel, who never believed in ghosts or monsters had other ideas. He was certain that what we saw was most likely an animal or maybe a hermit that had turned the old mine into its home. He whispered to us in jest that maybe it was in fact a pirate and there was treasure to be found. We were teenage boys after all, and our imaginations were vivid. He wanted to follow whoever or whatever we saw to find out once and for all what it was. Like fools, we went along.

Making our way toward the mine entrance wasn’t easy. The ground beneath our feet was soft in some areas and pulled at our boots with each step. I almost lost mine several times because of the suction. Other areas were littered with sharp stones that were coated in a sheen of slime. And unlike the figure we saw who passed through the water so easily, we struggled, and made a great deal of noise. If there was anyone in there, he would surely have heard our ungainly splashing. When we reached the mine entrance, we were covered in mud and water as each of us had slipped and fallen at least once. Stewart kept his tinderbox dry with a tallowed cheesecloth, which is good because the rest of us had saturated char paper and tinder. With his help we lit the candles and placed them in our lanterns, except for me. I had an old, dented oil lamp. That done, we slowly entered the mine.

Each step for me was like being stuck in glue. I wanted to run. I would have but I didn’t want my friends to poke fun at me. Maybe they wanted to run as well and were also too proud to show it. The water here wasn’t deep. At the most, it came to our knees. From time to time we would stop and listen. There were dripping sounds which wasn’t unusual for a partially flooded mine. Other than that it was quiet. It was too quiet. The smell however was horrible. There was a mixture of wet wood braces and supports, moss, and the putrid stench of something that had rotted. With my heart in my throat we pressed on with Daniel in the lead, Ben behind him, then Stewart, and brave old me in the rear.

The glow of the candles was comforting but it didn’t provide much light beyond 20 feet or so and what we did have was dim. The foul smell grew stronger as we moved forward. Daniel paused and raised his hand for all of us to stop. He lifted his lantern a little higher and revealed the body of a man floating face down in the water. The man wasn’t dressed like anyone from our town. His overcoat and riding boots were more suited for something someone of means might wear when out riding a horse. Daniel took two steps more, gasped loudly and dropped his lantern. It went out when it hit the water. Before his candle was extinguished we all saw that the man had no head. It looked as if it had been chewed off in the way a mantis would eat a bug. The water around him was red with blood.

I dropped my lamp and started running. Stewart and Ben were close behind. I could hear them splashing in the water in an effort to keep up. Daniel, who must’ve still been near the body began to scream. It was a horrifying sound, a mix of sheer terror and unimaginable pain. By the time we reached the mine entrance the screaming had stopped. We all waited, out of our minds in panic and listened. I nearly threw up. We could hear it in there. We could hear it ripping Daniel apart. It was eating him. I knew the sound. Our pigs made that same wet smacking noise when feasting on scraps.

Ben was the first one to act. He called for Stewart and myself to help him push over the old water logged supports in an attempt to collapse the entrance. We worked together, our eyes fixed on the darkness within, hoping that whatever it was didn’t come for us as well. After we toppled a few beams we could hear the groan as the weight of earth above began to overload the supports that remained. We stepped back as the ceiling of the entrance caved, sealing Daniel and whatever that thing was inside along with the unfortunate headless traveler.

We ran home, nearly five miles without stopping. When we got there I raced into my house, headed straight to my room, burrowed under my blankets, and listened throughout the rest of the night for the sound of anything coming for me. The next morning when it was discovered that Daniel was missing. Because I told my parents that I was heading to Daniel’s house the night before, his parents looked to me for answers. How could I tell the truth of what happened? How could I tell Mister and Misses Meric, that Daniel was torn apart and eaten alive by something in the old Shale Marsh mine? In my mind, I could picture our dads trying to clear the mine entrance to reach him, only to instead free the thing that we had trapped.

It was Ben who told the lie that would become the accepted belief. He said we had all gone camping near the cemetery to look for ghosts. He said that in the middle of the night, Daniel decided we were all being silly and went home. That was the last time we saw him. I felt sick at having to make up a story to cover up what really happened. But there was no way we could have anyone looking for him near the marsh or especially that mine. Search parties were formed. Daniel of course was never found. There were many various rumors of what might have happened. The truth remained safe. A funeral service was held for him without a body. His parents mourned and were never the same. I would often see the Merics staring off in the distance, hoping their boy would come home.

Time passed. The three of us kept our secret. Much of our reasoning was a mix of guilt and shame, but mostly it was raw fear. I never really slept again. I can still hear Daniel screaming each time I close my eyes. I can see that thing coming for me in the night. Even though I never actually laid eyes on it, my imagination has created a monster so hideous that the real thing would probably not seem as frightening.

Stewart vowed to never go near that mine again and moved away as soon as he was old enough. I’ve not seen him these many years. He doesn’t write. Ben and I would on occasion head to the marsh in the daylight to make sure the mine entrance was still sealed under tons of earth, beams, and boulders. Sometimes we swore we could hear it in there, screaming in rage as it tried in vain to batter down the debris that blocked its freedom.

Ben and I remained in town all these years as sentinels to make sure it never escaped. Ben passed away last winter. He was 72. I am the only one left who can tell you what happened, which is why I am writing this now. In life you thought I was crazy. Perhaps in death, my warning will be taken seriously. I plead with you. No matter what you do. No matter what anyone says. Never go near the marsh because that thing is still in there and its hungry.”

Ivan looked around nervously. He was still alone. Who lit the lamp? He wondered. And where did this journal come from? He re-read the last paragraph. Ivan raced to the doorway, journal in hand. Panic overtook his senses. Hard times had fallen on the town, so last week it was voted to reopen the old coal mine. Work had begun five days ago to clear debris from the entrance. It was a two day job.


About the author

Kimberlain O'Driscoll, MBA, M.Ed

My stories come in the form of vivid dreams. The challenge is putting them to words. I'm medically a retired navy veteran and nurse, world traveler, artist, lecturer, and past journal reviewer with 5 ferrets who keep me very entertained

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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