Horla Flash Fiction (July 2021)

 

 

VANTA BLACK SLEEP

by JOHN GERARD FAGAN

JAGGY stood at the mouth of the cave as laughter floated out from the black void. He bit the cap off his bottle of Irn Bru and drained the last few drops.

“Hurry up, Jag. We’ve only two torches. Stop being a wee Jessie and get your arse in here.”

Jaggy swallowed. Didn’t even want to go up the mountain, never mind into a hidden cave. But as usual Murf knew best. A good day out in the wild with his brothers would make him forget about Sofi, about the brew, and make everything better. He shuffled in after with his new boots still pinching.

Paulie was leading the way, swinging his torch like a lightsaber. A damp wind whistled through their clothes. The light behind got smaller and smaller until it vanished and they were deep inside. Dripping echoed from above and below. Jaggy zipped his jacket and dug his hands deep into the pockets.

They stopped for lunch and sat, eating pieces and soup in silence.

“This place is unreal. We got pure lucky with that landslide up here last week or we’d have never of seen it. We’ll need to come back with the proper gear and really explore. I never knew there were mad caves up here.”

Jaggy sipped from his flask of soup. The fuck he was ever coming back. Couldn’t wait to get back out into the daylight.

“Right, let’s get out and find a spot for the tent,” Paulie said, picking up the rock he was sitting on and launched it into the dark beyond. A thud echoed and a splash filled the dark.

“Wow hold on, boys. Would you look at that?” Murf said, shining the torch into the newly formed hole. Jaggy crept behind and poked his head inside. Black water hissed like static beneath them. Paulie barged in and spat.

“Oh fuck aye, there’s a loch down there. I bet youse no cunt in history has ever been for a swim in that.”

Paulie grabbed the torch and placed it under his chin. “Youse up for it?”

Jaggy shook his head. “We’ll freeze our baws off. Can we not just go back out and have a few cans? I don’t—”

“There’s plenty of time for that, wee man. Look, we can easily get down and back up no bother. It won’t be dark outside for at least three hours.”

“You feart, Jaggy? Is that it?”

“No, Paulie, I just can’t be arsed swimming. Like I said, it’ll be freezing.”

“Och it’ll do you the world of good. A quick dip. This is how you beat depression. Better than any of those pills you’ve been popping. Think how good our roaring fire and hot toddys will feel after this.”

“Mon, Jag, don’t be a dick.”

“You two are fucking pricks, do you know that? Pricks.”

Murf laughed and whacked his back. “That’s the spirit, wee man.”

They stripped to their pants and Jaggy shivered as his arms popped with goosebumps. Murf grinned and crawled towards the hole.

“That’s one small step for Murf, one giant leap for—” He dreepied with the torch in between his teeth and dropped. Jaggy waited for the sound of a splash but there was none and the torch light disappeared.

“Murf, ya prick, where’d you go?”

“Murf, you alright?”

“He’s having us on,” Paulie said, shining the light around. “He couldn’t just disappear. Here, take this and shine the light on the water. He’s waiting to cannonball us from the side I bet.” And with that he jumped. Again there was no splash. Panic filled Jaggy’s insides. Couldn’t make out a single thing below.

“Paulie? Murf? Where the fuck are youse?”

Nothing but silence replied. Seconds passed like hours. He tapped his head. Fuck. Fuck! Maybe he should go get help. Those bastards better have not been— A whisper of a scream echoed from below.

“Hold on, I’m coming!”

He eased his legs into the hole and dropped, torch glued inside a clenched fist. He landed in freezing water no more than three-feet below and was swept away by a powerful current. He gasped for breath, swinging arms out to catch hold of something, anything, to no avail, and was sucked under a gap in the rocks as if going down a plughole.

The water pulled him inside its belly, swallowing him further and further into the unknown. He fought and kicked towards the surface, palming above, but his hands and head hit nothing but rock. He kicked with the last of his strength and broke from water, gasping for air. Silence soon flooded his breathing.

The torchlight revealed he was in a stale air pocket, enough for his head and no more. Festering terror was swelling inside.

“Murf! Paulie! Help me! Help.”

His voice sounded like it was in a barrel. The air wouldn’t last much longer. He tried to steady himself as the minutes dripped away and the torchlight blinked and withered to grey then darkness. His joints seized up from the cold. He guessed the way back, took a deep breath, and swam with everything left.

Feeling that he couldn’t hold on for another second, he palmed at the smooth rock above and pulled himself into a smaller air pocket, scraping his face to fit. He screamed for help once more. Images spun as blood ran from his eyebrow and over his lips. Millport beach as a wean, his first Celtic game, beef burgers at Gran’s, his 21st at Hamilton Races… Bitterness came welling up, choking thoughts, and blurred to tears.

He pushed out once more and clawed into another air pocket. Legs like anchors. He dug knuckles into red eye-sockets and swallowed. Didn’t know if he was going deeper into the cave. There were no wandering beams of sunlight. Fading from consciousness, he pushed out one last time and swam with the last flicker of energy. He kicked and kicked, searching for light, but only darkness lived there.

 

 

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John Gerard Fagan is a Scottish writer and author of Fish Town. He has published close to 100 short stories, essays, and poems in English, Scottish, and Gaelic. Find out more at johngerardfagan.com

Title photo credit –  Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

Horla standard disclaimer – image has no direct connection with the fiction