This story is by Nick Smith and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“There’s only one… way… out…”
She gasped and opened her eyes. It was bright as hell making her already pounding head hurt worse. Besides the headache her chest felt like someone had smashed it with a weight and stabbed repeatedly. Each breath was difficult and painful, wince at the motion.
“What the-”, she said as she rubbed the light and stars from her eyes. She couldn’t remember anything. She put her hands out on either side of her, feeling her way around, her vision still adjusting to the brightness. She was laying on her back on a hard floor, wet with something oily and slimy. A light from the ceiling hanging down over her, swaying slightly, a strobe effect each maker her brain pulse with each blink. She slowly and painfully pushed herself into a hunched sitting position.
“Where am I?” she managed, glancing at her surroundings.
Bleak, dark stone walls, moist with atmosphere and damp with something black and oozing down the sides, enclosing her on all four sides. The ooze pooled in small puddles around the floor and gave the air a dank smell to it. Looking up, the ceiling seemed to stretch up into an impenetrable darkness. The longer she stared up at it the farther away it seemed to get, forever stretching upwards into the unknown. A slight tremor rippled somewhere around her. Distracted by the movement, she looked away and sucked in air greedily, realizing she was holding her breath as if in a trance.
What was going on? Where was she and why was she there? She felt like she was drowning in madness as her brain came to a full stop at each question she came up with. Until she ran into one she couldn’t let go of.
“Who am I?” The question raced through her mind, shaking her to her core.
Breathing hard, she looked around the room she was in, taking it all in. the slimy stone looking more and more like the inside of a giant creature. And that’s when she saw it, a door on a wall she hadn’t noticed before. The light seemed to wobble around its shape in the wall, how she missed it, she didn’t know.
“There’s only one way out…”
That voice voice… something about it reminded her of, something. It resounded all around her as if from the edge of the universe, yet quiet enough that she wasn’t sure she’d actually heard it. The voice carried power, almost like a command given to her from a being who had been around since before the beginning of time. She wasn’t sure why she felt that way, and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to delve deeper into what it was that prompted her to feel that way. Sh faced the door slowly and deliberately.
“It would appear that this is the way out,” she said shakily, walking towards the door, feet squelching in the puddles at her feet.
Not wanting to get any closer to the goal the terrifying voice was referencing, but not being able to resist it, she extended a hand towards the door warrily. Who knew what would happen once she got out of this room? Her hand hovered over the knob, not wanting to find out the question to that answer just yet. She glanced once more around the room, eyeing the dripping walls and the swinging light, the bulb still strobing ever so often. In between strobes, her eye caught sight of something strange, hidden mostly by the shadows. A small table, with something long and shiny on the surface, the light glinting off of it the reason her eye caught the display in the first place.
She squinted at the table, a small feeling of dread building in the pit of her stomach. A memory was forming from the back of her mind. Something dark and nefarious was on that table, a small, dark, round-like object sat next to the metal instrument. Another premonition from somewhere beyond her haunted her, giving her the notion of whatever was over there, was evil.
“Screw it!” she said cutting through her thoughts, grabbing the handle. Anywhere would be better than here. She braced herself and turned the handle… only to find that it was locked.
“What the hell?!” she screamed, slamming her fists on its surface. None of this made sense! Everything was wrong and twisted. The pounding in her head suddenly spiked and the pain seared her brain. She shrieked in pain and grabbed the sides of her head, hysteria settling in. The tremor rippled around her again, this time shaking her surroundings and making her unsteady on her feet.
“What is going on?! What do you want from me?!”, it felt like her head was going to explode. What kind of hell was this?
She held to the handle for dear life, screaming in terror. The light was now strobing madly and sporadically, bouncing around on its wiring. The shaking grew more intense. “I’m going insane”, she sobbed. “Why is this happening to me?!” she shouted out, addressing everything and anything that could possibly hear her.
“There is only one way out!”
This time the words roared and ripped through her conscious. After the echoing bellow died down, the vibrations in the ground eased away to a slight quaking, as well as the pain from before. She took her hands off of her head and opened her eyes again. She realized she was on the floor, curled into a ball. Her head still throbbed and her muscles spasmed slightly, she wobbled to her feet.
She turned away from the door and looked around again, thinking maybe there could be a key or something she could use in its place. She looked to her right, not wanting to look over at the table and the collection of shapes in the shadows to her left. Try as she might to look away though, her head turned towards the corner. She faced the inhabitants of the corner.
Her heart and mind raced as she approached the table. There was something, some cognizance trying to worm its way to the forefront of her mind, but the more she thought about it, the harder it was to grasp it. It slipped away just before a recollection reached her, like a word just tantalizingly beyond the tip of your tongue.
She glanced down, not realizing that she had been standing in front of the table for some time. How long have I been here? she wondered, dazed and confused. Everything was starting to feel disturbingly familiar.
There was a crumpled paper bag with holes and black, chunky sludge seeping out of it. The sight of the shiny, metallic object lying next to it made her reach out to it. Shed seen it before, in a previous life perhaps? There were etchings and carvings of strange scenes depicting terrible deaths and people going mad with terror. It filled her with dead and trepidation as she held it in one hand and traced the depictions of madness with the other until she reached the hammers head.
On one end was a mass of tentacles that came to a point. On the other, a rounded mass of ridges and plate like scales, like the skin of a crocodile. On the top of the mass was a single, large eye made of glass. She held it up for closer inspection. It looked like it was looking right back into her eyes.
The paper bag moved suddenly, the dried paper rubbing against itself and un-crinkled sharply. She cried out and she swung the hammer down at it, using the blunt end. It made contact with the object and bounced off. At the same time as impact, her heart felt like it had been smashed by a weight again, like when she had woken up.
“Ah!” she screamed doubling over in pain, her hand clutching at her chest. She stared at the bag in shock. “What in the hell is in there?!”
But she knew. The reason why she woke up in pain, the reason why the thing she was holding felt so familiar to her, why she knew the strange voice. She’d been here before, done this before, this exact thing. Finally she got it. She choked back a sob, then chuckled maniacally. The terror and madness of a thousand lifetimes being stuck in this pit, exploded out of her as hysterical laughter, echoing all around and up into the void above her. This was all just a game and she a pawn in the master plan of powerful beings.
She took the hammer in one hand and, cackling wildey, brought the sharp point down on the bag, piercing her heart. She crumpled to the floor, her vision red, gurgling and smiling. There was no way out. Before she slipped into the embrace of death, the voice whispered confirmation.
“There is only… Madness.”