Day One Hundred and Sixty-five: The Quarry
Dylan Evans stood on the rickety metal walkway at the edge of the quarry. He stared into its cold, black waters far below and wondered what his mother would do to him if she knew he was there. He glanced over at his best friend, Stuart, who gave him a crooked grin. “You gonna go?” Stuart asked.
Dylan nodded, but he wasn’t sure. The whole summer had been like that day: hot, sticky and unpleasant. There were a few families in Winter Falls who could afford air conditioning, but Dylan’s wasn’t one of them. So he and Stuart, and a few other boys on other days, would usually go to the Winter River to swim. It was upstream of the sawmills and had managed to avoid the worst ravages of the town’s industrialization. The thundering falls, after which the town was named, had carved out a vast pool of cold, clear water, and every summer it would be full of people taking a break from the heat. By most accounts, it was the best thing about Winter Falls. Perhaps the only good thing.
It was Stuart who suggested they go to the quarry. His brother had told him about it the summer before, and very pointedly told the boy to stay away, if he knew what was good for him. Being eleven years old, however, Stuart decided that anything his big brother wanted him to stay away from was something he absolutely had to know about. So he talked Dylan into coming out and doing some swimming.
The pond created by the quarry was vast and silent. Nothing swam in it, as far as they knew, and the high quarry walls kept the wind from disturbing its surface. The water was dark and still, and Dylan was sure that if he jumped, he would find the surface as hard and unforgiving as concrete. He curled his toes around the edge of the old steel walkway that stretched above the watery pit and tried to keep his knees from shaking. He was not afraid, oh no. Of course not. Perish the thought.
If he was afraid, he knew that Stuart would only make it worse. His friend knew how to push him, how to make him do what he wanted, and most of the time Dylan was fine with that. Stuart was popular. He was cool and fun and interesting, and if there was one kid in the town who led the others, it would be him. Dylan had no idea why Stuart had picked him as a friend, but he wasn’t about to risk a good thing, even if it did mean taking a trip out to swim in the forbidden quarry.
Stuart gave him a little shove, and Dylan screamed. The sound bounced around the quarry and was almost immediately met by Stuart’s high, childish laughter. “You dick!” Dylan yelled, and he shoved Stuart right back.
The other boy took step back, and found that his foot was trying to step down on thin air. His laugh turned into a terrified yell as he slipped under the broken handrail, twisting to try and grab the walkway before he fell off. Dylan lurched forward, his hand outstretched to grab his friend, but he found that he couldn’t move. The water far below caught his eye, and, in the battle between his fear for his friend and his fear for his life, there could be only one winner. He tried to stretch, to reach Stuart without giving away any of his own safety.
He wasn’t close enough. Stuart was hanging halfway off the edge and slipping, his eyes wide and white. Each breath came out as a panicked whine as he tried desperately not to look down. Dylan tried to reach him again, barely able to shift his feet. “C’mon, Stu,” he said. “You… You can do it. Just… You know, climb…”
“Can’t climb,” Stuart breathed. “Oh, god, Dylan, help.”
Dylan’s voice matched his for sheer terror, and his vision was starting to blur. “Stu, I can’t. You just have to pull yourself up.”
Stuart shook his head. “No, no, no,” he said through gritted teeth. “No.” Despite his protests, the boy lifted an arm and reached out to try and pull himself up. His arms shook and tensed, and his fingers grasped at nothing but air. He slid back, his chest and shoulders vanishing past the edge, and it was this that finally made Dylan move. He jumped forward and grabbed for his friend’s hand. Grabbing him, however, loosened Stuart’s grip, and the boy slid further off the walkway until he was hanging on by his fingertips on one hand and Dylan’s grip on the other.
It took a moment before Dylan realized he was cursing under his breath, saying the kind of words his mother would have beat him for. He tried to move back, but the movement made Stuart scream. He didn’t want to adjust his grip, knowing that his friend could slip out. They stayed in that tableau for a moment, perfectly balanced on the edge of the walkway.
Then Stuart really began to panic.
“Pull me up!” he yelled, and his shrill voice echoed around the quarry. “Dyl, please, pull me up! I’m gonna fall, Dyl, please please please -”
“I’m trying,” Dylan said, gritting his teeth. He took that moment to change his grip, and felt his friend’s wrist, slippery with the sweat of summer and panic, start to slide. “No,” he said, his words washed out by Stuart’s screaming. “No, no, no…”
“Please, Dyl, don’t let me fall!” His voice cracked, and tears were streaming back from his eyes.
Dylan moved again, trying to brace himself against a railing, but that was when Stuart lost the tenuous grip that he had. His weight started to drag Dylan towards the edge, and the two boys screamed together in terror. The walkway moved a little, and the water below them seemed to move with it.
Stuart had barely a moment before he fell. Whatever word was coming out of his mouth turned into a keening howl of terror as he fell towards the cold, black water. The breath came out of Dylan’s chest in a cold roar as he hit the walkway and watched his friend hang in the air, slowly diminishing before he was swallowed by a loud slap, a splash and perfectly circular ripples that spread across the water’s surface undisturbed.
Time stopped. Dylan lay face-down on the walkway, watching the ripples proceed to the edges of the pond and reflect back again, catching each other and turning that perfectly circular order into chaos. He could hear his own breath loud in his ears and felt as though he was falling as his friend had.
“Stu?” he said quietly.
He wanted to see his friend’s head bob up in a splash, followed by a howl of joy at being alive. He wanted Stuart to tell him that it was an awesome drop, and to challenge him not to be a chicken. To go for it.
But Stuart didn’t come up again. The ripples subsided, leaving the surface of the water flat again, and there was no Stu. Dylan began to be aware that he was crying, and panic, red and hot, was starting to creep in around the edges of his mind. He would have to get someone. He would have to tell someone. He would have to tell Stuart’s mother, who would almost certainly hold him responsible for killing her son.
His thoughts cut off as he saw motion down in the water, and for a moment he thought that he was saved. That all was not yet lost for him. “Stu?” he called out. “Stu, are you okay?”
The water started to bubble, and then churn. The air in the quarry started to get cold and dark, and Dylan began to shiver in the new and unexpected shadow that covered the pond. Below, the water looked like it was boiling, leaping up on top of itself and frothing white on top of the blackness. Dylan tried to stand up on shaking legs, and gasped when he touched the metal of the walkway. It was freezing cold, and he realized that he could see his breath in the air. He held himself and shivered, goosebumps breaking out on his skin.
With a roar, the water erupted, and sent him reeling back down again. A great spout of white, cold water shot up from the center of the pond like a geyser, spraying mist and frost everywhere. Suspended in the geyser, hanging only a few feet away from Dylan and the walkway, was Stuart.
His friend was naked and broken and battered. His arm was twisted behind him, and bones were sticking out of corpse-pale skin that was bruised purple and black. His head hung at an unnatural angle, and blood seeped out of his mouth, only to be sluiced away by the water. Stuart’s body looked like a puppet, held up by strings from below, his limbs moving under pressure from the water, without purpose or life to them.
Then he spoke.
The voice dropped itself into Dylan’s mind and made him scream again, his throat stinging from the effort. It was the voice of nightmares, the sound of a thousand horrible things all speaking in unison. The single word spoke of shadows and worse than shadows. It spoke of death and decay and terrors worse than an eleven year-old should ever have to know. He smelled blood and shit and wanted more than anything else to throw himself into the waters below to die with his friend.
But he couldn’t. He lay on the walkway, transfixed and shivering and screaming until the voice spoke again.
Dylan’s mouth snapped shut and he tasted blood.
The waterspout moved closer, dragging Stuart’s lifeless body with it. Dylan brought his head up, shaking and bleeding, and an animal whimper escaped his throat. Stuart’s eyes were still alive. They stared at him, pleading and begging. Whatever was using his body had not yet let him go, and the mad terror that came through his gaze was more than Dylan could take.
“Tell your people, boy.” Stuart’s mouth moved, but there was no way that voice was coming from him. Nothing human should have been capable of making that sound. Stuart’s eyes nearly spun in their sockets. “Tell your people that their masters are coming back.” Blood began to seep from Stuart’s eyes, running down his face in tiny rivulets. “Tell them to prepare.”
The scream that Dylan had been commanded to hold in had wrapped itself around him and tunneled under his skin, threatening to burst out at any moment but remaining just below the surface. Despite that, despite the terror and the cold, he stood, slowly, on trembling legs, and looked into his friend’s bloody, unblinking eyes.
“Prepare for what?” he whispered.
There was a moment of silence, underscored only by the rushing of water. Then Stuart’s mouth opened, far enough that Dylan could hear the cracking of bone, and whatever had hold of him began to laugh. Dylan’s scream finally erupted, and the two horrible noises blended together into an echoing cacophony there in the quarry. And then, after a horrible, immeasurable time, the laughter stopped. Dylan watched as Stuart’s body went limp, and whatever life it had vanished from its limbs. The eyes went flat and dull just as the waterspout lost its energy, and Dylan prayed that Stuart was dead.
Dylan watched his friend’s body plummet to the water for a second time. He watched the water churn and settle, the ripples go out and in and out again. Soon, the pond was as flat as it had been when they arrived. Dylan watched, and Stuart did not come back.
But Dylan waited nonetheless.