In the dead of night, the monsters call for her.
A noble woman with a thirst for more feels the primal pull of beings that shouldn’t exist when she falls beneath the surface of the earth.
Saved by a monstrous man from the clutches of two vampires, she quickly realizes that her nightmares couldn’t even come close to the things that haunt the underworld.
As she desperately seeks escape, can she survive the horrors that lurk below? Or will she succumb to the deadly power that reigns in the dark?
A full length horror novel.
She could hear them. Not with her ears. Not with any mortal senses. It was something deeper and more primal than that, and it had become more acute when she moved into her late great-aunt’s manor. As if reaching out of her past, from the nightmares of her childhood during those winter stays in the towering stone complex.
There was something singing to her, and she shifted in her bed once more to listen more closely. Even the sound of the thick sheets rubbing against one another made it hard to hear, drowning the voices out.
Her nights were spent so sleeplessly that she could never enjoy the days. The sun and birdsongs of the day were unenjoyable to her as she overslept to make up for a night of strained listening.
Life became a strange daze to her. Ever sleep-deprived, her mind always lingered on matters nobody else could relate to; none of her high society friends, certainly not the servants who came and brought her supplies and transferred her belongings.
Arising from a brief spate of sleep, she moaned, surprised to have woken with her hand cupping her sex, and she slipped it out of the white, lacy undershorts and rested it onto her stomach. She could smell herself in the air, and it was tinged with something beyond her reasoning.
Thia knew not what they were, or where they lurked, but after her fourth sleepless night, she knew she had to find them.
Slipping from her bed, the wood floor felt cold beneath her bare feet. She was a slender woman, and she stole gracefully down the hallway. It didn’t matter that she was wearing nothing more than the see-through white slip, for the help was yet to be hired. She had hurried to this place as soon as her great-aunt died.
Something from her youth made her need to return.
The aroma of the tea filled the air even before the serving lady finished pouring it up. “Thank you, Mary,” said Theodora, giving a light smile as she let it be known the woman could go back to the more important matters of unpacking her things, before she returned to her parent’s estate where her proper employment remained.
“Of course, m’lady,” said the elder maid, smiling fondly at her. The grey haired woman having served as a constant teacher and companion for so long that Theodora considered her as much family as servant.
“Is that bergamot I smell in the tea?” asked her friend Celeste from Oxford University, another woman who forced her way in where she wasn’t invited.
“Yes it is,” replied Thia, the two women wearing dresses that were perfectly fine and fancy, yet would’ve turned a few eyes had they the nerve to parade around public in them. Yet that was why Thia enjoyed her company, the both of them liked to buck expectations in their own way.
As such they both served up their own milk and sugar in the absence of Mary, rather than keep her around for such menial things.
“Are you quite certain you’re going to be alright out here by your lonesome, Thia dear?” asked Celeste, her head moving about, taking in the sight of the countryside around them as they sat upon a patio outdoors during a particularly lovely day. “I know you have always been one to skirt the norm, but… I dare say you shall be all by your lonesome out here. Nary a clever wit to match your own for miles around.
Thia’s lips crooked into wry amusement. “Who’s to say how long I will stay here, Celeste? But truth be told, I intend to get some of my own very special work done. Maybe write up a new treatise on animal biology, geology… once I take an appropriate trip for inspiration,” she remarked with a prideful grin.
“Theodora on the Origin of Everything, hmm? Is that to be your new life’s work, darling?” quipped the towering woman.
“Something like that,” she responded. “We mustn’t tarry putting a woman’s touch to the issue, no? But first thing’s first, dear Celeste,” she remarked, placing down her tea cup and letting out a soft sigh as she relaxed back. “Some time to compose myself at long last.”
“You’ve earned it,” remarked her friend, smiling to her. “Don’t shy from sending me a letter now and then. Especially if you find yourself off in some dark corner of the world, discovering untold wonders.” She leaned over the table, smirking a bit, “I promise I won’t steal the details and rush to publish them.”
Thia’s eyes flashed wide, “Suspicious you would even say that, my dear. I’m afraid now I shall have to hold my cards a bit closer to my chest!” They both laughed.
Her blonde hair was pulled back from either side of her face, curled against her head and pulled back into twin ponytails, as though she wore a wreath at all times. It was practical for the young woman, and didn’t get in her way as she moved into the basement.
Even the slightness of her physique couldn’t prevent those rotting, wooden stairs from creaking, and she ran her fingers along the stone walls as she walked. They felt almost slimy, and her hand retreated in protest. Her heart pounded as she took another step, feeling the stair give a groan under her weight.
She could hear them calling her though, and she forced herself down onto the cold ground. It was dry and smooth, but she swore she felt things crawling towards her. Something glanced across her bare ankle and she gasped, stepping away.
“I can hear you,” she pleaded into the darkness, and tried to light her oil lamp. “Please.” Her hands shook before she finally ignited it, looking upon… nothing.
The basement was bare, holding little more than some preserves and rusting grounds-work materials. Thia’s large, blue eyes filled with tears, and her body trembled. She was walking in a dream, it felt like, unaware of reality and the absurdity of her position.
It was only then she realized how cold she was, her pale flesh prickling as a brush of air touched along her bare arm.
She gasped and turned! For a moment she thought she saw something lurking between the shadows just before her light snuffed out.
There was nothing.
Just the void of darkness all around her.
She had dropped her lantern but couldn’t feel it. Perhaps it was her panic at having just seen something—someone?—but she couldn’t find the cold metal to latch onto as she groped along the ground.
As she searched, however, the sound of that crawling returned. It grew, and sounded as if it came from ahead of her. All she could do was follow it. Heed her impulse to search it out.
It was growing closer, but never quite within reach. Always out of reach no matter how loud the scratching sound of some unknown claws moving upon stone and wood grew.
It reached the point where she could no longer take it, not in the oppressive dark that left her so powerless, and she touched the cold stone of the wall and pushed herself up. What was she doing? Had the sleepless nights truly driven her to such an obscenely ridiculous state as to scramble after bugs on her hands and knees in the dirt? She had to get away.
She had to run!
As she thrust herself from the wall and bolted into the dark, her getaway was short lived. She crashed into something wooden, and it was as if all the world clattered down around her noisily.
Thia had no idea how long she’d passed out, but awaking she felt cool air brush over her. It beckoned her, but she felt wood blocking it from much of her body. She very nearly tried clawing her way through when she noticed the glimmer of light in the distance, and saw her lamp on the floor.
Somehow it had become lit again, and she crawled out from beneath the broken, rotted wood and towards it. Righting the lamp and letting the flame grow, she could see again. Her eyes fell on the gaping hole she’d accidentally created from some rotted corner of the basement.
It led into a rickety chamber, sealed only by decaying wood, it seemed. And though curiosity beckoned her, she felt a thudding pain in her skull and the stab of hunger. How long had she been there?
Her hands were so dirty, and her muscles felt exhausted. There was a tightness between her two shoulders, and she took a step backwards. This was it. This was her time, her choice, and her body trembled.
Something beckoned her from within that foreboding hole, but instead she turned to the stairs. They were partially splintered and rotted, and her entire body felt like she’d been stretched on a rack for days. It could wait.
She’d taken time to recuperate from her incident, but each moment of her wait was spent agonizing over her anxiousness to explore. What was it that was happening in the manor? What was the noise of that crawling?
Even as she sat at the ancient, wooden table her aunt used to serve breakfast at, Thia’s food sat idle as she stared towards the door, pondering the mysteries of the basement.
That was it, she concluded.
That weakened portion of wall she’d accidentally exposed was the key to her answers. She felt it more than knew it. It had to be. It was as though some dark, instinctual part of her had become attuned with things she didn’t yet know of, and she pushed herself up from the table.
Her small stomach gurgled in protest, but it didn’t matter to the young woman. All that mattered in this instant was what she didn’t know and yet knew so intimately. Lost were thoughts of balls and courtly affairs, of obligation to family and the estate.
It was as though whatever secrets were there had crawled under her flesh and infested her slim body. She wore a long, antique-gold dress that brushed against her ankles as she walked and bared her shoulders, and though she knew it was impractical, she breezed past the hall leading to her bedroom on the way to those rickety stairs.
Still, she hesitated at the top, and her hand trembled as she went to the oil lamp. The help would be arriving within a fortnight, but the wait… It was torture. She couldn’t hold off for the presence of more.
It was another instinct, a deep burning down in her very core. She had to be alone.
Thia had been a young scholar, an exceptional student growing up, and a pride to her family in academic matters. She had been encouraged to be more than a mere lady-in-waiting, and she excelled at it. She told herself it was the same yearning curiosity that drove her at that moment to plunge back down into that deep basement.
She reached around the corner of the doorway and found the lantern. One thing she would not skimp on was oil for it, and she filled it to fullness before lighting it and heading down that dark tunnel.
Between the groans of the stairs she heard it: that faint sound of crawling from the tunnel below. Her destination.
She plunged down, nearly toppling when one of the old wooden stairs gave way with a crunch, dropping a quarter of an inch. Thia managed to catch herself with her nails dug into a crack in the cold stone and swallowed down her anxiety.
The flickering image of some figure in the corner of the basement drew her attention until she realized it was just the misshapen shadow of an old shovel propped against a crate.
The noise of something scuttling through that hole at the other end of the basement faded, and she felt the light, cool flow of air tickling her skin beneath her dress.
Her voice echoed in the small room, and her nose crinkled with confusion. Her voice shouldn’t echo, not here, not with the low ceiling and the dirt floor.
Her mouth went dry, and she swallowed as she took a step towards the shovel, her fingers touching against it. Should she take a weapon? Something within her said no, and her hand retreated.
Thia approached the hole, the lantern shedding light upon those ancient cut timbers. They looked nothing like the wood throughout the rest of the manor, not even the rotted old boards in the basement. Even those must have been replaced a dozen times since these before her were put in place, and it didn’t take much for her to push the ones in the hole out of the way. They crumbled with ease, falling apart against her push, twisting and breaking, but not with the crunch of wood in the other room. These were molded and slightly damp; they peeled away like soggy bread.
Her curiosity nearly got the better of her, but she cleared enough of a space to safely get through before attempting to squeeze in. When she pushed her lantern through all she saw were the smoothly worn away walls of what was once a tunnel leading down. She could see that damp water trickled across their surface, and had turned what must have once upon a time been carved stone blocks into smooth, nearly melded surfaces.
It was an older stonework than the rest of the manor, she noticed right away. Nothing like the elegant style of the rest of her aunt’s place.
Thia’s heart thudded in her chest, and she felt heat rise within her, even though the cool air was stronger with the boards gone.
She had to push forwards, though. Some innate yearning to explore, to discover, to… she didn’t know what, she just had to go in. Regardless of the justifications, or lack thereof.
With careful motions she climbed through that gateway into the unknown, and as she reached the other side safely, only the sound of fabric tearing broke her triumph. Her dress had caught on some rusted, medieval looking nail and suffered the loss of a long strip of its golden fabric.
She tugged it away, but didn’t frown. The loss of the rich material was nothing in the face of her discovery, and she took a tentative step forward. Then another.
Each breath felt like it was echoing around her, and there was something in the air that made her skin prickle. A thought came to her, unbidden: I should turn back. She shouldn’t enter such a place by herself, yet not even her self-chiding could stop her foot from taking her further into the depths.
Deeper she went, the stairs twisting and turning, but in no seemingly logical fashion. There was no symmetry or order to it, it just went on and on at random. Where did it go? She pondered endlessly, the trip down taking her far longer than she could have imagined. It had been at least an hour, and still the stone staircase went ever down.
Every time she nearly slipped on one of those smooth, rounded stairs she felt the pangs of doubt strike back at her conscious mind. But she pushed them away, she had to find out. Had to delve deeper.
After seemingly endless descent, and still no sign of an end, doubts began to become real. She should have prepared. Should have brought supplies. Food. How long had she been gone already? Her lamp must have gone through hours’ worth of oil already!
Though as she considered turning back, a tickle of a cold breeze—not just air, but a breeze—touched her ankles, and she looked down.
An open crevice broke through the stone wall and showed through to the other side thanks to the ancient erosion of that trickling water.
The only way for her to see through it though was to crouch down, get onto one knee and lower the lantern.
The light did not carry beyond the stone of the wall itself though. She could make out nothing beyond but inky blackness.
She nearly lost hope when the idea of shuttering the lamp came to her. She choked off its meager light and stared through the crevice.
Nothing came to her at first, but as her big, blue eyes adjusted to the dark she could see it: vast cavern lie far below, carrying on for what seemed like miles.
She could see so little of it through that tiny hole, but could make out the soft glow of some fungal plumes that showed off still lakes of water. More interesting than any of that was the wall she sighted. A wall of intelligent construct. Great and mighty it guarded something, it had to. But she couldn’t see. For whatever it was, it lay beneath her staircase. Right beneath her.
Her heart pounded as she pushed herself back, leaning against the wall ignorant to the water that ran down her back and soiled her dress. What was down there? How could anyone have constructed something so deep, underneath her aunt’s manor all this time and beyond?
She needed to see what it was, to explore, and with renewed interest, her pace quickened.
With her unshuttered lamp back in hand, she descended further. She could feel moisture on her forehead, and brushed her blonde bangs to the side as she wiped it away. The trip seemed unending.
Distracted by that she lost her footing on the increasingly smooth surface of the stairs, and she slid down a length. The rough ride jostled her slender form until the walls ended and she very nearly toppled out into the blackness.
In a scramble she grabbed for what she could, broke some of her nails as she tried to cling to the now near smooth stone surface. Her lantern went flying from her grasp and she watched in her panic as she clung on for dear life as that light snuffed out, followed by a clatter of metal on stone as it impacted what she swore looked like a stone house.
Her heart stopped.
Panic gripped her. But she held on. She had to.
There was nothing else but to cling, suspended in desperation.
She began to pull herself up once she felt secure in her grip, but just as Thia rose up over the edge she heard it: the sound of stone crumbling.
One hand gave way as a chunk of stone came with it, then the whole of the stone-stairs beneath crumbled and fell and she went toppling backwards to meet whatever fate greeted her lost lantern.