This week I’m entering a writing contest from Legends Undying – There Be Dragons Here. The rules are that you must write about dragons (obviously) and keep your entries under 1,200 words. This is my submission for Scariest Entry.
***UPDATE – I won for scariest entry!! Check out my snazzy prize!
There was something there in the cave with him. He could hear it dragging over the rough rock floor. At first Roy thought it was an injured animal, but there was a metallic slither to the noise, a clinking thickness that was so sharp it hurt his back teeth and sent shivers down his spine. Occasionally the thing in the darkness would thud heavily against an unknown or unseen object and send little avalanches of rocks cascading down into the pools of water that were scattered around the wide cavern floor. Roy thought whatever it was must be as blind in the dark as he was, and that made him less afraid, although he was lost and unarmed and very much alone.
It was only his second day gold mining, and he’d gotten lost in the maze of tunnels that sprawled underneath Carlin, Nevada. He only knew that he’d been looking for a way out for almost two hours, and that he got no cell phone reception down here and no radio, and that he was in a very large cavern of some sort. He’d turned off his headlamp to preserve the battery while he rested a little, curled with his back against the rock wall a little way from the tunnel where he’d entered the cavern.
That’s when the noise had started. Softly at first, but slowly getting louder and closer, a heavy dragging and thudding and every once and a while a sound like a boat’s sails snapping in the wind. His first thought was that a bear had somehow gotten stuck inside the tunnels, but the noise had gotten too loud and too unpredictable and not quite enough like a bear. After that he’d run out of ideas.
Whatever it was hit something that crumpled loudly on the impact and sent a vibration through the wall that Roy was huddled against. He bit his lip to keep from shouting out and turned his wide open eyes in the noise’s direction. For a split second, he thought he saw a glint of orange light in the dark. He supposed there might be some sort of bioluminescent cave worms or something on the ceiling. He’d seen a special about it on T.V. once.
It was warm in the cavern, unbearably so. Roy figured he must be near a natural hot springs of some sort. He could feel a vibration in the walls he thought might be water running or steam building up, and a smell like sulphur and ash. He desperately wanted to take off his jacket or at least get a sip of water, but he was afraid that the noise would attract The Thing, whatever it was. It was still moving in the dark, a noise that sounded for all the world like the rubbing of rusty metal or a steel sponge on a dirty pan. He could now distinguish the regular rhythm of its pace across the earth. There was a sickening jolt in Roy’s stomach as he realized that the vibration he felt in the walls was uncomfortably timed with the noise. He could actually feel the cavern walls shaking as the creature was moving.
Suddenly the uncertainty of what he was dealing with was unendurable. Roy had an insatiable urge to flick his headlight on, just for a moment, just to see what it was, but he knew that his tiny light probably wouldn’t be able to penetrate far enough into the darkness to see what it was, that even if his small beam was pointed in exactly the right direction, there was a chance the creature was hiding behind a crag or a corner and he wouldn’t be able to make out what it was anyways. He knew it had a very slim chance of working, but that if he turned his light on, there was a 100 percent chance The Thing would see him.
There was another glow of orange light in the darkness. Almost too faint to make out, but there was a sizable spot near the ceiling just bright enough to not be denied. It flickered tantalizingly and went out.
Roy was actively sweating now. He knew his mind was probably playing tricks on him, but it seemed like it was hotter than it had been a few minutes before. He brushed the sweat from his forearm as quietly as he could.
There a was a low rumble in the cave when he moved and the orange glow flared up brighter than before. It seemed alarmingly close this time. Roy licked his chapped lips. There was another raspy noise, like the wind on a tin roof. He realized it could hear him move now, and that it had stopped moving. He could feel its presence near him, a radiating heat like the smoke from an open fire. It was breathing, a sound like bricks rubbing together, like sandpaper on rock. Roy felt his own breath constrict in his throat as the creature- whatever it was – readjusted how it was sitting. Whatever it was was very, very large.
He sat in absolute stillness, his knees curled to his chest, eyes wide, listening acutely for any moment, but there was nothing. The thought crossed his mind that he’d imagined the whole thing, but he could still hear it breathing. He could smell it, like an unclean grill after a barbecue, all charred meat and ash and smoke. He knew with a terrible certainty that it was toying with him.
He couldn’t take it anymore. In one swift motion, Roy flicked on his lamp.
The first thing he saw was a long, curved, black claw the size of his arm. There were four of them lined neatly in a row about a car’s length from his shoe. They were attached to a terrible leg covered in great grey scales the size and color of garden stepping stones, matte and sharp along the edges. Roy looked up, craning his neck, and the glint of his little headlamp showed him a section of the creature’s neck. The skin was oddly translucent, and he realized that the orange glow he’d seen was the living fire in the thing’s throat glowing through its skin. The beast was giving off heat through its skin hot enough to choke him, and Roy realized, belatedly, that he was having a great deal of trouble breathing, and he was feeling quite lightheaded. He turned his head to look down the tunnel where he’d come in, but he saw that the creature had blocked his escape with his long, rough tail, the source of the dragging noise.
The last thing Roy saw was the dragon’s head bending slowly down towards him, glowing orange from the inside, like a hot coal, and the great maw that opened to receive him, and with the last of his strength, he flicked off his headlamp and closed his eyes, and let the darkness take him.