It was Jacksonville, Florida in late July. I was mowing the yard and I thought I was gonna die from the heat. This neighborhood kid, Bobby something-or-other, came running up to me.
“Mr. Jack! Mr. Jack!” he yelled. (All the neighborhood kids called me “Mr. Jack.”)
“Catch your breath!” I told him. “What’s all the fuss about?”
He was out of breath and filthy. Sweat was just pouring down his face.
“You gotta come quick! Billy done fell down a hole!” Some people might have been tempted to lecture him on his grammar, but I figured it was more important to go and see if I could help Billy.
Bobby led me to a small hill just down the road. There was one side of it that was covered in vines and weeds and bushes. Bobby pointed to where his friend disappeared. If he hadn't been there to point the way, no one would ever know that kid was in there. When the kids were playing around the hill .Billy fell into the hole and was almost literally swallowed up by the vegetation. I figured the hole wasn’t very deep, but I was wrong. It was deep enough that I had to lie down on the ground and reach for him. I strained and strained and I barely managed to grab his wrist. I thought it was gonna take all six feet and two inches of me to get to him. Had he weighed another five or ten pounds I’d never have been able to haul him out. I stood up and brushed myself off. Billy was scared and crying his eyes out. I patted him on the head and told him he was okay and that they needed to stay away from there. They ran for home and I waited until they were out of sight before I took another look at that hole. After that, I went home and grabbed a flashlight and some rope. On the way out the door, I grabbed a bottle of water.
I went back to the hole and it was getting dusky dark outside. My cell phone said it was 6:01. I wasn’t crazy about crawling in there but I figured this was a good chance to do so without being bothered.
By tomorrow, I figured everyone would know about this hole.
I got down on my hands and knees and crawled through the weeds and vines. For a kid, there was a drop-off that was a little steep; for me it was just a small jump. Once I was down there, I swept my flashlight all around the area. It was a small chamber almost like an anteroom in a tomb. I could see how the kid fell through: an old crudely-made wooden hatch was there to block the hole. When Billy what’s-his-face fell against it, it was dislodged. I put it back and secured it with a long piece of wood that had been used for that purpose before.
Behind me was an opening low enough that I had to duck my head to pass through. The passage seemed to be natural rather than man-made. It was damp and foul-smelling in there. Once I was through the opening, I was able to stand up and walk. I have no idea how far I walked, but I’d guess maybe a hundred feet. I decided I’d better turn around and go back before it was too late. I was creeped out by the idea of being underground like this with no one knowing where I was.
I returned to the hole and I could hear something outside the wooden hatch. Once I removed the piece of wood and the hatch, all I could see was a big rock. I could hear voices outside but my attempts at getting their attention failed. Apparently the boys went home, told their folks what happened, and someone came along and blocked the hole with at least one big rock. I tried to move it, but I couldn’t budge it an inch. I whipped out my cell phone to call 911, but I couldn’t get a signal. How lovely. Trapped in this hole like a rat in a maze. I took a few deep breaths to get myself under control and then decided that my only chance was to hope that maybe there was an alternate way out. Judging from the way the hatch had been rigged, there pretty much had to be another way out of here. Unless, of course, they had blocked the hole and then never made it out of here alive...
I went back to the low opening and walked back down the foul-smelling corridor. Somewhere off in the distance I could hear water dripping. Eventually I found a large chamber with a high ceiling. There were several exits leading in different directions from it. Suddenly my idea to explore these underground passages didn’t seem all that smart any more. The first two I tried both dead-ended quickly. Another one went about forty feet before it, too, dead-ended with a pile of fallen rock. That left two: I tried the one on the right because it was bigger than the other. As it turned out, it didn’t remain “bigger" for long: after about twenty feet it narrowed enough that I had to walk sideways. I was edging along in this manner when I tripped and fell down an incline. I had a flashlight and thought I was being careful and yet I still tripped like a stooge over a small rock. I saw my flashlight skittering away from me and knew that without it I was a dead man. Even with it, my chances looked none too good.
I was on my back and trying to get up when I felt something on me. I moved to take it off me and realized it was a snake. I’ve had a lifelong fear of snakes and the thought of one crawling on me gave me the shakes. I picked up my flashlight and looked around: the floor of the chamber I was in was just working alive with snakes. I admit it: I started screaming like a scared little girl. I just couldn’t handle what I was seeing. I ran up the incline I’d fallen down and surveyed the area. There was only one way for me to go forward, but I’d have to wade through the snakes to get there. I leaned over and began to vomit.
Once the initial nausea had passed, there was nothing for me to do but to get moving. I had no idea what kind of snakes these were or if they would bite me or even if they were poisonous or not. I just knew I had to get the hell out of there. I sure as hell didn’t like the idea of stepping on snakes, but I didn’t have much of a choice. As I surveyed the area where I was standing, I had an idea. I picked up a good-sized rock and tossed it into the writhing mass of snakes. Then I tossed another rock a little past that one. I looked around and had to pry a chunk of rock out of the wall to get my third one; this one I carried with me. I jumped onto the first rock, then I jumped onto the second rock. I tossed the rock I was carrying and then jumped onto that one. The snakes were none too happy with it, but I was laughing all the way. From the third rock I was easily able to jump up to the opening that led out. Laughing or not, I was still shaking. I started down the passageway. I took out my useless cell phone and checked the time. It said 8:14. That meant I’d been down there over two hours.
I continued to wander and I knew there’s no way I’d ever be able to backtrack my way to where I’d started back at the hole Billy fell in. There were simply too many twists and turns and false starts for me to remember. That, plus panic had begun to set in and even though I wasn’t frantic, I knew that it wasn’t far off. I sat down for a while and turned off my flashlight. I just sat and stared into nothingness for who knows how long. The urge to give up was strong. Eventually, I started moving again. I saw a big hole in the passageway ahead of me. I finished off my water bottle and tossed it down the hole; I never heard it hit anything. I started moving again.
The next time I consulted my cell phone it said 11:40 and I had just emerged from a tunnel low enough that I had to crawl to make my way through it. I was standing on a high ledge at the upper limits of a huge chamber. Chamber? It looked more like an amphitheater it was so big. It looked like the only way I would be able to get down from there would be to jump. I looked straight down and the floor was a long way down, maybe fifty or sixty feet. I was considering the possibility of going back and trying to find another route when I heard something.
I didn’t know what it was. There were too many echoes for me to identify it. After a few moments, it began to sound like a Gregorian chant.
People! I heard people! That meant there was a way out! I could just call to them for help and they could rescue me! I almost had a heart attack I was so excited.
At least, I was excited until I saw them. They were all wearing dark hooded robes. There was a guy with a long white beard in the front carrying a torch and leading the chants. Behind him were two people carrying large open books. Behind them was a group of hooded people that I guess-timated at about twenty. They stopped in the corner of the chamber directly opposite where I was. I switched off my flashlight. Suddenly the idea of calling out to them didn’t seem like such a good idea. I decided that I would crawl back into the tunnel and watch them from there until I had a chance to evaluate just what was happening. It was a good thing, too, because I must have made some noise without realizing it; two powerful flashlight beams were moving back and forth across the place where I'd been standing. I just lay there on my stomach and watched them. They gave up with the flashlights and went on about their business.
The guy with the long white beard stepped to the side and the people following made way for someone to come from the very back and stand on a large flat stone. He stood there and stomped his foot a couple of times and yelled something unintelligible to me. The people started throwing small objects.
It was at this point that I realized that the floor of the chamber was actually water. These objects, whatever they were, made small splashes and floated there. It wasn't long before the water began to break as something large began to surface. It was large and dark gray. To give an idea of just how large it was, it had two eyes on top that were about the size of Volkswagen Beetles. The beast gave off a rancid, sickening smell.
At this point, three of the robed people brought a woman to the large flat stone. She was kicking and trying to fight her way loose. She was wrapped in a sheet and had a gag in her mouth. They stripped off the sheet revealing that her hands were bound and she was naked. They then tossed her into the beast's huge mouth. It closed its mouth and submerged. The robed people turned and chanted their way out of the chamber.
Once they were gone, I decided to try to get down and follow them (at a discreet distance, of course). I managed to find handholds and toeholds and work my way down about thirty or forty feet, but after that there was nothing. The walls were just too slick. I didn't like the idea, but I had no choice: I'd have to drop into the water. I could only hope that the monstrosity wouldn't want another meal tonight.
I dropped into the water and stayed close to the walls. I didn't thrash about for fear of attracting it. I worked my way around the edge of the water until I reached the large flat stone. The passageway they'd used to make their exit was not man-made, but it certainly had been altered by man. The walls had been smoothed out and there were sconces mounted there to hold torches.
As I eased my way along, I could hear voices up ahead. I eventually found a small chamber that was used as a changing room. The last couple of stragglers were hanging up their robes and preparing to leave. Without their robes, they looked like regular people to me. They didn't look different or strange. Yet these same people had just tossed a woman to her death in the maw of some creature living in a subterranean cave.
They left the chamber and were talking and laughing as they made their way out. When I finally felt a cool breeze blowing in the passageway I almost hollered for joy! I watched the last of them driving their cars away and then I waited for a while just in case someone was still there. When I thought it was safe, I stepped out into the night air.
By now it was about 1:30 a.m. and I had no idea where I was. I looked around a bit and finally I figured out my approximate location: I was on the banks of the St. John's River roughly five miles from my house!
I started walking. Eventually, I got a ride from a man in an old GMC pickup. By the time I got home, it was about five a.m. and I was exhausted. I woke up sometime that afternoon and I was not a hundred per cent convinced that it all really happened.
I called up a friend I know at the local paper named Becky and made some "discreet inquiries" as they say and came up with nothing.
I made a trip back to the river bank. It took me about forty-five minutes to find the spot where I emerged from the cave. I went back inside to the changing room and started going through the robes. In the pocket of one robe I found some mail addressed to "Lou Donovan" and gave an address for him in Orange Park near the dog track. One robe had a twenty in it. (Of course I took it!)
I paid a visit to Mr. Donovan. Or, rather, I would have if he'd been home. I took a look around his house, didn't think anyone would see me, and I broke in. I realize that a little B & E is frowned upon in some social circles, but I had to get some answers.
I had put on a pair of driving gloves so that I wouldn't leave any prints and it came in handy to make sure I didn't cut myself on broken glass.
(In the interest of "full disclosure," I will admit that during my misspent youth I did enjoy participating in some low-level criminal activity for fun and profit. Breaking the glass in Donovan's back door and reaching through to unlock the door was not a new experience for me.)
I always enjoyed the feeling of being in someone's home when they are not around. This time was no different. I wasn't there to steal, I was there to try and find anything that related to the wild scene I had witnessed. But, of course, if I happened to run across something valuable...
I took it room by room, drawer by drawer, and closet by closet. I made sure that I put everything back just as I'd found it. I'd been in there a couple of hours before I found something. Unfortunately, once I found it, I didn't understand it. "It" was a huge red book and it looked like the books I'd seen last night. I took it and an address book and decided to get the hell out of there. Once I got home, I decided to take a good look at the book. The book was written in a language or symbology that I don't understand. There was a diagram of the cave, that much I understood. I called my friend at the paper again and told her, "I got a book here that I need someone to decipher. Who could I take it to?"
Becky didn't miss a beat. "Fun with Dick and Jane giving you a problem again? 'Run Dick! Run, Dick, run!'" and laughed at me.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, Miss Smarty-Pants. Gimme a name." She referred me to a guy named Dr. Wagner who teaches linguistics at a local junior college. She called him to see if he was interested and then he called me. We agreed to meet at his house. Dr. Wagner was a gentle-looking man of about sixty. I was filled with confidence as soon as I saw him. Once introductions were made, I handed over the book (without mentioning how I obtained it, of course). "Hmmm, bound in red buckram," he said. He opened it and looked the book over. He kept saying, "hmmm" a lot and oohing and aahing over it.
Finally, I said, "Well?"
"Have no idea what it says," the man said.
"No idea at all?" "Nope. I'm not sure what it is. Looks like something a kid scribbled. Sorry I can't be more help," he said. "My guess is that it's some homemade code. It would take a lot of work to decipher it." Great, wonderful. The only other thing I have going for me is the address book but I was too discouraged to even try. I decided to save that for tomorrow.
I noticed there was a separate list of people in the back. It had sixteen names on it. I decided to start at the top and work my way down. I didn't intend to burgle every single house on the list, but I figured I could at least hit two or three and maybe find some answers.
The first house was occupied so I went to the second address. It was Bill Washington's house and he had a red book, too. The next house was Agnes Dunphy and she had a red book, too. Since I already had one, I didn't take either one of them. It did lead me to believe that I didn't get lucky and just happen to find someone with a book; apparently everyone had a book. Judging from the contents of their houses, I figured that it was better to approach Agnes Dunphy than Bill Washington. Bill is apparently a weight-lifter and heavily into martial arts. Agnes is an old lady with constipation problems and support hose.
I waited outside her house for three hours until I finally saw her. She was in her sixties, overweight, and wearing a ghastly flowered dress. Once she was inside, I rang her doorbell.
She answered the door and I said, "Ms. Dunphy, I'd like to talk to you about the red book."
"What 'red book' do you mean?"
"I think you know which one I mean. I just got one and I can't make heads or tails out of it."
To my surprise, she let me in and offered me coffee and cake. I passed on that and we sat at her kitchen table. If she noticed the broken glass on the floor by the back door she didn't mention it.
I told her what I knew of the cave, last Saturday's offering, and that I had acquired a red book. I thought I might have to pry the information out of her, but she was quite talkative. She was also quite insane.
"I'm so happy that you have a red book of your own! It was one of my proudest days when I got mine! I still don't understand it all but I will one day. When 'The Change' comes, that is."
"I still don't understand what this is all about. What is that thing in the cave?" I asked. She was so enthusiastic, so glowing, that I thought the old lady was going to climax right then and there. "His name is Ree-Ogga! He is the precursor!"
"'Precursor' to what?" I was more confused than I was when I first got there.
She didn't answer the question. She was on a roll: "I attended my first gathering in 1958. My dad took me to see Ree-Ogga and toss apples to him. We hit it off right away! Eventually, I became his terran wife."
I was afraid to ask for clarification on that point.
"What about the people you guys toss to him?" I asked.
"They don't count. We mostly give him hookers and homeless people. Nobody misses them. They don't count, you see. Besides, when his brothers come, they'd be dead anyway, so it really doesn't matter!"
"Uh, just how did he get here?"
She looked at me like I was a backward child. "He traveled here through space and time and found a home in the river. People have been serving him ever since. He was old when the world was young! He's magnificent! Sure you don't want some cake?" "Does this have anything to do with that 2016 'end of the world' crap?" I asked.
"Oh, heavens, no!" She laughed. "We don't have anywhere near that much time left."
"The next get-together is..." I trailed off.
"Next Tuesday!" We got up and went to her bedroom. She rummaged around in her underwear drawer and brought her copy of the red book to the table along with a small black book.
"I've had these books since 1958. It's a very special privilege to be his terran wife, you know. He's had many and outlived them all except for me. I will be the one to finally see his grand plans come to fruition!"
Yeah, well, I'm gonna see what I can do about that. When the old lady wasn't looking, I palmed the little black book and put it in my hip pocket.
When the appointed night came, I took care of a little business inside the cave and then I hid in the bushes and waited for the crazy people to show up. Around 11:30, they started to show up. A white Dodge van pulled up and two men got out and struggled with a prisoner, a middle-aged man. I didn't hear everything they said, but I caught enough of it to know that it was Lou Donovan. He was gonna be Ree-Ogga's midnight snack because he lost his red book. Ouch. That was my fault. Agnes Dunphy showed up and walked around as if she were a queen. I guess that goes with the territory of being Ree-Ogga's "terran wife."
I saw an assorted group of men and women get out of their cars and make their way into the cave. All together, there were fourteen people in the group, counting Lou.
I had a robe of my own, indistinguishable from theirs. I brought up the rear and remained far enough back that no one knew I was there. I could hear them talking as they changed clothes. Once they changed, they ganged up on poor Lou and prepared him for the evening meal by tying his hands behind his back, cutting off his clothes, and wrapping him in a sheet. They went into the chamber with all the pomp and circumstance that they had demonstrated on that Saturday night. They began to toss apples into the water to attract Ree-Ogga's attention. They waited and prepared to toss old Lou. But, Ree-Ogga didn't show up. They tossed some more apples but it didn't help. They started to get pretty agitated at that point. Agnes suggested that they go ahead and toss Lou into the water and see if that would help.
They yanked the sheet off of poor Lou and then tossed him into the water. He thrashed about for a while and managed to float, but still no Ree-Ogga. I walked up and made my presence known.
"I think you should fish Lou out of the water. Your space buddy won't be making an appearance tonight or any other night for that matter," I said.
A couple of guys started toward me. One of them was a big guy and I assumed it was Bill Washington. I brought a double-barreled shotgun out of my robe and aimed it at them.
"That's far enough, boys," I said.
"Well, I used your apple trick to bring him to the surface. Once he surfaced, I tossed him a dynamite snack and then he went back down." I paused. "Ka-boom!"
There was screaming and crying and cursing and threats from the group. Without the shotgun, it could have gotten ugly for me.
At that point, I was going to back out of the cave and run like hell. I was enjoying myself and thrilled that I had aced them. That's when things got crazy.
There was a massive upsurge of water and a tremendous roar. Ree-Ogga was back and he was angry. When I'd seen him before, all I saw was the top of his head. This time, there was a lot more Ree-Ogga on display. There was about forty feet of him towering out of the water and he had tentacles, lots of tentacles.
His head had been heavily damaged by the dynamite and he was lashing out at anyone and everyone. When his tentacles made contact, and they made contact often, the victim would scream and thrash and fall down writhing in agony. One of his tentacles just gently brushed over my arm as it was whipsawed in the direction of Agnes. I have never felt such pain in my life; it felt like a combination of fire and electricity and bee stings, if that makes any sense. Ree-Ogga wasn't as done as I had thought.
He didn't have legs, but that didn't stop him from emerging from the water and coming in my direction. I figured my shotgun was not gonna help much against this thing, so I tossed it and ran. My ace in the hole is that he was far too large to pass through the passageway and pursue me. Or, so I thought.
Once he reached the opening, a large chunk of Ree-Ogga broke loose from the main mass and came at me. As it traveled, it created tentacles of its own and made a roaring noise. Now I wished I'd held on to the shotgun. I got out of the cave and headed for my truck. I cranked up and started driving toward the cave. I saw the whatever-the-hell-it-was coming at me. I rammed into it and then ran over it. The sound it made led me to believe it was in pain, but I wasn't done yet.
I jumped out of the truck and took a five-gallon can of gasoline out of the back of the truck. I doused that sucker with gas and lit him up. The stink rising off of it was gut-wrenching.
I had a few sticks of dynamite left and I was hoping it would do. I took them and the remainder of the gasoline into the cave.
When I got there, Ree-Ogga had calmed down considerably. In fact, he seemed to be enjoying himself as he gorged on his former servitors. I saw Agnes lying on the ground and it was obvious that she was dead. I worked my way in close and when Ree-Ogga went to scoop up somebody I tossed him some explosive after-dinner mints.
The explosions rocked him hard and he fell over. He looked dead to me, so I doused him in gas, too, and set fire to him. He wasn't dead. He managed to crawl slowly back into the water. I waited for a while but he didn't resurface. I made an anonymous phone call to the county sheriff's office and, since I wanted to be taken seriously, I somehow neglected to mention there was an alien monster on the premises somewhere. There was a big write-up in the paper and it was obvious that some kind of cult was involved, but other than that there was a real shortage of details.
I finally did find someone who could decipher the writing in the red book by using the little black book.
The old lady was right; we aren't gonna last until 2016.