There Be Monsters
Summary: A horror movie nerd and gunslinging mad scientist travel the world following the footsteps of a late adventurer.
The Beast Beneath
A grotesque abomination towered above the cityscape. It had the head and mouth of a content dog, panting as it wagged its tongue. Its sleek body was smooth, silky fur the color of coal. It towered with most of its weight resting on four legs larger than skyscrapers. Four extra legs hung limply by its own sides. The unholy fusion of a canine and a spider strode forward, baring its teeth at its foe.
A challenger stood before the monster, a prehistoric reptile from before time. It unleashed a roar unheard in sixty-five million years. The spider-dog craned its mountain-sized head back before charging. The tyrant king of the lizards charged the abomination, trampling through the cityscape with footsteps like artillery strikes. The two titans met, and the clash was felt across the world. The spider-dog, created by the intervention of man, had ripped the clean head off the dinosaur. The fusion of arachnid and canine features then knocked the body down, and gnawed on the head of its fallen foe.
Rick Landon stopped his camera. He knelt down to the cardboard cityscape, and picked up the headless body of the remote control Tyrannosaurus toy. Rex sat with its head in his mouth before dropping it and looking apologetically at his master. Rick saw the basset hound's spider costume was somewhat ill-fitting, but he had no alternatives for now. The movie he was making was called "Arachno-Dog versus the Lizard King," so he needed a spider-dog to go with his T-Rex. He put the broken toy dinosaur aside for now, figuring he'd fix it later.
His hulking, clean shaven friend Jason Riegel put down the remote control. "So, your dog once again has destroyed the model," Riegel noted. "While I would comment on the scientific errors, I understand that would be pointless, given the nature of your cinematic productions."
"Yeah, well, if I run into any monsters, I'll let you know," Rick replied. "Maybe you can take some scientific notes on 'em."
"Now that I have fulfilled my end of the bargain, I hope you are ready to fulfill yours," Jason grinned, straightening his labcoat. "Do you recall those tunnels I found behind the false wall? The ones in your grandfather's basement?"
"Yeah," Rick replied. "You want to head down there now?"
"Of course," Dr. Riegel put on a yellow hardhat with a miner's lamp. "I have also taken the liberty to prepare some gear for you."
Jason handed Rick a baseball cap with a headlamp on it. Rick pulled the baseball cap over his messy brown hair and tightened his brown bomber jacket.
"Cool," he flicked the light on and off. "So, those tunnels still stable?"
"Mostly," Jason replied. "As long as nothing explodes, the tunnels should stay intact. They were built to last, having been excavated during the Underground Railroad."
"Interesting," Rick nodded. "Did Grandpa write anything on the tunnels?"
"Yes, he had them sealed up after they drove the original inhabitant insane," Jason explained. "Edgar Charles Wallace."
"Grandpa mentioned he got his house from a cousin," Rick continued. "But not much more than that."
"Wallace was a wealthy eccentric, and rather lonely," Jason explained. "He obsessively studied a wide range of topics, and enjoyed wandering in the tunnels."
"So, he was crazy," Rick commented. "Why'd he get committed?"
"Some hunters found him gibbering nonsensically in the woods," Jason replied. "His relatives didn't want to deal with him, so they had him locked in the asylum and gave his house to your grandfather."
"Damn, what nice family I had," Rick muttered sarcastically.
"Your family was undergoing hard times," Jason explained. "Your grandfather kept the mansion ready, should Wallace ever be discharged from the asylum."
"I guess he wasn't," Rick shook his head grimly. "But how extensive are these tunnels?"
"Very extensive," Jason pulled out a hand-drawn map. "The tunnels have several levels, interconnected passageways, and multiple entrances and exits. The complex was used to hide runaway slaves before the Civil War, and by smugglers during Prohibition."
"So maybe we'll find some booze down there," Rick nodded. "Maybe a bootlegger's still."
"It is statistically unlikely," Jason noted. "But in the event we do find something, I recommend not drinking it until I can test for any infectious agents or toxins."
"Believe me, I have no urge to drink anything that's been lying in a cave for decades," Rick replied. "Anyway, you bringing your guns down there?"
"Of course. I find my confidence increases greatly whenever Sophie is around," Jason grinned as he held up his beloved autorevolver. "I've suppressed them, and I am using a special type of subsonic round unlikely to set off any gas pockets, ricochet, or cause cave-ins.."
"Might as well bring mine, then," Rick added. "Can Rex come?"
"Of course he can," Jason replied. "I've even made an illuminated collar for him."
Jason produced a collar covered in LEDs from the pockets of his lab coat, and handed it to Rick. The LEDs resembled a string of jewels, illuminated when he pushed a button. Rex barked happily as Rick slid it on. Rick went to get his things, before heading down to meet Jason in the basement.
He stepped through the boxed possessions and trophies of his grandfather, the famed adventurer and World War II hero Dirk Wolfe. A million trinkets and artifacts, each with an untold story of his grandfather's life, stood between both sides of the basement. He navigated a trail through the crates, coming to an end near an opening in the wall. A plastic tarp partially covered a hole in the wall, and the basement's dim lights only illuminated a few feet down the gaping black abyss beyond it. Stale air emerged from the opening periodically, as though the cave itself was exhaling. He ensured his shotgun and Mauser pistol were loaded, just in case something horrible lurked inside. He turned around and saw Jason in his miner's helmet, glasses, and rebreather, ready to descend into the stygian depths.
"Are you prepared?" Jason asked. "I have my fullerene robe and other supplies we may require."
Rick nodded, and Rex ran to his side. He went into aperture after Jason, and gazed down the tunnel. The walls were cut into solid rock, and covered with dust from countless years. Every step Rick took, he waltzed deeper into his own family's buried past. Above him, the earth groaned and shifted, pressing down on the roof above him. The weight of history was present, but did not frighten him as much as the weight of the tons of rock above him. Rex barked behind him, letting his owner know he was right there with him. He continued down the corridor, but though he saw something strange.
"Hey, what's that?" Rick turned his head towards one of the tunnel walls, illuminating it with his headlamp. Jason followed suite, bathing the stone wall in light.
Rick bent down, and closely examined a number of cuts into the wall. The carvings resembled a square, with a circle and intricate geometric patterns within. Interlocking triangles surrounded the center, like the jaws of a ravenous beast. Looking at it, Rick felt a short pang of hunger. He realized he had not eaten lunch. Rex growled slowly and backed away. He took out his camera, and recorded the strange symbol.
Jason bent down to examine it. "Hmm, this is some kind of mandala symbol," he mused. "Similar to the types used in Buddhism."
"So, who made it?" Rick asked. He pulled out his camera and began to record it. The mandala would warrant future study.
"Someone familiar with Eastern spiritual philosophies, perhaps Wallace or your grandfather," Jason replied. "I am unfamiliar with what it specifically represents, but it must have taken time to carve."
"Cool," he bent down for a closer view. "I've got some good footage of it. Let's keep going. Maybe we'll find more."
They continued down the tunnel. Eventually, the scientist raised his hand, signaling him to stop. Rick halted his pace, and looked around. The tunnel split into right and left paths, each seeming to be identical to the other. Jason pulled out his palm sensor, and walked down the right-side path. The device began beeping as he walked deeper into the passageway, as if protesting his choice. Jason eventually stopped and turned back. He tested the left side in a similar manner, only to have his sensor remain silent.
"There is a pocket of methane gas to the right," he noted. "Thus, as I am the only one with a gas-mask, I suggest we take the other route."
"I'm not going to complain about that," Rick added. "Oh, crap, that reminds me. I still have regular bullets in my guns. Have any extras?"
"Sorry, but I only made enough non-combustible rounds for myself," Jason replied. "Should we have to discharge our weapons, I suggest you allow me to handle the hostilities."
"I already do," Rick replied. "Anyway, why do you think someone drew a mandala down here?"
"I am not sure," Jason shrugged, looking down. "Hmm, there is another mandala along this tunnel."
Rex began to bark down the tunnel, and darted back towards the junction. Rick chased after his dog, trying to prevent him from running into the gas pocket. "Rex! Come back, boy! It's not safe that way!"
Suddenly, Rick stopped in his tracks. Rex had stopped at the junction, and the canine was growling at something nearby. Rick followed Rex's vision and saw a small, partially translucent shape. It was the faint outline of a feline, oscillating in and out of existence as it walked nonchalantly into the gas-filled tunnel. The cat-thing turned around, and Rick could see two obsidian orbs in place of its eyes. The hypnotic gaze of the spectral feline paralyzed Rick, as his body stopped responding to his commands.
"What manner of creature is that?" Jason pulled out his compact carbine. "Leave Rick unharmed, or I will test this weapon's effectiveness on apparitions like you."
The cat did not shift its gaze, so Jason fired a burst from the weapon. The rounds went right through the phantasmal entity, ricocheting away harmlessly on the floor behind it. The cat cocked its head to the side, trying to lock its gaze with Jason. The mad scientist looked away, and Rick found himself in control of his body again.
He was about to turn around, when he saw another bizarre sight. Cat-like figures identical to the one that had paralyzed him emerged from the solid stone walls, forming a pattern similar to the mandala design. The apparitions made contact with each other, and began to merge together. The phantasms formed an amorphous blob of solid shadow, a black hole consuming all the light in the tunnel.
Rick saw Jason pull out his carbine from under his lab coat, and fire several shots into the entity. Tongues of fire from the muzzle dispelled the darkness for flash-instants, but passing harmlessly through their intended target.
"As much as I despise these supernatural entities immune to conventional weapons," Jason muttered as he ejected the empty magazine. "I loathe the fact we are ignorant of our target's nature even more."
The shadow began to shift, transforming into a recognizable form. Rick recalled the sleek, lethal agility of a predatory cat, as the pool of shadow took form. A growl echoed through the corridor, causing Rick's hair to stand on end, and his survival instinct ratcheted into high gear. He sprinted down the corridor as fast as he could, with Jason and Rex following behind him.
Rick looked over his shoulder, and saw a predatory cat made of the darkness itself gaining on them. Jason fired several rounds at the beast, to no effect. The panting and growling of the supernatural predator behind him made Rick realize he did not want to spend his last moments staring into the monster's jaws. Suddenly, he had an idea.
"You should have brought regular bullets, Jason!" he shouted as he pulled out his shotgun. He chambered an explosive slug and blasted the gas pocket in the passage behind them. The pocket ignited, causing rubble to fall from the ceiling, right into the path of the monster.
Rick stopped himself, preparing to unleash another shot if necessary. Jason turned around, pointing his beloved autorevolver at the heap of rubble. Even Rex turned around, quizzically examining the pile of rocks.
Jason Riegel rubbed his sweat-covered forehead with his head before sheathing his pistol. "As you would probably say, we crushed the monster."
"Doc, we're out of the woods yet," Rick replied, slinging the shotgun over his shoulder. "The monster never dies this fast in the movies."
Jason grimaced. "This isn't the movies, Rick, and it is highly illogical that cinematic-"
Jason was interrupted by another roar resounding down the corridor with the subtlety of a cannon. The beast burst forth from the pile of rocks, passing through the rubble as if it was not there. Firing his remaining shells, Rick darted down the corridor with Jason and Rex continuing to run from the monstrosity.
"Those don't affect it at all!" Jason shouted.
"I know, but maybe I can hit something that will!" Rick shouted as he fired blindly.
Rick saw a tear on Jason's lab coat, with claw-marks and blood dripping. The towering scientist's cadence slowed to a limping pace.
"Don't worry! I'll distract it!" Rick shouted.
He pulled out his last loaded weapon, his grandpa's Mauser pistol, and fired it over his shoulder. He didn't care if it worked or not, as long as it distracted the monster. He looked to see how close the beast was, and saw it flicker and fade for an instant. He turned and saw a bullet hole on a nearby wall, right in the middle of a carved mandala. Before he could examine it more closely, he realized there was nothing solid underneath him.
"Oh, shit!" he muttered as he fell into a black abyss.
He saw Rex tumbling through the air, and reached for his dog. "Sorry, boy! This isn't how I wanted it to end!"
The pit was deeper and darker than the ocean floor. The light from his headlamp could barely illuminate him and Rex. He closed his eyes and waited for the end. Suddenly, Rick felt something jerk him up. He opened his eyes to see Jason swinging on his nanotube rope with one hand, and grabbing him with the other. Rick looked up, and saw Rex right above him. He reached upwards, and snagged the dog from free-fall.
"Holy Tesla, that was a rather close call," Jason muttered. "But I believe that we are safe for now, assuming the beast does not find a way into this cavern."
Rick descended with Jason and Rex, eventually reaching the ground. No sooner had his feet touched the floor of the cavern than Rick noticed something strange. He turned his head rapidly, trying to make sense of the bleach-white objects scattered about the floor. It took a moment for Rick to realize what they were.
"Oh, shit," he muttered. "They're skeletons!"
Rex whimpered, and set down a bone that he had found. Jason knelt to the ground more closely, clutching his wounded leg. Rick helped him apply first aid, and then set about examining the ground more closely.
"Do you think that's how the monster kills people?" Rick asked, looking up. "Chasing them into this pit here?"
"Negative," Jason examined one of the skeletons. "These bones show the signs of blunt force trauma, not many falling-type fractures. My hypothesis is that these individuals were killed down here with blows to the head, probably with a rock or other bludgeon."
"Hey, what are these?" Rex saw some strange marks on a femur. Jason knelt towards the leg bone and examined it closer.
"It appears something was gnawing on these bones," Jason looked briefly at Rex, and opened the dog's mouth. "It is teeth vastly different than a canine."
"Damn," Rick whistled. "How about that cat thing? Could that be gnawing on bodies down here?"
"While I presume there are passageways that one may walk safety to the floor of this cavern," Jason explained. "I cannot understand why an immaterial entity would attempt to physically feed upon the dead."
"What if it's not about the physical need for food, but some kind of emotion?" Rick surmised. "Like it needs to eat to sustain some psychic need instead? Wasn't there some kind of being like that in Buddhism? I remember that from a documentary I saw."
"I believe you're referring to a tulpa, or thought-form," Dr. Riegel explained. "It's an emotion or desire made incarnate, sometimes existing only to empower itself."
"I felt hungry looking at those weird mandala things," Rick added. "And when I accidently shot one of them, the monster vanished for a moment."
"Interesting," Jason put his hand under his chin. "I suppose we'd need to destroy more of those mandalas to test that hypothesis."
Rick opened his bomber jacket, and pulled out more explosive shells. "Oh, I think I can do that."
"And you'd let wounded me and your pet merely serve as distractions?" Jason pulled out his autorevolver from his lab-coat, and loaded explosive bullets into Sophie's cylinder. "I think not."
"Let's get up there, and feed that hungry tulpa some bullets," Rick pumped his shotgun. "Destroy the mandalas, and let's hope for the best."
"Or just hope to escape these miserable tunnels," Jason replied.
"Let's see if we can slay this thing," Rick began climbing the rope with Rex tucked into his coat. "Finally, a chance to do something grandpa didn't."
Jason climbed up behind him, and they stood back in the mouth of the tunnel. The beast was nowhere to be seen, but Rick swore he could feel warm, heavy breath somewhere the stale air of the tunnel. He might as well be stumbling through a dark jungle, with countless ways to die and very little idea where danger was.
Rick stopped when he came to the bullet-hole damaged mandala. He promptly pulled the trigger and blasted it to pieces. Behind them, a familiar shape charged out of the darkness with the power of a freight train. It roared demonically and made Rick run as fast as he could down the corridor. This time, he could sense something, a faint desperation, over the creature's snarling. It was afraid. They had found its weakness.
Seeing the tulpa gaining on a fatigued Jason, Rick stood his ground to buy his friend time. The beast charged him with the speed and energy of a rhino, but Rick just stood confidently as another gunshot and explosion rang out through the tunnel. He turned to see Jason had blown up another mandala. The beast came down on Rick, but passed through his body harmlessly. For a moment, the tulpa flailed at him with its claws, only to have them sweep through his body harmlessly. Rick grinned, but another swipe of the claws tore his jacket opened. The beast was weakened, but still dangerous. Rick leapt back, and darted down the tunnel as fast as he could.
Rick reached Jason near the entrance leading to the basement. He had moved within range of the first mandala they had encountered, and was aiming his pistol. The tulpa charged faster down the corridor, Rick noticed, before its massive claw swept him aside. He pulled himself forwards, and saw the psychic monster charging right for Jason. The scientist stood his ground, leveled his pistol, and pulled the trigger as the monster leapt at him, claws ready to rip him to pieces.
An explosion blossomed down the dark tunnel, and Rick saw the beast vanish in a flash of light. In its place, a pack of small cats appeared on the floor, identical to the ones that had appeared before. Rex began to bark at them, and the phantasmal felines began to scatter and run away. As they fled, Rick noticed the smaller tulpas vanished into the air as they ran, eventually dissipating to nothing.
For several long moments, Rick laid prone clutching his gun. The tension he had felt before had lifted, and his pains seemed to vanish. Jason walked over, and extended his hand. Rick was pulled up.
"Is it over this time?" Rick asked.
"You would know that better than I do," Jason replied. "Come on. I believe now is a good time to leave."
"Are you okay?" Rick inquired.
"I merely require a bit of rest," Jason answered. "And the destruction of any more mandalas I find down here."
The two left the tunnel, with Rex following behind. Rick spent the rest of the day working with his movie props, while Jason went back into the tunnels after resting. That night, Jason called Rick to his lab. The scientist had his laptop computer opened on his desk, next to a femur with bite marks.
"I have made some disconcerting findings regarding these," Dr. Riegel spoke with a clinical voice. "I have analyzed the bite marks, and I believe the tulpa was not the culprit."
"Then what was?" Rick asked. "C'mon, don't leave me in suspense!"
"The bite marks are a perfect match for Charles Edgar Wallace's dental record," Jason noted. "I had some of identified the skeletons, and found they were people who went missing before he was locked up."
"So, he killed and ate people?" A look of disgust appears on Rick's face. "But why? And what about the mandalas?"
"Those mandalas served as emotional conduits, channeling his madness into the tulpa," Jason nodded. "I presume that tulpa was formed from his cannibalistic urges."
"Damn," Rick had been hit with a sledgehammer of mental realization. "This is something my relative did. And even Grandpa didn't know about it!"
"I would prefer to release these findings to the local police, and help solve some opened cases," Jason explained. "But I'd like to ask you first. Given how I've seen you act so far, I'd believe you'd do the right thing."
"This would look bad for my family," Rick said, shaking his head. "I still have trouble believing it."
He thought long and hard, and came to a realization.
"You know what, Jason?" Rick said. "My family probably prevented those murders from being solved, by locking up Wallace and pretending he wasn't their problem. Even Grandpa sealed up those old tunnels, instead of finding out what his cousin had done down there."
"Whether it was fear or lack of desire to investigate on Dirk Wolfe's part, we'll never truly know," Jason added.
"Maybe one. Maybe both," Rick continued. "But I'm going to do something else even he didn't. Release your findings, Jason."
"It was statistically predictable that you would do the moral thing," Dr. Riegel mused. "But you doing two things that even the great Dirk Wolfe did not, in the same day? Strictly statistically impossible."
"Nothing's impossible for Rick Landon," Rick grinned. "As long as I have friends like you and Rex."
"A valid hypothesis," Jason noted. "I look forward to further testing it."
"So do I, Jason, so do I," Rick nodded his head in agreement.