By Richard Grunert
Completed November 18, 2012
To The Very Honorable Judge Diane Hawkins,
I've been asked by my lawyer, Mr. Bill Fritz, to record here my version of events that occurred in relation to the case of Dr. Summerland. The police and prosecution have tried repeatedly to discredit my testimony, calling my statement an 'awful and obviously desperate fiction.' With this letter I hope to create an official record of not just my statement, but of what actually happened. After reading this I hope you will understand both the truth of how he disappeared and why I'm innocent of this awful alleged crime. I only ask you to do me the small favor of suspending your skepticism and disbelief, and treat my statement as seriously as you would any other in a murder investigation.
To begin with, I shouldn't have had to be there. My credit card had mysteriously hit its limit the previous week and I found myself suddenly without the familiar means of providing for myself. Necessity had forced me to do the one thing I dreaded most during my summer break from college: getting a job. Means had been found after I responded to an classified ad for manual labor off of the internet, the only job I was really qualified to do at the time. Professor Summerland, whose geology course I'd barely managed to pass the preceding year, was building a new extension to his house and needed someone to dig the groundwork for the new balcony. Of course, this job involved many thrilling hours of digging he decided he was above doing – that's where I came in.
All through that day sharp chips of limestone had flown past my shoulders as I struck the pick down into the earth. Two hours of swinging the heavy handle had made my arms heavy and my shirt drip uncomfortably with sweat in the late August noonday sun. I dropped the tool and sat down in the grass to survey my work. I'd been at it since eight that morning, and the trench I'd managed to dig was only about a third as deep as the professor wanted it to be. I still had a good foot of widening to do, and if I wanted to be finished and paid before evening I needed to work faster; a second day in that awful sun was going to kill me, and the $135 was looking less and less appealing. I wiped my brow and lept back down into the hole to continue my work. I'd hit a hard piece of limestone that sat right where I didn't want it to be, and I was hard at work making scratches in its face with my pick.
For someone with a Ph. D in geology, Summerland really hadn't been taking much interest in the hole I was digging in his yard. He'd come out once or twice, even offered me some lemonade, but seemingly cared very little about the quality of job I was doing; not that it really bothered me at the time, that is. The professor had always been seen as something of an eccentric within the university. He was definitely knowledgeable in his field, but the administration hated him, and he'd been investigated multiple times by the ethics board for a number of strange trips he'd taken all over the world. Whenever he returned from these mysterious little jaunts (paid for with grant money from some unknown source he refused to identify) the university would demand to see something to justify his absence, but he would always refuse, saying that his work was for the good of everyone, and that one day we'd all understand. Needless to say, the school's press loved him, and his strange antics always made for good reading.
As the day dragged on my strokes of the pick grew weaker and weaker, and by four it became obvious that I was not going to be finishing that day. But still, I carried on; the thought of another night spent on cheap ramen overpowering my fatigue. I was resolved to finish as much as I could that day, anything to get the job over with. I'd been daydreaming when suddenly my the point of my pick broke through the surface of the limestone. I removed the tip and inspected the hole; it appeared that the limestone was hollow, and I stepped back to hit the sides a few more times, widening the opening in the rock. Eventually the face crumbled, falling in into itself and I stepped back to let the dull amber sunlight shine in, revealing a dark depression about four feet deep and two wide. I chipped away the sharp edges and stuck my head inside, but found nothing except a thick, murky blackness.
I ran back to the house and stood in the huge front foyer, which I found empty. I called out to the professor's name multiple times, but no answer availed my shouting. I ventured into the garage, briefly stopping to admire the three different luxury cars housed within, but there was still no professor. It appeared as if I was completely alone in the entire house. I should have left, but my curiosity at what I'd found forced me to stay. I grabbed a flashlight off one of the shelves in the garage and retreated outside. I was a bit shocked the find Summerland standing knee-deep in my trench, inspecting the hole I'd created.
'Could it be?'
'Professor, I was just looking for you,' I said, sliding down beside him and relaying the events that led to my discovery of a strange hole in his lawn. He quieted me by raising his finger into the air between us.
'I don't care how it happened. You've got a flashlight? Good, we're going in.'
I was confused. 'Going in? Why? What the hell do you expect to find in there?' I handed him the flashlight, he took it and switched it on, illuminating the walls of the tunnel.
'You can either come with me, or I can hold you liable for the damage to my property. Now come on, I might need some help in here.' He lifted himself into the hole and slid down inside, beckoning me after him.
The oppressive darkness of that tunnel is almost impossible to describe. All-encompassing and heavy, it only grew thicker as we proceeded down the hole. The going was narrow, and we had to make our way on hands and knees. The rays from Summerland's flashlight provided our only source of illumination, and the light revealed hundreds of small chip marks in the rock walls. The professor stopped every so often to examine them, which in the cramped confines of the tunnel was hardly comfortable. He ran his hands down the wall, uttering words like 'fascinating' and 'incredible' under his breath. Suddenly the horrible sound of falling rock echoed down the tunnel behind us. We hurried back to the entrance, only to find that I'd been careless in my widening of the hole, and the ceiling of that part of the tunnel had collapsed on into itself and been covered with falling dirt; it seemed we were now trapped there beneath the professor's finely manicured lawn.
I panicked – which I'm not afraid to admit, concerning the circumstances – and began pulling at the rocks and frantically, only to be slapped across the face by the professor. He pulled me up, insulted my manliness and convinced me that it was now imperative to carry on, as there surely must have been another way out; I composed myself and we carried on. We crawled forwards for the better part of an hour, stopping to rest only twice. Luckily, I still carried my nearly full water bottle with me, so thirst was prevented from being a problem. Very soon however I was exhausted, and as I was about to petition the professor for another rest, he suddenly fell forward, sliding down the face of a wall he'd just emerged from. Standing up, he shined the flashlight back into the tunnel and yelled for me to join him.
We stood atop a small stone balcony at the top of a hill overlooking a vast landscape formed from the core of a massive limestone boulder. The ceiling arched high above our heads and the walls were traversed with great parallel lines, layer after layer of sediment constructed the shell of the strange world we now found ourselves visitors in. I anticipate that you, your honor, and my opponents in the prosecution will surely question how I managed to see in such a vast cavern as that with only one measly flashlight? The reason we could see was due to the radiating blue light that emanated from incredible deposits of crystals, which formed a makeshift path across the floor of the cavern. They provided enough illumination for us to see that which lay at the at the floor of the opposite wall in this awesome valley: a series of hundreds of strange caves dug into the walls. More light glew from within each, revealing strange humanoid figures that wandered between them, and the small group that now seemed to be advancing toward us!
'It's them, they're coming!' The professor exclaimed.
I turned my head to his in awe. 'Who are they? What the hell is this?!'
'It's them, its just as I feared,' he took a deep breath. 'It's the Ashakar, the mole people. They must have seen our light and noticed us.'
'Mole people?' I was a bit confused.
'Yes, the mole people. They've been plotting the destruction of humanity ever since we destroyed their underground homes drilling for oil. I've been on their trail for years, but I never imagined they would be so close as this! From here they could hollow out the earth beneath the city, causing it to collapse into a giant sinkhole!'
Strange shouts assaulted us as the mob grew closer. The language of the Ashakar was unlike anything I'd heard before; it's syllables and sounds were unearthly, and I think that no human could ever hope to reproduce them. I scrambled toward the hole in the wall, but the entrance was blocked by the emergence of a grotesque black and pink face. Its long muzzle was covered by a thin black fur with the exception of the tip of its nose, which was the color of a rat's tail. Its body was an abominable perversion of the humanoid form, with short, bulky arms ending in long clawed fingers. Standing on its stumpy legs each stood around four feet tall. The most pressing feature at that moment however was the primitive, carved stone dagger at my throat. I fell back beside the professor as the creatures closed in upon us with an almost militaristic precision.
We were trapped. The leader stepped forward, lifting the tip of his spear to the professor's chin. He said something in his strange language, something impossible for me to relate here with human letters. They chittered and chattered amongst themselves in what I think were exclamations of the same sort of bewilderment toward us as we had to them; that, and their laughing – or what I think was their laughing, for it was truly an awful, grating sound like the way a dog would laugh if it could – made it obvious they were mocking us. The professor was defiant however, he raised his hand and brushed the spear away and stood to face the Ashakari leader. I can only assume he was trying to salvage whatever sort of dignity he and I had left.
'What do you want with us?' He asked the head mole-man. In response the creature slapped him hard to the left of his nose with the butt of his spear, yelling a command. The professor was unfazed, and stood his ground. 'What do you want with us?' He repeated. Again the mole-man hit him and again the professor stood his ground. They repeated this twice more before a larger member of their party hit the back of the professor's knees hard with a club, forcing him down.
'I don't think they speak English,' I commented as the professor rubbed the large pink welt that the beating had formed on his cheek.
'No shit,' he replied. 'Just follow my lead and try not to show any kind of weakness. If you do they'll think you're a coward, and a coward is the absolute worst thing you can be to an Ashakar. They revile cowardice, even in their enemies.'
'How do you know so much about them?'
Before my companion could answer I was given a similar whack across the face, and thus began an hour where we sat in silence and gloom while our captors chatted amongst themselves once more; they must have been deciding what to do with us.
We were soon stood up and our hands were tied behind our backs with thick ropes made from vines. After a flurry of additional swift whacks of the spear we found ourselves marching down the side of the hill. The way down was treacherous, and both the professor and I slipped multiple times on the rocky slope. The mole-men, for their part, had almost no trouble, and comfortably progressed as if it were nothing. As we reached the base the ground got no better, and by that point I had a pebble stuck in my shoe that was trying its very best to drive me mad. We emerged into the valley and the ground once more became solid rock.
From this new vantage upon the floor I could see a much more complete version of our surroundings. The hill we'd emerged atop only made up one small section of the wall, and all around us stretched a vast dark nothingness; the light from the crystals didn't extend far horizontally beyond the region which we were in, and as we progressed across that path of dim light what struck me most was the vast echo created by the shoe-bound footsteps of the professor and myself; the steps of the mole-men, who wore nothing on their feet, generated no sound whatsoever. I realized that this acoustic advantage must have provided the moles their greatest defense, they made such little sound that the loud bumbles of intruders such as us provided them with a natural alarm system.
As we approached the caves a hundred curious pink noses stuck out from within, followed soon by the emergence of the same ugly heads and bodies we were already familiar with. Our little parade stopped as these new moles came out to examine the strange creatures their brethren had captured. After a few loud whoops and insults, the spearbutts told us it was time to move once again. The leader shouted and three of his burlier comrades ran to the wall, bracing themselves against the sides of a barely visible, twenty-foot high stone disc resting against it. They grunted, pushed and pulled; soon there was a great grinding sound and the disc began to roll slowly to the left, revealing brilliant rays of light that streamed in from a newly uncovered chamber beyond. The disc was a door, and that moment was when I first laid my eyes upon the strangest thing yet: a great city carved directly out of solid rock, a city that radiated with vibrant azure.
Ushering us inside, our captors tried their best to keep the rapidly gathering crowds off of us, and as we walked through the great city's main street I got a full view of the home of the Ashakar. I'll now take a moment to describe it to you, your honor, so that you'll be able to have a sense of our astonishment at the amazing ingenuity of this dangerous and imminent threat to humanity.
The cavern in which we now found ourselves was shaped in the form of a hollow, three-dimensional oval. Massive, haphazard blocks of towering stone structures rose from the gentle, downwards rolling slope of the cave floor. In the center a cylindrical platform rose from the depths of a dark and bottomless pit in the center of the bowl, connected to the rest of the cave by a bridge. Upon this stood a massive ziggurat, painted with a multitude of alien symbols, all in red. A massive blue crystal sat on the great plateau atop the temple, providing light to the entire city. This was, as we soon discovered, their temple, and it was to this we were being led.
'Impossible! Incredible!' The professor exclaimed, expressing verbally my exact feelings on the matter. Hundreds of sharp mole fingers pointed and coarse voices shouted terrible curses at us, but our captors managed to keep most of the mob at bay. Soon a shower of thrown stones of varying size assailed us from the windows and roofs we passed; a rather sharp one hit me in the side of the face, cutting a deep gash right above my right eyebrow. I put my hand to the wound to try and keep the blood out of my eye, something that becomes a messy process when being escorted at a reasonable pace through hostile territory. All I managed to do was smear the blood all over my face and hand, prompting the crowd to whoop with savage joy.
Soon we came to the edge of that vast bottomless expanse I described earlier. The sole bridge that crossed it was lined on both sides with crude statues shaped in the forms of their creators; each was painted red with long, threatening stripes from their heads down to their necks, clutching spears at their sides. Summerland and I were made to stop at the bridge's center while two groups were dispatched to bring forth heavy iron cages, which they set down before us like two hungry predators with maws gaping wide. The guards pushed us inside and locked the doors while yet another group pushed first me, than the professor toward a statue that was faced out into the darkness, spear held rigidly aloft out over the darkness below. From both the tip and hilt of his weapon dangled a pointed hook, and from the former of these my prison was hung. It swung back and forth when our handlers let go, and for one terrified moment I thought I might soon be careening downwards. It quickly came to an uncomfortable rest, however, and the professor was hung similarly from the hook at the spear's base. The crowd cheered once more and moved as a group toward the temple, leaving Summerland and I alone once more.
'You did well back there; not inciting them when that rock hit your face. Had you yelled it may have driven them into a particular type of awful bloodlust innate to their kind,' Professor Summerland said to me from his cage. I barely heard it, for I was far more concerned with the fact I was now dangling precariously above certain doom than listening to my cellmate. 'Had you riled them up any more I'm certain that mob would have torn us limb from limb.'
'What do you mean?' I replied once I was very sure that both my cage and attached hook were sturdy. 'And how do you know so much about these things?'
The professor let out a long, drawn out sigh, shifting his weight so he could sit more comfortably on the metal bars. 'I told you earlier, I've been researching the little bastards for years. They're responsible for dozens of terrible things that happen all over the world each year. Sinkholes, earthquakes, breaks in the sewer line; it's all them, any they want nothing less than the complete destruction of human society. No one wanted to believe me when I told them, they all said I was crazy; but that isn't what's important now, we need to stop them. This is by far the biggest group of them I've ever seen, and with that big cave we saw earlier they could easily sink the entire city above us! We need a solution, and fast, before they decide to sacrifice us to their blood god.'
'They have a blood god? Is that why they got so riled up when they cut my face?'
Summerland nodded and motioned toward the ziggurat. 'See that thing? They probably have an altar up there somewhere where they'll cut a big hole in us and let everything inside drain out. I'm still not exactly sure why, but I think it has something to do with their culture of brutality. You see, they're little more than barbarians, and their culture is based entirely on carnage and violence. To the Ashakar the biggest man is the one who can shed the most blood of their enemies, and right now they have no bigger foe than us humans. Their shaman is likely preparing things for the sacrifice right now. Look, they're gathering.'
Through the bars I looked toward the temple. Sure enough, a huge group of the mole-men were crossing the bridge behind us and congregating at the ziggurat's base. High above them stood a slightly taller mole dressed in a long white sheet. In his claws were clutched a sinister curved dagger, which he raised high up above his head again and again, prompting loud shouts of excited zeal from the crowd below. My heart sank, the terrifying mesoamerican display chilling my soul to its core.
'We may have one chance, however,' Summerland said. 'Their savage nature is also their greatest weakness, for with it comes a debilitating ambition that they can't control. If we can figure out a way to kill that shaman of theirs, it should create an impromptu succession crisis that could tear this city apart. You see, the Ashakar need a strong leader to keep them under control; without one they'll degenerate into infighting and civil war, and we can use that opportunity to escape. It's dangerous, but I'm afraid it's the only chance we have left.'
We sat in our cages discussing the finer details of our escape plan. Once we found some way to take out the shaman we'd have to do our best to get back into the city and find a tunnel up to the surface. The professor assured me that such an exit would exist, as the moles needed a way to scavenge food from the human world. Our deliberations were cut short however, and the guards soon came to collect us. We were unhooked and we were carried on shoulders across the rest of the bridge and up the stairs of the squatted temple where the cage doors were unlocked. From behind they pushed spearpoints through the bars, forcing us out onto the platform above the undulating mass of pink noses below, screaming to see our blood flow.
The shaman crept over to me and grabbed me roughly by the arm with his claws. He was a small, frail figure rocked by a repeating twitch. Emaciated with age, where his right eye should have been ran a deep, grotesque scar. His robe was ornately decorated, in blood, with the same symbols that ran down the ziggaurat's face. He held the dagger to my throat and whispered something unintelligible into my ear before dragging me with a strange strength up to his altar, which resembled a three-foot-high stone bed with a notch cut out of the pillow. I was pulled, despite all my valiant struggling, face-up onto this stone slab. The shaman held his dagger high aloft and recited a strange prayer, focusing his eye on my chest. I closed mine, thinking our hastily laid plan had failed before it even started, and that this was to be my end.
But I was wrong. All of a sudden the shaman was hit hard from his blind side, knocking the knife out of his hand. Summerland had his arms wrapped around the creature's waist and was pulling him with vigor toward the precipice of the temple plateau, which jutted out out over the dark pit below. The guards rushed after them with weapons held high and the rabble roared, but the duo were at the platform's end in an instant, leaving the professor cornered with sharp spears to his front and nothing to his back. He smiled and shifted his hold on the Ashakari leader, wrapping his arm around the creature's throat before looking at me one last time.
'Get ready to run kid, and remember to tell everyone you can about what you've seen down here; the world needs to know!'
With that he took one step backwards, disappearing with his writhing quarry over the edge. Immediately the worried shouts from the crowd stopped and a chilling silence descended over the entire city. No creature uttered a sound as they all looked at each other in amazement until one of the guards raised his spear high into the air, letting out a horrifying, resounding roar. And then all was chaos.
It appeared as if all sense of whatever sense of civilization the mole-men had in them evaporated in that moment. They all turned on each other, ripping and treating at the flesh of the nearest rival they could find. I slipped off the altar and rushed down the stairs. It seemed that the professor had been right, and the Ashakar were now more concerned with who their leader was than preventing my escape. I carefully zigzagged my way through the rancor at the temple base, dodging swinging swords and slicing claws. The floor became a sea of spilt blood that flowed and splashed around the feet of the combatants, providing their thirsty god with a much greater feast than they could have ever hoped to get from me. I made it through the crowd, over the bridge and back out into the city, only to find an equally intense battle raging in its streets.
The sounds of discord soon became a deafening crescendo of raw violence echoing throughout the cavern. Combat raged all around me as the dead piled up in doorways and arches. I witnessed it all in its primal horror, but none of the aggression ever directly turned upon me. Despite my best attempts at stealth I was sighted numerous by packs of roaming Ashakari during the conflict. They would take a momentary interest in me, approaching suddenly only to be quickly distracted by a the entrance of a new group of their own to slaughter. Thus I managed to find my way to make my way back toward the rolling door – which had somehow been opened during the chaos – and back out into the great chamber of echoes. Of course, by this time my clothes had become absolutely drenched in mole blood. As you will no doubt remember from the police report of my arrest that I had a significant amount of unidentified blood covering my hands and knees; this was a direct result of my escape from the caves – but I'm getting ahead of myself. My apologies.
Once I'd made it out of the city I found myself again in complete darkness. I sat down and caught my breath, and pondered how to proceed. Professor Summerland had said there must have been another exit to the surface somewhere. I determined that the best thing to do would be to walk along the entire circumference of the cavern, but I had no light, as the mole-men had seized it from us when we were captured. I solved this by reaching down and removing one of the glowing crystals from the rock floor, and with it in hand I made my survey of the walls. Ten minutes later I spotted another gentle slope upwards that led to a small tunnel in the walls of the cave. As I made my way the ceiling came closer and closer, and soon I had to kneel down and crawl on my hands and knees just to continue moving forward. It quickly became too small of a path for me to keep holding onto the crystal, and I was forced to drop it along the way. After some more frantic feeling into the dark, I began to smell something foul, and emerged from a pipe in the wall out into the sordid filth of a sewer. Off in the distance I saw light cascading down from a manhole cover. I waded through and ascended the ladder into the light, much to the surprise of the road crew working nearby. My strange appearance prompted them to call the police, and you know the rest from the reports.
This is my honest and desperate plea, your honor. The arresting officers and everyone I've met since refuse to believe my story, and hold me responsible for Summland's disappearance. I am not guilty of this awful crime. I promise upon my life that everything I've said in this letter is the truth, and would very much like it if someone at least humored me in this matter. The investigators wont even agree to go into the sewer to look for the tunnel's exit, and I fear that the Ashakar have managed to reorganize themselves, for the entrance I'd discovered had been completely filled in and destroyed! Please your honor, take me seriously. The mole-men are coming, and the entire city, if not the entire world is in danger from this horrible threat.