The Bone Tunnel
By Eric R Asher
There are dark places in the world, and some are best forgotten. As the year aged, exchanging the bright scorched greens of summer for the dying fall, August Rose wished the tale of the bone tunnel had not been passed down through her family.
But some things that should be forgotten do not wish to be forgotten.
August hunched over the table at her local coffee shop. It wasn’t as busy as the big chains, but she could have done without the cheery Christmas music already blaring overhead. It wasn’t too difficult to tune things out as she studied the looping scrawl in the old journal. She couldn’t deny the shadows moving at the edges of her vision, formless things that came in the night. Things her great uncle Reginald wrote about in that blasted journal, passing it down to her grandmother and father in turn.
She laid her glasses on the table and pinched the bridge of her nose. Most of the journal could have been posted by her youngest cousin on a food blog, but it changed in the last quarter of the pages. Then it turned into the ramblings of someone else, as if the journal hadn’t been completed by her uncle at all.
August pulled her black hair back to tighten her ponytail before picking up her glasses again. The coffee had long since gone cold, but even when warm its bitterness didn’t keep the chill from her bones. She turned the wrinkled page and shivered.
“Still there,” she whispered, staring at the photo tucked into the pages. August picked up the dry and cracked image with foxing on the corner. She wondered if it was a trick of the light, looking at the bricked-up tunnel. She must have studied that image a thousand times, but the face had never been there before. Or did she miss it?
She tucked the photo back into the spine of the journal and turned the page. A hundred things on those pages escaped her understanding, but those she could make out had set her on her path.
The date. Halloween. This very year. And the shadows.
August churned through the local healthcare system when the visions started, promises of help at every turn that became stronger and stronger prescriptions. Doctors called the shadows figments, hallucinations, obviously nothing real. It was when one of the doctors told her those same shadows—those visions that drove her to seek help—were likely a side effect of the drugs, she realized the hospitals had already failed her.
She’d wanted to believe her therapist. That those shadows were manifestations of the trauma she’d been through that year. Never had August experienced such loss. As if every day she learned of another friend, another family member, who’d passed on. But those visions followed her through most of her life, growing worse with age.
It was after her oldest cousin’s funeral that she’d come back to the journal. And the journal had new things to show her.
August finished her tepid drink and made her way out into the rainstorm now soaking the town. The pavement smoked as the cool rain crashed into it. The sky darkened as she crossed the parking lot, as if impatient for the hour to grow late.
Her grandmother’s car started without issue, rumbling to life as she guided it through the wet maze of headlights, driving toward the one place she hoped might have answers. The windshield wipers squeaked against the glass as a car swerved toward her.
August jerked the wheel to the side to avoid a collision, but when she looked back there was nothing there. She was the only one on the road, a blinking yellow streetlight the sole company for a mile.
She stared into those mirrors, waiting for the car to appear, for anything to appear, but nothing did. August’s chest tightened as she squeezed the steering wheel, barely holding back a scream of pure frustration.
Two deep breaths later, August started moving again, turning down a winding path long known for its haunted tales. The local kids had a million stories about the trees reaching across the road, forming a dense canopy overhead. But the truth of the place was far darker. Joggers had gone missing over the years in that place, and more than one person was imprisoned for the crimes.
The end of that dark road waited near a bluff. And before it stood the bone tunnel. August pulled off to the side of the road, a small picnic area looking over the nearby river briefly revealed itself in a flash of lightning.
August held her umbrella up against the rain and started forward. There wasn’t much to see in the bone tunnel. The city walled it off decades before, but she needed to see it with her own eyes. Had to make sure.
She clutched the journal under one arm as she raised the flashlight on her phone, turning the shadows into something else as they melted away with each sweep of the beam.
But the shadows at the edge of her vision didn’t leave. Didn’t look away from her. No matter how hard she tried to focus on them, they always moved just out of sight.
“You’re losing your damn mind, August,” she muttered to herself.
“No. You haven’t lost your mind, August Rose.”
August screamed at the sudden voice sounding just behind her. She spun to face it, her flashlight shaking under the umbrella, but no one waited there. Nothing but darkness.
A series of noises like twigs breaking echoed out around her, and she knew it was coming from the tunnel itself. August turned, raising her light to reveal what waited in the bricked-up tunnel, only the bricks were no longer there. Instead, a long darkness loomed, something flickering inside like dim fireflies.
August steeled herself and walked toward the bone tunnel. She only hesitated for a moment when she crossed inside, not sparing a glance backward for what she was leaving behind.
“Who are you?” she asked as the shadows closed in around her.
Ethereal whispers answered. “We are what came from the pact.”
August’s steps slowed. She remembered the passage from the journal as though she could read it in that moment. Her uncle’s mad writings had called them infernal beings.
“Are you demons?”
“Some would label us as such, but we are not what you think. We are traders, young Rose. And our bargains cannot be broken.”
“I haven’t traded you anything.”
August recoiled when a face coalesced in the mists along the wall. She stared into the face from the photograph.
“Reginald did, and our word is our bond. You live beneath the curse, August Rose. A curse that will follow your family for all time, twisting as the years grow long until those born to your descendants are born into nothing but the madness you seek to escape.”
August smiled, and the demon tilted its head, studying her expression.
She turned through the pages of the journal. To the last of them, where her great uncle Reginald had scrawled an apology, and a ritual. She slid a hat pin from the edge of the binding, a simple thing but for the ruby skull mounted on its head. It hurt pricking her thumb, and the blood welled.
“You would pay the price, child?” the spirit asked.
“For my family? Yes.” August pressed her thumb onto the page of the aged journal. Dim light traced the pattern of her thumbprint, and for the briefest moment she could see clearly inside that tunnel. See the endless line of demons, or spirits, or whatever madness they were. Most looked human until they moved into her periphery, then they became something else. Movements out of sync, stuttering corpses and huge leviathans swimming through a sea of carnage. As quick as it came, the vision left. Only the face from the photograph remained.
“A bargain is a bargain,” the spirit said. “Your mind will decay, child, but we will not follow your blood through the ages.”
“Then it’s done. Leave us alone.”
The misty face smiled. “There are always those willing to pay the price.”
Light blinded her, and August Rose woke screaming in the pouring rain and darkness. The shadows would never leave her vision again, she knew, but her family would be protected, no matter how far she slipped away from herself. Everything had its price.
Today’s contest / giveaway is for winner’s choice of ebook from Eric’s catalog! (And yes, you could even choose a box set like the one pictured, books 1-8 of the Vesik series!)
For a chance to win, follow Eric on either his Facebook page, or his BookBub page. After you follow, comment “done” here so we can be sure to include you in the random drawing. If you already follow Eric on one or both places, comment “already following” for your entry.
Contest starts today. Winner will be chosen randomly and announced in our wrap up blog post on November 1st.
Check out the Kick-off post HERE to see the full list of authors participating in our 2022 Halloween Flash Fiction Blog Event. Links will be added to the main post each day when that author’s story goes live. Each post will include the inspiration image from a DeviantArt creator, the story, and the contest/giveaway info.