Saturday, September 28, 2013

Halloween Stories: Part XIII

We received a lot of stories for our Halloween Hunt Writing Contest, and from September 16th we're publishing one each day until October 6th - when the Winner's story opens as a hunt!

Read them all and stay curious.. whose story got turned into the hunt?

The stories released are unedited and pasted as submitted to us.
- Kiana -

Today's story is by Poedragonfly and it's called

The Devouring Worm
The Well of Secrets

[Premise: a writer investigates a derelict prison island of men gone mad]

Paul Henreid, a writer, arrives on the supply ferry at an island prison’s derelict dock. He is here to do a story on the strange circumstances surrounding the prison, and the island it sits on. Though no new prisoners have been sent there for many years, the worse of the worst remain, and it is rumored that they are no longer fully men.

Paul steps out from the boat onto the decrepit dock, and he sees an unkempt man in dirty overalls scuttling up. Paul says hello, but the man only glances at him sidewise as he begins to offload the crates of rum the ferry was carrying.

“Don’t worry ‘bout Ned,” says the ferry captain. “He don’t talk much, just drink.”

“Which way is the prison?” Paul asks the captain. The captain points up to the apex of the island.

Paul’s eyes follow the angle of the man’s finger. The island is an eruption protruding out of the skin of the ocean, and the prison sits on top of the highest point. Row upon row of steps cut rough-hewn out of rock lead from the small settlement around the dock below up to the prison complex itself.

“I guess I shouldn’t have expected someone to greet me,” Paul says.

“No, I suppose no one will,” the captain says, as he shoulders bags of onions onto the dock. “No one meets me. I just leave the goods and take the mail. My check is always in the bag, like magic.”

“I don’t know when I’ll be going back,” Paul says.

“I make my runs out here twice a week, like I told you,” the captain says. “I expect a few days out here will be plenty enough for you. Look for my boat about noon-time on Wednesday, or you’ll have to wait till next Sunday. No one else comes out this way.”

“There aren’t any other boats on the island? You would think the prison had kept some transport.” Paul says.

The captain points to the wreckage visible next to the dock. “That’s the only boat left,” he says with a wry grin. “You’d think the prison would do a lot of things.”

Paul shrugs on his duffle bag, and walks up the dock to the island, following the scurrying figure of Ned with his eyes. Ned must feel he is being watched, as he turns to look at Paul, then suddenly darts into one of the alleys between shacks and disappears, carrying two crates of rum precariously balanced on one another.

Paul finds himself in a peculiar town square, with a strange glass case set in the middle. Inside the case is an electric chair. Why an electric chair should be the centerpiece of a town square, he has no clue, but the idea is unsettling. It seems a disturbing message to send to town inhabitants. Paul saves the village to explore another time. He needs to speak to the warden of the prison at once. Paul casts around for the start of the staircase up to the prison. He must launch his investigation immediately.

At the top of the climb and out of breath, Paul arrives at the prison courtyard. All is quiet and seems deserted. The door to the prison is surprisingly open. Inside is an intake desk, but no one is there.

“Halloooooo,” calls Paul. His voice reverbs off the concrete walls. Paul’s footsteps echo alarmingly as he walks through the foyer and into the left wing, looking around him for signs of life as he goes.

A maze of empty rooms and corridors are all Paul sees. Suddenly he feels the eerie sensation of eyes on him, and the prickling of hair rising on the back of his neck. He slowly turns around. Standing behind him is a short man with deep set eyes in a guard’s uniform. Paul is shocked that this man has made no noise in approaching.

“May I assist you?” the guard asks in a lisping monotone.

Paul swallows hard. “My name is Paul Henreid, and I am here for a story on the prison. My editor has corresponded with the warden. Perhaps you were waiting for my arrival?”

“Let me take you to Warden Welles. Come this way.” The guard turns around and walks back through the foyer into the opposite wing. Paul follows him to another corridor. They come into a waiting room, and the guard gestures Paul to a seat in one of the chairs.

“Wait here please,” the guard says. He knocks on a door marked “O. Welles, Warden,” then enters. Paul hears muffled words exchanged. The guard comes out, closes the warden’s door, and leaves the area without a word or glance at Paul.

“How strange that man is,” thinks Paul. “Perhaps there is something wrong with him, and the warden will clarify the situation.”

Paul waits a bit longer, and begins to think he is forgotten. There is no sound from behind the warden’s door. Suddenly, another man comes into the waiting area and speaks to Paul.

“I am Assistant Warden Rains. Warden Welles is away at the moment. Please, come with me.”

Paul is confused and suspicious. Who was the guard talking to behind Warden Welles’ door?

Paul hefts his duffle to his shoulder and follows Rains around a corner. Rains leads Paul into an office marked H. Mankiewicz, Assistant Warden, where they both takes seats, Rains behind a desk, and Paul in a chair in front of it.

“Who is this Mankiewicz fellow?” Paul asks Rains.

“That was my predecessor,” Rains explains. “I have only been in this post for a week, you see. I would offer you a drink, but my dietary restrictions preclude me from any alcohol. I have only water, or, since there are no cows on the island, powdered milk. Would you care for either?”

Paul thinks powdered milk sounds horrible at any time, but especially after a long climb in the hot sun. “Water would be most refreshing, thank you.”

Rains pours Paul some water from a carafe and hands him a glass. Paul drinks, and finds it delicious.

“The water here is very delightful, is it not?” asks Rains. “It all comes from an underground spring. The one thing this blasted island is blessed with is its own supply of artesian water. Drinking pure water is the best thing one can do for one’s health, I believe, don’t you agree?”

“I agree it certainly tastes good,” says Paul. “But let me come to the point of my visit. My editor sent me here to write a story on the prison and its history—why it has been decommissioned, who is still incarcerated here and why, etcetera. I would also like a tour, and to meet some of the inmates. Can you arrange all this for me?”

“I believe I can, though I would need to go through Warden Welles first. I can’t think where he might be. Trustee Conseil couldn’t find him, and that man seems to know everything.”

Paul frowns, thinking surely that it was Warden Welles in his own office that the trustee had been speaking to. “About this trustee… he seems a strange man. Can you tell me more about him? I assumed he was a guard.”

“As I have only been here a week myself, I have very little knowledge of the man. But he is an inmate here, one of the few left. Warden Welles claims absolute faith in him. Conseil has keys to every door in the prison. I myself might not be so trusting, but considering that there is no way off the island unless one was able to swim more than sixty miles across the ocean strait to the mainland, I suppose he cannot get too far away.”

At this point, Paul considers Rains as his best chance at information. He thinks how to ease into Rains’ confidence. “I can see you are a fit man,” Paul says, “concerned with health and physical vigor. Is this a hobby of yours, or something more?”

Rains smiles. “It is something more than a hobby, as you may have guessed. I was raised with religious beliefs that include dietary observances, and a commitment to physical excellence. I believe it is those qualities that earned me this position, after the misfortune of Mankiewicz’s tenure. In only the week I have been here, I have managed to change the diet of the remaining inmates, institute a fitness regimen, and establish new cleanliness routines. And instead of movie nights, as Mankiewicz was so fond of, I read to the men from improving works, to help redeem their minds from the darkness. Stories and false fictions like films only serve to propagate dementia, don’t you think?”

“I am a journalist, sir, and I believe in facts,” Paul says, hoping that will suffice. “You speak of Mankiewicz’s ‘misfortune.’ Would you elaborate?”

“I am not sure how much I should say. Warden Welles should be the one to speak more on that. But it is misfortunate that he died so suddenly, and so mysteriously. He was sitting in this very office not two weeks ago. I myself attended his burial in the churchyard at the far end of the island. I was hired very suddenly, you see, and was here in place before the man had even grown cold.”

“A mysterious death?” Paul asks. “How so?”

“He fell from one of the watch towers. A terrible accident. Mysterious, because it was not one of his duties to ascend the watch towers. The prison no longer mans them, in any case.”

“Well, as I must speak with Warden Welles, can you tell me when I can interview him? It seems I must be on the island for several days, whether the story takes that long or not, but surely I can chat with the man today, for a few minutes at least,” Paul says.

Rains looks down at his lap. “I will send Conseil to you with a message when that is possible. The warden—he is, well, often moody, and a bit over-fond of his spirits. I hope to change that by example.

“There is a rooming house down in the town by the water tower. I will walk you out and point out the way. Conseil will find you there and let you know when you can meet with the warden. Until that time, tour the island. Don’t be put off by the townspeople. Remember this is a prison island, and the town is a support for the prison. The town isn’t a vacation resort, and the townsfolk aren’t on holiday.”

Paul grabs his duffle once again, and follows Rains down the empty corridors out to the prison foyer. Rains walks Paul to the courtyard straddling a cliff overlooking the town. Rains points almost directly below them, to a water tower.

“The big building just to the left of the water tower is the rooming house. As you might imagine, it doesn’t see much use, and it is rundown, to say the least. The proprietor owns several other businesses in town, so he might not be in at the moment. Just leave your things with a note. He’ll be back by dark. Everyone is home by dark, here.”

“Thank you for your time,” Paul says, as the men shake hands. “I will see you again soon.”

“Oh, one more thing,” Rains calls out as Paul begins to descend the steps. “Don’t attempt to enter the mine. It’s not safe.”

“What mine?” Paul asks.

“The prison used to mine ore to support itself. That ended in the last decade or so, when the mine became unstable. It is very dangerous to enter. Please, stay well away from the entrance.”

“Will do. Thank you,” says Paul, as he begins his descent.

Paul dodges spits of rain all the way down the steps. At the bottom he notices a watch tower to his left, and has an idea. Dropping his duffle at the entrance, Paul goes into the tower and climbs the stairs to the top. He finds an old pair of binoculars in a case attached to the wall, and picks them up. Adjusting the magnification, he looks around the island.

He sees the dock where the ferry tied up earlier, now deserted except for a few crates still left for pick-up. Panning right, he finds the strange square where the electric chair stands. To the right of that is a massive fountain shaped like the Grim Reaper. Again, a horrific choice for a town landmark. Paul wonders what the point of such a reminder is, and who had the power to make such a decision reality. Beyond the fountain is a clock tower, and surrounding all that, the various stores and shops of a small town. Panning to his left, Paul sees the lighthouse, and makes a mental note to check if anyone still mans it. To the left of the lighthouse, the terrain turns rocky.

A path runs between the plateau supporting the prison and a hill that slopes down to the sea. Looking closer, Paul is surprised to find that this path runs to an old mine cut out from under the plateau. A narrow gauge train track runs from inside the mine to the sea. Indeed, it seems as if the sea has swallowed up the end of the line itself. This is the abandoned mine Rains had warned Paul about. Though he has no desire to enter, he does want to examine the entrance more closely. There might be useful information to discover.

The path does not end at the mine, however. Paul can see that it continues beyond, though he cannot see around the bend where it goes. Paul decides he should follow the path wherever it leads.

Before he leaves the watch tower, Paul swings his binoculars back to the town. He looks for the path to the rooming house, where he can check his duffle, before beginning his trek down the mine path. To his disbelief, he sees a man making off with his duffle bag down the maze of paths through the town towards the clock tower, and he recognizes the shape and posture of the man as Ned!

Paul stows the binoculars, dashes down the stairs and out the door, making after Ned. The town is a gray maze of cobbled paths and alleys, and the spitting rain has made them slick. Bolting across the square, Paul orients himself by the clock tower. He catches sight of the back of Ned, hurrying off through the town.

Paul breaks into a sprint, and promptly slips on the wet cobbles, twisting his right ankle. He goes down hard, banging his hip. Groaning a bit, he is slow to get up. Someone comes out of a shop and stands over him.

“You fell so hard I heard the crack inside my pub,” says a woman’s voice. A hand extends towards Paul. “Come on in. Let me fix you up.”

Paul struggles to his feet and lets the woman help him inside to a corner booth. The place is dark, but he can smell stale beer, old food, and cigarette smoke. The suddenness of his fall makes him feel disoriented. The woman begins pressing on his legs and ankles until she feels him wince.

“Ah, there’s the culprit. We’ll have to get Ned here to look at that ankle. Might be a sprain.” She pulls a chair over and props the offending foot on it. “In the meantime, how about a cold beer?”

“Love one,” Paul says. “Ned?” Paul asks the woman as she pulls a beer from the tap. “That’s who I was chasing. He took my bag.”

“Ned’s a doctor. Or was.” The woman brings Paul a beer in a frosty mug. She seated herself across from Paul. “My name’s Gloria. You must be the reporter. I heard about you from Captain Ev.”

“The ferry captain,” Paul finishes. He sucks down the beer gratefully. A few more of these would fix him right up. Remembering his manners, Paul sticks out his hand and says, “I’m Paul. Nice to meet you, Gloria.”

Gloria smiles. She is a woman past middle age, comfortable looking but once lovely, and one Paul instantly trusts—one who would feed you, kiss your boo-boos, iron your clothes, or talk some sense into you. Paul wonders what a woman like her is doing on this blasted island.

Instead he asks, “So Ned is a doctor? Then why take off with my duffle bag?”

Gloria sighs and looks off. “Ned is . . . Well, he lost his wife. And his license. And then his job. Which came first, doesn’t matter; they were all about the same time. He’s a broken man, for sure.” Gloria pauses.

“He’s got some crazy notions, which you won’t stick around long enough to hear from him. He’s got to get to trust you to share those, and that takes time. But everybody knows he takes things. Anything that is left lying around outside. We’ve learned to keep our things inside our homes and shops, ‘else it will wind up in one of Ned’s rat piles. I figure he’s had so much taken from him, he feels empty, and fills his days that way. Well, that and drinking.”

Paul chugs the rest of his beer. “I’ll get you another,” Gloria says.

“What should I do about my duffle, Gloria? I need my clothes and my notebooks.”

She brings another mug and stands, thinking. “I have a good idea where he is, and I want him to look at your ankle, anyway. Stay here, and I’ll go get him, and your bag.”

“What about your business?”

“What business? There’s no business here until dinner time. Speaking of, you hungry?”

Paul admits he is, since breakfast was much earlier this day, and noon came and went hours ago. Gloria spoons up some of the stew bubbling in the back kitchen and sets it before him. A dark broth with cabbage and some beef-like meat floating in it, with black bread. He might not have ordered it in a restaurant, but here it looked delicious.

“Not anything fancy, but we live out of cans on this island. Nothing grows, here.” Another question to follow up on later, Paul thinks.

“I’ll run out to the folly where Ned holes up. I saw him go that way; I’m sure he’s there. I’ll bring him back—you just stay here and wait,” Gloria says.

Paul finishes his stew and leans his head back on the padded bench, closing his eyes. The pain in his hip and ankle has subsided when he suddenly feels a presence near him.

He opens his eyes to see Conseil standing over him, and jumps. “Damn you, don’t you ever make any noise?” he blurts.

“I am sorry if I startled you,” the man says with his monotonous lisp, his eyes looking straight ahead and not connecting with Paul’s. “I have a message for you from Warden Welles. You were not at the rooming house. I had to search for you. You were not at the rooming house.”

“No, I was not at the rooming house,” Paul repeats, bewildered by the man’s manner. “I haven’t gotten there yet. Someone stole my bag, then I fell down. A doctor is coming to look at my ankle.”

“I had to search for you, and I found you here. I have a message for you from Warden Welles,” Conseil recaps.

Paul sighs. “What is the message?”

“The message from Warden Welles is that he will see you.”

“Yes?” says Paul. “And when will the warden see me?”

“Warden Welles will see you tomorrow at nine, after breakfast.” And with his business done, Conseil turns and walks out of the shop.

That man is not all there, thinks Paul.

With this bit of information, Paul tries to form some plans. He lowers his foot to the floor and tests his weight on it. Pain flashes up his leg, and Paul cries out. Disappointed and a bit ashamed, Paul wonders if he will be able to visit the mine today at all. And however will he make the climb up the stairs to the prison tomorrow at nine?

Gloria enters, carrying Paul’s duffle bag, with Ned tagging along behind like a guilty schoolboy. “Ned, here’s the man I want you to look at. He fell down,” Gloria says loudly. Ned comes forward and bends down to examine Paul. Behind Ned’s back, Gloria hides the duffle bag behind a booth and mouths to Paul, “Don’t mention the duffle.”

Paul nods slightly to Gloria. “Hello Ned,” he says, softly. “My name is Paul.” Ned stays silent as he takes off Paul’s shoe, and presses all over Paul’s foot and leg. Paul is determined to keep silent as well during his examination.

Finished, Ned stands. “No swelling,” he says. “Stand up,” Ned instructs, and Paul stands, still favoring his right ankle, but able to keep some weight on it. “I don’t think there is a break. Bind it up tight, try to keep weight off it.” Ned turns to leave.

“Hold on, Ned,” says Gloria, “I think I have to pay you for your services. Sit down and let me get you something.”

“I don’t need anything,” Ned mumbles.

“Some food? A beer?” Gloria asks.

Ned allows that a beer might be fine. He sits down awkwardly at the opposite end of the room from Paul. Gloria comes out from the kitchen with a bowl of the same stew for Ned, and pulls a beer for him also.

As she begins to bind Pauls’ ankle with a bandage, she says, “Paul here is writing a story about the prison. We all have stories about the prison, don’t we, Ned?” Ned grunts into his beer.

“My husband and I came here together many years ago. He was a geologist in charge of the mine. You remember that, right Ned?” Ned stops drinking and looks out of the window.

“The prison was full then, and the mine was running twenty-four hours a day. My husband was in charge of production and answered only to Warden Murnau. Murnau gave Burt complete autonomy when it came to supplies or manpower. Burt said the island rock was rich with pockets of gemstones. The town was busy, then. Burt even gave me jewelry with stones from the mine. That’s all that’s left, now. My jewelry”

“What happened to your husband, Gloria?” Paul asks.

“Sad to say he was killed in there. Some accident. He never came out. It happened some years ago, but there was just no reason for me to ever leave the island.”

Ned mumbles something again, and swigs down the rest of his beer.

“What did you say, Ned?” Gloria asks.

“You know what I said!” Ned shouts. “It’s that damned worm that ate him!”

“Ned, I didn’t mean to start you up. I’m sorry.” Gloria pulls him another beer and pats him back down into his seat. Ned takes a swig but starts crying softly into his mug. Gloria comes back over to Paul. “You see what I was talking about,” Gloria whispers. “He thinks there’s a monster worm that lives in the mine. Poor man.”

“Why does he think that?” Ned whispers back.

Gloria looks at him curiously. “There is no reason in craziness,” she says in a soft voice. “He was the doctor in the mine at the time, and the assistant doctor up at the prison. He saw many a man die, horribly. He declared men dead at executions, and at many a gruesome accident. Work like that will break you, if you aren’t broken to begin with.” Gloria secures Paul’s bandage with tape. “There, that should hold you together. Now, if you don’t mind me asking, what are your plans, Mr. Reporter?”

Paul puts his shoe back on. “I meant to visit the mine, actually, if I can walk that far on this. Or I may just go on to the rooming house for the night. I have an appointment with the warden in the morning.”

“If you make it to the mine, you might as well go on to the church. It’s a bit farther on, but Father Ryan’s been here for 20 years or more. He’s worth talking to as well, if it’s history of the island you want,” Gloria says. “But let an old woman give you some advice, and please take it. Don’t go today. Go to the rooming house and stay inside. Daylight is burning, and the mist will be coming in soon. No one goes about in the mist. Men get lost in the mist.”

“Men get lost in the mist,” Ned echoes, staring out the window.

Paul tries standing up on both legs. “Gloria, Ned, I thank you sincerely for what you’ve both done for me.” With his ankle secured, Paul feels he can put his weight on it without further injury. He leans closer to Gloria. “Especially you, Gloria.”

Gloria smiles. “It was my pleasure, young man.”

“I will come say goodbye before I leave the island,” Paul says, as he scoops up his duffle and leaves the pub.

Sighting the water tower only a few blocks over, Paul heads toward it. The rooming house is a two-story wooden framed building, gray and sad looking. He enters, and finds a kitchen to the right, and a public gathering space to the left. A shirtless man in shorts is lounging on a shapeless couch, smoking.

“Hello,” Paul says. “Is the proprietor in?”

“Uh, the pro-pri-uh-tor?” asks the man. “What do you mean?”

“Is the fellow who runs the place in? The owner?”

“You mean the director? He’s not awake yet. I’m the only one up. I wake up early. Want some coffee? It’s in the kitchen.”

Paul is thrown by this. It’s late in the afternoon. “I mean the man who owns the rooming house. I want to rent a room for the night.”

“Oh. Sid. You mean Sid. He’s the producer. I remember he said he owned the place. He’s a fat guy. A really, really fat guy. He’s not here. He doesn’t live here. He comes to take us to the studio before it gets dark. He’ll be here before dark, man”

“Uh, thanks, man,” Paul says. He wonders if he really wants to leave his duffle here, or even spend the night. But he has no valuables in his duffle other than clothes, so not much to lose. He takes a notebook out of the bag and scribbles his name and a note to the owner on a page. Tearing the page out and leaving it on top of the duffle, he says, “Would you make sure Sid gets my message here? And takes care of my bag? Please, Mister?”

“Oh, sure, man. I can do that, no problem. Take it easy, man”

Paul senses a whole other story here, but whether it has to do with his prison piece or not, he doesn’t know yet. He has other leads to follow first. Paul leaves the rooming house and heads toward the watch tower, where he knows he can find the path to the mine.

Arriving after a short walk, Paul finds rusted freight cars lying where they have fallen off their track. The track itself seems a tongue that sticks out of the mouth of the mine, licking at the sea. The entrance to the mine is closed, though Paul has no interest in exploring inside. Gloria had told him the prison mined ore containing gemstones until the mine was declared unstable. Ned had a crazier idea for the closing of the mine. Paul wonders what Father Ryan has to add about the history of mining on the island.

By the time Paul reaches the church around the bend, his ankle has begun to swell. The binding is tight and his ankle is throbbing. He limps into the chapel and sinks into a pew. The light from the multi-paned windows is dim, but the glow from thirty or so candles in red glass holders make the interior pulse like the inside of some living thing. All is quiet, and Paul does not notice the priest kneeling before the altar at first.

“Welcome to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I am Father Ryan.” The priest appears standing over Paul and offers his hand.

“Paul Henreid. I’m writing a story on the prison. I’m told you’ve been on the island a long time, and could help me with the history of the place.” Paul props his ankle up on the pew and begins to unwrap the bindings.

“What happened to your ankle?” Father Ryan asks.

“Oh, just a fall. Ned already checked it out. The walk out here aggravated it, is all.”

“Ned was a fine doctor in his day,” Ryan says. “Why don’t I help you over to the rectory where you can rest it more comfortably? We can have a drink and a chat, as well.”

Father Ryan is a rugged looking man, tall and tough, more like a gunman or a roustabout than a cleric. Paul comments on this while Ryan supports him on their short walk past the graveyard to the rectory.

“Well I wasn’t born a priest,” says Ryan, as he guides Paul to a seat in the front parlor of the priest’s living quarters. The priest props Paul’s ankle up on an ottoman. “My father was an Army man, and a boxer. I played football in college before I went to seminary. Dad never was happy about my career choice. It was probably what killed him.” Ryan gives Paul a wry smile as he opens a bottle of bourbon, and pours out two shot glasses’ worth. “God save us all,” he says, raising his glass.

“Got any water for this?” Paul asks.

Ryan downs his shot, and gives Paul a look. “Ned sounds crazy, but you should really listen to him. He’s right about the water here. It’s not safe to drink. Better to stay drunk on booze than drink the foul worm-ridden stuff on this island. He suspected for years that worm eggs in the well water had something to do with the brain madness endemic at the prison, and lost his job for saying so. God has a cruel sense of humor that Ned went mad for other reasons.”

Paul thinks back to the cool glass he enjoyed in Rains’ office earlier that day. He gulps his bourbon down quickly. “Assistant Warden Rains is very enthusiastic about imbibing fresh water. He gave me some this morning,” Paul says with a sick face.

“Don’t drink any more, get de-wormed when you get back to the mainland, and I think you’ll be safe. But I don’t know that anyone can talk any sense into the management up at the prison. Warden Welles has heard and seen it all, and has his own reasons, whatever they are, for his choices.” Ryan shakes his head. “I just bury the dead, and try to keep my own soul from Hell. I can’t save the poor bastards up there.”

Father Ryan pours another couple of shots. “It’s turning towards dark, Paul. The mist will be rolling in soon. I’d be happier if you’d stay the night here, rather than get caught wandering back to town. I plan to be up all night anyway, keeping watch.”

Paul’s ankle is feeling better since the shots of bourbon have been working on it, but he can see the swelling has not gone down much. Staying put and drinking some more seems a good choice—certainly better than going back to the strangeness at the rooming house. “Keeping watch for what, Father?”

Father Ryan moves to the window facing the graveyard, and looks out through the curtain. “We buried Herman Mankiewicz three days ago. I have watched every night since then, and nothing has come for him. I think it will tonight. If it does, I’m ready.” Ryan looks down at the table in front of the window. Paul notices for the first time a pair of pistols lying there.

Paul wonders who is crazier, Father Ryan, or Ned? Or has he fallen into a wormhole himself? “OK, Ryan, just what is going on here? Worm eggs in the water, madness at the prison, monsters stalking graveyards—is this a plot to scare away the reporter? What are you insinuating, or hiding?”

Ryan turns and faces Paul. “I have lived and ministered on this island for almost thirty years. As a young man, I was up at the prison every day, celebrating mass and talking to the inmates. I can’t say I ever knew Warden Murneau well; I don’t think anyone knew him well, except maybe Dr. Schreck. But Schreck was a shadow figure. Maybe he didn’t really exist. No one ever saw him, only carried out his orders. I doubt even Ned saw Schreck, and he worked under him.

“What I am trying to say is that there were some evil things going on up there in that prison, evil doings of men covered up in secret. Ned had a peek beneath the veil, and it broke him. But what is worse is the secret evil that was awakened underneath the island, the thing that lives in the waters of the mine. That is what I watch for tonight.”

Paul waves away Ryan’s offer of another shot. “You’re asking me to believe in monsters? Contaminated well water, ok, that’s possible; water that carries brain parasites, slightly less probable, yet still believable; it would explain the stories of widespread dementia in the inmates and the reason for the decommission of the prison. But a monster? You are a man of God, and you believe in monsters?”

“I believe in God, and I believe in what I’ve seen,” Ryan says. “I take God by faith, but this thing . . . I have seen it with my own eyes. If you stay with me tonight, you will too.

“It will come for Mankiewicz as it came for every man and woman buried in that graveyard. The mist foretells its coming. It’s the breath of the worm exuding out of the ground. You feel the earth tremble as the worm slips beneath the soil from out of the mine, and under the cemetery. The mouth of the worm rises up and engulfs the graves of the newly buried. It crunches their bodies in a gruesome solo of teeth on bone. It pulls what remains down with it into its unholy hole of Hell. What its demon seed can’t kill from inside, the mother worm destroys entire from without. In either case, I can’t believe any of those poor souls will find solace in Heaven.”

[Synopsis of Remaining Story: Paul witnesses what Father Ryan has describes. The next morning he confronts Warden Welles with the information he has learned. Warden Welles denies everything, then concedes that Murnau, now dead, had opened the mine to make money with inmate labor. Paul insists on a tour of the prison. Welles takes Paul down to the intake unit, and shows him the process. Paul is cataloged as an inmate. Conseil takes Paul to a cell and locks him in. Later, Dr. Schreck, his face white and almost featureless as a worm, arrives, eager to transfer Paul to his private experimental lab. Will Paul escape to kill himself before he loses his humanity?]

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