He slowly opened his eyes, but it made no difference. He closed them, rubbed them and tried again, but there was still no difference, it was pitch black, not the faintest glimmer of light.
“Am I blind?” He thought.
There was the sound of water slowly dripping and as he listened it started to sound like stealthy approaching footsteps. He listened carefully, was that voices or a small stream falling through boulders?
The man lay where he was not daring to move. Where was he, what was this place? Then he noticed the smell, it was foul and every breath tasted of rotting flesh.
The Creature could change its shape and during the day it posed as the local squire but at night it reverted to its true form. How long it was here, none knew.
Peter Ilbert was Squire Richard Cabell’s game keeper just like his father had been before him. Peter loved life; he had a good job, a beautiful wife and two fine children, William and Mary.
During the day Peter could be found working in the forest checking on the Squire's deer or down at the burrows by the river catching rabbits and salmon for the Squire's kitchen.
One day the Dean visited Brook Manor to visit with the Squire. The Dean was responsible for several parishes in the area, including the church at Buckfastleigh. He had been a friend of the Squire for many years and they shared many interests. As he was leaving he saw Peter coming up the driveway with a brace of rabbits.
“Good morning Peter” he said.
“Mornin’ Dean” Peter replied.
“Peter, could you come up to Holy Trinity Church and examine, what I suspect is some kind of animal damage, in the graveyard.”
They arranged to meet the following day and the Dean departed.
“Wonder what that be ‘bout?” thought Peter. “Probably load a fuss ‘bout nuffin’.”
It was a hot sunny afternoon on the next day when Peter met the Dean at the Church’s lych gate at the top of Buckfastleigh Hill. After he thanked him for coming the Dean took Peter to show him the damage. It seemed some animals had been digging around one of the graves close to the church. The grave was marked by a large flat stone that lay on the ground set in lush green grass. The name on the stone had long since worn away and only lichen remained to remember who lay there.
After examining the ground Peter said, "summin' have definitely been disturbin' the ground Dean. May be badgers diggin’ for worms. Corz could be summin' else, like rabbits diggin' maybe. I'll stop 'ere tonight en sees if'n anythin' shows up".
The Dean thanked him and they departed.
That night Peter packed two old blankets and some food into a bag. In his shed he found a couple of wooden planks and some rope. He tied everything together, lifted it onto his shoulder and set off. He walked down through Hembury Woods where he lived with his family in a cottage. On the way he past the remains of the old iron age Hembury Castle which was now just a ruin.
“Father always said must ‘ave been a king lived ‘ere once.” He thought to himself.
In the valley, as he left the forest behind, he crossed over North Wood Bridge which spanned The Holy Brook. The Squire had arranged for the bridge to be built and Peter had helped make it. Then proceeding uphill he walked past Furze’s Grave, Liney Cross, Round Cross, Church Cross and finally along Church Hill Lane to the church.
When Peter reached the church he climbed up into a big old oak tree on the south side of the graveyard. He hid in the branches and made a comfortable perch with the planks of wood and rope, then wrapped himself in the old blankets. It was a cool, clear night and Peter could see The North Star shining brightly above the church which was silhouetted against a backdrop of millions of stars.
After a few hours with nothing to keep him company but the hooting of owls and the rustle of the wind in the trees, Peter fell asleep. About the middle of the night he awoke feeling cold and found one of his blankets had slipped off. He wrapped it around himself and yawned.
"Bleedin’ badgers," he thought. "Waste of bloomin’ time this is".
He was just falling asleep again when he heard the clink and squeak of The Lych Gate being opened.
"I know badgers are clever en’ all, but I ain't never known 'em t'open gates!"
Peter strained his eyes and tried to see what was moving amongst the graves. He started to wish he was back at home tucked up in bed, warm and safe.
"Must be 'maginin' things," he thought.
Then he heard it, a low grinding noise like the sound of a large rock being slowly dragged over a stone floor. It was too dark to see what had made the noise so Peter decided to climb down and get a bit closer to the source of the sound. He crept across the graveyard, crawling between the ancient grave stones. Eventually he reached the side of the church and hid where it was very dark; from here he thought he should get a better view of any intruders.
After an hour nothing had happened and there was the slightest glimmer in the east of an approaching dawn.
Then he saw it, a black form rising from the ground accompanied by the same low rumbling sound. Except this time it was much louder and he could see a massive creature step up from under the ground. It was sniffing the air with its broad snout and then a long tongue flicked out as if tasting the air.
Peter froze, what was this thing and where had it come from. He was sure it could smell or was it taste him in the air. The graveyard suddenly seemed very quiet; there was absolutely no sound, except for Peter's heart which was pounding like it was trying to bash its way out of his chest.
The creature turned and looked directly at him. "Lord! It's sin me, gonna 'ave to run fer it!"
Before Peter could move the creature started to shrink and suddenly standing there was the Squire, wearing a black cape and riding clothes. The Squire spun around and marched towards the gate.
Peter was stunned, what had he just seen, his master the Squire a monster, what was happening! He sat there unmoving while the sky lightened and the sun slowly rose through the trees. Eventually he got up and walked over to where the thing had risen from the ground.
Everything looked as it had the night before, a grave stone with some disturbance around its edges. This time it did not look like badger damage though, it looked like the ground had been disturbed by the lifting of the grave stone. Is that what he had seen? His master the Squire rising from this grave as a hideous creature and then change into a human form? It must have been a dream.
Over the next few days Peter kept thinking of the night in the graveyard, but he could make no sense of it. After a week he decided he would have to return and this time with a large iron bar!
That night, long after even the most dedicated drinker had left the local inn, Peter made his way to the church armed with the longest bar he could find. He wasn't sure what he was going to do or what he would find but he had to find out what was going on.
When Peter got to the church the graveyard was again absolutely still, there was not a sound. The moon was shining and illuminating the graveyard in a ghostly white light. Peter started thinking of many much more pleasant things he could be doing.
“The squire may be in trouble,” he thought. “I ‘ave to get to the bottom of this.”
He opened the gate and slowly walked towards the grave that he and the Dean had examined only a week ago. It seemed much longer to Peter as time had dragged in the forest that week, it had seemed hot, oppressive and full of strange sounds. The Squire also had seemed different, he had not noticed it before but there was something very strange about him. He kept to himself, never going out and cook said he seemed to be off his food.
Peter looked down at the slab of rock that marked the grave. The ground around the rock looked the same as before, whatever had emerged on that night had not returned. Peter laid the bar on the ground and pushed the end under the stone and lifted. The slab rumbled sideways under the force to reveal a cavity. Using the bar he managed to push the slab far enough to allow access to a dark hole below. He climbed down until he was hanging by his finger tips, he could not feel the bottom. He decided he would need a rope and started to climb back, but at that moment the ground began to shake and there was bright flash of red light. His hand slipped and he fell!
There was a steady dripping sound echoing around in the darkness, it started to sound like the footsteps of some kind of flat footed creature, padding around in the blackness with large luminous eyes and webbed feet. Peter slowly opened his eyes, but it made no difference, it was pitch black and he couldn't see his hand in front of his face. He was lying on a rock floor and the dripping sound was all around him. He groped around for his flint and tinder; moments later he had lit a candle and looked around.
Peter appeared to be in an underground cavern. He had fallen down a narrow passage that sloped steeply down from the surface. He stood up and looked along the passage in front; it slopped slowly downward and then turned to the left. In all directions he could see small passages leading off, but they were all too small to enter. There were strange formations on all the rocks around.
“Looks like frozen water”. He thought.
He started walking down the larger passage in front and soon came to a junction. A passage went steeply down on the left and to the right a short passage ended at a large boulder. There was no way on past the boulder and from the other passage he could hear a strange hissing sound, echoing up from below. Neither way seemed very inviting, but he decided to explore downwards.
The passage dropped quickly and it became very hot and humid, sweat started to drip into his eyes and off the end of his nose. The strange noise was getting louder and now hissing and crackling. There was a sudden draft and his candle went out, he was plunged in total darkness again.
"Damn it!" Peter swore.
He started searching for his flint again, but his hands were shaking so much he dropped the candle.
He started frantically searching around in the dark for the candle, but as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see a very slight red glow coming from the passage in front.
Eventually he found the candle stub and started to move slowly forwards using his outstretched arms to guide himself along the passageway. It soon became much lighter and he could see where he was going, but as he turned a corner he was confronted by the strangest sight he had ever seen.
In front of him was a large chamber with a flat mud covered floor, there were strange foot prints everywhere, the like of which Peter had never seen before. On the far side of the chamber where the passage continued, the way was blocked by a shimmering red disc of light. It was flickering on and off and making an eerie crackling sound. On the ground in front of the light was a large round barrel shaped object. On the ground by his feet was red square stone slab. In the light he could see there was writing on it. There was nothing else in the chamber and no way on, so Peter decided to get the stone slab and leave. He suddenly had the feeling that he would not like to meet any strange monster down here and getting out now was probably a very good idea.
Some considerable time later and after a great deal of effort, Peter was back on the surface. The sun had risen, he was covered in mud, bruised all over and exhausted, but he had the strange stone slab. He couldn't read the writing, but he knew someone who might be able to, so he set off towards the vicarage.
Shortly after, Peter was sat in a pretty flower filled garden enjoying a cool drink of water, while the Dean looked at the stone slab and listened to his story. Peter was sure the Dean would think him crazy when he started, but he just sat and listened. When Peter finished his story the Dean sat silent for some time.
Eventually the Dean said, “Peter, do you know what this writing says?"
"No sir, I never learnt no letters".
"Well" said the Dean, "I cannot read it either, it appears to be written in another language.”
The Dean looked at the slab again and then at Peter. Then he continued, “If it was not for one thing, I would think you had spent too much time down at The Old Horse and Cart in the village and your brains had become addled".
"What's that sir?" Peter said.
"The Squire" said the Dean. "He has seemed uncommonly strange to me recently. In fact, I’d say for several months now. I want you to show me this cavern and this time I think we'll take a rope".
Peter and the Dean made their way to the church and after securing a rope around a nearby tree, descended into the darkness. At the bottom of the rope the Dean looked around in astonishment, he had never seen anything like this. The cavern was decorated in the most beautiful formations he had ever seen, but he didn’t have time to enjoy the spectacle and followed after Peter, who was moving off down the passageway. When they reached the junction the Dean stopped and examined the large boulder blocking the passageway to the right.
"Peter, do you think we could move this rock with your iron bar."
"Only one way of findin’ out" he replied.
Peter soon returned with the bar and set to work on the boulder. After several experimental attempts he managed to move the boulder a couple of inches. A draft of air blew out through the gap and Peter gasped, the air was foul.
The Dean started to wretch, "what’s that smell?" He asked.
"Smells like summin's dead in there, you sure you want me to shift this ‘ere boulder Dean?"
"We must see what is in there." replied the Dean.
Peter set to work and after a short time had moved the boulder enough so that they could crawl past. On the other side of the boulder they could stand. Peter and the Dean stood side by side and held their candles aloft peering into the gloom.
The smell was terrible, it was hard to breath. The floor was covered in what looked like white sticks which snapped and popped under their boots. Peter looked closer at the sticks and saw that they weren't sticks but bones, and they appeared to be moving. Then he saw that it wasn't the bones that were moving; the floor was covered in fat writhing maggots. He jumped back in disgust and could hear the sickening sound of their fat white bodies bursting under his boots.
Suddenly they heard another sound, a low moan from the far side of the chamber. The hair on the back of Peter's neck stood on end like a wire brush.
"Look!" shouted the Dean.
A dark shape detached itself from the wall and rose up from the ground. Peter grabbed his iron bar and stepped in front of the Dean.
"Peter", said a rasping voice.
Peter dropped his bar and ran towards the shape. "Squire!" he shouted.
The Squire was in a terrible state, he couldn't say how long he had been there or how he came to be there. The creature, he said, was from another world and had been sent to discover if this one was worthy of plunder. The Squire said he had discovered many things from the creature which he recorded in a journal, at night it would come here to feed and would boast about what was to come.
Peter could tell without being told what the creature fed upon, from the bones and clothes scattered about the chamber.
"We must leave" said the Dean. "What if it returns?"
"Yes" said the Squire. "But first we must destroy the gate."
"What gate?" asked the Dean.
"Nearby is a gateway to the creature's world" said the Squire. "The creature told me the invasion was soon to begin."
"I've seen it" said Peter. "It's down the passage outside this ‘ere chamber".
"Let's go!" said the Squire.
Before either could say another word the Squire had grabbed the iron bar, was through the gap and gone. Peter and the Dean followed as quickly as they could move. The Squire was ahead moving down the passage and was outlined by the red glow coming from the bottom chamber. When they entered the chamber the device was glowing and pulsing with a roaring noise that made the walls of the chamber vibrate.
"My God" exclaimed the Dean. "What is that?"
"The gateway!" shouted the Squire over the noise. "They are coming!"
"How can we destroy it?" asked Peter.
At that moment, from behind, they heard the sound of sharp claws scrapping against rock. They spun round and saw standing in the doorway was the creature, it had returned. It stepped into the chamber and as it did so, it stood up to it full height. It was over eight feet tall and hideous to look upon.
Peter drew his hunting knife from his belt and ran at the creature. The creature looked at him through glittering eyes and laughed, a terrible hissing sound full of evil. Before Peter could get near enough to use his knife the creature contemptuously swung one of its huge scaly arms and knocked Peter across the chamber where he crashed into the stone wall and slid to the floor.
The Squire hefted the iron bar and prepared to fight to the death. He was not afraid, long months in that terrible place had left him bereft of any fear and death or revenge was equally welcome.
The Dean rushed over to Peter, who lay on the floor groaning. He grabbed Peter's hunting knife and joined the Squire.
The creature started to move sideways, for its size it could move seemingly without any effort. Then suddenly the creature moved with lightening speed. The Squire swung the bar, but the creature was too quick. The Dean was thrown from his feet and knew no more.
Peter slowly came back to reality and thought he must be having a nightmare. The ground was shaking, everything was glowing red and then he saw them. The red light was full of hideous faces drooling with anticipation, they were getting bigger and bigger, they were coming! He must do something!
The Squire moved in front of the red light and started shouting, but Peter could not hear what he was saying. Then a shadow fell across him and he looked up to see the creature standing over him. Peter looked up, expecting to see death staring down at him, but he was looking up at the creature’s back, it hadn’t seen him. Where was his knife? Then he saw it, lying on the ground next to the crumpled form of the Dean, only a few feet away. The creature was moving again, back and forth. Peter knew it was playing for time, at any moment the faces in the red light would break through into this world.
He moved towards the knife sliding on his stomach, trying not to be seen or heard by the creature above him. Slowly he slid his fingers around the handle. This was it, now or never. Peter leapt to his feet; the creature sensed him and started to turn. Peter knew he had only one chance; he moved with a speed bourn of shear terror and slammed his knife up to the hilt into the side of the creature. The creature screamed in rage and grabbed Peter by the neck.
The Squire knew what the creature would do next. He had seen its feeding method many times. It always pulled off the head first and sucked out the brains before devouring the rest of the body. He didn’t hesitate and lifted the bar above his head and charged.
When the creature saw the Squire charge, it moved instinctively, it dropped Peter and swung its great horny arm upward and hit The Squire with all of its terrible strength. The Squire's chest and head took the full force of the blow. The iron bar swung down, bounced of the creature's massive arm and flew across the chamber.
Peter fell back and watched in detached fascination as it seemed that time slowed down. The bar tumbled end over end towards the red light and the approaching army of creatures. As the bar hit the light a massive explosion of red fire filled the chamber engulfing the creature and throwing Peter and the Squire back in opposite directions, then everything went black.
There was a glow of light and Peter found he was staring up into the face of the Dean.
"Peter, are you injured?"
"The Squire?" Peter asked.
"He's Dead" the Dean replied softly. "We must leave; the chamber is starting to collapse."
Peter slowly climbed to his feet, the chamber was shaking and rocks were starting to fall from the roof. There was no sign of the creature or the red disc of light. The chamber was filling with a choking dust and it was becoming difficult to breath.
Peter and the Dean lifted the Squire's broken body and ran for the passage. They struggled up the wet and slippery slope, tied the rope around the Squire’s chest and climbed up into the light. They pulled on the rope with all of their strength and eventually brought the Squire to the surface. They could hear the cave collapsing below and dust was blowing up and out of the entrance.
Even on the surface the ground was still shaking. The church was at the epicentre of an earthquake, loose slates and bits of masonry were falling to the ground everywhere. Suddenly the archway over the entrance to the church collapsed in a cloud of rock and rubble. Then there was silence and Peter sat on the ground and watched as the clouds of dust floated off through the trees.
At the Squire's funeral everyone said how unlucky he was, to be standing in the entrance to the church when it collapsed. No one had ever known of an earthquake before and it was talked of for many years.
Only the Dean and Peter knew what had really happened and why the Dean had a fine memorial in the form of a sepulchre built over the Squire’s grave.
The Squire had drawn a map of the caverns which showed a secret hiding place. The Dean had found it in the squire’s pocket and many years later when nearing his own death, the Dean gave the map into the safe keeping of Peter’s family, who had started to keep a secret watch.