Jim Cole is the reason I turned in my detective badge to the Blue Bluffs police department. When you see a man die the way he did in a place no sane man should ever be, well, it’s enough horror to last a lifetime.
I don’t care what Reyes or that shrink they sent from Dallas think happened that night. I know what I saw beneath that goddam hill. It’s only because I’m afraid someone will go looking for that place that I’m writing this at all.
Blue Bluffs is a little speck in west Texas about a hundred miles from nothing. My daddy used to say that God made the hills and mountains outside of town just so folks wouldn’t go crazy looking at the big sky and horizon all their lives. All I know is that what we found under those hills, God had nothing to do with.
No one ever comes to Blue Bluffs because they’re looking for it, so when word got around that an oilman from Houston was looking for a body to drive him around the mountains, who’s the first person you think they thought of?
I knew those hills better than anyone. I tried to get away from the dust and dry of town whenever I could, hiking around for hours or camping on weekends. God, my skin crawls when I think about all the time I spent lying up there under the stars while those things were creeping around!
I knew right away when I met him that Jim wasn’t an oilman or even from Houston. He had a slick haircut and wore jeans and a button-down that looked like they came from a thrift store.
He said he had been sent here to survey some “possible archaeological sites.” I told him I’d been up and down those hills and never seen as much as an arrowhead much less any Indian sites. He looked disappointed and then asked if I had ever seen or heard anything unusual up there.
“Like what?” I asked.
“Like anything you couldn’t explain,” he said.
I laughed and told him how those mountains can play tricks on you. Like when a rock falls somewhere and sounds like it’s still bouncing all around you. Or hearing coyotes right behind you but knowing they’re really a half-mile away.
Once, though, I remember hearing something like singing way off in the hills. Another time I swore I saw five skinny fellas hunched down in a circle at the bottom of a rise, not one of them moving a muscle. But those were just tricks of the wind and moonlight. At least, that’s what I thought at the time.
After a few Shiners, Jim started talking stuff no surveyor would care about. Had I seen a symbol that looked like this? What about a rock like a church altar? And were there any old stories of settlers gone missing up in the hills?
He finally got so fed up with not getting any answers from me that he took something out of his bag and laid it on the table. It was about a foot long and all wrapped up. When he unrolled it, the hair stood up on the back of my neck.
It was a statue like one of the ones you see on TV from Egypt or South America. It was like a man but all wrong. Something was coming out of the face like two long trunks. None of it made any sense.
“Have you seen anything like this?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “But there’s something familiar about that bottom.”
The statue was on some kind of base that was a shape I should have known the name of. Two sides of it had these half circles carved out. I told him I had seen something about that shape and size dug out of a flat rock on one of my hikes. I figured it had something leftover from the surveys they did back in the fifties.
That got Jim all excited. Where was it? How long would it take to get there? Did I see anything else unusual, like a slab on the ground? I told him I’d be happy to take him up in the morning and see if I could find the spot again. He only calmed down once he pulled a book out of his bag and stuck his nose in it like a kid with a new comic book.
I picked him up the next morning at the Pecan Lodge where he was staying. I brought water and some sandwiches from Mel’s since I figured he’d never been on a trail his whole life.
He was pretty quiet the whole ride out, still reading his book. I asked him what it was about.
“Ancient Sites of North America,” he said.
“Has it got those Indian symbols you were asking about?” I said.
“No,” he said. “This is way older than the Native Americans.”
“What, like caveman stuff?” I said. He laughed.
“I suppose I can tell you now since you might see some of it yourself,” he said. “Have you ever heard of the Chau’gn?” he asked. I only knew how to spell it because he sounded it out to me.
“No sir,” I said. “Who are they?”
“They were an ancient cthonic cult that was supposed to have ruins here from… well, no one really knows how long ago.”
“What’s a cthonic cult?” I asked. Again, he spelled it out for me.
“They worshipped underground spirits. Gods.” he said. “That statue I showed you is supposed to be one of them.”
Then he said something in a language that didn’t even sound human. He told me I should remember it just in case. I did alright, and I’m glad of it, though God in his mercy has since wiped it from my mind.
We parked near an old trailhead I remembered and started up. I was sifting through my mind for the places where I had found the rock with the hole in it. Then it hit me. It was right where I thought I had seen those men crouched over that night.
I took us about an hour to reach the place and it was hard work getting there. It was a low and lonely place, and there, just like I remembered, was the rock. Jim went pale as a ghost when he saw it. Then he pulled the statue from his bag. But not like he wanted to. It was like someone was making him do it. Then set it in the hole and all hell broke loose.
There was a sound like a cannon, and the ground opened up and we fell. I don’t know how long I was out, but when I came to, Jim was gone. I was banged up pretty good but okay. I grabbed a flashlight out of my pack and looked around.
I was in a long tunnel that looked like it had been chiseled out long ago. Above me, the ceiling was completely smooth. And then I heard Jim scream.
Something stopped me from yelling his name. I walked towards the sound, my legs getting heavier with each step. The tunnel turned and twisted and I stopped. There was a sound. God! What a sound! Like something slurping. I swallowed hard and shined my light around the corner.
I wish I didn’t have to say what I saw, but if I don’t, there’s no point in me writing this. There on the ground lay Jim, and around him were four… things. They looked just like the statue. Broken, twisted man-shapes with trunks coming out of their faces. And they were feasting on Jim. One of them looked straight at me, and I ran.
I remembered the smooth ceiling and what Jim said about a slab on the ground and the words he told me to remember. I started shouting them, over and over. I saw the ceiling slide away and light streaming in. I saw stairs and took them two at a time. Behind me, I could hear the creatures flapping and slapping as they ran. When I reached the outside, I grabbed the statue and ripped it from the stone.
They found me two days later and brought me to the clinic. I had to be sedated for a week because I kept having hallucinations and screaming. Then the questions started. Where was Jim? What happened to us? I said I couldn’t remember, and at the time, it was true.
But now I remember. All of it. They never did find Jim’s body or that statue. And I’ve never gone up into those hills again. Every night, when the sun goes down, and that horrible shadow from the hills crawls over the town, a terror comes over me that I can only cure with half a bottle of whatever Mel will sell me until I black out.