By Tim Snider
Patrick grabbed Malcolm’s arm, stopping him midstride. Malcolm pulled his foot back and, where he was about to step, saw the brown layer of matted weeds, dried grasses, and tangled thatch.
“There it is, right where I said it was,” Patrick said.
Malcolm knelt down to get a better look. The patch was somewhat circular, about 3 or 4 feet across. He reached out and pressed the surface lightly, feeling it give a bit. He then ran his fingers around the edge, examining its structure. Malcolm stood up and walked around its perimeter while Patrick watched. Malcolm then pushed the toe of his shoe under its edge and lifted it slightly.
“You’re right,” Malcolm said. “It sure seems to be a hood or lid covering something.”
Patrick nodded in agreement. “I was just lucky I didn’t fall through the damn thing during my hike.”
Malcolm opened the cover up so they could both see. The lid covered a hole of similar size underneath. While Malcolm held it open, they both craned their necks to look in.
“What do you think it is? Maybe an old well or cistern?” Patrick asked.
Malcolm took out his cellphone and turned on the flashlight app. He shined it down into the hole to give them both a better look.
“No, I don’t think so,” Malcolm said. “It only goes down about 20 feet. Looks dry too.”
“Maybe a house or cabin sat here years ago, and this was a root cellar they dug,” Patrick suggested. They both glanced around the clearing. Seeing no evidence of a foundation or other signs of construction, they rejected the notion.
“Here, give me your light,” Patrick said, taking the phone from Malcolm. He placed it in his shirt pocket, so the beam faced outward. Patrick sat down at the edge of the hole and swung in his legs.
“What the hell are you doing?” Malcolm asked as his brow furrowed. Patrick’s bravado would get the best of him some day.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” Patrick said, rolling his eyes. “I’m just gonna shimmy down and see what’s down there.” He kicked at the tunnel’s wall. “Haven’t had rain in a while, so the walls seem hard as rock. Should be able to climb down easily enough.”
Before Malcolm could protest the idea any further, Patrick turned around, grabbed the edge of opening, and began to climb down. He lost his grip once and slipped a bit, which caused Malcolm’s breath to catch in his chest. A few minutes later, Malcom saw Patrick land on the tunnel’s floor below.
“See anything?” Malcolm shouted down to his friend. He saw Patrick take the light from his pocket and shine it around.
“Yeah, it looks like there’s an opening in the wall, probably a cave,” Patrick shouted in reply. Malcolm watched as Patrick entered it, disappearing from view. The light cast shadows on the wall as Patrick went deeper into the cavern.
“Damn! Hey Malcolm, you should see this!” Patrick’s voice echoed from the darkness. “There are some dead animals in here! Looks like a couple of deer fell down here a long time ago and couldn’t get back out! Ugh, they’re dried out and pretty much mummified!”
Malcolm could hear the excitement of exploration in Patrick’s voice, but he was becoming more nervous with each passing second.
“Pat? Why don’t you climb back up here?” Malcolm shouted into the hole. “We can go back and get some rope and better equipment and do this right! Come on back!”
An echoing shriek of terror exploded from the tunnel and the shadows flashed wildly against the tunnel wall, as if the light Patrick held was being whipped violently around. The screams abruptly stopped, and the shadows stilled. Malcolm’s eyes, wide with horror, glanced about the tunnel’s floor for any trace of Patrick’s return. He watched as the various flickering shadows grew larger and coalesced, as if something huge was crawling over the cellphone light to fill the cavern opening, approaching the tunnel to the outside.
Malcolm released the cover, which dropped back into place with a dull thump. He took a hesitant step back and his heel caught on an exposed root, dumping him on the ground. From where he landed, his unblinking eyes never left the concealed door. It opened a crack, and Malcolm saw two glistening eyes staring back at him, coal-black and lidless. When he didn’t move, the door opened a bit more. Malcolm could now see the creature’s six other eyes staring at him as well. Its mandibles eagerly opened and closed in a chewing motion, dripping with gelatinous ooze that may have been saliva.
Shock gave way to panic, and Malcolm frantically tried to scramble to his feet. With lightning speed, the giant spider lunged from its concealed lair, landing on Malcolm’s legs. Its forelegs held him down as its fangs sank deep into his thigh. As Malcolm struggled, the monstrous arachnid dragged its newest prey back toward its nest where it could feed. Malcolm clutched at the ground, finding nothing to grip. The spider gave another tug, and Malcolm’s legs dropped into the tunnel. As the poison began to take effect, Malcolm groggily fumbled to grab the door but failed to do so. His shrieks of pain and horror trailed off as he began to lose consciousness. As he dropped into the hole, the last thing Malcolm saw was the trapdoor snapping shut, cutting off the sunlight.
Tim Snider is an academic text and TTRPG editor by trade. He has written several supplements and adventures for game companies including Goblinoid Games, Pacesetter, and Goodman Games, and his horror fiction has appeared in The Creeps magazine. He lives with his wife, Chris, in frozen northern Ohio, where the chills are less esoteric and much more physical.