Senior 1st Prize Winning Story
“My Trip To The Underworld” by Aditya Mathpal, Rustomjee Cambridge International School and Jr. College, India, is the First Prize winning story in the senior category of the second biannual Short Story Contest 2019.
My Trip To The Underworld
I get down from the bus, holding a tissue next to my bleeding ear, and walk over to my house. I was sent home from school early because of that, and what they called a “panic attack”. There was no panic attack. The sheer things I saw, the vivid, evocative images in my mind, those weren’t because of some “panic attack”. They were visuals from hell itself.
My phone starts to buzz. The sound of the vibration alone is enough to give me flashbacks of what happened at school. It’s my friend, Bob, calling, so I answer it. He doesn’t know what happened at school and why I was sent back early. I narrate the whole incident to him, about how Seth, the nasty bully in my class, tossed my 2000-word English essay, that I am supposed to submit tomorrow, into the air vents in the lavatory. When I climbed into them to get it back, something happened. I don’t know how, but I saw something. Something too graphical and gruesome to convey using words. I also heard something. Something… Indescribable.
Bob says I’m exaggerating. He thinks it was probably just me getting startled by some mouse. I don’t blame him. My story isn’t really believable. So, Bob, the noble friend he is, says that we sneak into the school tonight, and get my essay. Of course, I’m gonna refuse, but I still consider the hazards of accepting this proposal. Any rational person will tell you that there is almost no harm in going back. There’s no one telepathically transporting images into my mind. So, I end up accepting, proving that thinking rationally is my fatal flaw.
I meet Bob at the school gate. He looks all hyped up, electrified that we are going on a quest: to find my essay in the “tubes of hell”. We enter the school. It’s eerily silent. So silent, I can almost hear my own heartbeat. The moonlight entering the window creates ghastly shadows. They remind me of the images I saw. I shudder. I feel a prickling sensation behind my neck. I’m getting afraid. Then I realise that I don’t have to be afraid; Bob is with me. Except… He’s not. “Bob?” I call out, hoping that he’s nearby. He doesn’t answer. I get really paranoid, and I consider making a run for it, but then, I hear screams. Loud, high pitched screams.
I try to locate where the screams are coming from, but they seem to be coming from everywhere. They kind of sound like an echo. Then it hit me. Bob is in the air vents. His screams are echoing all over the school. I run as quick as I can. When I reach the lavatory, I see Bob waving his hands through the opening, screaming in the most inhuman way. He screams indecipherable words that make my ears bleed and skin sting. I pull him down and lay him on the ground and wait for it to finish.
As he comes to, I try to console him, but before I can say anything, he quickly makes his way to a toilet and hurls his stomach out. He is bleeding from his nose, ears, mouth and even his eyes. Clearly whatever that’s there in those air vents are having a worse effect on him compared to me. As he comes back to reality, he’s starting to breathe, and blink and form thought processes again. “Are those the same things you saw?” he asks me. “Yes,” I say, “we both visited hell.”
I don’t even care about the essay anymore. I want to know what there is in those air vents. Just want to take a tiny peek at the “Otherworld” again. It’s as if it’s calling out to me. I have a feeling Bob feels the same way. So, we both climb into the air vents again. I’m getting a feeling of déjà vu from earlier today. I move through the darkness, and there it is. Another glimpse into the afterlife of torture and suffering. Shirt now covered in blood; I call out to Bob. No response. I make my way through, and step on something. It’s my essay. I stop to check it out. I see my name. I read what I’ve written. We were supposed to write about our good qualities, so I had written about my artistic skills. My awesome relationships with people. My sports achievements. Slowly, I regain consciousness of who I am. I snap out of it. I lose all interest in eternal torture and think about my life on this living plane. Then I realise: I have to save Bob.
I scream out Bob’s name as loud as I can. No answer. I crawl all over the place and try to find Bob but I see nothing. I find my way out of the air vents and end up in a classroom. It’s now that I recall, I’m all alone. I hear laughter behind. I turn around and I see no one. I thought, Bob will probably snap out of it himself. I should head back home. So that’s what I do. I slowly walk down the stairs, making the least noise possible, to ensure that my death doesn’t occur at the hands of a demon. I reach the school lobby and see a dark figure at the other end. I stay paralysed in fear… Until it starts running towards me. I run as fast as my legs can carry me. The lobby doesn’t seem to end. I run, and run, and run... Until the figure catches up to me.
I wake up in my bed the next morning. I assume all of last night was a dream since my t-shirt is now blood-free. I make my way over to school and sit next to Leo, Bob’s other friend. I want to tell Bob about my dream, so I ask Leo where Bob is, and he replies, “Who’s Bob?”