The following is a creative piece.
The Parker farm sits on a quiet stretch of the North Hillview Blacktop that runs along the west side of the Illinois River bluffs. It sits tucked into a five-acre opening in the cliffs with, what was once called Elmer’s Cut Road running along the south end of the property, heading east up into the bluffs. The Parker’s home sits almost dead center of the opening. Built in the 1950s, its solid brick ranch-style architecture combined with a glass A-frame in the middle, gives off a feeling that the house is gazing outward at the sprawling river bottom to the west. There is an original homestead that rests on the south end of the farm, just off of Elmer’s Cut. A 19th century, two-story white farmhouse with black shutters, and a wrap around porch that hugs around two-thirds of the house. The later, the Parker’s rent out to a young family by the name of Byers, who have a young boy the same age as their son Joshua, named Oliver.
Inside the Parker home, Joshua’s mother Doris, whom is a school teacher. During the summertime she watches the boys on the farm all day, while washing dishes at the kitchen sink. The boys enter the kitchen, running and giggling, dashing straight towards the refrigerator.
“What are you boys up to?” Doris asks as she peeks over her right shoulder at the boys, who are now pulling two bottles of water out of the French door refrigerator.
“We’re going to go play outside before it gets dark.” Joshua answers back.
“Did you win at your video game?”
From behind her, Joshua rolls his eyes as he takes a gulp of cold water down. “Of course we won” he replies “the internet connection is startring to lag though, so we figured we’d give it a rest.”
The boys start to head out the back door.
“Make sure you are back in this kitchen no later than 6 p.m., mister! Set your watch!” Doris hollers at them.
Joshua fiddles with his brand new digital watch on his left wrist, setting an alarm for 6:00 p.m. “Done!” He says.
“And stay off of those bluffs! They’re riddled with rattlesnakes!” She continues, “I am not going to be paying for a helicopter ride to Springfield General!”
Joshua is smiling but Oliver has a nervous look on his face. The Byers just moved in about a month ago at the beginning of summer. They had previously lived in Saint Louis and Oliver had never really been exposed to the outdoors before. “Don’t worry, Oliver” Joshua reassures him, “she’s just ‘Uber-mom-ing’ ’cause you just moved into the rental. Tag!” Joshua slaps Oliver across the arm which brings a smile back to his face.
The boys run towards the old red barn by the tree line at the bottom of the mountainous bluffs. Oliver catches up with Joshua and gives him a swipe across his back. “You’re it!” He exclaims. Joshua puts his hands to his knees while he catches his breath and counts out Oliver’s lead.
He takes off, full sprint towards Oliver, hurdling fallen trees and strafing between standing ones. He closes the gap quickly and tags Oliver once more on the arm. “Gotcha! You’re it!” He yells without losing a single stride, continuing at top speed while Oliver counts the lead.
By the time Oliver finishes his count, Joshua can hardly be seen in the distance. Oliver struggles to catch up. He has always been an indoors kind of kid and all of this sprinting has him winded.
He sees Joshua, stopped, a little ways ahead of him. “Wait up!” He calls out, but Joshua disappears from view. When he gets up the to the point where Joshua was standing, there is a small hole bored into the side of the bluff, just wide enough to climb inside comfortably. On the ground, underneath the opening, is a small battery powered headlamp.
“You’re still it, chickenshit!” Joshua heckles from inside the black opening. Oliver is hesitant to follow. The thought of being trapped in a small cave that could be filled with deadly snakes won’t leave his head.
“Come on, dude! It’s fine I promise. Put on the headlamp and climb in! This is cool!” Joshua’s voice echoes from inside the chamber. A small glint of light can be seen from his headlamp.
Oliver picks up the light from the ground and straps it to his forehead. Timidly, he climbs inside the hole. He had never really been afraid of snakes before, but he also never had a reason to be. The only time he had ever seen snakes was at the zoo, slithering about in their enclosed tanks.
He catches up with Joshua a little ways into the bluff. “See, it’s not that bad.” Joshua says with confidence.
They travel deeper and deeper into the mountainous bluff. Twisting and turning, sliding down chutes and laddering back up. Oliver hears a faint rattle from behind them. “Josh, I think we’ve come to far. I-I want to go back home.” He expresses. Joshua laughs it off, “You’re such a scaredy-cat! Just a little further. I can see some light up ahead.” The rattling continues in the distance.
The tunnel then opens into a large cavern. It is very wide and the ceiling appears to be a least couple hundred feet tall. There is a small opening at the top with a dim shaft of light beaming down to the floor. The rattle continues faintly in the background. The boys marvel at the grandeur of the cavern, until they notice that in the center of this unusually large cave, there is a large mound. The rattling begins to intensify. As they creep closer, their headlamps reveal the mound is a pile of bones and skulls, some animal, some human, and some of a strange unknown origin. Skulls with three and four eye sockets shaped like creatures from a science-fiction movie. The rattle grows louder surrounding them from every corner of the cave. The boys both scream.
The rattle morphs into a kind of low croak, like a frog that’s been recorded in slow-motion. The creature appears from behind them. It slithers like a gigantic bearded dragon on four taloned feet. It’s face is like a lion’s, only with sharp tusks coming up out of the beasts lower incisors, and tall elk-like antlers rising up out of its mane. It has a long serpent tail with a razor sharp barb at the end. The croak is the sound of the beast drawing in a deep breath. It lets out a high-pitched shriek with a bass undertone that can be felt in the boys’ chests.
Joshua, who has lived in this part of Illinois all of his life, has seen this thing before. Everyone in this area knows of the legend of the Piasa. A creature from Native American lore, that supposedly lived in the river bluffs. Stories of the creature have been passed down for generations, but it was always assumed it was just a legend. The legend is unfortunately true.
“Split!” Joshua yells, as he pushes off of Oliver. The beast strikes at the place where the boys were standing so they circle around the thing to get back to the opening the crawled in through. They dive in crawling as fast as they can, moving back through the maze from which they came. The beast scrambles after them, shrieking loudly at them from behind.
A shimmer of purple hued light appears ahead of them and a glint of hope emerges from within the boys that they might actually make it out of this. Oh how they should have heeded the mother’s warning. They never should have gone into the bluffs. The snakes were the least of their concerns. The light grows brighter but the creature draws nearer. They’re almost there. They can taste the fresh air.
The boys explode out of the side of the bluff, much higher up than the hole they crawled into. The sky has turned into a purple and royal blue, similar to that of dusk, but they couldn’t have been gone that long. Joshua’s watch alarm never went off. They tumble down the steep embankment, kicking up dust as they roll down to the bottom. There are no trees on this part of the bluff. The landscape is completely unfamiliar to Joshua and he has no clue where they came out at. Possibly further north, up by the quarry. They have to be up by the quarry. They turn and see the creature clawing it’s way out of the hole, screaming and snarling at them in anger. Halfway through the hole, the hideous thing reveals its evil wings and takes off into the air. That’s what was different. All of the depictions of the Piasa have wings. Of course it could fly.
The landscape is very, very different here. There are no trees as far as the eye can see. No soil piled up at the base. Just sheer cliffs of limestone that seem to stretch for miles into the purple sky. The beast soars upwards, never taking its piercing gaze off of the two youngsters. They are frozen with terror as they sit on the ground, hands back, with their eyes to the sky. The creature begins to dive down towards them, mouth open and drooling in anticipation of its upcoming meal. It falls at them with incredible speed, the boys scream in terror. A mere meters above their heads, another monster, gigantic and saber-toothed, intercepts the dragon-like bird, saving the boys from a terrible fate. This new monster is massive in size. If you crossed a sabertooth tiger with a mastodon, this is what you would get. A cat that is prehistoric in size with long thick brown fur that is matted up like dreadlocks all over. It holds the Piasa in its mouth and with a quick motion of its massive jaw, snaps the bird’s neck.
“Back.” Joshua urges to Oliver. His face is white with terror. “Back into that hole. Now!”
They jump up and take off in a dead sprint back towards the hole they fell out of. It’s a steep incline but it’s doable. They catch the gaze of the mammoth creature and it drops the Piasa from its mouth and begins to charge at the boys. Oliver is from the city. He doesn’t get outside much and he’s not as fast as Joshua. He is about ten paces behind when Joshua hits the incline and begins climbing. Oliver leaps at the wall in an attempt to make up some lost ground. Above him, Joshua is almost to the opening.
Once Joshua gets back inside the cave, he turns and looks back down at Oliver climbing up the cliff. He extends his hand down towards Oliver. “Come on! Hurry!” Oliver is struggling to climb and extends his hand up to Joshua. He has tears streaming down his face. “I’ve almost got you!” Oliver climbs a few more feet and reaches up again but then vanishes into the beast’s mouth.
Joshua scrambles backwards. He turns around and crawls frantically back into the depths of the cave. He crawls until he finds a small room and stops. Panting, he curls up against the back wall. How did this happen? He never even made a sound. Oliver didn’t even scream when that thing got him. He didn’t even have the chance to. How was he supposed to explain this to his mom? To Oliver’s mom? How is he even going to get home? It’s quite clear he is no longer is Illinois anymore, but how did he end up here?
The alarm on his wrist watch begins chiming. His mom will start to worry soon. Will she come looking for him? Of course she would, but would she be able to find him? He begins to weep into his knees. He stays there for sometime until he regains his composure. He has to find a way home. He can’t just stay here and die in this hole.
Joshua continues back into the maze, trying to forge his way back the same way they came. As he is crawling, the rock beneath him gives way and he falls into another room. Once the dust settles he begins to stand up and sees a small ray of light shining in through the wall. He walks over to it and peers out. Through the hole he can see the back of his farm house. A swell of relief pours over him. He starts clawing at the wall, tearing down chunks of rock and dirt until he can squeeze his small body through the hole.
He gets out into the fresh air and begins running toward the house. The sky has resumed its normal blue color and all of the landscape has returned as well. He bursts through the back door to find his mother still in the kitchen. He hits her with a full speed hug. “Mom! Oh mom it was awful! The-The thing got Oliver!”
“Sweetheart you are filthy! Where have you been?”
“We went into the bluffs! I’m so sorry mom! I know you said we shouldn’t but we did anyway and a monster got Oliver!”
Joshua clings to his mother trembling and sobbing. “What are you talking about, Josh? Who’s Oliver?”
Joshua steps back from his mother, looking at her confused. “Oliver, mom. The neighbor boy in the rental house” he says.
“Oh! Did you go meet the new neighbors? Your dad said they had a boy your age.”
Doris turns and looks out the kitchen window toward the rental house. There is a moving truck parked outside and people unloading furniture into the house.
Joshua’s jaw is on the floor. There’s Oliver, running along side his father in front of the house. He looks down at his brand new wristwatch. The time reads 4:15 PM.
Featured photo by Daily Planet artist, Clare Cade.