A Short story by Nathan R. Carlsen
I woke with my face pressed against something wet and sticky. It smelled the way a car does with all its windows rolled up and something left to rot inside. I could taste it in my throat, somewhere between a cheeseburger and some one's foot. The same yuck was on the floor, my shirt and in my mouth. It was on me and in me and I needed it away. It wouldn’t leave. I expelled what was left of my dinner onto the floor, no, the ground as I crouched on my hands and knees. It is a tiring experience when I throw up, really dreadful. But, afterwards, I’m glad it’s over. Not this time however. When it was all said and done, my stomach muscles felt as tired and worn out as always. Tears needed to be wiped away as usual after being sick and my mouth desperately needed a mint. All of these things were the norm after expelling the contents of my stomach. The only thing different was that I was not in my own bathroom.
While being sick, one does not really care where one is. You just need to find the proper place to be sick, you’ll figure the rest out later. In this case, I was in… a place. I could not describe it since I had nothing to go on. I could make out a few details but nothing definite since it was too dark. I took what I had, however, and made do.
It seemed as though I was beneath the surface; of what I wasn’t sure, but I beneath it. Up was dark, I couldn’t tell if it went on or if “up” just stopped there above my head a few feet. The air was musty, damp, somewhat chilly but constant. There was a little air flow, but I couldn’t tell which direction it was headed or coming from.
Furthermore, I couldn’t remember how I had gotten there. It seems a lot of stories begin this way, but however cliche it was, it was true. I simply had no recollection of how I came to be where I was. The last thing I could remember was not liking the way things were going in life, being unhappy in general with certain details of my existence. Perhaps a love not possible or granted, or a promotion granted to the wrong person, or a raise held off for another year. Perhaps someone had left or come when this was not what I had wanted. Or a child that disappointed, or parent un-pleased. I couldn’t remember, but at this point, I didn’t know if it really mattered.
I heard a noise off to my right, a scuffle, a thing moving in the darkness. It was the kind of noise one did not want to hear without light, alone, in a place unfamiliar. It was at this point I decided it would be good to think about my options. What kind of weapons did I have? I don’t think I’m one to carry weapons in general, but apparently I made the point to acquire a small cutting thing to attach to my keychain. Not for self-defense, mind you, merely to open the impossible plastic that entombs all electronics.
But this would have to suffice. I quietly reached for my keys, thankfully they were still where I kept them. I held them tight to avoid noise, though fully aware that my previous vomiting episode must have attracted the curious. Quietly, yet not so patiently, I removed the utility tool and extended the tiny blade not quite as long as my pinkie finger. I knew that this would not scare off any attackers upon sight, but it would be something to inflict pain if worse came to worse.
The noise came again, this time close and it seemed to be coming from around a bend. As my eyes adjusted, I could start to make out different pathways or tunnels. Then I heard a sniff. This noise was worse than the scuffle. Now I knew that what was approaching had a mouth (I’ve yet to meet a thing which has a nose yet no mouth). And with mouths come teeth. I knew my mind was racing towards the pessimistic, but at the same time, in this dark place with little or no light, the smell of it, the feel of it, the essence, it just didn’t seem like a couple dozen bunnies were about to lead me to a room with rainbows and cotton candy.
I heard it take a step and then another and a few more. It sounded like a four legged animal, perhaps a dog, perhaps simply a lost, curious dog looking for a friend or a way out like I was. I heard it open its maw and clap it shut and take another sniff. It was nearing me, I could just make out its figure. It had a long body, longer than a dog’s. It’s tail slowly, silently moving back and forth. It reminded me of a cat’s tail moving back and forth as it watched its prey, patiently, playfully. It came to me, sniffed again, found my smell and my hand. I felt its wet nose press against my skin, I was unable to do anything about it. I was petrified, I had no real recourse. It hadn’t done anything wrong yet, attacking it would surely put it in a bad mood.
It opened its maw again, this time lapping at my hand with its tongue. It felt rough, as if a tiger were licking at my flesh, its meat tearing tongue biting at my tender skin. But softly at first, it seemed to be testing. Then it began licking harder, it began to hurt. I pulled my hand away quickly. It growled at me and searched for my hand. I stupidly brought my hand up to my chest, holding it with the other protectively. Whatever it was, it came closer, its huge head pressing against my stomach, searching for my hand. It opened its mouth and tested my body, seeing if it could bite at me, not hard, but enough to cause alarm. I moved back, hoping this would stop soon, hoping against hope that I would not have to fight this thing off, whatever it was.
It fallowed me, backed me up against an earthen wall. Dirt, mud, rocks and roots were at my back. I felt a drip on my head, moisture must be seeping through the soil down to us from above. It put a large paw on my chest, pinning me against the wall. I could feel the claws extend, pressing dangerously into my skin, but not yet puncturing. It breathed into my face, the beast looked at me, I could feel its gaze. It peered at me as if it knew me, knew who I was, it looked beyond my face and into my soul. Then it opened its mouth and began liking my face.
Again, its tongue was rough and painful. It wouldn’t take much for it to exert slightly more pressure to begin tearing away my flesh. I had to think quickly. The knife, the tiny little knife I still had in my hand. It wouldn’t do much, but it was something. I tried to press the beast away from me first, not wanting to hurt it, knowing that if I did there would be no way of going back. It didn’t budge, but grunted a bit in protest. I pushed back harder.
It roared in my face, defining me for a short time. Tears of fear rolled down my cheeks. Where am I? Why am I here? I had a life before this; calm and safe. I life uncomplicated, unchanged, nothing to fear. I just wanted to be back there, I didn’t want this, I didn’t want to have to face this thing. I had no choice.
I stabbed it in its chest as hard as I could, removed the blade, ducked and rolled as it howled in pain and released me, and I ran. I had no idea where I was going, I didn’t know what I was going to do, I couldn’t see a thing, but I knew I had to do something.
I couldn’t run as fast as I would’ve liked because of the low visibility, though my eyes were still adjusting and I could make out more and more details, there simply wasn’t enough light to see well with human eyes. But the beast’s eyes, I was sure, could see very well. It followed me, not quickly. Perhaps because it was hurt, or perhaps because it knew it didn’t need to. It knew I was walking into a dead end. Or even if I wasn’t, it wouldn’t have to search long before it found me since I didn’t know where I was. This was its lair, this place is its domain.
I saw a light up ahead. Relief flooded my mind and spirit. I ran towards it, blade still in hand. Steel walls and floor were built into the underground pit I was in. Old, green, lead paint was peeling everywhere. The first room held nothing but metal boxes on shelves. It had two doors. I walked into the one on the right, nothing in there. I checked the entrance to the first room and didn’t see the beast coming yet. I ventured into the room further in.
I stopped cold. Cold, not in temperature, but the kind of cold that permeates someones being when true, un-compromised evil is presented to an otherwise mostly normal person. The chamber I saw before me held the horrors of some awful movie that makes one need to watch Bambi afterwards. Blood smeared the walls and floor, specifically near the inclined bench. In the bench was a man, or what used to pass for a man. He was tied down, it was obvious he had suffered greatly before he died. To describe his wounds would simply make me and anyone who might hear it pass out, yet I will simply say this: it was obvious that things were done to this man that went beyond attempting to kill him. It was obvious that he had suffered needlessly, and it was apparent that someone had taken pleasure in doing this.
Where was I? How did I get here? Why am I here? I wanted to look away from the man, but I couldn’t. The horror before me was like a chipped tooth; sharp and dangerous, could possibly cause injury, yet new and different. Curiosity pulls people to things they would normally stay far away from, even death.
A door I didn’t see before because of the bench, opened. A large hooded man stood there holding a leash. On the end of the leash I saw the thing that will haunt my nights for the rest of my life. It was a man, or what could be a man with severely deformed limbs and neck. The thing was inverted, upside down, it looked at me with eyes on the bottom of its head, and mouth towards the top. The limbs acted as legs, but weren’t quite legs, weren’t quite arms either. Claws grotesquely grew out the “paws” of the thing, it smelled at me with it’s somehow not quite human nose and smiled an upside down smile, blood seeping out from its mouth from a previous feast.
Its master let the leash drop to the floor. The thing crawled towards me. I looked around for a better weapon, but there was none. I held the tiny blade in my hand, hoping it would bring me some comfort. It didn’t. The man-thing came closer, then shot out its tongue as a frog would towards a fly. The tongue penetrated my shoulder. I could feel the end wind and twist inside my shoulder, I dropped to the floor, screaming in pain. As an after thought, I swiped at the tongue with my tiny utility blade. The tongue released my shoulder and squirmed its way out of my flesh. But I took hold of it and continued cutting. The man-thing backed away, screeching in pain. It looked back to its master but the hooded man showed no sign of intervening and no remorse. The man-thing began tearing from the pain. After it fully realized it would get no help, it charged me, swiping at me with its claw.
I tried to duck the attack, but it was too quick, too forceful. I was knocked to the floor onto my back. The things long tongue lay in my lap, I was still holding it, I had apparently successfully severed most of it off. The thing roared at me with vocal cords that had once been a man’s but were now altered, changed by this place.
I yelled back a sound that was foreign to me. I sounded fierce, something to be feared. I’m not one to yell, not one to raise his voice. I am rarely all out angry, I am never rage-full. But now, in this place, I needed to be. I embraced the rage, I pushed back against the fear and terror with my own. I wanted everyone else to feel the same thing I felt. The horror thing scuttled back a few steps, rethinking its attack plans. I was standing near the bench with the dead man, starring down the man-thing on all fours on the floor when I noticed the man in the bench groan. He was still alive.
My heart sank, all feeling left me. We are usually unaware that we are aware of our skin until something happens. Pain, touch, pleasure, cold, hot; these things we notice when they happen because of our ability to notice our skin. All this was removed at that moment. It was as if I had no skin, I had nothing that felt the world around me. All I could do was view it. The moment stopped, I saw everything far away. The hooded man in the doorway seemed less of a threat, the thing on the floor didn’t concern me. The only thing that mattered was the poor, tortured soul on the bench. He had suffered greatly and this was wrong.
Without fully thinking, without understanding why or how, I began undoing his bonds. His hands were secured by metal spikes through his wrists, which I pulled out slowly, knowing that more tension would likely cause him to bleed more. His feet were the same, a bolt had been forced through them to keep him in place and secured on the other side of the bench. The man-thing on the floor approached me cautiously. In response, I found an empty metal box on the floor and threw it as hard as I could. It hit the thing in the head squarely, connecting at the corner of the metal box. It fell to the ground.
The hooded man watched this and simply said, “hm.” I used some of the man’s clothing to cover his extensive wounds. The one in his stomach was particularly bad and his legs were broken. I heard the hooded man leave and return, heard metal scrape on the floor. I turned and looked, he was carrying an axe, letting it scrape on the metal floor just to scare me. It worked.
Then I saw the cat creature in the darkness, just now approaching the odd light which illuminated the metal rooms. Its head was massive, the thing looked at me with an eagerness that twisted my stomach. I saw it out of the corner of my I, not turning my head but starring at the man with the axe. I hoped the cat beast wasn’t picky, that although it had had a taste for me it might chose the hooded man instead for its dinner or breakfast.
Of course there was another possibility, that the cat-thing considered the hooded man its ally, its friend, perhaps owner or master like the man-thing before it. I had no idea what the rules were, I simply hoped. Hoped that I wouldn’t be forced to fend off two foes at the same time, one with an axe, one with fangs the length of my middle finger, all with a little blade I had bought at Office Max on sale.
The hooded man approached me, dragging the axe calmly beside and behind him. I saw wet blood on it. I looked at the blade of his axe, the smooth surface which reflected the sick, low light in the room. It reminded me of something, a light I once knew, a flame which grew in me and called to me once. Something that was good. I remembered goodness, gladness, lovely things, truth. I recalled those things then, just for a second.
He came to me, if I was able to see his lips I’m sure I would have seen him smile. His smock which was tied around his substantial belly was stained; with what I wasn’t sure. Blood was in there most definitely, but there was other fluids, other dirt and grit smeared on him in ways that made my spirit want to leave me. It was then that I remembered I had a spirit. That there was something inside me which yearned for something more, something beyond me, something beyond my circumstances, always pushing me harder for something better. A voice called out to me.
“Just go.” The calm and soothing voice said. It came from the tortured man on the bench.
The hooded man looked past me and to the man on the bench.
“No.” I said, without even looking at the dyeing man. It wasn’t an option, wasn’t even something I wanted to think about while I stared down the man a full head taller than me.
“You would die for him?” The hooded man asked in a voice that denoted a glee for death as he lifted his axe to his chest, not quite ready to strike, but preparing to.
I wasn’t sure whom he was referring to, but no one was going to die, so it didn’t matter.
“I won’t let you kill him, or me.” I said defiantly. Something inside me filled me with power and courage. I knew it wasn’t from me, for all I had was a key chain blade.
“Oh, yes you will.” The hooded man said and lifted his axe the rest of the way. His back was to the entrance. As he lifted the axe, I dove out of the way towards the peeling wall. The axe made a clang noise as it hit the concrete floor just where I had been, missing me barely. Then the cat-beast pounced on him, tearing large pieces of skin and muscle away with its long teeth while he was held down with its long claws dug deep into his back.
The beast eyed me as it continued to work on its kill, as the hooded man screamed and tried to stop it from tearing him apart. I quietly, slowly, approached the bench. The beast watched and growled low but didn’t move from its meal. I carefully gathered the dying man and moved away from the bench and the beast. Then I noticed the axe lying slightly away from the beast. I moved into the next room carefully, the beasts long tail which had barbs on the end, swished back and forth in the doorway.
I set the man down carefully and went back. I knew the beast knew that I was back, knew it could smell me, knew that it could easily kill me and have two meals in one place. But I knew that I needed a better weapon than the one I had and there probably wasn’t a better chance than this to get one. I carefully tip toed passed the tail and into the room. I crouched down and stretched out reached for the axe. I saw the beast stop licking at the man’s back, its tongue tearing meat and look up at me. I looked into the beast’s eyes, I saw death there. Not evil necessarily, not hate or something to fear specifically, just death itself. I wondered what in this place wasn’t death.
I waited, it was all I could do, just waited for something else to happen, waited for the beast to return to the man’s back, hoping he was dead for his sake but knew he probably wasn’t. It breathed at me, not really smelling me specifically, but breathed through its large nostrils as they flared. It cautiously returned to its kill. I waited a bit longer, making sure its attention was fully on its meat and then quietly picked up the axe. I thought about killing the beast, but knew that if I didn’t kill it with one blow, that it would likely get the better of me. I hoped that it would be preoccupied for long enough for me to get far away from it.
I carefully picked up the man on the floor, put him over my shoulder and then held the large axe with my other hand. I knew the man wasn’t comfortable, but there was little that could be done about that, I needed to move him out of this place, I simply had to trust that I wouldn’t worsen his wounds so much that he would die in my arms. Though, this was likely a possibility.
As I moved from the illuminated rooms of death and into the void of darkness I felt calmer, though less certain. Part of me yearned for the rooms since at least I knew my foe there. Here, in the dark corridors and tunnels more of those cat-beasts could be lurking in the walls or other ghastly things.
I began to cry as I walked. The shock of it all got to me, the absurdity of the situation, the ridiculousness of the horror which I found myself in. It didn’t make sense, though I was in it and had to make do. I had to continue on until I was done, until I died or I was out, one of the two. I wouldn’t give up.
I walked with the dying man on my shoulder and the axe in my hand for what felt like several hours, all the while fully expecting some bazaar creature to pop out and attack me. I heard things squirming, moving, sniffing and watching me but nothing attacked. Drips of water came more frequently until I found myself walking in puddles. It was raining above us somewhere, the water finally reaching this underworld.
I came upon another room, this one lit by what looked to be moon shine. There were no colors in the light, only shades of gray, most of them dark, closer to black than anything else. A stone, spiral stair case wound around a central pillar rising in the middle of the room. After entering the room I looked up and saw large gnarly tree roots, rocks and mounds of dirt obscuring my vision and the light from the moon, but I knew the sky was up there, somewhere beyond this hell I was at the bottom of.
Water cascaded down the stone stairs, I began to climb; axe in hand, dying man on my shoulder. He coughed, which was good, meant he was still alive. But I felt wetness on my shirt, reached up and touched it, looked at my hand, it was blood, he had coughed up blood onto my back. I climbed, pushed forward, against the will of my legs which needed rest, against the will of my heart which was pumping faster than my cubicle-mountain dew-to-mouth exercise ever felt, against my lungs which burnt more than my muscles. I knew I climbed for myself, to get out of the place I was in, climbed away from the terrors below, but more than that. I climbed for him who was on my shoulder. Somehow, I was climbing for others still, though I didn’t know how or why.
I came to a large expanse. The pillar that the stone stairs spiraled around flattened and stopped. A large stone space waited for my tired muscles. Huge roots seemed they were reaching for me, large stones looked as if they were ready to fall in on top of the pillar. On the other the expanse the stairs continued, wrapping itself around a smaller part of the pillar, climbing yet higher.
I laid the man down on the cold stone floor, he coughed as his back hit. I set my axe down, sat down, put my arms on my knees and hunched over and began to weep for the first time. The things I had seen, the things that must go on in the room, perhaps there were more rooms like the one I saw, there were undoubtedly more villainous beasts in the holes and tunnels below. How did I come to be in such a place? What lead me here?
Thoughts, images, sequences of my memory came flooding back. I was in a living room, maybe it was mine. A little girl sat on a couch, on the edge, looking uncomfortable, tense and sad. She didn’t look like she was about to cry, but looked like she had recently. I looked at the stairs above me and saw an angry woman, looking down at me, her arms across her chest. Her anger stemmed from something I had done, but I didn’t know what. It wasn’t one thing either, it was a way of being, of acting, a series of things that I had done because of the way I felt, or chose to feel.
I turned around and saw another woman; younger, softer, prettier. She wasn’t smiling, but she wanted to. She wore less than the one at the top of the stairs. I went to towards her, walked out of the house and into her car and drove off and didn’t look back. That was that, I left, I couldn’t stop it because it had already happened. I had already made the choice, I couldn’t take it back. Then I was in an apartment, looking out the window overlooking the river. It was beautiful. My bare feet touched the plush, white carpet, I felt a wine glass in my hand. I had a button down t-shirt, unbuttoned, and boxers on. My heart felt like it was already broken, like it was torn apart by my own doing.
I turned around to see the apartment behind me, remembering what it looked like; the kitchen over there with lights hanging low over the island, white stools waiting to be used, the door to the back, the white leather couch facing the hi-def television which took up half the wall. This was what I expected. What greeted me was IT, a thing, standing in front of me. Its head turned to the side slightly, its mouth closed tightly, its nose smelling me. I was back on the pillar, the cold stone surface definitely not as comfortable as the carpet on my naked feet. Where were my shoes? Maybe I never had any to begin with.
It stood on two legs, its skin was scaly and rough with a sickly grey color. Its “arms” weren’t completely arms, but not fully legs or claws either but something in between. There was more than just one but dozens. The axe was in my hand, I didn’t remember picking it up. None of them were looking at me, their eyes looking to the left or right and down as if not yet fully realizing who or what I was. Perhaps they’ll just stay like this, perhaps I can sneak past them. I quietly, slowly, crept back to the dying man. With the axe still in my grip, I bent over and tried to lift him over my shoulder. He groaned and coughed up more blood. The thing, the beast, snapped its eyes and head towards me, looking directly at me for the first time. Oh shit.
The one looking at me began walking towards me slowly, perhaps cautiously, its arms or claws curled up against its chest. There was very little noise save for the drip of the rain and water above and below, I didn’t want to break the silence for fear of waking more of these creatures. Nothing in this place is friendly, not one. There is nothing in here that is on my side, nothing that doesn’t mean harm, that doesn’t want to eat me or mutilate me. I knew this in my core, in the deepest reaches of my soul. I didn’t think too hard about it, I just swung my axe and connected at its shoulder, almost severing its arm completely off. It grunted and squealed a bit, I looked, none of the others looked at me yet. It continued towards me, this time I swung horizontally, aiming for its neck. I missed a bit, connecting at its jaw, opening its head a bit. Fluid oozed out, but it looked darker and sicker than blood. After I removed my axe, it fell to the ground, dead. After a few seconds, two of the creatures snapped their heads to look to me and began walking towards me. Odd.
I waited till they were a few yards away from the others and went to work, missing again on the first swing, hitting its shoulder from the side, but correcting my aim on the second swing and cutting its head off completely with one swing. I moved to the second one and did the same, I was getting better. As their bodies hit the stone floor, four more woke and began coming towards me. Is this my hell? Is this my destiny, to fight these demons for eternity?
As the four came for me, I realized the pattern. For every one I kill, two more wake. This wasn’t good. I backed up, but realized the edge of the stone pillar was only a few feet behind me. Then I got an idea. I stayed where I was, allowing them to come closer. The first one approached me and extended one of its claws out for me. I grabbed it and flung it off the edge. Another came shortly after, I did the same. The last two were easy as well. The four were gone, and no more woke. I didn’t fully understand the mechanics of this macabre game, but I didn’t care. Blood dripped from my axe as I bent over and threw the dying man over my shoulder. He groaned a bit, but this time didn’t cough up any blood.
The creatures stood there, waiting to be stirred, I wasn’t about to give them a reason to notice me. As quietly as I could, I snuck around them, heading for the stairs on the other side. There wasn’t much space between the edge of the pillar and the odd creatures, but enough to slip past. I kept walking with the man on my left shoulder and the creatures to my right, making sure not to bump into any. As I walked, I noticed one begin to stir to my right a few creatures in. Its gaze didn’t move, still looking down and to the left, but it moved into in front of me along the edge of the pillar. It just stood there, blocking my path. It was cheating.
I knew I didn’t want to kill it for fear of more waking, but with the man on my shoulder, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to push him off the pillar easily. I looked to my axe, on the opposite side of the blade, a long pick stuck out, it would be good for hooking things. I held it in my right hand, moving my grip for the proper hold, and swung at the thing. Unfortunately, my swing touched another creature and deflected the blow.
Two were awake now, coming for me. I backed up, but one of them slipped behind me, blocking my exit. I was surrounded on all three sides and a several story drop to my left. The one behind me began making odd noises, then the one in front of me did as well while its body shook. It was an odd convulsion, perhaps a surge of adrenaline, of excitement. I didn’t like the way this was going. The thing in front came at me and reached out, its gaze never touching mine but its mouth finally open. No teeth, no words, but inhuman screeches emanated from the pale lips and mouth. I thought I was dead, it happened so fast, I thought they were about to tear me into pieces. The dying man kicked at the one in front and I felt him push back at the one behind me. I was knocked to the ground, I closed my eyes for a second, putting my hands up to defend myself.
Then I forced my eyes open as wide as they could go, needing to able to see in order to survive, determined to put up a fight. But nothing was hurting me, no inhuman creature was attempting to devour me with no teeth and claws oddly close to human hands, yet gnarled and deformed. I looked over to where I had been, to where I had dropped the dying man from my shoulder after getting knocked to the ground. He was being torn apart, the red blood stains were in stark contrast to the pale, grey and white creatures which attacked him. He didn’t scream, he didn’t cry out. He was so week and near death, perhaps this was an acceptable release. All were awake now, looking to the four or five which were on all fours ripping and gorging on his body.
I would have fought for him, but it was too late already and I didn’t know what good I could have done anyway. I knew this was my chance, their attention was on him, so I took it. I slowly but purposefully walked towards the stairs on the other side. I circled around the feeding frenzy, keeping an eye on those a bit further out, not yet fully engaging their attention to the dead man. I made it to the first step, a sense of joy welled up inside of me that was so foreign to this place that I almost vomited again. I forced myself to begin climbing, to hold off on the feeling of jubilation until I was completely out of this place.
I climbed quickly but quietly, not wanting to drawn any unneeded attention to myself. The stair case wound a much smaller stone pillar reaching up a bit higher and then connecting to a massive root system which acted like a bridge to the other side of the cavern. Then the stair case continued. I saw torches burning for light further up as it became even darker the higher the stairs went. But beyond the torches, roots, rocks and stair case, I saw the light of the moon shining down upon this cavern of hell. Tears welled up and rolled down my cheek. I told myself I would make it. I continued to climb, approaching the root bridge.
I heard something above, some kind of noise that I couldn’t make, a pattering, a continuous flowing sound coming closer. I dreaded the thing which came, wished it wouldn’t be something horribly awful but knowing the likely hood that it was. Then I felt it, a drop, a wetness on my head, then on my hand and then on my shoulder. Rain.
Water began to pour down the stairs, roots and rocks making mud and causing everything to be much more difficult. I tried to climb faster, fearing what might be the consequence of the added water, but not fully understanding what that would be. Then I heard a noise behind me, below and to the left, further down the stairs. I turned. It was there, the grey white thing with no business being real but belonged only in someones unfortunate nightmare. It had lost interest with the dead man and now and finally sought me. A few others followed its gaze and saw me on the stone spiral stair case. They started walking towards the stairs.
I turned and tried to climb the stairs faster than I had before, but it was no use. The water cascading down the stone made the stairs incredibly slippery. It felt as if I was in a nightmare where one can not move forward while the monsters are right behind. I had to climb with both hands and feet to make progress, I didn’t turn around to see if my pursuers were gaining on me, knew that if I did I would just lose time. And after all, what chance did I have if they caught me anyway? It didn’t matter, my only chance would be to keep climbing faster than them.
I pushed on, slipping a few times, afraid of falling off to the left onto the top of the stone pillar far below, or to the right and past the pillar into the darkness and back into the tunnels. I kept moving, eventually reaching the giant root bridge. It was large, five men could stand side by side safely without losing footing. I looked down the stairs, against my better judgment, and saw three of them climbing after me. They weren’t as fast, their claw like hands or hand like claws made it difficult for them to climb efficiently, but they were coming non-the-less and they wouldn’t stop, I knew.
As I began my trek across the bridge I heard another noise, a different one. One that a sane man would wish not be familiar but was to me. The roar of the cat-thing I had met earlier in this underground hell, it now came from above. I stopped my progress across the bridge and looked up. There, climbing down one of the great roots from the earthen wall flowing with mud. I saw it jump from the root and then nimbly land on the stair case on the other side of the bridge leading up. It began coming towards me. I was trapped, I couldn’t go back down the stairs even if I wanted to, the man-things were climbing and were almost to the top of the stairs, the cat-thing was coming for me, this one didn’t look as timid as the previous one, most likely wouldn’t lick me first before taking a bite.
The only other option was to jump, but that was certain death. I pulled out the small blade I still had, only about three inches long and not very strong or sharp. It would do some damage but I seriously doubted the possibility of fighting off three demons from the pit and some hell cat. They neared. I just stood waiting, nothing left I could do. I stood in a ready stance that made the most sense, watching the cat-thing approach since it could move the fastest if it wanted to, but kept my peripheral vision on the three man-things walking slowly towards me, opening and closing their toothless mouths and pawing and clawing at the air in anticipation of their meal. It seemed to me it was all over. No meaning in my death, I knew I deserved it, knew my sins were being atoned for, leaving my family only thinking of myself. My only consolation was that I at least tried to save the dying man.
Then I heard him. The man, the dying man who was dead, was ripped to pieces, I saw them tugging at his parts, tearing them in two. Now he was whole again, I saw from above looking down below. He was standing in the middle of the dead looking man-things. He was yelling, but more like a roar, a righteous anger filled him and looked to the man-things with true hate, he did wish them to die.
I watched as the dead man who was now alive grabbed one of the things, broke its hand off and ripped its longest finger off. Black blood spilled to the grey stone floor of the pillar. He jabbed the finger into another, using its claw to puncture deep inside its abdomen as he broke its other hand off and then its other longest finger. He pulled out the finger in the abdomen and continued stabbing others with his new weapons with both hands, impaling, slashing, gouging as he went. He got to the point where he was completely severing limbs and heads, kicking down more, sometimes taking hold of one and tossing it into another.
The cat-thing, me and the man-things watched from the root bridge above. Then one of the man-things realized none of us were moving and it looked at me. I looked back, it was almost comical until it opened its mouth and screamed at me, reached out for me with its claws. I ducked away, the cat-thing followed me, its head coming up to my chest. Its tail moved behind it for balance, but it was almost as if it were moving its tail in a playful manner which was almost more disturbing than if it were simply trying to kill me. I backed up to the other side of the root bridge, but the footing was loose as the wooden bridge rounded down. Small branches of the root reached out from it in search of more life giving dirt and sustenance but found none in the open air. They offered little help to me.
Then I heard Him, the dead man now risen. His words had the power of truth and absoluteness I did not expect.
“Your time is at an end!” He yelled with authority. The hairs on the cat-thing stood, it was scared. The faces of the man-things contorted in fear and surprise. Just then more cat-things climbed down from above and began making their way towards the feast; me. They must have heard the declaration, perhaps they didn’t believe it or wished it weren’t true. Perhaps they thought in numbers they could prevail.
There he was, the dead man now risen. He had climbed the stairs and now placed his foot on the root bridge. His body was broken but was now whole, his flesh was torn and eaten but was now mended. Ugly, dead, sick, black blood smeared his clothing and skin to the point that he looked like a ghoul, but I knew he wasn’t.
The man-things turned and saw him, but only for a moment. Their heads hit the bridge before they could react. The cat-thing approached him, but tentatively, it was afraid of what he might do, what he was capable of. The man, now my savior, dropped his makeshift weapons and just walked towards the cat-thing. It backed up until it felt its hind legs find the edge of the bridge and almost lose its footing. It roared and attempted to leap at the man’s throat but found its jaw caught in the man’s hands. He pulled and ripped off its lower jaw, its tongue flapping, attempting to stop the mutilation.
The other cat-things approached, some were bigger than others, some looked older, rattier, as if they’ve been fighting for a long while. Some were scrawny, malnourished, as if they hadn’t eaten for a long time, but the larger one’s were plump with large stomachs hanging below. It occurred to me, as the man backed up to where I was on the bridge to defend me against the approaching death things, that the didn’t take care of their own. The larger one’s looked after themselves, preventing the smaller one’s from having enough to eat. This was not right, nothing was right in this place, it was a hell I couldn’t comprehend, a suffering beyond understanding. This man, this dead man, stood in defiance of that, He denied it to have power.
The cat-things came, the man engaged, there were many, too many, it seemed, for him to defend against all of them while protecting me. I stayed behind him as best I could, but it seemed hopeless as they came. He’d stop one, use its own momentum to hurl it at another and there would still be one behind us approaching, ready to bite my head off. Just as I could feel the teeth of one biting down around my head and face, penetrating my skull and piercing my brain, the man would be there with his bare hands in its jaw, preventing it.
He continued to fight them off, but the cat-things continued to attack, it seemed hopeless. He engaged them one after the other, sometimes more than one at a time. In-spite of his incredible strength, it seemed hopeless. He could fight them, but I knew I couldn’t. I was doing all I could to stay away from them and their claws and teeth, but they were getting closer. Then he got knocked down.
Now I knew it was hopeless. There was nothing to stop a quick snap or a lunge at me, nothing to prevent these beasts from devouring me. I heard a noise above me but I didn’t care, the things were eying me, I knew that any second, that one, the one that seemed smarter and more ambitious, would jump for my throat. It came at me with its body low, ready to pounce. Others were watching, giving it time and space to make its move. Then it jumped. I had to make a decision, my instinct was to duck, but something told me to be bold and stand my ground. I wielded my small blade and hoped for the best, but something came between the beast and me, something huge.
It was massive, I had no idea what was happening at first, but after a few moments it was clear I was ascending away from the horror. I was being held, comforted, I felt safe. I looked and realized a gigantic hand was holding me. Its fingers wrapped around my body gently but firmly. I looked down and saw the man get back up and continue fighting. As he knocked back a few of the beasts, he looked up and saw me and smiled. Somehow, in-spite of things, I knew that he would be fine, that he’d be able to fight them off and prevail.
Now I was going to a new place, a better place, a safe place. He had found me.
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