I felt more suffocated than ever while walking down through the darkness of the stairwell. Even with everyone ahead of me, the danger seemed more real, especially with Fletcher behind me. Moldy, cool air filtered up from the depths. I missed my footing, stumbled and braced my hands against walls that were slick with condensation and who knew what else.
Fletcher's hands gripped my shoulders, tighter than necessary. The hair lifted off the back of my neck in warning. His hot breath brushed my ear.
"Be careful." He said, his tone nasty, "We wouldn’t want anything happening to you."
I jerked away from him,
"Knock it off, Fletch"
He snorted but backed away. I promised myself, right then and there, that once we got back outside, I was kicking his ass. He’d been acting like a prick all night and I had about enough. I'll even get Mark to help me hold him down while Tilly lays the boots to him as well.
The stairs curved towards the left. A flickering light danced across the wall, illuminating a small area. Roberts, Webster, and Tilly were on the landing. Mark stood on the last step, hands on his hips. I looked around Mark and saw that there was a small torch sitting in a metal ring from the wall. It was a squared landing, too small for all of us to fit. There were two other arched openings in the wall, probably leading further down into the crypt. I glanced up and saw a faint bright opening in the ceiling, relieved that it was full daylight.
Roberts, however, turned to us, his face thunderous.
He kept his voice low but we still felt his anger nonetheless,
“Okay, now where is he?”
Mark reached into his pocket for the map. He’d just started to unfold it when Webster snatched it from him with a “Gimme that.” Mark threw up his hands in aggravation. Tilly kept his mouth shut for once, his arms crossed. Fletcher pushed past me to go and stand by them.
While they talked, I inched closer to Mark. I wanted to let him know that there was something not right about this whole thing, that Fletch was up to something but just then a high-pitched scream filtered out from the closest opening. We spun towards it, ready to go in, but Roberts and Webster shoved us out the way with their guns drawn.
Roberts glared at us, his expression clear, Stay here.
Once they'd disappeared, the four of us looked at each and snorted.
Once they'd disappeared, the four of us looked at each and snorted.
Yeah, like we were going to listen to either of them, anyway.
We followed the sounds to another room, this one outfitted with a single lantern which lit up one corner of the room. I took a quick look around. There was a mound of dirt and several duffle bags lined up against the wall closest to the lantern. Several skeletal remains were propped up against the other walls. One looked mighty fresh, its face and abdomen torn away. One of its forearms were missing. There was another opening in the wall, smaller than the one that we had came through.
Archie was crouched down, facing away from us. I didn’t know what he was doing. In all honesty, I was hoping that he was praying. I moved closer to Mark and Tilly, keeping Fletch in sight. He stood by, hands in his jacket pocket. When the sheriff glared at him, Fletch smiled and moved out of the way. Once we were behind the sheriff and Webster, Roberts stepped forward.
“Archie Dillon, we need you to come on down to the station.” He said loudly. “We just want to talk to you, son.” He held his free hand out, fingers splayed, the other rested on his gun.
Webster had his out as well but held the barrel down.
Archie kept his back to us, hunched over something. Faint smacking sounds told us he was either eating or...something else.
Mark stepped to the side of the sheriff,
Archie stopped and lifted his head, tilting it slightly.
His voice, deeper than I remembered, sounded almost amused,
“Mark, are you still playing the negotiator?”
He stood, dropping whatever was in his hands. I couldn’t see it but whatever it was, it hit the ground with a dull thud. Given the décor, I hoped that he’d stopped at some late night burger joint to get his meat fix on. I glanced at the one-armed body again and swallowed hard.
“That’s not fair,” Mark said quietly, “We just want you to come with us-“
“I see you’re right.” Archie said as he turned around. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve. He looked at me first then at the rest of us, his lips quirked as if he were trying not to laugh. “I’m surprised, however, that you felt the need to bring ALL of them here.”
Confused, I didn't know what he was talking about at first. It hit me with a sick realization when Fletch chuckled,
“Well, I didn’t know if you would believe me or not.”
Horror grabbed me by the throat as both Roberts and Webster bellowed at the same time.
“GET DOWN!!” “GET DOWN RIGHT NOW!!! HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD!!”
Mark and I both yanked Tilly to the ground.
Webster kept his gun trained on Archie while Roberts took a step closer to Archie, fumbling for a set of handcuffs.
Archie suddenly laughed out loud.
We froze, as he vanished right in front of us. I looked around. Fletcher had disappeared, too.
Roberts cursed loudly before darting through the opening.
Webster paused, glaring at us with a “Don’t move!” before disappearing after his boss.
“Did you see that?” I was incredulous. “Did you see how far he’s gone?”
“Yeah, yeah, I saw it,” Mark said impatiently, sitting up. “This is beyond us. We need to go.”
“You just wanna go and leave Archie to those two assholes?” Tilly was beside himself. “Not happening!”
“In case you hadn’t noticed,” I cut in, pointing at him, “Fletch more or less sold us out.”
“All the more reason to stay,” Tilly said stubbornly as he got up. “I owe that fucker anyway.”
He took off after them.
I cursed and looked at Mark, saying,
“We can’t leave it like this.We've come too far, already.”
This has to end, one way or another...
We didn't acknowledge what the possible outcome might be. It was already there, between us. It felt very solemn,very heavy and very...final.
He rubbed his eyes, nodding.
I quickly averted mine. I was close enough to tears already.
He sighed and got to his feet,
“Fine, let’s finish this.”
We heard the sheriff and Webster call out for Archie.
He replied with spooky, mocking laughter. Another drawn out wail beckoned us and we hurried in its direction. We found the other guys in an even more spacious area, the walls lined with shelves upon shelves of bodies in various stages of decay. For all of the dead bodies, the room was surprising fresh. I didn’t even want to think about Archie down here, sprinkling potpourri around the place.
The sheriff and deputy were at the far end, peering out into another passage. Webster had the flashlight, scanning the ceilings and walls.
We stared down the dark passage, the once faint screams becoming louder, accompanied by the slap-slap-slap of running feet.
A woman, her mouth stretched wide, came into view. She was naked, the front of her body covered in long, bloody welts. Her one eye spun wildly in its socket, the other was sunken back into her head. We scrambled out of the way as she took a running leap, hit the far shelf behind us then lunged directly at Webster, her clawed hands tearing at him. They fell into Mark, knocking him down. The deputy screamed and fired. The sound, sharp and deafening, ricocheted throughout the room. When Tilly suddenly gasped, I knew he got hit in some kind of way. I screamed his name, charging forward, as he spun around, his wide eyes meeting mine. I caught him, falling to the dirt floor. The bullet from Webster’s gun tore right through his throat.
Everything suddenly moved in slow motion. The woman’s shrill screams of bloodlust drowned Webster’s cries for help. Mark tried to roll away from them. I sat in the middle of the floor, my hand pressed against Tilly’s throat, his hot blood pulsing through my fingers. Tears nearly blinded me as I begged Tilly to hold on. He gurgled, his body jerking with unimaginable pain. His hands gripped my arm, his mouth flapping helplessly. I screamed again, bending over Tilly as the sheriff fired on the woman. She continued to tear chunks of flesh out of Webster’s face, screeching in glee. Her body jerked with each thunk of the bullets but that didn’t stop her. She rode Webster down to the ground, clutching him by the throat, her movements frenzied. I shut my eyes against the flashing pockets of light from his gun.
The sounds were suddenly muted, the heavy stillness of the aftermath snapped my eyes open. Fletch had the sheriff bent over in a headlock, his other arm going up and down in rapid succession. The sheriff grunted with each blow. I caught a glimpse of metal and, with a hollow feeling, knew exactly what he was doing. He dropped the sheriff and viciously kicked him once in the gut before yanking the woman off Webster. The deputy didn't move, only a fading, bubbly wheeze could be heard from him.
The woman's blood-smeared mouth pulled back in a hiss. Just when I hoped she would attack him, Fletch tossed her onto the sheriff. She sniffed him curiously at first before burrowing into his facial wounds, like a lion, her growls of appreciation filling the air. Ribbons of gore sailed about the room as she grabbed handfuls of flesh from his torso, and stuffed them into her mouth as fast as she could.
I looked around wildly for Mark. He was fighting with Fletcher, taking a right to the jaw. He staggered for a moment, and then swung on Fletch, his punch glancing off Fletch’s shoulder. He reared back to hit him again but Fletch stepped in close, driving the knife into his stomach. I yelled at the same exact moment. As Mark started to go down, Fletch yanked him upright, grabbed him by the head and with a sharp, twisting motion, snapped his neck. He threw Mark to side as if he weighed nothing before turning to me, a wide smile on his face.
Rage, hot and thick, pumped through my veins like battery acid. I zeroed in on him. I wanted to wash my hands in his blood.
I didn’t remember laying Tilly down. I didn’t remember getting to my feet. All I wanted to do was make him pay. I wanted to feel his life leave his worthless body by my hand alone.
I traded punch for punch, ignoring the hits to my face and stomach. I planned to kill him, one way or another. Before I knew it, my hands were around his neck, ready to tear his head off. Through my anger, I saw him roll his eyes and that set me off even more.
I reared back for a head-butt when he suddenly yawned, “Oh puh-leeze,” and backhanded me, hard. I flew through the air, hitting the edge of the opening to passage. I felt a sharp, snapping crack of pain against my spine. Molten-hot licks of agony rolled through my body as I hit the ground, my body curved outwardly around the edge of the doorway. I jerked in spasmodic pain, my arms and legs flapping uselessly. My eyes rolled around for a moment, dark spots slowly swimming in my vision. Bile rushed out of my throat. I choked and sputtered, trying to clear it. I couldn’t swallow and I knew for sure I was going to die. I glared at him and put as much hate into my eyes as possible, damning him to burn in hell.
Fletch squatted down next to me, running the edge of his knife along his thumb. He looked me up and down then pressed on my stomach. I gurgled, trying to turn my head. He laughed and put his full weight on me. Shards of white-hot pain shot through me again, forcing more bile to spurt from my mouth.
Archie stepped behind him,
“Why?” Fletch asked, still staring at me. “We don't need him. He’s no longer viable.”
Archie pushed him away, and took his place, his gaze sympathetic. I silently begged him to release me. I couldn't hold on anymore, even as I watched his canines slowly extend. I barely heard him though I felt the coolness of his hand when he placed it against my cheek.
With his eyes still on mine, he whispered,
“Yes, he is.”
*to be continued*
© copyright 2011 by Ren Thompson August 18, 20113 Word Wednesday: Gasp, Mute, Viable