Thursday, November 29, 2012
I knew from about Chapter 4 this story was becoming similar to Dante’s Inferno. Now I have never read the story but I know the references. Tonight I let Wikipedia re-familiarize me with the poem. Alighieri’s poem is much more detailed and way better than this story. Dante was giving a lesson in heaven and hell, calling out each sin and the punishment. Where Dante failed and I will try is that anything that goes on, after a time we acclimate. Soon the punishment becomes not painful but annoying therefore, sin must come with an ever changing and increasing pain along with a constant reminder of why you are where you are. Alighieri also differentiated between people that were will to ask forgiveness and those that tried to justify their sins. What seems applicable to me is that because every man sins, we each will take our turn in hell unless you are of the group that does not believe in hell or that our sins are forgiven and we get to skip that part. I hope #3 wins out but I too believe in balance. The hope is that a moment in hell can be adequate punishment for many of us. I’m in no hurry to find out. Maybe I am trying to remind myself the cost of the seven deadly sins, the separation from love, light, joy, all which rolled together equal God. So, I’ll just follow my character. I figured he would have been out by now but I am trying to avoid a corny ending. I guess he will go where he will go and I’ll try to keep away from Dante’s preaching yet this is a story of the price of sin and what we may face if we decide to take that path, me included. Chapter 10 The sound that boiled up from deep inside the huge horror sounded like a raging inferno. It overcame the vibrations from the rock. It reverberated through the cavern. I thought it might cause a collapse. “I know who you are! Stop right now!” I knew my only chance was to appear the same as any of the hundreds of people here. I could feel my muscles trembling. The rest of the population didn’t appear to flinch. One foot in front of another, step by shaky step. The only reference I had in my life made me decide that this was Satan; tall, red and horrid. No pitch fork or horns, but this naked monster was fearful. I didn’t even dare try peering around to see what he was doing or even where he stood. I just prepared to feel his grip. I got to the pile of rocks and dumped my full wheelbarrow like all the others. I had to take a chance. I jumped in the full scoop and lay flat as it rose toward the level above. Just before the scoop went through the ceiling to the floor above, I took a quick peek over. The ugly red creature was looking right at me. He let out a terrible scream that I could feel. He turned and went toward the stairs. As soon as the bucket passed the surface, I leapt out. Behind me it tilted over and dumped its load. I ran across the floor and jumped into the first bucket going back down. When I went down through into the chamber below, I could see his feet on the stairs going up. I was still twenty feet or so off the floor and couldn’t jump. I jiggled, trying to rush the wheel down. Satan above me roared again, a sound I could easily hear through the roof. The wheel stopped so suddenly, I was almost thrown from it. I looked up and could see the monster looking down at me through the gap. I looked over the edge of my scoop and saw I was still fifteen feet from the pile of rocks. I grabbed the spindle and tried to walk the rim down. I slipped and slid about five feet before going over the edge. I hit the edge of the pile of rocks hard and bounced down the slope landing face first on the floor. I jumped up and almost fell again. I had hurt my leg. I looked over to the stairwell and I could see his feet coming down the stairs. I hobbled toward the open door in the cave wall. On my way, I pushed over as many of the people as I could, maybe seven. I hoped it would distract him long enough for me to get away. I limped down the hall as fast as I could. I heard more terrorizing noise behind me. I couldn’t turn to look. I rounded a corner and there, in front of another door stood a mirgurn. He turned his head and jumped back a little. Then he cocked his head to the side. I looked around and saw several openings, nothing marked. “Which way out?” I asked. He cocked his head the other way. “Quick. Tell me.” I knew I had to move soon but even at my best, I couldn’t out run something that big. With a limp I was dead. I waited for just one moment. I saw the mirgurn reach into a bucket beside him and pull out a handful of slime. Before I could react, he wiped it on my hurt leg. I pulled back but I wasn’t quick enough. The slime felt ice cold, burning like an ice cube tray. The little deformed guy smiled a crooked smile. “Follow me,” he said. I watched as he waddled quickly through one of the openings. I followed behind, not sure of what to expect. I could hear Satan behind me closing the gap. We turned a sharp corner and he stopped. The little guy pushed his back to the wall and I followed suit. I heard a roar but it sounded distant. Then another and another. Satan was going door to door screaming, searching. When he sent his terrible yell down our tunnel it was like the crackling of lightning and the ripping thunder. I held my hands to my ears. I felt a yank on my pants and the mirgurn took off down the hall. I followed. The path spiraled down deeper. There were side doors here and there. I wondered what horror lay behind them. After going for a while, we stopped. I sat down on the floor and put my head on my knees to catch my breath. When I did, the clarity and sound of the movie improved. Once again I was saddened by my past life. Then a question came to me when it wiggled its way through all the accusations. The movie paused. Had I changed during my trip through this hell? Hadn’t I just sacrificed others to escape? Had I treated them as nothing more than inanimate objects? Next to me stood a little mirgurn that helped me escape and I hadn’t even thought of what he had given up to run with me. I looked up at him and patted the rock floor beside me. He sat. “Thank you,” I said. The mirgurn tilted his head then nodded it with a crooked smile. “I want to get out of here,” I said. “Follow me,” he said and started to get up. I went to grab him and pull him back down but I hesitated to touch his slimy half arm. I stood up instead. When I did, I noticed that the pain had stopped. I moved it back and forth. I twisted it. I put all my weight on it but it felt fine. When I looked at the mirgurn, he smiled and wiped slime from his arm. “Poorol,” he said. Then he wiped the stuff back on his arm. “Thank you,” I said. The mirgurn turned and went on down the hall. As we traveled, I noticed there were no lights. I could see a glow coming from the walls themselves. I followed him silently. “Rrrggrrrree chuuuurrrr.” “He ran down one of the tunnels. I’ll find him.” “Dddurrrrreee frrrrrrrruuuuur. Grrrruuuueeeee.” “No. I promise. He won’t get away.” “Zzzzzzzzuuuuuuuu.” “I’ll get him.” The Boss saw the wet tentacle snake out and around him. As big as he stood, he was nothing compared to the strength of the black arm around him. He couldn’t see the size of the master who was hidden in the darkness but he felt the rippling muscles and the cold of the wet tentacle. He could feel it squeeze him until he couldn’t move. He felt himself lifted and pulled into the dark where for the first time he could see the face that belonged to the body. Thirty eyes lined the snout. The oblong head was snake like except for the finned ears. He couldn’t count the tentacles that squirmed below him like a ball of giant wet worms. The cold goo reflected the little light entered from the open door way. An arm broke free from the mass and reached out. It pushed the door closed and the light disappeared. The one wrapped around him tightened and he could feel his bones crack. Then he felt razor sharp teeth slice into him. He heard his own scream as fire from the bite lit up every nerve. Then he was pulled down into the master’s cold sludge. The master gnawed on the victim and slowly swallowed him piece by piece. Once his meal was complete, he slipped under the surface of the sludge and let thoughts run. Danger flashed in its mind. He thrived on chaos and fear. Sweat and insanity flowed in the air and made a pleasant aroma. His only worry was that if a living being escape it could slow the progression of the dead into his home. It needed the dead for food and comfort. It pushed its mind to find the man.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
The Beginning Graytale barely expended the energy it takes to light a match tonight trying to write a new story. He has started three and deleted them all. He is apparently brain dead from all the nightshift work. Of course I have been doing the work, he just sleeps and wakes up occasionally to say something worthy of repeating but he seems to wait till I’m driving and have no pen or my eyes are closing and I have no desire. He is a wretched human being full of spite and payback, perhaps since I have kept him caged so long. When I first set him free, he was a little unsure, not very good at English. He has improved some and now thinks he is in charge. I remind him that I still provide the food and housing. He will get to live easy off my retirement even though he has not provided anything to contribute but tax write-offs. Now when I have time to let him loose a little, he lays about mumbling in his sleep, giving me nothing to work with. Here is the last thing he said that was anything worth while. “I surf on the waves of humanity, staying just in front of the curl, praying my skill will be enough to keep me from getting swallowed and lost among them.” It was a nice start but then he starting signing along to ‘My Guitar Slowly Weeps’ then fell asleep while I was busy negotiating a difficult curve. So I wait for the next gem that can get him moving. He is a stickler for the opening line. It is from that starting point that his characters begin their journey never knowing where Graytale will lead them or what their end may be. Maybe it also the fact is Graytale is past his latest heartbreak and not in the middle of his next. Depression drives his soul baring writing and excitement drives the action. He is in the winter doldrums. He is no longer prolific but certainly profane. I am glad you readers don’t have to deal with him 24 – 7 as I do. He can be a handful. Thankfully, I can’t throw him out because he can be as entertaining as he can be irritating. (He thinks he knows everything but he is insecure, how weird is that?) When I find myself alone, he is always there to crack a joke. “A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, Hey! Why the long face?” He sings terrible but we harmonize pretty good. He’s better looking than me and has quite the repertoire of pick up lines I won’t let him use. Best of all, he’s better than a radio during a long drive. The worst is that when I am on the phone, he’s like a little kid pulling on my sleeve. “Look at that.” “Come here.” “I want to watch a different channel.” “Remember doing this today?” “I only saw something unnatural once. It scared me so bad, I had to change my pants. I didn’t recognize it but I could feel its horrid intent,” starts Graytale. “Now here it was again.” Work with that he says. Hmmmm. I think I can. Maybe the pizza I had for dinner woke him. Maybe the hot chocolate. Now that he is in the mood, I am excited. Then I look up at the clock and see the next meeting is in 30 minutes. Barely time to get started. Started is better than ended. In The Dark, Madness Waits Chapter 1 I only saw something unnatural once. It scared me so bad, I had to change my pants. I didn’t recognize it but I could feel its horrid intent. Now here it was again. It’s standing at the end of my hallway. A shaft of streetlight muted by the sheer curtain that covered the window at the end of the hall was what shone on the creature. Its shadow stretched toward me across a polished cherry floor. It looked as poisonous as the saliva that dripped from its canine teeth leaving burnt blisters on the floor. I could only describe it as a two headed wolf but its body resembled a wild boar, stiff bristles of fur. The feet were paws with long talons and the tail was reptilian. I could have written it off as a nightmare or bad whisky until it turned and looked at me. I felt a cold fog creep over me carried by a thousand spider feet. I shivered because I didn’t know its intent, its origin, only that it was bad, very, very bad. I could already feel the wet lash of bloody whips. I could feel the fear of facing the terrible unknown, fat lips and living teeth brushing against my ear speaking horrible things as it held my throat from behind The two sets of orange eyes told me I was selected for pain. The lolling tongue told me it would be a place of insanity, of creeping things. I was frozen to the spot. I knew one move, one twitch; one splatter of sweat from my brow to the floor would bring the monster lunging at me. He would grab me with jaws of fire and drag me where lunatics ruled and played with men as cats played with half dead mice. Then it slipped around the corner and was gone. I slid down the wall to a sitting position and cried. No Jesus, no God would be able to keep me from being taken. I knew the sins of my past had ended all hope. They say no sin is too big to be unforgiven but they forgot about mine. My sin was the unforgiveness of self. The things I had done, the crimes I committed, should not be forgiven and I should not be allowed to mix with people that had earned the right by living right. Though God would, I could not. I condemned myself and I had been visited by escort to my reward. The first time I had seen the creature, I had been drunk. When had I been sober? Not for the five years previous. Don’t cry for me. I wasn’t drinking to drown out some sorrow undeserved. I wasn’t drinking to block out some horrid memory or erase a childhood. I drank because I could and I didn’t care. Because I didn’t care, people got hurt. I didn’t care. That was the trail I left. Empty bottles and cigarette butts. Of course there were the occasional joint, snort, pill but my preference was liquor, hard and straight and often. With the drinking came the fights. I was fourteen when I began drinking and fighting when I was fifteen so I had become proficient at it and dangerous. I killed my first man when I was nineteen. I smashed his head against the sidewalk. We were fighting because he didn’t like me flirting with his girlfriend. I convinced the cops it was an accident and I got off clean. The second time really was an accident. I was driving down the highway. I dropped my cigarette lighter on the floor of my car. Drunk of course. When I looked up, there she stood, holding two bags of groceries. I left my car in the garage for two years and fixed it myself. I killed my wife. Not in the literal sense but dead through the soul. Why she loved me I’ll never know, but she did. She loved me long after my parents gave up on me. I even asked her why. She said she didn’t know. I called her stupid. I didn’t even like me and I was the closest thing to me. She cried. It took five years before she was worn out enough to leave. I wasn’t surprised, I was relieved. It was too much taking care of someone else. I was enough for me to focus on. Then the accident happened. No surprise. How many years of driving drunk with no accidents except the hit and run until luck ran out? Twelve, to be exact. I was driving down the highway headed for I don’t know where. I was running. I was running from myself. I lived under the influence for 14 years but had only been as drunk as I was that night three or four times before, black out stuff. I remember things in my head; voices and images, things that made my head itch and my feet uncomfortable. I don’t remember leaving the road and I don’t remember the tree. I do recall the pictures I saw months later. “You’re lucky to be alive,” the doctor told me. If anyone would have said that to me before the accident, I would have laughed. After, I wondered. Was I? I was alive for sure but should I consider myself lucky? Either the way the outcome will be the same and whether you start eternity today or in ten years does it really matter. I think it would have been better had I died then. At least I wouldn’t know what I was missing. They say that when you die you see your body. I saw mine, mangled and bloody with nurses and doctors trying to keep me alive. I don’t recall what I thought of the scene. I suspect disinterest. The next is a light. That I did see. I lived a life that was light years from pure but I could tell pure when I saw it and the light was, that and more. I went toward it somehow, not walking or floating. Maybe it came toward me. It’s not important. Everything that happened after that is. Graytale was obstinate today. He hung around my frontal lobe arms and legs crossed and brow furrowed. He wants to get started on the sequel to The Ulasiga. He wants to finish The Escort and the two other mostly finished novels but I’m asking for “short” stories knowing full well that once we cut the characters loose we don’t know how long or how far they will take us. I promised him that as soon as the holidays were over and things return to normal, we will get going. I told him it would impact marketing and social networking. He said he don’t care. He doesn’t care how many books sell and he could care less about people. (He figures we’ll write anyway and that’s the only time he is happy). So I guess we’ll continue shorts till I am done working nights and then we’ll get started on the novels. Now that he is somewhat satisfied, back to the story. Chapter 2 Nobody greeted me as the light widened into daytime in some place I never could have imagined existed. The place looked like a garden. I followed along on the path that felt like cork. I could hear children singing in the distance and between the bushes and trees, I saw people walking and talking. They wore all sorts of different clothing but it was all brightly colored. I looked at the bushes and the trees. Something wasn’t right with them until I noticed that not a single leaf was brown or wilted. And there was something else. I lived in the city but I had spent plenty of time in the local parks. They were good places to drink. Here there wasn’t a bit of trash. Not a gum wrapper or a cigarette butt. All my years of drinking and smoking had robbed me of any taste or smell but standing here I inhaled an aroma of flowers. Not too sweet but smooth. I checked out what I could of me. I had on some type of slip on canvas blue shoes and baggy red pants. I had a blue silk shirt that felt like air. I didn’t have a bump or bruise. Amazing. As I continued along the trail I had a feeling of peace that at the time was hard to comprehend, never remembering any peace in my life. The feeling was so overwhelming I had to stop and sit on a bench along side of the walk. I think the reality that I was dead set in and I found it hard to breathe. Why would I want to breathe if I were dead? And this was it, the end. And what was this? Where was I? All those questions and none seemed to matter. I sat and watched as a few people passed by in twos and threes. They would smile and nod showing no surprise at my being there. I felt compelled to continue so I rose and walked on. I saw in front of me where the garden ended and opened up on a large square. The cork path changed to what looked like stone but was also soft. I pushed on it a few times with my foot. It squished down like the foam beds you could jump on and not spill the wine. The square looked like any square in any small town. Four sides and each side had three to four buildings. One building had a marquee covering the sidewalk and lights blinking. The words spelled out on the sides in big red letters said ‘Now Playing, Your Life.’ I walked toward it as did several other people. Those going to the theater were mostly alone. There wasn’t anyone in the ticket window so I walked in. There was only one theater, not like in my town near the mall where there were twenty showing all the latest and some in 3-D. None showing ‘My Life’. The room was dark with only the lights along the floor to guide the way. I found a seat about half way to the tall white screen that had nothing playing. There were several people scattered about and they all seem engrossed in the looking at the blank screen. When I turned back, the show began. It started before I was born actually. It took me a moment to figure it out but there was my mom as a little girl and my dad too, like on a split screen but not. The strangest thing was that I could hear their thoughts and their voices. I was watching them grow up. I found out things about them that I never knew. I heard my mother’s desire to find a husband and have children. I heard my father’s desire to succeed in the world, to make money, to live well. Marrying mother just kind of went with the whole thing. Different desires, same outcome. I could hear the frustration in my father as he got passed over for promotions and I could see why. When I was born I saw all three screens, mom, dad, and me. I heard even my thoughts in conjunction with my parents. I was able to see the disjointed understanding we had of each other. I found that it hurt my mother to punish me and that my father did it out of duty. The show made me uncomfortable. I found out much of what I thought about my parents was not true. I was young and reacted to feelings. Then the drinking started. I heard my dying parent’s last thoughts, my friends, co-workers, everyone that ever crossed my path. I listened to the heartbreak of my wife. The thoughts of the woman I hit and what her friends and relatives went through. I understood that nobody, not even me understood me, what I was, why I was, who I was. I did understand that I wasn’t what I thought I was. In fact I learned I was a waste of life, a useless mook that took and never gave. I left the theater and retraced my steps. I went back through the garden. I turned my back to the light and returned to my broken bleeding body wishing it was broken more, punishment. Now I wander through life still drinking and smoking, still not caring. Most people would say they would drop the bottle, drop the butts, kiss everyone’s ass if they had to, to get back where I had been. I wouldn’t blame them but they hadn’t killed a woman, two as far as that goes. They hadn’t killed a man for no reason. They hadn’t done to their parents what I had done. No, I wasn’t going back there but now I was truly frightened of where I was going. I wouldn’t volunteer. It was going to have to come and get me. So Graytale is in a much better mood because of issues at work I’ll be on these nights with little to do but my normal duties which give more time for him to express himself when I have time to write. I mean, he has no problem writing when I am trying to sleep which is disturbing. I lost at least a half an hour while he worked on this current story. Now I have to try to remember what he said so I can write. Well, let’s see where he goes. Chapter 3 How is it I went through life not even considering that everybody, every single person was brought up different from me? Why did I feel free to judge others on my principles? While watching my movie, I had come to understand that my every action, every word changed people if only slightly and if only for a moment. What I really had not considered was the way each of these small influences from others built up over time and changed people without them even knowing it. But the proof is obvious once you look for it. That’s why people find or abandon religion, change political parties, go from gas guzzlers to a Prius. The constant bombardment of influences soften or harden people depending on how they were raised or how much they respect the influencer. It was that realization that struck me the hardest. My entire life I put down others who didn’t agree with me as dumbasses, morons, idiots and now realize that my way isn’t the only way, that the universe and people are too complex to dictate only one solution to a problem. During my movie I was shown the outcome of some of my so called solutions. I hadn’t realized the extent of the population of those I condemned, that not only those I thought should be punished were but those I hadn’t thought belonged to the group were punished too, undeservedly. I forgot that even though different, they were the same. I thought I wasn’t a racist but my life film had shown me those I degraded because they were lazy, thieving, shiftless, when imaged in my mind weren’t white. The proof laid out in front of me on the big screened opened my eyes to the road they had traveled to get where they were, the difficulties they encountered unimaginable. I condemned all religions as hypocrites and praised myself for not being like them which made me even a bigger hypocrite than them just by placing myself on a higher pedestal. I claimed superiority but showed none. At least the worst of them had a supreme being. At least most of them gave to the poor. At least most of them would help a stranger. I was an abomination and I certainly didn’t deserve the feeling I had received when I walked through the garden and sat on the bench. I got up from the hallway floor and walked into my small kitchen. I tossed my half bottle of scotch in the trash. I didn’t taste good and I didn’t fell like getting drunk anymore. I tossed my cigarette away for the same reason, it did nothing for me. I felt empty inside, a shell waiting for the monsters to come and drag me home. I walked over to my window and looked outside. My small apartment was above a hair salon along a boulevard on the other side of the tracks. I had a good view along the far side of the street. There were people walking up and down the sidewalk going about their day, unaware of what lay in front of them in the future and what monsters were ready. If they knew, they would probably be at home huddled in their basement. In the alley directly across from me, I saw Weaving Walter, a local drunk, far more advanced than I. He was sitting on a plastic milk crate leaning against a dumpster, sleeping. Next to him lying on its side was a bottle in a brown bag. A small rivulet of liquor coming from the bottle ran down the asphalt. That was unlike Walter to let booze go to waste. I had to blink twice. I saw my monster lying at his feet, waiting. I watched for a bit wondering why it sat there looking at him. I let my eyes scan up and down the sidewalk looking for other monsters. I decided I had gone crazy, wet brain from alcohol. No pink elephants for me. I returned to my seat in the kitchen. I reached for a cigarette but passed. I tapped my tongue on the roof of my mouth feeling the dryness. I wanted water. I took a glass from my shelf and filled it in the sink. I took back to the table and took a sip. Metal. That’s what I tasted. I drank half the glass and set it back on the ring it had left on my table. I tried to center it exactly. I couldn’t sit still, I had to get up and look back out at Weaving Walter and my monster. People continued to pass the entrance to the alley. Some looked over at Walter, some didn’t. Apparently none saw the creature. Walter didn’t move. Slowly the monster lifted both of its heads and stood on its crazy legs. It stretched it head out and one mouth opened. It bit down on Walter’s leg. That woke him up, maybe. I saw two Walters; one trashing wildly in the jaws of the nightmare, the other still asleep. I could hear his screams through my window yet people passing by acted as nothing was happening. They did walk faster. Some even crossed the road disappearing beneath my window but not like they saw anything. The wolf headed animal began dragging him down the alley, slowly, backing up using its powerful hind legs. Walter fought as hard as he could, kicking with his free foot. The monster wasn’t fazed. A gray black hole opened up behind the demon. I could feel a cold gray slime coat my body and a thousand voices of pain and despair spray from the hole. Walter was pulled into the void. The circle of black closed over him and shut out the terror that came from within, Walter now part of the throng. But Walter still sat on the crate leaning on the dumpster. I continued to watch but the thing did not reappear and Walter continued to sleep. I returned to the kitchen table. I had some thinking to do. If I was a drinking man, I would have gone for a quart. I was but the thought of a drink passed quickly and I focused on what I had just witnessed. A doctor might be my next call or I could self admit myself to the local nut house. Once more I shivered as I recalled the cries from Walter and those that came from the dark hole. I wandered around my apartment for a while just replaying the last few hours. I had been the first choice of that crazed creature but I had survived. Walter or what ever vision I had, had not. I had to leave. When I stepped out of the door to the street, my attention was drawn to the ambulance sitting across the street blocking the alley. I wandered over. They had someone on the gurney, dead. I knew because the sheet covered their head. I recognized Walter’s boots. I turned away and moved south toward the better side of town. I didn’t know where I was going or why, at least consciously, but I continued in that direction. I came up with an idea and decided to try it out. The Memorial Hospital was only 12 blocks away. I wouldn’t be disappointed. It’s very early Thanksgiving morning. I have been slaving away with real work while Graytale tries to follow his character. I myself would be satisfied with twiddling the night away with technical writing but then I’d be up half of the day Thanksgiving listening to Graytale spit out lines instead of turkey bones and olive pits. I am a bit interested in where this guy will lead Graytale and mostly where he will end. So, I’ll sign off and bring you the writer himself. Chapter 4 I quietly roamed the halls of the hospital paying particular attention to the emergency room and critical care. I saw noting out of place. There were no monsters or angels. As horrible as I had been, I always believed in balance. If monsters stalked me and took Walter, there had to be angels of something to escort the good. A quiet chorus of agony came from behind me. I turned and saw the dark hole closing behind the same horrid creature that had been in my apartment and that had dragged Walter to somewhere bad. I held still and watched. One head looked at me, the other behind. Then they both faced down the hall and the talons from the paws clicked on the linoleum floor as it walked toward the other end. Each head looked into the room on its side as it stalked down to the far end. At the second door on the left before the end, it halted. The monster turned and walked through the door. I hustled down the hallway and stood in front of the door to the room the thing had entered. I tried to put my hand on the door but it was shaking too hard. I moved close and pushed it open slowly with my shoulder, ready to bolt if the thing looked at me. My knees felt weak and I was afraid I might collapse. Inside the room, the monster had stopped and laid down like a faithful dog at the foot of the bed of an old man. It didn’t turn to look at me. I looked at the person in bed. The man in bed had an oxygen mask over his face and his eyes closed. Several monitors were hooked to him and they beeped slowly but without rhythm. His chest would rise under the white sheet, drop, pause and then rise again. Each time it fell, I expected it wouldn’t come back up. Other than old and frail, he looked no different from anyone else I had seen. What had his life been that the devil’s dog had been called? How long would it be until the thing took him away? I waited. I could hear the monitors slowing and I wasn’t alone. The two-headed dog…hog got up slowly. It walked around to the side of the bed. One head looked up at the scope with the trailing lights while the other watched the man. I wondered what his life had been, what he had rejected to find himself at the mercy of this creature. Had he, like me given up? Self imprisoned and doomed by truth or had he just gone through life oblivious to what he was doing? Maybe his rewards had justified his means in his mind not believing there were other rewards waiting. I suppose I was fortunate to know that there was something after death. Even though I refused to take advantage of the opportunity, maybe others wouldn’t if they knew what I knew. I shook my head. I had even wasted my near death experience. More reason to allow myself the cold alternative. The sound of a single tone brought me back to the present. I watched as the one head opened its mouth and took a hold of the man’s arm. That woke him and he sat up with a look of terror. His screaming was loud even through his mask. Like Walter, it was like two men. One remained dead in bad while the other fought to release the grip of the dog head. I backed up as the thing pulled the trashing man from the bed. The old guy tried to grab the bed posts but his fingers went right through. I continued to back up, keeping my distance. I forgot about the dark opening until I felt cold wet hands grab me and pull me in. I struggled to get free but there were too many of them. Their maniacal laughter filled my ears but I still thought I recognized Walter’s voice. My hair stood and I felt my skin bunch up. A thousand fears swept through my mind, none connecting into a solid image. The screaming man from the hospital and the monster that pulled him faded as the distance to them increased and the light faded. Then it all blinked out as quickly as the light turning off. I whipped my head around as the hands disappeared. Nothing. I tried to go back the way I came but fear and the darkness stopped me. I turned around slowly, looking for something, anything. My whole body shook as I waited for something to leap out at me in the dark. When the light had gone out, so did the voices. I stood in the dark, in silence. It was cold, too. Coat and hat cold. I wrapped by arms around me. My eyes adjusted somewhat and I could distinguish shades of dark. I turned until I found the darkest spot. I walked toward it much like the light had pulled me. I didn’t feel as compelled as I did when I walked toward the light but like I said, I believe in balance. Walking was the hardest, fearful my next step would be into nothingness. I waved my hands in front of me. The silence was complete. The only sound was the ringing in my ears. I yelled and heard it drop at my feet. I felt my mind for my lighter. I pulled it out and spun the wheel. Not even sparks from the flint. Sure, Heaven and Hell came to mind but something felt like the thought was incorrect. The first place I was, the place of light, peace, and the movie seemed like a holding place maybe a place where you got accustomed to death. Hell was supposed to be hot. This place was just dark and cold. The black spot in front of me grew as I continued to walk toward it. Soon, even the lighter black disappeared and total dark encompassed the area. I kept going, feeling my way along with my arms outstretched and waving around. I took small steps, testing before putting them down. As the fear eased, an emptiness filled me. I didn’t have a thought or an emotion. The feeling was strange and hard to describe. I just wanted to sit down. Sit and disappear. I bent down and felt the floor I walked on. It felt like rough stone. I sat down. There was nowhere to go and I had no desire to search. I recalled my movie and went through it again, frame by frame, trying to understand how it all came to pass to put me here. I spent a long time watching my mother. I had never looked at her like this and I never knew her, not really. To watch her from the time she was a baby to the last time she saw me was heartbreaking. She had loved me from the moment of my conception and loved me still even though I could physically feel the heartbreak I had caused. I saw where I misunderstood punishment as her not loving me. I saw her frustration at not being the perfect mother not having a role model herself. My movie had shown her absent mother, tired from the three boys and two sisters that were my Aunts and Uncles. My mother learned her skills from hand-me-down dolls and hand-me-down advice from her older sisters. She had tried as hard as she could and I remember seeing her cry because she wasn’t what she wanted to be. Sitting here in the cold and dark, I cried with her and for her. What a selfish idiot I had been. Then I saw light. Tryptophan my ass, I’m tired because I am working 12 hours a day and have been since the 1st of November with 1 day off. My job consists of looking at documents and schedules which doesn’t lead to alertness. I’ve enough pizza to turn into an Italian and enough sugar to render me into a coma. I have surfed the web for a vacation spot and have looked at Tahiti, Ecuador, Indonesia, New Zealand, Thailand, cruises, and a Grand Canyon rafting trip. I’ve read every piece of news that has gone down the pike and I have scrolled to the end of Facebook. I am ready to go back to a normal shift. My partner in crime, Graytale is ready to continue the story. I am turning my mind and fingers over to him so don’t blame me for typos. Plus he doesn’t speel so well. Chapter 5 I looked toward the light and saw another creature dragging a hapless victim in through the hole. With the light came the cries from all around me in the dark. I didn’t see anyone else but I could hear them. When the victim was pulled through, the lights blinked out. I returned to my thoughts, this time my father. Here was another one that had little in the way of role models. I was able to recall through my movie that he had learned most of his parenting and even manhood skills through television. I found he didn’t love me as much as my mother. He was unsure of how to love a child is what I had seen in the replay of my life. Had I hugged him or even shown a little respect or love it would have broken that dam of reserve. Once again the shame of my failure became visible and I pounded my fist against my head for the ignorant young man I was back then and even today. I wanted to reach out to him and tell him I understood. I knew if I gave him a hug, both his and my world would change forever. I went through each relationship, each contact looking for any sign of good in me but not finding any. I could see where I made life all about me and how others were there to serve my happiness. The more I recalled the deeper my depression went. I finally tilted my head back and screamed. I could feel my vocal cords burning from the effort yet no sound escaped my mouth. I tried again and again without luck. This strange place remained as quiet as a tomb. The film of my life continued to replay in my mind. There was no shutting it off. I forced myself to my feet. I had to get out of here to stop the endless movie and the deepening depression that went with the reminder of my failures. I moved in the direction of the last opening and waited. As soon as it began, I would run toward it. As I waited, I looked to my left and right, trying to see the others that inhabited this place. No sight, no sound, just cold and dark. When the light came, I wasn’t ready. The crying and moaning alerted me. It was off to my left and halfway open before I ran. I got within ten feet when the unseen hands grabbed at me. I was able to break free of some but a few impeded my run enough to allow the creature to enter with its latest prize who came like the rest, screaming and flailing. By the time I reached it, it had closed, the silence took over and the hands disappeared. I twisted trying to spot anyone, anything but the moment of light had ruined my night vision. At least I knew where the opening was so I would be ready the next time. I waited. When the sounds of woe echoed again, I crouched, ready to run. The light came but in a different spot further away. I sprinted toward it. Like last time, hands grabbing at me, catching my arms, my knees slowing me enough to miss my chance of escape. It happened again and again, as if teasing me. Each time it appeared in a different spot. Each time I was too late. Each time I was interfered with in my escape. All the while, in-between, my movie ran non-stop and I had to watch, to learn, to hate myself even further. I turned to the wall and placed both my hands on it. I drove my head toward it as hard as I could. I was hoping to bash my head hard enough that I could finally die. I couldn’t take this torture anymore. I prepared for the explosion of light and the shock. I never came. The wall wasn’t there. I moved my hand to see if I could feel it. Perhaps there was a gap. My hands brushed along solid rock wall. I stepped close and this time put my head against the wall for a measured blow. I took a couple practice swings, tapping the wall with my head. Without hesitation, I pulled back and drove hard. Again, it was like the wall had disappeared. I backed up and ran at the wall as hard as I could. I went ten yards before I gave up. When I stuck my hands out, I could feel the wall again. It was more than I could take. At that very moment, the light came and this time my voice matched all those others crying out in frustration and sadness. I considered that I had escaped into Hell and now would never be able to leave as I had in that other place. This could be easily be Hell. I couldn’t stand being here anymore but I couldn’t escape. I had a continuous conviction running through my head that I couldn’t stop. I had moments of light to tease me, I had company I couldn’t find. But that gave me an idea. I found that having something else to occupy my mind helped to dull the show that refused to end. When the light appeared I ran toward it. Like every time before, hands searched to hold me. This time I grabbed a wrist and yanked, pulling the owner into the light. The opening was still wide enough to let me see the person I grabbed. It turned out that it wasn’t a person and I let go immediately. I ran away from it as fast as I could wiping my now wet hand on my pant leg. Its laughter followed me. The horrid thing resembled a human but little. A grotesque deformed face that ran with ooze had smiled at me showing three teeth. Both eyes were white and dull as an egg shell. The other arm had only been six inches long ending without fingers. Long thin scraggly hair sprang from it everywhere. The crazed and hungry look shot a spike of fear into me. Was that the population that shared this space with me? It only made my existence worse. I tore my shirt off and fastened a simple noose with a sleeve. I put it over my head and tightened it until I couldn’t breathe. The dark didn’t get darker but I could see pinpricks of light. I recognized them from the times I passed out from drinking. I hoped I would go out quickly, the noose would do the rest. It would cut off blood flow to my brain and it would be done with this life. The images in my head faded and I felt myself falling… Graytale want to wish everybody a happy Black Friday and hopes you didn’t spend too much on him this year though a bit more than last year. ;) My endless nights continue for another couple of days so I have warned him to wrap this up soon because once I get back to days, we have novels to start and finish. Chapter 6 …but I didn’t fall, I didn’t pass out. I took the shirt from my neck and put it back on. Again, I spun around looking for light and found none. I sat. There, I reflected on my choices as the movie continued to replay in my head. There was nowhere to go, nothing I could do. Would I die eventually? Starve to death? Catch a cold and die? I didn’t think so. I didn’t feel hungry, I didn’t have to go, and I was unable to hang myself. Would I stay here for an eternity with this movie and self-loathing? I was lost. I couldn’t bear it. I surrendered. I realized I would crawl a mile through broken glass just for one more moment in the garden. If I had the chance, I would find my mother and father and beg forgiveness, kiss their feet. I would find my ex-wife and admit my fault. I couldn’t make it up to her but I could do whatever it took to bring back her happiness. I’d find every person I hurt and make it up to them. And one other thing and I would do it gladly. All I asked was the chance. Nothing happened, nothing changed, the dark appeared to be darker still. Who was I asking for that chance I wondered. I had to dismiss God years ago. My drinking and my attitude demanded it. How could I picture myself as perfect if I had to fit God’s rules? But was it really God I was asking for another chance or was it whoever ran this dark hole of despair. Was I just trying to invoke sympathy? For the first time in 30 years, I prayed. I wasn’t good at it and I didn’t know what to say so I just listed my faults as I had seen in the film and said I was sorry. Then I begged God to help me never be that way again. I searched my heart. Was I saying it all just to get out or did I truly want to change? If I got out now, what would be the first thing I would do? Did it even matter? This was where I was destined to go, where I had sent myself with my refusal to change. When the light returned, I didn’t even try to escape. If it opened to let me out, I’d know it. If this was where God intended me to stay, so be it. I received what I deserved. I could almost recite all the words in my movie by now. I wondered how long I’d been here. Had it been moments or had it been years? Time was meaningless in this dark, cold tomb. The sound always came first as if the things living in this place could sense the light. I searched for the opening. Any change was a relief. No light came. The sound I heard didn’t increase like the past. What I heard were talons on stone, the monsters, the two headed dogs. They were coming for me. I froze and pushed my back against the wall. I held my breath a listened. There more than one. I heard them on my left and right, stalking. ‘Click’ and a pause. ‘Click’ and a pause. They had to be within feet of me. I tried to yell out but I couldn’t make a sound. I could feel the hot breath of them floating over my cold face as they sniffed. Even in the dark, I closed my eyes and bent into a ball. I prepared to feel sharp teeth cut into my leg. I heard a growl deep and throaty. There were more sounds I didn’t understand. To my left, I heard teeth snap and a fight break out. I heard screams from people and yelps as if dog and man were caught in a fight. It went on for a bit, the sounds moving further away but no less intense. Small wet hands grabbed me. Some held bunches of my hair. Some grabbed my shirt, others my pants. One wrapped around my neck. It felt like 50 of them. I struggled to free myself to no avail. They carried me quickly through the dark without making a sound. I could feel the heat and wetness of their bodies and could only imagine what they looked like. They were carrying me like I was a rider in a mosh pit. I couldn’t see a thing. Were they taking me deeper in or closer to the edge? I quit struggling and waited to see where I would end. I could feel them stop. All hands let loose at the same time and I dropped to the floor. It felt softer than rock and warmer. I waited for the next act but it didn’t come. I got to my feet. I wiped my arms on my pants to remove the goo and found my pants coated in the foul stuff too. The odor was gut wrenching. I found a dry place between my legs and wipes my hands there so I could wipe my face that had several drops on it. When I looked around after cleaning my face, there appeared to be something less than black. I walked that direction, toward the maroon glow and the rumbling sound of heavy machinery. Graytale is a football fan and I wonder if I can get his mind engaged before all the games are over. Penn State won so we are happy now we are rooting for USC and USC. Those games won’t end till late but I’ll be up all night helping to fix the plant and other supervisor paperwork things (oh joy). Maybe I can sneak a peek at the scores in-between. Chapter 7 The closer I got, the louder the sound. The rhythmic beat got stronger and I felt the vibrations in my feet. The glow got brighter and I could se it came from below, reflecting out of a giant pit. I slowed down as I got closer. I don’t know what scared me, just something I felt. I crept up to the edge little by little looking deeper and deeper into the giant crater. Hot air rose up from the hole and carried the odor of a thousand sweaty bodies. I could see them below. Some were carrying buckets filled with some type of rock while others turned a huge wheel that brought scoops of rock up from someplace deeper that I couldn’t see. Back and forth they went like ants in a sand box. I couldn’t see any reason for what they were doing. They piled the rock and went back for more. There were several trails leading from where the wheel dumped the stone. The wheel turned slowly bringing more up in scoops a hundred times bigger than the seats on a Ferris wheel. Hundreds of people walked around and around pushing on bars attached to a spindle that looked like it was geared to the wheel. The heat and smell convinced me it wasn’t a pleasant place but where I stood, in the cold, dark, silence wasn’t so pleasant either. I couldn’t find the source of the glow other than it came from beneath the rumbling scoop. I was overjoyed to see people. I hoped they had the answers I was looking for. I searched the sides if the huge hole looking for a stairway or some other method to get down. It was a straight drop and it was easily over 1000 feet. I tried to yell but my voice was silent. I waved my arms to get their attention. “Wha’cha want?” I jumped and turned to my right. Sitting with his legs dangling over the edge was a young man that looked in his early 20’s. I stared at him expecting him to disappear or turn into one of the creatures like I had seen in the light before. His palms were on the edge and he leaned over looking below where I had been looking earlier. He wore a tank top and ragged blue jean shorts. “I’m looking for away out,” I said. “Aren’t we all,” he said. “Who are you,” I asked. “Tom,” the young man replied. “What is this place?” I asked. He shrugged. “How long you been here?” He shrugged again. Same answers I would have given. “How did you get here?” He looked up from the scene below and turned his head toward me. “How did you get here?” he asked. “I was backing away from those two headed dogs and got pulled in,” I said. “They didn’t drag you here? The crolocs?” “Crolocs?” “Two headed dogs. There’re called crolocs,” he said. “No. I was pulled in. Probably by those deformed people,” I said. “Migurns.” “Who are they?” “Migurns have always been here as far as I know. Punishment for some ancient crime.” “Punished by who?” Tom shrugged and returned to looking in the hole. “Look,” I said. “I don’t know where I am or anything about this place. I just want to get out. Isn’t there any way?” “There might be. I haven’t been everywhere...yet.” “I tried to get back out through the opening when the dog…crolocs, hauled someone else inside. When I did the mole…what was the name?” “Migurns.” “The migurns kept grabbing me and keeping me from escaping.” “Maybe they like you,” he said. He was still looking into the pit. “They carried me here. I heard the crolocs trying the sneak up on me but the migurns fought them off then carried me here. They dropped me and disappeared.” This time he lifted his head and looked at me. I could see a strange look in his eyes like he was judging the truth of my statement. Then he looked back into the pit. I could see the red glow reflecting off his long blonde hair. There was a tattoo on his arm but I couldn’t make it out from where I stood. “Do you know what’s down there?” I asked him. “More of the same.” “Same what?” Without looking up, he waved his hand around apparently saying all of this. “Where did you come from?” I asked. He raised his head again and looked at me. I couldn’t decipher his expression. Then he pushed himself off the edge. I was stunned, stuck. I broke free of the mental block and looked over the edge. I could see him falling, hair out behind him like streamers. Just before he should have hit the ground, he disappeared. I moved away from the edge then returned for another look. The scene below remained unchanged. Either nobody saw or nobody cared. I paced back and forth trying to put it all together. He knew the names of the creatures in this place or did he just make up the names while sitting in the dark for so long? I decided to walk around the edge to see if I could find a way down. I looked across the other side. It was probably a half mile across. I had time. The movie in my head played on. I looked over the edge occasionally, still stunned at the young man leaping off. “Tom? How’d you pick that name?” “One’s as good as another.” “People used to call me Old Tom. Did you know that?” “Might’ve heard that,” he said. “What did you find out?” “He’s alive.” “Still?” “You didn’t say kill him.” “Do I have to tell you everything?” “I…I thought you might want to talk to him or see him for yourself,” said Tom. “We can’t have a live one wandering about. If he gets lucky, it could tip the balance.” “He seemed harmless enough. He doesn’t know anything. He asked me where he was at. I never heard of a live one before.” “Only happened a few times. One escape was enough. No more.” “Want me to go back and finish it?” “Come here.” “I’ll take care of it.” “Come here.” “Please, please. Look. It’ll only take a second.” “Come HERE!” “No! No! Ahhhhgguuu…” “Tom. Shit. What a moron. Use one of my names you better be badass. Balsm! Get rid of this now brainless idiot.’ “Yes, sir. Right away sir.” “Send the crolocs.” I had made it about half way around to the other side. The different angle revealed little. The piles of stone didn’t get any higher as the people below continued to dump bucket after bucket. The rumbling from below never changed rhythm. I don’t know why, but I turned to look back the way I came. In the glow of the light from the pit, two crolocs were in full flight right at me. I raised my arms to protect my face. Sorry for the night off. Work was hectic and by the time I got home, I was past writing anything. Bed was my only option, after grocery shopping. So many tasty things at the store. I escaped with mostly healthy choices. Sleep was interrupted by men with gas powered leaf blowers doing my neighbor’s yard. Now I am the last house on the block with leaves in the yard. I am hoping for the opportunity to rake them myself. Today’s light at the end of the tunnel is getting off shift Friday morning but I’ve seen the light before. Well, I’ll quit my bitching and turn it over to Graytale. It’s him you want anyway. Chapter 8 I expected impact at any moment. Instead I heard thuds and yelps. I saw several migurns hit the crolocs in the side. They all went over the edge. I watched as the strange men hung tight to the trashing dogs until they hit the ground below, too far to hear the impact. Nothing moved. They were all dead. I saw the people carrying sacks below hesitate. They looked up. Before I could wave, hands pulled me from the edge and back into the darkness. I could feel the cold slime and I shivered. Dozens held me in place. I didn’t struggle as much as I wanted to, to get the creatures away from me. They had saved me at the cost of four of their own. I could still see the edge of the pit and the glow from below. I saw one of the mirgurns crawl toward the edge. It peeked over then returned. The hands let me go. I opened my mouth to ask questions but in the dark of this place, nothing came out. Two of the mirgurns waved me closer to the edge but signaled me to keep down. About five feet from the edge, they stopped. I sat down. One mirgurn walked up to me and squatted. I saw the folds in his fat legs and the red light from the crater reflected off the slime that coated his skin. He was dressed in rags, His face was as deformed as much as the first one I had seen, could have even been the same one as far as I knew. “Stay down. Do not let them see you.” “Why?” “Do not disturb. It would not be good to be known.” “Why?” “Where are you from?” he asked. “Middleton,” I said. He cocked his head as if processing the information. “Why are you here?” he asked. “You guys pulled me in,” I told him. He cocked his head the other way. “I am just trying to get out of here,” I said. “Out?” “Yes, out. I’m not supposed to be here.” “You are here.” “But I’m not supposed to be here. You pulled me in.” “We keep the dead from leaving.” “I’m not dead.” Again he cocked his head. I was starting to get scared. I didn’t like what he was saying. “Yes you are,” he said. “I’m not. I’d know if I were.” “How?” “I can feel my heart beat. I can see. I can talk. I feel the cold.” He didn’t cock his head this time. He just stared at me with his crooked eyes. Several others came closer and gathered around. “I’m not dead!” “You must be.” “How do you know?” “Nobody here but the dead.” I had to give up on that line of argument. “Why did those guys push the crolocs over the edge? Why did they go with them.” “We don’t like crolocs,” he said. “But they went over the edge.” “Better for a few to die than many. Corlocs don’t like us. They eat mirgurns.” “Christ.” The mirgurn stood up and looked at me. He leaned in as if to get a better view. Then a few of them gathered. I couldn’t hear what they were saying. “Who are you?” he asked. “David, David Cleary.” “Why are you here?” “I told you. You pulled me in.” “What do you want?” “I want to get out.” “You can’t get out.” “You can let me out.” “No.” “Why?” “If you leave we die.” “Who are you?” “Meeshion.” “Where did you come from? How did you get here?” “We have been here a long, long, time. Since the beginning.” “Where am I?” “Here. This is here. There are many here.” “Who?” I hoped that I could find someone to make sense and help me out. “Us mirgurns, the dead, and the crolocs; bringer of the dead.” “That’s all?” “No.” “Who else?” They traded looks without speaking. “Who?” I asked again. “The door keeper.” “Who’s that?” “We don’t know. We only know he is.” “How?” “His helpers.” “Helpers?” “The one you saw sitting on the edge.” “The one who jumped?” He nodded. A dollop of slime splattered on the floor. “Tell me what you know about the door keeper.” Again the group looked at each other. He shrugged. “We don’t know.” “Can he let me out?” He shrugged again. “Where is he?” I asked. “Down.” I felt I had reached the end of conversation. I had to go down. I still hadn’t found a way. I turned back to ask but they had vanished. I took a peek over the edge. The bodies of the crolocs and mirgurns still lay one the floor of the pit and the workers didn’t seem to be interested in them anymore. What did I know now that I didn’t before? Don’t be seen, the gate keeper and his friends were around, and this place had been for a long time. Down was out. I continued my journey around the edge looking for a way down. A few hundred yards ahead I saw a woman walking around the edge and moving away from me. I almost shouted but instead, I walked quicker towards her. I closed on her quickly. When I was within a few feet, I called out. “Miss? Miss?” She hesitated for just a second and then continued walking around the edge. I reached out and tapped her shoulder. She didn’t turn or stop. I walked around in front of her and looked at her. She looked straight ahead without even looking at me. “Hey! Hey!” I said waving my hands. I stopped in front of her. When she ran into me and couldn’t move she opened her mouth. The scream the raced out of her mouth, split my eardrums. I jumped out of her way. Her mouth closed and she started walking again. I watched until she got a couple yards ahead and then followed her. She didn’t go much further. She turned and went down a staircase carved into the side. It matched the wall exactly. That’s why I couldn’t see it. I looked over the edge as she went down. Nobody below looked up so I followed. The mirgurns said down was where I had to go. The stairway wound around the side taking us down a quarter mile into the bottom of the hole. I could look across and see the remains of the crolocs and mirgurns that had fallen. When the woman reached the bottom, she walked toward the wheel. I followed. The floor of the pit was rocky in some spots and sandy in others. I could smell the odor of unwashed bodies. It stank up the place. It felt humid. The temperature was higher down here and the light better. I felt the ground shaking even more. What went on below shook the very bedrock. The place reminded me of a quarry. The woman made it to the wheel and picked up a sack of rocks. It looked heavy. Nearby were a couple of guys filling the bags. They grabbed stones from the pile where the wheel dumped them. They didn’t acknowledge the woman and she didn’t look at them. I picked up a bag that almost buckled my legs. I strapped it over my back and followed the woman along the trail to the pile where they were dumped. I could see a dozen people in front of us and every few seconds someone would pass going the other way. None of them looked my way. They didn’t speak either though some were moving their lips. I followed the routine a few times. Every time I got near or around the wheel, I would look for a way to go below. I wondered if I broke routine, would I stir up the crowd. I didn’t want to do that. One quarter of the wheel disappeared below and based on the total height of the wheel it went below by at least fifty feet. It looked fifteen feet wide and the scoops could hold a limo or two. Each bucket that came up was half full of rocks. I counted 40 scoops evenly spaced on the wheel. Over on the other side of the wheel away from me were about 50 people working the gear that turned the wheel, five to a bar, ten bars, and they pushed on it going round and round turning the spindle. They walked at a steady pace like someone going to work. I started thinking they were like zombies but I noticed more than a few were talking to themselves. Occasionally some would pound their forehead with their fist. I recognized the action from my earlier disappointment with the movie that played in my head. I had hit myself several times. My movie still played but the recent action had dulled it to the point I could ignore it a bit though the hurt was still as sharp as a pin. They must be watching their own movies. I saw a man come up from underground through a trapdoor near the wheel. He looked around the expanse and then directly at me. I kept my eyes in front and walked like the others. “Who doesn’t belong here,” he shouted. I almost froze but managed to keep my feet moving and my eyes forward. I knew I’d been found out. He turned to look behind him and when he did I stuck out my foot and tripped the guy coming the other way and then assumed the walk of the zombie. The man heard the commotion and whipped his head around. He walked briskly over to where the man was splayed on the ground. I couldn’t see what happened but I could hear the scream coming from him. Then from behind me, I saw the man that had come up from below, drag the one I tripped. He opened the hatch, tossed his unresponsive captured victim into the hole then followed him down. On my next loop around, I dropped my empty sack and followed. Chapter 9 I slipped quickly through the trap door. It led to a stairwell that disappeared into the dark below. When I closed the lid, I was swallowed by the blackness with the exception of a red glow similar to that in the pit, way below me. I listened. Silence. I started going down the wooden steps slowly. There were no handrails. I held my arms out trying to find the walls. I didn’t dare to stretch too far and go over the edge. I went slowly, stopping often to listen. The vibration still tickled my feet but other than that, silence. The patch of light grew as I went down the stairs. I could see it came through an open doorway. When I made it to the bottom, I slid up beside the door and took a quick peek through it. What I saw was a large cave, as big as a football stadium. In the center was the bottom of the wheel from above. And like above, there were hundreds of zombie like people moving rocks. Down here they were pushing wheelbarrows full of stones and dumping them into a chute that fed the scoops. I couldn’t see where the rock came from. I peeked again to see if there was anybody that looked more awake than the people working. Off to the side were a few wheelbarrows not being used. I walked like the workers walked on my way over to them. I took one and got in line. I followed the young man in front of me as I looked left and right trying to get the layout of the place. Mostly I was looking for a way out. The light in the cavern appeared to come from the walls themselves. Here, the odor was worse. The people walking past with full wheelbarrows were muttering more to themselves than the ones above. I could see sweat glistening off them and the strain on their faces. They looked ready to explode. “You brought him, Johnson?” “Right here.” “You’re sure that’s him?” “Yes, sir. When I shouted it flushed him.” “Bring him closer. I want to see.” “Yes sir.” Johnson reached down and grabbed the man curled at his feet and pulled him up. He supported the shaky man so the Boss could see him. Johnson watched in fear as a giant red fist, the size of a turkey stretched out. The fingers uncurled. He saw the thick black and gray fingernails sharpened. The fingers wrapped around the man’s neck and the Boss’s thick muscled arm lifted the man by his throat without effort. Johnson saw the Boss pull the shaky man toward him and right up to the Boss’s flat pig nose. “Did you look at his eyes?” the Boss asked. “Uh, well, yes…no,” said Johnson. He watched as the Boss’s mouth opened wide revealing rows of shark like teeth with two eight inch tusks. The boss bit off the man’s head, spit it out and threw the bleeding torso at the feet of Johnson. Johnson stood there looking at the headless body. Johnson felt the heat coming off the hand just before it grabbed his head. He actually heard his skull crack before the lights went out. Johnson felt himself floating in an empty place and then he dissipated and swirled into the vast empty. “Balsm! Get these bodies out of here.” “Yes, sir. Right away sir.” Balsm took each body by the shirt collar and pulled them out of the room. Once the door closed, he took them one at a time and shoved them into the furnace. He wondered if leaving the mirgurm to work for the Boss was a good idea. Balsm returned to his position outside the door to the Boss’ office. He stood there waiting. He knew sooner or later, another bounty hunter would show. It was always a gamble. Miss the target and Balsm had work to do hauling the body to the furnace. Get it right and get your own place. Balsm had seen five such targets since he began and had only hauled out 3 hunters, two for this one. He must be smarter. Balsm hoped he would have to drag many more to the furnace before it was done. Sooner or later, they would get him. It couldn’t be helped. Balsm reached into the container beside where he stood and took a handful of goo out and rubbed it thickly over his body. The Boss stood up from his high back chair and wandered back to his desk. He didn’t sit. Instead he stirred the books that sat there; Quran, Bible, Tanakh, Theravada, Tripiṭaka, Smriti, The Satanic Bible, and Tao Te Ching. He picked up the Satanic Bible. He tossed it back among the others with a short laugh. He had never written a book and those that wrote this one and many of the others that lay there had no idea what or who God or Satan or any one of a hundred names they used for being larger than themselves. And nobody should ever know. That’s how most of these books got started. Somebody escaped from one place or another. Somebody was too easy about letting customers escape. The customers had enchanted the world with tales of light and peace and family and friends. Not that it wasn’t true but it had convinced some to change their ways stealing potential workers from him. Did he need people to spin the wheel and move the rocks? No. But misery made him feel good and the more the better. Now there was a live one wandering through his house and even though he knew he would catch him eventually, the longer he roamed, the more opportunity he had to get lucky. What could he do with him? Turn him and use him? Somebody who could think might be valuable. Kill him on the spot? Easy but not enough challenge. I want to meet him face to face, he thought. He’ll be easy to find. When he sees me, he’ll piss his pants. That should be obvious. The boss walked to the door, opened it and ducked under. After the last encounter, I knew someone was after me. Someone knew I didn’t belong but they didn’t appear to be there to escort me out. I had to keep alert and not make a mistake or I might be invited to stay as a resident. I couldn’t stay in one place very long either so I carefully looked for a way out. I hoped I had reached the bottom like the mirgurn had told me. I couldn’t wait for the next person to come out of a door. Like the sack of rock I had carried above the wheelbarrow taxed my muscles. I kept my mouth moving like the others but my eyes darted to every corner and around the floor looking for another trap door. This time what came through the door wasn’t a man looking for people, this was the most frightening thing I had ever seen. It made the crolocs look like puppies. He came through a door disguised as the wall. He had to be ten feet tall and I knew he was the right word. He didn’t have a stitch of clothes on. He was as red as the glow from the walls. Everything about him was spiny and hard. His pig nose and his tusks should have made him look like a boar but the eyes and chin were human. He came through with a roar. I tried not to make eye contact. The others appeared to shiver but they kept moving so I did too. I didn’t have to fake the shiver. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him backhand one woman. She flew twenty yards before hitting the wall. I kept moving. Then he spoke.