Besides, I knew she’d just want to be on the other side of it a minute later. She rubbed up against the door frame, yowling intermittently. “Singing the song of her people” I call it. Even with the door open, she couldn’t decide which side of it she wanted to be on.
Just then, something passed by outside the door. I didn’t get a good look, only what I could see of it through the narrow opening. A bizarre, tangled, impossible silhouette…My second sighting, though I didn’t yet realize it.
Terror gripped my heart. Burglars? A wild animal? Camille? None matched whatever I glimpsed a moment earlier. So I stepped out of the bath, wrapped a towel around my waist and warily emerged to investigate.
The front door hung open. Muddy tracks stained the carpet, shaped nothing like the sole of any shoe I’ve seen. I did a quick inventory of my belongings but found nothing missing. Only then did I notice the cat was gone.
Must’ve been a vagrant who broke in meaning to rob the place, too fucked up on meth or whatever else to actually carry it out. Or maybe he spotted me in the tub and booked it, having wrongly assumed the apartment was empty on his way in.
No sense going out looking for the cat. In all likelihood she hauled ass out the door when the burglar broke in, and would be too spooked to show herself for a day or two. I considered calling the cops, but didn’t want the hassle or prolonged interaction.
I considered notifying the landlord, but he’d just call the cops himself and I’d wind up having to go through all that tedium anyway. Instead I set a dish of food just outside in case Goblin came back while I was sleeping, propped a chair against the door from the inside, then climbed into bed.
Sleep didn’t come easily. I had to get up twice to puke into the toilet, after which I started having hot and cold flashes. Absolute misery. Must be coming down with something. For an hour or so I just couldn’t get warm no matter what I did.
Then for the next hour, I overheated even after stripping down and throwing off the covers. Nothing in the medicine cabinet looked appropriate for my symptoms. Nothing to be done except try to get as much sleep as possible, and hope I felt better come morning.
But when I next awoke it was not to a clear head, nor to the rising sun. Instead I awoke to the feeling of some heavy, ungainly creature perched on my back, pinning me down. My heart pounded, but before I could cry out or fight it, something pierced the back of my neck.
Whatever it injected made me go limp. I was still fully conscious but paralyzed as a second horrid monstrosity, obscured by the darkened room, loaded me onto the first creature’s back. I could feel it struggle somewhat to bear me along. Perhaps it normally targets smaller prey.
Even if I could move, I wouldn’t have been able to free myself. I was bound to its sleek, segmented carapace with some sort of sticky fiber. My mind raced feverishly, trying to work out what the fuck it was, where it came from and where it could be taking me.
A nameless fear silently gestated within my chest…one I dare not believe in until we reached the field. The moon loomed large overhead as the chittering, crawling beast beneath me made its way to the center of the field. Then down into the great, gaping hole.
Blood rushed to my head as we descended into the Earth. A starry patch of night sky, framed by the mouth of the hole, was the last thing I saw before I blacked out. Indeterminable hours passed while shadowy forms swirled about my subconscious.
I next awoke on the agonizingly cold, rough stone floor of a cavern. The ceiling was also roughly hewn grey stone, stalactites descending from it here and there. The first thing I did was check my body for injury.
I hurt all over, but that was mostly down to sleeping in an odd position on such an unforgivingly hard surface. My pale, clammy skin was marked all over with numerous cuts, scrapes and bruises…but nothing serious.
No broken bones, no sprains even. It surprised me to wind up at the bottom of a hole in such good condition until I remembered how I got there. I scrambled to my feet, whirling this way and that, searching the darkness around me for any sign of the creatures.
I found none in my immediate vicinity. But I did find five more naked, frightened looking hostages. Prisoners? I couldn’t yet say anything with certainty about the reason for our abduction. Only one made eye contact. A few stared silently into the distance, knees to their chests, slowly rocking.
Others lay curled up in the fetal position with their eyes closed, murmuring softly to themselves. All of them were situated around the edge of a natural pit in the floor, perhaps fifteen feet across, filled nearly to the brim with oily black syrup.
Directly above the pool, faint rays of morning sunshine radiated from a hole in the ceiling. The one I was brought here through, no doubt in my mind. The light was just enough to dimly illuminate the pool and a modest area around it.
Try as I might, I couldn’t stop shivering. My teeth chattered too, as did those of the fellow nearest me. “Wh-what is this?” I stammered. “Where are we?” He just kept staring at me, arms wrapped around his knees as he violently shivered.
I searched in vain for some sort of weapon. Something sharp, or something that would make for a serviceable club. Nothing to be had but other people. Frightened, naked masses of humanity, huddled together beneath the only source of light as moths might circle a flame.
My next thought was where my phone wound up. Would it even work this far underground? As I ventured further and further from the light’s edge in search of it, I realized nobody would come looking for me.
Nobody. I’d set up my life just about perfectly in order to wind up missing without anybody who lives in the same complex even realizing it. My family back home would be the first to know I’d gone missing. Camille, if not for them. Then the landlord would take notice when I don’t pay rent.
My stomach sank as I entertained, for the first time, the notion that I might be down here long enough for that to occur. So cold! I returned to the meager patch of damp grey cavern floor around the pool which the sunlight illuminated.
It was some small comfort to feel sunshine on my skin. Small then. I didn’t yet know, you see. Probe as I might into the darkness I could find no walls to this cavern and thus, no tunnels through which I might return to the surface.
I grew more and more frantic until the fellow I’d first made eye contact with seized me by the wrist. “Settle down. We tried that already. Don’t you think we tried? That was the first thing.” The blackness encroached so snugly against the edges of the light, with a nearly palpable presence.
“What is any of this?” I begged. “Where the fuck are we?” He motioned for me to sit down. “At the bottom of the hole, of course. They brought you down here like the rest of us. Although probably you were on your way down here anyhow.”
He handed me something resembling beef jerky. I accepted, though under the circumstances I had no intention of eating it, and asked what he meant by “on my way”. He reclined with suspicious calmness, slipping his legs into the bubbling black sludge.
“You were unloved, weren’t you. But that’s no crime in itself! Countless tiny little beetles, spiders and worms go through life unloved simply because nobody notices them. But you also didn’t love anybody yourself, am I right?”
He actually waited for me to say something, so I told him none of this babble got us any closer to the surface and that we should be collaborating to find a way out of this damp, horrible pit. “Probably not for lack of love thrown your way if I had to guess” he added.
Stay Tuned for Part 7!