When a set of those annoying blue tinted headlights turned onto the street, Jane jumped into the bushes beside the sidewalk. She fought down the fear of being spotted and waited until it turned again before leaving her cover and walking down the street, listened to the sharp clicks of the heels she had selected.
Once she had come to and pulled herself together from the shock of seeing a reflection covered in blood, she had jumped into the shower and done her best to wash away the evidence. She had been forced to cut her own hair into a pixie like bod to get rid of the clotted mats on the ends and had clogged the tub in the process. When she left the bathroom, she had also left a dark pool of red water waiting to be found.
Dumb luck had gotten her fresh cloths. The teenage daughter was the same size, although a lot shorter, so Jane had rummaged through her closet until she found something that would not look childish or stupid on her middle aged frame.
The mother had worn the same size shoe, so her only real problem was in finding something that didn’t clash. The mother must have been at least a little bit of a trophy wife because the only flats she had found were a set of fuzzy house slippers. Heels were uncomfortable and in Jane’s neighborhood, it paid to be able to run away. She had worn heels like this back in her stripping days, but that was a while ago.
What now walked out of the suburban hell that Jane imagined this place would turn into was a middle aged woman with a ragged haircut, black high heels that were not made for walking, wearing a bubble gum, perky goth cheerleader dress that was a bit too short for the weather which might have been part of a Halloween costume but at least it was not covered in a cartoon logo.
She wondered if the minivan was the family getting home from dinner after the game. She wondered if they might report her in their cloths.
She wondered what they would think of all the blood.
The air was cooling off, a breeze picking up and blowing around her bare thighs. Something made her sniff the air, and Jane knew that there was a storm coming. She had never been one to pay attention to the weather before, but tonight she knew that she didn’t have long to find a place to be if she didn’t want to get wet.
In the waist band of the only decent panties the girl had in her drawer was tucked the twelve dollars that Jane had found in the house. It wouldn’t be enough to get her a cab, but if she could find a bus stop, then she figured she should be able to get home.
But she hadn’t seen a bus stop yet. Her feet were killing her and she knew she was going to have blisters. She stopped at a street sign, resting one hand on it and checking her foot, when the first fat rain drop hit the pavement beside her.
The next one landed on her bare shoulder, the water was cold and it sent a shiver down her spine. As she turned to look around for a place to go, a cab pulled up beside her.
“You need a ride?”
When Jane peered into the cab, she was met with a thin, smiling face, covered in freckles. Bright green eyes looked out from under a shaggy mop of ginger hair and on reflex she smiled back. “No, I don’t have fare.”
“It’s starting to rain. Get in.”
Jane grabbed the handle, but the back door was locked. The voice from the cab said, “Up here and we can talk about it.”
She cursed under her breath as the rain started to pick up. She could only guess what the cabbie wanted, and it wasn’t like this would be a first for her, but why tonight. Jane started to back away from the door, figuring that wet and cold was better than whoring for a ride, but when the first few pieces of hail came down, she jumped into the front seat.
“So where are you headed this miserable evening?”
“River and Morgan.”
The cabbie whistled. “There isn’t a River Street in Carlstown.”
Jane’s eyes bugged out and she swore under her breath. Now the lack of bus stops made sense. “No, that is in Briarwood.”
“Oh honey, you need to head to the bus station. That is still on the other side of town from here and I know the buses won’t start running until morning.”
Staring at her hands while twisting her fingers together, Jane tried to consider her options. She was in another town, an hour or more away from home. She didn’t have enough money for a cab to the bus station and the bus ticket, not to mention food.
When she looked up at the ginger cabbie, Jane licked her lips and tried to sound sultry. “Is there anything you can do to help a girl out?”
He smiled, a big, genuine smile that lit his face up. “Yeah, probably.” The guy chewed on his lip with teeth that were stained from cigarettes as he looked her up and down before sighing and frowning.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to be a dick and I don’t want to take advantage of you,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I really want to take advantage of you, but I can’t.”
Jane’s stomach clenched up as she saw her chance explode. He was having a moment of conscience, and it was going to back fire. He didn’t need to have conscience, she could do this. She reached out, and put her hand on his leg, but before she could start to rub his thigh, the cabbie put his hand over the top of hers.
“I want to offer you a deal. You willing to listen?”
She nodded, trying to hide her excitement.
“I don’t think I am going to have very many clients tonight, so here is what we can do. You ride with me tonight. Keep me company and talk to me. If I get a full cab and need the front, you have to get out at whatever stop it is. If you are still with me at the end of shift, I will take you to the bus station.”
“That’s all you want?”
“No,” he said with a tone of voice that made it sound like a stupid comment. “I would rather offer to take you to the bus stop in exchange for sex, but it isn’t right for me to take advantage of a lady stuck out in a storm.”
Jane smiled a real, happy, full face smile. It wasn’t something that she did all that often. There were not very many occasions for that kind of smile in her life. “I would be happy to keep you company and ride along. Thank you.”
The cabbie nodded and raised his hand. “I’m Brian.”
They shook, he looked her up and down one more time, letting out a sigh before turning away and pulling out into traffic. “Seat belt there Jane.”
The techno music was blaring, giving Carl a headache that thumped along with the bass. He kept his eyes away from the flashing lights, knowing that if he focused on them, he might wake up on the floor after a seizure.
The bar was a riot of colors that made him think of the psychedelic seventies. Men of all shapes and sizes were talking, drinking, flirting and rubbing on each other and it made him sick.
The man beside him at the bar was staring out at the floor with a look on his face that reminded Carl of a cat about to pounce on a mouse. The guy was hunting, looking for sex in an urban jungle that reeked of cologne and spilt booze.
The guy turned to Carl, gave him a once over, then smirked and said, “Oh honey, I am so out of your league,” before heading out to the dance floor with a wiggle in his step.
“That guy is kind of a dick.”
Carl turned to his left and found a blonde boy sipping a red drink through a pair of tiny stir straws. “Excuse me?”
“I said that guy is a dick. He thinks that because he is pretty he can be an ass to everyone.”
“A lot of people are like that.”
“Yeah, but not all of them have a tiny dick.”
Carl felt his dinner rise up in his throat a bit but fought the urge down while trying to smile. Once he was in control he extended his hand to the boy in the tight tank top. “My name is Carl.”
Carl nodded towards the booths that lined the wall. “You want to go back there so we can talk without yelling?”
Jack looked Carl up and down, the same appraising look that the other guy had given him but when he met his eyes again Jack smiled. “Maybe, what are you looking for?”
Carl forced a pained grin onto his face. “A bottom for the rest of the night.”
Jack’s eyes lit up. “You are talking to the tightest bottom around here sweetie.”
“No,” he said under his breath. “I am talking to test subject number twelve.” Carl nodded toward the booth and Jack downed his drink before heading that way. Carl tapped the glass and the bartender sat another one down beside Carl’s orange juice.
Jack was almost dancing where he was sitting as Carl walked toward him, the pill already in the glass.
Her eyes started to crack open as Jane came too. There was not much light where she was, but it was still enough to send sharp pains into her foggy brain. She forced the lids closed, trying not to squeeze them shut since that would so often make the headache worse. Instead, she concentrated on breathing without vomiting.
Whatever she was laying on was hard and rough. She was sure it wasn’t carpet or asphalt. It didn’t feel or smell right and when you drink as much and as often as Jane did, you knew what waking up on the floor or the street was like. She had no idea where she was but she was pretty sure of where she wasn’t.
She was naked. Whatever she was lying on was cool against her hip and breasts. The arm her head was resting on was tingling from a lack of circulation, so she took her time and shifted until she was on her back. Her stomach wasn’t being all that difficult, so she rubbed her thighs together and gave a little thank you to the heavens that they weren’t sticky. There was no way she had the money for a morning after pill, if she had any money left at all. Not to mention how uncomfortable it was to have last night’s fun running down your leg while you stood waiting for the bus.
Although she hated the idea of doing it, she had to get up. Her bladder was making itself known and while she was sure she could wait, she figured she should get out of here before whatever new boyfriend she had walked back into the room horny again. So, she brought one hand up over her eyes and opened them behind the safety of her palm.
Why did her skin feel sticky? Had someone just sprayed her face? It was still better than needing a pill to deal with the sticky thighs.
Letting the light in a little at a time kept the throbbing in her head from going up the Richter scale. Her eyes adjusted and after a minute, she could see just fine.
Looking around told her she was lying on a floor in a house that was still under construction. The reason she wasn’t passed out on the rug was because nobody had put one down yet. The amount of light coming in through the window made her think it was very early. The sun was not high enough to be seen yet but there was a bunch of pretty colors, orange, yellow and light blue, in the few wisps of cloud that Jane could see beside the sticker on the glass.
It took a few minutes, but Jane managed to sit up and run her fingers through her hair. It was matted and sticking together, which meant that there might have been more than one last night.
This morning was getting better by the moment.
She stood, swayed, found her balance and then looked for her clothes, when she had no luck finding them or her purse the search was abandoned. Jane walked to the window.
At a finished home across from her, a man wearing a baseball jersey was helping a boy in the same uniform put his stuff into the trunk. A woman walked out of the house, arguing with a teenage girl who looked like she was ignoring her mother just to piss her off. They didn’t look like they were just starting their day; it looked like they were going to an evening game. “Have I been passed out in this place all day?”
The car was backed into the drive. Once the family was all loaded up, the lights kicked on and managed to throw a reflection of Jane onto the window. She saw herself looking like she had stuck her finger in a light socket before rolling in red paint. She only had a second, but it was enough to leave her cold and clammy.
It looked like blood.
How had she gotten covered in blood?
Jane was having trouble breathing. She felt the room spin and put her hands on the window. Now that she looked closer at her hands, she could see little dark spots all over her skin. She was covered in blood.
After the car turned around the corner, Jane took off. She tore through the house, ripped the front door open to charge across the street. With no thought at all for the neighbors or possible security, she picked up a rock that was sitting on the porch and smashed the window beside the door. A few seconds and a loud crash later, the door was open and a pair of dirty feet darted up the stairs, hoping to find a bathroom.
As the vagrant woman darted through the quiet house of a middle class family of four, the community remained oblivious. No scream shook the neighborhood and no cussing fit scared the ears of the stuffed animals the children still owned. When Jane found the bathroom, when she looked into the mirror at a pair of terrified brown eyes, framed by more wrinkles than a woman of her age should have, and saw the blood. She saw that it looked like her hair and forehead had been painted red with a brush.
Jane saw a woman who looked like a serial killer in a movie, she vomited all over the sink and then she fainted.
Mark pulled up and grabbed his tablet. According to the days roster, this was the last house he was supposed to power up, which was a damned good thing because he was ready to head home, grab a beer, flop down on the couch and drink it while Maria gave him head.
“Working on your birthday sucks shit through a straw,” he said to himself as he grabbed his tool belt. Mark hung the heavy collection of screwdrivers, pliers and wrenches on his shoulder before picking up the stupid white hard hat that OSHA insisted he wear. “Not calling in sick today had better be fucking worth it when I get home.”
He looked around the neighborhood. It was one of those new, yuppie housing additions that were springing up on the outskirts of so many towns. Each home looked different on the outside, but to his construction eye, he realized that the internal layout was almost identical. Cookie cutter homes with different frosting on each one.
Mark walked up the drive, thinking about the little Hispanic woman who had convinced him to work today. “You save your PTO for when you need it for sick,” she had said. “I make you happy you save it when you get home, Gringo.” Her accent, when she wanted to be sexy, stretched out the last word, rolling the r as she batted her eyes at him.
He was so whipped.
He headed around the house to the meter, stepping on a mixture of scraggly grass, weeds and bare dirt where the landscapers hadn’t been called in yet. He was still thinking of Maria. Short and petite, he liked to think of her as spicy, like good fresh salsa. His special treat from south of the border.
“I am going to do so many things to you tonight,” he said as he flipped the latch and opened the service box. “I think I might just introduce you to anOWWW. Fuck!” He jumped backward, pinching his finger and thumb where he cut his hand on the box. “God Dammit!”
Mark shook his hand, looking at the blood dripping from his finger, when a cold chill raced up his spine. Goose-flesh crawled over his body like small blacks ants that had just found where you spilled syrup on the counter. He looked behind him, heart speeding up as something deep inside made him want to run away.
Nothing was there. He was standing outside of a half built box for some dumb ass to live in and nobody was there. Mark took a deep breath, sucked on his finger for a second, and then turned back to the box. “Yeah, she is gonna get it tonight. Save my PTO my fucking ass.”
He didn’t waste any time on the box. Doing his best to make the external connections and lock everything back up as fast as he could. The feeling that he was being watched was driving him crazy and Mark turned around repeatedly to look back over his shoulder. “Fucking place gives me the creeps.”
Standing in front of the house, Mark had to swallow down a lump of anxiety that was building up. He knew the internal box was in the basement. He had done this twice today and three or four times a day for the last couple of weeks. Standard job, standard tools, nothing to speak of and boring compared to some of the projects he had worked on. But for some reason, he was having trouble walking into this house. It wasn’t finished. There wasn’t anyone there and there wasn’t going to be for months.
One big, deep breath and he ground his teeth together and stomped through the garage. Mark would never admit it, but he was clomping and banging things on his way in so that if someone was here, they would know where he was and have a chance to get out.
His big flashlight and the head lamp on his hard hat led him down the stairs. The basement was clean and empty, just like it should have been. He walked over to the box and started checking the connections.
The creak of the floor boards above him made him jump. It wasn’t settling; brand new houses didn’t do that. Which mean someone big was walking around up stairs. Mark held his hammer and his breath as he waited. Another creak came from the floor, followed by another. Whoever was up there was moving slow, maybe to try to sneak up on him despite their obvious weight, but the house was giving them away.
“If you aren’t from the construction company you’re trespassing.”
There was no answer or creak from above. Mark stood with his back to the wall, breathing heavy and sweating, afraid that the feeling of being watched had been because of whatever was in the house. He wasn’t a small man, but Mark had never been a fighter. He did not like trouble and did his best to avoid it his whole life. All he wanted was for the guy upstairs to go away.
The next creak was loud, and it came from both the floor above him and down the stairs. Whoever this was, they were standing at the top of the stairs.
“Get out of here or I will call the cops!”
Mark trained his flashlight at the top of the stairs. He hoped that the light would make his stalker think twice about coming down to get him.
What the light did was let him see the massive paw that came to rest on the steps.
Mark hated dogs, and that paw was huge. As the next one came down, he realized that he had nowhere to go if some rabid, Cujo looking monster came into the basement with him.
“Get out of here!” He hurled one of his wrenches at the stairs, bouncing the drop cast tool against the concrete wall just below the lead foot.
Mark pulled a screwdriver to throw, but it fell from his hand as the beast came further into view.
The mass that came down the stairs stared at him with bright, yellow eyes. It looked like some kind of giant cat although he had never seen anything like it on the nature channel, slinking down the stairs without taking its eyes off of him.
When it reached the bottom of the stairs it crouched there, not moving, just staring at the man. Mark watched the muscles shift and move below the thick, brown fur as it settled itself. The only place to see a cat this big should have been in a zoo.
The tip of its tail began to twitch, just like his sister’s cats had done when they were about to pounce on those stupid jingling balls that she had always bought for them.
Mark pulled his hammer off of his tool belt. “Get out of here.”
When the thing made a sound, it let out a cross between a dog’s howl and a cat screeching in pain. It was loud, louder than Mark’s yelling had been, and Mark pissed his pants as he dropped his light and hammer to cover his ears.
The light bounced off the basement floor, its beam shooting around as it settled down and began to rock. The shadows jumped and moved with it, until everything came to rest. The white light of the bulb reflected a bit of blue off the new concrete wall, but a lot of red off the puddle spreading out on the floor beneath it.
Carl lifted the lid and removed a tiny glass bottle from the centrifuge. He held it up to the light, staring at the line between the thick, putrid yellow in the bottom of the vial and the clear fluid on the top. He grinned, a lopsided, maniacal thing that stretched his lips away from teeth that were broken and stained. “He who laughs last, laughs loudest bitches.”
Jane opened her eyes and was greeted with a blurry wave of soft colors. She felt like she was spinning on a bar stool but the way the images would suddenly stop and swerve back the other direction meant that she was just really drunk. “Where am I?”
The words weren’t clear and after a moment she was not sure that she had said them out loud at all. A cold, clammy thing pressed against her cheek and Jane screamed in surprise.
“You are alright. Just relax. You got very drunk last night and I brought you here. When you are feeling better, I can call you a cab.”
Cold washed over her as she tried to remember exactly what had happened. She still wasn’t firing on all cylinders and the harder she tried to focus and concentrate, the more the world spun.
“I think I need to sleep some more,” she tried to say as the slur and drool combined to remove any legibility from her sentence. She felt better for having tried to say it and slipped back into blackness.
Carl sat the recorded on the little table before pressing the button. “Field log six. Subject is female. Approximately five foot five inches and one hundred and forty five pounds with dyed blonde hair and brown eyes. I found her drinking to celebrate something in a dive bar on the south side and managed to drug her drink.”
He tuned to examine his catch. “She is moderately attractive but looks much older than the thirty four years that is listed on her driver’s license. A preliminary examination suggests that she is a heavy smoker and drinker with a history of drug use.”
Carl picked up a glass tube that was now filled with only the thick yellow liquid and a syringe. “Initial injection of one CC was ineffective. I am not sure if it is related to the drug I used to obtain the specimen or other substances in her system. I will administer a second dose of ten CC’s. If this fails then I will be forced to terminate this experiment and move on to find another subject.”
Jane didn’t move as he slipped the sharp steel tube into her vein and pushed the plunger on the syringe. She didn’t move when the results of his research hit her heart and spread throughout her system.
She didn’t move when her heart stopped.
They sat together, him staring up at the ceiling and her, cooling off in the stagnate air of the abandoned basement as Carl tried to figure out what he had done wrong. “It must have been the roofie,” he said as he stood up and began to pack his tools. “I will have to set up a holding room so that I can allow the drugs to wear off before I try this again.”
He walked out, leaving her tied to a wooden table in the basement of a house that was for sale.
The night was coming to an end. Birds began to sing and a chill dropped over the neighborhood as the air of pre-dawn settled down in a thick blanket on the dew covered grass. The first joggers were stretching in front of their homes as the guy with the chocolate Labrador used an old shopping bag to clean up after his buddy.
A ripple ran through the corpse’s body. Muscles convulsed and twitched as the un-breathing lump of meat had a seizure. A loud crack echoed around the concrete walls as one of Jane’s bones broke under the strain of the shifting muscles.
The Labrador began barking at the empty house. “Knock it off Charger,” his owner said as he gave the dog a jerk from the leash to get his attention.
The body had expanded. Hair sprouted out of every surface as the bones re-aligned into a new shape. Her bottle blonde hair fell out and was replaced by a long coat of the natural brown Jane had been born with. Fillings and bridge work were lost as the teeth came into place. Her manicure fell to the floor as the claws lengthened.
It took a few minutes, but then the basement was quiet again. The corpse of a middle aged bar fly had been replaced by the body of a monster from a B horror movie.
There was silence. The joggers ran by on the street outside and Charger was far enough away to have stopped barking. None of the neighborhood had started their cars yet and only a few had alarms set to go off in the next few minutes.
The sound was soft, it would have been almost impossible for anyone to have noticed the slow, rhythmic thump of a large heart beating.
Eyes that were no longer brown opened.
The silence of a sleepy suburb was shattered by one long, hungry, howl.
Tom dropped to his knees, a gurgling sound coming from the hole in his throat as he tried to give voice to his pain. His eyes bulged out, fear replaced by agony before he shifted to the left. A moment later, the only noise that came from the corpse was the slow drip of blood.
Margret was crouched behind one of the desks that weren’t flipped over. She had her cheek pressed against the floor, no longer worried about messing up her make up, and was watching the room in front of her.
She had heard the commotion outside, but instead of jumping up with the others to go see what was happening, Margret had taken a moment to save her project and lock her computer. A few seconds spent in the attempt to save her work saved her life. She had just stood up when Ann’s body had been thrown across the room to smack against either side of Mr. Franklins’ office.
Now, she watched as Tom’s eyes went glassy and the gigantic, hairy foot stepped down into the growing pool of the cute man’s blood.
She could hear it sniffing the air. A sniffle, two steps one way, another sniffle, and then two steps back the other. She knew it could smell her; her fear or the musky perfume that she had decided to wear. What it smelled didn’t matter. The monster was searching for her.
When it stepped around the desk behind her, Margret closed her eyes. “Please don’t let it hurt,” She whispered as she heard the sniffling speed up.
There was a soft, wispy sound beside her face, and Margret couldn’t help but crack open one eye to look at the bloody fur of the beasts paw beside her. There were bits of some stringy body part clinging to the curved claws that rested a few inches from her face and Margret squeaked before shutting her eyes tighter. “Please don’t let it hurt.”
Whatever this was, it sniffed all over her. Margret remained rigid, her face on the floor while bent over on all fours. She tried to keep quiet, but more to keep from screaming than because she thought the creature might leave her be.
The monster leaned further down. It lowered its weight onto her and put its face down beside her cheek. Tears and snot leaked down onto the floor as Margret bit down on her lip and drew blood.
When her cheek was touched, it was rough, warm and wet. One, long, drawn out touch that ran from the base of her neck, up her cheek and then came away at her hair line.
It had licked her.
The animal licked her again, then drew away and started sniffing again. It alternated between the two, until Margret’s face was as wet and sticky as the day her father had brought home her first puppy.
When the creature used its nose to push Margret from behind, she slid forward and sprawled out. The tongue licked behind her knee and Margret opened her eyes. A new terror had replaced her fear of being torn apart.
As she looked under her desk, trying to think of any escape from the attentions of whatever this was, she saw her overturned purse. The new bottle of perfume had rolled out and sat facing her.
“Full Moon Musk: Call The Wild.”
The surface was smooth, a dark mirror that reflected the soft yellow light of the old bulbs in a way that made it hard to determine the color of the liquid in the bowl.
The bowl itself did not help. It was stone, old and rough and stained on the outside from years of use. It was so much older than anything else in the room that everyone looking at it felt small compared to the years the object had seen.
She gazed into the bowl, long white hair hanging down in a wispy veil. The veil was tattered, due to its age and a lack of care. The hairs stuck together, knots and tangles that added character to the veil, as if someone had woven in beads and baubles over the years.
We sat and watched. None of us dared to move or even take a deep breath for fear that we might disturb the seer and ruin our chance to get an answer.
My parents sat side by side, holding hands and waiting for an answer. Years had been passed while we were searching for my brother, but so far, none of us had heard anything. We were so strung out from searching and hunting that we had neglected our health, walking skeletons that he might not recognize if he did return.
“There is no answer here.” The old fraud raised her head, revealing two white, sightless eyes. “He is not on the other side.”
“I thought the spirits could find him on this side?” My father looked furious, but I knew he was nothing but words. The man’s fire, passion and soul had been burned out of him by the search light he had carried on so many dark nights.
“The spirits could find him on either side if he were normal,” the old woman said. “You have kept something from me. He is not normal is he?”
My mother began to cry. My father trained an angry scowl on the seer as he wrapped his arms around my mother. It did no good, the old woman was blind, but if it made him feel better it was alright.
The crone turned her white eyes on me. “He is not normal and you knew that.”
Both parents froze and turned to face me. They stared at me with wide eyes while the blind woman stared at me with sightless ones. But as they looked, I stared back into the past, to the green and yellow eyes that had looked back at me from the porch. Those eyes had been glowing too bright to be hidden by the shadows.
When he had walked towards me, I dropped to my knees to pray. I mumbled hymns as he relieved himself on my down turned head. I had stayed there, terrified of nothing but a pair of eyes as he walked away. I never told anyone. I couldn’t tell them. If they believed me, believed that my brother was possessed, then our whole family would have been burned.
“Say the word child. There is only one and it is the truth.”
“What is she talking about?”
“What do you know young lady?”
“Say the word child. It is the only way to give them peace.”
I was crying. Big, salty tears streaked down my face as I tried to look at my mother. Her face was so blurry. My father’s face was red, despite my inability to see the details.
“What did you see?” The old woman’s voice was so quiet that I wondered if she had spoken aloud or if I had imagined it.
I turned to the window, unable to face them when I said it, but found my voice stolen. A single, croaking sound rumbled out of my throat as I saw his eyes glowing at me through the glass again.
The seer gasped and keeled over. I was right behind her and the last sound I heard as I felt the weight of my skull drag me backward to the floor was a slimy voice that made me imagine slugs crawling on my arms.
“I am home.”
Torin pressed his back to the cold, damp wall and bit his lip in an effort to keep from screaming. His hands clenched the handle of a beautiful axe, but his arms betrayed him, quivering from fright at what he had just witnessed. The big man fought to slow his panic. He forced himself to take deep, lung filling breaths of the dank air that filled the cavern. He tried to direct his mind to examine the mundane details of the odors in this hellish place so that he might master the fear that made his knees quake.
The warrior could smell the rotting roots and the heady scent of the fungus that they had walked over as the group had entered. He and his friends had stood in a low fog of spores as they stared at the remains of a once great tomb.
“I told you the map was real.” The short man in the front turned around to look at them. He turned from face to face, looking up at Torin so that he could look each of the group in the eyes. “The Necropolis of Dranoel.”
“Yes Marcus, you were right,” the heavily armored man on the far right of the group said. “And I do owe you an apology for doubting you.”
“No Nale, you owe me a lot of beer when we get done.”
The group laughed at the rogue’s concept of apology as they headed toward what they had believed to be a simple place to pillage.
As they walked forward, Orin said, “All accounts say that Dranoel was a minor necromancer who had built a tomb the size of a village as a base of power. As far as anyone knows he was hunted and killed by the King’s guard for grave robbing. In truth, it was a preemptive measure to quell the possibility of threat. The wizard’s body was burned and the ashes scattered long ago.”
Torin looked at the imposing structure as the group approached. This was no town, it was a fortress. But, he figured that legends were often wrong so as long as there was treasure, he didn’t care about the buildings description.
There hadn’t been any more laughter after that. There had been nothing but eerie silence as the group methodically explored the ruins. There was a great deal of treasure for a minor necromancer, but nobody complained.
They fought into the heart of the complex, long dead corpses rising up to meet them as they went. They plundered, many of them finding wonderful things that would fetch piles of gold and kegs of beer.
They explored, until they found the mistress of the necropolis.
The legends had been close. Dranoel had indeed been burnt and scattered. What the legends had not known was that Dranoel had been an apprentice. The portrait of him standing beside his mistress showed a beautiful and terrifying woman. The group had stood and marveled at the work until the cleric stepped closer to examine it. The creature that fell upon him had once been voluptuous, but it was now wrapped in linen and its touch had rotted poor Orin’s head off his shoulders before his prayers could escape his lips. The others ran as his attacker turned on them.
The creatures in the deep vaults were powerful. The men had no names for most of them. Almost ever one of them had been a woman and with each encounter, another of Torin’s friends fell.
Torin had watched a vampire tear Nale’s throat out. The creature had been voluptuous and beautiful. It had mesmerized three others, so that despite his yelling, they stood there and waited for her to finish his leader and come for them.
Marcus had been swarmed by spiders made out of bone and skull. Some of them still had long braids trailing from the stained bone. Marcus was bitten, over and over, until he fell and screamed while blood bubbled out of his mouth to obscure the sound.
Gore spattered Torin’s armor. The stink of it mixed with the air to make the big fighter want to vomit. Twenty men had entered the city. One man now tried to calm himself enough to think of a way out of the hell he had entered.
He was alone. He was still blessed with dark sight but Torin didn’t know how long the spell would last with his friend dead.
It was so cold. Even for a cave, the air felt frigid. In the moon light of the seeing, he saw his breath. Torin had never noticed seeing his breath while underground before.
Goose flesh erupted over his body. Shivering from fear became shivering to keep warm.
Torin closed his eyes, squeezing them while grinding his teeth together to keep his jaws from chattering.
It seemed that the hall was getting brighter. Even with his eyes shut, the darkness was less than it should have been. It soon seemed like he was lying outside, facing the sky, waiting for the sun to come out from behind a thin cloud.
The warrior lost the war with his jaw, and the clicking of his chattering teeth sounded like an army running down the hall towards him.
The light became brighter. Torin now squinted his eyes shut against the brightness. There was no warmth, he felt as if he were again standing guard duty in the southern garrison. Standing and holding a pike while frost spread across the poor excuse for a cloak that they had given him. He tightened his jaw, managing to stop the chattering long enough to hear one whispered word.
A single word, so quiet that it might have been whispered by his mother when she died in the night.