Tanner Holland had never been spelunking before, and it had never crossed his mind to go either. It was his friend Lyle who had suggested going, and at first Tanner wasn’t interested.
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“Susan oxford will be there.” Lyle’s smile widened into a devilish grin.
Tanner tried not to respond, but it was already too late, he could feel the smile crawl over his face. “The new girl? So, what does it matter if she’s there?” He tried to sound nonchalant but failed.
“Whatever, you have had your eyes set on her since she got here. You always fall for the shy quiet types anyhow.” He gave Tanner a bit of a nudge “You know what else? Monica is going to be there.”
Monica was Lyle’s girl. Had been since the ninth grade, which meant they had been together for over two years. He still hadn’t done everything he wanted to with her, but he was trying. In the end the spelunking trip was just another shot at it. “So why should I care if Monica is there? She doesn’t even like me.”
“It doesn’t matter if she likes you idiot. It matters if she likes me. Besides the best part is that we are the only ones going; just you, me, Monica, and Susan. How snuggly is that?” Lyle was looking smug, he knew he had him.
“How’d you talk Susan into that anyhow?” Tanner looked up into his friends face.
“Just looking out for you buddy.” Lyles face slid into a grin better suited to a fox.
“Oh, and one other thing.”
“I knew there was something; what is it?”
“We need your car to get out there, mine… died.”
“Crap, fine but I need gas money.”
It took them three hours of driving until they got to the cave Lyle had found the other week. As Tanner drove Lyle filed them in.
“It’s like nothing you have ever seen before, waterfalls, and moss. All sorts of cool things.” Clearly Lyle had reached the end of his descriptive vocabulary.
“How did you find this place again Lyle?” He hadn’t mentioned anything about going anywhere last week; it was so not like Lyle.
Before Lyle could answer Monica broke in “Why does it matter how he found it Tanner? It’s just nice of him to share something as cool as this with the rest of us, you shouldn’t be so pestering.” Monica’s voice is what got to Tanner; it was a feline in heat without any of the warmth. Just the screeching and growling.
Tanner restrained himself, and ignored her. Instead he asked Susan a question: “Have you ever been spelunking Susan?”
“Nope.” She said.
Tanner looked towards her, but she was looking outside the window. Lyle leaned forward in his seat and whispered into Tanners ear. “Nice one Romeo, one sentence and you’ve pissed her off.”
In response Tanner took a curve a little too sharply, and he heard a satifying thud against the window. Tanner could swear he heard a cat growling ‘jerk’ shortly afterward, but it was too faint.
The rest of the drive was in silence except for the occasional directions issued from Lyle.
“Here right here, STOP!”
Tanner slammed on his breaks, and he could feel his seatbelt catch and restrain him from hitting his head on the steering wheel. “What the hell? Why didn’t you say something earlier? “Tanner turned in his seat to find Monica in Lyles lap, and Lyle with smears of lipstick on his neck.
“It just came up on me, sorry man.” He must have noticed Tanner staring at his neck cause he pawed at it, but only managed to smear it more.
“Who wears lipstick to a cave anyhow?” Tanner breathed.
“What did you say!?” Monica hissed at him.
“Nothing; just thinking out loud.” Tanner turned back around and opened up his door. The others followed suite and began to unload the gear that Lyle had told them to bring.
“Why did we have to bring rope?” whispered Susan.
It took a second for Lyle to realize she was speaking to him. “Oh, yeah; well… you never know huh? I just remember that I wished I had, had some rope last time I was here. It wasn’t easy getting out that time. Not easy at all.”
“You’re babbling.” Tanner tossed a coil of rope into his stomach, which was followed by a whoosh of air from Lyle. “So where is it?” They had driven to a small forest that grew inexplicably in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere being an arid landscape of grass, and very little shrubbery except for in this one lush forest.
“No one ever comes here you know.” It was Susan again, just a whisper that’s how they knew it was her.
“Huh?” Tanner blurted.
“I mean no one ever comes here, it isn’t safe out here. Things live here.” She was looking just at Tanner.
“Things, did you just say things?” Monica advanced on Susan. “Like werewolves and vampires? Those kinds of things?” Her voice was sardonic and unforgiving.
“No; not those.” Susan shrugged as if she had given up.
“Come on Lyle; lead the way I want to see the cave.” Monica moved over towards him, and took his arm. “This is going to be fun.”
The group made their way up a trail that led them through some thick trees, and over a stream or two until they came to a clearing, and cliff. If it could even be called a cliff, it wasn’t much taller then the trees surrounding it, and it sloped on the sides until it became flush with the ground about fifty feet out.
“See, right there up about midway.” Lyle was pointing towards the dead center of the cliff, and sure enough about thirty feet up the rock face jutted out just enough for someone to stand on, whatever was above that was concealed by the angle and the outcrop.
“How the hell did you get up there?” Tanner said.
Lyle turned around and his face brightened “I climbed. Well I found some handholds and climbed. It’s pretty easy, almost as if they where put there.”
“Probably were, I am surprised we haven’t heard of this place before; I bet spelunkers come here all the time.” Tanner felt Susan come up behind him, and brush her hand against his back lightly. It tingled through his body like a ripple in a pool.
“I don’t feel right Tanner. I don’t think we should be here.” When Tanner turned around Susan forced a weak smile out, but it was clearly forced.
“It’s ok, nothing is wrong with the place; we just aren’t used to it. Being in the forest is weird, and the light doesn’t get through here very easily so it makes it creepy. I feel it to, don’t worry.” He put his hand on her shoulder experimentally and was relived when she didn’t brush it away. “Come on, Lyle, and I will go up first.”
Lyle must have been listening because he grabbed a coil of rope and through it over his shoulders. “I’ll head up first since I’ve done it before then I’ll let down the rope for you Tanner.”
“Sounds good, let’s go.”
Tanner made his way up quickly his spidery legs easily finding the holds and his hands shooting out as if the process was rote. When he came to the top he uncoiled the rope and tossed it down to Tanner. Tanner caught the rope, and checked for tension.
“You got me?” He yelled up, he couldn’t see anything but Lyle’s feet hanging over the edge.
“You know I do!”
Tanner put his right foot against the wall and made his way up. After he got to the top Susan followed, and then Monica.
The mouth of the cave was an odd squared off shape that leaned outward over the ledge as if looking down unto the clearing below. A cool, damp draft crept from the cave mouth. It was inviting climate after the strain of pulling two people up onto the ledge. Tanner was the first one in, and soon after came Susan, then Monica then Lyle. After about thirty feet the cave seemed to stop.
“What is this? I thought you said this place was cool?” It was Monica’s outraged voice that broke the silence of the cave, the echo spreading throughout the room. Tanner had found a new form of torture.
“Hold on sweet stuff, you’ll see.” Lyle took his flashlight, and pointed it down to the floor of the cave. “See.”
It was an opening no more then that of a human body. Monica must have noticed as well because she let out a sound of disbelief.
“I am not crawling through that hole, I wore nice clothes.” She stamped her foot like a tempremental child. “You can’t make me.”
If attention is what she wanted then she got it, Lyle walked up to her and wrapped his arms around her. Tanner could see that he was squeezing her butt, and whispering in her ear. A second latter a wicked smile split her face and she moved towards the second opening.
“Hold on hun, I think we should let Tanner through first. He’s bigger then we are, and if he can get through then he can pull us through.” Lyle began fumbling in his pockets for something, and after a time produced a whistle that he placed in Tanners hand. “Just in case you get lost, blow twice.”
Tanner didn’t like being volunteered for anything, but he had no choice so he made his way to the second opening and bent down. He could feel that the draft was coming from this hole, and it felt good against his face. The smell was reminiscent of his grandmother’s cellar, and despite the obvious downfalls of getting dirty around Susan, it was inviting.
It took Tanner a good five minutes to push himself through the hole, but when he made it he found himself on another ledge, before he could look over it he heard someone trying to climb through the hole. It was Susan; her slight figure had no trouble shooting through the hole. After her came Monica, and then Lyle. He had to be pulled through not because of his size but because he had all of their supplies wrapped around him.
When everyone was dusted off they looked over the edge, and more then one of them let out a little gasp of wonder. The scene below them was magnificent; an underground river ran directly beneath them, the water as black as an inkwell. The shoreline was covered with a curious moss that Tanner could not identify. The walls where smooth, and damp to the touch. It was amazing.
“Told you so.” Lyle was looking at all of them, no doubt gauging their faces. He had done well and he knew it.
“This is something else Lyle, I never thought something like this could be so close to home.” Tanner put a hand on Lyle’s should and patted it. Tanner knew Lyle would get what he wanted tonight. Monica would make sure of that. Lyle knew it to.
“Come on there’s more down this way.” Lyle waved his arm down the direction the stream was flowing, and he cast a light to show them the way.
The cliff slopped down at a gentle angle until it came to the same level as the riverbed. The sound of the water was so slight that Tanner wondered if it was running at all. “Dead water.” He said to no one in paricualr.
“Yes, very much so.” It was Susan she had been no more then a pace to Tanners left the whole time, and he didn’t even know it.
“Sorry I was just thinking out loud again.” He rubbed the back of his head in an abashed gesture.
“I know, but you where right. I was just telling you that you where.” She smiled at him, it was a warm thing her smile. So rare that she made it seem like a gift.
The group for a bit longer until Tanner noticed that the stream was becoming louder. “What’s that noise?” He called to Lyle who was busy trying to fondle Monica’s butt while walking on the slick cave floor.
“That’s a surprise!” Lyle didn’t even turn around, or else he would have seen Tanners annoyed face glaring at him.
“I’m sure it will be. Shall I spoil it for you?” He turned to Susan who was looking up at him. He caught his breath.
“No need, it’s a waterfall. Three of them actually.” She wrapped her arm in his and leaned against him.
Tanner didn’t have the time to be surprised about her answer he was surprised about her actions, but he asked anyway. “How do you know there are three?”
“A guess, let’s see if I am right?” With that she shot ahead of Tanner, and veered around Lyle who was still trying not to slide into the water.
“Hey wait, what the?” Tanner tried to follow after her, but discovered he couldn’t run anymore then half speed.
When they finally caught up to Susan she was kneeling next to one of the three waterfalls.
“Told you.” She looked up at Tanner and smiled.
“Yes. Yes you did.” Tanner walked over towards her and found his gaze following hers. The water falls came from three separate directions, the direction they had come from. One from opposite that, and another from the side of the two. Each of them poured their loads into a larger stream that went down and off into the direction opposite the middlemost waterfall.
“And down there, is the end of the line.” Lyle pointed with his flashlight downstream the larger river. He turned and moved his hand in a gesture that suggested they follow him, and follow they did. They had nearly hiked a mile when Monica finally spoke up.
“How much further is it? My feet are starting to hurt.” She was slowing down, and Tanner could tell that she wasn’t just whining.
“Damn it! Just a little further, stop crying!” Lyle snapped at her.
Monica stopped in her tracks, and glared at Lyle. “What the hell did you just say, don’t you ever talk to me like that! I will turn around and go home if you don’t apologize right this second!”
“Like hell you will, you would get lost ten feet from here if you tried.” Lyle stopped and turned around to face her. “Besides Tanner and I are the only ones with the flashlights, and rope. You couldn’t make it back if you wanted to.” He turned back around and continued downstream.
Monica dropped back and began to walk with Susan and Tanner. Tanner could tell that she was trying to hold back tears, and despite himself felt sorry for her. “Here hold this.” He passed off the flashlight to Susan, and ran up to Lyle.
“You made her cry man, what the hell is wr—“
“Shut up, you’re getting on my nerves to. I just don’t feel like dealing with her any longer, that’s all.” Lyle gave him a sideways glance, and picked up his pace. Tanner followed.
“I thought you were here to finally do… well you know.” Tanner didn’t know why he felt so funny saying it.
Lyle let out a small laugh. “We did that weeks ago. I came here to break up with her. For good.”
Tanner couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “In a cave, what the hell is the point of that? I don’t get it.”
Lyle’s eyes lit up, and one side of his mouth gave a short twitch. “You’ll see we’re nearly there.”
Tanner dropped back, and could here the girls conversing together. He didn’t want to be a nuisance so he walked in the middle of the group. The dark was a comfort to his thoughts. Why was Lyle acting so weird? He had never been one to snap so easily. Especially not at a girl.
It was another quarter of a mile before Lyle stopped again. The girls caught up and Monica took her place alongside him. Apparently Susan had made her feel better about the situation. Lyle flipped his flashlight back behind him, and before them stood the most shocking sight of their lives. It was a city. The cavern ceiling rose up at least a hundred feet and below it sat a small city cut directly out of the rock. Each building had been crafted from the ground down. Along the walls sconces that held ancient torches. They had not been lit in hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Tanner’s mind reeled at the extent of labor that would go into something such as this.
“You found this?” It was Tanner’s voice but he couldn’t remember telling his mouth to talk.
“Yeah I found it; I found it and me alone.” The spite in Lyle’s voice was unmasked “Come on there’s more.”
Lyle began off into the center of the city. As the group walked along Tanner would look into the windows and see small rock tables complete with chairs, and in some even what looked to be chandeliers when he brought this to the attention of Susan she just shrugged. Apparently the scope of the situation was lost on all but himself. After a time Tanner realized that the city was set up in a pattern. The pattern was a circle and Lyle was leading them to the direct center.
“What’s in the center Lyle?” He had to shout because Lyle was so much farther then the rest of them.
“You’ll see.” He shouted back.
“Your to full of surprises today Lyle! Far too many for me anyhow!” Tanner could tell that the center was coming up quickly, and he ran to catch up.
“Just two more I promise!” Lyle yelled it, despite how close Tanner had come.
“They better be good.” Tanner was right beside him now, but Lyle didn’t jump as Tanner had expected him to.
“Oh they ARE!” Lyle shouted in his face.
“You got me buddy?” Tanner whispered.
“You know I do!” Lyle screamed.
“What the hell is wrong with you I’m right here.” He could see the center of the city now, but exact point was still in shadow.
“I know! But they DON’T!” He began to run towards the middle, and Tanner followed.
“They who? What are you talking about?” Tanner could see that a table was in the center of the city.
Lyle stopped just before the table and pointed the flashlight at the ceiling. Tanner heard a horrible scream and turned to see Monica in the grasp of a small man. Despite his size he held Monica fast. Tanner tried to get to her, but before he could he found that two similar sized men had grabbed hold of him. He tried to throw them off but before he could he was flung back and into the air. He could feel his lungs release and his vision blurred into blackness.
When Tanner woke up he could feel a hand patting at his forehead. When his vision blurred it was to the face of Susan. He tried to sit up but found himself restrained to where he lay. Only then did the cold steel become evident along his wrist and ankles.
“What’s happening? Where is everyone else?” Tanner knew the questions where stupid but he was still too stunned to care.
“You’re about to do something wonderful, something that needs to be done.” Susan gifted him with a smile again, and Tanner felt the sincerity in her words like a splash of water on a hot day.
“I am, that’s good.” Tanner knew his responses where trite, but he couldn’t help himself. “Why am I talking like this?” He giggled at the sound of his voice.
“You’re drugged, don’t worry it will wear off in time. Not until everything is done of course.” She stood up and Tanner could see her hand move in an unfamiliar gesture. Somewhere within Tanners conscious brain he was aware of a terrible odor. The source of the odor became apparent when a sallow skinned man leaned over and looked into Tanners eyes.
“Good eyes.” His voice was a scrape of metal against wood.
“Yes, he does have good eyes doesn’t he? I will miss them.” It was Susan’s voice from behind him. “Do you want to bring in the others? I am sure he will be hungry after this is all done with.”
Tanner could hear the man give a wet chuckle. “More than you know daughter, more then you know. “ Tanner knew those words where significant. He knew that he should be paying attention to the conversation, but he couldn’t seem to care.
“What is this? What is this! I did what you wanted, I DID!” It was Lyle’s voice. He was screaming, Tanner had never heard him scream. He sounded stupid, Tanner let out another chuckle. In the background he could hear a tortured voice screaming something unintelligible, despite Tanner’s drugged state it grated on him. They must have brought Lyle somewhere close because he could hear him talking to Susan without straining for the words.
“I did what you asked me, I did.” Lyle was on the verge of tears.
“Yes you did, and well I might add. I knew that we could count on you Lyle.” Susan’s tone was patronizing.
“Then why don’t you let us go? You said that you would let me live, you said that I could live.” Lyle was crying now, his voice a stutter between sobs.
“We did let you live, you had a whole week of life to live. I hope you used it well.” Susan walked around to where Tanner could see her again. “Besides it’s better then what he is getting, you saved yourself from that at least.” She brushed his cheek, and he shuddered.
“He gets to LIVE! I just want to live, and now you are going to kill me. You told me you weren’t going to kill me.” Tanner could hear chains go taught and fall to the ground again.
“We aren’t; he is.” Tanner could see her finger point to him. He wouldn’t do that though, and he told her as much.
She looked into his eyes “Oh, you are still awake. Maybe you are the one. To correct you though you will; you won’t just kill them though you will do much more then that.”
Before Tanner could think up a reply he noticed that the retched smell had returned, and with it Susan’s father.
“Did you bring them?” Tanner heard metal against wood and judged that to be a yes. “Then are we ready to begin?”
More metal against wood.
Tanner could feel something brush against his face for a brief moment. Then a small pinch and a sensation of warm liquid on his cheek, he hardly noticed when everything went black on his left side. He was aware of some discomfort, and he felt no fear until he saw a blade in his peripheral vision on his right side. He screamed then, and he was distantly aware of Lyle, and Monica screaming as well.
“Shut him up he’s moving too much.”
Metal against wood, and Tanner went black.
When Tanner woke up he caught the edges of his dreams; there was lot of screaming, and a horrible hunger. He had to take care of both so he silenced the screaming and at the same time he sated himself. “I do feel full actually.”
“Good.” It was Susan.
When Tanner sat up he found that he wasn’t bound any longer. He rubbed at his wrists, but couldn’t see any marks on them. “What is going on, where is everyone else?” He turned to Susan and found her with tears on the edges of her eyes.
“My dad’s dead.” She hugged him, and Tanner felt his arms going around her by reflex.
“What are you talking about your dad? That was just part of a dream wasn’t it?” Susan pulled herself free of him.
“Do you not find yourself in an abandoned city in the middle of a giant cavern beneath the Earth’s crust? “ Her voice was agitated, as if she expected this to be normal to Tanner.
“But things like that don’t happen, and—“He went to touch at his cheeks, and found dried blood.
“Yes that happened to. It all happened, all of it.” Susan made a gesture towards a bloody pile at the base of the table.
Tanner’s stomach turned, and threatened to empty itself. “What the hell is that?” He turned his head away.
Susan blinked and smiled. “To put it bluntly; Lunch. To put it even Blunter, Lyle and Monica.”
She turned to look at Tanner, and her eyes told him all he needed to know.
Tanner turned and vomited all over the cavern floor. He vomited again when he recognized a finger that had once been Monica’s.
“Great, just great!” Susan stood up and pointed at Tanner. “Now we are going to have to feed you even sooner then next week. You had better get used to this, because it’s not going away.”
She crawled back on the table and took Tanner’s hand in her own. “I know this is going to be rough on you, but I will be there for you. Just like I was for my Dad; in time you may even come to thank me for it. You just need to know right now, that I know everything and you know nothing. So you have to keep me around.” She stroked his hand lightly, and smiled up at him.
Tanner could feel his blood run cold. She was right, she knew what was happening, and he didn’t. If half of what happened was true, he would need her around. He looked at the bloody pile again, and felt his stomach leap once more; but despite himself. He was hungry, very, very hungry.
**I would like to see if anyone wants me to continue this story. If so tell me and I will do so. If not, I still will but I may not post it. Thank you ahead of time for any feedback and have a great life!**
"It is considered rude to silence a fool, but cruel to let him go on."