* * *
The group near the pond started to creep by the three men as close to the underwater pond as they could. Bricker looked more closely at the men. They wore torn and ragged clothing. They all noticed that the men stared blankly into the darkness. Then they heard a strange, high-pitched barking noise off to the left of the area, in a part of the dark cavern they had not yet explored. They stopped and looked around. The men by the brazier didnâ€™t move.
Ingerton turned and headed towards where the noise had come from. Dr. Huxtable grabbed him by the arm.
â€œIâ€™m going to investigate what the sound was,â€ Ingerton said. â€œIt doesnâ€™t look like these people are very attentive.â€
â€œIt is my expert opinion that you do not go towards the sound in a poop cave,â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œIt could be a small boy,â€ Joseph said.
â€œOr it could be something that lives in a poop cave!â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œBut-but now weâ€™ve entered into normal cave territory,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œYou should not go alone. At least.â€
â€œYes. Someone should come with me.â€
â€œAnd we should not split up our eight-person party. Wait. Where did two of them go?â€
â€œThey must have gone to the other side of the cave.â€
â€œMaybe that was them making the sound. Donâ€™t go towards it.â€
â€œWe have so many guns. We could split this up a little bit.â€
â€œSplitting up is bad.â€
â€œThen we should all follow the sound.â€
â€œNo. What do you all think he should do? Should he go towards it?â€
â€œIâ€™m so outside my element,â€ Father Oein said. â€œI have no â€¦ no idea.â€
â€œHas anyone been in a poop cave before?â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œI think we should continue going towards these three guys,â€ Joseph said.
â€œIâ€™m more interested in these people as well,â€ Joell said.
â€œYes,â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œI think that Iâ€™m going to follow this.â€
â€œSounds are not important.â€
â€œSounds donâ€™t abduct little boys,â€ Joseph said. â€œThree creepy men in a cave abduct little boys.â€
â€œIf some of you want to split off, thatâ€™s on you,â€ Joell said. â€œBut Iâ€™m not going that way.â€
â€œHmm,â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œWeâ€™ll check this way first,â€ Ingerton said.
They continued creeping towards the brazier, staying near the water. Soon they were very close to the three men and the light of the brazier, though still in the shadows. Thatâ€™s when Joell noticed one of the men staring right at him. He stopped dead.
All of the rest also stopped as they realized the three men were unnaturally still. There was blood on their clothing as well.
â€œI donâ€™t think these guys are doing too well,â€ Ingerton whispered.
â€œThereâ€™s blood on their clothing,â€ Dr. Huxtable hissed.
â€œTheyâ€™re zombies,â€ Ingerton said.
Thatâ€™s when they realized the three men were not breathing. Dr. Huxtable was suddenly terrified to see a corpse barely visible behind the altar. He guessed it was Freddy Pendergast and the blood on the three dead menâ€™s clothing was obviously his blood. He was convinced the three had killed the child already. The body had obviously been stabbed several times and blood was still pooled around it. The whole thing was probably connected to the Lomarians heâ€™d read about in the Pnakotica and perhaps they were even trying to call the winged one.
â€œThey already God damned kill the kid!â€ Dr. Huxtable hissed to the others.
His accent was oddly missing.
â€œWhereâ€™s the proof?â€ Ingerton hissed back, his accent also gone.
â€œThe blood on their clothes and the corpse behind the altar!â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œThereâ€™s a corpse?â€
â€œThereâ€™s a corpse! Look closely!â€
â€œWell letâ€™s go check out the corpse.â€
â€œWe need to go get the police if thatâ€™s the case!â€ Father Oein said. â€œWe canâ€™t take care of this!â€
â€œApparently these are zombies though, priest!â€ Ingerton said.
â€œWhat?â€ Father Oein said.
â€œUse your God powers, priest!â€ Ingerton said.
â€œI donâ€™t have holy water on me,â€ Father Oein said.
Joell stood up, baseball bat in hand and ready to go.
â€œEveryone! Calm down!â€ Ingerton said.
â€œWell, they just killed a kid!â€ Dr. Huxtable said. â€œWhat? You like kid killers!?!â€
â€œWe need to check it out! They donâ€™t look like theyâ€™re going to do anything!â€
â€œHeâ€™s looking at me!â€ Joell said.
â€œLook at this!â€ Ingerton said. â€œLook! This guyâ€™s looked right at Joell! He donâ€™t give a damn!â€
Joell realized the man starting at him was not breathing at all.
â€œListen! Listen! Listen!â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œJoell!â€ Ingerton said. â€œStop looking at him you poor little man!â€
â€œWait! Wait! Wait! Did that one move!?! Did that one move right there!?! That one over there! That one moved!â€
â€œNone of them are moving!â€
â€œThat one moved a little! Look!â€
â€œIâ€™m looking at him.â€
â€œHe moved a little.â€
Dr. Huxtable looked at the man again.
â€œHe moved a lot!â€ he said.
The man had actually turned and looked directly at him.
â€œHeâ€™s not moving!â€ Ingerton said.
He hadnâ€™t seen the men move at all. Neither had Bricker.
â€œTheyâ€™re not moving,â€ Bricker said.
â€œCalm down,â€ Ingerton said. â€œCalm down. Calm down.â€
Dr. Huxtable thought all of the men were starting at him now.
â€œLook away from them,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œTheyâ€™re all looking at me,â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œLook away from them!â€
â€œTheyâ€™re all looking at me.â€
â€œWeâ€™ve got guns. They do not. Look away from them for a minute.â€
â€œWe have guns.â€
Dr. Huxtable looked at his pistol as if he didnâ€™t even remember pulling it from his pocket. He looked down the barrel of the weapon carefully, his hand shaking.
* * *
Wessen moved into the larger cavern and, around a spur of stone to the left, saw a set of tightly-twisting iron stairs spiraling up into the darkness. He crept to the stairs and started climbing up. His footfalls seemed very loud.
* * *
The cave mouth James had entered opened into another large cavern and he could see more water ahead. To his left was a stone staircase leading upwards. Next to it was an opening that seemed to lead to a little niche. It looked like it had been carved out of the stone. He peeked into the small niche, which proved to be only eight or nine feet deep and about five feet wide.
What was alarming and disturbing were the two man-sized figures lounging on the stone floor at the far end of the niche. The figures were humanoid but obviously not human. They had a forward-slumping and roughly canine cast to their features. The texture of their skin was rubberish and they had cloven hooves instead of feet. Their ears were pointed and pushed back towards the back of their heads. The smell of rotten flesh was strong in the room. The things blinked at Jamesâ€™ light.
James stared at the things as one of them got up. He didnâ€™t think the bones of any living thing should move the way the bones of this creature did. Itâ€™s legs were bent like a goat or a dog and it came over, its hooves clopping on the stone floor. It sniffed loudly at him.
* * *
â€œObviously they canâ€™t hear us,â€ Ingerton said loudly in a voice that didnâ€™t sound like his own. â€œLook at it. Look at it. Theyâ€™re not moving, right?â€
Dr. Huxtable thought the three were still staring at him.
â€œTheyâ€™re moving,â€ he said, his accent also gone.
â€œThey are not moving!â€ Ingerton said. â€œPreacher man, tell him theyâ€™re not moving.â€
Dr. Huxtable saw that the things were chomping their jaws at him as if they wanted to eat him.
â€œTheyâ€™re chomping,â€ he said.
â€œNo, theyâ€™re not moving, right?â€ Ingerton said to Father Oein.
â€œTheyâ€™re not doing anything,â€ Father Oein said.
â€œTheyâ€™re not moving!â€ Ingerton said again.
â€œTheyâ€™re looking at Joell,â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œTheyâ€™re looking at Joell,â€ Joseph agreed. â€œTheyâ€™re not moving.â€
â€œWell, who canâ€™t help but look at Joell!?!â€ Ingerton said. â€œHeâ€™s the topless man with vomit on him.â€
â€œWhereâ€™d the kid go?â€ Dr. Huxtable said. â€œWhereâ€™s the body? It was there.â€
He couldnâ€™t see the boyâ€™s body behind the altar anymore.
â€œBehind the altar!â€ he said. â€œThey moved it. They are moving! I told you!â€
â€œThereâ€™s no movement!â€ Ingerton said. â€œThere was probably no body!â€
â€œYou shoot him!
â€œYou stand there! Stand there! Apparently â€¦ I donâ€™t know why theyâ€™re not moving, but watch this.â€
Ingerton walked into the light. Bricker followed him. The dead men didnâ€™t move. He stood directly in the light but they didnâ€™t move at all. He started to smell the stink of rotten flesh. He realized the things probably were zombies, as heâ€™d read about when he once considered going to Haiti.
He walked nonchalantly towards the altar. The men still didnâ€™t move.
â€œSee?â€ he said to the others. â€œNothing is happening! Nothing is happening!â€
He looked at the altar.
Joell realized the man wasnâ€™t looking at him but at where he had been.
â€œIt looks to me, they donâ€™t give â€¦ a damn about us,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œIs there a corpse behind the altar?â€ Joseph asked.
Ingerton looked behind the altar. Nothing was there. In fact, the entire altar was very clean, as if it had been washed relatively recently.
â€œI donâ€™t know what happened to me,â€ Dr. Huxtable said in his normal voice. â€œThat was weird.â€
â€œI see nothing here,â€ Ingerton said. â€œThereâ€™s clearly nothing here.â€
â€œYou know, thereâ€™s been three disappearance cases,â€ Joseph said.
â€œWe should continue our search,â€ Ingerton said. â€œShall we stick together or split up?â€
â€œShould we â€¦ should we shoot them?â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œHave you touched it?â€ Joseph said.
â€œTheyâ€™re not moving now!â€ Ingerton said. â€œI assume we shouldnâ€™t shoot them!â€
Joseph walked up to one of them and poked it with the butt of the rifle. The thing lashed out at him but the man ducked to one side. Then the thing just stood there.
â€œStop poking it!â€ Ingerton said.
â€œItâ€™s a dead body,â€ Joseph said.
â€œLetâ€™s go this way!â€ Ingerton said, pointing the direction the sound had come from.
Joell suddenly realized Joseph was right. The men were dead. It was a new and terrible way to make the workers work â€¦ forever.
* * *
Wessen reached the top of the steps some 20 feet above the floor of the cave. There was a good-sized niche there with a strange and familiar smell that reminded him of the flask Dr. Huxtable had shoved in his face. The far side of the niche was a wooden wall with a lever set into it. He shined the flashlight around but saw nothing around. He pulled the lever, there was a click, and he backed up the staircase. When nothing happened, he walked to the wall and pushed on it. It pivoted away from him like a door.
He found himself in a dark basement with laundry machines. The walls on the side of the basement he stood on were covered in wine racks. In fact, the door heâ€™s pushed open was actually disguised, on the other side, as a wine rack. Across the room were a set of wooden steps going up to a typical interior door.
He was in a cellar.
He crossed the cellar to the door and opened it. Light spilled in.
* * *
The thing sniffed at James, who stood completely still. Then it laughed and looked at the other creature. They spoke back and forth in some kind of barks or grunts, some of them high-pitched. Then it looked at him again and poked him in the chest, sniffing at him again. It laughed again, as did the other creature. Then the other creature stood up. James realized the creatures stank of rotten meat and he could smell it on the nearer of the thingâ€™s breath.
He backed away and the things looked at each other and laughed again. Then they conversed in their strange, almost-doglike barks and meeps.
â€œWhat are you?â€ James asked.
Both of the strange things laughed at each other again. They spoke to each other and then the nearer one took James by the arm and started to lead him away from the niche and into the caves. The other came up behind him, hooves clopping on the ground. They moved in a way that seemed wrong. The hand had a rubbery feeling and he noticed the thing had terribly long, sharp claws. They also had very sharp teeth, or so it looked whenever they opened their mouths to laugh.
Both of the creatures seemed to be enjoying what they were doing very much.
â€œCan you understand me?â€ James said.
The creature muttered something to him he didnâ€™t understand. Then the other one walked ahead of them.
* * *
Miss Edington found a tree and climbed it, Virgil Thomas standing on the ground underneath her. She slipped and fell a few feet and he caught her. She tried again and fell again, this time from a little higher. He caught her again and she landed clumsily.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€ he asked.
â€œTrying to get up in this tree!â€ she said.
He gave her a leg up and she was able to get to a branch some 10 feet above the ground.
â€œYou want me up there too?â€ he asked.
â€œIf you want to come up,â€ she said.
He climbed up into the tree and sat on a branch, hanging Joellâ€™s coat and shirt there.
* * *
â€œOkay!â€ Ingerton said. â€œLet us â€¦ head this way.â€
He pointed towards the direction where theyâ€™d heard the noises. Father Oein looked at the malachite altar. The opaque, green banded material was polished to a shine. It was very clean with no markings or writings. However, there was a runnel that ran around the side of the altar and went over one edge.
â€œIf we go towards the sound, you lead the way,â€ Dr. Huxtable, his other accent restored, said. â€œItâ€™s your idea.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Ingerton said. â€œWe go this way.â€
He led them to one side of the cavern where the roof came down to a cave entrance. They could all hear noises from there as if someone was eating sloppily.
â€œI donâ€™t like these sounds,â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œIt is starting to sound bad, isnâ€™t it?â€ Ingerton said.
â€œIt could be the small boy,â€ Joseph said.
â€œBoys donâ€™t eat like that,â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œNo, I mean the other way,â€ Joseph said.
â€œBeing eaten,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œOh my God!â€ Dr. Huxtable said. â€œWhy would you say that!?!â€
â€œYouâ€™re the one who saw his corpse!â€ Joseph said.
â€œI did,â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œAs much as I want to, we canâ€™t stop now,â€ Joell said. â€œWeâ€™ve got to see what that is in case itâ€™s one of those missing people.â€
They all looked at each other. Then they headed into the cave. It led to a place where there was an opening to the right while the tunnel continued on straight ahead, curving somewhat to the left. They could hear a meeping noise, almost like barking or grunting. That and the noise of someone eating all came from the opening to the right.
â€œI think we should go forward!â€ Ingerton said.
â€œLead the way!â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
Ingerton started to follow the tunnel to the left.
â€œI donâ€™t think we cannot see what that is!â€ Joell said.
They listened to the strange and disturbing sounds for a moment.
â€œIâ€™m going straight,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œWeâ€™re not going right?â€ Joseph said.
â€œNot right,â€ Ingerton said. â€œStraight.â€
Father Oein shined his light in the cave to their right but saw it bore off around a corner. He would have to get closer to see what was making the noises.
â€œWhatâ€™s in there?â€ Joseph asked.
â€œSomething â€¦ sounds like its eating something â€¦â€ Ingerton said. â€œWhich is not us. Câ€™mon!â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m not going alone, but I think we should go right,â€ Joell said. â€œHuxtable?â€
â€œWhy donâ€™t we go straight and then double back this way?â€ Ingerton said, edging away.
â€œBut if someoneâ€™s in danger, we have an opportunity we canâ€™t give up on.â€
â€œIf someoneâ€™s in danger, it sounds like theyâ€™re done.â€
â€œYouâ€™re changing the idea now?â€ Dr. Huxtable said. â€œYou said toward sounds.â€
â€œSo much for the savior of little boys!â€ Joseph said.
Father Oein, meanwhile, was creeping towards the cave with morbid curiosity over what could be making the strange and terrible noises.
â€œThereâ€™s nothing to save that way!â€ Ingerton said.
â€œWell, future boys!â€ Joseph said.
They noticed Father Oein.
â€œI guess we follow the preacher!â€ Ingerton said.
Joell followed behind him.
â€œBeing eaten alive is a very slow death,â€ Dr. Huxtable said. â€œHe could still be alive.â€
â€œHeâ€™s just tired of screaming,â€ Ingerton quipped.
The two of them followed at the back of the group.
As they came around the corner, Father Oeinâ€™s light shined upon a group of a half dozen bipedal creatures with rubbery skin. They had dog-like muzzles, sharp teeth, and hooves for feet. They were apparently eating raw meat off large bones. The stench of rotten offal was almost overwhelming. The meat was covered in maggots and definitely rotten. The things looked up from their meal and apparent conversation.
Ingerton looked disturbed for a moment and then just laughed. Father Oein guessed he had finally seen demons, but he knew his faith was stronger than anything from Hell. Joell froze in place, staring at the horrible things. Ingerton backed slowly away.
One of the things sniffed at the air, staring at them, and then stood up.
Bricker, Dr. Huxtable, Joseph, and Father Oein all backed up. Joell didnâ€™t move. Father Oein grabbed Joellâ€™s collar and the man fell backwards as if he were a statue. Father Oein caught him by the arms and started to drag him slowly out of the horrific cave.
The thing that had stood up wiped off his chest with one arm, rotten meat dropping from where it had fallen from his mouth. He had what appeared to be an arm in the other hand, held by the wrist. Heâ€™d been tearing the flesh off the humerus.
Dr. Huxtable turned and ran away.
â€œLetâ€™s go the other direction!â€ Ingerton cried out and fled.
Bricker helped Father Oein with Joell and Joseph backed away, rifle at ready. The thing following them stopped and cocked its head. The others were making strange noises that almost sounded like conversation as the men backed out of the cave.
* * *
The light from the other room blinded Wessen for a moment. He blinked as his eyes slowly adjusted. He opened the door all the way and saw the light came from the electric ceiling light. He was standing in the doorway to a kitchen in a house.
â€œWhat?â€ he said. â€œHello!â€
He heard footsteps coming from the next room. He drew his pistol.
The door to the kitchen opened and a pretty blonde middle-aged woman stood there. She seemed surprised to see the man.
â€œWho are you!?!â€ she said.
â€œUh â€¦ maâ€™am, I donâ€™t mean to alarm you,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m Jake Wessen. Iâ€™m a private investigator.â€
â€œDid you know that your floor led to the sewer?â€
â€œWhat? What are you talking about?â€
â€œI just came up. Your wine cellar leads to the sewer. Whatâ€™s your name?â€
â€œUh â€¦ Iâ€™m Abigail. Who are you? Whatâ€™s your name?â€
â€œOh yeah, you said that before. Is this a burglary?â€
â€œNo! No maâ€™am. Iâ€™m looking for a lost child.â€
â€œA lost child?â€
â€œOr a missing woman.â€
The woman pointed to the back door.
â€œWhy are you in my house?â€ she asked, obviously confused.
Wessen told her everything about being with a group looking for a lost boy and trying to figure out where he might be, about entering the tunnels under the carnival through the sewer and finding his way to the stairway that led to the secret door in her basement. He never mentioned actual numbers or names and she still seemed on the fence about the man, however.
â€œSo, thereâ€™s some kind of way to get into my cellar?â€ she said. â€œFrom â€¦ the sewers?â€
â€œYeah,â€ he said.
â€œYouâ€™re going to have to show me this for me to believe this.â€
â€œWell, pardon the stench and follow me.â€
â€œWell, you already stink.â€
He headed back down the stairs and he heard the door close and then the light bulb in the center of the ceiling came to light as she pressed the switch by the basement door. As he crossed the room, he heard the woman start chanting or singing. He turned towards her as she came down the cellar stairs.
â€œUm â€¦ maâ€™am?â€ he said. â€œWhat did you say your last name was?â€
She finished singing, pointed at him, and said â€œForman.â€
Pain suddenly rushed over his body. He looked at his hand and saw the skin there shriveling up. The pain seemed everywhere. He raised his gun to shoot the woman in the face as pieces of skin dried up and flaked off his hand. His hand shook as he tried to pull the trigger, but then everything went black.
He awoke once, still wracked with pain, to find his head being cradled in the womanâ€™s lap. She looked down at him. He couldnâ€™t breathe.
â€œItâ€™s okay,â€ she whispered, running her fingers through his hair. â€œJust let go. Let go.â€
Everything went black once again.
* * *
James, escorted by the two horrible creatures, passed a set of miniature railroad tracks. They came down to the cave floor and then went back up into the darkness. They also passed an iron door to the right but the creatures paid it no mind at all. They passed another set of stone steps curving up into the darkness as well.
They entered a larger area and he spotted some kind of flickering light ahead. The noise of the horrorsâ€™ hooves clopping against the stone was loud and unnerving. It was like he was walking with horses. Then he saw a large pool of water on his left.
The light proved to be a brazier atop a tripod near a malachite altar, basalt benches, and three men standing there. The men wore torn and bloody clothes. The creatures escorted him past and into another cave entrance further on. He thought he heard voices ahead and the sound of footsteps running away.
â€œHello?â€ he called. â€œGuys? Anybody?â€
The two creatures laughed again.
* * *
Dr. Huxtable and Ingerton led the retreat from the lair of the terrible creatures with Father Oein and Bricker dragging the incapacitated Joell Johnson while Joseph Johnson brought up the rear, rifle in hand. The two men leading had just spotted a ladder up ahead of them when they heard a voice call distinctly â€œHello? Guys? Anybody?â€ Then they heard strange laughter.
Joell had just come out of his terrible fear when he heard the voice. But it didnâ€™t sound human and he was certain it was coming for him. The voice that called was deep and terrible and said his name!
â€œOh, itâ€™s you!â€ Father Oein called.
He pointed the light towards where the voice came from while the others all continued towards the ladder.
The ladder was rotten and worm eaten but went up into the darkness. Joell burst past both Dr. Huxtable and Ingerton in his attempt to get to it, so fearful he was of the inhuman voice heâ€™d thought had called his name. Ingerton and Dr. Huxtable followed while Bricker turned back towards Father Oein.
* * *
James heard a yelling but could not make out any words. He saw an electric light further in the caves ahead and to his left. However, the creatures prodded him to the right towards a dark cave where he heard a messy eating noise. He broke free of the horrorâ€™s grip and the thing let him go with a confused noise. The other one stopped and stared at him strangely.
He backed away from them.
â€œAnybody?â€ he called again. â€œIs anybody there?â€
* * *
Ingerton recognized Jamesâ€™ voice but ignored it, pretending he hadnâ€™t heard. Joell, up a few steps on the rickety, rattling ladder turned and leapt back down. Both Bricker and Father Oein were confused by the noise behind them and couldnâ€™t make out the words or the voice this time. Joell ran towards where the voice had come from.
â€œGuess Iâ€™m first,â€ Ingerton said.
Joell reached Father Oein and Bricker. Joseph followed his cousin.
At the ladder, Ingerton started to climb.
â€œOff we go,â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œWe must figure out this cave,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œYes, you must,â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
Ingerton headed up followed closely by Huxtable.
* * *
â€œDid you hear Milo too?â€ Joell asked Father Oein.
â€œI thought I did at first but now Iâ€™m not too sure,â€ Father Oein said. â€œThereâ€™s definitely someone down there.â€
Light came from the tunnel ahead.
â€œI thought I heard him first and then you definitely did,â€ Father Oein said.
â€œLetâ€™s go forward,â€ Joell said. â€œNot too fast. And have my back.â€
â€œGot your back,â€ Father Oein said.
They proceeded ahead and could hear odd noises.
* * *
The creatures seemed to be trying to communicate with James though he could make no sense of their strange and eerie language. Frustrated and scared, he backed away from them.
â€œI canâ€™t understand you,â€ he said.
The two muttered to each other. He saw the light from further down the tunnel coming towards him. It looked like the light of another flashlight. He backed away from the things, moving slowly towards the great cavern heâ€™d walked through. Then he saw Father Oein, Joell, Joseph, and Bricker come around the corner. The things looked at the four men quizzically. Bricker froze in fear at the sight of the things.
â€œJames!â€ Joell yelled.
â€œJoell!â€ James called.
â€œGet away from those things! Donâ€™t go near them!â€
â€œThatâ€™s what Iâ€™m trying to do but I â€¦ have you seen these things before?â€
â€œOh yeah! Weâ€™re good. I donâ€™t need â€˜em anymore. No. Not. Letâ€™s get outta here! Câ€™mon!â€
â€œTheyâ€™ve got to be here for a reason!â€ he called. â€œI let go and they let me go. I â€¦ Iâ€™m not sure that theyâ€™re a hundred percent dangerous. Theyâ€™re in the sewers. I canâ€™t communicate with them but â€¦ they might know something.â€
James looked at them.
â€œFather, youâ€™re familiar with demons, right?â€ he said.
â€œI mean â€¦ not like personally,â€ Father Oein said. â€œI know of â€˜em.â€
Two more of the creatures came out of the cave where the others had seen the group of them eating before they had fled. One of them still held a humerus in his hand. They stood at the entrance of the cave and one of them muttered something to the one with the arm. He stumbled forward, every step looking like it must have been either painful or bone-breaking.
â€œI know demons come in all shapes!â€ Father Oein said.
The creature laughed loudly.
â€œJoell, we gotta go!â€ Joseph said.
â€œWhatta ya doinâ€™ here, humans?â€ the horrific thing said in a growling voice.
â€œSo, you-you speak English?â€ James said.
The thing took a bite from the arm and chewed on it messily. The stench coming off the rotten thing was terrible.
â€œI do,â€ the thing growled. â€œNot all the brothers do.â€
He muttered something at the others and one of them said something back and then laughed.
â€œPut that away,â€ the thing said to Joseph, pointing at his rifle. â€œAre you here to learn? Are you here to learn from us? Youâ€™re not like the others down here. Theyâ€™re probably gonna know yeâ€™r here.â€
â€œWho?â€ James said. â€œYou said these were your brothers.â€
The thing laughed and swatted one of the others with the humerus. Both James and Bricker, who was finally moving again, noticed the ligaments and flesh coming off the heavy side of the bone where it would connect to a shoulder, almost as if it was ripped off somebodyâ€™s body.
â€œWhat are you?â€ James said.
He had drawn his pistol but held it behind his back.
â€œWe are what we are,â€ the thing said.
â€œWhy are you down here?â€ James asked.
â€œThis is where we live. Weâ€™ve been down here forever. Where else would we get such morsels. Even though you try to poison our food!â€
â€œIs that â€¦ human?â€
The thing took another messy bite of the arm.
â€œAre you here to be with us?â€ it muttered, bits of rotten flesh falling messily from its mouth. â€œWe could teach you many things.â€
â€œLike what?â€ James said.
â€œOh. Thereâ€™s such knowledge. Such things to know. Such places to go. We could take you there.â€
â€œIf you have something to say, spit it out!â€
â€œThat would rude.â€
It swallowed the meat he had been chewing, grinning horribly.
â€œOh!â€ the creature said with mock surprise and a laugh. â€œYouâ€™re not with them! Youâ€™re not with the worshippers of Shudde Mâ€™ell, eh?â€
â€œWhat are you talking about?â€ James said.
â€œThey worship her. Donâ€™t you?â€
â€œWho? Who is her?â€
â€œShudde Mâ€™ell. You â€¦ you â€¦ no! Iâ€™m not going to tell you. Not unless you bring me one of the dead ones out there.â€
â€œWhy should we?â€
â€œBring it into our cave so we can have a feast! Mmm. Theyâ€™ve been sitting for months! Theyâ€™d be delicious by now!â€
James suddenly realized the things lived under a cemetery. They were eaters of the dead.
â€œBring us one,â€ the thing said. â€œAnd Iâ€™ll tell ya.â€
â€œYou have a pretty good spot down here, if this is what you eat,â€ James said.
â€œWe work for them,â€ the thing said sarcastically.
He muttered something to the others and they all laughed loudly.
â€œWe were here before them,â€ the thing said. â€œWe will be here long after them. Weâ€™ll be here long after youâ€™re all gone. Bring us one of the dead men. One of the walking dead men. And weâ€™ll have something to say to you. Weâ€™ll be here. Weâ€™ll be here.â€
He muttered something and the two that had escorted James there walked down the tunnel theyâ€™d come from. The thing that spoke tossed the rest of the arm to one of them, who caught it, laughed, and they headed off into the darkness. The other creature that hadnâ€™t spoken headed back into the cave though the creature who spoke to them gave them one last look.
â€œBring me some dinner!â€ he said.
He disappeared back into the cave.
* * *
When they reached the top of the creaking ladder, Ingerton and Dr. Huxtable found themselves in small room about five foot high, three feet wide, and seven feet long. A large brass crank handle was on the wall. Handholds on the opposite wall went up to the low ceiling.
â€œWhat does it do?â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œIt must open a door,â€ Ingerton said, noticing the dirt on the floor.
He grabbed the crank. It wouldnâ€™t turn one way but it would turn the other so he started to crank it. He was alarmed with the ceiling started to drop on one side. Both men ducked as one side of the ceiling came down like a trapdoor. Something hissed in the wall.
â€œMaybe we found a way that we donâ€™t have to come through **** to get back here!â€ Ingerton said.
â€œI would like that,â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
They climbed up into the open air and saw something sticking up out of the ground to their left as they climbed up. It was about three feet high, narrow, and dark. They realized they were standing on grass. The thing sticking up by the hole theyâ€™d climbed out of was a tombstone. Ingerton looked at the name upon it. It read John Smith. The top of the trapdoor actually had dirt on it with grass growing out of it. They could hear the lapping of water.
â€œThere must be a way to lower it from the outside as well,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œYou want me to try to close it back and then you try to open it?â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œI think we should both look for something that does that,â€ Ingerton said. â€œWhile we leave it open.â€
Dr. Huxtable thought he heard a shout from nearby.
â€œThat sounds like that colored man,â€ he said.
He heard a giggle.
â€œThat was definitely the colored man,â€ he said.
* * *
Miss Edington saw a light in the cemetery not too far from the Seekonk river. She could make out a dark figure with a flashlight there.
â€œIâ€™m gonna climb down,â€ she said to Virgil Thomas.
â€œHold on,â€ he replied.
â€œYou see that light over there?â€
He let out a shout as he fell from his perch on the tree while trying to climb down. He landed solidly on his back. Miss Edington giggled.
â€œVirgil, you okay?â€ she said.
She climbed down and the two walked over to the open grave with the two men standing next to it. Miss Edington swore because the two men stank.
â€œWe found a less ****-covered way in,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œOur friends are down there and they might be getting eaten right now,â€ Dr. Huxtable said. â€œWe donâ€™t know.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œWe found a less ****-covered pathway,â€ Ingerton said again.
â€œWhat did you find down there?â€ she said.
Without waiting for an answer, she climbed down into the open grave.
Virgil Thomas rolled his eyes. He didnâ€™t look happy.
â€œWell, our friends might be in trouble, Virgil,â€ she said.
â€œI believe the kid is dead,â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
They climbed down the ladder into the caves. Ingerton looked around quickly for anything to open the grave outside. Then he climbed back down. Dr. Huxtable cranked it closed again and they followed Miss Edington down.
* * *
â€œIf anyone has any objections, I think we should follow their orders,â€ James said.
â€œThose bodies will lash out at you,â€ Joseph said.
â€œI â€¦ I touched oneâ”€â€
â€œWhat do you mean those bodies will lash out at you?â€
â€œThe dead ones.â€
James looked confused.
â€œThose three people by the fire are dead,â€ Joseph said. â€œBut not dead.â€
â€œUndead,â€ James said.
â€œSo, we should take one of these bodies. Is that what youâ€™re saying?â€
â€œThatâ€™s what they want.â€
â€œIt wonâ€™t be a small task,â€ Joell said. â€œBut, maybe if they arenâ€™t actually trying to kill us like I thought they were â€¦â€
â€œI donâ€™t think theyâ€™re that dangerous,â€ James said. â€œI donâ€™t think theyâ€™re after us.â€
â€œWell, I think they could be dangerous,â€ Joell said.
â€œIf they wanted to be,â€ Joseph said.
â€œAnyone and anything could be dangerous,â€ James said. â€œBut what kind of choice do we have if we want to find more information and find this boy?â€
â€œWell, if â€¦ Iâ€™m fine to take one of the bodies in, but itâ€™s not going to be the easiest thing in the world,â€ Joell said.
â€œWhat about you two?â€ James said, turning to Father Oein and Bricker.
â€œPerhaps we should go back and regroup with the others before we make any rash decisions,â€ Bricker said.
â€œI donâ€™t think I couldâ”€â€ Father Oein said.
â€œWe still havenâ€™t found the private eye,â€ Joseph said. â€œDidnâ€™t he go with you?â€
â€œI split up to search elsewhere but those two led me here,â€ James said. â€œThey werenâ€™t exactly forcing me.â€
They heard footsteps approaching.
â€œWhoâ€™s that?â€ Joell called.
â€œHuxtable, is that you?â€ Joseph called.
â€œYes, itâ€™s me,â€ Dr. Huxtable said. â€œIâ€™ve come to save you all.â€
He, Ingerton, Miss Edington, and Virgil Thomas came around the corner. Virgil Thomas had a very large revolver in his hand. The barrel looked more the width of a rifle barrel.
â€œWeâ€™re still missing a person,â€ Joseph said.
â€œDonâ€™t look at me like that!â€ James said. â€œWe need to get a body. Are we all in agreement that we should get one of these around the altar.â€
â€œPerhaps we should call the cops?â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œThey wouldnâ€™t believe any of this!â€ James said.
â€œIf they saw it!â€
â€œThere is a giant secret entrance that we just discovered,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œSecret entrance?â€ James said.
â€œThrough the graveyard,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œOkay,â€ James said.
â€œIf theyâ€™re promising to tell us stuff if we bring them a dead body, then dead body,â€ Father Oein said.
â€œA dead body?â€ Ingerton said. â€œEasy! Thereâ€™s seven of us and three of them.â€
â€œThereâ€™s eight of them,â€ Joseph said.
â€œNo, these zombies right here.â€
â€œYou just feed them zombies! Right? They want a dead body. You donâ€™t get much deader than this!â€
â€œWhy do we want to feed them?â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œWho cares?â€ Ingerton said.
â€œBecause they have information that we might need to find this boy,â€ James said.
â€œThey didnâ€™t attack us,â€ Joell said.
â€œArenâ€™t these demons?â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œThey look like demons to me,â€ Father Oein.
â€œYou think we should feel demons?â€
â€œIâ€™m â€¦ personally against it.â€
â€œWhat other choice do we have?â€ James said.
â€œNot feed demons!â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œBut we must save the child,â€ Ingerton said.
â€œThis might be a serious lead, okay?â€ James said.
â€œHeâ€™s gone!â€ Dr. Huxtable said to Ingerton.
â€œFeeding them dead people isnâ€™t going to hurt anybody,â€ Joell said.
â€œEspecially them,â€ Ingerton said. â€œTheyâ€™re dead!â€
â€œTheyâ€™ll just eat â€˜em anyways,â€ Joseph said. â€œThey donâ€™t really need us to get â€˜em.â€
â€œOkay, everyone pick a zombie,â€ Ingerton said. â€œThen letâ€™s just aim at the head and all shoot at once.â€
â€œZombies?â€ James said.
â€œNever heard that term,â€ Joseph said.
â€œThese-these-these dead things?â€ Ingerton said.
â€œWhere did you hear that term before?â€
â€œI found it in a book.â€
â€œI just canâ€™t bring myself to make deals with demons,â€ Father Oein said.
â€œYou donâ€™t have a gun anyway!â€ Ingerton said.
â€œYeah, thereâ€™s nothing I can do,â€ Father Oein said.
â€œI think Iâ€™m going to wait at the grave entrance,â€ Dr. Huxtable said.
â€œI also am going to get out of here,â€ Father Oein said.
â€œEither that or do you want to look for the private eye?â€ Ingerton said.
Neither of the men were up for that.
â€œWeâ€™re outnumbered,â€ Dr. Huxtable said. â€œIâ€™ll wait at the bottom of the ladder but Iâ€™m not feeding those.â€
Joell headed for the altar followed by most of the rest.
â€œHuxtable,â€ Ingerton said as the others started walking out. â€œIf you could call the police for us, it seems weâ€™re split. If you tell the police to come down and you show them that entrance, that would be grand. We can sort this all out. But weâ€™re going to try to act now so we can possibly save him before he might be eaten. But I need to go with them.â€
He went after the others.
Dr. Huxtable headed for the ladder with the intention of informing the police.
* * *