The Race – Chapter 11

“We can’t leave him down here,” Rob said.

“Just keep up.” Angie was in front now, turning every few steps to throw her headlamp beam behind Rob and Lara. No sign of Dave or anyone else so far, but something in the abandoned mine was howling. Angie thought it came from behind them but it was impossible to tell for sure.

“Is that Dave?” Rob said. “It sounds like him.”

“Come on.”

“Angie, that’s your husband. Hannah’s father.”

Angie whirled around, forcing Rob to back up a step. “Don’t you tell me that. Don’t you dare. She needs her mother. That’s why we have to get out of here. Do you see? Do you get it? If we go back for Dave…” She wiped the tears off her cheeks and glanced back along the mineshaft, the dust from their footsteps sparkling as it settled. “Dave can take care of himself. He’s very good at that.”

“Help me,” Lara said.

Angie touched her cheek. “I’m trying, honey. Jesus, you’re on fire.”

“It itches.”

Rob said, “Do we have anything in the first aid kits? Maybe the anti-histamine or Advil?”

Angie slid behind Rob and found the kit in his pack, opened the Ziplock baggie of Advil and tapped four pills out. Halfway through closing Rob’s pack she stopped and listened.

“What?” Rob said.

“Shh.”

“Let me turn around.”

“Shut up.”

It was a high-pitched whistle. No, rhythmic, more like a wheeze.

Hmmm-heeee.

The sound bounced off the narrow walls and surrounded them.

“It’s getting closer,” Rob said.

Angie held her beam as steady as she could, waiting for Dave to seep out of the darkness and come for them.

Hmm-heee.

Lara sobbed.

Angie got around Rob and pushed the pills between Lara’s cracked lips. She tried to spit them out.

“Stop it. Here.” Angie stuck Lara’s Camelbak tube in her mouth and pinched the valve so the water could flow. “Drink. Swallow.”

Lara winced as the pills went down and kept drinking.

Angie listened to the wheezing and shared a look with Rob.

Hmmm-heeee.

“Where is it coming from?” he whispered.

She shook her head.

Hmm-heee.

“We know what’s behind us,” Angie said. “We go forward.”

Lara wretched and vomited the water onto the ground. The four pills glistened in the puddle.

Fuck,” Angie said.

Hmm-heeeee.

Lara sagged against Rob and wept. “Please. Somebody.”

“Just go,” Rob said. “Keep moving. I got her.”

Angie turned. A man shuffled into the far end of her beam. He squinted and leaned a bloody shoulder against the wall.

Hmmm-heeee.

His shirt was gone. The bottom half of his face was missing, exposing his very straight, white teeth in a manic grin. The flesh on his left arm and ribcage had been chewed away, and something had dug through the muscle beneath his ribs and punctured the lung.

Hmm-heee.

Gristle flapped in the hole as he exhaled. He blinked at the headlamp. A hand came out of the darkness behind him and rested gently on his flayed shoulder. The man tilted his head and nuzzled the hand, leaving a streak of blood.

A taller man stepped fully into the headlamp’s beam. He wore dirty jeans and a stained mechanic’s shirt. He kept his right hand on the wheezing man’s shoulder.

Hmmm-heeee.

With his left, he reached into the puncture wound, worked around, and ripped out a fistful of dark organ meat. The wheezing man’s eyes rolled in delight.

The mechanic took a casual bite of the meat, pulling and tearing with his teeth while he stared into the beam. He took his time chewing. He swallowed and pointed into the beam.

“Which one of you smells like blueberry muffins?”

And then you said: