The Race – Chapter 6

Dave opened the elevator gate onto a tunnel of solid rock. The walls were rough, the floor a mix of dust and small stone shards. A string of yellow lightbulbs inside wire cages ran through hooks anchored in the arched ceiling and stretched as far as they could see. The lights were forty feet apart with pools of blackness in between. The air was stale, cold, and completely still.

Rob carried Lara out of the elevator and set her on the dusty floor. “Here we go. Okay. You thirsty?”

Lara’s lips were purple and and dry. She shook her head. “It itches.”

“What does, sweetie? Where?”

“Everywhere.” She scratched at the inside of her left wrist. Her nails left red streaks on the pale flesh. She lifted the wrist toward Rob. “Kiss it? Make it better?”

Dave grimaced. He hated their baby talk, and now wasn’t the time for it.

Rob kissed Lara’s arm.

“Harder,” she said.

Rob frowned. “What?”

“Get away from her,” Angie said. She yanked the handle on Rob’s Camelbak, toppling him backward. “It’s like that girl, Trish. Trisha. They said they gave the same thing to Lara.”

Rob stood up and stared at Lara. He scrubbed a wristband across his lips and stepped back into the elevator, searched the interior until he found the small camera mounted in the corner.

“We aren’t going to fucking eat her,” he yelled. “Get us out of here. She needs help.”

The camera watched.

“The antidote,” Dave said. “We have to find our way out. We do that, they’ll give her the cure.”

Angie pressed her palms against her temples. “Wake up David. They’re going to give her the cure and let us all go free? Then what? Stand around waiting for us to come back with the police? No. If we do make it out of here by some miracle, that redneck will be waiting for us with his goddam gun.”

“So, what? We just give up? What about Hannah?”

“Don’t you dare say that to me. You—”

They all turned when someone coughed further down the tunnel. A man stood under the fifth lightbulb away from the elevator, watching them. He wore a dirty white dress shirt and torn khakis. His face was hidden in shadow.

“You guys, uh,” he coughed. “You sharing?”

“Jesus,” Rob said.

The man walked toward them. His silhouette disappeared into the chasm of darkness between the bulbs.

“Stay there,” Angie said. “Don’t come any closer.”

He stepped under the fourth lightbulb. “Man, I’m hungry though. I can help.”

“Do not come down here dude,” Rob said.

The man vanished again, coming closer.

Lara’s head skidded on the stone wall as she turned toward the tunnel. “Yes, please. It itches.”

The man was under the third lightbulb. His chin was shiny with blood and gristle.  “I know, baby. I’ll make it all better.”

“Shit shit shit,” Angie said. “Get her in the elevator and close the door.”

Rob bent to lift her. The elevator hummed and rattled upward, leaving only the empty shaft and a heavy cloud of dust. A dead-end. The man appeared under the third lightbulb. He stared at Lara. Pink drool spilled out of his mouth and clung to his shirt.

“Stay there,” Rob said. He stood between the man and Lara. “I’m serious.”

Dave took his pack off and dug into the gear. He pulled out the bike repair kit—required for all racers—and kept looking in the pack until he found a chocolate mint energy bar. He walked out of the light toward the man.

“What are you doing?” Angie said.

“Gonna talk to him.”

“He doesn’t want an energy bar, David.”

Dave became a silhouette walking away.

The man stepped into the dome of the second lightbulb, forty feet from Lara. He coughed again. “Just a taste. Yeah? We good?”

“Please,” Lara said. “Please.”

Rob smoothed her hair. “Shhhh, come on. None of that.”

The man leaned forward and inhaled. “Man, she isn’t even bleeding yet, is she? I don’t smell her.”

Dave appeared in front of him, holding the energy bar out. “Here you go.”

The man looked down at it and laughed. Dave hit him on the side of the head with the solid aluminum bike pump, about a foot long with a heavy T-shaped end. It was a full-armed swing, unsuspected and vicious. The man slumped against the wall of the mineshaft and frowned at Dave like he was offended by this sudden outburst.

Dave hit him again under his left eye.

Angie moaned into the two hands pressed over her mouth. Rob stared, unable to believe what he saw.

Lara sobbed. “Aw, jeez.”

The man sat down. Blood welled in a gash over his cheekbone and fell to his jawline, dribbled onto his shirt next to the pink drool stain. He looked up at Dave. “I’m gonna get my taste, man. You are too.”

He grinned. Chunks of white meat were nestled between his teeth like putty.

Dave kicked him until he tipped over, then stomped on his head until Rob pulled him away.

“Okay man,” Rob said. “Okay, okay.”

Dave glared down, panting. “He was gonna eat her. Right in front of us. I…I couldn’t let him.”

“We get it,” Rob said. He reached behind him and helped Angie slide past with Lara. Angie glanced at the man on the ground, the mess of his face, then at Dave. She knew he could have a temper, but this…

Rob nudged her to keep going. “You were right, man. We need to find a way out of here. We need to get moving.”

“Yeah, okay,” Dave said. “Hey, do compasses work underground?”

They all stopped to think about that, then jumped when something popped further down the mineshaft. They turned. Hundreds of feet away one of the lightbulbs disappeared. The pop of its glass breaking reached them a moment later. The next one closer to them vanished. Another pop.

Something howled with excitement, anticipation. It sounded human enough to raise the hairs on Angie’s neck.

Another bulb disappeared and the entire string of lights shook.

Whatever it was, it was coming closer.

And it wanted darkness.

And then you said: