The Race – Chapter 7

The thing—or things—shattered another bulb and moved the darkness closer. Dave hefted the bike pump, willing it to be bigger, heavier, sharper. They all had to carry knives for the adventure race for utility purposes, but all four of them had opted for the smallest folding knives they could find to save on space and weight. Dave’s blade would barely peel an apple.

The string of bulbs shivered above their heads as another bulb popped.

Something in the blackness yelled, “The tits! The tits are mine!”

It was a woman’s voice. She shrieked with excitement and another light vanished.

Angie backed away from the closing darkness. “We can’t die like this. We can’t just be gone. Can we?”

Rob eased Lara against the wall and stood next to Dave, facing whatever rushed toward them. The bulb above them swayed, dragging shadows across their faces. “How many do you think?”

“No idea,” Dave said. “Doesn’t matter though, does it?” He looked down at his shirt. Blood was speckled across his daughter’s name.

“We’re getting out of here,” he said. He turned and looked at Rob, Angie. “We are.”

Angie saw the blood. She thought about Hannah, her laugh, how she breathed when she slept, and wanted to punch herself for even considering dying without seeing her daughter again. No, their daughter. She stepped forward to fill the gap between Rob and Dave, to stop whatever was coming for them.

Before she could, Lara rolled to her feet, squirmed past Rob and sprinted down the tunnel. “Here! Please!”

“Lara!” Rob bolted after her.

She ran with her arms in front of her, the wrists facing up. A collective, primal wail came from the darkness ahead.

Rob wrapped a hand in her backpack and pulled. His feet slid in the piles of loose dust. He stumbled behind Lara, who pried at the buckles on her stomach to shed the pack. Another bulb shattered. Only four were left in the tunnel.

Rob strained to hold Lara back, amazed by her sudden strength, then Dave and Angie grabbed his arms and yanked him forward. The burst let him pull Lara into a bear hug, but they were moving in the wrong direction.

“Stop!” Rob yelled.

Dave kept going forward. “There! On the right!”

Rob saw it. A black archway in the stone. Another tunnel. It was halfway between them and whatever wanted to eat Lara.

Angie hauled on his arm. “Faster!”

Rob lifted Lara off the ground and sprinted forward. The sight of the new tunnel flooded him with adrenaline. Dave and Angie had to let go of his arms to keep from getting dragged.

The furthest bulb exploded. Before the light fled Angie caught a glimpse of a face, barely human, the cheeks split into open, raw gashes back toward the ears. Some part of her brain told her that was so the mouth could open wider. She told that part to shut the hell up and help her run faster.

Rob slid in the dust and nearly fell, then hauled Lara into the mine shaft on the right. It was pitch black and too narrow for Dave and Angie to run abreast. He pushed her ahead as the third-to-last bulb shattered.

The air in the shaft was completely still and sound had nowhere to go—their steps and panting pressed right back at them from the narrow walls and ceiling. Rob felt like he was running faster, then realized the tunnel angled downward. Lara kicked and tried to wiggle free. She leaned back and shoved her ear toward his mouth.

“Please, baby. Please.”

Rob spat her hair away. “Knock it off!”

Dave kept a hand on Angie’s backpack and looked over his shoulder. The end of the mine shaft was a jagged archway with shadows playing frantically under the yellow light, then it filled with a mass of clawing arms and legs. They poured into the tunnel like a flash flood and churned forward.

“Go!” Dave yelled. “Go, go!”

When they caught up to him, would they eat him too? Or just trample him to get to Lara? What would they do to Angie? He shoved her forward into the blackness, then they both tripped.

Dave landed on top of Angie, knocking the wind out of her. He braced his palms against the cold stone walls and scrambled to get up. “We gotta go!”

“Something’s here,” Rob said.

“Rob?” Dave blinked in the darkness. “Did you fall too?”

“I stepped on something. Lara, baby, you okay?”

“It itches,” Lara said.

The things behind them squeezed closer.

Dave reached down, searching. “Everybody get up!”

His hand found something warm and wet.

“Please,” a man said. “Please. It itches.”

A wet finger touched his lips.

Dave recoiled. “Shit!” He tasted coppery blood. “Oh, shit.”

Angie could barely breathe, but she struggled to her feet and pulled Dave away from whatever was on the floor of the tunnel. Rob was next to her, holding Lara, and she shoved them too.

“Run,” she wheezed.

“Don’t go,” the man pleaded. “I don’t know where I am. It itches.”

Angie pushed the other three in front of her. She whispered over her shoulder, “It’ll be over soon.”

“Please,” the man said.

Angie heard the first thing chasing them trip over the man. It grunted and yipped, then she heard wet tearing and smacking. A low hum filled the mine shaft. The sounds faded as she and the others kept moving forward.

Underneath the hum she heard the man say, over and over, “Thank you. Oh, thank you.”

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