Dave could smell Lara.
She smelled like a warm blueberry muffin, fresh out of the oven. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had one—goddam low-carb diet—and his mouth watered at the thought of sinking his teeth into her warm, moist skin.
There would be a little resistance at first, like the crispy layer of sugar and browned dough on a muffin, but that was one of the best parts.
“Please,” he heard Lara whisper a few feet ahead in the darkness. “Please.”
“Shh,” Rob said. “We’re finding our way out. Gonna get you some medicine, okay?”
Dave had a hand on Rob’s shoulder to make sure they didn’t get separated. He wanted to slip around and feel Lara’s skin, the slick surface and spongy softness beneath. Angie was behind him. She had a hand hooked through a loop on his backpack. The weight of her arm dragged on him. Slowing him down, pulling him back. Away from Lara, who just needed relief.
“It itches,” she said.
Dave said, “I can help.”
Rob stopped. “You can? How?”
Dave hadn’t meant to speak. The words just fell out.
Angie tugged his pack. “What do you mean, you can help?”
“I don’t…” Dave said. He was too hot, breathing hard but couldn’t catch his breath. “My light. We have lights. Headlights. No, headlamps.”
“Do we have time to get them out?” Rob said.
They stopped breathing to listen. The tunnels were silent except for Lara’s shallow breaths.
“Make it fast,” Angie said. “I’ll get Dave’s, Dave you get Rob’s. Then Dave gets mine.”
They all stowed their gear in the same place so that during the race they could get what was needed from another’s pack instead of removing their own. It was a factor when seconds counted. Angie found Dave’s headlamp and switched it on.
The tunnel was rough gray stone. It stretched ahead as far as the beam could reach. She aimed the beam at Rob’s pack, which Dave hadn’t even gotten open yet. He fumbled with the zipper. His hands were shaking.
“Let me,” Angie said.
“I got it.” Dave took a deep breath. He pinched the zipper’s tongue between thumb and forefinger like he was picking up a contact lens. He found Rob’s headlamp and handed it to him, then took his from Angie and looped it around his forehead.
Angie turned her back to him and, after a long moment of fumbling, heard her pack unzip. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing,” Dave said.
“Stop breathing on my neck.”
He slapped her headlamp over her shoulder and closed the pack.
Then he turned and his beam found Lara, who looked miserable and so, so delicious. “You poor thing.”
“Please,” Lara said.
“I know, sweetie. I know.”
“Excuse me?” Angie said.
Dave cleared his throat. “She just needs someone to, ah…”
Angie put the beam on Dave’s face. His eyes were bloodshot, the pupils dilated. Sweat glistened on his upper lip.
“Jesus,” she said. “Are you kidding me?”
“What?” Rob said. His beam made Dave wince, then Angie.
“He got that blood in his mouth,” Angie said. “He’s infected. He wants to eat her.”
“No!” Dave said. “I don’t…that’s…terrible. No. But just, just a taste.”
Rob gathered a fistful of Dave’s shirt and stiff-armed him against the tunnel wall. “What the fuck, man? What are you saying?”
“She needs my help,” Dave said. He knew it was wrong, disgusting, vile. But he couldn’t stop himself. “Just let me give her some relief.”
“We have to leave him here,” Angie said.
Rob grunted. “Hold…dammit Lara.”
“Please,” Lara said. She drove Rob backward, throwing her arms out, probing for Dave and the release he could give her. She imagined him plunging his teeth into her flesh, the soft pop as the skin broke and the flow of wet heat that would follow. She nearly fainted from the anticipation.
She said, “Dave, come on.”
“I’m here,” Dave said, reaching. “Right here.”
Angie couldn’t get past Dave. The tunnel was too narrow. Headlamp beams moved like strobes. She felt down the front of Dave’s shirt, over the waist buckle of his Camelbak, and found his groin. She crushed his genitals, twisted, and pounded. Dave gasped and crumbled to the ground. The space was too small for him to curl into the fetal position, but he got as close as he could.
Angie plucked his headlamp off, stepped on him and shoved Rob and Lara forward. “Go! Now!”
“But—” Rob said.
They ran, pushing their beams deeper into the tunnels and leaving Dave behind. As the blackness fell over him again he roared in agony and fury, a primal sound that raised the hairs on Angie’s neck and caused Lara to wail as if she’d lost a lover.