cellar-outlet-56155_640

~~~

He tries to stay conscious but the drugs are powerful. He’s moving out of the house—no, he’s being escorted outside by two men on either side. He’s fading in and out, in and out. He has to hang on. Something is wrong. Why can’t he remember?

They reach his Camaro. One of them opens his rear car door and they place him in the backseat.

“Nighty-night,” one of them says.

The other laughs as he closes the door. “He probably won’t remember a damn thing by morning.”

“Amateur,” the other says.

“Tell me again why we’re dragging his sorry ass out here?”

“Boss doesn’t like the looks he’s been giving everyone. Says he’s the type who would frown on our little party and spoil the fun. Boss says that the girl’s important in the ceremony and he doesn’t want this over-protective prick to end the night prematurely by taking the girl away.”

“We could just throw him in the lake. That would solve everything.”

“No. Boss isn’t trying to kill ‘em, you dumb ass! That would just leave too many questions and then he’d have to kill the girl, too.”

“I was just throwing it out there.”

“Let’s go before you have any more lame ideas.”

Both men laugh and walk away.

His head is spinning. The whole back seat is spinning. He needs to get up before he passes out again. He hears the part about ‘killing the girl’ and it’s enough to get him up.

He manages to open the car door on the opposite side and get to his feet. He sees a light and thinks it’s the beach house porch light.

He’s moving now… faster… faster…

He thinks he’s headed back toward the house but he’s actually running off into the dunes toward a lone street light on the other side of the property.

He keeps moving forward, stumbling in the sand, but it keeps him conscious. He tries to concentrate and maneuver around vegetation partially obscured by the night. The light is much closer. He doesn’t understand that the beach house is in the opposite direction. The drugs have severely distorted his perception.

He falls forward as the dunes drop suddenly. He rolls to a stop at the edge of a two-lane road and can’t see the light anymore because he doesn’t realize that it’s directly above him now.

He sees another light approaching. He’s confused because he can’t tell if he’s moving toward it or if it’s moving toward him. Finally, he comprehends as the light separates and becomes two. He jumps to the side just as the fast-moving car drives past him, clipping his shoulder with the passenger side rear view mirror. He is spun around and lands on the road, striking his head against the asphalt.

The car never stops. It’s gone.

He is staring up at the full moon now. There is another light approaching but he doesn’t see it. The sound of a car door slams nearby but he doesn’t hear it.

A shadowed face blocks his view of the moon. “Oh my God! Are you alright?” a woman asks.

He tries to speak but can’t move his mouth.

“He’s hurt. Help me get him in the car,” she says to someone.

“What if he’s… sick like the others?” It’s a man’s voice from behind him.

“He’s fine!” she says. “Didn’t you just see what that asshole did? He hit him and just kept going!”

“We can’t take him to the hospital. I’m not going back to the city! You saw what’s happening there! Everyone’s going crazy!”

“We’re not leaving him! Help me get him in the car and we’ll take him home. I can patch him up there.”

He sees her face now. She has a kind, older face with long blond hair. The woman reminds him of his mother.

He’s slipping. Losing consciousness.

There’s someone else there now, standing above the woman. He thinks it’s the man, but he is very wrong.

“Helen!” the man from behind him yells. “Helen, look out!”

The woman is ripped from view, replaced by the moon.

He hears screaming right before passing out…

~~~

…Screams from above roused him from the dream, returning him to his prison of darkness. He tried to scurry away but the chains around his wrists and ankles held him fast as the sharp pain cleared his disoriented thoughts. It wasn’t the woman in the dream screaming this time. It was the mad woman from upstairs. He covered his ears to block out the wretched sound and rolled into the fetal position.

Please… just stop! Just stop.

The door opened at the top of the stairs, letting in dull light. The bad man was coming back down with the woman he used for his radio messages. He could tell she was in great pain as she held a bloody bandage over her hand.

“What did you do to her you son-of-a-bitch!” he yelled.

The bad man reached the bottom of the stairs and pushed the woman into her corner.

The woman fell limp and cried silently.

The bad man stormed over to him and began kicking him in the stomach. “Be silent!” he shouted. “Can’t you hear her up there? Can’t you see that I’m trying to do my best to help her? But you! You should shut your damn mouth! You’ve no right to…” The bad man continued to kick him, using his spotlight to keep him blinded.

He whimpered in pain.

The bad man stopped and caught his breath. His rage was almost unstoppable this time. He had to be careful not to kill him yet. The bad man walked over to the woman, secured her chains and then noticed that the old man was dead. “When did that happen?” he asked the woman.

She trembled in the dark, too afraid to say anything.

The bad man shook his head, removed his Taser from his belt and then shocked the woman until she was still. He then unlocked the old man’s chains. He tossed the corpse over his shoulder and took it upstairs, slamming the door shut behind him and leaving his two remaining prisoners to cower in the darkness.

“Hey,” he said to the woman, “are you… okay?”

The woman didn’t answer.

“Can you hear me over there? It’s me, Tony. Are you going to be alright?”

The woman didn’t answer.

“Please don’t die,” Tony whispered.

~~~

There were moments in the dark when Tony Marcuchi felt his mind slipping into the cracks on cold concrete and never to return; moments filled with long silences when he began to doubt that anyone remained down here with him other than Death, who sat beside him and could no longer be ignored. There was no night, no day, just lapses of sluggish wakefulness, surrounded by blackness that became tangible, thick, suffocating.

Alone was terrifying in this place. He didn’t think he could stand it if he was the last one.

Tony would often think of Gina in the dark when his skin started to crawl as the isolation crept around his throat and slowly choked the life out of him. He wondered where she was and what happened the night of the strange dinner party. They’d both smoked from Malcolm’s pipe. He could remember very little after dinner. Only that he’d been taken outside, tossed in his car, and that he’d tried to find her but failed. He’d been hurt. His shoulder still felt the effects of the car that had hit him. He’d been helped by a mystery woman… and that was all he remembered. When the drugs had worn off, Tony had found himself chained up in a pitch-black basement full of frightened souls who were as confused as he was.

They had been terrorized, drugged, starved, tortured and taken away one at a time to never see the basement again. And never once were any of them provided an explanation.

He wondered if Gina was out looking for him. Had she called the police? Did she think he bailed on her that night? Where the hell were they?

No answers. Just questions.

“I only thought of the cake,” uttered a weak voice from across the darkness.

She was still there… the woman who would not tell him her name.

I’m not alone!

Tony crawled as close to the woman as his three feet of chain would allow. “Are you okay? I thought I lost you… I couldn’t hear you breathing.”

The woman laughed. It was an uncomfortable laugh. “Oh, I’ve lost plenty. Been losing a little more each day, long before he started with the fingers. Took the whole thumb clean off this time.”

Tony yanked on his chain in anger. “Mother-fucker! He has no right!”

“Right. Wrong. Doesn’t matter anymore. He’s got control and that’s what matters. He’s the god of this little universe and we are far from home. I thought you would’ve realized that by now.”

She sounded lucid. Tony could tell when the morphine was talking. It was the only time the woman said more than a few words at a time. “How’s the pain?”

“Pain? I think we’re well past the point of pain and suffering,” she said. “It’s when the pain stops, that’s when we need to worry. That’s when we join our friends upstairs in the hall of horrors.”

Tony needed to change the subject. “What did you mean when you spoke of the cake?”

Silence.

The woman took a deep breath. “He put my hand on the stove burner when he finished… disciplining me… stopped the bleeding… filled me up with so much morphine just so I’d stop screaming, too… I thought I could float out the chimney… high as a fucking kite… He ran upstairs to… deal with the mad woman… He left me on the kitchen floor… forgot to handcuff me… Don’t know how I stayed conscious, but I… managed to get up and move… past the room where the hell radio was.”

“The one he’s been using to trick people into coming here, right?”

“That’s right… That’s right… He makes me tell lies… makes me read his messages because he says that I sound like someone you could trust.” She laughed and said, “Don’t trust her, Tony… whatever you do, don’t listen to that bitch on the radio! It’s a one-way invitation to hell wrapped in hope-filled lies… Don’t listen to her Tony!” She started to weep.

“It’s not your fault. You need to keep remembering that, alright? It’s not your fault. He’s going to have to leave soon and check his trap. That’s why you need to keep fighting and get us a weapon. Even a fucking fork would be enough. I’ll jab it in his fucking throat when he comes at me again. But you have to keep fighting.”

“I’m done fighting. No more messages… Not doing it… anymore.”

“Don’t give up on me. You know you have to keep doing it! Those messages are keeping you alive, keeping us alive! As long as he thinks you’re cooperating, he lets you live. And that gives us eyes up there to find a way to beat this.”

She laughed again. “Oh, Tony… you poor, sweet man… still holding on to hope… still talking about fighting… when there’s nothing left to fight for.”

Tony sighed. “Don’t start that again. Please.”

“Still don’t believe it? Still think it’s the drugs talking? Still clinging to hope that I’m wrong?”

“You don’t know what you’re saying. He’s hurt you real bad and filled you up with so much morphine that you’re not thinking clearly.”

“Even when the others tried to tell you, too… poor, poor, man… no one’s going to make you believe in the monsters… but they’re still out there… still out there anyway…”

Tony shook his head in the dark. “No. No, that was you. You… you kept talking about it around all those frightened people and got them believing it. Some kind of mass hysteria thing.”

“They’re all dead… everyone is dead. Wish the others had been around long enough to tell you their stories… but they were already half gone when he found them… too damn terrified trying not to remember. I still remember… I was there when the monsters came… when the monsters came and killed them all in their sleep… heard them scream… ran out of the house and could still hear them screaming… the whole neighborhood was screaming… only thing I hear in my head now is all that screaming…”

Tony wanted to cover his ears. He couldn’t listen to her mad ramblings again. The woman was sick in the head, probably beaten one too many times. She kept repeating the horror stories of the monsters which had taken over the world… or something. He tried to turn the conversation again. “You called me by my name.”

The woman laughed. “Yes, I guess I did… Doesn’t matter anymore because I’m on the way out… ready to catch the fastest train away from this crazy world and finally be at peace.”

“You broke his rules. That means there’s still some part of you left that he hasn’t sliced off yet! Something solid that can’t be broken. Do you hear me, girl?”

“Cake, Tony… I only thought of the fucking cake…” She started crying again.

Tony waited.

“I had a chance… had what you’re always calling a fucking chance… He went upstairs after he took my thumb. I got up and walked to the hall… saw it… right there. Only damn door or window that wasn’t all boarded up… just one bar across the frame… and I knew… fucking knew that I could open that door… go outside… but I couldn’t do it, Tony.”

“It’s a wonder you even made it out of the kitchen. You are in no condition-”

“I’m in no damn condition for living anymore!” she said. “I thought about what was out there… those monsters waiting out in the dark… and I knew… fucking knew… that I was done! All I wanted was that stale, moldy slice of cake… saw it on the table and thought, ‘It would be nice to taste that before I die here’. That’s it… don’t you see? We have nothing left but stale and moldy crumbs… That’s what’s left of this world. No one’s coming to save us… no one’s out there looking for us… no one’s praying for us to come home safely… all dead. All of it’s dead. I wanted one more taste of something… from before… something for the pangs in my stomach and in my heart. I don’t want what’s outside… there’s nothing outside but more of the same… monsters… monsters waiting to feed on me like that slice of cake… Don’t go out there, Tony! Don’t feed the dark, Tony! Don’t you ever feed the dark! Promise me you’ll stop all this fighting… and let Death take you before then…”

“Calm down!” Tony hissed. “You’ll bring that asshole down here!”

“Promise me!”

Tony was convinced that the woman had lost her mind. She’d suffered too much and now he shared the darkness with insanity. “I promise,” he whispered, wanting only for her to be silent forever rather than snuff out the little bit of hope he held on to. Tony broke down and began to weep in the dark. His tears felt like an admission of defeat… but he wept anyway.

The woman heard him and calmed down. “Tony… Tony… you just don’t know… just don’t know what’s waiting out there. If you did… you’d understand that dying here is for the best.”

“How can you say that? How can you sit here and say such an awful thing? Nothing is so bad that I’d sit here and beg for the end to come. Even if I believed your incredible stories about monsters eating the living, I’d still not crave a coffin! You’ve let the fucker upstairs poison your mind!”

“Death’s inevitable, Tony… I only want it to come now… Later will be much worse… much, much worse.”

“I don’t care if what you’re saying is the truth, the drugs, or the fucking devil spewing forth from your lips—doesn’t matter. If I can only get one more day outside this fucking hell-hole, then I want it! You should, too.”

“Death is better,” she whispered. “You just don’t know… you just haven’t seen it… out there.”

“I’m not giving up,” Tony said stubbornly. “I’m not giving up on you, either.”

The woman laughed. “You a God-fearing man, Tony?”

“I’ve been coming around as of late.”

“Maybe that slice of cake was meant for you, too.”

“I suddenly hate cake,” Tony said defiantly. “I’ll probably never touch that shit again when we get out of here.”

The woman laughed. “I never had a chance to eat that cake… The whole plate fell on the floor when I lunged for it… knocked the spare key ring on the floor, too… I was so obsessed with the cake I almost failed to see them… tucked them in my pants right before the bad man came back… never got the cake though.”

Tony heard the woman jiggling keys in the dark. No fucking way!

Hope’s payoff had finally arrived.

“Wasn’t going to tell you, Tony… Didn’t want to let you die out there in your ignorance… but you want to live as much as I want to die… maybe God knew… maybe God knew what we both needed… maybe now, I can die because I did right in His eyes… maybe now he’ll show me mercy… take me away from here.”

They both stopped talking as the old wood above their heads began to creak. The bad man was back on the first floor.

“Quick! Throw me the keys!” Tony said.

“I… I can’t see you.”

“Just listen to my voice and toss them.”

The woman threw the keys. They landed somewhere to Tony’s right. He heard them hit the concrete and tried to follow the sound in the blackness.

“Better hurry,” she said. “He’s coming back to make me do the radio messages… I didn’t finish the last one.”

They could hear the sound of the bad man’s work boots crossing the area above them.

“He’ll stop in the kitchen to make more tea… and play his devil music… then he’ll come.”

“Shit!” Tony frantically felt around in the dark, hoping the keys hadn’t landed just out of his chain’s reach.

They could hear the bad man turn toward the kitchen. They had a few minutes at best.

Tony stretched out as far as all four chains would allow and finally brushed against a small ring. “Got them!”

The bad man was moving again.

Tony had no time to fumble through the numerous keys, especially in the dark. He stuffed the keys down the front of his pants and prayed for one more opportunity.

“Out of time,” she said. “Goodbye, Tony. I don’t expect to be coming back down here… not if I can help it.”

Tony turned toward the woman’s voice and said, “Tell me your name.”

“The dead don’t have names anymore… Let’s just leave it alone.”

“No, you have a name and I want to know what it is. My full name’s Tony Marcuchi and I’m still alive. Now, you tell me your fucking name!”

The bad man was nearing the basement door.

“My name’s Lydia,” the woman finally said. “Lydia Jones.”

“Nice to meet you, Lydia Jones. Now you say the rest or he’s going to beat me up again when I call out your name.”

“Don’t!” she hissed. “Don’t be foolish!”

“Then you say the rest!”

“Why?”

“Because you need to hear yourself say it!”

Lydia sighed and said, “My name’s Lydia Jones… and I’m still alive. Happy now?”

“Yes. Now you remember that upstairs. Just play along and I’ll get up there and kill that son-of-a-bitch. Then we’ll walk out of here together.”

The door opened wide with a horrible groan as light invaded the basement, causing them both to cover their eyes.

Tony and Lydia looked at each other across the shadows separated by a sliver of pale light.

He smiled at her and whispered, “Together.”

She offered a weak smile in return, and then shook her head. Her thoughts were clearly written across her faraway eyes. No, Tony. I am decided. I want death.

He continued to stare into her haunted eyes as the bad man closed the door behind him, causing the stream of light from the doorway to fade away to black.

The bad man turned on the bright spotlight at the top of his hard-hat and descended the stairs quickly. He immediately blinded Tony, who tried to shield his eyes. The bad man retrieved his Taser and shocked him until Tony fell limp to the concrete.

He turned and went for Lydia.

~~~

Next Episode 16-3

Previous Episode 16-1

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 16-2: Prisoners” Copyright © 2014, 2015 Scott Scherr. From the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark, Book One: Southbound Nightmares”.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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