Friday, September 11, 2009

Chapter 15 (part 2)

“I already told this asshole everything I know about it,” Sam said, pointing a finger at Evan. “If you’re a policeman, I think you know who I work for. We’ve always heard about it, but never knew what they were up to. So we assumed it was a clever way for someone else—people like this little shit and the men he works for—to sneak drugs through the desert. And that’s competition.”

“So why elect Evan to be your spy?”

Sam seemed reluctant to talk. He looked Max over with suspicion with a nervous stare. “How do I know you’re not wired?”

“I told you, I’m off duty.” He lifted his shirt to reveal that there were no wires or hidden devices underneath. “This isn’t a police matter. This is a personal thing. However, being a policeman, if you don’t cooperate, I can make sure that you’re properly checked out the next time you come into town. Or I can keep checking the highways and make up all kinds of reasons to search your car. You follow me?”

Sam nodded in defeat, the nervous glare once again replaced by an expression of pure hatred. “We made him check it out because his boss apparently tried to pull one over on us. He paid for the merchandise with marked bills.”

Max glanced back to Evan, wanting to ask about this but not wanting to get off of the topic at hand. “And you had no idea what really happens on that bus?” Max asked.

“No. None.”

“You?” Max asked, looking beyond Sam and to his silent companion.

“Nothing. None of us do,” the quiet man said.

“And you’re both with the Tribe, right?”

Both Sam and his friend nodded.

Max took a moment to think things through and finally turned back to Evan. “How are you doing?”

“I’ve been tons better.”

“You still with me on this?”

“Do I have a choice?”

Max grinned, shaking his head. “No.” He then turned to Sam and his partner, the look on his face all business. “Saddle up, boys. We’re going for a ride.”

“Where?” Sam asked.

“I want to go see what your little group is all about. I want to go see the Tribe.”

“Well then go,” Sam said. “But I will not go with you. I can’t possible willingly take a policeman and a customer who tried to swindle us onto the grounds.”

“I’m not stupid,” Max said. “I know that outsiders aren’t allowed on the grounds unless invited. The only other way is with en escort from the Tribe. So, as I said, saddle up.”

Sam and his companion shared an uneasy look. The companion sighed and shrugged. An intense worry came over his face, as if he knew that he was about to get into a lot of trouble.

“Why do you want to go there?” Sam asked.

“I want to speak to your elders about what goes down on that bus.”

Evan spoke up now, almost in a whisper. “Max, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Why would you want to get more people involved in this? It’s confusing enough as it is.”

“Because the Tribe has been on these lands for a long time. I find it hard to believe that they wouldn’t know about something like the ritual that you and I have seen.”

“What ritual?” Sam asked, genuinely interested.

Max took another moment to look around the room. He nodded to Evan and then to the gun in the corner. “Pick that up, would you?”

Evan nodded and did as he was asked. With the gun in his hand, it took every ounce of willpower within him to not turn it towards Sam and take off his head. Or maybe just an ear. Anything to make him suffer slowly.

But he did nothing of the sort. He tucked it away into the waistband of his pants, casting a mimicking look at Sam as he did.

Then, ignoring Sam’s last question, Max opened the door and waved the other three men outside. “Let’s go,” he said. “Time’s a-wasting.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chapter 15 (part 1)

A hesitant dawn was creeping up on them as Max drove into Shinoe. They took Max’s truck, hiding the van behind Max’s house just in case the group had sent members out to look for them. They drove into town slightly ahead of the lazy rush of morning traffic.

When the hotel came into view, Evan felt a growing heat in his chest. He could taste the revenge on the back of his tongue and was a bit afraid that he enjoyed it. There was no doubt in his mind that Sam was capable of violence, but after confronting Lott and his minions last night, Evan wasn’t at all concerned about him. Especially with a hardened rogue cop like Max at his side.

Apparently sensing Evan’s anxiousness, Max drove around the lot a few times. “When you get in there, think with your head and not your anger, okay?” Max said. “I’d like to try to use him to help us out. If you do much damage, chances are that he’s going to be hesitant to help. I’ve seen it in my line of work before—the more civil you are, the more willing others are to offer help and information.”

“I understand,” Evan said. Still, each time Max drove by the van with the Conner’s Produce logo on it, he tightly clenched his left hand. There was a dull throbbing sensation coming from his right hand where his pinky still sat in Max’s crude splint, but that slight pain seemed to only trigger more hate and anger within him.

“Now,” Max said. “If one of them pulls a gun, don’t panic. I’m going in with you and I have two on me, one on each hip.”

“Any chance I could borrow one of them?” Evan asked.

“I don’t really trust you with it right now.” Then, sighing at the look of hate that remained on Evan’s face, Max killed the engine and opened his door.

“You knock on the door and I’ll hang by the side,” Max said. “If they see that you’re with someone, things could get ugly pretty quickly. But I’ll come in behind you as soon as you’re inside.”

Evan nodded. He walked to the door and stared at it for a moment, trying his best to get control of himself. As he waited, a police siren cried out somewhere in the distance. He saw Max looking in that direction with an odd look of concern on his face.

Evan raised his hand and knocked. There was a scuffling sound from inside, a pause, and then the unbolting of the lock on the other side. When Sam opened the door, he said nothing. He grabbed Evan by the collar, jerked him inside and threw him on the nearest bed.

There was a blur of motion as Evan was thrown and then an almost comical bounce as his body hit the bed. But at once, there was Sam’s partner, pinning Evan down in the bed and then, in a flash, there was a gun planted at his temple.

“What did you find?” Sam said. He was hunched over the bed, his face inches from Evan’s.

Evan didn’t have time to think of a response. He scarcely had time to register the fact that the cool surface of the pistol at his head was almost comforting in a way. He had time to do nothing at all because, as promised, Max entered the room with one of his guns drawn.

“Get off of him right now and drop your weapon,” Max said, entering the room and kicking the door shut behind him. He spoke as if the four of them were good friends, his voice calm and smooth.

Max’s sudden presence in the room startled both of the men at the same moment. In his confusion, Evan wasn’t sure which of them was holding the gun to his head and he really didn’t care. He took their moment of distraction and used it to his advantage as well as he could.

Using the palm of his right hand, he punched Sam squarely in the throat. Although his right hand was injured, he did enough damage to get Sam to stumble backwards. He coughed and made dry gasping sounds and he stumbled against the wall.

Evan rolled away but was caught at once by Sam’s partner. The man was stronger than Evan had remembered and, much to Evan’s dismay, had been the one holding the pistol to his head. Evan heard the hammer pull back as the man drew him closer, but Max was on top of things at once.

Max dashed towards Sam and kicked out his legs, pinning him to the floor. He then drew his other weapon while simultaneously placing the other one against Sam’s throat. The aimed the second pistol at Sam’s partner with a fluid ease that surprised Evan. Max looked rather old but he moved with an eerie speed.

“Let him go,” Max said. “We’re not here for violence. Drop your weapon and you have my word that I will holster mine. This is the only time I’m going to ask.”

The partner looked down to Sam’s panicked face, looking for instruction. With a hesitant nod, Sam gave in and signaled for his partner to drop the gun and to release Evan. The man did so, grunting with anger as he let Evan go. He then released the hammer on his pistol and tossed it on the bed.

“Thank you,” Max said. He then looked down to Sam. “How about you? When I let you up, are you going to do something stupid?”

“No,” Sam said. There was obvious rage in his voice, but he wasn’t dumb. He knew that he and his partner had been bested.

Max stood up and gave Sam a moment to get to his feet. Max then holstered his guns, took the one on the bed and tossed it into the furthest corner of the room.

“Who are you?” Sam asked, looking directly at Max with a stare that seemed to look right through him.

“I’m a policeman here in Shinoe,” Max said.

A look of sickening alarm rose up on Sam’s face and he turned his hateful stare towards Evan.

“Don’t you worry,” Max said. “I’m not here on police business this morning. I have some personal issues I’d like to discuss with you.”

“Like what?”

“I want to know everything you know about that bus.”

Monday, May 18, 2009

Chapter 14 (part 2)

“And now they’re here?” Evan asked. “I wonder why.”

“I’m not sure.” Max shuffled through the maps and found the map of New Mexico. It seemed to be the newest map of the bunch, the folds relatively fresh and the markings along its pages much bolder than the other maps.

There were three towns circled and marked through. Max pointed to them slowly, trying to gather any sort of pattern to them.

“Are those all small towns, too?” Evan asked.

“Seems that way. Fowler is right here, marked through. I personally know that Fowler is a piss pot of a place. I’d say roughly thirty or so people live there. There’s not even a post office. Just one small general store. Everything else is over in Dry Gulch, fifteen miles away.

“This one I’m not too familiar with, this town called Wolf Creek. But being right there in the middle of the desert, I feel certain it’s not much bigger than Fowler.” Max followed the route that led away from Wolf Creek and towards the third X. “Samson is a tiny little place, too. I’ve driven through there several times. It’s basically a twin of Fowler. One or two shops, a few houses, and that’s it. No side roads, no streets, nothing.”

Evan studied the map and located Shinoe. It sat about forty miles to the west of the X that crossed through Fowler. He then looked away from Shinoe and to the criss-crossing of roads that sat between it and the three Xs.

“Where would their shacks be located?” Even asked.

Max studied the map and pointed, as if not quite sure of his answer. “Somewhere around here, between Wolf Creek and Shinoe.”

“Do you think they’re planning on doing something in Shinoe?” Evan asked.

“It’s doubtful. Shinoe is small, but not nearly as small as these other places. Compared to Fowler and Samson, Shinoe is a practical metropolis.”

“Then what do we look for?” Evan asked.

Max shrugged and followed the route that connected the Xs once more with his finger. They seemed to make a curve and then a harsh arch. Studying the markings, he wondered if the circling of a fourth town on the map would make a circle. He made the motion of a circle with his finger and felt certain that this was what the people on the bus were trying to do.

He looked back to the map of Utah and looked at the routes and the Xs. There were three different patterns and all of them made a crude circular shape. Two of the patterns consisted of five circles while the other one—the one with Osprey along its route—were made up of only four. He then checked the map of Arizona and found the exact same patterns.

Max looked back to the map of New Mexico and made the imaginary end to his circle again. There were several towns between the start of the circle—Fowler—and the place where it had stopped—Samson. Max had heard of a few of them and knew that they were all relatively small in size.

“We need to check out these towns,” he said.

“You think they’re traveling in a circle?”

“They did it in Utah and Arizona,” Max said, pointing to the maps. “And if there’s something ritualistic about what they’re doing, I don’t see why they would do anything different this time.”

Evan sighed. “I really don’t want any of this,” he said. “You know that you’re pretty much blackmailing me, don’t you?”

Max said nothing. The coffee pot beeped and he poured himself a cup. He offered a cup to Evan and he took it begrudgingly.

“Not only that,” Evan added, “but you’re going about this as if this was any normal cult. But what about those things you saw in the cellar? What was that about, huh? I think it’s clear that these guys are into some shit that is way over our heads and, quite frankly, I think it’s pretty stupid to chase after them.”

Max said nothing. He did look down to the floor for a moment, clearly thinking hard about something. But all he did was sigh and nod. He folded the maps back up and tucked them under his arms.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go pay your buddy Sam a visit.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chapter 14 (part 1)

Max Young lived in a modest house with very little furniture. Max was getting old and, no longer having a family, his disassociation from the world showed in his possessions and the way he kept his house. He didn’t own a DVD player, but a VCR sat atop his television, the green digital letters forever flashing 12:00. There were empty soda and beer cans scattered about, some in the kitchen, some in the living room. His service weapon sat on his coffee table, still in its holster beside an out of date TV Guide and a stack of mail.

They sat at the kitchen table as Max did his best to tend to Evan’s finger. The only materials he had to create a splint were gauze tape and a pencil that he snapped in half and placed to either side of the finger. When he wrapped it up, Evan grimaced as Max straightened the finger out. The finger itself was rather dull, but when jarred it sent a rocket of queasy pain through Evan’s body.

“Eventually, you may need to go to a hospital,” Max said. “But for right now, I don’t think we have much time. We really need to figure out where that bus is and where it’s headed. And if we’re going to go visit with Sam beforehand, we really don’t have much time.”

Gulping down three Advil tablets that Max had given him, Evan nodded hesitantly.

“If you want my help, you’re going to have to fill me in on what you know about Lott and the bus and all of the people on it.”

“I really don’t know much,” Max said. “I just know that they go from town to town and practice some sick ritual. They kidnap several people to take into the desert and kill in a very methodic manner. Those that they don’t kidnap, they kill right away.”

Max began spreading the maps he had taken from the compound around the table and thumbing through the notebooks he had taken with them. Some of the maps were older and had been sketched on; specific routes had been traced and circled. Along these routes were the large circles with the Xs marked through them.

“Here it is,” Max said, pointing.

Evan looked over and saw that Max was pointing to a town that had been circled and crossed through. The city was Osprey, Utah. It was a small town located in the southeastern part of the state.

“This is where my family lived. Three years ago this bus comes through town in the dead of the night. These miscreants get off of it with axes and guns and other crude weapons and go to work.”

“The police didn’t help?” Evan asked.

“What police?” Max asked with a laugh. He got up and walked around the kitchen to occupy himself. He assigned himself the task of making a pot of coffee as he told Evan what he knew.

“Osprey was a town with a population of 37 people. The day after the bus came through, twenty-one of them were dead and eight were missing. The rest of us were too disturbed to talk about it after it happened. Three of the survivors were committed to institutions. There was a police investigation for a while, but nothing ever came of it.

“If you look at these maps, these towns that are marked through, they’re all small towns like Osprey. And I don’t just mean tiny little towns; I’m talking dust bowls. Ghost towns that a few stubborn people refuse to give up because of ancestry or heritage. Here’s Cedar Bluff; I know there was no more than fifty people living there. And here’s Keyanne, population of about thirty. Now, this is just a map of Utah. They’ve moved since then. And they were doing this before Osprey, too.”

He pointed to a partially unfolded map of Arizona. “They were doing this exact same thing in Arizona.”

Monday, March 23, 2009

Chapter 13 (part 2)

Evan looked at the book, at the pages that Max was studying. All along the portion of Utah Max seemed interested in, several of those red X marks had been drawn.
Max looked to the floor and Evan realized that the man was on the verge of either breaking into a fit of rage or succumbing to tears. Not wanting to witness either one, Evan grabbed him lightly by the shoulder.

“Let’s get out of here, okay?”

Max nodded. He handed Evan the book and then went to the wall and tore down the map where Shinoe had been circled. He folded this map, tucked it under his arm and stormed out of the room.

“Come on,” he said, not bothering to look back.

Evan followed him, but was suddenly not so sure if he wanted to be with Max. There were several reasons for this hesitancy. First and foremost, Max was a policeman and this made Evan uneasy enough as it was. But the fact that he was apparently a policeman that killed people at will and knew quite a bit about this cult only made Evan’s unease grow.

But if he didn’t go with Max, his only other option was to be left alone in the desert with the cult and their bus still out there somewhere. That being the case, Evan’s decision was an easy one.

In their haste to escape, Lott’s people had piled into one of the vans and tore away from their ramshackle complex. They had left the second van out front and, much to Max’s delight, the keys were still in the ignition. Max tossed the maps into the back of the van and cranked the engine to life. Evan climbed into the passenger seat, looking furtively around the desert for any signs of the other van or the bus.

“I don’t get it,” Evan said.

“What’s that?” Max asked.

“You said you shot four and that a few of them got away in the other van. But when I was on the bus, there were more than twenty people. Where the hell did the rest of them go?”

“Well, the way I figure it is that they stop by here to drop the really important people off. The rest of them stay on the bus and go into the desert.”

“To where?”

“I don’t know,” Max said as he pulled the van away from the complex and headed back the way he had previously come on the dirt bike. “But that’s why I’m out here. I plan on finding out. And apparently, since you have actually been on that bus, you know more than I do about what they’re up to.”

“That’s doubtful,” Evan said.

“Well here’s the deal. I’ve been after these assholes for the better part of three years. If you can be of any help, I’d appreciate it. I can’t force you, of course. But keep in mind that you were asking me about a particular tribe of Indians earlier tonight that are known simply as the Tribe. And the only reason any white men ever visit their reservation is not for historical purposes. Now, me being a cop...I can put two and two together. I can bust you for something, I’m sure.”

Evan’s mouth went dry. It wouldn’t take much investigative effort to figure out why he had come to Shinoe. If Max knew of the Tribe and ended up talking with Sam, there was no way he was going to get out of this predicament. Essentially, Max Young was blackmailing him.

“It’s okay,” Max said, as reassuringly as he could. “Anything you tell me right now is harmless. I’m not a cop at this moment.”

Evan stared into the night, thinking about Emile Gorrengo. It was because of Emile that he was here, doing his dirty work, his drug deals. And while he was out here in some supremely deep shit, he was certain that Emile was probably lounging by his pool, drinking wine and feeling up some gorgeous beach bimbo. It wasn’t right.

He then thought of Lott. He recalled the maniacal way the man had presented himself. He thought of how he had snapped his finger as if it were the most natural thing in the world. And more than anything, he saw the frail man raising his axes into the air and lopping off the heads of two people in the night.

“Fine,” Evan said. “It’s not like I wouldn’t enjoy helping someone bust these fuckers. As you can see by my hand and the company they threw me in the cellar with, we really didn’t get off to a good start.”

“Believe me,” Max said, “if I thought there was some other way, I’d let you go on your merry way. But they’re up to something big and if I don’t stop them now, I may never get the chance again.”

“Why are you so determined to get to them?”

Max grunted and stared out into the night, maneuvering the van through the rough desert terrain. For a while, Evan thought that the man wouldn’t say anything. But finally, after taking a moment to collect his thoughts, Max spoke. When he did, his voice was low and full of anger.

“They’ve been doing this for a long time. They came through my hometown and killed my wife and daughter a few years ago. They would have got me too if I hadn’t have been out at the bar in the neighboring town getting drunk.”

“I’m sorry to hear it,” Evan said.

Max only nodded. He eventually came to the spot where he had parked his bike and got out of the van. “Give me a hand, would you?” he asked.

Evan helped Max load the bike into the back of the van as best as he could. He did everything possible to avoid hitting his broken finger. They had to lower the rear seats and even then, the bike barely fit. As they went about this business, Evan found himself looking into the blackness of the night, waiting for a gunshot to sound out or for someone to scream. It just seemed to fit the scene.

“What do you know about the Tribe?” Evan asked as they piled back into the van.

“Enough,” Max said with a sigh. “Are they the reason you ended up here tonight?”

It was Evan’s turn to sound angry now. “Yeah,” he said, and proceeded to tell Max the entire story of how he had been sent to Shinoe by his boss, Emile Gorrengo. He then told him about meeting with Sam and how Sam and his companion had set him up. Max listened with great interest, frowning at certain parts and grinning at others.

“So the Tribe thinks the bus is a competing drug market?” Max asked. “That’s priceless.”

“They’re serious about it, too. They had people on patrol out there tonight, driving around to make sure I got on the bus.”

This seemed to startle Max a bit. He said nothing about it though; he simply furrowed his brow and thought long and hard about something.

The headlights continued to unravel the darkness ahead of them and Evan eventually saw the highway spring into view. Max took a right, headed back to Shinoe, and remained silent for quite some time.

“What are your plans?” Evan asked, not sure if he wanted to hear them or not.

“We’re going to go to my house and grab some things. I’ll properly splint your finger for you, too. Then I think we’ll pay your friend Sam a visit if we can find him.”

“Oh, that’ll be easy,” Evan said, brightening up a bit. “He’s waiting for me at my motel room." He would be delighted to meet Sam again. Especially with a cop in tow. And with the knowledge of what really happened on that bus.

They traveled east, back into Shinoe, winding down the longest night Evan had ever experienced.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chapter 13 (part1)

Evan and Max left the hallway in a scramble, Max retreating backwards and aiming his gun down the hallway in the event that any of the creatures decided to follow them. While Max had closed the door, there was a gaping hole along its base where he had shot the lock. Apparently, the monsters preferred the darkness because not a single one of them came through the doorway in search of them.

They came to the main room where Evan had had been questioned and had his pinky snapped in half. It was here that Evan realized that the place was deathly quiet. He recalled hearing the gunshots and the starting of an engine, wondering if Max Young had come here by himself. This idea seemed odd, but after the events he had seen tonight, who was to say what odd really was?

“Did you kill most of them?” Evan asked.

“I don’t know,” Max said. “I took down four, wounded one other one, and then a few of them piled into a van and left.”

As he spoke, Max looked terrified and slightly shocked. It was clear to Evan that Max had not been expecting to see such horrors in the cellar. Max looked as if his mind was still struggling to process it all.

“There was a man with white hair,” Evan said. “Really skinny. Did you kill him?”

“No. The others did everything they could to protect him. He got away with about four others in a van.”

“What about the bus?” Evan asked. “Where is it?”

Max looked at Evan suspiciously. “How do you know about the bus?” It wasn’t an accusatory tone, but one of disbelief.

“It’s a long story,” he said, wincing at the pain that continued to flare through his left hand. His back was also hurting a bit now, a result of falling down the stairs.

“I need you to tell me anyway,” Max said. “But not right now. First there’s something I need to check out.”

Max turned and headed back through the hallway from which they had come. Not knowing what he was supposed to do, Evan followed him. When they passed the door to the cellar, they both cut their eyes towards the door. They both heard the clucks and cries of the creatures and it caused them to quicken their pace. The darkness that bordered the door’s edges seemed to melt out towards them, eager to grasp them if they turned their backs.

Evan followed Max out onto the network of walkways, the boards creaking beneath their feet. They passed one of the men that Max had shot, the bullet having taken him in the upper chest. Evan looked away as soon as his eyes fell on the body. Having witnessed the beheadings, he had seen enough death for the night. Still, he followed Max into one of the other shacks without asking questions. He was just thankful that he was alive and that there was someone here to share this madness with him. With a companion, the threat of insanity didn’t seem as progressive.

In this particular shack, there was a door that had been kicked in (part of Max’s assault, Evan assumed), two more bodies, and various books scattered here and there. Two maps hung perfectly aligned on the wall. One of a map of New Mexico and the other was a more detailed rendering of one particular county within the state. Entering the room, Max headed straight for these maps.

He studied the detailed map, trailing his finger over it quickly. Evan looked over Max’s shoulder and saw that it was a map of the area in which they currently stood. To the east, roughly in the center of the map, was Shinoe. It had been circled in red. Other small towns were scattered here and there, several of them having been tagged with bright red X marks.

Max used his finger to follow these X markings, tracing their course along the map.

“What are you looking for?” Evan asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Max said, stepping away from the map and looking around the room. “Help me look through these books, would you? If you see any other maps, let me know.”

Without question, Evan did as he had been asked despite the fact that his instincts told him to get as far away from this place as fast as he could. But if Max Young had not come here tonight, he (Evan) would most likely be having his insides removed by those slithering things in the basement. So if Max needed his help, he’d gladly give it. Besides that, Max had a gun and the cult apparently did not posses any; knives and axes they had, but perhaps guns were against their religion.

Evan almost laughed at this but was afraid of what his laughter would sound like. He focused on the books, flipping through them for any signs of maps. Most of them were journals, sloppily written in and with no apparent organization. But there were others that were nothing more than notebooks with dates and figures written in them.

They looked the room over for about three minutes before Max found what he was looking for. It was a Rand McNally publication, a book full of maps of every state in America. Max flipped through it with purpose and stopped when he came to the maps of southern Utah.

“This,” Max said quietly, “is what I’m looking for.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chapter 12 (part 2)

He saw the texture of the stairs and his shoes. There was blood on his shoes as well as some other residue, a slimy substance that looked like snot. He wondered if it was the product of whatever had touched his shoe while he had sat on the cellar floor.

The cellar now seemed to be filled with the clucking noises. They were defiantly communicating with one another and they were getting closer.

From somewhere further off, there was a gunshot. The noise made no sense to Evan at first. The thought of a gun was too real and authentic to have a place in this absurd nightmare. But, as if to assure him that he was still awake and attached to the real world, the sound came two more times in quick succession.

He then heard a voice screaming out, “You have no right, you are not…” but another gunshot cut this short.

The gunshots told him that there was something unexpected going on within the complex of shacks. Had an outsider found the place? Maybe even the police?

Wasting no time, Evan turned around and practically leaped up the remaining stairs. He pounded at the door with both hands, temporarily oblivious to the pain in his left hand. He screamed to the top of his lungs, banging on the door in fear and desperation.

“Help me! Please, someone, help me!” These pleas became nothing more than urgent shouts of terror and anxiousness, wordless cries for a rescue.

Still, no matter how much he shouted, he could still hear the sounds of the creatures that he shared the darkness with. He heard them advancing towards him, climbing the stairs in an organic-sounding march: slap-slither-slide, slap-slither-slide.

There was another shot, another scream and then a loud clamor as something crashed to the ground. Two more shots sounded out, these a bit closer, and then Evan thought he heard an engine start up. It was too small to be the bus, but maybe one of the vans.

Realizing that he could hear these things clearly, he understood that he was no longer dazed. His hope of rescue had brought him around and now he seemed to even block out the noises and advancing sounds of the monsters in the dark.

This kept him grounded until he felt their touch at his legs again. There were three at once, one on his ankle and two closer to his knee. He felt them sliding around his leg, looking for purchase and trying to grab him.

Evan shouted, his throat seeming to expand with the effort. It was a scream of pure terror, a scream that amplified a bit more when he felt several other shapes slapping gently at him. He pressed himself to the doorway, screaming and pounding. He was in such a horrified frenzy that he barely noticed that someone was shouting to him from the other side of the door.

“Hold on,” a man’s voice was saying. “I have to shoot the lock. Step back.”

“I can’t,” Evan said. “There’s something here with me…I can’t.”

It was then that there was a tug at his leg and he went sliding down the stairs. As he fell backwards, he felt several other shapes grabbing at him: something fell across his chest in a wet, sticky caress; something fell in his face, a bitter tasting appendage slipping into his mouth and over his tongue.

He hit the ground hard and something juicy popped under his weight. There was a child-like wail of pain from one of the odd clucking voices, followed by an excited clamor of clucks and other throaty sounds.

Evan tried to open his mouth to scream but realized that his mouth was already open. There was something in it, something with a texture of raw fish and tasted a bit like dirt and vomit. He tried to voice something but only gagged.

Above him, at the top of the stairs, a gunshot sounded out. This was followed by a loud metallic clanking sound, and then the sound of something dropping to the floor. Despite having been overtaken by his still unseen assailants on the cellar floor, Evan recognized this sound as the lock falling from its place along the door.

There was one last crashing sound as the door at the top of the stairs was kicked open. Weak yellow tinted light spilled into the cellar in a flood.

Evan could only see the shape of a man standing there. There was a moment of hesitation and Evan could barely hear the man say, “What the hell?” over the eager cries of the things grabbing at him.

Then the man hurried down the stairs, kicking at several shapes along the way. He fired his gun twice at a few of the creatures as he made his way to Evan. He knelt by Evan and grabbed the thing that was working its way into Evan’s mouth, voicing a cry of disgust as he touched it. Evan felt the reaching appendage in his mouth withdraw and heard a defeated cry from the thing’s throat.

As the man tossed the creature to the side in a violent pitch, Evan saw what the things were. They were the same monstrosity he had seen in the restroom on the bus. Some of them were small, about the size of a softball, but a few of them were easily three feet in length. All of them had swarming tentacles and at least six eyes along their tiny heads.

Also, his estimate of six individual creatures was way off. As he got to his feet and helped his rescuer kick the creatures away, Evan glanced around furiously and saw that there were at least twenty of them. All of the eyes on all of those heads…seeing it was dizzying.

There were easily one hundred eyes staring at them in hunger.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” the man beside Evan said.

“Yeah,” Evan breathed, not even worried about Lott and his minions at the time. He’d gladly face Lott and another broken finger to get out of this mess. He could still taste the arm or tentacle or whatever of the thing that had reached into his mouth and when he realized that it had actually been inside his mouth, a creeping madness tried to take hold of him.

He looked past that madness as he and his savior climbed the stairs. Both men took the stairs in three bounding leaps. Once he was out of the doorway, Evan collapsed on the floor and started screaming. He was weak, he was hurt, he was tired and he was very much afraid that he might be losing his mind.

Above him, the man closed the cellar door and reached a hand out to him. He opened his mouth to say something but stopped short. He cast a curious look at Evan and then smiled thinly.

“I’ll be damned,” the man said. “A small world indeed.”

Confused, Evan looked up and really wasn’t all that surprised to see the face of Max Young looking down at him.