An abandoned house
A Morlock on the run
Two hesitant Core Agents
And an opening to a very dark hole
Tuesday November 2nd 1:13pm
Are you afraid of the dark? Do you think there's a Boogey man hiding in the corner waiting for you to turn your back so it can come out and bite you on the ass? Do you run screaming every time you hear a sudden noise from the corner of a dark room? If you have answered yes to any of these questions you are a chicken shit. That's what you are, chicken shit. You have no balls. What is there to be afraid of? There aren't any monsters hiding in the dark. The real monsters of this world don't hide, they're there, right in front of you, out in the open, in the daylight.
At the back of the abandoned house, in an unfurnished room there was a large hole in the floor. That's all there was– no trap door, no warning, nothing to indicate that it was even there except a crooked shape of darkness. It was dark inside the hole– very dark. So dark that you could almost say it was pitch-black. If you went into the hole, you wouldn't be able to see your hand in front of your face, let alone something else coming toward you, something extremely dangerous, something that wanted to remove your head from your shoulders and tie a bow around it with your intestines.
And somewhere, hiding within that darkness, was a Morlock they couldn't afford to lose.
"Did you bring a flash light?" asked Henry.
Afraid that he would accidentally fall in, Chandler stepped back away from the hole, tearing his gaze from the daunting darkness. The shadows contained within seemed to be whispering to him, their voices soft as they laughed at him, daring him to climb into their lair. He took another step backward, his untrusting gaze telling him that the shadows in the darkness were reaching out for him, wanting to drag him into their depths and feed on his flesh in a sick and sexual way.
"Um, no," said Chandler. "Did you?"
Henry shook his head.
I thought our Core agents were intelligent. Looks like I'm going to have to have a serious conversation with our recruitment people. Bust a few heads.
"We could always come back another day," said Chandler. "You know, when there's more light."
"No, we couldn't."
"You're sure about that?"
"I'm as sure as I am black," said Henry.
"You don't look that black to me, H."
Henry looked at Chandler, noticing that his partner's face seemed paler than usual, his eyes wide, his lips pressed together. "You don't want to go in?"
"No, I don't want to go in."
"Why not?" said Chandler, pointing toward the hole. "Do you see the same thing I see?"
Henry looked down at the gap in the floor, shrugged and said, "I see a hole."
"Can you see anything else, H?"
"Exactly," said Chandler. "Nothing. It's too dark to go down there. It's dangerous."
"Danger's our job, Chan. We knew it would be dangerous when we signed up."
"It's not just dangerous, Henry, it's suicidal."
"It's something we've got to do. We can't let this one get away."
Chandler stepped forward, squinted back into the darkness, and after a moment's thought, he turned to Henry and said, "Do you want to go in first?"
Without any hesitation, Henry said, "No."
"But it's your turn to go in first, H."
"What do you mean it's my turn," said Henry. "When did we start having turns at who goes in first?"
"It's a good time to start," Chandler shrugged and then pointed at Henry, "and I think that you, as the more experienced agent with seniority, should go first."
"You're scared aren't you?" said Henry.
Chandler scoffed, or at least tried to and said, "What? Scared. No. Of course not. I just don't want to die yet . . . again. I'm not ready. Besides, Ben has this thing on Friday and I don't want to miss it."
"But you want me to die? Is that it? Send me in first so the Morlock can kill me?" Henry placed his hands on his hips, indignant by the thought that Chandler would so easily risk his partner's life.
"You're a pal, H," Chandler slapped Henry on the back. "Eye of the tiger, baby."
Henry seemed to stand taller as he folded his arms across his chest. "I think because I have seniority, I should order you to go in first."
"You want me to go in first?" said Chandler. "Henry, I've got a kid to look after."
Chandler's coming up with a lot of excuses. And it better be an excuse. Rule number 2: no contact with people from your former life. If you ask me, and I don't care if you were going to ask me or not, the man is a chicken shit coward. That's my opinion. I'm the head of the Core and I can say whatever the fuck I want.
"Let me put it this way, Chan," Henry stepped closer to his partner, towering over him. "If you don't go in first, I'm going to kick your ass."
Chandler spluttered, pushed his shoulders back and took a step toward Henry, his own chest now brushing against Henry's forearms. "Need I remind you, H, that I have the tenacity to pick on guys who are bigger than me."
"You see, I would call that stupidity," said Henry. "And Chandler, everyone is bigger than you."
Chandler, accepting the loss, stepped back and said, "Yeah, well, if I die and turn into a Morlock, I'm going to kick your ass, H."
"Eye of the tiger, baby," said Henry, reaching out with his fist, ready for a fist bump.
Chandler ignored the fist.
Chandler's a bit of a sore loser. Yeah, I'm hating on Chandler today. Two days ago he came this close to having sex. Horny little bastard. He knows the rules, and as far as I'm concerned, he deserves what he gets and if that's an ass whopping by a Morlock, then so be it. Son of a bitch is lucky I didn't kick his ass.
"One last cigarette before we go in?" said Chandler.
"Just get in there, Chan," said Henry, "before I throw your skinny white ass in there."
Chandler got down on his hands and knees, his fingers gripping the edge of the hole, wooden splinters digging into his flesh and looked down into the opening. He could see absolutely nothing in the darkness. "Don't step up unless you're going to jump," he muttered to himself.
He could sense Henry behind him, no doubt ready to kick him in the ass, pushing him into the empty void. Chandler hoped it was empty, not only of the Morlock but of every little creepy crawly thing that existed in the world. He sent a silent prayer to his dead wife and turned on his hands and knees until his feet were hanging over the edge. Just do it, he told himself. He closed his eyes and took a deep calming breath. Chandler could feel his body shaking. It wasn't that he was afraid of the dark, he was afraid of the unknown and he didn't know what was in that hole. No doubt Henry felt the same way, he was just better at hiding it than Chandler was.
Giving it one last try, Chandler looked back up at Henry, his expression pleading and his words attempting to get himself out of this bad situation. "H, what if there isn't a bottom to this thing?"
Henry smiled down at Chandler and said, "Then the fall will kill you."
"That's what I thought."
"Don't worry about it, Chan, the fall will only seem higher because of your short stature."
Chandler grimaced; his obscenity caught in his throat as he got down onto his stomach and pushed himself backwards until the lower half of his body was lost in the darkness.
"He could be below me you know," said Chandler. "Ready to kill me if the fall doesn't do it."
"I got your back, Chan."
"Only if you went in first."
Henry gave Chandler an expression that clearly said no.
Stop being such a chicken shit, Chandler and just get in there.
"Okay," said Chandler. "Eye of the tiger."
"Eye of the tiger," Henry repeated.
Chandler kept moving until only his fingers gripped the edge and after a moment's hesitation, he let go. The fall was short but the landing was painful, like a damsel in distress he twisted his right ankle, the joint buckling beneath his weight and he fell backward, landing first on his ass and then on his back, his head smacking painfully against the floor.
Henry's loud voice echoed down through hole, vibrating off the walls. "Chan? You okay?"
Chandler closed his eyes against the pain and waited a moment, feeling the rough uneven ground beneath him. When he was sure his world hadn't fallen apart, he sat up . . . slowly, carefully and quickly rubbed the back of his head before using both hands to massage his right ankle. Damn that hurt.
"Chan? Answer me!"
Chandler looked up and saw Henry's silhouette against the light, hovering above him like a dark angel. "Henry, I hurt my leg."
"I'm coming down," said Henry, a simple statement that assured Chandler that everything was going to be okay.
"You know, if you came down first, this probably wouldn't have happened."
"Knowing your luck, Chandler, if you went in after me, you'd have probably broken your leg."
"Yeah, yeah," said Chandler. "Just be careful, H, it's uneven ground down here."
Needing to see the damage he'd done to his ankle, Chandler struggled in the darkness to search the pockets of his leather jacket for his cigarette lighter and after a few seconds of panicked searching he finally found it. He took it out and flicked it on. And just like in a horror movie, nothing happened. He tried a second time, and a then third before it sparked, igniting the small flame. Chandler held it up in front his face, the light so close to his eyes it caused him to squint.
And there, in front of him, was another face, ugly, pale and wearing a wicked smile. Its eyes sparkled in the flickering light, hinting at something more sinister and its teeth were sharp, dripping saliva.
Looks like Chandler has dropped in on hell.
"Whoa!" Chandler dropped the lighter and began to scramble backward, dragging his injured ankle along the ground and not stopping until his back hit something solid. He waited, took two deep breaths to calm his breathing and listened for any sort of noise, a sound to indicate the Morlock's position.
A noise to his right, a shuffling sound and whatever was causing it was coming toward him, fast and low to the ground– a low growl, a threat of more to come. Chandler turned his head toward the sound but his eyes were blind in the darkness. He stayed still, his muscles clenched, his fingers digging into the dirt floor, his injured ankle screaming for relief. He wanted nothing more than to call out to Henry but he kept silent, knowing his own voice would give away his location to the Morlock; if it didn't already know where he was.
A touch, soft against his face. He struck out with his hand, but he only found thin air before hitting the wall. Where the hell was Henry, he should have been in this damn hole with him by now.
A warm breath, ghosting against his right ear. A whispered chuckle and a voiced threat. "I'm going to kill you Chandler Smythe."
If a Core agent is killed by a Morlock he will become a Morlock and the way Chandler's luck is running today . . . well, I'll leave the rest of it up to your imagination.
"Henry!" It didn't matter now, the Morlock had found him. It was playing with him, taunting him.
"It's down here. The fucking Morlock is down here."
The back of a fist against the side of his face left Chandler lying on his side, spitting out a mouthful of blood. A kick to his side took his breath away, leaving him gasping for air. In his small pain filled world Chandler could hear footsteps moving away to the right, slow at first then speeding up to a run. There was room in here to run?
Looks like this Morlock can see in the dark.
A thump and a muttered curse. Henry had finally arrived.
"Chan, where are you?"
Chandler didn't have enough oxygen in his lungs to answer so he slammed his palm against the ground, hoping to attract Henry's attention. The sound was muffled, almost useless.
"Chan? Is that you?"
His lungs finally kicking in, Chandler breathed in strong and deep, grimacing against the pain. It felt like a cracked rib. Another deep breath and the pain had eased. Maybe not a cracked rib. Thank the powers that be for small mercies.
That had nothing to do with us.
"Over here." Chandler pushed himself upright, leaning back against the wall. There was a short, quick stab of pain when he allowed his head to fall back. "Damn it."
"Here Henry," said Chandler. "I'm over here."
"Where's the Morlock?" said Henry, his voice coming closer.
"I dropped my lighter when I saw him," said Chandler. "But he was here, Henry, right next to me. I don't know where he is now."
"If he's still here, we can kill him."
"You still want to go after him?"
"We have to," said Henry. "You know I'm right."
"Yeah, I know," said Chandler. "We're just not having a lot of luck with this one."
"Luck is on our side, Chan."
"How do you figure that, H?"
"He could have killed you," said Henry.
"Henry McNeil, always the optimist."
Chandler yelped in pain when he felt the weight of Henry on his injured ankle.
"Shit, sorry, Chan."
"I twisted my ankle." Chandler explained his injury more clearly.
"Like a girl."
"Yeah, like a girl."
Henry's hands felt their way up Chandler's body until one of them rested on the side of his partner's face.
"You okay, Chan."
"No, I'm not," said Chandler as he moved his face away, the embarrassment was almost as bad as the pain.
Henry made an attempt to pat Chandler's shoulder in sympathy, but he missed, accidentally patting the side of his face instead.
"Think you can get up?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Then I can get up."
It was a lot easier said than done but with the help of Henry and the wall behind him, Chandler managed to get up. A touch of dizziness wafted through his skull, and unsettled his stomach. He must have of hit his head harder than he had originally thought.
"Can you walk?"
"H, I don't think walking is going to be the problem," said Chandler. "Running is going to be the problem."
"Hang on a second, Chan."
And Chandler did, he held onto Henry, balancing himself on his left leg, taking his weight off the right. There was a sudden, quick scraping sound, something metallic and Chandler held his breath, thinking the Morlock was back. Then there was light, a small flame held in front of his face. Henry had lit his cigarette lighter.
"What?" said Chandler. "Where?"
"Here," said Henry, placing the fingers of his left hand against the side of Chandler's face. "How did that happen?"
"The Morlock hit me."
"You had him and you let him go."
"He had me, H. I couldn't see a damn thing."
Henry nodded. "Yeah."
"He went that way." Chandler pointed to the right and before Henry could question him, he added, "I heard him."
"Wait here until I check it out."
"No, we stay together." Chandler put weight on his right foot, his ankle protested but not loud enough for him to listen to it. He ignored it, taking another step.
Henry moved in front of Chandler, his lighter held high to light the way but even with the small flame to guide them, it was difficult to see what was directly in front of them. Henry felt the wall before he saw it.
"He didn't go this way, Chan," said Henry. "There's nowhere to go."
"Then follow the wall."
Henry put his left hand against the wall, the surface rough beneath his fingers. Three steps later - three difficult steps for Chandler - Henry's hand seemed to move through the wall causing him to lose his balance. He stumbled forward, landing on his hands and knees. Henry began to feel around for his lighter, finding it after a handful of seconds. He re-lit it, the lighter now hot against his fingers.
There was another hole, this one in the wall.
"I think it's a tunnel," said Henry. "Maybe it leads to another way out."
"It's your turn to go first, H," said Chandler, slapping his partner on the back, pushing him forward into the tunnel.
A dark tunnel
A mandatory rat
And a crawling bug for good measure
It was even darker in the tunnel, if that were at all possible. They had decided that it would be best not to use the cigarette lighter; they didn't want the Morlock to see them coming. The only thing wrong with that plan was that they wouldn't see the Morlock until they were on top of him.
Hopefully these two Core agents will recover more quickly from the shock of discovery than the devil's minion. What do you think? I agree. Henry and Chandler don't have a hope in hell of getting the upper hand. If they kill this Morlock, it will be with the luck of the devil.
The tunnel's roof was so low that Henry had to crouch, like an old man with a warped back but Chandler, five foot nine on a very good day had no trouble walking with his back straight. The walls were an arm's length apart and as long as you kept your elbows clenched to your sides you were fine. Chandler kept one forearm pressed against the right wall of the tunnel, using it like a crutch, taking some of the weight off his ankle.
Henry's footsteps were silent, his stride long and confident, even though his back was hunched. Chandler's footsteps were awkward, his stride short and painful, his right leg now practically dragging along the ground, the ankle injury becoming more painful with each step he had taken. And like a child hiding behind its mother, Chandler held onto the back of Henry's sweater with his left hand. If his balance broke, he would likely stumble, either against Henry's back or onto the floor, either way a fall would hurt like hell.
Henry stopped suddenly in mid-stride and began to crouch even further down. He reached out behind him to stop his partner, pulling down hard on Chandler's jacket, forcing Chandler to crouch down with him.
Chandler's legs twisted beneath him and his balance shifted, his right ankle taking most of his weight. Pain reduced Chandler's world to the size of a pin head, where nothing else could fit or exist. Everything else around him fell into nothingness. Short, quick shallow breaths, it was all he was capable of doing. If the Morlock showed up at this very moment, Henry would be on his own.
A thought, too long in arriving, had Chandler pulling his right leg out from beneath him, straightening it out on the floor next to Henry. The pain lessened immediately, not to the point of no return but close enough.
"I think I can hear something," said Henry.
After another deep breath and a moment to enjoy the vacation the pain in his ankle had taken, Chandler said, "What is it you think you can hear?"
"I don't know, Chan, that's why I said I think I can hear something. There might be something there, there might not be. It could be my mind playing tricks. Who knows?"
I sure as hell don't know.
"You got a smart mouth, Henry," said Chandler. "Especially for someone who's walking point."
"Point taken," said Henry.
"But don't worry, H, I got your back."
"You've got it all right. Will you let go of me?"
"What if I told you that it wasn't me holding on to you," said Chandler, surprised to find that he was still holding onto the back of Henry's sweater.
"Then I'd call you a damn liar."
"And you'd be right."
"We can't sit here all day, Chan."
Henry stood up, something pulling at his sweater.
"You're going to have to help me, H," said Chandler.
Henry turned around and groped in the darkness, finding Chandler's arms and quickly pulling him up onto his left leg. Chandler hopped in place, afraid to put any weight on his other leg; damn thing was being a bitch in heat.
"You want to hold my hand?"
Walking became more difficult for Chandler. He had finally let go of Henry's sweater, now using both of his arms against the wall as a set of crutches. His right foot and the ground had become strangers, no longer communicating with each other. It was better this way, for all parties concerned.
A scurry of tiny feet across his left hand had Chandler jerking away from the wall, his injured limb meeting with the floor once more, in a very painful way. Chandler's right leg buckled and with his balance broken, he went down, hard.
Chandler bit down on his lip, cutting off the painful curse in mid breath and tried to curl in on himself, to comfort his ankle like a mother comforts a crying child but there wasn't enough room. So he just lay on his back, his breathing heavy and his right leg stretched out once again, the ankle screaming obscenities at the floor.
There was a touch on his right leg, just above the knee. God, he hoped that was Henry.
"H?" said Chandler. "Tell me that's you."
The silence was deafening.
Chandler sat up on his elbows, waiting and listening. He should have been able to hear Henry's breathing. The touch was still there, moving further up his leg. Chandler held his breath and reached forward. His fingers found something soft, furry– Henry's sweater. He ran his fingers along Henry's forearm, plump and warm, over a curve that shouldn't be there. Chandler understood that this couldn't be Henry, but for some reason he couldn't remove his fingers, instead they kept moving, finding the long tail.
The rat screeched and clambered up Chandler's body, up his chest and over his face.
He rubbed at his face and his hair, trying to scrub away the feeling of the rat's feet. His face felt as though it were crawling with maggots, hundreds of them burrowing into his flesh. When he got home, he was going to scrub his flesh until there was nothing left but bone.
If that damn Morlock didn't know Chandler was coming, he sure as hell does now. I can't believe this guy is actually a Core agent. There is something seriously wrong with this company.
If you could see me now, you would notice that I'm banging my head repeatedly on my desk.
"Henry, answer me damn it."
The only thing Chandler could hear was the sound of tiny feet, dozens of them scurrying in the dirt. If he didn't get up now he would be taking a rat infested bath. It was a struggle, like trying to take candy from a fat kid but after a few minutes he was up.
Chandler closed his eyes, took a deep breath and put some of his weight onto his right ankle. It cursed him, the language colorful but it didn't collapse on him. He no longer had the choice, he had to find Henry and he had to find him fast.
One step at a time, baby steps and with each step he expected something: a touch, a warm breath, a whispered voice but nothing happened. It was still dark and it was still quiet. Very dark and oh so very quiet. If the Morlock had taken Henry, then he'd done it with the experience of a mime artist. Chandler hadn't heard a thing. He had been deafened by pain, distracted from what was happening around him. He was having the worse luck today and the flow of bad luck may have just cost Henry his life.
Do I need to repeat myself about what happens to a Core agent if he's killed by a Morlock? No? Good. Because frankly, I need a donut.
Henry as a Morlock. Chandler couldn't quite grasp the thought of it. But even worse, if Henry were to become a Morlock, Chandler would have to kill him. Kill his friend, his partner in the Core.
Chandler paused for a heart wrenching, pitying moment and hung his head, his chin resting against his chest. If he lost Henry now, he didn't know what he would do. No, he wouldn't lose him, not now, not ever. Henry meant too much to him. Henry had given too much to him. The man had given up a visit with Jesus Christ for fucks sake, just so Chandler could see his dead wife.
Teeth clenched and full of determination, Chandler stood up straight and ignoring the pain as best he could, he moved forward. He had to find Henry.
Looks like Chandler found his balls . . . and it's about damn time too.
A door at the end of the tunnel
Bright and blinding sunlight
And a swinging baseball bat
Chandler felt as though he were about to go crazy. Bat shit crazy. He chuckled at the pun, his voice, loud in the deafening silence – the rats long gone – frightened him, his muscles clenching with the fear, the pain in his ankle spiking for a quick moment that felt like minutes. But not only did he believe he was going crazy, he also came to believe that he had gone blind, the darkness in the tunnel so black, so thick.
The claustrophobia was beginning to weigh him down, bending him with the weight of it and the walls felt as though they were closing in on him, pressing heavily against his chest, making it difficult to breathe. He felt dizzy, nauseated and all he wanted to do was sit down, cradle his ankle and sleep. But he couldn't. Henry was still in here somewhere.
Chandler froze, his body stiff like a statue, as a thought so horrible overwhelmed him. What if he had already found Henry? Somewhere back there, a touch, brief but there anyway, a shadow reaching out toward him? What if he had mistaken one of those touches, had thought it was a rat, when it fact, it could have been Henry reaching out for him? Calling for his help with a silent voice, trying to catch him with outstretched clutching fingers? Chandler looked back over his shoulder, the darkness laughing at him, scaring him more than he would willingly admit. He was going to have nightmares after this, he was sure of it. Henry could be in that darkness, bleeding to death, the rats feasting on his flesh . . . definitely nightmares.
Nightmares are a part of the business, Chandler. Get use to them. Why I could tell you one that I have on a regular basis about a midget and a hairless poodle but I can see that you're busy, so I'll leave it for another time.
Chandler refused to believe it. If Henry was back there, somewhere in the darkness that filled the tunnel, if he had passed him, Chandler would have known. He would have known it in his gut. No, Henry was up ahead somewhere and he had to find him. He began to walk, to shuffle once more, using the walls as a dependable crutch. His head was down, drooping, the sweat from the pain and the fear dripping from his pores.
A drift of a breeze, so faint he almost didn't feel it as it brushed his skin, cool against the heat of his flesh. Chandler waited, hoping it would come again, that it hadn't been a figment of his nasty imagination. There it was. Feeling it a second time was a huge relief. Not only was there a way out, an opening that would lead him back to the real world, to a bright light but there would also be Henry.
The thought of escaping from this darkness, of finding Henry urged Chandler on, his fumbling steps more urgent, more painful, his forearms now aching with a passion, the uneven wall digging into them, punching them. The breeze, now strong like a gust, chilled him.
He lifted his head, his gaze. Did the darkness seem lighter, now more gray than black? Or was he simply crazy, finally falling off the wagon of stability, of sanity? A few more painful steps and Chandler realized that sanity had nothing to do with it. The darkness was withdrawing to another place, it was becoming distant. He began to make out shapes in the wall, bumps and holes. He could even see the crawling creatures that lived in the holes.
There seemed to be a curve in the wall and Chandler followed it, rounding it to find a very faint light in the distance. The shape of it told him it was either a window or a door, but it didn't really matter which because it was a way out and that was the important thing.
Chandler's found himself a way out but will it be to safety or another hell.
Chandler moved as fast as his injured ankle would allow him, the pain now constant, aggravating already raw nerves. As he got closer to the source of light, the shape became more defined; it was a door, small enough that Chandler would have to crouch down to walk through it.
He didn't stop to consider that the door might be locked, forcing him to either break it down, or re-trace his steps, moving back into the darkness. The closer he got, the more he could see, the splintered wood, the rusted lock and doorknob; it was ready to fall apart with a soft touch.
His fingers stretched toward the doorknob, his heart racing and his imagination telling him the boogey man waited for him on the other side. He swore at his imagination, cursed it to damnation. The metal was cold enough to burn his skin and Chandler snatched his fingers back, rubbing them on the cloth of his trousers.
Gritting his teeth, Chandler gripped the doorknob a second time, turned it and pulled the door open all in one smooth motion. Light blinded him just as he expected but didn't prepare for, his need to find Henry sending his common sense in a different direction. He stepped back, raising his arm to block the light from his eyes. The sudden brightness caused Chandler's eyes to water and he needed a few minutes to adjust to the light after being in the darkness for so long. He wasn't sure he had the time but he had to take the chance.
He no longer had a set of crutches, the walls of the tunnel not extending outside the door. He limped out into the light, his breath catching in his throat with every painful step. Tears blurred his vision and he felt as though, at this moment, he was just as blind as he had been in the tunnel.
Henry was alive, thank God.
Again, this has nothing to do with us.
Before he could find his partner, something slammed into Chandler's back, the impact, blunt and extremely painful, forced him onto his hands and knees, his right ankle twisting in a direction it wasn't meant to. Agonizing pain shot through his ankle and into his calf, his eyes watered and he screamed a silent curse through clenched teeth. Chandler's world spun and his stomach churned. Through all of this he could feel a wooden floor beneath his fingers, the heat of the air in his lungs, the trickle of cool sweat down his back. Everything seemed to merge into one colossal shit pile, the smell of it making Chandler want to retch onto the floor.
"Chan! Get up."
Chandler tried to get up – he really did – but he couldn't do it. His limbs were trembling, the muscles weak beneath his skin, the pain rippling through his back and ankle and his lungs struggled to breathe through the pain. He couldn't even adjust his position; take the weight off his ankle.
He could hear footsteps, barely heard above the beat of his heart against his ribs. The footsteps were circling him, slow, methodical. A faint breeze ghosted over him, cooling his flesh, easing the nausea. A voice, at first distant, coming so close that the person had to be standing in front of him.
"I'm going to kill you, Chandler Smythe. You should have been dead long ago but a mistake was made, but now, I'm going to correct that mistake."
Fingers, gentle in their touch, combed through his hair, massaged the back of his neck, squeezing it before releasing him. Another touch on his shoulder, a tap, and then another, not as gentle as the fingers had been.
"Get up." Henry's voice had become a whisper, soft but urgent, scared. "Chan. Get up, Chan."
Chandler's blurred vision now had a ragged edge to it, shapes separating from one another, the tears drying. He blinked, seeing something move in front of him, coming toward him. His vision focused and his eyes could clearly see the baseball bat just before it slammed into his forehead, the blow knocking him backward. He grunted, the shock and pain overwhelming him and he toppled over, his movements slow and drunkenly sluggish.
Remember, you're still human. If you get hit with a baseball bat, it's going to hurt.
Chandler lay on his back, staring up at a roof that was falling apart, sunlight filtering through its large cracks. He could catch glimpses of clouds that were passing over and he thought he could see his dead wife in them, smiling down at him. A figure moved above him blocking both the light and the vision of his wife, sending Chandler back into the grey shadows.
"You should have died in that car accident, Smythe" said the Morlock. "Not your wife."
It felt as though his brains had been turned into a thick heavy soup, crackers included. Chandler blinked, slowly and carefully, afraid that the smallest of movements would break his skull even further. The Morlock squatted down until he was sitting on Chandler's stomach and his knees were digging painfully into Chandler's sides.
Chandler rolled his head to the side, the fear of breaking something forgotten, his gaze finding Henry. His friend lay on the ground a few feet away, almost hidden behind a small table, his ankles tied, his wrists behind his back. Henry wasn't going to be much of a help, not unless he managed to untie his binds in the next few seconds.
"Your knife, Chan," said Henry. "Use your god damn knife!"
Use your knife Chandler . . . unless you forgot to bring it with you.
His knife. Where the hell was his knife? He couldn't think, his thoughts like thick mud trickling down a bath tub drain, blocking it, the thoughts having nowhere else to go. Chandler couldn't remember, he had no clue and even if he did remember his knife, he didn't think his numb clumsy fingers would be able to grip the handle, to plunge the knife into the Morlock's back.
The soup in his skull stirred, the lumps bouncing off the inside wall of his skull. Chandler thought he could feel it trickling out of his nose, over his lips. He wanted to taste it, feel it on his tongue but the taste wasn't of the soup variety, it was the taste of blood. Bile rose into his throat and he gagged, swallowing it when he was unable to spit it out.
An open palm slapped Chandler across the face, bringing his gaze back to the Morlock. Long fingers, clammy with sweat, wrapped around his throat, the grip becoming tight, squeezing until Chandler could no longer breathe. The Morlock's fingers pressed into his flesh, deep enough to leave bruises.
Chandler tried to raise his arms, to grab the Morlock's wrists but his body was still sluggish after the blow to his head. He was surprised his brain wasn't lying on the floor somewhere behind him. His body seemed to shift in on itself, floating heavily above him. Everything slowed down to the point of almost stopping, his movements and thoughts stuck in a traffic jam.
His fingers moved without thought, searching for something, anything to get the Morlock off his chest, even if only for the few seconds it would take to breathe in deep. It was as though his fingers had been guided to it, the hilt of his knife, the weapon of choice for the Corps.
The only way to kill a Morlock is with a knife soaked in the blood of an innocent, unless of course you load your gun with bullets soaked in the blood of an innocent.
Chandler fumbled with the knife, dropping in on the floor. He groaned in frustration, the sound almost guttural because of the fingers around his throat. But the knife hadn't gone far. Chandler could still feel it beneath his fingers.
Darkness clouded his vision and it seemed as though he gazed through a red haze, the capillaries in his eyes bursting. If he didn't do something now, he was going to die. And if he died now, Chandler was sure Henry would soon follow him in death.
He held the knife once more, the handle feeling thick within the grip of his fingers and he lifted his arm high. It was like lifting an unbroken watermelon with one arm, the limb trembling with the effort. Chandler plunged the knife into the Morlock's thigh, it didn't go deep but it didn't have to. Nothing happened. The Morlock's fingers still held a tight grip on his throat– a death grip. Chandler would have screamed in frustration and anger if he could. Death was coming for Chandler Smythe, he was sure of it.
Then the Morlock fell, its weight shifting, slipping off to one side.
But Chandler still couldn't breathe.
Chandler has discovered the luck of the devil.
His chest heaved, it ached with a passion and his lungs screamed for the life saving breath that refused to exist. He had to relax, calm his thoughts. Chandler closed his eyes and tried to see his dead wife within his tormented mind, his son who still needed him.
Chandler, still gagging for the next breath that wouldn't come, turned his head to the sound of his partner's voice. Henry was coming toward him, his feet and hands still bound. Henry was somehow managing to thump his way across the few feet that separated them. When Henry reached him, Chandler was on the verge of passing out, ready to die.
"Chan, take a breath."
I'm trying here, H.
"What you need is a cigarette," said Henry. "A lungful of nicotine."
That stuff will kill you.
Chandler managed to take in a thin breath but it wasn't enough to feed his lungs.
"That's it, partner. Take another one."
"Take another one, Chan. Before I start giving you mouth to mouth and we both know that's not what we want to do."
Chandler's throat and lungs opened and oxygen flooded in, deep gasping breaths almost drowning him.
It was a Miracle.
Why do they keep thinking it's us. We have no magical powers. We put our pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else.
"Chan? You breathing?"
"Yeah," said Chandler, his voice coming out in a whispered wheeze, painful and cracking.
"That's good. Think you can untie me?"
"No . . ."
"You need a minute?"
Chandler breathed and Henry waited.
"I bet you're wondering how that Morlock got me?"
Chandler nodded even though it was the last thing on his mind, his thoughts stirred by pain.
"Hit me over the head before I even knew he was there. Must have been waiting for us."
Chandler was feeling relaxed, his world slowly closing in on him– the pain disappearing, his lungs happy.
"Any idea what that Morlock was talking about, Chan," said Henry. "About your wife and that it was supposed to be you, not her."
Chandler wasn't sure. Charlotte, his first Faustian on his first day, had told him the same thing. That he was supposed to be in that car, not his wife. The old woman at the Ravenswood had told him that it was possible he had the mark, as had his mother. Chandler hadn't questioned it, didn't know how to, wasn't sure he wanted to know. If he dwelled on the fact that his wife died instead of him, it would tear him apart.
"No," said Chandler.
"We could find out. If that's what you want."
Chandler turned his head, his gaze drifting away from the roof and stared into Henry's dark eyes.
Henry nodded, accepting Chandler's choice.
"You going to help me out here, Chan?" said Henry.
"I'm barely . . . breathing here, H."
"How's your head?"
"I'm sure it's broken," said Chandler because it sure as hell felt like it was broken.
"We need to get you back to HQ."
Chandler shook his head, his world exploding and the pain returning. He felt like he was either going to throw up or pass out. He hoped for the latter.
"You have to help me, Chan," said Henry. "I need you to untie me."
Chandler wasn't listening. He passed out, leaving it to Henry to do all the work.