a short story by Lesley Woodral
Kiera awoke with a gasp, prepared to scream, but a grimy hand pressed over her mouth and a man’s voice whispered into her ear. “Don’t scream. If you scream, it’ll hear you. If it hears you, it’ll kill you.” The face above hers was draped in shadows, dim yellowish light creating a sickly halo around it, but she could see the gleam of terror in the man’s eyes. He crouched above where she lay, the concrete floor damp and cold beneath her. Her tee shirt was thin and sleeveless and the floor had already leached away most of her body heat. Her teeth wanted to chatter, but the man’s hand kept them from moving. His intense gaze drilled into her own as he said. “Nod if you understand.”
She nodded, though she didn’t understand. Not at all. She just wanted his hand away from her mouth. The small dim room surrounding them stank with the meaty cloying odor of unwashed bodies and something else. Something dark and rotted and horrifyingly familiar. It was a smell that conjured images of roadkill left to decay and dry up in the sun. But, as bad as the rest of the room smelled, the man’s hand smelled worse.
He watched her eyes for a long time before slowly pulling his hand away. “You have to stay as quiet as you can.” His whisper would have been inaudible if not for the tomblike quiet of their surroundings. He moved back, giving Kiera her first glimpse at her prison cell.
Four walls made of plain concrete blocks, unbroken and unyielding. A poured cement floor, broken and covered with a spiderweb of cracks that terminated in the center of the room in a hole that might have started its existence as a floor drain. But now it was something worse. The drain cap was long gone and the hole had caved in around its mouth, like the gaping maw of a toothless old man. The floor around the hole was covered in blood and bits of meat and bone and ragged strips of skin and ruined clothing. It was black in some places, where it had dried into a sticky foul smelling glaze.
It was still wet in others.
Besides the hole and the wire mesh covered light above it, there was only one other thing of interest in the cell. Leaning against the far wall was another man, filthy and more silent than the first. His lean face was covered in a wiry matted beard where it wasn’t covered in filth and he watched Kiera and her new friend with dark empty eyes.
The man beside her saw where she was looking and whispered. “I call him the nameless one.” He sat on the floor beside her and leaned his lips close to her ear. “He was here when I arrived. Along with two others.” He went quiet.
“How long have you been here?” Kiera asked, her voice a hoarse whisper. Her throat was dry and the inside of her mouth tasted weird.
“I’m not sure.” He shook his head. As he spoke, his eyes kept darting back toward the bloody hole in the floor. He said. “No more than a day or two, or I’d already be dead.” At her confused look, he added. “There’s no food or water.”
Kiera went cold inside and said in a silent whisper. “Where are we?”
He didn’t answer right away. Across from them, the other man pushed up off of the floor and stood up against the wall. He wasn’t watching them. He was watching the hole in the floor as well. When the other man moved, her friend did as well. Gripping her by the hand, he pulled her up beside him and put his lips against her ear. He mouthed. “Don’t make a sound.”
The cell went completely silent, except for their breathing, and none of them moved. Standing, she realized her shoes were gone. The floor was cold and wet underfoot, adding to her misery. After a long time of nothing happening, the other man eased back down to a squatting position and continued to stare at the hole.
Her new friend leaned close and said. “He does that whenever he thinks it’s coming.”
“Who is he?” Kiera watched the man and the gaping black maw in the center of the floor with equal intensity. The air in the cell was thick with tension and the stench of decay and human waste. She tore her gaze away and met the eyes of the man beside her. “Who are you?”
“I’m Jimmy.” He nodded toward the other man and said. “He doesn’t talk, not that I’ve seen. I’ve been calling him the nameless one. He was here when I arrived.”
“How did we get here?” She ran a hand through her hair and tried to work some spit into her mouth. She was getting used to the smell and that scared the hell out of her.
Jimmy watched the hole as he spoke. In his own way, he was just as intense as the nameless one. “How much do you remember? Do you remember being taken?”
Kiera searched her memory and could only shake her head. “I remember leaving home for work, but I don’t remember arriving. I was in the car and then I was here.” She pictured leaving her house for work. She worked full-time as a Barista in her hometown’s lone little coffee shop, as well as filling in as assistant manager when required. She also went to school, taking classes to be a Lab and X-ray Tech at the local Junior College and needed the extra income her Barista tips brought in. She could visualize getting in her car and taking the turn at the end of the street but then her memory hit a wall. She didn’t even know how much time had passed. Her phone was gone, as was her handbag and anything else she might have used to figure out where she was or what was going on. “How did I get here?”
Jimmy said. “You only just arrived. That’s how it happens.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s been two others since I got here.” Jimmy said, his face twisting. He shook his head and stopped talking. He was looking at the hole in the floor again. His face was writ with terror and traces of madness. He shook himself and said. “After one is taken, someone else is brought in to replace them. The light goes off and the door opens in the dark and somebody is dumped inside. Usually an hour or so after it takes someone.”
“What happens to them?” Her voice was a ghost of a whisper. She didn’t want to know, not really, but she had to hear the words. If she was going to die, she had to know how it was going to happen. No matter how terrified it made her.
“It takes them.” He nodded toward the hole. “It comes up out of the hole and takes us, one at a time.”
Kiera stared at the black and bloody opening and shuddered. “What is it?”
As if in answer to her question, there was a sound from the center of the room and the nameless one stood up fast and plastered himself to the wall. Jimmy pulled her up with him and put a finger to his lips. His eyes were wide and terrified and he pressed her against the wall with his arm while doing the same himself.
In the center of the floor, something had emerged from the hole. At first, Kiera thought it was a snake, which was terrifying in its own right, but soon saw she was horribly mistaken. When she realized what it was, the sinking feeling of crawling dread that filled her belly was so much worse.
It was a tentacle.
It moved slowly, teasing the edge of the hole before uncoiling and stretching out towards the concrete walls and the terrified prisoners. Kiera clenched her teeth to keep from screaming and stared at the tentacle as it stretched even further and touched the far wall, only a few feet from the nameless one.
The nameless one stepped sideways, moving quickly but silently away from the tentacle as it coiled and twisted against the wall, its tip teasing and tracing the seams of the cinder block. He eased away from it, moving toward the next wall. The tentacle pulled back, dancing in the air for a moment before lashing out toward the wall to the right of Jimmy. Kiera didn’t need to be told that letting the tentacle touch her was the last thing she should let happen. She sidestepped away from it, keeping Jimmy between herself and the horrible questing thing as it hunted for its next victim.
The tentacle writhed and twisted, seeking fresh meat, and Kiera felt her gorge rise. It was a sleek black thing, the skin gleaming in the yellowish light from above. It was similar to an octopus’s arms, but without the suckers. Where they would’ve been there were jagged little barbs, almost like teeth or the edges of a plant. It lashed sideways, nearly touching her, and Kiera ducked beneath it and scuttled sideways. Jimmy went the other way hugging tight to the wall.
The tentacle twisted and snapped out toward the next wall, moving faster and more aggressively around the tiny cell. Kiera ducked beneath it, terrified it would tangle in her hair, and crabwalked sideways.
Strong hands suddenly grabbed her by the shoulders and she was face to face with the nameless one. He smiled, revealing teeth that were stained black with blood and vileness, and hissed into her face. “Dinnertime.” Then he shoved her into the tentacle.
Kiera screamed even as the tentacle lashed around her arm, jerking her off her feet and toward the hole in the floor. The barbs hooked into the meat of her forearm, burning and tearing her flesh as it pulled her to her waiting doom. She screamed again and tried to fight it, using her free hand to claw at the slick black skin of the thing, but nothing she did seemed to affect it.
But then Jimmy was there, holding her tight and stabbing at it with something held tight in his fist. It took her a panicked moment to see that it was a shank made from a filthy shard of a human leg bone. He stabbed the tentacle over and over, at the same time holding Kiera as tightly as he could. The tentacle moved fast, jerking sideways, and tossed them both away as it released her arm, sending them crashing into the wall.
Kiera’s arm was bleeding from a multitude of jagged little tears and burned as if on fire, but she was free. Jimmy wasn’t as lucky. The tentacle caught him around the waist and jerked him off his feet, slamming him into the far wall. His arm broke at a horrible angle and he screamed. Kiera tried to get to her feet but fell on her face and threw up. The room was spinning. Jimmy hammered at the tentacle with his free hand, his other arm pinned to his side by the monstrous fleshy thing as it coiled tighter around him. It jerked him into the air and slammed him into the ceiling before dragging him into the hole. His screams rose in pitch, becoming something that wasn’t even close to human, and the tentacle coiled up between his legs and slithered up his waist.
There was a second, just before it dragged him into the hole, when Jimmy’s terrified gaze locked onto Kiera’s and she saw straight into the hell that was waiting for her. Then, with a convulsive surge, the tentacle pulled back into the hole. Cloth and flesh tore with equal ease as it drug Jimmy into the darkness below. His right leg hung up and jerked upwards, the flesh and bone twisting and snapping as it tore loose at the hip. Blood geysered from the mutilated stump and Jimmy’s scream was cut off as the tip of the tentacle forced its way into his mouth, distending his jaw. More blood began pouring from his nose and the corners of his eyes. His skin became a deep purple as the blood was forced upwards by the crushing pressure. It began to split in places, blood hissing as it escaped bursting tissues. The concrete gave way in places as the tentacle gave one last horrible tug and Jimmy slipped from view. The last thing Kiera saw of her protector was his right eye being pushed out of its socket by the questing tip of the tentacle.
Then he was gone.
The only sound in the cell was Kiera’s panicked breathing as she pushed herself to her feet and stared at the blood soaked hole in the floor. The hole was bigger now. Across from her, the nameless one finally spoke. He said. “About time.”
Kiera said nothing. She bent and picked up the sharpened shard of bone that Jimmy had tried to use to protect her. It was part of a human leg bone and there was strips of cloth wound tight around the knob, making a crude handle. She leaned against the wall and stared at the nameless one.
He smiled at her, the dim yellowish light making his stained teeth look black with rot, and said. “We don’t have to be as quiet after it’s eaten. Usually takes a day or so before it gets peckish again. So we have some time.” He took a step toward her, his filthy hands opening and closing at his sides. “It’ll go easier if you don’t fight back. You might even enjoy it.” He took another step toward her.
Kiera took a step back and shook her head. “Are you fucking kidding me? It’s bad enough that we’re going to get eaten by that thing, but now you’re going to get all rapey on me?” She tightened her grip on the bone dagger and said. “You best stay back, or you’re going to wish it had gotten you instead of Jimmy.”
He chuckled. And took another step. “You might as well just give in and go with it. We’re both dead either way. When it comes back, I’m just going to feed you to it. That’s if it doesn’t grab you first.” He put a filthy finger against the side of his nose and said. “But suppose you fight back and kill me before I ravage you? Or it grabs me instead?” They circled the hole in the floor, leaving bloody tracks as they tracked through the blood that was everywhere. It even hung in the air, the coppery taste thick and cloying in the back of her throat. His smile was positively evil. “You’re still dead. Maybe not the next time it comes. Or the time after that. But it will get you eventually. It gets everyone eventually.”
He took a sudden sideways step, moving closer to the hole, and forced her to stop her slow retreat. He stared at her, his sick and deranged eyes crawling over her skin. Behind him, she noticed furtive movement at the edge of the broken hole. He caught the direction of her glance and his smile went crooked. He said. “Nice try. But I’m not that stupid.”
The tentacle lashed around the nameless one’s ankles and jerked his feet out from underneath him, slamming him to the concrete floor. He thrashed and fought even as it drug him across the bloody floor and into the hole. It was bigger now, but it still tore at the man’s flesh as he was pulled down. He caught the edge of the hole before dropping out of sight and held on a long time before the concrete crumbled even more and he dropped out of sight.
She thought that he would scream but there was no sound in the cell but her panicked breathing. She bent at the waist and retched as quietly as she could. Her whole body felt loose and hot and she trembled as she wiped at her mouth and stared at the hole in the floor. Long seconds passed before she got her breathing under control and minutes before she could make herself move.
Moving as quietly as she could, she went to the door and checked it all over. But there was no way of opening it from the inside of the cell. Choking back the blind panic that threatened to curl her up in a ball on the floor, Kiera quietly paced the tiny cell, her eyes continuously pulled to the waiting hole as she ran through a million scenarios in her head. All of them ending bloody, but only a few ending with her alive.
When she felt like she had to either go through with the worst of her plans or use the jagged shank in her shaking fist to tear open her own throat, Kiera moved toward the hole. Crouching before she got too close, she tested the floor to see if it seemed stable and couldn’t see any difference between the concrete’s strength or texture. Her breath was coming in short little gasps and she had to stop and calm herself down before sliding into a sitting position and scooting around until her legs dangled into the hole below.
She let them hang that way for a long time, closing her eyes as she prepared for the grasp of the tentacle and the horrible tug down into oblivion. And for a second, that’s exactly what she felt, the soft brush of something on her leg. Her heart tried to pound its way out of her chest and she very nearly used the bone dagger on herself, before her panicked brain let her register what it was. It was wind. There was a soft breeze moving from the open hole, the air fetid but otherwise normal beneath a layer of old decay and damp stone.
Closing her eyes, Kiera steeled herself for what came next. Rolling over onto her stomach, she eased her hips down into the hole. There was a panicky second where she thought the opening was still too narrow, but eventually she lay half in the hole. Her legs dangled below and she kicked her feet, trying find some kind of purchase, but found only air. She eased further down, praying her feet would find the ground soon, but they only found empty air instead. Holding herself with her elbows, she tried to swing her body with her legs and the concrete gave away under her and she fell silently into the darkness.
It was a short fall and she didn’t have time to scream before hitting a hard slope, tearing her pants as she tumbled to the ground and collapsed onto her back. She hurt all over and she could feel blood oozing from a gash on her leg but she didn’t think anything was broken. Her breath had a hollow sound to it that said she was in a big open chamber, larger than the cell above. Muddy light filtered down through the hole above in a bloody orange cone, casting ugly shadows on the parts of the walls that were just barely visible.
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could make out more of the chamber and she couldn’t quite grasp what she saw. The chamber was large and rounded, the rock floor covered with irregular mounds of rock and debris and it was sticky beneath her bare feet. Kiera crept forward and stared at her bleak surroundings. There was a soft greenish glow coming from the back of the chamber and she moved toward it.
As she got closer, she saw that the glow was coming from the walls themselves, or from the film of greenish scum growing along the walls edges. Bioluminescence, a $5 word from one of her school textbooks came to mind. She touched it and it came away on her fingertips, making them glow. Like the inside of a lightning bug.
There were also figures carved into the wall, ancient looking hieroglyphs and pictograms. Kiera took a moment to look the markings over before moving further into the monster’s lair. There was an archway, through which a sickly green light flickered fitfully and a strange mewling noise drifted. She held tight to her makeshift weapon and stepped through the doorway and into hell itself.
The first thing she saw was the tentacle, the fat glistening length of it curled up in the center of the chamber. It was unmoving, having spent itself with its recent hunting, but it twitched and quivered on the floor as she entered the chamber. Light came from more of the bioluminescent scum that covered the walls and the ceiling, painting the horrible tableau before her in a greenish tint that lent the scene a nightmarish and comic book quality.
The tentacle wasn’t alone. There were others, though none were as thick or terrifying as the first. Most were desiccated and unmoving, as dead and dried up as an old snake skin. There were mounds of detris and debris all about the shadowy chamber. When she bent to examine the nearest pile, she found a loose pile of bones and torn clothing. A fractured skull, bits of dried skin still clinging to it. She shuddered.
There was a slurping crunching sound from the back of the chamber and when Kiera moved closer she was finally offered her first look at the monster the tentacle was attached to. It rested on a massive stone alter, its corpulent bulk wet and glistening with a brackish slime that oozed from infected looking pores covering its surface. It had 8 tentacles in all, like an octopus, but only the one had any life to it. There was a thick stench of putrefaction wafting off of it in waves, making her eyes water and her stomach clench in anticipation of vomit.
The bone dagger in her fist felt painfully inadequate as she moved closer. She stepped over and around bones and bits of dead tentacle as she made her silent way toward her enemy. There was no easy exit from the chamber, not that she could find, and she knew that if the beast regained its strength it would get her eventually.
Tearing her mind away from thoughts of her possible fate at the mercy of the tentacle, Kiera took a deep breath, and crept up on the twitching mass before her. She was close, breathing shallowly through her mouth, when the great beast gave a rumbling shudder, then heaved up, revealing its terrible face. Kiera choked on the scream that wanted to tear itself from her suddenly paralyzed throat and clutched her feeble weapon tight in her fist.
There was an eye, huge and mad, rolling wildly in its runny infected socket. The lid was thick and rubbery, cracked in places, and weeping more of that green slime. But for its size and inhuman coloring, the eye might’ve been human, the hate and madness in its gaze at once familiar and alien. Below the ghastly eye was a mouth, wet and black and ringed with row after row of teeth. The teeth weren’t sharp, as she had pictured in her fractured mind, but flat and cow-like.
The Nameless One hung from the beast’s working mouth, his mouth opened in a silent scream as it slowly devoured him. The teeth rippled and chewed and wet sucking sounds followed as the bearded man slipped another half an inch down its gullet. It had devoured him up to the shoulders and his face was black with compressed blood, his eyes burst from their sockets, and his beard was matted with the shredded remains of his insides.
The enormous eye rolled in her direction and Kiera could hear the beast inside of her head. Its poisonous whisper slipping through her mind like so many slithering and invisible tentacles. She comes, oh yes.. So sweet, the taste.. The blood sings.. More crunching and slurping and The Nameless One slipped further into oblivion.
Behind her, Kiera sensed movement. She turned just as the tentacle lurched to drunken life, whipping towards her like a giant’s arm. She ducked and threw herself to the broken floor, scattering bones and wet pieces of past victims. The tentacle slammed into the walls, shaking the chamber around them, and the beast chewed faster, hungry for its next meal. Kiera didn’t have much time.
Swallowing her fear, she launched herself at the beast. Clambering onto the altar, she avoided the tentacle as it whipped past once more, slamming the opposite wall. Its voice howled inside of her head. She comes, the wicked girl.. Her fear tastes sweet.. She brings it to us, she does.. Soon now.. She ignored its cries as she tangled her fingers in The Nameless One’s beard and used it to pull herself up onto the heaving monster. The tentacle went wild, thrashing around the chamber, smashing through piles of bones and decaying body parts.
Gasping for breath, holding on for her life, Kiera brought the bone knife up and screamed as she plunged it into that great waiting eye. It exploded, covering her in viscous gore, and her arm plunged into the recesses of its mind. The pulsing wetness was hot and gripped her arm, sucking at it as she pulled free and stabbed it again and again. She kept screaming as she dug her way inside, hunting for its terrible mind. Its screams became unbearable, tearing at her consciousness and threatening to obliterate her sanity.
Kiera kept digging with the bone dagger while using her free hand to claw her way deeper inside of the evil until, finally, the terrible wailing came to a sudden stop. The thing stopped heaving around her and shuddered into a slow lurching stillness.
Conrad The Believer woke up from a dream of screams and blood, with a sense of destiny fulfilled. The dream quickly faded as he knelt at his bedside altar and genuflected to his god. After his morning prayers, he dressed himself and put a pot of coffee on before heading down to the basement.
Sometimes, Conrad is lonely. He’s the last, he knows, and being the last of anything is lonely. He remembers the day his father became one with god. He stopped Conrad outside the sacrificial door and bade him not to enter. He remembers his father’s voice, still so strong and commanding as he made his goodbyes before entering the chamber and sacrificing himself to the old god. “It is down to you, my son. May the old one give you strength.”
Their house had always been there, since before the town laid its first cobblestones and when only the natives wandered North America. It started out as a cave, before becoming a temple. And for as long any could remember, the old god resided there, protected by the faithful.
Conrad’s family was of Scandinavian descent, exploring North America long before the Spaniards and Puritans arrived. Paddling longboats up and down the wild rivers and through the untamed wildernesses. They had stumbled upon the god and his primitive followers and joined the silent brotherhood. At one time, the church had numbered in the thousands, but now it was only Conrad.
He was all alone now.
It was just him and his god.
At the doorway to the sacrificial chamber, he picked up the pair of night vision goggles from the small table next to the door. Once they were on and activated, he turned off the outer light and opened the small window in the center of the heavy door.
At first he didn’t understand what he was seeing. The chamber was empty. There was no sign of what should have been at least two occupants. He’d expected at least one to have been taken, possibly the girl, more likely the bearded one. His luck couldn’t last forever, could it? But there being nobody left was completely unexpected.
Then he noticed the tentacle, lying on the floor. It was just inside the hole, which was bigger than before and surrounded by a lake of blood and meat. He stared through the window for a long time and still it refused to move. It didn’t even twitch.
“Oh no.” He said, opening the door in a panic and moving into the chamber. He didn’t notice the figure standing in the corner, out of sight of the sliding window in the door. Kneeling, he reached out with a trembling finger and touched its cold wet flesh. His body hummed with excitement as he did something that nobody in his family had ever done. Not and survived to tell about it.
He touched god.
He didn’t react when a rough fist caught his hair and yanked his head back, baring his throat. This felt right to him, this final sacrifice. It was something that had to be done before his god could carry him onward to his final reward.
Kiera drove the splinter of bone into the side of the kneeling man’s neck then tore it out to stab again. She did it fast, driving it in deep once, twice, three times before tearing it free and planting a boot in the center of the man’s back and kicking him forward into the hole. The inside of the chamber glowed from the scum she had smeared around the walls and the hole in the floor, giving her enough light to leave by. She took her bone knife with her, the believer’s blood covering her up to her elbow, and she walked out of darkness.