“Remind me, why are we doing this again?” Mark moaned, with a hint of worry in his voice. “All things considered, this is a really stupid job."
“Don't be an infant, Mark, this has to be done.”
Mark leered at his stony-faced comrade, Bill, who was half way down the stairs leading to the dank tunnels below. He returned the look, snorting at his cross expression as if recalling a joke, before continuing.
“The Boss says the pipes are leaking. Pipes are leaking, we get fixing. We get fixing, we get paid. Simple as.”
“Yeah, but in this tunnel?" The place has got 'horror cliché' written all over it. Why the hell does the boss insist on going down there? Why cant we just dig under the road?” Bill paused, giving a quick stroke of his scraggy grey beard before giving a short response. “Because it's cheap.”
“Cheap? You know what happens when people go down there. The last time one of us had to go down and fix something he didn't come back out.” Bill laughed.
“Oh yes, they never found his corpse, they say it lies down there forever, yada-yada. Can we just get on with it? Please?” Mark sighed.
“You really are an asshole, Bill.”
“Hey, they don't pay me to be nice, they pay me to fix pipes. So I'll fix pipes.”
The two climbed down the long stairwell before reaching a rusted gate. Mark could see nothing through the iron slats but an empty void as Bill rummaged around in his jacket pocket before pulling out a long, thin key, and jamming it in the lock. With a quick twist of his wrist, the gate creaked open. “Since you're so spooked about getting lost in this place, I've not only brought a map, but I've also brought the longest bit of rope I could find. Tie it to the gate; we'll trail it along with us. It'll be like Hansel and Gretel except without the cannibalism. And the Germans.” Bill flicked up the switches on the fuse-box next to the gate, and the dim lights started to slowly crawl to life along the walls. He pulled out the map, a crumpled brown piece of paper. The edges had been either torn or burnt, and a hastily sketched collection of corridors, paths and crypts that didn't order themselves to logic or reason spanned across the page. Mark, straining with effort, tied the knot in a series of mad tangles. Bill furrowed his brow. “Christ, it's not going to fall off, no need to be so paranoid.” But Mark wasn't taking any chances. “Right, you see this little blue X on the map? That's the pipe we're fixing. Shouldn't be too difficult.” Mark gulped. The X was more than just a little while away. From what he saw, it looked like an hour was going to be spent in the depths of the tunnels. The two looked at each other, nodded, and then set off down the beaten and broken corridors.
Time seemed to slow down as the two walked. The path Bill took twisted turned, duck, dived, and many times Mark was sure that they just went in circles. Disgusting stains bled from the cracks in the ground, Rats scurried by their feet, Mark swore he heard moans through the halls of concrete. Bill meanwhile strolled on without a hitch, occasionally chuckling when Mark tripped up on a rock, or cursed after stubbing his toe after hitting a jutting piece of concrete from the floor. Before long the hour went on to two. Then three. After each hour they had to retrace their steps as the rope ended. After another fruitless venture into the tunnels, all of a sudden, the rope stopped giving with an abrupt halt. “Bill, the rope is gone. Again. We've been walking for hours, and not once have we seen any of the landmarks of the map. Either the map is bollocks, or you've gone senile.” Bill spat at the ground before spinning towards Mark, neck and neck, eye to eye.
“If it wasn't for you yelling at me that we've gone in circles twenty god damn times, I wouldn't be so lost!” Mark started on Bill immediately.
“So you're admitting we're lost?”
Bill stuttered out a quick 'No', before cocking his head back at the map. A wave of terror washed over him, from head to toe, his whole expression changed.
“Mark. I've been holding it upside down.”
“I've had it upside down the whole time… I…” Bill laughed midsentence, nervously. “…The pipe was pretty close to the entrance now that I've got it uprigh-"
Mark pushed Bill against the wall, crumpling and falling over into a frail heap. Fuming, his teeth bore like an animal's; Mark's screams began echoing down the caverns.
“Are you telling me we've been going in random directions because you didn't realise that the map, was in fact, upside down? Are you screwing with me?”
Bill coughed and spluttered before responding
“No… we just need to follow the rope back, we can do it all over again. We'll be fine…” Mark paused, a brief thought passed his mind that he should kick the snot out of Bill while he was down, but he stuck out a hand, and gave a grimace instead.
“You senile old idiot, you. Get up, we're getting out of this hole.”
Bill nodded, before being stood up again, out of breath and wheezing. The two followed the rope. Through the twists and turns they retreated back to the entrance, Bill leaning on Mark like he was a crutch all the while. Through dips and dives they hobbled across the concrete halls. Another hour passed. Then another. Would they ever get back, Mark wondered. His question was answered soon enough.
The rope. The rope had been severed.
The two of them stared. The lamplight fixed on the sickening sight.
Before Bill could react, Mark shook him off his shoulder. He'd had enough. Enough of the damn tunnel, enough of everything. He was tired. He was pissed. He was going. “Take your map and get the hell away from me. I'm leaving.” Bill yelled after him.
“You can't find your way back without the map you idiot! Just calm down!”
But Mark was far down the hall. Mark's light got further and further away, until it turned a corner, and Bill was left alone.
Mark ran, fuming, for at least five minutes, before he started to slow down to a halt. The irritation seeping away from his blood as the cool air of the tunnels began to chill his skin and prick his hairs. He paused. He relaxed.
Then he ran back in the opposite direction.
Twisting and turning; retracing his steps at a frantic jog, he hoped to high heaven that bill hadn't left. If he had gone, there was no hope in escaping the halls. Ducking and diving under pipes and over potholes in the concrete, he finally reached the final corner; Bill was going to be waiting just around it.
There was no life down that hall. No noise. Just a mocking silence. Bill was nowhere to be seen. Not a trace of his presence. Mark took a step forward, trembling slightly as he looked around the tunnel. Nothing. Why had Bill left? Spite? He was starting to fear being trapped in the tunnels forever, until he noticed the map. He let out a deep breath. The map, just as torn and tattered as he had last seen it, lay below a light bulb that hung from the crumbling celling. Mark crouched down to pick it up, checking to see weather or not Bill had left any sort of message to his whereabouts, he was sure that Bill wouldn't leave the map unless he knew mark was coming back. He scanned the page. But to no avail. The map was the same as it always had been, it seemed, until a wave of complete terror washed over mark, as he noticed the exit.
Or, as it was, the lack of one.
It was gone. The exit had been ripped off the face of the page, torn off. Bill hadn't left the map because he had found the exit. He had left because there wasn't an exit. Mark sat. He wasn't escaping. He was going to die here. His hands, now plastered to his face, couldn't hold back tears. The lights, flickering, died around him. He was completely alone.
It took him a while to finally stop the river of tears, but he did calm down. Mark, shaking and shivering all over, flicked on his flashlight. He wasn't going to die alone, he decided. He was going to find Bill. Even if he was an idiot, even if he brought him down here, he was the only thing alive in the tunnels. Mark began to walk.
On and on he walked, steps echoing down the tunnels. But the feeling was different now. What was once boredom and irritation was now a fear beyond reason. For every few minutes, he could swear he heard new noises amongst the dripping and the crunching of the grime on the floor. But it wasn't Bill. They were growls. Quiet and soft, but long and droning. Like a hand cranked drill boring into the walls, inch by inch. Completely otherworldly. Mark thought it was just the noises from the pipes, groaning, but he always stopped dead every time they emanated down the halls. An irrational fear overtook him, and every step he took that fear seemed to crawl across his fingertips, up his arms, hour after hour. By the tenth hour down the tunnels, he could swear he saw figures pass by the archways every time he took another turn. The growls, once quiet, began to morph into piercing screams. Some far away, as if it were a whisper in the dark, some directly behind him. Mark began to sprint. He began to scream for Bill. Yelling “Sorry,” and “Come Back,” to the tunnels as if he were screeching “Help,” to the skies, in the hopes that the passing thug, knife in hand, would show mercy. On and on he screamed, and the only things that replied were the screeches and the growls, like a distorted echo.
The screeches began to morph further into a cacophony of wails, and from every direction they crawled into his head. The cracks in the concrete walls, the abyss behind, the void in front, Mark began to sprint, not caring which way he turned or where he ended up, every time he tripped in ruptures in the ground he clambered back onto his feet, he could feel breath on his shoulder, a presence, he knew all to quickly he wasn't alone, before he fell one last time.
He tripped; the flashlight flew from his grasp and cracked as it hit the concrete floor. It began to flicker on and off. The glass was shattered. The wails had stopped. He was left in the silence again. Mark clawed at the light, grabbing it and shaking it, wildly. “Please no,” he repeated, again and again, jerking the dying light towards the shape that had tripped him up.
The light flickered.
It shone across a figure. Bill lay, sprawled across the floor. He wasn't alive. His eyes were missing. Ripped from their sockets. Blood still oozed and dripped onto the cold ground. His chest had been torn to shreds; deep gashes were littered across it as the pool of red grew below him. But blood was not the only thing that dripped, as on the wall opposite, Mark could see a pipe. The broken pipe, the one thing he'd been sent to fix, dripping away. It was a bitter reunion. He'd found the pipe, but he'd also found the corpse of his friend, lying in the dust.
The light flickered.
Mark sat. The silence didn't give Bill the mourning he deserved. For what seemed like years he lay back, no thoughts passing through his mind, feeling nothing but a desire to crumble into dust.
The light flickered.
A singular, piercing wail rang out. Then another. Then another. The screams, the hideous screams returned, and with them, . The light now shone down the hallway, the echo of a few minutes ago had further mutated into a crescendo of noise. Of guttural screeches, of agonised moans, it became a discordant concert that hit the very core of Mark's now broken mind. Mark shook wildly as if the screams had brought about a fever, as the noise came closer and closer, as the they penetrated deeper and deeper through the walls, as he anticipated the creatures that were to turn around the corner.
The light flickered.
He could see them now, a mess of claws and teeth, eyes like headlights, Millions of little legs sprawled across every surface. Black. Slimy. Hungry. He heard one more deafening roar before the swarm of creatures came upon him from every angle, from the front, from the back, from his mind. Mark sat, crying, wishing above everything to dissolve, to die quietly and alone. Only part of his wish was going to be granted.
The light died.
Written by GentlemanWalrus