Teili sat on the shallow, thin seated chair contemplating her alternately terrifying choices. Her thoughts long forgot about the combination of Lil Pops’ and L’Kesha’s blood and brain matter being matted in her sponge textured hair. She felt too broken to wipe their visceral off of her tear soaked face. Hours ago she had concluded that her end sensed to be likely near, so what was the point? She barely registered the stink of the dried bloody matter that wafted around her head.
The room measured as big as the walk in closet her millionaire uncle had shown her one day. The shape was a shallow rectangle, wider than long. Light blue, bio-luminescent sludge coated the walls, allowing for perspective within. Her only protection to the outside, waiting death became the door that sealed into its own frame behind her.
She continued to rub her dark-brown hands together, just like she did other times when under stress. Nightmare door on the left or nightmare door on the right. Doors. Fucking doors, she thought. Teili had enough of doors. Teili remembered back to when they first made their way down the stairs.
The stone shack in the middle of the cave made less sense than anything she had seen in all of her journey thus far. The structure’s obelisk block walls were nothing like the surrounding cave walls. Teili concluded that someone had to have brought the large stones from the outside, which felt to be equally impossible due to the entrance being barely able to fit Lamar’s linebacker frame. She panned her light around the hollowed room, searching for evidence of an alternate opening. The walls were airtight as they had remained for millennia. The structure’s door had a shape of a thick, lacquered birch reaching higher than her fingertips could reach. The obstacle appeared hinged to swing inwards. Devonte took the initiative to be the first past the moss covered entrance. The flexible joints made no sounds as he pushed his way forward.
“Fuck.” His statement rang clear.
“What is it now?” Teili asked, long have given up on good news.
“Damn.” Her frustration evident. “Another fucking obstacle.”
Devonte shined his intense flashlight downwards. Hints of movement evaded the stream of high intensity light as the illumination panned into the carved, earthen staircase. The smell of aged, stale decay edged upwards to the group.
“Oh, that’s a no. We are done.” Devonte said shaking his head. He swung his long, dark locks from side to side making the point clear.
“No, no we’re not.” Teili looked past him at the new hindrance.
“Teili. Look, you got us in this cave, which is, honestly, much farther than I expected to ever get myself into. But, impossibly built stone sheds or shacks or whatever the hell this is, with a set of creepy ass stairs is enough.” Clarice excitedly pointed out. Her panic kept at bay with the hope that Teili would agree.
“We’re not done.” Teili offered no space for debate.
“Lamar, take point. Lil Pops you’ve got our backs. Everyone else stay sharp. Momo has to be down there.”
“Teili, the door is shut. Momo isn’t down there. If he was, the fucking door would be open. Like it is now.” Clarice pointed with her recently scraped finger.
“You know, she could be -”
“Shut it, Pops.”
“Yeah, I’m just sayin’.”
Teili stood chest to chest with Clarice. Devonte grumbled at the emotional impasse.
“Ok, Clarice. If this isn’t for you. Feel free to go back and dig your way through the living rock-tissue, whatever the fuck it is, on your back to the entrance.”
Clarice challenged Teili through the illumination of the group’s combined flashlights doing her best to save face.
Teili closed their emotional distance.
“You can go back. You can wait in the dark here. Or, you can help us see if your ex is down there.” Teile pointed downwards.
Clarice lost the game of emotional chicken. She broke down in open sobbing. Teili reached her hand back and slapped her crying companion across the face.
“Get your crap together.” Teili turned to the group. “We go, now.”
Devonte moved to the front of the line. His rifle’s LED light made little work of the darkness in front. Teili filed down next with L’Kesha, Lamar, Doug, Clarice and Lil Pop in order behind. Flashlight beams covered most of the area around them during their descent. None of the group saw the heavy, wooden door ease itself back into place. They had walked long enough into the underground to have committed to their task. The walls were two person width apart with a domed ceiling lost into the shadows. The air felt drier with a smell none of them could place, as if burnt popcorn mixed with raw meat.
Teili became caught up in her thoughts as the twin doors loomed before her. She thought of their first casualty. Devonte. The new room the group appeared to have no visible depth, as though light took a pause midair in all directions. Having no better options, they continued inside. Devonte moved in the front of the line. His assault rifle at the ready. The light’s high beam became limited by whatever muted its illumination. Teili felt as if the room’s darkness acted as a living entity. Devonte broke through an unseen, ankle high line of secretion. The floor seemed unusually pliable, like walking on the top of cotton candy custard.
They made the path halfway before Teili’s brother fell forward, face first. No one directly saw what happened to him. One moment Devonte had been walking ahead of the group. The next second he crumpled in place as a bloody mess. The rifle slipped from his fingers, bouncing on the ground. Its mounted light went dark. Lamar and Teili ran to his corpse. Hundreds of bird shot sized holes were visible on all sides of his body, from skull to feet. Blood eased out of each wound onto the ground. Teili shined her flashlight on the spongy floor. The flooring sucked in his lost blood through its top membrane. A BB sized, spherical object with razor sharp, protruding teeth ailed near Devonte, caught in his wrist. Kieli screamed at what she couldn’t begin to comprehend. Her foot crashed down through the creature. A deafening cry rang through the moist air. Doug, Clarice and L’Kesha screamed in surprise.
“Run!” Teili shouted to the group.
Lamar picked up the rifle as he ran. His fingers felt multiples of small holes that covered its exterior. He dropped the useless weapon. A slight slurping sound could be heard like someone sipping through a straw. Devonte’s blood left no puddles. The group tore across the ground through the near dark. They made their way through a semi-illuminated pulsing round exit.
Teili shook with the trauma of a last survivor. The guilt of being alive ravaged her mind. How could this all have happened, she thought. The silent room offered no answer. She replayed the deaths over and over in her mind.
Lamar hadn’t seen the upside down flower creature attached to the cavern’s ceiling. His football player frame became snatched upwards as if he weighed that of a mere packet of salt. Everyone’s lights immediately followed the screams upwards. The last sight of her girlhood crush became Lamar’s terrified face screaming as the spike laden petal insides wrapped around his fighting body. They could hear him scream through the spotted petals.
The twenty foot tall flower detached itself. Pussing, tentacle laden vines lowered the organism onto the soiled ground. The group could see Lamar helplessly trapped inside the petals. His movements began to lose their intensity. His screams became more guttural. The flower hissed at their intrusion. They stood back as the plant creature aggressively sprinted away from them on thick, canine-like legs into the darkness. The creature’s running sounds became lost in the distance. Lil Pop screamed in mourning at the loss of his friend. Everyone grabbed at their ears. Ramblings of confusion took the group’s discussion. Teili didn’t give them a chance to debate their course.
“If we stay… we die too.” She led through growing tears, her voice cracking.
“Fuck this, we need to go back.” Clarice said through ragged breath. Warm, tears rolled down her cheeks.
“We can’t go back.” Doug looked at the ground, walking forward. “We signed our own death certificates at the entrance of the cave this morning.”
He panned his flashlight at the ceiling to make sure nothing else could surprise the group. The ceiling surface looked smooth deep into the underground. Doug dropped the illumination to the solid ground far in front of him. The others could hear his steps forward. Lil Pop began his own steps ahead.
“L’Kesha, back me up.” Clarice begged as she openly trembled.
“No, girl, what’s done is done. Lamar wouldn’ want us to go out like bitches. We’re rollin’ into this.” L’Kesha brought her flashlight’s illumination ahead. The natural shadow hid tears that stuck to her face. She could see the backs of Lil Pop and Doug becoming darker as they moved ahead. She followed their lead.
Teili took Clarice by her shivering arm.
“Let’s get this done.” They followed up behind the others.
Teili sat shaking on the ill designed chair, forever looking between the two doors. Nothing made sense to her. She wanted to restart her journey. The memory of losing Clarice slow baked her insanity. She prayed for a more merciful fate.
She remembered Clarice being split in half on the walkway over the cavern. Clarice’s top and bottom halves falling onto the edges of the bridge walkway. The woman’s screams caused Teili and Doug to pan their lights behind them. Teili didn’t see what caused the casualty, though by now, she had hoped her body would have been laying there. The woman’s bloody torso half slipped into the cavern below as he legs kicked at the stagnant air. Teili never heard the appendage hit a bottom. Clarice’s upper half laid prone on the stone bridge trying to crawl as her entrails dragged behind on the uneven surface, leaving a path of blood and elongated intestines.
“I’ll save you Momo. Clar’s on… her… wa-.”
The upper half of Clarice slumped dead. Blood flowed out of the massive wound behind her. A stream of lime shaped, multi-legged creatures crawled out from under the walkway. The mass began disassembling her body with scissor-like appendages that materialized from their backs. Teili thought that they worked much like ants in the world above as she looked on in horror. The sounds of her body being snipped apart affected her worse than the visual atrocity. Snip, snip, snip, tear. Snip, snip, snip, rip. The last of the creatures carried a claw full of soiled hair back upside down under the bridge. In minutes, the remaining evidence of Clarice had been evidenced by a mostly intact shirt and bra in a large pool of drying blood. Doug bent over the black bottom edge and vomited into empty space. An intense screech bellowed from below. Teili immediately grabbed Doug by his long sleeve shirt. They bolted at high speed across the remainder of the midair structure into the exit way.
Teili continued to look at the two options as if they were going to freely offer their secrets. She felt disappointed that she hadn’t any means of ending her life. Her knife had been left being dissolved in the body of a gelatinous kangaroo creature. The malformation came out from behind stone columns they had walked by. The remaining two of them had become distracted at the wall of beetle-like creatures that scurried up and down the far end of the room as a if the scene were a living waterfall. She remembered watching as a monstrosity digested the same knife through its dark yellow form. The weapon effortlessly accompanied the stolen parts of Doug’s body. His dismembered chest, elbow and foot floated within its oozing torso. Each bloodied part slowly being dissolved into smaller and smaller chunks. Doug never had a chance. The creature’s torso had elongated and had attached to his chest, removing the cavity from his body. He wasn’t even able to gasp for air on the ground. His body soon became dismembered with equal simplicity.
The remaining piece of Teili’s sanity broke that moment. She ran for the only available exit at the far wall. Moments later she found herself in a two door room. A door sealed with a distinct sucking noise behind her. She could hear the barrier move in place, all while keeping solid. Teili became forced with choosing to exit through one of two occult engraved, ebony doors.
Scratching began at the bottom of the door. Teili’s body ran cold. Fuck. She began looking at the doors with more gusto. What did the markings mean? What could the engravings offer as clues? She caught herself assuming that one of the doors would be to safety. There wasn’t anything safe in this bottomless pit, she thought. Teili quickly stood up to investigate each ebony door against the wall. Neither offered up its esoteric secrets. The left door registered slight popping noises behind its nightmare marked front. She stepped to the door on the right. Markings as equally horrifying adorned the front. Her ears picked up a slight whirring sound. The scratching noises abruptly stopped. Time stood still.
Teili sat back down on the lone chair unable to understand how she should feel in the moment. Lamar, Devonte, L’Kesha, Lil Pops, that bitch Clarice and the “great White hope” Doug all gone. All the closest people were lost down here in the worse possible ways. For whatever reason she remained alive.
Silence bathed the room. Her shallow breaths were the closest aspects to sound. Nothing moved as if she sat in her own tomb. Self critical thoughts wove in and out of her consciousness without mercy.
“Teili, it’s Lamar, let me in.” A familiar voice called through the door behind her.
No, it’s not, she thought. The formation of tears took home around her almond eyes.
“Teili, it’s Lamar, let me in.” The inflection sounded as a perfect mimic of her former lover.
No, it’s not. Her sanity began to fully unravel.
“Teili, it’s Lamar, let me in.” His voice without a body.
“No, it’s fucking not!” She screamed at top volume. Hot tears openly rolled across her dark cheeks.
“Teili. I’m coming in. You know I’m coming in. Teili. You’re already dead. Just like Lil Pops. Just like L’Kesha. Just like Doug. Just like me. Just like Momo, Teili. You failed him. You failed all of us.”
“No, I didn’t.” She whispered to herself, shaking her head back and forth in denial. “No, I didn’t.”
“We’re all dead because your ego gave us a death sentence.”
Her body shook. Tapping on the sealed door started at chest level as the scratching continued again near the bottom. Teili’s will shattered. Her sanity began to swiftly disintegrate.
“Time to choose a door. We’re almost in the room with you.” The voice insisted with a tone of taunting.
Teili stood up. She walked to the door on the right. The room became overwhelmed with the noises just outside the door. The scratching and tapping. The voice imitating her dead Lamar. Teili couldn’t handle the emotional, auditory assault any longer. Her blood covered hand reached forward. She grabbed the stone indentation that appeared designed as a handle. The stone offered a warm sensation to her grasp.
Teili pulled the door from its seal. An impossible combination of immediate, intense freezing and baking heat washed over her front. Her eyes widened to their limits. Mechanical sounds as if she looked upon a manufacturing floor flooded the room. Her full lips pursed.
Goosebumps spread across her body. Her skin went ice cold and took on an ashen gray color. The small, neck hairs rose straight up with alarm. Her throat lost the ability to form the screams she desperately wanted to unleash. The experience that her eyes witnessed what couldn’t be accurately processed by her mortal brain. Deep, trauma instincts kicked in to rally what scraps of sanity that lay on her emotional floor. Teili began smiling in reaction to her synapses misfiring. The smiles evolved into a hysterical laughter. Her wide eyes lacked such brevity. Teili shuffled forward lost in a focused trance. She crossed beyond the doorway. The ebony door sealed shut behind her. The room went silent once more. Fallen chunks of her friends were the last remaining evidence that she had been in the room.