They lit out from Eddie’s that next morning. His mother was gone, already ten miles away in the county seat, starting her shift at the DMV.
The boys had taken the floor to sleep while Andi took the bed, joined late in the night by Eddie’s standoffish cat, who provided some much-welcome warmth.
After waking up they ate Super Sugar Crisp, sans milk, while they discussed the town and the best way to get out of it.
“So who’s all looking for us?” Andi asked. “My parents, for sure.”
Benjamin swallowed his mouthful of cereal. “The school’s looking for you, too, I’m sure. And the cops. Eddie and me? No one, I don’t think.”
Andi thought of Benjamin’s broken, screaming mother, and a bit of puffed wheat caught in her throat. She coughed.
“So I’m the weak link,” she said, voice dry. “Maybe I should stay here.”
“Ye–” Eddie began.
“No,” Benjamin said. “We need you.”
Andi shook her head. “You think you need me, Benjamin. But Eddie’s right. He told me I couldn’t go toe-to-toe with Cy, and he wasn’t wrong.”
“Well,” Benjamin said, “Eddie’s an asshole.”
No one argued his point.
“If we’re doing this,” Benjamin continued, “we need to stick together, and we all need to contribute. So you don’t have years of experience with role-playing games and horror and science fiction and all the rest of it. So what? You’re here, and you’re willing to fight for what’s right. And that puts you light years ahead of most of the people in this world. We need you, Andi. Europa needs you. So don’t stay behind, okay?”
Andi smiled, feeling a prickle at the corner of her eye. “Okay,” she said at last.
Eddie got up, went to his room, and returned quickly, tossing Andi a Megadeth baseball cap. “Here,” he said. “Might as well try to disguise yourself.”
She stuffed as much of her unruly, signal-flare hair under the cap as she could. It was uncomfortable and made her scalp feel constantly tugged-upon, but it was the best course of action.
Benjamin looked at the clock. “At nine, Randall’s parents should both be gone to work. We’ll leave then.”
“So are we playing?” Eddie asked. “I mean, to get inside the Leviathan of Randall’s house. Do we need to make props or anything?”
“Just the clothes on our backs and the brains in our heads,” Benjamin said.
Randall’s house looked more imposing than Andi remembered. The windows in the second story were like eyes, gazing judgmentally on them. They ditched their bikes in the culvert by the entryway and walked up the long gravel stretch to the front door.
“Aren’t you going to set the scene?” Eddie asked. “Start the game?”
“We’re not starting yet,” Benjamin said. “We still need the Wolf Man.” He rang the doorbell.
After a few seconds, a voice called, “Just a minute!” Andi could hear steps thudding down the stairs, then a figure appeared at the door, distorted through the stained-glass insets.
The locks and chains rattled and clicked, and the door swung open to reveal Randall. He almost seemed to cave in on seeing his friends, and let out a groan of relief.
“Thank God,” he said. “Oh, thank God.”
Andi stepped up and hugged him. “How are you?”
“I’m…” he started, but stepped away from the door. “Come in, y’all, please.”
They walked in to the smell of fresh paint. The walls had been re-done, and a few new religious icons and pictures hung from the walls. The most heavily-shredded sofa had been replaced.
“I’m so glad to see y’all,” Randall continued. “You want some Wyler’s?” He went into the kitchen and the group followed. Randall kept up his cheerful patter. “We just got grape, but it’s not too bad if you drink it fast and don’t let it linger on your tongue too long.” He began fetching tumblers out of an overhead cabinet.
“Where’s your brothers?” Benjamin asked.
“Off at church camp,” Randall said. “They were…having a rough time of it here,” and the bobble in his voice suggested it hadn’t been smooth for him, either. “How about y’all? Back in school yet?”
“No,” all three said at once.
“I’m glad you came by,” he said. He fetched a pitcher out of the fridge. “But it was smart for you to wait until Momma and Daddy left, let me tell you.” He went to pour the purple drink into the first tumbler, but spilled it. “Ah, shoot,” he said, and set the pitcher down to get a paper towel. When he turned, his gangly elbow knocked over one of the plastic glasses, and ice scattered everywhere. Then he spun to correct that, and knocked the pitcher onto the floor. Its lid burst off on impact with the floor, and sugary liquid went everywhere.
“Ah, God,” he wailed. “Ah, man, they’re gonna kill me! They’re gonna…!” Randall turned this way and that, not knowing what to clean up or fix first. He spun to face his friends, tears in his eyes. “Help me,” he said. “Please, y’all…for the love of Christ, y’all gotta help me.”
Andi took him by the hand and led him to sit, shivering, at the kitchen table. She stroked his forearm and murmured calming words while the other boys cleaned up the mess.
“…It’s his sister,” Randall said. “It’s Eury. She’s here; she’s in the house, but only I can see her. She’ll slip around a corner when you blink. She’ll be standing in a room, but when I call for someone to come see, she’s gone. I’m going out of my mind. Momma and Daddy are about ready to call an exorcist, and we’re not even Catholic…” He turned to Benjamin. “Please tell me that’s why you’re here.”
Benjamin walked over and touched Randall on the shoulder. “It is.”
“Oh, thank you,” Randall said. “I wanted to call you and tell you, but they unplugged all the phones. I just felt trapped here, haunted by Eury, and I couldn’t think of any way to help her.”
Eddie joined the group at the table, still holding a dripping, stained towel. “We’re going to take care of it, man, but we could use your help.”
“I still can’t believe it’s Cy,” Randall whispered, “but I know y’all wouldn’t lie to me.”
They sat on the new sofa: Randall, Andi, and Eddie. Benjamin stood before them, eyes closed, preparing.
“The first thing that hits you is the smell,” Benjamin said, and the others quit their whispering.
“The smell of biology, ancient biology. Saliva, phlegm, blood, gastric juices, all stewing from since before your most elderly ancestors were born. The creature you’re trapped inside has lived for millennia, swimming the oceans of Voidville, devouring countless lifeforms to slake its demigod’s hunger. This is the brother of the Leviathan — the Ziz.”
Andi saw the other two close their eyes to concentrate, and she did the same, taking Benjamin’s words and projecting them on the darkness of her shuttered eyelids.
“You are in the creature’s throat, a slick, vile surface, spongy beneath your feet. And echoing up that cavernous esophagus, you hear the cry of a lost soul…Bast, goddess of cats.”
With that, the image bloomed in Andi’s mind: her, regal and corpselike in her green dress; the Wolf Man and Frankenstein, as real and dangerous as they were in the movies. The stink of the Ziz’s innards wafted on its warm exhalations.
And in the distance, the plaintive meows of Bast.
Benjamin wasn’t there with them, of course. He narrated, but was never a physical presence.
Not in the real, true Voidville.
“Further down,” said the Wolf Man. “Banshee, can you fly ahead and scout for us? The Monster and I can gouge handholds in the flesh, but it will be slow going.”
“Aye,” Andi said. “Sure, and ’tis no burden.” She rose from the moist, tacky floor and drifted down the throat, ears and eyes alert. Behind her, her compatriots followed cautiously, ready to claw and clutch at the Ziz’s flesh at the slightest sign of a slippery slope…or the pulsating waves of swallowing.
Another yowl, and Andi homed in, only to hear more voices.
“Dinner, dinner,” grumbled something in the darkness ahead. “Dinner, dinner.”
Andi glided ahead, eyes piercing the dark.
She spotted Bast, who clung to a gobbet of torn meat just on the edge of a precipice, where the throat gave way to a dead-drop into the mighty Ziz’s eight hundred interlinked stomachs.
Around her, giant crabs — symbiotic pests that infested the Ziz’s digestive system, living off its intake of food, shielded from its acidic guts by their thick exoskeletons.
“Dinner, dinner,” grumped another, poking at Bast with a closed claw. She hissed and swatted back, an act that gave the crabs great amusement.
Andi swooped in close to get a count of their foes, but not without getting noticed. One crab, its polished bowling-ball eyes swiveling, caught sight of her.
“Dinner, dinner — dinner, dinner!” it cried.
Other crabs took up the chant. “Dinner, dinner — dinner, dinner!”
Then one crab, bigger and crustier than the others, scuttled through the group and intoned, “Feast. Feast.”
Andi gave Bast what she hoped was a reassuring wave, and the cat goddess shouted out, “Andi!”
“We’re coming, honey,” Andi shouted back over the crabs’ clamor. “We’ll be back to get you soon!” With that, she hovered in close to the crabs’ bristle of snipping claws, just enough to taunt them further. She floated back, and they followed, so she poured on the speed until she reached the friendly monsters.
“Crabs!” she shouted. “Huge ones! A whole passel of the beasties, coming this way!”
“Dinner, dinner!” came a mighty chorus from down the throat, getting closer. They could hear the clicks of dozens of heavy-plated legs, and the organic clanging of huge carapaces bashing together as the throng approached.
“How many?” asked the Wolf Man. She saw his toe-claws dig into Ziz’s esophagus for purchase.
“A dozen, easy — with one massive bugger running the show.” She swung in the air, pivoting to come behind her friends, ready to rain down screams of death on the overgrown seafood.
The crab army got close enough to see, and there were more — dozens more than Andi had spotted.
“Must have…called friends…” Frankenstein moaned. He raised his hands and, when the crabs were in range, let off a lightning bolt at them. It struck without effect.
“I don’t think my claws or teeth can make a scratch in those shells,” the Wolf Man shouted. “Maybe we should fall back?”
“They were just about to rip Bast apart,” Andi cried. “This is our only chance.” She swept in and shrieked at the crabs, the walls of the throat wobbling with the transverse wave.
It didn’t faze the crustaceans at all.
“What can…do?” Frankenstein said, electricity laddering between his fingers.
Andi fell back to land beside her comrades. “What would they not like? What have we not tried that we could –” She trailed off, thinking about crabs at the seafood place in her last hometown.
“Get your clothes off,” she said. “All of you.” She shucked her own dress, leaving her corset and pantaloons. The other monsters could only stare. “Now!” she shouted, putting just a tiny thread of death-energy into her voice to shock them into action.
The others stripped down to their drawers and lumped all the clothing together per the Banshee’s instructions. The crabs would be upon them in seconds.
“Now,” she called, “lightning, right on the clothes. We need fire!”
Frankenstein hesitated. “Fire…bad.”
“I know, dear, I know it scares you…but we’ve got to do it. You’ve got to be as brave as I know you can!”
The monster swallowed, nodded, and pointed at the cast-off garments. Blue electricity crackled from his fingers, and the clothes caught fire, bursting into a pyre just as the crabs reached them.
The plated monstrosities clattered to a halt.
“If you don’t want to steam in your own shells, I suggest you back off!” Andi shouted.
“Hot, hot!” cried one crab.
“Hurt, hurt!” went another.
Without waiting for their leader to speak, the gang of crabs retreated, scuttling their way down the throat to the myriad stomachs.
The heroic monsters ran around the fire and down the throat, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein stopping as the floor got too slick. Andi flew ahead and found Bast where she’d left her, now un-menaced.
“Take my hand,” Andi called, and grabbed Bast’s paw, hoisting her into the air. “Hold on,” she said, and the two of them flew up the throat to freedom, their friends racing behind.
Ziz’s mouth was slowly closing.
“Go!” someone shouted. “Go!” It sounded like the Host.
They slipped between the teeth just as they closed with a thunderous clash, and tumbled onto a rocky beach.
Andi looked down. Eury was enfolded in her arms, fast asleep.
“And with that,” said the Horror Host, “you have completed your latest adventure, rescuing your beloved friend Bast from a horrendous fa — *cough* — fate. You have earned the right to –*cough, cough* — to a rest, heroes. Well — *cough, cough* — well don — *cough* — done…”
Andi could still smell the smoke from their burned clothes, as it wafted into her nose and coated her throat. She coughed, too, tears leaking from her eyes as she opened them to look around…
…and see the Harts’ house was on fire, raging and blistering.
Benjamin bent double, hacking. Eddie looked over at Randall. “He’s out! The smoke!”
The smoke was indeed thick in the room as the walls blazed, the curtains going up into frazzles of coiled, scorched polyester. “Come on,” Benjamin choked, and waved the others ahead to the door, Andi holding Eury, Eddie with Randall slung over his shoulder.
They stumbled out the front door, hacking and soot-covered, to the sound of distant sirens. At this point in Autumn, it made sense. Everything was dead and dried-up. A fire would be responded to faster than any other emergency in the county.
“They’ll get us,” Andi gasped as they raced away from the house to the fence line. She noticed absently that they were all clothed, so that hadn’t transcended from Voidville, at least. “Cy’s still out there; we have to…”
Eddie laid Randall down by the barbed-wire fence. “Go,” he said. “The three of y’all, get out of here. I’ll take care of this.”
“You can’t,” Benjamin said. “They’ll blame it on you. They’ll –”
“I said,” and Eddie stood, looming over them, “get the hell out of here. Get your sister home.”
Andi looked around. The sky had darkened. How long had they been in there, enraptured in Voidville?
Benjamin hugged Eddie. Then, to Andi, “Come on.”
They ran back to the barn, getting out of sight just as the fire engines and police cars pulled up the driveway. Andi could see the small figure of Eddie running to meet them.
“I’ll carry her for a while,” Benjamin said, and took Eury from Andi’s aching arms.
They headed away from the house and barn until they reached the far side of the Harts’ property, worked their way along the fence until they reached the highway, then hopped it and followed it from the other side until they found the culvert with their bikes. The flashing lights of the emergency vehicles continued to strobe as arcs of water jetted into the ruined house.
Benjamin got Eury behind him on the seat, and she was responsive enough to loop her arms around him and hold on.
“We’ll be home soon,” Andi heard him murmur to Eury, who said something fuzzy and half-dreamed in response.
The lights at the Vail house were dark when they pulled up. Benjamin got off, keeping Eury upright, then pulled her into his arms and carried her to the front door.
Andi stood by the bikes as he sat his sister up in the front porch swing. He studied her for a moment, then leaned in and kissed her on the temple.
He rang the doorbell and sprinted back to the bikes, tear tracks on his cheeks.
The two of them rode off into the night, not speaking and not looking back.
Today’s Words: 2726
Total Words: 39768
Notes: Part one of today’s posts…taking a break for lunch!
I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information or Day One to read from the beginning, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!
(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)