We were cast in pitch black darkness, occasionally passing a couple flickering bulbs along the way, I began to panic wondering how the mercenary would see the correct turn off in such a void.
“I can barely see anything!” Sera yelled, echoing my fears, her tone as tense as her grip on the children.
“I’m scared, I wanna get off now..” Patience cried, as we hit a hard bank around the next turn, the slight rises and dips were making her stomach ill.
“The turn we need to make is coming up now! Right after the next dip..” Bloodhound yelled from the front, I could hardly hear him from the screeching of the rusted cart wheels.
The next drop had to have been at least sixteen feet, and the track began to rattle and whine from the strain, Granny grab tight to my hand and drew close, so I placed an arm around her. The cart shook and we all slammed into the left side, nearly tipping over, I somehow caught a glimpse of the fork ahead.
The tunnel had collapsed, who knows when, but the route we need to go was blocked by rock and rumble. We were forced to go left, but Bloodhound was certain there was another way, just longer. We had little choice but to ride it out to the end, Bloodhound pulled out his searchlight, which seem to be enough to guide him, but he cautioned it was low on battery power.
We finally came to the end of the tunnel, but by no means was this an exit, it was only the entrance to the heart of Lost Creek mountain. The track came to end at the mine cart depot, and we had to transfer, but ‘to where?’ was the question.
“There are so many tunnels, how do we know the right one?” I asked Sera, thinking of her father, and her story of him being an accomplished, thou ostracized, archeologist, a guy like that had to have some serious Indiana jones type of experience.
“I’m not sure, I was a little girl when father used to take me on his trips..” She replied, looking around unsure, but then her eyes brightened. “There on the underside, near the rear wheel, that yellow and white stamp, I think it’s a marker for the route to the surface!”
“There’s another one over here with the same thing..” Tzar mentioned, pointing to one three tracks down. “How do we know which one?”
“I think it’s best we split up, that way we can always send someone back to get the others if one of us can’t get out.” Bloodhound said, but I was adamantly against that, didn’t these fools ever watch a scary movie? You don’t ever split the hell up.
I was about to protest but Caiden happen to agree with him, much to my chagrin, yet I held my tongue and boarded the mine cart closest to me. Granny and Patience joined me in one car, while Husk and Caiden entered the interlocked cart in front of us. Sera and Balthazar helped Kahlil into the rear of the three cars on the second track, Bloodhound jumped into the front, as Jerry and Karishma took the center. Buster kept barking at the dusky skinned woman so she opted to hop in with Caiden and Husk. I fought my instinct to hawk spit, as she waltzed into their car, making herself comfortable. If she was afraid of the dogs barking, she should be afraid of this bitch’s bite.
“Alright you guys, we need to be prepared for a rough ride..” Caiden warned as we pushed off, and I found myself white knuckling the edge of the cart.
We made a few turns before hitting a huge drop, I held tight to the girls, fearing one of them may fly out. The wheels screeched their piercing song, hurting my ears, as they echo off the resonant tunnel walls. Our ride smoothed into a straight track that seem to cross onto another, it wasn’t till we nearly collided with the other mine cart that we realized the tracks overlapped each other. On the next crossover, Bloodhound’s cart nearly clipped the back of ours as we zoomed pass them, I could see the terror on the merc and Jerry’s face as they missed us by less than an inch.
The next dip boosted our momentum further, and sent us speeding faster, I fear we’d tip over if we came to another turn before we could slow down. Caiden kept pulling at a lever but it didn’t do anything, I think it may have been the break, and the wide eyed look he gave Husk was enough to tell me I was right.
“What the hell, are the breaks out?!” I asked him, but his eyes said it all.
“Holy shit.. I think we have more pressing matters than that.” Husk interrupted, he was pale and damp with a light sweat, his jaw was as tense as his intent eyes.
I followed his gaze and met sapphire blue eyes I’d looked into a million times, and I felt an involuntary shiver that wouldn’t stop shaking, the Hunter had found us.
He moved like he glided upon the darkness, so swift that if we slowed for even a second, there was the threat he would catch us. The occasional flash of light would give me the horrid glimpse of his gargantuan muscled form sprinting along behind us.
“Oh my.. My baby, my poor baby, why?! WHY?! Why would God do this..” Granny cried, breaking down, I knew she blamed herself, she blamed her curse.
“It’s not your fault Gran, that’s not him, Hunter is gone..” Caiden told her, in an attempt to console her, but he was in denial, maybe trying to convince himself of the lie.
“It is all because me, all of it.. Everything! You poor boys have been damned from the start, and so was your poor mother, None of you ever had a chance.”
She was inconsolable, this was the final crack in her now shattered psyche. Life, time, and the cruel twisted fate of the world had finally broken her. She crumble to the floor of the cart, unable to stand any longer, all that strength she seem to carry dissipated into a tragic abyss of despair, that left her weak and withered. Patience knelt and tried to hold her in her arms, letting the old woman cry into her neck, the young Ebon skinned girl looked to me for help, but I was barely holding on myself.
“Such a fascinating specimen, so perfect, adapting into its own unique osmotic symphony with the virus. The strength of his stride, the speed of his gait.. and the SIZE of him! A major breakthrough..” The doctor exclaimed, as she studied the creature my departed love had become.
“I’m about to achieve my own breakthrough, one through your motherfucking face!”
It was the first time I had hit a woman, at least one that wasn’t a damn zombie, my parents had raised me better, but my fist had followed my tongue before my mind could catch up. Blood spurt from her nose, and I even had nerve to feel squeamish at the sight it, she screamed looking shocked that none of the guys moved to help her, they had enough of her shit too. With all the distractions, none of us noticed the sharp right curve till we were thrown sideways from the tilt of the mine cart, as it struggle to grip the track, Husk yelled to us in the back.
“Everybody throw yourself as hard as you can to the right, one, two, three, Now!”
The carts touchdown hard, but we managed to hang on, I looked back to see the mutant drift around the corner with the ease, not losing a second of pace. Just as I was beginning to worry, luck was on our side, as the tunnel came to an end. We started to climb out before the cars even came to a stop, but the creature was speed demon fast, and came running out of the tunnel behind us with a roar. Husk immediately began to fire concentrated shots, so I knew weapons and ammo were scarce, Caiden tossed me his last clip, as he started to fire the final shots in the chamber of his glock.
I look at him with new eyes in that moment, the way he could look at this thing like it wasn’t someone we once cared about, someone we loved, someone who loved us. He wasn’t suffering from the emotional battle of ‘will and won’t’ going on inside my heart, mind, and tortured soul. One could almost call such an apathetic trait admiral, it was a character flaw that seem like an essential essential to our survival.. humanity’s survival.
With all this grief, loss, and turmoil going on it was easy to miss the big picture in all this.. We had to save the world, by any means necessary.
With the Magnum fully loaded, I joined my brothers in battle, the mutant was advancing despite the barrage of gunfire that assault him. The gleam of the of the steel in my hand seem to draw his attention, and I could see the glint of recognition and fury in those eyes. I tried to retreat but he clubbed me with one his mighty fists, and I went sailing backwards about three yards. The back of my head struck the ground, and my vision became clouded with stars, I was on the verge of blacking out.
I struggled to sit up, and that was about the best I could do, my hand went searching for the source of throbbing pain, it was coming from beneath my dreadlocks, I looked at my fingers to find they were wet with blood, the thick carmine liquid soaked the back of my collar. Caiden tried to run and help me but was blocked by the creature, who swiftly kicked him into Husk, sending the two crashing into the wall. I reached for the Desert Eagle, but it was out of reach, and nowhere to be found as I search frantically.
A bloodcurdling scream erupted from Patience, as he launched toward her, those deadly clawed fingers extended in reach. He snatched her up in his hands, and was about to tear into her, but he suddenly began to sniff the air around her curiously. With that mere second of delay, Granny ran up as fast she could, emptying the fresh clip loaded in the Mag to no effect, merely mild irritation.
“Sing, child! Use it now, you have to!” The old woman screamed to the frightened girl, who looked unsure of what to do, Granny had always told her not to use her gift.
“I’m scared! I don’t know if I can..” She cried hysterically, as the mutant let out a savage roar of anger, aimed directly at the silver haired warrior.
“You must! You’re stronger than you think, remember everything I told you! The power is in your voice child.. Sing!”
~☆”Let’s dance in style, let’s dance for a while.. Heaven can wait we’re only watching the skies. Hoping for the best, but expecting the worst, Are you gonna drop the bomb or not?”~
Her voice was velvety soft, the tone from her tender mouth so haunting and soulful, it was immediately enrapturing. The mutant seem to be as transfixed as I was the the first time I heard the sweet melody of her song, there was true power in her voice, one I had come to underestimate.
~☆”Let us die young or let us live forever..We don’t have the power, but we never say never.. Sitting in a sandpit, life is a short trip. The music’s for the sad man..”~
A roar erupted from the creature’s throat, causing him to drop her, yet she continued to sing as Granny told her to. The child’s voice grew stronger, bolder, as she began to recognize the strength within her, even though tears continued to fall down her cheeks.
~☆”Forever young, I want to be forever young.. Do you really want to live forever? Forever? and ever?..”~
Pain crackled its way through my body like I had been struck by lightning, when I screamed it sounded like the cross between a monster’s roar, and a woman’s piercing pitch. It was a moment later that I notice Karishma was howling as her nose made a sicken sound as it snapped back into place, and a fresh trickle of blood gushed from her nostrils as it continued to heal itself. The mutant stumbled backward, as the young girls song had some adverse effects on him as well, I couldn’t tell if she was hurting us, or healing, for the slight fraction of a second.
~☆”Forever young, I want to be forever young.. Do you really want to live forever?.. Forever?.. Forever young?”
The creature thrashed his mighty large arms around, catching Patience in his flurry of swings, Caiden was there just in time to catch her before the child’s small body hit the ground. I stood to my feet feeling sore but otherwise fully mended. My ability had never worked so fast before, but then I let my gaze fall to the Doctor. She had this look in her eye, as she wiped her face of the leftover blood from when she blew her nose, I knew that she too had been healed.
“Fuck..” I remarked under my breath, unintentionally letting the expletive escape my lips.
Patience had healed the two of us, in the two minutes it took to sing a classic tune, and now this bitch knew about her, there was no denying it since she’d experienced the phenomenon for herself. In the distance, we could hear the screeching of an incoming mine cart, and it was coming in fast, too fast.
The beast growled aggressively as it clutched its head in pain, and Husk took advantage, going in to finish the job, but the creature was suddenly swallowed by the shadows. I could still smell his scent so I knew he wasn’t gone, merely hiding in the surrounding darkness.
Hunter had become a true predator of the night, a malevolent being that thrived and survived through killing. Out of the nothingness he emerged to attack, I yelled out a warning as he made to grab for Granny, but she couldn’t move fast enough. She let out a bloodcurdling scream as he took hold of her arm, snapping the limb beneath the crushing force of his grip, Husk move in and stabbed at the mutant till it finally let her loose.
The Hunter was about to attack them again, and this time he aim to kill first strike, there was only one thing I could think of to do, and I wasn’t even fifty percent certain it would work. I averted my gaze to avoid the sight of my own blood, as I slid the blade across the palm of my hand, the beast immediately stopped as soon as the pungent aroma of my life essence filled the air. Those eyes once again turn on me, his feasting and ferocious gaze caused my nerve to waver, and I fought the urge to retreat.
He was upon me in two blinks of an eye, yet I held my ground refusing to run anymore, ready to face the devil head on if I had to. The incoming cart shrieked as it tried to slow down to no avail, it appeared from the tunnel, and the frightened faces of its passengers mirrored our own as our worse fears came to fruition.
The speeding mine cart that contained the rest of group, came flying off the track, directly towards me. I launched myself out of the way, causing it to collide with the creature, sending them crashing into the side of the cavern. A billow of dark dust engulfed us, and an immediate rumbling could be heard as rubble started to rain from above, I had to dodge a large jagged piece of rock that almost knocked me in the head.
“The mine is collapsing!!!” Caiden yelled, as he shielded Patience as best he could with his body.
Buster barked loudly to get our attention, he was sniffing at the entrance to one of the many tunnels surrounding us, Sera and Tzar immediately started to carry Kahlil in that direction, with Jerry and Bloodhound not far behind. I screamed at Caiden, insisting he follow them, but he was too concerned for his Grandmother. I snatched my bag from his shoulder, it contained my first aid kit and stash of drugs, as he was the only one I trusted to hold it down. We argued another moment but once he conceded, I wasted no time getting over to where the Doctor and the mercenary were tending to the wailing old woman, Granny was in so much pain.
“What did he do to her?!” I asked, unable to hide the urgent panic in my voice, they were over her so I couldn’t real see the damage.
“Massive fractures to her humerus, ulna, and radius.. Even in the real world, with all the modern medicinal facilities at my disposal, it would be damn near impossible to repair this arm..”
“Bitch this IS the real world now, and these are the only fuckin facilities available, quit the god damn excuses and help me save what I can!” I screamed at Karishma, nudging her out of the way, so I could see for myself.
I had to immediately turn away for fear of blowing chunks, my throat burned as I swallowed the bile that retreated back to my esophagus, tears flowed from my eyes but I wiped them away and got back to business.
“Hold her shoulders down.” I commanded to Husk, knowing the old woman would put up a hell of a fight, as I set the bones that protruded through the skin of her batter arm.
“This isn’t going to work.. You aren’t properly trained for a procedure like this! We need to get out of here!” Karishma screamed, ready to give up on this old woman, but she didn’t know Gail like I did.
“Shut up and pass me the leather belt in my bag! It’s rolled up in the side pocket..” I replied forcefully, not willing to waste any time with her foolishness, snatching the belt from her and putting it between Granny’s teeth.
Gail was strongest woman I had ever come to know in my entire life, she could get through something like this, she was a fighter, she was a soldier, she was family.. and there was no way we’d leave one of our own behind. Another shriek of pain escaped her quivering lips, as I set the three breaks in quick succession, fast as I could without sacrificing precision. She was short of breath, but the hard part was over, so I wiped the sweat and loose hair from her brow, now we just had to get her condition stable enough to transport her to Patience.
“You’re not free from us yet ol’girl, you been through worse than this..”
“It’s okay, my boy.. My boy.. So beautiful, so handsome..” Gran said softly, her pale blue eyes glossy and moist, her good hand reached up to stroke my cheek.
“Granny I need you to try and clench your fist for me.. Do you feel this?” I asked as I pricked her crippled finger tips, she gave slight reactions, and her frail digits wiggled painfully.
“My boy.. You’ve come for me, I knew you would.. I’ve been waiting all my life for you.” She cooed, still playing in my hair, I was starting to get really nervous as I administered a small dose of morphine in her arm.
“Granny.. Gail.. It’s me Loki. I love you.. But I’m not your son, and you are not dying here! So get the fuck up right now soldier!” I yelled, as Husk and I hoisted her up the best we could without disturbing her injured limb, Karishma just look at us in disbelief.
We had fashioned a tourniquet from what was left of Husk’s shirt, and the meds had already kicked in, so Gail was as loopy as ever. The cavern was really starting to cave in as we ran down the same tunnel the others had, it was pitch black darkness ahead but I trusted Buster’s instinct. We had barely started into our escape, when the thunderous echo of the creature’s roar caused my heart to jump.
I started to panic but Husk grip me tight and pointed to the light in the distance, it was far away, but it was there. The four of us ran with more vigor, earning our right to life, by exercising our will to survive. The rock and rubble continue to batter us, as the walls seem to be closing in, the rampage of the beast behind us the fuel to our motivation, and the momentum of the mines collapse.
“We are not going to make it!” The dusky skinned woman hollered in a panic, her screams were utterly annoying and I tried my damnedest not to stop to stuff a shoe in her mouth, lucky for her we just didn’t have the time for me to undo my laces.
I took mild pleasure in the look of sheer terror on her usually snooty face, but my own grin was soon wiped away when the walls started to shake, the light at the end of the tunnel quickly disappeared as boulders came tumbling down. The dust caught in my throat caused me to cough violently, but Husk urged us on, when we got to the blockade he started pulling rocks out of the way. I quickly joined him, but Karishma hesitated till she heard a roar from the beast, that rekindled the fires of urgency within her.
The three of us toiled hurriedly to move the rocks, some of them taking the combined effort of another to shift even an inch, our lucky break came in the form of a dime sized beam of light suddenly piercing through the rubble. I quickly turned to retrieve Granny, while the others continued to make a way of escape, but something was wrong, she was pale and her forehead was soaked in a feverish sweat.
“Gran, you alright?” I asked, feeling her forehead tenderly for signs of ale, but she raptly swat my hands away.
“I’m just having a hot flash, need I remind you I’m post menopausal, despite the preservation of my girlish figure.”
“I’m not joking Gail, are you feeling any pains? Is your other arm hurting?”
“I said I’m Fine!..” She yelled adamantly, though she paused as her eyes gazed into the dark distance, where the creature was in fast approach, we couldn’t see him but we could hear him. “See what my wretched existence has wrought upon the world, the pain I have caused you all! Look at what has spawned from my malignant womb, innocent souls that manage to become the corrupt and demented monsters of your worst nightmare. This is my fault, and it’s my responsibility to fix it, even when I have no idea how.. I would give my own life to give one of the poor bastards of my bloodline a fighting chance.”
“There’s nothing you can do for him Gail, don’t you think I haven’t thought of everything?! I loved that man till it was almost the death of me! You think it’s easy to let him go.. To except the truth of the things we can not change.. Hunter is gone, the predator is all that’s left!” I yelled at her, tears falling again from the frustration of it all, as if to confirm my words, a bellowing roar rang out that caused the already shaking walls to tremble. “Granny, it’s time for us to go.. It’s time to move on.”
“Loki, I’ve been ‘moving on’ my entire god forsaken life, I sick of it, I’m tired of accepting the pile of festering shit fate has thrust upon my destiny.. I ready for. I’m ready for.. Ah.. Ready for.. I’m ready for .. Anything..”
As she trailed off, the glowing eyes of the creature could be seen, like a terrifying beacon in the pitch blackness of the mine halls. I was frozen solid, as if I was trapped in the icy grip of fears embrace, while the torturous horror of what my love had become cut me deep to the bone. My mind felt so overwhelmed with shock, I didn’t notice Granny clutching her chest before it was too late, I screamed as loud as I could, but silence answered me, it was like I were deaf, nothing made a sound except for the hollow echoes of my mind. That didn’t mean time stopped, no, time stopped for no one, time was a cruel bitch, and she unapologetically took no prisoners.
I dropped down to my knees beside Gran, immediately recognizing the signs of a heart attack, she clutched her breast as her wide eyes appear laced with panic. I grabbed her hand, and told her to cough continuously for as long as she could, the pressure of the movement would force the blood to keep oxygen pumping to her heart. I look around for my bag, coming up empty, until I remember Karishma had it. I called out to her frantically, with a hint of desperation, all I could think about was the nearly expired bottle of aspirin I had almost thrown away, right now it was the only possible way to save Gail.
“I need the aspirin in the inside pocket, quickly!”
“I’m not finding it, this bag is full of drugs, useless junk, and more drugs! I’ve found cocaine, morphine, marijuana, and something I think might be LSD..” She complained as she rummaged through the bag frantically, I want to run and snatch it from her but Granny was clutching my hand tight, gripping tight and kept coughing like I told her.
Just as Husk moved the final rock preventing our escape, the creature was so close I could smell him, that same familiar scent, one that used to provide such comfort but now instills only unquestionable fear. He let out another bellowing roar that brought the ceiling down faster on top of us, more so on himself thou, blocking his way into the rest of our passage. I could hear him tearing at the obstacle between us with a hungerish fervor, one that would assure he broke through quickly. I turned to look for Karishma, but the bitch was gone, and so was my bag.
The tears I began to shed hit me harder than the rocks above, when I notice Gran and I had been abandoned by Husk as well, I grasp tight to her hand hardly able to breathe as I was watching another loved one die before my very eyes.
“I’m sorry Gail, I’m so so sorry..”
“It’s okay child, like I said.. I’m ready.”
“But I’m not, we need you, Caiden needs you, Patience needs you.. I need you!”
“This is the only good thing Fate has ever done for me.. that little girl was the gift that bitch has denied me for a long fucking time, it was Patience who showed me Peace, and in death, that is where I’ll enter his arms.” She replied weakly, coughing violently soon after she squeezed the words out.
“Loki! I’m here!” Husk yelled, as he crawled through the narrow space he had created in the rocks, my bag slung around his shoulder. “God, tell me I’m not too late..”
“Hurry, she isn’t gone yet, but we are out of time!” I cried in relief, as I ran to meet him, immediately opening the pack and locating the medicine.
Once I returned to Granny she was barely there, her breath was quickened and short, and her body response was weak. I was able to get her to swallow the pill and Husk assisted me in lifting her up, I knew we had run out of time, but I refuse to accept the reality, this was death incarnate.
“Would you mind if I pretended you were him? Just for these last.. Few moments?..” She asked softly, staring lovingly at me though wet teary eyes, I knew all she could think about was her worst regret. “I would have been honored for him to have grown to be just like you.. You’re a good man, you deserve a happy life filled with so much love, so much love you wouldn’t know to do with.. I know you will have that, my beautiful boy.”
Tears continue to cascade down my face as I found myself unable to speak, but she didn’t need me to, lifting her good hand from her breast to stroke my moist cheek. I just knelt there crying, even the hardened mercenary next to me had a tear in his eye, Granny continued to stroke my cheek until her soft hand finally went limp, I grasp it before it fell and brought it to my lips for a kiss, as I hugged her still form to my chest while I rocked side to side in a fit of grief.
I felt something odd around her neck and found dog tags from her time in the war, Sgt. Gail Granison. I clutch the cold metal in my hand while I grieved, and Husk threw a comforting arm over my shoulder, but after a moment he said it was time for us to leave, yet my body was too broken and overcome with sadness.
He tried again to get me to move, but it proved difficult, I felt dazed and drunk with despair, only registering the urgency of the moment when the creature Hunter had become gave another thunderous roar.