Horace Whitley scanned the faces of his fellow spelunking enthusiasts and tried to guess which of them the subterranean cannibals would eat second.
It was obvious that Delmont Thinby, the grossly-overweight public urinal magnate, would be eaten first. Even without so much as a rudimentary medical education, Horace could appreciate the succulent possibilities inherent in the man’s Turducken-like mass. The true question was which amongst the remaining four captives would be passed around as seconds.
Horace fervently hoped that the hauntingly-beautiful Chana Kyunne was not on the menu, as he still maintained designs on achieving intimate coupling with her, a task which would be made infinitely more difficult were she wholly or even partially consumed.
Spelunking Captain Dish Quong was definitely safe, as his string bean physique and rank odor was immensely unappetizing.
Unfortunately, that left either the ancient-yet-spritely Hindu guru Amram Amramiram or Horace himself as the most likely second course.
He did not relish those odds.
“I don’t want to die!” blubbered the nauseatingly-rotund Thinby, rudely interrupting Horace’s train of thought.
“Dude, would you shut up?” asked the young, unwashed Quong between gasps of rancid, subterranean air. “You’re freaking me out.”
“Death is but the beginning of the end of one’s journey through life,” chanted Guru Amramiram. “And the end of the beginning of one’s path towards death.”
Horace rolled his eyes at the aged guru’s remarks. He would have gone so far as to contemptuously touch his temple with his pinky but for the fact that his hands were currently tied behind his back with bindings made from particularly long worms. He cast a sidelong glance at the drop-dead gorgeous Miss Kyunne, but she remained functionally inert, having not yet recovered from the shock of the cannibals urinating upon them all.
“QUIET! YOU WILL QUIET!” The subterranean cannibal charged with keeping watch on the prisoners (Horace had decided to call him Ted) glared at his charges with unnervingly-bulging eyes. Under other circumstances, Horace would have found the look comical, but seeing as how it came from an individual intent on devouring his intestines, he was merely aghast with bemused revulsion.
The captives fell back into a sullen silence. Satisfied, Ted shuffled back and plopped down against the side of the cave. He peered longingly at his fellow subterranean cannibals jovially preparing the large roasting spit the next cave over, sighed, and proceeded to scratch his back with the help of what appeared to be a human femur.
“I don’t want to die.” Though suitably cowed, Thinby nonetheless continued his pedantic plea for salvation, though at a substantially lower decibel level.
Horace was sickened by the unbelievably-obese multi-millionaire. As far as he was concerned, if these savage creatures selected Thinby to be skewered mouth-to-anus by a sharpened stick, set upon a spit, rotated over a roaring fire, then chopped up into bite-sized segments, he had only himself to blame.
The day’s spelunking adventure had started simply enough. Horace had arrived at the appointed hour (if fashionably late by a reasonable thirty minutes) dressed in his $135 Warmbac Cordura Oversuit unzipped just enough to show off his $167 Alp Design X-Pile Undersuit. After Spelunking Captain Quong had given everyone a safety lecture, Horace had pulled on his $254 Vintage Asolo Sport Canyon Chouinard Leather Climbing Boots (making sure Miss Kyunne was made aware of the impressive vintageness of his footwear) and followed the far-too-thin Quong down into the foreboding depths of Kringle Kavern.
The first forty minutes of their descent had been excruciatingly tiresome as they had been stuck behind a slow-moving family consisting of mother, father, constantly-texting teenaged daughter, and toddler of indeterminate gender who had yet to master the art of walking. After consistent urging from his charges, Spelunking Captain Quong had finally motioned Horace and the others past the sloth-like tourists who had stopped to air out the toddler’s diaper, at which point Horace wondered if this particular outing had truly warranted his purchase of a $598 Petzl Trios Caving Helmet.
Past the human bottlenecks, the subterranean jaunt had turned sour when it became apparent that Thinby could not squeeze his jaw-dropping bulk through the famous Kringle Skweeze–where the walls of the cavern narrowed to a width of three-and-a-half feet. Though Horace had chivalrously offered to lead Miss Kyunne through the remainder of the tour while Spelunking Captain Quong escorted Mr. Thinby back to the gift shop (Guru Amramiram having been utterly forgotten), the whalelike Thinby instead chose to heft his jiggling bulk over the railing and set off in search of a ‘short cut’ past the Skweeze. Spelunking Captain Quong had attempted to halt this ill-advised excursion, but could do little to sway the mind or mass of the corpulent millionaire.
Thus did four tourists and one minimum wage earner make their way off the beaten path into the unexplored catacombs of Kringle Kavern.
They were lost within ten minutes.
Another ten minutes and they encountered the deranged subterranean cannibals who now held them prisoner.
Ten minutes after that they’d all been urinated on.
“Dude,” whispered Quong. “Can you reach my worms?”
Horace stretched his arms back toward the stick-like guide, but the effort was both painful and visually unmanly. “Alas, I am unable to release your bonds. Perhaps the astonishingly beautiful Miss Kyunne, being closer, could manage the feat? What say you Chana?”
“‘I’m covered in pee,” mumbled Chana.
“I believe the proper term is marinating,” corrected Horace.
Chana responded by whimpering ever so softly.
“FOOD QUIET!” growled Ted, hurling his backscratcher at Horace’s head but missing wide left and instead striking the quivering Thinby. The femur bounced off the man’s stomach and ricocheted into a dark corner unnoticed.
“Dude, this sucks,” announced Quong. “It’s not even my shift. My buddy went kayaking.”
“One is ever-kayaking through the white water of life and the rapids on one’s path are but opportunities for growth.” Though Horace couldn’t see, he was certain Guru Amramiram ended his pointless pronouncement by smiling and nodding.
“Growth?” cried Thinby. “They’re gonna eat us!”
His outburst caused Ted to rise and stomp over to the meaty individual. “QUIET! MORE PEE!” He proceeded to shove his ungainly genitals in Thinby’s face and apply another layer of marinade–an act Horace viewed as culinary overkill.
As Ted finished with a slight shimmy, a trio of foolproof escape plans ran through Horace’s mind. Unfortunately, he was forced to discard the lot as he did not currently possess a semi-automatic weapon, a practiced knowledge martial arts, or magical powers.
Rather than return to his post, Ted sauntered over to the blaze in the adjoining room, leaving the captives momentarily alone. Thinby took advantage of the opportunity to let loose either a soft moan of acceptance or silent waft of flatulence, it was difficult for Horace to tell.
“We’re going to…die,” intoned Chana. “Aren’t we?”
Horace was both saddened to hear the dazzlingly-attractive woman give up hope and gladdened at the opportunity it gave him to seem masculinely optimistic.
“Nonsense,” he uttered. “I’m sure our officially-sanctioned tour guide is formulating a means of escape at this very moment.”
“Seriously? I’m an English major.”
Horace held back a shiver of disgust at this revelation. Very well, he thought. Once again, it’s up to me to save us all from certain death.
“It’s simple really,” he said, feigning confidence. ”Our first task is to free ourselves from these worm-bonds. Granted, that is a difficult-”
He stopped mid-sentence as Guru Amramiram, somehow free of his bonds, quickly untied the worms around his wrists.
“Ah,” he finished. “Well done.”
Guru Amramiram smiled. “The bonds of the soul are like snowflakes within the worms of our ancestry,” he spouted.
“Yes, quite,” agreed Horace, rubbing his wrists and eyeing his former bonds squinch away into the darkness as Guru Amramiram hopped over to untie first Chana, then Quong. The happy guru had just finished releasing the Spelunking Captain when disaster struck.
“FOOD FREE!” shouted Ted from the roasting pit.
“Hurry!” screamed Thinby, sounding to Horace less like a successful capitalist who had amassed a fortune in the public urinal industry and more like a bratty little girl. “Untie me!”
“No time!” snapped Horace. “Block the archway!”
Nothing further needed to be said. Working as one, Thinby’s four fellow adventurers rushed to the spherical man’s side and rolled him towards the narrow opening.
“Stop! Wait! Nooooo!”
Thinby continued to scream and curse and whatnot, but Horace and the others tuned him out in the name of self-preservation. With much grit, determination, and abandonment of any sense of humanity, Horace, Chana, Quong, and Guru Amramiram rolled the portly Thinby into place, sealing the narrow archway separating them from their captors. For a spur-of-the-moment solution, it proved surprisingly effective. Not that their makeshift plug agreed.
“Are you crazy!” cried the makeshift plug.
Rather than answer, the others stepped back to consider their options.
“Did anyone aside from me think to bring a light?” asked Horace.
“We didn‘t expect to stray from the beaten, polished, and heavily-trod path,” snapped Chana, apparently out of her urine-induced daze.
“You can’t leave me like this!” screamed Thinby behind them.
“I shall lead the way,” decided Horace. “Keep close, for these caves are dangerous and unpredictable.”
“They’re going to eat me!!!!” continued Thinby in annoying, gnat-like fashion.
“Dude,” interjected Quong. “Which tunnel?”
Horace pondered the two available openings before them, attempting to discern which held the promise of freedom, and which led to everlasting doom.
“Oh my God! They’re eating me!”
“The unknown path forward is but a trickle of sweat down the jawbone of evil,” intoned Guru Amramiram. “A wise man will turn from the road and seek enlightenment among the flowers.”
“Dear Christ! They’re gnawing on my flesh!”
“I concur,” said Horace. “The left passage.”
“No,” growled Chana, ruining Horace’s leadership moment.
“I’m afraid we haven’t time for a discussion,” advised Horace.
“He’s right,” said Quong. “They’ll eat their way through the fat guy any minute!”
“Kill me now!”
“Then follow me,” she announced, yanking Horace’s helmet off his head and marching down the rightmost passage.
Horace brisked at this obvious blow to his manliness and reflected that Miss Kyunne was becoming less and less attractive by the moment. However, the encroaching sounds of seven cannibals masticating their way through Thinby pushed hesitation from his mind.
“You heard the woman!” he said in a transparent attempt to save face. He and the others quickly plunged into the waiting darkness, leaving behind only the plaintive pleas of the fanatically wealthy Delmont Thinby begging for death.
The escape was slow going at first, made slower by Spelunking Captain Quong’s need to helpfully point out each geological formation they passed. While Horace found the youth’s encyclopedic knowledge impressive, he felt the repeated utterances of “That’s a stalagmite! That one’s a stalactite!” abhorrently unhelpful.
Horace grew concerned the further they travelled. None of the cave formations they passed were in any way familiar to him–though in fairness he had been cowering in terror on the march down. Then Chana abruptly erupted with glee.
“Finally!” she exclaimed as they entered one of the most immense caves Horace had ever seen. Not that he spent a great deal of time below ground, but he was not a complete novice when it came to adventuring beneath terra firma.
At least these caves weren’t infested with giant ants the way the last ones had been.
“What,” he asked with measured apprehension, eyeing the unexpected shock before him, “is that?”
“The underground lake” announced Chana. “Obviously.”
The others just blinked at her.
They stood on the shore of a subterranean lake so massive even the powerful beams of Horace’s $598 Petzl Trios Caving Helmet–currently held by Chana–could not fully encompass the lake’s boundaries.
“I’m quite sure I would remember crossing a substantial body of water such as this,” commented Horace.
“You were cowering in terror like a little baby at the time,” said Chana.
“There’s no need to be insulting,” admonished Horace. “You were quite recently cowering in terror yourself, you may recall.”
“I’d just been urinated on!” argued Chana. “Do you have any idea what that’s like?”
Horace was about to reply that, actually, he and the others knew quite well what that was like when she forged on.
“We’re lucky I had the presence of mind to pay attention when they piled us onto the backs of the giant turtles,” continued Chana, wading ankle deep into the water.
“Giant turtles?” asked an ever-befuddled Horace.
She splashed the surface of the lake with her toes for a moment, beating out an intricate rhythm. The others watched, slack-jawed, as an enormous turtle surfaced and approached the shore.
“How on Earth do I not remember riding a giant turtle?” mused Horace.
The escaping captives quickly boarded the unorthodox vessel and Chana tapped her toes against the shell, causing the turtle beneath them to head leisurely across the still waters.
“Dudes, this is epic,” said Quong.
Horace silently agreed with the epicness of their current mode of travel, noting that he could now cross one more item off his bucket list. The ride was gentle, and for a brief moment all four could relax.
Then the moment passed,
“FOOD TURTLE!” bellowed out the unwelcome voice of Ted.
All seven subterranean cannibals bounced about on the shore, juicy bits of Thinby still clinging to their menacing, pock-marked faces.
“I do hope there is not a second giant turtle within these liquid depths,” stated Horace.
Unfortunately, Ted tapped his feet in the water and a second giant turtle revealed itself. The cannibals crammed themselves on board and the pursuit was joined. Initially, Horace’s group was secure with the knowledge they had a good five minutes head start on their pursuers. Relief turned to despair, however, as the still-hungry fiends began rapidly closing the distance.
“Damn it!” exclaimed Chana. “They summoned a faster turtle!”
The cannibals hooted and howled as they drew nearer, each brandishing what look for all the world to be crude utensils. Horace and the others realized they would not reach the far shore in time.
“The racing sparrow cannot outrun the fox and giraffe without the help of total enlightenment!” worried Guru Amramiram.
“Can we swim for shore?” asked Horace.
“No,” answered Chana without explanation. Horace nodded with relief.
“Dudes,” said a visibly trembling Quong. “I’ll jump onto their turtle and give you guys time to escape.”
“Are you sure?” inquired Horace, who, while feeling a tang of guilt at allowing the young man to sacrifice himself so, nonetheless fervently hoped the young man was, in fact, quite sure.
Quong heaved a sigh of resignation. “It has been an honor to be your tour guide.”
“Thank you Quong,” said Horace, resting a hand on the doomed man’s shoulder. “Rest assured we will give you the highest customer service rating possible.”
Quong smiled sadly, then flung himself onto the pursuing turtle. In the sudden chaos which erupted, the three remaining survivors reached the shore, disembarked, and ran for their lives.
Running for their lives quickly became walking carefully for their lives after everyone stumbled on the uneven cavern floor a few times. Eventually, the group wormed their way forward in the dimming glow of Horace’s headlamp–held by Chana. Every noise they made was magnified by the acoustics of Kringle Kavern and echoed back into eardrums flushed with adrenaline.
“Do you think they’ve stopped hunting us?” asked Chana after a prolonged period of silence.
“Unfortunately no,” lamented Horace. “I sincerely doubt Spelunking Captain Quong’s minimalistic physique has satiated their ravenous hunger.”
Continuing on in brooding silence, they passed glistening rock walls scarred with streaks of blood–evidence they were not the first tourists to fall prey to the bloodthirsty cannibals of Kringle Kavern.
They arrived at a sheer cliff face which Chana announced they needed to scale–though again Horace had no recollection of encountering it earlier. Without means of ascent, however, their flight seemed doomed. Then Guru Amramiram got down on all fours and began barking in a vague, sick-walrus manner.
“What the Hell is he doing?” asked the permanently-dismissive Chana.
“Not being well versed in Hindu mythology, it is difficult for me to say,” replied Horace. “However, his feline positioning combined with his odd, husky ululations lead me to believe he is either summoning a spirit guide or preparing to give birth.”
Chana furrowed her eyebrows at him in a truly unpleasant manner. “You have no idea, do you?”
Horace opened his mouth to protest, then closed it because she was correct.
Suddenly Guru Amramiram’s tone transitioned from vomiting-walrus to strangled-lemur and he reached down his throat to pull out a long, thin rope.
“I’m going to throw up,” said both Horace and Chana.
The watched in mute horror as the mystical Hindi guru yanked yards of rope from within his lower intestines.
“The elephant dances in the crevasse of life’s jubilation,” he said when he had finished. “Its tusks embroidered with gold.” Then he approached the imposing cliff and easily scaled it by hand, the bowel-encrusted rope dangling from his teeth. Once he reached the summit, he secured one end to a stalagmite and lowered the other down to his fellow escapees.
“I am not touching that,” said Chana.
Horace could see where this was leading, and chose to meet this rising tide of revulsion head-on. “In the spirit of chivalry, I shall now ascend this nauseating rope, wiping much of Guru Amramiram’s internal putrescence away in the process. I will then be in a position to haul you up to safety. Objections?”
She had none. Horace grimaced, grabbed the dangling rope, grimaced again, and commenced his climb. It was an experience Horace would never forget, no matter how hard he tried. Bits of God-knew-what squished between his fingers as he pulled himself ever-higher, and his $135 Warmbac Cordura Oversuit was absolutely ruined. After a stomach-churning ten minutes, however, he reached the summit, rolled over onto his back, and stared up into the smiling eyes of Guru Amramiram.
“Fortunate is the man who knows the jaguar’s womb,” said the guru.
“Yes,” agreed Horace. “Quite.”
With a final shiver of disgust, Horace rose to his feet and peered back down at the waiting damsel below. “I stand prepared to assist,” he announced.
He was answered not by the dour maiden, but by a still-ravenous subterranean cannibal.
“BAD FOOD!” shouted Ted. He raced forward, fork in hand, followed by his fellow troglodytes.
Without pause, Chana gripped the rope. “Get me out of here!” she commanded.
Horace quickly hauled the rope up, hand over hand. It was no easy task, but Guru Amramiam added his unexpected strength and Miss Kyunne was lifted to safety just as Ted and his band of murderous savages reached the cliff.
“NO!” howled Ted. “COME TO STOMACH!”
With a final heave, Chana reached the summit, where Horace quickly pulled her away from the edge and Chana just as quickly removed Horace’s hands from her person. Together, the three survivors peered down to see seven enraged subterranean cannibals bashing their forks and spoons against the cliff face.
“We’re safe,” said Horace, incredibly relieved.
“Are you touching me again?” asked Chana.
Horace dropped his arm from about her waist.
What followed was over an hour of exhausted marching through empty, dark caverns. They were utterly drained, both emotionally and physically, and Horace felt his usual swagger drip from his pores like a leaky faucet. They had no food, no water, an ever-dimming light which Horace really felt should be back in his possession seeing as how he’d paid $598 for it, and a foreboding sense of doom which threatened to crush their spirits.
Just when the last remnant of hope threatened to abandon them, Horace spied light ahead. He rubbed his eyes clear before taking a second look. It was real.
“Light!” he gasped. The others could barely lift their heads to look. “At the end of the tunnel!”
He ran forward a step, fell flat on his face, got up, ran, fell again, then simply crawled towards the becking salvation. Eventually, he reached a plastic door built into the cave wall bearing the ominous message ‘Employees Only.”
“If only… “ said a delirious Horace, “… Quong were here.”
Chana smacked him on the back of the head in disgust.
“Right,” he said. “Nevermind.”
It took a titanic, inhuman effort, but Horace stood and gently grasped the knob in his palm, giving it the barest of twists. When that proved ineffective, he went ahead and gave it a regular twist.
The door opened.
“Can I help you?” asked what Horace assumed to be the voice of an angel. “Sorry, but this is for employees only, you’ll have to go back into the caves.”
Horace decided it was not the voice of an angel after all.
“Only when the fruit of the lemming is transformed into darkness will the soul be free,” gasped Guru Amramiram, giving what Horace felt was one of his more enlightened speeches.
“Look, you can’t be here, OK? It’s our break room.” The non-angel was getting uppity.
Horace did not take well to uppity. He sucked in a breath and attempted to reclaim his dignity. “Look here,” he said. “My companions and I have just survived a harrowing tribulation within your second-rate tourist trap. Abducted by deformed, filthy creatures from the lowest pits of Hell, we fought back, bravely running away as fast as possible while other, arguably better, individuals sacrificed themselves for our safety–though granted not always voluntarily. Now I am not so crass as to demand a refund, but you damn well better believe I’m not going back out into those damnable caves!”
Horace sniffed profoundly to signal the end of his tirade. All in all, he was pleased with his speech, feeling the use of profanity had been warranted.
The pimply-faced Kringle Kavern employee was not moved. “What are you talking about?”
His question was answered by a cry of fury as Ted burst into the room and jabbed his fork deep into Chana’s ample bosom.
“DINNER!” he yelled.
“Kevin?” said a suddenly-wild-eyed employee.
Horace acted instantly. As blood spurted forth from Chana’s breast, he snatched his $598 Petzl Trios Caving Helmet from her quivering hands and bashed it down upon Ted’s (Kevin’s?) head repeatedly, almost certainly voiding the warranty.
Chana, for her part, crumbled to floor and began to bleed to death.
Channeling his inner violence, Horace bludgeoned the deranged cannibal into submission. Eventually, the proto-human was nothing more than a whimpering lump on the floor. Horace’s red rage receding, he stepped back and turned his attention to the stunningly-attractive Chana. He dropped the helmet and sank to his knees at her side.
Behind him, Guru Amramiram gutted Ted with a shiv pulled from God-knows-where, killing him once and for all.
“Chana,” said Horace, lifting her head into his lap. “Speak to me.”
The dying woman weakly opened one eye to find Horace smiling down at her. The one eye rolled up, though more in disgust than having anything to do with dying. “Don’t touch me,” she said, using what little strength she had to shove her head out of his lap and onto the cold stone floor.
“Oh my God! Kevin! I thought you quit months ago!” The nameless Kringle Kavern employee stood, shaking. “I’ve got to tell somebody! They could all be down there!” He raced off into sterile corridors of industrial lighting, leaving Horace and Guru Amramiram alone.
Silence echoed throughout the room.
“As you pass the shrubbery,” began Guru Amramiram sagely, “you must always remember to examine the cockroaches in your path. For their little feet will guide you home. Unless you are a fish.”
Horace allowed tears to flow, moved by the little man’s advice. “Thank you,” he said. Then the two men, strangers from different worlds, embraced. The horror they shared would never be forgotten, only survived.
Beneath them, the once-attractive Chana Kyunne continued to be dead.
David Neilsen is a writer’s writer, a man’s man, and a Libra’s Libra. He lives in Tarrytown, New York with his wife, children, and cats but often tells people he’s from next door Sleepy Hollow because it sounds better. He has published a number of slightly-disturbing short stories and has a debut novel- a middle grade comic horror story- coming out in August, 2016. When not writing, David can often be found talking to himself, but that’s mainly because he works as a professional storyteller. His two one-man shows based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft have sent audience members screaming to the hills throughout the greater New York metropolitan area. For more information on David, his writing, his performances, or his mental state, feel free to visit his website at http://neilsenparty.wordpress.