The Underworld

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The boy ran down the tunnel, his leg a constant agony as his shoes made soft tapping sounds, seeming to keep time with the steady drip of water from some unseen pipes. Small figures scurried through the shadows accentuated by the old safety lights as he ran, hair dishevelled, clothing torn and eyes almost impossibly wide.

"Oh Jesus, God, Mary, Joseph .... save me! Oh, god!” He gasped, a constant half sobbed litany drawn up from the agony in his lungs even though he needed all his breath to run. Dimly recalled prayers from Sunday school went ahead of his voice, snatches of hymns echoing oddly down the access tunnel. Behind, well, behind was a different story.

The giggling began again, high pitched and about as mad as a laugh ever was. "Oh, Terry?”

Terry. He almost stopped, so sudden was his shock. My name is Terry! The agony in his leg faded to a dull throb as Terry forced himself to limp forward more, ignoring the voice of Jennie behind him.

"You can run but you can’t hide!”

Terry almost laughed at the sheer cliché of that, but that was Fred’s voice now giggling at that high, unnerving pitch. Fred was supposed to have got to the police for help. Terry moved faster, forcing himself to run to the corner, willing his body to give him more.

The old door with its corroded exit sign around the corner caused him to whimper until he touched it. "Real, real!” The voice was hoarse, broken. It took him a moment to realise it was his. Terry pushed on it, the sudden ache in his arms bringing forth another mewl of pain as it opened with a sudden jerk.

Terry coughed as dust filled his nose and stumbled into a dimly lit station. The emergency lighting cast odd shadows over the empty kiosks and dust covered benches. This isn’t St. Claire West, he managed to think clumsily before something caused him to turn, an instinct drawn up from the memory of a long forgotten ancestor who had lived in caves and knew what darkness was. The shadows seemed to darken as the entrance and he backed up, his breath now a sob of agony. The giggling got stronger, then a strange, crooning voice: "What, no more prayers, little Terry? Or should I cal you spot? See Spot run. Run, Spot, run!”

Terry looked down at himself, staring in puzzlement at the wet stain on the front of his pants, but nothing came. No shame, no emotion, barely fear at the voice. He stumbled back from the voice reflexively, falling into a heap beside the tracks. Somewhere inside him, a voice screamed for him to get up but was lost in the other voices sobbing for mommy and trying to recall prayers.

The figure made a "tsk” sound and stepped into the station, looking around as Terry had. It - he, Terry saw now - giggled. "New places are fun-fun, yes? I can bring all your friends here too Terry. Together, forever ... ” He stepped forward from the shadows entirely, an old man holding a wooden club, too-bright eyes glittering through shadowed folds of skin.

"You shouldn’t have made me mad, Terry .... none of you should have made me mad. I don’t like being called a homeless bum.” For a moment, Terry thought he saw something that could have been regret in the old man’s eyes. Then the old man raised his club, giggled, and the madness snuffed it out. "You ran well, little Spot.” The club came down, and Terry felt the pain again, tearing into him, something more than bones breaking ....

The boy lay on the ground, sobbing, when the man came into the station. He was a commuter, dressed in a suit and tie. The discerning eye might have realised that the dust in the air wasn’t touching him, or that the wan lighting seemed perhaps a bit brighter where he passed.

The stranger kneeled down slowly, and the boy made a strange, animal sound, half snarl and half sob, his shattered body trying to move away. The stranger’s face held no expression but his voice was quiet, calm: "What is your name?”

The boy blinked through pain, his body stilling at the voice and looked up at the figure. Name? Name? What was ... that? The boy frowned, trying to say he didn’t know, but nothing came. What was the stranger doing? How did he make his mouth move ... like that? Such ... funny sounds. ... The boy giggled. Then hiccuped.

It was a human giggle but then stranger stood abruptly, something hard and cold in his eyes. He looked at the boy carefully, then bent down and moved the head. It was dented in at the back, blood leaking onto the floor.

The boy looked at the stranger, nothing in his eyes that could be reached. And forgot how to breathe.

The stranger didn’t move for a long moment, then reaches down and closed the boy’s eyes and reached into his pocket, pulling out a small wallet. He stared at it for a long moment, unmoving. When he stood again, the stranger was taller, his suit rumpled and stained with blood. "This was my son,” he said, in a voice that seemed to echo oddly. The shadows moved slightly and the stranger was shorter again, in his suit and with his briefcase. There was no blood on him as he looked down.

"I know,” he said, in a quieter, tired voice. "This is my home. And he was broken here.” There was no anger left, only exhaustion and a bitter pain as old as the dust choked station. "There will be a reckoning.” The stranger walked away from the corpse quickly, his footsteps making no noise on the tiles as the shadows seemed to swallow him up.

The rats came then, sniffing around for food, nervous without knowing why.

Even the starving ones left the body that had been Terry alone.

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