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February 9, 2012

Four Dudes Go to Hell (3)


Hunt 3: True Lies

The four friends walked down Vance Street in silence, with only the sounds of footsteps echoing between them; if they listened closely enough, they could hear the rumble of a train dozens of miles away.  But more immediately, they heard the hum of street lamps and the fluttering of moth wings (which made RJ reel a little bit).  They passed all the familiar shops -- the post office in the plaza next to the grocery store, the Taco House with still-new paint on its walls, and the bank building that hadn’t had seen a deposit since 1999.  To the northeast sat a gas station, with the rates plastered on its towering sign uncomfortably high.  To the northwest, the BBQ Shack; Wade sniffed the air a few times, hoping to catch a whiff of some semi-fresh ribs.  Between the two buildings sat a gigantic mass of crags, jutting up from the street like a volcano.
               
How long had it been there?  A month?  Two months, maybe?  Well, however much time had passed, the townsfolk had grown used to it; true, that little intersection was useless now, but there wasn’t anything dangerous or even spectacular about it.  Not now, anyway.  When it had first emerged, people thought that it kind of looked like a rocky flower, or even a blooming onion -- thin crags sprouted up, but more outward at the base, shifting around the asphalt soil.  From the base, more and more stalagmites emerged, angling upward with each new layer.  It almost looked like a king’s crown; it even had a jewel -- or at least, a car gored by a stalagmite -- affixed to its highest spire.   
               
“There it is,” RJ moaned, with sweat droplets gathering on his brow.  “If anyone still feels like turning back, I don’t have any objections.”
               
But Luke quickly shook his head.  “I’d rather do this tonight, while the coast is clear.”  He pointed ahead; outside of police tape and road cones, nobody stood guard before the crag tower.  “No sense in putting it off.  We might never get a chance like this again.”
               
“Like I said, I wouldn’t have any objections to never getting a second chance.”

               
Dante moved to the head of the pack.  “Hey, quick question,” he said, walking backwards while the others moved forward.  “Just to make sure, you want us to put our asses on the line for Bigfoot?”
               
“The correct term is ‘Sasquatch,’” Luke countered, his voice taking on a slight edge.  “But yeah, that’s pretty much what we’re here for.”  He looked back at the crags.  “There’s no doubt about it.  If the Sasquatch is going to be anywhere in this town, it has to be there.”
               
Dante stared at Luke with infinite disdain and pity.  “The things you’ll do to get laid,” he muttered, sighing and shaking his head.  He crammed his hands into his pockets.  “So what, you’re going to nab this Bigfoot --”
               
Sasquatch.”
   
“-- then you’ll parade him through town for everyone to see, and that’ll be all the proof you need that you’re man enough for Chloe?  Jesus, man.  I know that you’re into that whole chivalry thing, but did you ever think that maybe a nice present would work just as well as an eight-foot tall ape man?”
               
Luke pouted.  “Okay, first of all?  The Sasquatch has gone on record for being nearly twelve feet tall.  Second, I keep telling you I’m not just in this to get laid.  And third of all…”
               
“Third of all?”
               
Luke bit his lip.  He’d made plans to meet the Sasquatch, but little else after that.  What WOULD he do with a beast that large and powerful?  And for that matter, would they even be able to stop him if he went berserk?  He glanced at RJ; just as he suspected, he’d connected the dots, and looked as if he’d started his impression of a Mexican jumping bean.  “Listen, it doesn’t matter.  All we have to do is get in there and try and reason with him.”
               
Wade raised his eyebrows.  “We can do that?”
               
“Don’t underestimate a Sasquatch.”
               
“Never thought I’d hear that one…” Dante remarked.
               
Nevertheless, Wade stared longingly at his shovel.  “So…what was the point of bringing this?  And all this stuff, too?  Are we going camping with the Sasquatch?  ‘Cause that’d be sweet, too.”
               
That got a smile out of Luke.  “Maybe we can.  The Sasquatch is just as smart, maybe more, than us humans; we should be able to reason with him if we get the chance.”
               
“And if he doesn’t, then we bash ‘em, right?”
               
Luke turned toward Wade.  Of course, what he wanted to say was, “No you bastard!  We could NEVER hurt such a majestic creature!  Get down on your knees and apologize!”  But he decided he didn’t need to draw any more attention to himself.  So he just nodded, smiled, and said, “Yeah.  Then we bash ‘em.”
               
“Still, diplomacy is our top priority,” RJ chimed in.  “So it’s likely that we won’t even need to go on the attack.”
               
“Right,” Luke said with a nod (overjoyed to hear that RJ had faith in the Sasquatch’s superior intelligence).  “Anyway, there should be an opening we can squeeze into in the front.  It’ll be easier than trying to climb all those crags like the Sasquatch probably did.”
               
RJ covered his mouth, contemplating the matter.  “Still, it IS a little odd…”
               
“What is?”
               
“Do you have to ask?  Even if there is a Sasquatch running around Two Sparrows, would he have the strength to move the earth like this?”  He folded his arms and shivered.  “As if we needed any more of a reason to fear for our lives.”
               
“Okay, I’ll admit you’ve got a point there,” said Dante.  “But if Bigfoot --”
               
“Sasquatch,” Luke cracked.
               
“If Bigfoot is gonna be anywhere, it has to be here.  It’s the one place that nobody would even think of trying to enter, what with the cops usually keeping tabs.”  He cocked his head derisively.  “Well, outside of four guys trying to get laid.”
               
“I told you, I’m not trying to --”
               
“Fine then, three guys.  It’s better for us that way.  Why go for vanilla when you could have strawberry, or chocolate, or…”  Dante glanced at Wade, whose steps wobbled him closer and closer to the BBQ Shack.  “Bacon bits?”
               
Wade scanned the area.  “Where?  And don’t say ‘they were inside me all along,’ ‘cause I already checked.”
               
All four of them stopped.
               
“You don’t get between a man and his meat.  That’s all I’m sayin’,” he explained.  “Hey, you think the Sasquatch is here so he can get some ribs nice and easy-like?”
               
RJ grimaced.  “If this Sasquatch is strong enough to pound the street into abstract art, I doubt he’d have any trouble getting his hands on some fresh ribs.”
               
“Well yeah, ‘cause the BBQ Shack is right the- oh, I get it.  You mean he’d pull the ribs out of your body.  Heh, that’s creepy.  I never would’ve guessed you’d think up something like that, RJ.”
               
“I like to consider the consequences -- even if they are really, really unpleasant.”
               
“You sound like a very sad person who needs a hug.”
               
Dante shifted ahead of the others and spread his arms wide.  “We all know that much, Wade -- and what RJ needs most is the touch of a woman.  And he -- and WE -- will all have that in spades by the time we’re through here.  So enough with the dilly-dallying; let’s get a move-on already.”
               
Luke nodded.  “You know I’m in, Dante.”  Though he made sure to turn aside and mutter, “But I’m in it for the Sasquatch, not just for girls.”
               
“Good.  So let’s mosey.”  He strutted into the street and gestured for his friends to follow suit.  “Line up with me.”
               
“Why?”
               
“So we can all walk toward that thing looking like badasses instead of a bunch of idiot high school kids.  Now come on, form up on me.”
               
“I feel a little silly,” said RJ.  But nonetheless, he, Luke, and Wade all stood in a line with Dante; all four of them started walking toward the crags in sync, though at an unusually slow pace.  “Very silly.”
               
“You know what Mrs. Keller always says, right?  ‘Integrity is what you do when nobody’s around?’  Well that applies here.  How else will anyone know we’re cool if we don’t act like it?”
               
“But there’s nobody here,” Luke argued.  “There’s not even anything dynamic happening in the background to help us look cool.  It’d be different if something was exploding, but --”
               
Dante groaned.  “You’re missing the point.  It’s not about ‘looking cool in front of people.’  It’s about BEING cool so that when we tell this story to others, they’ll have more of a reason to believe we’re cool.  You follow me?”
               
“Your logic seems a little…suspect,” said RJ.  He scratched at his forehead.  “Wait, so does that mean you’re going to bring up the part where I threw up?”
               
“Well, I don’t see why --” Dante glanced at RJ’s feet.  “Oh damn it!  Are you wearing socks with sandals?”
               
“What if I am?  It gives my toes freedom while letting my feet stay warm and dry!”
               
Dante shook his head and threw up his hands.  “All right, let’s break it up.  No sense in trying to look cool while we got someone wearing socks with sandals.” Luke and Wade started to laugh a bit while Dante thrust his hands onto his hips, glaring at the sky like he needed to smoke.  “Damn.  Socks and sandals.  Just…damn.”
               
While Dante kept fuming, Luke and the others stared at the crags now standing a few yards away.  Just as described, a small opening peeked between the rocks -- small enough to go undetected from a distance, but more than large enough to fit someone of even Wade’s size. 
               
“You guys all set?” Luke asked while giving the crag towers one last glance.  “This is it.  We don’t know what’ll go down in there --”
               
“Heh heh.  You said ‘go down,’” Dante snickered.
               
“-- but whatever happens, as long as we stick together we can pull through.  So let’s do our best in there, all right?”
               
“And what happens if we die?” RJ asked.
               
“We won’t die.”  Luke turned a grave eye on each of his friends in turn.  “Besides, we all took care of our business beforehand.  Even on the off-chance that we did, we said everything we needed to way to the people that mattered most.  Right?”
               
RJ’s eyes widened; he shifted his gaze to the ground while muttering tamely to himself.  Wade tilted his head and ran his hand through his orange tumbleweed of a hairstyle, humming in thought.  Dante glared back at Luke, arms folded, but nodding in agreement.  At the sight of that, both RJ and Wade followed suit -- nodding shakily, but nodding nonetheless.
               
Luke smiled reassuringly.  “We’ll be back soon.  So let’s get in there and pull off a win.”
               
“For glory,” said Dante.
               
“For science,” said RJ.
               
“For justifying waking up at three in the morning,” said Wade.
               
“Well, I was looking for ‘For Two Sparrows!’ but I guess those things are good, too,” said Luke.  He took a step forward -- toward the beckoning maw of the Sasquatch’s lair.  Finally, they would take the plunge; through their heroic wills, they would bring about a new age in Two Sparrows.  Together, united by fate and force of --
               
“Whoa, check it out,” said Dante, pointing at Luke.  “I never knew legs could shake that much.”
               
“O-okay, so I’m a little nervous too,” Luke admitted.  He swallowed hard, but it didn’t do much to calm his rattling body.  “Can you blame me?”
               
Dante laughed and moved to the head of the pack.  “All right, guess it’s up to me.  Not that I’m surprised.”  With his hands in his pockets, he walked calmly into the crags, his pace only wavering so he could wave a hand toward his pals.  “So far so good in here, guys.  No Bigfoot yet, but there’s still a lot of cave to explore.”
               
As Dante dove deeper in, Luke started hurrying after him.  “It’s Sasquatch,” he snapped; with RJ and Wade shadowing him, they headed through the stone-framed door.
               
“Hey, RJ?  Is this that thing they call ‘spelunking?’” Wade asked.
               
“Huh.  As a matter of fact, it is.”
               
Wade let out a hearty guffaw as he and RJ headed inside.  “Heh hah.  That’s pretty boss.”
               
 And with those words, their adventure began.  A shame that it had to begin just before their stalker could intervene.
               
She poked her head around the corner of the abandoned bank, her fingers digging into the walls.  Her blonde bob whipped her shoulders as she moved, but she paid it no mind; she just kept her green eyes locked on the crags -- on the entrance that the four boys had just used.
               
She brought her curvy body -- far from overweight, but a far cry from being slender -- out of the bank’s shadow.  A bit of apprehension still stewed inside her; should she follow them into the crags?  Her heart said yes, but her brain (something that those boys probably should have used a bit more) told her not to rush inside.  She first spotted Luke while doing a little stargazing, having noticed his cowlick over the edge of her fence.  And she’d seen Luke and his gang with enough backpacks and tools between the four of them to handle some trench warfare; the most she’d brought with her was some baggy pajamas and a tanktop.
               
So she just stared at the crags, hoping that nobody watched her as she’d watched them.  And as she did, she started to think she’d made the right choice by staying behind -- like some prop from a Star Trek set, the crags’ doorway slid shut.  Sheets of rock gathered together at the center, grinding loud enough for her to hear even from a distance.
               
“That does not look good.”  She folded her arms, hoping to stop the nervous chill that sped through her.  Even if she wanted to get in there, she definitely couldn’t now -- not without a jackhammer or some C4, at least.  She’d just have to turn back and hope for the best.
               
And she did just that.  She spun around on her heel and, with head hung low, started the trip back to her house.  As she did, one of her hands slipped over her pocket.  She didn’t hesitate to reach inside and pull it out; quickly but carefully, she took hold of the item.
               
An envelope -- a slightly crinkled one at that.  She recognized the handwriting almost instantly; there was only one guy she knew that made his Os more oval than circle.  And of course, he’d shown his little failing not once, but twice in the same space.
               
“To Chloe,” she read aloud.  “Luke…”

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