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February 27, 2012

Four Dudes Go to Hell (5)


(Be sure to check out the other parts first.)

Hunt 5: End of Days


Wade was the first to give it a description.  “It looks like the kind of Christmas tree you’d see on an Iron Maiden album,” he said, pointing at it like a child pointing at a monkey smearing a banana across the wall.
               
Cockamamie as it may have sounded, Luke, RJ, and Dante couldn’t come up with any better way to explain it.  It did, indeed, look like a huge Christmas tree -- one made of metal, and split into four quadrants.  Not one of the four boys dared to touch its “leaves,” mostly because each flat sheet of steel ended in a serrated blade.  It lacked a star, but it compensated with a tip that could skewer a grizzly bear; it didn’t have ornaments, either, but the platinum skulls engraved on its blades served better than any lights or candy canes ever could.  Naturally it came without a wooden trunk, but had a wide red base to support it.  Very wide, in fact; it could have easily let an elevator slide up and down its tubing if need be.
               
RJ raised a hand.  “I’d like to make a motion,” he said tersely.  “I would very much like to get the hell out of here before we find out just what brought this thing into our town.”
               
Dante turned towards him.  “What happened to ‘for science’ and all that?”
               
“Does THAT look like it has anything to do with science?!” RJ squealed.  He pointed at one of the skulls -- and as if it decided to put on a show, its empty sockets started to glow, and its jaw opened wide.  And it laughed; they could hardly believe that it kept its jaw hinged, based on how much chortling it did.
               
The skull stopped laughing after a minute.  The boys stared at it for another two in complete silence.



Finally, RJ threw up his hands.  “Well, fuck this.  I’m going back to sleep.”  But before he could take even three steps, Wade scooped him up in a one-armed bear hug, grinning as RJ lashed his legs around like noodles.
               
“So what now?” Luke asked.  “Still no Sasquatch -- and now we have this thing to deal with.”
               
“You scared?” Dante asked.
               
“Yes! Yes!  A thousand times, YES!” RJ wailed.
               
“Not talking to you.  Besides, I’m not too worried; I got enough skills between the four of us to handle anything that comes our way.”  Refusing to spare any more words (but sad to bring his boasting to an end), Dante walked toward the steel tree.  He stroked his chin and leaned about -- left, then right, then forward, then right again -- as he inspected it, humming to himself all the while.
               
“Well?” Luke asked.
               
“I have no idea what to do with this thing,” Dante said coolly.
               
“Maybe we should try hitting it with something,” said Wade, moving a bit closer.  “I mean, now that I think about it, it kinda looks like a big harpoon.  Only instead of stabbing a whale, it’s poking Mother Earth.  Seems like the kinda thing that’d piss her off, but hey, maybe she enjoys it.”
               
Well, at least part of that made sense, Luke thought with a discrete sigh.  “Maybe we should touch it.  See if there’s a button on there or anything that’ll…I dunno, turn it on.”
               
Dante turned a scathing eye toward Luke.  “I don’t touch anything that looks like a wang,” he reported.
               
“Seriously?”
               
“You know it.  Why do you think I’ve never eaten a hot dog?  ‘Cause I can’t picture any self-respecting man wanting to eat a food that looks like another man’s happy stick.  That’s just common courtesy.”
               
Luke just stared blankly at Dante for a while.  For a moment he thought about suggesting that Dante’s…preference was just a result of a dirty mind, but he decided against it.  “All right, then I’ll touch it.”  He walked toward the harpoon, and tapped his bat against the blades.  One tap, two taps, then three; each hit sent a chirpy ping through the crags’ interior.  “Yoo-hoo!  Anybody home?” he asked cheerily.
               
RJ -- finally -- calmed down, and Wade set him onto his feet.  “I don’t think that’s going to do it,” he said, his voice still an octave too high, but at least he could walk under his own power.  “Maybe you should try something else.”
               
“Like what?”
               
“Ummm…actually, I may have something that can help.”  He slipped a hand into his jacket and fumbled about.  “Yes.  Yes, this should definitely be able to handle the task.  Yes…then we’ll all be happy as can be.”
               
“Since when is RJ happy?” Wade wondered aloud.
               
RJ didn’t answer.  His face started to contort, little by little -- it took the shape of something between a grin, a grimace, and the gaze of a teary-eyed schoolgirl.  “I’m happiest when I’m safe and sound!”
               
Dante pointed at RJ.  “Whoa.  I know that pose -- RJ, did you bring a gun with you?” he asked, using the same tone as he would when asking if a dog had fleas.  “Where’d you get a gun?”
               
“RJ wouldn’t bring a gun with him,” said Luke.  “Guns are way too dangerous.  And loud.  And I bet they’re expensive, too.”
               
“They are, I think,” Wade chimed in.  “And then you gotta buy bullets, and a holster, and a cowboy hat and a pancho…THAT’S where they get ya, with all the accessori-”
               
“Hey!  HEY!  Take me seriously!” RJ cried -- literally cried, thanks to the teardrops gathering in the corners of his eyes.
               
“You’re asking a lot out of us, buddy,” said Dante.
               
“Enough idle banter!  It’s time for you all to come to your senses!” RJ pulled his hand out of his jacket; between each of his fingers, he held a slew of green balls.  But not for long.  With a frenzied yell, he threw them at the ground.
               
Only then did the others realize what RJ brought to the field.  They weren’t just balls, or even steel balls, or even super bouncing balls.  They were smoke bombs -- and they spewed hefty clouds all over the floor.
               
“RJ, what the shit?” Dante yelled over the haze.  “You made smoke bombs?!”
               
“Why wouldn’t I?  It seemed like an excellent idea!”  RJ -- just like the others -- coughed repeatedly thanks to the smoke clogging their throats.  “I was right.  I DID make the odor too strong.  If only I had my gas mask…”
               
Luke swept his bat a few times, hoping to clear out some of the smoke.  Somehow, he managed to get a few feet of clear air -- enough to breathe, and just enough to see a bit more of the cavern.  “RJ, why don’t you just calm down a bit?  We can talk this out; there’s no need to --”
               
He could hardly bring himself to finish, partly out of another coughing fit, and partly because he had to summon all his willpower to stifle laughter.  RJ had tried to escape, but he didn’t get far.  He’d started scrambling up the walls -- or at least tried to, his nails scraping and slipping across solid rock.  “Science, give me strength!” he yelled…only to have his body slide back down the wall.  “Science, why have you forsaken me?!”
               
Didn’t we come down from a staircase? Luke wondered.  Well, I guess getting nervous will make you do some crazy things.  With the smoke clearing, he shifted his flashlight about, stopping on a few points along the wall.  Actually, he could kind of see why RJ would resort to climbing: he had trouble seeing the pathway back.  As in, the pathway had vanished entirely.  “RJ?  Don’t panic, okay?”
               
“Oh, really?  REALLY, Luke?  You say that NOW?”
               
“I think we’re going to have a hard time getting back home.”
               
“Well I could’ve figured that out,” said Wade.
               
“What makes you say that?”
               
“Because there’s no floor under us anymore.”  He pointed to his feet.  “Dude.  You didn’t notice?”
               
Well, now he did.  As did Dante and RJ.  The last of the smoke had cleared, revealing the harpoon once more -- a harpoon, with its skulls glowing in an earnest crimson.  The earth under their feet had faded, leaving little more than a lattice of red wires; spiraling, sashaying things, like a doodle out of a goth’s notebook.  They didn’t want to think about what lied before it, but they didn’t have much of a choice.  They’d all looked down long beforehand.
               
They all saw the pitch black pit below.  A pit miles and miles and miles deep.
               
Dante looked toward RJ.  “I don’t suppose you happened to build a few grappling hooks, did you MacGuyver?”
               
RJ managed to stop whimpering just enough to glare at Dante.  But before he could break into a flurry of panicked swears, Wade brought up a very important question.
               
“What happens if these wire things give out on us?”
               
Luke looked to the harpoon hurriedly.  “That thing’s stretching into the pit.  Maybe we should grab onto it?”
               
“I told you, I’m not touching that thing,” Dante snapped.  His body gave a quick shudder.  “Just thinking about it makes me --”
               
“So you’d rather fall into a pit and die?”
               
“Well, I’m glad one of us said it.”
               
“Dante, come on.  Just swallow your pride and grab that thing, or you’re gonna --” 
               
But Luke didn’t get to finish that sentence.  Nor could Dante fire off another quip, or RJ another wail, or Wade an inquiry on if anyone else wanted some potato salad.  Because right then and there, the wires gave out with a crackling fizzle.
               
And that sent all of them tumbling into the pit.  Falling to their deaths in absolute darkness.
               
“Seriously, some potato salad would be good right now,” Wade’s voice echoed.  He’d chosen his last words well.

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