The people attending the special dinner were by no means indefatigable for most were breathing harder than usual from the scrambling around they had done, yet all managed to mimic the attitude of those who looked perfectly refreshed. In unison the elegantly clad crowd found and sat in their assigned seats, chatter and gossip rising loudly above the room. As the food was prepared and doled out, I surveyed the room.
Aside from the waitresses, who appeared very much out of place in their Hawaiian skirts and tops, the room gave off a nice atmosphere. The lights were dimmed, the din enclosing was of pleasurable volume, and the aroma drifting from everyone’s plates was heavenly.
The actual dinner could not have lasted more than twenty to thirty minutes; though I did not glance at a clock during this time–for no one would have dared to wear any kind of watch and so ruin their outfits of tuxes and dresses–I felt certain of the time. I could not explain how, or why, I sensed that the evening had been split into time segments, but it did not matter much, as everyone seemed to know.
Suddenly I noticed that the unbefitting waitresses had stopped in various places in between the guests’ tables, stood ramrod straight, dark hair glinting in the candlelight, strange expressions over their faces. In complete sync with each other they clapped their hands twice. Before I had time to register what this could mean, a short girl clothed in a beautifully Caribbean blue dress shot in front of the exit and yelled.
In a great flurry of hands, faces, garments, and food, the crowd began the mad rush around the room to various doors placed around the room. Not certain what else to do, I hurried after my friend Takoda into the big, round hallway. The strange hall was shaped in the likes of a tunnel: complete with torches lining the craggy walls, tossing an eerie glow around as we ran through the passageway.
I almost fell over when Takoda veered quite suddenly to our right, opening a door that could be easily missed if overlooked, yet that everyone for some reason or another knew was there. “Takoda, what are you–”
My words died in my throat as soon as I placed my foot on the first step; it twisted sharply around and around unexpectedly and was much, much longer than I had anticipated. I lost my balance after the first four steps. “Takoda!” I screamed. As I toppled down, however, I swore I heard a voice that did not belong to either my friend or myself.
The view into which I crashed was nothing as I had imagined. I had tumbled inside a cavernous space which appeared lighted, yet no torches or other light sources were in sight. Nothing else in the cave seemed interesting… that is, until my eyes fell upon what lay cowering almost at my feet.
I laughed at Takoda, who sat, looking quite out of place, giggling and scrunched in a ball against what seemed to be an iron railing that stood no taller than two or three feet. It surrounded a small area which, after a slight landing, receded further down a small staircase that led to nothing I could see except darkness.
I jumped over the spiked black railing and positioned myself beside my friend, also smiling – but not two seconds passed when the voice broke out from the darkness below us. My head jerked in the direction from which it came; a gasp escaped me.
A burnt hand reached out from the shadows, slowly followed by matching arms and a grotesquely deformed face. The eyes that defiantly met my own were dark, dark blue surrounded by red, burning up with fever. The hair that surrounded the rash-covered face was stringy, long, and black as midnight. It was not until the sad figure had dragged itself out with its inflamed, gangly arms that I realized that this creature had no legs; only stumps charred black. And that was when recognition hit me.
William? No, no, it couldn’t be him; it could not be my older brother’s best friend. Or, rather, his best friend until the day he disappeared; no one had laid eyes on Will Thrasher for the past two years, no one had any clue to his whereabouts.
“Hi, Reese?” the two dry words that rasped from his throat made me jump. He still remembered me? He remembered my name? Is this where he had been sequestered all this time?
Slowly, I unfolded myself and stood up, arms stuck to my sides in fear, or maybe anticipation, or – I don’t know. My mind still could not grasp the fact that William crawled before me, down in this place that long ago everyone had labeled as The Notorious Dungeon. As far as I knew, no one had ever followed the spiral staircase to the bottom, or opened the large double-door entrance, even though we all knew that we had access to both.
“Takoda, let’s go,” I whispered to my friend, who also stared in wide, blue-eyed fear at the person who lay nearly prostrate at the foot of the steps. Gingerly I held out my hand to help her up and she grabbed it without hesitation.
“Hi, Reese?” Will’s voice had grown louder, and had an unidentifiable edge to it now. I stared just a moment longer, and then, faster than anyone would have suspected an atrociously warped person to be able to do, Will groped at the small steps and began dragging himself up them at an alarmingly fast pace.
I yanked Takoda’s arm and as one we leaped over the cold railing. “We need to go NOW!” I yelled at her. My grip started to slip, and before I knew it I had lost my hold on her dress. My legs gave way underneath me; I fell hard on my back but quickly sat up in time to see blonde hair disappearing up the stairs. Then my view swiveled to the left, at a blur of red and black bounding up the short flight of dungeon steps.
Emitting a scream I jumped off the cold dirt floor and darted toward the large entryway. With heart aflutter I took the stairs four at a time, nearly tripping more than once, but in my fear I managed to wrench the heavy, reeking terracotta doors open just enough to slip out. My head demanded that I run now, but suddenly my heart whispered to turn around. I hesitantly complied, and at the sight of the pathetic creature at the foot of the stairs my entire being nearly melted in sympathy. “Hello, Will,” I whispered, and instantly my instincts kicked back to life – in a flash I ran.
My legs took on the form of jelly as I dashed past corridor after corridor, earnestly scanning every room entrance for at least one other person in the few seconds I allowed myself to slow down. Only when I got a burst of courage did I cry out, which was rare because whenever I turned my head to look behind me, terror racked through my being when my eyes alighted on Will, who always seemed no farther than fifteen yards behind me.
The very walls between which my gaze flicked back and forth parodied my plight, and turned their backs to my perplexity. Then what I dreaded most came to pass.
The golden fabric of my dress caught on something – whether it was a stray rock sticking out of the craggy walls, or William suddenly right behind me grabbing me, I screamed as my ankle cracked beneath me and I tumbled down the flight of stairs that I hadn’t realized I had approached until they were rolling underneath me, or maybe I was rolling on top of them – I was in too much pain to be certain.
My eyes flicked open either moments or hours later; my body was on fire with intense throbbing. The crick in my neck allowed my head to move only enough to face the deathtrap from which I had just fallen. No matter how much I wanted to widen them, my eyes stayed locked in narrow slits as they caught sight of Will, hunched over at the top of the staircase, glaring at me.
“Hi, Reese!” he screamed, his voice full to the brim with contempt. What had I done to earn his wrath? Wouldn’t he have run away, as well, if a former friend appeared suddenly out of the darkness, scarred for life in the most inhumane way?
“Somebody–” I gasped, opening my bleeding mouth for my last attempt to get rescued. In the blink of my eye Will had scurried and fallen down the stairs and was nearly on top of me. “Somebody HELP ME!” I thought that my lungs wouldn’t be able to suck in any more air, but I was mistaken. The shriek I let out as I covered my head in my arms was the loudest, most painful thing that had ever come from my mouth.