Authors: Danielle Vega
A sob escapes my lips. I watch in horror as sharp gray claws burst through Woody's chest. They carve through muscle and flesh, and crush his bones as easily as if they were toothpicks.
Blood pours from Woody's open mouth, falling over his chin and neck. The tentacle whips out through the hole in his chest. Claws flare away from it and dig into Woody's skin like a grappling hook.
Woody gasps, trying to speak. The tentacle wrenches his body below the water before he can utter his last words.
“NO!” I DROP TO MY KNEES AND CRAWL TO THE EDGE
of the platform. The surface ripples. I search the black water for Woody's blond hair and bright Hawaiian shirt but see nothing. He's gone.
A dark, hopeless feeling seeps through my skin and into my bones. Julie's gone. Aya's gone. And now Woody. My breathing comes fast. Ragged. We still haven't found a way out. We're trapped down here with thisÂ .Â .Â .
I thrust my hand into my pocket and pull out the Tylenol bottle. The pills rattle around inside. The sounds makes my heart beat faster. There's no reason to be good anymore. No reason to try. This is the end.
I wedge my thumb below the lid and pop the bottle cap off. The plastic disk drops into the water, floating on the surface for a second before it sinks into the black. I tip the bottle into my hand.
Strong arms wrap around me and pull me away from the edge.
“What the hell are you doing?” Sam yells. I think he's talking about the pills, but then he pushes me to the center of the platform, casting an anxious glance back at the water. “You want to get yourself killed?”
, I think. I close my eyes and imagine how easy it would be to give up. No more running. No more trying to escape. No more watching my friends get ripped apart. I shake the pill bottle, and a single oxycodone rolls onto my palm.
It's so small. Just a tiny white pill. But it means so much.
A sob bubbles up in my throat. Giving up won't solve anything. I close my fingers around the pill, then fling it into the water. I throw the bottle in after it.
“I should have helped him.” Even as I say the words, I picture the tentacle ripping through Woody's chest, the blood spurting from his mouth.
“You think I'd still be standing here if there was any way to help him?” Sam says. His eyebrows furrow and a muscle in his jaw tightens. “He was my bestÂ .Â .Â .”
Sam's voice hitches. I've never heard Sam cry before. The sound makes my chest hurt. He kicks the column Shana's leaning against, and concrete crumbles to the ground.
“Oh, God,” Shana murmurs, lowering her face to her hands. Her shoulders shake with silent sobs. Sam swears, his face crumpling. Guilt washes over me.
“I should have let him climb up first,” I say. Sam's head snaps up.
“Don't say that.” He wipes his cheek with the back of his hand, his eyes red and swollen. “Woody wouldn't have wanted that.”
Woody would have wanted to live
, I think. Nervous energy buzzes up my arms. I start to pace in small, tight circles. Two steps in one direction. Two steps in the other. There's nothing we can do. Nowhere we're safe. I pull my hands through my hair, my fingertips brushing the peach fuzz on the side of my head.
We're going to die down here.
“We can't just stand here,” I say. “That thingÂ .Â .Â . that thing willÂ .Â .Â .” I press my hand over my mouth.
“Casey.” Sam pulls me to his chest and wraps his arms around my shoulders. But I don't want to be comforted. I try to step away, and he holds me tighter. I slam my fist against his chest, but he still doesn't let go.
“Don't,” I say. My chest rises and falls, rapidly, and I dissolve into tears. The sobs tear through my body, making me weak. I collapse against Sam, giving in.
It feels so good to cry. All the fear and anger I'd been clinging to rushes out of my body, leaving me hollow and empty. I don't have the energy to be afraid anymore. I don't have the energy for anything.
Sam moves his hand in circles over my back. “We're going to get out of here,” he promises. “No one else is going to die.”
I sniffle. “How can you know that?”
“Because I won't let it happen.”
His voice sounds so certain. I almost believe him. I breathe in and out, and in again, and blink my eyes dry.
No more crying
, I tell myself.
“I think I'm okay now.” I pull away from Sam and wipe the last tears from my cheeks. Wet curls fall over his forehead. A fringe of dark lashes rim his light brown eyes.
His voice floats through my memory.
You're acting like you don't remember what happened.
I thought he was talking about the day he broke up with me, but he wasn't. He was talking about the black spot in my memory.
“Sam,” I whisper. I steel myself, trying to be brave. If we're going to die down here, I have to know about that night. “Tell me what happened the night before I went to rehab.”
Sam frowns, studying me. “You don't remember any of it?”
“I remember getting ready to go out,” I tell him, seeing the moment clearly in my mind. I'm standing in front of the full-length mirror in my bedroom, fixing my hair. I take a pill for my legâjust one. I don't want to get high, just ease the pain in my knee.
Then the image flickers. Everything goes black. I press against the darkness in my memory, trying to figure out what happens next. But there's nothing.
“After that, all I remember is waking up in the hospital,” I tell him. A flush creeps over my face, and I look down at my bare feet, embarrassed. “I thought I had a bad reaction to the pill. But my parents thought I OD'd.”
My breath catches in my throat. I've never had the nerve to ask the next question, but I force myself to say the words now. I can't die not knowing. “Why did they think that?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Shana lean forward, listening.
“Your mom called me that night at, like, four in the morning,” Sam explains. “She was all freaked out because you didn't come home.”
“So you came to find me?” I ask.
Sam shrugs. “Yeah, well, I knew where you guys liked to go. But I checked all the usual spots and you weren't there. Then Julie told me to stop by Sid's. She said you and Shana had been buying from him a lot.”
I cringe, picturing Sam in his mom's station wagon. It doesn't really surprise me that we ended up at Sid's that night. I let Shana talk me into the harder stuff after Sam dumped me. And Sid sold it to us cheap.
“I thought Julie was crazy,” Sam continues. “As bad as things got, I never thought you'd be stupid enough to hang around someone like Sid. But I went by his van, and you were passed out in back. There wasÂ .Â .Â . vomit all dried on your cheeks. You weren't moving. I thought you were dead
but then Shana tried to give you a shot of tequila and you started choking. God, I've never been so relieved.”
.” The word cracks in my mouth. I hug myself, shivering. I was wrong. I don't want to know what happened. I think of Rachel's cloudy eyes and Tori Anne's rotting teeth. I think of all the girls I heard screaming in the night.
I thought I wasn't like them. But I'm
like them. An addict. A junkie. Sam catches my eye, and his jaw tightens.
“That was the worst night of my life,” he says.
“I'm sorry,” I whisper. Chills race down my arms. I hate that Sam was the one who found me. All this time I've been wondering how I ended up down here. How Shana did this to me.
put myself here. All this is my fault.
“God, I'm so sorry,” I say again. Sam grabs my shoulders.
“I didn't let you die then,” Sam says, looking into my eyes. “I won't let it happen now.”
He turns, abruptly, and walks to the edge of the platform. He leans over the side, searching. I stare at his back.
I turn at the sound of Shana's voice. She's huddled near a pillar in the middle of the platform, as far from the edge as she can get. Her blond-and-pink hair hangs over her face in wet clumps, and she has her knees pulled up to her chest, her arms wrapped protectively around them. Her shoulders tremble, but I don't know whether she's crying or shaking. I walk over to her.
“You okay?” I ask.
She shrugs. “I guess.” A tear slips over her cheek, but she brushes it awayâangry. She glances at the water. “What do you think it is?”
I stare hard at the surface of the water, looking for any movement, any ripple. But it stays still, hiding the horrors below. “I don't know,” I say. “A monster, I guess.”
“Where did it come from?”
Terror thrums through me, but it's faint, like an echo. “Maybe it blew in with the hurricane,” I say, but I don't know whether I really believe that. All that matters is that it's here. It exists.
Shana shudders and glances at me sideways. “Must suck. Being stuck down here with the two people you hate most.”
“I don't hate you, Shana,” I say, sitting down next to her.
“Why not? I'd hate me.” She nods at Sam. “Especially after hearing that.”
“ShanaÂ .Â .Â .”
“No, really.” She draws in a breath. “I was
, Casey. I saw how messed up you were and I didn't do shit. I gave you a shot of tequila.”
I stare down at my toes. “I know,” I whisper.
hate me. You should want to know why I did those things. You should scream at me!”
I clench my eyes shut, trying to cool the anger bubbling below my skin. “
took the pills, Shana. I knew exactly who you were and I hung out with you anyway. Because I thought you were exciting. Because I was bored with my old life, I guess.” I sigh, and curl my toes into the concrete. “You didn't ruin me. I ruined myself.”
Shana stares at her waterlogged boots. “If it wasn't for me you never would have ended up in rehab. Ever since we've been down here, I've thought about things a lot. Things I've done. I've beenÂ .Â .Â . I've been really messed up, Casey. I wanted you to be really messed up, too.”
I stare at Shana. I think about asking her whether she was the one who slipped the oxycodone into my Tylenol bottle, and a flare of anger rises inside meâthen dies almost immediately. It doesn't matter whether she did it or not. If I wasn't an addict, the oxy wouldn't have tempted me.
“You were trying to sabotage me.”
“No. It's not like that.” Shana squeezes her eyes together. “Or maybe I was. I don't know. I just wanted you to be bad, too. Perfect Casey Myrtle. If you were drinking and using, then maybe it wasn't so bad. Maybe
wasn't so bad.” She's quiet for a long moment. I think she's done talking, but then she glances up at me again.
“About what happened with SamÂ .Â .Â .” she says.
“Don't,” I say. I'm not ready to talk about Sam.
“I didn't want to hurt you,” Shana continues. Her voice cracks. “I just wanted to know what it felt like to have someone like
“Lots of guys want you, Shana,” I say.
Shana laughs, but there's no warmth in the sound. “Yeah. Lots of guys want to hook up with me. Or they want me to get them some X, or tell them who my dealer is. But Sam's not like that. When he was with you, he just wanted
. I always wished someone would look at me like that.”
I stare at my hands, a million feelings rushing through my head. Shana completely changed my life. But she's like a wild animal. There's no controlling her, no telling what she'll do next. I got myself into this mess. But wild animals are still dangerous.
“I'm so fucked up,” Shana says. She squeezes her eyes shut, and tears leak down her cheeks. Her shoulders start to shake. “I ruin everything I touch.”
“Shana, no.” The anger inside me melts. I pull her into a hug, and she sobs on my shoulder. “You just need to make some changes. We both do.”
Shana pulls away. Her eyes are rimmed in red. “You think I could ever get clean?” she asks.
“Maybe.” As soon as the word is out of my mouth, I realize I don't believe it. Shana might try to get clean, but she never will. She craves the insanity. She thinks it's an adventure.
Her lower lip trembles and her eyes look small without all her usual makeup. She seems so fragile right now. It's hard to believe how dangerous she really is. Sam was rightâif I were really serious about getting better, I wouldn't hang out with her anymore. But she's my friend.
I wipe a tear away from her cheek with my thumb. “I could help you,” I say. “If you want.”
Footsteps pounds against the platform behind us, and I flinch, suddenly alert.
Sam races over to us. His face is flushed redâexcited.
“I think I found a way out,” he says.
“THIS WAY,” SAM SAYS.
I push myself to my feet, wincing at the dull pain in my knee. Shana moves her hand to my elbow. It's a small, automatic gestureâjust enough to lessen the pressure on my knee as I find my balance.
“Thanks,” I say. Shana shrugs.
“Don't mention it,” she says. But she leaves her hand on my arm as I stretch and bend my leg, making sure my knee is strong enough to walk on. Sam watches, and a frown line appears between his eyebrows.
“Are you all right?” he asks.
“It's just the old war injury acting up.” I take a few steps away from Shana, and my knee doesn't even wobble. I breathe a sigh of relief. “It's fine. You said there was a way out?”
The frown lines disappear from Sam's face. He takes my hand. “Come on,” he says, and he leads us to the edge of the platform, right next to the moldy tile wall. Water laps at the concrete and spills over. I take two quick steps back. Gravel pinches the bottoms of my bare toes, and I try not to wince. Shana hovers behind me, afraid to approach the water at all.
“You have to come closer.” Sam motions to the wall on the other side of the train tracks. “Look.”
Shana shuffles forward, and we both move to the edge of the platform. The flooded train tracks stretch away from the station and disappear down another dark tunnel. I squint into the shadows. I see gray bricks, black water.
And a ladder.
I gasp, and throw a hand over my mouth. The ladder stretches from the black pool to the tunnel ceiling, where a metal manhole cover winks down at us. Light oozes in around the edges.
“Shit,” Shana says. “Not exactly easy to get to, is it?”
She's right. The ladder juts off a wall deep in the tunnel. Our platform ends only a few feet from where we're standing, and a narrow ledge stretches down the wall into the tunnel beyond it. The ledge is maybe a foot wide, and chunks of concrete crumble off it and into the water. To get to the ladder, we'd have to creep along that ledge for about a hundred feet. And then we'd have to swim to the other wall.
“I can't.” I look from the ledge to the still black water below. Ripples wrinkle the surface. Sam takes my hand.
“It's the only way out,” he says.
“We don't know that. What if the cover's stuck again?”
Sam squeezes my fingers, and horror rises in my chest.
. If the cover's stuck, that's it. Game over.
We all die.
Shana takes my hand, weaving her fingers through mine.
“Remember taking the wheelchairs down Henderson Hill?” she asks. I bite my lip, remembering Shana's blue-tipped hair and creaky wheelchair. The way she glanced back at me and winked before launching herself down the cliff.
“You were so brave,” I say.
“Bullshit.” Shana squeezes my hand. “I was a freaking
. I thought I was going to die.”
“No.” I frown, remembering. Shana gives me a sad smile.
“I was just trying to impress you. Maybe shock you a little bit. I didn't know you'd come down after me,” she says. “You were fearless.”
,” Shana insists. “You got this look in your eye before you rolled down that hill. I remember thinking you could do anything.”
I dig my teeth into my lower lip, staring down into the water. I think of how my heart dropped when I tipped my wheelchair over the side of that hill, and the dizzy, soaring feeling I got when I started to pick up speed. I felt invincible. Like I could fly.
“You can be brave now,” Shana says.
I nod, and step onto the narrow ledge. My legs shake so badly I can hardly move them, but I inch my feet forward, staring down at the water for signs of life. I imagine tentacles bursting up from the depths, wrapping around my body. I can almost feel the cold slap of water as I'm dragged below the surface.
But the pool stays still. I hold my breath, edging farther into the dark.
Sam steps onto the ledge next, and then Shana. The concrete shifts under my toes. I grab Sam's arm, digging my nails into his skin. He holds me, tight.
“Okay?” he asks.
I nod, and take another step.
The platform crumbles beneath my feet. My hand slips from Sam's arm, and my bad knee buckles. Pain slices up my leg and all my nerve endings flare. I howl and drop to a crouch. My knee slams into the concrete. I hear a dull, sickening crack and picture bones splitting, tendons snapping.
Nausea washes over me, and black spots blossom in front of my eyes. I grope for something to steady myself, but my fingers slip off the damp concrete. I tip backward, and my stomach drops as I start to fall.
“Casey!” Sam lunges for me, but he's not quick enough. I spill over the side of the platform and hit the surface of the murky water.
It rushes over me, dragging my body to the bottom of the tunnel. I smack against the train tracks, and my eyes fly open. I peer through the pool, but all I see is black. There's movement next to me. I flinch and grope in the darkness.
I move my feet over the tunnel floor and try to kick back to the surface. My leg roars with agony. I grit my teeth and kick my good leg, but the other drags me down.
I blink, and the darkness separates into murky shadows. The tunnel wall comes into focus. It's close enough to touch. I dig my fingers into the crevices between the grimy bricks, and hope rises in my chest. I can climb out of here. I run a hand along the wall and pull myself to my knees. I reach above my head to grab for the wall again, but my hand lands on something else.
Something muscular, with scales like a snake.
I recoil, and panic rises in my chest. The tentacle slithers over the wall, nothing more than a blurry shape in the darkness. I spot another one a few feet away, twitching closer, and another spread across the ground just inches from my knee.
The water shifts. Something glides past me. I jerk away as another tentacle unfurls next to my face, its curved claws grazing the skin on my cheek.
I can't breathe. My vision blurs. Shana was rightâthe tunnels are infested. The monster is everywhere. Its tentacles cover the walls and the ground like weeds. I claw at the water, pressing my lips together to keep from inhaling.
Something slides against my back.
I scream and water floods my lungs. Something large glides toward me, cutting through the water with ease. It's too dark to make out more than hazy shapes and shadows, but I think I see thick, glistening teeth and something long and slimy. A tongue.
I squeeze my eyes shut and, for some reason, I think of Rachel, my old roommate at Mountainside. I remember her bloodshot, vacant eyes and the dried vomit clinging to her chin. I used to think that was the worst way to die.
Now I know better.
I open my eyes again and kick, making one last attempt to swim to the surface. But the pool churns around me, holding me down.
Something grabs me from behind, pinning my arms to my sides.
I try to scream, but the water swallows my voice.