TARTARUS BY E. EARLE
She drove her way back down towards The Cage, despite Sharon’s warnings. She had to go down there. She had to check out this Jason Everett. Find out what he knew. She put her library forms safely in her glove compartment and promised herself that she would fill them out later. She gritted her teeth as she drove downwards, passing their flat. That was if she made it.
She still had no idea about what had happened last night. Swearing suddenly, she touched her neck. She had forgotten to ask Sharon for another amulet.
“Bollocks.” She probably should have turned back then and got it- or even better- maybe she should have stayed there- but she carried on. She absently locked her doors. It took her another fifteen minutes drive on a continual downwards spiral before she could see the spires of The Cage.
“Good,” she grumbled. Her head was starting to feel dizzy. Parking it where Sharon had parked her worn out beetle the other day, she took a deep breath. She fancied a gin and tonic but guessed that maybe that wouldn’t be a good idea right now. She needed to keep a clear head.
“For Megan,” she said quietly to herself. Her head touched the wheel as she said a silent prayer to no one in particular. She shook herself and unlocked her doors. Her pole made a clinking sound as she settled it roughly on the ground like a staff as she got out of the van. It was much warmer down here than it was on Level One. She heard music playing. What time was it? Was The Cage open all day every day? She figured that it must be near six and locked up.
Diane looked at the blackness surrounding her. Everything seemed as though it was covered in a layer of scuttling beetles, their backs glinting in the dim light. She shook her head, feeling nauseous.
“Concentrate,” she breathed as she started to walk towards the club. She had to do this. It was for Megan. It was all for Megan. There was no queue or bouncers at the door. She frowned as she peered through the dark glass. It was too dark to see anything, but music could be heard. She gave the door a push and swore when it wouldn’t budge.
“Fuck.” She bashed her pole down onto the ground in frustration, wishing to split the world in two at the impact. Moving it away, she frowned at the crack that had formed beneath. Ignoring it, she walked around the building, hoping to find a side door.
It was a small alleyway, the floor wet and being dripped on from overhanging rock. Bins were stacked down here next to crates of empty bottles and other rubbish. She scowled when a great droplet splashed on her head. She felt as though she had been shit on by a stray bird and brushed her hand over her head just to check. It was probably one of the most embarrassing things that could happen to you when you’re walking about town- for a bird to crap on you- the oh shit reaction or how am I going to hide this without anyone noticing, or there was tripping up in public. The embarrassed laugh that would follow, wondering whether anyone would help you up, or if you should pretend nothing had happened or should you stay on the ground, howling in pain so people would take you seriously and stop laughing.
What a ridiculous thing to think of right now.
The door was locked, and wooden. She smiled. Old wood. She looked back up the alleyway and saw that she was out of view. The padlock was small and simple. A few sharp strikes with the pole and it gave way. The vibrations snapped their way up her arm and made her teeth ring. The padlock was hot by the time she wrenched it off. She opened the door with her foot, ready to strike. The room was dark.
The blackness came over Diane in choking waves. She hesitated and then forced herself to walk in. She closed the door quietly behind her and allowed her eyes a few moments to get used to the lack of light. It seemed like a kitchen, although she wondered who would ever order cheesy chips from a Vampire club. She shrugged it off and walked through to the other side. She made out the shape of a door. Holding her breath, she reached for the handle and was relieved to find that it unlocked. Releasing her breath, she opened the door, blinking furiously when light blinded her from the other side.
She paused and listened. Opening the door a fraction more, she peeked out. There was no one around. She quickly made her way out, shutting it behind her. She looked from left to right and found herself in a dark concrete hallway. Lights blinked on and off above, making her feel uneasy. An idle breeze crept its way over her skin, making her clench teeth. She forced herself not to rub her arms. Every sense inside her screamed to get out. But she couldn’t. The floor was wooden so she stepped lightly to avoid noise, wanting to run instead of suffering the pathetically slow crawl. She chose to go left and found herself at the top of some stairs. She strained her eyes but still couldn’t see where they finished. It was a black space that followed, empty and absorbing. She swallowed. Her ears started to prick. She turned right and heard voices and froze. Blood seemed to congeal in her veins. She hadn’t thought about what she would do if she was caught. How many could she take on? The odds swung in and out of her mind while her instincts were screaming, move move move! She stepped back, considering complete retreat.
“Fuck.” She stepped quickly downstairs where it wasn’t lit, hoping that they would pass. She stopped halfway, not wanting to go any further. The wood was cold and very slightly damp. Her hands clenched the old stairs, dirt and soggy mulch from the wood slithering under her fingernails, and concentrated on the voices. She wished her heartbeat would quieten. There were two of them. Both male. If she was found skulking, she would be in so much shit.
Diane froze as they stopped at the top of the stairs, dust spinning from the top and going into her face. She was aware that she was in plain view and hunched her shoulders, licking the dust from cracked lips. They were so immersed in their conversation, that they didn’t even notice her.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck! Moving lower down into the shadows, she hoped to dear God that she was keeping quiet. Hoped that they would move away. She stepped backwards into the shadows, and turned, searching for somewhere in the abyss to hide. She searched blindly with her hands, and was glad when cold stone met her fingertips and not a heap of metal to crash and make a racket. Pressing her back against it, she shuffled along, just making out the shape of crates of bottles. She felt sick as she heard the creaking of the stairs as they came down, step by step.
She had hoped they would stay where they were.
She wondered if they knew she was there. Was that why they were coming down? To search for her? She slid silently behind a crate and pulled herself into the smallest shape she could, sliding the pole behind her in easy reach. She wished that she was back in her apartment Upstairs, in her warm bed on a Sunday morning with a box of Maltesers and with nothing to do- safe and warm in her thick duvet. She felt grit slide its way into a cut in her hand, tiny stones pressing against sore skin as she fought to keep her huddled shape still.
For a while Diane heard nothing. She crunched her eyes shut, desperate not to see when they switched the light on. She waited a while and opened her eyes, glad for once to still be in cloying darkness. She leant forward quietly and peered through a slit between two crates.
Her eyes strained to make them out. Two men.
“It’s a bit early isn’t it to prepare the stage?” she heard one say, the sudden sound of his voice obtrusive in her sensitive eardrums.
“Everett fancies a mess-around I suppose,” the other said. Diane watched them walk to the other side of the room, still not flicking on a light. She was grateful. But then one of them stopped and looked around.
She could feel him narrow his eyes at the spot she was hiding behind. Sweat started to prickle between her shoulders, making it unbearably itchy. She slowed her breathing- tried to hold her breath even.
“I don’t know…” He took a step towards her. “I just feel something’s…”
Closing her eyes, she willed herself invisible. She could hear him draw closer. She knew the tip of her boot was sticking from beside the crate, but to draw it away would attract attention. She forced her panicking muscles still, urged herself to listen to anything but the soft moan of old wood beneath footfall.
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