Best Friends - Forever

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
A boy driven to desperation descends into a terrifying underworld to retrieve his best friend.

Submitted: March 02, 2010

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Submitted: March 02, 2010

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Best Friends Forever by Devon Pitlor
 
 
 
Prologue: The beast had already bitten a chunk of flesh out of her left shoulder and was without a doubt planning on eating the rest of her at its total leisure. And that would someday prevent Nikki from being married in a strapless gown. That was too bad, I knew, but it could have been much, much worse.
 
 
I. Mental notes from a wedding reception
 
Hello. My name is Trey Agremont, and I am at the wedding reception of my best friend (or so she says) Nikki Barazan. Nikki just moments ago stood up on a table and proclaimed to the whole company that I was her best friend throughout life, and because she was already a little drunk, she squeezed her new husband's hand and added almost under her breath that she owed her whole life to me. No one much seemed to notice this comment except me and the silent Turkish guy I am sitting with at this corner table. Then Nikki's groom, our old childhood friend, the very "pretty" Toby Dasher, pulled her off the table and took her out of the spotlight before she started weaving and dancing, but I actually think Nikki was about to start crying or something, and that would have not been cool on such an important day. Toby and Nikki make a stunning couple, and they are very much in love, and the party is great, even though I am not getting drunk like the others or dancing or proposing wild ass toasts to the future happiness of the joyous couple. A lot of my old friends are here: Jonathan, Fabian from the team, Jared, Dylan and of course some of the girls, Lauren, Cheryl and especially Pamela, who has always been in love with me. And then there's Mallory and Heather, whom I've slept with and who would both sell me their silver souls. Christ, who isn't here? I know them all. The older generation too, but they are like shadows lining the rear wall of the room. I am somewhere in the mid-ground with the Turkish guy Latafat, about whom I'll tell you more later. Lots of the old gang are eyeing me and wondering why I'm with him of all people and not totally drunk on the floor or crying in some closet---or why I didn't just stay at home in the first place. Lots of them knew that I loved Nikki throughout all of our childhood and school years. Most of them know that she was my next door neighbor since birth and that for years, especially as children playing together, we were inseparable. Looking at them through this haze of smoke and merriment, I know what most of them are thinking: What on Earth is Trey doing here, and why is he so calm? How did he ever let Nikki slip through his fingers and get into the clutches of Toby Dasher? Of course, they see that Toby is so handsome as to be "pretty" beyond belief, and some of them have even wondered, as has the loudmouth Stacey Branigan, whether I am gay and did what I did, I mean stepping out of the way, because I have some sort of homoerotic crush on Toby. Only the Turkish guy and Nikki know the real truth, and Nikki wants her happiness in life, wants to remain my best friend and have Toby too and, above all, forget the extraordinary events that allowed her to reach this pivotal moment in her life in the first place.
 
Weaving around on the table, she muttered that she owed her life to me. That was, as I have said, just before Toby arched his eyebrows and pulled her down from making a fool of herself. Toby suspects something. Of course, everyone suspects something. They need to. But some of the real facts are quite simple when it comes to Nikki. 
 
One, she does owe her life to me. And, two, she did fall like a log for Toby. Of the latter, there really isn't much more to say. She liked his face and his lively personality, and she even went as far as to ask my permission to marry him, to which I willing assented. 
 
But she does owe her life to me.
 
This is the story of why and how. I'm going to tell it here and get it over with. No one will ever believe this anyway.
 
II. The unbelievable
 
They say that cats always land on their feet when they fall. Just about everyone will agree to that. I once saw a cat fall off a table and land on his back so violently that it crippled him, and he spent the rest of his miserable feline life dragging his paralyzed backside behind him. But no one ever believed me, and I don't care. People believe what they want, and it is always a mistake to go seeking credence for things that you know others will reject. Latafat knows that too. His English is excellent for a foreigner, but he doesn't speak much because he knows that what happened was real, and it does not matter at all who believes it and who doesn't. But there is a story to tell, and that is what I am about today. After Nikki's wedding reception is over, I am going to do the right thing and vanish from her life. I suppose she knows that. I want her and Toby to have a good life and make beautiful children. As for myself, I seek no further excitement, knowledge or rewards. I have no idea where I will go, but I will go in peace, and I hope than none of this party crowd will come over to hug me and whisper condolences in my ear before this painful evening is over. I don't need them. What I accomplished made this day possible, and I will be satisfied with just that for the rest of my life.
 
So I open the story that no one will ever believe. 
 
III. My life with Nikki Barazon
 
She was the girl next door and a tomboy, and for some reason neither one of us ever liked television or later the electronic games of our era, those that hold children prisoners in their own homes. We played outside together from my earliest memories. We played in the irrigation ditches, we played in the unplowed fields, we played in abandoned buildings and in the deserted mall. We played around the detention ponds which keep this community from flooding...and I think that will be a good place to start my story after I get this background laid down. So there it is: Right from the start Nikki and Trey, inseparable. Always wrestling around together in the dirt. Nikki in everyone's view a tomboy, and me just a restless kid with a ready-made next door playmate. Almost without either one of us realizing it, we crossed the threshold into puberty, and found ourselves one day in a wheat field hidden from everyone's view discussing what changes were occurring over our bodies. "I'm growing tits," said Nikki casually. She pulled back her tee shirt in total innocence and showed me with no intent in mind but to inform me of her recent plight. I told her about some of the changes in me. "I suppose we are going to have to start kissing and doing other things someday," she said with wide open quizzical eyes. "Naw," I replied. "It would ruin the fun we have always had. Let's just be kids for a while longer." But inside I knew that I desired Nikki with the kind of desire that doesn't yet have words at that age and is expressed totally in physical rushes and flushes. We jumped up and ran into some irrigation pipes and started looking for salamanders to add to our collection of captive amphibians. Then we ran around some more. Then we deliberately got dirtier than we already were because that was how we always went home to our parents: dirty and in need of both a change of clothes and a shower. There was no use breaking the routine.So for the next few years we just kept on playing rough games together and ignored the changes. We just kept repeating to one another that we were best friends and would always be so and that to spoil this by any sort of romantic or lustful union would be tragic and an insult to the idea of a lively and fun-filled childhood. We were kids apart. Kids with strong, able bodies and tight muscles, and all because we played outside every chance we got. The times are not tuned for that anymore. Kids are growing fat and oily because they find other things to do inside, things like video games and drugs, occupations which basically immobilize them. Not me and Nikki. We were unlike the others, lithe and strong and best friends, impervious to sex and purposefully atypical. Or at least that is what we maintained. Above all we were "best friends."
 
IV. The demon
 
There are demons which live on Earth. They didn't come from any Biblical source either. They are just demons. And, as Latafat would say, they are bad. If you don't believe there are demons and that I saw one, then just stop reading here. No one forces you to believe that there are demons. I'm just telling that there are. 
 
And one day Nikki and I unearthed one.
 
Yes, the word was unearthed. We literally dug a hibernating demon up from the ground. It was down in the deep black muck which encircled one of the detention ponds that was maintained by the county so that our subdivision could exist. Surrounded by high grasses, cattails and reeds, the pond was nearly invisible and rarely visited by any of the neighboring children. Nikki and I were both sixteen at the time, and both of us had experienced intimacy with other teenagers. Of course, what do you think? That our "best friends" pact made us celibate? No way. We were both athletic and good looking and we had "contacts." What else can I say? Everyone in town felt we were destined for each other, but we knew better. We were still playmates and wanted to keep it that way. Sex with others was no big deal. Not between best friends.
 
Nikki's father, who lived apart from her mother, in a fit of absentee father guilt had given her a little Ford Ranger pickup truck for her sixteenth birthday. We bounced all over the place in it, but one day a guy with a big lawn, a lawn that obsessed his every waking moment, asked us both if we could go down to the pond and dig up a few truckloads of the rich black swampy dirt that ringed the water’s edge. He promised to pay us each twenty-five dollars for every load that we dumped on his grass, and that was very cool money at age sixteen. We started to work at once. Truckload of wet muck after truckload and always fifty bucks to share after we had unloaded it. Both of us were exhausted and filthy, but at the end of one busy Saturday, we both decided to go back for one more load. We were appropriately grubby. Our clothes were wet and black with the swamp grime. I remember how it caked in Nikki's navel and in the crack of her buttocks. That vision comes to me because it made Nikki look especially beautiful at that late afternoon moment, and I was thinking seriously about breaking our "best friends" pack. We were stretched out near our excavation site to rest, each of us in our muddy jeans, and I ran my fingers over Nikki's tight stomach playing with the caked black dirt in her belly button. I did not try to conceal the erection that grew noticeable in my pants. We were best friends, and we could have done anything we wanted to with each other. And finally we did. Nikki just rolled over and kissed my ear and said "Want to?" I said I did, so we took off our clothes and had our first sex. It was all right, but nothing like the friendship we had maintained since earliest childhood. We both agreed that it was just something unspoken and casual that we could add whenever we wanted to our agenda of fun and comradeship. "It's amusing and it doesn't mean anything," said Nikki.  I agreed, but I knew that a part of me thought differently and that I would soon want more and hoped that Nikki would too. 
 
So on that day, which was now nearly spent, the last truckload of black muck would have to wait. It was early July, and the sun was setting. Long shadows were forming in the dense foliage around the detention pond. The open scar of our digging lay before us: rich, black, water-saturated pond soil. 
 
Suddenly both of us noticed something protruding from one of the holes we had made. It was a pale white lumpy thing which upon closer examination turned out to be a rather fat hand connected to a thick wrist. The rest of the thing was still buried beneath the black soil. But it was a hand. We looked at it in awe. Both of us thought it must have been a dead body, and we were preparing to report it to someone, anyone, when one of the fingers moved a tiny bit. Then it really became strange, and we both knew it. There were only three fingers on this hand, and they had no nails, the fingers coming only to hard, bony points at their tips. The heavy skin of the hand was sickly white like the maggots we often upturned beneath rotting logs. Strings of black dirt clung to the wrist and hand, and, okay, we were freaked out, but we were Nikki and Trey, and Nikki and Trey didn't back away from freaky things. Or at least we never had. We looked into one another's eyes and acted in automatic unison. We grabbed our shovels and began digging around the hand until it became a huge muscular arm, then a shoulder and finally a chest and torso. And all of it was writhing somewhat, as if it were waking up from a long sleep. Latafat, the Turkish guy, would later confirm in his all-knowing way that it was indeed a long sleep...longer than either Nikki or I could imagine. But this would come later.
 
Right now we wanted to see the head and face. With our hands we cloyed in the wet muck until a round, melon-shaped head emerged. It was not the head of a human being, not at all. Although it had two closed eyelids, an over-broad nose and a full mouth, the proportions were all wrong. The thing had a forehead which slanted directly into its long, wide nose, and its mouth protruded into a sort of rodent-like snout. It was short and squat, alarmingly pale skinned and grotesquely muscular.
 
Yes, we were afraid. The sun was almost gone now, and the twilight made the white skin of the creature smolder in a nauseous way. It smelled like something rotten too, like the carcass of a dead animal left too long in the sun.
 
And then it opened its eyes. 
 
They were deep black like those of a shark and totally lifeless. They rolled like huge dark marbles in its eye sockets, and it was clear that the sleeping whatever had awakened and was examining us. It began to stir accordingly too, knocking away the final lumps of roots and muck which had encased it body. It groaned with a sound that seemed to issue from the mouth of a huge beast like a wounded lion and began to rise with the sucking sound of the wet soil from its earthen bed popping air pockets all around it.
 
At that time we got scared. The fearless duo, Nikki and Trey, had finally been pushed to the limit. We recoiled as the thing rose. We ran back to Nikki's truck, forgetting our shovels and pickaxes at the excavation. Sitting in her truck, we watched it become prone. It stood no taller than four and one half feet tall but was squat and brawny like no human we had ever seen. It was totally bald and its entire body was equally hairless. It was also naked. We both noted a huge penis hanging between its tree-trunk legs. The thing was filthy and caked with swamp mire but coming quickly to whatever senses it had. It started to stare menacingly at us in the truck. "Let's split and split fast," Nikki said. She threw the Ford into reverse and backed up the grassy slope leading down to the pond. The thing followed us and grabbed at the side mirrors, ripping one off before we were able to gain enough speed to escape. From the rim of the pond depression, we watched as it ran toward us. For something so lumpy and squat, it appeared to have amazing speed. Nikki wheeled the truck around and headed for the road. It came running behind us, arms outstretched, bent on catching us whole along with the truck. In the rearview mirror, we watched as it finally gave up and bounded into a stand of trees which separated the detention pond from our actual residential street.
 
We were both scared.
 
The epilogue to our little adventure was this. First, the neighbor who had paid us got very suspicious about our abandoning such a lucrative job. He had wanted much more pond muck for his huge lawn. He told everyone who would listen that "Those kids must just not want any more money. Kids these days don't appreciate...and blah, blah, blah." Secondly, we shared our story with no one. Between us, we discussed it often, speculating as to just what might have been under the soil, but never reporting it, especially to the local police whom we both solidly distrusted. Nikki and Trey just didn't need police. We kept our ears open, naturally, for any strange reports of squat naked "larva men" in the area, but none came. Our secret became our secret: The Larva Man, a tale known only to Nikki and Trey. And that is what we called him until I met Latafat Yilmaz. 
 
So let me tell that part of the story---because this gets better and better and more and more unbelievable. So if you don't believe this part, just stop now. Because I have more. Lots more.
 
 
V. Latafat Yilmaz
 
Latafat Yilmaz was a Turkish archeologist who just happened to be visiting campus during my freshman year at Balmoral State. I was eighteen and had no idea of even why I was in college.  Something I was doing for my parents, I guess. Or maybe I did it because Nikki was there too, and I wanted to be wherever she was. Both of us still maintained our separate social lives, but we were still "best friends" and intended to keep it that way.  Characteristic of friends as good as we were, we occasionally slept with one another but proclaimed the absolute neutrality of the act in the same way as we had two years earlier by the detention pond. 
 
Nikki was attracted to outdoor activities and was seriously considering a major in archeology because of the many field trips and excavation digs the program offered. We were meeting for our usual weekly drink at Carpaccio's when she showed me a flyer announcing a lecture by a visiting professor from Turkey. Yilmaz was openly recruiting for the archeology department and trying to find participants for a summer expedition to his native Anatolia. The lecture was intriguingly titled "Strange Artifacts Uncovered on Anatolian Plain." It showed a picture of the stern-looking Yilmaz, who seemed to be all business, and detailed that many of his recent findings back in Turkey were objects that seemed to be out of time and place: something that was eons old and looked for all the world to be a sort of gear differential for a modern motor, a prism that gave a very clear view of any star in the sky without the aid of a telescope, a timepiece of some sort which marked increments of time that were not of this Earth. Stuff like that. Nikki and I were attracted to the word "strange," so we both decided to attend the lecture.
 
It was boring. Latafat Yilmaz was much younger than we thought and had the typical dourness one associates with a dark-skinned Turk. He talked about the incredibly old age of the Anatolian plain and how "things" ---unexpected things--- were often unearthed there. But he cautioned everyone present in the hall that he gave no guarantees. "There are no guarantees to find anything in an archeological dig," he kept repeating, but Turkey was "wonderful" and the experience would be "exhilarating" if for no other reason than to sample the local food and bask in the sunshine of his distant country.
 
Nikki and I looked at one another. Neither one of us had neither the money nor the inclination to go to Turkey and dig holes in the earth. Nikki nudged me and asked whether I thought Yilmaz would like to have a drink after the lecture. He was getting very little student response, and, besides, we did have a story about digging that we could finally share. Why not share it with a dusky Turk who seemed to like mysteries?
 
In short, Yilmaz agreed, and we all decided on dinner at Renaldo's. At a corner table, Yilmaz lit a pungent, non-American cigarette and inhaled deeply. He smiled knowingly at us and motioned in a kind of arrogant way for the waitress to refresh our after dinner brandies. He had already made it clear that the drinks were on him.
 
We had no idea whether or not he liked the story we told, as his face didn’t reveal much of anything. We just assumed that he did not believe it. Why should he? He was a digger-upper of strange objects, not larva men.
 
Blowing smoke over our heads, he began solemnly: "You say it was two years ago? There is a dormancy period which follows the awakening of these things." He paused to sip brandy.
 
"These things?" said Nikki, her attention piqued.
 
"Yes," continued Yilmaz. "These things. In English, demons I think you call them. They come in lots of shapes and are buried or hidden away all over the planet. The one you dug up is a bad one." He made particular emphasis of the words "bad one."
 
"Bad one?" Nikki asked, sitting more on the edge of her chair.
 
"Yes," said Yilmaz calmly. "You will see him again. His dormancy must be about over by now. He will smell you. They can smell. They can follow a trail. They never forget who brought them back from the ground. Never. This one doesn't even have a name. Oh, there is a word in Turkish for this kind of demon, but even the word doesn't mean much either. The peasants say it from time to time. You should have done like them and covered him back up. Too bad you didn't know that. He will come back and kill you. He has no soul, no compunction and can't be reasoned with. He is pure brute force, and he will find and kill you."
 
"Unless we find and kill him first," laughed Nikki nervously, not liking her own joke.
 
"It's possible," said Yilmaz. "They die fairly easily. But he will find you first."
 
"What are our choices?" I asked playing along.
 
"You really don't have any," replied Yilmaz calmly. "Just be careful and look around you wherever you go. Both of you still live at home, don't you? That would be right next to where you last saw it. He will smell you when he wakes up again."
 
"Where do you think he is now? It's been two years."
 
"Probably sleeping under some brush and leaves right close to the pond where you found him. He'll be awake soon. I can do nothing about it, either. But I want to tell you this: If any harm should come to either one of you, I would like the other to contact me. Email or phone should do the trick. I can be reached anywhere in the world."
 
"Why should we call you," asked Nikki annoyed, "if you can't do anything?"
 
Yilmaz glanced at her with a strained smile. Then he looked my way. On purpose, he rudely ignored Nikki and said directly to me: "YOU contact me. Okay? Just do it if you need to."
 
Then without a backward glance at Nikki, he shook only my hand and walked away. We saw him paying our tab at the bar. Then he walked out of the door. 
 
"That was harsh," Nikki said. "Maybe he doesn't like women."
 
Evening came, and we both decided that Latafat Yilmaz was just a kook. "Superstitious Turkish peasant posing as a professor," Nikki grimaced. "He just took off with our story and ran with it."
I agreed. But little did I know what was coming next.
 
VI. The demon reappears
 
I was the one who saw the creamy skinned sickly albino thing next. It was in plain daylight on a Sunday. I was sitting in the alcove of my parents’ house studying and glanced up and out the window at a row of low bushes which separated our house from the empty cornfield beyond. Along the row of bushes the thing crept, bent like a hunchback and nearly dragging its knuckles. I could even hear it grunt. Yellow foam bubbled out from its mouth. It was still pasty white and totally naked. Its huge penis swung like an elephant's trunk as it walked along the line of bushes. Its eyes, totally lifeless, rolled like pitch black coals in its hairless head. Its huge nostrils flared. It was indeed smelling for something.
 
I learned only later that what it was sniffing for was Nikki.
 
Nikki was, I knew, next door in her family home alone. Her mother was on an extended vacation with her new boyfriend, a thing which became very fortunate for me considering what was about to happen. In fact, to this day, Nikki’s mother has no idea of exactly what transpired, and, like so many other things involved, I want to keep it that way. 
 
Near two decades of closeness to Nikki allowed me to know instinctively that she was having her period. I was connected mentally to her, and when she bled, I often felt the same cramps and discomfort. But a lot of thoughts rushed into my mind at once. The most instinctive thought was that for some animalesque creatures she could probably be sensed better during her menstruation.
 
The pallid demon leapt suddenly from the cover of the bushes and onto the corner of Nikki’s brick house and began hunching its way up the side of the wall toward her bedroom window. I stared transfixed in horror for a few seconds until it dawned on me that Nikki’s life was in danger. I bolted from my house to hers and flung open the front door which I knew to be unlocked. I flew up the stairs and into her room, but it was too late. The thing had ripped away the wooden window frame and was inside her room, arms outspread, cornering her on the far side of her bed. Its mouth slathered with foam and revealed two sets of sharp incisors as it turned its head to look at me. Its spiky three fingered hands were curved into claws. I shouted some obscenities that I can’t remember at the top of my voice. Again it turned its head in my direction, a huge melon pivoting on a thick and almost non-existent neck. It had no concern for me. Its nostrils flared. It sniffed almost sensually in the direction of Nikki’s crotch. I realized that I was right. It could smell her. It could smell her discharge. Once again I realized Latafat had known this, and that was why he had aimed his final words at me.
 
It happened fast. I don’t know whether these details are totally accurate either, as my own senses were stunned by the enormity of the threat. Within seconds it flung itself upon her and planted its sharp fangs into the bottom of her neck, but this was only for a temporary hold. Nikki tried to scream and call out to me, but the thing acted so fast that no sound issued from her mouth. The demon’s huge arms clasped her like a vice, and before I could even get close enough to attempt to free her, the thing threw her into the air and bent her spine like a pretzel. I could hear the sharp but muffled sound of what sounded like her back splitting. I looked into her eyes and saw that she already looked dead, bent nearly in half, and now flung over the grunting demon’s shoulder, as it backed off from me and moved out through the broken window frame. The last thing I remember were Nikki’s dull and lifeless eyes. Her tongue hung from her mouth, and all color had departed from her skin. I was sure that the thing was carrying away a corpse. I watched as it descended the brick corner of the house and bounded into the row of bushes---Nikki strung over its back---and disappeared from my sight.
 
VII. Back to the wedding reception
 
Now I pause the story here because readers will remember that I started with Nikki’s marriage to Toby Dasher which chronologically happened about five months after the events which I have described above. So there is an anti-climax here. Nikki must not have been as dead as I thought or as dead as she looked while being carried away by a veritable demon. But at the time, I had no reason to believe otherwise. On that July day, to me she was very dead, and what follows is the story of how I was able to bring her back to life. I glance at her mother and her mother’s boyfriend dancing at the far end of the reception hall. I glance at some of my old friends who seem to be shaking their heads at me in pity. Then I steal a glance at Nikki and Toby. They are nearly ready to leave the party. Their car has been soaped up with all sorts of corny messages and tied with multiple ribbons and string of tin cans. “Just married” is written in bold red finger paint across the rear window, and there are messages of good luck and fortune scrawled everywhere across the Acura. They are off to….oh shit, I don’t care where they are off to. I’m beyond all that. Without me, and I should mention without Latafat, the spooky Turk, they wouldn’t be off to anywhere. Pretty, pretty Toby would be with some other chick, and Nikki would have been in a hollow underworld kept dormant only as food for a monster not of this earth.
 
And so I look away from all the merriment and back to my own table and then at Latafat. Of all present, he is the only one who understands, and in reality, he understands too much. Pretty soon he will be back to his native Turkey, and I will be somewhere, anywhere, else. This whole drama has played out, and I apologize to readers who wanted a happy ending insofar as what regards Nikki and me. That isn’t one here. What there is is that stupid “best friends for life” business and a new husband who will soon steer her to a grotesquely decorated car and drive her off on a enviable honeymoon, leaving a roomful of plastered revelers… and me… and of course Latafat.
 
VIII. Back to the story
 
I was shocked into immobility and overtaken by general numbness; you must have already guessed that. I couldn’t move for minutes. I lost control of both my bladder and bowels and discharged myself into my pants. I fell to my knees in sheer terror. 
 
And then I recovered somewhat.
 
I had no intention of calling the police. I hate and mistrust police. What could I have told them? That an albino larva from hell had broken the back of my best friend and carried her cadaver off into the brush? How could I have explained the ripped away window frame, the disheveled room, the blood and pools of ghastly saliva? No, no police. 
 
I called Latafat. He was still on campus. It took a couple of attempts to reach him, but the first sounds out of his mouth over the phone were like “Hmmmmm” and something in Turkish that intonated suspiciously like “I told you so” and probably was.
 
He told me in a hushed tone that he needed to see me immediately and that perhaps he could help. I started to ask him how he could help a dead girl, but he just kept insisting that I meet him at a little Turkish restaurant which I had never seen down Cartier Street, where I had never been. The place was tiny and smelled of Latakia tobacco and stale goat cheese. A few old men, obviously Turkish implants, sat around sullenly gazing into small glasses of some reddish-brown liquid which they only seemed to stare at instead of drink. I stood at the front counter for a minute coming under the suspicious scrutiny of an angry looking woman wearing a black head scarf. Her eyes darted back and forth between me and the old men at the center table. In seconds, they began staring at me too with the same menacing looks. I wondered if all Turks were angry and sullen about something. I realized that I was the only non-Turk in the place, but I was clinging to the very edge of desperation. My best friend, a girl I loved, had just been literally cracked in half by a fiend in front of my eyes and carried off into the woods. It is hard to describe my agony or even why I went to this place instead of just collapsing and giving up all hope. But there was something strong and commanding about Latafat. Sitting here today looking across the table at him, I realize again what it was. There was no fun whatever in the man. He had a pure conviction about everything and was always dead serious. If he said something, it had to be true.
 
I stood to the side of the counter after telling the scarfed lady that I was waiting for Mr. Yilmaz. She snarled something under her breath at me and directed me where to stand.
 
When Latafat arrived, he said not a word but grabbed my elbow and guided me through a bead curtain into a back room. He grumbled something in Turkish to the lady, who later brought us small plates of salted fish and some of the same drink I had seen in front of the old men upon entering.
 
"You may be able to save her," said Latafat without prologue.
 
"She's dead, I tell you. I saw..."
 
"You have no idea what you saw. The demon has no soul, no feelings. Even an animal would have felt more. But these creatures when they come back need somewhere to escape to. They have an underworld. It may or may not be a place of the dead because no one can really be sure what dead means when it comes to demons. But their underworlds are real. They are places of shadows and many dangers. Dangers like you have never believed in before. Are you prepared to go seek your friend in a place from which you may never come back yourself?"
 
I thought about the absurdity of Latafat's words. An underworld where pallid demons with no soul came and went. Nikki was there. A million questions rushed into my head, a thousand objections, but then in the frenzy and fright that gripped me, I annulled all other thoughts and said yes. I gripped Latafat's bony fingers and began begging him to tell me how to reach this underworld and what I should do once I was there.
 
IX. The underworld
 
So I suppose there is no way that I can just stand up at this reception, raise my glass and propose a toast to the dark valley of death into which I descended and from which I eventually retrieved Nikki. I fully realize that there are none but Latafat and his ilk who would ever believe a syllable of what I said, but I continue. If you like, take my story as fiction. As for myself, sometimes I wonder if it is not really just fiction. I shall continue to tell it as if it is. 
 
Ah, yes, there they go. The happy couple. Amid the cheers of all, they walk hand in hand to the door. An auspicious beginning to say the least. Many eyes are on me. I can feel it. Friends since childhood, parents, all those who knew the history between me and Nikki and wonder why I just don't spring to my feet and interrupt the whole thing and carry Nikki away with me wedding ring and all. Wasn’t that done in more than one movie?
 
I think, upon reflection, that this is the real story I want to write: The story about Nikki and me and Toby and that old line about "How could I have let her slip between my fingers" and such. Because in the end, all stories are about the author and his personal struggle within. I am young, strong, reasonably handsome, athletic and capable. But I have nothing left inside. I have no will to act anymore because the greatest action I have ever performed is already in the past and nothing in the future could ever rival what has been. So, in the end, it is about me and why I could no longer rouse myself to care. 
 
So there was a place, Latafat knew about it, a deserted mall south of town. We drove there in my car. Latafat pointed the way. How did he know anything about the environs of my town? He was just a temporary visitor. But he knew. In the dead mall's deserted, weed-infested parking lot he began looking at the configuration of the debris left behind by the former owners.Some of this was boxes and boards, some were broken bottles and crates of wet cardboard. Some were ladders and pieces of cable. He drew his fingers from side to side examining each pile of detritus as we drove past it in the parking lot. He pointed for me to turn here and there and then finally around to the back of the abandoned buildings into the loading area. Finally, he said "Stop" abruptly, pointed at a large sheet of plywood which was covering a loading bay. "In there," he said, "and then down the first stairway that you see. I cannot go with you. Remember only one thing: Everything you will see can be killed. Nothing is magical or immortal. These places have been on Earth since the beginning of time. They come and go. Maybe each of them is a sort of hell, as hell is described in your religion. Maybe not. But if you are brave, you can win. Follow your instinct. Your Nikki will guide you to her. Keep going lower and lower. There will be many basements."
 
The afternoon sun shone brightly as I descended from my car, remembering to take my 25 caliber Ruger pistol, my handheld GPS device, my halogen flashlight and my cell phone. On my feet were Debarcar steel-enforced boots. On my back was my webbed and armored camo jacket.
 
I mention these items because they were what I grabbed from the car, because they were the things I felt I needed to penetrate a place of innumerable shadows and untold dangers. I was nineteen years old and a child of my times. I needed all the help from modern devices that I could muster.
 
But I also mention these things because, as I descended into a sort of forgotten network of sub-basements and then into a rough tunnel bored into the rock and clay beneath, these were the items that were stripped from me one by one, until at last fate would find me alone with not a shred of the trusted technology of my times.
 
It was cold and clammy and full of the sort of insect nests that one expects in a creepy place. My first feeling was that I had walked down into a B-movie set. Latafat had been right about Nikki. I could feel a sort of draw in my mind, and I realized it was her. In some way, she was speaking to me. I cannot explain it. Suffice to say that we had been cerebrally linked for many years. I suppose Latafat knew that.
 
And then just like a movie set, the tunnels suddenly became cavernous and labyrinthine. The flashlight illuminated a hundred turns and twists in the passage. Only the inexplicable pull exerted on me by Nikki made the right direction clear. 
 
I penetrated finally into a sort of rounded crypt where lumps of things were littered all about between the hard dirt floor and the damp, seeping walls. Examination showed them to be the dead and decaying bodies of human beings. Some were wrapped in webby filaments looking like the work of huge spiders. Some were just dead and exposed corpses. To my further horror, I noted that many had chunks bitten out of them and sections of their bodies missing. It became clear that whatever was keeping them here was also eating them. That, I supposed, was also Nikki's fate.
 
I pressed on.
 
For some reason I wanted to make contact with Latafat, so I took out my cell phone and pushed his auto dial code. Then a rough white and rubbery tentacle came out from the shadows at my side and whipped the phone from my hand in one blow. My phone smashed to the hard packed floor with a clang. The same tentacle slashed at my camo jacket and tore the GPS device from its pocket. That too crashed to the floor, destroyed. I reeled around to see my attacker, and it was a huge blobbing thing resembling a giant octopus. It waved its tentacles in the air in front of my face. Behind them I could see a huge, fang-studded mouth flexing open and closed. The albino octopus edged closer to me. I took out the Ruger and held it stiffly with both hands, preparing to fire, but faster than I could pull out the trigger, another tentacle flew up and knocked the gun from my hands. 
 
As I relate this, it occurs to me that I am making myself sound quite brave. I was not. Be assured that I was in a sort of blindly driven frenzy. I was not really aware of what I was doing or how I was doing it. But the details return in moments of stopped action, in little flashing vignettes embedded in the memory.
 
The creature flung a long feeler around me and began pulling me toward its open maw. In a burst of mad strength I wedged myself loose and recoiled, stumbling and falling to the floor. Under me was a long metal rod. I stuck the flashlight in my mouth and grabbed the rod to use as a spear, hoping that the end was sharp enough to jab through the tentacled beast before me. Another slap of leathery feeler lashed across my face and caused me to drop the flashlight, which extinguished upon hitting the solid floor. 
 
In the dank darkness of the cavern, strange moving shapes came out of the shadows in each direction around me. Like the octopus thing and the maggoty demon beast before it, the moving entities glowed in the darkness with a sickly white luminescence that allowed my eyes to adjust to their movements. I grasped the metal rod and lunged forward to where I remembered the center of the octopus entity to be. Before I struck something solid, I felt the sting of another lash across the length of my thigh and leg. The thing had stripped me of my pants, and I felt them fall like torn rags around my ankles. I pressed forward, aware of being almost totally naked and dressed only in undershorts and a shredded camo jacket. My support devices were gone. It was me, the beast and the metal rod. Even my solid Debarcar boots felt ragged and torn away by the commotion.
 
I connected with the octopus beast on the second lunge, felt the rod penetrating some sort of soft shell and entering its flailing body. Tentacles waved and curled about in the fetid air surrounding the creature. I knew I had done some sort of damage to the horrific subterranean monstrosity, as it seemed to shrink deeper into its corner revealing a dimly lit passage behind, a passage it was guarding. I could still see shapes of moving creatures in silhouette but the dimness of the light did not allow any scrutiny of their exact forms or sizes. The underworld was populated by groaning, moving, white skinned things and beyond these was Nikki, and I could feel her mental draw stronger than ever. The passage behind the octopus thing was narrow, and thorny roots projecting from the dirt walls tore at my naked thighs and shoulders. Grasping the rod, I moved on. Not in bravery but in a crazed rage. Nikki was beyond. Alive. I knew it. I felt it. I also felt smaller things grasping at me as I squeezed my way through the dank earthen passage, past the hands and fingers of invisible creatures obscured by the near darkness. They tore and scratched at my bare skin. I felt no pain. My insane fury pushed me forward.
 
And there, where the sensation was the strongest, was Nikki, crouched in a foetal position, lying on the dirt floor bound by threads of some sticky filament. I began tearing this away with my hands until most of it was gone. I could feel a faint pulse in Nikki's arms and realized that she was perhaps only paralyzed by the demon. Her skin was cool and moist, but the warmth of possible life was still there.
 
I threw her over my bruised shoulder and began to exit the tunnel. Much clearer now to my adjusted vision was the squat and muscular demon himself, leering at the two of us and spreading his body across the passageway exit. I let Nikki slide to the ground and grabbled for the metal rod which I had dropped upon entry. My fingers found the rusty thing on the ground, and I jabbed it in front of me like the spear that I had made of it. It had already disposed of a huge subterranean octopus, so why not a maggoty demon not welcome anywhere on the Earth as I knew it. I wanted with a great surge of sudden urgency to kill more than anything else. I became a berserk warrior in my rage. Lunging forward and slaughtering became my only goals. Naked and bereft of any modern support devices, I careened ahead, seeking a solid torso of muscle and sinew in which to plant my iron spear. And I found it. I have no idea which part of the bestial creature I broke through, but I know I breached something vital, as it recoiled and issued a sordid groan from the very depths of its foul being. I continued to prod and thrust. The thing fell with a thud, but a huge hand ripped out at my head and scratched a deep cut across my forehead, a cut from which I still bear a jagged and curious scar, a scar which is yet visible on me at this insipid wedding party as I sit recounting all this in my mind, Latafat inscrutable and silent before me at the table. 
 
Through the debris of what was perhaps hundreds of half eaten and mostly decomposed human and animal carcasses, I half dragged Nikki, still unconscious, through the scattered detritus and toward the rusted metal stairway which led to the basement floor of the deserted mall stockroom and then, finally, into the bright afternoon light of a beautiful summer day onto a parking lot where the only activity was now the surreptitious dumping of community garbage.
 
 And there was Latafat holding a blanket, waiting for us, as if he had been confident all along that we were coming back. 
 
And so, we emerged back into reality, and nothing followed us. The sub-basement underworld and its grizzly secrets lay behind. I was naked, caked with blood and dirt and bleeding all over my body. Nikki was still comatose but alive. I had won. Won against what I am not to this day exactly sure. Like a war veteran asked by his children how many enemy soldiers he had killed, I had no clue, no distinct memory. The episode had happened in darkness and had come from a part of my awareness that spoke more of the animal within me than the sentient human. Stripped of everything except myself and my own self-reliance, I had no doubt executed astounding acts of bravery, but these were chilled by the dull realization that most of what I had done had come involuntarily and out of survival necessity rather than planned heroism, of which I have none and will admit to none. To combat animals from hell, I had to become one. And that in time became my only memory.
 
X. Conclusion
 
Nikki recovered. 
 
I recovered.
 
Latafat helped. With oils and ointments, he treated us both for several days in his apartment. He brought us food and drink and clothes. I emerged from the ordeal with only a deep gash on my forehead, and Nikki came through with a bite sized chunk ripped out of her left shoulder. It was infected, but Latafat's herbal medicine, Turkish I suppose or thereabouts, healed the infection. It was clear that the creature had already begun to eat her. She had no memory of it.
 
In the best way I knew how, I related to Nikki the events which had occurred since her abduction from her bedroom just over twenty four hours before.
 
She looked at the various scratches on my body and hers and finally at the missing flesh of her shoulder, stared deeply at me for a time, and then asked for a cigarette. Latafat obliged with a foul-smelling Turkish blend. Nikki inhaled deeply, blew the smoke over my head, and then said "I wonder if he liked the way I tasted?"
 
It was her idea of a weak joke. Joking seemed to be the only thing we could do then. Two weeks later we were both back at home, making up stories for our parents as to where we had been. College-related lies, of course, and highly believable. We had simply gone on an archeological dig with a Turkish professor, etc. and etc. 
 
Five weeks later, Toby Dasher's car appeared more and more frequently in Nikki's driveway. Pretty, pretty Toby Dasher, his boyish innocence and sprightly glow seemed to light up the gloominess which reigned between Nikki and myself.
 
"I just want to forget the whole thing," she said to me on the patio sipping a sangria. "I just want to live normally. No demons. No white skinned maggoty things carrying me away in broad daylight. I hope you understand about Toby...."
 
"I do," I interjected quickly, not wanting to pursue the topic.
 
"We'll always be best friends, no matter what?"
 
"Best friends forever," I said knowing full well that I would soon need to get as far away from home as I could and probably would never see Nikki again. "Forever."
 
"I love you," concluded Nikki. "I always will."
 
And so here we are. Full circle, back at Nikki's wedding reception. Toby is pulling her toward the door, and our friends are stuffing money into her dress and his pockets. Brandon S. is pouring champagne over her head. Toby is shaking everyone's hands and hugging as many people as he can before they make their grand exit. For a minute, Nikki, still slightly tipsy, glances over at me. She breaks free of Toby's finger hold and walks unsteadily around to my table. Latafat turns his head and pretends not to notice her. I smile up into her eyes.
 
"Happiness," I say. "You look beautiful tonight, as usual."
 
"I have an ugly scar on my shoulder, but it's covered by this dress. I really wanted to wear a strapless one, but you know...."
 
"I do." I replied still forcing an obligatory smile. "I do."
 
"Happiness forever," I repeat.
 
Nikki squeezes my hand quickly and rejoins "Best friends forever."
 
Then she turns and returns to Toby by the exit, waving only briefly to me.
 
"Best friends forever," I repeat quietly.
 
I know I will never see her again. Nor should I. Because happiness means starting anew and forgetting. Nikki must do that. And that is exactly what I need to do myself.
___________________________________///
 
Devon PitlorFebruary, 2010
 
 
 
 
 


© Copyright 2020 Devon Pitlor. All rights reserved.

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