Sunday, September 11, 2011

FICTION: Bernie and Gerard Take a Hike By: J.M. Vogel

“Wait, what’s this?” Gerard called as he groped along the wall. “I feel something…smooth…glass like…wait, I think it’s a jar,” he said, as he fondled the object. “A mason jar maybe. Hey, bring that box of matches over here. Maybe it’s a candle or something.” He picked up the jar and awaited his comrade.

Bernie approached slowly, trying not to trip over anything unseen in the utter darkness. The lack of light was really becoming not only a bother, but source of irritation. “The least the bastard could have done was to leave us with a candle or something. Or a Bic. What kind of nut job throws two people in a dark cellar without even so much as a lighter? A sadistic nut job, that’s who. And my cell phone – what kind of person steals someone’s cell phone?” He complained a little more as he found his way to where he last heard Gerard’s voice. “Marco,” he called into the darkness.

“Seriously?” Gerard asked, directly in front of him.

“Sorry, I was getting a little tired of the ‘where are you now’ game. Ok, lighting match number two.” They’d used the first match in the small box to do a quick inventory of their position in the cellar. By their dark, stress-filled, fumbling count, the box contained seven matches. “Couldn’t he have at least given us a full box of matches?”

After the familiar scratching of the tip striking the box, the match ignited, the warm glow momentarily blinding them. “Ok, open it! Open it!” Bernie urged, as the flame continued its migration down the small wooden stick.

Gerard quickly twisted the ring around the top and removed the metal disc. “Oh holy crap! Something’s coming out of it!” Just before the flame reached Bernie’s finger and was promptly extinguished, long, hairy, spindly legs began their ascent up Gerard’s hand. “Get it off! Get it off!” he screeched, careful not to spook the amazingly large arachnid now climbing his arm. “More light! For the love of God, more light! Get this thing off me!”

Bernie lit the match in time to see the tarantula-like spider near Gerard’s shoulder. “Just hold still,” he instructed slowly. He readied his fingers in the pincher position and moved his arm deliberately toward the spider. Just as his fingers reached the spider, it turned its head and looked at him. “What the hell?” he asked as the spider’s wings unfurled and he took to flight, buzzing Bernie’s head a few times before flapping off into the darkness. Bernie continued his frantic swatting until he was sure the spiderbat was gone. All of the swatting of course put out match number three. “A tarantula bat?” he asked in surprise.

“What?!” Gerard exclaimed.

“I think…” Bernie paused, still trying to process the monstrosity he just witnessed. “That thing had the body of a tarantula, but the head and wings of a bat! A tarantula bat!”

“Where the heck are we?” Gerard asked. “I thought we were in trouble for inadvertently tresspassing, but I’m beginning to think we’ve stumbled into something far more nefarious.”

They both stood in silence while that bit of information sunk in. Hopelessness descended on them like a blanket smothering a fire.

“So what you’re saying is the police aren’t coming to haul us in for trespassing? Because I was kind of hoping that’s what was happening.” Bernie asked, praying he’d misunderstood.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying. We need to get out of here,” Gerard said, his voice conveying urgency. “How many matches do we have left?”

“We’ve used three, so I’m guessing four.”

“Ok, let me think. When you lit the first match, I briefly saw a stack of boxes in the far corner. Can you light one match to kind of guide us in the right direction? Aim it to our left.”

Bernie did as instructed and, sure enough, a stack of boxes stood about five feet out of arm’s reach. They both stalked toward the stack. Gerard, with his arms outstretched, felt around in front until he made contact with the stack. “Found it!” he said. “Ok, strike a match and let’s see what’s inside,” he said as he felt the lid. “It feels like a plastic storage bin,” he said, waiting on Bernie.

Bernie, after fumbling for a moment, struck the match as Gerard lifted the lid, The box was approximately two feet squared and it wasn’t until too late that Bernie noticed the air holes cut into the lid.

Gerard yelled as he saw its contents. Scurrying around in the woodchips that covered the bottom of the box was the largest rat he’d ever seen – or at least what appeared to be a rat. The fur said rat and the tail said rat, but the feet and head appeared to be that of a feline. The animal hissed at him as he scrambled to replace the lid. “Rat cat,” he gulped as the match went out. “So apparently, we have a mad scientist in our midst.”

“Well that’s just fantastic,” Bernie said. “What do you say we don’t open anymore boxes?”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

They both stood there in the darkness, trying to determine their next move. In the pitch black, noises were starting to erupt from all around them – little scratching sounds to the left, a soft pinging sound to the right, labored breathing out in front.

“We definitely aren’t alone down here,” Gerard said, his voice wary. He looked toward the breathing and saw what appeared to be a faint glow somewhere off into the cavernous den. “Wait! Do you see that? Way up there?”

“Yeah.” Bernie said. “What do you think it is?”

“Only one way to find out,” he said and began lurching his way forward. Bernie followed suit. Things appeared to be going well until Gerard screamed out in pain.

“What? What is it?” Before Gerard could answer, Bernie stepped on something. Whatever it was squished and screeched when his foot made contact. He stepped back off of the bulge in the floor and was immediately assaulted with horrendous odor.

“Match!” Gerard yelled. “Match! Something just bit me!”

Bernie lit match number six in time to see a medium sized furry animal scurry away. It had the feet and coloration of a raccoon, but the tail and odor of a skunk. “What the heck is wrong with this man?” Bernie cursed before turning the light to his friend’s leg, which was now dripping with blood. “Oh man, that really doesn’t look good.”

“Yeah, well it doesn’t feel too good either.”

The flame reached Bernie’s finger and, after a wince, was snuffed out. As he jumped at the burn from the fire, he dropped the match box on the concrete floor. The thud of the box paired with the rolling sound of the last match escaping its compartment left the two with a sinking feeling.

“Smooth,” Gerard grumbled. “Now what do we do?”

“What do you think this guy’s up to?” Bernie asked, changing the subject away from his grave, clumsy mistake. “And why would he lock us down here with all of this? Surely he knows we’ll tell people what he’s up to when we get out.”

“Think about it. He trapped us in a giant net trap. He threw us down here among his creepy, Godless creations. Every time we see one of these beasts, it is bigger than the last. I think he was hunting large game. I think he was hunting for us, Bernie.”

“But why?” Bernie asked

Gerard was contemplating that when a loud, ear piercing, leonine scream echoed around them.

“He was hunting us to be food for his experiments,” Bernie gulped. I think that was a cougar.”

“And by cougar I assume you don’t mean a forty-something woman looking for a good time?”

“I wish.”

“But why the box of matches? Why didn’t he just leave us down here with nothing?”

A sick feeling turned in Gerard’s stomach as he realized the answer to the question. “The more we see, the more fear we have. The more we move around, the more we sweat. The fear and sweat make us… more attractive prey.”

Gerard heard Bernie wretch.

“Next time we go hiking, Gerard, I’m planning the route. This has been the worst excursion ever!”

“Bernie, I don’t think there is going to be a next time.”

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