"Put that down."
"What is it?"
"I don't know, Wes, just put it down."
Clunk. "You're no fun anymore."
I sniffed derisively. Fun? My spectacular party was going to shite with spiked punch, thunderstorms, no electricity, and insane guests seeing walking suits of armor! I'd planned to spend a romantic evening with Wes; instead we were mucking around in a dank cellar. I was not in the mood to be fun.
The candle flickered and I sent up a silent prayer that it wouldn't go out.
The basement wasn't at all what I thought it would be. Instead of a big open room, it was a warren of stone-floored chambers, each with doors leading into more rooms, going further and further under the castle. The rooms were filled to the brim with junk and stunk with the overpowering scent of decay.
"There could be a body down here and we wouldn't know it," Wes said cheerfully, and I had to force myself not to glare at him. He was right, I was acting like a bitch and it wasn't his fault. Not entirely, anyway.
"Right, well, the woman said that the generator is on the far wall of the room." I looked up hopelessly. "The far wall of which room? The one all the way to the back? Or is it on the far wall of one of the rooms we've already passed?"
"Here," Wes took the candelabra and held it up in the doorway to our right.
"Let's try in here. We'll just follow whatever path it leads us on."
That particular room was sort of clear. From where we stood, I could see two other doorways opening into pitch-black darkness. I resisted the urge to hang onto Wes' costume as he moved forward. Didn't want to act like a girl.
There was no generator in this room either, so Wes chose the door to the left. The sound of our feet echoed off the stone walls, making it seem like there were many more people walking about. Wes gave up on this room and headed on. I laughed nervously.
"We should have brought some bread crumbs."
"Huh?" Wes didn't bother to look at me, he was too busy trying to clear a path into the next room.
At first I thought the shuffling noise was coming from Wes. He'd tried to shove a desk out of the doorway and was panting from exertion. He gave up, clambered over it, then reached back to lift me over too.
"Wouldn't want your dress to get dusty." He grinned and looked me up and down, then yelped as I smacked him on the shoulder.
"Lead on, MacDuff," I ordered, then found myself grinning as well. "Hey, Wes, have you ever worn a kilt?" The sound was quieter, which made sense as Wes had finally begun to breathe normally again.
"What's that?" He swung the candelabra around in the new room, illuminating the three doors leading out of it. "Decisions, decisions."
"It's a very masculine garment. Only the manliest of men can carry it off." We were moving again and our footsteps echoed. That was why it sounded like we were being followed. Really.
Wes stopped so suddenly that I ran into his back. We stood stock-still, but the shuffling noises continued.
"Dead end," he muttered, and turned back.
"Wes," I hissed, tugging at the back of his costume.
"Huh?" He chose another door and gently pried my hand off his backside.
"There's someone down here."
He stared at me, eyes wide, then turned about and waved the candles around the room. "There is not," he said, shoulders sagging in relief.
"Yuh-huh. Listen." He obediently cocked his head to one side. I held my breath.
Not a damn thing.
"You must have heard our echoes." The corners of his mouth turned down when I shook my head vigorously. "It's an old house, Anti. It makes noises." He squeezed my hand reassuringly but glanced around nervously before continuing through the maze.
A few rooms later, the stone floor gave way to packed dirt. That nasty, moldering smell was stronger, and the air was moist enough that nitre grew on the walls. I had a firm grip on Wes' hand but kept turning around to peer into the darkness behind us. My body ached from tension and even Wes had quit making jokes, focusing on the ground before us with his Serious Lieutenant face.
The light flickered and went out, and I squealed in terror. I heard Wes stumble and swear, knocking something over. He was so loud that I almost missed the other noise, muffled now by the dirt floor. It shuffled along for several moments as Wes cursed and I stood too petrified to move.
At last I remembered the book of matches I'd carried down and handed them to Wes. Images floated through my head-- crazy, nasty, Night of the Living Dead images. The ground-- yeah, it was dirt, yeah, it was probably part of a graveyard, absolutely. I bet it was a graveyard and zombies would have no trouble punching through it, nope. Never mind that I'd heard the noise before we reached the dirt floored part-- a zombie could bust through stone, right? Sure it could, no prob, and I bet it's hungry too, 'cause that takes a lot of energy I bet it needs to eat and it can smell us Oh Force help! HELP!
I whimpered involuntarily as hot tears of terror spilled down my cheeks. Sure, it was ridiculous, but that didn't make it less scary. How likely is it that a serial killer is lurking around every corner? Slim to none, but it's still a freaky thought.
"Aha!" A match finally responded to Wes' verbal assault and flared to life. Wes started to re-light the candles and waved them toward me, his triumphant grin fading as he saw my face.
I shivered and stuttered out, "I... I th-think it's b-b-back."
Muttering something about hysterical females, Wes left me there and stalked back the way we came. He was gone for what seemed like hours, though I suppose it was only a couple of seconds. I managed to act a little less unhinged when he returned, and his cranky expression softened just a little.
"Look," he said quietly, wiping my tears away with his thumb, "there's no one down here. Nothing to be scared of. Why don't you sit right here," he led me to a wooden crate, "and wait for me?"
"In the dark?" I hated the way my voice quavered and wanted to act brave. But still, in the dark? No way.
Wes apparently decided that the silence was getting to me, because he kept up a steady stream of chatter as we walked on. His stories might have been interesting under different circumstances, but I was just too stressed to care.
"That's the punchline," he said for the third time.
"Oh. Ha. Ha, ha." I laughed weakly, listening to the shambling noise, wondering if we were walking on a pet cemetery, being trailed by somebody's Rotweiller.
"Wes, maybe we-"
"Hush." He stood straight and looked behind us. "I hear something."
"I told you! I told you!" My voice was high and thin, near panic. "I told you, but did you listen? Nooo! 'Oh, I don't hear anything, nothing to be scared of!' Well, look here, Mr Smarty-Pants-"
"It's probably someone from the party looking for us." Wes remained unruffled.
"Then why didn't they yell for us? That's what I'd do! That's what any living, non-zombie person would do! Did you hear anyone call our names? I didn't, I just heard this flesh-eating zombie thing creeping along, looking for a snack!"
The noise grew louder, closer, drawing ever nearer on shuffling feet.
"You said a 'flesh-eating zombie'?" Wes asked, his face ashen. "Is that as bad as it sounds?"
"Yeah, flyboy, it's real bad. And it's headed this way."
"Hide." Wes pushed me back, toward an old armoire. He yanked on one of the doors, which promptly fell off with a loud crash.
"Sithspit!" We did the only sane thing to do when pursued by non-existent supernatural nasties. We ran.
Wes dragged me after him like a pull-toy through four more rooms and two dead ends, until we ended up running into a stack of steamer trunks and packing crates. He pushed me behind them and I crouched down, tugging at his hand until he followed me. We squeezed into the tiny space, my arms around his chest, his heart pounding impossibly fast under my hands.
"These zombie things," he whispered, "what do they do?"
I leaned my cheek against his shoulder blade and tried not to scream. "They crawl up out of graves and eat people."
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah, Wes, I'm sitting back here freaked out and crying, but I'm not serious." OK, so, technically, zombies probably aren't real. But there's no proof of that, and the noises were getting closer.
He squeezed my hands. "I'm sorry about being... well... me."
"No, it's all my fault. I'm sorry for yelling at you. I'm sorry I was such a jerk." Gods, I was sorry. My last minutes on Earth were being spent regretting how mean I was to a perfectly adorable guy. "I'm sorry I'm going to get you killed."
"Er, yeah, I'm kinda sorry about that, too."
Closer, closer... no matter how quiet we were, it was going to find us. Wes blew out the candles and we sat in the dark, holding our breath. It was only a foot away, on the other side of the crates; I could hear it bumping around.
Suddenly a light swept across the wall and landed on us. I may have screamed, but I don't remember (and I'm not admitting to it anyway). A voice hailed us.
"Aren't you guys supposed to be getting the lights back on?"
My head exploded into tiny pieces of relieved light, then I was on my feet.
Continued in Part Twelve