15.2 The Miner's Tale - Continued

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As Billy's father talked, one of his hands crept out from under the bed. The way it moved, fingers curling and uncurling underneath the oven mitt, reminded me of the worms in Aunt Sandy's garden, of their smooth and boneless bodies crawling out of the damp earth into the sunlight.

The hand nudged Billy's leg.

Billy took the hand and squeezed it.

The fissure was a man's height and width. Carl moved through it, one hand on the wall to guide him. He could not see that hand. He could not see anything. Every last drip of light from the LED in the cavern had been drunk. The darkness had a texture, almost buttery. He felt it melting to him and around him. He felt it under his tongue and inside his throat. He could not swallow it. He could not spit it out. Twice he opened his mouth to call to his crew. Twice he shut it without making a sound, afraid he would not hear an answer.

Afraid he would.

His fingers ran out of wall, and his fear grew into something else entirely, something so large it could no longer fit inside him. He stood in the shadow of his own terror, his skin prickling, his spine locked. His brain was a frozen pond sealed around a single image, a grainy black photograph taken from somewhere up above:

Him.

Carl Rascoe.

Standing in the dark.

He walked forward on stiff legs, the ground smooth as marble beneath his boots. His footsteps made no sound. His breaths, if he breathed at all, did nothing to stir the air. Sweat rolled off his skin. For a moment was a minute that was an hour, he moved blindly through heat and darkness. Then his toe caught on a lip in the floor and the ice in his head chipped, just a little, just enough for him to process the new sensation building along the crown of his skull. Termites. Swarming across his scalp and digging through his skin, itching at the bone around his brain.

Something was watching him.

Carl looked up.

His own face hung suspended from the dark above, upside down and black, obsidian eyes peering out from coal flesh. The world flipped over, and he fell toward himself, toward his widening mouth and the tunnel of his throat.

Screaming, Carl landed in place.

He swayed quietly, still standing, still looking up. The face was gone, the face was gone, the face had never been. He lifted his foot to take a step back, tottering, and took one step forward instead.

There was an explosion of light.

He saw.

"He saw, it saw, he saw what it saw, he saw, it saw, he saw." Carl's voice came faster and faster, a train off the rails. "He saw, he saw, what it saw he saw, he saw, he saw."

Nip was tugging at the carpet.

Ash's hand had moved from the armrest to my arm. Her nails bit into my skin.

With one final, booming, "HE SAW," the voice beneath the bed regained its tracks.

The cavern was a hundred yards wide. A true ballroom, the walls rounded, the floor smooth and flat and so white it shone. In the center of the room, before him, Carl's crew stood in a circle. The LED blazed at their feet, drenching everything in a fiery liquid light. They were motionless, limp. Their necks were craned back, their heads at right angles with their bodies. All of them wore the same blank expression, jaws unhinged, mouths drooling.

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