“Buddy? You okay?”
Buddy opened his eyes slowly. The dream haunted him, as though it were a forgotten memory. It seemed so real, so vivid, and yet so impossibly surreal. It was as though he was viewing a life through eyes not his own. As his eyes opened, they fell upon the pale face of Ryan. He looked concerned. Buddy looked around and remembered how he had collapsed on the floor of Maggie’s restroom.
Ryan reached out a hand to help Buddy to his feet.
“Guess it’s not just us young’uns who can’t hold our liquor, huh?” Ryan laughed weakly, his speech slurred.
“Yeah, guess so,” Buddy responded, confused as to what had happened. He had never passed out quite like that before. “Hey, Ryan, d’ya hear that?”
“It issnt more liquor issit?” Ryan laughed at his inability to talk.
“No, it’s quiet. Too quiet. How long was I out?”
“Couple minutes, man. That’s all.”
“Then. . . where’d everybody go? It’s too quiet in here.”
“Shhh,” Ryan placed a finger against his lips.
Buddy laughed, “I’m serious. This room’s not sound proofered.”
“No,” Ryan giggled. “Shhh.”
“Shhh,” Buddy chuckled in response.
“Can you hear that?” Ryan asked.
“Yeah, it’s quiet, right?”
“No, that. Can you hear it?”
“That hissing noise.”
“You mean this? Shhh.” Buddy’s laughter grew larger.
“No, man. Listen.”
“I don’t hear anything. Like I said, it’s quiet.”
“Shut up for a second and you’ll hear it.”
“Shhh,” Buddy giggled again. Then went silent. “Wait, I think I hear it.”
“Yeah, it sounds like. . . “
“Like a gas leak!” Buddy yelled. He jumped to his feet, fearing the immediate danger.
He steadied himself against the wall and fell toward the door. It pushed open in front of him. There was no one there. No one that is, except Sal, who was still sitting in the same place they had left him. The lights were still on. Coats and partially filled drinks were littered about the establishment. It was as if the people who had been there had all run off without warning.
“D’ya think it was the Rapture?” Ryan laughed again.
Sal was still nursing his non-alcoholic beer in a mug that looked as though it had long lost any form of frostiness. He looked at Buddy and then to the door. Buddy looked quizzically back at him.
“It’s finally here, Buddy,” Sal said, turning his attention to his beverage. “The end has finally come and I don’t even have a full glass to enjoy it with.”
The noise was moving well beyond an odd silent sound and appeared to be coming from outside. Buddy stumbled to the entrance and opened the door to the front of the restaurant. He found himself in the midst of a group of people staring at the sky. Ryan followed.
Maggie stood immediately to Buddy’s left. She looked at him and slowly turned her gaze to the sky. There was no smile on her face to tell Buddy anything, only a mouth wide open in shock. Buddy looked skyward to see what could cause his sister to be struck speechless.
Hovering in the night air, well above the city streets, hung a ball of fire. Although it appeared to be hovering, Buddy slowly realized it was, in fact, hurtling through the earth’s atmosphere directly toward Barber Street. He saw everyone had become so entranced by the fireworks in the night sky they were unaware of the impending danger it spelled out for them. Without warning, an instinctual response awoke within him and he jumped into action.
“Everybody get out of the street, now!” Buddy yelled. His words were still slurred, but confident. His body surged with an energy he had never felt before. He opened the door to the restaurant, hoping there would be enough protection, as well as enough room, for all of these people to truly be out of harm’s way. “Get as far back in the kitchen as you can!”
The cluster of people swarmed the open door as they recognized the danger looming above. The awe of the sight overhead quickly turned to panic as the crowd pushed and shoved their way into the restaurant. Buddy stared at the object heading his way, hoping there would be enough time for everyone to get to a safe distance.
The silence accompanying the noise of the plummeting object just seconds before, was now filled with people screaming as they rushed to safety. The quiet squeal originally alerting Buddy to the events in the sky was now a high pitched wail, heralding the arrival of the burning object now bearing down upon its final destination.
The mob of people completed entering the door and Buddy gave one last look to the street, seeing Ryan still standing, staring at the sky. He grabbed Ryan’s arm and pulled him into the restaurant. He shut the door and was blocked by a bottleneck of traffic trying to escape the seating area. Buddy could see over the heads of the people in front of him. He first noticed Sal still sitting at the bar, drink in hand. He then saw Maggie holding the door for people to get to safety.
“Maggie, get back there, now!” he yelled.
“Not until these people get out first!” she screamed back.
The noise had now reached a deafening scream. Buddy knew at any moment the earth would shake in response to its injury.
“Hit the ground!” Buddy yelled. The people in front of him jumped to the floor, except Ryan, who still looked stunned. Buddy leaped on top of him, shielding him with his body.
As soon as Ryan’s body hit the ground, the air cracked with a cacophony of noise. The ground shook as though it had become gelatinous. The blast sent everything flying forward, deeper into the restaurant. And just as the silence crept back in, a much more horrible noise was heard.
An other-worldly roar filled the room. The noise shook tables and brought glasses to the floor in a loud clatter. Everything that had managed to stay in its place from the impact blast was thrown to its side. The room froze, its attention quickly shifting to the front door. The look of fear on the faces in the room grew as they waited, not knowing what they waited to see. Time stood still. Not a single person dared to even breathe for fear the slightest noise would be enough to alert whatever was outside to their presence.
“Wha–” Ryan began loudly before Buddy quickly covered his mouth.
Buddy walked slowly toward the door, stumbling over displaced chairs as he made his way. He placed his hand on the handle. He looked into the room hoping someone would step forward to take his place. No one moved.
“Good luck, Buddy,” Sal yelled as he raised his glass in the air. “It’s been nice knowing you.”
“Hey man,” Ryan added, a bit too loudly, “don’t worry. I’ve got your back.”
Buddy turned to the door and stared at the handle in his hand. The confidence appearing so easily just moments before had now abandoned him. No longer did he feel the presence of some other person taking command. In fact, even with his heart pumping adrenaline through his system, he only felt afraid and drunk. His hands shook noticeably as he pulled the door open and they then fell to his side. His jaw dropped, allowing only two words to escape before he froze in place.
“Holy crap,” Buddy said in barely a whisper. He stood in the door frame staring at the thing now standing before him. The street was nothing more than a crater and at its center stood an unholy creature. The beast heard Buddy’s silent utterance and turned its face to find the source. As it turned, it stretched to full-size, showing that its height was several times larger than Buddy initially perceived.
Buddy first noticed its feet. Two Buick-sized hooves were dug deep into the ground, each glistening in the starry night. Its legs, thin in comparison to its body, were covered in spindly hairs. Its body, the widest part of the beast, spanned the width of the two buildings it stood in front of and was as black as the night sky. Six tentacles flailed around it, creating dangerous tornadoes of wind with every movement. And finally, Buddy’s eyes met with the head of the monster. It was shaped like a Frisbee, lying almost completely flat against its body. On top sat two empty eyes on two slender stalks.
“I ain’t afraid of you,” Buddy yelled, attempting to force the confidence back into his voice.
The beast roared again and Buddy turned to run into the restaurant, hoping to put as much distance between him and the Octo-Bug as possible. As he turned, the monster roared once more causing him to lose his balance and fall to the ground. A tentacle lashed out at him and grabbed him around the waist. Buddy’s arms reached out for anything to grab onto, scratching at the pavement as he was pulled into the air. His body moved at high speed directly toward the beast’s face. He was stopped in front of its empty eyes. It inspected him with intense curiosity.
“Don’t worry Buddy,” he heard being yelled from the ground. “I’ll save you!” He looked down and could just make out Ryan tearing his jacket off and letting it fall behind him. The silver item Buddy caught a glimpse of earlier covered most of his body and glowed with a red light.
Ryan ran toward the beast.
The beast lifted his leg and stomped down on Buddy’s new, annoying, friend. Buddy gasped, several people from the restaurant, who had now come outside to see the action, screamed.
“That’s it, you ugly son-of-a-bitch.” Buddy pushed against the tentacle, which was keeping his arms pinned to his side. He was unable to overwhelm the monster’s grip.
“Let go of me!” he yelled. Buddy looked into the giant eye directly in front of his face and saw nothing but his own reflection. The eyes showed no emotion, only a darkened, empty mirror of the world in front of it. Buddy felt helpless.
Then Buddy noticed something else reflecting on the surface of the monster’s eye. It was barely visible. Buddy looked over his shoulder to see another fireball aimed directly at him. His tentacled friend tightened its grip.
Buddy looked down and saw the monster’s leg swinging up into the air, revealing an unharmed Ryan.
“That all you got?” Ryan screamed. The monster roared as Ryan jumped into the air, plowing into its chest.
The monster was knocked off balance, loosening its grip on Buddy as it fell. Buddy slipped out of his tentacled prison and fell to the ground, bouncing off the body of the beast as he tumbled the five stories to the street. As his body slammed against the asphalt, he felt the ground tremble as it had just minutes before.
The monster shrieked in agony. Windows shattered, buildings shook. The sound of a giant balloon bursting filled the air, followed by the noise of dozens of large wet things slapping against the ground.
Buddy jumped to his feet and ran from the beast as fast as he could. Ryan appeared at his side, grabbing his hand and pulling him away faster. Buddy could hear him yelling something, but couldn’t make it out. He stumbled with every step. He knew he needed to distance himself as much as possible before the dust settled. His eyes stung with the debris which hung in the air.
Ryan stopped pulling and Buddy decided they were probably safe enough for the moment and stopped as well, bending over in pain, trying to catch his breath.
He heard a human-sounding scream coming from somewhere beneath where the beast had stood. The scream filled the air as though the person it belonged to was being tortured in ways never before conceived by mankind.
Before Buddy fully registered what the sound meant, he found himself heading in its direction. He heard Ryan yelling something and once again couldn’t make it out. He didn’t care. His ears were ringing, but he was certain he could hear something, someone, screaming and something within him said he had to save that person.
He could no longer make out the beast through the cloud of dust and debris, but he knew he must have been directly beneath it as he arrived at the location of the screams. He made out the figure of a man sprawled out on the ground. Although Buddy’s body was throbbing with pain and faltering under its exhaustion, he ran to the man’s side.
Buddy leaned down near the man and saw he was completely naked. In one quick motion Buddy took off his coat, wrapped it around the man, picked him up, and ran as fast as he could. He knew the air would clear soon and his new-found nemesis, as well as whatever else had fallen from the sky, would be able to latch their ugly tentacles around him again, and it was unlikely he would be so lucky this time.
He saw the familiar lights of Maggie’s Diner and ran toward them. He hoped to find somewhere safe to hide and someone to help this naked man who appeared to be seriously injured. He looked down at the man as he made his way across the street.
The man’s eyes opened and looked directly at him. The man mouthed what Buddy could best guess was, “Buddy?”. His eyes closed again, but his face gained a look of comfort.
Buddy limped his way through the last few steps and reached the curb in front of Maggie’s. He fell to his knees, dropped the unclothed, unidentified man on the curb, and fell backward. As his brain melted into darkness, he heard loud cheers coming from the crowd gathered in front of the diner. His eyes closed and rolled back in his head as he lost consciousness. A smile spread across his face, knowing the cheers he heard as the world went black were for him.
I awake once again and again find only darkness. It’s easy to arrive at the conclusion that my location hasn’t changed. The pain I had felt earlier, however, seems to have left me. I sit up and hear rustling nearby.
“Hey Frank, I think he’s awake!” The voice I hear is coming from somewhere very close and to the left of me. I then hear the sound of several different bodies moving toward me from different directions.
“Hey buddy,” another voice says, leaning in very close to my face, “you alright? Don’t want to lose another one down here.”
I find myself incapable of responding with anything other than a small groan.
“Is it Charlie?” a third voice echoes from further away.
“Charlie, is that you? Talk to me,” the first voice sounds troubled.
I lean forward and rest my hands in my lap. Mustering as much energy as I am able, the words slowly escape my mouth. I struggle with every syllable.
“Damon. . . my name . . . is Damon.”
Buddy awoke to find himself lying on the side of the road. His eyes opened and saw seven people looking at him with concern on their faces. Their faces quickly shifted into grins of relief. Maggie leaned in close and hugged Buddy, a smile forming that pushed her cheeks up into her teary eyes.
“Wuh. . . What happened?” Buddy spoke. He erupted into a fit of coughing. He turned his head to the side and spit a thick dark red concoction onto the sidewalk.
“Buddy!” Maggie exclaimed, tears falling from her eyes as though she had never expected to hear his voice again. Her smile somehow managed to grow even larger.
Buddy clutched his side as he tried to sit up. A man to the right of him held him down.
“You’re going to want to stay still until the paramedics arrive. I think you may have some internal bleeding,” the man said.
Buddy let his head fall, and his eyes closed. The pain in his abdomen told him that the man was probably right. He felt a hand run through his hair.
“You’re going to be alright Buddy,” he heard Maggie’s voice say.
“The monster. . . what happened to it,” Buddy asked.
“We don’t know, Buddy,” Maggie said, forcing herself to talk through the tears.
“It’s gone, dude. There’s big gross pieces of it everywhere. I don’t know what you did, but it’s like he ker-sploded into a billion disgusting bug pieces.”
Buddy cringed as he recognized Ryan’s voice, but found himself happy knowing that he too was alright.
In the distance he heard the wail of an ambulance getting closer. It screeched to a halt as it reached his location and the paramedics rushed to his side. The last thing he heard as he succumbed to the darkness was the sound of his sister’s voice.
“Just hang in there, Buddy,” she sobbed. “Just a little while longer, please.”
“Damon, huh? I’ve spent a lot of time in these mines and I don’t believe I’ve ever known a Damon to be down here. Are you new or something?”
“I don’t know,” I respond, my memories of the past nothing more than a hazy glimmer. “Where are we?”
“You’re in the mines, pal, probably about a half-mile underground,” a second voice says. “We got trapped down here during the earthquake the other night. We were doing some late night work securing some of the older tunnels. I was in charge of scheduling and, uh, I know I didn’t schedule any Damons.”
“Jeremy, leave the guy alone, you saw what happened to him when we first found him.”
“Yeah,” Jeremy sounds agitated, “and I don’t trust anything that can burst into flames and still be around to talk to me afterwards.”
Had I really burst into flames? Was that not a dream?
I hear a loud rumbling and the movement of rocks coming from several feet away and the cave suddenly doesn’t appear to be quite as dark.
“Hey Frank, I think they got through to us!” The excited voice of Jeremy moves along with a barely visible silhouette heading toward the site of the new noise.
Go to Chapter Four