Misty was sliding back into the darkness. Her head struck the ceiling as the passage became more constricting. Were this a cave or a sarcophagus? Her shoulders butted up against the ceiling and she folded at the middle. Panic wedged her in. The gimp scoured her shin, peeling off a strip of her top-flesh beneath his raking nails. Finally Misty could make a right fucking scream. She kicked at the gimp and twisted onto her stomach to squirm deeper into the pitch-black. Dude snarled just ahead of her. He might have set his jaws on the gimp right then, but the passage had thinned so it were impossible to circumvent Misty. She sure wished he could squeeze past, but they'd come to a stone impasse. There weren't nowhere left to run.
The gimp caught her by the ankle. Mealy fingers needled between the tendons of her foot, plucking the thin cords of musculature the way a harpist works her instrument.
“Un-fuckin' hand me!” Misty kicked and screamed into the abyss. “Yule!”
The gimp snagged her by the other ankle and jerked her back toward himself like a snake gobbling a field-mouse. She clawed at the floor but her nails just ground against the stone. A backward worm, he wriggled in reverse. His arms wrapped about her knees and pinned her legs together. He was pulling her to a place with better clearance. He was going to hunch over her and et her raw and whole. One of Misty's finger-nails snagged on the stone floor and was pried open like a clam. She felt the gimp's breath on her hamstring. She screamed and bucked, but her back scraped painfully against the unforgiving ceiling.
Then she was being et up, plain as a chop from the butcher's block. The precursor to pain was an itchy hollow pock on the back of her thigh. The gimp's teeth slid through her so fluid and it happened so fast. A hunk of her was gone, parsed quick as a portion of Madame's succulent ham. The gouge pulsed and that's when the hurt set in. Coursing blood warmed the crease of her thighs. More than ever Misty struggled, but the gimp held her legs fast together and slurped along her gore-moistened curves. She could only groan, knowing that she were about to become carrion.
Echoing many-fold, Dude's voice was that of a thousand mad hounds. The dog overcame generations of domestic lessons. Like all wolf-kin, his path back to the wild led right to the jugular. He scrambled atop Misty, splayed himself over the small of her back and went for the gimp's throat. Both feral combatants snarled in the dark, reverberating right against Misty's rump. Hot slobber splattered her bare skin, but from friend or foe she did not know. The wild violence was too swift and she too blind to suss the particulars.
The gimp's grip slipped and Misty twisted sideways to escape the tussle. She rolled onto her side, facing away from the melee. She could feel Dude sandwiched between her and the gimp, wickedly wrenching his whole body back and forth with his jaws firmly set. She would never get another chance to run for her life. Dude had bought her just that one.
She managed to get spun around and crouched the way a sprinter does before a race, but at the starter's gun her head cracked hard against the ceiling. Though the cave were blackest, Misty saw a flash of pure white light. Dude and the gimp's mortal clench sounded way off and unreal. Nausea set the whole earth spinning.
She squeezed her eyes shut in the dark and it helped her to see. She said aloud, “Get movin' girl.”
Upon all fours, she crawled two paces toward the cave's mouth before she remembered the gimp had come along with an obese accomplice – and he had come along with a pick-ax.
Whistling past her eyelashes, the pick-ax tossed up sparks as it impacted the cave floor. It pierced her between the knuckles of her left hand. Misty saw the appendage erupt like a keg of slow-motion dynamite. The fore-and-middle-fingers tumbled in the dirt the way dice dance on a craps table. She knew the hand would never job again. The ax-wielder loomed above her, blotting out the gray light. Grunting, he struggled to extricate his weapon from the stone floor. Misty shrunk away from the killing-blow to come, clutching her wounded paw to her bosom. She closed her eyes and cringed.
“Fuckin' do it if you're gonna,” she dared him.
But the pick-ax was sunk well into the floor, and though the fat shambler could not pull it out he also didn't know when to give up. Misty heard herself sobbing and decided, then, that enough were enough. She made a break for it. The fat shambler reached out with one chubby mitt and caught her by the hair; it was Rex on the balcony, all over again – but this time Misty let him rip out a handful and she flew out of the cave.
The mountainside was steeper than she remembered. Her first few steps found nothing but air and she wind-milled her arms. A sanguine rooster-tail sprayed from her freshly-cleaved finger-stumps. She screamed for Yule. Her feet hit the mountainside off-kilter and momentum sent her tumbling, turning over in bruising revolutions till her bare legs were raw. Dirt packed into the gory dimple on her thigh. Thudding ribs-first against the trunk of a pine seemed right merciful come that juncture.
She laid writhing amidst the roots of the pine, squealing softly though she meant to shout loudly. The wind had been knocked clean out of her lungs. Where was Yule? What had become of him?
Up yonder, Dude yipped and then she saw him zip out of the cave with his tail tucked snug between his legs. The gimp came stumbling out shortly thereafter and the fat shambler weren't far behind, neither. The gimp had his throat gashed wide open. A syrupy geyser bubbled down the bib of his overalls. His barely-attached head bobbed, perilously loose on what remained of his neck. The fat shambler rumbled as if he were gonna blow. He could no longer resist the temptation. Misty watched him stuff both his hands inside the gimp's slit throat-flaps. He drew out sinew and thick, chunky gore like the guts of a gourd. The gimp flailed his arms but only for a second. Then they fell in a sudden heap and the fat shambler went berserk. With a twisting motion he sheered the gimp's head clean off at the shoulders and stuck his face in the resulting crater. The body cracked apart like a boiled crab but kept on twitching. The fat shambler became more frenzied as he slurped out the meat. Then, all at once he quit supping. He lifted his pure-red face and fixated covetously upon Misty.
The crone is gonna get you girl!
The fat shambler waded on his knees through the mess he'd made of the gimp. He reached out to dismember Misty with his gore-mittened fists despite the distance between them.
She remembered, though, the crone had not been much for climbing trees. The fat shambler looked to have eaten too many men to even stand upright. He flopped onto his belly, sliding downhill like a ship busting an ice-jam. Finally the gravel bunched up around his bloated gut and he rocked from side to side to free himself. He kept scooting downhill, never letting Misty out of his sight. His arms churned up earth the way the oars of a canoe disrupt water. Still, he weren't any closer to getting himself upright. Weren't no way he could get her if she could convince her sore self to climb up that pine.
Teeth gritted, Misty began to ascend. She defied her swollen aches and stinging wounds, but just getting on her feet had her breathing hard against the pine. The branches were too pliable to use as rungs except at the firm-points right abut the trunk – and Misty's left hand was as useless as tits on a bull. She could only use that arm as a lever. The gimp's bite had mostly disabled her right leg, too. Still, Misty ratcheted herself up that pine.
She lifted herself to a higher bough and spat, “What ya got for that, fucker?”
They were eye-to-eye across an expanse of mountain air. The fat shambler ceased his belly-sledding and licked his chops instead. Staking a knee beneath his girth, he lifted himself, as painstaking as a team of Quakers raising a barn-side. Once on his feet he gargled blood, more and more loudly.
“What now? You gonna throw a fit?” Misty swore. “Go on then! Have a fucking fit!”
Somehow that did the trick. The fat shambler knew he was licked. He waddled, pivoting to head back uphill. He turned away and Misty began to cry. As he went shambling back toward the cave to dissect the gimp's mess, Misty breathed. She had made herself unworthy of the effort.
She whispered, “Hallelujah.”
But there aren't many things much worse than premature relief.
The fat shambler had only taken those paces uphill to gather a full head of steam. He came about like a war galleon. Then he charged back downhill. Way back when, the crone had been similarly inclined to rattle Misty's tree. The difference between then and now was one of critical mass. Leaning forward, the fat shambler set a collision course with the pine. White-knuckled, Misty held on.
His feet tangled and he went head-over-heels. Suddenly he was more than a battering ram. He went beyond terminal velocity and became a genuine juggernaut, careening down the steep slope and coming loose at the seams. His flabby limbs flapped lamely. Misty heard the bones inside him snapping as he cascaded along the same route she had earlier. She prayed the mountain would claim him where Death had evidently failed. That prayer was answered gruesomely. The fat shambler was dashed upon the mountain's face.
Rolling sideways, he struck the pine's trunk and came apart at the middle. His swollen gut bore the brunt. The top and bottom halves of him split and went their separate ways. The gush was black as bubbling crude. Rubbery lengths of intestine lassoed about the base of the tree and kept his halves connected. Misty held on for dear life but felt sure the worst had passed. The fat shambler was trickling downhill and the pine was still standing with her in its boughs.
She breathed out deeply.
She inhaled the bitter aroma of the fat shambler’s exposed guts – of men already devoured.
It was the worst reek. She didn’t reckon any digestion went on inside the Damned, only decomposition. Misty's eyes watered, but even through tears she saw maggots infesting the blood below. They must have come out of the shambler amongst the rest of the gunk. The rotten stench of so much death was enough to make any girl swoon, let alone one already traumatized to her core.
Shock was setting in and shutting her down. It took all her strength just to make tears. Peaking over yonder vista, the sun beckoned her to drift into its light. “No girl,” she told herself. “You must not faint.” But she could not answer her own plea.