Welcome to las vegas, p.3
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       Welcome to Las Vegas, p.3
 

           Stacy Green
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  Minutes or hours later, Tate reached the fork and turned left. The ceiling dropped until the top of Tate’s head brushed it. His heart rammed against his ribcage. His lungs heaved and ached. The pitch black grew even darker, and his flashlight became no more than a meager stream of illumination. The tunnel walls inched closer, trapping Tate.

  Dizziness washed over him stronger than an ocean wave. He braced his hand against the wall and then jerked it away as a creature squirmed beneath his fingers.

  He needed more light. With shaking hands, he fumbled in his jeans pocket for his phone. The slick case slipped through Tate’s damp fingers and into the water.

  “Shit.” The dense air and thick walls stifled his shout. Stomach churning, he shined his light on the dirty stream at his feet and retrieved the ruined phone.

  Having a working phone meant security, gave him a sense of normalcy, however false it may be. Now all he had was the bugs and bastard dark.

  He had to keep walking. His knees locked together, making his movements stiff and jerky.

  Count the steps–distract yourself.

  Twenty-seven steps later, his heart once again bottomed out. The tunnel widened into another fork, leaving just enough room for a man to make his camp. And sure enough, a man had, a bed set up from the water like all the others Tate had seen.

  Sitting on the bed with a lantern at his feet, the man had a full beard with bushy eyebrows to match. He wore stained khaki shorts and a red t-shirt that looked a size too small for his pot belly. His skin was paper thin and gray, probably from lack of sunlight. His veins stood out on his checks and arms, and his nails were yellow and cracked.

  The scent of urine and feces nearly brought Tate to his knees. He gagged and covered his nose.

  “Just heading toward the Strip.” Tate spoke behind the barrier of his hand.

  The man didn’t answer.

  Great. Passed out, and from the smell, sitting in his own filth. At least Tate didn’t have to talk to him.

  He inched forward, keeping to the opposite side of the wall and trying not to touch it or the slumbering man.

  A new odor bloomed in the festering air–a smell that crawled into Tate’s pores and made its way down to his stomach. A scent that made his eyes water. Worse than a skunk, more potent than a rotten egg. He’d never smelled anything like this stench, and it scared the hell out of him.

  Now he really couldn’t breathe. Tate staggered backward and then shot away from the slimy something that brushed the back of his neck. No, no, no. He lost his footing, pitched forward, and fell straight toward the man. Just before his hands smacked the concrete wall, he saw the lump of the man’s body in the beam of the flashlight.

  “Fuck!” Tate caught himself, stopping his face inches above the corpse. His fisted right hand still gripped the flashlight, and the beam gave the man’s lifeless face an eerie glow that made Tate lose control of his bladder.

  The body’s right eye was open and staring straight ahead. Milky white spread over the iris, its color stolen by death. Maggots squirmed in the man’s nostril.

  His nose within an inch of the man’s, lungs gasping, stomach bubbling, Tate scrambled backed until he banged against the wall. Unable to stop himself, he trained his flashlight on the body. Dead, dead, dead–death right in front of him, real and terrifying in its indignity. Alone and probably forgotten, the man had sat here and died. His body had emptied itself. The bugs came. A cockroach slithered across the dead forehead.

  Disgust and fear welled inside Tate. And then utter sorrow. This poor man. Lily. This could have been Lily.

  He wouldn’t let it happen to her. Tate would find his sister if he had to spend the rest of the summer trolling these miserable storm drains. He wouldn’t give up on her.

  The vow gave him a sense of control. His senses returned, and he realized he was still nose-to-nose with the corpse.

  Jesus. Tate blew out a hard breath.

  The dead man’s left eye slid open.

  Tate screamed.

  He jerked back, slammed against the wall, and saw stars. He dropped the flashlight, and the tunnel went dark.

  The blackness snatched Tate. He thought he heard it laugh. His arms flailed until he touched something cold and hard, covered with something soft and pliable.

  The dead man’s hand.

  The darkness called his name. A whisper at first, sneaking through the filthy air and lodging itself in his brain. Louder. And louder still. Over and over his name echoed in the darkness.

  Tate, Tate, Tate.

  He had been right; the dark was evil. All these years, it waited for him, biding its time until he was too weak to fight. The Sandman couldn’t help him now. Ice cooled his veins. He tried to run, but the blackness was everywhere. Terror–the kind that turns a man’s stomach inside out–overwhelmed him.

  The dark kept talking, kept calling, kept laughing. He covered his ears.

  “Leave me alone!”

  Run the fuck away.

  Robbed of his sense of direction, he stumbled, feet slipping and sliding, legs barely able to support his weight.

  His foot hit something solid. He teetered for a single, heart-stopping moment, and then pitched forward. Pain radiated across his head and down into his spine. With a shaking hand, he felt around in the dark for the hard object.

  His stomach jumped into his throat.

  The dead man’s foot.

  The darkness started laughing again. It called his name louder still.

  Something long and hard-shelled slithered across Tate’s neck and into his shirt.

  Raw terror owned his brain. His muscles locked up as tight as the corpse at his side. And the darkness devoured Tate’s fear.

  Ready to claim his soul.

  Tate closed his eyes and gave in.
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