Suggested Audio Candy
David Julyan “The Descent Suite”
It was a long uncomfortable flight back from New York. Silent Shadow was not a happy camper after almost not getting to the chopper before evac and I had rarely seen him so infuriated. Something had to be done quick to save our friendship as it had taken a few rough knocks during our stay in The Big Apple. Many bonds would have been broken already by this point but I knew that one good plan could change the forecast. He was not the grudge-bearing kind and, besides, I knew his weakness. Cheap industrial-strength lager, utterly toxic and capable of eating through a man’s liver faster than you can pull back the ring pull. That was the way to his heart and I fully intended on using this as my bargaining tool.
In addition, I decided to swing by and pick up a few stragglers for our pre-planned mining expedition. It seemed like the ideal opportunity for a spot of team building and it needed some willing participants to bulk up the numbers. Peter Kidder was first, the dude had done nothing but endear himself to us over the months and he already shared a close bond with Shadow so he just had to be here. He climbed aboard and instantly hit it off with Alan due, in part, to their shared affection for Kiss. As Shadow and I sat in silence while I thought about my callous actions and repented, they sat in the cockpit reciting Rock & Roll All Nite and plucking their air guitars.
Fortunately, Peter’s unwavering positive attitude and zest for life had rubbed off and, for the first time, I saw Alan let his hair down which was curious given as he was as bald as a cue ball. He really was quite fascinating to listen to and had many fables to tell from back in the day. “So I’m outside my local with a couple of my pals ain’t I. When out of fucking nowhere this blue Ford Escort comes right at us. I jump one way, pint and fag goes the other. Gets to my feet, walks over to him, grabs him by the scruff and says to him that was a full fucking pint son. So I head-butted the cunt right on his hooter. Teeth went one way, glasses another.”
Peter was in visible awe, hanging from every next word and there was plenty more where that came from. Alan had also developed some kind of twitch and his head was bobbing and weaving like a Trafalgar Square pigeon. Before too long, Shadow perked up although occasionally I’d still receive that look. You know, the one which says “You’re pond scum, the lowest form of algae.” That one. I was beginning to feel like the outcast of the piece as both Bonus Brain and Balls were less than amused by my choices in New York also. That’s right, everyone be down on Keeper, bust my chops as they love nothing more than being busted. To be fair, Shadow was the one who resembled an overstretched slinky after the werewolf attack so I decided on sucking it up like the human Dirt Devil that I am.
Our second stop was back in the English countryside as we called in on Tortured Soul and Bleeding Lotus to make up the numbers. As if I wasn’t already feeling like the sixth member of the Jackson five, Soul had his beef with me too. While Shadow and I were doggy-paddling away from Lockjaws, he was left in a state of mid-digestion within the Great White’s stomach acids. He escaped only because of being more of a banquet than the shark was anticipating. Soul is one hench motherfucker you see, each of his biceps have their own postal code and everything in between is packed tight like Spam. At least Lotus had no reason to be disgruntled with me. His narcolepsy generally meant he slept through most of life’s main events. He barely knew what month he was in at the very best of times.
We rendezvoused with Soul and Lotus at an intimate English countryside pub. This afforded Shadow the opportunity to come good on his offer of introducing Peter to his favorite tipple. It almost melted the pitcher before he got it to his lips so heaven knows what sort of skulduggery was afoot inside his abdomen. I left it until everyone had begun to loosen up some before revealing my cunning plan. We were to go spelunking. Soul possibly misheard me as he began rubbing his knees and licking both lips suggestively but I explained that spelunking was another term for caving, potholing, digging deep and I watched the glow in his eyes fade just a little. Despite his indifference, the other guys were stoked about their very own underground expedition and I knew he’d come around to it in time.
Before too long we were just tanked up enough with alcohol to set off towards the nearest spelunking hot spot and make our descent. Spirits were soaring by this point even though Tortured Soul had managed to start a good old-fashioned bar-room brawl by midway through our third pint. That dude could start a full-scale riot in Sesame Street. The scary thing is I can actually imagine it; Big Bird pecking his peepers, the Count swinging from his jugular and Bert and Ernie dangling from each of his calves for dear life.
I decided at the eleventh hour that this was no place for Bonus Balls so he sat this one out; five perspiring alphas hundreds of feet below ground level was never going to offer up the opportunities he craved so I sent him back to the inn for a cold shower. Bonus Brain, on the other hand, was coming with us. We could do with his superior map-reading skills even though we were about to enter into uncharted territory. True to form, he found something instantly to gripe about. “Ah yes, this place. Would it bother you to learn that this is a hive for all manner of troglofaunal flesh-eating humanoids?” was his poker-faced poser. “Not really. You always slap a wet haddock across proceedings so why change the habit of a lifetime?” I replied. If I was going down there for one picosecond then I sure as hell wasn’t doing so with him hanging from my earlobe, dripping his noxious toxins into my drum. This was all about five men against the elements. Sliding into Mother Nature’s forgotten crevasse and he could put up, shut up or fuck the hell off and find another party to crash. “Suit yourself” was all he could muster but I’m sure I discerned the word “putz” attached.
His bad feeling was beginning to spread like space-herpes as Shadow and Soul had picked up from where they left off back at the Orca, trading verbal blows all the way down the zip-line. As we reached the basin and unfastened our harnesses four of us were gobsmacked by the natural beauty of Earth’s womb whereas Soul was busy scribbling phallic symbols over thousand-year-old cave paintings. It had to be a full hundred feet down and we were miles away from civilization should events turn awry but we purged forth into the blackened recess of the unmapped cave, fueled by testosterone and lingering alcohol. The cheap industrial strength lager had settled into Peter’s gut by now and all color had drained from his face but it didn’t remove the smile. What a trooper, many would have run a mile at the primary sip but he necked a good liter of the toxic brew and survived to tell the tale.
We made our way through a crawlspace to the lower sub-levels and all emerged the other side except for Lotus. After a good five minutes of waiting I clambered back through and he had fallen asleep midway. That dude would slumber through a tsunami I tell you. A quick blast of smelling salts did the trick. “What… what did I miss?” he asked. “Nothing Lotus but we’re going to need your eyes on swivels from hereon in. We are in most unstable grounds and the whole place could fall around our ears at any second” I responded. “Gotcha chief, I’m wide awake.” He nodded back off, of course, before his words even had chance to hang in the air. I swear he’s been breast-feeding.
Tortured Soul had grown ever more irate and had taken Shadow to task over his abandonment back at Amity although admittedly he still found time to show off his new-fangled bite trophy. Tempers became raised, not helped by our insular trappings and it culminated in Soul punching the wall in frustration. It all turned to shit around that time as the impact was sufficient to dislodge the surrounding rocks, sealing us in with our only available exit at the receiving end of a vicious landslide. Suddenly team building wasn’t appearing as savvy a suggestion as we were soundly trapped and oxygen depletion was just around the corner. “Chill your beans. There’s always another way out” was easy for him to say but his reckless actions and short fuse had gotten us all into a real spelunking nightmare.
As if this wasn’t enough of a calamity, I was convinced I had spotted a pale creature drinking from a pool down the way from our position. As I attempted to get a closer look he scurried off but I witnessed enough to confirm that our plight was about to become far more desperate. I warned the others but they put it down to a spot of stir craziness; all except for Bonus Brain who wore his smuggest “told you so” look and this time definitely followed with “putz.” Maybe it was time paid attention to what he foretold as he did have an uncanny knack of being on the money.
Suddenly a most ominous audio echoed around us. It was something clearly not human and didn’t sound benign in the slightest. “Dude. I don’t think we’re alone down here” Shadow said solemnly. With all due respect, that was exactly what I had been trying to explain. That creature certainly didn’t look like it was about to nuzzle us, guzzle more like, and I knew that my decision had once again put us in grave peril. It’s thankless work being a shit magnet although Soul was as much to blame for bringing the house down around us. Meanwhile Peter remained chipper despite all signs pointing to “you’re all fucked.” Turns out that cheap industrial-strength lager was also a fine numbing agent.
I hate to be the guy that says “I told you so” but all of a sudden all bloody hell broke loose as our troglofaunal friend made a reappearance, this time accompanied by a handful of his brethren. We all scattered except for Lotus who was too busy catching flies to notice the commotion. Poor bastard wasn’t even aware when one of the crawlers sank its teeth into his throat and ripped it clean away from the marrow. There was no time to mourn as the same kind of fate awaited any of us foolhardy enough to procrastinate and we all headed off for safe ground. Peter and Shadow went one way, Tortured Soul another, and I was left in a most precarious position surrounded by gnashing teeth and fully protracted claws all set to shred.
I fought a couple of the creatures off with my pickax but was becoming overrun fast so retreated back into the cave network before I became their next meal ticket. There was no sign of the others and every twisting passageway looked identical to the last so I sank into the shallow waters to keep myself low-key while my antagonists roamed around me. Studying the way they moved from pillar to post it was clear their evolution from human form had taken them in a much more ominous direction. These were not the kind of beings to be reasoned with and I was fairly assured that asking directions would be a bum steer so I remained submerged.
Speaking of which, this water was questionable. Bright red in hue and filled with compacted morsels of flesh and bone fragments, I was beginning to wonder how many other doomed expeditions had played out inside this cave. Despite my ears being clogged up with giblets and the like, I could hear Peter in the distance. More accurately, it was Detroit Rock City I could discern. He’d only gone and left his Walkman running, that was a sure-fire way to attract the dwellers and they appeared to have picked up on the sound bytes. I wanted to warn him but to do so would have been suicidal. I prayed they didn’t ascertain his position, the last thing I wanted was to offer him a one-way ticket to slow digestion.
I waded through the silage to gain a better vantage and, indeed, the creatures had located the source of the sound. It broke my heart to see him and Shadow desperately attempting to fend them off to no avail. I watched on as my friends were set upon and it was anything but pleasurable. Shadow already resembled a torn up wedding invite from our last escapade and now I simply had to watch on as a handful of these savage orcs dragged him into the blackest unknown. “Dude!” was Shadow’s final word and I wanted nothing more than to lend a hand but the odds were just too insurmountable. Then they set upon Peter and it appeared that Kiss was not their bag as they made short work of him too. After they’d had their fill, they scuttled away, leaving only bloody remains and a busted up Walkman behind.
I dashed over as soon as the coast was clear and Peter was still alive, albeit barely. There would be no calling Dr. Love on this occasion. Coughing up his own coppery bile he too spluttered his final words. “It sure has been a crazy, crazy night.” With that his carcass sank in the pool but not before he extended his right thumb and gave me a final salute. “Hasta la vista my friend. Hasta la vista.” I shed the customary solitary crimson tear and fled before the varmints came back for a second helping. In the next clearing I came across Tortured Soul who appeared to have gone postal and was muttering incoherently to himself, wearing the pelt of a couple of critters he had dismantled with his bare hands.
“Brother. We have to find a way out of this place” I suggested but it was too late for him. “Nah, I think I might stick around to be honest” was his reply and there was no time to reason with him. I could already hear shuffling in the shadows and they were once again advancing on our coordinates. I saluted him and took my leave, and the last I heard as I left the vicinity was his rousing war cry. “Come on you piteous pricks. Have at you. You wanna eat? Come and earn yourself a hunk of Tortured Soul motherfuckers. I’ll piss in your orb buckets. That’s right I’ll tear your assholes out and use them as frisbees.” He was going to be just fine and Alan would have been mighty proud of his send-off.
After an eternity of clambering up grue-sopping rock faces and down multiple blind alleys I finally caught my first glimmer of the light of day. It was indeed the opening I had been searching for and my one remaining ticket out so I puffed out my chest and made my final dash for freedom. There, I was birthed back into the wild and was battered, bruised and utterly dejected so hearing Bonus Brain reminding me that “I told you so but you just never listen” was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I tossed him back down the cranny and walked away. He had had every opportunity to remain my sidekick but chose his moments to bitch poorly. I had just watched on helplessly as four dear friends relinquished their lives and a touch of empathy wouldn’t have gone amiss. Fuck him, consider yourself lobotomized bitch.
Alan was ten minutes away and currently about-turning to swing back for evac so I had a little time to kill. I studied a few photos I had snapped back at the pub and remembered my dear brethren. It hadn’t been a complete wash out as I had managed to salvage Peter’s personal stereo from his mortal clutches before he made his final journey to the mosh-pit in the sky. Pressing play, I was greeted by God Gave Rock & Roll To You. It seemed fitting; God giveth and he damned well taketh away but he couldn’t extinguish the fire from a soul which blazed so bright. As a morale boosting exercise my choice of locale may well have sucked balls but I knew the experience had bought us all closer together in some way. Now seemed like the perfect time to pay one last visit to an old adversary.
Truly, Clearly, Really, Sincerely,
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2014