by Steven Cuffari
Tom Rutherford was horrified one winter evening when his employer, the wealthy and powerful John Cartier, burst into the room hysterically crying, his suit and hands covered in blood. “Sir! What happened!” he shouted, rushing to Cartier’s aid.
“It’s Alice,” he moaned. “In the bedroom!”
They ran to her. Cartier fell to his knees and wept while Rutherford just stood there, mouth agape.
Alice was sprawled out on the bed, gutted and slashed. Her eyes and mouth were wide open as if reacting to some unexpected horror. The white sheets of the bed were blackened with her blood. She looked dead, and recently. Rutherford immediately thought it had been a murder.
“Sir, we have to call the police!” Rutherford said.
“No. No,” he said sniffling. “No police.” He stood up and wiped the tears from his face, leaving behind streaks. He composed himself. “No police,” he repeated.
“Sir, what do you mean, we have to do something!” he shouted. He looked at Alice’s gruesomely torn shell and lowered his voice. “Sir, she’s dead.”
Cartier momentarily lost his composure. “No!” He immediately calmed himself after the outburst. “No she’s not dead. I can save her, but we must act fast,” said. “Now. Help me.”
“Sir,” Rutherford said. “I don’t think we should move her.”
“Just help me pick her up,” Cartier commanded. “Wrap her in the sheets.” He began to pull the sheets off the bed.
Rutherford’s blood ran cold at the thought of moving her mutilated corpse. “Sir, please tell me… What happened here?”
Cartier’s face showed his anger. “Just grab her legs and help me!”
Rutherford was startled by the unusual violence in his voice. He could hardly recognize him, covered in gore, as the man who had employed him for close to the last 30 years. Out of both fear and breeding, he did as he was ordered. As they carried her, tiny bits of flesh dropped and fresh blood dripped from the sheets.
When they reached the library, they placed their morbid cargo on the floor. Rutherford looked back at their bloody wake and winced. Tears burgeoned in Cartier’s eyes as he looked down at her. He took a deep breath and removed one of the books. When he placed it on another shelf, the wall shifted slightly and opened to reveal a creaky, old, wooden elevator.
Rutherford had thought he knew every crack and crevice of the house intimately. His family had lived there with the Cartiers since he was a baby. “What is this?”
Cartier sighed, eyes still wet with tears. “It’s an old mining lift, my grandfather had it covered up once the mine was stripped.”
They got in, closed the doors and descended. It was a quick ride, and when they reached the bottom, the doors opened to a cold, dark cave. Cartier felt around in the pitch, and the lights turned on although they flickered inconsistently. Rutherford bent down to pick up Alice’s body.
“No,” said Cartier. “Just go back upstairs.” He dragged the body out. “I’ll take care of her.”
“Sir, what is this place?” Rutherford asked. “What are you doing?”
“I can’t explain,” Cartier replied. “Just go back upstairs, and forget that any of this ever happened.”
Confused and afraid, Rutherford did as he was told. On the way back up, he considered calling the police. He thought that it was the right thing to do. He couldn’t imagine what Cartier planned to do down in the cave, but he realized it couldn’t be good.
When he reached the library, he winced again at the gory bits strewn about, careful not to disturb them. He stared at them for a while, contemplating and realized that there was no other choice but to call the police. There was a phone in the library. He picked up and began to dial, but before he could finish, the elevator door opened again.
It was Cartier. He stood in the threshold for a moment as if he were watching Rutherford and judging him.
He put down the phone, worried about what his employer might think. Or do.
Cartier walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. His face was drawn of color and dark bags were forming under his eyes. “It’s been a long night, Tom.”
Rutherford felt odd hearing his name from Cartier’s lips. He had only ever called him Rutherford, even when they were boys.
“Go to sleep and get some rest. I’ll take care of this.”
The next morning, Rutherford awoke, having gotten very little sleep. He had dreamt of the horrible events of the previous night and couldn’t get the image of poor Alice’s bloody face and body out of his mind. He needed to know what became of her. He waited nervously all day until Cartier appeared.
He walked into the kitchen where Rutherford was cleaning, and his face was paler and more gaunt than the night before.
They had never been close enough to be called friends, but they had known each other almost since birth, and it was hard for Rutherford to see him like this.
He handed him a piece of paper. “Please pick these things up for me in town.” He spoke and moved slowly as if his energy had been sapped.
“Are you okay, sir? And Alice?”
“I’m fine, Rutherford. And Alice, yes, she’s… doing better…”
Rutherford didn’t believe him. He wanted to ask what the list was for, but before he could open his mouth, Cartier had disappeared.
When Rutherford returned with the items from town, he gave them to Cartier. “Here you go sir. That’s everything.”
He looked better than he had earlier that day, but it was obvious that he was wearing makeup to conceal his peaked look. “Thank you, Rutherford.”
“You’re welcome, sir.” He waited for a moment to speak so that Cartier could inspect the items.
He was about to walk away when Rutherford stopped him with a question.
“Excuse me, sir. If you don’t mind me asking, what is all this for?”
Cartier turned to him and gave him a morose glare. “I don’t have time to explain, Rutherford. I have to go out now. Let’s talk later.”
That night, Cartier returned but not alone. He was accompanied by a stranger, a man. They seemed to have just met in town. He was carrying a small suitcase.
As they entered, Rutherford was dusting pictures on the walls at the top of the stairs. Neither one of them noticed him there. What now? he thought. Cartier was not known for being sociable. He listened to them talk as he worked above them.
From what Rutherford could glean from their conversation, the man’s name was Kevon. He was a tourist and just passing through. Apparently, all the hotels in town were booked up, and he had been left without a bed for the night. Luckily, he had met Cartier, who had offered him a place to stay.
“I’ll take your bag up to the spare room,” Cartier said. “You can wait for me in the library.”
That was the last Rutherford ever saw of the man.
Later when he went to bed, he was unable to sleep. He had too many questions and wasn’t getting any answers. He paced around in his pajamas, unable to quell the fear and doubt in his heart. Soon, he couldn’t bear it any longer. Grabbing a flashlight, he crept slowly through dark rooms and corridors. When he arrived at the library, he pointed the flashlight at the secret door. He cautiously stepped toward it, trying not to make a sound with his slippered feet.
“Rutherford!” Cartier jumped out from the darkness and grabbed him by the collar and slammed him against the wall.
Rutherford screamed and froze. He pointed the flashlight up toward their faces which were so close that their noses almost touched. Rutherford could see that Cartier’s face was now almost skeletal in its gauntness. There was a fresh cut bleeding on one of his cheeks.
“Don’t ever come in here again…” His voice was wet and guttural. “Not if you value your life…”
Rutherford swallowed, almost coughing on his saliva. His heart pounded in fear. “Yes, sir,” he eked out.
“Yes, sir.” Rutherford ran, terrified, back to his quarters. He took a valium, made himself a double whiskey and drank himself to sleep.
The next day, he woke again, but now with a hangover. He hadn’t had nightmares this time, but still hadn’t been able to get any sleep. He had a bad feeling that something terrible was going to happen again. He felt sick to his stomach. His nerves were shot. He rubbed his face and looked at his hands. They were shaking. He still thought about calling the police, but he was so tired that he couldn’t make sense of what was happening, let alone explain it to the police. He looked over at the phone, next to which was his alarm clock. It hadn’t gone off at 7 am like usual. It was almost noon, and he was late. He got himself together as quickly as possible and got to work. Normally, he expected Cartier to be up early, but not anymore. He waited anxiously for him to pop out from a secret corner or emerge from a hiding place in the shadows.
Later that night, Rutherford was polishing tables in the salon when Cartier returned home.
Again, he was with a stranger, this time a woman, also with a suitcase.
The same as before, Rutherford listened, unobserved, as Cartier took the woman’s luggage and invited her to the library.
After he finished working, Rutherford’s curiosity overwhelmed him. Instead of going to bed, he took a flashlight and ventured into the library. When he got there, he steeled himself, opened the secret door and descended to the depths of the cavern below.
When the doors opened, the cold dankness of the cave rushed in and sent chills through his body. The lights were already on as he guessed they would be. They flickered in front of him, not providing enough light to shirk his fear. He stepped out of the elevator into the unknown. The corridor ahead was dark and seemingly without end. His flashlight cut through the darkness of the tunnel. He waved it forward, left to right, back and forth, expecting someone, or something to be creeping around there. Senses heightened, his heart and breathing raced. Finally, around a slight corner, he saw a dim light bulb hanging in a room. There was a figure standing in between him and the light, but he couldn’t tell if it was Cartier. It stood working at a table, but it was too dark to see what it was working on.
As Rutherford neared the end of the tunnel, he shut off the flashlight and concealed himself as much as possible in the shadows. The figure turned slightly, and in the dim light, he could now see that it was Cartier. He was startled at the sight of his gaunt master, and he cringed in the darkness. His anxiety rose into this throat when he saw that the woman from earlier was tied to the table. He swallowed and tried to remain calm. She wasn’t moving and appeared to be dead. She had a line of blood on her face as if she had been hit over the head.
Cartier began to murmur in sinister verse. It was a language Rutherford couldn’t understand, but one that he recognized as Native-American. The woman began to stir and moan. She was not a corpse after all.
Rutherford grinded his teeth and clenched his fists. During Cartier’s bizarre chant, a cryptic, inhuman wail echoed through the caves. The sound made him queasy as if on a rollercoaster. It seemed to be coming from one of the tunnels on the other side of the room.
Cartier smiled at the sound and stopped chanting. He picked up a long, sharp knife from the table. The woman, now conscious enough to realize her mortal predicament, screamed for her life. Cartier murmured a few more words, and then viciously raised the knife above his head.
Without thinking, Rutherford jumped out from the darkness.
“No!” he shouted, tackling Cartier to the ground.
“Rutherford!” Cartier shouted in surprise.
The men struggled and fought until Rutherford took the knife away from Cartier. Rutherford pummeled him, bloodying his face. He held the knife up to Cartier, but he didn’t want to kill him.
“You fool! You don’t know what you are doing!” Cartier shouted, prostrated.
Rutherford quickly began cutting the woman loose. As he did so, Cartier murmured and laughed on the floor.
“Ha, ha, ha! You don’t know what you’re doing!” Cartier said.
Another inhuman wail blasted through the cavern. In the tunnel across from them, two eyes, red like flame, burned in the darkness. Rutherford stared wide-eyed in awe. Cartier continued to laugh maniacally. The woman, now free, ran in terror.
A creature emerged, part human, part earth and plant. It had vicious claws and teeth made of jagged bits of stone. It wailed again and came into the light.
Rutherford couldn’t keep his eyes off the thing. It was an amalgam of flesh and earth, and it wore a human face. Involuntarily, he uttered its name. “Alice…”
Rutherford backed away slowly and dropped the knife. He tried to run, but Cartier slammed him against the wall.
“You fool! You ruined everything!”
“No! Sir, you’ve gone mad! This is insane, we’ve got to run!” Rutherford pleaded.
“Now you must pay!” Cartier cried.
Rutherford struggled with Cartier and tried to escape, but before he could, the thing was upon them. It wailed and slashed Rutherford’s neck with one of its gruesome claws. He fell to the ground clenching his throat as it gushed with blood.
Then, the thing grabbed Cartier, picking him up over its head. Splitting him in two, it easily tossed his legs to the side. It cracked open his chest and peeled his ribs back.
The last thing that Rutherford saw before he passed out and died was the beast plucking out and devouring Cartier’s still-beating, bleeding heart.