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Episode II -- Underground

Premiered 20 March 2009

 

Multiple Choice -- Episode II

Underground

 

David came rushing down what might have been an exciting water slide in a theme park. In this case, however, a greater amount of water than found at most theme parks was carrying him down to a deserted, trashed, and to all extents and purposes an ancient and abandoned subway tunnel. The water slide was in fact a bit more like an old covert desperately in need of some maintenance.  The water ceased to flow just as David hit the ground, leaving him suddenly alone.  Shakily, David began to pick himself up.  Then he glanced around at the scene, one with all the ingredients of an environmental hell -- dirty, dark and dismal, chemical-laced water standing in occasional puddles, no other signs of life, and a deadly penetrating silence.  David’s mouth dropped open for a moment -- until he abruptly wrinkled his nose and frowned heavily. It suddenly occurred to him that it might be wise to keep his mouth shut hereabouts, and perhaps even breath through a handkerchief. The stench was, after all, entirely sufficient to gag a maggot.

With one hand over his nose and mouth, David peered into the darkness.  Everything in sight was decidedly rotten, decayed, cast off, ransacked and found wanting, and/or was dying from multiple causes and afflictions.  Leaks from the overhead were dripping onto the floor where they sizzled in the manner of water being dropped into hot grease.  David’s eyes widened as he looked at the apparent, toxic chemical reactions. He began to carefully move away from the two or three, most reactive puddles.  He walked hesitantly, constantly looking around and occasionally tripping over debris.  Quietly, in a very low voice, he broke the silence.

“Hello…? Anybody… home? Any body…?

No answer. The only sounds were the dripping and David’s heavy breathing.  As he cautiously looked around, he shuddered.  Then he began walking down what appeared to be a main tunnel, taking great care to be quiet and not get caught in the scattered debris.  Rounding a small bend, he suddenly detected a movement in a darkened corner.  His first reaction was to freeze and step back.  But then, peering closer, he managed to glimpse a flash of long hair.  A bleak, hopeful smile of possible recognition crossed his face as Katy stepped into the light.

“Oh, thank God! Maybe now we can make some sense of what the crap’s going on around here!”

Yeah, right.

David’s relief had been sufficient for him to glance upward and throw his head back, shaking it from side to side on the downswing… as if to say that nothing could be believed. Katy, being the survivalist she had always been, took the opportunity of his not watching her to lunge at him, swinging a previously concealed, very large knife.  At the same time, she tripped on an unstable pile of rubble, lost her balance, and just missed slashing David’s midsection.  David, out of the corner of his eye, had seen her attack just enough for him to instinctively dodge the knife.  She cursed and readied herself for another attack, while David stared wide-eyed at his former lover. Okay, okay; enough’s enough. Taking their last fight to this extreme was just too much!

David communicated this, in part, by asking, “What the hell…?”

Katy’s comment summed up her position of the subject. “Time for some meat, big boy. You look nice and… well fed.”

David started backing up.  He stumbled back upon some rusted pipe, and in a quick reflex grabbed a short piece to use as a club.  He raised the rusted pipe as if to defend himself. It did not have quite the appearance of an unassailable defense, but it did make Katy just slightly more wary.

“I don’t know what’s going on, Katy, but…”

Now that got her attention! “How’d you know my name?”

“Are you kidding? We’re lovers… or we were…”

Katy was truly astonished. “What?

“Don’t you remember? Your friend’s cabin in the mountains… the…”

Katy stopped in her tracks, looking at him askance. Then she began to smile again, returning to her cat approach.

“You’re trying to confuse me. It won’t work.”

She was now moving toward David again, her confidence returning as she began to parry with her knife (despite the fact her weapon was not a paring knife).  A noise from another direction suddenly caught and divided her attention.  Glancing furtively from David to the direction of the noise and back, she spoke in a low, suddenly nervous, suspicious voice.

A confederate of yours, perhaps?”

David almost laughed. “Trust me, Katy… in this neighborhood, I don’t know anybody!” Then his momentary smile vanished.

Out of the darkness, someone we shall identify only as Ugly Dude emerged. Ugly (if we might address him with such informality) was a huge, stench-ridden man with absolutely no socially redeeming value whatsoever.  For most purposes, he could have been an alien storm trooper sergeant major.

Katy stiffened and switched to a defensive stance to fight off either attacker.  Then she glanced at David and quickly whispered to him, “If we fight each other, the winner will have to deal with him. But if we team up…”

David’s expression quickly becomes a subversive smile. “Gotcha! Make it look like we’re fighting. Then when I say, ‘Now!’… go for his gut!”

Katy smiled in agreement and swung her knife at David, which he narrowly side-stepped, his expression one of genuine surprise.  Ugly Dude began moving toward them casually.  This was better than finding prey; he could either abscond with the first to fall, or take on the weary winner and pick up an extra carcass in the process. The first option was the more practical, but Messire Dude was not into practicality. There is some question as to whether he could spell the word; much less practice the art.

Katy had thrusted again at David, slightly off angle such that he grabbed her wrist.  Bringing his pipe down toward her opposite shoulder, he allowed her to grab his wrist as well.  They began to struggle: David holding her knife at bay and Katy avoiding his pipe.  Watching the momentary standoff, Ugly Dude abruptly smiled and walked boldly up to the others, raising his arms, both hands clutching a huge, deadly looking metal rod.  David was glancing back and forth between Ugly Dude and Katy, when suddenly our hero... finally... took the initiative.

“Now!”

David turned to swing his pipe at Ugly Dude’s face, striking it across the mouth and nose.  The surprise had the most effect, but the blow itself had minimal effect -- other than the rusty pipe partially shattering in an explosion of rusted dust.  Katy reacted to David’s attempt by going low and slashing Ugly Dude just below the waistline.  The knife had considerably more effect, as the man’s expression quickly turned from surprise to one of acute, confused pain. 

David took a second swing with his shortened pipe, this time going for Ugly Dude’s knee (and destroying the rusty pipe once and for all in the process).  David took a quick, disconcerting look at his shattered weapon, as his victim reacted to the knee hit by staggering to one side, favoring his wounded leg, and simultaneously bending over from the effects of the knife slash.  In the process, with a disturbing look of anguish and pain on his ugly face, he slowly lowered his weapon. 

Katy thrust toward him, driving her knife directly into his ugly neck.  Everything stopped as blood spouted out, some getting on Katy, but even more on David.  As the Dynamic Duo stepped back, Ugly Dude got this really surprised and terrified look on his face.  Then he fell forward, landing between his assailants.  David looked down at the dying hulk, and then back at Katy.  Both of them were breathing hard.  Then David tried to smile, gesturing to the body before him.

“If you’re looking for meat…”

“Are you kidding? Can’t you smell it? It’s chemo! Deadliest stuff on the planet.” For a moment, Katy looked at David with the age old question: ‘How can you still be alive if you’re that dumb?’

David partially confirmed her worst suspicions. “Now what are you talking about?”

"I used to be a nurse. Trust me. You eat this dude and his cancer will eat you. Assuming the chemo doesn’t kill you first.”

David didn’t really get it. “Yeah,” he joked, “it’s like the two cannibals eating a clown. One turns to the other and asks, ‘Does this taste funny to you?’”

David laughed… albeit half-heartedly (he had, admittedly, heard himself tell that joke many, many… nay many times before). Katy just looked at him.

“I certainly have no intention of eating this piece of garbage! But you, on the other hand, were a real possibility. Unless, of course, you’re as crazy as I’m beginning to think you are. And if you’re crazy, it’s a fair bet it’s drug induced… the kind of thing that is communicable.”

“Actually,” David replied with sudden dashed expectations, “I wasn’t planning on eating anybody. Are you kidding me?”

Katy was genuinely surprised. “So how do you get your protein? You look healthy enough, plenty of meat on your bones.”

“I eat meat and cheese… I guess…”

“Right! A quick trip to the corner supermarket.” Katy frowned. “Yeah,” she decided, “that’s probably it… dementia. You really are crazy. The Collapse and all the other stuff that followed was just too much for your limited mind set. Sometimes, it takes a while before one’s world really and truly falls apart.”

Katy began to back away. David was not ready for yet another parting… not quite yet, at any rate.

“Wait!”

Katy quickly raised her knife in a defensive posture, continuing to back up.  David stopped in his tracks, his eyes focused on her knife.

“Let’s just you and I walk away. It was great doing business with you, but that’s all done now. Chalk it up to diverse, shared experiences. Okay?”

David held his hands open in a non-threatening pose, as Katy kept backing away.

"But… we’re a team!”

Katy laughed. “With your rusted pipe? I don’t think so.”

Time to bluff. “That’s part of my act. I look like an easy mark. Until you get close up and…”

“And then everyone sees you really are easy!” Katy’s grin broadened.

“But then,” David suggested, “You could always finish them off.”

“No thanks,” Katy replied. With that conversation concluded, she vanished into the darkness.

“Wait! Katy! Don’t leave me!”

No answer. Not even a sound of running footsteps. David suddenly looked downcast. He added in a lowered, pathetic voice, “Not again, anyway! Damn!”

David sighed heavily and turned away. After a quick glance around, he began exploring again.  Walking somewhat aimlessly, he moved along the main tunnel, glancing into small, dark secondary tunnels, but hesitating to go into any of them. Where there was dark, there was potential danger.

After several long minutes of exploration, lack of discovery, and a fair number of trips, stumbles, and kicking of rusty metal to one side, David found something altogether different… a rubble-strewn stairway leading upwards toward a flickering light.  After a cursive examination of the light, David smiled slightly and started up the steps.

That plan was simply too much for Katy… who had been stalking her former partner. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

David stopped in his tracks, smiled despite himself, and turned to see his former lover slipping out of the darkness and into the dim light.

“Katy,” he exclaimed. “Couldn’t go on without me, huh?”

“Don’t flatter yourself.”

Katy stood there, staring at him, her knife still in her hand, but in a slightly less-threatening position. David glanced at the knife, his momentary smile fading. With his head, he gestured toward the top of the stairs.

“I was heading for the light up there.”

“But that’s topside, you idiot!”

“So? I mean, it’s out in the open… right?” The expression on her face spoke megabytes. “Not good, huh?”

"It’s toxic! Jesus, you really are demented!”

"But you came after me. You really do care?”

“You lummox,” she explained. “I was willing to forego dining on your thighs and other appendages. But if you’ve got some sort of death wish, I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss out on a meal so just you can decay topside.”

“Look,” David said, his voice now showing it’s general frustration. “I just want to go home… preferably with you. I really don’t need all this crap.”

“Too late,” Katy answered. “There is no home. Not anymore.”

“What are you talking about?”

"You really don’t know, do you?”

When David acknowledged as much, she added, “The toxic wastes, you moron! The acid rain, the chemical poisons in the groundwater, the radiation from the terrorists’ attacks, the… Jesus! Where have you been? And how in the world have you managed to stay alive?”

"Toxic wastes? Hey, wait a minute. It’s not my stuff. I mean, like I recycled and all that.”

Katy was again amazed. “Now, what are you babbling about?”

Abruptly, creaking noises began to be heard, followed by different shades and colors of dust falling from the ceilings. The ground began to shake, rapidly increasing in intensity. The occasion yielded a momentary agreement between Katy and David who both growled at the same time. Katy had taken the soprano part, and David the base. It was very nearly one of their more harmonious moments as they exclaimed in near-perfect pitch, “Shit!”

Katy took off running, with David following her, some ten feet behind.  She went down the tunnel, dodging pieces of metal, concrete and rock as they fell into the underground world.  David dodged his own falling debris, as he attempted to follow her path.  Katy suddenly veered from her course and headed for a small concrete inset in the tunnel wall.  There she quickly disappeared into the darkness.  David ran after her without any hesitation or the slightest degree of slowing down.  Just as he reached the inset, however, he heard the sound of water cascading down a tunnel.

Pulling up short, David put his hands in front of him, arms fully extended.

“Ohhhhh… shit!”

Before he could further elaborate, or compose additional variations on a theme by any of a number of lyricists, the roar and power of the water hit him, sending him tumbling backwards… as he once again phased.

 

Episode I -- One Night Stands

Forward to:

Episode III -- High Plains

               

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