I was being pulled down lower and lower, closer to Tam. They watched me get closer, our eyes met. They reached out toward me. I reached out and took their hand. “It’s not over yet,” I told them. “We can still get out of here.”
“Oh,” Tam whispered, thin tendrils stuck to their face. “How?”
“We’ll find a way,” I told them. “We always do.”
“We do,” I assured them, though things were looking pretty grim, all of us captured by these tendrils, our live energy being sucked out of us. The Sheriff and his deputies were already too weakened to help. And me being pulled down further toward hole at the bottom of this cave. I could see it beneath us, widening, undulating. This was where the tendrils had sprung from, this was where the monster lived. It reminded me so much of a mouth that it was hard not to believe that this creature was trying to eat me.
“Hold on, Frank!” I heard Crag yell. I glanced over and saw him still climbing down the wall. “I’m coming!”
Crag was still free and mobile. He was the only hope we had left, that I had left, but he was still several feet up and many, many yards away. It seemed impossible that he could reach me in time. But, then, to my utter surprise he made the stupid decision to push off of the cave wall and let himself drop down to the cave floor. No, I wanted to yell to him, don’t. Stop. It was suicide. He was going to hurt himself. But, even if I’d had the energy to yell loud enough so that he could actually hear me, it wouldn’t have mattered. It was already too late. He was already falling. There was no stopping him now. All I could do was pray that he’d survive it.
Crag dropped like a brick toward the bottom of the cave. But there was one thing I hadn’t take into consideration, that I hope he had, and that was that the cave floor was covered in tendrils. It wasn’t the rocky cave floor that he slammed into, but the rubbery tendrils laying across it. Crag bounced when he hit and went flying back up into the air. He came down again and bounced again, coming closer and closer. By the third time he hit, the impact had diminished enough that was able to turn it into a run. But before I started to have hope, I realized that it was only a matter of time before those tendrils turned on him. Sooner or later they’d grow tired of being stepped on and they’d wrap themselves around him and he’d be ensnared like the rest of us.
But did I even have that long to wait? I was being pulled even further down. My feet were nearly at the gaping mouth. I clung tightly to Tam’s hand. Even though they were very clearly weakened, their grip was still surpringly strong. I could feel myself being pulled between them, between Tam and the tendrils, between the tendrils holding me and the tendrils holding Tam.
Suddenly, Tam let out a pained gasp and I realized that it wasn’t just me in peril here. Tam was being pulled at, as well. Holding their hand, tugging on them, was hurting them. They were weak and I was pulling at their arm while the tendrils holding the rest of them there, suspending them. I had to let go. I was going to pull their arm out of their socket and I couldn’t bear to hurt them anymore. Tam tried to grab me again, but they were in no position to help, not anymore. With nothing holding me back, I was pulled down quickly toward the gaping mouth. My feet disappeared inside before I heard the scream.
It was Crag. He was running toward me with long bouncing strides. “Hold on, Frank! I’m coming!”
Desperately, I tried to find something to hold on to, something to slow my descent. I was too far away from Tam. I couldn’t reach them. I was now halfway down the hole. Everything below my waist had been pulled into the creature’s mouth. Crag was still bouncing toward me.
“Frank!” he yelled, as he came ever closer. But he would be too late. I was sinking lower and lower. He was getting closer and closer, but I was now pulled down below my chest. I had to crane my neck to see him and only then when he bounced at the top of his arc.
I was down to my neck. I held my hands out, reaching for him, even though I knew he’d never get there. I was being pulled lower and lower. I could see Crag running. I could see him dive toward me as I slipped beneath the hole.
I remember thinking it was the last I would see of him, the last I would see of anyone. The only place to look was directly above me, to Tam lying there, suspended in the air, unable to move. My hands were the only part of me above the hole. It was down to my elbows, my forearms, my wrists, my palm, my fingers… I was almost completely consumed. All seemed lost. I thought that was the end and then…something grabbed me.
to be continued…