Hell’s Womb Intro. & Index

Hell's WombChemistry happens, in more ways than one, when trapped four hundred feet below the surface of the earth with an unthinkable evil clawing to escape.

Hell’s Womb, the birth of a plague. The death of a brother.

First, an introduction.

Hidely-ho, reader. I’m the writer best known as David Mark Brown and the infamous RedneckGranola. You may know me from such websites as www.thegreenporch.com or www.onetruepants. But currently you have stumbled upon my greatest achievement.

Reeferpunk is my self-created genre description (a sort of weird-Western, alternate history, 1920′s, humorous adventure thriller thing). Go here for more on that. These short stories take place in the same alternative history as the novels and sometimes involve major and/or minor characters. They are supplementary (but not necessary) to reading the novels and vice versa.

Join the Revolution!

No longer do good stories have to comply to the button-down world of publishing! You won’t find these bad boys behaving themselves under YA Paranormal or Mystery/Thrillers. Reeferpunk stories are written to blast apart retrictive confines of convention while still adhering to the classic elements of story-telling, the tried and true practices that carry us to the edge of of our seats, make us laugh and make us cry. I’m particularly fond of the characters that you will get to know and love over the next decade’s worth* of Reeferpunk.

*The first book will be cataclysmically good. The next three will be somehow even better. I’ll grow fat on my wealth of penny rolls (I like my money in shiny form) leading to a blase fifth book, then rebound for the sixth, seventh and eighth. The ninth will be a terrible attempt to take the characters into space on a diesel-powered locomotive (only read it if intoxicated). And blah, blah, blah.

Reading Hell’s Womb

Hell’s Womb is an origins story interwoven with a tale of twisted and broken love. Some of the characters you meet in this horror/suspense ditty will die gruesomely. Others will live gruesomely. While still others will simply live or die. It’s Aliens meets Pitch Black, but in 1919.

Divided into 12 sections that will reveal much and question more, Hell’s Womb aims to titillate, tease and freeze you with horror. So turn on the night light and enjoy the show!

Follow these links for more on ReeferPunk or Fistful of Reefer, the first novel in the series.

Hell’s Womb: p.12

The men’s empty stares forced her to relent. “This way.” She did her best to ignore the harsh yellow light put off by the Wedge and focus on the dim blue glow of her pendant. With a final glance behind her she saw Serge helping his wounded younger brother up from the spot where Eve had left him crumpled and bleeding. His words echoed in her mind. I’m not leaving without my brother.

She threw her mask off and puked without slowing down. In an even darker moment of clarity, she realized she hadn’t planned on leaving at all. As she guided the injured miners deftly through the maze of debris that used to be her home, the memory of Eve’s desperate expression choked her more thoroughly than the toxic air. The same transformation had begun in her, and the process would run its course unless she could stop it.

Sensing the miners falling behind, she slowed her pace so they reached the gap leading to the exhaust shaft together. Helping the three staggering men crawl through the hole, she realized they were exhibiting the same symptoms as her: hair bristled, skin cool to the touch. Helpless desperation seized her. They were all worse than dead. If Adam and Eve were any indication, trapping them and herself in the mine would be a kindness.

But the will to live overrode the haunting thoughts. Maybe… Her self-absorption shattered as more rock crumbled and fell around her, a large piece striking her foot. “Serge!” She hopped on one leg, peering into the chasm.

“Go! Just go!”

Faintly she made him out, the two brothers limping awkwardly toward her, bumping into debris and scrambling over rock. “I can help—”

“Run the lift! Two at a time, go!” He grunted the words.

Arguing would kill them both. She felt the familiar press of the logbook against the small of her back as she reached up and took the hand of a miner who helped her through the gap. Even if she was doomed, the log must survive. Maybe her notes could save others.

Quickly they reached the vertical shaft, and to her surprise it echoed with the sounds of rescue, a search light dancing off the rough hewn walls.

“Hello!” a voice rang out from several yards above them.

The miners croaked with scratchy, exultant voices.

“Good God, we’re glad to see you. How many are there?”

Gayle took charge. “Six! But the—”

The lowering cage lurched suddenly to the side, grating against the rock wall as a tremor rippled through the ground. An explosion rumbled from somewhere behind them, deep within #4.

“After damp! Come on boys, climb aboard. All of you!” The cage had lowered enough for the miners to reach it and help shove each other inside.

“But there’s two more!” Gayle panicked.

“We can’t wait! Fire’s comin’!” Their rescuer knelt and held out his hand.

“Just go, you dense woman.” Serge’s voice echoed in the small tunnel leading from the lab. A plume of black smoke swirled from the opening, belching from the dragon’s mouth. If the fire inside awoke, it would consume them all.

“Do as he says.” The rescuer spoke.

Turning, she recognized his fright when he saw her yellow eyes. She closed them tight and took his hand. Crushed against the back of the cage, she kept her eyes closed, surrendering herself to a fate beyond her control. Already over limit, the cage groaned with the weight.

“Go. I’m on.”

“Serge?” She opened her eyes, searching the human crush for his face when a fresh wind rushed past them from above. Next came the fire. The cage bounced along the side of the shaft as they rose at full tilt, faster than any cage she’d been in before. If they hadn’t been packed like sardines the result would have been much worse.

At the top they collided with the arm of a crane. Swinging sideways and crashing to the ground, the cage finally came to rest in a slag heap. Gratefully, her side of the cage faced up. But the door faced down, so rescuers quickly rolled them over until the miners’ coal-encrusted clothing suffocated her.

Dazed and blinded by daylight, she accepted the hands pulling her out. Finally on her own two feet, she focused first on two sorrow-filled eyes belonging to a woman—voluptuous, Italian, tears streaking her face. The woman addressed thin air with a single-word question. “Serge?”

Gayle scanned the blackened faces around her, but he wasn’t there. She swallowed hard, her throat like sandpaper, her mind blank and listing on an ocean of doubt and fear. Suddenly she patted the space at the small of her back—her logbook gone as well.

END

Hell’s Womb: p.11

Gayle flicked the lever in the other direction, and the Wedge danced accordingly. Slamming her fist down on a black button, the large drill protruding from the front like an upturned raven’s beak sparked to life. Seconds later the whole contraption collided with the cave wall, belching gases from its sides as sparks rained down on the backs of their necks.

For the second time that day she prayed to an invisible god whom she didn’t know. Crouching on the platform behind Serge, she prayed the inert gases pumping from the machine’s base would flush enough of the oxygen and methane from the surrounding atmosphere to prevent the machine from creating a firestorm. As rocks pinged off the Wedge’s metallic surface, pelting down from the newly created ceiling, she added another prayer to the growing list.

Her eyes jumped in their sockets. Her ears filled with ringing as the metal teeth lining the raven’s beak chewed the rock and coal, spitting gravel out beneath them and pulverizing it into road base. She spent a furtive glance behind them, searching for a pair of twitching monsters thirsty for blood.

Finally the Wedge burst from the newly formed tunnel and spun wildly in the open space of mine #4, its carbide light a whirling dervish amongst the swirling black dust. Her mind snapped back to the dangers in front of them. Gayle reached for the shut off, but with a neck-snapping jolt the Wedge lurched, tossing her into a pile of rock. Sparks burst from the vibrating sled of the machine as it collided with the rails running along the tailgate road.

With a whoof, the sound of the Wedge was consumed by the ignition of the air surrounding them. Her hair frizzled, her eyes popping with bright white spirals. Her skin tightened on her frame, pounding her with jolts of pain. She tried to stand, but a heavy blanket followed by a solid mass enveloped her. Crashing to the floor of the mine, her ribs cracked as she rolled, the weight now fully on top of her. The suffocating fabric ushered her mind further down a darkening funnel, the last of her consciousness about to wink out for good.

Then, like rushing serf at the beach the blanket receded. Stale air washed over her. Finally a coughing fit racked her with fresh pain. In between fits she focused on a familiar face hovering over her. “Serge?”

“That’s a first. A beautiful young thing wakes up asking for my brother.”

“Dino!”

Serge’s welcome voice filled her ears, but it didn’t match the lips in front of her.

“Brother, you found us.”

Brother? Of course. On their knees, the two men embraced above her, forming a sheltering tent.

“Serge?”

“Gayle. Are you alright?”

“Your lady friend here was about to poke her head into a hot pocket. Singed a bit, but I think she’ll be alright.” Dino grinned, coal dust crinkling around the edges of his eyes.

“Dino.” Serge gripped his brother’s shoulder. “The rest?”

“Ay.” He nodded. “We’re all here. They’re weak. Hell, I’m—”

The air around them split with Eve’s blood-curdling cry as Gayle watched both brothers ripped away from her by the pale, pulpy flesh of the monster she had helped create. The beast whisked over her, and with a sickening thud their bodies collided with the pillar wall. Rebounding from the shadows, Eve’s ghostly figure flailed backwards directly toward her. Gayle rocked onto her shoulder as Eve’s body crashed down beside her.

In bone-chilling slow motion Gayle turned her head and met the monster, eye to exhausted eye. In that instant the two shared a mutual understanding. Clinging to human life by a thread, both were fighting a losing battle. Eve’s upper lip slowly curled, revealing her sharp, yellow teeth. With a low, guttural growl the pallid monster leapt to all fours and darted into the darkness of #4.

The ground shook beneath Gayle, fragments of rock dropping from the mine’s ceiling.

“What the hell—” Dino started, but Serge cut him off.

“We’ve got to go.” Serge gripped Gayle by the wrists, heaving her to her feet.

Her vision swam and popped. “You lead them out. I’ll bring up the—”

“No.”

She protested, “But—”

“They need your eyes. There’s no time.” Serge nodded to a clump of black, spectral beings while still supporting her weight. The shaft shook again as larger portions of ceiling gave way. “Go.”

Part 12

Hell’s Womb: p.10

“Beautiful.” Serge put his weight into it, and the two of them heaved the machine a few inches. “Nothing down here is stable. Why start now?” They strained again, shifting the sled another inch, until suddenly Gayle slipped. With nothing but his hearing to guide him, Serge stabbed at the blackness. Brushing her mask off by accident, he finally caught her wrist.

“I don’t know,” she said in between gasping breaths. “You seem fairly stable.”

“Sorry, let me help you.” Serge ran his fingers upward in the dark until they found the snorkel of her mask, dangling on a leather strap and hanging between her breasts. A jumble of feelings collided in his chest, expanding with every heaving breath. The events of the day had charged him with a passion for life, and this mysterious, yellow-eyed woman rattled him—churned his thoughts into an oxygen-deprived soup.

“It’s fine.” She brushed his hands with her own as she grasped the mask, her breathing ragged. “This thing’s—” her speech stopped abruptly as she turned to wretch against the cave wall.

“You’re sick.” He moved to stabilize her. “We should—”

“Quiet.” She reached back quickly, clutching his hand in her own. A long moment passed between them. Then a rhythmic hissing sound, a bear hibernating or the expansion of a bellows. Breathing. “Do you hear—”

The stillness shattered with the shrill scream of slaughter, a guttural shriek dripping with blood-lust and rage. The sound caused his muscles to involuntarily seize and pitch backwards as five hot nails collided with his shoulder, clutching him like a vice.

Twisting in the monster’s grip he dipped and spun, a second set of claws sweeping past the tip of his nose and disappearing again into the black. “Duck!” He smothered Gayle into his chest while using the monster’s momentum to fling it crashing into the wall over the top of them.

“It’s Eve,” Gayle squeaked, sounding weaker every minute. “She’s thirsty.”

He gripped her by the shoulders and retreated to the opposite side of the Wedge. “But we don’t have anything—”

“Blood. It’s 83% water.” She gasped, her mask still not in place. “I had a partner…”

“Caro Dio.”

She nodded, her head cradled against his chest while several feet away nails scratching stone preceded a chilling, breathy laughter.

“Gayle.” Serge removed his mask. He lifted her face until her nose was touching his, until they shared the same tangy breath, heavy with carbon dioxide and mercury. His oxygen-deprived muscles ached, and were moments away from quaking uncontrollably. “I can’t see it, and I can’t fight what I can’t see.” He brushed her cheek with the back of his hand. “You’re sick. You have to get out of here.”

“But,” she resisted softly, “your bother.”

“I’m not leaving without him. I’ll cause a diversion—”

“The Wedge. Start it.” She took his hand in her own and placed it on the pull-cord. “The choke’s here. It’s hard to control. I’ll drive.”

The throaty laughter grew closer.

“Put on your mask.” She placed both hands on his chest.

Her hands were so cool to the touch. “You too.” He braced his foot against the base of the machine and yanked the cord with every bit of strength he had left. Nothing. Then the laughter snarled into a growl, only feet away.

“Serge, hurry.”

He took two deep breaths, his legs shaking beneath him.

With terrifying volume Eve screeched, the threat echoing off the inside of his skull. Funneling sheer terror, Serge wrenched the chord from its mooring, chugging the engine to life. Instantly the Wedge danced beneath them as its vibrating pad bounced off a dozen objects crowding it.

Predatorily, Eve leapt. The Wedge swung wildly, throwing them all off balance. Serge grunted, funneling the last of his strength to keep the infernal thing from bucking over on top of them, while Gayle nimbly went to work. With the flick of a switch a carbide light burst from the front of the dash. Dropping another lever caused the machine to swing sideways, blinding the beast with its powerful beam. In an instant Eve ducked the light and disappeared.

“She’ll be back. It’s us or her now!” Gayle shouted over the noise of the engine.

“Just point me in the right direction.” It was all Serge could do to hold on, sweat vibrating from the tip of his nose.

Part 11

 

Hell’s Womb: p.9

“Sorry, what was your name?” Gayle released his hand and bent over to rummage in an opened locker.

“Uh, Serge.” He bumped into her slender backside. “What was that thing?”

The contact irritated her, but not as she would have expected. Oddly it activated a yearning in her. She checked to ensure that the logbook was still secure and tucked into her waistband at the small of her back.

“He,” she sucked a gritty breath through her teeth, the air growing increasingly spongy, “supposedly used to be a miner, just like you.”

“A miner?”

“Well, not like you.” Flustered, she felt faint and fumbled for the locker door to keep from tipping over. Lightning quick yet gentle, Serge’s arm scooped her up before she collapsed to the floor.

“Are you alright?” He caught her up like cotton in a spring breeze, held her close.

Through his torn shirt, the heat from his chest soaked into the cool skin of her bare shoulder, intoxicating her.

“We should get you out of here. There’s a lift—”

“No!”

Perdono?

“I mean, I’m okay. These masks will help. Something’s in the air.” She huffed a labored breath and handed a long-snorkeled mask to Serge, showing him how to put it on before securing her own.

“You mean that pulpy taste?” He braced her with his massive hands around her waist, his fingers nearly touching.

Her chest brushed against his as she secured the strap to the back of his head, standing on tiptoes to do so. Both their shirts had completely soaked through. “Yes. It’s dangerous. A neurotoxin I think.”

“And the monster?”

She spun herself in his grip, facing away from him, but still secured by his warm hands. “Exactly.”

Caro Dio.”

“Can you help me with this?” She guided his rough hands from her waist up to the mask’s strap on the back of her head. He held it in place as she snugged the seals around her mouth and nose. As she finished he ran his fingers through her hair and down her arms.

He spun her to face him. “Anyone who breathes it?”

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

“But—”

“I don’t think it works that quickly. You haven’t breathed enough.”

“But my brother.”

“We have to get them out.”

“Just point me in the right direction. You’ve been down here too long.”

“No.” She removed his hands and held them away from her. “You need my help. You can’t see without me.” Moving his lips, he swore silently, a frustration and hunger on his face that she couldn’t interpret. Of course he’d forgotten she could see him clearly, if tinged in blue light.

Suddenly he stopped, looking embarrassed. “What do you propose, oh guiding light?”

“No reason to be snippy.” She smirked, “I got just the thing.” As she turned to lead the way, placing his hands back around her waist, a shuffling sound echoed from nearby. Before she could focus on it, the locker tipped and then burst from the wall. Clipping them both, it sundered their grip on each other and spun them to the ground.

Quickly Serge’s groping hand found her. “Caro Dio. And that was?”

“Impossible. A fracture in the rock,” she shook her head remembering the similar incident from the day before, “I don’t know.”

He pulled her to her feet. “You said there are two of them?”

“You’ve met Adam. It’s Eve I’m worried about.”

“Eve?”

She glanced back to see him crossing himself. The gesture reminded her of Christopher, a staunch Catholic. “I suppose it was a bit crass,” her voice muffled by her mask. Focusing again on the path in front of her, she doubled their pace. “Come on. I’ve got something to show you.”

Moments later, after weaving toward a chamber leading off the middle of the lab, they arrived at the dead projects room.

“Where are we? I can’t see anything.”

“I’ve worked down here for five years with three different partners.”

“Five years, but how old—”

“During that time we’ve shelved lots of projects. But some of them worked.” She removed his hand from her waist, slid her fingers through his. “Listen for the subjects.”

“Subjects?”

She bit her lip. “Adam and Eve. Hopefully the machine we need still works.” Brushing past years of forgotten labors with her keen sight, she located it quickly. The Wedge. “Found it, but I’m going to need your help to get it out.”

“What is it?”

She pulled him down a narrow path until they reached the machine. “A rotary-impact sled. Pull this chord,” she placed his hand on a pull cord, “and this baby will cut a path through anything.”

“Then why was it shelved?”

“Well, uh. The paths don’t tend to be all that stable.”

Part 10

Hell’s Womb: p.8

His head bounced off of his own helmet, crushing the carbide light. The claw marks on the left side of his face burned worse than fire, his eye socket a smoldering coal buried in his skull. But his fighting instincts overcame the pain.

The darkness above him swelled, giving away the presence of his attacker. Ripping his helmet out from under him, he swung it savagely into the suffocating darkness. With a satisfying crunch of bone and cartilage, Serge knew he’d connected with his assailant’s face. An angry gargling confirmed it.

Lightning quick, he shifted his weight to his shoulders. Burying both feet into his attacker’s gut he sent him hurdling backwards, crashing into a heap of rubble.

“Be careful!”

The same female voice snapped Serge out of survival mode, but he remained silent.

“Dear God! Are you okay?”

The attacker rustled loudly, still not down for the count.

“Hello?” The woman continued.

Ignoring her, Serge picked up a rock and jumped to his feet. Pinpointing the monster’s ragged breathing, he hurtled it—his best bean ball.

With a yowl the attacker clambered over a heap of scraping metal and disappeared.

“The logbook, yes!”

The dissonance between the soft female voice and his harsh surroundings dazed Serge, creating an otherworldly experience. He squinted, reducing his eyes to slits, but it was no use. He was lost—adrift in a strange cave with a monster and a babbling woman. All of them floating in the darkness of a space so terrifyingly large that Serge lost all sense of earthly anchor. Without narrow walls to confine him, limit his options, he didn’t know what to do. Finally, he spoke the first words that came to mind. “Who are you?”

“Found it. Oh God, I found it. Stay there. I’m coming to you.”

“Found what?” Serge struggled to breath after so much exertion, and the blow to his head hadn’t helped. “Who are you?”

“Huh? Oh. Gayle Sanders. I’m a scientist.”

“But how are you, I didn’t know there were any—”

“Women can breath underground too, you know.”

Serge realized her voice drew nearer quickly, and without the audible stress typically associated with utter darkness. “But how are you—” With frightening suddenness two yellow eyes whisked open right in front of him. “Huh.” He jumped.

“Oh, sorry. It takes a little to get used to.”

“But your eyes—”

“They’re yellow, I know.”

“But how come—”

“Look, they don’t really glow. It’s this.” She held the faintest blue light up to her face, the pale flesh of her nose barely illuminated in its dim glare. “But shut up and listen. It’s not safe here, for multiple reasons.”

“You’re telling me.” Serge winced as he put his hand to his face. His left eye worked, but the color of her eyes changed from yellow to almost grey when he closed his right.

“Sorry about that.” With startling intimacy she put her hand up to his face, her cool finger tips relieving the burn of the cuts. “It looks pretty painful.”

“Uh,” he stammered.

“Is the hair on your arms standing?”

“Um,” he ran his hands over his arms. “Yes.”

“Mine too. Here, follow me. There should be some masks.”

“But I can’t—”

“Hold my hand.” She reached back, already on the move, and laced her fingers through his. The coolness of her touch was uncanny. Not clammy in the least, but calming. It steadied him to feel the closeness of her petite frame, the soft grip of her smooth skin. The subtle smell of soap and rose water mingling with smoke and dust, the taste of blood in his mouth, all worked together to anchor him.

Moving quickly through the dark behind his mystery guide, his uncertainty from moments ago dissolved. With a sudden synapse he remembered his original intent for diving back into hell’s womb. “My brother. There are four miners trapped in #4. I need to get to them.”

“You won’t get there without breathing.” She paused, “And there’s something else. That thing that attacked you.” She took another strained breath. “I think there are two of them. And if we don’t do something to fix all this, there might be lots more.”

Part 9

Hell’s Womb: p.7

Serge crash-landed on a small platform scattered with rock and tumbled to a stop. Smoking hot, his gloves had worn half-through during the descent. He flung them off and focused his helmet’s carbide beam.

He’d found the primary exhaust for #13, doubling as an emergency exit. Or in this case, emergency entrance. He breathed deep. The air tasted acrid, thick with smoke and carbon dioxide, nontoxic in the short-term.

If the explosion that caved in the #4 tailgate originated from here, reason held he might find his way from here to the trapped miners. In theory. But Serge knew as well as anyone that shafts rocked by explosion became the devil’s playground. Freshly exposed rock faces and constantly shifting ventilation meant new out-gassing. Topping it off with open flames and cramped spaces created a hell not fit for the damned. And his brother was trapped in it.

Quickly scanning the small space, his beam caught the glint of a metallic surface heavily smudged with coal. Bingo. With the heal of his fist he slammed the storage locker built into the rock and popped it open. He snatched one of the four pick axes hanging neatly in a row. With his shoulders hunched, a snarl on his lips, he shuffled steadily through the debris and into a low tunnel heading toward #4.

After less than twenty yards he hit his first obstacle—a cave in. Dammit. But the shaft had been venting smoke from somewhere. However small the opening, air was getting through. Slowly he ran the back of his hand over the surface of the rock slide until he felt the faint brush of moving air.

He held his face close and took a sniff. A thick, metallic taste caused his hair to stand on end. It wasn’t the standard nitrogen/oxygen mix one grew accustomed to on the surface, nor any combination he’d known in the mines. But it had oxygen enough to breath. “Dino!” His voice fell flat, muffled by the smoke and dust. “If you can hear me, stand back!”

He tapped the surface of the rock several times with his pick, listening for a weakness. Nothing guaranteed he could dig his way through before he passed out. At the same time, he could bring the rest of the shaft down with a single blow. Times like these, every miner grew friendly with God. Lord, get us out of this one and I’ll sing the loudest at church every Sunday of my life.

Directing his pick at the spot he’d chosen, he reared back and let it fall. Like pushing on the magic brick to a hidden passage, a manhole-sized circle in the rock gave way and collapsed with the single stroke. Good God, it looks like I’ll be joining the choir.

He set down the ax and leaned forward to inspect the opening, his carbide light struggling to pierce the plume of dust. After busting away rock with his hands, he lifted his legs and lowered himself through. What he discovered on the other side caused him to forget about the ax.

This definitely wasn’t #4. It wasn’t even a mine. Slowly sweeping his head back and forth, the dim beam revealed a gaping expanse of natural cave. Drawn first to the ceiling, he marveled at the height of it, until a scuttling sound startled him. “Ciao? Someone in here?”

For the first time, he realized that #13 must have had a purpose. Whatever that purpose, someone might have survived it. “Are you hurt? Show me where you are.” More rustling, this time closer. A shadow darted through curling smoke and a strange red dust, reflecting the glare of his carbide. Whoever he was, he was mobile.

“Look, I need to find the #4.” He scanned the rubble closer to him, shocked to discover a jumble of fancy equipment.

“It’s not safe.” The soft sound of a female voice, coming from much deeper in the cave, startled him.

He shook off his surprise, “If you’re not injured you can help—”

A beastly snarl, only feet away, punctuated his sentence a split second before a ghastly pale form slashed across him, stripping his helmet and hurtling him to the floor.

Part 8