“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…”
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.
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.