Authors: Robert Jackson Bennett
Tags: #Horror, #Thriller
When they dumped him off Connelly spent the better part of the next hour hurling himself against his cell door. Peachy tried
his best to talk him down but Connelly would not listen, could not listen. He raged and flung himself against it until his
shoulders were bruised and his ankles ached and it was only when he paused that they realized they could hear another noise.
Screaming. A man somewhere in the jail was crying in fear and pain.
“What is that?” asked Peachy softly.
“Roosevelt,” whispered Connelly. “Rosie. He’s doing something to him. He’s doing something to my friend.”
“What do you think he’s doing?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you scared, Connelly?” asked Peachy.
“Yeah. Yeah. You?”
“Yes. What’d they do to you?”
“Hit me. And…”
“Nothing. They didn’t do nothing good, that’s for sure.”
“You… you think they’re going to kill me too, Connelly?”
He looked at the little crack in the wall. Somewhere Roosevelt stopped screaming. “No,” said Connelly.
“What makes you say that?”
“I-I don’t know. Just don’t think about that, Peachy. Just don’t.”
“You think we should pray?”
“Come on. Pray with me, Connelly.”
Connelly sat on the floor and put his hands together and bowed his head. It was not until his palms touched that he realized
he was trembling. He could not remember the last time he prayed. He listened to Peachy’s whispering but he could not understand
any formula or any process in it. So he steeled himself and sent a wordless, desperate cry for aid up into the sky, hoping
it would pierce the roof of the jail and the mantle of clouds and the net of stars behind that, venturing out beyond to where
nothingness had no claim and there might be some consciousness, some intelligence that would listen and understand and sympathize.
Something, just something. But it seemed unlikely that anything so vast would notice or care.
He was so small. A little man scrambling across the wilderness, trying to make the cosmos pay attention and make sense. In
that midnight belly of the jail, dawn was a memory and the sun was no more than a dream, and hope tasted more of a curse to
him than a blessing.
But still he steeled himself, culled those thoughts of higher powers and purpose from his mind, and thought about simpler
matters—of getting out of the jail cell, and of tomorrow, and of murder, which appeared simpler by the second.
Then they waited for the executioner’s footfall. It seemed like there was something they needed to say. But they could think
Three hours had passed when they heard a sound: a rustling, not outside, but somehow below.
“You hear that?” asked Peachy.
“Yeah,” said Connelly.
They listened. There were voices whispering, cursing and shushing one another. Connelly stood to his feet and looked down.
The voices were right below him. They stopped and he heard a giggle, and then a voice said, “Hey, you.”
Connelly shrank back against the wall.
“Aren’t you going to say hello?” said the voice.
“H-Hammond?” he said.
“Yeah. It’s me. Give me a sec.”
Connelly fell to the floor and grabbed at the warped wood, feverishly trying to find some way to pull the planks apart but
“Get back, you damn fool, we don’t want to cut you any.”
He stepped back and before him a small saw pierced the bottom of the floor, rising up between the cracks. It wriggled to get
a better bite on the wood and then began moving up and down, sawing diagonal across one of the boards. It seemed to take hours
to get through the wood. They pushed up on it and Connelly grabbed the severed end and tried to pull it back.
“Not so loud! You’ll wake up the whole damn place!” hissed Hammond’s voice.
“Connelly?” said Peachy. “What… what’s going on?”
“Who the hell is that?” said Hammond.
“Just hold on, Peachy,” Connelly said.
“Peachy?” said Hammond, incredulous.
They pried the board up and sawed through a few more and Connelly saw Hammond and Roonie crouched below in a curiously large
space, like the jail was not built on any firm foundation but instead was on a basement of some kind. They were covered head
to toe in mud and soil.
Roonie stared up at him, mournful and terrified. “You won’t believe what we had to dig through.” He shook his head. “You won’t
“Shush,” said Hammond grimly. “Jesus, Con. You look like shit.”
Connelly dropped through the hole in the floor. When his bare feet touched earth he began weeping.
“It’s okay,” Hammond said. “You’ve got to… Come on, Con, buck up.”
“Peachy,” said Connelly. “We got to get Peachy out.”
“Who the hell is Peachy?” said Hammond.
“Peachy’s my friend.”
“We don’t have time for this. We still have to get Pike and Rosie out.”
“Peachy’s my friend,” insisted Connelly.
“Damn it all.”
They sawed through Peachy’s floor in minutes. When the floorboard was pulled away Connelly peered through and looked at the
Connelly blinked. “You’re colored,” he said to Peachy.
Peachy smiled, white teeth shining bright in his dark face. “Am I? Never noticed.”
Connelly considered this and shrugged. “Okay. Come on.”
Peachy wriggled through the hole. He was tall and thin and lanky and his beard and hair were overgrown, much like Connelly’s.
“I thank you kindly for the exit,” he said to Hammond.
“Hell,” said Hammond. “We got us a merry band of mother-fuckers now, now don’t we?”
“What is this place?” said Connelly.
“A basement,” said Hammond, now grim again. “We think. We dug in through the side of the hill and we thought it was going
to take weeks. As it turns out, this hill’s been hollowed out for some time. And… and he’s been doing things down here.”
“Awful things,” whimpered Roonie. “I don’t know what he does to the prisoners here, but…”
“He beats them,” said Connelly. “He’s got a little room he does it in.”
“No,” said Hammond. “He does a little more than that.”
The floor turned to rough-cut flagstones and Connelly smelled rot and bleach ahead. They moved through a small passage with
an earthen ceiling and entered a low chamber. At the far end was a large stone table, almost an altar, and in the center were
those strange, red-rust stains he had seen up above in the sheriff’s confession room. In the center was a short stone stool,
covered in the same stains. A pipe was installed in the ceiling just above it, opening onto the seat, and Connelly had no
doubt the pipe led to the drain in the confessional. He envisioned men sitting on that stool, eyes shut and palms up, listening
to the cries above and feeling the warm rain baptize them for whatever life they were willing to live.
As they neared Connelly could see there were stars drawn on the roof and walls of the basement, and a symbol was painted above
the stone table. It was the snake devouring itself, and its paint was such a color that he could not tell if it was dark red
or merely black.
“They think he’s their god,” said Hammond softly.
Connelly shook his head. “The gods go begging here.”
They wound through the sheriff’s labyrinth, staring up through the cracks in the floorboards at the inmates. The variety was
astonishing. Some were idle drunks, others raving madmen, several seemed dead to the eye or surely would be soon without attention.
Quiet sobs and enraged mutterings tumbled from the ceiling like so much dust.
Connelly found Pike and Hammond sawed him out quick as could be. The old man climbed down without so much as a twitch of the
eyebrow. He surveyed them, looked at Peachy without surprise, and said, “God takes care of His own.” Then he crooked a finger
and they followed him through the maze.
They came under one cell and whoever was above it was whimpering constantly, clawing at the walls and the door. Pike looked
up at it and said, “And here is Mr. Roosevelt, I think.”
Hammond and Connelly shared a look and then began sawing him out as well. Roosevelt shied away from the blade and cried and
would not quiet until Hammond stuck his head up. Then he began sobbing and clambered through the hole. When he saw Connelly
he collapsed at his feet and pawed at his trousers like an invalid.
“Jesus, Rosie,” murmured Hammond. “Jesus.”
“What have they done to that boy?” said Peachy.
“I don’t know,” said Pike. “I was close by and heard. Whatever it was, it was quite bad.”
There were no marks on him, though, no wounds or blood of any kind.
“Connelly,” whispered Roosevelt. “Connelly. Connelly, are you there?”
“I’m here,” said Connelly. “I’m right in front of you.”
“He… he came. He was here, just now. Did you know that?”
“Yeah, Rosie. Yeah, I did.”
“He came and he spoke to me.”
“Okay, Rosie. It’s okay.”
Roosevelt’s eyes grew wide. “Do you know what he showed me?” he whispered slowly.
“We need to get moving,” said Pike. “Now, Mr. Hammond. I suggest we leave right now. Where’s your tunnel out?”
“This way,” said Hammond. “Come on, Rosie. Come on, man, on your feet. Come along, now.”
Roosevelt staggered up and with Hammond’s support they began to hobble through the passageways. Soon Connelly smelled night
air, fresh outdoors air for the first time since his capture. They sped up, desperate to be outside again. Wind howled ahead
and a breeze flew through the tunnels, speckling them with grit and forcing them to shield their eyes.
Above them they heard a voice say, “Say, where’s that draft coming from? And that damn noise?”
They ran forward, stumbling through the passageways, clay earth crumbling about their ears as they moved. They came to a hole
in an old brick wall, barely more than two feet wide. Pike went first, then Hammond, then Peachy, then Rosie and Roonie, and
finally Connelly stuffed himself into the earthen gap, wriggling through the clods.
It was tough going. He did not have room enough to work his elbows and he was forced to kick himself forward. More than once
dust fell before his face, causing him to cough. He was sure the tunnel would cave in soon. It seemed to last forever and
often Roonie would slow down and Connelly would be kicked in the face in the dark. Someone sobbed ahead of him, probably Roosevelt,
It was ten long minutes of crawling and struggling. As Roosevelt tumbled out the earth shifted around them and the sides of
the tunnel slid down to trap Connelly and Roonie both. Connelly shut his eyes and took a breath as soon as he could and tried
to ignore the burning in his sinuses. He felt Roonie fly forward, surely dragged out by the others, and he reached forward
blindly, thrusting his hands through the soil. He felt someone’s fingertips graze his and disappear. His lungs burned, he
pushed forward again. Then someone felt his hand and grasped his wrist and pulled.
He spilled out, gasping and heaving. “Quiet,” said Pike’s voice.
They were covered in dirt, like some breed of warriors camouflaged for wasteland combat. Connelly brushed it out of his eyes
and Hammond whispered, “Come on.”
They ran down the hill and as Connelly looked over his shoulder he saw the jailhouse had been stationed on the very top, allowing
Hammond to tunnel straight in. At the foot of the hill a wide figure rose and they heard Monk’s voice softly call, “You got
them all? All of them? They all right?”
“We got them,” said Roonie. “Now we got to—”
“Bastards!” called a voice from far up behind them. They turned to look.
Connelly heard the throaty bark of a shotgun and tiny flecks of dirt erupted around them. Hammond dropped to the ground and
swore and clutched his ankle. Pike cried, “Run!” just as pistol fire began cackling on the top of the hill.
Connelly looked over his shoulder. He saw torches weaving down after them, both fire and electric. He ran with the others,
not caring what direction they went in.
“Split up!” called Hammond. “Spread out!”
A shotgun roared again and Connelly heard someone cry but he could not see who. He dove to his left and grabbed the figure
beside him and threw it down. Shot buzzed through the space he had just occupied. The man in his arms cursed and he realized
it was Roonie. Connelly lifted his head to look around. He could not see the others. They had run on and taken cover as quickly
as they could.
When he thought it was safe they got to their feet and sprinted for the woods, velvet fir trees swaying gently below them,
almost indigo in the dark. Halfway there they took cover behind the skeleton of an old Zephyr tumbled in a ditch. They crouched
and looked through the spindly remains of the windows. Muzzle flare glowed here and there, the shooters invisible against
the backdrop of the hill. He could not tell if it was the sheriff’s men or if perhaps Hammond and Monk had armed themselves.
Behind the crest of a knoll he saw flames dancing gaily, a small fire eager to grow. Shouts of warning, maybe shouts of rage.
The dip and bob of heads and rifle barrels as men scrambled over the gravel. All of them, riding thunder down the mountain.
Nearby a shotgun roared again and buckshot showered the Zephyr, clinking and clanking like hail. Roonie wailed and the two
of them ran the rest of the way down to the woods. They crawled through the furry limbs of the pines until the hillside could
only be seen through gaps in the treeline. Once there they threw themselves beneath a tree to wait and look.
“You see anything?” asked Roonie softly.
Connelly shushed him. Roonie took a breath, then dove across to another trunk to get a better look. As soon as he did the
shotgun went off again and Connelly heard shot biting through the trees. Roonie fell behind the trunk and Connelly thought
him dead until he saw the man’s face lift up, his cheeks covered in tears, hands shaking uncontrollably. Connelly motioned
to get down again and he did.