Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Undercollege, Part 4: Encounters

 Originally posted on Facebook Notes, 24th December 2007

The skeleton's clawlike hand tightened around Cat's coat, lifting with enough force that her heels lost contact with the ground and she was left semi-dangling before him. "A fleshie, in the Fellows' Garden after dark? Strictly against regulations... and foolish too..."


Cat almost jumped as a third voice made itself heard. It came from further down the long passageway, although the blinding glare of the flashlight in the skeleton's hand made it difficult to see who was calling. A rasping hiss seemed to emanate from the skeleton's jaws, and he turned to look for the newcomer... and as he did so he released its grip on Cat, who took advantage of the moment by doing what she'd always been told to do as a last resort when assaulted by men. She kicked out forcefully at its groin. Since skeletons didn't have a groin as such, however, her blow passed through its intended target and her foot made crashing contact with the base of his spine.

With a hollow crack, the skeleton snapped in half, clattering to the ground in two pieces. Cat herself, overbalanced, fell heavily backwards to the floor. The flashlight hit the ground and flickered out. In the sudden comparative darkness, Cat could hear the two parts of the skeleton scrabbling about, its legs flailing helplessly and its torso pulling itself along the ground towards her. A chill of fear struck her and she scrambled away from it, but her worry was unfounded, as a few seconds later the skeleton's movement ceased and it was nothing more than a pile of bones.

The newcomer, though, was advancing, and as her eyes became once again accustomed to the blue gloom of the caves she could make out his features. It was a man, or a boy, not much older than Cat herself, and not much taller. He was wiry in build, with sparse spiked hair and a gaunt, angular face that could have been pleasant if he were smiling. Bony shoulders defined a plain black T-shirt over a slim torso, and he wore a pair of faded blue jeans with a few rips and tears here and there that didn't look like designer creations. His thin lips were pursed and his spiky eyebrows set into a frown as he regarded her.

"Good kick," he said.

Cat, who was now crawling forward to examine the skeleton's remains, looked at him in confusion. "What?"

"Good kick," the young man repeated as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "You got him right above the pelvis. Weakest spot in the human body. Except possibly the base of the neck. But you couldn't very well have kicked him there." He glanced at her briefly. "Do you play for your College football team?"

"Um," Cat responded, "no. I'm Cat, by the way." Without getting up, she extended a hand to him, which he stooped slightly to shake.

"Mike," the young man responded distractedly, as if a new thought had occurred to him. "Are you okay? You looked like you fell quite hard. I'm a First Aider, if you need it."

Cat shook her head. "I'm fine," she replied, and frowned. "As fine as it's possible to be in a place like this."

Mike frowned. "I guess you're not a local, then. Damn. I have no idea where the hell I am." The admission evidently pained him.

Cat's heart sank. "Me neither. I just... found myself here. Not long ago. And then... he found me." She gestured to the skeleton, which was now as lifeless as it should have been, and then glanced back up at Mike as the situation finally sunk in. "Thanks for distracting his attention. I mean, really, thanks."

The young man blushed. "It was nothing, honestly. I couldn't..." He trailed off, and then began anew, more firmly. "We need to get out of these passages before another one of... another of those comes along. I'd been following it for a while before it spotted you. It seemed to be on some sort of patrol round." He produced a small torch from his pocket and flicked it into life. Cat immediately warmed at the sight of it. "There's a narrow passage back there I don't think they go down. We should hide there while we figure out what to do next."

It wasn't much of a plan, but Cat was glad of it. She reached over to where the skeleton's black bowler hat had rolled away, and placed it upon her head as she got to her feet, an impish, impulsive grin making its way onto her face. "Yeah, alright."


Mike watched the girl as she advanced up the tunnel in front of him. He judged that she was a good few years younger than he was, still in her late teens. Her long mousey hair was tied back in a ponytail, although a few wisps remained free to frame an inquisitive face with pale blue eyes. The details of her form were mostly obscured by the long black coat she wore, but Mike could see that she had a slender figure. Aside from the bowler hat, she wore a dull green pullover, a denim skirt that in Mike's estimation was long enough not to be slutty but too short to be practical, and black leggings that revealed the shape of her long legs, especially when she was crawling on all fours up the low-ceilinged tunnel in front of him. Cat had been dubious about going first, but Mike had been adamant that danger was most likely to come from behind, and refused to let her be more exposed to it than he was.

It wasn't long before they reached the area where Mike had first regained consciousness. Cat stood, stretching her limbs, and then turned to face him, sitting gingerly down on the mulch-packed floor. "This place is weird," she said wonderingly. "Like some strange burrowing creature's lair. How did you find it?"

"The same way I found anything down here," Mike replied, shrugging and fiddling with the skeleton's broken torch. "I just stumbled across it. Actually, this was the first place I... saw. After I arrived here. It was where I woke up."

"I woke up back down there," Cat mused, jerking her thumb in the direction they'd come. "The skeleton said it was the... Fellows' Garden, I think. But which college has an underground garden? And, you know, that skeleton reminded me of the porters at Clare." She fell silent, adjusting the hat on her head.

"Mm," Mike responded noncommittally. "There was a set of keys on his flashlight," he added, jangling them, then went back to poking at the large torch with his multitool. "I hope I can get this to work again. It has a much broader beam than my Maglite." Then he too was silent - for a similar reason to Cat, he imagined. What they'd just experienced, and what they were still experiencing, couldn't be rationalised in terms of anything he'd ever heard of, and it scared him. A lot.

"What do you think happened to us?" Cat ventured eventually.

Mike opened his mouth to answer, but nothing but silence came out as he looked up at the entrance to the tunnel they'd emerged from. Something was making its way up the tunnel towards them. In the low light it was difficult to make out many distinguishing features, but floppy, slimy tendrils dangled in front of it and it stank of filth and decay. As it advanced it emitted a low, doleful groan. Cat shrieked.

Mike's fingers fumbled for the knife attachment on his multitool. He wasn't going down without a fight.

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