"Do you want to see something cool anyway, since I'm on my period?" Lisa asked John. They sat across from each other in a tarnished booth in a diner.
John fiddled with the spoon in his coffee cup. He said, "It's just past midnight and I have to work at nine. And, what does one have to do with the other?"
"Right. Yeah. Huh." Lisa said. They stared at the advertisements under the scuffed plastic table cover.
John looked up and knocked on the table. He pulled out some money and left it on the table. "We're good. Yeah, let's do it. Show me something cool," he said.
Lisa stood up, pushed up her glasses and adjusted her skirt. She smiled and held her hand out, "Let's go then." She added, "You're not scared of the dark are you? Or blood?"
John chuckled and shook his head no.
"Can I drive?" Lisa asked in the humid, orange-lit parking lot.
"Drive my car?"
"Yeah. I want it to be a surprise."
John considered, tilting his head back and forth. Finally he said, "Yeah, sure. Can you drive a stick?"
"Can I!" Lisa laughed. Then, "Oh, you mean the car."
"Some other time. It's looking like rain."
"Well, you have to promise to be surprised anyway."
"I'll do my best."
Wind wrestled with Lisa's skirt and they stared at each other for a while, over low black roof of John's car; her pale green eyes felt like they were swallowing him. Somewhere close by tires screeched. John clicked the unlock button on his keychain and without breaking eye contact, then slid into their seats.
The rain was steady as they pulled into the parking lot of the closed gas station. Staccato watery fingers. "You don't have an umbrella do you?" Lisa asked. She looked down.
John laughed. "I don't, but I do have a dry t-shirt you can wear."
"Awkward," she said.
"Scared of getting wet?" John asked
Lisa got up and out of the car and slammed the door, she walked into the car's headlights and smiled, hair already plastered. She cocked her head and waved to him. John stuffed his phone and wallet into the glovebox and got out, too.
The rain was warm and hard, steaming on the late September asphalt. He walked around to the front of the car and Lisa pounced on him, pinning his arms to his sides. She got up on tiptoe and breathed, "Hello. Come with me." She took his hand and started to run toward the road. John tried to keep up, twisted his ankle and sprawled palms first; skidded and stopped.
"Ouch!" Lisa shouted, then, "Shit! Are you okay?"
"Hah, Uh, yes. I'm not a runner."
"Well, we'll try and go slow."
"Sure." She walked back and helped him up. Their hands stayed clasped, as they walked to the side of the road. They waited for a car to pass then quick-walked across the five lane road.
"Give me a minute?" John asked, and bent, hands on knees.
"Oh, sure." Lisa stood and twirled in the down pour while John huffed.
He stood up, he said, "Thanks, sorry."
"What time is it?"
"Uh? Maybe twelve thirty? Why? We on a schedule?"
"Yeah, gotta do this before one a.m. or it won't work."
"What won't work?"
"You'll see!" Come on!"
"Sure, where are we --" John realized where they were. She'd given him round-about directions, but there it was: the abandoned asylum. "What are we doing here?"
"There's lots of energy we can channel, come on!" And off she strode. John walked after her as quickly as he could, but his bad leg was acting up and twinge-d with every step. As they approached the building, the rain pitter-ing hard against their soaked bodies, Lisa looked behind her just once, then pulled open a balsa wood door, and disappeared into the twelve story building. John gave a tug on the door and it opened wide enough to squeeze through. He laughed. "Did you do that?" He called into the darkness. No Response. "Huh." He said and slipped through the door into roaring silence and darkness. John closed his eyes and counted to thirty. Outside, the rain continued smashing down. Inside he opened his eyes and looked around in the gloom. Papers were strewn all around, graffiti covered the walls and, a dozen or so doors down the hallway way a dark shape gestured at him, frantically. "Lisa?" John called out, and the figure disappeared a moment later.
John hurried, such as he could, down the hallway, counting the doorways he passed. Halfway down the hall was a closed door with three locked padlocks, one each at the top, middle, and bottom. John slowed, and a shiver ran up his spine. He checked the locks. They were freezing cold and their metal holders were screwed in, then, someone had half smashed nails all around the edges of the strips and bent them over. The nails were rusted, some were chipped, and there were at least a half dozen on each lock.
"Lisa?" John called out.
The papers in the hallway rustled and, back the way he'd come a dust devil whirled. John's flesh goose bumped.
A woman's voice called out, from further down the hallway, deeper into the building, "Come on slow poke, time's wasting." It echoed.
When he got to he door he had seen the figure disappear down a few moments ago, he balked. There was a blackened staircase, crumpled and fallen in, in many spots. "You're kidding," John said and spun --something had grabbed his arm from behind and he punched the grabber square in the nose.
"Ow!" Lisa swore, stumbling, clutching, "It's me," she swore again, holding a hand out, bent down and away from John, "What are you doing?"
John yelled at her: "What are you doing? Why would you do that?"
"I thought it'd be funny, I didn't think you'd punch me!"
"What else would I do?"
"Tackle me? Kiss me?" Lisa swore and looked at her hand, licked her palm. "Am I bleeding?"
"Uh, yeah?" John touched the top of her lip, gingerly. His finger came away sticky. "Yup. Oh god, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to. . . there's blood your face. Is it broken?"
"Never had a broken nose. Maybe?"
"Your dad is going to effing kill me!"
"Wait, I'm bleeding?"
"Yeah. I'm so sorry."
"No, it's cool! Follow me! That's awesome! Come one come one come on. One, three, two, Five, Jump all the way down."
"Skip those those stairs. So, First one's safe, after that, skip two, land on the third, then, land on the one after the next, then jump four stairs and it'll creak, but won't break, then you gotta jump all the way down, okay? Watch. Hurry!" Lisa pushed by him, and hopped and skipped down the stairs. She turned at the bottom. "Okay, come on,"
"One sec, okay?"
"Listen. Hurry up. I'll be in the third room on the right, down the right hallway, okay? Okay. Hurry!"
"What?" But Lisa was already gone, deeper into the blackness. "I can't see!" He called out.
"Use the first step to gauge the rest! Hurry!" Came the reply.
John stood at the top of the stairs, staring into the darkness. He looked behind him, down the hallway with the triple locked door. He looked down the stairs. He tried the railing, it seemed sturdy enough. He took his first step. It seemed sturdy enough. He repeated Lisa's instructions to himself. He took the first hop and landed okay. And again. On the third jump the stairs collapsed under him and he shrieked and tumbled, protecting his face as he fell through the rotten floor and landed, twisted both ankles and crumpled onto something that pierced the thigh of his bad leg. "Help!" He shouted.
He heard scampering then running. Blue spots of pain swam across his otherwise pitch vision.
"Hold on, let me find the -- I'm coming!" Lisa called out, distantly. She swore. There was banging, and then, a shift in the pitch -- murkiness blossomed to his right. "Are you there?" Lisa asked, back lit. He shouted acknowledgement and, carefully, carefully, she pulled him up, and hoisted an arm over her shoulder. They hobbled out of the pit together, and into a hallway. Lisa asked, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, just shaken," John lied. "I'm good, but this better be amazingly cool. I'm gonna need a tetanus shot. Seriously. Look at my arms!" He held them up, and was right. They were lacerated. His ankled burned.
"At least it wasn't your face," Lisa said, "Come on." She took his hand and, slowly, carefully, lead him through a series of three rooms, back to the corridor, down that a little way and into a room with three, lit, candles. "Freeze," she said. "Stand there. Don't move. Watch!"
The room was full of piping, running across the ceiling. There was a thin window, dusty but unbroken on a far wall, though no light came through. The candles didn't flicker, calmly lighting a series of concentric white circles that filled the center of the room. "Chalk," Lisa said, carefully stepping across the lines and standing in the center of the weird spiral. "Excuse me. You don't have to watch this." She made a concentrating face and pushed her hands up under her dress, did something. Exhaled sharply. "My nose bleed stopped, more's the shame." Then she poured a thimble in between two circles and sat down in the center circle. She started --John didn't know-- singing? Shouting? Chanting? Gurgling? Making noises, and as she sang --he decided it was singing-- the pelting of the rain against the window loudened, then began to synchronize with her utterances. Lisa's singing picked up, and so did the tempo of the rain, its staccato beating faster, faster, until she clapped and there was silence. Then, a popping as if a champagne bottle had opened. John's ears popped too, and he felt queasy. One of the candles snuffed out and the smoke was black. It pooled, midair, like food coloring in water, then clouded, spread and twirled. The air in the room was deathly still, but the smoke still writhed. It flowed toward Lisa's nose then smashed against something invisible and spilled along the edges, enveloping her in a cylinder of impossible smoke.
John made a retching sound and the smoke slammed toward him, hit another invisible wall and again, started spreading, circling around the circumference, John noticed, of the outermost concentric circle on the floor. "What?" John managed to gasp. A tongue split the smoke, no, not a tongue, a dozen stretched, rot-yellow maggots, writhing in unison. John gagged. The maggots froze, then zoomed along the circle and smashed themselves into the barrier, right in front of his face, over and over, bloodying themselves --pinpricks of blood blooming on their tips, wetter, stark against their plaster bodies. They wiggled. John threw up.
He projectile vomited and his puke smashed into the maggots and splashed onto the circles. Instantly, the maggots spilled down, burrowed into the puke on the floor and were gone.
They smashed through the soles of John's shoes and into his feet, where he felt them burrowing. He puked again, all over himself.
Lisa was screaming, he couldn't understand her, but she was shrieking and screaming and flailing madly at him. A maggot punctured his bad leg and zoomed about the room, bloodied, streaking.
"John! Listen!" She whispered it, but he heard it anyway, above the blood pounding in his ears, he heard her say, "Come on, don't break the line, Come on come on come on!" He hobbled into the circle and fell down, clutching his legs.
"Careful careful careful!" Lisa shrieked at him, "Careful! Oh no. They're loose. They're all loose. We're gonna lose them. Loose. Careful of the line. Sara will know what to do."
"My legs," John said. Clutching his ruined feet, "It. They burn!"
"Let me see, quick!" Lisa tugged his shoe and sock off, and peered at his heel. "Punch me," she said.
Lisa made a disgusted noise, fiddled under her skirt then made a dark, red spot on her palm. John felt things convulsing, and inch their way down the inside of his legs. Five of the maggots, impossibly longer punctured from the pinks of his heels and looked around like snakes, hunting.
"Here," Lisa whimpered, and the maggots shot for the palm of her hand. As they darted, she stuffed the thimble between their racing heads and her hand. Four of them shot into the thimble and all the pipes in the room burst at once, covering them with dust and rust water. The fifth stabbed deep into the skin between her finger and thumb then, three more of the maggots shot out of the shadows, toward the thimble. They too disappeared into the cup and the walls shook. Frantically, Lisa looked around, scooting on her butt, found what she was looking for and slammed the thimble down onto a thick convergence of chalk lines. "Hold this here no matter what, okay? Don't let it up. No matter what."
"What is that?"
"A diva cup."
Lisa sighed. "Later. For now, just trust that if the cup moves even a millimeter we will die. I'll be back, okay?" She clutched at her hand,
"It went in you," John Said.
"I need your car keys. I've got to go get help."
"My car? Why don't I go to call the police?"
"With your feet? Your leg? No. Besides, we need someone who knows what's happening here. Please. I need your --"
"No need, dear. Hello."
Lisa and John turned and looked at the woman standing in the door. She stood, short, all in black, hands on hips and slowly looked the scene over. "What did you think --no. Lisa, we will talk about this later. Who are --oh dear. Look at you! All covered in," she trailed off. "What are you covered in?"
"Uh," John said. "Blood, puke. A bit of pee if we're being honest."
"And rust water, eh?"
"I think so ma'am."
"This is Sarah, she'll know what to do, now."
Another maggot launched itself toward Sarah, lightning fast, and was caught in its midsection between Sarah's left forefinger and thumb. She held it up close to her eyes and examined it. The thing strained toward her nose, the blood drop on its head stretching like a tongue, or a desperate finger. "Well then, how many of you were there?"
The thing twitched. Sarah asked a few more questions and each time the thing twitched or fluttered. John's arms burned from pushing down on the diva cup. Without taking her eyes off the maggot, Sarah stuck the thumb of her right hand in the corner of her mouth and bit down. There was a snap-squish sound. Sarah dropped a few drops of blood on the maggot's head and said something unintelligible.
The maggot writhed and the sound of screeching tires filled the room; as the volume increased the maggot turned to black smoke. There was a boom that left John's ears ringing and then the smoke-maggot was gone. The diva cup stopped pushing against his hand.
"Can I let go?" John asked.
Sarah turned to Lisa and motioned. Lisa walked over and looking at her feet held her punctured hand up. Sarah leaned in and squinted at the tiny hole. She took Lisa's hand in her hand and squeezed each finger.
Just before Sarah squeezed her little finger, Lisa cried out and gasped. She moaned, "I can feel it moving down my arm, oh goddess, its in me and it's moving down my arm. Please stop it. Please please Sarah, I can't --"
Sarah wrapped her hands around Lisa's right arm and made a wringing motion. "You're going to loose your arm for this," she said. and wrung her hands again around Lisa's arm. "You, boy, come here. I need you to good christ, look at your legs. Can you even stand?"
John looked at his legs and watched as his vision tunneled.
Sarah said, "Stand," and John stood. "Here, put your hands here," she nodded at her hands, wrapped as they were around Lisa's bicep. "Nestle your hands against mine and squeeze her arm as hard as you can. I need more blood."
John did as he was told and squeezed Lisa's arm as hard as he could. He squeezed his eyes shut and felt the maggot writhing under his fingers. His empty stomach spasmed. He ground his teeth together and squeezed harder. There was a prick, like a thick needle against the palm of his hand and he shouted in unison with Lisa, who kept screaming wordless noise.
"No, no, no no no no no no no no no no no!" John shouted, louder and louder but the pain was too much and he let go. Hooked to his palm, tip buried in his hand, the maggot wiggled and John stumbled backward, tried to fast back away but fell instead and the worm whipped out with a wet spluck-sound, spiraling, digging slowly into his hand. Sarah grabbed the maggot, a full two feet long, in the middle with both hands, "Got you!" She shouted, triumphant. She looked right at John and cocked an eyebrow.
Lisa collapsed, knocked over one of the two remaining candles, which rolled into some water and snuffed itself out.
Sarah dragged her thumb along the lower half of the worm. The worm disappeared with the same phantom car crash as the first. "Well then young man, you just saved your friend's right arm. I'll make sure she gives you a hand."
"You're not infected are you? Nothing moving around in there?"
"I don't think so. I mean, I was, but a bunch of them, uh, Lisa drew a bunch of them out."
"How many? All of them? More?"
"I oh god," John bent over and wretched bile into the wet, rusted mess on the floor. "I don't know ma'am. I think they're all gone, but I really. I need a tetanus shot. And probably antibiotics. And clean clothes and oh man is my mom gonna kill me."
Sarah narrowed her eyes. She said, slowly, "I'll take you to the hospital, but we can't stay. Lisa and I have some things to discuss. Thank you for saving her arm. She got lucky. That gusano must have been the weakest of the brood, or else it'd be your arm we're amputating. Well, maybe just your hand." Sarah trailed off.
"Look, I'm gonna need my leg amputated if we don't get a move on."
"Yes, right. Sleep," Sarah said.
"Sleep?" But then, he did.