Happy Holidays everyone! I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million more. I never became a professional writer for the money. It’s damn near impossible to make a living in the internet age as a novelist or journalist. I do it because I love it. Plain and simple. That being said, I’m going to give you all six stories between now and Christmas absolutely free. All of these appear in my short story collection “Six From Five Seven”. You can purchase a copy if you feel froggy, but I refuse to beg. I’m not starting up a clothing line either. No rules, just write. Enjoy!
MILE DOWN CLUB
(Co-written by Sam Cloud-Miller)
“So, do you like for people to call you Ronald or just Junior?” squeaked the tiny, newly hired tour guide as she carefully descended the slippery stairway into the dank darkness.
“Sweetheart, you can call me anything you want just as long as you call me ‘boss’ when the others are in earshot,” explained the smirking man as he tucked the keys safely into his back pocket. He smirked because he knew he’d already won. He always won. This wasn’t his first employee initiation.
As a matter of fact, Ronald Grump Jr. had undertaken this same slimy adventure with every female subordinate who had the misfortune of being ensnared in his after-hours charms. His father, the late Ronald Grump, was considered a local hero of sorts for assisting with the discovery of Nature Valley caverns nearly fifty years prior. He’d brought tourism and tax dollars to the once dried-up, hill country community just beyond the boundaries of Austin, Texas. In Nature Valley, a Grump could do no wrong.
Ronald had hired Bayleigh the second her application slid across his desk. It was something about the tiny, neat but bubbly handwriting which sealed the deal. The fact she’d filled out the document with a purple pen raised no flags. Inside his one-track mind, tiny handwriting meant tiny hands. Purple just meant young and naive. Tiny hands meant tiny ‘everything else.’ After all, the daintier the target, the stronger and more powerful it made him feel. Ronald Jr. experienced no shame in this logic whatsoever. Daddy had diligently taught him everything he knew from the moment of Jr.’s birth until the untimely day of his own death, and Daddy had taught him well.
All of it, the money, the networks, and the perks, was willed to the family fortune’s namesake heir. Because of this, the barely legal girls who filled his payroll never said ‘no.’ They also never remembered any of the details. The drugs wouldn’t let them. If they did manage to recall anything negative from their extracurricular spelunking sessions with the boss, the others who worked at Nature Valley Caverns would shun and bully them until their inevitable, shameful departure. Ronald covered his tracks all too well by generously allowing the young men within his employ to initiate the ladies he found to be less than desirable. Not tonight, though. Bayleigh was all his.
Bayleigh McKinney, former head cheerleader of the Nature Valley Nighthawks and freshman at the University of Texas in Austin, was a sight to behold. In love with the caverns since childhood, she’d dreamt of exploring further into the deep, untouched halls of Nature Valley Caverns as a full-fledged archeologist. Fond memories of that childhood, the wrinkled, powerful hands of her grandfather clutching her frail shoulders for safety as her eyes adjusted, pinged Bayleigh’s brain. This night was already a dream come true.
She knew what was expected of her once they reached the cavern floor. This wasn’t her first trip to the bottom, so to speak. Ronald Grump Jr. was just another authority figure who’d attempted to take advantage of her remarkable good looks and shapely curves since reaching the ripe old age of ‘fuckable.’ To date, he was her lucky number seven in a long line of minimum wage job supervisors and high school coaches who’d given her exactly what she wanted…and received nothing more than a hand job in return. She spoke with a higher pitched voice on purpose. It led those ignorant men into an irrational false sense of security. Putty in her ‘tiny’ hands.
Bayleigh had seen the way Ronald followed her ass like a hypnotized cat follows a laser pointer since the first day she’d punched the clock at the caverns. College books and Sixth Street parties weren’t cheap, and the minimum wage salary of a gift shop counter clerk wouldn’t cut it in the grand scheme of things. That grand scheme, of course, was to never pay for another book, beer, or brunch for the rest of the time she resided in the ever gentrifying, expensive city of Austin. She would either charm the hell out of this man with the same technique perfected through teenage trial and error or scream shenanigans when the time was right. In the age of technology, everyone was a walking, talking recording studio, and Bayleigh agreed to this obvious invitation prepared.
“Are you sure we’re even supposed to be down here?” she asked, with a tad falser naivety than needed.
“Baby,” Ronald replied with confidence “I can pretty much do any damn thing I want. My daddy discovered these caves before I was even born so, in a way, they’ve got my name written all over them. If that’s not good enough to quiet your nerves, just think about the signature on your paychecks. It’s the same one that’s on everyone else’s. I own it all!”
Bayleigh’s ears rang as Ronald’s crude voice echoed throughout the chamber loudly. She knew from the very beginning that he’d already popped the cork on the cheap bottle of red wine he clutched firmly in his right hand. His behavior was beginning to reveal his tolerance, or lack thereof. Also, due to the stillness and humidity of the surrounding air, there was no hiding the reek of fermented grapes as they wafted from his breath.
Ronald suddenly dropped her right hand, which he had been clenching uncomfortably as they descended the steep stairs, feigning concern for her safety. He reached over her shoulder, brushing her breast rather obviously, and flipped on the intricately placed lights amid the stalactites. Her immediate surroundings ignited, lighting an unexpected and unerasable smile on her face. Bayleigh stood mere inches from the cave’s infamous reflecting pools, created eons ago by an enormous underground river only few had touched since its discovery. Her face ached in amazement. For a brief shining moment, she was that innocent, bubblegum chewing child perched upon her grandfather’s shoulders once again. She crashed back to reality as the wine bottle smashed sharply onto the floor, the cacophony echoing off the dripping walls and placid pools.
Ronald, not being quite as suave as previously advertised, had decided to switch the bottle into his free hand without proper thought. His poorly hidden inebriation combined with the gathering condensation on the bottle, and it slid from his grasp. With that, his liquid courage and the eventual vessel for his mind wiping cocktail trickled into the pools, and a stream of it dripped under the safety rails over the edge of the abyss into the now irrevocably contaminated river. The only thing ensuring his shot between Bayleigh’s gymnasium sculpted legs was escaping into the cavern’s water pools with each passing second. This target’s face showed a less than ecstatic expression he recognized all too well.
Bayleigh took stock of the situation and knew that it was now or never. There was no way in hell she was going to endure the evening’s coming events in a state of complete sobriety, and it appeared as though this rich, dumb son of a bitch hadn’t thought to stash a backup bottle.
She dropped to her knees, making sure to give Ronald a good view up her shorts, and grabbed the base of the wine bottle. Although it had broken with jagged edges, it was still vaguely cup shaped enough to where she could carefully scoop up the cave wine and salvage this evening. She needed to gain favor with this man, but she could not bear to stomach it without the wine. The way she saw it, this was her only choice.
The once crystal-clear waters swirled with blood red hues as the college freshman sloshed the makeshift, fragmented cup through the disturbed pool. An obvious party foul was called on account of the young Mr. Grump’s clumsiness and she wasn’t willing to allow any of the precious fluid to go to waste. Ronald stared slack jawed in awe.
“What in the fuck do you think you’re doing?” he shouted into the echoing darkness. “Did you drink a lot before you decided to come down here with me or have you just coincidentally lost your goddamn mind?”
Bayleigh paused and rocked back on her heels. She had to play this right. What did he care anyway? It’s not like he had taken her to a fancy steakhouse or spent any money on this joke of a date? They both knew what this was. She needed to regain the edge and play up her façade of dumb sweetness. Bayleigh looked over her shoulder slyly at him.
“Don’t worry about it, baby,” she bubbled at him. “I’m in college, remember? The University of Texas teaches us to never let any happy juice go to waste!”
The stiff smile Ronald wore the entire night to lull her into a false sense of security began to hurt his face. He tucked it away in a safe place to use again if ever the time arose with another victim on another night. This after-hours interview for his next potential sperm pocket was officially over. No matter how much arm candy dominated his field of vision, he wouldn’t dare risk the embarrassment of having her perform similar actions at a Grump family gathering or at a public speaking engagement. He did plan on throwing his hat into the political ring at some point in the near future, and the last thing he needed was a cheerleader who would drop to her knees at the mere sight of a spilled drink.
“Well, I think you’ve had enough, Bayleigh,” Ronald spoke with disappointment. “Let’s get the hell out of here and go buy another bottle.” Disgusted, he turned to ascend the cavern staircase.
The scene being witnessed by his eyes had not yet reached his dick, and it was still rock hard at the sight of her ass bobbing for wine tantalizingly before him. True, the young college freshman wasn’t wife material. Hell, she wasn’t anything close to second date material. Still, there was something about her bent body on all fours meticulously gathering up drops of alcohol on the ancient, filthy floor that sent all the blood straight to his pants. All idiocy aside, he was getting laid tonight. It wouldn’t be the first dumb one he’d slain in the name of pleasure, and it definitely wouldn’t be his last. There was already another college freshman penned on his calendar for an interview next week.
“Bayleigh, quit fucking around! Didn’t you hear me? Let’s get the hell out of here and go get another bottle of wine. You’re going to screw up and put a big cut on that pretty tongue of yours with all that broken glass and I have plans for that tongue before the sun comes up!”
All was silent save for the drips of the previous night’s rainwater from the ceiling into the collecting pools. Ronald peered intently in every direction illuminated by the cavern’s limited lighting system. The angel he had yet to conquer was nowhere to be seen.
“Bayleigh?” the confused man called out, echoes bouncing off the walls deep into the darkness of the massive cavern.
There was no answer. Ronald couldn’t help but think that this undesirable dunce of a girl was going to jump out at him from the darkness at any given second. He hated surprises. Ever since childhood he insisted on knowing exactly what his Christmas and birthday presents were, just in case he was to appear disappointed in front of his school friends or family. Life as a rich child didn’t have time for such unpleasantries, and there were zero plans of breaking this tradition tonight.
He reached deep into his front pocket and grabbed his phone. His member had given up its wrestling match with stitched denim and fallen asleep, safe and sound in the confines of Ronald’s tighty whities. With the flick of his thumb, his camera flash came to life, reaching even further than the overhead lighting allowed. The darkness rushed from side to side away from the beam like frightened children avoiding a grandmother’s kiss. Frantically, he searched the impenetrable black around him as the added illuminance brought diminishing results. His patience wore thinner.
“You know, Bayleigh, this isn’t even remotely funny!” Ronald complained. “I had every intention of taking you under my wing and showing you all the ropes. Hell, I even thought about letting you hang around me a bit more after work to see if maybe we fit together into something a little more permanent. I’m telling you right now, this isn’t exactly the best way to get on my good side, girl. I’m not a big fan of games…”
And that was it in a nutshell. Ronald Grump Jr. despised situations in which he wasn’t in control. As of right now, he had a missing girl wandering around in his dark caves. Not just any missing girl, but a missing girl who he’d led down here. Not to mention the fact she’d been drinking alcohol that he’d provided. Alcohol that was spilled all over the ground. Fuck! The press would have a field day with the family name if they found out the cavern’s owner had brought her down here for after work sexual favors. Shit! What if she got hurt while stumbling around, drunken and in the darkness? It was time to intensify the search.
“Goddammit, girl, if you don’t pop your pretty little head out here by the time I count to ten, you’re going to be heading home without a paycheck!”
Ronald grinned as two tiny dots of light reflected against his flashlight in the deep darkness. He chuckled underneath his breath ever so slightly at the realization that his little bluff worked. Why wouldn’t it? If there’s one thing these college girls understood, it was money. Screw with their money and you’ll have them eating out of your hands…or lap. It all depended on what kind of mood he was in at the time. Tonight, he’d had just about enough. Any type of sexual encounter was out of the question, and this chick was fired for sure. The only thought remaining on his agenda was to get her up the cave’s stairs and out the door forever. It would take a ton of begging, and maybe a little suction, to save the fate of her employment. On a positive note, at least he knew where she was.
“That’s more like it, Bayleigh girl,” Ronald praised her as the eyes crept closer like he was encouraging a puppy who had gone potty on the pad rather than the carpet. “Now, get your ass on up here so we can figure out what in the hell I’m going to do with you, or what I want you to do with me. It’s all yet to be determined…”
She was almost upon him when he heard gagging noises emanating from the darkness. The reflective dots of the young girl’s eyes disappeared and reappeared as her eyelids fluttered in an unusual fashion. Ronald pinpointed the girl’s face as she fell forward to the ground of the cave, writhing in obvious pain.
“Holy fuck, she’s seizing!” he exclaimed out loud. Startled, he dropped his cellphone and bent closer.
Rose colored foam poured from Bayleigh’s mouth, gathering in globs on the concrete walkway below her twitching face. Then, with a heaving groan, Bayleigh spewed strings of blood-filled mucus and subsided to a heaving huddled mass at his feet. Was this just the wine she’d drank from the pools when he broke the bottle? Did this idiot swallow a piece of glass in her ignorance? Regardless of cause, Ronald’s gift shop beauty was dying on the floor before him, and he was clueless on how to stop it.
Then, with a gurgled gasp, all was silent. Ronald peered at her, trying to see if the dampened hair in front of her nostrils fluttered with any hint of life. He saw nothing. Shit. How was he going to fix this? He reached out with the polished toe of his shoe and gently nudged a clean looking patch by her elbow. Nothing once more. He nudged again, this time on her side, just to be sure. Three strikes of nothingness. According to baseball rules, she was officially out.
He gathered up the last shred of bravado from his nearly evaporated inebriation and reached down to grab Bayleigh under her arms. It looked like he was going to have to drag her step by step up the treacherous stairs. He strained and grunted, trying to get better footing, but alas his dressy footwear didn’t quite have the grip needed to hoist the limp girl. Then, he felt a jerk of movement. He was saved! She was going to come to and walk out of here, and then his only problem would be figuring out how to clean up the telltale, rancid alcohol from the cave floor. Easy when compared to the task of hiding a body! He dropped her and stumbled back, out of breath from his brief trial.
The once unmoving girl sprang unexpectedly to all fours and cocked her head inhumanly with fierce ferocity. Staring Ronald Grump, Jr. down with sharp eyes, they seemed not to recognize what should have been his all too familiar face. Her once sunny and well-maintained Texas tan had somehow drained from her skin as if bleached away. Bayleigh rose jerkily from her crouched position, each bone, ligament, and joint snapping into a new subhuman form. At last, she was bipedal again, but Ronald could not possibly comprehend her presence as human. It was as though she’d forgotten her own instinctual nature. Grump broke the silence first.
“Dammit, girl, I thought I told you not to drink that shit!” he exclaimed nervously. “Not the spilled wine, but the goddamn cave water. You can’t drink the cave water! Do you even know how old that stuff is or where it comes from? You told me you were studying spelunking in school, so I thought for sure you’d be one of the last people on the planet to do something as ignorant as that! Goddamn University of Texas chicks always putting things in their mouths and have no idea whatsoever of where it’s been.”
The creature formerly known as Bayleigh screeched an echoing, blood curdling retort to Ronald’s collegiate taunt. With one precise, quick slash of her now sharpened and far from manicured nails, she separated the nearest light switch from the wiring harness that snaked up the cave wall into the lighting system. An arc of electric blue energy blinded the man. He stumbled yet again, shielding his eyes against the crackling flash before ultimate blackness overcame the pair. The darkness was only a hinderance to one of them.
Ronald’s hands shook nervously as he inched along the moist cave wall in the direction of what he hoped was the exit doors. Not once in his father’s many tales of exploits and corruption had Sr. ever mentioned anything as fucked up as this night became. He drew ragged breaths, too loud but unavoidable if he was to suck in enough oxygen to make it up that blasted staircase.
Junior was adrift in a sea of fear, the scent of which was a tantalizing bouquet to Bayleigh the beast. A low, nearly inaudible croaking noise met his ears from out of the pitch black that enveloped them both. He groped in his pocket desperately for his last beacon of light, but his cellphone lay feet away, waterlogged in the corrupted pools.
Ronald froze dead in his tracks and held his breath. His heart pounded loudly, and he felt he could hear the blood rushing in his own veins. It was probably a roaring avalanche to the ears of the beast who stalked him. Even so, he ceased breathing until his lungs burned, screaming at him to draw life before his consciousness slipped away. Then, with an explosion of desperation, the inevitable inhale broke through his resolve. The predator leapt with precision.
She pinned him to the wall with incredible strength. Her rancid breath and the rip of her talons made the surreal scene overwhelmingly real to his electrified senses. She slashed away his now filthy attire and started to rend the flesh from his exposed bones in ribbons. His pathetic physique, unused to work or hardship which he kept carefully disguised behind expensive threads was systematically torn asunder as splatters of heated blood mixed into the frigid alcoholic waters. Any hope of reclaiming the natural habitat of these caverns was long gone. The dull taste of blood, the sterilizing sting of wine, and the ancient cave water had somehow crafted this creature, and she was hungry.
The wealthy man’s consciousness began to fade as the frenzied beast bit down viciously on his throat. The last thing his brain comprehended was the whistling sound of air escaping through a ragged hole in his windpipe. Soon, that new orifice was sealed by a bubbling river of blood which traveled downward to intermingle with the unnatural concoction desecrating the sacred cavern. Death became all he knew, and the Grump family legacy ceased to be for reasons which would never see the light of day. The creature soon finished its appetizer, and a now webbed hand pushed what remained of the cavern’s owner over the safety rails and into the untouched darkness that waited below.
Bayleigh, now unrecognizable to all who once knew her, sat atop the slimy cave floor, and drank deep of the unholy pools. She relished the welcomed refreshment. It chilled gradually with each sip as the cave water attempted to reclaim its dominance. She couldn’t care less. With a powerful leap, she cleared the walkway, descending down toward the decaying scent of her former boss’s corpse, which lay upon an island of pristine bones picked clean by the subterranean ecosystem and the relentless passage of time. These were caves older than mankind, and the Earth would never allow humanity to claim dominion over them.
Bayleigh was far from the first guardian the caves had called forth, but she hoped to be the last.