“Are you sure you want to know? Really sure?”
“I told you, didn’t I? I’m not doing this until I know everything.”
“Okay, but like I told you, it wasn’t pretty—”
“Hey, cut it out. Like I said, give it to me straight, or I’m not going in there.”
“That’s your call, man, but you know what happens if you don’t go in.”
“Are you going to tell me or not?”
“Okay, okay, fine. So it was a few years ago, maybe three or four. This guy Jake used to talk big about going caving all the time. Even called it splunking—”
“—yeah, that. Are you telling this, or am I? Anyway. He wanted in just like you do. Me and some of the guys brought him out here, and we gave it to him straight. ‘All you have to do is get in that cave, find the key, bring it out again. Easy as pie. Think you’re up to it?’ Jake was pretty sure of himself, just smiled all cocky-like and went right in like it was nothin’.
“Of course before he’d gone in, me and the boys had been all through there. These caves, they split up somethin’ terrible, branching off all over the place. If you haven’t been through there a hundred times like we have, you’ll lose yourself and never be seen again.
“We set up speakers all through there, hidden ones, in the cracks and in holes, anywhere they wouldn’t be easy to spot.
“When he’d been in maybe five, ten minutes, tops, we started playing our special mix. At first it was real low and real soft, so he wouldn’t even really notice. Mostly it was just breathing—”
“Why’re you telling me all this? Doesn’t it wreck it if I know what you’re going to do before I go in?”
“I’m telling you why we don’t do it anymore. Now, like I was saying, at first it was real quiet, but we ramped it up gradually, really slowly, just so he’d start to kinda freak out a little, y’know? He started texting us then, asking for clues. It must’ve been getting to him, we didn’t know where he was to direct him, even if that had been playin’ by the rules. Guess he couldn’t have been too far in if he had signal to text with.
“By the time he’d been in there about forty-five minutes, his texts got way more freaked out. He was hearing it now for sure, but we didn’t really start to think anything of it until he stopped texting.
“See, we’d hidden the key close enough that he should still have had signal, but he went quiet for a whole hour.
“I don’t think I told you what the caves are actually like. They’re confusing as hell but that’s about as bad as it gets when you stick to the area near the entrance. Problem is, once you get past that, it starts getting bad pretty quick. And worse, you can’t always tell you’ve gotten that far away unless you know ‘em real well like we do.
“They get dark. REAL dark, like absolute pitch black. And the floors aren’t as smooth as they are up front, right? They’ve got all kinds of those big rock spikes off the ceilings and floors. The big ones aren’t so bad, but in some places, they have little ones, and those kinda scare me. It’d be so easy to trip and land on a bunch growin’ up out of the floor, right? They’re solid stone, and thin, too. They could kill you so easy.
“And that’s not all. It starts getting so you can feel the pressure, right? Like you’ve got all this stone around you, above you, to every side of you, crushing in, and it feels like the air itself is getting tight. It gets hard to breathe, drives some people crazy.
“Then there are the side-passages. I already told you the cave splits off into all kinds of branching paths, but not all of them are side paths. There are drops back there that’ll take you farther down than I’ve ever explored, and some of ‘em could maybe trap you, if you survived the fall at all. We’ve heard stories of people just disappearing without a trace in there.
“Another hour passed before we finally got a text from him again. It made no sense, just garbled letters and stuff. He’d attached a picture though, a shot of the caves he was in. His flashlight was running out of juice, you could barely see anything.
“The next text came a few minutes later, and he’d given up trying to type anything at all. He used his voice recorder. He was scared out of his wits by then, just babbling that they were coming for him, they were right behind him, they’d been chasing him for hours.
“That was the last we heard from him, but the message went on. A lot of heavy, scary breathing, no idea if it was him or something else. But the moans and the tearing and the ripping and the screaming … those, we knew those were nothing we’d had on our speakers. We were nearly sick, listening to it, having to imagine what was going on. It ended with a sick, wet dragging sound. I still hear it in my nightmares some nights.
“We were all of us bone-white with fear by then; we took off back to the cars and got out of there faster than you could spit. Came back the next day with the police. They mounted a search. Never found Jake, not even a sign he’d ever been there. The official conclusion was that he’d freaked out and gotten lost. They kept searching for days, but never found a single sign of him.
“Jake never got that key. It’s still in there, right where we left it, but once the police were gone … well, we heard what we heard, y’know? We’ve never gone back in. And we’ve gotta get that key back if we want any more members.
“So … are you game?”
“… You guys really expect me to believe all that crap? News like that would’ve been all over town. You’re so full of it. I’m goin’ in.”
“Dude, I can’t believe he went in.”
“Shhh, he might still be able to hear. Are you all set on the audio?”
“I’m all—wait, no, still gotta plug in the main amp.”
“Uh, you mean it’s not plugged in right now?”
“No, just about got—”
“Then what’s that that sound?”