Derek thought he was imagining it at first. But then the sound echoed through the cave again, this time joined by a violin. It was real, whatever it was.
Derek lurched to his feet, pain punching his stomach as he did. He started walking toward the music, hunched over, with both hands clasped on his bloody stomach. It was haunting and mournful, as if somebody with all the pain in the world was playing. It was frightening too, with undertones of violence and musical threats.
At the end of the cavern Derek perceived a crack in the wall, widening at the bottom so a man might walk through it. From this opening the music seeped, along with a dull, pale, unforgiving light.
Gripped with fear, Derek took one of his hands off his wound to draw his gun, pointing it ahead as he advanced into the crack.
The light grew brighter and the music louder as he advanced. He also became aware of a broken singing accompanying the music, completely out of tune and sync. It was like an opera with a very good band and a very bad singer.
Finally Derek emerged into a small underground auditorium. A low stage was at the far end, with the singer illuminated in a bright spotlight. He was a tall, gangly man, covered in a thick layer of dirt. His greasy hair was wild and pointed up in every angle. Large clumps of it were simply missing. His clothes were ragged and his feet were bare, exposing his disgustingly long toenails. His eyes were an insanely bright blue, and they had an unhinged, lunatic look to them. He was a man from which insanity and terror radiated from. And before the singer was the audience, among which Derek stood, made up of row after row of human skeletons, perfectly white and free of meat.
The man stopped signing abruptly and his eyes flew to Derek. Derek fought down a scream, his body settling for a sharp intake of breath. The music continued.
“You…” the man said slowly from between dry lips. “You are not a fly?”
“Um…” Derek was a bit taken aback by the question. “No. At least I don’t think so.”
A slow smile of joy formed on the man’s face. He jumped off the stage and ran for Derek. “Oh bless you! Oh bless you! Someone escaped! I didn’t think it was possible! Oh bless you! Bless you!”
“Stop moving or I’ll shoot you!” Derek yelled, aiming his gun at the man. The man stopped, hesitating, as if wondering if Derek would really do it. “I will!” Derek yelled, just to confirm it.
The man’s face went abruptly from joy to concern. “You’re hurt!” he exclaimed. “You need water! I will get you water! Don’t worry!” he rushed back onto the stage and behind the curtain.
Derek briefly considered getting out while he could, but where did he have to go? And although this man, whoever he was, was clearly not stable, he did not seem to be hostile either. And Derek was thirsty.
The man rushed back, awkwardly carrying a gallon jug of water. As it hit the light, sparkles ran through it. It was from the Well Well. “Water solves everything!” the man cried happily. “Please! Drink drink drink and become healthy!”
Derek couldn’t resist. He holstered his gun, took the jug with both hands and drank greedily. Instantly the pain evaporated, and he was able to stand up strait. The Well Well deserved its name.
After he drank nearly the entire jug Derek got to asking, “Who are you?”
Sudden terror came over the man’s face. “I don’t know,” he said franticly. “I lost my name some time ago. A long time ago.”
Derek was taken aback. “You forgot your own name?”
“No, nonononononono,” the man continued. “I lost it. I searched everywhere, but I could not find it.”
“Um… right,” Derek said. “What should I call you then?”
“Well…” the man thought aloud. “I always loved the name of the man who made the music I sing with. I could borrow his. Call me Mozart.”
Something in the back of Derek’s head registered that name, but his living mind didn’t. “Ok Mozart. Why are you down here?”
“I’m hiding from the flies,” Mozart explained. “They go through the caverns, whole swarms of them at a time. They spin their web around you and swing you from the ceiling. When you die, they eat you down to your bones. But they never come in this place. I think they’re afraid of the music, that’s what I think.”
“Weird,” Derek said. That explained what had happened. He wondered how he could get back to the well without being wrapped up again. Then again, maybe he wouldn’t have to. “Out of curiosity do you have any more of the Well Well water?”
Mozart’s face again abruptly changed emotion, this time to sadness. “I’ve been such a bad host, not introducing you!”
“To who?” Derek wondered. Without answering Mozart grabbed Derek and dragged him to the first row of skeletons. Derek tried to break free but Mozart’s grip was like iron.
“This is Bobby,” Mozart said, indicating the first skeleton. “And next to him is Sally. And beyond them is John. And after that is Joe. And then there’s Sally. And after her Bobby. And then Joe.”
“Let go of me!” Derek ordered, grabbing his gun with his spare hand and jabbing it into Mozart’s face. “I don’t care about your stupid skeletons! Now, how much of the Well Well water do you have?”
Mozart’s face became animated with feral, unstable terror. He did not, however, let go of Derek’s arm. “Yes, I got gallons and gallons of it. I can get even more if you want. The flies don’t bother me. I go out there all the time and they don’t bother me.”
“Well, gallons and gallons ought to do fine,” Derek said, trying to maintain authority, although his voice was quivering with fear. Mozart was insane. That much was obvious. He had a twitching, nervous energy that was even more terrifying. “Take me to it.”
“Of course, yes, I’ll take you,” Mozart said, releasing his death grip on Derek’s arm. “Follow me, it’s backstage.” He started walking, and Derek followed him, keeping his gun trained on him at all times. “You know, sometimes when I get more water I go to the room with the silver bodies. And sometimes they talk to me.”
“Keep moving,” Derek said, uninterested in the madman’s dilutions.
“Once they said somebody would survive the flies. They said somebody named Derek Wheeler would come along who survived the flies.”
Derek stopped walking. “What did you say?”
Mozart turned around to face him. “They said somebody named Derek Wheeler would come along. And they said I was to tell him to go to the city with wet feet. The city with wet feet. They said it was awful important.”
Derek was suddenly curious. “Did they say he would have a mark like this?” He held up his hand, showing the black scar on its palm.
“Yes, yes they did,” Mozart said with surprise. “And they said he would try to kill me too. But you aren’t Derek Wheeler, are you?”
“No,” Derek lied. “I’m not Derek Wheeler.” This was getting stranger and stranger. Mozart had given him the same message that voice in his dream had. Or at least he assumed it was a dream. Someone had known Derek was coming and told Mozart about it before hand. But who would have known? It occurred to Derek that Joshua might have, but why?
“So, welcome to my abode,” Mozart said, pushing back the curtain at the end of his stage. It opened into a medium sized room, that brought an instant chill to Derek, in more ways than one.
The most apparent thing was the dozen or so bodies hanging from the ceiling. Derek drew a breath of fear when he saw them. They were all stripped naked, and then cut along their bodies to remove long strips of muscle and meat. Worse was the butcher knife that was lying on the floor, in a pool of human blood.
“Oh god,” Derek said. “What have you been doing to these people?”
“I have to eat. No other food. Only the water. The flies sometimes carry a kill to the head of my cave. The flies like me. They want me to live.” Mozart’s voice had a pleading sadness to it.
“T-take me to the water,” Derek ordered, trying desperately to keep his voice calm. He was failing, and Mozart could tell. However, without another word the cannibal led him through a layer of bodies to reveal a large table of hard wood, the type used for cutting meat. At the foot of the table were barrels and barrels of Well Well water. At one end of it was something that looked like a very large radio, which was still playing the music Derek had heard. And lying on the table was Zoey.
“Zoey!” Derek yelled in surprise and relief. He’d given her up for dead. He pushed Mozart to the ground and ran past him. “Zoey! Zoey are you all right?” He whipped around to face Mozart. “What are you doing to her?” he screamed. If this cannibal had eaten her then he would shoot him in the head. He kicked him to keep him down, and then kicked him again, and then again, and again, and then he bashed him in the head with his pistol. And suddenly all of the anger and frustration and terror Derek had experienced was unleashed on Mozart. His anger at Mozart for eating people and being insane. His anger at the flies for wrapping him up. His anger at Joshua for sending him down the Well Well. His anger at Clooney for getting shot and being in a coma. His anger at the Gens for tying him up in a tree. His anger at Cornwell for framing him. His anger and Stonemen for pushing him to go outside. And overridingly his anger at himself for not getting out of it somewhere along the road.
“The flies dropped her here this morning! I haven’t got around to cutting her yet!” Mozart screamed sadly, flailing his arms in pain. “Look, I haven’t hurt her,” he begged. “Just take her and leave. Please don’t kill me!” He had crawled up into a fetal position and began to cry.
Derek was taken aback. Mozart was so pathetic. Derek’s anger drained. “I’m sorry. But how can I leave?”
In between sobs Mozart pointed past Zoey to a cloth rag hanging from the wall. “Beyond that is the Well Well, and beyond the Well Well is the way to the surface. You got down, you must have a way up. That is all I can do, please don’t hurt me anymore.”
Derek ran over to the rag and swept it aside. A dark archway was revealed. The opaque darkness that reminded him of the first cave greeted him. “If you have a way out why don’t you try to get out too?”
Mozart stared at him with his dead blue eyes. “The flies won’t let me leave. They attack me in my dreams, telling me what I must do, what I have to do to live. If I don’t do it, they hurt me, and starve me. They whisper things to me, about a wise man who will give the world peace. About a cyclops coming to break and wreck it all. They tell me of vast forests burning and people being butchered like cattle. And they always tell me that Fate is coming on the wind to collect his bounty, that a vast number of cards have been dealt and will be played out, one after the other, and at the center of the game is Derek Wheeler, who will try to kill me.”
Mozart continued to rant as Derek gave up on him and turned to Zoey, still lying on the table. “Wake up Zoey,” he said shaking her and trying to wake her up. She didn’t react. Utter panic gripped him. “Come on Zoey, wake up!” They had to get out, to escape this place. The fight or flight reaction had finally overwhelmed Derek.
“The flies never bring someone unless they’re gone!” Mozart screamed suddenly. “She’s dead! Just like all of them ever always! Dead! Dead! Killed by the flies! No more music!” He got up and lunged forward, at first Derek thought it was to attack him, but Mozart changed course at the last moment and collapsed onto the ground. “Dead! Dead!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. “Never alive, never with company, just dead! Dead! Dead! Dead! DEAD!” He pulled back into the fetal position, sobbing and screaming.
Derek wouldn’t believe Zoey was dead. There wasn’t a mark on her. It didn’t make sense that she would be dead. She couldn’t be dead. Mozart was just ranting. Derek told himself that over and over again. He didn’t know why. Perhaps for a semblance of sane thought that would keep the omnipresent, paralyzing terror at bay.
He had a desperate plan to wake Zoey up. Derek lifted one of the big jugs of water onto the table, trying to ignore Mozart’s screaming. He opened Zoey’s mouth and poured it down her throat, hoping desperately it would work.
She woke up almost instantly, coughing and sputtering. “Derek wha-” she began, but was cut off when Derek threw her over his shoulder. She was heavier than he anticipated, but was able to move pretty quickly. The only thought in his mind was to get out, escape the Well Well and get out alive. He could pick up the canisters he’d left by the well itself. With a hasty plan, he ran for it.
He didn’t get five feet. Mozart’s hand shot out and grabbed his leg, tripping him. Derek fell onto the floor and Zoey, still half asleep, skidded across it and ran into the wall.
Derek barely had time to think before Mozart jumped on top of him, tearing at his skin with his uncut nails. Everywhere they hit bloody cuts appeared on Derek’s body. “She called you Derek!” he screamed in anger. “Derek Wheeler! The one who’ll try to kill me! Liar! Liar!”
Derek instinctively pulled the trigger of his gun. It didn’t fire. The webbing must have jammed it. He franticly slammed it’s metal shape into Mozart’s face. Mozart screamed in pain and jumped backward, knocking the radio-like thing to the floor, sending sharp pieces of plastic flying. The music sputtered out and died.
Derek tried to get up, but Mozart was faster to recover. He jumped back on Derek, screaming “Liar! Liar! Liar! You’ve come to kill me!” His nose was covered in blood.
Derek scrambled out of his reach, then kicked him in the mouth. Mozart let out an unholy screech of pain and groped after him. Soon he was back on top of Derek, screaming and slashing with his fingernails in a blind rage. Derek punched and kicked back, but Mozart seemed not to notice.
Derek’s cuts created a pool of blood on the floor. His blows lost their strength and his vision swam. His rational mind was dying, and his thoughts became more and more frantic. Something had to be done, something had to be done before the lights went out! But even when he kicked Mozart in the groin the insane man didn’t respond.
Then Zoey came to the fight. One of her feet came from nowhere to kick down on Mozart’s head, smashing it into the floor. He was disoriented enough that Derek was able to throw him backward and stand up.
Mozart was still angry and screaming, and tried to lift himself back up. Zoey pushed him back down, then kicked him in the ribs. Then Derek stomped on his throat. Then Zoey shattered his bloody nose with her foot. Then Derek kicked his ribs and his groin, and was about to do it again when Zoey ordered, “That’s enough!”
They stood back and watched Mozart die. It seemed like Derek’s hit to his throat lodged something there, and the cannibal was slowly suffocating. He twitched on the ground, gasping for breath. He stubbornly held on, despite his body being covered in blood and bruises. It was a much quieter process then you would think, as he simply did not have the air to make it louder. But finally, after holding on for far longer than any sane person could’ve, his eyes rolled back into his head and he stopped twitching.
They both stared at the man they’d murdered for a few moments. They were trapped in a stunned silence, and they both knew that they should get out as fast as they could. But neither could move.
The humming came however, and they shot into action. It was the same humming that the flies made. They were coming.
“We need to go!” Zoey ordered with far more authority in her voice then Derek had expected. “Pick up one of those water jugs, I’ll take another!” she continued.
“Why?” Derek asked as he hurriedly did so.
“We still need to bring Joshua some Well Well water, and chances are we won’t have time to get our canisters back!” Zoery explained. “Which way out?”
Derek pointed at the rag covering the archway, then without another word they both ran for it. They were scared. Terrified. A vibration traveled through the ground, coming from the beat of tens of thousands of tiny wings, joined together to create a storm of movement. They could feel it rattling their bones, and shaking apart their wills.
The tunnel was fairly strait, which was a god send, as neither of them still had their flashlights. Never the less, after five minutes of running they each had an equal helping of bruises. But they never stopped. Fear drove them forward.
After ten minutes of often dead sprinting, they emerged into a cavern and could dimly make out the shape of the small boxy building next to the Well Well. “I know where we are!” Zoey said excitedly. “The doorway should be this way!” she pointed off into the gloom.
They started a fast walk in the direction she pointed, trying to be careful so they wouldn’t miss the door, but still driven to go faster by the hum and vibrations. Finally they found it, and practically ripped it off its hinges in fear.
They were now in the opaque darkness that they had first been lowered into. “Find the rope!” Zoey ordered, and they started groping through the dark, as there was no other was to search.
The flies were getting closer, they could feel it. Their instincts screamed at them to panic, to run, to fight, to preserve their lives by any means necessary. It told them to curl up into a ball and hide from the big scary predator that was going to rip their skin and break their bones, leaving them to rot and die.
Derek didn’t think they would find it. He knew the odds. He almost became a slave to his instincts and curled up in a ball. But the thought that Joshua said they had a fifty percent chance of making it drove him, gave him a tiny glimmer of hope.
Suddenly, someone grabbed his arm and tugged him. “Zoey!” he yelled in surprise.
“You find it?” she yelled from far away.
“Someone’s-” Derek began, but the tugging was suddenly gone. And the rope was in his hands. “Yeah! I found it! Over here!”
Zoey ran to his voice so fast she knock him down, but then they pulled twice on the rope, and could feel Joshua pulling them up a moment later. After thirty seconds they saw light emerge from the gloom and the air wasn’t so close.
They had escaped the Well Well.