THE UNDERWORLD

There were six of us that day. We had never been absolute best friends until we'd had our lives at stake. It took everything we had to discover ourselves and work together. If we hadn't been there for one another, we might not have survived this incredible event.
There was a costume party at the local rollerblade rink, and Mary and I had gone, dressed as Laverne and Shirley. Renee would have come, but she hadn't been home when I tried to call her. I kept thinking about how weird it would be if she was here when WHAM! and I was flat on my butt.
Mary sped over. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, just completely-" I was cut off when I saw who I had plowed into. "And you would be?"
"Ryan." He held out his hand to help me. I took it and nearly fainted, he was so gorgeous (even in the grim reaper costume, I could tell). I managed to get all the way up just as the announcer bellowed,
"Couples only! If you're not holding hands, leave the floor now."
I looked down at my hand, still locked with Ryan's. Our eyes met. "Wanna skate?" He grinned.
"Okay." So we went out on the floor and skated. I was swimming in ecstasy. After it was over, I looked for Mary. She was standing with Renee, so I came that way. "Hey girl, where were you?"
"Here," Renee said. "I've been here the whole time. How do you like my groovy threads?" She was dressed as a hippie.
"Peace out, man. Who'd you come with?"
"No one, but it looks like you've attracted some company."
I turned. Ryan had followed me. "This is Ryan, and this is Mary and Renee. I'm Stacy." Introductions all around.
"Hey, RYAN! Long time, no see!" I cringed, recognizing the voice. It was James, and most importantly, the current object of my affections. Of course with Ryan there, I didn't worry too much. James didn't know about me anyway.
We all directed our eyes to the sound. James came up, followed by my personal pain-in-the-butt, Rich. James was dressed up as Elvis, and Rich was Frankenstein. Mary nudged me and smiled. I gave her a Look.
"Hey, the gang's all here. How are you girls?" James is not known for being shy. We murmured greetings.
So now we were all together. I know it was pretty quick, but when you're in such a popular place, "coincidence" is the native tongue.
We lived in Illinois, where nothing exciting except tornadoes happens, which is why we were startled at the next occurrence. The ground shook, slowly building up violence. Earthquake! But it couldn't be...?
A quick glance around told me that the only thing near to grab was Ryan. He was clutching the wall, so I threw my arms around him and held tight. Renee dropped to a crawling position and bent close to the floor. Rich had braced himself against a table and a shelf, and Mary and James were doing like Ryan and me. Everyone else was panicky and making a beeline for the exit. Most people lost their footing, and then the other people fell over them.
I let go of Ryan and bent down by Renee, trying hard to keep my ground. Suddenly, it started splitting. I shut my eyes, ready to experience a crash to doom, when I felt someone grab me. Ryan strained, attempting to pull me up, and Rich had Renee. All I saw was a black void below my feet and I prayed Ryan wouldn't let go. Mary rushed over to help. Just don't let go, please don't let go...His hand slipped from mine. Lunging, he grabbed me around my waist and hooked Mary's arm as he slid by. But it was too much for Mary. The floor gave way and we fell. I made a grab for the other side, with Ryan still clutching me, and managed to get a hold of Renee. Mary tried to reach Ryan, but missed and fell all the way down.
Even with Rich and James pulling at her, Renee couldn't get both of us up. I removed Ryan's arm from around me and told Renee to take it. Then I fell.
I knew for sure I wouldn't last very long. My stomach slowly rose clear out of my throat. It was like jumping off the high dive, but I figured instead of water I'd be Silly Putty on some kind of rock. And then I thought of something else. Would I go straight through the center of the earth? No, that was impossible. Wasn't it? I shut my eyes tight, hoping it would be over soon...THUD!

Pain. I could not move. My body was mangled, everything broken. That was certainly what it felt like. Eyes open, good sign, but I couldn't see very well. Probably I had slammed my face on something. I stared around, striving to focus. "Mary..." I whispered.
"Here," a voice moaned. "Stacy?"
I rolled over, wincing as the ground pressed on my stomach. I saw her, just a few yards away. She had landed awfully hard. Abruptly gaining energy, I crawled to her. "You okay?" Both arms and both legs were covered with gashes. No, she was not okay. Her ankle was twisted at an unnatural angle. Seeing that, I wondered how I had fared. Scrapes and bruises, but I was tough. My shoulder hurt incredibly, though. I tried to raise my arm, and screamed in agony as something landed directly on it.
"Oh, WOW, that hurt!" I shrieked. "Owww..." Down I went.
"Thanks for breaking my fall, Stace," Ryan joked. I gave him a wounded look and he was sorry. "Mary, are you all right?"
"Her ankle's broken, but she's alive. Plus those ugly gashes. Oh, Mary, you are going to have some really nice scars."
Mary moaned. "How do we get out of here?"
"First we need to find a very...very...very...very tall ladder. And by the way, I think I tore a ligament." I glared at Ryan, as best I could with my bad eyes. "That's how it was before you came along. Now it's nonexistent."
He laughed and patted me on the back. "Oh, Stacy, you're fine." Mary sat up.
"I'm fine. I'm okay," she announced. WHUMP! Something slammed her back down, but since it was Renee, she was unharmed. Renee's pretty light. When she rolled off, her shoes, clothes and skin had blood smeared all over them, from Mary's gashes. But, they both survived. We all tried to stand up, and then WHUMP! a little distance away. It was James.
"Any damage?" I went over. He was tough, too, but he'd had the unfortunate bad luck of landing on his stomach. The wind was knocked totally out of him. He regained with some difficulty, and we all sat waiting for a sixth WHUMP! Nothing came.
"I bet he left," I growled. "Just like him."
"Anyone know where we are?" Renee asked. Nope.
Mary's eyes were wide with terror. "I think we're in trouble."
We all turned to where her trembling finger was pointing, and gasped in shock. Something was floating toward us, like it was on wheels. Behind it were more. Ghouls? We could see right through them, but we could also see deformed faces, rotting flesh, decaying bones. Renee looked away and retched. I couldn't blame her.
"Help us," they whispered. "Help us. We want to be free..." Ryan hoisted Mary onto his back and we ran. "You can't escape. Help, please. Join with us..." They continued their pleas, but we kept going. Their outstretched, abnormally long arms made grabs for us again and again. We couldn't outrace them, that was for sure. I could even see Ryan winding down, but then he had a little extra weight to tote. He tripped and I never saw him get up. The rest of us went on. We finally stopped for breath in total blackness.
"Ryan? Mary?" James called. No answer.
"I think we lost them," Renee said. She wasn't out of breath at all, with compliments to her thin but powerful build.
"Yeah, no kidding."
"No, I meant the ghouls."
"Did you hear something?" I inquired. "Let's find each other." We couldn't see our hands in front of our faces. I reached out and felt someone's arm. Whoever it was held me tight, and then held one arm out. Someone else joined the group. "James?"
"Yeah, I got both of you."
For a second, I lost myself. I was in James' arms! He was holding me! How cool was that?! "Hey, Renee?"
"What?"
"Did you feel that?"
"What?"
"Something landed on me." I glanced up, not that I could see anything. My eyesight was bad enough in the light. It hit me again, wet and slimy. It had to be guano. Yuck! And then panic! "Get down low and stay there!" I hissed. "Bats!"
"Oh, I hate bats," moaned Renee.
"No sudden noises," I warned. "Go! We need to get out of here." We crawled at breakneck pace, even with my torn shoulder.
When we were confident we were out of sonic earshot, Renee spoke. "I wonder what happened to Ryan and Mary?"
"The ghouls got `em, I bet," James ventured. "Which means they're dead-or worse."
"What could possibly be worse than death?" I wondered. But then I figured it out. James didn't respond, so it was just as well.
"Maybe we should go back," Renee suggested. "To see if they're okay."
"I can't even tell if we're going forward," James snapped. Then, "Yaaahhh! Your hands are like ice!"
"I didn't touch you," Renee replied.
"Not me," I added.
"Well, somebody did."
"James, it's me."
"Mary? Oh, thank-"
I turned around to see what had cut him off, and screamed. Mary was floating, transparent and splotched with blood. Behind her was Ryan, who was breaking apart at the waist and then wavering back together. Suddenly, I could see James. There was an eerie light behind all three. They had been transformed! I motored out of there.
Light! Light! I could see again! Well, sort of. Renee was still with me. She was scared out of her wits.
"I want to go home," she whimpered.
"Me too," I told her. "It doesn't really look like an option right now though." Yikes! Icy cold hand on my neck!
"Stacy, don't leave me," James pleaded.
I felt myself fading. It was so creepy, like my mind was shutting down. I tried to see Renee, but then I was blind. That was the worst. I couldn't open my eyes if I wanted to. Truth be told, I didn't have any eyes to open. I felt someone yank my arm-the one with the broken shoulder-right out of its socket. I swear it came completely off in their hands. The picture in my mind freaked me out. I bet if Mary tripped as she was now, she'd leave her foot behind. Then there was Ryan. He must have split something open.
I wanted to cry, but I had no eyes. "Renee..."
"Help me," she sobbed in a small voice. "Please?"
"I can't," I told her. "I can't."
"No one can," came a new voice. "It is useless to cry for help. There's no one down here."
Aha! I thought. A sensible ghoul. I turned to the sound, and it was on my other side. Went right through it! Stupid!
"I am not a ghoul. I own all of you. There's no way out."
"Let us go!" I heard Ryan demand.
"I just told you there was no way out!" I heard some horrible sounds like someone being torn apart. Something clattered to the ground, and I concluded Ryan was destroyed. "Anyone else care to object?"
"Ryan's a pile of bones," Renee said. "Wait, they're reforming...he's okay." She was my eyes, I guess. "He-he's real!"
I whipped my head around, and remembered I couldn't see. "Ryan! Run! Find a way out!"
"He's going," Renee said. "Going...safe! The ghouls aren't moving!"
Yes! I thought. One!
The new voice was outraged. "Why didn't you go after him?"
"Master, he flew..." one of the ghouls groaned.
"Up and away..." another chimed in.
"Rich," Mary whispered. "He rescued him. By a rope, I bet. That's why Ryan looked like he was flying."
Of course! Rich was up there! He may be a pain, but at least now we had a way back to the real world. I began to devise a strategy.
"No one else escapes," the master ordered.
"You wish," I muttered. "Hey Renee, you've still got my arm, right?"
"Yeah."
"Throw it at him."
"Who?"
"The master. If I'm right, when he destroys it, he destroys me too, and I'll be myself again."
I felt Renee get ready. "Wait. Before you do this, what about the others?"
"I'm going to tell James the same thing with Mary's foot. You and him meet me and her in the bat cave, and we'll go from there. Got it?"
"Uh-huh."
"Just wait until I tell you." I found James and Mary and relayed the message. "When I say `Now', throw them. Mary and I make a jump into the cave and we'll reform when you get there."
I followed Mary to the cave. "Now!" We jumped...

As I reformed, I watched for James and Renee. They came and I was real again. Both arms, too. I couldn't tell if my vision had been restored because it was dark. Nothing hurt anymore. I couldn't see Mary, but that meant she was real. James and Renee were still transformed, so that was a problem.
"I'm outta here," Mary announced, and took off. Now what to do with James and Renee?
"I have an idea," James spoke up. "I'll turn Stacy back into a ghoul by a totally new method."
I was almost afraid to ask, "What?"
"Well, if I touch you, we'll both be ghouls. But if I could do just slightly more than that, we should switch forms. I'll toss your arm again, and then bring Renee back."
"If you bring Renee back, you'll be a ghoul again," I informed him. "And what are you planning to do to change me?"
"Just a second," James mused. He was thinking. "Okay, here's the deal: Stacy, destroy me."
"What?"
"Break me down right here. I reform and bring Renee back. Then, as a ghoul, I switch forms with you. I toss your arm, you reform, and we're outta here."
This shouldn't be so complicated. "Can't I just destroy you both?"
"No. Since Renee didn't get hurt seriously, she can't be destroyed. I lost wind and got scraped up, so I can be."
Right. "How do you figure?"
"Renee doesn't have a weak point. The rest of us did, and we were brought down. There," he concluded. "Let's do this."
"How do I-"
"Stomach."
I delivered a punch where he told me and down he went. I looked away. A few seconds later, he said, "Are you ready?"
"Is Renee gone?"
"Yeah. I'll wait here until you reform, then we'll leave together." He paused. "Ready?"
"What are you going to do?"
"Didn't you see?"
"No, I wasn't looking."
"Gee, that's too bad." His lips touched mine, and I went numb, mostly because he was very cold. Then I was blind again, without eyes. James took my arm and...

I was coming together. "James?"
"Still here, Stace." He grasped my hand, and we got out of the cave and up the rope. At the top of the hole was a crowd of people, who cheered when we emerged. Mary was telling a news reporter what happened.
"Do you have any evidence that you were transformed and taken apart?"
Mary showed him her ankle. There was a scar all the way around it. On Ryan, a scar around his waist. And me, one around the top of my arm. All six of us took one final gape at the huge hole we had come out of. What an adventure!
Probably no one believed our tale. It was just propaganda to make money. Telling it sure made a good story though, didn't it?
End.