Factories prowled the industrial wasteland of Jackson County like biotechnological mammoths - dominating the skyline as the next-most prominent structures next to the financial districts.
Ron was accustomed to negative energy - as opposed to the positive and tranquil energy of the forest or the mountains - but after he had moved up here a few months ago, he experienced a feeling like nothing before in the abandoned establishments.
For weeks on end his stay in the area wasn't anything particularly out of the ordinary, besides the factories. It felt like something was tearing at him from the inside-out. As a hypersensitive empathic individual, Ron felt things others could not.
But several weeks ago, it went from something extremely uncomfortable and uneasy... to outright hostility.
Two kids, one twelve and the other thirteen, went missing in the abandoned tunnels that ran beneath the city, used to transport heavy machinery between towns to beat the traffic. These tunnels had been defunct since the 1990's, when the Rust Belt began to decline in its wealth and living standards.
Although everyone else suspected a kidnapping or a murder, Ron felt a powerful thought and feeling pulling his psyche in the direction of these factories.
Particularly - the presences he felt nearby.
"How do you even know these aren't just... I dunno... theories?"
"Because," the young man explained, "it has never steered me wrong, Tommy. When has it?"
Tommy crossed his arms. He was a bit shorter and stockier than Ronald, and also a bit younger.
"That's a good question. But still," he began as Ron sighed. Tommy was always the 'voice of reason'. "This isn't the kind of thing to go about using a 'hunch'," Tommy continued.
The search party would go on for weeks. Many nights Ron lay awake pondering the nature of these factories, and the history of the subterranea of Jackson County.
Finally, one night, he decided he couldn't take the sleepless nights any longer.
"Tommy," Ron rasped as he shook the sleeping man.
"Tommy," he said, louder, shaking him harder.
Finally, he had to shriek his name and jerk him aside. Tommy flipped out and socked Ron right in the face with his four-fingered left hand.
"Oh, no... I'm sorry!"
"No you're not, asshole."
"No, really... I never do that."
He was right, Tommy had never awoken to hit somebody in the face.
Except that time in 1999 when they were both eight and seven, and he accidentally kicked Tommy in his sleep, and in sixth grade, when Tommy fell asleep on the bus and it was their stop to get off. And... well...
Ron rolled his eyes.
"Get dressed, we're going spelunking."
Tommy cocked an eyebrow.
"Don't look at me like that, you've been wanting to go down there since we got here back in May. Get up, get your clothes on, I'll be out in the car."
Despite Tommy's protestations, Ron ignored him and left the apartment.
It was always an adventure leaving the can-littered safety of their sanctuary just inside the city limits to go exploring the human wastelands of the area. The setting sun sprinkled an ambience upon the otherwise noisy environment as they passed dilapidating buildings, abandoned streets, stay animals and curious characters.
Ron paused for a moment in front of a large building, one of the factories.
"Here," he said, after a moment of awkward silence.
It was an old wheat plant that descended into a narrow corridor several floors down. The windows had all been smashed in at some juncture or a homeless person had littered the floor with trash, there was never anywhere clean.
"Something's not right," said Tommy as they entered the tunnels - not the ones kids always go in to smoke weed but the deeper ones. "It's okay, we've never been this far down."
But, he was right. Something wasn't right, at least something was that shouldn't be.
"There's something about these tunnels," said Ron, as their flashlight beams sliced through the darkness they continued down into. "Something feels... I dunno, old?"
But, Tommy didn't answer.
He noticed there weren't any footsteps behind him, so he turned to see nobody.
All of a sudden, a wild-eyed face appeared from the darkness, yanking Ron's heart into his throat.
"Jesus fuck, Tommy, you scared-"
Ron shook his head.
Almost immediately and without hesitation Tommy displayed his five-fingered left hand to Ron, smiling even wider. "Isn't this amazing?"
Ron was speechless, but he was sure the word he'd have used would not have been amazing.
The duo continued to investigate the structures. To Tommy's dismay, his finger only reappeared when they were far enough beneath the surface.
Ron speculated there may be some sort of fume in the tunnels that caused hallucinations that directly affected the victim, but Tommy was insistent.
"It's there! It's really there," he'd say. Ron felt that they were too close of friends to write it off as anything else.
Every time Ron saw the five-fingered hand, a chill crept up his spinal column. Something told him that it was not Tommy's finger after all, and something else was manifesting these happenings for them.
They recruited the help of Tommy's hemp store friend Poindexter.
"You say this place can make your dreams come true?"
Tommy insisted that this thing brought back his missing digit, and noted that Ron wasn't as hysterical or emotional beneath the surface.
Ron flipped him off.
"Okay, so... you're saying this place could give me weed?"
Tommy nodded. "LOTS of weed."
That night, the trio returned to the tunnels beneath the city.
Sure enough, as they ventured into a smaller adjacent chamber....
"Holy green shit," Poindexter blurted as they set sight upon cannabis plants from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Hundreds.
"Thousands," added Tommy.
For hours the trio sat and smoked joint after joint. Tommy even made some dabs using a piece of tinfoil and a lighter. They got so stoned that the room began to swim. While it did so, they talked about theories, about how this place could have been an abandoned stronghold for Freemasons or Underground Confederates that fled the war and wished to restart or seek revenge. Ron believed it may have had something to do with the Native Americans who fled persecution at the hands of various US administrations, and used the place as a holy ground.
But nobody could explain the random occurances experienced by Tommy and Poindexter.
Poindexter stayed behind to 'guard' the weed, while Ron and Tommy insisted on exploring the structure further. After descending several tunnels, and traversing several cavernous rooms, Ron saw his own wish come true.
They found what appeared to be the remains of an underground city, or perhaps an entire civilization. Structures and buildings some of which were as large and tall as their surface counterparts tapped the ceilings of the caverns they unearthed.
"This is incredible, we'll be wealthy beyond our wildest dreams," shouted Ron. He and Tommy then came upon a large ornate ruin in the very center of the 'city,' and found inside yet another discovery.
"This is an infinity diamond," said Tommy as he approached the blinding-light.
Shielding his eyes, Ron managed to ask, "how do you know?"
"Well," he said as the light dissipated. "No other stone is as bright as this when confronted with such a powerful light source." Tommy then pointed to a small hole that projected light directly onto the stone at each point during 6 PM, which Ron confirmed was the time of each and every distribution of said light during this part of the day. The precise point upon each evening was 6 PM, when the light of the evening was most precise - deployed upon the crystalization of the infinity diamond.
"What is an infinity diamond," asked Ron. Tommy then explained, as much to his surpriuse as Ron's.
"How did you know that?"
Tommy shook his head.
"I...," he paused. "Honestly do not know."
They exchanged a concerned glance as Ron reached down to grab the stone.
"How much is it worth," he asked after staring at it in baffled silence for at least a minute.
Tommy looked back and forth nervously.
Tommy avoided eye contact with Ron for at least another minute.
"Fifty billion," he barked.
Ron was floored. He felt uncontrollably ecstatic and fearful of an unseen force he could not define.
Poindexter was on what must have been at least his twentieth joint, he'd lost count, because then he began to see things.
"What... the-" he began, as humanoid forms began to coalesce on the periphery of his view. He stood up to get a better look. "Hello?"
As he rounded the corner, several emaciated forms twitched, bobbled and convulsed into the room, with no visible facial featurs. Poindexter screamed and fell backwards before he realized their 'mouth' was down their chest and torso, with ribs as teeth.
Poindexter only managed another scream before he was ripped to shreds by the humanoid abominations.
"Did you hear that?"
Tommy nodded. They knew that something horrible had happened to Poindexter, and that before they could have a chance to find out what that was they had to survive. An interlaced network of catacombs spider-webbed beneath the ancient city, and they used these 'mine-like' networks of darkness to navigate outside.
But, they would find this would only lead them deeper into the subterranea.
Tommy noted, "if this place can bring your wildest dreams true, then who's to say it couldn't make your worst nightmares come true as well?"
A moment of silence passed, before Ron said, "Don't tell me these things. Not now, man."
Then, as they made their way back to the entrance, they heard a thunderous, deafening boom.
"What... what the fuck?"
Boom! Boom! Boom, boom, boom, Boom, BOOM!
They managed to get to what looked like an old mine shaft, and managed to make it down the shaft just in time to get to a door, only to fine its hinges were rusty,
"Hurry, goddammit, Tommy! HELP ME!"
"I'm fucking trying this thing weighs a literal fucking fuckton!"
Even with both young adults throwing every bit of their body weight and hormonal strength into moving the gigantic slab of steel, they only managed to move it a few inches at a time. It has been only slightly ajar to begin with - but still.
The incoming enigma of great size and strength was enough to keep them in a constant state of hysteria and terror.
"Come on, Tommy! Come on, come on COME ON! HURRY!"
"Shut," he began between heaves, "the," heave, "fuck," heave, "UP!"
Boom. Boom. Boom, boom, boom boom boom boom, Boom... BOOM!
An arm the circumference of a southern pine and ending in greyish-black talons slipped through the crack that remained between the door and the wall and prompted the duo to immediately slam the door on their aggressor and proceed to kick the disembodied appendage into the darkness, and slide down onto the dirt floor to catch their breath.
Neither could begin to explain what was happening, or even begin to speculate. But what they did know was that they had to keep moving.
As they traversed into the ruins of what appeared to be an ancient temple far older than any civilization comprehensible, the duo began to hear scuttling noises.
"What... what was that?"
"What was what?"
Then Ron heard it, too.
"What in the fuck was that!?"
"I dunno man, let's get the fuck outta here!"
As they proceeded to run, Tommy noticed - to his borderline mentally-excruciating horror - a swarm of 'bugs' comprised of what appeared to be human fingers.
"Oh no," stuttered Tommy. "Oh... NOOOOO!!!!"
He ran face-first into Ron, who grappled with him and attempted to get him to move forward. But Tommy was inconsolable, he screamed uncontrollable and ran-waded through the swarm of finger-bugs before falling face-first into a swarm of them, which proceeded to carry him away.
Tommy was now screaming so hard that his voice left him and his yelling became an awful, horrific gurgling and what sounded like laugher after a time.
Ron followed him but only until the finger bugs had transformed into an amorphous mass of human appendages, swarming in and out of his ears, nostrils and other orifices. He was then carried away into the walls.
Ron continued, determined to find his way out of this hell-hole with or without everyone else - dead, or alive.
As he proceeded deeper into the cavernous sub-structure, he began to see shapes. Humanoid forms and figures adorned in blood-red cloaks and suits ducked in and out, from behind and between, fifteen-foot pitch-black obsidian pillars.
Ron had lost track of how many days he'd gone without food, so he could not be sure if the terrors that were seen were mere hallucinations, or actually real.
In fact, at this point, he couldn't be sure if anything he'd seen in the past several days was real.
He came to a raised point in the room, and the cloaked figures surrounded him like an Army of Death.
The first one approached, and removed his hood, revealing a rotting pig-horse-stag carcass rotting upon his head. The others revealed their own rotten adornments.
He said something in a foreign language, and the others followed.
Ron was then grabbed, and darkness followed.
He spent days, if not weeks, in that dark pit. He was fed only scraps of food, just enough water to keep him cogent. Then, one day, the lead cultist returned to his personal quarters.
"You are to come, now," he said, his eyes sunken and white.
"We are the subterranea, this is where we ask the questions."
Ron cocked his head.
The man-thing said nothing further, save through his hands. He reached down and grabbed Ron, relinquishing his metal restraints and replacing them with fleshy ones.
The subterraneans then took him to a long dark corridor, and tossed the dismembered limb of the beast that had pursued them earlier down on the ground before them.
"That is a limb of our Spider-God. Our Arachnid-Mother."
They then pointed to the darkness before him.
"That is who it belongs to."
They then slammed the door shut, locking it tightly behind him. And Ron turned in time to see the gigantic limbs unfurling from the ceiling, and the sunken, beady eyes reflecting the one single light source glowing above his head right into his own gaze.
It almost appeared to smile as it lifted up a crooked digit and waved at him.
Ron could react in no other way... but to begin screaming uncontrollably, as his worst fear - creepy-crawlies - became amalgamated with his other worst fear...
The light blinked out and Ron began to scream louder.