Cal slowly wandered away from his smashed-up Toyota. After stumbling around for a few feet, a little confused, he turned back around to it to try to figure out what had happened. Apparently he had hit a tree. At that moment, though, he couldn't remember how or why.

Cal felt something in his hair. He shook his head. Shards of glass rained down from his head to the pavement below; the pale blue moonlight reflecting off of it reminded him that it had been raining. Maybe that's what caused it.

After regaining some of his wits, Cal checked himself for injuries. He didn't feel any cuts or blood on his head. That's good. He looked over his body. He didn't see any injuries there, either. His knees felt a little sore - maybe they hit the dashboard or something - and he felt a general chill or coldness all over. It made him shiver. Maybe it was the shock of what had just happened.

"OK," he said to himself in a stuttering, chilled voice, "gotta get help or something."

It was then that he remembered that he had left his cell phone at Stacey's. Stupid bitch. They had argued. She was wanting him to pay more money for his fucking kid. When he was leaving he knew he was leaving it there. He figured he'd come back for it later; he had just wanted to leave as quickly as possible and was terribly tired of her screaming.

This is all her goddamn fault! he thought. He shouldn't have even gone over there. Sure he didn't give her much money but the kid probably wasn't even his! She was such a bitch anyway...

He stopped thinking about her when he realized he was in quite a predicament. He had to either flag down a car or walk to a house to get help. It was probably two in the morning or something, he had been at her house pretty late. It was very quiet except for the crickets singing. It could be a good long while before another car passes by this secluded, forest-flanked road.

"Guess I'm walking," Cal grumbled. He started shuffling away down the wet road that had been bathed in moonlight and littered with multicolored Fall leaves.

Cal walked.

...and he walked.

And walked some more. Jesus, he thought at one point, how far away is a friggin house?! Why the hell'd Stacey have to live in this godforsaken place?! They had lived in the city when they had been together. In civilization.

After what seemed like a few miles and about an hour Cal began to hear noise. Merry yelling, music, bottles breaking... there must be a party nearby! After going around a curve he saw a well-lit house up ahead. Finally! It was beautiful; a two-story log cabin-like structure of superb craftsmanship. It was just the kind of house he would have expected along a road like that.

"Hey, bro!" one guy yelled to him. He had a very closely-shaved head - almost bald - and was barely holding a glass of beer, hanging over the pinewood porch. Others near him, all holding alcoholic drinks of some type, all turned to look at Cal. They smiled and waved.

"I need some help!" Cal called to them as he approached the porch's stairs.

"Looks like you need a beer!" a black guy exclaimed, smiling from ear to ear.

That actually did sound good right about then.

"Well, I might take one if you guys don't mind," Cal said, "but I really do need some help. I was in a car accident back there."

"Well come on in, use the phone, enjoy the party in the meantime!" the nearly-bald guy said, gesturing him up the stairs.

Cal did just that. He made his way into the house where the bulk of the party was raging. Dancing, loud music, and alcohol were everywhere. Maybe the accident wasn't so bad after all. He set his beer on a small table by the phone. He picked up the cordless handset and turned it on. He dialed 911.

He had to plug a finger in the other ear to hear over the music. "Hello, 911?" the voice at the other end said. At least that's what Cal thought he heard the man say.

"Yes, I was in a car accident, hit a tree!" Cal said.

"No need to shout, geez!" the voice at the other end said. "Where the hell was it?"

Cal was a little jarred; did 911 operators usually swear? "Uh, well, I think it was on Franklin Lane somewhere. I dunno. I'm not from around here. I'm like back in the woods or something."

"Well ya gotta tell me where you are!" the operator said, sounding irate.

"Well can't you trace it or something?" Cal said. "I don't know where the hell I am!"

He thought he heard a sigh. "All right. Fine. We'll send somebody there." CLICK.

"Shit," Cal muttered as he hung up. What a dick.

Cal went about enjoying the party. Everybody there was extremely friendly, smiling, saying hello, reassuring him that he'd be fine, even though he was a complete stranger to them. And everybody there was so good-looking. The women were so beautiful and sexy... the blondes, the brunettes, even the red-heads. Didn't matter. It seemed like it was the nearly-bald guy who was throwing the party. He seemed to be the guy handing out most of the drinks, making sure everybody was having a good time.

"You sure know how to throw a party!" Cal told the nearly bald guy after strolling over to the stereo as he was changing a CD.

"No other way to spend a Saturday night out here!" he exclaimed.

Then a vivacious black-haired girl began dancing near him. She was a little chubby but her curves were very welcoming. He would definitely hit that if given the chance. She smiled up at him with her big round blue eyes and hot red lips.

"That's Victoria!" the man said, grinning. "She's hot, no?"

"Oh stop it, Greg!" Victoria said. "You say that to all the hot girls."

"I'll have to say that I agree," Cal said, winking at her. She winked back.

After bumping and grinding with Victoria a while to a Marylin Manson album it became pretty clear to him that he would definitely be hooking up with her.

Ohhh yeah! he thought as she rubbed her ample, bubbling breasts up against him.

"Ouch!" Cal said as she began to dig her long, red fingernails a little into the tender flesh of the sides of his belly.

"Sorry," she said with a mischievous look in her eyes.

After the song was over some guy, on his way to the kitchen, bumped into Cal - maybe on purpose - and caused him to painfully run into the sharp corner of a small, wooden table.

"Ow, dick!" Cal exclaimed.

Greg walked up to him. "Did you just call Mike a dick?" he asked, not smiling for the first time since Cal had met him.

"He just ran into me on purpose!" Cal said, pointing at Mike as he refilled his beer cup in the kitchen.

"Geez, lighten up!" Victoria said, giving Cal the stink eye.

"I'm sure it was an accident, bro!" Greg exclaimed. "You should know what an accident is by now, right?"

"Well, yeah," Cal said cautiously.

Cal looked around. Suddenly the tension in the air was thicker than the stinging cigarette smoke clouding up at the ceiling. Whenever one of the party-goers looked at him they were no longer smiling. Most had no expression on their face as they looked at him. Some looked angry.

"OK, I'm sorry!" Cal said, mainly at Greg, but really to everybody in the room. "Geez!"

"Be careful about who you call a 'dick,' punk!" Mike said as he came out. He flicked Cal on the nose hard then rejoined the crowd.

Cal rubbed his nose as he thought about how much he'd like to punch that guy back.

"Good advice," Greg said darkly. Suddenly his eyes looked menacing.

"Hey, Cal, maybe this will lighten you up!" Victoria sunk a fingernail into his side. Cal yelped in pain. He was sure that that had drawn blood.

"What the hell?!" Cal yelled, turning to her.

"Here, have another beer," Greg said. Cal turned back around to see him holding out another beer for him. Cal was about to accept it, but instead of giving it to him, Greg poured the cold beverage onto his head. Cal growled and shook some of it off. He noticed that the dancing crowd was no longer dancing. It was advancing towards him. He yiped as Victoria began digging all of her fingernails into him. The drums of Fear rapidly began to pound inside of him.

"Get away!" But as Cal yelled it several partygoers began grabbing at him, locking warm, sweaty grips on his hands, feet, legs, arms, and ears. They overpowered him quickly.

"I got no pulse here!"

That voice was nearly drowned out by the many moans and jeering coming from the swarm of grabby people around him, it didn't seem to belong to any of them.

"What the hell is this!" Cal gasped frantically.

"You're a pathetic piece of shit!" Victoria yelled as she raked all up and down his side with her sharp claws.

"Your father resented you!" Greg yelled as he punched Cal in the nose, sending stars into his field of vision and a bubble of painful pressure up into his brain. He felt a fountain suddenly down his face and chest. "He wished you were never born! That's why he hates you, you were nothing but an unplanned burden to him!"

"Stacey can't stand you either!" yelled Mike. "She only needs you for money now to pay for your bastard child!"

"Why are you doing this?" Cal screamed, "Saying all these things, doing this to me, how did you know--?"

The crowd began ripping all of his clothing off. Soon he was naked, being dragged into the kitchen. But it wasn't a kitchen any longer. It was a long, dark tunnel. At the mouth of it he could see spiders everywhere: crawling, jumping, hanging from webs. He hated spiders!

"Please God no!" Cal wailed.

"Everybody hates you, nobody will miss you!" yelled Greg as Cal was yanked into the tunnel. "Even your mother doesn't love you anymore! She's ashamed if what you have become!"

"We'll be your friends!" Victoria growled. "In here we're ALL friends!"

The spiders began crawling all over Cal. He could feel their spindly, furry legs crawl on his flesh. He could feel them biting him horribly, hear them hissing in his ears as the tunnel grew darker and darker...

Cal screamed. And screamed. That's all he could do, think of doing as he was pulled further into the spider-ridden darkness. It also felt dirty, slippery, covered in all manner of insects that began crawling on him as well as the spiders. It stank of the pungent odor of feces and decaying flesh.

"Stop compressions, Dr. Madison, it's all over, call it!" that strange voice yelled again.

"Wait, I have an idea!"


Suddenly Cal's body siezed up. It jerked and twitched in all sorts of unnatural ways. The spider venom must be killing him!

Strangely, the crowd began losing its grip on him. Their hands began slipping off of him as if he was suddenly coated in grease. He began slowly moving toward the mouth of the tunnel again.

"This guy's a corpse, CALL IT!"

"Come on, just one more time! I think I've found the source of the bleeding here!"

Cal's grease felt like it was wearing off. They began to drag him back into the tunnel again. Even though the spiders were still biting him, he stopped screaming. Along with the intense fear all of a sudden he began to feel a slight sense of determination. He fought them harder.

"We're wasting precious blood on this guy!"

"I've got it! Come on, let's try again! CLEAR!!"

Cal jerked around again. Spiders fell off of him. Hands fell away from him. He clawed for the mouth of the tunnel.

"You can't leave!" Greg yelled as he snagged Cal's left ankle, causing him to fall on his face. "The party's in here! Everybody hates you out there. Why fight it?!"

"Not everybody does," said a pleasant voice from outside the tunnel. Male or female? Cal wasn't sure, it could go either way. The light at the mouth was bright, he couldn't see the figure clearly. A hand reached into the tunnel within his grasp. He lunged and grabbed it.


As Cal climbed out of the tunnel, with the mysterious person's help, he jerked violently again. The jeers and screaming behind him began to fade away as well as the tunnel.

"Holy shit, I don't believe it. Sinus pressure! Well done, Dr. Madison! Where'd you learn that, Harvard?"

All the pain stopped. Everything stopped. The party house was gone. All that was left was a thick white light...

A month later, Cal slowly hobbled to the mailbox at the end of his driveway. With every movement of his body he still felt that dull pain up in his belly where they had cut him open. He still thought about the horrible nightmare often, even if some of the details of it - like most dreams - slipped away little by little as time marched on.

Almost as painful as the stitches had been in his belly was the action of opening his mailbox and putting that envelope in there. It left him $1.89 in his checking account, but that was every last cent he owne Stacey in back child support. He didn't know what he was going to do after that, but he knew one thing for sure:

He wasn't going back to that damn tunnel.

Cal looked across the street. His entire body cooled and his spine danced. Standing there, staring at him, was Greg.

He just smiled at Cal with his hands in his pockets and his posture slouching a bit.

"It wasn't just money, Cal," Greg said. "But don't worry. We're waiting for you."

A FedEx truck drove by. After it passed between them, Greg was gone.

Suddenly, Cal felt something crawling on his left pants leg. It was a large wolf spider. He screeched, jumped, and quickly brushed it off. He ran back inside his house and up to his bedroom, his gut burning from the sudden exertion. He jumped into bed and pulled the covers over his head. He sobbed for hours until falling into a nightmare-filled sleep.

For It's the Season for Graves Cracking: The 2006 Quest for Fear.