Ernie’s eyes go wide. “That’s stupid. How would you know what’s down there?”
“We’ll find out in a sec, won’t we?” Theo replies.
Ernie’s eyes go wider. “You’re going down there?”
“If that’s where Eva is, then yeah, we’re going down there.”
“So we can get bound and gagged, too? No thanks, jungle butt!”
“Dumbass, how could she scream if she were gagged?”
“That could’ve been a moan!”
“It was clearly a scream.”
“You know what I mean!” Ernie faces Beta and throws his hands in the air. “You’re the adult here! Shouldn’t you be the one descending into hell on our behalf?”
“Hey, I’m just the hacker,” Beta responds, and continues messing with Thrill-Kill’s laptop.
“Says the ripped barbarian dude who only moments ago downloaded into Theo’s bedroom holding Sand Dragon!”
“I can hack, or I can slash, but not both simultaneously.” Beta nods at Theo. “It’s your call, little dude.”
I watch Theo. He looks bolder and braver in black and white than I imagine he would in color, but the expression on his face is one-hundred-percent, Somebody please stop me!
Sighing after a moment, he nods and says, “You deal with the server. I’ll go find Eva.”
“Good for you,” Ernie says, patting Theo on the shoulder and backing away from the stairwell entrance. “I’m sure Bug Eyes will appreciate the effort.”
Theo’s new expression: Yeah. Effort. That’s what’s urging my bowels to evacuate themselves.
“I’ll go with you,” I offer, and step forward, taking Ernie’s place. The whole situation kind of concerns me, but, then, I’m part digital now. There’s less of me to have to worry about. That means less fear, I suppose.
Holding out my phone for light, we descend the stairwell.
A quarter of the way down, Ernie comes huffing up behind us. “Hey, wait up, jerks!”
Theo stops, scowls over his shoulder. “What changed your mind, fat-ass?”
“Me and Beta couldn’t agree what song to play while we waited.”
We continue downward. The icky smell lingers. At first I’d assumed it was the poop buckets in the shed, but the deeper we go, the worse the smell gets. Voices echo, chains rattle; the walls have turned from brick to ancient, half-crumbled blocks packed between giant, molding pillars. It’s all very Frazetta. One last twist, and we arrive at an arched doorway that opens into a large cave—like, an actual cave, with stalactites and everything. Between the stalactites are a number of large wooden gear things.
And there’s Eva—tied to an old wardrobe and looking real uncomfortable as five filthy, loinclothed men of varying age and complexion (who can only be the Five Husbands of Boca Linda Lore) stand conversing nearby.
“Buj moze,” I murmur, crouching off to one side along with Theo and Ernie. “These must be Thrill-Kill’s five husbands!”
“No way,” Theo says. “Our high school guidance counselor does not have a dungeon beneath her garden shed.”
Except, of course, we’re looking right at it—a dank, subterranean chamber filled with pure WTF.
“All right, brainiacs,” Ernie says. “What now?”
“They haven’t seen us yet,” I point out. “Maybe we could catch them by surprise—”
Loud and long.
It echoes off the dungeon walls.
Five very concerned-looking ex-husbands turn their heads and look up at us.
I hate Ernie’s bowels.