My friends and I were hungry, but collectively broke, so we decided to get some cheap fast food. For the purpose of our privacy—the safety of our group—I won’t share the name of the restaurant in question, but I’m sure you can guess which one I’m talking about. Right when we got there, Amanda—the girlfriend of my friend Carter—said that she needed to use the bathroom, and to order for her. She always got the same thing, so it was no problem. When it was our turn in line, we placed our order and went to stand off to the side.
After a few minutes, Amanda came speed-walking out, looking as if she’d seen a ghost in the toilet. Silently—but wildly—she beckoned for us to come to the bathroom with her. Carter had started to laugh, but Amanda’s increasingly hysteric gestures drove him to at least stifle his humor. Jessica, the last of our group and my girlfriend, was the first to accept Amanda’s strange invitation. Knowing that our massive order would take a while to complete, I followed them, I heard Carter’s footsteps trailing behind me as I rounded the corner that led to the bathrooms.
Still keeping her panicked silence, Amanda led us down the short hall to the unisex bathroom, which she’d apparently had to use due to the women’s being out of order. She pushed open the door, motioned for us to all go inside, and after checking to make sure that no one had followed, entered behind us, quickly closing and locking the door.
The room was as normal as any public restroom, with its plain white walls, the faint scent of chemical cleaner, combined with an even fainter scent of…use. There was only one basic toilet, without any stall walls to conceal it, and one accompanying sink. A floor mat sat just below the sink, bearing a faded floral pattern and the words, “Wash away your troubles” on its surface. Bunched inside the small room, we all looked at Amanda for an explanation, and after a moment spent regaining her composure, she finally pointed to the floor mat and said, “Look under it.”
Seeing as how it was a public bathroom, no one was eager to touch anything that had been on the floor for who knows how long. Finally, after a few failed attempts—head nods and shoulder nudges—to get others to do the deed, Jessica bit the bullet and pulled away the mat with her fingers. Beneath the mat was a panel of some kind, of a different material than the tiled floor around it. There were two small brass knobs in the panel, like handles to a trap door. Due to the thickness of the floor mat, and how the panel actually rested slightly below the floor level, they’d been undetectable.
“Nice find, Amanda.” Carter, now intrigued, clapped his girlfriend on the back. But Amanda, still somewhat unsettled, shook her head disapprovingly and responded, “Look inside.”
Shrugging, Carter knelt and gripped the two small knobs. After a confirming glance toward Amanda, he pushed, opening the panel. All of us—except Amanda, of course—gasped in surprise. There was a long tunnel below the opened panels, a ladder leading down into it. But it wasn’t an ordinary ladder; both the frame and rungs were yellow, cracked, the hand and footholds haphazardly fitted into the crudely segmented frame.
The ladder was made of bones.
Despite the grisly structure before him, Carter’s grin widened, and without any kind of preamble, he gripped the topmost rung and began his descent into the subterranean tunnel. Jessica was the next to follow, and when Amanda saw me positioning myself to go third, she finally broke her spell of silence and asked what the hell we were doing. Calling up from the tunnel, Carter said, with complete casualness, “Amanda, there’s a tunnel in the bathroom of [Redacted]. We have to check it out.” I felt similarly, and I’m sure Jessica did as well. Left with no choice but to follow, Amanda came along, whimpering as she gripped the bony rung.
After a slow downward climb of maybe twenty or thirty seconds, we reached a darkly cavernous space.
The walls were…mushy, damp, convulsive, like the interior of a choking person’s throat. Carter put his hand on one and smeared the surface, leaving a long swathe in the dark pink substance. It was obvious that if you applied enough force, you could probably pass through the walls, but none of us were eager to try.
The corridor squelched and squirted, making us all bunch closer together, despite the awkwardness of doing so. No one wanted to be pressed upon or even grazed by the living, leaking walls. Disgusted, but also morbidly curious, we continued on toward the deepening darkness, my key fob’s light our sole source of illumination. Everyone’s phones had, upon entering the flesh cave, suddenly and inexplicably died.
The corridor narrowed as we went on, and the walls became further dampened as if we were truly entering the interior of some living body. Eventually, we had to file one by one into a long, tremulous hall, and everyone—including myself—groaned or whimpered or even retched as our bodies came into unwanted contact with the wetly quivering surfaces. Fortunately, this narrow passageway let into an open chamber; but unfortunately, this chamber was even more grotesque, more sickening than the preceding area. It was a circular room, and of course, every surface was flesh-colored, slick with the strange fluid, and trembling violently. Unlike the tunnel, the walls here emitted a faint red light of their own, some sort of Hadean bioluminescence.
Lying about the room, arranged in a circular fashion against the walls, were slabs of…. meat, or what appeared to be meat.
Carter approached the nearest one to our left, with Amanda begrudgingly in tow, since she’d been tightly holding onto his arm throughout the entire dreadful journey. Leaning in close, he examined the slab and even poked it with his hand; the same hand that had smeared the fleshy wall. Weirdly, the surface didn’t give as much as the wall had, and Carter had to exert considerable force to make an impression.
“It’s solid, at least compared to the walls. Like a box.” His voice was, despite the circumstances, fairly relaxed, almost joyous.
“No, not like a box. Look, there’s a break in the surface near the top. It’s not like a box, it’s like…a coffin.” Amanda’s voice was appropriately stuttered, intoned with the mounting discomfort that we all assuredly felt.
And she was right. There was a break in the surface as if the slab had a lid. Looking around, I saw that the other slabs were all similarly segmented at the top. Upon seeing that Carter intended to open the slab, Amanda let go of his arm and came to stand by me. Jessica, who’d been quiet the entire trip, suddenly spoke up, saying, “If they’re coffins, and the walls are alive. You don’t think…. you don’t think the occupants could be alive too, do you?”
Carter’s hand stopped in its progress toward the coffin lid, and he looked around, suddenly nervous. There were six coffins in total, and Jessica’s cryptic implication made me realize just how large the coffins were; how they could seemingly hold multiple beings in each—or one massive Thing.
“Well, if they’re anything like the place they inhabit, I doubt they’d pose much of a threat.” With that self-assuring comment, Carter gripped the crimson lid and pushed it forward.
The lid slid away with a sound too abhorrent to describe, and a haze, a stinking fume of hot meatiness wafted up from the coffin interior. We all shrank back, all except Carter, who actually leaned in, anxious to get a look at whatever was inside. When the funk cleared—as much as it would, considering the environment—we all returned, our curiosities too intrigued to stay away for long.
Inside, reposing exactly like a coffin-laid corpse, was a giant cadaver, seemingly composed of meat.
Its general figure was that of a man, albeit a massive one, and its utterly faceless head—bulbously crowned, with a squared jaw—constituted a great portion of the upper area; the temples touching both sides of the interior. The body was not as broad, but still larger than that of any man. And the body, it was beyond hideous. It was as if a man had been skinned, and the raw pink flesh beneath somehow inflamed to become a sort of…armor? The subdermal musculature was apparent, but everything seemed somehow wrong, compared to the anatomy of a human. The shoulders and chest were seamlessly merged as if they’d been unnaturally fused in some horrible mutation or forced experimentation. The arrangement of its abdominal muscles was diamond-shaped, tapered in the upper and lower ends. The groin was…indescribably malformed.
It was a juggernaut of grotesquerie, and the accompanying stench—not of putrefaction, but something worse—burned my nostrils and limited the amount of time I could spend gazing directly at it. Finally, having gotten my sick fill of the abominable thing, I turned away and looked to the other coffins, wondering if they held similarly awful things—or things somehow worse.
But before I could think to investigate them, a sound floated into the room from out of the corridor, alerting us to the approach of someone else.
I’ll never forgive Carter for his next comment, his next unimaginable suggestion, even though it probably saved all of our lives. As the sounds of someone pushing through the throat-like tunnel grew louder, Carter glanced around grimly, and then said, “We have to get inside the coffins. There’s more than enough to house all of us, but I think it’d be best if we doubled up—just in case whoever’s coming intends to have a peek inside one. It’ll lower our chances of being discovered.”
There wasn’t any time to protest, even though I really wanted to. Amanda, terror-stricken, wrapped her arms around Carter, practically driven mad by the idea. Jessica, her polar opposite, led me toward the rightmost coffin and pushed away the flesh lid. Inside was a veritable clone of the other entity, a giant of gruesomely exposed and bizarrely warped flesh. Jessica crawled inside first, and the sound of the meat accommodating her weight almost turned my stomach. Steeling myself against the awful funk, I climbed in too, and after confirming that Carter and Amanda had entered theirs, shut the coffin lid—sealing us inside.
A few moments later, the sounds of someone pushing through the final narrow passageway echoed into the charnel chamber, and I began listening intently, with my ear pressed against the inner wall of the coffin. Jessica, lying somewhat beneath and beside me, listened with hers pressed against the opposite wall. Thankfully, sensibly, we’d climbed in so that our heads were at the foot of the interred man. Its globe-like head would’ve surely crowded the space.
Outside the coffin, I heard someone walking around, presumably inspecting the area. I wasn’t sure if they were searching for us, or merely performing some routine check of the infernal chamber. After a few more moments during which their footsteps echoed with surprising clarity, there was an all-too-familiar sound: the sound of one of the coffins being opened.
With my fingers crossed, I prayed that they had not opened Amanda and Carter’s. Listening for any sounds of horror or struggle, I took a breath and held it, and heard Jessica do the same. When a few seconds of silence had passed, I came to the conclusion that Carter and Amanda’s coffin had not been opened, and my dread subsided a little.
“We should peek out, see what they’re doing.” Jessica’s whisper had been faint, but within the coffin’s interior was unsettlingly audible, and a brief panic arose in me. But after a breathless moment, there were no sounds that might’ve suggested we’d been discovered, and after taking a breath I responded, “Are you crazy? What if they see us? Or hear the lid moving?”
“Watch, I’m sure I can move it without making a sound. Carter was just too forceful when he did it.”
Before I could protest, she had placed her hands on the lid’s ceiling and was gently pushing forward, inching it along. After a few seconds, there was a slit in the rim, and we could just barely peer through the opening into the nightmarish room beyond.
Across the room, just beside the coffin Carter and Amanda had climbed into, was a man—and not just a man, but an employee of the restaurant we’d entered on the surface level. Despite the environment, his uniform was clean, dry, adherent to the establishment’s dress code. He was peering into the coffin to the right of Carter’s, and holding a large dish of some kind in one hand. With the other, he was scooping up portions of meat, crudely excising them from the body therein. I involuntarily gagged, and Jessica pinched the back of my neck, urging me to be quiet.
For what seemed like hours we watched the man remove chunks and bits from the body until the dish was finally, terribly full; a mountain of porous crimson rising from its base. When it could hold no more without the threat of its contents spilling over, he set the dish on the floor, closed the coffin lid, and then took up the dish again. Without a second glance, without having suspected the tomb to be occupied by anything other than the loathsome giants, he left the room.
We waited a few more moments until the sounds of his departure finally died out and then emerged from our hiding spot. Not a second later, Carter and Amanda did the same, and both came out gagging and shaking. From the looks of it, they had crawled with their heads beside the occupants.
“Did you guys see that?” Carter’s face had lost its boyish confidence, now having a pallor more befitting the sepulchral circumstances. Amanda was similarly white, though tears streaked her face. I immediately understood why Carter was so uncharacteristically distraught; the fact, the reason for why the employee had come down didn’t need to be openly stated, but I said it anyway—just to get it out there.
“This is where the meat comes from.” My voice sounded hollow, lifeless in the dismally echoic chamber.
We all stood in silence for a moment, the gravity of the situation, the horrid revelation, chilling us to our cores. We had all at one time or another eaten at the restaurant. Carter, plenty of times. Amanda nearly as many, since she’d usually go along with him. The food had always been at least decent, even really good on certain occasions; no one could’ve imagined its unspeakable origins.
Suddenly, Jessica’s disposition changed, and I saw a flicker of hope in her reddened eyes.
“Wait, there are only six coffins, and hundreds of people visit this restaurant every day. There’s no way they’ve been feeding people the flesh of these things this whole time. This has to be a recent thing; some desperate measure or a new experiment.”
The room seemed to grow a little brighter at the hopeful prospect. Wondering just how much the employee had taken from the corpse, I went over to its coffin and pushed open the lid. But the sight inside made me recoil, and the small amount of hope I’d mustered was quickly blasted away, leaving me even more despondent and sickened than before.
The corpse was regenerating. Had already regenerated most of the portions taken from its torso. The others joined me, and all, in turn, reeled or shrank away, their moods plummeting.
Silently, we returned the room to its former state, and then left the chamber. We re-entered the tunnel, not bothering to shield ourselves from the convulsive walls, and exited the tomb. When everyone had climbed up the ladder with its rungs of bone, I covered the entrance with the floor mat, and led the way out of the bathroom. Simultaneously, all our phones buzzed and chirped, coming to life again.
As we passed by the front counter, one of the employees called out to us, saying: “Oh hey, guys. Your order is ready!” Amanda took one look at the stack of fresh burgers and vomited onto the floor. She muffled out some half-hearted apology and then shuffled off toward the exit. Without another word, the rest of us followed.