In Search of a Giant Gerbil

“No way?” Haf laughed. “Really?”

The Sheriff glared at her. “Yes, really. Not only do we care greatly for him. But Gnomenasher is also a magic finder. He can sniff out a drop of magic miles away. We’ll never be able to find the portal without him. The portal is invisible and over open water. There are no landmarks. Without Gnomenasher, we’ll be stuck here forever!”

“Well, no one wants that,” the merwoman said. She seemed to think this was a joke, but no one else was laughing. “But if he is a airbreather like you, then I don’t know what to tell you. It must be too late for him by now.”

“She does have a point,” I said. “We lost contact with him when we were on the island. The island’s gone now. I think we may have lost him for good.”

The trolls were quiet for a few moments, then the Sheriff said through gritted teeth, “Fine. If there’s nothing we can do about it, then there’s nothing we can do. But that still leaves the problem of getting home. Without Gnomenasher, how are we going to find the portal home?”

“We should be able to find your portal no problem,” Haf said.

“We can?” Pem asked.

“Sure. We just use our satellites to search for exotic matter.”

“Assuming that the portals are always open,” I said, “as I guess we hope they are, they should be expelling some form of matter at all times. Even if they’re just on the subatomic level, something should be coming out, like an accretion disc on a black hole.”

“Whatever that means,” the Sheriff said. “But will it work?”

“I don’t know,” Pem replied, “but it’s certainly worth a shot.”

We all swam off to their communications laboratory where dozens of other merpeople were working. As we made our way toward the lab, I took in the city around us. It was strange seeing all these mermen and merwomen and merchildren just living their lives. They were strange and exotic to me, but here I was the strange one. Though, to be honest, I think they found the trolls even stranger than they did me.

When we reached the lab, Pem swam right up to the machine and moved a few columns about. The crystal display bursted into life. “That should do it.”

“This is us,” Haf said, pointing at one of the dots on the display. “So presumably that is you. This one is near where we found you, so that must be the portal.”

“Wait,” I said. “That’s us. That’s the portal. Then what,” I said pointing to the third dot on the screen, “is this one?”

“That’s…” Haf started, but came up short. She looked closer at the screen. “I don’t know what that is.”

Pem moved closer so he could see. “Whatever it is, it’s on the move.”

“Where’s it going?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“I can’t help with the where it’s going,” Tam said. “But it certainly looks like where it was coming from, is right around here.”

“Something else came through the portal?” Pem asked, sounding concerned. “What other creatures could you have unleashed on our unsuspecting world?”

“No one,” the Sheriff said. “We left people by the portal, but they would have never come through without my command.”

“That’s what you say.”

“It’s the truth.”

“If not some other weird creature from your world, then what could that thing be?”

“You misunderstand me,” the Sheriff said. “I think a weird creature from our world is exactly what this thing is.”

“Excuse me?” Pem said, confused.

“You see, I think this creature is Gnomenasher.”

“Your magicfinding giant gerbil?” Tam asked

“Exactly!”

“That’s incredibly unlikely,” Pem said. “It is highly improbable that your ‘gerbil’ could have survived in this environment. Judging by the rest of you, it’s most likely he’s also a land dweller and unable to breath water.”

The Sheriff countered simply with, “It’s him.”

“I think it’s worth a look,” I said.

“Oh, come on,” Tam countered. “We’re not going to waste time because a blip could be a gerbil, are we?”

“Tam, we need to the gerbil to find the portal.”

“Are you kidding me?” They pointed at the screen. “The portal’s right there!”

“Ok,” I relented, seeing that that wasn’t getting us anywhere. “How about we do it because Gnomenasher is important to them.”

“You know what should be important to them,” Tam replied. “Living to see another day. Having other days for them to live to see.”

“Fine. Fair enough. But what if that blip isn’t Gnomenasher? What if it’s Kink? Or Wu? Or G’fon? Shouldn’t we go looking for them?”

“It’s not G’fon or Kink or your friend, Lu Wu,” Tam replied, growing frustrated with me.

“How can you know that? You were sent here. Why not them?”

“Yes, I was sent here by those mysterious cloaked figures, but you were not. We weren’t all sent to the same world. Whatever those hooded figures were, they wanted us to be scattered across the omnibrane.”

“Maybe. But you have to admit there’s a possibility that that is a friend.”

Tam glared at me, then sighed. “Fine…there’s a possibility.”

“So we’re agreed. We’re going to go find out who that is and we’re going to save them.”

“Unless that someone turns out to be something horrible that wants to kill us,” Tam said. “And then we will all die.”

“We just escaped from something horrible that wanted to kill us. We want to go back to something horrible that wants to kill us. When isn’t there something horrible that wants to kill us? That’s the life we live. We might as well try to save someone while we’re at it.”

“You win, Frank. We’re going to go risk our lives and the future of the omnibrane for some stupid gerbil. Let’s just do it already.”

to be continued…

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That Girl was a Monster, That Monster was an Island

“Ok,” Pem said. “Who is she?”

“It’s the island,” I proclaimed, pointing at the madwoman on the other side of the glass. “It’s the tendril monster!”

“What?” Tam asked. “How does that make any sense?”

“The tendril monster’s main form of offense is to entangle its prey in its tendrils and to feed on their life-force, correct?”

“To oversimplify things,” the merwoman said, “Yes.”

“But because of my accident, long story, I’m filled with unstable quantum energy. So when the tendrils were feeding on me, they were really feeding on that. That’s why I’m awake when most of the others are not.”

“Your point?” the merwoman asked.

“My point is, you see, when the instability builds up to a certain degree I have to drain it.”

“And when I drain the instability it has an effect on my body.”

“What effect?”

“My body changes…into another body. So when we were in trouble and things looked bleak, I went on the assumption that it had absorbed enough of my instability. And I used my pocket stabilizer on the creature. Soon after the island collapsed, so I’m thinking now it must have worked.”

“I’m sorry,” Crag said. “What does whatever you just said have to do with the island collapsing?”

“The island was the tentacle monster,” I tried to explain. “The island wasn’t actually a real island, it was just a disguise to trap us.”

“It’s true,” the merwoman, whose name I really should have known by now, but she never introduced herself, said. “The Giant Leechvine is known for disguising itself with a lure like a tropical island to capture land animals to eat.”

“That monster was the entire island?” Crag asked.

“Yes,” I told him, “so when I used my stabilizer on the monster it changed. And when the monster changed, it must’ve changed into something smaller, meaning that there was nothing holding the island together.”

“Leaving a lot of empty space,” Tam said. “So the island collapsed.”

“Yes,” I said, happy that someone else got it. “The island collapsed. When the monster became a smaller creature, its disguise, all the island accoutrements that it was using to hide itself, fell in on themselves.”

“Fell right on top of us,” Tam added.

“Yes. Maybe it turned out that wasn’t the best strategy. But, hey, here we are. Still alive.”

“So, that thing in there…?” Crag asked, looking through the observation window.

“Is the monster, Yes.”

“The Giant Leechvine,” the merwoman corrected.

“So the monster was an entire island and is now that person in there?”

“That’s how I understand it, Crag.”

“Ok,” Tam said. “So now what are we going to do with it?”

“Leave it here,” I said.

“With us?” the merwoman asked. She clearly was not happy with that answer.

“You have a facility that it’s already locked up in. Leaving it here seems like the wisest move.”

“And you and your friends just wander off taking none of the responsibility?”

“What else do you want us to do?” I asked. “Take it with us?”

“No,” Pem said. “This creature is going to bear some observation. It needs to be studied before we can consider releasing it.”

“You would, wouldn’t you?” The merwoman glared at him.

“Yes, Haf. I would. Sometimes science is the best solution. Even you have to admit that.”

“Fine.” She did a complicated thing with her arms that might have been a shrug. “We’ll take your monster…for science.”

“Thank you,” Tam said. “Then we should be leaving.”

“We can’t leave without the others,” I told them, thinking of the Sheriff and his other deputies.

“We have responsibilities, Frank. We have a mission to complete. Enemies to vanquish. And since Lu, G’fon, and Kink aren’t here. I assume we have to go and save them, as well.”

“I know we have responsibilities, Tam,” I told them, “but I have a responsibility to these people, as well. They risked their lives to help me find you. They didn’t have to, but they volunteered. I owe it to them to get them back safely.”

“Fine,” Tam said. “We’ll return them to wherever you found them and then we will go off to find the others.”

We left the transformed Leechvine and were brought into a small room. The water was drained and food was brought. It was all raw fish and seaweed. Nothing was cooked. Everything was a little too slimy. Tam didn’t seem to mind. As we ate, the others were brought in. First Toleuk and then the Sheriff and then finally the other deputies.

“Now that you are all together,” Haf said. “you can head out.”

“But we’re not altogether,” the Sheriff said. “We’re missing Gnomenasher.”

“Gnomenasher?” Tam asked.

A giant gerbil,” I replied. “Don’t ask.”

“This is all of you that we found,” Pem said. “There’s no one else.”

“But we need him.”

“What’s so important about this creature?”

“Without Gnomenasher there’s no way we can find our way home!”

to be continued…

Drown Your Troubles?

“Drown your friend?” the other merperson repeated. “Why would we do that?”

“Because you’re crazy!” I yelled at her, frantic over having to watch Tam drown on the other side of this glass. “Because you said they were a problem!”

“We’re not drowning anyone. Relax. We’re just filling up the room so that we can safely open the door.”

I wasn’t buying her act. “You don’t need to fill the room all the way just to open the door! Look at them, Tam doesn’t even have a rebreather on!” The water had nearly reached neck height, soon Tam wouldn’t be able to stay above the waterline! However, there was still a couple feet of air left in the room, we could still save them. But for some reason instead of taking advantage of the last couple of breathes of air, Tam dropped down into the water. Did they not see us? Did they not know me and Crag were out here fighting for their life? “Hold on, Tam!” I yelled, banging on the glass, trying to make them see that we were here, that they weren’t alone. “We’ll save you!”

Crag moved to help me get past the merpeople. He wasn’t very agile in the water, but he was large.

“What are you doing?!?” Pem demanded, as Crag pushed him back..

“Trying to save my friend!” I yelled, moving toward the controls.

“Save them? But they’re fine! Look! Look inside!”

I turned to see that the entire room was now filled with water and Tam was floating in the center of it, motionless. They was dea…no, wait…They were moving now. They turned their head toward us and strangely seemed to be in no hurry. They was surrounded by water, no air anywhere, but they didn’t seem to be having any trouble. Was they…ok? Tam looked right at me and signaled for us to wait. The door opened and they then swam out to join us.

“You don’t have a rebreather on,” I said, uncomprehending.

“Why would I need a rebreather?” Tam asked. “This body was designed to survive in the vacuum of space. A little water’s not going to be a problem for it.”

“Oh,” I said. It was the best I could do. Crag seemed even more dumbfounded. I looked at the merpeople with a look of apology. Then I turned back to Tam. “It’s just when I saw you in there with the water rising, I thought you were in trouble. Pem told me that one of us was being a problem, so when I…”

Tam looked offended. “So you thought it was me?”

“It looked like they were trying to drown you! What was I supposed to think?”

“You would think we would drown someone?” Pem gasped.

I could see there wasn’t really an answer that could get me out of this. I knew the only recurse I had was to change the subject and change it quickly. “Ok, if not Tam, then who is causing you guys trouble?”

“That’s not a bad idea,” the merwoman said. “We should take them to her.”

“Her?” I asked, thinking of Toleuk, the only woman currently in our group. If something was wrong with Toleuk, we had to see her immediately. I was fairly sure that she could be drowned. “Yes, take us to her right away.”

“Come on,” Pem said, leading us down the hall. At the end of the hall was another room, but it was not Toleuk on the other side of that window.

“I have no idea who that is,” I said, honestly.

“You have no idea?” Pem asked me and then the others. “We found her with your people. When we tried to save her, she attacked us.”

“She’s not one of us,” Crag confirmed. “The rest of our team were Trolls like me. Frank was the only, uh, whatiscalled…human among us.”

“And Tam,” I added. “Who we came here to rescue. But that person…I mean, no offense, but she looks like one of you.”

“Like one of us?” the merwoman laughed. “Are you joking? Look at her dorsal fin, her coloring, her strange face.”

I didn’t know about the other things, but I had to admit that upon closer inspection the face did look a bit different than the other merpeople I’d seen, more human, less fishy. Still, as far as I was concerned that didn’t change anything. “She’s not one of us,” I told them.

“She was with you,” Pem reiterated, “attacked the people who tried to save her.”

“Ok, I still don’t know who she is.”

“If you don’t know her, then what was she doing with you then?”

I didn’t like his accusatory tone, even through the distortions of the water, as if I was to blame. “I don’t know what she was doing there with us. I didn’t see her there. I was too busy having rocks fall on my head and trying not to drown.”

“Well, you nearly failed at both of those things,” the merwoman retorted, sourly. “If we hadn’t saved you, you’d be dead, so sink the attitude.”

I tried to take a deep breath with the rebreather on and it mostly worked, creating some large air bubbles in the process. “Right. Sorry.” To hide my embarrassment, I turned to the woman again on the other side of the window. I watched her as she thrashed about frantically.

“She’s like a madwoman,” Crag said. “Are we sure she’s not possessed by a demon?”

The merpeople exchanged a glance. “Is he serious?”

Tam shrugged. “I think it’s highly unlikely that this is some kind of possession, but then again, I’ve seen much weirder things.”

The woman’s limbs moved as if they had minds of their own. Each finger moved wildly, as if the woman didn’t understand how they worked. But there was something else, the way her limbs moved, almost…almost…almost as if she were…trying…trying to eat through her fingers? Why would she be tr…And then it suddenly all made sense to me. “I know who she is! I know what she is!”

to be continued…

The Island Becomes Quantumly Unstable

“What?” Tam shouted back as they tried to dodge tendrils. “You know how to beat them? Then what are you doing standing there like an idiot? Do it already!”

“Right,” I said before reaching into my back pocket for my travel instability extractor. I pulled it out and extended it. Then I slammed it hard into the closest tendril I could find. I pressed down on the bottom and instantly the tendril began to glow!

I watched as the glow spread down the tendril. Then the other ones began to glow. Soon the entire room was lit up by the glowing tendrils. “Frank,” Crag yelled. “What the hell is going on?”

“It’s ok,” I told him. “This is supposed to happen. I’m stabilizing the instability. This should give us a chance to escape.” But then, as if to defy my comment, then tendrils began to thrash wildly.

Oh, right. Here comes the painful part.

As the tendrils convulsed, we did our best to avoid them, but our best turned out not to be so good. The trolls especially took a beating. Tam and I who were a good deal smaller than them, managed slightly better. But then the brightness got too bright. Covering our eyes wasn’t enough, we had to squeeze them to keep from being blinded by the light. And that still wasn’t enough. Dodging became impossible. All that was left for us to do was curl into little balls trying to block all the light we could and hope for the best.

Then the shaking stopped and I realized that the light was gone. I started to open my eyes. I could hear the others start to make relieved sounds. As I blinked away the leftover spots in my eyes, I began to look around. There were no tendrils in sight. None. They had completely disappeared. We had won! It was over! The monster was g…

And then, just as we began to feel happy in our seeming victory, the island began to collapse underneath us.

The ground beneath our feet was caving in right under our feet. We had to run as fast as we could, but every one of was so worn down. We couldn’t escape the collapse. Even if we had had the energy it might have been impossible, but in this state we barely managed to put up much effort. Almost as one, we all fell down into the hole beneath us. I was expecting to hit rocks and be crushed from the avalanche coming down from above, but there was no floor. We fell for several feet and then hit water, smacking into it hard and with great surprise. It hurt when we hit it but at least it wasn’t rocks, I told myself.

Though there was no hard floor, that didn’t mean the ceiling still wasn’t falling on us. There was no way to go up and most of us were too tired to swim, so we sank. We sank further and further under the water. We did our best to stay away from the falling rocks, but we could only do so well in the slowness of the water.

I lost track of the others quickly. It became increasingly dark. And everywhere I looked there were rocks. I had no choice but to swim down away from them. And as I got deeper any source of light got further away. But then air started to become a problem, specifically my lack of it. I could feel the need for more start to grow in my chest.

Except going up wasn’t an option. Up were rocks and those rocks were coming down. So I was forced lower and lower, away from my next breath. I could feel my lungs starting to burn with the need for more oxygen. I tried to swim around them. I couldn’t worry about the others, wherever they were. I couldn’t save them and myself. And saving myself was looking to become my abilities. The only light that remained down where was Tam’s and it was growing dim.

I had no choice. I had to go. Me dying wouldn’t save anyone else. I tried to swim up, but there really was no way past the rocks. So around it would have to be. I swam down and out, but I couldn’t swim fast enough. I had gotten too close to the rocks. They were coming down too quickly and I couldn’t get away from them. Down I went again to try to get around them, but I was too slow. I couldn’t get past them.

This seemed to be the end for us. We escaped dying at the hands of a giant lifesucking tendril monster only to drown when it collapsed in on itself. The monster had pushed us to the limit and now here we were being pushed past that limit by water and falling rocks.

But I couldn’t give up. I knew I was going to lose, but I had to keep trying. I had to keep trying to get around these rocks. I had to keep trying to get back to the surface. I had to keep trying to help my friends and I had to keep trying to get back home. I couldn’t give up even as the entire island fell in on us, pushing us down into the bottom of the ocean.

But as I swam with all my remaining strength, my lungs continued to sear in my chest. I couldn’t keep from thinking that this was the end.

And then I saw a light.

At first, I thought it was Tam, but the light was not red and hadn’t they fallen in the other direction? The light was coming toward us and it was getting brighter. It distracted me enough to slow my swimming and get hit by a falling rock. The little air I had left in my lungs was knocked out of it. I watched with terror as bubbles escaped from my lips. I tried to push off of the rocks, but it was pushing me down too fast. I couldn’t escape it! This was going to be the end.

And then the bright light was upon me. I could feel something grab me. Something hard and unyielding wrapping around my waist. I could feel it pull on me into its bright light. And that was the last thing I saw before everything went black.

to be continued…

The Island is Going to Kill Us

The floor of the cave, the entire cave itself, was shaking. For a second, I thought there was an earthquake. But. no, I realized, it was the tendrils. They were beneath the ground and they were angry and they were all trying to come up.

I ran to the nearest troll I could find. It was Toleuk. She was lying on the ground, unconscious. I tried to shake her awake, but I couldn’t shake her any stronger than the ground was already shaking her. “Toleuk! Wake up! Or we’re all going to die!”

Toleuk’s eyes slowly opened, but only half-way. She was still very groggy. The tendrils had sucked out too much of her lifeforce. “Come on,” I told her, trying to pull her up, but she was too big, too heavy, to just pick her up. “You have to get up. We have to get out of here.”

“Huh…?” she mumbled, clearly not registering anything I was saying.

“We have to go! We have to go right now!”

“Go…?”

“Yes, we nee…”

Then tendrils began to erupt from the ground! They were larger tendrils than the ones we had faced before, thick like tree trunks, and they began to tear the ground beneath us apart as they bursted out into the surface. They were going to tear the cave apart. “Up! Up! Up!” I yelled at Toleuk and thankfully she started to get to her feet. “Come on! Come on!”

“I am, I am,” she said. Her voice was barely more than a whisper. Her movements were almost in slow motion. I looked to the others. They weren’t doing much better. Tam was trying to get Domoban to his feet. Crag had one of the deputies up, I couldn’t see which one. We were all so weak, but the tendrils they were going strong and the ground was being pulverized from below. It would be gone soon enough and then all there would be was us and the tendrils.

“We need to move,” Tam said, coming toward me, holding Domoban up. I would’ve been impressed with their strength if the entire cave wasn’t threatening to come down on our heads. “What’s our plan to get out of here?”

“Our plan?” I replied, still working on getting Toleuk up.

“Yes. Where’s that magician friend of yours? Or Kink? Do you have a transport?”

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “We had a gerbil, that’s it.”

“A gerbil?” Tam growled. “You came to rescue me with a gerbil!?”

“We had a gerbil. It’s gone now.”

“So then we have nothing?”

“We have what you see here. That’s it.” I gestured around us. We could barely make out the trolls amidst the tree trunk tendrils.

“We need to go!” Crag yelled, two deputies leaning on him. “We have to get out of this cave before it kills us!”

“I don’t know if climbing is going to be enough”

“There has to be somewhere on this island that is safe.”

“I doubt that,” Tam yelled back trying to be heard. “I don’t think this is an island at all.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Crag asked.

“It means,” Tam said, “that I’m pretty sure that this creature is actually the entire island.”

Crag looked like he wanted to argue further, but we were quickly losing ground that didn’t have giant tendrils sticking out of it and the cavern ceiling had started to fall in on us. The ways we could die was quickly increasing and the means of escape were vanishing.

“We need to escape and we need to escape now!” Tam yelled at me, but that was looking less and less likely. The rocks beneath us were being smashed, a line of escape was disappearing. The walls were coming to pieces, climbing out seemed unlikely.

Giant tendrils were everywhere and more were appearing every second. And everyone looked like they could barely even stand up. The trolls were out on their feet. Only Crag was managing it without any great effort and that was because he barely spent time in a tendril. Tam was standing, but they were doing it with great concentration.

I, on the other hand, was feeling surprisingly strong. How could that be? I had been wrapped tightly in tendrils and been seconds away from being eaten. I’d felt the energy being pulled out of me. And yet, I felt nearly as strong as I always did. There was something I was missing. What made me different than everyone else?

Well, I was the only unmodified human here. That was different.

…Or wait, I’m not unmodified, am I? I do have a modification, don’t I. My quantum instability, that was what separated me from every other person in the world, across the timestream and all the dimensions. That’s what I had going for me that no one else had. My quantum instability had been building up for the past couple days. And if that’s what the tendrils had pulled out of me, then that would explain why I was feeling so strong and no one else was.

So if the tendrils had absorbed my instability that meant it was in them now, meaning… “I know how to beat them!”

to be continued…

Tam Put on the Red Light

A hand, a large hand enveloped my own and began pulling at me, pulling me up. But the tendrils stayed wrapped tightly around me. The hand was pulling me up, the tendrils were pulling me down and that left me frozen, stuck in the mouth-like hole at the bottom of the cave.

It was Crag! He had leapt to save me. And even more miraculously, he had managed to catch me before I had completely vanished down the hole. I had been so sure he was going to be too late. But here he was, holding my hand, pulling me with all his might. But the tendrils hadn’t given up either, they were still pulling me down. I could feel both of them tug at me. I could feel the opposing forces tear at me. It was so painful, but I held on with all I had. The other option was unthinkable.

But the tendrils weren’t going to give up so easily. I could feel their moistness slip over me, moving up my body. Thin little tendrils geow upwards towards my chest and my upper back. They wrapped around my shoulders and up my arms. I knew that whatever this creature was, it wasn’t going to give me up. It was hungry and wanted more. We were running out of options.

Then it came to me, our one way out. “Tam!”

“I don’t think she’s going to be able to reach you,” Crag said through gritted teeth.

“I know. That’s why you need to go and free them.”

“Them?”

“Tam! You need to free Tam! Only they can get us out of here!”

Crag glanced up behind him to the prone Tam, wrapped in tendrils, held aloft just over his head. “Are you…?”

“Just do it!” I shouted.

Reluctantly, he let go of me with one hand and reached up. He tugged at the tendrils holding Tam, but nothing happened. They wouldn’t give way. “It’s not working,” he told me.

“You have to let go of me. Completely.”

“I can’t.”

“You have to.”

“But then you’ll die.”

“I’m going to die anyways. Freeing Tam is the only way I have a shot at living. That any of us do.”

As soon as I said it, I could feel the truth in that sentence. I could feel my life’s energy leaching out of me through the tendrils. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold on for much longer, that none of us would, that it was already too late for us to try to fight back. But that red glow emanating from Tam, what I had already seen them do with that energy, I knew they could save us.

Or at least I hoped they could. We needed them to. If they still had enough energy. We had no other choice. “Do it,” I told Crag. “Free them.”

Crag reached up toward Tam, but he couldn’t reach. “You have to let me go,” I told him.

“But then it’ll pull you under.”

I could feel the tendrils squirming their way upwards, closer and closer to Crag. It was going to get him, too, and then we’d all be out of luck. “You have to do it now! We’re running out of time!”

“But…”

“Now!”

Crag let go of my hand and I was tugged quickly down beneath the lip of the mouth. I reached out desperately to grab onto anything I could. But all there was to hold onto were the tendrils, the slick slithering tendrils. Any grip I could mange slipped out of my hands almost immediately.

I was being stuffed into the hole, into the mouth, and all seemed lost when suddenly the tendrils began to convulse wildly. I was thrown back and forth by their distressed spasms. I could tell immediately that something was wrong.

It was Crag. I could see just a bit of him through the top of the hole. But I could see that he was trying to free Tam. He was pulling violently at the tendrils wrapped around them. It must have been effective because it seemed to be hurting it. The tendrils were in pain. It was only a matter before they struck back. And then we’d all be in serious trouble.

I could see the tendrils swarm toward Crag and within seconds he disappeared from my view. I could only assume they had him. The tendrils once again wrapped around me, tighter this time. They covered nearly every inch of my body. I was completely unable to move. They pulled me downwards into the mouth. I was being consumed. There was nothing I could do to stop it.

And then came the red light. It washed over everything. It was brighter than ever before. Even with my eyes closed and the tendrils covering most of my face, I could still see it. It seeped through every crack, filled every corner. And it hurt. It hurt me, but even more than that it hurt the tendrils. It really hurt the tendrils. They began to spasm uncontrollably, shaking and convulsing. Which would have been a good thing if I hadn’t currently been in their grasp. For as much as they were tossing me back and forth, I could’ve escaped from the tendrils’ grip if only I’d had something else to grab on to.

And then a giant hand appeared. I looked up and saw Crag’s face. It took a second for him to pull me from the spasming tendrils. He lifted me up out of the mouth with ease. My eyes quickly found Tam who was sitting in a tendril-free area of burnt rock. Tam was breathing heavy and their glow was all but gone. “You all right?”

“Just great,” they said. “You?”

“Oh, yeah. Real peachy.”

I looked up to spot the others, but they weren’t up in the air anymore. The trolls had been thrown about the pit by the spasming tendrils. “We need to get the others,” I told Tam and Crag. “And we need to get out of here as soon as…”

And then the ground began to quake.

to be continued…

Into the Mouth He Goes

I was being pulled down lower and lower, closer to Tam. They watched me get closer, our eyes met. They reached out toward me. I reached out and took their hand. “It’s not over yet,” I told them. “We can still get out of here.”

“Oh,” Tam whispered, thin tendrils stuck to their face. “How?”

“We’ll find a way,” I told them. “We always do.”

“Do we?”

“We do,” I assured them, though things were looking pretty grim, all of us captured by these tendrils, our live energy being sucked out of us. The Sheriff and his deputies were already too weakened to help. And me being pulled down further toward hole at the bottom of this cave. I could see it beneath us, widening, undulating. This was where the tendrils had sprung from, this was where the monster lived. It reminded me so much of a mouth that it was hard not to believe that this creature was trying to eat me.

“Hold on, Frank!” I heard Crag yell. I glanced over and saw him still climbing down the wall. “I’m coming!”

Crag was still free and mobile. He was the only hope we had left, that I had left, but he was still several feet up and many, many yards away. It seemed impossible that he could reach me in time. But, then, to my utter surprise he made the stupid decision to push off of the cave wall and let himself drop down to the cave floor. No, I wanted to yell to him, don’t. Stop. It was suicide. He was going to hurt himself. But, even if I’d had the energy to yell loud enough so that he could actually hear me, it wouldn’t have mattered. It was already too late. He was already falling. There was no stopping him now. All I could do was pray that he’d survive it.

Crag dropped like a brick toward the bottom of the cave. But there was one thing I hadn’t take into consideration, that I hope he had, and that was that the cave floor was covered in tendrils. It wasn’t the rocky cave floor that he slammed into, but the rubbery tendrils laying across it. Crag bounced when he hit and went flying back up into the air. He came down again and bounced again, coming closer and closer. By the third time he hit, the impact had diminished enough that was able to turn it into a run. But before I started to have hope, I realized that it was only a matter of time before those tendrils turned on him. Sooner or later they’d grow tired of being stepped on and they’d wrap themselves around him and he’d be ensnared like the rest of us.

But did I even have that long to wait? I was being pulled even further down. My feet were nearly at the gaping mouth. I clung tightly to Tam’s hand. Even though they were very clearly weakened, their grip was still surpringly strong. I could feel myself being pulled between them, between Tam and the tendrils, between the tendrils holding me and the tendrils holding Tam.

Suddenly, Tam let out a pained gasp and I realized that it wasn’t just me in peril here. Tam was being pulled at, as well. Holding their hand, tugging on them, was hurting them. They were weak and I was pulling at their arm while the tendrils holding the rest of them there, suspending them. I had to let go. I was going to pull their arm out of their socket and I couldn’t bear to hurt them anymore. Tam tried to grab me again, but they were in no position to help, not anymore. With nothing holding me back, I was pulled down quickly toward the gaping mouth. My feet disappeared inside before I heard the scream.

It was Crag. He was running toward me with long bouncing strides. “Hold on, Frank! I’m coming!”

Desperately, I tried to find something to hold on to, something to slow my descent. I was too far away from Tam. I couldn’t reach them. I was now halfway down the hole. Everything below my waist had been pulled into the creature’s mouth. Crag was still bouncing toward me.

“Frank!” he yelled, as he came ever closer. But he would be too late. I was sinking lower and lower. He was getting closer and closer, but I was now pulled down below my chest. I had to crane my neck to see him and only then when he bounced at the top of his arc.

I was down to my neck. I held my hands out, reaching for him, even though I knew he’d never get there. I was being pulled lower and lower. I could see Crag running. I could see him dive toward me as I slipped beneath the hole.

I remember thinking it was the last I would see of him, the last I would see of anyone. The only place to look was directly above me, to Tam lying there, suspended in the air, unable to move. My hands were the only part of me above the hole. It was down to my elbows, my forearms, my wrists, my palm, my fingers… I was almost completely consumed. All seemed lost. I thought that was the end and then…something grabbed me.

to be continued…