A children's book for grown-ups by Jon Evans

September 27, 2007

69. Legless

There was a noise from up ahead. White gasped. Patch lurched out of his half-asleep daze, then froze stiffly into place. This wasn't one of the usual underground noises that they had almost gotten accustomed to - whispering drafts of air, the slow dripping of water, occasional distant rattling. This was a kind of soft clicking, and it was very close.

There came another click. And another. It didn't sound like any kind of motion, and that cold slippery scent that made Patch shiver, which had been growing ever stronger, still smelled old and distant. Patch swallowed and moved forward to investigate. When the tip of his nose suddenly encountered a smooth curving surface he almost cried out.

"What is it?" White asked.

He investigated carefully. It felt like a pebble worn smooth by water. There was more than one of them, there was a whole cluster, he couldn't tell how many in the darkness. Just stones? But that clicking sound - he thought it was coming from one of them. And they didn't feel like stones. They felt like -

"Eggs," he said.

"Eggs? That's madness," White objected. "There can't be any birds down here."

Patch didn't say anything. She was right ... but maybe birds weren't the only animals who laid eggs. The clicking came again, louder, and again; and then there was a soft but distinct crack.

"What was that?" White asked.

There was something moving now, he heard a kind of sliding sound, and that terrifying icy smell had intensified. It smelled fresh, now. The egg had hatched.

"Let's keep going," Patch whispered. "Hurry."

They went around the egg-cluster and moved quickly on. But the sliding sound grew louder, and the icy scent intensified. Patch couldn't tell whether they came from in front or behind. He moved even faster. The cold scent was strong enough now that he could no longer fight the primal and unreasonable terror that erupted now in both him and White, a fear that grew fast and uncontrollably. They began to run blindly through the darkness, panting for breath, their exhaustion erased by growing panic, pursued by this terrifying scent that clawed at some instinctive fear-trigger.

Something smooth and warm brushed against Patch's side, something that was the source of the awful scent. He screamed and jumped away, but tripped and fell on something like a thick vine. But it was not a vine. It was alive. It was warm and scaly and squirming, and full of rippling muscles.

Patch scrabbled for balance, trying to get away; but before he could escape, the rope-thing began to curl itself around him, wrapping itself into a coil that encircled his left chest and his right shoulder. The noose of scaly flesh began to tighten with soft but deadly strength. Patch struggled but could not free himself. He felt a shivering in the air, like there was something flickering in it nearby.

"Patch!" White cried. The thing hesitated, as if surprised, and the coil loosened for a heartbeat. Patch squeezed himself backwards with a violent effort. First his head and then his right paw popped free of the squeezing thing. His scrabbling claws found purchase on the ground and propelled him away at maximum speed.

He knew what this alien monster was now. He had seen one before, from a great height, in the Kingdom of Madness: a long, legless, slithering thing with pebbled skin. He heard White running after him, close behind. They ran blindly through the utter darkness, panting with terror, and the legless thing chased them, somehow sliding across the tunnel floor with incredible speed despite its lack of limbs.

As Patch pelted up the tunnel he sensed the telltale drifting air of other, smaller passages. They could flee into one of those side branches - but the legless thing would have an even greater advantage in a smaller space. Maybe there was another water-pit, and maybe it couldn't swim. He hoped so. It seemed like his only hope. Behind him, the hissing of the legless thing grew louder as it slithered ever closer. White was pulling away, but Patch couldn't keep up with her. He was running as fast as he could, but he was tired and hurt. The slithering sounds grew louder and louder - and Patch realized with cold terror that there was more than one source of those horrible noises, there were several, and most were directly ahead. He and White were running straight into a whole nest of the legless monstrosities.

"There's more of them!" White gasped. "We have to -"

Then she screamed: a dwindling scream that was suddenly cut off by a thud and a diminishing series of rattling thumps.

"White!" Patch shouted, and sprinted after her. He barely smelled the hole in the ground in time, and came to a shuddering halt right at its edge. Like the last hole, it was circular. Unlike the last one, it didn't smell of metal, and from the way the air here moved, and the way it was thick with a different kind of stench, Patch realized this was no hollow metal branch: this was simply a hole that dropped deep into the unknown darkness.

The circumstances made his decision remarkably easy. White had fallen in here, he was being pursued by at least three slithering horrors, and there was no other way out. Patch closed his useless eyes and leaped into the hole.

For a moment his stomach seemed to turn inside out. The only other clue that he was falling was the whistling air. Then pain exploded in his shoulder as he hit something metal - and before he could even cry out, Patch was tumbling down an near-vertical tunnel, slapping against its slippery insides, ricocheting back and forth against metal walls covered with mold and muck. His stomach went inside out again as he fell nosefirst through a space as tall as a small tree. His head hit something hard, and the world went away.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poor Patch!

I *knew* it was a snake (see my comment in the previous chapter)...but I didn't think it was going to be more than one...

Excellent suspenseful chapter!

September 28, 2007 at 4:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


look, if i've got it stuck in my head then dammit so does everyone else. :D

i've forgotten my point now... oh yes, feedback. Very cool chapter, yay for snakes!! hee, briangc you was right. I'm still hoping for an escaped alligator as well tho... :D hmm, would snakes smell slimy? Just wondering, since they're all dry and musty and not really slimy at all. Mind you, they are in the sewers, i guess everything is kinda slimy down there. Gah, hope patch is going to okay! he really doesn't need a concussion on top of everything else. :D

September 28, 2007 at 5:43 AM  
Blogger Phayona said...

Snakes normally eat rats, I wonder if snout made a deal so the snakes wouldnt eat the rats so he's feeding them squirelll but trys to double cros so he only feeds them the poisoned ones? hmm

November 3, 2009 at 3:16 PM  

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Jon Evans is the award-winning author of the thrillers Invisible Armies, Dark Places (aka Trail of the Dead), and The Blood Price. See his web site rezendi.com.

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