It’s not often you hear the phrase, “Oh shit, it’s the cavalry,” when people are coming to your rescue, but those were the words that sprang to my lips.
“Stop!” screamed Jenny.
They ran faster to be able to hear what she was saying. We both raised our hands and shouted again. “Stop!”
They heard us this time and did as commanded. They came to a shuddering halt like we were playing a game of musical statues, limbs in unnatural poses as they wobbled trying to keep their balance.
“What is it?” asked Maurice. “Quicksand?”
We were standing on perfectly solid ground, not sinking from view, so I don’t know why that was his first thought. “It’s the jabberwock. It’s a giant worm that’s under us right now. I think it’s attracted to movement so try to keep as still as possible.”
“How big is it?” asked Claire.
“Enormous,” said Jenny. “It ate Keezy.”
There was a murmur of surprise and disbelief.
“Sounds like Shai-Hulud,” said Maurice knowingly.
“Is that a Dune reference?” I said, regretting it immediately.
“Yes. And it’s pronounced Doon.”
“No, it isn’t,” I said.
Maurice was too deep in his element to be distracted by the nay-saying of plebs like myself. “The giant sandworms, the Shai-Hulud, roam the planet Arrakis as servants of the gods.”
There’s never a giant worm around when you need one. I’d have gladly walked into its yawning gullet at that moment.
“It’s a very interesting book, Doon,” continued Maurice. “It’s the story of Muad’Dib, the mouse that hides from the sun and travels in the cool night.”
“Sounds a bit boring,” said Flossie.
“Do you think we could delay this week’s Book Club until we get out of this mess?” I requested in my most reasonable voice. Stay calm, wait for first light, and then make our way back to the lake, possibly to drown myself and get it all over with. “Just keep quiet and don’t make any sudden movements.”
As soon as I said this, Flossie began hopping from one foot to the other.
“I said don’t move!”
“Ah can’t help it!” said Flossie. “Ah need a wee.”
“Sorry,” said Dudley. “There’s no stopping her when she gets like this.”
Great. If the Indian rain dance didn’t attract the jabberwock, the tinkle of her tinkle probably would.
Something moved under me. I couldn’t be sure, it was only the slightest of tremors, but I doubted one troll would be enough to satisfy our manxome foe. Back for dessert.
I started making balls of light, all different colours, and sent them towards the trees. When they got close enough, I snapped my fingers and they burst one after the other creating wild flashes of red and green and yellow.
“What are you doing?” asked Jenny.
“I’m trying to spook any animals that might be in there. If they panic and run, it might draw the jabberwock away from us.”
“You’re going to sacrifice innocent animals so we can save ourselves?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Good thinking,” said Jenny. She bent down and picked up some stones, then threw them into the bushes.
This gave me an idea. “Hey! Grab any rocks and stones and throw them as far as you can.” If we created enough of a disturbance, perhaps the jabberwock wouldn’t be able to home in on us.
Everyone got to it. The result of all this activity? Not much. The lights didn’t scare up any critters—if my exploding balls had made some noise it might have helped—and the jabberwock didn’t appear to take any notice of the rocks we were chucking about. The only good thing was that all the fireworks distracted Flossie enough that she didn’t wet herself, because, “Ooh, pretty…”
As we stood there, the last of the lights flickering out, I saw a figure approaching. A big one.
“I saw your lights,” called out Kungen. “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you,” I said. “Didn’t you get eaten by the jabberwock?”
“It tried, but it spat me out. Not even the jabberwock can stand to have me in its presence.”
He was walking towards us but no large worm erupted from the ground to devour him. No one likes tainted meat, I guess.
“Your brother made us come out here,” I said. “He was worried about you.”
Kungen stopped. “Keezy? Why would he care?”
“Because,” said Jenny, “he realised it didn’t matter what you had become. You’re still brothers.”
Kungen seemed perturbed by this. “ Where is he?”
“The jabberwock swallowed him,” I said. “I guess he tasted better than you.”
Kungen’s face fell. His eyes couldn’t stay in one place as he looked from one of us to the next. He spun around and screamed. “Monster! Come out here and face me.”
You could see the family resemblance.
There was no response. I don’t think the jabberwock was much of a listener. It didn’t have ears for one thing.
Kungen was only a few steps away from me now. I leapt as lightly as I could and grabbed hold of him. “I don’t think it’s interested in you. Which means it won’t attack you. Any chance of a piggyback ride to the village?”
“Wait,” said Jenny. I immediately had a bad feeling. “You were inside the jabberwock, right?”
Kungen turned back to face her, with me clinging on. “Only for a few seconds.”
“But you didn’t die, and then it spat you out. If we get it to swallow you again, maybe it will cough up your brother.”
Kungen nodded. “Yes. Yes, that could work.”
Jenny ran towards him. “Everyone, over here.” They all ran towards us. “Now jump!”
They all began jumping up and down like they were in a very low budget hip-hop video.
“What are you idiots doing?” I screamed. I didn’t know what her plan was, but I had a pretty good hunch it wasn’t a good one. “Stop jumping.”
“Keep jumping,” said Jenny. “If we make enough of racket, it won’t be able to tell Kungen’s with us. It’ll attack thinking it’s just a tasty group of people.”
How was that a good thing? “Yes, and then it will eat us.”
“That’s okay,” said Jenny, “once it realises it has Kungen in its mouth it’ll spit us out again. You saw when it opened its mouth. It doesn’t have any teeth. We’ll be fine.”
They all continued to bounce in a tight knot around Kungen.
“No,” I said. “We won’t. Do you understand how teeth work? It makes the food smaller, so the acid in the stomach finds it easier to digest. Because stomach acid tends to be quite weak, otherwise you would digest yourself. It didn’t have any teeth, which means it doesn’t need help digesting, probably because it has industrial strength gastric juices like Alien.”
I should point out I am not a zoologist. Nor am I a xenoarcheologist. Just in case you were wondering.
“But Kungen’s fine.”
“Kungen’s skin is made of granite. Yours is made of sugar and spice, and acid will melt your face off.”
This seemed to give her pause for thought, but whatever conclusion she might have come to was rudely interrupted by the giant worm that shot out of the ground.
Everyone instinctively stopped jumping.
The jabberwock swayed slightly. Its head was high up and bobbing around. It must have known where we were, but maybe it also knew Kungen was with us and didn’t want to ingest him again.
“Now!” shouted Jenny. “Run!”
She grabbed hold of Kungen’s arm and started running. The others grabbed whatever part of Kungen they could and joined in.
The jabberwock didn’t attack. Whether it wasn’t sure about the ingredients headed its way or just confused because no one had ever run towards it before, I couldn’t say. Either way, I found myself running alongside too. If I got separated from the group I’d be the easiest one to pick off.
The jabberwock made its move. It swooped down and peeled open its mouth, coming down on the group and hoovering them all up. I say them because at the last moment I dived to the side, in quite a cool roll that brought me back to my feet. Shame no one saw it.
The plan was for the jabberwock to swallow Kungen. Mission accomplished. If no one else thought to jump out of the way, that was hardly my fault.
I turned to see the jabberwock slithering back into its hole, but the retreat stalled and the head, which had once more closed up, began swinging from side to side. A few seconds later it opened and a short gush of liquid was followed by a number of bodies.
My five teammates flopped on the ground moaning and writhing, covered in gloop.
The jabberwock continued to thrash about, and then ejected a stream of foul smelling fluid that bubbled as it spread out on the ground, along with a number of carcasses in various states of decomposition. Among them was a large boulder-like figure, skin peeling and showing dark flesh underneath.
Keezy rolled onto his hands and knees and slowly rose to his feet, struggling to keep his balance.
The jabberwock again rose into the air and opened its mouth, this time emitting a piercing shriek. Then it fell flat and flaccid, releasing one last dribble containing Kungen curled into a ball.
Keezy stumbled and staggered towards his brother, lifted him to his feet and embraced him.
The others all got up. They didn’t seem to have suffered any serious injuries, they were just covered in a lot of slime. They looked around at each other and started laughing.
Keezy and Kungen came over, arms around shoulders, each supporting the other. Keezy looked the worse, his skin burned away in numerous spots and large chunks missing completely. Kungen looked practically good as new, like someone had gone over his body with a pumice stone. I noticed the knob of brass had fallen out of his shoulder leaving a small divot.
They all laughed and clapped each other on the back in matey fashion, an adventure shared, although not by me in this case. I wandered over to the bodies lying around, many still fizzing. One looked like a small dog with half its head was missing.
There was a rumble under me, so strong I nearly lost my footing. The ground was ripped open and two more jabberwocks thrust out of the earth and rose with stunning speed to tower over us. They were huge, bigger than the one lying dead, and they looked pissed. I can’t say how, since they didn’t have any features, but it was definitely the vibe they were giving off.
Kungen pushed Keezy back and put himself between the worms and us.
“Run!” Kungen shouted. “I’ll do what I can to hold them off.”
But the worms didn’t attack. They sort of looked at each other (again, hard to explain since they had no eyes) and then retreated into the ground even faster than they had emerged.
Kungen looked confused. Keezy slapped him on the back. “They fear you brother. They are running away. Run you curs! The Worm King protects us now!”
I’m not sure ‘Worm King’ was much of a title, or that it made much sense since Kungen wasn’t a worm, but he was clearly no longer the worthless waste of space he had considered himself. Having both him and Keezy owing us their lives and safe passage back to Flatland would make things a bit easier. Probably.
I bent down and picked up something glittering at my feet. It was a small lump of brass. I put it in my pocket. Not that I’d need it. Probably.