Babylon Zoo – ‘Spaceman’ (Capital Remix)…
I continue to slide unstoppably downwards, like a fat kid on a greasy helter-skelter. I even have time to wonder what I might encounter at the bottom. Given the choice of a pit of spikes, a lair of giant monitor lizards, a nest of zombies, or Carvery Slaughter taking a serial-killing detour – I seriously doubt that a Trevor Bayliss wind-up torch and a set of borrowed silk Paisley pyjamas are going to offer me much in the way of multi-purpose protection.
I dig in my toes, and the heels of my hands into the walls on my descent, attempting to slow down, and ignoring the friction burning that this rewards me with. But there’s no purchase, no handholds – all I succeed in doing is loosening bits of rubble, which rattle down around me, making my journey bumpier, and even more ungainly and uncomfortable.
Abruptly, the chute suddenly ends, and I drop into thin air. But before I can fully draw a breath to scream, it’s knocked right out of me as I land flat on my back, on a bed of straw. A sickening crack in the posterior of my skull, and warm sticky sensation, sends terror through my veins – as all of my blood supply attempts to escape the point of impact.
Wait a minute… straw???
After a second, I put my hand tentatively up to the back of my head. There is no pain. I touch something oozing, slimy… it comes away in my fingers… I almost choke in revulsion. What have I done to myself…?!
And then I do scream, when a live chicken lands flapping on my chest, with an irate clucking and gobbling.
Fuck me – it’s only the hen-house…
“Aargh…” I gasp, when she has scolded me thoroughly, and moved on in disgust. I push slowly up into a sitting position, tweezing bits of yolk and eggshell out of my hair. “Sorry, chickies…”
I risk a look around the underground cavern, recognising what I think is called ‘deep-litter’ provision, for keeping hens happy indoors. There is more than enough straw than was required to break my fall, and here and there a hen sitting, giving me a disapproving eye. The occasional clutch of unguarded eggs feature in the shadows.
It’s as I skim my gaze over these, that I spot a slightly different movement on the straw – a long, narrow, quadruped shape glides silently across, from patch of darkness to patch of darkness. An elongated jaw opens lazily… and an entire mother hen and six eggs vanishes.
My brain screams until it is blue, but my own larynx has completely closed, in dry-mouthed horror. My arms and legs fight to organise themselves as I scrabble backwards, on all fours.
Progress in this manner is abruptly halted by the rock wall. Petrified, I scan what I can see of this side of the cave, desperately hunting for an escape route…
Then I just about nearly die on the spot, as another many-legged shadow appears over a nest of eggs to my right. But what I think at first is a giant tarantula, stops and hovers over the clutch, before reaching and selecting one discerningly – and in the dim light, I see it is a thin, gray-skinned hand.
The hand holding the egg disappears. But a second later, it returns empty – points directly at me, and beckons.
I glance back towards the giant monitor lizard. It is raising its head to taste the air, forked tongue flicking in and out. A hen’s feather is stuck to the end of its snout.
Well – that wasn’t a difficult decision.
* * * * *
“Are you related to Mr Dry?” I ask of the strange zombie, as I crawl along the new tunnel behind. But it says nothing, merely beckons again.
Too aware of the speed at which the monitor lizard could navigate this low space, I hurry after.
We emerge in another cavern, but this one is definitely not the home of hens. Tree-roots and cobwebs are more the order of the day, and the occasional damp fluttering noise of batwings.
“I don’t think I’m meant to be this far down,” I ponder, picking my way through the underground flora and fauna, in step with the zombie. “Where does this lead to?”
“My preciousss…” the zombie hisses, almost voiceless, it is so old.
I look it up and down, curiously. Hardly anything remains of its clothing. And around one ankle, there hangs a plastic tag, attached with a cable-tie.
“Are you familiar with the body farm?” I ask, thoughtfully.
The zombie shoots me a glance, with its one reptilian-green eye, and keeps hobbling onward.
“It’s just that I noticed you have a neon pink ankle-tag, which means a Shallow Grave Study subject,” I continue. “I guess it would be easy for you to get time off to do your own thing, in between those other times, when you’re being dug up again for analysis.”
The tree-roots get closer together, and we squeeze through the claustrophobic spaces, until we reach what appears to be a natural clearing.
I can hear water rippling, and a pool of moonlight from some chink in the rock high above us, illuminates an underground spring.
The zombie finds a paper boat at the water’s edge, and puts the egg inside, before setting it adrift, pushing it so that it wobbles away into the darkness. How very strange…
“Are you here to kiss the frog?” a booming voice greets us, and startled, I immediately wish for dry pyjamas.
“Er, preferably no,” I reply to the unseen speaker. “Just looking for the way out.”
“Are you sure?” the voice continues. “I have a golden ball…”
“Don’t think I want to kiss that either,” I remark, resolutely.
A movement on the far side of the water catches my eye, but for some reason I avoid looking too closely to define it, as it approaches the spring to retrieve the floating egg. I have a feeling that several years alone down a well has probably negated the need for clothing.
“There must be something you desire,” the deep Shakespearean-actor voice of the third Frittata brother replies. “Otherwise, you would not be here in the wishing-well.”
“Really, I just want to find a way back out into the mansion,” I say, with conviction – ignoring the thought ‘dry pyjamas’, which tries to make itself heard. “Just been playing a bit of Hide-and-Seek with the other Frittatas… oh. I am so sorry…”
The voice roars in rage, and the body-farmed zombie and I both cover our ears.
“That is quite all right,” the third Frittata brother says at last, after a moment to compose himself again. I hear the munching of eggshell. “Are you sure there is nothing else you wish for? Seeing as you have come all this way – and survived… so far…”
Something occurs to me, other than damp Paisley-patterned silk nightwear.
“I don’t suppose you’ve seen a clockwork right hand anywhere down here?” I query.
“Ahhhh,” the third Frittata brother rumbles.
“My preciousss…” the zombie hisses again, nodding vigorously, until I worry that his poor head may drop off.
“You will find it guarded by the third heir to the Dry estate,” the bass voice replies, carrying eerily over the water. “But yes – find it, you certainly may – Sarah Bellum.”
A cloud moves across the moon, and I can no longer make out the water, or the direction of the speaker. Cold-skinned zombie fingers grasp my own, tugging me to follow again.
“How did he know my name?” I want to know, but the zombie says nothing, leading me away from the tree-roots. “And what third heir? I thought it was just Crispin and Homer?”
At last, the terrain starts to head upwards, becomes less like rough ground, and more even, like broad steps. They narrow progressively, until we are on what is essentially a spiral staircase, like the inside of a church-tower.
After a few minutes of climbing, a studded iron door marks the end of our route. It is unlocked by a nautical-style wheel, and we push it inwards.
It is some sort of storage facility – or laboratory – or study – but far older than Crispin’s, in the bunker under the stairs. Instead of a smart garage, armoury, hi-tech computers and sterile refrigerated quarantine sections, this is all yellowing papers and pickled things in jars, under what could be a century of dust.
An ancient, empty leather chair is in front of a desk, where a misty magnifying glass and an old pair of wire spectacles lie abandoned, on an open diary.
I shine my torch onto the handwritten page.
TO CATCH A COMET’S TAIL… it says – and then just a sequence of odd, Leonardo da Vinci-style diagrams.
“My preciousss,” the zombie calls me, and I turn, to see him opening a small white door in the corner, half-hidden behind a pile of old books.
I go to look, and it’s the last room I was expecting to see hidden away underground.
It’s a baby’s nursery.
A wooden painted mobile hangs above a white wooden crib, and a jolly-looking chicken fresco is painted around the walls. There are no photographs.
I know, as I step through the doorway, behind the strange zombie, that I’m entering a shrine.
“Precioussss…” moans the zombie, pointing.
I gaze into the crib.
“Yes,” I agree, as the beam of torchlight reflects off the surface of the six-litre pickle jar. So peaceful-looking. “Isn’t he just?”
Great scene from the original ‘Labyrinth’ above – enjoy 🙂
More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum
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