Dizzee Rascal vs. Ne-Yo – Fix Up/Beautiful Monster mash-up…
“Heads up, dudes!” Ace’s voice calls from high above. “Look sharp!”
Another rock pitches down, and scores the giant viper’s flank. Our bucket tilts nauseatingly.
I squint up at the top of the stairwell. As I guessed, Ace and Carvery Slaughter have reached the summit – and are bombarding the reptile with stony missiles.
“Pinstriped Leatherback Vipers enjoy singing, not stoning!” I yell up at them. “You’re only making things worse!”
Poor Homer N. Dry is out for the count. A dribble of blackened blood trickles from his angular gray cranium.
“Do we look like a boy band to you?” Carvery scoffs. I have to bite my tongue on that one. Girlfriend-battering psychopath Carvery Slaughter, and dodgy breaker’s yard mechanic Ace Bumgang together look like any girl’s poster-boy dream duo. “You want to play snake-charmer, you go ahead and sing to it!”
I gulp and look towards the viper’s angry face as it curls its body around the rickety bucket. One tooth broken already by the stock of Carvery’s shotgun, its eyes remind me of Kaa from The Jungle Book – swirling pools of deadly hypnotic venom, in a head the size of an inflatable dinghy. Long whiskers trail from the corners of its mouth, as in the renderings of Oriental dragons.
Not as big as the river-god Atum, by a long shot – but could easily pass for his evil gamete…
Oh, God – the only singer I can impersonate is a Singer sewing-machine!
I clear my throat, only succeeding in nearly choking on the lump of rising bile at the back of my tongue – and open my mouth…
But instead of my usual Enter Sandman opener I usually attempt alone on Nintendo Wii X-Factor, an ethereal crooning sound echoes around the bucket. It envelops me like a tangible jade mist, joined by a tinkling of the most delicate bells.
What the hell? Am I channelling Enya?
The snake pauses in its constriction manoeuvres around the woodwork containing us, and tilts its head, questing the air.
The choral vocals soar up the underground stairwell.
“It’s beautiful…” I hear myself breathe, drawn to lean over the edge of the rim, straining to hear more. I feel as though I want the whole song to climb up inside me, possess me…
Crispin’s hand closes around my arm.
“It is the hatching Squidmorphs, Sarah Bellummm,” he says, gravely. “Do not let their call hypnotise you.”
Ooohhhh… I recoil from the edge slowly. Climb up and possess me, indeed! But surely, something so magnificent could not be produced by something so vile?
One of the choral voices breaks off abruptly, with a piercing, piteous scream. The viper shakes its head as if dislodging water, or slowly awaking from a trance.
I’m sure I just heard the swisshhh-thuddd of a harpoon gun, far below…
Crispin tugs on the pulley arrangement, and our carrier jolts swiftly skywards again, overtaking the head of the snake, as it moves groggily to tighten its coils around the bucket.
Another horrific scream punctuates the singing rising up from the inky black water. And with a deep, indignant hiss, the Pinstriped Leatherback Viper darts after us in pursuit.
“What’s that?!” I shout, as we jar to an unexpected halt. “Why have we stopped?”
“Something is stuck in the ropes, Sarah Bellummmm,” Crispin reports. “It looks like…”
“Snake fang,” Carvery calls out, and drops another rock, missing the dodging and weaving viper. “My bad. Sorry about that.”
Crispin reaches up and works it free. Good Lord – it’s longer than his arm…
Released once more, the ratchet system grinds and cranks us further up the rope.
Only a few more storeys to go… A formation of five Bat-Eater Owls barrels past, picking off prey from the underside of the stone steps – and turning, flies straight into the gape of the one-toothed snake.
“Screw this,” I hear Ace muttering overhead, and see him unhitching his own harpoon gun and fiddling around with the tip. “Carver – give me a spark.”
Carvery takes out his Taser. What are they doing?
Three more owls circle around us, and as the largest swoops under the stonework and emerges again with claws full of bat, there is a twanggg from above. A bright streak blazes down from the sky, and Ace’s harpoon, ignited, neatly pierces the owl’s outstretched wing.
“Ohh!” I gasp in empathy. “It’s hurt!”
“Yeah, I hope so,” Ace says, grimly.
The owl shrieks, flapping on the end of the harpoon and wire tether, its wings starting to smoulder. Its momentum carries it in a continuation of a wide arc, straight towards the awaiting maw of the giant viper…
And just as its prehistoric jaws close – Carvery stabs the Taser into the extended cable.
A lightning bolt courses down the wire, directly into the locked mandible. The viper freezes in midair, suddenly ramrod straight – and smoke pours from those acidic eyes.
“Stop it!” I shout. The stench is terrible.
Crispin snatches up the broken snake-fang, and swings it like a cutlass. The tether breaks free – and gently, the Leatherback Viper falls down, down – down into the darkness of the underground Squidmorph nest.
“Well?” Ace asks, as he and Carvery seize the ropes and help to guide the bucket up over the edge. “Did you want our help or not?”
“You didn’t have to do it in quite such a nasty way!” I snap, scrambling out of the wooden contraption.
And then I’m completely overwhelmed by the sensation of dry ground underfoot. Oh – blessed sand. And rocks! How glorious do those sun-baked stones look?
“Thank you, gentlemen,” Crispin says, much more courteously, as he lifts his brother Homer out of the bucket. “No, Mr. Slaughter, I do not think my brother requires electroconvulsive resuscitation just yet. Perhaps just a cool shady spot in which to recover. I think it best if we take him straight to the Spice Market, where he can be treated with a milder form of tonic.”
“I’ll take a large Gin in mine,” I burble, having found the friendliest-looking rock I can, and hugging it to my cheek, like a long-lost relative. Terra Firma… Mmmmmm…
“Something was attacking the Squidmorphs,” Carvery observes. “Didn’t you hear them hollering after the singing? That snake would have had you for an entrée.”
“Maybe something was protecting us from the Squidmorphs, in case we fell,” I say, haughtily, stroking my new pet rock. “Did that occur to you?”
“Then why didn’t it start sooner?” he wants to know. “Like while we were down there when they were hatching, and trying to get into all of our pants?”
“Sarah,” Ace says slowly. “Why are you nuzzling that stone?”
“I’m just glad to be alive,” I remark, and toss it aside dismissively. A dull thunk, and a groan from Homer behind me cause me a moment’s embarrassment. “But anywho – what’s this Spice Market? Are really in the Eight a.m Lounge at last, Crispin?”
We survey the landscape. Another desert, with just few scrubby bushes, and some distant mountains against the clouds of a storm on the horizon… but as a heat-haze shifts, and the dust blows aside – a dazzling array of bright colours appears, thrown across the russet sand like a patchwork quilt. Tents of all shapes and sizes – hundreds of them, as far as the eye can see – and as my own eyes adjust, the equally russet domes, walls and minarets of a permanent settlement amongst them – almost invisible by their camouflage.
“We are here,” Crispin confirms. “Welcome to the Eight a.m. Lounge – and here is also the most likely place we shall find Mr. Lukan has absconded to – with the golden clockwork hand.”
Oh, my word – however shall we find him in this? It’ll be like looking for a needle in a haystack…
A shape starts to emerge from the middle distance, appearing out of the reflective air distortion of a mirage like something from Star Trek. It splits into several shapes as it approaches, wobbling and lurching in a very familiar fashion.
“Our transport has arrived,” says Crispin, approvingly. “Try not to look them directly in the teeth.”
“No worries,” Ace grunts. “Same applies when meeting Carver’s mum.”
“Your mum’s teeth are still in a cup in my bathroom, Ace,” Carvery quips.
“Where’s the rest of her?” I ask, automatically.
“You should know – you’ve been sitting on her face,” Carvery replies, just as quickly. “While you’ve been eating your sandwiches under the silver birch tree, at the Body Farm.”
A less hairy-lipped serpent in the original Chamber of Secrets – Enjoy 🙂
More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum
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