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The Desert Crystals – Part 13: A Chamber of Horrors

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Part 13 – A Chamber of Horrors

Jacob Bublesnatch had never been an especially troublesome youth, even on his adventuring days, when he would try his parents’ patience sorely by vanishing into the tunnels beneath and around Ortheria. Even in his later adolescence he had been respectful of girls and polite to his parents. When he finally left home to beg work and passage at the airfields he did so with their blessing. He’d been a good lad, was becoming a good lad. A bit shy perhaps with over large hands and a tendency to become involved in the journals he was reading.

He’d done nothing bad – certainly nothing worth worrying about. There had been that one time when he and the younger mates had been chased out of a pub in Goloschek. In high spirits they’d stripped half naked and made something of a mess with beer and the local spirit Kamchz, and possibly embarrassed a lady. But that was nothing, even the constable had admitted he’d done much the same as a lad. They weren’t even fined. Jacob, like most people had a vague notion of reaping what you sow, getting what you pay for and other hazy philosophies intended to grant a person safe passage through the world. As a result of this naïve and gentle upbringing he was utterly unable to grasp his present hideous condition.

Seized by a vile monster in the night sky (following a lamentable steering slip), torn from the comfort of The Dove’s Eye, dangled thousands of feet above the ground by the nightmarish creature, and dragged inside its impossible lair were only the beginnings of his misfortune. He’d blindly stumbled about the black interior of the sky cliff, his eyes itching with the revolting gunk he’d peeled off his face after waking in the dark. Blindly stumbling is almost always the antecedent for a worsening of one’s general affairs, and so Jacob had discovered when he found his foot touching nothing but air, and followed it with the rest of him.

It is perhaps a tribute to his mental resilience that while plummeting into unknown depths he was not disturbed by the prospect of where he might land, or how much worse his condition might become, but by the sheer unfairness of it all. In those seemingly endless seconds he wracked his memory for any event, action or thought that might have merited such punishment. It is more likely to be a cruel jest on the part of fate, anticipating that Jacob would be unable to conjure a worse outcome than he had already suffered. In the scoring system that must surely exist, cruel fate was way in the lead.

Darkness makes fools of us all and Jacob was to be no exception. After the first moments of falling his body grew used to not having hit anything and relaxed, in concert with his mental recriminating. Jacob’s only hint that he was nearing the bottom of his drop was a powerfully fetid odour that rose from the depths, filling his mouth and nose with a retchsome stench. It was only a breath of what was to come.

He slapped down hard in a moist, stinking pool of foul lumpy liquid. He immediately commenced a panicked thrashing – the smell was like the alley behind the butchers’ in high summer, only a thousand times worse. Like quicksand the mire began to drag him down. Jacob forced himself to hold still, and spread his arms out. Horrid lumpy shapes nudged against him in the dark, pressing into his ribs and arms. They felt upsetting, and terribly familiar. Jacob gagged and retched as he tried to spit out the slimy filth and rotting flavour. His skin crawled with nausea, and very possibly tiny creatures wriggling under his fingernails and into his ears, nibbling at the soft flesh and burrowing deeper. He was in little doubt that he was lying in awful gore, offal, bone and liquefying body juice.

Unable to contain himself further, and near vomiting continuously poor Jacob Bublesnatch made a further attempt to extract himself from the ghastly mess. Carefully he stretched out his arms and legs and began to swim. He made what he felt was good progress – surely there must be a side, an edge, an end to the pit of foulness he’d ended up in. Then his arm got caught, on some slimy sticky shape, he flinched and tugged a mass of something back at himself, his arm bent and locked at the elbow and wrist inside it. A mouth: he was sure he could feel teeth, just beginning to bite down, to snap his arm in half.

Frantically Jacob tore his arm from the surface of the sludge. It came loose with a sickening burp of gases and smacked Jacob in the face. In a burst of adrenalized fear he beat the creature against the thick morass until he heard something wetly snap and then his hand was free again. Breathing heavily while your body wants to throw up is difficult and Jacob found he had to compromise with shorter breaths and more choking. He was soon distracted once more from his terrible misfortune by an unusual sensation below him. A curious swelling beneath his legs, tugging the grim slurry around him. A tiny lurching progress began, pulling him down again. The suction became fiercer, and Jacob was twisted round, the swirling charnel became a whirlpool of unspeakable gore.

Once more Jacob tumbled into the abyss, falling with streams of vile smelling gobbety mulch all around. He realised that this was most likely the end, the final mockery fate had in store for him. Then hope surged up in his heart – below him was a dim glow – some source of light – even falling out into the sky wouldn’t be as awful as what he had endured. Then he smacked into a hard slick surface. Instinctively he grappled for a handhold. His slimy hands skittered over the smooth familiar shape – a rope! But too wet, his hands failed to grip and he slid around the edge, tracing an increasing curve, desperately pressing his whole body against it, squeaking his way to vertical and a further release.

He didn’t have far to fall, landing atop a sliding heap and almost tumbling further when something grabbed and hauled him back up, letting him down on reassuring solid wooden planks. Jacob fell to his knees and held his hand up over his eyes against the suddenly blinding light. He peered out between his fingers. The huge mandibles and clacking jaws that filled his blinkered sight made the poor boy finally faint.

Next Week: Part 14 – A Timely Intervention

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