The Desert Crystals – Part 20: Eye in the Sky

desert crystals2Part 20 – Eye in the Sky

Another ragged scream tore through the early morning darkness. The early morning darkness was the same as it had been all night and likely would be all day. The pitch blackness of the Sky Cliff was unending, save in the imaginations of the men and women lost inside. It seemed to be darker on waking than on going to sleep, though that itself was fitful and filled with twitching to wakefulness, soaked in sweat with a cry on the lips. The incessant screaming was not helping. There is a limited number of finger tips that can be stuffed into ones ears and only so many pillows and blankets can be wrapped about ones head.

Rosenhatch was a case in point. He had attempted to bundle his head deep in his bunk, but found it was all too easy to suffocate – not just because of the sheets, but because his cat Maxwell possessed the uncanny ability to balance atop the bundle and dig his claws in with each shriek. That had affected their sleep. Maxwell regarded the sound as a callous intrusion into his preferred somnolence. The cat had grown weary of the lengthy night and had retreated to their cabin until daylight and distraction emerged once more. In between long naps he had batted Rosenhatch’s mislaid glass and stationery underneath the bunk, where they would probably remain.

Until the man had begun his tiresome screaming the whole journey had taken on a restful tedium, though Maxwell would have preferred the earlier sun-baked portion to have persisted; he’d identified an ideally precarious perch on the railing to the rear of the airship to idle away the days. There had been a lot of noise recently, but Maxwell had spent much of that inside Rosenhatch’s coat. Then had come the unnecessarily long night and the constant smell of sweat and meat. When the missing cabin boy fell back onto The Dove’s Eye the crew had been delighted, if somewhat put out by the avalanche of gore that had shepherded him home. Maxwell had perked up a little at that point and successfully acquired a length of sticky gruesomeness to hide beneath the bunk, along with the stationery, for surreptitious gnawing and growling at.

His ears twitched irritably as yet another strangled cry penetrated the thin walls of the cabin. He dug his claws meaningfully into the semi-slumbering heap that shifted beneath his weight. Maxwell jabbed his claws in deeper, warning Rosenhatch that he was entirely comfortable and really ought not be disturbed further. His self-appointed master was destined to persistently disappoint the cat, and peeled back the layers of blanket to stare frustratedly at the ceiling. Maxwell glared balefully at him.

“It’s not my fault Maxwell. The poor lad’s got something awful in his eyes, probably from swimming through all that rotten charnel.” Now that he thought of the vile stuff that had splashed all over the fore deck of the airship Rosenhatch was sure he could still smell it – disgusting, he’d probably never get it out of his nostrils. “Harvey and the captain have the boy tied to a bunk so he doesn’t scratch at them.”

Maxwell elegantly displayed a total lack of interest by stretching to his full length and then frantically grooming his left paw. Once the left was quite damp he began to drag it over his left ear and cheek.

“I don’t know what else we can do with him – they’re frightfully swollen. We’ve washed them out with water and a splash of alcohol. I wasn’t sure about the latter, but that old sky mate with the beard swore by it. It didn’t make much difference. Pouring it in his mouth seemed to work better.”

Maxwell switched to the other paw and applied it to his right ear.

“You know, sometimes I can’t help feeling a little responsible for these things,” Rosenhatch murmured self-indulgently. Maxwell broke off from his important washing to blink slowly at the untidy, tired-looking man. “I suppose you’re right – it’s hardly my fault he was kidnapped from the ship by winged night beasts. Still, we should at least look in on him again. Come on.”

Rosenhatch scooped up the grooming cat and re-ordered his limbs into a cradled position. Maxwell squirmed until he had a paw sticking straight up with extended claws dug into Rosenhatch’s collar bone, and bright eyes peering over the crook of his arm. He shambled out of their cabin and into the corridor containing two haggard sky mates leaning against opposite walls. They were nominally guarding their stricken colleague, but mainly sought to dampen the cries, which explained the waxy cloth sticking out from their ears. The three nodded to each other wearily and Rosenhatch pushed open the door.

Jacob Bublesnatch looked better than he had when they’d taken him aboard; a good deal of scrubbing with their limited water supply had taken much of the filth off him, particularly his face, but he was drawn and exhausted. Some food and water (and the vile rum that Gremble Chank, the bearded patcher, had insisted also be splashed in the lad’s eyes) had been forced into him. But none of them knew what to do for Jacob’s eyes, whose flesh stood out scarlet and swollen, with vivid welts of white and green striping his lids and cheeks. His eyes themselves bulged, splitting even his inflamed eyelids apart to reveal the seamy yellow orbs inside. Worse still, horrid shapes fluttered inside them, like jelly filled with ants. They were a fairly nauseating sight and even Rosenhatch blanched as he drew up a chair to the bunk.

Harvey would be fascinated, but his bulk could not fit inside the cabin – besides, he had quite startled Bublesnatch – perhaps mandibles were not the first sign of friends and family he had hoped to glimpse. The Giant Centipede was up on deck, continuing to map out the caverns of the sky cliff. The captain was determined to leave the place as soon as possible but it had become clear that even with Harvey’s delicate senses to aid them they were quite lost. The topography of the caves had definitely changed since they had glided inside.

The understandable concerns about navigation went some way to explaining why poor Jacob’s dreadful ocular calamity was receiving less attention that it might have done otherwise. Rosenhatch (along with Maxwell) was the only one at the boy’s side when he began to writhe uncontrollably. A long thin wail of despair and pain vibrated up his chest and through his clenched and splintering teeth. Maxwell sharply leapt out of Rosenhatch’s arms and onto the shoulder-high shelf above Jacob’s bunk. Rosenhatch quickly forced a sliver of leather into the boy’s mouth lest he crack a tooth or bite his tongue off and tried to hold the boy down by his shoulders.

As he turned to the door to shout for aid an awful bubbling sound made him turn back. It was a gurgle unlike the worst of digestive complaints and he frowned at thought of its source. Jacob’s left eye bulged suddenly out of its engorged socket and burst in a brief fountain of foul fluid like an unfortunate cheese. Rosenhatch’s own screams brought the men running; Jacob had lapsed into blissful unconsciousness while the ruined eye wept shiny slime and tiny stick-legged maggots crawled out of the hole in his face.

Next Week: Part 21 – Nascent Horrors

In the same series:

The Desert Crystals – Part 19: Newly Bespectacled (captainpigheart.com)

The Desert Crystals – Part 17: Stolen in the Breeze (captainpigheart.com)

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