Tattoo Book 5, Part 2.9
Posted by harmony0stars on January 15, 2010
Trembling, Professor Murdock turned back to the controls. Whether or not the woman had any sympathy for Scott or Sean, she was in no position to argue. Her hands flew over the keyboard as she typed in the commands. Glory watched the monitors as occupants looked up in surprise, flinching away from the opened doors, no doubt expecting someone to come through to torment them.
“It-it’s done,” the woman announced, her shoulders sagging. No alarms sounded, but a red strobe light suddenly came on over the monitors. She turned and looked at her wounded colleague. “I’ll never get him into the tunnels like that.”
With a grunt, Ehecatl leaned down and wiped at the man’s face. Once it no longer glittered with spittle, he drew his arm back and gave him a ringing slap. With a gasp and a cry the man came to, looking around himself groggily. He moaned as the pain of his broken leg reasserted itself and his eyelids fluttered as if he might lose consciousness again.
“Tom?” the professor said, tapping his cheek more gently than Ehecatl had. “Tomas? Come on, you need to get up.”
“Are they gone?” he mumbled, blinking at his superior.
“No Tom, they’re not. And the cells are open, so we need to get to the tunnels.”
That got his attention. His eyes darted around fearfully as he allowed the professor to lever him up. Though he was almost twice her size, she bore his weight without complaint. Leaning on her, he made inarticulate grunts of pain every step of the way to the door. He’d probably shriek when they got to the stairs.
Tom wasn’t the only one screaming as they came to the stairwell. All kinds of noises were flowing up the stairs, and over them came the steady shrieking of someone terrified beyond sanity or already close to death. Ehecatl ran ahead, no doubt concerned for his daughter, while Glory stayed with the prisoners.
“P-professor,” rasped Tom fearfully, still slurring some of his words. “Do we have to go down? Please,” he sobbed, “can’t we use a different entrance?”
“It’s okay Tom. We’re… they said we’d be safe,” she replied, glancing around as if uncertain that there was anyone still escorting them. Glory lay her hand on the woman’s shoulder again and felt her shiver.
It took them longer than Glory would have liked to get down the stairs, Tom nearly knocking them all down when she attempted to help the professor support him. The shrieking stopped long before then, and Professor Murdock let out a little cry of horror as they turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs and saw what had become of Sean.
The ghoul and another creature perched over his mutilated body, both of them gory with his blood. His companion looked like some kind of bipedal anemone or aquatic reptilian hedgehog. Long rasping spines grew from its back, arms, and legs. The spines on its arms and legs were short, almost like human hairs, but thicker and no less sharp looking than the longer quills on its head and back. The dun colored spines rattled dryly like wheat in the wind as it stood to regard the man and woman who had just invited it for dessert. It was even smaller than the ghoul boy. The pallid reddish flesh of its exposed body and face were completely bare and almost flaccid. Was it starved or did it always look that way? It appeared to be completely sexless, though the wrinkles of its flabby skin might have been hiding a pouch or other even stranger anatomy. It blinked slowly, the light of the hall seeming to hurt its bulging, tarry eyes. The most animate part of its anatomy and the only other feature aside from its eyes was a long tapering nose or mouth which twisted and moved as if feeling the air in front of it for prey. The end opened and closed occasionally like the toothless mouth of a lamprey eel or gigantic leech.
The ghoul also rose, eying the new arrivals. He didn’t look nearly so helpless as he had on the monitor, though he was still much smaller than the ghoul she had met in Sybar City. Baring his teeth, he made a sound in his throat that was half bark, half whimpering laugh. It was very much like something she’d once heard on a nature show featuring hyenas.
Just as she was sure the hungry duo were ready to charge, Ehecatl strode out of one of the cells, no longer using his camouflage. Professor Murdock gave a tiny gasp. The ghoul and the other Thing apparently paralyzed her with fear, but the sight of the naga was what surprised her out of her stupor. Glory shook her head. Well, Professor Scott had said they were rare. More rare than ghouls and marsupial hedgehog people, apparently. His daughter perched on one of his arms, Ehecatl stopped between the hungry pair and their quarry.
“No,” he said in reply to their unasked question. “They’re under our protection.” The hedgehog thing reared back as if vaguely insulted while the ghoul turned away, suddenly more interested in finishing off its Sean tartar.
“Where is the entrance to the tunnels?” Glory asked softly. The professor pointed a shaky finger down the hall to the far wall. There didn’t appear to be an entrance there, but a secret tunnel wasn‘t much of a secret if it was easily found. “How do you open it?”
Professor Murdock looked at her askance. “There’s a panel and keypad,” she replied uncertainly. She looked down the hall before returning her attention to Glory.
“And the code?”
“I… you’re not taking us with you?” the professor swallowed.
“I think you’ll be safer in one of the empty cells than in the tunnel with my hungry friends,” Glory replied.
Professor Murdock shivered, bowing her head. As terrified as she was, she also seemed vaguely disappointed. Glory understood only too well how an insatiable curiosity could lead a person down dangerous paths.
“The code is 32557,” she announced after a few seconds. “If the panel won’t open, just give it a tap. They’re not used much, and I think that one sticks.”
Glory escorted them to the cell Ehecatl had exited and pressed the button Professor Murdock indicated to lock them in. Turning away, she looked down at the ghoul nearly at her feet. Its companion had removed Sean’s head, and she saw puckers at the ends of its fingertips and toes which opened and closed like little mouths. Resting its toes on the body of the corpse, and its mouth expanded to swallow Sean’s head whole. Glory watched in fascination as the head moved up the creature’s swollen proboscis and finally into its stomach. Some of the loose folds of its skin were pulled taut, making it look like one of the starving children of Africa shown on late night infomercials. Months ago, something like that would have disgusted her, and it certainly didn’t please her now, but she also didn’t feel nearly as repulsed as she had the first time she’d seen a ghoul feeding. With Tom and the professor safely locked away, the only thing she felt was relief that they weren’t there to witness the thing eat their comrade’s head.
to Book 5, Part 2, page 10
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The mystery monster contest has now concluded with two winners, Fiona and anaraug, but you can still play for “badges” if you wish. Simply go to Twitter and search under the hashtag #mysterymonster
Anyone who follows the clues and figures out the monster’s identity may send me an email and receive their choice of two badges. So folklore nerds get your thinking caps on. There are eight clues on Twitter in addition to the description here. I’ve taken some artistic license with the description of our head swallowing friend, but all the basic information regarding him and his habits are present in the above post.
Please email your guess to harmonyostars at gmail .com.