* * *
Miss Whitaker, James, and DeLuve had just reached the other end of the fungi-filled cavern when they heard the sound of heavy, hopping footsteps. DeLuve ducked behind a giant toadstool. Miss Whitaker grabbed James by the arm and dragged him behind another large, low mushroom.
The thing that entered the room was horrible to behold. It looked like the thing they had attacked before. There was no blood on the horrible thing, which looked around as if it was looking for something. It moved to one of the ape-men and looked at it. Then it crossed to another one and looked at it. Then it sniffed in the air and headed across the room.
* * *
Zippy went under a mushroom, being where he could see the thingâ€™s legs as it went by, he hoped. He also hoped it wouldnâ€™t be able to see him. Fontaine joined him.
They heard the thing making its way across the great cavern. Soon it came into sight and they saw it was not bloody but they were unsure if it was the same one they shot before or not. It crossed the room fairly close to them, nearly within reach, it seemed. It stopped and sniffed the air, turning their way. Then one of the ape-men came out from a hidden spot nearby and they could smell feces. The thing sniffed again and then turned and left through the tunnel entrance they had just vacated moments before.
The two men fled as soon as they could no longer hear its footsteps.
* * *
The others were still hiding when Zippy and Fontaine ran over. They fled the mushroom cavern, turning left and going back the way theyâ€™d come but then continuing down that wide corridor. The tunnel split again. To the right, it went into a room cut out of the rock while to the left it continued out of sight. They followed the right tunnel.
The grotto there had been expanded somewhat. The place was dominated by an enormous natural column that had been carved into the likeness of a great, coiled serpent with a white crescent symbol upon its forehead formed from pale gemstones. In front of the serpent was a large altar marred by dark stains and decorated with intertwining geometric carvings and runes. Spherical golden censers on stands flanked the altar, each pouring fourth clouds of perfumed incense.
Miss Whitaker realized the snake in her bathtub had resembled the great statue, all except for the crescent shaped mark on the forehead. Fontaine recognized the snake from his vision at the sinkhole.
Everyone but Zippy suddenly saw a cascade of snakes of various breeds erupt from the carved serpentâ€™s mouth, each bearing a white crescent on its forehead. They were all transfixed as they were quickly engulfed by the writhing mass of snakes. They did not bite or constrict but crawled over them, flicking their tongues across their skin. Soon, a titanic serpentâ€™s tongue pushed its way through the snakes, tasting each of them. It was terribly disturbing.
Zippy, who didnâ€™t see the vision, wondered why his associates were so fixated by the statue.
â€œHey, youâ€™ve all seen art before, right?â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s just art! Itâ€™s just art!â€
He started to look around the room as the others came out of their trance. The room proved to be bare aside from the statue and the altar.
â€œSo, what do you all think about that sacrifice idea now?â€ Fontaine asked.
â€œWhat?â€ Miss Whitaker asked.
James looked around for the snakes but they were completely gone. Zippy went to the altar and found the blood was long-dried. Fontaine closely examined the altar, copying the strange glyphs and sigils and then feeling for any kind of secret panel upon it.
Suddenly, Fontaine froze and stared straight ahead. He saw the entire statue lunge at him, swallowing him in a single bite. He found himself outside in the bright sunshine. He saw the serpent people worshiping around the gigantic snake that seemed to be real. He saw dinosaurs - real dinosaurs - in the distance. He saw a mound somewhere in a desert where more of the serpents worshiped. Then he saw a man in traditional cowboy clothing lying in a bedroll, looking at a small statue that reminded him of the one heâ€™d seen in the temple. The man in the bed suddenly shrieked and kicked out of his blanket. A snake was there. He lifted up his foot where there were two distinct bite marks. His foot puffed up and turned black, which spread up his leg, swelling it to an impossible size, to his hips and the rest of his body. In moments, he lay there, dead from the terrible poisonous bite. He saw a darkened area room with someone within who had features of both men and snakes. Another crescent was tattooed on the manâ€™s head. He saw naked people dancing in the moonlight around another snake statue.
James had seen Fontaine suddenly go still and went over to touch his shoulder. The second he did so, Fontaine turned away from him, screamed, and stumbled backwards, shaking his head before looking desperately around the room. The moment he had been in the vision had seemed like hours or days. The memories disappeared like some terrible dream that heâ€™d rather forget.
â€œAre you okay?â€ James said. â€œMy God, it looked like you were in a trance.â€
â€œHey, you all looked like that earlier!â€ Zippy said.
â€œWe screamed?â€ DeLuve said.
â€œSo many snake people!â€ Fontaine said.
â€œYou look so messed up,â€ James said. â€œSnake people?â€
Fontaine looked up. The statue seemed to be watching him. He moved away from the altar, shaken.
â€œWorship me,â€ he heard whispered through the air.
â€œWho are you?â€ he said to the statue.
There was no reply.
â€œAh,â€ Fontaine said.
He kept looking at the snake statue.
â€œThereâ€™s no Josh in here,â€ Zippy said.
They headed out of the room. As he left, Fontaine heard another whisper: â€œYig.â€
They went down the other tunnel and, after 150 feet or so, came to another branch. James suggested they go left and Zippy said they continue left until they couldnâ€™t go any further before going right. They all agreed and continued down that tunnel for about 100 feet.
The tunnel opened into another large room that had partially collapsed. Dangling from the ceiling of the chamber were over a dozen translucent yellow pods, swaying slightly in the humid mist that poured from apertures in the ceiling. Within the large pods, figures could be seen floating in a frothy green fluid. One brown, leathery pod was torn open and empty. The whole thing was bizarre. The place smelled strange.
â€œNow, which one is our friend?â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œWhat the hell is wrong with this place!?!â€ James said.
â€œJesus!â€ Zippy said.
Miss Whitaker looked for a way to get up high enough to peer more closely into the pods, hoping for a better view of what was inside.
â€œWe donâ€™t even need to see whatâ€™s in them,â€ Fontaine said. â€œItâ€™s clearly the giant monstrosity that we saw earlier.
They realized the things inside were closer to the size of normal men than the size of the giant horrible thing theyâ€™d shot earlier.
â€œIf one has been opened â€¦ theyâ€™re probably going to open soon,â€ James said.
â€œWait a minute!â€ Fontaine said.
â€œThe rest of them.â€
â€œMaybe â€¦ Josh that we saw â€¦ was a pod person.â€
â€œIf you donâ€™t shut up!â€
James pointed his pistol at Fontaine in anger though his finger was not on the trigger.
â€œIâ€™m just going to entertain his idea,â€ DeLuve said. â€œThis was already open when Josh invited us over.â€
â€œDid you encounter a pod person?â€ Fontaine said.
â€œNo!â€ James said.
â€œJosh did seem weird,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œJosh seemed very strange,â€ Fontaine said.
â€œI donâ€™t know anything in this place,â€ James said. â€œI just want to find my friend.â€
Zippy had moved to the open pod and found it was not dripping and wet but dried out and leathery. It had a smell like a serpent house at the zoo. It had obviously been opened some time before.
They searched the room but the only thing of interest were the strange pods. They counted 21 of them, including the broken one. Miss Whitaker asked for a leg up. They heard the clopping of horrible thing they had encountered earlier somewhere down the tunnel, but the sound soon faded away as if it had gone past.
James and DeLuve helped boost up the woman and she put her face close to one of the intact pods. It proved to be slightly warm to the touch and, when she looked more closely through the thing, she saw the figure within wasnâ€™t human. It looked more like a snake with arms and legs, floating in the strange fluid. Itâ€™s eyes were open, which was disturbing. It wore no clothing.
â€œGet me down!â€ she said.
Once she was on the floor, she took a breath.
â€œNone of those are people,â€ she said. â€œThatâ€™s not a person. Thatâ€™s a lizard thing â€¦ lizard man â€¦ snake person. I donâ€™t know what that is.â€
â€œDid it have a hood?â€ Fontaine asked.
â€œLike a cobra?â€
â€œHad his eyes open.â€
They heard the clopping of great feet come closer and then go away again.
â€œI want to get out of here,â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œSo, letâ€™s check the other ways so we can get out,â€ Fontaine said.
They headed back down the tunnel, taking the other fork this time. That corridor went about 100 feet before it opened into a smaller room.
The room had air that was heated by an unseen source, warm and damp like a tropical jungle, humid and filled with strangely scented perfumes. To the left was a pile of leather pillows and furs near a hot spring pool of water. Nearby was a large alcove fenced off by iron bars in which a barred door was set. A pump stood outside the bars while a cistern stood within. Within the alcove, three scrawny ape-men infants rolled around and wailed in their own filth. Josh Winscott, curled up in a fetal ball, muttered to himself near them.
To the right was a workspace, apparently. A laboratory with numerous tables covered in bubbling alembics and retorts stood there along with other alchemical and arcane equipment spread out on tables. Shelves under the tables were filled with more jars and containers. Several leather scrolls were spread out across one table and a large bronze gong stood nearby.
A tall shelf stood against the wall and three more of the ape-men were in the room. They fled to the corner upon seeing the men and women enter.
â€œHowâ€™d they get cows underground?â€ Zippy said when he saw the scrolls.
â€œMaybe itâ€™s the flesh of those â€¦â€ Fontaine said.
â€œStop there,â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œâ€¦ people on the â€¦â€
Miss Whitaker, James, and Fontaine noticed that, though the walls had the characteristic carvings found elsewhere in the tunnels, the wall nearest the workspace had no pictorial element except for a plethora of spiraling lines that didnâ€™t flow and intertwine with the other carvings.
â€œDo you see that spiral?â€ Fontaine said, pointing.
DeLuve looked at the strange carving on the wall.
â€œJosh, my God!â€ James cried out, running across the room.
He was followed by Miss Whitaker and Zippy as Fontaine shushed them. When James reached the bars, he slowed and quietly called Winscott by name. The man didnâ€™t reply but merely stared at the wall, still pulled into the fetal position. The barred door had a large lock of unfamiliar design.
Fontaine and DeLuve went to the laboratory and began to peruse the strange, leather scrolls. The writing was a completely unrecognizable sinuous, curving script. The symbols were not Greek, Arabic, Chinese, or Algonquin, all languages Fontaine was familiar with. Fontaine compared the writing on the scrolls to some of the notes heâ€™d taken on other symbols throughout the place. Some of them were familiar. Then he drew the spiral as best he could in his notebook. He rolled the scrolls up and tucked them away.
When DeLuve saw them over by the bars, he went over and examined the keyhole in the barred door.
Miss Whitaker pointed at the ape-men across the room and then pointed at the lock. They didnâ€™t react in any way. She started to look around for a key.
Zippy had started to investigate the lock but it was unlike anything he had ever seen before in his life. It didnâ€™t look like any kind of standard lock. It had a place for an obviously strangely-shaped key, unlike anything heâ€™d ever even imagined.
â€œWhy donâ€™t you look for the key, Zippy?â€ DeLuve said.
â€œYeah, I guess thatâ€™s the best thing to do,â€ Zippy said.
â€œGo help Sam,â€ DeLuve suggested.
â€œHey, Zippy,â€ Fontaine said.
He pointed to DeLuve but realized he didnâ€™t even know the manâ€™s name.
â€œHey Zippy, you want to check out that spiral?â€ Fontaine said.
He pointed to the marking on the wall
â€œI mean, it just looks like a cave painting,â€ Zippy said.
â€œDid you look at it?â€ Fontaine said.
Zippy went over and looked at it. Heâ€™d never seen anything like it before. When Zippy went back to the bars, DeLuve suggested he keep a lookout for that other thing that was still roaming the tunnels.
â€œWhat are you trying to do?â€ Zippy said. â€œFontaine, you said to look at the symbol. What of it?â€
â€œNow Iâ€™m copying down the symbol,â€ Fontaine said.
Zippy went over to the spiral and looked at it again. DeLuve took advantage of no one being there to slip out his lock picks and fiddle with the lock. It opened with a loud click.
â€œMilo, I opened it,â€ DeLuve said. â€œJosh is in there. Go.â€
â€œOh my God!â€ James said.
He ran into the cell to Winscott.
â€œJosh!â€ he said to the man. â€œJosh!â€
He tried to pull Winscott out of the stupor he was in unsuccessfully. He saw the man was in a fugue state, merely staring straight ahead, probably having shut down from having seen things his mind could not comprehend or explain.
Miss Whitaker was examining the strange, leather pillows, which had a snakelike smell about them. She wondered, at first, if they were snakeskin pillows but they appeared to be some kind of light-colored, soft leather. When she noticed the cell door was open, she went over and helped James get the man out of the cell.
James, thinking to put the ape-men infants into the hot spring, went over and tested the warmth of the water. It was hot but not scalding, more like a very hot bath. He checked his pockets for rags but remembered DeLuve had cloth.
â€œWe have Josh, right?â€ Fontaine said. â€œWhy are we not leaving?â€
â€œLetâ€™s go!â€ Miss Whitaker said.
Then they heard the slap of the heavy footfalls they had heard several times before. They got louder and louder.
Miss Whitaker looked around but didnâ€™t see any other exits. She drew her revolver. Fontaine put a cigarette in his mouth. James dragged Winscott to one of the tables and ducked under it, hiding behind the bottles and jars there. Fontaine and Zippy likewise hid under tables in the laboratory. DeLuve ducked behind the shelf on the nearby wall, hiding there as best he could. Miss Whitaker, seeing the rest hide, threw herself behind the pile of leather pillows.
The heavy clumping stopped very closely outside of the room. They could all hear a whispering, hissing noise. Then lighter footsteps approached.
The thing that entered the room walked lithely and sinuously erect on pre-mammalian members, its pied and hairless body bending with great suppleness. It wore red robes and had the head of a great serpent, arms and legs, and a long tail. It had unblinking eyes that looked around the room carefully as it entered. I walked about halfway to the cell before it stopped. It had obviously seen the door to the cell standing wide open.
The serpent man looked around carefully. It seemed to look where James and Winscott were hiding and then it quietly crossed to the gong, picked up the clapper, and rang it loudly. The loud clopping of footsteps came from the corridor and another of the terrible huge things like the one they had shot before entered.
The horrible serpent person said something in a hissing language none of them could understand. Then the horrific creature headed into the laboratory around the tables and in the general direction of James and Zippy. James pulled Winscott away from the horrible thing. The serpent person moved his hands in a strange way and seemed to be looking at James. Under his own table, Fontaine lit his cigarette with his lighter. They could all smell cigarette smoke. The serpent person looked in that direction.
James shot the horrible thing that was coming at him with his pistol, striking it in the middle of the chest. There was a splatter of blood and the thing staggered but did not fall. The serpent person pointed at James and he suddenly felt a wave of pain roll through his body. He was wracked in pain and his vision was suddenly obscured by blood pouring out of his eyes as boils appeared on his flesh and burst painfully. He dropped his pistol as he shook in agony, screaming.
Miss Whitaker, hearing the gunshot and the screams, leapt up from behind the leather pillows. She saw the horrible thing James had just shot and felt terror fill her soul for a moment. Then she guessed the horrible thing reaching for the man was just a bear or something and shot it in the right arm, wounding it. From behind the bookcase, DeLuve fired his sawed-off shotgun at the serpent person, blasting the gong instead. Zippy popped up behind the table and fired at the huge creature leaning towards James as well, missing completely.
The serpent person moved his hands strangely and moved closer to Zippy, pointing at the man. Pain suddenly rushed through him and he screamed as blood poured from his eyes and boils and pustules appeared on his skin, bursting and filling him with pain. He fell to the ground. Miss Whitaker just stared at the man in terror.
The serpent person hissed something and the terrible thing turned towards DeLuve and rushed him, leaning down to bite the man but slamming into the shelf, rending it with its terrible jaws and just missing the man. DeLuve fired at the thing point-blank, but pulled the gun upwards at the thing came at him and fired straight up in the air.
Fontaine stood up. He had pulled out a bottle of gasoline and stuffed a rag into it when he had hid. He took a deep breath, creating a cherry on the end of his cigarette, and touched it to the gasoline-soaked rag, lighting it.
â€œHey, snake man!â€ he cried out. â€œCan you be reasoned with?â€
James and Zippy had stopped writhing around on the ground screaming.
Miss Whitaker shot the snake person in the back. The creature spun around and then pointed at her and hissed some strange words she couldnâ€™t understand.
Across the room, DeLuve ducked down and shoved two new shells into his sawed-off shotgun. The horrible thing tried to bite and kick him, but he ducked out of the way and it smashed the bookcase to splinters like paper. DeLuve nearly dropped the shells in terror, screaming.
â€œIâ€™m right next to you!â€ Zippy shrieked at the serpent person and fired blindly at it, missing completely.
The bullet ricocheted around the room.
â€œCâ€™mon snake!â€ Fontaine yelled, stepping closer to the thing. â€œAgain, if you stop what youâ€™re doing and talk to us, we can work something out!â€
â€œNo we canâ€™t,â€ Miss Whitaker cried out, shooting the thing again, this time in the left foot.
James painfully picked up his own pistol and, looking through the blood in his eyes, shot at the huge thing looming over DeLuve. The bullet struck the thing in the back of the head and the horrible thing stumbled forward and crashed into the shelf, narrowly missing DeLuve and lying very still.
Zippy fired another shot, missing the serpent person completely. James looked around trying ineffectually to wipe the blood out of his eyes. Miss Whitaker shot the serpent person again, this time in the right food, but the thing still did not fall.
Zippy screamed as bullets flew all around him. He fired, nearly blind, hitting the serpent person in the back of the left leg. It stumbled and fell.
â€œArrivederci you son of a bitch!â€ he screamed.
Fontaine went over to the horrible snake person. He looked at the burning bottle of gasoline. DeLuve went to help him and they headed for the hot spring.
â€œAre they dead!?!â€ Zippy cried out, wiping blood from his eyes.
Fontaine turned the bottle over and put it out in the hot spring, burning the hair off the back of his hand. He screwed the cap back on the bottle. Then he returned to the snake person to examine the body.
James checked on Winscott but found his condition unchanged. Zippy cried out in pain.
â€œWe should probably get moving,â€ DeLuve said. â€œThe gong was rung multiple times.â€
â€œBy you!â€ Miss Whitaker said. â€œI agree.â€
â€œWe got Josh,â€ DeLuve said. â€œLetâ€™s go.â€
Fontaine was trying to figure out how to remove one of the serpent personâ€™s fangs. He decided against it, unsure if they were poisonous.
â€œThat makes mission complete, right?â€ he said.
DeLuve handed Zippy and James some of his cloths to wipe the blood away. James went to the hot spring and got the cloth wet, trying to wipe the blood out of his eyes. Zippy also cleaned up his own blood. It was nearly 20 minutes before James could move around and a little less than 10 before Zippy could move. Both of them were still in pain but at least they could walk.
â€œSo, the plan is weâ€™re going to take him back up â€¦â€ Fontaine said.
â€œIâ€™m going home!â€ Zippy cried out.
â€œâ€¦ the way we came, right?â€ Fontaine said.
â€œYep,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œIâ€™m going home!â€ Zippy said. â€œIâ€™m going to bed!â€
â€œItâ€™s going to take a while,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œIâ€™m going to make a slight detour and I will â€¦ meet you at the ropes,â€ Fontaine said.
â€œWhere are you going?â€ Miss Whitaker said.
He looked at her.
â€œWhere are you going?â€ James asked.
â€œWhere are you going?â€ Miss Whitaker asked again.
â€œI want to explore a little further,â€ Fontaine said.
â€œWhy?â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œWe need to get out,â€ James said.
â€œAre you sure you want to be alone?â€ DeLuve said.
â€œIâ€™m not following you if you do that,â€ Zippy said.
â€œNo no no,â€ Fontaine said. â€œThatâ€™s fine. Youâ€™ve got this guy to carry. Iâ€™ve got one arm working at the moment. I canâ€™t really help move too well.â€
â€œFine, Iâ€™m getting out of here,â€ James said.
â€œYou can help watch out,â€ DeLuve said to Fontaine.
â€œIâ€™m going home,â€ Zippy said.
â€œTrue, but I think weâ€™ve killed all the threats here,â€ Fontaine said. â€œAll these other apes seem prettyâ”€â€
â€œAre you positive?â€ DeLuve said.
â€œNo, Iâ€™m not positive,â€ Fontaine said. â€œHow about this, Iâ€™ll search ahead a little bit. If you hear me coming backâ”€â€
â€œHow about you stick with the group?â€ DeLuve said.
â€œAs a cop, Iâ€™m not letting you go anywhere by yourself,â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œWhy not?â€ Fontaine said.
â€œIâ€™m just not allowing it,â€ she said. â€œYouâ€™re a civilian. It is my duty to protect civilians. Iâ€™m not letting you go anywhere alone. So, either you come with us or Iâ€™m sticking to you.â€
â€œI wouldnâ€™t mind an escort,â€ Fontaine said. â€œJust might be â€¦ uh â€¦â€
â€œZippy, you feeling all right?â€ she said.
â€œI wanna go home,â€ Zippy moaned.
DeLuve took Fontaine aside to talk to him quietly for a moment, trying to determine what the man was trying to do. Fontaine wanted to see the altar room. In the end, he said he didnâ€™t have to go but pointed out they would be going by the altar room. When Miss Whitaker pointed out it was a dead end, he was a little annoyed.
â€œI want to check that altar room one more time,â€ he finally said.
â€œAfter you stared at it?â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œIt was a little freaky but â€¦â€ Fontaine said.
â€œI donâ€™t think thatâ€™s a good idea,â€ James said.
â€œMight not be,â€ Fontaine agreed.
â€œA lot of snakes in there,â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œBut theyâ€™re not real,â€ Fontaine said. â€œBut yes.â€
â€œThey felt pretty real,â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œLetâ€™s head out,â€ Fontaine said.
DeLuve agreed to help James with Winscottâ€™s insensible form. As they headed out of the room, they suddenly realized Zippy was not there. They looked around, knowing he hadnâ€™t gone by them. Miss Whitaker cursed.
Fontaine told them he wanted to look at the spiral and so went over, grabbing an empty jar and flinging it against the spiral. It shattered against the wall.
â€œHeâ€™s a responsible adult,â€ Miss Whitaker said. â€œHeâ€™s a cop. He has a gun. He should know better.â€
â€œDo you all think Zippy might have gone through the spiral in the wall?â€ Fontaine said.
It sounded like the most insane thing any of them had ever heard.
â€œHe went home!â€ James said.
â€œDid he walk past us?â€ Fontaine said. â€œI didnâ€™t see him walk by me.â€
â€œI heard he wanted to go home,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œSomeone want to touch the spiral?â€ Fontaine said.
They looked at him and DeLuve finally said heâ€™d touch the spiral, just to prove Fontaine wrong. He walked over to the wall and put his hand on the pattern. His body seemed to contort and twist as it was pulled, elongated, and torturously rended into the spiral. Then he was gone.
â€œYou ignoramus!â€ James said.
â€œSee,â€ Fontaine said. â€œI told you Zippy went through the portal.â€
Miss Whitakerâ€™s jaw dropped.
â€œSo, now we need to go save Zippy and â€¦ uh â€¦ did you get his name?â€ Fontaine said.
â€œNo, I didnâ€™t,â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œSo, uh â€¦â€ Fontaine said, still trying to spin the situation. â€œSo, now we donâ€™t have enough bodies to carry him and protect him. Oh no! So â€¦ uh â€¦ we havenâ€™t explored this part of the cave.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t want to either,â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œJesus!â€ James said.
â€œYouâ€™d think theyâ€™d come back immediately though â€¦ so â€¦â€ Fontaine said. â€œMaybe theyâ€™re in danger.â€
He grinned at Miss Whitaker.
â€œTo protect and serve,â€ he said.
She glared at him, nearly pointing her gun at the nasty little man.
â€œUh-huh,â€ she said.
â€œJust do me a favor,â€ Fontaine said. â€œWhen you go to the other side, come back real quick so I know thatâ€™s possible.â€
â€œHow do you know if weâ€™ll be able to come back?â€ James said.
â€œThatâ€™s the point,â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œThatâ€™s the point!â€ Fontaine said.
â€œBut it could put us anywhere!â€ James said.
â€œTrue,â€ Fontaine said.
â€œWhat if we just get grated up?â€ Miss Whitaker said. â€œWhy do I want to touch that?â€
â€œZippy!â€ James said. â€œDeLuve!â€
Miss Whitaker picked up the clapper for the gong and pushed it at the spiral but it just tapped against the wall.
â€œWhat?â€ she said.
She looked at Fontaine.
â€œYeah, it doesnâ€™t take inanimate objects,â€ he guessed. â€œOnly â€¦ uh â€¦â€
â€œHow do you know this!?!â€ she said. â€œWhere have you been? What did you see?â€
â€œIâ€™m an occultist.â€
â€œYes. I study the paranormal. Thatâ€™s what led me here. Before Milo even invited me.â€
â€œThat makes a little more sense â€¦ I guess.â€
â€œSo, you just naturally have a hunch about this?â€ James said.
â€œYes!â€ Fontaine said.
The two others looked at him.
â€œAre you confident climbing up that rope with Josh?â€ he said. â€œOr pulling him up?â€
â€œNo,â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œExactly. We need the other guys.â€
â€œWell, we canâ€™t just leave him here! He might get dragged off into another cell!â€
â€œAw, just put him back in the cell. Just dummy lock it.â€
â€œNo!â€ James said.
â€œThere was only one snake man,â€ Fontaine said.
â€œWe better hide these bodies then!â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œOut of possibly hundreds!â€ James said.
Miss Whitaker dragged the horrible serpent person to the hot spring and dumped the body in. She noticed the horrible creature they had dispatched first seemed to be melting away slowly, losing its bulk.
â€œAlso, game plan next time,â€ Fontaine said. â€œLetâ€™s let me try to talk to it first. And if it does â€¦ whatever â€¦ you can shoot it.â€
â€œOh, next time!â€ James said. â€œGreat!â€
â€œIt didnâ€™t seem like it wanted to talk,â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œHey, you never know!â€ Fontaine said. â€œYou need to give it a chance.â€
â€œAnd I donâ€™t think it could understand you or you could understand it anyway.â€
â€œDefinitely couldnâ€™t understand the hissing. Thatâ€™s why I asked if it could understand English.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think it did! I think it knew how to kill people though.â€
â€œAnd thatâ€™s all I care about.â€
James moved Winscott closer to the strange spiral on the wall.
â€œIâ€™m done with you two,â€ he said.
â€œWait!â€ Whitaker said.
â€œYeah, it might be safer to throw him in there first,â€ Fontaine said.
â€œWe came here for him!â€
â€œExactly. We got to stay with him and protect him.â€
â€œSo, throw him in a grater?â€
â€œItâ€™s not going to grate him. What â€¦ whereâ€™s the remnants of the other two?â€
â€œAs much as I hate it, weâ€™re not going to be able to lift this guy up onto the rope,â€ James said. â€œWeâ€™re just not going to be able to get out that way.â€
â€œHell, if this leads outside, thatâ€™d just be real convenient, right?â€ Fontaine said.
They looked at him.
â€œGo in then!â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œIâ€™ve already risked my life to save this guy,â€ James said. â€œIf heâ€™s going down, Iâ€™m going down as well.â€
Fontaine stepped forward and put his hand on the spiral. As before, his body seemed to twist and swirl impossibly and what appeared to be painfully before it was pulled into the spiral and vanished. James pushed himself and Josh against it and they vanished in the same, terrible-looking way.
I hope we donâ€™t merge, was what James thought just as he disappeared.
Terrified of what sheâ€™d seen, Miss Whitaker sat on one of the tables and waited for one of them to come back.
* * *
Zippy had merely been leaned against the wall when he suddenly felt himself pulled into a white space, forcefully propelled through nothingness, and then spit out on the other side into complete blackness. He was unsure how long the journey had taken or what, even, it had been. He was disoriented and alone, blind or in pitch blackness. He stumbled around in complete darkness.
â€œWhat the hell just happened!?!â€ he said.
His voice echoed and he felt cold stone all around him.
* * *
When DeLuve passed through the terrible spiral, he also found himself in pitch blackness and could hear somebody cursing and calling out, asking what happened. It took him a minute or so to get his lantern lit and, by the light of it, he could see both Zippy and the cave walls. The walls were not marked or carved but the place looked like a cave. It headed off in one direction and, just as they noticed a strange, carved spiral at the other end, very hard to see in the dim light, they spotted Fontaine twist and turn, coming through as his body seemed to writhe and stretch impossibly before he was standing before the design. He had a lit cigarette in his mouth.
â€œAw Jesus!â€ Zippy said. â€œDid that happen to me?â€
A moment later, James and Winscott also came through, twisting and bending impossibly, enough to turn a manâ€™s stomach. James was pleasantly surprised to find they had not, indeed, merged somehow through whatever powers had brought them through the portal.
They all noticed the air smelled a little fresher than it had been in the terrible tunnels they had previously explored. James took out his flashlight and started to help the nearly comatose Winscott away from the obscene spiral on the wall. DeLuve quickly moved to Winscott to help James.
â€œHey, what about â€¦ what about Samantha?â€ Zippy said.
â€œI believe she decided to â€¦ uh â€¦â€ Fontaine said.
â€œGo back and get her!â€ DeLuve called back to the man.
â€œâ€¦ wus out,â€ Fontaine finished. â€œAnd â€¦â€
â€œGo back and get her!â€
â€œI donâ€™t think â€¦â€
â€œGo back and get her!â€
â€œâ€¦ itâ€™s working â€¦â€
Fontaine touched the spiral again and was suddenly and horrifically stretched and bent impossibly, disappearing. Again he felt himself dragged through nothingness and whiteness.
â€œWell, Iâ€™m glad I didnâ€™t do that again!â€ Zippy said.
* * *
Miss Whitaker watched as Fontaine, twisting and reeling, came out of the terrible spiral once again.
â€œOh man,â€ Fontaine said sarcastically. â€œThat feels â€¦ delightful.â€
â€œSo you can come back through it,â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œAnd I did that just for you, Samantha. â€˜Cause the other ones wanted to leave you. I said â€˜We canâ€™t leave our other â€¦ nice shining white knight.â€™â€
â€œIâ€™m sure that was your exact words.â€
â€œOh! Of course! But anyways, if you would please. So â€¦ ladies first. Actually, I might as well get it over with.â€
He touched the wall and was once again sucked through, his body twisting and reeling horribly. Then he was gone. She cursed to herself as it sounded as if the thing was painful. Cringing, she touched the spiral and suddenly felt as if she was pulled forward, going down a long white corridor and then was out the other side. It was terribly unnerving and she found herself in the cave with the Fontaine and Zippy, the latter holding a quickly fading flashlight.
â€œSo glad you came back to tell us you were okay,â€ she said.
â€œMy protÃ©gÃ©!â€ Zippy said.
â€œNo. You did not come back to tell us you were okay. No.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t â€¦ I was in the dark, alone, for a while.â€
â€œSee, Iâ€™m the only one that loves you, Samantha,â€ Fontaine said.
â€œI donâ€™t know if thatâ€™s true either so â€¦â€ Miss Whitaker said. â€œLetâ€™s just go.â€
They headed away from the carved spiral and eventually caught up with James and DeLuve who partially carried Winscott. The cave went a couple hundred yards before there was bright light and fresh air ahead. They found themselves exiting a narrow cave not far from a river. It was a little chilly but the sky was clear and blue.
They followed the wide river and soon found a fisherman who told them they were on the Providence River some five miles south of the city.
â€œIs your friend okay?â€ he said. â€œMy house is not too far away. We could call an ambulance for your friend. Oh my God! Youâ€™re covered with blood!â€
â€œYes,â€ James said.
The man noticed the blood on Zippyâ€™s shirt as well.
â€œYou got blood all over you, too,â€ the man said. â€œAre you folks okay? What happened to you? Were you in a wreck?â€
â€œItâ€™s a bit of a story,â€ James said. â€œThis man needs medical attention.â€
â€œWell, my house is over this way,â€ the fisherman said. â€œCâ€™mon. Weâ€™ll call an ambulance.â€
He led them to his home, which looked like all the houses around it. The fisherman telephoned Providence and an ambulance was sent and took Winscott, James riding along with him. The fisherman was willing to drive the others back to Providence in his Ford Model T pickup truck. He questioned them on what happened, thinking it was an automobile accident. On the way back to the city, they spotted DeLuve, who had started walking back on his own, and picked him up.
They didnâ€™t tell the man much aside from Miss Whitaker telling him not to explore too deeply in caves.
â€œIt was a spelunking accident,â€ Zippy said.
â€œOuch,â€ the fisherman said.
â€œWhat?â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œI hear those are real bad,â€ the fisherman said.
He took them back to Winscottâ€™s house and Miss Whitaker blocked up the entrance in the basement.
â€œWait wait wait,â€ Fontaine said. â€œBut you gotta think. Are they going to climb up a sheer, 20-foot wall?â€
â€œPod people,â€ DeLuve said.
â€œWe left a rope!â€ Zippy said.
â€œThey still exist!â€ DeLuve said.
â€œAnd giant â€¦ whatever they are,â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œBut they fold under guns!â€ Fontaine said. â€œDo you think that all us good Americans are going to let snake people roam the Earth? Twenty-one pods.â€
â€œDid you see the magic?â€ Miss Whitaker said.
â€œWhen the snake was pointing and people were bleeding out their eyes? Yes, I did see that.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not okay. I donâ€™t think guns are going to â€¦ I mean, unless you sneak up on them.â€
â€œYou saw the guns! They killed it.â€
â€œMostly me, yes.â€
â€œKilling this man, I was trying to speak to him.â€
â€œHe was hissing! You wouldnâ€™t have understood him! And he would have just went â€˜evahâ€™ and you wouldâ€™ve gone down.â€
â€œIf heâ€™d have went â€˜evahâ€™ then you couldâ€™ve shot him. You have the gun.â€
â€œWith all due respect, Fontaine, we are trained individuals to work in situations of dire need in extreme situations like that,â€ Zippy said. â€œIf thereâ€™s a time to talk to these things, it wasnâ€™t then.â€
Fontaine was fine with making a temporary obstruction though.
â€œWhy do you want it to be temporary?â€ Zippy said. â€œYou want to go back down there?â€
â€œIt was fascinating,â€ Fontaine said.
â€œThen go back down by the river where we met that nice old man and zap yourself through.â€
â€œBecause thatâ€™s fun, right?â€
â€œClimbing down with one arm? You think thatâ€™s more fun? Getting lost again?â€
Miss Whitaker wondered if they should report it to the police but guessed her superiors might use it as a reason to remove her from the police force where she already felt quite unwelcome.
Zippy took her aside.
â€œSamantha, I acted a lot like your mentor earlier,â€ he told her. â€œBut â€¦ uh â€¦ on a real note, I wanted you to get me a good job back that wasnâ€™t a desk job and I saw you as my opportunity. This is â€¦ Iâ€™ve had a little bit of experience with this type of thing actually. Nobody believes you. So â€¦â€
â€œI would think not,â€ she said. â€œI didnâ€™t believe you. I sure as hell didnâ€™t.â€
â€œItâ€™s probably better to just live on and forget if you ask me.â€
â€œHm. Iâ€™m just not comfortable with knowing whatâ€™s down there still.â€
â€œFor about five months, I couldnâ€™t go into the woods again when I had trees walking around on me.â€
â€œIâ€™m starting to believe the tree story but itâ€™s still weird.â€
They closed up the house and left that place.
* * *
James saw Winscott safely to the hospital where he was also able to clean himself up and get a clean shirt. He left Winscottâ€™s coffee cup on his bedside table - the same one Winscott had left in the basement that morning.
He continued to visit Winscott in the hospital and the man eventually recovered. He learned Winscott had woken very early that morning and had not been able to get back to sleep so he thought he would get an early start on the wall. When he broke through, he only meant to go a little ways before waiting for the rest, but his enthusiasm got the better of him and he kept exploring. Then one of the large, horrible creatures had grabbed him and dragged him to the serpent, which had locked him up. He didnâ€™t remember anything after that.
The others visited Winscott as well and they all eventually heard his story.
Winscott hired men to brick the hole back up, not caring about what heâ€™d found. He wanted nothing to do with that place any more.
* * *
Fontaine returned to the spot where they had exited the cave near the Providence River but he was not able to find that cave again. He looked for the old fishermanâ€™s house but all the houses in that area near the river looked exactly the same to him.