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Authors: Alan MacDonald

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BOOK: Euuuugh! Eyeball Stew!
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Chapter 6

The Big Cheat

T
he Chief took a step closer. Iggy pulled back the bowstring ready to let go. Suddenly Oosha burst between them and threw her arms round the stranger's neck.

‘PAPPA!'

Hubba lowered his spear. ‘You think they know each other?'

‘Looks that way,' replied Iggy. ‘They must be Henna.'

‘Thank Urk! Then they're not gonna kill us?'

The men crowded round Oosha, patting her head and jabbering all at once in their own strange language. Eventually, when things had calmed down, she turned to Iggy to explain.

‘This my Pappa. Karratop, Big Cheat of Henna.'

Iggy bowed low before the Big Cheat and Hubba did the same. He certainly was big. He made Hammerhead look like a stick insect. Iggy nudged Snark, who was so busy staring at the firestones round the Chief's neck that he'd forgotten to bow.

They waited while Oosha and her father talked. They obviously had a lot to catch up on. At one point the conversation seemed to get heated because the Chief jabbed his finger at them and growled something about Bludmuggers. Finally Oosha came over to explain.

‘I tell Pappa you brave worrier. Save Oosha life. He make thank.'

Karratop threw a meaty arm round Iggy's shoulder.
‘THANK!'
he bellowed. Then he said something to Oosha.

‘Pappa say we go now,' she said.

‘Go where?' asked Hubba.

‘Mountains. Not many walk. Pappa say we want you for suppers.'

Iggy laughed. ‘You mean he wants us to
stay
for supper?'

Oosha looked confused. ‘Yes, stay – this what he say.'

*

Iggy could see how the Cloud Mountains got their name. Once they had climbed to the top they were surrounded by a thick grey mist. As they inched their way down the slope towards the Henna camp, the mist cleared and Iggy could see smoke rising from a dozen fires. Instead of caves there was a ring of straw huts, which from above looked like hairy mammoths fast asleep. People went in and out of these huts as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

Their arrival caused quite a stir. Children came running from all directions. Iggy watched the Henna women greeting their returning menfolk. Like Oosha, the women all had flame-red hair and wore bangles and necklaces made of firestones. Many of them looked as if they could hold their own in a wrestling match. The three young Urks soon caught their attention and the women crowded round, pulling their hair and squeezing their flesh.

‘What do they want?' cried Iggy, trying to escape from a woman pinching his leg.

Oosha laughed. ‘They never see Urg boy. They say you good looker.'

Snark was attracting the most attention. Two Henna girls had seized him by the arms and were fighting over him in a tug of war. Iggy and Hubba left him to it and went off with Oosha to take a look at the Henna camp.

The huts were arranged in a rough circle. Oosha showed them the largest one which belonged to her father, the Big Chief. Judging from the smell, it was made from a mixture of straw and mammoth dung. It was smaller but less draughty than Iggy's cave, with a hole in the roof to let the smoke from the fire escape. Around the door they found a group of women preparing food for later that evening.

‘What is it?' asked Iggy, peering into the pot they were stirring.

‘Stew. Very good,' answered Oosha.

‘Isn't there any meat?' moaned Hubba, who felt that if he didn't get a proper meal soon he was going to die of hunger.

‘We not eat animal,' said Oosha.

‘Not ever?' said Hubba. ‘Not even lizard?'

Oosha shook her head. ‘Why I eat lizard?'

‘'Cos it tastes good,' said Hubba.

Oosha looked away. ‘Many thing taste good,' she said with a sigh. She watched a group of laughing children run by, chasing each other. One of the old women who had been stirring the pot approached Iggy. She was holding something cupped in her hands which turned out to be some kind of drink in a shell.

‘
Slorp!
' she said, grinning through gap teeth.

‘She say drink. You thirsty,' explained Oosha.

It was true Iggy's throat was parched, but the drink didn't look tempting. It was dark green and reminded him of looking up Hubba's nose – something he tried to avoid.

‘What is it?' he asked.

‘
Slorp
,' repeated the old woman, pushing the shell into his hands. Iggy felt it would be rude to refuse. He raised the shell to his lips, taking a large mouthful. It tasted even more disgusting than it looked.

‘Mmm, good
slorp
,' he said, wiping his lips. He passed the shell to Hubba, who drank some too.

Iggy glanced round. ‘What happened to Snark?'

Snark was sitting in one of the straw huts with the girl who had claimed him as her prize in the tug of war. Her name seemed to be Magg. Magg had a tangle of thick red hair, strong arms and eyebrows that met in the middle. She moved a little closer to Snark – closer than he would have liked.

‘Well,' he said, moving away. ‘This is cosy. Is this your cave, like?'

Magg leaned towards him. For a horrible moment he thought she was going to kiss him, but instead she sniffed his ear. He shuffled away again, ready to make a break for the door. Like all the Henna, Magg was wearing a necklace with a single large firestone. He pointed to it now.

‘That's a pretty necklace.'

‘Negless?' said Magg.

‘Yes. That's a firestone, isn't it?'

Magg stared at him.

‘Where'd you get it? Only I were thinking my grandma would like one.'

‘Uhh?'

This obviously wasn't going to get them anywhere. It wasn't easy extracting information from someone whose conversation consisted mainly of ‘Uhhhs'.

‘Mind if I take a look?' he asked.

‘Uhh?'

Very slowly, so as not to startle her, Snark reached out a hand towards the firestone. His fingers closed over it – just before she bit him.

‘YEEARGHHHHH!'
he howled.

Snark sat for a minute, examining the small teeth marks on the back of his hand. Magg had gone off somewhere – maybe to find someone else to bite. Getting up to go, it dawned on him that there was no one about. He should make a proper search of the hut while he had the chance. It didn't contain much: some skins and furs piled in a corner, an assortment of flint tools and weapons. He looked under the furs and poked among the tools. Nothing. He glanced up at the roof. Where would the Henna hide something valuable?

Five minutes later he was interrupted by a voice.

‘What on Urk are you doing?'

Snark whirled round guiltily. Iggy and Hubba were standing in the doorway.

‘Nothing!'

Hubba pointed. ‘You made a hole in the roof!'

‘Oh yeah. I were just looking . . . to see what it's made of. Dung mostly.'

He brushed dirt and bits of straw off his hands.

‘Anyway, leave it because we're going,' said Iggy, putting out a hand to steady himself.

‘What?'

‘Going home – while it's still . . . uhh . . . light.' All of a sudden he wasn't feeling so good. The ground seemed to be sliding away from him.

Snark stared at them. ‘We can't go yet!'

‘Why not?' said Iggy.

‘Because . . . You heard, they want us to stay for supper.'

Hubba wiped his forehead. ‘We'll tell 'em we can't. Anyway, it's only nut stew.'

‘NO!' shouted Snark, thumping his fist against the wall. ‘I'm the leader and I say we stay!'

Iggy sank to his knees. He hadn't meant to but suddenly his legs felt like jelly and his head was spinning. The faces before him blurred as if they were underwater.

‘You stay,' he mumbled. ‘Me 'n' Hubble going home.' What was wrong with him? He seemed to be having trouble with his weirds. His head swam as Snark came closer and bent over him.

‘Listen,' he whispered. ‘Hasn't you seen what they wear? They all got them!'

But Iggy couldn't hear him. He had slumped face down in the dirt. Snark turned to find that Hubba was lying down too, apparently too tired to talk any more. It was very strange. He looked up. An old woman was standing in the doorway, smiling at him through gap teeth.

‘
Slorp
,' she said, holding out a shell to him.

Chapter 7

Frying Tonight

I
ggy opened his eyes. For a moment he imagined he was back home. Any moment now he would hear his dad muttering curses as he tried to light the fire. But this didn't look like his own cave or smell like it. It smelt wrong. He sat up with an effort. His head throbbed as if someone had been using it to crack walnuts. They were in a damp, gloomy cavern with a high ceiling.

‘How you feeling?' asked Hubba, squatting down in front of him.

‘Urrgh! Where are we?'

Hubba glanced around. ‘Dunno. Some sort of cave.'

‘Yes, but I mean how did we get here?'

Iggy tried to remember what had happened. He remembered going into a hut and finding Snark there, pulling bits out of the roof. That was when the dizziness took over and he must have passed out. But why? He'd had nothing to eat apart from . . .

‘Of course!' he said. ‘The drink!'

‘I know,' said Hubba. ‘It were disgusting! No wonder we all got sick.'

‘They put something in it,' said Iggy, rubbing his head.

He remembered the bitter taste and the way the old woman had been eager for him to taste it. It seemed a funny way to treat honoured guests. He wondered what they were doing in this cave and what their hosts had in mind for them.

‘This is all your fault.' Iggy looked up to see Snark standing over him.

‘Mine?' he said. ‘I thought you were the leader.'

‘It weren't my idea to come.'

‘Then why did you?' scowled Hubba. ‘No one asked you.'

‘Shut up, Dum-Dum!'

‘You shut up!'

Snark pushed Hubba in the chest so that he staggered backwards. Iggy stood up quickly and came between them.

‘For Urk's sake! It's no use fighting,' he said. ‘If we're going to get out of here, we've got to stick together.'

Snark and Hubba glared at each other, breathing hard. ‘We can't get out,' said Snark flatly.

‘Why not?'

‘There's guards outside. I been to look.'

So they were prisoners. Iggy looked around. At the far end of the cavern there was a small passageway leading off into darkness.

‘What about that way?' he asked. Snark shrugged. It was probably a dead end but there was no harm in looking.

They crept along the passage in single file with Iggy leading the way. In places the roof was so low that they had to bend double. Iggy had the feeling they were tunnelling deeper and deeper under the mountain, but it was so dark he had no way of telling. Snark tugged at his arm.

‘Let's go back!'

‘What for?'

‘It's dark. I don't like it!'

At last the passage began to widen out and they could walk upright without bashing their heads. Iggy could see dim light ahead. Maybe they had found a secret way out? But when they turned the corner they found themselves in a second chamber smaller than the first. It was lit by flaming torches that left black scorch marks on the ceiling. Iggy stared. The walls were criss-crossed with shining red veins and filling the middle of the cave was something even more startling – a dazzling heap of stones, piled almost to the roof.

‘Firestones!' gasped Snark.

‘There must be twenty!' said Hubba, who wasn't good at big numbers.

Snark went closer. He sank to his knees and scooped up handfuls of stones, letting them run through his fingers like coins. Imagine what his dad would say if he could see this!

Iggy grabbed hold of his arm. ‘Snark. Leave them.'

‘What?'

Iggy pointed. Buried in the heap was something else, something smooth and dirty-white that made him reluctant to look too close. He bent down and scraped some of the stones aside. It was a skull.

Hubba leapt back as if he'd been bitten. ‘Ugh! I thought they don't eat animals.'

‘That's not an animal,' said Iggy.

They all stared. Now their eyes had adjusted to the gloom they noticed more skulls – a lot more, cracked and grinning with missing teeth, buried in the heap like grim warning signs.

The hair prickled on Iggy's neck. Something was wrong here, something that had been bothering him since they'd first arrived. Why would the Henna go to so much trouble to prevent them leaving, doctoring their drink and dumping them in this cave? He remembered how the women had greeted them on their arrival, pinching their flesh and smelling them almost as if they were meat.

A cold shiver ran through him. Meat. The Henna didn't hunt animals for their food because they hunted something else. And here was the proof – human skulls, hundreds of them hidden in a cave. ‘We want you for suppers,' Karratop had said. Iggy had taken it as an invitation but it turned out they
were
supper.

‘Hubba,' gulped Iggy, ‘we've got to get out of here. They're planning to eat us.'

‘What?'

‘They're cannibals! Look around you!'

Snark didn't seem to be paying attention. He was down on his hands and knees, stuffing handfuls of firestones into his furs.

‘Leave them!' cried Iggy, grabbing his arm.

Snark shook him off. ‘You go. I'll catch you up!' His furs were beginning to bulge as if he'd put on weight.

‘There isn't time!' said Iggy.

‘Listen!' Hubba held up a hand to silence them. The three of them stood rooted to the spot, straining to hear. From far down the passageway came the muffled sound of footsteps. The Henna were coming.

‘Quick!' hissed Iggy. ‘Hide!'

They looked around the small, dimly lit chamber. There was only one place to hide and it wasn't going to be pleasant.

BOOK: Euuuugh! Eyeball Stew!
5.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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