Steemjammer: Through the Verltgaat (9 page)

BOOK: Steemjammer: Through the Verltgaat
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“They eat mockingbirds?” he said, feeling that a fresh wave of “ringing in the ears” might preserve his sanity.

She raised her voice and an eyebrow. “
Mocking
, but not for much longer. The School Police and Health Department are on the case. They’re not acting as fast as I’d like, but that will change.

“Tomorrow I’m calling Immigration, Social Services and the Housing Department. Those Steem-flappers will be so deep in trouble that we won’t have to bother evicting them. I’m sure they’ll give up and leave on their own.”

A shark-like grin spread across her face. Ron excused himself to go to the bathroom, but his real intention was to hide and read in peace. He found, however, that his mother-in-law had already barricaded herself there.

He had to settle for a closet lit by a single bare light bulb. Shoving aside scratchy sweaters and trying to ignore the ammonia-like odor of mothballs, he sat on the hard floor and wished he could escape through one of the wormholes his book described.

 

***

 

Sitting by a window, the Steemjammer kids hadn’t been reading comics hidden in books, as Waverly had surmised. They’d been eating a dinner of toasted cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, tomato soup, and salad while translating Henry’s journal. As they went back down to the sub-basement, Will explained that there were instructions for using the machine they’d found, and, as he’d guessed, it really was surprisingly easy to use.

“I see,” Giselle said skeptically, studying the mismatching footwear he’d recently made for her.

“Okay,” he conceded, catching her meaning, “but the shoe machine’s really hard, especially the stitches! I’m telling you, the verltgaat machine’s only slightly more complicated than the bread-maker.”

They stared at him incredulously.

“To use,” he clarified. “Obviously the science behind world holes is incomprehensible, but we can do this.”

“Where is it exactly,” Angelica asked, following him across the room, “that world holes take us?”

“No idea.”

“Come on! Is it another planet?”

“Really, I don’t know, except that it has something to do with going through the ‘aether.’ Dad told the truth when he said it was too hard to explain.”

She squinted. “Aether?”

“It’s like space, I think,” Giselle said, “or the part of space that makes it barely something and not nothing.”

“Space? If we open a hole to it, all the air in Beverkenhaas would get sucked out!”

Reaching the verltgaat machine, Will put the journal on the control panel. “As long as we use settings Dad wrote down, we’ll be fine.”

“We open Verltgaats, and maybe we find him?”

“We go where he went the past few weeks, and we should, yes. Then, he’ll help us get Onkel Deet back.”

Giselle bit her lip. “Look, I want that as much as you do, but who were those people you saw? They seemed dangerous.”

“We have to try,” Angelica said.

“What if the Verltgaat had closed, trapping us there?”

Will set up some lanterns. “Dad worried about getting trapped somewhere, too, so he made a timer function to automatically re-open the world hole. That way we won’t get stuck. It’s perfectly safe.” She gave him a challenging look. “Okay, but it’s a risk we have to take.”

“I guess we don’t have any choice,” Giselle admitted, but she looked askance. “Wait.”

“What now?”

“Let me get a heavy crossbow.”

 

***

 

Soon, after checking instructions from the journal, Will had the Verltgaat machine steamed up and turning. The weird lump of ghostly metal appeared and spun in mid-air. Reading his father’s notes, he explained it was an extremely rare element called Tracium, with an atomic number higher than his former science teacher thought could exist. It was hidden on Beverkenverlt, and they were somehow tapping into its strange powers.

“Let’s not go back to that big room yet,” Will suggested. “I want to give those people time to clear out and go home. Here’s the place Dad went before.”

Reading numbers from his father’s journal, he set six dials on the old control panel to match. Three circular crystals, which had displayed glowing, pulsing geometric shapes, went out of synch. He began carefully adjusting small brass knobs to tune them.

“What’s going to happen?” Angelica said nervously.

Giselle placed a bolt in a cocked crossbow. “We have to open it to find out. Your father only put location numbers. He didn’t say where the Verltgaats went.”

For some reason, Angelica thought it was scarier this time than before. Soon the three glasslike circles on the control panel showed the same shifting, simple geometric shapes – kind of like tiny computer screens.

“They’re tuned,” Will said. “Ready?”

Giselle aimed the heavy crossbow, and he shoved the lever. In moments a verltgaat opened, revealing a dark cavern that seemed to be deep underground.

With a sword in one hand and a lantern in the other, Will cautiously entered. An obvious wooden trunk rested on the stone floor, but it had been opened and was empty. After a quick search found nothing, he returned to Beverkenhaas and closed the verltgaat.

“Dad was definitely searching for something,” Angelica said. “I wonder what he took from that old trunk.”

Giselle put down the crossbow. “Why didn’t you look around more?”

“I forgot to say,” he explained, “but Dad wrote in the journal not to leave it open for very long. He thinks the enemy’s figuring out how to detect verltgaats.”

Angelica asked, “You mean the – I almost said Rasputins. The Rasmussens?”

Will shrugged. “I guess so.”

“What about that timer?” Giselle reminded. “You said it would keep us from getting stuck over there.”

“Oh, right. We should test it.”

The timer section of the control panel had dials that were labeled in faded gold ink with abbreviations. He figured “J” stood for “jaaren” or years. There were two dials marked “M.” Not knowing which was “maanden,” months, and which was “minuten,” minutes, he decided to give “S” a try, hoping it was “seconden” or seconds.

He put the “S” dial on ten and punched a button marked “BEGINNEN.” Ten seconds later, the machine powered up, and the verltgaat opened automatically to the cave, where it was still set. Again he closed it.

Like the other times, it took a moment to shut, and right before it did, Will caught a glimpse of something astonishing. An elderly man with a gaunt face and a long white beard that drooped past his knees appeared at the other end of the cavern.

His clothing, if it could be called that, was made of animal hides that had been haphazardly draped one over the other, with bushy tails dangling here and there. He held a large iron tool, and he came right at them. The verltgaat thankfully shut.

“Did you see that?” he asked the others, who’d been at the wrong angle to notice and asked what he meant. He wondered if he’d really seen anything. “Nothing. My eyes must have played a trick on me.”

“Well,” Giselle prodded, “what did you hallucinate?”

“It looked like a weird old man dressed in skins and holding a big wrench, but maybe I imagined it.”

“Maybe we should go back and check,” Angelica suggested. “If he’s real, he might know where Dad is.”

The thought had occurred to Will, also, but he decided against it. The old man, real or not, had looked frightening.

“Later,” he said diplomatically. “If these other places don’t work out, we’ll go back.” He tried to lighten things up. “Hey, at least we know the timer works!”

Now they felt a lot better about using the machine. They could open verltgaats and set the timer to reopen up to 240 seconds later, the limit of the dial. If for some reason the verltgaat shut down, in four minutes the world hole would automatically re-open.

“Could we open a hole to my mom?” Giselle asked. “She might know something about this.”

“I don’t think so,” Will said. “From here, we can only open places in Beverkenverlt. Let’s try another.”

After changing the settings and retuning the crystals, a verltgaat opened into a high-ceilinged room of an old stone and wood building. Will stepped through but could hear muffled voices coming through the walls. Not knowing who they were, he went immediately back to Beverkenhaas and shoved the lever. A moment later the hole shut.

“You should have looked around,” Angelica said disappointedly. “There might have been a clue.”

“No,” Giselle said, “we need to be safe.”

While they discussed what to do next, a small bell chimed, and the verltgaat re-opened to the high-ceilinged room! After a moment of confusion, Will remembered the timer was still on.

“First,” he said, turning it off, “we see if a place is safe, then we use the timer. We don’t want it reopening if something nasty’s there.”

“Let’s try again!” Angelica said enthusiastically. “Who knows, we may open one and find Mom and Dad standing there, staring at us!”

He glanced at Giselle, whose worried face showed great misgivings about this.

“It’s your house,” she said with resignation.

He dialed in the coordinates from the next journal entry and tuned the crystals.

“Get ready,” he said, shoving the lever.

As the world hole opened, he gasped with shock. A cruel-looking bronze and iron covered face stared back. It reminded him of the one that popped out at his front door, except this one was attached to a hulking, dark humanoid body that walked towards him, fast!

“Kill the hole!” Giselle cried.

He shoved the lever into the off position, but the verltgaat needed a moment to close. The creature had plenty of time to come through! Angelica screamed.

Over seven feet tall with broad shoulders and a huge, barrel-like chest, it stomped heavily on the sub-basement’s stone floor with a deep, thudding sound. It twisted its strange head this way and that, clicking, and then locked in on Angelica, who continued to scream.

“Run!” Will cried. “Shadovecht!”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter
9

 

Shadowvecht

 

 

Will’s veins flowed with ice water. A palpable aura of pure fear seemed to radiate from the Shadovecht. Overwhelmed by intense dread, he couldn’t move! Angelica stood frozen, seized by the same terror.

TWANG.

Giselle somehow willed herself to shoot the crossbow. The bolt bounced harmlessly off the creature’s armored shoulder but caused it to stop and process this new threat. Angelica was only a few steps away. The thought of what might happen to her gave Will the power he needed to block out the white hot terror and regain control.

“Run!” he shouted. “Now!”

She came around and dashed for the steps.

“Hey!” he yelled, waving his arms to get the creature’s attention.

To his horror, he saw the world hole still hadn’t closed, and another Shadovecht approached. Bigger than the first creature, it started coming through, and then, the world hole shut. For a horrifying moment, Will thought the monster had entered Beverkenhaas.

But it stopped moving, and he realized he could no longer see its back half. The closing verltgaat had neatly sliced the creature in two. Its front half tipped forward and fell to the floor with a loud clang and a bright glow of angry, red light.

Will had no time to study it, as the first Shadovecht, with an ominous clicking, spun and focused on him. Its massive body bore armored plates of blackened iron with bronze ribs. With a hiss of vapor, it raised a heavy metal arm to strike.

Will dodged, and the powerful blow just missed his head. Running now, he darted from place to place, trying to evade as the monster chased, its iron feet pounding loudly on the stone floor.

Faking it out, he pressed his back against a column, listening anxiously for its next move. A putrid odor assaulted his nostrils, and he realized it came from the Shadovecht. How could a machine, he wondered, smell like
death
?

Peering around the edge, he saw the thing scanning for him, and he found himself mesmerized by its strange, cruel metal face. The Shadovecht was most definitely not a creature of flesh, yet it was clearly
thinking
– trying to discern targets from all the background motion of the room’s machinery.

Bronze eye sockets housed green glowing eyes, and to his horror, a pair of metallic eyelids snapped open in its cheeks, revealing small, luminous red lenses.
What is this thing
, he almost said aloud.

Steam hissed from its joints with that same, foul odor, totally unlike his family’s machinery. “Shadovecht are real!” he thought and again found himself paralyzed with dread.

The creature twisted its head, and soulless green eyes seemed to bore right through him. Strange, hissing sounds, the shadows of words, echoed in his mind. He had a strong sense they weren’t real, that something about the creature made him to hallucinate them. Still, he couldn’t block them out, and the more he tried to understand, the greater his terror grew.

He couldn’t move. He couldn’t even blink. The creature stomped towards him, closer and closer, drawing back a powerful arm. SNAP! Razor-sharp claws shot from its steel fingers.


Will
!” Giselle screamed.

Somehow he forced himself to turn and run, following the girls up the stairs.

 

***

 

Up in the secret room Will found Giselle and Angelica waiting. Relentless, heavy tromping on the brick steps below indicated they had very little time.

“The pit!” his sister reminded.

“I know! Get to your safe spot. Run!”

She wormed through the hole in the wall, followed by her cousin. Hearing the monster, Will jumped over the trap door that hid the pit and landed on a narrow stone ledge. Twisting the knob, the secret door opened.

In the dining room, the china cabinet swung out – it was the secret door – and Will turned. As the Shadovecht charged, he backed away, hoping to see it fall into the pit. But it stepped over the trap door and lunged past him, crashing into the table and splitting it in half.

He wondered if the thing had just been lucky, or had it actually seen the trap. If Shadovecht were steam-powered robots, how smart could they be? That smart?

He dashed for the front door, hoping to lead it outside and away from the girls.

“Angelica!” he shouted. “If you’re not in your safe place, get there now and bolt the door!”

 

***

 

“Seaman Third Class Ronald Norman!” Waverly screamed. “Call 9-1-1!”

“What now?” thought Ron, who’d gone to sleep. Suddenly awake, he stumbled out of bed and put on slippers. Were the children playing “Chutes and Ladders?” Oh, hold the press, he thought sarcastically. Inform Washington!

“RON!” she shrieked in a weird, high-pitched little girl’s voice he’d never heard her use before.

That got him moving. He dashed to the living room and saw her staring with horror through the big picture window.

A bright moon allowed him to see outside quite well. The boy from across the street went streaking through the wheat in his front yard while some large, vaguely humanoid thing pursued, trailing a thick, nasty-looking vapor. It had what appeared to be SCUBA tanks on its back, and though it ran stiffly, like the Frankenstein monster from old movies, it was fast. Except for pausing to annihilate a particularly tall tomato vine, it would have caught the boy.

Dashing across the street, the boy leaped the picket fence into their front yard, and again the creature would have caught him except that it stopped to smash a section of the fence to splinters with its powerful hands. In their front yard it chased the boy, who darted from tree to tree.

Waverly seemed paralyzed with fear. Ron was so scared he could barely think. He managed to pick up the phone but, like in a nightmare, found his fingers shook too much to work. Steadying himself, he used his thumb to punch the nine, and then the light on the phone went dead. He jammed one-one, but nothing happened.

“Hello?” he shouted to no one. “Hello?”

All the electric power to the house had gone off. The lights, clocks and ceiling fan all just stopped working. He picked up his cell phone, but it was dead, too, even though it wasn’t connected to the circuit box.

“How could this be?” he wondered.

Glancing outside, he saw the boy sprint back to his house. For a horrifying moment, the creature stared through the window right at Ron. His heart nearly leaped out of his chest as it took a step towards him, and he thought he smelled death.

Then, the monster turned and, clobbering their mailbox, crossed the street towards the strange house. A small shadowy object came out of the darkness and followed it. What, he wondered, was going on?

 

***

 

Racing into Beverkenhaas, Will jerked the door gong chain, hoping to distract the monster. Locking the front door, he opened a secret panel in the entry and pulled out a two-handed broadsword.

SMASH!

The front door burst open in a cloud of splinters. Ignoring the white face that popped out, the creature charged inside and stomped right past Will for the living room, failing to notice him cringing in the corner. Terrified, he gathered his courage, hefted the sword into swinging position and started to come up behind it.

“Noyn!” barked a high-pitched voice in Dutch. No!

He looked at the doorway, the direction from which the voice had come, and saw nothing.

“Gebroyk de voormaaker!” the small voice shouted.
Use the sledgehammer!

He looked down and saw a tiny man in a red cap staring up at him with great urgency. He had a white beard and wore goggles and blue clothing.

“Who are you?” Will blurted, dumbfounded.

“Vershneelen!” the tiny man screamed.
Hurry!
“Haast!”
Make haste!


Gus
?” Will said, so dumbfounded that he forgot about his fear. “You’re alive? How?”

Stomping footsteps grew louder. Little Gustaavus jumped up and down, pointing. The Shadovecht was coming.

“Vershneelen!” he cried.

Will ran to the library and found the sledgehammer leaning in a corner. Giselle was hunkered down behind the desk, cowering in fear.

“Waakzaam!” Gus shouted.
Alert!

The Shadovecht charged through the doorway. With the grinding of gears and a hiss of foul-smelling steam, it lifted its arms high to crush Will. Little Gus threw a cushion at its face, hoping to distract it.

The monster slashed with its razor claws, and the pillow exploded into a cloud of feathers. It slashed at them furiously and then paused in apparent confusion, assessing the room.

“Vershpletter doot, vershpletter doot!” Gus screamed.
Smash it, smash it!

Swinging the heavy hammer high over his head, Will brought it down with a resounding clang in the center of the creature’s chest. But his blow bounced off its metal armor.

“It’s too hard!” he yelled, dodging its next attack.

“More try,” Gus said, switching from Dutch to heavily accented English. “Here!”

He pointed down, indicating that Will should hit the thing in its knee, but a whining fury of rapidly whirling gears came from within the creature’s innards. The Shadovecht now moved at very high speed.

It slashed with its claws. Only Will’s lighting fast reflexes saved him as he dodged. Blows came quicker and quicker, and he just leaped out of the way. He had the impression that large, coiled springs were unwinding in its gut, giving it extraordinary speed.

The Shadovecht closed blindingly fast, trapping him in a corner. Gus shoved a floor lamp on its back, saving the boy as the monster spun to strike it, instead. Will ran, and it smashed through a heavy oak desk, missing him. It slammed into a book shelf and sent papers flying.

Gus was screaming something, but Will could only concentrate on evading the monster. He knew it was too fast. In moments it would catch him.

“Hoy!” shouted a voice from within the library.

It was Giselle. She’d overcome her fear and begun twisting knobs and jerking a lever in a control box on the wall. Beverkenhaas’s toy clock system came to life.

The dragon by the stairs popped out and puffed steam, the tiny gnome village came alive, and an elaborate old mill on the library’s mantle began to turn its waterwheel, while miniature metal workmen came out carrying sacks. The Shadovecht stopped and adopted a defensive stance, processing this new commotion.

Giselle stared at the little red-capped garden gnome, who hurled books at the monster. “Great, now I’m hallucinating!”

“Run!” Will cried.

She dashed out of the library and past the big staircase, followed by Will. The little gnome threw rubble, but the creature pursued Will into the main hallway, where it noticed Giselle dodging into the den.

“Hey!” Will cried from the dining room entrance. “Hey, ugly! It’s me you want!”

He waved his arms, taunting. A horrid-smelling black fluid bubbled and oozed out of a seam on its chest – the place he’d hit it with the hammer. The Shadovecht charged, moving faster than he’d anticipated and lashing out with razor claws.

The blow struck a wooden support beam first, which took out much of its energy and broke off its claws. Still, the heavy metal hand glanced into Will’s side and sent him sprawling into the dining room. With a grunt of pain, he slammed into a wall.

“Hoy!” shouted Gus, who kicked its shin, but the monster focused on Will. Mercifully its spring system ran down, slowing it enough for Will to reach the opening to the hidden room.

He leaped the pit and turned.
Please
, he thought,
let it work this time
!

The Shadovecht charged and stepped right on the trap door. It fell into the pit, but as it went down, it reached out with its hands. The right one grabbed the trap door and tore it off, but the left grasped the floor, holding onto the edge of the pit.

Struggling with a gnashing of gears and hissing of putrid vapor, it fought to climb out. Will smashed it on the head with a brick, over and over. A green eye went dark, and he dented its metal face.

Giselle handed him the voormaaker, and he pounded it. A piece of metal flew off, and the red eyes went out. He hit its hands, but still it tried to climb out.

Gus raced up with a small can and squirted oil at every spot on the floor where the Shadovecht grabbed. Slipping, it fell into the pit with a tremendous clatter.

The Shadovecht leaped furiously but could not reach the top, and it went back down with a crash. Will heaved a heavy sigh of relief. It was stuck.

 

***

 

“Hoyzaa!” shouted Gustaavus.
Hooray
!

BOOK: Steemjammer: Through the Verltgaat
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