Authors: Chris Fabry,Chris Fabry
Tags: #JUVENILE FICTION / Religious / Christian, #JUVENILE FICTION / Religious / Christian
He groaned and sighed, then pulled himself up and found a round room with a textured ceiling. A wood table and chairs sat in the middle. The old and chipped table looked like something King Arthur would have used if he'd had Knights of the Rectangle Table. Its legs were as thick as Owen's own, and he was compelled to test its weight by trying to lift it. He couldn't budge it an inch. The chairs were also well made and thick, like the great pews he had seen in picture books upstairs.
Four pewter goblets stood on the table, and Owen gagged when he smelled one. Reddish liquid in the bottom smelled like death itself.
A wall directly across from him looked like the other side of Blackstone Tavern's basement. At either end of the room were darkened tunnels, the sight of which would turn most people awayâperhaps even youâbut Owen was more than intrigued. His only decision was which tunnel to explore first.
Behind him, near the stairs, another wall was piled high with barrels and wood crates. Any time he thought he saw something move in the shadows, he stood still. When the feeling passed, he continued to explore.
Though his curiosity reached 12 on a scale of 1 to 10, Owen would not go into the tunnels without some sort of light. He stacked a few crates, climbed to one of the torches, and pulled it from its base, which resembled the talons of a great bird.
Carefully making his way down, Owen entered the tunnel to his right, finding the ceiling a foot above his head, high enough for even someone like his father to walk without stooping. The walls bore a swirling design in the blackened rock. The farther he walked, the more an acrid sulfurous stench assaulted him, as if from the very walls.
The floor suddenly sloped down, forcing Owen to slide his hand along the wallâturning it black as if from charcoal. After the winding stairs and the twists and turns in the tunnel, Owen had no idea where he was or which house or store lay above him.
He came to a widening of the tunnel and soggy earth. Then water. Lots of it. Splashing, falling, cascading.
What might be waiting for him? Three cloaked beings had come from this place; could there be more? A guard dog? A guard wolf? Or some creature with the teeth of a tiger, the scales of a crocodile, and the claws of a bear?
Or what if the shadowy figure in the alley had access to this place?
Owen entered a cave, primitive and natural. Wings flapped overhead and Owen ducked, the reflection of the torchlight flickering eerily on the surface of water. He couldn't believe he had descended so far as to allow a ceiling 50 feet high with stalactites that reached nearly close enough for him to touch.
He stayed back from the edge of the water, for because he had spent most of his life reading, Owen had never learned to swim. He had always wondered whether his mother would have taught him or taken him to swimming lessons.
He shuffled along the wall, holding the torch high to get a better look at the water, which looked more like a river than a pool. Foam moved away from the waterfall and disappeared under stones to his right. Across the water lay a landing of jagged rock and sand, about the width of their kitchen, with a small path leading to the opposite wall. There Owen spotted a round, tunnel-shaped rock bearing an insignia in the shape of a dragonâhuge head, long tail, and fire coming from its mouth. Strange to see something so intricately carved in a place that seemed primitive and remote.
Along the bank Owen spotted footprintsâbut not from human feet. These looked more like the tracks of some huge water animal, perhaps a lizard or an alligator. Owen had never even read of prints this size.
Still waters run deep.
That usually refers to a person of few words who has lots brewing under the surface. Thoughts, feelings, emotions.
But the still waters of underground rivers also run deep, which is to say that you cannot look at the surface and tell how far down the river might go or what might be living under that surface or what may have moved into hiding once it noticed an intruder.
If Owen had nudged a pebble into the water, and if we would have been able to follow that pebble through the foam and the murky darkness, it would have passed several layers of multicolored rock. It would take nearly 30 seconds to pass the rocky inlet where two reptilian eyes stared at the water's surface. Owen had seen no snakes, mice, or rats, and this creature was the reason. It fed on fish and underwater vegetables it could see with its night vision. It also fed on rats, mice, and snakes it found in the tunnel or hiding under crates. Its webbed claws grasped its prey and tore it to bite-size bits. If you could have seen the strength in the muscles of this being and known the ease with which it could move toward the surface with just a swish of its tail, you would have quickly vacated the room and headed for your bed.
The job of this being, known in the nether regions as a Slimesees, was to protect the portal from intruders by any means necessaryâteeth, claws, muscle. But this was not just a job to the Slimesees; it was a compulsion and a delight. This amphibious creature enjoyed keeping all life-forms from the portal.
The water rose as if something had passed near the surface, and Owen instinctively backed toward the tunnel, tripping over a pile of things that collapsed on each other. Stones? No. Bones. Skulls, arms, legs, rib cages, and more.
Owen stared, the water now lapping over the edge of the river. He scrambled back into the tunnel, wondering if he had begun something he would regret.
He had made it to the middle of the passageway when he heard the roar of water behind him, as if something had risen from it. He heard dripping and then a pitter-patter, like a dog shaking itself dry.
Owen quickened his pace, the torch flame whipping as he limped. He concentrated on the web prints in the tunnel along with what appeared to be dried slime alongside them. He wanted to stop and inspect the green marks, but exploring time was over. He could come back another time. This whole area felt like a playgroundâa dreary one, of course, but something new.
Owen reached the main room and the table and chairs and crates and headed for the stairs. But a burst of air blasted from behind him and his torch went out, as did all the other torches up the winding stairway. With the air came the stench of spoiled tomatoes, overripe potatoes, dead fish, and curdled milk. The smell of rotting food almost knocked him over.
Owen stopped and dropped the torch when he heard snorting. A wild hog?
Now he really wished his father had let him have a dog.
* * *
The Slimesees moved on all fours, tongue slithering, tasting and smelling at the same time. Through small, slitted eyes he saw the tracksâsomething much bigger than mice and rats, perhaps even human. He devoured mice and rats whole, and he had once eaten a cat and worn its fur on his head as if celebrating.
But his favorite meal by far was human. The perfect blend. Not too much bone. Plenty of meat. And no bitter aftertaste.
The Slimesees reared up on his hind legs and, with a powerful burst, blew toward his prey. This would douse the torches and slow the human and cut down on all the screaming and pleading, the tears and the thrashing.
The Slimesees burst into the room, banging into the table and knocking over the chairs, splintering the wood. He snorted and shook his head to get a look at the surroundings.
The crates had been moved. The human had hidden himself there, no doubt. He rolled his eyes. Now he would have to move the crates and drag his meal out by a leg, and there would be more screaming. He sighed. Such a hassle.
He had begun moving the crates one by one, peering into the darkness, when he heard footsteps on the stairs. The only thing more sensitive than a Slimesees's nose was its ears.
He jumped over the scattered crates and slithered up the stairsârunning on all fours. He heard heavy breathing and the clunk of the last torch. The doorway was opening.
The Slimesees was flying now, his feet briefly touching the walls, swinging his big body from one torch to another. He could see the top, the open doorway, and a figure moving into the world he had never seen.
* * *
Owen dashed into the room, reaching for the Medusa's head. He jumped, but the shelf was too high. The chair lay in pieces by the fireplace.
The snorting behind him had turned into a low, guttural growl, like a Doberman ready to attack.
Owen stepped onto a shelf, something his father had told him never to do, then up to anotherâa double infractionâand pulled Medusa's head with all his might.
The bookshelf slowly moved, but the growling was closer and Owen wondered what he had unleashed from that darkened world.
The bookshelf closed with a sudden
, and Owen heard one more growl that stayed with him the rest of the night.
You might think a snorting monster would have been the biggest worry of Owen's life and that he would cower under his blankets and sleep away the terror. But as big as the Slimesees (though he had still not seen it and did not, of course, know its name) in his mind was the giving of his speech in class the next day.
Oh, the horror of his escape would be with him always. He wondered if he would ever again even dare to be in the same room as the movable bookcase. But in the morning, every eye would be on him, and his lip would twitch. Sweat would break out under his nose, beading up through the tiny hairs he hoped might one day be a full mustache. And no matter how many times he went or that he didn't drink a thing, he always had to go to the bathroom when it was time to speak.
In fifth grade he and a few others had simply had to stand at the board and do math problems, seeing who could finish first. Owen's hands shook so much that he couldn't write straight, and everyone laughed.
Now he had tossed and turned all night, finally falling asleep just before his alarm went off. He slapped it three times before his father came in, yanked off his covers, and ordered him to get dressed.
“But I'm sick. Uh . . . and I'm still sore from yesterday. Maybe I should stay andâ”
“No! Just get up and get going. You're fine.”
His father wanted him out of the store! But why? “Dad, I didn't mean to, but I broke that little chair near the cash register.”
“Last night. I couldn't sleep and my eye really hurt, so I went downstairs. I stood on it toâ”
“Never go into the store that late! Bad things can happen when you're alone down there. Now get ready!”
What Owen saw in the mirror made his stomach clench. Gordan's pummeling and his falling down the stairs had blackened his eye, and the bruise had spread toward his ear, so he looked like a raccoon or Zorro with half a mask.
* * *
Owen made his way to the newspaper office before class.
Jim Videl, the student editor, didn't even look away from his computer screen. He was a persnickety person, as editors will often be, and flitted about the room like an insect on a mission. His allegiance was to the schoolâthat was clearâand pleasing his teachers. “Yes?” he barked.
“I know it was you,” Owen said.
“It was me what?”
“Who changed my story.”
He spoke as if in some other dimension, eyes still on the screen. “I don't know what you're talking about.”
“About the wrestling match. You changed what I wrote about Gordan.”
“I'm an editor. I edit. I delete.”
“And you added the part aboutâ”
“If you have a problem with me, take it up with Mrs. Rothem. You're her little pet. And if you don't like workingâ” Jim finally looked at him. “How did
“It happened because you changed my story.”
He looked back at the screen. “I didn't change the substance of the story. Just took out some things and added a little .Â .Â . color.”
“You added color to my face, Jim.”
“Be more careful about what you write,” he said.
* * *
Owen passed the music room and saw Rollie Cumis at the piano.
“Owen, come here! I've just figured out a new tune. See if you like it.”