Of Monsters And Mushrooms
By Lesley Herron
There were very few instances that Vel could say he genuinely felt like throttling the life from someone. This. This was one of those moments. His fingers flexed dangerously, as he could feel the building give another rumble around them. Like the surge waters from a flood, black shapes hammered and smashed against the museum windows; small cracks were starting to web their way across the grimy surfaces. He knew it wasn’t entirely Attila’s fault, but if he didn’t wipe that grin from his face, Vel was going to do it for him.
“We need to get out of here.,” Errik called out, looking around them for a suitable exit.
Always the voice of reason, Vel thought. He extinguished his rage and turned on the spot. The way they came in was still barred shut by the heavy stone slab, but the creature on the other side was hell bent on getting in. They’d have to find another way out. There had to be an employee access or a fire escape somewhere around here.
Evan jabbed a tiny finger in the direction of a printed plastic map that hung on the wall behind the information desk. “Look! It says there’s a fire exit through the Egyptian room.”
“Great!,” Errik said, moving closer to take a look. His face fell, and he let out a heavy sigh. “Not great.”
“What is it?,” Vel asked, pulling his gaze from the entrance to look at the map. The entire museum had been laid out in a cross section, showing which floor was host to the exhibit of the month.
“The Egyptian wing is on the second floor.,” Errik replied, his voice thick with dejection. He jabbed at a spot at the far corner of the map. “Even if we make it there before the building collapses, how are we going to avoid the Unseen that are right outside?”
“Ooo! The science wing is on the fourth floor!,” Attila cooed. “I bet they have a display on early computers. Oh-h-h man, what I wouldn’t give to see vacuum tube technology!”
“We’re not here for a sight seeing trip, ya moron.” Evan gave a hard thump to Attila’s shins.
“Oh.” Attila looked crestfallen. “Right.”
“Look, let’s just burn that bridge when we get to it, alright? We can’t stay here, we need to get moving.,” Vel ordered, giving them a sharp shove in the direction of the stairs. There was a sound like a crack of thunder, and he turned to see a giant fracture in the plexiglass windows of the atrium. “Go! Now!”
Errik ripped the map off the wall as they rounded the corner of the information desk, sliding on the dust covered tile, to face a malfunctioning and long forgotten escalator. Some of it’s steps had degraded over time, leaving sharp jagged edges of metal.
Another thunderous crack rent the air around them again, followed by the sound of giant shards of acrylic hitting and sliding along the floor. The Unseen had managed to break through the Atrium windows. Having given up on it’s attempts to get in through the front, the inky cat settled on leading the charge.
“Oh. That’s not good.,” Attila mentioned, pointing down at the paint smears forming on the tile.
“Go!,” Vel urged them again.
They had just managed to get to the second floor, and turned to head across the landing that overlooked the atrium below when the building gave a deep shudder. The walls shook, and the foundation began to split. A great fissure opened up in the tile, scrambling the larger Unseen and burying the smaller ones in a tidal wave of dirt and concrete. There, among the pipes and rubble, was the unmistakable open maw of the giant borer worm. It’s face was blackened with scorch marks, and chunks of it’s thick armor were cracked or chipped away. While it was hard to gauge a worm’s expression, this one was definitely beyond angry. It was pissed. The building shook as the worm attempted to break through. The support beams and columns groaned in protest as they began to buckle.
“Oy! You said get moving! So get movin’!,” Evan shouted at Vel. The sound of the worm’s screeching drowned him out, but the sight of the little guy sprinting away at top speed got the message across just fine.
Vel gave one last look below, to see the Unseen scrambling over one another to avoid being eaten. The worm lashed to the side and snapped up the ancient dinosaur bones, crushing them between it’s hardened bill as easily as if it were an hors d’oeuvre. The cat was not among the mass of panic stricken Unseen. The building shook again, and Vel finally managed to pull his attention away. The others were already ahead of him, tearing off down the abandoned corridor for the Egyptian room. Taxidermy-ed animals, whale bones and mannequin Neanderthals were falling around him like dominoes.
Dodging a watermelon sized whale vertebrae, Vel slid into the Egyptian wing. The room was filled with an eerie golden glow, emanating from a small filthy window some thirty feet off the ground. The light bounced around the room, dancing off the glittering golden surfaces, and casting long shadows. The columns were carved into dog headed men, each appearing as if they had been charged with the duty of holding up the ceiling above them.
At the far end of the room, just above the teetering columns and glass encased sarcophagi was an unmistakable fire exit sign. They breathed a collective sigh of relief. Hopefully, the other side of the door was not swarming with Unseen. His fear of the creatures evaporated as the worm shrieked in anger, and a large chunk of one of the support columns broke free, nearly crushing Evan like a grape.
“Go!,” Vel urged again, giving Errik and Attila a sharp prod in the back.
The building rumbled around them, causing giant splits in the weak points of the building. They watched as a fissure ran it’s way up a wall, cleaving it nearly in two. It dislodged a display of ancient armaments and snapped the support wires for a towering stone obelisk that dominated the center of the room.
Vel watched as it shuddered, and released a thunderous crack, like the sound of splintering wood. The concrete plinth began to crumble around the weight of the carved chunk of obsidian. The others were running, dodging the shattering glass cases and toppling fixtures. But Evan, who had the smallest of legs, wasn’t going to make it. Cursing his selflessness, he scooped up the kid, dodging another shattering case, and gave him a hearty toss across the room. Vel was suddenly pulled down hard to the floor, anchored by the weight of the stone obelisk.
“Vel!,” Errik cried out, as he set Evan back on his feet and attempted to run back for his brother.
“I’m fine! Go! Get out of here!,” Vel demanded. He was most certainly -not- fine. The obelisk narrowly missed killing him, succeeding in only trapping him by his mechanical arm. He flexed the fiber cables that made up that arm’s musculature, trying desperately to lift the stone pylon.
“But…” Errik wavered. Half of him wanted to go back and rescue his brother, the other half was focused on self preservation.
“I said go! Get them out of here! I’ll be right behind you, I’ve got this!” Vel grunted in frustration as he tried lifting again, but his arm was no use. It was stuck at an odd angle, and he couldn’t get the leverage to lift. He gave a heavy sigh, and looked around. The others had abandoned him. Good. Well, this wasn’t the worst way to go, he thought. He stared up at the pillar closest to him. Anubis was carved into the marble. The Egyptian god of the dead. It stared back with blank eyes. How fitting.
Something shifted behind the statue and it caught Vel’s attention. He felt his heart drop as the inky cat sniffed the air around the pillar. Trapped by the stone obelisk, he was close enough to the ground to be mostly out of view but it wouldn’t take the creature long to find him. Okay. So this was actually a pretty terrible way to go, he thought as he watched the cat slink around another toppled statue. It sniffed the air again, letting out a low growl as it turned it’s skull in his direction. It had picked up his scent.
The inky cat opened it’s maw and let out another menacing growl. Goo poured from it’s mouth, splattering on the dust covered tile. Vel looked around desperately for anything to fend off the creature. A replica of a gold tipped spear lay just out of reach, as his fingertips brushed the end in failure. He gave another deep sigh and clenched shut his eyes.
As the building trembled again, he could hear the cat sprinting across the floor. It gave a feral cry of triumph, it’s claws clicking hard against the tile, and it leapt. A terrible screech rent the air. The sound of a wounded animal. Vel opened his eyes to see the spear jutting up from the, now, dead cat. He looked around to see his brother advancing on the dead animal to wrench free the spear.
“I told you to run.,” Vel grumbled, as he watched Errik shove the staff into a small gap between the floor and the obelisk.
“Yeah, I know. But I don’t listen to you, remember.,” Errik chuckled, offering his brother a small unseen smile as he heaved up against the pole.
“I had the situation handled. It was just…biding my time.”
Errik raised a brow. “Mm hmm.”
The pylon shifted just enough that Vel was able to drag free his arm. The sleeve of his duster was shredded, and deep gouges revealed colored cables and wires. “Let’s just get out of here.,” Vel said, giving one final somber look at the dead ink cat, it’s goo draining into a massive black pool beneath it.
“We need to go up.,” Errik said, putting a hand up to stop his brother.
“What do you mean?”
The building gave another tremble, sending more artifacts clattering to the ground. “After I got the others out, the wall collapsed around the exit.”
Vel looked back down the hall of animals they had come from. He could hear the worm forcing it’s way towards them. “I don’t think it would do much good anyway, that worm is obsessed with us. Not that I blame it, that was a lot of grenades.”
“This building has four stores. If we can antagonize the worm, it could cause enough structural damage and we can drop the building on it.”
“And ourselves in the process.,” Vel argued, pointing out the flaw in his brother’s plan.
“Come on. I have an idea.” Errik skirted around the black puddle, and tore off down the abandoned hallway.
The worm was almost through the floor level, causing the building to shake with each slam of it’s massive body against the floor. It struggled to free itself from the sinkhole it had created, crushing throngs of Unseen as it thrashed back and forth. The Unseen clambered over it, desperate to escape, coating the worm like black parasites.
“Give me a hand with this.,” Errik called out, straining to break loose an ancient sculpture of a bronze cast moose.
“What -are- you doing?,” Vel asked, driving his mechanical hand into the beast, just behind it’s foreleg and wrenched it free from it’s plinth.
“Wait for it…now!”
The bronze moose plummeted off the balcony, and landed, with a sickening thud, against the head of the worm. It recoiled, screeching in pain. It’s beady angry eyes fixated on the two of them, and pulled itself free from the dirt with renewed purpose.
It’s body filled the atrium, like a snake in a teapot, spilling out through the massive chasm in the windows. The worm reared it’s head back, it’s thousands of legs clattering against the tile floor. It slowly heaved it’s battle scarred body, swaying back and forth, until it was face to face with the two of them.
“Oh good. This is a good plan. Good plan!,” Vel cried out, as they tore off in a run up a flight of stairs.
“I promise this will work!,” Errik replied, pulling out the plastic map. He stumbled on the last step, and hit the floor with a thud.
Vel reached down and wrenched him off the ground. “Except now we’re stuck up here. With an angry as hell worm on our tails!,” he pointed out, using his hand gesture to the empty space around them.
“Left!,” cried Errik, as they pelted down a hall filled with armor adorned viking mannequins.
“But the stairs were back that way!”
Shrapnel pelted them from behind as the worm burst through the stairwell. Errik punched a finger at his map. “We have to lure it past most of the supporting walls, or the building wont drop.”
Vel shook his head, sprinting past a viking long-ship. “And how do we avoid dying right along side it?”
There was a crash behind them, and the massive longboat careened past them just as they ducked down a different corridor. They zigzagged through a hall of time, skirting between civil war soldiers, a group of angry looking Mongols, and jumped over an Aztec sacrificial display. Vel remained silent, his entire focus set on avoiding the debris flying around him and trying to keep Errik alive. On more than one occasion he had to tug his brother out of the way of a collapsing exhibit or column as the worm plowed it’s way after them. It’s horrid breath of rotten cabbages grew stronger the closer it got, threatening to overwhelm them.
Errik lead them up a final flight of stairs, through a room designed to look like a mine shaft and into the ‘Inventors Through the Ages’ exhibit. Vel smirked. Attila had been right, it was a science geek’s paradise. From Archimedes to Patricia Bath, Alan Turing to Charles Babbage. Vel couldn’t help but snatch up one of the ancient, dusty brochures as they pelted past a display on Nikola Tesla.
They burst through a set of doors labeled ‘Personnel Only’ to what was supposed to be a service corridor. Instead there was a three story drop where the building’s outer wall had already collapsed.
“Oh. Uhm, whoops.”
Vel looked at his brother, confusion set in on his wide eyes. “Whoops? What’s whoops?”
“Well, see that staircase down on the ground there…?,” Errik pointed to a mangled corpse of metal twisted throughout a mass of crumbled brick and mortar. “That used to lead to the roof.”
Vel dropped his hands. “Okay…so where do we go then?”
Errik consulted his map. “Hmm. It says the only way out is back the way we came.” The sound of the worm destroying the only remaining stairwell echoed through the open display room. “Or…,” said Errik, looking back through the doorway. “We could try to make it to the other building over there.”
Vel looked across the narrow street to a building nestled up close to the museum. There was a forty foot gap between them and an escape ladder hanging loosely from the side of the old office building. “And…how do you suppose we get over there?”
Errik shrugged. “I don’t know. Pole vault?”
Vel ignored the offhanded tone his brother had replied with, and pressed against a small button in one of the knuckles on his mechanical hand. This caused his cybernetic eye to pull up an overlaying display in his vision. He swiped his hand through the air, moving through several menus. He selected the appropriate program and imaginary geometric lines sprang up all around him. “Look around, see if you can find something.”
As Errik ran off, Vel started running through scenarios. Numbers whirred in front of his eyes, trajectory lines arced from the ledge he was standing on to various points on the street below. Pole vaulting was out unless Errik could bring back a twenty foot rod. Using a tapestry as a parachute was equally unrealistic, and would land them on the jagged rocks below at roughly fifty miles an hour.
Vel was about to run simulations for constructing a rudimentary catapult when the ground began to fracture. The smell of rotting cabbage and the thundering sound of thousands of feet crashed into him like a tempest as the mine shaft exploded outwards behind him. He felt the floor shift and drop about a foot. The building had finally had enough. It was ready to give way completely. Vel would have taken the ink cat and being trapped beneath an obelisk right now. He turned on the spot to bolt away from the edge before it collapsed beneath him.
Errik was running straight at him, the worm right on his tail, it’s jaws open wide. “Grab on!”
Vel could see his brother had wrenched down the most ridiculous contraption. It looked like a glider, but made of wood and paper and it was shaped like giant bat wings. One of Leonardo Da Vinci’s more famous designs. A pity it had never worked. The color drained from Vel’s face.
Errik was running, full tilt, towards him, motioning with his head for him to grab a hold. He had only a moment to make a decision, and used his mechanical hand to smash away part of the door frame. This created an opening just large enough for the contraption to fit through. And as the tip of the glider peaked through the hole, Vel grabbed a hold of the flimsy frame just behind his brother.
For a brief, and glorious, moment, they were gliding beautifully through the air. Like a bird that had been freed from it’s cage, they drifted lazily across the sky as the museum collapsed in a thunderous heap and plumes of dust and debris behind them. But the glider wasn’t made for tw o people, especially not for a person who was mostly metal. It gave an ominous crack, and the frame began to split.
They were almost to the other building. Errik could just make out the abandoned cubicles on the other side of the broken windows. The glider lost it’s momentum and veered away from the fire escape, arcing sharply downwards.
“Hang on.,” Vel said, as he swung himself against the failing wood frame. He let go on the second swing, and launched himself forward as the glider snapped in two. He felt his mechanical hand grasp around an ancient rusty pipe, his other grasped tightly around his brother’s forearm. They slammed hard into the brick wall of the building, and the pipe shuddered at the weight. Vel felt himself slip and inch or two, the metal groaning beneath his grip.
He tried to swing Errik towards a shattered window to the right of them, but as soon as their weight shifted, his metal grip began to loosen and they slid another foot before he could stop the decent. His arm sparked and whined as the servos began to fail.
Errik could see the damage to Vel’s arm had finally reached a critical point, the obelisk had killed one of them after all. But he’d be damned if it killed the both of them. He let go of Vel’s hand and began to fall. He had just closed his eyes when he felt himself jerk to a halt. Errik looked up to see that Vel had slid another few feet. “Just let me go!,” Errik called, looking down below him and then back up. Vel had a firm grip around a handful of coat sleeve, and was struggling to keep a hold of him.
“Don’t be stupid.,” Vel hissed through grit teeth. Sweat began pouring down his face as he clenched his fingers tighter around Errik’s wrist. He could feel his fingers loosening their grip around the metal pipe. His mechanical arm had been put through too much, too quickly. There was a sickening grinding noise, and his fingers relaxed. They slide down the pipe, sparks flying everywhere as metal scraped across metal. They reached the bend before Vel could convince his hand closed. He breathed a sigh of relief, as he clenched his fingers hard into the metal.
“The pipe wont hold the both of us! And your arm’s going to give out! There’s no reason for the both of us-”
“It’s not going to happen. So shut up and figure out how to get into that window.,” Vel snapped, nodding to the window just above him.
Errik gave him a flat, unseen look. “You’re joking right? I’ve never been able to do a pull-up in my life!”
The window slid open, and an all too cheery face peered down over the ledge at them. “Oh, hey guys.”
“Oh thank God.,” Errik sighed.
Attila looked at the carnage across the alley. “Wow! You guys dropped the entire museum on it!”
“Hurry up and get us out of here!,” Vel shot, as the pipe gave another shudder. A bolt bounced off his forehead; the pipe was starting to pull away from the wall.
“Well if you’re going to be snippy…” Attila disappeared from the window.
Vel let out a slew of profanities as another bolt hit him in the head.
“Relax, I was just tying off the end of the rope.” Before they could say anything, Attila was stepping out of the window. He stepped down onto Vel’s shoulders, and then slide down his front. Thankfully, their faces were hidden behind masks, or this would have been -real- awkward, Attila thought. Though, he was certain the look Vel was giving him right now would burn a hole through his mask. Attila didn’t linger, and was soon at Vel’s knees. He let go, and the rope cinched tight. “Okay, grab on!,” he instructed, offering his hand to Errik.
Errik grabbed a hold of Attila, and swung free. Vel sucked in a grateful lungful of air, his muscles snapping back into place with painful protests. Even his mechanical hand seemed to relax, the smell of burning plastic starting to dissipate.
Errik clung to Attila, the pair gently swaying like a pendulum at the end of a rope. “So, did you make some sort of invention to pulley us up? Or some sort of hyper winder or something?”
“Oh. That’s a good idea. Should have done that.”
“Evan’s up there. He’s got us.”
“What!?,” Errik repeated, more urgently this time.
“It’s fine! He’s totally got us!,” Attila assured. “Okay short stuff! Pull us up!”
Vel sighed angrily at the sounds of tiny little Evan straining his body against the window. “Why…didn’t you send HIM down!?”
“Oh. Should have done that too.”
Before Vel could reply, there was a sound of breaking drywall, a clattering of metal, and suddenly Evan was launched from the window, closely followed by a metal drinking fountain tied to the end of the rope. Vel reached out and grabbed the rope that was swinging Errik and Attila. Evan, still holding on for dear life, swung right into Vel’s head, where he latched on like a spider monkey. The drinking fountain flew by, the rope coiled around Vel’s shoulders as it passed. There was a sudden jerk and the rope snapped tight around his neck, parts of it choking him, and other parts securing Evan to his face. Vel’s arm gave a high pitched whine, sparked violently, and then completely relaxed. Vel tried to swear as he fell to certain death, but it was muffled by Evan.
“Phew. Lucky there was that mushroom to catch us!,” Attila said, pulling a chunk of spongy fungus from his hat. He gave it a quick dusting and shoved it back on his head.
Errik was nursing a sizable lump on his head, and Evan was wrapping a piece of fabric over a gash in his tiny arm. “Yeah. Lucky.,” Evan shot, tying off the bandage.
Vel limped along, slowly, behind them. He had been lucky enough to land on top of the fountain. And while the mushroom beneath it had softened the blow, it by no means eliminated it. He stretched his back, hoping to relieve some of the pain. Thankfully they were not that far from the gate, and he would soon be rid of this journey and it’s troublesome company.
The commotion of a collapsing building and the giant worm seemed to have scattered most of the Unseen. They were unhindered by any inky creatures as they marched down the middle of Main Street. They clambered over a great fissure separating the intersection, and stepped into the city center. Dead and broken trees lined a shattered concrete perimeter, sectioning off the park from the rest of the city. There were broken sculptures, toppled monuments, rusted out benches, and of course, copious amounts of mushrooms.
Stepping over a faded wooden barricade, they moved into the heart of the park. There, surrounded by towering trees of mushrooms, was a swirling vortex. It was wreathed in a coil of thorny vines, and glowed with an eerie, pulsing light. It shifted from purple to pink, to black, and then back to purple. Shapes could almost be made out, but they were whisked away as the vortex shuffled colors.
“So how does this work?,” Attila asked, looking at the gateway with apprehension.
Errik flourished something from inside his coat. “This right here is a Temporal Anomaly Frequency Adapter.”
Evan snatched it out of Errik’s hand. “A what?”
Errik tried to snatch it back, but Evan scuttled between his legs. “Well… let’s call it a Portal Locker. It’s designed to keep the portal’s frequency locked on this location. That way we can get in, get your friend, and get back. Hopefully, with no troubles.”
Vel scoffed, snatching the device out of Evan’s hands. “-IF- it works.”
Errik chuckled nervously. “Ah, well. You know, science isn’t perfect. There might be some kinks to work out, but that’s what we’re here for.”
Vel shook his head, handing it back to Errik. “Good luck with that. Let me know how it goes.”
“Wait…you’re not going?,” Errik asked.
“Nope. I agreed to take you -to- the gate. Not go -through- it. You can get his friend back, on your own, from here.” Vel crossed his arms, as if to cement his decision.
“Are you sure?” Errik moved closer, dropping his voice. “This is how we figure out how to get ourselves home.”
“You know how I feel about the Otherworld. I swore I wouldn’t go back to that hell.”
“Have fun.,” Vel interrupted. He turned to walk away, paused, and turned back. He fished something from his coat and offered it to Attila. “Here.,” he said gruffly.
Attila took the battered brochure, and his eyes lit up behind his mask.
Vel turned on his heel once more, and walked away from the group. He looked down at his mechanical hand in dismay. The palm of his hand was raw and open, exposing the connectors and graphene tendons.
Errik slumped a little. “Well. If you’re sure…”
Vel didn’t respond as he tucked his battered hand into the pocket of his equally battered coat. He waved at his brother with his other hand as he walked away.
“Whats up with him?,” Evan asked.
“He’s not a big fan of the Otherworld.,” Errik replied, pushing a button on the portal locker. It began to emit a high pitched tone, and then fell into a steady pulsing rhythm. “Evan, you’re free to go home too, if you want. I appreciate all of your help.”
“Eh. I’m intrigued. I’ll stick around with yas for a little longer. Besides, overtime costs extra.”
“Well, then, in we go. ,” Errik said, taking the first step through the swirling vortex. Attila and Evan followed on his heels, and in a flash they were gone.
Vel cursed under his breath. It wasn’t his job to get that idiot’s friend back. And Errik knew damn well how dangerous it was to go through that swirling vortex of death. He stopped, looking over his shoulder. Errik had barely survived the last time they got stuck there. The chance of him making it this time…No! It was -his- decision, Vel was not responsible for him. Still…
Vel took off at a trot, putting more distance between him and the portal. He shook his head furiously. Idiots, the lot of them! He stopped again, and took a deep breath. And that’s when he noticed it. The sudden sound of silence. No birds, no chittering Unseen in the shadows. Just. Nothing. And then the ground began to shake beneath his feet.