Tornado Trailer Park
ripping the battered trailer home off of its cement slab and flinging it into the swirling, debris choked cyclone.
“Oh God, no!” Clem wailed as he clung to the worn brownish carpet that covered his floor. Tears ran freely from his eyes and collected in his bristly black beard. “I regret every bad thing I done! No, that's a lie! I don't regret sleeping with Arlene! She was a fine woman and her husband was a turd! Please don't kill me, Jesus!”
Deep down though, Clem had always known he was going to die in a tornado. He had joked about it when moving into the Sleepy Grove Mobile Home Park seven years ago with his bitch of an ex-girlfriend, but in his marrow he knew it was no laughing matter. Whenever anything good had happened to him, like the time he won fifty bucks on that scratch ticket or when his bitch of an ex-girlfriend finally moved out, he feared that that would be the time a twister would strike down from the sky and wipe out whatever joy he had. Clem knew that when a man was on top of the world it just meant he had further to fall when when the world decided to fuck him.
The problem with Clem's logic though was that nothing particularly good had happened to him lately. His plasma screen had started making everyone on it look kind of green. The water company was threatening to shut off service if he didn't pay up. His truck had started doing a funny little shimmy thing whenever he got above sixty. Yet still, a tornado had touched down just a few miles south of his home and tore a path directly to him, as if God Almighty had decided to personally flick him off the planet.
He had been having a pretty good nap though.
Clem looked up, prayers and vows to every god he could think of (and a few he may have made up) screaming from his lips, and looked around his rapidly disintegrating trailer. Maybe he could find some place to hide and somehow avoid death. He'd heard stories of babies and puppies being lifted up by a tornado and placed gently back onto the ground miles away from where they had started and without a single bruise or scratch on them. Of course, he'd also heard more stories about people finding other people's heads in their rain gutters or cats being driven through oak trees as if they were nails. As Clem crawled toward his television cabinet, hoping that he could move the old VHS tapes out of its bottom drawer and crawl inside, he decided to focus on the happy puppy side of things.
The wind and sound of the twister's scream got louder as his front door was ripped off its hinges. He looked at the gaping hole just as his neighbor's tireless Ford Festiva went hurtling by. The new hole created a vacuum within the trailer and Clem felt himself being dragged towards his doom.
“You go to hell, Baby Jesus!” Clem screamed, rage filled him as he clawed at his filth encrusted carpet for purchase. “Vishnu, Odin, Hammurabi, ya'll can kiss my ass! You go to hell and you die!”
As his body was dragged inexorably toward the howling chasm that used to be the front of his house, Clem began to hear a deep rotating sound come from the middle of his living room. Looking up, he saw that somehow his glass-topped coffee table still stood perfectly still in front of where his pull out couch used to be. His back issues of Oui sat peacefully, their worn covers flapping gently as if being whispered over by a gentle breeze. The rolling sound was coming from his Budweiser commemorative pewter stein, which he mostly drank Milwaukee's Best out of, as it rotated slowly on the table. It stopped for a moment, then seemed to float above the table for a moment.
“Oh crap,” Clem managed to say before the thick cup hurtled towards his face at remarkable speed, the eyes of the its Clydesdale's seeming to pass judgment upon him.
Everything went black.
He felt a gentle breeze blow across his body, gently tousling his hair. Opening his eyes, he saw that he was laying face down on a sheet of rusted metal siding. An ant crawled slowly by an inch or so away from his face, it seemed as amazed by its own survival as Clem was. Dazed, Clem slowly wiggled each of his extremities to make sure that he wasn't paralyzed. Relieved that everything was responding appropriately, he started to see if he could make it to his feet. He made it into a kneeling position before he noticed the maelstrom wall of the tornado not twelve feet in front of him.
At first Clem thought that he had survived being tossed out of the tornado only to have it run him back over but then he noticed that it wasn't getting any closer or further away from him. Standing, Clem looked up and saw the wall curved around him, stretching up as far as he could see and extending to either side for what looked like miles. It curved slowly around him, encircling him in a swirling chaos of debris and dirt.
“I wouldn't get much closer to that, buddy,” A voice shouted behind him. Clem hadn't even noticed that he had started walking towards violently swirling wall. “A few more feet and you'll be shredded to bits. Seen it happen before.”
Clem turned around to see who was talking to him. A man, white bearded and looking like an old hippie, sat on a lawn chair that was set up on top of a vintage Airstream trailer. He was holding a worn out transistor radio in one hand and a clay jug of moonshine in the other. A smile that had said goodbye to more than a few teeth cracked his windblown, red face.
“Welcome to The Eye!”
moonshine burning every part of his mouth and throat as he worked to swallow it down.
“Auggh!,” Clem shouted as the liquid slid into his stomach like a magma flow. “What is this stuff?”
“Let's call it bathtub gin and keep it at that,” Chip said, reclining in his lawn chair and checking his antique pocket watch again as he squinted at the maelstrom wall.
“You don't make it in the same tub you bathe in do you?”
“You really want me to answer that?”
Clem didn't. Instead he looked up from the tin cup of rocket fuel and followed Chip's gaze to the swirling chaos of impenetrable dirt and filth that loomed just a dozen or so feet in front of him. Every once in a while Clem would see a recognizable object fly by, like a washing machine or a mangled bicycle. He could have sworn he saw that Ford Festiva go hurtling by at one point too. The tornado wall towered up over him and reminded him of the time he went to Houston and stood gawking up at all those skyscrapers for the first time. But though it made him feel small and insignificant, it was still better than looking out at what lay behind him.
Chip checked his watch again.
“What are you doing with that watch?”, Clem asked, risking another slug of moonshine.
“Waiting for cow o'clock,” Chip said, as if the answer was obvious.
“What the fu...,” Clem began to ask before Chip raised a shushing finger and then pointed down the wall at something that hurtled towards them a few dozen feet off the ground. Clem rubbed his eyes when he saw what it was and then dumped out the rest of the moonshine that was in his cup.
It was a cow.
Clem watched it as it tumbled end over end through the rushing debris and smoke, letting out a plaintive moo as it went. Both men watched it spin past until it became a small brown-and-white dot that was eventually swallowed whole by the filthy clouds.
Chip smiled and put his watch back into the bib pocket of his overalls. He picked up the jug of gin that sat next to him and took a big haul, smirking at the shocked expression on Clem's face.
“That cow was still alive?” Clem asked , his voice full of awe. He absently held his cup out for Chip to refill. “I thought you said that wall shredded anything that go too close to it?”
“It is, I did, and it does,” Chip answered. “That cow right there is as close a metaphor to life in The Eye as you can get. Folk who struggle against it, throw themselves at the walls of this prison, get shredded. The ones who accept it and go along with it survive and find a way to get by. That cow accepted it fate a long time ago and now every three hours and eighteen minutes it completely circles The Eye. It's kind of become our clock.”
“How long has it been doing that?”
“As long as I've been here, probably longer.”
“How long has that been?”
“I got here on April 3rd, 1974 and you said it was 2008 outside. So there you go. But time doesn't work the same in here I think. Otherwise I'd look over sixty and I don't. I don't, do I?”
“No, you look fine,” Clem said, distracted. “So no one leaves? I'm trapped here? Am I dead?
“You could be dead,” Chip offered, frowning as he seemed to consider it. “I've often thought this might be purgatory. It would make sense, I guess.”
“I don't feel dead. I twisted my ankle something fierce when I fell here, seems if a fella was going to die and end up in a wind prison they'd at least make it so you couldn't hurt yourself.”
“That is a good point. Plus, I've seen quite a few people die in the time I've been here and you wouldn't think that would happen either.”
Reluctantly, Clem turned around and looked into The Eye.
From where he was standing on top of Chip's trailer he could see for maybe a couple of miles and what he saw didn't make sense. He looked down on a twisted maze of junked metal and debris stretched out in front of him, culminating in the large pile of jagged detritus that had built up near the maelstrom wall and, according to Chip, ran its entire circumference. Off to the west and east he could make out what looked like a couple of small villages made up of re-purposed materials and a few spots of cultivated vegetation. Looming over it all in the middle was a gigantic stone tower that seemed to be constantly crumbling as Clem looked at it, heavy stones fell from all sides of it but it never seemed to lose any height or girth.
“I gotta get the hell out of here.”
hoisting the New Kids On The Block backpack over his shoulder.
“Listen,” Chip said, handing over a canteen of water. “There aren't a lot of rules around here. Its all pretty lawless. But there is one thing, universal among all the different people trapped in here and it doesn't matter what they look like, that you absolutely can not do.”
“Do not!” Chip said emphatically. “Ever! Make a Wizard Of Oz joke or reference. Ever!”
“Seriously?” Clem asked. “That seems....Really?”
“I can't stress it enough.”
“Why? Is it a superstition or something?”
“Maybe,” Clem said, scratching his beard. “But superstition works a bit different around here. You’ll pick that up soon enough. I’m not certain of the details, but supposedly when a load of people got trapped here back in the thirties a bunch of copies of those books got sent here too. Wherever they went or whoever even mentioned them suddenly came down with a case of real bad luck. Fatal bad luck.”
“Well, I’ll keep that in mind. I guess. Thanks for the grub and the hospitality,” Clem said, reaching out to shake Chip's hand. “You said my trailer landed a bit that way, right?”
“Half of it, maybe,” Chip answered. “I probably wasn't the only one to see it land either. Get to it, get what you need, and try to make it one of those villages on the west side. That's where the humans live.”
Clem had turned and was about to make his way to his trailer when he froze. “What do you mean 'humans'? What else would there be?”
“Well,” Chip said, leaning back against his trailer and seeming to think. “You got the apes. They aren't like the apes from our world. These are the smart kind, like Planet Of The Apes, and they like to take humans as slaves.”
“You're shitting me.”
“Wish I was. The big ones, the gorillas, they aren't so smart. They tend to do all the heavy lifting and the fighting, but they can be okay if you don't act like a coward around them. They sense weakness and they'll make your life hell. Its the chimps you want to watch out for. They're smart as hell and devious. They will....”
“Do they wear little bell hop uniforms?” Clem smirked. “And fly around with little bat wing...”
“Seriously, you will be shot in the face,” Chip stated, looking up along the maelstrom wall as if something was listening. “People will go out of their way to kill your ass for stuff like that. Just don't ever mention it. I'm even tempted to take you out.”
“Okay, geez,” Clem said as he shrugged. Looking out over the ragged debris that stood between him and the shattered remains of his trailer, he let out a sigh. “Thanks again. If I ever make it back out this way I'll stop by.”
“I look forward to it,” Chip said, waving. He watched the newcomer as he picked delicately over the sharp detritus for a while and then began climb his way back up onto the roof of his trailer. He stopped halfway up and slapped himself on the forehead. “Damn it! I should have told him about the snake folk. He's not going to like them much. Oh! And the Old Gods. And the goddamn raccoons. Damn.”
Chip climbed the rest of the way up his trailer and squinted to see if he could make out Clem among the piles of old refrigerators and dismantled trucks. No luck.
“Well...He'll figure it out, I guess,” and then he promptly flopped down in to his lawn chair and dozed off.
Groll wondered vaguely why this human was still alive. The great ape, a proud member of The Obsidian Brigade, had been watching the bearded man rummage through the remains of the trailer home that had come crashing down from Great Wall a few hours ago. From the way he carried himself, Groll figured that this man must be a newcomer to The Eye. He was focused only on scavenging as much as he could from his shattered domicile and was ignoring the gathering of raccoons that was taking place all around him. Groll wondered if he would live long enough to learn from his mistake.
The great ape wedged his bulk between the twisted remains of a dishwasher and the wing of an old airplane and examined the wound on his leg. Twin fang marks, the punctures separated by three inches of swollen flesh, marred his calf. Groll could already feel the poison seeping into his system, coursing through his veins and making his reactions sluggish, and he knew he didn't have much longer to live. His only consolations were that he had killed the Reptilian who had attacked him and that he may still have time to warn the others that the Slithering Host had finally awakened.
That is, if the human who now stood pissing into the cracked remnants of a toilet wasn't consumed by a horde of raccoons first.
Groll readied his weapons--a large golden hammer and a glittering, silver battleaxe--and prepared to charge the gathering horde. If he was lucky they would scatter at the sight of him and, hopefully, the hapless human wouldn't do anything stupid in the meantime. Testing his weight on his wounded leg and preparing to spring, Groll didn't hear the cloaked figure slide up and uncoil behind him.
A thick, scaled arm closed around Groll's throat, wrapping bonelessly around his neck and pulling him backwards with alarming strength. The ape couldn't make a sound as he felt cold steel slide into his left side, serrated teeth biting into his ribcage. The blade sawed back out of his flesh and was immediately plunged back in, its tip entering his heart and stopping it immediately. The silver-backed warrior's last thoughts were of his own dishonorable failure and that the human who was now casually flipping through a magazine would be lucky if the raccoons arrayed around him bit him to death.
Then he would be spared the fate that was about fall upon The Eye.
“Is it dead?”
Vipis turned at the susurration of voices that came from behind him, wiping the blood of the ape off his blade with his cloak. Below him, nestled on a writhing throne of snakes, lounged Melissent. The assassin didn't care for the shaman, but she did serve her purpose.
“Of course,” he hissed at her, his tongue darting out and tasting his victims blood that still hung in the air. “Did you doubt me?”
“He seemed more than a match for your assistant,” came her cool reply. With a wave of her hand the writhing throne dissipated, the thousands of snakes that had formed it disappearing into a multitude of cracks and crannies, until it was just the two of them. She slithered up until she was swaying gently next to Vipis, the top of her diamond pattern head a full foot above his own, and looked down on the corpse of the armored ape.
“Fissig was a fool. He should never have partaken of that potion you gave him. It made him overconfident.”
“The brew I gave him was only to give him a clarity of vision,” Melissent folded over to better examine the corpse. Vipis observed that she had added a few more golden rings to her long tapering tail. It seemed that Melissent's star was on the rise.
“There is a human nearby,” she said, her gaze not moving from sightless eyes of the ape. Her bejeweled hand caressed its slack face. “My thousand eyes can see him. He is in danger.”
“Yes. Those raccoons are going to eat well today. I may gather a few up to bring back to the nest. They taste better when they've recently fed on flesh.”
“They will not be feasting on this one,” the shaman said vaguely. One of the things Vipis hated most about shamans were the constant tone they had that made it seem as if they knew more than anyone else. He had long suspected that it was all for show. “My eyes see an aura around this one. He is an agent of change, though we can not see if it is for good or ill.”
“Then best to kill him now,” Vipis hated change. He was already moving, his knife gripped in his hand, when he felt Melissent's hand grip his shoulder.
“Oh no. This one must live. Agents of change, no matter what the end result of their actions, always bring chaos. And right now, chaos is exactly what The Host needs.”
Clem hated raccoons more than anything. Terrible little bastards with greedy little hands and vicious, mean little eyes. And bold, too. The one standing in front of him, almost seeming to glare at him, was about to get a boot in the face if it didn't mosey on along in a minute and Clem was in a kicking mood.
falling over the side of the rusted out Peterbilt and gashing open his thigh as he landed on a pile of sheet metal. Clem hissed with pain and slapped his hand over the cut, jostling the three bags of gear around and spilling cans and clothes all around him. He could already hear the patter of thousands of paws begin to close in on him.
“Goddamn, awful, stinking, beasts,” Clem hissed, frantically looking around for a place to hide. The wound on his leg didn't look too bad, but if he didn't get it bandaged up soon it could start to fester. Running on it was certainly not going to do it any good.
It looked like he had fallen into a bowl shaped depression, long walls of junked cars and the bent remains of trailer homes surrounded him on all sides. It would take a while to climb out, but at least there were a lot of little hidey-holes he could crawl into for now. Seeing one that looked large enough, Clem began to grab up as much of his spilled belongings as he could carry.
That was when the thunder of the raccoons paws came to a sudden stop.
Clem looked over his shoulder. Lining the depression's wall, taking up almost half its circumference, were hundreds of raccoons. Clem stood and faced his pursuers. He could see the one that he'd kicked, with its weird scar running across its face, staring directly at him with an almost human look of pure hatred. The rest, though, seemed to be focused past Clem at the far side of the depression.
“Well looky what we got here,” A voice drawled from behind him.
Five men, dressed in the tattered remnants of military camouflage and carrying an assortment of weapons, stood along the opposite wall. The largest one, the one who spoke, was carrying an assault rifle and was lazily pointing it in Clem's direction.
“You look like you got some trouble, Mister,” he said slowly, as if he was simply observing the weather. “Dontcha know you ain't supposed to rile up the 'coons? They don't take too kindly to people invading their territory.”
“I must have missed that part of the brochure,” Clem said. A couple of the men chuckled a bit, but the large one glared at them until they shut up. “Don't suppose you could help me out a bit?”
The raccoons had begun to inch closer, a few hopping down onto various ledges and outcroppings. Scarface never took his eyes of Clem.
“Oh, I don't know,” the big guy sighed. “You look kind of fat and soft. I don't know if you'd get a good price. You may not be worth the ammo. What do you think, Mathers?”
“He looks like he's got a strong back,” the one whose name must have been Mathers responded. He was a heavily muscled black man and carried a long, chip bladed sword slung casually over one shoulder. He was looking at Clem as if he were appraising a side of beef. “We could sell him to the Apes, they're always looking for people to dig in the mines. The Swampers may take him, he could serve as gator bait, maybe?”
“What the hell are you people talking about?” Clem shouted, panic in his voice as the raccoons began to close in. “What do you mean 'sell me'?”
“You got any weapons in those bags, Mister?”
The raccoons, with Scarface in the lead, reached the floor of the depression. A few of them rushed for one of Clem's duffel bags, tearing into it and each other in a frenzy to get to what was inside. The rest of the horde began to make their way down the side.
“I just got an old paintball gun and a pocket knife. You gonna help me or not?”
The big guy made a gesture to a skinny, red-haired kid that stood next to him. As the ginger began rifling through a pack that was he carrying, Clem could hear the clink and rattle of chains coming from inside it, the big guy hunched down and gave Clem the same appraising look his companion had given him.
“This is how it’s going to work out, Mister,” he drawled. “You're going to leave that knife. My friend Enoch here is going to toss down a chain for you to climb up. If you can reach us before the raccoons get a hold of you then we'll keep you alive long enough to sell you to some Apes over to
Clem didn't know what the hell Parlay was. He also knew that he didn't want to be sold to anybody. Given the choice between that and being eaten by a ravenous horde of raccoons though....
“What's it going to be, Mister?”
looked so comforting, he had just reached his hands toward the flames when the chain attaching him to the chimpanzee was pulled sharply.
“Ow!” he hissed, careful not to be too loud and rouse the suspicion of his captors. For a moment, only a moment, the old guy with the wizard beard and the robot stopped arguing. He turned and glared at the chimp, realizing for the first time that he was actually a she. “What the hell was that for?”
She looked at him with contempt. “You don't want to get too close to that. Fire attracts the salamanders.”
“I thought those were a myth?” the old guy asked, putting a hand in front of the robot’s face to shut him up. “Though I have to admit, I have never been this far out from Ramshackle before, nor have I met anyone who has. This area is strictly ape territory after all.”
“Let me guess,” Clem sighed. “These are giant salamanders that breathe fire and eat people and make everything terrible.”
“Pretty much,” the chimp answered, reaching into one of the many pouches that were woven into her vest. “But if the salamanders don't get us, my people will. They'll let me go because I keep the windmills running, but they'll probably end up just selling you themselves. Either way, these fools who have taken us don't stand much of a chance.”
“They seem pretty capable to me,” the robot spoke up. Turning towards Clem, it reached out its three fingered hand towards him. “I'm Roy, by the way. This bearded guy who likes to be wrong about everything is Roderick. He follows me around.”
“That isn't exactly accurate,” Roderick huffed, bringing a spoonful of the thin soup the soldiers had given them up to his lips. “Roy is my assistant. I am a teacher at the University in Ramshackle, currently on leave so that I could circumnavigate The Eye. So far, it hasn't gone well.”
“My name's Clem. I just got here.”
The three of them all turned toward the chimp, waiting for her to introduce herself. She simply furrowed her brow and looked away across the plain.
“So does it ever get dark around here?” Clem asked. “I've had to have been here for more than twelve hours already and the light hasn't changed at all.”
“No, it doesn't,” both Roderick and Roy replied at the same time. The two glared at each other, which was quite the feat since Roy's face was pretty much expressionless.
“Well that's not exactly true,” Roderick quickly continued. “There are records that I've seen that make mention of a 'Year Of Darkness' that descended upon the land for no discernible reason. It was because of that event that the windmills our nameless friend here maintains were built.”
“They generate power,” the chimp mumbled. “As an engineer I'm supposed to be off-limits to crap like this. If these fools actually make it to Parlay they're in for a pretty nasty surprise.”
“That's true,” Roy piped up. “Interfering with the windmills is one of the only capitol offenses that is observed through all of the cultures.” He leaned in closer and dropped his voice to a whisper. “If they realize their mistake though, they are very likely to kill you in order to hide their crime. You may want to keep that quiet.”
“Good point,” she said. “My name is Kayla, by the way.”
Clem had a million questions and was just about to start asking them when they heard a commotion at the edge of the camp. The captives watched Mathers and Lt. Killroy came out of the command tent and walk toward the noise. Soon enough all eight of the soldiers were gathered at the edge of the campsite. They all had their backs to their four prisoners.
“Now might be our chance,” muttered Roderick.
“To do what, get killed?” snapped Roy. “If you haven't noticed, they have guns and bullets tend to run faster than we do.”
Roderick and Roy began to bicker again. Kayla and Clem stood to get a better look at what was going on.
“What do you see?” Kayla asked.
“One of them is holding an hammer,” Clem said, squinting so that he could see better over the fire. “A big, gold thing. Its huge. Looks heavy too, the guy holding it is pretty strong and he's struggling to keep it off the ground. Another guy has some kind of silver axe. Must be heavy too. He's just dragging it.”
“Oh no,” Kayla whispered. “Are they covered in runes, in writing?”
“We have to get out of here,” Kayla began looking around for a place to run while gathering up the chains that linked them together. “Right now.”
“Those are the weapons of The Obsidian Brigade. They don't just leave them laying around. If someone took out one of them, we don't stand a chance. I don't care how many guns our little friends have.”
“Who are 'The Obsidian Brigade'? Roderick asked, struggling to get to his feet.
“They are an...almost...religious order,” Kayla explained. “But that's not quite right. They are made up of humans and apes and they believe that The Eye is a prison, meant to keep big bad things in. Like gods and demons and stuff.
“Get ready to run for it. We'll head west and try to make it to Windmill 4. I have some supplies there and we can defend it pretty easy.”
“Wait. So are these guys monks or something?” Clem asked, gathering up slack chain as quietly as possible. The soldiers were taking turns trying to lift the weapons. They were still ignoring the prisoners.
“They only leave their tower when something bad is on the move. The last time it happened was just before The Year Of Darkness, when most of the population of The Eye was slaughtered by some kind of monster. If the brigade is here, then something like that can't be far off.”
“Great,” Clem said. “now I miss the goddamn raccoons.”
but overall, having a bag over his head was definitely in the top ten list of worst things to have happen to him. Straining his ears, Clem could hear the others shuffling about. Roderick was weeping a bit, Roy was humming what sounded like a Lionel Ritchie song, and Kayla seemed to be snoring a bit.
Clem could also hear the sound of something heavy landing on the ground on the other side of the wall they had been chained to. Occasionally something would hit the roof with an alarming thud and make the beams above them shudder and creak.
“We must be near the base of The Crumbling Tower,” Roderick said, his voice hitching. “We are truly dealing with madmen if they dare build something so close.”
“What's The Crumbling Tower?” Clem asked.
“It's a building in the exact center of The Eye,” Roy answered. “No one goes near it because huge blocks of stone keep falling off the top of it. But it never completely disintegrates or even gets any lower. It just perpetually falls apart. I think it's magic.”
“Hogwash,” Roderick said. “Magic is just science we haven't figured out yet.”
“Whatever,” the robot groaned. “Either way, no one has ever been inside and anyone who tries to climb it gets a hundred pound rock dropped on his head. The bright side is that most of the buildings around it are built pretty sturdy thanks to the rain of cut stones....”
“Quiet!” Kayla hissed, suddenly awake.
Clem and the others shut up and listened. A key could be heard scraping against a lock and the sound of two people talking drifted through the door. Clem recognized Killroy's voice immediately. He wasn’t likely to forget the sound of the man who had taken his freedom and was trying to sell him as a slave any time soon, but the other voice was new.
“....so then the damn fools start running in four different directions,” Killroy said as the door creaked open. “But they're all chained to each other. It was hilarious.”
“So you're telling me they aren't the smartest catch, eh?” the other voice was deep and gravelly. “Well, let's see what you’re selling.”
The hood was yanked off Clem's head. They were in a small room, the walls made of rough stones of varying size, the ceiling was wooden and cracked in several places. Small slivers of light sifted through the cracks. There was a stench, as well. It reminded Clem of the time he had done community service and had to scrap roadkill off the highway for a month. Something in this room was dead or close to it. And it seemed to be the lumbering ape who stood next to Killroy.
He was stooped over and held himself up with the aid of a thick, ornate cane. His fur was matted and filthy looking, in places worn down to expose skin that look red and fevered. He was missing an eye, the hole where it had been writhed with what could only be maggots. Clem retched a bit, but held back and took a few deep breaths.
“Sorry-looking bunch, but worth it,” Killroy said, sounding like a used car salesman. “That one over there claims to be an engineer. You said last time that you were looking for one them, didn't you Bargeth?”
“I was,” Bargeth said, a foul smell escaping his mouth and filling the room. Clem saw Killroy bring a small hankerchief, no doubt scented, up to his mouth and give the back of the ape a scornful glance. “And a robot. Good, they dig well and can go places that humans can't.”
“That's right. And only about a dozen left, last I heard.”
“Eleven now,” Bargeth exhaled. “One of mine was crushed last month. A cave-in. Most unfortunate, he was a good digger.”
Clem heard Roy gasp. The ape was looking each of them over like cattle. He stopped in front of Roderick.
“You look old,” Bargath stated. “Why should I take you and not kill you right here and now?”
“I...I...,” Roderick stammered and looked around in a panic. Killroy stepped forward, warily placing a hand on Bargath's shoulder.
“He claims to work for the University. I thought you might want some brains to go with all this brawn.”
“Brawn, huh?” Bargath chuckled. He pointed at Clem. “That one is fat. He has good arms but it will take a few weeks for him to burn off that weight and be efficient.”
“Now you're just haggling,” Killroy said, walking back towards the door. “Let's go in the other room and hammer out a price. Maybe we can add a bit to it with those weapons I brought?”
“I know nothing of those weapons,” Bargath said hastily. Even Clem could tell the ape was lying. “But maybe we can reach an agreement. I know some people who always need weapons.”
“You are a liar,” Kayla hissed at him. “You know who those weapons belong to. You know what they mean.”
Bargeth reached over and cupped Kayla's head under her chin, bringing her face close to his. Standing his full height, her feet were soon dangling off the ground by over a foot. Clem could see her straining to escape his grip, but she wasn't strong enough.
“I know lots of things, little monkey,” he growled. “but you need to know when to shut up. The concerns of the surface world are no longer yours. You just need to worry about repairing my machines and keeping me happy, understand?”
He dropped Kayla back to the ground and turned to the door. It slammed shut and Clem heard the key turn the lock.
Roderick began to weep again.
Roy had been put to work as a gofer. He spent the long days hurrying up and down the cramped tunnels and shafts; bringing water, carrying commands from the surface, doling out the day's meager servings of gruel. Within the first week his silver exoskeleton had become dented and scorched. Now he was an almost unrecognizable pile of blackened metal and creaking limbs.
Unknown to their slave masters, he had also become a conduit for information. It was through him that Clem was able to keep tabs on the others.
Roderick had been put to work in the offices. According to Roy, he had been tasked with keeping track of the mine's various hauls. If one of the shafts wasn't meeting its quota, it was up to him to tell Bargeth, who would then chastise the foremen. Once Roderick found out what happened to the workers after the foremen got done with them he'd begun to fudge the books a bit.
Clem worried about the day when Roderick's little ruse was discovered.
Kayla was in charge of keeping the lights on and the air flowing. Clem had seen her a few times, climbing onto rust-covered drilling machines or crawling into one of the hundreds of cramped tubes that housed the mine's various electrical cables and ventilation fans. In her off hours, if they could be called that, she was made to report to a massive garage on the surface where work was being done on some kind of complex contraption that she feared was some kind of war machine.
Between the three of them they had begun building a map of the installation. Roy kept it rolled up and hidden in a compartment in his thigh.
In the meantime, Clem dug.
The foremen didn't think much of him. He had come in fat and flabby, stunned by how suddenly his life had gone from normal to crazy. His first few days in the tunnels were spent wandering in a daze, trying to parse out how he had come to all this. So they had beaten him. And starved him. And then, when that didn't seem to do any good, they threw him into the deepest tunnel they could find and told him to dig.
What they didn't know was that they had started a fire.
Clem had seen everything get taken away from him. His home, his life, even his whole world. Now they dared to take his freedom as well. He treated each of his days like a grueling, fourteen hour workout. At first every muscle in his body protested and he seemed to get weaker. Then, little by little, he started to change. His beer gut melted, his arms and legs grew stronger, and his resolve began to harden like forged steel.
No one was going to save them except themselves. There was no cavalry riding over the hills. But in order to beat the combined forces of Bargeth and his cadre of foremen and slave masters, they would need an army.
So Clem had also started to make friends.
six foot four and full of muscle.”
Lonnie had started babbling again. Clem had tried getting used to it, he felt bad for the guy. If his story was to be believed, Lonnie had once been a long haul trucker who had ignored the various tornado warnings that had been issued along his route. He had been in The Eye for over five years now, most of them as a slave down here in Deep Shaft 12, and his brain had started to slip a bit. For one thing, he claimed to have had “Down Under” by Men at Work stuck in his head ever since he had landed here. The song had a tendency to come out in his speech.
“Who was six foot four?” Clem asked as he hauled his pick-axe back and slammed it into the rough stone in front of him. The two of them had been pulled off the main shaft a week ago and had been digging a narrow tunnel through nearly solid rock. Clem would do the digging, while Lonnie would haul the stone and dirt back to the main shaft and dump it into one of the carts.
“This foreman that used to work down here with us,” Lonnie said, grunting as he filled his shovel and hefted its load into the barrow. “He used to say this shaft was cursed. That he didn't understand why we were even digging it, since we had never struck any kind of vein or found any ore. Its just a hole in the ground that kills people, was what he said.”
“What happened to him?”
“Got crushed in a cave-in.”
Clem stopped chopping into the wall and stretched his back. Soon he'd have to start working the other side of his body so that his left arm and shoulder would get some exercise. Then he'd switch off with Lonnie and give his legs some work. From down the tunnel he heard a familiar clanking.
“Water?” came Roy's mechanical, garbled voice. It had started sounding more gravely soon after being sent down here.
“Sounds great!” Lonnie said with enthusiasm. He reached out the tin cup he kept strapped to his belt and Roy filled it.
“I'll take some of that,” Clem said, not moving toward the robot. Roy made his way to the back of the tunnel, carrying his arms a little further out to his sides so that Lonnie couldn't skirt in around. Clem liked Lonnie and thought that he was pretty harmless, but that didn't mean he trusted him. The temptation to rat on someone in order the get a little lighter duty was too strong for a lot of people down here. “Any news?”
“Roderick has been pulled off the books,” Roy whispered ominously.
“Oh, no. Is he...?”
“No, he's good. But they have him translating some tablets Deep Shaft 10 dug up. He couldn't tell me what they said, but right after they found them is when you two got pulled off the main shaft and told to dig this hole.”
“They're related? That's weird. What about Kayla?”
“That's another weird thing. Ever since those tablets have been found they've been having her work on that tank-thing more and more. She says it fully mobile now and they've expanded the tunnels so that it can run from Level 4 straight up to the surface. And get this, she had to weld a massive fish bowl to it.”
“A fish bowl? What the hell is going on around...?”
“Look Clem, your snake is back,” Lonnie shouted, pointing at the red and black garter snake that was coiling itself around Clem's boot. It had started hanging around with him a few days after he'd gotten here. Clem had named it Louise.
“There she is, I was starting to get worried,” Clem said, barely looking down at it. “Say Lonnie, you mind taking over the digging? I wouldn't mind being on barrow duty for a bit.”
“Sure thing, bud.”
Clem grabbed the handles to the wheelbarrow and began to push it up the tunnel, Roy walked beside him.
“So it looks like Roderick was right,” Clem whispered. “Bargeth and his cronies are looking for something down here. But what the hell is it?”
“It isn't unusual to come across other shafts that people have dug out ages ago. We certainly aren't the first to go mining down here. But as far as I know, as far Roderick was able to tell by going through the records I should say, is that no one has ever been this far down before.”
“Well here,” Clem handed Roy a crumpled up piece of paper once they reached the main shaft. “This is the layout we've been digging for the last few days, add it to the master map when you can. Try to find out more about what Kayla is working....”
“Clem! Clem!,” Lonnie ran out of the narrow tunnel. “I broke through to something! It looks like some kind of chamber! We gotta tell the foreman.”
“Lonnie, wait!” Clem shouted, but it was too late. Lonnie had already hit one of the buzzers that ran along the same wires as the lights. Within minutes, a foreman would be down here. Clem would have liked to have taken a look on his own first.
“What the hell is going on down here?” Foreman Rand shouted a short while later as he made his way down the tunnel, he made a point to shine his light into everybody's face just to be an asshole. “This better be good.”
“We found a chamber, boss,” Lonnie said, eager to please. “We were told to call you if....”
“Shut up,” Rand snapped as he shoved his way past the three of them and peered at the hole in the tunnel wall. A foul smell, like a stagnant swamp, drifted from it. Rand covered his nose and turned back to the three slaves, his back a few inches from the wall. “Any of you been in there? You tell the truth now.”
“No boss, none of us,” Lonnie said. “We called you the second we broke through, didn't we fellas?”
Clem and Roy nodded.
“Good. Robot, you go back up and tell Bargeth to get down here. Tell him we've found it. Use those words. And the two of you, go back to Deep Shaft 12 and get back to work. Don't breathe a word of this to anyone or you'll regret it.”
The three of them had just turned away from the foreman when a sound, like wet hose being dragged across a mud puddle, came from the behind them. Clem turned back towards the foreman just as a massive, black tendril whipped out of the hole, knocking Rand to the ground. The foreman, one of the worst and most cruel out of a gang renowned for their cruelty, barely had time to scream before his leg was enveloped by the foul smelling thing and he was dragged into the hole. They could hear his ribs and shoulders break as his body was forced through the wall.
“You better run!” Lonnie shouted. “You better take cover!”
Vipis watched the little red and black snake make its way down the darkened tunnel. Its movements were quick and furtive as it tried to stick to the shadows and not be seen. It was almost cute.
The assassin’s hand shot out and snatched it up, its head trapped before it even knew it had been caught. Leering, Vipis brought the struggling reptile up to his face and stared into its eyes.
“Well, hello there,” he said. “Where are you off to in such a hurry?”
“What have you caught, master?” came a voice from one of the darkened alcoves. Vipis turned to his apprentice and showed him snake.
“One of Mellisandre's little pets, it seems.”
The snake squirmed and hissed in Vipis's grip. Its tiny, red tongue shooting in and out of its mouth in an almost vulgar manner.
“Its threatening me!” Vipis exclaimed, delighted. “I like this one. It’s got spirit. Maybe I should have taken you on as my apprentice, eh little friend?”
“You could do worse,” the apprentice replied sardonically.
“So, little friend, who have you been spying on? If you tell me, I'll let you get back to Mellisandre and we'll forget this ever happened.”
The snake stopped struggling and seemed to consider the assassins words for a moment. Then it relaxed and began a long series of hisses. Vipis listened intently and then let the snake drop to the floor. It bolted down the tunnel and didn't look back.
“What did it say?” The apprentice asked, taking out a slim dagger and examining its edge.
“Our witchy compatriot assigned that snake to keep an eye on a human we encountered a few months ago,” Vipis said, his lower body coiling into a sitting position. “It seems he wasn't eaten by raccoons like I thought he would be. Instead, he's been enslaved by that half-dead monkey we've been keeping an eye on.”
“So he's being forced to dig up the God of Floods,” the apprentice stated. “Have they succeeded?”
“It seems so,” Vipis mused. “Which means those holy monkeys from the Obsidian Brigade are probably beginning to arm themselves already. There's going to be a bloodbath here, soon enough.”
“What do you think Mellisandre will do?”
“If a god has been freed, she will seek to enslave it. She'll convince the elders to march to war and meet the gorillas head on. If she wins, then she will have unimaginable power and conquer us all.”
“We don't want that, do we?”
“No,” Vipis sighed. “I don't think we do.”
“So I should go kill that tiny snake.”
“No,” Vipis sighed again.
“Okay. So we do nothing?”
“No,” again with the sigh. “What you are going to do is go see that human soldier you know and tell him everything. Inform him that should this new god be freed, then every living thing in the Eye will drown and be brought back to life as a waterlogged abomination. Convince them to send in the cavalry to save the day.”
“So instead of monkeys and snakes killing each other, then monkeys, snakes, and humans will be killing each other.”
“Glad you agree.”
Roy and Lonnie were both yelling at him to hurry up, but he couldn’t stop watching the flood of filthy water surge out of the tunnel. They were pulling him, dragging him up the main shaft, but he felt mesmerized by it. Captivated by how the lantern light caught the ripples and cast tiny rainbows along the rock walls. Even the debris that was churning in it looked beautiful. And the black tendrils that ran through it made it look like flowing marble.
It would be easy to just let it flow over him and be immersed by it. To let flow into and through him. To let those black tendrils fill his veins and....
“Black tendrils?” Clem muttered. He snapped out of it and saw the water for what it was; death. And the black things flowing in it were worse than death. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Hey, that’s a great idea,” Roy shouted and let go of arm. “I wish I’d thought of it.”
The three made it one of the ladders that would take them up a level, Lonnie scrambled up it first. As Roy and Clem watched him climb, Clem began to plan out the rest of their escape in his head. He was happy he had spent so much time memorizing the mine’s intricate layout.
“I’ll go after Kara,” Clem said as he took the first rung of the ladder. “You take Lonnie and get Roderick to safety. Avoid Bargeth and any of the supervisors. Try and free as many of the other slaves as possible.”
Roy agreed and began climbing behind him. They reached the top, Lonnie stood at the corner where the main shaft met the side tunnel they had crawled up into. He motioned for them to be quiet.
They could hear Bargeth long before they saw him.
“I want as many of the slaves below this level within the next five minutes,” Bargeth shouted at the lackey next to him. “Our god is rising and She needs sacrifices in order to gain her full power back.”
“Yes, High Priest,” the lackey answered, running off to do his master’s bidding.
Bargeth paused at the entrance of the side tunnel and began to sniff. Clem, Roy, and Lonnie pressed themselves against the rock wall and prayed that the shadows would hide them. After a moment, the half-rotted gorrilla continued down the main shaft.
“Change of plan,” Clem said after Bargeth moved on. “Lonnie, you remember Kara, the chimp who came in with Roy and I?”
“Go find her, tell her what’s going on,” Clem said. “Roy, you need to get Roderick. Hopefully he will know what is going on and maybe he’ll know how we can stop it.”
“What do mean ‘stop it’?” Roy asked. “We’re getting the hell out of here, right? And what are you going to be doing?”
“I can’t let those people die,” Clem said. He gave Roy a grave look. “This place, this whole place, is crazy and wrong and terrible. But I can’t let that make me crazy and terrible. I’ve spent every minute since I’ve gotten here waiting for someone to come save my sorry ass. And that’s what everyone else is doing, too.
“But nobody is coming, Roy. And we can’t let those people die down there.”
“So what are you gonna do?” Lonnie asked, gazing at Clem.
“I’m going to go talk to a zombie gorilla-man.”
Clem had always had respect for the sheer power of the ape family. Even at rest, the beasts looked strong and exhibited an awe inspiring confidence in their physical attributes. Clem had often remarked, when watching a nature program or visiting a zoo, that he sure as hell would never want to be on the wrong side of one.
As he lay on his back, his vision blurred and his ears ringing, Clem fondly remembered a time when he didn’t know what being backhanded by one felt like. That time, of course, being about five seconds ago.
“I remember you,” Bargath said vaguely, wiping Clem’s blood off his knuckles. “I bought you from those soldiers a few months ago. You were fat then. I’m glad to see that you took the initiative to make yourself a more presentable sacrifice for our new god and savior.”
“You aren’t gonna win, Bargeth! You and your slave masters are going face justice. My justice!” was what Clem was trying to say. Instead he vomited up a gout of blood and two teeth. He had really needed those teeth, too.
Clem managed to sit up and focus on the great ape and his surroundings. The two of them were perched on a ledge, though how he had gotten here had been punched out of his skull, and below them churned an immense, angry flood of water. Debris, dozens of bodies, and a shapeless black form swirled within it.
“Soon, you will know my god’s power,” Bargeth rumbled, his cadence reminiscent of an evangelical preacher. “Soon you will know her embrace. We all will. I will be the ultimate sacrifice though, you are merely an appetizer. For years I have steeped myself in...”
“Jesus Christ,” Clem mumbled, his voice slurring through sluggish, swollen lips. “Just pitch me off the damn cliff now and save the sermon. Don’t think I’m going to do everything I can do give your bitch god a case of indigestion at least, though.”
“What did you say?”
Clem, through his still ringing ears, thought he heard his name being called. Looking over his shoulder, he could see Roderick and Roy at the mouth of cavern across the chasm. Roderick was frantically yelling at him and waving a thick, ancient book at him.
“What did you call my beloved?” Bargeth had somehow gotten paler. It seemed that Clem had pushed a button.
“I called her a bitch,” it hurt his face to smile, but Clem couldn’t help it. His life hadn’t amounted to much but maybe in dying he could make up for it some. “I mean, look at her. Someone must not of liked her much to keep her locked in a cave forever. Don’t you think you could have found a non-caged up hell-god to get busy with? I mean, you are an ugly fuc...”
The scream of rage was worth it to Clem, though it seemed his bladder disagreed. Bargath was running full tilt at him, his hands twisted to claws and reaching for his neck. Clem could still hear Roderick screaming his name, everything seemed to slow down.
And Clem saw his life flash before his eyes. Roadhouse, Jean Claude Van Damme, Walker: Texas Ranger episodes, wrestling. Wait a minute, that isn’t my life, Clem thought. That’s...
Clem fell onto his back and raised both legs. Bargeth’s stomach ran into his feet and Clem’s knees buckled under the raging gorilla’s weight. But Clem just rolled with it, Bargeth’s momentum helping power him over. For a moment, the two were face to face, then the great ape was sailing past him and over the side of the ledge. Clem spun and watched Bargeth fall into the chasm below.
It was perhaps the most awesome thing Clem had done in his entire life.
Staggering to his feet, Clem waved at Roderick and Roy and tried to not to look as stunned as he felt. He had just defeated his nemesis, the thing that had kept him chained for months just died because of Clem’s actions.
But instead of cheering him, Roderick threw the book he had been carrying to the ground and let out a frustrated scream. Roy had covered his face with his hands and seemed to be moaning.
“You fool!” Roderick yelled across the chasm. “That was exactly what he wanted to have happen!”
The water began to churn more violently, spouts of liquid shot high into the air, and the entire mine had begun to shake. Rocks fell from the ceiling and Clem almost lost his balance. Looking over the edge, he could see something, something black and huge, begin to rise up out of the water and reach for the cavern roof.
Roy and Clem each grabbed one of Roderick’s arms and heaved him up out of the hole. Setting the old man down, the human and the robot both collapsed onto the ground and sighed. The fresh air felt good, but Clem wished that he was looking up into a clear blue sky instead of the perpetually spinning tornado wall that imprisoned them all.
He could still hear the roar of water from below and the ground shook. They wouldn’t be able to stand still for too long. But the sound, that almost deafening roar, sounded a bit different than it did down in the darkness of the mines.
“Um...Clem?, he heard Roy say. Clem squeezed his eyes shut and tried to block him out. Just five more minutes of rest and he would be ready to move again. His head was killing him. “Clem?”
“Shut up,” Clem sounded whiny even to himself. “I just got my ass handed to me by an undead gorilla, just let me lay down a second.”
“Clement,” Roderick snapped. “You may want to see this.”
“Get up, fat ass.”
Clem’s eyes shot open. “Kara?”
Clem sat up and looked at the small chimpanzee standing in front of her. She had lost weight and looked filthy, but otherwise she looked just as perpetually pissed off as usual. Clem was ecstatic. The roaring had gotten louder when he sat up though and he couldn’t hear what she said next. Shrugging, she just pointed behind him.
Clem twisted around and looked behind him.
The mine, which had once been level with the surface, had sunk a hundred feet into the ground. Everything shook as the churning water that was rising up from below collapsed the tunnels and churned the earth below into a muddy stew. But standing in that great depression, waving and chanting his name over and over again, were hundreds of the slaves that managed to escape.
Clem stood on shaking legs and the noise, the roar of the crowd, grew louder.
“What the hell is this?” he asked, looking at his companions.
“Ask him,” Kara said, pointing to where Lonnie stood peeking around a rock.
He walked up to Clem sheepishly.
“Hey, boss,” he said. “Looks like you got out. It’s great to see you.”
“What’s going on, Lonnie?”
“Well, you told me to go get Kara and save everyone, right?”
“Well, I just told a few of the other slaves what you said about leaving no one behind and that you were going to fight Bargeth and save everyone.”
“Yeah,” Clem said slowly and gesturing to the crowd. “But what’s all this?”
“The story kind of....spread. And now, since you’re here and Bargeth isn’t, they may be under the impression that you might of possibly....defeated him in one-on-one combat.”
Clem slapped his palm to his forehead, which caused him to stagger as pain lanced through his skull. He wondered for a moment if he might have gotten a concussion. The crowd had quieted down, as if awaiting a speech or a proclamation. They looked at Clem expectantly.
“That’s nuts,” he hissed at Lonnie. “And I didn’t beat Bargeth, he wailed the piss...”
“Maybe we shouldn’t go into that,” Roderick stepped up to Clem and whispered in his ear. “We need to organize these people and get them out of this pit. They need a leader.”
“That’s not going to be hard. We just need some planks, and there are ladders lying all over the place.”
“But who’s going to get them past them?” Roy asked, pointing up at the edge of the pit.
Clem looked up. A line of golden-armored gorillas had formed along the southern edge of the depression. Each of them was brandishing a glimmering hand weapon and chanting.
Along the northwestern edge an army of humans had gathered. They were also armed to the teeth and had even brought a goddamn tank.
“Or the Snake People.”
Hundreds of Snake People writhed and hissed along the eastern bank, each of them holding some kind of weapon as well.
“I’d forgotten about the Snake People,” Clem said mildly, as the world around him began to darken and he felt himself slip off into unconsciousness.
END BOOK I