Above me the ceiling is cracking, I can see where the seams meet and where they break and a bright light is shining through. This is the end. I stand and I feel no pain, the blood is dried. Everything is a second too slow, every movement delayed and out of sync, the legs and arms belong to the body and not me and I can only tell them where to move.
I move and go through the door, I have no fear of the outside today. I want to see it. I move through the hallway and see all the walls and the ceilings and the floors coming apart, see the burning sunshine burst through, feel the air of the outside. The world disintegrates wherever I step, whatever I look to.
And I’m running now, and the air has changed and the sky has changed, and there is rock under my bare feet and green leaves brushing past me. I remember what you told me, that Tonogu was dragged away, that he might still be alive.
“They set upon us,” you said, “and we were trapped with no way to the beach.” Your hands and voice trembled when you spoke, “I killed two with my dagger, and he struck down at least twice as many with his trusty spear, but there were too many, hissing and spitting on all sides. Tonogu had me run while he fended them off. And though he told me not to look back, I turned as I ran, and I saw one of the beasts had taken hold of his leg in its jaws, and he was screaming as it dragged him into the darkness.”
I am running to where you last saw him alive, to find the trail of the predators and to find the nest where they would so gruesomely dismember him away from the eyes of the Lord. Angry, I yell to a group of boys poking at the dead body of a disgusting lizard – shame it is already dead – and ask where the closest Anraknovi hole can be found.
Finding the mouth of the yet unblocked den, I climb down without hesitation. Creaky wooden steps lead down – creaky steps I’d walk down on Christmas Eve to find the presents my parents laid out in the living room, slow and careful, creak too loud and dad will come down to beat my behind – and down below the whole house still falls apart. The front wall of the house has collapsed and the grass and street beyond is exposed, jagged outline of brick and insulation framing the incoming stream of sun. Outside a little boy in a bright blue helmet cries over his bike lying on its side. And another siren begins to wail, low and long and then high, the oncoming of disaster, a dreaded tornado call, though the sky is clear and blue yet.
Deeper still I penetrate this lair, littered with familiar relics, dining room tables and kitchen countertops and old reclining comfy chairs. A fog covers the ground now, stony in places, carpeted in others, as it slants downwards to darker realms. “Tonogu!” I call out, loud as I can. The noise echoes off every surface to grow to immense size. Behind me, distant and indistinct, the bellowing alarm continues its song.
At my feet I see a spear covered in blood. It is Tonogu’s, I can tell by the notches cut into the handle, one for each shark it has killed. Realizing I have no weapon in my hands, I pick it up and continue downward. The air is becoming thick and humid; I can feel the heat now from the lava as it churns from deep below. There is also a stink in the air, the smell of rotting meat. I know I am getting close.
Even deep in this hole, the siren outside still reaches, though it has become so low and muffled like a small humming inside my ear. But another sound starts to fill the tunnel – that familiar hiss with something else, the sound of cracking bone, of flesh torn and swallowed. A distant orange glow, the light of churning magma, points to the lair of the cold-blooded creatures. The rock has become slick and smooth, discarded and picked-clean carcasses of unfamiliar animals litter the steep path and I must step carefully to avoid slipping or making a sound.
Silently, I step into the wide chamber, heat radiating from every surface. At first I see no movement, only that awful stench hanging still and hot. Then they come, fast and with only the lightest tapping of scaled feet running on rock. There are at least five I can see, the first is easily dispatched with Tonogu’s so sharp spearhead. But the great lizards are fast and with the weapon lodged into the first body, I am left unarmed against them.
The second one strikes and I grab it by the snout, holding close the terrible jaws as best I could though its strength is so terrific. With great effort and all of my own weight, I shove the beast into the other attackers, causing confusion and a large amount of hissing and snapping while I wrench the gory spear from out the head it has pierced.
I am more careful against the rest and, using the spear’s length to keep the reptiles out of leaping range, I jab mercilessly at them, with power and speed. In and out goes the head, returning bloodier with each plunge. More emerge from unseen holes and I am surrounded on all sides it seems. Still I fight, swinging the weapon around in a great arc, stabbing as I go, keeping the predators at bay though their circle around me grows tighter.
From up the tunnel, I can hear voices, shouts and yells, the boys of the island coming to help me, running down the way with their war cries. I do not want them to come. I do not want them to take this from me. And I scream and thrust my spear again and again and the bodies fall into heaps all around. Suddenly though, another terrible noise is heard, deep and rumbling.
The rock underfoot trembles and something – so foul is it that its stench burns my nostrils and brings tears to my vision – enters the chamber. The other Anraknovi scatter, as swift as they came, and are vanished into their unseen holes. And now the rabble arrives behind me, over-eager boys ready to fight and be savage. And now before us stands the massive matriarch of the reptiles, her visage awash in horns and pointed, saliva-dripping teeth. Thrice the size of her offspring, the queen menaces mighty and dragon-like, and her rot-lined mouth opens to let out not a hiss but a roar that chills me to my core and produces shrieks from the boys.
Arrows and hooked fishing spears fly at the horrid mother but the sharpened tips bounce off her scarred and thickly-armored hide, falling harmlessly, clinking against the ground. Yet I hold fast to my own weapon, watching as the giant lizard charges forward, jaw widening still as she prepares to consume all who stand before. And the mouth grows wider, and I can see into the depths of that slimy canal.
With a tremendous heave, seeing no other way to possibly defeat the rampaging monstrosity, I hurl the spear straight and true right into the gullet of the queen. The spear pierces its mark, puncturing the soft flesh of the monster’s throat, and it roars with gurgling in the sound. Black, thick liquid begins to pour and spray from the wound and we all watch in fear as the great lizard thrashes about in violent agony. For many moments, perhaps minutes, she writhes and sways drunkenly, the ground beneath her claws shiny with her spilt blood, until at last the ancient mother collapses.
“I think she might be killed,” says a voice behind me, Ma’tut from the sound of it, and I turn with a smile on my face. But it is not Ma’tut I see. Instead I am greeted by the smiling face of that skinny man from the mirror, hairy and gaunt-faced. He looks at me wordlessly now and I can only stare back, unable to speak, until his face begins to contort and he begins to scream – the sound is like the wind-up wail of the outside siren, it is deafening.
I turn back to see that the monster has re-awakened and is bounding towards me with an unsteady gait, glazed-over eyes pointed my way as I stand without defense. Mouth unhinges and I see those needle teeth grow longer, growing until they pierce my midsection. Weak hands try to fend her off, push away oncoming death, but the powerful grip of her jaw envelops my head, crushing my skull until I see only black.
* * *
My eyes open to a cream-colored ceiling and a dancing square-shaped light of deep orange. I am home and can hear the sounds of gulls calling and waves crashing. The room is as it has always been, tidy and quiet. But I am not alone. A hand touches my face, soft and cold. Looking up I see a woman, I see you, sweet Alma, smiling down at me, with hair curls falling onto your face.
“You’re finally awake. You’ve had us all so worried.”
Us? I scan the room and see other faces crowding it, all with smiles, happy eyes. My mother is there, tearing up with joy as she mouths something I can’t understand. Next to her stands Tonogu, wearing a frayed grey t-shirt, stained with blotches of paint – a weekend shirt, that’s what it’s called, for yard work and whatnot, looks so familiar – and he too is happy, laughing now, it is so good to see him safe. A dream, all a dream, Alma is safe, Tonogu is safe, the island is safe and it is here, it has always been here, right outside my window.
It is then that I notice the tiny child in Alma’s arms, an infant with eyes closed, held close to my wife’s chest. I stare and I reach up a hand to touch its soft, fat face with my fingertips. And just then a large group of boys burst into the room, laughing and talking, dark-skinned and full of noise. I worry that the baby will wake and cry but it continues to sleep as Alma rocks it gently. The boys all crowd around the bed and talk in hushed tones – after Alma shushes them – about adventure and bravery and fishing and hunting around the island. Everyone is happy and for hours it seems the room is filled with talk of this or that and the laughing of friends.
“We are glad you are awake, Nathan, but you really must get your rest.” Alma says, shooing away the crowd until it is only me and her and the baby left.
“What is its…”
“His name is your name; he is your son, your Nathanial.”
“Can I hold him?”
“Yes, when you get some more rest my love.” She kisses my forehead.
“But I’ve been asleep so long…” I try to argue as I fight to keep my eyes open.
“But you are so very tired still…”
She is right of course. My eyes are closing. The room becomes quiet again, the colors seem to change, and the ceiling and the walls shift, but only slightly. Someone is standing close but I can’t see who though I know it is you, and you are watching me. I am very tired now though and it is so quiet and the light is going away. My eyelids are shutting, too heavy to hold anymore, and I feel myself falling into deep dark sleep.