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Chapter 23: Courage

April 27, 2013

Ian felt his pockets and searched his bag. He’d got nothing sharp. He remembered the expensive camping knife in his tent.

“What kind of sharp?” asked Karen.
Fred shrugged. “We can’t climb the walls,” he said. “Maybe we can cut them.”
“I’ve got a Swiss army knife,” said Pip. “It’s blunt as hell, though.”

“Cut them? What for?”
“Dunno,” he said. “Footholds, maybe.” It was a hell of a long way to climb up, if you had to cut every hole as you went. If all you had was a blunt penknife.

“Sharp makes a good weapon, too,” said Fred. He was looking up at the circling shapes. Ian was wondering if the soul-eating light-monster thing was stabbable.

Pip got her knife out. The blade was stiff.
“Want me to do it?” offered Ian.
“No thanks,” said Pip, acidly. She could give Daisy a run for her money, that one.

“I should try there first,” he suggested. Why was he feeling so defensive? “I think it’s a bit less steep.”

She and Fred went to the section he had pointed out. He followed. Wanting to be useful. In real life, back in the world he knew, there was always something that could be done. Always someone to talk to, some button to press, some lever to pull. But then real life had never been quite as real as this.

Pip probed the wall.
“There aren’t any weak spots,” said Ian. “I’ve been looking.”
“OK, then,” she said. “I’ll just try anywhere.”

She raised the knife and pressed the point into the surface, sliced across.
Ian couldn’t see that it had made any impression.
Pip put her hand back up to the surface. “Not a scratch,” she said.

“Might need to be a bit more violent?” Karen, curious, had come to join them.

Pip raised the knife again, higher this time, up against her shoulder. She stabbed the wall. The point went in. She leaned on it, pushing it in further, and then began to saw back and forth.

“I made a hole!” she said, pulling out the knife.
Ian felt the hole while she wiped the blade.

“I can get my fingers in,” he said. “Christ almighty!” He withdrew his hand, shocked. He had expected earth. Something like earth. They were underground, after all.
“What is it?” asked Karen.
“I don’t know. It’s wet and sticky.”

He raised his fingers to sniff them. It smelled sweet. He wondered briefly if he dared taste it, then wiped his hand on his trousers.

“Look at that,” said Fred. A viscous liquid was seeping out of the wall, running down the sides.
“It’s like it’s bleeding,” said Karen.
“I vote we stab it again,” said Pip.

“No!”
It was Hazel and she rushed towards them, struggling to stay upright on the wobbly surface.
“Don’t!” she said.
“Why not?” asked Karen.
“It hurts.” said Hazel.

Lena was behind Hazel, and Ian noticed that Fatima was struggling to rise. He went to help her. She leaned on him, limping. That leg injury must have been worse than she had let on. Falcon held her free hand. They wanted to know what was happening.

“I don’t care if it hurts,” said Karen. “It should bloody well let us out if it doesn’t want us to hurt it.”
“I mean it hurts me.” said Hazel. She lifted the hem of her skirt to show them. There was a scratch, and blood on her leg. It was silvery.
“It’s all shiny,” said Falcon, drawing closer to Fatima.

It made Ian think of unicorn blood, in some film he’d seen with a girlfriend once. He looked back at the oozing wall and then back at Hazel’s leg.

“You mean – when Pip stabbed the wall, it cut you?”
“Yes,” said Lena. “I felt her wince.”

Everyone was quiet for the moment, putting two and two together.
“So you’re connected to it?” said Fatima. “We can’t hurt it without hurting you?”
“Looks that way,” said Hazel.

“Then you have to get it out of you,” said Karen.
“We might have to hurt it to escape,” said Fred. He sounded scared, but there was steel in his voice. Grit. Ian hadn’t thought he had that in him.
“I don’t know how,” said Hazel, faintly.
“Yes, you do,” said Fatima. They all looked at her. “You have to show it your soul.”

“But I -” Hazel looked at Lena, helpless.
“You’ve got no choice,” said Pip.

They were lining up, ranged against her. Backing her into a corner. Ian almost felt sorry for her. And she had a point, after all. How do you go about showing someone your soul? Even if you wanted to. It wasn’t something Ian had thought much about. Souls. It all sounded a bit wishy-washy to him. Of course – that was before. There was nothing wishy-washy about being down in this pit.

Lena took her hand.
“You fought it off,” she said. “Before.”
“Yes,” said Hazel.
“Stop fighting,” said Lena.
“I didn’t want to disappear. Like Helen. You think I should disappear?”
“I’ll hold you down.”

It must be a complicated thing, the soul of a person like Hazel, Ian thought. More complicated than average, anyway.

He took a step towards her. “I’ll hold on, too.”
They both looked at him, surprised.
He felt himself blushing and looked away. “If you need backup.”

“Thank you,” said Hazel, and held her hand towards him.

He took it and the three of them stood together.

Hazel closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She let it out slowly. As she did so, Ian could see her brightening, starting to glow again. Her skin coruscated and her features became indistinct, lost in the blaze. Then she inflated, or so it appeared. Ian saw her as a giantess, and her light engulfed him.

He shut his eyes. He could still feel her hand. It was hot, but no bigger than it had been before. He gripped it. It was the light that was inflating. Not her.

“NO!” she shouted. “NOOOOOOO!”

Ian felt her pulling away from him. He held onto her with both hands.

The light was rising. It was trying to take her with it. He grabbed the leg nearest him. Lena had done the same and they stood side by side, holding onto Hazel. Ian’s face was level with her crotch. He felt a bit queasy for a second.

Her body crackled. He and Lena dragged on her legs. He held onto her and thought of the branches and saplings that he had grasped at only hours before, when he had been fighting the river. The light continued to rise, and he kept his hold.

He did not know how much time passed. It felt epic – but maybe it was only a few minutes.

He noticed that her feet were no longer glowing. Gradually, the light was beginning to leave her: they were gaining ground. Slowly, the dark crept up her body until there was too little alight to keep her up – she fell abruptly to the ground. Landed on top of them.

Ian extricated himself, crawled away, rubbing his shoulder. Hazel was sobbing, Lena held her. She was dark now, just like the rest of them. He wondered if it had left any – damage.

“It’s gone,” said Lena, soothing. “It’s gone.”

Gone from Hazel, yes.
But not altogether gone. It was hanging in the air, a few metres above them.

No longer Hazel-shaped. It was a cat. Washing its face – as though it had been at the cream. It looked smug. If Ian had been the type to kick cats, he’d have wanted to kick this one into the middle of next week.

It stood up. Stretched.
GOOOOOD, it boomed.
WE SAW. THE. TRUE SELF.

Hazel looked up and Ian saw the tears on her face. The cat-light glistened off them.
“And?” she asked.  Fear in her voice. Ian winced.

AND, WHAT?

There was a thunderous noise, like a storm, purring.

The cat began to lose shape. It began to spread, like an amorphous cloud of dissipating fog.
Perhaps, in a moment, there would be nothing left but the grin.

Had they defeated it? Was that it?

AND WHO’S NEXT?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2013 11:59 pm

    Wordcount – 1378
    Prompt – cat (DichotomyOf)

    Please suggest prompts for Chapter 24 and beyond in the comments.
    (Check the sidebar for a link to more info about this interactive project!)

  2. April 28, 2013 4:14 am

    I nominated you for the versatile blogger award! Best wishes.

    The Versatile Blogger Award acceptance rules:

    1). Thank the person who nominated you
    2). Link back to their blog
    3). Nominate up to 15 people for the award (let them know they have been nominated)
    4). Share seven things about yourself

  3. April 29, 2013 8:29 pm

    love love love the smug cat 🙂

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