You Can’t Eat the Slugs Down Here
By Dani Brown
Sinkholes open all the time. A little one, good for a poke with a stick – a secret between a boy and a girl. They both have sticks and a lot of anger – poking helps.
Sinkholes open without warning. Sinkholes swallow a boy and a girl. Down through the depths of the Earth they fall, never to be seen on the surface again.
Darkness surrounds them. Strange noises click all around them. A sliver of light appears above and to the right. Shadows stretch out before them.
Anger finds itself replaced by fear. A boy and a girl clutch each other. Daylight above, close to high noon; night time below, close to midnight. They don’t see the slugs with their teeth glistening in their own natural light.
Sleep washes over them. The fast beat of their hearts, the shards of fear like glass in their lungs and the belts around their chests dissolve into a world of dreams.
Something nudges and sniffs at them until they re-join the waking world. The girl wipes her eyes first. She has to wipe them again, believing that sleep kept her in its clutches. A pinch. A slap. A vague memory of the tumble through the sink hole.
Pink nostrils flare, interested, at her. A long neck bends somewhere above near the trees. A scream traps itself in her throat. She can’t nudge the boy asleep next to her. She can’t do anything except breath and stare.
A small head attached to a large body nudges the boy.
The creature thinks these two appear young – no older than hatchlings on their first trip out of the nest. Another pair of lost travellers with the clock messed up. The creature’s heart cries for her own children, kidnapped years ago by an old man of the same species as these two, with screams on his breath of fame and fortune. He didn’t make it out alive. None of them did.
Her flat teeth pluck at the clothes of the boy and the girl. A crack sounds overhead – one of the morning storms. The first drops of rain splash. If the hatchlings can’t swim, they will drown. Rain come down heavy below the Earth. Rivers form in the morning and dry away to dust in the evening.
The boy rubs his eyes. Sleep doesn’t hold him the way it did the girl. The pink head nudges them both until they stand. Experience with humans means that she knows the adults wear undergarments. She hopes the hatchlings do too.
She plucks at their bottoms in search of the elastic. These two are more difficult to pick up with her teeth than one adult. And they squirm. She drops one to pick up the other.
A bit of a thinker, but not a talker. Her kind don’t talk. She doesn’t dare stamp her feet – that would scare them. With her long neck, she places the first on her back. The second she grabs with speed before he can escape. She places him with his friend – comfort came in pairs.
The rain drops fall with more intent. The clouds fight the rays of light. It won’t be long before they win. The hatchlings must be with the others of their kind before the weather becomes worse.
She wasn’t one to move with speed. With a long neck strong enough to break the back of even a T-Rex, or the occasional super-sized mega-elephant, she has no need for speed. Long life is granted to only the slowest of creatures. But with hatchlings on her back and the threat of rain, now would be a good time to run. She hasn’t done so in many years.
She doesn’t see the trap. Fishing wire from above, tied across two trees. It hits at her knees, slicing them off. She carries on a few steps before she notices, and comes down with a thud on her stumps.
Tiny men with spears shout from behind the trees. They aren’t of the same species as the hatchlings on her back. The girl falls. Soft mud cushions her. The boy holds on.
She lacks a voice to scream her agony. Blood attracts the first predators. The men with spears throw them into her pink hide. They are sharpened, with poison on the tips. They pierce her hide without effort.
The tiny men pick up the girl from the mud and encourage the boy to slide down the creature’s long neck. The boy doesn’t move. One of the spear throwers manages to climb up and grab him around the waist. The child screams. It makes no difference.
Rain drops fall. They are large enough to swallow the children and the spear men. They need shelter.
Trees fall in a path leading to the dead pink dinosaur. The spear men do not have much time before the terror comes upon them.
The children are in shock by the time they are bundled beneath blankets in the back of a cave. The sound of rain hits everything, so conversation is impossible.
The terror down here takes the shape of flesh-eating giant prehistoric slugs with teeth. They come out from under their rocks at night. Slow they may be, but they still have enough power to take down the biggest and meanest dinosaurs.
Safety doesn’t exist anywhere two nights in a row. The chances of escaping this world are slim to none, due to a lack of anywhere to set up a lab to tear a purposeful hole in reality. To step through a random portal would be risking stepping into something worse.
The slugs themselves ooze into everywhere with a hole in reality. Governments make it a game to cover them up and relegate them to the darkest realms of conspiracy theories.
Spears present no obstacle to the slugs. When hit, they spray toxic slime in a fifty-two-foot radius. Not even the best spear throwers risk it in case they hit an extra-squirty one.
Each night more come out of whatever holes they crawled underneath to sleep away the hot summer sun. Spear men who make it through a winter say they crawl out of frozen rocks and melt the snow with a green glow beneath the northern lights.
Safety is an issue when sleepiness washes over the party. Guards sit watch, but without coffee or cocaine they soon drift off to a land without slugs.
The population is dwindling. Each night someone is carried away, wrapped up in slime and spat onto the ceiling in a dry cave at the bottom of the lake. Rescue missions fail. Bodies decompose and the slugs absorb them. Spear tips are added to the rows of the slugs’ teeth. The poison the men dipped them in is absorbed and used against them. The bits of twine that hold the spears together are excreted, and used to make nests for the slugs’ eggs.
The cave offers shelter from the storm whilst the children come to their senses. The arrival of young blood presents an opportunity to connect with the other humanoids who find themselves down here. Under normal circumstances, spear men are to be avoided.
They plan to move out in the morning once the rains pass. The trek to the other humanoids will take all day. Rumour has it the other humanoids tame pterodactyls as a mode of smart transport, and use them to hide up in the air away from the slugs and their sharp teeth. Just a rumour, but still, there can’t be smoke unless someone lights a fire.
The children must be protected. It seems stupid now to have killed what could have been a mode of transport and protection. They should have formed an alliance, but no creatures ever want to form anything with spear men.
The children, so young, will force the other humanoids to grudgingly accept the spear men. The spear men couldn’t trust other creatures though. Never again will they be lured into a false sense of security.
There will be no moon tonight. New moon night in this world stretches on longer than any other night of the month. The slugs have a bizarre mating ritual based on gratification. Few creatures experience sexual pleasure, but their ritual just proves they are one of the exceptions like no live-action porno flick ever could.
One-by-one the spear men drift off to sleep. The children wake. Somehow, shock had pushed them into natural sleep. The rush of memories erases the confusion. Eyes, on the stalks of a slug, stare at them. It doesn’t need light to reflect. Slugs have their own – bright enough to illuminate the blood on their teeth and leftover tendons of the spear men.
The nuclear green glow indicates it will always be summer here - not winter like the propaganda would have the children believe. Broken spears litter the floor. The men are gone. The slug bodies are bloated.
A weird click from back of the throat of the slug on top of the children alerts other slugs to their location. Children do not make good dinner. The slugs want their fresh young blood to take back to their underwater kingdom in the centre of the lake. Entertainment for the young slugs. A status symbol for all of slug-kind.
The click grows louder as more slugs join in. Claws, harvested from a raptor, were brought forth and used to slice gills into the children’s necks. Slugs grab the children by the ankles and drag them out. Heads bang on the rock, and the children black out.
The water becomes icy at a depth of twenty feet. It wakes both children. Underwater screams echo around the lake. Too much attention, when the slugs desire to operate in secret, results in ball-gags for the children. The balls are very fresh eggs, laid right there in their mouths. The water burns and itches as it finds its way into every cut. Mouthfuls of slug eggs to bite down on ease the pain slightly.
The little girl notices the mermaids. On the surface world, her brother would wind her up and tell her mermaids had long filed teeth, scales for skin and snakes for hair. It pleases her to discover his lies.
She reaches for the boy. The slugs do not allow them to touch. The enchantments that lie over them will break if they arrive at the centre of the lake with fingers laced together.
Blackness surrounds them. It takes a moment for the children to see the luminescent dots. Plankton drift on unseen currents. Everything glows down here. The centre of everything revolves around the cave.
The entrance looks like a giant green mouth, ready to swallow them and excrete their bones into some other dimension. The boy tries to swim away. More slugs came out and grab his legs. No hope for escape.
The girl wants to know more about the mermaids. She’s also ware of the giant white shark floating above them.
“Don’t worry, she’s sleeping,” she heard whispered into the centre of her brain.
Megalodon. But those are meant to be extinct. Confusion washes over her. Mermaids don’t exist and dinosaurs are also extinct.
A wondrous world surrounds them. A meeting place of past, present, future and outer space. With a final look at the sleeping shark, the girl is dragged into the cave. If that thing wakes, she won’t even feel its teeth as it eats her. She shudders. Ripples travel through the water and hit the shark.
The airlock drains and dries their clothes and hair at the same time without dehydrating the slugs or the eggs the children spit onto the floor. Once dry, the door rises from above.
The slugs urge them into an underground city. Despite the location – a floating cave in the exact centre of the lake - moisture presents no issue. It doesn’t even drip down the walls.
The cackle of the radio and burst of electronics, dropped in from various times and places, makes their hair stand up and dance. The children cling to each other. Windows to the outside show the sharks. They appear to be surrounded by a school of them. Little sharks dodge the Megalodon – they don’t want to become dinner either.
The slugs assure them of their dominance. The children do not believe it. The top of the food chain surely are the sharks.
One swam up. The children’s legs turn to jelly. The slugs form themselves into a sofa for the children to collapse upon and watch the mysteries of the below.
Portals to various worlds open at random intervals. A shark swims through one and emerges out of another with a Loch Ness monster clenched in its massive jaws. No one challenged it for its prey. The children experience an understanding. Thanks to the randomness of the portals, they have entertainment outside the windows.
A portal opens in the cave. The children don’t walk through, but stare. They know not to attempt escape. Anything they ever want will come out of the portals. It doesn’t matter if it hasn’t been invented yet; Somewhere, at some other time, it will have been.
A waiter steps out with a full tray. Their dinner is served, the portal closing before he could step through it. He looks around. He is having a bad acid trip.
“Bad acid. Too much acid. Not enough acid.”
He sees the window and looks out, mesmerised. The girl stands next to him. The mermaids ride side-saddle on the sharks. She takes the waiter’s hand.
“You can’t eat the slugs down here.”