ok, so this is something i’ve never done before.  here we have a chapter from my current WIP.  i’ve been working on this for over a year now, on and off, and i’m quite fond of it.  but, as you can see from the heading, i’ve not got very far.  no matter.  charley lives, and that’s enough for me.  i am posting this raw and unedited, so please forgive its generally ragged appearance.  the reason for the posting of this, rather than a stand-alone story, is that my muse is being a bit stingy, and the writing is not flowing as i would like it to .  but i really wanted to participate in #WW, and i really wanted to write this scene, which was inspired by a visit to Oxford a couple of weeks ago.  so here is my #WeekendWriter offering, combining the two.  please be kind.

Chapter 16

Bookended by Leela and Isla, Charley emerged through the portal into a dimly lit walkway, lined with glass and wood display cases.  On his left, they were floor to ceiling, filled with all sorts of exotic objects.  Mostly long, slender objects.

Isla chuckled.  “Now, why am I not at all surprised that we ended up in the weapons gallery, Leela?”

Leela, more relaxed than Charley had ever seen her, actually kept the customary grump in her voice to a minimum, and answered Isla in a very civilised manner.  “I like it here.  I find it soothing.  Besides, some of these are old friends, aren’t you?”  This last was practically cooed as she turned to one of the display cases and ran her eyes lovingly over what was there.  Charley was somehow unsurprised to see that it was a massive, six-foot long broadsword with a grip that was at least another foot and a half in length, and a crosspiece that curled out as far on either side.  Leela sighed, and her eyes went misty as she continued, “Oh, I remember this one so well.  So well-balanced.  So alive…”  She trailed off into a private reverie that, Charley had absolutely no doubt, involved large amounts of blood and screaming.  He shivered a bit and turned away to view the other side of the walkway.

The right hand side was also lined with display cases.  These, however, reached to only just above his waist.  Beyond, he was startled to discover, was a large open space that dropped away to several of stories’ depth.  Charley gasped in amazement as he found a gap between the display cases and pressed himself against the railings of the higher of the two gallery levels that encircled the space.  Across from him, reaching far above the second gallery level, was a fearsome totem pole, the large crack in it revealing that it had been carved from one vast tree trunk.  His eye drawn downwards by the two smaller totem poles flanking it, the floor of the vast room opened before him like some glass labyrinth.  Display cases were crammed higgledy-piggledy down there, full of all sorts of extraordinary-looking objects that Charley couldn’t quite fathom from his lofty vantage point.  One particularly large case held what he mistook for a shed, or possibly an outhouse until he squinted a little and his eyes adjusted a little better to the dim lighting, proving it to be a scale model of some pagoda-looking building.  Among the myriad objects, Charley saw were musical instruments, funeral goods, cloth and clothing, writing implements, religious objects, decorative objects, wigs, and all sorts of other things.  Charley was so busy staring at the cornucopia of artefacts spread before him that he barely noticed Leela and Isla appear either side of him, also leaning on the railings and staring down.

“I always love coming here,” said Isla, warmly.  And then her voice turned a little sad as she continued, “It’s just a damn shame we had to come here for this.”

Charley turned to look at her.  “Actually, Isla, why are we here?  You still haven’t told me.  Isn’t this a museum?”

To his surprise, it was Leela who answered.

“We’re here to observe, Charley.  Nothing more.  There are one or two things that you need to understand.”

Charley beamed.  “Explanations at last!” he exclaimed in delight.

“You’ve had explanations aplenty, Charley.  Whether or not you choose to believe them is your concern.”

“Explanations?  All you’ve told me so far is that there’s some big evil dude stalking around doing… stuff.  And I’m supposed to stop him somehow.  To be quite frank, despite everything, I still find that last bit just a tiny bit hard to swallow.  And the rest of it sounds far-fetched for even someone like me to take on board, though I’ve just about managed it.  And I’ve accepted the daily battering you ladies have been giving me as you at least seemed to believe in what you were doing, and it’s not really like you gave me a great deal of choice in the matter.  And then there’s Two.  I suppose I can’t remain quite so unaccepting of him, since I saw him being made with my own eyes.  Which was,” he interrupted himself, glancing briefly at Isla, “frankly, disgusting, by the way.”

She merely flashed her dimples at him before he turned back to Leela and concluded, “So…  being told stuff, yes, ok – I’ll give you that.  Explanations?  Not so much.”

 “Then you’d better watch, closely, hadn’t you, smartarse?” Leela snapped, before returning her attention to the floor below her.

Mildly shocked by the normally taciturn Leela’s outburst, Charley did as he was told.  “So what am I looking for?”

“See that guy walking around over by the totem pole?” asked Isla.

“Which one?”  There weren’t too many people left in the museum at this time of day, but enough to confuse Charley as to who he ought to be looking for.

“The one with the red hair.”

Charley looked harder.  “Yes?”

“OK, good.  Keep your eye on him.  He’s about to do something… unpleasant.”

“What…?”

“Just watch him, Charley.  Questions can wait until later.”

Charley subsided.

The man stood vey still, and closed his eyes.  Charley wasn’t sure, but he almost thought he could see ripples in the air emanating from the man as, still with his eyes closed, he slowly walked to the centre of the room.  Astonishing as the ripple phenomenon was, Charley was unsurprised to see the few people left in the building start to head for the exits as the almost imperceptible ripples reached and washed over them.  They did not appear to notice the distortions in the air around them, nor did they hurry.  They simply, each in turn, turned away from whatever exhibit they were observing and left.  Even the security staff.  Soon, the only person in the room other than the red-haired man, Charley, Leela and Isla, was a female security guard standing off to the side and staring towards the ceiling, a dreamy expression on her face as the waves in the air coalesced and, now entirely visible, crashed over her, one after the other.  The man in the centre of the room opened his eyes at last and, with a faint smile, made his way down the nearest aisle to her.  As he did so, the ripples in the air faded to nothing, and the dreamy expression left her face.  She glanced at her wrist, and then said something to the man.  Charley was too far away to hear, but he suspected it didn’t really matter what it was.  The red-haired man advanced, that faint and, Charley now thought, distinctly nasty smile plastered to his face.

“Quiet now, Charley – remember we’re only here to observe,” whispered Isla to his right.  He was about to hiss back that he wasn’t going to do anything when he saw the reason for her reminder.  The man had now reached the clearly terrified woman and, grabbing her, lunged forward, grabbed her, and planted a kiss square on her lips.  At least, it looked like a kiss, at the beginning.  The woman struggled, but their heads stayed locked together in the same place.  That is, until the red-headed man began to push.

The glass case behind the woman began to liquefy, and the man started to push the woman into the glass.  As their faces parted, Charley saw what had really been going on, and was nauseated.  The man’s mouth was stretched impossibly wide and from it emerged a grey, squamous tentacle-like appendage that disappeared into the woman’s still wide-open mouth.  This elongated as he pushed the squirming woman further into the gelatinous mass that was no longer glass, and she slowly disappeared.  That she didn’t reappear behind the glass should have tipped Charley off that this was some sort of portal, but he could no longer think straight.  His brain was on fire as, without thought, he began to leave the railings, preparatory to finding a stairway and running to the woman’s aid.  Leela and Isla had clearly anticipated this reaction, though, and there was a blur of movement either side of him as Leela grabbed his arms and held them behind his back, and Isla neatly slapped a short length of duct tape across his mouth.

Charley struggled and hurled muffled curses at them until Isla shushed him and said, “Charley, I’m sorry, but you had to see this.  There was no other way to get you to believe what’s really going on here.  But it’s not over.  You need to keep watching.”

He shot her a look of pure hatred, but obediently looked, if only to find out what could possibly be worse than what he had just witnessed.

The red-headed… creature… had, it seemed, just about finished doing what it was doing.  Its tentacle and forearms were still extended into the gelatinous mass of air that had closed around them, leaving him looking as if they had all been chopped off.  but as Charley watched, he pulled his arms from the air, and then, walked backwards, slowly drawing the tentacle with him.  When the tentacle popped back into full view, it had something attached.  A large grey blob enveloped the end and, as the man-creature turned and casually made his way back to the approximate centre of the room, it wobbled somewhat, like water in zero-gee.

The man-creature reached the centre of the room and, with his tentacle waving obscenely from his still unnaturally distended mouth, flicked the grey blob to the floor.  It landed with an audible splat.

Charley made an involuntary noise of revulsion behind the strip of duct tape which, whilst still muffled, carried through the still, quiet air of the museum.  The man-creature started, looked up to where the three regarded him from, and… smiled.

Isla groaned, closing her eyes and tilting her head back.  “Oh, Charley, you’ve really gone and done it now, haven’t you?  We were only supposed to be watching, and now there’s going to be a fight.”

Charley made an indignant noise through his gag and was drawing breath to make another when he smelled it.  His eyes widened in fear as he sniffed again, urgently, mumbling behind his gag and trying to get Isla and Leela to notice what he had.  The smell of drains.

Charley felt his arms released as Leela spun away, the crash of glass loud in the cavernous room.  He spun around, the ripping of the tape from his mouth and yell of pain almost drowning out the rattle and zing as Leela grabs a heavy and sharp looking sword from one of the display cabinets.  She rushed past him as the gallery began to shake and display cases at the far end began to shatter with the passage of one of the invisible monsters, heading at speed in their direction. 

Isla darted past him in the other direction, grabbing a sword as she went, heading for the exploding cases at the other end of the gallery.

Charley froze for a moment, trapped between the two women swinging wildly at the air, blocking both of his possible escpe routes.  Then his training came to the fore, and he grabbed a sword himself from the shatterd display case.  Ready now, poised, he looked left and right.  Even with the display cases demolished in the area of both fights, the quarters were still too narrow for hinm to be any use to the girls, so he decided they could probably handle it and he should continue to do what they had brought him here for.  Turning around, he looked down into the body of the room again.

The grey blob was still on the floor, but the man-creature had retracted his tentacle and was once again looking human.  He was standing over the blob, eyes closed, arms wide, with an expression of strain etched into his features.

At first, Charley thought that he was imagining it.  As he watched, though, he saw what he thought he had.  Small crackles of electricity were crawling over some of the exhibits in their glass cases.  It started at the edges of the hall, and as the edge crackles became brighter, the phenomenon continued a little further in.  The crawling crackles grew brighter, and then began to burst from the cases, bouncing from case to case, growing brighter as they moved towards the man-creature in the centre of the room, sucking up more crackles from other cases as they travelled on.  When they met in the middle, they headed streaight for the man-creature’s fingertips, pouring in to his body, filling him, until he threw his head back and screamed.  Blue-white light streamed from his eyes, his mouth, his nose, and all his hair stood on end, like some parody of an afro hairdo.  This went on for several seconds until, with a great deal of effort, he closed his eyes and mouth and threw his hands together on straight arms.  They met with a rumble that was completely disproportionate to the gesture, and began to make a squeezing motion.  A column of energy leapt downwards from his squeezing hands, pouring into the grey blob at his feet.

Abruptly, the stream of energy was cut off, and the man-creature sagged a little.  The blob, however, trembled, and began to expand a little.  Then all of a sudden, it cast off a great wave of energy, blasting the display cases around it to splinters, and rocking the man-creature on his heels.  Charley saw him back away hurriedly as the blob began to grow rapidly.  As it did so, it formed arms, legs, a head, a tail, a bulky body almost reptilian in form.  And it screamed.

By the time it stopped growing and screaming, Charley reckoned it to be about eight feet high, and realised that here was one of the invisible creatures he’d been running from since that day on the street in his hometown, since he’d first met Leela.  All bewildered, he could barely comprehend what he had witnessed, other than it was only the tip of the iceberg in this unfamiliar world in which he now found himself.

As the creature started forward and leapt on to the balcony below him, he felt a hand on his collar yank him backwards, and Isla’s voice yelling, “Come on, Charley – time to say goodbye.  We’ve overstayed our welcome.”  He felt the floor under him shudder as the newly-created monster made the second balcony, and Isla practically threw him through the portal, closing it behind Leela as the monster made a grab for her.

 

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