Out of the Depths: A Sidehill Adventure – Part 2
by Joshua D. Taylor
Not one to fiddle with matches or lighters in critical situations, Huxley slammed the butt of the flare into the palm of the withered hand. The desiccated fingers with their blackened nails curled inward. A black aura rotated around the arcane artifact. Huxley’s eyes were locked with the shark. He looked like the spitting image of the demi-god he was cloned from. He exerted all of his considerable willpower to focus the hand’s effects. The shark wobbled on its multi-jointed legs for a moment as its tail dragged in the damp sand. Its mouth lulled opened, revealing something pink and squirming inside. Then it shook itself, straightened its weakened legs, and strode forward.
“Shit,” Huxley said, dropping the hand of glory in the sand without removing the flare.
“Plan B,” Henry said from the radio.
“No kidding,” Huxley said, falling back to get his equipment near the corner of the villa.
The shark had forgotten about the big man, and was again headed toward the villa, its many arthropod legs leaving strange braille-like markings in the sand.
Most people had heard of Greek fire due to its historical significance and the secrecy of its composition. It was a napalm-like substance used by the ancient Greeks to win naval battles since it would burn even in water. The reason for the secrecy of its ingredients was that they required the blood of a djinn, who are said to be made from smokeless fire. All known copies of recipes for Greek fire were destroyed as part of an agreement reached with the djinn when they agreed to not take sides during the Third Crusade.
In contrast to Greek fire, very few people have ever heard of Greek ice. Henry acquired its recipe when he found it tucked into a forged copy of the Seven Stars and the Hanged Man he purchased as a teenager. It required the blood of a Jotunn, or frost giant, instead of a djinn, which was easier to purchase since most of the Norse pantheon had hit hard times, and the economy of Asgard had been severely depressed for centuries. You could purchase a trip on the Bifrost for less than a million dollars. Greek ice could freeze anything, even saltwater.
Henry had experimented with the recipe, substituting Fae blood. The results had been unpredictable.
Below, Huxley poured the last ingredients into a small cauldron as he emerged from around the corner of the villa where he had his staging area. A wisp of ice crystals rose into the balmy air. He leaned back to prevent his eyebrows from being frozen, quickly pulled on large insulated gloves, and picked up the cauldron. Tongs would have been preferable but clumsier.
He ran up to the lumbering beast, the loose sand causing him to move less gracefully than usual as he struggled to maintain his footing. Seeing Huxley charging it, the shark shook its body from side to side, throwing several long spines from its back. Two of them went wide, and ended up in the sand to Huxley’s right. One just missed, embedding itself in a nearby palm tree with a thwack. Huxley had to pivot to the left to avoid being skewered through his thigh. He swerved, and lost his footing in the process. His large body pitched forward. Knowing that he was going to hit the ground carrying something that made liquid nitrogen look like a milkshake, he threw the contents of the cauldron out in front of him. It was a desperate, sloppy throw but he still managed to hit the shark with the sparkling blue liquid. A cold blue flame of Greek ice washed across the shark’s back and dorsal fin. The water on the shark and in the air instantly froze, trapping its center half in a twisted ice sculpture.
The twisted shark let out a cry of rage and pain like a demon being forced to eat its own limbs that rattled the glass of the villa and jarred Huxley’s bones. It thrashed, trying to free itself but only succeeded at tearing its skin where it met the ice. The free front of the shark swung wildly about, and its forelegs gouged the ground, kicking up sand. The blood froze into spikes as it sprayed from its torn skin.
Movement from the sky caused Henry to press his face to the window for a better view. Something began to swirl overhead. Strange luminous clouds gathered with cryptic intent.
“That’s odd,” he said.
Al joined him at the glass. “It isn’t supposed to rain,” he stated.
“No, it is not,” Henry confirmed. “Perhaps a competitor, hoping to swoop in and steal my prize at the last moment.”
“Let’s hope not. For their sake.”
Their attention was drawn back to the beach as the shark’s movements became more sluggish as its freezing blood continued to cocoon its body. Huxley crouched down, ready to retreat at a moment’s notice, and crept toward the beast one step at a time. He glanced up at the swirling sky above him. “Were you expecting that?” he asked.
“Focus on the shark,” Henry replied.
Huxley nodded. When he was within a dozen feet of the monster, he reached into his pocket without taking his eyes off the shark, and removed a tarnished metal key. Many thought the Lesser Key of Solomon was a grimoire written by King Solomon, filled with instructions on how to summon and control demons. While King Solomon did write such a book, it was only half of the story. The summoned demons could be commanded to forge keys with magical properties. These were the true Lesser Keys of Solomon, to say nothing of the Greater Keys of Solomon that unlocked other strange and arcane worlds, which were last used during the Tunguska event in Russia on 30th June, 1908.
Huxley held the old skeleton key out in front of him like a protective talisman, though it was nothing of the sort. The vivisection key would allow him to open up anybody he inserted it into, and rifle through its innards like files in a cabinet. This seemed less messy than slicing the beast open, and spilling its entrails onto the sand to try and find the top half of the idol.
“Come on,” he said as he inched closer, almost within the shark’s reach. “Where’s the damn keyhole?” He waved the key in the air like it was a magic wand. Henry covered his face with his hand, and sighed at the display.
The tiniest smile creased the edges of Al’s eyes. “He was never good with subtlety.”
The keyhole materialized in the middle of the shark’s scarred head, between the clusters of leering alien eyes. “Of course, it’s right above the teeth. Couldn’t have been on the tail,” Huxley muttered to himself, the shark, and the sea. He glanced up at the swirling sky that showed no sign of calming down. “Alright, I’m gonna do it. You sure that’s alright?” he said into the radio while he pointed at the sky with his free hand.
“It’s under control. Just retrieve the idol,” Henry said.
“Under control?” Al asked.
“Nothing’s happened yet. So it’s under control.”
Huxley was within a few steps of the ailing monster. His shirt clung to his body in the night-time heat. “Easy,” he said as he reached forward with the key.
The shark spasmed, straining hard against the Greek ice that cracked loudly from the strain. With wet pops and cracks, its toothed-filled maw stretched wider than nature ever intended. An enormous pink tongue erupted from its mouth, knocking out countless teeth. The massive tongue branched and divided, covered in suckers and hooks, as it continued to grow from the shark’s mouth while its body shriveled like an empty tube of toothpaste. Caught unaware, Huxley got hit square in the chest. The impact reminded him of the time he had tried to stop a charging bull by catching it. His breath was knocked out of him as he was thrown through the air. He tried to roll as he hit the sand but a palm tree broke his fall, and almost one of his ribs. He gasped for breath but got a mouth full of sand, and choked on it. The lack of oxygen caused his vision to swim with black clouds. He tried to push himself up on his hands to clear his lungs when a giant tongue tentacle wrapped around his ankle and pulled.
His arms went out from underneath him, and he ended up face-first in the sand again. His ribs ached, and his head throbbed. He couldn’t fight lying on the ground, unable to breathe. As the shark began to pull him in, Huxley’s limp outstretched arms brushed the trunk of a palm, and he wrapped his fingers around it with his last remaining strength. The tongue pulled again but he held tight to the tree, operating on pure hindbrain instinct while the rest of his brain tried to get enough oxygen to count past three.
More tentacles slithered around Huxley’s legs, hooking into his flesh and seeking entrance into his body. He tried to kick them away but he had no leverage and they held fast, tightening with every moment. With the next pull, the skin peeled from his hands as he was pulled from the tree. The tentacles wrapped around his body as he fought wildly – kicking, punching, and biting at everything that he could. The shark continued to drag him closer to its ruined mouth. His only saving grace was his considerable bulk that forced the shark to drag him instead of lifting him off the ground.
Henry scowled from the glass doorway high above as he watched his left-hand man struggle for his life. “Alfred, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to get your brother.”
To Be Continued …
Joshua D. Taylor is an author who started writing when he realized he was too old to play make-believe. He lives in southeastern Pennsylvania with his wife and a one-eared cat. He enjoys gardening, comic books, ska-punk music, Disney World, and traveling with his wife. Raised during the weirdness that was the late 20th century, Josh’s eclectic interests produce eclectic works. He loves to mix-n-match things from different genres and story elements to achieve a madcap hodgepodge of the truly unexpected.