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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 3: Slade 1
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 2, Hastings 1
The silence was broken by a voice: "Ouch, that hurt! Where am I now?" The darkness was then broken by the light of a stick match, a light which barely illuminated the young face of Robert Elvis Slade, joined abruptly by the face of a large wolf. The glare on the bared teeth faded as the match fell and the snarl echoed in the darkness. "Yow! Down boy! What in the name of Loki is this beast?"
Suddenly a blowtorch ignited and swept toward the wolf, its blue light reflecting off the thick gray coat. "How about a little fire, scarecrow? And I thought a self-lighting blowtorch was a gimmick." The creature did not flinch from the flame, but snarled and snapped, lunging and weaving. At one point it seemed to be holding his left sleeve, yet still brought its teeth dangerously close to his throat. Slade swung the torch repeatedly, burning the animal again and again until the air was thick with the stench of burnt hair and seared flesh, and it fell silent on the ground. "Finally. Now let's get a decent light, and see what you were."
Fumbling in the darkness, he put away the torch and drew out a flashlight, talking to the beast. "Guess it's good I was trying to pirate those machine parts when I was killed." He drew out a pack of stick matches, and placed one in his mouth. He always had a wooden match in his mouth, a throwback to when he quit smoking. He was almost compulsive about it; even now, he would make sure he replaced the spent match before checking to see what had happened to the beast. But soon enough, the beam found the body of a three-headed dog lying on a floor of paving stone.
"Shades of Cerebus! It's worse than I thought! But you know, I don't remember Hades being made of paving stone." His eyes followed his light up the stone walls around him. "You know, I believe I've versed into someone's dungeon game--no, that's just too crazy. Well, which way is out? Up, I would guess." He pointed the light along the dark corridor. "Anyway, it could be down, anything's possible; but better to bet on up. Of course, there's no 'up' here--so it's left or right." Drawing a coin from his pocket, he tossed it in the air. "May the Norns guide my steps." Catching the coin, he looked at the face which appeared, picked up his toolchest, and started down the hallway in the dim glow of the flashlight.
As the flashlight was growing dimmer, he saw a light ahead. Gradually he became more certain; there was a lit room with an open door. He turned off the flashlight to save the battery and moved through the darkness toward the light. Before too long, he was standing in a room filled with clutter. Torches on the wall lit the room, but had no flame. He looked around at the junk, covering tables and spread on the floor--many old bottles, along with lamps, chalices, mugs, plates, and other brick-a-brack. "Great," he said aloud, "I'm in someone's medieval basement filled with medieval junk." But he took a torch down from the wall, and examined it for a switch or battery compartment without success. He thought perhaps that they might be rechargeable, and that having one with him would be a big help and save his flashlight batteries. "I'm just going to borrow this," he said rather loudly, as if he thought someone might be watching on a security monitor somewhere. "I'm not stealing it--I'll just leave it by the door on my way out."
The torchlight was better than the flashlight, but he still didn't know where he was going. Often he would speak to himself, continuing a conversation over many hours that was just a few lines. "This could as well be the lair of Jormungander. I've wandered so far, I can't imagine the Midhgard Serpent having a more serpentine lair. But I've lost track of how long I've been going, or which way."
It may have been a couple days that he pressed on, but eventually he was exhausted. As he made himself as comfortable as he could on the cold stone floor, it occurred to him that if something killed him while he slept, he would wake up in another world, and out of the labyrinth. But he awoke on the same stone floor, stiff and cold, and continued by the light of the same torch.
In the days that followed, he pressed on. Several times he found stairs leading up, and took them. Once he wondered whether he might be climbing up the inside of a mountain; that unnerved him, since in that case the entrance could well be at the bottom. But he had come up too far to change his bet.
And the three-headed wolf wasn't the only thing living in the tunnels. Sometimes things scurried away into the darkness, but sometimes they attacked him. Slade believed that Odin had chosen him to fight in the final battle at Ragnorak. He certainly had the look of a Viking warrior, six foot two, one hundred eighty pounds, with blue eyes and blonde hair that had just a bit of a wave to it but was cut above his shoulders. Finding himself alive after dying, but not in the heaven his Christian culture had taught, suggested the idea. So he was always ready for a fight. But he wasn't terribly well equipped for one. He tried various tools as weapons, and kept a few of the better ones in his tool belt--a pipe wrench, a heavy screwdriver, a ball-peen hammer. These attacks had another benefit: he could also rip up the carcasses and cook them with the blowtorch to feed himself.
The journey seemed interminable. At one point finding what seemed to be a chimney, he climbed up the inside, wishing for an elevator. He used his prybar to clear debris from the path. He decided he had climbed too many stairs and ramps and chutes for it to be a mountain; no mountain could be so high. He also wished he had a bottle of water--but he could not have carried enough water for this trip, and instead made due with moisture which sometimes dripped from the ceiling, and small rivulets that coursed down walls and pooled on the floor before seeping away to unknown depths.
When finally he saw a lit doorway ahead, his first thought was that he had somehow come full circle and was back to the junk room from which he had taken the torch. He could hardly hope....
But it was true. He had found the entrance to the cave in which he had been so long lost.
Stepping from it, he faced three men standing among the rocks of a ruined stone building. One wore a flowing robe, one a dark brown leather outfit, and one a suit of mail. As quickly as light could flash, it flashed on a sword drawn by the armored man.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with the first six chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #18: A Novel Comic Milestone. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: