Chapter 12: Giant Schlurggs
The fire was warm and really not needed except for cooking, for the day was at its peak, and Peter smiled. He scratched his whiskers.
“I guess I should leave, if I’m going to live long enough to get wherever that place is I’m supposed to go.”
Ray the Shorter made a hush noise, and then all was silent.
Peter whispered, “What?”
“We have a little friend,” and Ray the Shorter pointed to the edge of the clearing near the makeshift camp.
Sitting on its haunches was the beast that Peter saw the night before on the deck of the Forrest, but this time it just looked pathetic. It was wet and scroungy. The thing had been tossed off the edge of the boat but managed to swim to shore and scramble up the pathway, following them. Probably it followed Peter, so he thought.
“Should we scare it away?” whispered Peter.
Then something remarkable happened. It walked up to the fire; although it was daylight and warm, it looked like it needed to dry off. It shook itself and got them all wet. It held out its claws toward the flame as if to warm them.
“So,” it said, “you are our one-millionth visitor. Claim your prize.”
Ray the Taller took a hot coal and threw it at the thing before it could scorch his own hand, and hit the kukyz square in the forehead.
“Really!” it said indignantly, and off it ran into the brush.
Peter stood up, kissed the two women, shook hands with the two Rays, shouldered the knapsack that Durice and Novali made for him and started off in the wrong direction.
“No, Peter,” said Ray the Taller. “Turn around; you need to head east.”
“How can you tell when you can’t see the sun?”
Both Rays looked at each other. Durice and Novali frowned a bit. Finally Novali spoke.
“We’ve always known. Everyone in Innerworld knows where everything is. We just do.”
Ray the Shorter added, “We never thought someone from outside our world wouldn’t know. But I guess it makes sense. How do you know which direction to go in your world?”
Peter looked down at his feet for a moment and thought.
“I always asked my grandma.”
He turned toward what he now knew was east and started his long, lonely journey. After a while he could hear in the distance behind him a new song about lotions that cured a skin rash. Apparently it occurred when eating too much bean loaf.
Within perhaps an hour the surroundings had grown increasingly full of trees, shrubs and lots and lots of green. Even in Innerworld moss grew on the north side of the trees. There was a brook flowing on his left, and it gave a soft mist, looking not unlike cotton on the top of the water in certain places. The path had long ago disappeared, and Peter wasn’t sure if he was still heading in the right direction, except for the moss growing on the north side of the trees. So if he kept that in his head, while it was still light out, he could find himself moving as much to the east as he could make out.
After what seemed like the whole morning, he came upon a clearing where there was a large, beautiful lake, all gray like glass, and still. Ahead of him near the eastern shore there were pines and oaks, and a full, green carpet of tall grass. Walking slowly to the lake’s edge was a family of deer.
“Well, at least they have normal animals in Innerworld,” Peter said to himself. He walked softly to the lake edge, still quite a distance from the deer. They didn’t seem to care, and he felt good about that. He stopped, reached into the sack he had on his shoulder and found a leather bladder for water. He dipped it into the cool, clear and sparkling lake and filled it up, but not before taking a drink himself, for he was thirsty. It was the most delicious water he had tasted in what seemed a lifetime.
Looking into the water he saw what he thought were fish, but then the animals came up closer to the surface. They looked more like dogs, with large floppy ear-like appendages above their gills.
“Probably related to the seal,” he thought.
Having another drink and filling his leather bottle, he again started east, and it was turning dusk.
He could hear his footsteps, crunching on the pine needles under his feet. He could also hear something else behind him and on his right. For the last hour the path had taken him east, but also northeast and away from the beach. Now with no path to follow, he was surrounded by deep green and the instinct to run was only stopped by the terrible knowledge that he didn’t know where to run.
This of course, made him quite nervous, because he had no desire to run into a giant schlurgg. Had he thought about it, he would have realized he never ran into a giant schlurgg. Instead it ran up behind him.
While the thing was still trying to be quiet, Peter sensed it was behind him, and he turned quickly, only to see one of the most horrific monsters he could ever have dreamed of, and wished he hadn’t. Standing a good twenty feet taller, with scales that looked like deli meat slices and a mouth all wide and drooling, with very small, beady yellow eyes on either side of the upper jaw, was a giant schlurgg. It stood on two long, bumpy and boney legs. It had two short but dangerous looking arms with talons the size of baseball bats reaching for him. Its ugliness was only matched by the size of its razor sharp fangs, dozens of them, all ready to scoop Peter up and crunch him in two.
So Peter threw caution to the wind and took Ray’s advice and ran as fast as he could. Over bracken, branches and brambles he ran. Stumbling and slipping, he ran as fast as he could. At first he had gained some distance, but now the schlurgg was coming up fast, growling and gurgling, and no matter how fast Peter ran, it was as if this thing was always just an arm’s reach behind him.
When Peter thought he could run no more, he turned to face his enemy and probably his end, when crashing through the trees on the south was a giant ship, on two legs and two arms, crawling rather fast toward the schlurgg. On the prow were Ray and Ray, shouting and yelling and whooping it up.
This caught the schlurgg by surprise. In all its life, it had never been chased by a sea faring vessel. So it did what giant schlurggs usually do when faced down by an enemy? It lay down and rolled on its back, obviously giving deference to Forrest, who, when sensing this, just stopped. Ray and Ray caught themselves before the sudden jar of the ship stopping would have thrown them into the trees.
Forrest reached over with his right hand and scratched the schlurgg on the belly, and turned around and trudged back toward the sea.
“You’ll be all right, Peter!” yelled Ray the Shorter. Peter just stood there, watching a ship made of rock and pine, with arms and legs crawl back through the trees, knocking them over, and squashing ferns and such as it went. The schlurgg got up and followed, wagging its scaly tail behind it as it went.
Peter realized he had been holding his breath this whole time and finally let it out. After a few seconds of gathering his nerves, he turned back to his task, only to find the chase had taken him down and around and up the other side of the lake, and led him to a wide, paved road, going in what Peter assumed was the right direction.
He started to walk and, after maybe ten steps, his legs gave out. What with all the running, the fear and the sheer exhaustion of growing up so fast, he simply couldn’t take another step and passed out right there on the road.