One Boy and his Dog (Part Two)
Mark wakes to find himself blind and deaf. He panics for a moment and then realises that his eyes and ears are gluey with drying slug-slime. His mouth is sealed too and he can only breathe through his left nostril. He tries to wipe his face but finds that his arm is stuck to the floor. He panics all over again and thrashes against the muck, panting through his nostril. At last his arm tears free and he digs his fingers into the mask of slime over his face and claws it away. He sucks in a huge breath of air and finds himself taking unexpected pleasure in the simple act of breathing.
Mark peels himself from the ground with a series of disgusting, squishy noises and then takes his shirt off; he is unable to stand the feeling of thick wetness clinging against his skin. The breeze is chilling even though the late afternoon sun is still warm, but goosebumps are preferable to the slimy garment.
There is no sign of boy, dog or slug-headed giant but Mark sees a trail of glistening slime matting the grass in a wide swathe nearby. It curves around a clump of shrubs and disappears from ight. The slime is the problem, Mark thinks to himself. If it weren’t for the slime he could write the whole experience off as some kind of delirium: the trail and snot-like scabs adhering to his skin and clothes make that impossible.
Mark is still taking stock of his situation when he hears a rustling low in the undergrowth in the same direction as the slime trail. He only has a moment to worry what it might be because seconds later the puppy emerges, tail between its legs, and scurries over to him.
The slime on his trousers crackles and flakes of it fall off as Mark stoops to reassure the puppy. It whines pitifully and then turns and takes a couple of steps towards the slime trail. It stops and looks back over its shoulder, then when it sees that Mark hasn’t moved it whines again and returns to him. Mark has seen enough episodes of Lassie to know when a dog is asking to be followed. It isn’t lack of comprehension that holds him back, but rather lack of courage.
The pup darts in and bites the hem of Mark’s jeans. It growls and tries to tug the man along with it, its paws digging into the soft turf as it struggles. Mark could easily swat the dog away but he doesn’t try: the pup’s persistence is endearing. Looking down at the frustrated puppy his fear recedes and instead he finds the moment laden with a sense of import. His life is at a balance point and the choice to follow or to flee will tip the scales and set him on a new path, forever.
He steps forwards and the puppy releases his jeans with a yip and a hop back. One step follows another and Mark finds himself following the slime trail and the puppy into a new and uncertain future.
The trail leads Mark uphill and down through more wild grassland than he was aware existed attached to the city park. In the wake of recent events he can muster little more than mild confusion in reaction to this unexpected geography. The sounds of people enjoying themselves in the sunshine have faded long before Mark reaches the end of the trail and the air has become heavy and close. Thunderbugs swarm around him as he walks, landing on his bare arms and tickling the hairs there until he brushes them away. Mark feels sweaty and uncomfortable as the slime still on his skin deliquesces to trickle along his neck and chest.
At the slime-trail’s end is a grassy embankment in which is set a two-metre wide circular grating, the edges of which are clabbered with gelatinous grey slime. Behind the grate is a tunnel that is straight for about a metre before turning downwards at a steep angle. Just inside the grate sits a thick pool of slime, presumably wrung from the giant as it squished its way through the tunnel’s mouth.
Mark inspects the grate with a degree of trepidation as the puppy barks excitedly and repeatedly jumps up to try and get inside. Its barking echoes from the tunnel’s maw with a deep, hollow quality as Mark puts his fingers through the grating and pulls. Lubricated with slime the grate moves easily, surprising Mark so that he staggers back when it squelches free of the tunnel’s mouth. The puppy yelps and skitters to the side to avoid being trodden on and Mark quickly hurls the heavy grating to one side, his fingers and arms stinging from the strain of supporting its weight.
He pauses to catch his breath as the puppy moves to the tunnel’s threshold and sniffs about, growling softly now rather than barking. At last he stands straight and gingerly steps into the tunnel mouth, cautious of the slime underfoot.
Not cautious enough.
Mark’s foot slips on the ooze and he windmills his arms to try and maintain balance as he starts to fall over backwards. Too late! His foot hits the downturn in the tunnel and he falls full-length on his back. His head ringing from its collision with the tunnel floor, Mark slides out of the light and down, down into the dank blackness of the tunnel’s depths.