Sunday, June 1, 2014

Chapter 19 (continued)

The starting and ending points had been chosen, and they were simply opposite sides of the lagoon within the lagoon.  If the inner lagoon had been a clock with 12 at the point where it flowed into the bigger body of water, the race would have been from roughly 4 o’clock to 10.  The shore here apparently dropped off precipitously just after entering the water, so there were only a few feet of sandy shelf for Roger to stand on.  The lobster-headed scala, of course, could not stand; she lay on her side in the thigh-high water, her irridescent blue-green shell curled up under her belly.  Johnny could see what seemed like a billion little legs on the underside of the tail, wriggling tirelessly and making tiny whirlpools.

Roger raised her head, still completely unabashed by her nudity, and looked each of them in the eye.  “Remember, lads and lassie, ye may do anything in yer ken to aid me.  Anything.  Ketch?”  Johnny and Aidan nodded.  Larissa just stared back with her overlarge, liquid eyes.  Aidan whispered something under his breath and Bones flew off to the stern.

The shark scala was a few feet away, in deeper water, on the opposite side of the racing lane from The Sylph.  She said nothing, but the look she gave the lobster woman promised dire consequences if she did not perform.  The other scalas (or scalae) bobbed up and down behind her, making various tortured noises that Johnny supposed must be meant to be encouraging.

Roger called over to the shark woman.  “Ho there!  You have a starter?”

The shark mouth opened, the teeth still fearsome even after continued exposure to them, and a weird gutteral cry came from its throat.  After perhaps half a minute, with the echoes of the call just starting to fade away, a blue face surfaced beside her.  This head was almost entirely human-looking except for its odd hue and the fact that it seemed to have black fin-like appendages where its ears should be.  The hair was black and slicked back, and an incongruous pair of wire-rimmed glasses sat upon a bulbous nose, their frames curled around the earfins.  This new creature raised an arm, showing that he was wearing a black shirt with yellow-striped cuffs, and extended a blue hand with webbed fingers to the shark woman.  In it was what appeared to be large snail shell.

She took the shell and threw it at Aidan, hard.  The blue-skinned boy—for some reason, he reminded Johnny of a pimpled teenager—started to turn away, but the leader of the hellish mermaids put a leathery hand on his shoulder and held him there.

Johnny glanced over at Aidan, who was examing the shell.  He held it out over the water, palm upturned, and closed his eyes.  His lips moved, but Johnny could not make out any chanting.  After a few seconds he opened his eyes and nodded at Roger.  She nodded back and rolled her shoulders while working her neck back and forth.  Johnny could hear the kinks popping out as she tossed her head.  Then she bent one knee and threw the other leg as far back as she could, reaching her hands out as though she meant to dive.  When she was utterly still, Aidan tossed the snail shell onto the shelf between Roger and her opponent.

The water was crystal clear, so Johnny could see the shell settle onto the sand.  He could see the lobter woman stretch her arms out like Roger’s and tense her tail.  He could see that the toes on Roger’s forward foot were curled firmly into the sand.  Roger and the lobster creature were both staring intently at the shell.  As they all watched, it began to jiggle.  Suddenly, the horns of the snail inside the shell popped out.

Then a lot of things happened at once.

Roger’s leg straightened like an uncoiling spring and she shot up into the air, but more forward than up.  The lobster woman flung her tail out straight behind her.  The engine of the The Sylph sprang to life, and it also started to move.  Roger hit the water in a smooth dive, but the lobster woman was suddenly on her back.  It tried to grab her and pull her back, or perhaps it meant to pull her down and drown her, but Roger was slick.  Neither the hard-shelled arms nor the dozens of tiny feet could hold on to her, and Roger shot out of the scala’s grasp and added insult to injury by pushing off its head with her trailing foot.  Now Roger was a pace ahead and gaining, as the lobster woman twisted her body around to pursue.

Meanwhile, The Sylph was keeping pace with Roger.  Still trying to recover from the violent start, Johnny looked around wildly.  “What can we do?” he asked Aidan over the roar of the fan.  And then, without waiting for an answer, “and who’s driving the damn boat?!”

The corners of Aidan’s mouth turned up slightly, but Johnny couldn’t really call it a smile.  “Bones,” he answered.  “And I’m trying to find something to do.  Unfortunately, my abilities are limited at this speed.  She can move even faster than I expected ...”

Johnny was still trying to process the first answer.  “Bones is driving??  He can’t drive!”

Aidan waved distractedly.  “As long as we’re just going in a straight line he should be fine.”  Still staring down into The Sylph’s wake, he slammed a fist down on the railing.  “Damn!  I can’t reach anything bigger than a pinkeen in this water.  The scalae have scared everything off.”

Johnny blinked.  “What’s a ... ?”

“Minnow,” Larissa supplied softly from his other side.

A loud screech-squawk came out of the brass speaker in the bow at the same time as a huge splash sent ripples against the side of the airboat.  “What the hell was ...” Johnny began, but in the next instant his question was answered when a second boulder the size of his head hit the water, this one much closer to Roger.  He looked back to where they’d left the scalae by the shore, but the only one visible was the octopus one, whose tentacles were wrapped around more rocks.  She was perfecting her aim now, and the third projectile looked sure to cave in Roger’s head.  Johnny heard Larissa hiss between her teeth, like a teakettle coming to boil, and just at that moment the moray woman surfaced from underneath Roger, her teeth flashing in the sourceless light.  Roger rolled smoothly onto her back, and the rock took the moray creature in the shoulder instead.  Roger kept rolling until she was back on her stomach without missing a stroke.  Still, the diversion had cost her: the lobster woman had halved the distance between them.

There was an unholy screeching noise from the direction of the shoreline, and Johnny glanced back to see the octopus scala covered in pinching crabs.  Aidan grunted in satisfaction.

But the shark fin and the marlin fin now crested the waterline, not far behind the lobster and gaining steadily.  “Good thing she didn’t challenge one of them,” Johnny mumbled.

“Choosing their slowest swimmer does have some downsides,” was Aidan’s sardonic reply.

“Wait, where’s the other one?”  Johnny had suddenly remembered the angler fish mermaid.

Aidan’s voice was strained.  “She went too deep.  I’ve got her.”  His knuckles tightened on the railing.  “Although I won’t be able to hold her long.  But, at this speed, I think she’s out of it now in any event.”


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