This is part 2 of Thomas the Monster Hunter. Part 1 can be found here.
Thomas jumps up and trips over a branch, his legs fly into the air as he lands on his butt. Before he can get up, Josie is perched on his chest with her hand clamping his mouth closed. “Stop talking. You’ll attract attention.”
“I’m going to let you go now.” Josie jumps lightly off his chest. “Alright, now that all that silliness is done, we can get down to business. The troll’s not there right now. So you can go right in and rescue your friends.”
“Yes, your parents. So go in there quick, before the troll gets back.”
Thomas sits up. “I don’t know.”
Josie sighs “Thomas, come on. We went over this. You’re the only one that can save them. It’s either you, or it’s nobody, and the troll eats your parents. Are you going to let that happen, or are you going to be brave, like I know you are?”
Thomas tries to swallow his nervousness and follows Josie down the slope. He crawls to keep out of sight and keeps looking around him, waiting for some sign of trouble. In contrast, Josie is straining at the slow pace like a greyhound at the end of a leash, or like a cat, staring at birds through a window pane.
The ‘cave’ smells like a wet compost heap, but one that’s in the late stages so it smells like dirt, but with an undercurrent of something rotten. Thomas pauses at the entrance. Inside is even cooler than outside. Thomas hugs his arms around himself to stop some of the shivering. They are covered in goosebumps, only some of which are related to the temperature.
“Hey, come on, don’t just stand there.”
“I’m giving my eyes a chance to adjust.”
Josie taps her foot on the ground, but somehow doing it without making any noise. As his eyes adjust to the darkness, Thomas can make out more detail. There is moss hanging from the tree trunk ceiling. And it’s not actually black. Everything has a really dark green tinge. There are mushrooms growing everywhere. Little white ones on the ground, and big shelf mushrooms growing against the walls. Way in the distance is a small circle of daylight.
“I don’t see them.” Thomas whispers.
“They’re further in. Come on.”
Thomas crawls further in, still careful to be quiet. Things fall into the water, little clumps of dirt or moss, causing small splashes and startling him. His heart beats quickly and his breathing is quick and his head is getting a little fuzzy and he is having a hard time swallowing. His knees hurt from crawling on them for several minutes. He manages to croak out in a whisper “How much further?”
“Not much. There’s a branch in the path coming up. Take the one on the right.”
Despite the cool, Thomas is sweating. There’s a hole cut into the hill on his right. It’s even darker around the corner, but at least the stream goes to the left; Thomas won’t have to worry about slipping in. There are no mushrooms in the tunnel. Thomas can barely see his arms in front of him. As he crawls he awkwardly holds one arm in front of himself to feel out any obstructions.
Josie hisses “Come on.” She’s hidden in the black in front of him.
Thomas crawls a few more feet before hearing a high tinkling sound around him, like bells made of glass shattering as they ring. Josie’s face appears suddenly in front of him. The rest of her blends seamlessly with the dark. She’s laughing at him.
“Can I give you some advice?” She says in her normal voice, no more whispering or hissing. She disappears and her voice seems to come from all around him. “Don’t trust strange faeries, especially ones you just trapped in a circle of rose.”
Thomas hears slow, rhythmic thumps, which echo strangely, making it hard to know where they’re coming from. Dirt rains down on Thomas in little clumps. He gets up in a panic. But in the dark, he can’t tell which is the way back. He can’t even make out the walls. He picks a direction and goes.
If he can just get to his parents, they’ll know what to do. And Uncle Art. They’ll rescue him; right after he rescues them. It has to be just a little further. He runs into a dirt wall. He can feel the thumping through the soles of his feet. He puts the wall to his left. As best he can tell that puts the thumps at his back. He stumbles forward while calling out softly. “Mom, Dad, Uncle Art?” There’s no answer, only the thumping, relentlessly pushing him forward. He runs into another wall. A corner. To the right it’s only a few feet to the other wall. The tunnel ended. He’s trapped. And he must have passed his parents somewhere in the dark. Why didn’t they answer, why didn’t they call out?
His parents are not here. Thomas collapses. Tears fall down his face. Too late he knows: he’s not ready. And much too early he knows: he’s going to die.
The thumping stops. He hears Josie say something, very distantly. It sounds like English, but it doesn’t make sense. When she stops, something responds with a sound reminiscent of trees crashing into rocks.
There’s nowhere to go. Nothing to do. His world is dark and filled with nothing but the sounds of his own crying and the thing’s voice.
Then the thumping starts again, like rocks dropped on dirt from a great distance. Each one announces its own finality. And as it gets closer, Thomas can hear a creaking that accompanies the thumps, like the creaking of trees in the wind, or the sound an old chair makes when someone sits in it.
It gets closer and closer. Thomas feels the vibrations through the ground and through the wall at his back.
It stops. Thomas can feel warm breath accompanied by the gentle moaning of a house settling during the night. He can’t see much in the dark, just a shadow that’s too tall to be real.
The shadow bends down. Thomas can feel its breath on his face. It smells just like the rest of this place. Like dirt and all the dirty parts of life, the bugs, and worms, and musk, and rot. This breath has the most life in it that Thomas has ever smelled.
Josie comes flying out from some unseen place and lands on his shoulder. “Don’t cry little human. It will be over quick. And besides, tears make a bad marinade.”
Thomas grabs at Josie but she dances out of the way.
Josie’s voice floats out of the dark “Tsk, tsk, Thomas. Don’t anger your betters. I can make this much more unpleasant if I choose.”
In the distance Thomas thinks he can hear splashing and muffled voices. And the dark seems to lift. Very gradually the black becomes more of a gray. He can see the outline of the thing. It’s huge and blocky.
“What the hell?” Josie disappears down the tunnel, which then lights up like someone switched on a flood light. Thomas becomes transfixed by the troll which he recognizes from pictures. They failed to capture how big the thing is. It has huge eyes that are uncomfortably close and as big as Thomas’s face. Its nose is flat and almost as big as his head. Its mouth is open, allowing Thomas to see yellow teeth as big as his fingers and sharp like a dog’s in the front. Thomas can’t look away. He envisions those teeth chomping and tearing at him, snapping his hand off in one bite, the blood gushing out of the stump of his arm.
The troll turns its whole body towards the light, it’s neck unable to swivel. Thomas can hear metal banging and scraping coming from the the tunnel. With the troll’s face turned, whatever compulsion held Thomas is broken, and Thomas can see that the troll’s skin is blocky like rock, but has the texture of tree bark. It is covered in dirt and tinged green.
The sun suddenly flashes into being at the tunnel entrance. Thomas throws his arm in front of his eyes, the light too bright after so long in the dark. He hears, and feels, the troll roar.
Thomas can’t see what’s happening, he can only hear the creaks and thumps of the troll, and the clangs and rings of metal.
Thomas is able to open one eye and squint at the action in front of him. A knight is fighting with the troll, holding a sword emanating a bright light and which is reflecting off of his polished armor, sometimes reflecting straight into Thomas’s eyes making him wince. The knight avoids the troll’s powerful strikes and counters with huge, two handed swings at its tough hide. With every hit his sword flares and chips fly. The troll ignores the hits, but again and again, the knight hammers at it, concentrating all of his attacks at its knees.
While Thomas was focused on the knight, Dad managed to sneak around.
“Thomas! You need to get up. Art can’t keep it distracted forever, we have to make a break for it.”
Dad comes and puts his hands on Thomas’s shoulders. “Thomas, I know this has been hard. But I need you to be brave right now. You’re too big to carry. I need you to get up. You have to move Thomas.”
Thomas looks back and forth from his dad’s face to the knight–Uncle Art–battling the troll. He can barely hear his dad over the blows echoing.
“Thomas, when I say go, I need you to go. Can you do that? Can you be brave?”
Thomas nods numbly.
“You need to say it out loud Thomas. Can you do this?”
“Good.” Dad grabs him under his shoulder’s and hauls him to his feet. “Get ready.”
There’s a great cracking sound and the troll let’s out a huge bellow. Its right knee collapses under Uncle Art’s assault.
“Go, go, go!”
Thomas is pushed from behind, along the wall, away from Uncle Art. His feet move of their own accord. When he’s close enough to the troll that he could reach out and touch it, he freezes. Dad yells something in his ear and pushes him. Thomas stumbles then keeps going.
He makes it past, and there’s Mom standing in the entrance. Thomas stumbles towards her, wanting to bury himself in her embrace, wanting to stay there until the world is good again, until the world is right again. But his dad steers him away.
Mom talks over the action, her voice unnaturally loud without shouting. “Art, we’re clear.” She takes something out of a bag at her waist and throws it at the troll. Uncle Art and the troll disappear into a thick white fog that boils up from the air and completely covers the tunnel. The tunnel grows dark as the light from Uncle Art’s sword gets smothered.
They hear Uncle Art running and a huge crunch of rock on metal. Uncle Art slides out of the tunnel on his stomach. His sword, now dark, slides across the ground next to him. Thomas’s mom and dad grab one arm each and pull him to the side.
Thomas watches his parents care for Uncle Art. They take his helmet off and looks into his eyes. They carefully pour something green down his throat which causes him to cough and sit up.
“Did we get him?”
Dad answers. “Yeah, we got him.”
Art winces as he talks, “Alright, let’s get out of here.” He sheathes his sword awkwardly while sitting. Mom and Dad pull Uncle Art to his feet. They support him as he limps, following the stream out. Thomas trails them in a daze.
They stop outside to clean the blood off of Uncle Art’s head and bandage it tight. Thomas’s jacket is waiting for him at the entrance, they brought it with them from the fairy circle. Mom and Dad want to stop, give Uncle Art time to rest, give Thomas a chance to recover somewhat.
Uncle Art shakes his head, “No, not until we’re out of Faerie.”
So they trek back. The sun sets while they’re walking, but Mom pulls out a flashlight and they manage. Thomas finds the swinging of the light hypnotic. He barely notices the journey back.
At the fairy circle they have to hold hands while Mom sings something in a strange language. The change is subtle. Some of the trees are shaped a little differently, the moon is more full and there was a barely perceptible shimmer in the air that Thomas didn’t notice until it was gone.
Thomas’s backpack appears. Beside it is the thermos that he used so long ago. He kneels down to pick them up, but once on the ground he can’t seem to move. The thermos rolls out of his palm, clunking softly on the ground.
Dad hugs him tight. “It’s okay. It’s over. You’re safe now.”