Their walk to the town had been mercifully uneventful, and by the time they arrived, they’d designed an informal experiment to test Sam’s newfound chip-catching abilities.
More accurately, they’d come up with the hypothesis that there was a positive correlation between Sam’s exposure to an alien environment and his coordination, reflexes, and visual motor skills.
They’d decided to test this by having Lachlan throw all thirteen remaining bags of chips at Sam every 15 minutes, then record how many bags Sam caught.
Lachlan looked down at the notebook in his hand. They’d been at the experiment for nearly an hour, and each time, Sam had caught more bags than the last. The first time, he’d only caught eight out of the 13. The last time, he’d caught 12.
Lachlan glanced at the time on his phone. It was 6:14 AM. Or at least, that’s what time it was back home, assuming time in this place even passed in a normal way. Almost time to throw the next set of bags, and far past his bed time.
He yawned as he reached into the tote bag, keeping an eye on the phone clock. With the much-needed lull in the danger, the adrenaline that been keeping him awake was starting to wear off. How long had it been since he’d slept? He wasn’t sure what time he’d woken up in the back of the van, and he was dubious as to whether his body had counted the drug-induced unconsciousness as proper sleep.
“Tired?” said Sam.
“I’ll have you know that it’s nearly quarter six in the morning Lachlan time.”
“I have no idea what that means,” said Sam. “I’m not judging, though. Today hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park for either of us.”
“Holy fucking understatement of the year, batman.”
“Oh? What’s this? Did I actually get a laugh out of Mr. You’re Not Funny, Lachlan?”
“I retract my laugh,” said Sam.
Lachlan looked at his phone again. 6:16. Oops, he was off by a minute. He reached into the tote bag and tossed a packet of chips. Sam snapped it out of the air.
One by one, Lachlan threw the other bags. Sam caught each one. Lachlan wrote down the results.
“Nice work, Samurai.” Lachlan yawned. “You’re 13 for 13.”
“Wow, you really are tired, aren’t you?”
“What? Tired? Nah, I’m the most awake I’ve ever been. Nothing gets my blood a-pumping like sleep deprivation, strange drugs, and mortal peril.”
“Are you physically capable of not answering a question with sarcasm?”
Sam rolled his eyes and held the chips out to Lachlan. Lachlan held the tote bag open, and Sam dropped them in.
“Maybe there’s someplace you can sleep in the town,” said Sam. “It shouldn’t be too far now.”
Lachlan looked up at the horizon. It looked closer now, and it seemed to drop off suddenly rather than fade into the distance.
“It looks like we’re almost there,” said Lachlan.
This was it. They were cornered.
Zogzhesh loomed over them, opening his mouth to let out a menacing hiss.
Chelsea looked around, scanning the alley for some means of escape she hadn’t noticed before. There wasn’t one.
“He wants to kill us,” Angelina said, her voice soft.
“It’ll be okay,” said Chelsea.
She felt a pang of guilt that what had possibly been her last words had been a lie.
“You shall stand trial before the snake room, and there, your fate shall be decided,” said Zogzhesh.
She hadn’t been completely lying, she told herself. Zogzhesh kept talking about them standing trial, and they couldn’t exactly stand trial if they were dead?
The thought of having to go back to that horrible snake room, falling through that horrible abyss and being grabbed by some immense, terrifying monster all over again made her shudder, but it would still be better than dying.
Chelsea looked up at the snake man, considering her options. Zogzhesh let out another hiss and stepped closer. His fangs were at least as long as her forearm.
She thought about charging him, distracting him so Angelina and Belfry could slip away unharmed, but she wasn’t sure there would be any point. There was no way Angelina would leave her.
Angelina stepped forward and held up her hand.
What was she doing?
Maybe Angelina had a plan. She had gotten them out of that strange snake room, though Chelsea still didn’t fully understand how or what had happened.
“Wait, wait, wait,” said Angelina.
Something like confusion crossed the snake man’s inhuman face.
“Silence. I do not answer to puny mortals.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get that,” said Angelina, “but before you open your big mouth and swallow us like eggs, I think you’ll want to listen to me.”
Zogzhesh hissed again, letting out a spray of something that might have been saliva or venom. Chelsea flinched as a few droplets hit her face.
“And why should I listen to a pathetic mortal such as yourself?”
Zogzhesh tensed, rearing his head back as though preparing to strike.
Chelsea realized with a jolt of fear that he probably had no intention of taking them to stand trial, and every intention of sinking his enormous fangs into Angelina.
Chelsea started forward. Maybe she could get between Zogzhesh and Angelina. She wouldn’t stand a chance against him, but she might be able to buy Angelina some time.
Angelina turned around and frowned at her.
“I’m handling him,” she said.
Chelsea didn’t stop. She wasn’t about to leave this giant snake monster for her friend to ‘handle’ alone.
Angelina stuck out her leg, blocking Chelsea from getting any closer. Chelsea tried to move sideways around her, and Angelina leaned to the side, obstructing her again.
“Angelina,” she said.
“It’s okay, C,” said Angelina. “Either he kills us horribly, or he doesn’t, and if he listens to me, he might not.”
Chelsea wasn’t entirely sure what Angelina meant, but she knew it definitely didn’t reassure her.
“Angelina,” said Chelsea again. “Please. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“If it happens, it happens,” said Angelina.
Angelina was really on a role with making unreassuring statements.
Angelina turned to look up at Zogzhesh now, making eye contact as though she was getting ready to address him. All there was to do now was hope Angelina did a better job convincing Zogzhesh than she did Chelsea.
“I know you’re lost,” said Angelina to Zogzhesh. “If you don’t kill us, I think I might be able to help you.”