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Short story By: Philip Roberts

My first story in 9½ years, written November 2009. Four teenagers in 2028 set out to explore a subterranian market abandoned soon after opening 20 years earlier.

Submitted:Dec 19, 2010    Reads: 37    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   

(Dedicated to: Russell T. Kinkade)
October 2028
The five youths peered down into the black abyss. A square black hole, which seemed to suck in all surrounding light, while letting none escape again.
'The Black Hole of Calcutta!' thought Tony Braxi, the unofficial leader of the teen set. Then quickly he emended it to, 'The Black Hole of Marlborough more like it.'
He held up a large yellow Dolphin Lantern, but left it off, since Dev and Levi already had torches on, trying to cut into the seemingly impenetrable darkness.
The four boys and one girl stood at the top of the travellator - a type of moving ramp, a rubber-floored escalator without the steps. Except that this ramp was not moving. It had not been moving for more than thirty years since soon after it had been built.
"Well," asked Levi Bloch, shining his black, rubber-sided torch into the travellator without noticeable effect.
"Well, what?" asked Dev Taylor, without looking up from the gaping blackness. A blackness, which led down just one storey to the closed mart below. But which, when you were standing (or kneeling in the case of Gwen and Levi) at the top of the travellator ramp on an overcast Melbourne day, seemed to go down into the bowels of the Earth.
"Well, are we going down, or what?" asked Levi. He looked round to the large glass doors which had guarded the long disused mart, until the set had jemmied them open.
"Which of you settees has the paper?" asked Tony, making the others wait.
Dev Taylor raised the bottom of his burgundy pullover to take out an ancient, yellowy section of a newspaper.
"Give it here," said Tony and Dev obliged.
Once more Tony read the Melbourne Recorder's account of the terror mart from November 1999.
Not that it had been officially called the terror mart; that title had been appended by the Recorder and other local papers after the series of death and disasters which had plagued the mart. He read:
During the building a cave-in had cost twenty-one lives and delayed the completion of the underground super mart by more than two years. Later staff members started to die inexplicably, causing an increase in resignation. Then finally staff and customers alike began to vanish; sighted going into the mart, then never seen again.
After the disasters had started Elders of a local Aboriginal tribe claimed the builders had disturbed a traditional Aboriginal site. An ancient site occupied by the Devils of the Darkness….
"What do you think of this Devils of the Darkness jazz?" Tony asked Nathe Mudbra, a half-breed Aboriginal youth.
"Demons of the Darkness according to my grandfather," corrected Nathe. "According to him the main demon is Yirbaik-Baik, a cannibal who can turn himself into a large brown bird. Then there's the Ningauis, the dwarves who make night pitch black. Whatever that means. I think there are a few others too, but I don't recall who or what they are.
"It's all crap," insisted Nathe, a good Catholic boy, "but my grandfather believes it implicitly."
"Well, are we gonna stand here talking over old stuff, or are we going down?" asked Levi.
"What's the rush?" asked Dev.
"What's the matter, chicken?" asked Gwen Braxi, the one female member of the teen set, allowed only by right of being Tony's younger sister.
"No, just careful," said Dev, glaring at the brunette, whose brutally bobbed hair made her look like a very pretty boy. Yet even as he spoke, Dev took his first tentative step onto the rubber-matted travellator.
"Come on then," said Nathe. At eighteen Nathe was the same age as Tony, a year older than Dev and Levi; and a little over two years older than Gwen, who was not quite sixteen.
After a couple of tentative steps, Dev stopped, disconcerted by the bouncy, rubbery feel of the ramp beneath his feet. Even more than he was by the seemingly impenetrable darkness below.
"Well?" asked Levi, although he too found the bouncy feel of the travellator disconcerting.
Without answering, Dev started down the ramp again, holding his torch at chest height as he moved toward the murky darkness below them.
An uncomfortable angle - a little steeper than the five would have liked - the thirty metres of the rubberised ramp seemed to take twenty minutes to travel. And, in truth, despite their bravado, none of the teens were keen to charge down into the unknown darkness. None of them would have dared enter the terror mart alone.
"What do you think we'll find?" asked Levi. More for the comfort of hearing his own voice in the dark, than as a genuine question.
"A big, empty store. What else?" said Gwen, peering to see into the blackness. Blackness which, despite the flashlights they carried, seemingly refused to give way to allow them access to whatever secrets were hidden within.
She was wrong though, as they discovered upon reaching the bottom of the ramp.
"Hey, potato chips!" said Levi, snatching a bright yellow bag from a metal rack near the entrance to the store proper.
"They won't be edible after all this…" began Gwen, shrieking in mid sentence as Levi popped the bag.
"Gotcha," said Levi with a smirk as Gwen glared at him.
"Very funny!" said Gwen, sounding anything but amused as the others snickered like school children - as two of them still were - at her expense. The youngest of the five, Gwen was usually the most fearless, since she was too inexperienced to know of the horrors that life can inflict upon you. However, the bag had burst like a firecracker in the subterranean store.
"What's wrong with this thing?" asked Tony, shaking his Dolphin Lantern. The large torch should have cut through the black like a lance; instead it barely allowed him to see the nearest metal racks a few metres away.
"Why is it so dark down here?" asked Dev. Looking back up the travellator ramp, he saw that the sun had finally come out in the world above and wondered, 'Why doesn't any of it penetrate down into the mart?" He flashed his torch about the store, to reveal only the barest glimpse of the racks of chips, magazines and chewing gum near the base of the ramp.
"Do you think it's the Ninnies making this place so black?" asked Gwen, teasing Nathe.
"Ningauis," he corrected her. "My grandfather would swear by it. But no, I'd say the store's just designed badly, so natural light can't penetrate."
"Just hope we don't run into old Yirback," teased Dev as they started through the chrome guards, which would no longer blare a warning against thieves, since the power had been disconnected thirty years ago.
"Yirbaik-Baik," corrected Nathe following Dev and Tony through the guard rails, "and no-one believes that Dream-Time stuff."
"Then how come Marlborough Council still has this white elephant on its hands?" asked Gwen, referring to the twin level plaza above, as well as the subterranean mart.
"Yeah," said Tony. "How come with the development boom in Marlborough over the last thirty years, they've never torn down the plaza to build tenements or office blocks on this site?"
"The land alone must be worth millions of bucks," pointed out Gwen.
"Don't ask me," admitted Nathe as they finally entered the main part of the store.
On their right, near the checkout area were racks of lemonade, magazines, and old DVDs.
"Look, Purple Beams," said Gwen shining her torch on them.
"They didn't have Purple Beam discs thirty years ago," corrected her brother, Tony. "Only Green Lights, and Blu Rays before that."
Gwen picked up one of the discs and read, "DVD. What's that?"
"Don't ask me," said Dev. "Something they had before Green Lights and Blue Rays, I suppose."
"But they're round," said Gwen, holding up the pack, which had popped open at the touch, to reveal a silvery disc. "Not triangular like a Purple Beam?"
"So were green lights," explained Levi, "don't you remember them? They only phased them out seven or eight years ago."
"Seven or eight years ago? I was just a kid then."
"You still are just a kid," said Tony, making the others snicker at his sister's expense.
On the left were racks housing toiletries, from behind which could vaguely be seen a rack of dressing gowns.
"Anyone into retro garb?" asked Levi, who had wandered over to the rack. "Early Transylvanian…." He started; stopping as the gown fell to shreds at his touch. "What…?"
"Well, what do you expect after thirty years in this place?" asked Gwen, pleased as the others snickered at Levi's expense this time. "It's not…."
She stopped, startled by the sound of scuttling in the darkness beyond the rack of dressing gowns.
"Look out, Gwen, old Yirbaik-Baik the cannibal would find you a tasty treat," said Levi; glad the others were snickering at her expense again.
"Yeah, a fine bit of rump steak on you, Gwen," said Tony, drawing a glare from his sister, but snickers from the others.
"Go and drop…." Began Gwen. She stopped and span around as the scuttling came from another direction.
She flashed her torch in one direction then another, frustrated when the murky darkness refused to give up its secrets. Wishing she had a Dolphin Lantern like her brother, instead of her small torch, Gwen started to ask Tony to shine his lantern about, then thought better of it, not wanting to give the others an excuse to laugh at her again.
"Don't be dumb, it's just rats," she said at last. Although she wished her torch could confirm that.
Without waiting for the snickering to stop, Gwen started down the centre aisle, stopping as she almost collided with a small table of "Latest Release Paperbacks"; none of which had sold for thirty years.
Skirting the table, she shone her torch toward the metal racks to the left. At first all she saw were dolls and other toys, then Scrabble and other board games, most of which she had never heard of. 'What the hell are tri-ominos?' she wondered.
A little further alone she came to electrical goods: kettles, toasters, and old-fashioned microwaves.
"These things are measured in minutes?" she said, reading the cooking list of one microwave. "Did it really take four minutes to cook a meat pie in those days?"
Finally she stopped as she found something more useful. "Torches," she said, as she started down the aisle, checking out various models until coming to the lanterns. Some even larger than the Dolphin Lantern her brother carried.
"Now this is more like it," she said, picking one up. 'But will it still work?' she wondered. She looked round till finding the largest lantern, which still seemed solid enough. However, on looking toward the next rack she realised the problem.
"All the batteries have leaked. Of course, after thirty years," she said, dropping the lantern and turning back to where she expected the four males to be behind her.
"Tony! Dev! Nathe! Levi!" she called into the blackness, startled to find herself alone.
"Tony! Dev! Nathe! Levi!" she called again, surprised at how quiet her voice sounded, although she had shouted.
'Almost as though sound can't penetrate this awful darkness any more than light can!' she thought, sighing in frustration, as the light from her torch seemed to dim even further.
Resisting the urge to scream, she turned and started to retrace her footsteps, hoping she could find the others again in the miry darkness. 'If not I'll just have to make my way back to the ramp and wait for them there!' she thought.
Then looking about herself, she wondered, 'But which way is back to the travellator?'
Slowly she turned, looking around in the hope of detecting a small square of light, indicating where the travellator led up to ground level. But the awful darkness refused to give up its secrets to the teen girl.
"Why in hell didn't I…?" she said aloud. Then hearing movement behind her, she sighed in relief and turned round.
"Why didn't you answer when…?" she began, stopping as she found herself face-to-face with a large brown bird.
A bird that seemed to just hover in the air, although there was no wind in the basement store.
At first she thought the bird's wings were flapping too fast for her to see the movement, like the wings of a honeyeater. But the absence of flapping sounds told her they were still.
"What are you? How can you…?" began Gwen, stopping as the gull-sized bird opened its beak to squawk.
Instead came a throaty "Haw! Haw! Haw!" More like an old man laughing, than a bird cawing.
"How can you just hover…?" said Gwen.
She stopped again as the brown bird began to change. Began to slowly metamorphose into at first a larger bird. Then into something almost bear-like.
Until finally a tall, naked man stood before her.
An Aboriginal man; but one who seemed as black as the impenetrable night that swamped the store. Unlike Nathe Mudbra, who was hardly any darker than Gwen.
"What…what do you want?" asked Gwen. Almost against her will, her line of sight lowered to the man's crotch, assuming he intended to rape her. But his phallus was flaccid, lifeless, with no sign of arousal.
"What do you want…?" Gwen repeated, backing away slowly as the naked Aborigine started toward her.
As the man reached out to grab her, Gwen thought he planned to rape her after all. She began to struggle furiously as the man pulled her hard against his naked body.
"Don't struggle, it'll soon be over," said the man in almost too perfect English, like a professor of English from Eton.
Gwen kneed the black man's crotch. But to her surprise he did not even flinch.
Grinning as though he had not felt her knee against his testicles, the Aborigine pulled Gwen so hard against himself, that she feared he would pull her limb from limb.
"Haw! Haw! Haw!" laughed the man again, revealing great rows of needle-like teeth.
"Oh, God, no!" shouted Gwen as she realised her true fate.
A fate worse than death indeed!
A fate worse than mere rape, as Yirbaik-Baik lowered his needle-like teeth toward his chosen prey.
* * *
"Gwen!" called Tony in anger, not fear, wondering where his younger sister was. "Why did she wander off?"
As Gwen started down the aisle twenty minutes ago, Tony, Nathe, and Dev had turned left, following Levi into the clothing section.
"That's what she's like," said Levi, stating what they all knew. "She never does what she's told."
Tony started to say she had not been told that they were turning left; then stopped, feeling guilty, realising that at not quite sixteen, she was his responsibility.
"I shouldn't have let her come with us," said Tony.
"Relax," said Levi, "she'll be okay."
"Yeah," said Nathe, hoping it were true, "what danger can come to her down here?"
Tony started to answer, then thought better of it. He did not want to say aloud what dangers she may have come to for fear of making them come true.
"Don't worry, we just have to find her," said Dev. Looking at his watch he said, "Let's all set out in different directions. If we don't find her in an hour we'll head back to the travellator."
They started to separate when Tony stopped. Shining his torch to the left, he asked, "Who's there?"
"What's the matter?" asked Nathe.
"I thought I saw someone in the darkness."
"It's just your reflexion in the metal racks," said Nathe.
"No, this face was twisted, distorted, incredibly ugly."
"Then it must've been Levi's reflexion," said Nathe, drawing braying laughter from Dev and a half smile from Tony.
"Very funny," said Levi as they set out in different directions to look for Gwen.
* * *
In the dark the four men groped about the subterranean store for almost an hour.
'It'd be only chance if we do find her,' thought Nathe. 'We're better off going back to the front of the store….' He stopped, turning round slowly, wondering which way led back to the base of the travellator ramp.
He shone his torch about, though it refused to cut through the almost gelid dark. "Stupid thing!" he cursed, slapping the torch in the hope of forcing up the feeble yellow glow. He had put new batteries in before starting out that morning. "I know not to buy that brand again."
After a few seconds the light seemed to increase slightly, just enough to save him from colliding with a wooden table housing old CDs and DVDs.
Shining his torch around, Nathe could just make out the start of half-a-dozen aisles of DVDs and realized that he was at the movie section. 'Near the back of the store?' he thought, hoping they laid out marts in the late 1990s the way they did in 2028.
He started to pass by the DVD store, when the feeble yellow light mysteriously started to grow stronger. Not strong enough to display the basement store clearly, just enough to dimly show the white and red objects on the mouldy carpet at the rear of the store.
'Oh, no!' thought Nathe as he staggered down the aisle toward the objects. Although unable to see clearly, he had already guessed what they were.
Human bones!
* * *
Levi was peering at the feeble dial of his wristwatch, trying to determine if the agreed hour was up.
'It's almost as though the dark is some kind of light vampire, which leeches the power out of torches and fluorescent dials alike,' he thought.
He was still squinting to see the fluorescent display, when he heard a scream, followed by someone calling his name.
* * *
"Levi! Dev! Tony!" shrieked Nathe over and over, staring in terror at the skeletal remains of Gwen Braxi.
* * *
"Nathe!" shouted Levi, realising who was shouting. But his cries barely penetrated the mire of the basement mart. Almost as though the leech-like blackness had parted just long enough to allow Nathe's cries to be heard, before closing in around them again, dampening his attempted shout to mere bleating.
"Levi! Dev! Tony!" came the cry again. This time Levi did not try to answer, but set off toward where he hoped the cries had come from.
* * *
Dev was the first to arrive at the movie store, cursing as he collided with a small table of DVDs and CDs, which scattered across the carpet with a sound like breaking crystal.
"Jesus Christ!" Dev blasphemed, half hobbling half falling down the aisle to where he could see Nathe Mudbra kneeling over something, strangely lit, like an angel - despite the darkness' refusal to give up any light until that moment.
"Jesus, this had better be worth it," said Dev to Nathe, in anger. Anger muted by the sight of the blood-spattered bones.
"Nothing but bones already," said Nathe dreamily. Both men had visions of Yirbaik-Baik, the Dream-Time cannibal racing back into their heads.
"Nothing but bones…" agreed Dev, stopping in mid sentence as he realised that was not quite true. Amid the scattered bones was one complete foot, still draped in remnants of the white Bobby Sox that Gwen Braxi had been wearing when they had entered the mart.
* * *
"Levi! Tony!" a voice called out through the inky store again.
At first Levi thought it was Nathe again. But as he was caught up in a mass of decaying curtains, he recognised the new voice.
"Levi! Tony!" called Dev again as Levi struggled for a moment with the curtains, sneezing as the mildewy smell brought on his hay fever.
He was still sneezing, as he pulled free of the ancient fabrics, which offered little resistance, almost falling to dust at the touch.
'Like wrestling with ghosts!' thought Levi. He almost smiled at the thought, then as the voice called, "Levi! Tony!" again, he realised it could only mean that they had found Gwen. And since Gwen's voice had not joined the others he realised that she had to be unconscious.
'At the least!' he thought, stopping to wait for the voice again, in the hope of getting his bearing.
Instead he heard a hideous shriek, which made him step back hurriedly, almost colliding with another curtain rack.
"Over there," said Levi, steadying himself as he saw a burst of light flare up fifty metres or so away.
'I wonder how they managed to penetrate the blackness?' thought Levi, carefully sidestepping another rack of fabrics, as he headed toward the light. Where he expected to find the three boys and Gwen Braxi.
Instead, he realised as he neared the circle of light, that it was a dozen young men or boys sitting around a blazing fire in the middle of the sports section of the underground store.
'They're holding some kind of Jamboree in the middle of the mart?' thought Levi.
He was almost in the circle of light, when he stopped in horror, as he realized that it was no Boy Scout Jamboree.
* * *
"Nooooooooo!" shrieked Tony Braxi kneeling on the floor near the scattered bones in the movie area. "It can't be Gwen! It can't be Gwen! Nothing could have reduced her to that it so little time!"
Though none of them really knew how long they had been in the underground store. It seemed like two or three hours, but probably was much less.
"It has to be her," said Dev tactlessly. He pointed to the Bobby Sox-clad foot before Nathe could stop him.
"Nooooooooo!" shrieked Tony again, falling upon the remains of his younger sister, scattering them further as he leapt to pick up the severed foot.
An act that had Dev and Nathe backing away in as much horror as the sight of the remains of Gwen Braxi.
"For God's sake, don't!" started Dev, stopping and almost falling onto the bones himself as a long drawn-out scream echoed through the darkness.
"Gwen!" cried Tony, hoping that somehow despite the evidence before him, his sister was still alive somewhere in the basement store.
"Levi!" said Nathe, as all three young men realised that Levi was not with them.
"Levi!" shouted Dev, and before the others could stop him, Dev raced out into the blinding darkness, toward where the sound of screaming still rang out.
"Come on!" shouted Nathe started after Dev.
"I can't leave Gwen! I can't leave Gwen!" shrieked Tony staying amid the remains of his sister.
"Come on, damn it, we have to help him!" said Nathe. When Tony stayed where he was, Nathe raced back to grab him and try to drag the leader of their set with him.
"I can't leave Gwen! I can't leave Gwen!" shrieked Tony fighting against Nathe.
"We have to help Levi!" shouted Nathe, trying to break through Tony's hysteria.
"I can't leave Gwen! I can't leave Gwen!" shrieked Tony again, lashing out against Nathe.
"Jesus!" cried Nathe as Tony's fist connected with his side. Cursing he reluctantly abandoned Tony and started off into the darkness after Dev, who was now long gone from sight, guided only by Levi's hysterical screams which still rang out through the mart until suddenly cutting out.
"God, I'll never find him again…" began Nathe, stopping, startled, stumbling backwards as a large brown bird whooshed past, almost colliding into his left temple.
"What the hell… a bloody big raven, how did that get down here?" said Nathe. Looking about he sighed; "We'll I've lost them both now."
* * *
Dev raced through the black store, stopping with a cry as he almost ran headfirst into metal racks of hardware goods.
'Jesus, I'll never find him now,' thought Dev. Then the sound of Levi's screaming rang out again.
Turning, trying to determine which direction the screaming emanated from, Dev stared in surprise at the sight of a cook fire in the middle of the store. Perhaps twenty metres from where he stood.
* * *
Hearing the screaming, Nathe set out also, and managed to catch sight of Dev just as he entered the circle of squatting figures.
* * *
'It can't be!' thought Dev as he stumbled into the gathering. 'Surely boy scouts wouldn't meet here, in this awful place?'
For a moment he stared round the gathering as the 'boys' stood round the campfire slowly roasting a large carcase upon a spit.
'What is it?" wondered Dev, gagging at the smell, like burning pork.
"Stop!" Nathe called after Dev, trying to stop him from entering the circle of light.
"They're cooking a…!" began Dev. He stopped staring in terror at the circle of chittering figures.
Not boy scouts as he had first thought.
"Midgets!" said Dev, starring at the small, hunched figures.
"No, Ningauis," said Nathe coming up behind Dev. One look at the hideous, cracked-leather skin of the creatures, and their cretinous, drooling, sagging features, told him that the creatures could not be human.
"Ningauis?" repeated Dev, puzzled.
"According to my grandfather, hideous Dream-Time creatures which make the night pitch black … that would explain the impenetrable blackness in the store…" He stopped, refusing to believe the legends of his black forebears. Like most half-breed Aboriginal youths in the twenty-first century, Nathe had no desire to return to the old ways, no faith in the legends of the Dream-Time.
"What is it they're…?" asked Dev, staring at the blackened carcase. He dropped to his knees, gagging as the smell like burning pork hit him.
"What is it…?" agreed Nathe. He also dropped to his knees and started vomiting as the awful realisation struck him.
"It almost looks like…!" started Dev, then, "Levi!" as the truth finally broke through the veils of disbelief.
"Levi!" shouted Dev again, still on his knees. Stumbling, faltering, he staggered back to his rickety legs; almost falling again as the roast-pork-like stench of Levi's roasting carcase overpowered him.
"For God's sake, let's get out of here!" shouted Nathe. Grabbing his friend by the shoulders, he tried to drag Dev away from the circle of hideous, drooling dwarves, who had began to chitter in an almost birdlike chirping, perhaps talking amongst themselves; or perhaps calling to someone or something else.
"Okay," agreed Dev. He started back into the darkness, they way they had come a few minutes earlier.
"Where are you going?" asked Nathe.
"Back to get Tony. We can't leave him down here."
"All right," agreed Nathe, only hoping as he started after Dev, that they would not both get lost again in the murky store and end up like Levi Bloch … or Gwen Braxi."
* * *
"Come on!" said Dev grabbing Tony who still sat on the mildewy carpet in the long disused movie store, clutching his sister's left foot, surrounded by her skeletal remains.
"No!" shouted Tony, struggling against his two friends. "I can't leave Gwen's remains down here!"
"But she's dead damn it!" shouted Dev, trying to drag his friend to his feet.
"Come on, we've gotta get out of here!" shouted Nathe, dragging Dev way, until he lost his grip on Tony.
"We can't leave him!" protested Dev.
"We've gotta get out of here!" repeated Nathe, half dragging, half carrying Dev against his will into the darkness again.
Ignoring the protests of Dev that still rang out sporadically, Nathe dragged his friend through the darkness, narrowly avoiding collisions with the metal racks and occasional wooden tables in the centre of the aisles.
"Jesus!" cried Nathe as he tried, too late, to side-step and he and Dev collisioned into a wooden table scattering books and magazines across the basement floor. Along with Nathe and Dev who were also thrown with bone-jarring ruthlessness onto the mildewy carpeted floor.
"Oh God," cried Dev, still wanting to somehow get back to rescue Tony.
"Come on, damn it," said Nathe, dragging Dev to his feet again. "We must be getting close to the travellator again. There were tables of books and magazines near the entrance when we entered the store."
Staring into the blackness ahead of them, Dev remembered that Nathe was right.
* * *
"Gwen!" shrieked Tony, still lying amid the skeletal remains of his sister in the movie store, where DVDs and CDs also lay scattered about the floor.
"Gwen! Oh Gwen!" he shrieked, as though hoping that by calling her name he could somehow bring the fifteen-year-old back to life.
"Gwen!" he sobbed, then stopped, startled by the loud sound of wing beats that suddenly echoed through the black store.
"What…?" he muttered, looking up as the wing beats increased to near deafening volume.
Tony stared open-mouthed as a single brown bird; the size of a large gull appeared and perched upon a metal rack, staring down at him.
"A bird … just a single, stupid bird!" said Tony, having expected a flock of birds from the sound of the wing beats.
"A single, stupid…" he repeated, stopping as the bird reared up to its full height. Half a metre or more. Far too large for any bird he had ever seen in Melbourne's west.
"How big can it be?" he wondered aloud as the bird seemed to stretch and grow until it towered over him, a full metre in height. Then slowly it stretched and grew, and morphed until it was a metre and a half, then two metres in height.
"A two-metre tall bird?" he wondered, knowing no flighted bird could reach that size, even rearing.
Then as the bird continued to stretch, shift, contort it slowly changed shape and hue. Until instead of a giant brown bird rearing above him, there stood a two-metre Aboriginal warrior, a jet black Aborigine. Unlike Nathe and his parents who were barely darker than Tony, or Dev.
"Who are you? What are you?" asked Tony. He began crawling slowly away, until the clinking of Gwen's bones stopped him.
He looked down in horror to see that he was sitting on some on her gleaming bones.
"Gwen…!" he started; then hearing creaking from the metal rack, Tony looked up as the naked Aborigine raised a stone axe and leapt off the rack toward him, bring with him a cascade of blank CDs and micro-cassettes.
* * *
Dev and Nathe were racing through the darkened store, desperately hoping to find their way back to the travellator ramp.
"This way … I think," said Dev, pointing to where he thought he could see a small square of yellow.
Looking back, they could still see the light of the spit and hear the inhuman chittering of the ebony dwarves.
A monstrous scream rang out from the direction they had left Tony Braxi, stopping both youths.
"Tony!" cried Dev, trying to run back to save their friend from whatever unseen terror had caused his hellish shriek.
"No! He's finished!" shouted Nathe.
Nathe grabbed Dev's left arm again and began trying to drag him through the darkened metal racks, to where a distant yellow rectangle of light had suddenly appeared revealing the base of the travellator ramp less than a hundred metres away.
"No! Tony!" cried Dev, struggling furiously against Nathe. Yet now the store was silent, other than the sounds of Nathe and Dev struggling with each other. Tony's long, drawn-out scream had tapered to nothing, replaced only by distant wing beats in the darkness.
'Bats!' thought Nathe, shivering in disgust, as he struggled with Dev, trying to compel his remaining companion toward the rectangle of light.
"Come on," pleaded Nathe, as Dev continued to fight to be released. "We've got to get to…." He started to say, "To get to the travellator before the light goes out," but stopped afraid to articulate the words, in case saying it somehow made it so.
"A bird!" said Dev suddenly.
As he stopped fighting against his friend, Nathe stumbled, almost falling. Just managing to stay on his feet, Nathe looked back and saw dimly the outline of a large, dark bird soaring toward them.
"A raven?" he thought. But seeing the bird lit up in some inexplicable form of lighting, he knew that ravens did not bring their own light with them.
Still holding onto Dev, Nathe stood still, watching, bewitched as the large bird approached so slowly it almost seemed to be flying in slo-mo.
'Not a raven,' he realised as the bird, the size of a large gull neared until he could see it was a murky dark brown.
For fifteen seconds or so the large bird hovered a few metres away, then slowly began to transform. Began to stretch and grow into a menacing brown Big Bird (from a twisted, alternative Sesame Street).
Then, as it continued to grow the bird began to change shape, until it had metamorphosed into a naked Aboriginal warrior, holding a long-handled tomahawk.
"Yirbaik-Baik!" said Nathe Mudbra, almost in awe.
For the first time since he had heard Tony's scream, Dev turned to face Nathe. "Yirbaik-Baik?" he asked, for a moment not understanding; stunned by the sight of the naked man where a brown bird had been only seconds before.
"Come on, damn it!" cried Nathe as the naked warrior raise his tomahawk menacingly.
This time Dev did not protest as Nathe half dragged, half carried him toward the rectangle of light at the base of the travellator ramp.
"Come on!&rdquo


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