The Belly of the Beast – Short Story
By: Jim McInturff
My fingers were slippery, but I didn’t have anywhere to wipe them. My pants were already coated in the sludge and I had to climb or else I was going to get sucked underneath. I couldn’t even see the next rung but reached as far as I could until I felt the cold metal press against my fingers. I pulled as hard as I could as my muscles strained, begging for a break. My grip shook as I clung desperately to the rung knowing I couldn’t let go. You can rest later, if you survive.
Both of my hands were resting securely on the ladder but my feet were still dangling with nowhere to hold on to. Two more steps, I convinced myself but I really couldn’t remember how far I fell. I reached up to the next rung and it turned as I tried to keep my grip. Before I could bring my other hand up, the entire piece broke off and I fell the last ten feet back into the sludge.
It smelled like week old garbage combined with rat droppings. My stomach turned but I had to keep my focus. The noise woke the creature. I tried to imagine that maybe it maneuvered by radar and I would keep safe if I just stayed still. My feet started sinking into the ground and it didn’t matter, I was a dead man either way. I forced my feet out one at a time, but they kept getting stuck. I could hear the creature slithering towards me but couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me.
The locals referred to it as La Fiera, or the Beast but nobody described it the same way. I thought it was a cautionary tale you told your kids to get them to behave, but it appeared I would be meeting the legend shortly. In the distance I could hear a loud flapping, like a bird stuck trying to find its way out. The flapping grew louder and a gust of wind blew against my clothes. My left leg pulled itself free and I fell backwards both arms into the slippery substance.
Claws scraped along the walls inching closer to where I was standing. My mind filled in the images with the noises I heard but every scenario advised me I couldn’t run, couldn’t climb or swim fast enough to escape its reach. I turned and ran in the opposite direction unsure how long the tunnel stretched. I had somehow found its lair, fell into it would be more precise but didn’t see a way to escape. The Beast screeched angrily that it would have to chase down its dinner. The noise was so close. I knew it would catch up to me within a couple of minutes.
I peeked over my shoulder for the creature and ran face first into a cement wall. I frantically felt around in the dark, but there didn’t appear to be a passageway anywhere nearby. I found a small crowbar near the floor with dried blood near the handle. I turned around as the creature approached. If I’m going down, better to go down swinging.
I saw its claws first as they stretched into the light. Black hooks on a dark green and gray scaled skin. The creature slowed as it approached, knowing I had nowhere else to run. It slithered low to the ground, but had a long spiked tail like a scorpion. It tucked in its massive wings which could block the whole passageway if they were expanded. Its face resembled a lion and it pulled itself up to its hind legs to show off its true size. La Fiera threw its head back screeching as if in celebration before making its kill, but I was determined to make it earn its tasty morsel.
I took the moment of distraction and lunged forth swinging for one of its knees. It focused its attention back on me and growled as it swung its tail in my direction. I sidestepped slowly like I was running in jello but managed to get out of the way in time. The beast continued to stab the ground hunting for its prey. I kept swinging, then dodging, then rolling until I was breathless. A large claw caught me on my side spinning me back towards the wall. I grabbed my side, almost dropping my weapon. As I turned around, I saw its tail swinging towards me and I dove out of the way as it impacted the wall sending boulders tumbling to the ground.
I rolled along the ground hoping I wouldn’t be sucked underneath. It felt like quicksand now and I was finding it harder to keep my head up to breath. The Beast kicked its foot and launched me into the side wall where I crumbled to my knees. My body couldn’t take anymore. It turned to finish me off. I reached into my pocket to finish the flask of Vodka and say my goodbyes to the world. As I located it, my lighter poked me in the hand. I examined it with the flask. 80 proof, I thought.
I didn’t know if La Fiera was afraid of fire. I didn’t know if this liquid that covered the room would even ignite. I had run out of options. The Beast moved closer and licked its teeth with a long forked tongue. I took a giant swig of the flask and flicked on the lighter. A small glow froze the creature in its tracks. The heat in my hand made me feel powerful. It’s now or never. I held the lighter in front of my mouth as I spit out the Vodka which turned into an enormous fireball engulfing the room.
The singed smell of skin burned my lungs as the fire spread across the walls. Looking around the only thing that wasn’t on fire was the ground. I dove under the sludge to wait it out.