Part Eight: A New and Hideous Peril

A Twitter adventure told in portions of 140 characters or less.
Part Eight: A New and Hideous Peril

This time our assailant gave no warning of its approach. There was no low and baleful groan. Just a skittering rush and a gibbering shriek!

From down the tunnel, where Vespa had pointed, sprinted a small, dark form. I made out its features. Humanoid, ish. More so than the Flea.

The creature was black, with a shiny, domed head that echoed the melon-like muscles that rippled and bulged on its shoulders, arms and back.

It stared fiercely, and as it neared us it bared not teeth but a pair of yellowed fangs as gnarled and whorled as the horns of a prize ram.

‘Stand back, Vespa,’ I said. ‘This little fellow ain’t giving either of us a kiss.’ I drew my revolver and aimed at the onrushing demon.

I was not able to fire. As I squeezed the trigger, the creature fell into a roll, spinning along the tunnel floor in a whirl of limbs.

As I tried for an aim, it came out of its tumble and, in a low arc, sprang towards me. Landing, it sank both fangs squarely into my big toe!

Enamel pierced boot leather with a pop and a gout of blood spouted from my tootsie. I bellowed like a society matron surprised from behind.

‘Ooh-yah!’ I shouted, as the fiend fastened its fangs to my foot. ‘In the name of all the bankers in Hades! That smarts!’ The fiend chomped.

I roared and kicked, but the devil bit down stronger. I roared some more and thrashed my foot against the tunnel wall. The fiend budged not.

And then, in the midst of my white-hot pain, I realised that Vespa, my accomplice and only aid in this infernal adventure, was laughing.

‘What’s so damned amusing?’ I managed to gasp. ‘Can’t you help me? Vespaaaaaaah!’ The fiend was chewing. White-hot nails rolled in my toe.

Vespa stopped laughing. ‘Very well, Leinigen,’ she said. ‘I will help.’ As I writhed, she reached into her haversack and pulled out… a book!

‘Another blasted book?’ I scarce believed my eyes. ‘I don’t need reading to, woman, I need…. ahhhhhhhhh!’ I hopped, puce with rage and pain.

‘Shhhh,’ said Vespa. ‘See.’ She opened the book. It was a work of art history. If I had been able to snort – or pshaw – I would have done.

But Vespa pointed to the page. Between tears, I focused. Another drawing. Vespa read: ‘James Gillray. Seventeen-Ninety-Nine. The Gout!’ 

Gillray’s work – cartoonish, admittedly – showed a small, muscular, dome-headed devil, plunging its teeth into a nastily inflamed foot. 
I looked at the fiend attached to my foot, which plunged its claws into my ankle. I convulsed with pain. No doubt about it. I had The Gout. 
‘Very pretty,’ I said, between gasps and grunts. ‘So this little swine comes from the mind of some eighteenth-century artistic fellow too.’ 
‘Quite so,’ said Vespa, didactically. ‘James Gillray, pre-eminent satirist of the age. Whoever is using the Taxus Brevifola is a beginner.’ 
‘How so?’ I managed to ask, between stabs of agony from the red needles of metallic brutality that now knitted into my shin and groin.
‘The Flea, The Gout. These are miniatures. Doodles.’ Vespa peered at the tiny gibbering devil. ‘We are being attacked by Blake’s ephemera!’
I was impressed by Vespa’s research, but given that I was in near mortal pain I begged her, politely, to deal forthwith with my assailant. 
Vespa reached into her pack. Producing a phial, she held it over my foot. ‘Do not flinch,’ she said. ‘What is it?’ I said. ‘Apple vinegar.’ 

I didn’t ask why, in preparing for a deadly mission in a hellish labyrinth, Vespa had packed such a recondite condiment. Because it worked. 

Vespa poured the vinegar on the Gout Devil and, in a flash of foam, steam and shrieks, it dissolved. The concoction ate a hole in the floor. 
My foot, two small puncture wounds aside, was in one piece. The pain subsided surprisingly quickly. I flexed my toes and looked at Vespa. 
‘Eighteenth-century remedy for an eighteenth-century complaint,’ she said. ‘Elementary, my dear Leinigen.’ She stood with hands on hips. 
I sat, stunned. Vespa smiled, slung her haversack over her shoulder and walked away, rounding a corner in the tunnel. I rubbed my forehead. 
A rum evening had become decidedly rummer, and that its increasing rumness seemed not to be the product of a dream struck me as, well, rum. 
But as I pondered, Vespa’s voice sounded from round the corner. ‘Come on, Leinigen,’ she said. ‘We have no time to lose. Oh, and watch out.’
I looked up to see a ghostly form tear round the bend. Whinnying and bellowing, a white, sightless, madly grinning horse bore down upon me!

I threw myself aside. The spectral apparition flew down the tunnel, its cries blending into the dark, hollow hoof beats thocking on brick.

Vespa popped her head round the corner and smiled. ‘Henry Fuseli,’ she said. ‘The Night Mare, no less. Bigger but predictable, all told.’

As Vespa disappeared again, I stood and brushed down my trousers. My evening had now left the rum behind and moved on to port and cigars.

Vespa called from further down the tunnel. ‘Leinigen,’ she cried. ‘Do hurry up. I think we have reached our goal.’ I hurried round the bend.

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