Nudge flees down the tunnel


            Dear Lord! He didn't realize it until that moment, but somewhere in the distant reaches of his near-frozen brain, he'd already lodged his escape plan. In that scenario, Nudge Bradford tore up the ancient water chute at light speed, erupting safe and sound into daylight at the far end…

            And, of course, they'd never pursue him into daylight. Those things—those Skeles—were strictly creatures of the night.

            A straight shot back up the water chute. Unexplored, but fastest by far. Surely, if that much water had made its way, one skinny, desperate person could, too. At the junction, Nudge hesitated but a fraction of a heartbeat, before making up his mind. When it happened, it really wasn't a decision, but more of a desperate act. He didn't know whether he could find his way back the way he'd come—not at this speed. And the thought of being lost, in endless passages, with Skeles in pursuit…

            All his boyhood terrors were back. This was the Night-time Nudge, with horror in his heart.

            He tore up chute, instinct guiding his pounding feet. Panting, with his pulse throbbing in his ears, he almost missed the sound.

            A click. A rasp. Leathery wings on rough, corrugated skin…

            He was already running flat out. He could have sworn he didn't have any more in him, and his nerve nearly broke with his sweat. But in his mind's eye, all he could see were those long, viciously curved talons, and his back tightened against the gouging. Somehow, Nudge upped it a notch.

            A clinging chill hit him and he was sure it was from the beast. Other creatures emanated warmth, but not this one. Chilling, feral, hungry…

            There was a Y in the tunnel ahead, and Nudge took the larger channel. His flashlight bobbed as he ran, and he knew it was like a lure to the Skele, but he couldn't douse it—it just wasn't in him to tear blindly through the dark.

            Dark. Night predator. Blind it—

            In one swift move, Nudge flicked the light behind him, and heard a startled rasp in response. His pursuer fell back, if only a little, and Nudge tripped along roughened rock. This tunnel wasn't smooth like the last, and doubt trickled in. What if…?

The End

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