The creature was gaining once more, and the chill in the narrowing space grew. Nudge tripped over a jutting stalagmite, slamming onto the rock, his flashlight fading to glimmer, then residual glow, then aftermath of memory.
The predator hesitated for a pulse pause, and Nudge scooted backwards. He knew exactly where it was now, by sound, by vibration, and then by the glare from those searing eyes. But it wasn't in Nudge to surrender, not now, not ever. He crept, crawled, then pushed himself to his feet. He negotiated the passage, one hand on the tunnel wall, tripping blindly over slab and stalagmite, dodging, picking up speed as he went.
He refused to look back, but he couldn't miss the nasty reddish cast to his rock-clad cage.
As his adversary drew ever closer, its fetid breath becoming part of Nudge's own, a frost rose around him, but this time, Nudge didn't sweat it away. His palms might have been clammy, and his shirt soaked, but his eyes narrowed.
Not fodder for scavengers.
Because the Skeles weren't dreams.
They were memories.
If the Skeles could have taken him, they would have back then. Not now, not five thousand miles from where he'd started. As his certainty grew, so did his anger, and Nudge's pantings were now almost as formidable as the beast's rasps. He slowed.
I can take him.
The first claw jabbed his back.
Something happened then. It rose from his certainty, his confidence, his anger, his terror. As his feet picked up pace once again, the glacial atmosphere grew, but so did the light in the tunnel. The dull red glowed orange, then yellow, before suddenly becoming a blinding white. It was enough for Nudge to see the dead end ahead—a rock fall, nearly in his face.
He never had time to slow.
This is it! He tripped and slammed forward…
…into—and—through the solid rock.