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Chapter 44 Daddy Longlegs

  • "Hello?" Lulu called. "Anyone back there?"
  • "What's wrong?" asked Spyder.
  • "I thought I heard something back in the tunnel. Who'd a thought there'd b_eird sounds in Hell?"
  • "Is the river ahead?" asked Shrike. Spyder heard the rustling of the thick,
  • rubbery sheets as she unfolded the map. "We have to cross it to get t_andemonium."
  • "That won't be a problem. The crossing part, I mean."
  • "Lay it out for us, Lulu," said Spyder. He had his back to a stone outcroppin_ust beyond the tunnel. Around them were dozens of voices, people screamin_nd talking, people on crying jags. From above came a metallic hummin_unctuated by momentary squeals, the wail of rusted wheels and rotten gears.
  • Spyder didn't like the idea of machines that he couldn't see hanging over hi_ead.
  • "I don't know where to start. We're in a Hieronymous Bosch painting," Lul_aid. "Hear all those people? They're standing around waiting to get acros_he river. I bet you don't smell roses anymore, do you? There's pipes al_round dumping what looks a lot like shit, blood, carcasses and lord know_hat other puke into the river. Jesus fuck!"
  • "What is it?" Shrike asked, her sword half-raised.
  • "Something, like a big, white worm just popped out of the water, latched on t_ne of those people and dragged 'em under."
  • "They aren't people, Lulu. They're souls. Don't worry, they can't drown," sai_pyder
  • "No, but I bet that thing can chew on 'em for a good long time."
  • "What else do you see? Can you tell how we get to the other side?" aske_hrike.
  • "Yeah. There's these metal cars, like the sky cars at an old amusement park,
  • slung on wires over the water. Shit. I don't know if I want to ride on one o_hose with those hungry worms waiting for us to drop."
  • "We have to," said Spyder. "Listen, the thing that grabbed that guy, it wasn'_andom. Souls are sorted all over Hell, starting right here. This is the Bon_ea. The ones who end up in it are so foul that even Hell doesn't want them.
  • The ones wandering around this shore and on the other side, they're mayb_orse off. Completely lost. They can't get into Heaven and they won't go int_ell. They'll spend eternity right here by this river of shit. We don't hav_hat option. If we don't move, Shrike's going to die."
  • The voices of the wandering souls grew quiet, then came back louder than ever.
  • Lulu said, "Remember how I used to tease you about it being all ironic wit_ou named Spyder, that you're so afraid of spiders?"
  • "We worked that over once or twice."
  • "Be glad you're blind right now. I shit you not, there's a twelve foot tal_pider strolling down the shoreline kicking people out of his way like he'_onald fucking Trump."
  • Spyder reflexively pressed his back into the outcropping and went very col_nside. He wanted desperately to find the tunnel and go back up they way the_ad come, but Shrike grabbed him and held on.
  • "We have to go on," said Shrike. "Trust me. I'll take care of you."
  • "Weird," said Lulu. "That spider looks sort of mechanical. Like someone too_bout ten junked cars, some old TVs and prosthetic limbs, wired them togethe_nd taught them to walk. And it gets better. The thing's got a human head."
  • Feedback knifed through Spyder's head, bringing back memories of a hundre_weaty clubs on a thousand drunken nights. A voice crackled and boomed,
  • broken, imperious and mad.
  • "Move along, you desperate scum, you noxious void of the earth's bowels, mov_long! Your fate lies across the Bone Sea, not on my shore! Across the rive_s the eternity you courted your whole corrupt and sorrowful lives. It is th_ternity you shall receive. No one remains on my shore. Move along, you los_ambs, food for the wolf. Lolly-gag and your suffering will begin all th_ooner!"
  • "Shrike, get your sword up," said Lulu. "Daddy longlegs is headed this way,
  • twelve o'clock high."
  • A rhythmic clanking filled the air, along with the smell of burning oil,
  • decaying flesh and overheated circuit boards. Spyder sensed some enormou_resence looming over them.
  • "My god. You're alive," came the voice. It was low and human. The madness wa_one. "Forgive me for that scene a moment ago. They make me say and do thos_errible things. The beasts who run the machines. I'm attached, you see."
  • "Who are you?" asked Shrike.
  • "Cornelius… something, I think," said the spider machine. "I was once one o_hese poor souls. Lost and terrified. I don't belong here. I don't deserv_ell. I refused to cross the Bone Sea. Demons came with nets and rounded us u_ike wild animals. When I awoke I was the foul thing you see before you."
  • "You must've gotten on someone's bad side, then super-sized it," said Lulu.
  • "I can't remember," Cornelius said. "Kind souls, will you kill me and free m_rom this endless torment?"
  • "I don't think we can kill you, Cornelius," said Shrike. "You're alread_ead."
  • "Am I? It's been such a long time. I don't remember."
  • "Cornelius, we need to get to Pandemonium. Can you help us?"
  • "I would if I could, dear lady. I've never been there or even seen the place,
  • but I hear it's glorious. I've never been anywhere but this shore." Madnes_as edging back into his voice.
  • "That's not true. You were a man," said Spyder. "Don't ever forget that."
  • "A man. Was I? How nice. Yes, I remember. I was a boy and we lived by the sea.
  • In Brighton. There were trains and gulls. It was lovely… " Circuits fried. Th_pider machine lurched and Spyder felt the ground shake.
  • The demented, amplified voice was back. "Move along, you wandering excrement,
  • god's pitiful blunders. Move along and despair!" Cornelius moved back in th_irection of the shore, hunting wandering souls. His voice faded as he went,
  • but its echo filled whatever space enclosed them.
  • "I think it's time to go," said Lulu. She led Spyder and Shrike to the edge o_he stinking, clotted water and helped them into one of the coal cars. Soul_ell back as they went. Spyder felt their hands caress him, as if looking fo_armth. The car lurched into the air and carried them over the Bone Sea.
  • "I seriously wonder if we're gonna make it out of here," said Lulu. No on_eplied.