Continued from: Slug Fears and Smelly Depths

Passion dropped a drippy-drop of liquid into the tube, then turned to Christopher and cocked an eyebrow at him. “Why the sudden concern?” he said.

“Why the sudden unconcern?” asked Christopher.

Passion paused, his mouth twisted into a half-frown, then huffed, snapped his goggles over his eyes and crouched, intent on watching his mixture roil and boil and bubble and fume. Christopher leaned forward.

“Cousin Gerry . . .”

“Shh . . .”



Christopher stared at him a moment longer, shrugged, then turned away. He tapped his chin with his finger. I suppose I need to take things into my own hands. But what, and how?

He scanned the cabin. Underground . . . underground. . . . Hmm . . . How would they get underground? A trap door, right? But where, and how? The place was so tiny it could fit into his own bedroom at home.

Cupboards with crooked doors hung from the walls. Grime-covered counter tops balanced upon skeletal cabinet frames. Along one wall stood a stone fireplace with a kettle hook, a pile of logs nearby. The guts of a laptop computer spilled onto the worn wooden floor. A handful of hurricane lamps sat, unlit, near a battered trunk that pressed against the end of a makeshift bed covered in thick piles of corn silk strands and twine. Beakers and glass tubes littered the rickety table. Tattered curtains swayed in the breeze. And over everything stretched sticky strings of goo like taut taffy in a rainbow of colors and hues.

Christopher thrust out his tongue. Blegh. Had his cousin always been this messy?

“Excuse me?”

Passion whirled round with a questioning look. Christopher startled.


“Thought I heard you say something,” said the scientist. “Like 'blegh,' or something.”

“Oh, oops. Did I?”

“I don't know,” Passion cried, tossing his hands wildly into the air. “Don't you remember what you say?”

“I guess not.”

“Well then, shush. The mixture needs quiet.”

Passion whirled back around. Christopher rolled his eyes, grabbed another treacle tart, and plopped down onto the edge of the mattress. Just as he brought the soggy pastry to his mouth, he spied a spot on the floor clear of goo, junk, dead bugs and just about any other nasty thing covering any other spot in the cabin. He bolted to his feet.

“What's that?” he said, and thrust his finger out. Passion twisted to face him.

“Who, what, where?”


Passion looked down. “What, this thing?” He kicked the rubber chicken. “You've never seen a rubber chicken before?”

“No, not the rubber chicken. The other thing. There, on the other side of the table legs.”

“What? Where?”

Passion shuffled over, stopping smack in the middle of the indicated spot.

“Oh, hey!” he said and plucked something cylindrical from the floor. “My salt shaker. Sharp eye you've got there, Christopher, just like your mother.” He shook the shaker in his fist and winked. “Going to need this for those sluggy slugs, you know. Thanks.”

“No,” said Christopher, gripping his head, “not the salt shaker. The other, other thing, the thing you're standing on.”

Passion looked down again. “What? The floor?”


“What about it?”

“What is it?”

The scientist eyed him carefully, suspiciously. “Something you stand on in a building . . . ?”

“Gah! No!” cried Christopher. “I know what a floor is.”

“Then what in the name of flaming cranberries is your problem?”

“A floor doesn't have hinges and a handle. Look,” he said, “it looks like you're standing on a trap door.”

Passion fell silent. Christopher lifted his eyebrows. His excitement began to swell.

“Is it a trap door, Cousin Gerry?”

But Passion didn't answer. Instead, he stared. And stared. And stared even longer. He tapped his gum boots, wrung his hands, sniffed and sniffed again. Unfortunately, the length of his pause gave the answer away and, as Christopher's eyebrows lifted even higher, the dotty man replied in a strange and somewhat fishy tone: “Um . . . no?”

“It is!” cried Christopher. “It's a trap door!”

The heated potion began to pop and wheeze. Passion cried out and scurried to the table to jab the eraser end of his pencil into the tube, fighting back the foaming foamy foam spilling over the lip of the glass. Christopher, seeing his chance, pushed past the cluttered pile of his dumped-out personal possessions, dived past the rickety table legs and crouched beside a square, hinged section of the floor, which sported a large, red . . .

“Plus sign?” he said. He looked up, confused.

“I don't know.” Passion shrugged without glancing back. “Someone thought it would be funny to draw on the floor, I guess.”

A bell dinged. He lifted the tube from the flame with a pair of enormous metal tweezers.

“Potion's done!” he said, and he marched around the table, grabbed the cracked beaker, poured the smoking purple liquid into it, then lifted his goggles onto his forehead. “Come on, come on. Let's try it out on something new. No spiders this time.”

But Christopher had barely heard him. Already he stood, grasping the trap door's handle and, setting his feet wide apart in a steady stance, gave a mighty tug. It creaked, lifting mere inches before an orange and green checkered gum boot stomped down onto it and slammed it back down with a muffled thud! Christopher's hands slipped. He tumbled onto his backside, splaying out like a hefty beetle capsized by a spiteful child. He popped up onto his elbows.

“What'd you do that for?” he cried.

“I'm not going underground,” said Passion.

“Why not?”


“Because why?”

“Just because.”

“Just because?”

“Yep, just because.” Passion nodded and grinned a not-quite-terribly-loopy-but-loopy-enough-to-be-considered-crazy grin. Christopher scrambled to his feet.

“Oh, come on. There has to be a reason.”

“Nope, no reason.” Passion shook his head, though a little too adamantly. His goggles flew free and crashed into the glass tubes and beakers on a nearby crooked counter top. Smash, tinkle! He cringed. “Oops. Er . . . I mean, nope, no reason at all.”

“Well,” said Christopher, “my mom says there's always a reason for everything.” And he folded his arms.

“Right, right,” said Passion. He waggled his beaker of fresh potion in the air. “And that's so very true. Without reason, there would be no rhyme, and without rhyme there would be no poems, and a world without poems is a very sad, sad world, indeed. So, by this logic, I've decided that 'because' is most certainly my reason for not going underground to hide from the possibly-arriving, gruesomely sluggy pirates. You can rhyme 'because' with so many things—buzz, does, was, fuzz. . . . Now if I said my reason was 'orange,' then you'd know I was lying, because orange doesn't rhyme with anything, you know—”

“Are you afraid of something?” asked Christopher.

Passion paused. And stared. And stared. And stared even longer, then replied in another strange and somewhat fishy tone: “Um . . . no?”

“You are,” said Christopher. “What is it, what are you afraid of? Is it the dark?”







“Only the kind that pinch.”


“Only the kind that pinch.”

Christopher paused to puzzle for a moment, then continued with a shrug. “Canned meat?” he said.

“I was startled by a slab of steak once, does that count?”



“Aha!” he cried out, and Passion jumped. Christopher jabbed his index finger in the air. “I got it. I know what you're afraid of.”

“You do?”

“Of course. You're afraid of slugs.”

Passion gaped. And blinked. And gaped some more. Then he smacked his forehead with an exaggerative roll of his eyes. “Well, duh! I knew that.”

“But, Cousin Gerry, you have nothing to worry about. Slugs don't live underground.”

“Oh, but Christopher . . .” Passion leaned in. “You've never seen these mondo-mega-pseudo-gastrointestinal-subterranean jungle slugs of the hidden islands in the Islands of Isles,” he said. “They're just nasty.”

“That doesn't matter,” said Christopher. “You have your salt shaker, and I have my . . . my . . .” He patted his back pocket. Empty. He patted the other one. Empty. He re-patted the first pocket, felt the curved side of something cylindrical, grabbed it and whipped out his—

“Salt shaker?” he said.

Passion's face flushed red. “I snuck it into your pocket when you weren't looking.”

“Enough of this silliness.” Christopher held out his hand. “Give me my flashlight, you take your salt shaker back. We're going underground.”

Passion drew back, clutching the silver flashlight and his beaker of purple potion to his chest. “Um . . . no, I don't think so.”

“Would you rather be skewered by bloodthirsty pirates?”

“Well, no.”

“Then come on.”

“But, the slugs. . . .”

“Look,” said Christopher, “you can throw salt on the slugs, and watch them shrivel up and stuff. You can't throw salt on pirates and expect the same thing to happen. They'll just get mad and probably stab you with their cutlasses.”

Passion's eyes widened. “All of them, all at the same time?”

“Um . . . well, that would be weird, but I guess they could.”

Passion cringed. He withdrew even further. “But . . . but, what about my potions? I have to make my potions. And some tea, of course.”

“You can make them when you get back.”

“But what if I don't come back?”

“You will,” said Christopher.

“I won't.”

“No, you will.”

“Not if the sluggy slugs get me.”

“They won't.”

“They will,” cried Passion. “They'll come after me with their weird stalky eyes and sucker-shaped mouths and slimy, icky pseudo-footie and crawl onto my head to suck out my eyeballs, and . . . and . . .” Passion's face contorted into a 'blegh' expression, tongue thrust and one eye partially closed. He withdrew even further, clutching the flashlight and the purple potion so tightly they nearly disappeared within the folds of his pink and green striped button-down shirt. Christopher sighed. His shoulders drooped.

“That's not going to happen, Cousin Gerry. Slugs are slow. They'll only crawl onto your head if you let them, and besides, who'd stand there long enough to let a slug do that, anyway?”

“They could drop from the ceiling, you know. Smack, splat! Right onto your face. Ew, ew, ew, ew!” The pitch of his voice escalated, and he high-stepped in a cowardly, squeamish manner. His gum boots squished and squelched in the puddles on the floor.

Christopher slapped his forehead. “Ugh! Then you throw salt on them. How hard is that to do?”

“Very,” said Passion, “if I can't see what I'm doing.”

“Look”—Christopher slammed the salt shaker down onto the table, then dug though his pile of discarded possession for his sneakers—“this stupid conversation's gone on way too long. We're wasting time. If the pirates do come, we probably shouldn't be here. Slugs or not, our only option is to hide underground and wait until they leave. So, either you take your chances and come with me, or you stay here and get stabbed. It's your choice.”

In the silence, Passion blinked. And blinked. And blinked again. Then he lowered his tight shoulders and removed the flashlight and beaker from the folds of his shirt.

“All right, then . . . but what about the pinching clowns?”

Christopher puzzled. “Pinching clowns?”


“There won't be any pinching clowns underground, Cousin Gerry.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

Christopher, now fully sneakered, took back his flashlight—which involved much tugging, pulling, yanking and wrenching from the frightened scientist's firm grip—and heaved the trap door open, this time all the way. Cold air like a huffed breath from an opened freezer door hit his face, smelling of damp earth and rotted seaweed.

He crouched and shined the flashlight into the hole. A wooden ladder with worn rungs and splintery sides stretched down a long tube to a dark floor, where a puddle of water had pooled. Beyond this, however, Christopher couldn't see much. To the right, at the bottom of the tube, lay a circle of darkness that hinted at a possible tunnel beyond. Or perhaps it was the fat shadow of a mondo-mega-pseudo-gastrointestinal-subterranean jungle slug. Without closer inspection, he couldn't be sure. Passion crouched beside him.

“Any pinching clowns?” he whispered.

“Not that I can see,” said Christopher.

“Any . . .” Passion gulped as though he were trying to swallow the dreaded word whole. “Slugs?”

Christopher lowered his legs into the hole. “None so far,” he said. He twisted around, stepped down a few rungs, gripped the ladder with one hand, the flashlight with the other and peered up into the terrified face of his fourth-removed fourth cousin.

“You got your salt shaker?”

Passion held it up in his trembling fingers.

“Good,” he said. “Well, here goes nothing.” Christopher lowered himself down onto the next rung, which broke with a crackling snap beneath his foot, and he promptly fell into the smelly depths of the deep, dark shaft.

*  *  *
Photo credits:

Tarantula picture - Furryscaly - Flickr Photo Sharing - Creative Commons License

Slug picture - photogirl7.1 - Flickr Photo Sharing - Creative Commons License 

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