The drums are banging outside. Sunlight streaks into our cell, lighting the sand-covered floor where Twist nervously fidgets. She doesn’t understand what it going on, can’t make sense of the metal spikes that have been strapped to her tail making her look like a mini dinosaur, nor the horned helmet that adorns her head. We’ve been fed a disgusting grey gruel and dressed in ridiculous outfits, outfits we’re told will make it easier for us to fight!
This is the log of Science Officer Joe.
Cook Conomos is banging her ladle on the cell door, the one we entered through, still outraged at the slop they dared to call food. Our Captain is pacing the cell in her rusted and dented suit of armour. They let her keep her hat. Satnav Steve is banging his compass on the side of the wall muttering. ‘But I’m sure north-west is that way. I’m certain of it.’
He has a large shield strapped to his back and is sporting a magically light chainmail that the guards called Mithril. Copy-Kat has her face pressed up on the bars of our cell, the bars that face the arena. She is scratching an image into the dirt, an image of the amphitheatre-style seating that surrounds the arena on which thousands of onlookers wait for the entertainment to begin, every now and then stopping to scratch underneath the strange green-scaled armour that keeps irritating her skin.
‘What do they want with us?’ shouts Ship’s Boy Kate from underneath her bamboo plate protective clothing as she inspects a rather battered old brown leather whip.
‘Elementary, my dear wanderer.’
His voice came from the darkest corner of the cell. We’d been so shocked by our ordeal that we had not noticed him there. You could hardly blame us. You would have other things on your mind if you had been through what we had been through.
‘Who are you? And what’s going on?’ asked the Captain of the voice in the dark.
A tall man stepped out of the shadows dressed in a long grey travelling cloak and a deerstalker hat. He looked us all up and down and said…
‘Let me answer that by telling you something about yourselves. You have been travelling the world of stories in a prattle ship. Judging by the residue of narrative thrust on your fingers you are the science officer,’ he said, pointing at me, and then continued.
‘You are a crew on a story collecting mission. Your captain here still wears her hat. Elementary. The detailed sketching being done by this young lady tells me that you have an onboard artist who clearly illustrates what you find. The lost look of this gentleman with the broken compass tells me that he is your frustrated navigator, frustrated because his compass is broken and because he lacks the skill to navigate without it – why else would he be frustrated unless his incompetence has got you lost before? Yes! That’s it.’
His eyes sparkled as he became more animated.
‘Judging by the jitteriness of your bandicoot, famed for their fear of giant squid, I would say that your navigator took a wrong turn and led your ship within a tentacle’s reach of the giant squid that is said to live 20 leagues deep off the north shore of Animaland. Your ship was taken up by the squid and flung here towards The Capitol, the city where Horror, Sci-fi and Dystopia meet, one of the most dangerous cities in all of Fantasea. You crash-landed in The Capitol where the thought police gathered you up and put you into these cells ready to provide entertainment for all of the districts as you fight the monsters.’
We were all awestruck. He was totally right. Everything had happened just as he had said it.
‘Very impressive,” said our captain. ‘You seem to have us at a disadvantage, you know all about us but we know nothing about you.’
The steely-eyed gentleman extended his hand and said, ‘Holmes. Sherlock Holmes. Detective and at present captive just like you.’
The drumming outside got louder.
‘What’s happening?’ I asked.
‘It’s time,’ said Sherlock. The bars facing the arena started to slide up into the ceiling and the wall containing the cell door started to move! It slid forward, pushing us out into the arena.
‘I don’t want to go out there,’ yelled Ship’s Boy Kate.
‘Take this,’ said Sherlock, slipping her a small glass vial with the word MELANGE written on its side.
‘The Melange is from a far off planet. It will help you out-think any problem you have out there. I had an intuition that someone would need my help today. I must leave you now. I’m afraid my means of escape has room for only one.”
And with that Sherlock winked before flinging off his travelling cloak revealing an outfit identical to those of the thought police who had brought us here. He really was a master of disguise. He tapped on the cell door and, in a remarkably transformed voice, asked to be let out.
‘The prisoners are ready to fight. You can let me out now.’
The door was opened and he was gone, leaving us to the arena.
Without a moment to spare, we each guzzled down a bit of the Melange from the vial and walked out into the sun-scorched, sand-covered arena. A huge video screen floated overhead on which a woman’s face loomed.
‘Welcome to The Games,’ she hissed. ‘Peace in our districts is dependent on all of us remembering that in life there are monsters, but The Capitol keeps you safe by keeping the monsters in the arena. Let the games begin. Release the vampires!’
A gate opened and a teenage boy stepped out. He was very sullen-looking and devilishly handsome and as he walked out into the sun his skin sparkled! He was the strangest vampire I had ever seen but instead of attacking he fell to his knees and shouted, ‘Bella!’ in floods of tears.
‘Oh… erm. Forget the vampires. Release the Sandworm!” came the cold, calculating voice from the screen.
Twist leapt up in fright onto Cook Conomos’ head as the whole ground started to shake and rumble like an earthquake, shifting and groaning. A vast well opened up in the middle of the arena. We all started to slide into it and, as we got closer, we saw that the well had teeth! it was the mouth of a gigantic worm monster. We were terrified, but it was then that the Melange given to us by Sherlock Holmes kicked in. It suddenly seemed very easy to get out of this predicament. Almost too easy.
Cook Conomos with Twist on her hat, held out her ladle, I grabbed hold with one hand and shot out my other hand to grab Satnav Steve’s compass hand, Steve hooked his arm around the armoured elbow of the captain, she clasped one of Lookout Kate’s bamboo protective panels and Kate in turn clung to Copy Kat’s strange scaled armour. Thus connected we did the unthinkable. We allowed ourselves to slide inside.
We slipped between the monster’s giant teeth and then, as if on cue, we let go of each other and started to tickle the monster’s lips and gums. It seemed like the most natural thing to do in the world. The Melange given to us by Sherlock Holmes really was wonderful stuff. We now knew without a doubt that tickling the monster’s lips and gums could lead to just one result…
The monster SNEEZED!!!
It started as a rumbling,
as a groaning in its bowels.
It shivered into a trembling
a wet slithering of sounds.
It roared into a deafening,
a sound so loud and new.
To our surprise we were soaring
on a monster’s tremendous ATCHOOOOOOO!!!
We were shot high up into the air, up past the floating vidscreen with its image of the frosty Capitol leader, up high and out of the arena with its hordes of a now-booing crowd.
We chuckled as we soared, so delightfully proud of the clever escape that the Melange had enabled us to enact.
But as the effects of the Melange wore off we realised with utter shock that we had not considered where we might land…