Author's Note: Apocalypse meaning any remarkable disaster or destruction. Mostly chosen for the alliteration thing. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: See chapter four's disclaimer.
They were kneeling in a circle on the floor of the tapestry room upstairs, with the game at the center. Sticky had the dice in his hand, and was holding them over the board. He was determined not to break down again. He would have been comforted had he known how close his friends were to breaking down as well.
The others nodded, and everyone present knew perfectly well that they were lying. But it was impossible to really be ready; they could only roll the dice time and time again, and hope to survive the outcome.
Sticky opened his hand and the yellowing dice fell onto the board. The first die stopped with three black dots facing up, the second with two. The wooden monkey moved five squares and stopped. Already the greenish mist was beginning to reappear in the stone. Constance uttered a small groan of apprehension and covered her eyes. The others squinted at the words materializing in the green mist.
Every month at the quarter moon, there'll be a monsoon in your lagoon.
"What's a monsoon?" said Constance, peeking through her stubby fingers.
"Rain," said Reynie.
"A lot of rain," said Kate.
"Well, it's a good thing we're inside, then," said Sticky in a falsely cheery voice. He got up and moved over to the only window in the room to look at the sky. It was cloudy, to be sure, but it didn't look monsoon cloudy.
"Uh…" said Reynie, and his tone made the hairs on the back of Sticky's neck stand up. He turned to see what he was looking at, and saw him staring straight up at the ceiling—except that the ceiling was gone. In its place was a billowing layer of dark rainclouds.
"Oh," said Sticky.
"Oh," said Kate.
The first drops began to fall: great thick dollops of cold water, splashing onto the floor and soaking through the carpet. Constance hugged her knees close and shivered; Kate held her bucket over her head.
"Come on, it's my turn," said Reynie, taking the dice. "Let's get this over with."
"Wait," said Sticky. "Shouldn't we play someplace else?"
"Yeah," Kate agreed. "We don't want those wounds of yours getting wet." She gestured at Reynie's heavily bandaged back and thigh.
"Right." Reynie closed the board and tucked it under his arm, holding the dice in the other hand. They all stood up and began to trudge through the now pouring rain towards the door, where the water was leaking through the gap under the door and trickling down the stairs. They heard a drowsy moan from the gorilla somewhere below.
Just as Kate put her hand on the doorknob, something happened. The game sort of twitched—it gave a spasm in Reynie's arm and somehow struck his spine where the python had bitten him. Reynie gasped and his vision flickered; he dropped the game, which fell open, as well as the dice.
"It kicked me!" Reynie cried in disbelief. "The game kicked me!"
"Are you sure—?" Kate began, but Sticky interrupted.
"Where are the dice?"
"I lost them!" said Reynie, horrified.
Immediately, Kate, Sticky and Reynie dropped to the floor to search for the dice in the now-ankle-deep floodwater. They fished around blindly for a moment, and then Kate's hand shot out of the water, showering them all. "Got it!" she shouted triumphantly.
"See what it says," said Constance.
Reynie picked up the board and hastily shook the water off of it. There was green mist in the stone, but it didn't seem to be solidifying. "The rain's blurring the words!" he shouted over the deafening pitter-patter. He rubbed the surface of the stone feverishly with his sopping sleeve and cupped his hands over it to shield it from the raindrops. "Beware the…" he read, squinting at the green writing, but it was already disappearing. "Beware the ground on which you stand; the floor is quicker than the—aagh!"
The carpet beneath Reynie's feet melted. One second it was solid, and the next it was a thick, sticky pool of bubbling slime. His shoes and socks fell through at once, and the rest of his body was sinking fast. "Help!" he screamed, but his friends were having troubles of their own. The pool of quicksand in the floor was large enough that it had nearly swallowed up the game board, and Constance had gotten stuck in the quicksand herself trying to salvage it. Sticky grabbed her chubby hands and yanked. The girl's feet flew out of the carpet and she and Sticky went tumbling backwards to splash into the water. They scrambled to their feet again and hurried to help Reynie. The rippling pool of quick-floor was so large that Sticky had to hold Constance's ankles, and Constance had to float in the two-foot-high water to reach Reynie over the quicksand pit. Reynie grabbed the toddler's hands and Sticky pulled with all his might; Reynie rose a couple of inches.
Kate, meanwhile, had grabbed the dice, as it was her turn. Without waiting for her friends to prepare themselves—there was no time for that—she threw the dice onto the board. Eleven. She waited for the zebra piece to move.
She rolled again. Still nothing.
"It's not working!" she cried desperately, trembling in the freezing water, which was now up to her belt.
"What do you mean, it's not working?" said Reynie, spitting water out of his mouth.
"It's. Not. Working!"
"Reynie—what number did you roll?" said Sticky suddenly, still holding on to Constance's feet.
"What does it matter—?"
"What number did you roll?"
"I don't know!" said Reynie irritably. "It was… It was a two, I think!"
"Then you rolled doubles!"
"So?" said Reynie, and then he remembered. "OH! Doubles gets another turn! Toss me the dice, Kate!"
Kate obeyed without thinking; Sticky screamed "No!" a second too late. Both dice tumbled through the air, and of course Reynie could only catch one of them.
Reynie broke away from Constance, who pulled back. The first die landed in his hand, but the other one plopped into the patch of quicksand and sank through. Reynie plunged his hand through the floor and tried to catch it, but he was too late.
"Did you get it?" said Constance.
"No, it brushed my hand, but I dropped it!"
"Then drop the other one," said Sticky, "Quick!"
Reynie opened his fist and the die tumbled out of it. He didn't hear them hit the floor in the foyer below, nor did he see how many spaces his piece moved, because at that moment he gasped and his head went underwater.
It was the coldest water he'd ever been in. The water was roaring, swishing, swirling in his ears. There was no hope of pulling his hand out of the floor, so he stretched his free hand up as far as he could and prayed for one of the others to take hold of it. He was holding his breath, but if he didn't get out soon he would drown. Already his legs and waist were under the floor, hanging out of the ceiling in the foyer. Even in his predicament, a comical scene flashed through his mind of the strangeness of seeing a pair of legs sticking down out of the ceiling.
He was not the only thing sinking; the patch of quick-floor was acting like a drain for the rainwater, which was gushing through it and splashing into the foyer, creating a whirlpool that sucked Reynie down ever-faster. Now he was up to his chest… now his shoulders… now his neck… now his nose… now his eyes.
Finally, his whole head broke into the foyer, and he saw the water leaking into it through the ceiling and the stairway. The scorpion's body was floating around like a disgusting fish. He was suspended only by one hand. The water gushed over him, slapping his face, making him cough and splutter. Another second and he would have fallen.
Another hand grabbed his own, and he could tell by the strength of the grip that it was Kate. He moved up another few inches—but then, to Reynie's chagrin, the hand slackened and let go, to be replaced by a sharp pain in his index finger.
Reynie dropped out of the ceiling and fell with a huge splash into the foyer. He was dazed by the fall, but nothing appeared to be broken. He could still move, at least. Vaguely, he remembered the dice and snatched them off the floor.
He looked up; the patch of quicksand was spewing out water into the room, and there were other things dropping out too, strange little black dots that moved too quickly to make out. Suddenly the pain in his forefinger increased and he lifted it—and saw a wriggling leech attached to it.
He made a noise of disgust and surprise and wrenched the slimy thing off of him. Its tiny teeth left a bloody ring around his fingernail. He looked up. He briefly considered throwing the dice up through the ceiling to his friends, but he knew that the quick-floor would immediately spit them back out. He looked at the doorway, where he could see the water and five or six more shiny leeches spilling down the stairs.
Reynie ran up the stairs, ignoring the stabbing pain in his side and the wounds from the snakebite, which were bleeding freely again. He knew that he had to get the dice to his friends, because it was Kate's turn and they were trapped in the tapestry room with the leeches. Oh, the tapestries… They would be ruined! What would Mr. Benedict say?
He tore up the staircase, passing the bathroom in which the now wakeful python was pounding itself against the door. He reached the second floor, and saw that water was positively spraying out of the edges of the door, searching for a way through. Obviously it was rising very fast, because the water went all the way to the top of the door.
Reynie grabbed the doorknob and turned it. With a tremendous effort, he slowly pushed the door open—forward, directly against the flood. Water shot through the door with impossible force, much stronger than the force Reynie was applying to the door from the other side; it swung shut and the water washed over his body. He barely had time to toss the dice out to Kate, Sticky and Constance before he was swept down the stairs in a shower of rain and leeches.
Kate saw Reynie at the door, and she saw the dice fall short and plunge into the deep water. She and Sticky had found a small table, and now the three of them were holding on for dear life, trying to stay on top of it. She had seen the words appear in the black stone—Snakily slithering up from the flood, leeches are coming to drink your blood—and she had been forced to let go of Reynie's hand when the evil little things attacked.
Now she, Constance, and Sticky watched in horror as the dice fell into the churning water and the sea of black leeches.
"I'm going to have to go in after them," she said immediately.
"No!" cried Sticky.
"It's okay," said Kate gently. "I'll be fine. Now…" She stared at her poor bucket, and knew what she had to do.
She latched her fingers around the metal flip-top and, with a considerable amount of yanking, managed to break it off. She gave it to Sticky and said, "Here—take this and row!"
"Row?" said Sticky, nonplussed.
"Yes, row! Paddle us towards the dice."
Sticky did as he was commanded, fighting the wild current with his makeshift oar, and Kate leaned over the side of their table. She knew that if she put her hand in the water, a swarm of leeches would attack it immediately. That was why she had gotten rid of the flip-top. She dumped the bucket's contents onto the table in attempt to save it from what she was about to do.
Once Sticky had managed to use to the bucket's lid to row them close enough to the dice, Kate held her beloved bucket firmly by the handle and dipped it into the water where the dice were half-floating, half-sinking. Immediately it filled up with water and quite a few leeches. She fished around until the dice were scooped up inside, and then she pulled the bucket back out of the water.
Sticky and Constance helped her pull out the leeches, and then she grabbed the dice. She stuffed her things back into the wet pouches. "I'm going to roll!" she shouted over the pounding rain. "Okay?"
Sticky and Constance nodded as the water beat their heads and dripped down their faces and made their clothes as heavy as lead. Sticky rubbed his eyes; the downpour was blurring his contacts.
The dice tumbled into a wing on the board and Kate cupped her hands over the stone to read it:
As raging waters ebb and flow, beware piranhas down below.
"Oh no," said Kate. "Oh no."
"What is it?" said Sticky fearfully.
Something the size of a bowling ball leaped out of the water at them. Kate swung her bucket like a baseball bat and sent it smacking into the tapestry on a wall. It paused for a moment before falling into the water, and they got a good look at it: a bug-eyed, fat piranha with teeth like knives.
Constance screamed. Dozens of thick, dark objects were now zooming around in the water in addition to the leeches—and unlike the leeches, these things could jump.
Sticky batted one of them away with the lid to Kate's bucket—but then another one grabbed onto it with its teeth and he tossed it away in fright. Thinking it was prey, six or seven piranhas shot towards the fliptop and fought over it until they realized it was only a metal disk and turned their attentions back to the four children on the raft. Kate, preoccupied by the piranhas, set her bucket down on its side and almost let it roll into the water. In the nick of time, she snatched the handle—but the end of her rope, the only item not secured in a pouch, slid into the water, where a piranha bit it and began pulling it down.
"Oh, no, you don't!" she yelled, grabbing the other end of the rope. Three more piranhas joined the first, and soon they were threatening to pull Kate into the water.
"Kate, let go!" Sticky cried.
"It's just a rope!"
Their makeshift raft dipped forward. Two of the table legs stuck out of the water; each had a few piranhas gnawing on it. Leech-filled water poured into Kate's lap.
"We're going to capsize!"
"I've had this rope for—"
She relinquished her grip on the rope. The piranhas dragged it into the depths until it faded from view in the churning water. She felt ashamed of herself; to think how close they had come to falling into the water because of her emotional attachment to that rope! She shuddered—she dare not picture what would happen if they fell in.
Due to the combination of rainfall, swirling drainage, and the swimming creatures, the water was churning and frothing crazedly. The children couldn't do anything to stop it—all they could do was hold on. The chaotic current spun them about and slammed them into a wall; the wood splintered. Kate grabbed hold of Constance to keep her from falling off.
The water was now so high that their heads were almost literally in the clouds. There were no windows in this room, which meant that the only way for water to escape was through the cracks in the doorway. If something wasn't done, they would reach the ceiling. Soon, the whole room would be underwater—but Kate had a nasty feeling that they'd be ripped to shreds before they drowned. What could the three of them do, trapped on this breaking raft?
After it had finished mangling the rope, one of the less bright piranhas swam down to the floor, where the quicksand was acting like a slow, clogged drain, creating a whirlpool. The piranha swam a little too close and was swept up into the vortex. It spun around and around, slowly descending until it spiraled right through the floor into the ceiling below. It hit the ground flapping crazily, startling Reynie in the foyer.
He yelped. Piranhas? He looked fearfully up at the ceiling, where the occasional piranha was now flunk-ing through along with the leeches and rainwater. The ceiling looked as though it had a gigantic coffee stain on it, soaked from above by the supernatural monsoon; Reynie was reminded of the way a leaky ceiling looked during a rainstorm. Leeches and piranhas bounced around frantically in the ankle-deep water, which was pouring from the spot of quicksand in the ceiling as well as down the stairs and would soon be high enough for the piranhas to swim again. From deeper in the house, he heard pounding rain, the screams of his friends, and somewhere there was a python fighting to get out of its prison and a gorilla probably awakening even as everything else unraveled. It was absolute pandemonium.
"What on Earth is going on in here?"
Bright light spilled in behind him. The front door was open—and Rhonda Kazembe was framed in it, staring in complete shock at the scene before her.
"Rhonda!" cried Reynie. "What are you doing back?"
"I came to get papers for Mr. Benedict—and check on you." She looked around, an expression of disbelief on her face. "Would you care to explain why there's water running down the stairs?" From her tone, Reynie could tell she thought they had caused some sort of fiasco with the plumbing. Suddenly she cried "Ouch!" and lifted up her foot. A leech was attached to her ankle. She plucked it off. "What the—is that a leech?"
She looked at Reynie in utter bewilderment, and Reynie had no idea how to respond. He heard wood creaking above him, and looked up—and realized what was about to happen. He launched himself at Rhonda, hands out in front of him; she shrieked in alarm.
It seemed to happen in slow motion: the ceiling at last reached the end of its tether and broke into a hundred pieces, gallons upon gallons of water fell down into the foyer and began to spew through the entryway into the street outside. Reynie and Rhonda hit the asphalt painfully and water (thankfully no piranhas) spilled over them.
Meanwhile, Sticky, Kate, and Constance were taken completely by surprise when the ceiling caved—the floor, for them. They fell freely for a stomach-flipping second, and then they were tumbling down as if on a deadly waterslide. Sticky's head smacked into the top of the doorframe, and they shot out into the overcast day outside.
Reynie and Rhonda scrambled to their feet, Rhonda staring without comprehension at the water now dumping onto the neighbors' lawns and Reynie anxiously looked for his friends. He spotted them on the ground, sliding across the lane clinging to something brown and misshapen. Reynie raced over to them. "Constance," he said shakily, helping them up. "Kate. S-st-ticky."
Sticky was bleeding. Kate had lost her bucket. Constance was shivering and trying not to cry. Reynie hugged each of them as tightly as he could—which wasn't very tightly after everything he'd been through. "I'm so sorry," he said in numb mortification. "That was all my fault…."
"No, it wasn't," said Kate firmly.
"It was," he insisted. "I dropped the dice, I caused—"
She silenced him with a return bear hug that made the bites on his leg and back twinge. "You're safe. We're all safe."
"But look at the house…"
The front doors were hanging from their hinges. Water was raining down two stories into the foyer. Piranhas were flopping almost comically on the front steps.
Sticky pulled a leech out of his shirt. "Well," he said, "looks like we're going to have to find a new place to play."
He laughed weakly. "I guess so."
They looked around at a small kind of scream behind them. Rhonda was staring helplessly at the water trickling down the street. She turned to the children with an expression that looked as if she had woken up and found herself in outer space.
"Would someone please tell me what in God's name just happened?"