An Experiment In Crime (Fiction)

Sometimes all of us need to get out of our comfort zones and try something new.  Writers are no different.

Many of us are genre specialists, proclaiming ourselves to be mystery writers, romance writers, science fiction writers, and so forth.

While there is nothing wrong with being a specialist, there are benefits to be gained by getting a totally new perspective, seeing the world from the other side of the fence so to speak.

In this vein, I decided to try writing crime fiction, a genre I’ve never written and to be honest have barely read.  The result of this experiment was a short story called “Harbor Heist.”

I was pleased with the tale, and even submitted it to a fiction contest in which the story won first place in its category.  So, it is possible for old dogs to learn new tricks.

I hope you enjoy “Harbor Heist”!

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Harbor Heist

I knew when I stepped on to the deck of the Water Bug that this was no ordinary case.  The Water Bug was a tugboat that had been modified with hoses for firefighting duty along the Baltimore Harbor.  The captain of the vessel was an old friend of mine from the neighborhood. 

“Welcome aboard Detective,” Captain Pell said as I climbed aboard. 

“Thanks Rich.  I appreciate you letting me hitch a ride on this one,” I replied.

I looked out across the water as the crew released the mooring lines and the engine chugged to life.  The twinkling lights of the city could be seen clearly across the harbor, disrupted only by the orange glare of the warehouse fire on the opposite shore.

“I know I’m just an old tug captain, but I wasn’t born yesterday.  You must have reason to believe this fire is no accident, or you wouldn’t be here,” Captain Pell said.

“Your instincts are correct, Rich.  Just prior to the fire someone called the station about suspicious activity in the warehouse district.  Two squad cars are on the way, and I thought I’d check out things from the harbor.”

“I see,” Rich replied.  “Flush out the bad guys from the front and ambush them in the back, huh?”

“Something like that.  You’d make a good cop, Rich,” I said. 

“I’ll stick to the water.  Remember these high-pressure hoses will put a bad guy on his back as surely as a slug from a forty-five.  I’ll make sure the guys keep their eyes open for an opportunity to do just that,” Rich said.

“Get me as close to the docks as you can, and I’ll jump over,” I said.

The captain nodded.  “Time to get to work.  Good Luck, John!”  Soon arcs of water sliced through the night sky and fell upon the burning building.

The fireboat maneuvered parallel to the shore.  As soon as just a few feet separated the side of the boat and the dock I stepped up on the railing and sprang across.  

“Detective?”  I removed the walkie talkie from my jacket pocket. 

“Detective Royce here, go ahead.”

“This is Officer Johnson.  The fire is out of control!  There’s no way we’re getting in there,” the officer replied.

“Ok Johnson.  I read you loud and clear.  I’m checking out the docks now,” I said.

“Roger that,” the officer replied.

A string of warehouses continued down the docks to my right, and on a hunch, I went in that direction.

The orange glow of a cigarette revealed a man smoking near the last warehouse, and I made myself flat against the wall as I reached inside my jacket to remove my .38 Special.  After several minutes the man snubbed out the cigarette and walked into the warehouse.

 “Johnson?” I whispered into the walkie talkie.

“I’m here, Detective,” he responded.

“Contact the station and find out who owns the last warehouse on the dock,” I said.

I kept my gun pointed in the direction of the warehouse in case my conversation had betrayed my position. 

“Detective, that warehouse is supposed to be vacant,” Johnson came back.

“Listen Johnson, you and the other officers better get down here.  Something is going down in that warehouse,” I hissed.

I clicked off the walkie talkie and inched along the wall towards the last building.  Leading with the barrel of my gun, I eased open the door silently, and slid inside.  A few lightbulbs illuminated the hallway.  I could barely make out some voices in the distance. 

I crept forward until I could make out some of the conversation.

“Listen, Sammy, we’ve got to move the tusks now.  The merchandise isn’t safe here for long,” the unknown speaker said.

“Don’t you think I know that, Tony?  That’s why I created that little diversion down the street.  We’re moving the goods tonight,” another man said.

The hallway opened into a huge room.  There was a long table, and several men in conversation at the opposite end of the room.

I noticed a ladder to my left leading up to a catwalk and I made my way up.  Once I reached the top I crawled on my belly.  It was then I realized that the table below was littered with elephant tusks, and the crooks were illegally trading ivory.

“Freeze!  Police!”   I yelled, springing up.  I kept my pistol pointed at the men below.

At the same time, I heard the front door being kicked in by my backup units.

“Blow it,” the larger man said, and the other man ducked below the table and lit a lighter.  I pulled the trigger and winged the larger man in the shoulder, but the other man had apparently struck his mark, as I saw a spark on a fuse snaking its way across the room. 

As Officer Johnson and the others stormed the room, I yelled out to them: “Get out!  It’s going to blow!”

I slid down the ladder using my feet as brakes on each side, and I sprinted to the exit once I landed.

The Water Bug was waiting at the dock for me, and just as I leaped aboard the warehouse blew. Hundreds of tusks rained down on them, all over the deck like scattered bones.  I made my way to the bow of the boat where Rich was panning a spotlight across the water.

“We got one of them with a hose when he tried to run away.  The hose knocked him right into the water.”

“Help!  I can’t swim!”  The spotlight settled on a man thrashing in the water. 

The Water Bug pulled alongside him.

Using the only thing available, I held down a long tusk to the man in the water.

“Can I help you get to the slammer?” I said.

Scowling, the man grabbed the tusk and was dragged aboard.

Secrets in Sulsut – Epilogue

Final thoughts on “Secrets in Sulsut”, and possible future developments.

Thank you for reading!

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So, we find ourselves at the end of the tale. I feel like there are more adventures in store for Malric in the future, picking up the story where we left off with Malric wading back to shore with his thoughts racing and full of vengeance as he watches the Sea Mare swim off in the shimmering waves.

There are ideas, always ideas, snippets captured in notebooks and folders. But these ideas compete with all of the others, and which idea will spark the next short story is to be determined.

The outline of the next episode for Malric involved him scaling the castle walls to inform the royal family of the impending invasion by the Scavengers. While sneaking into the castle, he unexpectedly encounters the King’s beautiful daughter, and falls madly in love with her (there is always a princess, right?). This does not please the King, as you would imagine.

Unlike the cruel passage of time that plagues us mortals, our characters are blessed to live suspended in a timeless void, waiting patiently for years without aging a day until they are summoned to a new adventure. If you write long enough, you do have to age your characters – even Bilbo Baggins was once a young hobbit before his famous disappearing act at his 111th birthday party.

Perhaps then, time permitting, I can bestow many more years to Malric before his days of adventuring are over and there are no more Secrets in Sulsut.

After all, Malric is a dreamer, and we could all use a little more of that.

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 12

In this episode, unlikely allies help a weak and wounded Malric escape to freedom.

Enjoy!

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They were strong, dark creatures with silky, green manes that spilled down their muscular backs like sea grass. They frolicked, thrashed, and dove in the pools like mad children, their sleek torsos green lightning, their golden, webbed tails thunder that cracked the water’s surface with a harsh series of slaps.

Malric had heard of these creatures as a boy. They were called Sea Mares by the elders and were always mentioned when talks turned to water folk and their kin. They were the steeds of surf and swell.

But to see these creatures of myth before him, like a living dream! It was an experience beyond words for a dreamer like Malric.

Malric dove off the cliff and into the pools below. Despite the pain of the saltwater meeting his open wound, he felt reborn in the cleansing liquid. Malric broke the surface and gripped the mane of the Sea Mare closest to him. He swung himself onto its back and guided the mare towards the mouth of the cave. It rose up, its black-green hooves flailing, the muscles of its back bunching. Finally it succumbed to Malric’s will and dove into the brine. It became tangled in the ropes that blocked the exit of the underwater passage, and became ensnared, crying shrilly and throwing Malric from its back.

Malric removed Sliver from its sheath and began to work on the ropes. The water was in chaos from the mare’s fury. Malric was struck by one of the webbed hooves and his head throbbed and spun while he clutched the sides of the pool to prevent himself from slipping under. He regained his senses and slashed furiously at the ropes until they gave. He threw himself once again onto the mare’s back just before it dove for freedom.

Once free, the mare raced through the narrow channel. Malric held his breath while he streaked past the splashes of orange, red, and pink that comprised the luminous flora of the sea floor.

Just before he fainted the passage widened, turned upwards, and disappeared behind them as they shot past the base of the cliffs. Malric wrapped both arms around the creature’s steely neck and buried his face in the kelpy mane as the Sea Mare rocketed towards the surface of the sea.

They broke the water’s surface and sprang forward into the sky. Malric breathed deeply as the mare reached the peak of its arc, some ten feet above the ocean’s surface. They crashed through the waves and descended once again before resurfacing. The mare swam along the surface towards the open sea where the smaller satellite of Erahorn met the horizon. Malric heard a commotion in the water behind him and watched in fascination as dozens of Sea Mares broke the water’s surface and headed out to sea, leaping and diving in a fury of joy.

Malric wrapped his hands around the mane and turned the mare in towards the point.

Upon reaching the shore Malric slipped off the mare’s back and stood waist deep in the surf. The mare, finally relieved of its burden, neighed into the night and turned back towards the open sea and the colony of mares in the distance. Malric followed its wake until the foamy ripple was lost in the waves, then waded in to shore.

He was exhausted and his wound cried out from the salty kiss of the ocean. He strode across the sand towards the distant outline of Sulsut, feeling both warmed by the familiar lights of the city and fearful of the upcoming conflict that could extinguish them forever.

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 11

In this episode of “Secrets in Sulsut”, Malric inches closer to the ocean and escape.

Happy Reading!

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The Scavenger moved past his position in its unnatural gait, and then paused, as if warned by some inner voice.

But it was too late. In a fluid dance of violence Malric had removed himself from the fissure, maneuvered behind the Scavenger, cupped its stretched-out mouth, and pulled Sliver through the gill-like folds of its neck.

Malric released his hold, and the lifeless form slumped to the floor. Malric’s forearm was covered in syrupy, black blood. The musky scent invaded Malric’s lungs, and Sol’s words came back to him: Remember, Malric, they can smell their dead . . .

With frantic haste Malric dragged the corpse over to the fissure and stuffed it inside. He knew that the scent of the dead Scavenger’s blood was wafting through the dark passageways, and it chilled him to think of Scavengers rising out of their watery beds to greet him, their glossy, dead eyes concealing their malicious intentions.

A salty wind swept through the niche as Malric worked furiously to hide the carcass. The source of the breeze was not from the corridor but somewhere behind the fissure itself. Malric abandoned his task and slid with his back against the jagged walls deeper into the rock. It was extremely tight, sometimes only six inches between sides, and completely impassable for a normal-sized man. But Malric, with his slight frame, found it negotiable.

Malric filled his lungs with the salty air that flowed through the fissure, relieved to move away from the fishy stench of the tunnels. He knew the sea was very close, and the promise of escape quickened his passage through the cleft in the rock.

If not for the luminous flora that illuminated the floor of the pools below, Malric surely would have walked out into open space and plunged to the bottom.

But it was not the pool, despite the prismatic display at its bottom, that captured his attention.

To be continued…

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 10

In this episode of “Secrets in Sulsut”, Malric battles to escape the seaside stronghold of the Scavengers.

Enjoy!

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There is a passage two ledges above, Malric. The voice was almost a whisper. The owl was lying on its side, mortally wounded. Malric removed his tunic and bundled the creature up, tying it securely to his belt. Its breath rasped slowly from its hooked beak.

Malric slashed at two tentacles that probed the ledge, spilling ochre blood over the rocks. He quickly found a foothold and began his ascent. The climbing would have been easy, but the owl threw off Malric’s balance, and his knuckles were white as he clutched the rocks.

Malric pulled himself over the ledge by the tunnel. The pungent smell of the Scavengers wafted through the entrance.

The Scavengers . . . they are mostly blind . . . eyes accustomed to the murky waters of the sea . . . but their sense of smell is great, Malric . . . cloak yourself in their smell.. . The voice fell off into silence.

“Sol!” pleaded Malric. “Sol!” Quickly Malric unwrapped the owl and placed it on the floor. Malric knelt beside the dying animal. Its eyes were almost completely closed.

No time, rattled the brittle voice, no time . . . remember, Malric, they can smell their dead . . .

Malric held back the hot flood of tears and set his teeth, drawing strength from the steely reserves of his soul that had been honed to a fine point during his service with the Thieves’ Guild. He held his breath and thrust his body against the slick wall of the passage, shutting out the stench that invaded the pores of his skin with wraith-like fingers.

He removed Sliver and crawled forward; his loss submerged in the greedy tides of hate.

Malric continued forward for what seemed like hours, passing many adjoining corridors but staying in the one he had originally entered because it had begun to slope noticeably upwards. He stole past Scavenger women with yellow, sagging breasts and Scavenger young playing in shallow pools. He witnessed them fight, frolic, and breed within the cool darkness.

Malric walked right into an ambush. Slashing downwards with its trident, a Scavenger cut a shallow wound from Malric’s shoulder to his ribs. Malric sprang backwards, his heart racing from the fiery bite of the Scavenger’s blade.

Malric retreated into the passage, scouring the walls for the natural fissure he had passed just moments before. He expertly slid his wiry frame into the niche and waited.

To be continued…

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 9

In this episode of “Secrets in Sulsut”, an unexpected ally comes to Malric’s aid in his darkest hour.

Happy Reading!

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Malric thrashed within the net like a fish pulled from the sea. He couldn’t believe he was going to die in the belly of a deity lost to his kind; alone, anonymously, his bones hidden in the darkness of a cavern beneath the sea.

Still, the calculating part of Malric’s mind, the part that had guided him safely through the countless pilferings and assassinations in Sulsut, insisted that there was a way out of this. Ledges jutted out of the sides of the cavern every few feet. Once free, it would be little work climbing back up into the chamber. But then what?

Suddenly a clamor rose from above. Malric craned his neck against the heavy rope and spied a shape flying over the edge of the cavern and down towards him. Knives and tridents clattered against the sides of the pit as they tried to bring down the creature.

Malric could not determine what it was, but it clutched something shiny in its talons.

Vibrations trembled down the rope that held Malric. He frantically searched the nearer side of the cavern. He noticed a ledge down and to the left. Bracing his boots against the wall, he shoved out and to the right. He swung outward, then over the ledge he was aiming for, and then back to his original position. He shoved off once again. The rope snapped on his return.

Malric impacted the ledge with his shoulder and cried out in pain. For an indescribable moment he teetered on the edge of the ledge. Sinuous arms broke the water’s surface to grasp him. Then he rolled back against the wall in a tangle of netting.

Hearing the fluttering of wings very close, Malric turned his head and spied Sol’s owl above him, holding Sliver in its talons and running its blade back and forth against the netting.

It is me, old friend, boomed the weary voice of Sol in his head, I guide the owl. Make haste; even as we speak my strength wavers. Malric noticed that the owl was struggling to stay airborne, and that blood flowed down one of its wings.

Soon Malric was free of the netting and felt the exhilaration of a lover’s reunion as he removed Sliver from the owl’s talons.

The water below was feverishly crashing against the sides of the cavern, a manifestation of the distress of the ancient god below.

To be continued…

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 8

In this episode, Malric learns of Galron’s alliance with the Scavengers.

Enjoy!

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A sea breeze from a large opening in the center of the room fed the sparse torchlight in the natural cavern. Two Scavengers stood by the entrance to a passage on the far side of the chamber, their tridents crossed over the portal. A large oaken table rested in the center of the room, and Malric was dismayed to see several members of the Thieves’ Guild seated there beside the Scavengers.

The rider with the emerald cloak stood before Malric. The hood of the cloak was thrown back, and his dark, bearded face was immediately recognizable to Malric.

“Malric, Malric, Malric! I’m so ashamed to have ever called you brother! Did you really think we would’ve overlooked that messy job you performed on the sentry? Hardly a job worthy of such a subtle craft such as ours, Malric.”

“I see you have discovered a taste for fish, Galron.”

Malric was struck hard across the face. Galron looked as if he would strike him again. Then he lowered his fist and began to pace.

“We knew you would never understand, Malric. You who always spoke of Sulsut as if you were a court poet instead of a lowly thief. You would never have betrayed your beloved city. You would steal there, and even kill there if necessary. But betray? No. You would never accept an alliance with the Scavengers.”

“I should expect this much from you, Galron. I savor the day when the Scavengers turn on you.” Several Scavengers raised their tridents at this statement but were restrained by a wave of Galron’s hand.

“Thulos lives, Malric. We have seen, and only a fool denies what he has seen and refuses to believe it. Sulsut will soon be a Scavenger city.”

Malric spat at Galron. The spittle struck Galron’s cheek and ran down it like a worm.

Latching maniacally onto Malric’s shoulders, Galron pulled him close.

“You will be a believer, Malric,” Galron hissed through clenched teeth, “It will be the last thing you believe!” Then he pushed Malric away. Scavengers surged forward and covered Malric in a net. A rope was tied to the net and they lifted Malric towards the lip of the opening and placed him down on his side.

Galron strode over to the lip of the pit and stared down at Malric.

“Cheer up, Malric,” he said slyly, “you’ve become food for a god!” Galron’s booming laughter filled Malric’s head as he was kicked over the edge.

Malric fell into space for a terrifying moment before the rope caught him. Far below something waited for him at the bottom of the cavern, dimly outlined by the luminous sea plants at the bottom. It stirred the water with its long, serpentine limbs.

To be continued…

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 7

In this episode, Malric is ambushed and captured by the Scavengers.

Enjoy!

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The interior of the temple was moist and smelled of rotting fish. There were no torches and the floor sloped steeply downwards. Running his hands along the stone walls of the corridor, Malric discovered that the passageway was covered with carvings. Malric shuddered, thinking of the tentacled god called Thulos and the amphibious Scavengers who dwelled below.

As he continued, the decline grew more exaggerated, and he lost his footing several times before he was forced to a crawl. A sticky liquid covered the floor and long eel-like worms moved within the substance. The stench of decay was almost unbearable.

Malric was near vomiting when a draft blew through the corridor. The salty tang it carried steadied Malric’s stomach and allowed him to continue. Up ahead dim torchlight spilled forth from a natural chamber. Without warning the floor fell away beneath him. He was in mid-air for several seconds and then landed roughly on the stone floor below. Instinctively he scrambled to his feet and drew his weapon.

Just as quickly he was knocked back down by a blow to the back of the head. He fell to his knees. Soon figures rushed in around him, their strong arms lashing out from the darkness and disarming him. He was efficiently bound with taut rope and led up a short flight of stairs to a torchlit chamber. He was unable to get a good look at his captors, but by the unnatural way some of them moved he knew that not all were men.

As they entered the chamber, torchlight illuminated the alien features of those around him. They had long, stretched-out faces, yellowish skin with flecks of green peppering their shoulders and backs. They were the source of the reek that pervaded the whole atmosphere of the shrine, that smell of crustaceans dredged up from the sea to die in the sun.

Their breathing was heavy and the air that ran through their slitted nostrils hissed as it passed. Their huge, bulbous eyes were expressionless pools of obsidian. Malric was thrown into the chamber before he could observe them more closely.

To be continued…

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 6

In this episode, Malric launches a bold assault on the temple of Thulos.

Happy Reading!

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Malric bit his tongue to shut out the memory. It terrified him and filled him with rage because the Guild had refused to believe his story, refused to believe because they had planned his death from the start of that job.

Malric’s thoughts of vengeance were disturbed by approaching horsemen. He quickly disengaged himself from the thicket, silent and dark like a piece of the night itself. He lowered himself into the tall grass and waited.

The rider was wrapped in an emerald cloak that seemed to swallow his gaunt frame. He bridled his powerful gray warhorse to a post near the southern portal. Malric crawled forward to make sure he was within earshot. A sentry stepped out of the darkened alcove of the southern portal and confronted the rider. The rider held his arms towards the sky in supplication and cried, “He will rise again!”

“Aye, and make his servants Lords and Keepers of the Land!” replied the sentry.

The two figures then disappeared into the darkness of the temple. Malric crawled back to the thicket on his belly. His mare snorted at his approach.

Malric rose and put his palm against the mare’s head until she was silent. Malric removed his tools and two throwing daggers from the saddlebag. He ran a hand along the outside of his right boot and felt the reassuring shape of Sliver within.

What he was about to do went against all of the rules of engagement he had learned as a thief. He was slightly nervous, and he accidentally let the buckles of the saddlebag fall against one another. It was a subtle noise, but Malric removed a dagger from his waist all the same. Finally, after several moments of utter stillness, he sheathed the blade.

Malric shook off his doubts and mounted his steed. He moved off at a slow canter towards the town, careful to stay within the thicket’s perimeter. As soon as the shrine had disappeared into the velveteen background of the night he moved out of the thicket and once more rode towards the Temple of Thulos.

Striking the mare with his boots, he slid low into the saddle as it broke into a full gallop. He gripped a throwing dagger in one tense, sweaty palm and gritted his teeth as he struggled to stay horsed. The temple was just ahead.

Hearing the sentry unsheathe his blade, Malric pulled back hard on the reins, causing the mare to neigh and flail its forehooves. Malric shifted in the saddle and his dagger missed the sentry. Placing both hands on the hilt of his broadsword, the sentry prepared to strike. Malric watched in horror and struggled to fight the horse back.

A moment later a hoof crushed the sentry’s face, sending him crashing to the earth in a shower of armor. His hands trembling, Malric leapt from the saddle and finished the job by slitting the sentry’s throat.

To be continued…

Secrets in Sulsut – Episode 5

In this episode, Malric travels into the wilderness beyond Sulsut to investigate the mysterious sect of Thulos.

Happy Reading!

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Malric rode hard towards the sea. The hood of his cloak was off and his black hair flowed behind him in the slipstream like a mane. He was in love with the desolation beyond the city limits. Out here there was no need for secrecy. Even a renegade from the Thieves’ Guild was welcome to the rocky cliffs and wheeling gulls.

The Temple of Thulos was far out on the point, close to the lighthouse. Malric knew little about the sect, only that Thulos was the supposed deity of the Scavengers, a race of amphibious half-men who often attacked ships coming out of Sulsut Harbor. According to Sol, the temple itself was designed as a single vertical shaft that delved deep into the cliffs by the sea. The thought of meeting other members of the Guild in such a place weighed heavily on Malric, but the weight of the pouch of gold on his belt was heavier than the weight of his fear.

Dusk soon fell to night, and the wind off the sea sent a chill through Malric, and he wrapped his cloak about him as he neared the Thulos temple. It was a short, dome-shaped structure with portals at each of the compass[1]points. Above each portal was the signet of Thulos—six sinuous limbs connected to a dark circle. Malric had been told that only one of the portals led down into the heart of the shrine.

Malric led his mare over to a group of pines some fifty yards distant from the temple. He was close to the cliffs now, and the wind sliced through the trees like a scythe, invading every exposed pore of his skin. He bridled his steed in the center of a thicket and rested his back against a nearby pine. He pulled the coarse fabric of his hood over his head and let his gaze wander out to the stars. There was no sound except for the occasional shuffling of the mare’s hooves against the earth.

The stars brought back memories of Malric’s boyhood, of lying on rooftops and watching the stars moving in their calm timeless paths above the din of Sulsut’s night life. He remembered the excitement of his early pilferings — shinnying down bowers into windows then escaping into the night by rooftop. As a bastard child in Sulsut his occupation in thievery was more or less preordained.

As Malric grew more relaxed, the memories spilled out of his mind more rapidly, progressing into his manhood; a whirlwind of sensation and emotion. One kept recurring. It was the memory of Galron’s face as he peered over the edge of the pit down at Malric. It was a wicked mask of hate made more hideous because it was worn by a man Malric had once called blood brother. The images that followed were worse. They depicted something sliding through the bones and other debris that littered the floor of the pit, something with a long, twisting body, hungry eyes, and blade-like mandibles . . .

To be continued…