Pulp! Forum Writing Contest Entry
The Lizard Queen
by Bud Williams
(Author's Note: Good lord, this was an adventure to get up. This short story was completed days ago, but my computer crashed and the file was corrupted, leading me to have to retype the entire thing in a huge rush. I'll be going back through and editing later, but for now, enjoy the pulpyness!) EDIT: This story will soon be revised and updated! So what's about to change? Well, it's mostly just going to be expanded and slightly rewritten. That, and apparently there's already a jungle girl character named Sheena out there! Guess I'll have to rename her in the next draft. Anyway, for now, just enjoy the story! Thanks!
I can tell this one's gonna be trouble from the moment the fat man squeezes his bulk through my office door. Without a word, he takes off his fedora and glances around the room, his beady eyes avoiding contact with me even as I clear my throat in an attempt to tell him he's not welcome.
He's ill fit for the Plateau; his mammoth body is wrapped in a long trenchcoat like what all the good mafioso types wear back in the States.
These aren't the States, though. Damn far from 'em. The heat here ought to bake this fat bastard alive. Not to mention that the Lizards seem to think the fatties taste best.
After another moment of silent browsing, the fat man turns and opens the office door again. This time, a much smaller figure hobbles in, supported by a fine wooden cane. He's a scrawny, hunch-backed old man with eyes hidden behind thick coke-bottle glasses.
I lean back in my chair, resting my hands behind my head while conveniently exposing my shoulder holsters to them. It's hot today and I'm not in the mood for any trouble. "Can I help you gentlemen?" I ask.
The old man is the one who answers. "You are Mr. Richard Clayton, yes?" I detect a hint of Kraut in his voice. When I nod in response, he continues. "You find missing persons. I have such a problem."
I don't like his tone. Too sterile, too mechanical. I answer nonetheless. "Dick Clayton at your service. The Plateau's not a great place for a person to go missing, pal. Jungle don't take many prisoners, and it don't ask for no ransom, neither. 'Fore we get to talkin' about any kind'a work, I got to warn you that there's a good chance whoever you're missin' is already dead."
"Real proactive attitude this guy's got, Dok," says the fat man. He's wandering around the office like he owns the place, glancing over the accolades and trophies I've got on display. I can practically smell his disdain.
"I am prepared for that possibility," the old man mutters, shuffling his way into the withered chair that sits on the opposite side of my desk. "I am told you are the best, Mr. Clayton. I am prepared to pay handsomely for this person's safe return." His eyebrows furrow. "Or, if the case may be, I am ready to hear the bad news."
I wheel around in my chair a bit and prop my shoes up on the desk. "Either way, I'm getting paid. You follow, pal?"
The fat man casts his companion a disapproving glare, but he's ignored. "That is acceptable, Mr. Clayton. That is acceptable."
- - -
The old man's name is Doktor Henry Weiss, professor of something that doesn't sound like it belongs to the English language. His portly bodyguard's name is Charles.
"Knuckles," the big man corrects him. He bangs his fists together to emphasize the point. I'm hardly impressed. I can tell he's itchin' for a fight; well and good, because I've dropped guys bigger than him and in better shape on a dozen occasions. I've lived on the Plateau for years, and there aren't a whole lot of neighborhoods rougher than this. It isn't just the gangs and the mob; it's the Lizards. This shit-hole town is right on the outer rim of the jungle, and that's where the damned things thrive. People walk into that foliage and they don't come back out. Hell, live close enough to the trees and sometimes they'll come to you. They call the smaller ones Raptors for a reason.
Weiss pulls a photograph out of his nappy tweed coat and hands it across the desk to me. It's a girl; oh, and what a dame she is. Long red hair hangs down to her shoulders, and she's clutching a bunch of textbooks to her breast. She looks studious and smart. I like a girl with brains. The thing that really sells her, though, is that smile. Reminds me of some schoolgirl- just sweet and innocent, like she hasn't been exposed to all the awful shit out there in the real world yet.
Be a real shame if somebody grabbed her and ran off into the jungle with her. She wouldn't last a damn minute.
"My daughter," the Dok says. "Sheena. She is a good girl, Mr. Clayton. Very smart, and very pretty. She assists me in my work."
Funny. If my beloved daughter went missing in a place like this, I'd sound a lot more worried.
"How long's she been missing?" I look down at the photo again. Damn, what a shame.
I sense some discomfort in the good Doktor. "Fourteen months," he finally chokes out.
The look I shoot him ought to let him know what I'm thinking.
"I have reason to believe that she may still be alive," he insists. He can tell that I'm a second or two away from throwing him and Knuckles out of my office on principle alone. He shoots the big man a glance and the burly bastard plants both of his gorilla-like hands on my desk, leaning over me.
The intimidation tactic doesn't work on me. "Dok, you gotta realize the odds of your daughter still being alive are..."
"Twenty-five thousand up front," he says, cutting me off.
Well, that changes things.
"Another seventy-five thousand when you find her. Triple all that if she is alive."
I see a hint of a smile creep up on his weather-beaten features. He can tell that we're playing in a whole 'nother ballpark now. Even Knuckles steps away; guess he can tell that they have me.
My head shakes. I still can't believe I just heard what I did. "Where'd your daughter go missin', Dok? Where was the last place she was seen?"
That smile of his fades quickly. "The jungle."
- - -
I've been finding missing persons up here on the Plateau for fifteen years. It's a tough job. Like I said, more often than not the jungle gets 'em. That's why I always lay out the ground rules first: whether or not the person you're looking for is alive or Lizard food, I still get paid.
That said, if somebody's gone missing in this part of the Plateau, somebody at Rex's Place is gonna know something. I've been a regular here since before I quit the force; hell, I was sneakin' beers out of this joint since before I was a legal drinker. Not like liquor laws mean much in a place like this.
Rex's Place has been around since this town was built. It's stood right on the edge of that damned jungle ever since the first zeppelins landed on the Plateau and people started takin' photos of those damn Lizards. It was a real sensation at the time, I guess; after all, men had been fantasizin' about the prospect of a "Lost World" for long enough, and by God we'd found one.
The Plateau must have seemed like a gold mine for scientists and adventurers the whole world over until they realized that the Lizards like the way us humans taste. Took a couple famous explorers' corpses getting flown home to crying families to convince people to leave the place the hell alone. Then again, there were people like me; people who had nowhere else to go but here.
Now, some folks will tell you that Rex's Place was a real hive of scum and villainy. I like it anyway. Good atmosphere. Good music. Good liquor. Good information.
The bartender's a fella by the name of Yusef. He's like me; he came to the Plateau because there was nothing left for him in the "real world." He knows what kind of place he works at. He hears a lot of stories, and he remembers every detail. For the right price- and I happen to know that price quite well- he'll share what he knows.
In the case of the Dok's missing daughter, though, Yusef comes up short. "Never seen the girl, I am afraid," he tells me as he pours me a cold one. "Seems like she would have been a real sight for sore eyes."
I nod and put the photo back into my shirt pocket before slamming back a glass. "I told the guy there wasn't a chance in hell. Too bad the money's too good for me to say no."
Yusef shakes his head at me. "You're not really going into the jungle, are you, Dick?"
He pours me another. "Then listen well, my friend. A man came here, half torn to shreds, maybe three days ago. He says that a pack of Raptors chased him down. He used to be a hunter. Knows how the Raptors think. He said that they had him pinned down. Would have killed him, but something interfered. He said he heard a strange sound, like the howl of some demon. He said- and I quote, here, my friend- that the Raptors looked terrified. Like they saw a ghost."
I gulp the shot down. "Real interesting story, there, pal. Anything else?"
Yusef shrugs. "He saw a flash of red and fainted. When he awoke, he was at the edge of the jungle. Now he wanders around the town, telling the story to whoever will listen."
"Lizards got scared of a bigger Lizard." I motion for another glass, but Yusef refuses. Probably wise. I don't need to be too hammered if I intend to walk back out of that jungle in one piece.
"I do not think he was talking about a dinosaur making that sound," Yusef says. "He said it was a demon."
"Yeah, I'm sure that was exactly what it was."
"I do not like your tone, my friend." Yusef leans toward me, and something in his eyes sobers me up. Something like fear, maybe. "After all, you yourself have said that this place is hell, yes?"
I sigh. "Yeah, Yusef. I said that once upon a time."
"What better place for demons to roam?" He smiles subtly and takes my glass from me. "One other thing, Dick. This man who hired you- what did you say his name was?"
"Some Kraut doctor- doktor, I mean- named Weiss. Why do you ask?"
He passes me my bill and leans in again. He speaks quietly, barely above a whisper. "Did he travel with bodyguards? Strong men with guns?"
"He had some heavy named Knuckles with 'im. Didn't see a piece on him, but I wouldn't be surprised if he'd had it tucked away under that stupid coat of his. Can't believe how some people think they can get away wearin' the same shit that flies in Chicago in a hot-pot like this..."
Yusef seems troubled. His brow furrows and he steps away from me, stroking his thin beard. "Dick," he says, his voice still so low I can only barely hear him, "do me a favor, my friend. I know I cannot talk you out of this job you have taken, but... once you have finished, do not associate yourself further with this Doktor Weiss. I hear worrisome rumors. Very worrisome."
I pass him my money and raise a hand, silently letting him know to keep the change. "That's why your hair's thinnin' out, pal. Worryin' too much."
He shrugs and lets out a weak chuckle. "Be safe, my friend. Watch your back in that jungle."
"I intend to," I say, giving him a short wave before turning my back to the bar.
- - -
I think about Yusef's words as I enter the jungle. I've hired a couple of extra helping hands- a few porters and a guide that know the area a little. No man knows the area that well. Nobody ever survived in there long enough to become an expert. The guide's about the best there is; I've worked with him a few times before. He knows I hate that jungle, and he ribs me about it a little. No harm. I rib him back for being an ugly mug and he flashes me an approving grin.
We stick close together as we sweep through the area where Weiss told me his daughter was last seen. The details of her disappearance are murky at best; the Doktor said that she was simply there one moment, gone the next. I doubt it, honestly. He probably wasn't there when it happened; I can't imagine that crooked old invalid making it ten feet into the jungle limping around on that cane.
We haven't gone far into the jungle yet. To be honest, none of us are too eager to venture very far. One of the porters keeps lagging behind a little, and I keep having to go back and drag him along by the arm.
I know a little of the native language here; enough to make him understand, anyway. In his own tongue, I tell the porter thus: "You fall behind, you die. Maybe the Raptors will get you, and tear out your guts. Maybe a Rex will come along and snap you up in one bite. It doesn't even have to be a Lizard. There are scorpions and spiders in this jungle that can kill you in seconds. Poisonous plants. The list goes on and on and on."
He looks reasonably convinced.
"I will keep up," he tells me in English. Good. Makes my job a little less stressful.
The information we have to go on is so scanty that there's no point in looking for clues. At this point, we're just combing for the fourteen-month-old remains of a beautiful college girl.
It's all hopeless, of course. I already know we won't find her body. If there are any bones left, they're probably buried in a pile of long-dried Lizard shit.
The heat in this place is unbearable. I guess that's why it's the Lizards' domain. There are some places us men just weren't meant to tread. This is one of them, and every step I take further into the brush makes that million bucks locked away in my safe seem less and less worth it.
Oh, who am I kidding? Weiss has already made me a rich man. If I can locate some trace of that poor daughter of his, I'm made for the rest of my life.
And wouldn't it be something if, by some miracle, the girl was alive...? Three hundred thousand dollars is more than I've ever dreamed of having, even in my most juvenile fantasies. No, the idea is just too far-fetched. Don't even go there, Clayton.
The guide holds up a hand to stop us. We follow his lead, slowing to a stop and lowering our weight. I don't see what he sees just yet.
He points to something ahead of us and to the left. I strain my eyes to see through the dense greenery, but I can't make anything out. No- something strange about those bushes. Something moves, and I hear the ground shift beneath my shoes a bit. Something big.
Something vaguely wedge-shaped rises up above the brush, Big- about the size of a man's torso, a big black shape that forms in the frame of the trees. The wedge seperates longways, and I see what looks like a row of butcher knives-
"A young Rex," the guide says. "Doesn't know we're here. Stay still and quiet."
None of us likes the prospect of drawing the big Lizard's attention, so we follow orders. Sure enough, after a few tense moments, we see that big black shape move back through the trees. As the leaves shake and shudder, I get a hint of some mammoth body just barely hidden behind the greenery.
As it becomes obvious that the Lizard's left us, we all finally feel safe enough to draw breath. I realize that my hands had been hovering over my shoulder holsters and laugh at myself. Fat lot of good these peashooters would've done against a Lizard that size.
- - -
Hours pass. We have another close encounter with a less-lethal sort of Lizard a while later; the guide tells us that this one is pretty much harmless; I forget what he calls it, a hadrosaur or something. Stupid-looking animal. Looks like a big, scaly duck. Well, not scaly, really; more leathery than scaly. Guide tells us we should avoid its nest anyway. We've already wandered too close for his taste. I see big, muddy mounds in the distance; the guide tells me later that those were where they keep their eggs.
Makes me hungry for omelettes.
Our path leads us along a high ridge that overlooks a pond or watering hole of some sort. Sunlight leaking in through the canopy dances across the waves and I pause to admire it. Shame the jungle's a damn hell-hole. It can be beautiful in fleeting moments.
The waves split as a long, muscular appendage lifts itself out of the water and stretches upward toward some dangling branches. It's one of those Lizards with the long necks. Scaly giraffes, sort of. I always kind of liked those ones as a kid; they seemed fairly harmless, I guess, unless they trampled you under those gigantic elephant feet of theirs. The Lizard's head sweeps past us, giving us a stupid glance with its watery black eyes as it tears a bunch of leaves from a tree above us. My guide reaches over and gives its tree-trunk-thick neck a little stroke. I don't get it. It's almost as if he likes the damn thing.
I don't even finish shaking my head in disapproval before the shit hits the fan.
The guide disappears in a cloud of red mist and I hear a sound like a chef throwing a big slab of beef onto a cutting board. Something warm and wet flecks my cheeks and I realize that we're under attack. The guide is on his back, screaming- one of the goddamn Raptors perched on his chest, that huge damn claw from one of its hind legs shearing through his guts like a hot knife through butter. Big, crocodilian jaws close around the poor guy's head and there's a sudden jerk, then a sharp, cracking sound.
I'm already running by then, hands fishing the revolvers from my shoulder-holsters. I duck under a branch and leap over a fallen log, then stumble as the damp mud underfoot slips out from under me. The damn Raptors don't hunt alone. They're pack killers. Goddamn mobs of teeth and claws. I hear the porters screaming, too, now. We break the first rule of the jungle; we spread out, all running in different directions.
My legs keep pumping, moving me faster than I figure I'm capable of. I won't lie; I'm terrified. I hate those damn Lizards. Especially the Raptors. Too fast. Too smart. Doesn't make sense. They must've been planning on pouncing on that long-necked big boy before we wandered into their hunt. Just my luck...
I hear one of them behind me. They're small for Lizards, but still almost as tall as me. I can hear it panting. Hot breath whooshes across the back of my neck. I try to reach back as I run and fire off a blind shot; something sharp nips at the back of my hand and I panic, squeezing the trigger and showing some random tree who's boss. The Raptor's less impressed. I can practically hear his legs getting ready to pump, getting ready to pounce and pin my sorry ass to the ground so it can disembowel me and tear my head clean off my shoulders-
-head hits something hard-
-here it comes-
-sorry-ass life I led-
-claws in my back-
-apologize to Mom when I see her-
-what's that goddamn noise-
- - -
It's not quite over yet when I start to come to. I can still hear the frantic breathing of a Raptor. It sounds like a dog on a hot summer day, panting its little heart out. But it isn't on me. I can still feel the sting of its claws in my back, but that can't be right because I'm lying on my back...
My vision clears just as the Raptor makes a wild leap, like some jungle cat, at something past me. I hear something slashing through something else, a horrible, gory sound, and I hear a squeal of pain. It sounds like a woman's cry at first, high-pitched and gut-wrenching, but then I see the Raptor hopping away, clutching at itself, blood oozing from some wound that I can't make out. Then that noise- that weird shriek that I heard just before I passed out- comes again. It's like a wolf's howl, but so much more grating. The Raptor doesn't like it, either. Between that high-pitched scream and whatever grievous wound it's taken, the vicious Lizard decides to high-tail it out of there. I see its long, tapered tail bouncing along as it darts back into the foliage- and the bushes all around me shake. The whole goddamn pack was there. Whatever gave that Raptor such a licking and made that awful noise was driving the whole damn bunch of 'em away.
I ought to be thankful that my sorry life's just been saved, but instead I'm backing away on my elbows, looking around frantically for whatever the hell just scared those Raptors off. If I see it, you better believe my revolvers are getting trained on it and blowing it the hell away.
But it's quiet. Way too quiet. The jungle's never quiet.
Something's behind me. It's behind me.
I crane my neck backward, trying to see it, but my neck's still killing me from that damn Lizard jumping on me. Slowly, trying not to startle whatever it is, I roll over onto my chest and prop myself up on my elbows.
Can't see anything...
I get to my knees. Body's still shaking- God knows I just came closer to death than I had in my entire stinkin' life to this point- but I manage to get up on one foot and start to stand, to face whatever force was powerful enough to drive off a whole pack of those damn Raptors.
I'm ready to face one of those Rexes- the ones they call the Kings of the Lizards. I'm even ready to face that stupid demon Yusef kept rattling on about.
I'm not quite ready to face a pair of very fine, very shapely female legs crouched upon the fallen tree in front of me. My eyes sweep up to find a matching torso, rugged, muscular and glistening with sweat-
-and long, red hair cascading down over her shoulders-
-and the sweetest little schoolgirlish grin...
Christ, it can't be.
My savior stands upright from her crouch, and I get a moment to take in her full figure. It's like she's sculpted from stone; one of those Greek statues brought to life. Practically naked, clad only in a little loincloth and bustier that would make even a swimwear model blush. Her abs are more defined than mine, and I try to pride myself on being in pretty good shape.
And then there's that smile.
I realize that I'm staring and draw a breath. I take a step back, shoving my guns back into their holsters. "Jesus," I say, huffing. "Saved my damn life..."
Her shoulders bobble up and down as she giggles under her breath.
"Thank you," I mutter. My damn eyes won't stop darting up and down her. Apparently, that's worthy of more giggles. I see that she has something in each of her hands- strange things. One hand is holding a sort of rod, about a foot and a half long. No clue what that is. The other object is something I recognize, but it just doesn't make sense. It's a claw. The same kind of claw those Raptors have on their feet. The big, curved, black claw that slices you open and spills your guts. She's holding it in between her middle and ring fingers, just letting it dangle there, like one of those hooks dock workers use to move around those big blocks of ice.
It's dripping blood.
Now I'm staring at that. More giggles come. Yeah, that's hilarious, lady. Somehow, in spite of myself, I start laughing, too. Maybe it is funny.
- - -
Sometimes, when a person goes through an extremely traumatic experience, they enter a state of reduced sentience where they do things that they might normally not. I'm in one of those states. Like a lost puppy, I follow the girl wherever she leads me. If I had a little tail, I'd be wagging it right now.
She leads me through the jungle, away from where the Raptors ambushed us. I say nothing, just following along, my head still spinning. Every once in a while she'll look back at me and giggle, but that's all we exchange.
We come to a fallen tree that has formed a bridge across a frighteningly deep chasm. It doesn't look particularly safe. The waters rushing past at the bottom of the gorge don't look too friendly, either. For the first time since I started following the girl around, I hesitate.
She flashes me a toothy grin and hops up onto the log bridge. She tucks the Raptor claw and that weird pipe-thing into her loincloth- affording me a brief but full look at her shapely hind end, which I immediately thank God for- and starts walking. There's no doubt in her step at all. Her bare feet pad confidently across the bridge, and roughly halfway across, she folds her hands behind her back, begins humming some gay little tune, and skips the rest of the way across.
I'm less confident. I just got jumped on by a Raptor, and I can still feel its claws in my back. She'll just have to forgive me for being a little pensive. I crawl, on hands and knees, across the bridge. She rewards me with more of her laughter. I'd be humiliated if it wasn't such a cute laugh.
A little ways past the tree bridge, we come across a sheer vertical cliff face. The girl stops and turns, looking at me expectantly. I have no idea what she wants me to do. She points upward, still grinning like an idiot, and proceeds to mount the cliff face like a damn gecko.
Her fingers and toes work their way into little handholds that I didn't even know were there. She flies up the cliff, clamboring over the side of a ledge some twenty feet above me. She disappears over the side, then peeks back over and gestures for me to come up.
Easier said than done.
- - -
I manage to make my way up to the ledge, but not without a great deal of effort and a greater deal of the girl's taunting laughter.
The ledge leads directly into a little crack in the cliff face just wide enough for a person to squeeze through. She has an easier time with it than I do, but she's also a hell of a lot thinner and more pliable. That crack is the entrance to a surprisingly spacious hollow, which I quickly realize is the jungle girl's lair.
And what a lair it is. The first thing that catches my eye is a white, polished Rex skull mounted on the wall to my left. Full-size bull Rex, no less. The girl lovingly strokes its long-dead jawbone as she passes.
In the center of the hollow is a pile of firewood, above which a disembodied Lizard leg- maybe another Rex, for all I know- is suspended, slow-cooking as the smoke wisps around it. It smells delicious, like roast turkey. Makes me hungry real quick.
The place is decorated with things that leave me unsure whether I should be impressed or terrified: Raptor hides stretched thin and pinned up as trophies and piles of makeshift tools fashioned from Lizard bones.
There's also a pile of old clothes somewhat more modern than her current scanty getup, and what appears to be a beat-up old textbook or two.
The haze that has fallen over me since the Raptor attack passes with that observation. On instinct, I reach into my shirt pocket and retrieve the Dok's photo. Part of me already knows, already understands the obvious, but I just have to see-
I shriek as a sharp pain bolts through my back, just where the Raptor's claws bit into me. I wheel around to find her holding a bowl of some weird gray-green liquid, a sheepish smile on her face. She holds one hand up defensively before the cooling sensation kicks in and I realize she's applying some kind of ointment to my wounds.
How did I get so lucky?
I sit down and allow her to finish her work. She wraps a few strips of what I can only assume is some local plant life around my wounds to seal in the ointment and stop the bleeding, then steps away and dusts her hands off. I flash her a quick smile and thumbs-up in approval.
She tears off a strip of meat from the Lizard leg she has roasting and takes a big, manly bite. God, it looks tasty. She offers some to me and I don't hesitate to take her up on it. Tastes kind of like chicken, actually. Surprised we don't eat more Lizard out here.
But I can only relax and enjoy her company for so long. I pick the photo back up and hold it in front of me. She scoots over to my side and stares at it with me. I look over at her, and she returns my gaze with an innocent smile.
No denying the obvious.
The mysterious jungle girl- jungle queen- that saved my sorry butt from a pack of vicious Lizards and patched up my wounds is none other than the girl the ol' Doktor hired me to find.
"Sheena Weiss?" I ask her.
She just keeps smiling, cocking her head slightly to the side. Maybe she's playing dumb. Maybe being out here in the jungle has warped her head a little. I ask her again, to no avail.
"My name is Dick Clayton. Your father's hired me to find you."
I think I see her eyebrow twitch a little, but her facade otherwise holds.
I start to say something else, but she raises a finger to my lips, shushing me. She gets to her feet and glides across the hollow, retrieving the rod she had been carrying around earlier, then returns to my side.
"Your father's been very worried about you-"
She interrupts me by raising the rod to her lips and blowing. My hands shoot up to my ears as the sound blasts through my head like a freight train. Yep, that's a demon's howl, all right. No wonder the Lizards got the hell out of there when they heard it.
She just laughs at my pain.
- - -
The girl falls asleep with her head on my lap, fingers squeezing my pants leg. For a while, I just sit there, relaxing, taking in the sheer impossibility of it all.
The odds of me surviving a Raptor attack? Zero. The odds of Sheena Weiss, shy college student, surviving for fourteen months unattended in the jungle? Zero. The odds of a wild, untamed jungle princess- jungle queen, jungle goddess- existing in this Lizard-infested hell? Zero. The odds of said jungle goddess and aforementioned college girl being one and the same? Less than zero.
Then again, people would have once said that the odds of men ever living alongside dinosaurs were Zero, too. Look where that got us.
I feel the girl's body pressing itself a little more tightly against mine in her sleep and force myself to get up, gently lowering her head to the ground. Not here. She's beautiful, and on a different day I would want nothing more than to make love to her, but... no. It just isn't right. Not here, not now. Hell, she's my client's daughter...
Oh my God she's alive. Three hundred thousand goddamn dollars...!
I need some air. I squeeze my way out of the hollow and stand out on the ledge. The sun's going down. The whole jungle's bathed in a blanket of warm orange light, and from my vantage point, it almost looks serene. All I can see are the tops of the trees blowing in the wind and the Pterodactyls, or whatever the flying Lizards are called, flapping about lazily. It's beautiful, too, in a way. You'd never guess what kind of horrors go on beneath that canopy of leaves from up here.
Three hundred thousand goddamn dollars. That's more money than I've collectively held in my entire life, a couple times over. Christ, what I could do with that kind of money.
Any bad thoughts I had about ol' Dok Weiss are replaced with sweet visions of green. The good Dok's going to make me a very rich man.
I could get off this damn Plateau. Never have to find another dead body in the jungle again. Go back to the States. Pay off those damn debtors, or make myself a new identity without any. Let Mom know her little boy's not dead after all. Get myself a little house down by the ocean...
I'm torn from my thoughts by the girl's appearance. Guess I accidentally woke her up when I moved. She stands next to me, stretches and yawns, then sits down at the rim of the ledge, letting her bare legs dangle over the side, just above the treetops.
She stares out at the beauty of it all, just like I do. The setting sun makes her glow, like she's made of gold. She's beautiful.
"Sheena," I say, leaning against the edge of the cave, "I need you to come back to the city with me."
She says nothing. She just waves her legs around in the air and begins humming that same tune from the tree bridge again.
I sigh, frustrated. "Sweetheart, listen. Your father is willing to pay me a huge wad of cash to bring you back safely. He misses you-"
"No, he doesn't," she says, her tongue sharp. I'm startled, and not just because this is the first time I've heard her speak.
"What do you mean?"
Her ever-present smile finally fades. "I'm not going back."
"Listen, you can't keep living out here in the jungle forever. It's dangerous."
She turns to me, her brow furrowed, eyes narrowing. "I hate him. He's evil."
I get it now. She didn't randomly disappear into the jungle at all.
She ran away. She's hiding from him.
This complicates things.
A tinny sound that had been nipping at my ears for the last few minutes suddenly draws closer. I look up into the sky, my eyes peeling across the horizon for the source-
"A zeppelin," she says, springing to her feet. Indeed it is. It's puttering through the sky across the horizon, drifting our way.
And as it gets closer, it becomes alarmingly clear who it belongs to. A blood-red stripe with a white circle inset runs across the length of the blimp. Emblazoned into that white circle is a tilted, four-pronged axis that I know as a swastika.
"Goddamn Nazis," I mutter. "What're they doing on the Plateau?"
Sheena turns to me, her eyes ablaze. "They're here for my father," she says. Then, a coy smirk pops up at the corner of her lips. "Which means I win."
I shoot her a confused glance, raising an eyebrow. "Come again?"
"They're here to check up on his project. He hasn't finished. Can't finish. I have what he needs."
She turns and squeezes her way back into the cavern, and I follow. She digs through her pile of miscellaneous belongings until she produces a foot-long metallic cylinder, which she raises before me.
"Without this, he doesn't have any miracle bomb to show them. They cut his funding and pull his resources. He loses everything."
I blink, staring at the cylinder. "What the hell's that?" I ask.
"There's a mineral found only on this Plateau. Very rare. This is the world's entire supply that's been excavated so far. Father must have run out of time to dig up more. That's why he keeps sending people to find me. He needs the real thing."
"You were hiding this from him?" I ask. "Is that why you ran away?"
She nods. "I couldn't just dispose of it. It's very dangerous. If I just, say, threw it in the river, the entire water supply could be contaminated. I had to keep it safe, away from him. Nobody but me can survive out here."
Well, that much is true.
"Anyway, in a few hours, when the Nazis realize he has nothing to show for all the money they threw at him, all his riches will disappear. I'll have won. No telling how many lives will be saved." She sighs, a serene smile crossing her face. God, it sounds noble.
It also means I don't get three hundred thousand dollars-
Don't think that. That's ridiculous! This girl's just told you that her father is a Nazi scientist who builds doomsday weapons for Hitler. Turn her in and they might kill her- and not to mention complete that weapon...
Three hundred thousand goddamn dollars.
Sheena is a good girl. She has good intentions. She's a damn goddess, she's beautiful-
House by the ocean. New life. No more jungle. No more Plateau. No more Lizards.
She's right, damn it-
Just look at that smile of hers-
I can't let them have her. No way.
Yes. Decision made.
Three hundred thousand goddamn dollars...
I eye the cylinder. No. Don't you dare, Clayton.
Don't you dare.
She sighs. "Anyway, it's too late for him now. I could stay out here forever, and he'd never find this thing."
That's right. She could stay out here forever. And I could still get my three hundred thousand goddamn dollars-
Why am I so greedy? This is wrong, this whole train of thought is evil-
She smiles and turns away, about to tuck the cylinder back into her belongings.
I feel my hand moving to my shoulder holster and can't stop myself.
She spins around, eyes wide, but in an instant they turn glossy and fade. A sad, shocked look is frozen on Sheena Weiss's face as she slumps to the floor, unconscious.
Oh God what did I just do-
No, decision is made. Great work, Clayon. You just pistol-whipped the woman who wanted to save millions of lives into unconsciousness.
I grab the cylinder.
No turning back.
I'm so sorry, Sheena. I regret this already.
- - -
I've never run so fast in all my life. The whole time I'm convinced that the next bend in the trail will lead me right into the jaws of a Rex or a Raptor ambush. God, part of me wants it to happen. I deserve it for what I've just done.
I keep the cylinder cradled tightly in my arms. I keep thinking about that house by the ocean and try to find some solace there, but it doesn't come.
But I can't stop now.
The jungle whips by me in a dark blue blur. The sun's down now. God knows I'm running out of time. Weiss is running out of time. I don't get paid if they finish with him before I deliver him the package.
I know he wasn't really looking for his daughter. He was looking for the cylinder. It's obvious now. He should be pleasantly surprised.
Just running on pure impulse now. Maybe that Raptor attack jarred my brain. Everything seems so blurry now...
I see lights ahead, just past the foliage. I'm almost home.
I tear out of the treeline and make tracks for the closest building. It's Rex's Place. Thank God. I need a phone and a beer wouldn't hurt, either. Thank God I still have Weiss's number.
The doors to the tavern fly open as I burst in. Yusef's still at the bar. He never clocks out, does he?
"Dick, you're-" he starts, but I cut him off with a wave of the hand.
"Phone. Drink." I pant, crashing at the bar.
He brings me both.
- - -
It's Charles- Knuckles, rather- that I get on the line. I tell him that I have what his boss wants and tell him where to find me. The fat man sounds nervous on the other line, but agrees to come. Good. I may have just saved Weiss's career-
-not to mention my new life-
-and doomed countless others.
Yusef looks concerned as usual. "What happened out there, my friend?" he asks.
I don't tell him. He wouldn't call me his friend anymore if he knew what I did.
It doesn't take long for Knuckles and a couple other heavies to pull up outside of Rex's Place in a busted old coupe. The fat man's sweatin' bullets. He doesn't look amused when I'm the only person that steps outside to meet him.
"Where's the girl?" he asks, his beady eyes boring into me.
I hold up the cylinder. "I've got what the old man wants," I say, maybe a little too confidently.
Knuckles looks like he's seen a ghost, but then a smile comes upon him and he ushers me into the car.
The coupe shoots out of the town at lightning speed. It flies over bumps in the trail so hard that I think a couple times we might crash. Eventually, we turn down a side path that I've never noticed before. It takes us down through a narrow canyon and then out into a huge clearing- where I see Weiss's laboratory in all its Nazi glory.
The entire area is desolate and lifeless, save for a couple of those little ankle-biter Lizards that eat rats and eggs, and of course the huge Nazi zeppelin parked next to the facility. The whole thing gives me the willies.
The laboratory reminds me of the hospitals back in the States: too white, too clean, too sterile. Doesn't do much for my mood. It's bad enough that I'm hating myself more and more with every step I take; the atmosphere here is strangling.
The place is crawling with armed guards. Looks like Yusef was right about the kind of crowd Weiss hangs around with. Worse, a lot of stiffs in trenchcoats and peaked caps are stomping around- Nazis. S.S. officers, most likely. Bad news.
Knuckles leads me to a huge, open chamber with a high roof and countless odd devices, tubes, cages, and the like. It looks like every mad scientist's domain I ever saw in a movie in my youth, but bigger, cleaner, and realer.
And then there's Weiss, hobbling up to us on his cane, eyes wide. The Nazis must have been riding him extra hard until now.
"Where is she?" he asks. Before I can answer, however, he sees the cylinder in my hand and gasps.
"Yeah," I huff. "I got your stuff back. Now I got two things: one, I want my money. Three hundred thousand dollars, just like you said. Two, I want you to leave Sheena the hell alone."
He snatches the cylinder from me with surprising vigor. "Do not tell me what to do, Mr. Clayton. My daughter is my problem. As bright as you were to decipher the true reasoning behind my search for her, you still failed to return the girl to me. As such, our contract is broken and I will not triple your payment as promised." He smirks, the little bastard. "In fact, Charles, if you would show Mr. Clayton to his reward..."
I open my mouth to object, but the only sound I make is a long, gasping wheeze as Knuckles slams his beefy fist into my gut, driving all the breath from me. Two of his goons grab my arms and the three of them begin to drag me away.
Weiss laughs. He turns away from me, two of his Nazi pals converging on him, the vaguest hint of a smile on their stony faces.
God, I'm a sucker.
- - -
They drag me back outside the facility and work me over but good. I can't be mad at 'em for it. I deserve this. I betrayed Sheena. I helped Nazis. I hope they kill me.
And what'd I do it all for? Three hundred thousand goddamn dollars, huh? A new beginning, huh?
Knuckles' fat fist cracks across my jaw, sending a line of blood splattering to the ground. "You know, you're a real piece of work, Clayton," he says, grinning. He sends another blow deep into my sternum. "You try and fool everybody into thinkin' you're out there doin' good deeds, findin' missin' people and all, but you're a greedy scammer just like everybody else." Another punch comes, and I feel a tooth rolling across my tongue. I try to spit it in Knuckles' face, but miss completely. Typical me. He socks me again, this time right in the kidneys. "You're a greedy, money-grubbin' scumbag. You probably had to kill the Dok's little girl in order to get that cylinder, didn't you? Musta done it sneaky-like. You ain't man enough to have taken her down straight."
No argument there. Another haymaker puts me on the ground, and I'm staring up at the stars. Knuckles' boys start to pick me up again. It's like they're lifting a big, loose sack of broken bones and blood at this point. I have nothing left. They'll get no struggle out of me.
As the fat man rears back for another shot, I randomly gaze up at the stars above me. Through my pain and guilt-driven delirium, I see something.
Something's above us.
A Pterodactyl. Isn't that what they call those things?
Something's falling from it-
The man to my left splits cleanly into two pieces, right down the middle.
A red blur-
I hear a scream, mad, desperate. The man to my right's guts make a sickly splash as they hit the ground.
I tumble back down to my knees. Knuckles, beady eyes now wide as saucers, backpedals, throwing that stupid trenchcoat of his open and reaching for the revolver inside. He scarcely has it out of its pocket when the hand holding it goes spinning away from him and bounces across the dry Plateau floor.
A long, amazonian leg whips up through the air and snaps into the side of the fat man's neck. His eyes blank out and he falls, spinning as he goes. A lithe female form pounces onto his back and two hands reach down, gripping his flabby double-chin. One quick snap and Knuckles joins his comrades in death.
The jungle goddess has come for her revenge.
She rises from Knuckles' corpse, her eyes meeting mine. Her look tells me exactly what she thinks of me now.
I spit a wad of blood out of my mouth. "I'm sorry, Sheena," I whimper.
She says nothing. Silently, she turns and glides away from me on her bare feet, blood dribbling from the Raptor claw in her hand. A cold breeze sends her red mane whipping about her like a flame-
-a goddess. A queen. The Lizard Queen.
I hope she tears them all apart. That's the last thing I think about before my face hits the dirt, and then everything goes dark.
- - -
My mind wills my body to do it. I crawl back to my feet, weary, groaning, agonizing, but I move nonetheless. I take a single, shuffling step forward in spite of the pain I feel everywhere.
You owe her.
Yes. Yes, I do. So many goddamn Nazis. Drag your ass in there, Clayton. Help her.
She doesn't need the help. Doesn't matter. Do it anyway.
I make it to the entrance unopposed. The slaughtered guards piled up next to the door explain that much. They weren't ready for her. A few thugs are no match for the jungle queen.
I reach down and snag a pistol off of one of them. Feels good in my hand. I feel stronger already. I don't know if it's adrenaline or not. All I know is that I wronged Sheena and my body won't let me stop until I've righted that.
Blood everywhere. They never stood a chance. Body parts strewn about. She kills Raptors to make her lunch. I grab another gun from the floor and shake off the hand attached to it. He won't be needing it. The prints of bare feet, painted in Nazi blood, trail down the hallway. Some of them across the walls. She's so agile, like one of the Lizards. She is the Lizard Queen, after all, isn't she?
Before I know it I can hear the sound of gunfire and the screams of Nazis. The massive chamber I met Weiss in earlier opens up before me and suddenly I'm witness to the carnage first-hand.
Muzzles flash everywhere. Black leather trenchcoats and peaked caps are whipping around all over the place. All in vain, of course. She is among them. They might as well be fighting a ghost.
Through the madness, I see Weiss himself break from the crowd. He squeals in fright, aging another decade in an instant. "The lever!" he screams. "Pull the damned lever!"
The Raptor claw zips through the air and limbs fly. Heads roll. Nazis die. Their numbers dwindle quickly. A dozen becomes a half-dozen, and then a quartet. Blood whips around her like a tornado splattering across the unnaturally white chamber in unsettling patterns. It's beautiful and horrifying. The jungle goddess will not be denied her fury.
Until a random Nazi bullet hits her clean in the stomach.
Time freezes. Sheena's eyes widen and she gasps. A gurgling moan escapes her lips and she falls.
A scream tears itself from my throat and both my pistols begin to fire before she hits the ground. The Nazi who shot her dies immediately, and another right after. The two remaining S.S. officers duck and cover, and Weiss begins screaming again.
The Nazis return fire and the stupidity of my standing out in the open becomes apparent. I dive and slide across the blood-slick floor, just making it behind a table that must have been kicked over during Sheena's rampage. Bullets slam into the wood as I press my back up against it. I'm showered in splinters. The first lull in enemy fire gives me a chance to shoot back, but the stupid pistols I'd grabbed click empty. Great. I duck back just in time to avoid being ventilated.
The Nazis shout something in German. I glance around the edge of my cover and see Sheena lying on the ground, curled up like a child. A puddle of red is spreading around her. It's my fault. I curse myself for it.
I'm sorry, Sheena. But I'll make it up to you. I'll take those bastards with me, even if it kills me. No, it has to kill me. But they'll die, too. It's the only way this can end right.
I glance around the other side of my quickly-disintegrating cover and spot the body of a Nazi only a few feet away. A machine gun lies draped across his savaged torso. Just what I need to turn the tide. I just have to survive long enough to get to it-
Weiss makes a break from his hiding spot and dashes for a nearby control panel. He slings a dead Nazi out of his way and throws the lever. Must have been the same one he was screaming about earlier.
I hear something heavy and mechanical begin to move, and an obnoxious alarm klaxon begins to blare. Doesn't matter. I hear one of the Nazis shout something in a perplexed tone and begin my move for the machine gun.
Weiss laughs. He sounds mad.
The ground underneath me rumbles once and I freeze. There's a second's pause, and then another rumble. I feel something big in the room.
"What do you think, Officers?" Weiss shouts, presumably at his pair of remaining Nazi comrades. "The bomb is not the only thing I was working on for mein fuhrer on this damned Plateau!"
I hear heavy breathing and afford myself a glance upward. One of the Nazis shrieks in fear. I'd join him if I wasn't frozen solid at what I'm seeing.
Weiss is out of his goddamn mind.
A fully-grown bull Rex is stomping into the chamber through that big metal gate that Weiss opened. But, oh, no, this is no ordinary Rex. This one has Weiss's nasty fingerprints all over it. The stubby, useless little too-short arms that God felt at liberty to curse the Rexes with have been replaced by sleek, rotating barrel Gatling guns. One of its hooded eyes has been replaced with a shiny chrome plate, a glowing orb within scanning across the room with mechanical precision. Its hide is covered with shiny armored segments which, just for that added neitzche touch, are dotted with foot-long steel spikes.
It's a goddamn monster.
"Kill!" Weiss shouts, mashing a series of glowing buttons on the control panel. The Rex lets out a metallic grunt of acknowledgement and stomps forward.
One of the Nazis, in a blind panic, pulls out his own machine gun and opens fire at the nightmare creature. The Rex's armor plates spit out a shower of sparks, but it's unharmed. The barrels of its gun-arms begin to rotate, accompanied by a rapidly-increasing mechanical whir. A second later, the Nazi explodes into a cloud of gore as the Rex's bullets shred him.
I make that mad dash for the machine gun next to me. Bad move. The Rex sees me, its glowing red machine-eye snapping to me. The bullets carve a trench along the floor as they race across to me. I just barely manage to dive behind a row of control panels nearby before the Rex's line of fire hits me. Too damn close.
Sparks and chunks of shredded machinery rain down all around me. I can't stay here long. In seconds I'm swiss cheese. Gotta move.
Can't let Sheena down.
The other Nazi- bless his twisted soul- inadvertantly saves my life. He draws the Rex's fire by blasting it right in its snout with his pistol. The Rex wheels around to chase him down and I've got my shot. I wheel out from behind my cover and get Weiss in my sights.
He sees me and bolts.
I open fire, but my battered arms just won't stay steady and I somehow fail to hit him. The old bastard hobbles his way toward a stairway near him that leads to an overhead walkway. I empty out the remainder of the machine gun's clip trying to hit him, but the damn thing just won't draw a bead on the Doktor. I curse, throw the thing aside, and dash after Weiss.
By the time I get up the stairs, Weiss is already on the catwalk. It's higher than I thought- the Rex chases the last of the S.S. officers underneath it. I face off with Weiss just as the mech-Rex catches up to his prey, and both the old man and I wince at the sound of the Nazi going down the big Lizard's gullet.
"Weiss," I growl, trying my damndest to sound hard. He's an old man, and that's the only reason why I manage to intimidate him. I'm not ashamed. I back him across the walkway, fists raised and ready to pound him into pulp.
The damn Rex accidentally rams his head into the bottom of the catwalk just as I grab the Doktor by his collar and we both spill over the railing-
-right onto the Rex's spiny back.
One of the spikes on his armor plates goes through my left calf. I scream in pain. Weiss somehow manages to push himself up onto his knees and slings that cane of his around. It cracks me across the temple harder than I would have ever given the old man credit for, and I see stars.
Somehow he gets to his feet even as the Rex continues to buck. More blows come. Damn it, I'm losing a fight to a withered old scientist!
The Rex does not take kindly to our holding a fistfight on his spine. It whips around, snapping its jaws. It's rather like a big, scaly dog chasing its tail. Both Weiss and I are nearly thrown off by its thrashing, but the spike through my leg saves me- at the cost of extreme pain.
I see an opening, and my fist jets out like a rocket. The old man's jaw shatters under the impact.
Weiss tumbles over the Rex's side just as it snaps its jaws. Weiss disappears between its rows of serrated, six-inch-long teeth. I hear a brief squeal of pain before a second snap cuts him short.
Doktor Weiss is no more.
I'm seconds away from joining him. My leg is torn free from the spike by the Rex's thrashing, and I tumble to the ground. The pounding feet of the Lizard just barely miss me as I roll, coughing and spewing blood, across the floor.
This is it. I'm gone.
But I got that bastard Weiss, didn't I?
Some small satisfaction there...
I glance over to where Sheena lay. I did what I said. I got them for you-
-she's not there?
I hear the Rex's Gatling guns whirring and look up just in time for a red blur to zip past, just underneath the monstrosity's oversized jaws. Blood pours out from its throat like a waterfall and the big Lizard begins to thrash wildly. The blur comes at it again, then a third time, shooting at it from either direction. On the fourth pass, the head rolls clean off the stump of a neck and slams down with a wet thud a few feet to my right.
Sheena drops down in a crouch on the other side, the blood-soaked Raptor claw dropping from her fingers.
She killed the damn thing.
I stare up at her, unable to draw a breath. She returns the gaze. Blood oozes from her lips. This is her last show, too. That sweet, schoolgirl smile returns to her briefly, and then the goddess of the jungle sinks down, her body slumping across mine.
Good night, Lizard Queen. Sleep well. You've earned it.
I feel her go still against me. I'll join her soon.
It's quiet for a few moments. Some random impulse, some last odd thought before death, leads me to draw that old photo out of my blood-stained shirt pocket. I stare at it.
She was beautiful. She was a Goddess. And, in her last moments, she was still better than me.
My arm grows heavy and drops to my side. I hear the clicking of Nazi boots approaching. That's fine. Their scientist is dead. They get no bomb and no Gatling gun dinosaur.
In the end, we still win.
(Author's Note: At the request of the contest organizer (Dreamshell, here's lookin' at you, kid!), here's a list of tropes (a la the wonderful TV Tropes website) employed in this story!
-Private Eye Monologue (Clayton's narrative voice)
-Private Detective (Clayton's job)
-Redemption Quest (Clayton's last stand against the Nazis is his attempt to redeem himself after betraying Sheena)
-Revolvers Are Just Better (Clayton's signature twin Colts that he, uh, pretty much never uses...)
-Badass Longcoat (Knuckles rocks this and the classic fedora in true Noir style, but that isn't really advisable in Plateau weather... Also see the Nazi agents)
-Downer Ending/Bolivian Army Ending (Sheena dies, and Clayton almost certainly does as well, with a platoon of Nazis rushing in on him. Why the hell did I go with such a depressing end?)
-Jungle Princess + Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter (The formula used to create the character of Sheena Weiss)
-Badass Normal + Charles Atlas Superpower (Sheena's official status and the reasoning behind her extreme fighting and survival skills)
-Mad Scientist/Evil Genius (Weiss, obviously)
-Applied Phlebotinum (What was in that cylinder, exactly...?)
-Cool Airship (The Nazi zeppelin might not really be all that cool, though)
-Those Wacky Nazis (clearly)
-Lost World (The Plateau)
-Stock Dinosaurs (admittedly, I could've gotten a little more creative than tyrannosaurs and velociraptors, but I did have a short period of time to work with)
-Made of Plasticine (but come on, it's pretty cool when Sheena chops up bad guys, right?)
And there are probably a ton more, but that's about all I can recall at the moment.)