Hellboy: Oddest Jobs Page 10


Hellboy kicked off the wriggling behemoth and tried to swim for the surface, but the shearing currents from the trapped giant spun him helplessly horns over heels in orbit around itself.

Shame he was trapped at the bottom of the sea, because the monster's predicament was worthy of a good belly laugh.

The pit was a big one, but not quite big enough. About a third of Typhon's ever-expanding mass could fit, but try as it might — thrashing like a salmon on the make — it could not squeeze into the hole.

Clearly, they'd fed it too much goat.

Finally, the rocket pack draped in grenades went off in the pit. Trapped between the walls and Typhon's thrusting bulk, the explosion was enough to collapse the pit and shear off a good third of the rogue tentacle's length, leaving it wedged in the ocean floor.

Thrashing in agony, rage, and frustration, Typhon went out of its mind. It had suffered through eons, waiting for this day, only to be blocked by a chunk of itself.

It slammed against the barrier, trying to beat its way through. When that didn't work, it whipped up a whirlpool of its own, like a drunken wife-beating worm screaming 'Stelllllla!' at the top of its lungless lungs.

That didn't work, either.

Meanwhile, Hellboy battled the rip current and stroked desperately for the surface. Wondering how his friends were faring.

In particular, Abe ...

Plummeting down the smokestack of Echidnas throat, Abe decided he'd had quite enough of being swallowed. He drew his knife and stabbed the wall.

The blade sank into soft, overripe tissue like the waterlogged lining of a coffin, barely slowing his descent until it snagged on something like bone.

He climbed into the door he'd made and slithered into a stagnant capillary swamp, clogged with the corroded shields and armor of forgotten heroes.

Turning upstream, Abe chased gruesome blind cavefish out of the glare of his flashlight, possessed by a maddening but unshakable calm. His seared gills greedily pulled oxygen out of the plasma flooding her ancient organs, syrupy tides stirred by the sluggish rhythm of Echidnas endless dreaming.

Lost in the empty avenues and alleys of an unfamiliar city in the dark of night, anonymous, unrecognized, Abe Sapien could always count on a kind of peace.

And Echidna was nothing, if not a city unto herself.

She had dense fortresses of muscle, cathedrals of bone, and silos of rancid fat and curdled milk; endless sewers, reservoirs, and canals, guttering furnaces, deserted avenues, and silent factories; the drowned harbors of her lungs, the skyscraping flesh-foundries of her womb, where the great work of the city was executed, and all of it animated by the volcanic throb of her heart.

When he strayed too near to the skin, Abe could look out through milky porthole lesions in Echidna's parboiled hide, and see her terrible shape.

She was not a city, and if she was not a goddess, she was much more than a monster.

A First Daughter of the Living Earth. She bore no resemblance to her mate, Typhon, mostly depicted as a winged giant with tentacles for legs, and sometimes a hundred heads. But none of her abominable brood resembled her, or each other, either.

The bride of Typhon mingled features of eel and anglerfish with the torso of a human hag whose lower half terminated in a serpentine tail longer than an aircraft carrier.

But Abe's fleeting glimpse of her eyes as she swallowed him told him how very wise this creature — this woman — was. She radiated hunger and hate as she ate him, but there had also been hope. The crudest of Pandoras curses ...

Abe only noticed the faint, echoing voices when he realized that he was following them.

Abe swam into a cavernous chapel filled with membranous towers like the facades of sagging tenements. If he had searched unconsciously for this place to plant his bombs, or to satisfy some grim curiosity, now it had been satisfied. Here was where the end of the world would begin.

The voices sang a curious, incomprehensible song. Bitterly old, yet innocent; grimly keen on death and destruction, yet so tenderly naive, that Abe wondered to hear it in such a haunted, hopeless place.

He approached the ovaries with extreme caution. If anything inside Echidna was guarded, it would be these.

Her eggs.

Like any female creature, Echidna had carried the same eggs all her life, and they had aged within her. Now, they sang in a vulgar mother root of Greek that some golden-age eavesdropper might have cribbed from the speech of the Olympians. But their tone was like that of children everywhere.

"Are you our father's seed?" cried one ovum in a shell. "Have you come to make us?"

"I will be a dragon," cried another, "with a hundred heads, like Typhon ..."

"Choose me! My shadow will drown the sun ... !"

"When I am hatched, I will devour you all... !"

"I want to be a dog, and play all day ... !"

"Be still!" Abe hissed, but his plea spread the alarm to the other ovary towers. Soon, the whole hatchery trembled with the demands of unborn monsters.

Abe kicked away for the duct from which he'd emerged, but the sphincter door puckered shut. Trapped. Perhaps, if he sang them a lullaby ...

"I am old, and not so terrible as I once was," said the walls of the womb. "And now, I must have forgotten how to chew my food ..."

Hellboy broke the surface with a throaty, deafening, "Damn it!" If the bubbles that preceded him could speak as they burst, he'd owe a fortune to the office swear jar.

He beat some sense back into his pressure-wracked ears, but he'd given himself a wicked case of the bends, going to the bottom and back so fast. Cramps wrung him out like a dishrag.

At least it was still a beautiful day ...

Suddenly, in the full view of that cloudless blue sky, Hellboy found himself surfing a wave in a cold, dark shadow.

Coming up, and up, and bam! Like getting hit by a subway train.

Typhon reacted like any jilted lover when it hit the surface. Its crude overtures had been foiled, and all it wanted now was to lash out hard.

The severed tentacle stump whipped up savagely, lofting Hellboy a hundred feet in the air. He hung on, helplessly along for the ride once again, watching the overeager Silent Summer choppers get closer by the second. Armed only with more goats, but bristling with cameras for the waking-of documentary.

One darted within reach, and the mammoth tentacle cracked at it like a bullwhip.

Hellboy knew that this was gonna hurt.

As usual, he was correct.

He slammed tail first through a laminated glass windshield, too fast to get more than a glimpse of the screaming pilots before the chopper's engine exploded, and the rotor blades shivered to shrapnel all around him.

Still, he hung on, squeezing until Typhon seemed to scream out loud, as if a real, live mouth had opened somewhere on its monstrous form.

Then he looked down, and wondered, Why am I always right about the bad stuff?

The blunt stump of the tentacle had awakened to a new purpose. Now it yawned in a rude mockery of a mouth, dripping stalactite fangs and even something like a tongue, reaching up to meet him as the tentacle dangled him over it.

The flesh in his grip went all runny, bulging into a hemispheric bubble. Hellboy scrambled like he'd had a rug pulled out from under him.

The bubble trembled, and blinked.

It was an eyelid, newly formed.

Which left him staring into an eye nearly as large as himself.

The blank, black eye stared back, clearly unimpressed. When Hellboy punched it, it popped like a water balloon.

At last, he had a way in, with no teeth.

The walls of Echidna shook. The plasma around and inside Abe trembled with her voice.

There was no point in looking around, but he did, anyway. Every duct, every pore, every cell, spoke. She was all around him.

And she knew exactly where he was.

"I did not come to be eaten," Abe replied, in passable Homeric Greek.

"Miserable meal that you are ... perhaps a rival suitor?" Echidnas seismic rumble quivered with coy curiosity.

How sad, hoping for flattery from the contents of one's own innards. But she had absolute power over him. If he threatened her with the explosives, she might call his bluff. Perhaps she yearned for the peace of death.

Perhaps she only wanted what any woman, locked away from the world and her mate, would want.

"My lady," he began, rumbling for the proper sincerity, "your beauty and fertility are eternal..."

"Yesssss..."

"... But the world has moved on. It is not what it was."

"I hear them outside, battling for my favor. Your tiny champion will fall before my terrible one."

"Typhon ... is — "

"How I hated him," she sighed. "But he was made for me, and our young ones were so fierce. You would do well to go to my stomach and be eaten, before he finds you here — "

"He's not coming," Abe said, and braced himself. "He is dead."

The hatchery spasmed. The eggs redoubled their whispering.

"None shall stand before him!" Echidna raved. "He scattered the pretty ones of Olympus, and routed the house of Man. Our children feast on manflesh, from Thebes to the gates of Hades!"

"They are no more, lady." Perhaps setting off the bombs would be a mercy. He would die outside, but he could not bear to breathe the sour plasma of her panic. "The gods let them live only to challenge men to prove their heroism."

"Heroes! Pretty monsters who kill children for sport! How our Mother hates them! I would bear a thousand young and choke the Styx with their bones! You ..." Now terribly lucid, her voice seemed to come from right behind him. "Which Olympian's pretty bastard are you, hero?"

"I am not that kind of hero," Abe Sapien replied, "and I am not pretty."

As Echidna raved, Abe stretched out one webbed hand, gentler than a breath, to touch the membrane of the nearest ovary tower. The hatchery still buzzed with their chatter and childish hymns, but the eggs crumbled at his touch, like orbs of ash.

"I am sorry, my lady," Abe said, "but there is no place for monsters, anymore. The earth has begun to take her own revenge on mankind."

"My Typhon will come! He will save me — "

"Only a small piece of him lives, Echidna. It fights to get to you, but it is not the one you loved — " How sad, he thought, and how wondrous. Was it only a ghostly instinct that drove Typhon's severed limb to come to her, or was every bit of that ancient abomination so infused with the same doomed love that Romeo felt for Juliet, that a moth felt for the flame? Was that all there was to love?

"A hundred heads and nothing like a brain," Echidna grumbled, "but if he is gone, then I am better off dead." Her self-pity was like a toxin released into her bloodstream. "Kill me, little hero ... Ugly as you are, they would sing such songs of the slayer of Echidna, that women would still love you ..."

"You should sleep," Abe replied, "and wait for a better husband. Maybe Briareus the Hundred-Handed ..."

"Silence!" The hatchery walls crumbled; clouds of black blood spurting from ulcers and tears in tired flesh. "Would you kill me with lies alone?" Eggs exploded in puffs of dust, whispers of unborn ghosts. "Kill me if you can, or I'll rip myself open to get at you!"

The brick of plastique in his hands did not feel like a hero's sword. "No one will sing your praises, if none lives to tell the tale."

She paused in shaking herself to pieces. The sly, serpentine monster coiled close about him again, starved for one more kind word. "What will you tell them?"

He smiled. "I will tell them you were magnificent... and terrible."

In a lifetime of foolish choices, few seemed crazier or scarier than strapping a tank of explosive gas to her back. But she had no other choice.

If I get out of this alive, Liz thought, I'll never rag HB about these things again.

The new rocket pack was indeed a cinch to fly, if not so easy to land. And Typhon was working to make it even harder. No longer thrashing like a severed lizards tail, the colossal limb had changed its tactics by sprouting a mouth, and breaking out in a rash of malevolent eyes. Hellboy waded waist deep into one of them, but the rest observed Liz with incendiary contempt as Typhon's obscene bulk tried to swat her out of the sky.

"I'm goin' in!" Hellboy yelled, then plunged headfirst into the socket, as if tunneling his way to China by hand.

The second he disappeared under Typhon's skin, Liz hurled howling sheets of fire into those all-seeing eyes. The leviathan howled with rage, but all she could do from here was singe it.

She would have to get closer, land right on it and do that which most terrified and exhilarated her: let loose completely on the thick-skinned bastard.

Typhon plucked another cargo chopper out of the air and threw it at her. Liz narrowly dodged the whirling rotors and launched herself at the thickest span of the monster, just above its newly formed mouth.

She touched down and damped her thrusters, but the explosion from the crashing cargo chopper swept her off the slick surface.

Impervious to fire, but flying metal was another matter entirely. Ass over teakettle, Liz tumbled into the waves splashing against Typhon's flanks.

Stupid!

She was totally helpless, soaked to the skin, and not even a good swimmer. The rocket tugged her downward, so she ditched it at once, and good riddance.

Fighting to keep her head above water, she saw only the rampant arch of the monster rearing up above her to block out the sun, but she could get no closer to it.

What the hell was she trying to do, anyway? Typhon breathed fire, and slept in a volcano.

But Kate had recited Hesiod and Homer all the way across the Atlantic, until Liz wanted to put her cigs out in her ears. To defeat Typhon, Zeus had to master the lightning: "the bolt that never sleeps, thunder with breath of flame."

A forest fire of fury sparked and sputtered inside her, but she couldn't even snap her fingers and make a satisfying noise, let alone a thunderbolt.

She did not see Roger until he'd caught her outstretched arms and ripped her out of the water like a slingshot. "I've got you," he called out. "Where do you want to go?"

Prev Next