A glimmer, like a tiny green firefly.
Tinkerbell’s glowing wings do their best to illuminate the murky gloom, glistening off the oily surface of the stagnant pool of long-swallowed water we find ourselves stranded upon.
‘What an earth is that smell?’ Pan’s voice needles from the darkness. I have to admit I agree with him on the matter: the air is fouler than The Fickle Muse’s crew quarters after a particularly hearty repast of pickled pufferfish.
Tink flutters a bit harder, casting more emerald light upon the scene.
I gasp, then gag, then gasp again.
It’s like Davy Jones Locker. Assuming old Davy had filled his locker with nothing but rotten meat, then left it unopened for a hundred years.
Bleached skeletons of unfortunate mariners tumble next to bloated corpses of part-digested mammals. Walruses, narwhals, dolphins: every species ever to feature on the marginalia of a map appears to have ended up in the belly of this particular beast.
Other things have met their doom here too: splintered hulls of wretched vessels, broken masts and sorry-looking sails, stained with the reeking bile of the monster. There’s even a fully-preserved Viking longship in here, it anachronistic presence rivalled only by the ghastly state of its unfortunate horn-helmed crew.
‘Ye gods,’ I mutter, as Tink flits around the gargantuan creature’s gut, revealing how cavernous our confines actually are. ‘The beast must be at least a league long!’
‘Never mind the size of it,’ says Pan, flying around in an annoyingly agitated manner. ‘How are we going to get out?’
‘Calm down, lad.’ I twirl the space where my moustache used to be and curse. ‘I recall a very similar predicament one of your number found himself in. He and his father managed to escape by lighting a fire, causing the whale to belch out smoke and expel them at the very same time.’ I start to look around for some dry wood we can use as kindling.
‘Pinocchio?’ Pan spits the name as if his teeth are made of splintered wood. ‘Never trust a word that comes out of that one!’
‘I thought he was a lead, like you? One of SB’s heroes?’
‘A hero? That little toothpick? The truth of the matter is the whale spat him out like a piece of rotten driftwood as soon as it had swallowed him. We, it would seem, appear to be made of tastier stuff.’
‘So what do you suggest then?’ I’m already losing my patience with the boy, who’s flitting around like a blind wasp in search of a backside to sting.
‘I’ve no idea.’ He darts to and fro. ‘I’ve got more important things to worry about.’
‘More important than being slowly digested by a whale the size of an island?’
‘Yes! It’s so dark in here, I’ve lost my shadow.’
‘So … without my shadow, I lose all my magic powers.’
‘You’re still flying though.’
‘That’s not magic, that’s down to this.’ He points to the feather sticking jauntily from his cap. ‘If I don’t wear this, I’m as aerodynamic as a three-legged hippo.’
‘Really? Interesting … ‘ I do another empty finger-twirl. ‘Very interesting.’
‘Don’t you go getting any funny –‘
He splashes down into the rancid whale-belly water with a hugely satisfying plop. Tink flutters over to me, batting her eyelashes as she hands me the feather. I slip it inside my jacket.
‘I’ll keep this for now,’ I say, patting my pocket. ‘For safekeeping, you understand.’
He’s splashing about, spitting out water and retching. ‘You … give … that … back,’ he splutters.
‘Maybe I will,’ I say, grinning at the bedraggled imbecile. ‘And maybe I won’t. At least now we’re both at the same level, so to speak.’
‘We’ll need my flying ability to rescue the Little Mermaid,’ he says. ‘Give it back now!’
‘We already have a very capable aviatrix,’ I say, tugging the fringe of my pudding bowl haircut in Tink’s direction. She blushes a deep shade of emerald and does a dainty little mid-air somersault.
‘What about my shadow?’
‘I’m sure it’s lurking somewhere. You really should sew it to your feet more often, you know.’
He glares at me, his hair plastered to his scalp. I almost feel sorry for him.
‘Here,’ I say, offering him my hook. ‘Get up and help me get us out of here.’
He grabs my appendage, then I yelp with pain as he tugs at it, twisting with all his might. With a noise like a plunger unblocking a sea hag’s plumbing, my rubber hook pops off my wrist.
‘You blackguard!’ I draw my wooden sword, waving it about in an effort to at least look menacing. Pan sticks out his tongue and prances away from me, almost tripping over the ragged corpse of a part-decomposed porpoise.
Which gives me an idea …
‘Help me lift this,’ I say, walking over to the reeking carcass of a giant narwal. It’s single tusk is still intact, poking from its bloated body in a manner which makes it resemble a legless unicorn with trapped wind. ‘If we can jab our host in the throat with this ….’
‘Then it’ll spit us out as fast as a cannonball!’ Pan brightens, despite the rancid gloop slicking his face. ‘It might just work!’
‘Heave!’ I say, bending down and lifting the narwhal’s head with my one hand and my stump. The stench is blistering; I can hardly see through my watering eyes. ‘Heave!’
Pan strains at the other end of the corpse. I feel the body lifting. Tink flutters about excitedly, sensing a chance of freedom.
‘Now run!’ We surge forward, carrying our makeshift harpoon between us. We near the trembling tonsils of the beast. I make a tiny adjustment, aiming directly at the gigantic quivering organ.
The roar as the narwhal’s tusk pierces the whale’s tonsils is like being trapped in the midst of a tumultuous storm. Ahead in the distance, a crack of light. It widens, wider still until daylight floods into the belly of the whale. Behind us, a rushing sound, like a million whirlpools. I glance back, then my eyes widen with horror.
A tidal wave of bile, roaring towards us.
‘Brace! Brace!’ I cry, my voice a pitiful whine. ‘Bra—‘
Then all my senses are drowned as we’re swept up and along on the crest of a bilious wave, surging helter-skelter towards the gagging maw of the beast.