Chapter Twenty-Eight: Something Pissed off This Way Comes

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I put my hand on the latch to the door, twist and push. It opens reluctantly, with a puff of dust wooshing out and all over us. I sneeze three times and it's not because I'm allergic to Maxx. 

"Great googly ooglies," I swear. Okay, so as far as swear words go, they're pretty silly, but anything else just sounds wrong to my Southern Baptist hippie upbringing. 

"What is a 'googly ooglie'?" Maxx asks. "And why is it great?"

"It's just an expression," I say. 

Maxx's fur is now coated a light brown. He shakes and the dust flies. "I do not understand. What is it an expression of?"

How am I supposed to explain made up words to a hell hound that has a better grasp of the English language than I do?

"It's just a better word than an actual swear word." I brush the dust off. "You know what swear words are, right?"

The hell hound nods. "I do, yes. But I have never seen the purpose of using them. It cheapens the entire conversation." 

"We weren't having a conversation," I say. "And I wasn't really swearing. Just kind of." 

He quirks an eyebrow at me. I sigh. 

"Fine. I was swearing because I didn't expect the dust cloud." 

"Humans are odd," is his only observation. He sneezes and creates his own dust cloud. "Is this when I should say 'great googly ooglies'?"

I roll my eyes. "Never mind. Let's go inside...actually, you lead. Y'know, just in case something decides it's hungry." 

Maxx sneezes again, but this time I know what it means: he thinks what I just said is stupid. I prefer the term 'prudent', myself. Either way, I 'm the one following him through the door and down the rabbit hole. 

The interior isn't dark and gloomy, though in all honesty I think it should be. Instead, it's brightly lit and hospital clean. All the dust seems to have accumulated on the door itself. There certainly isn't any on the floor or the walls. A vague sense of disappointment fills me. I expected moldering walls and lichen; maybe a drippy sound in the background. Instead, a whining kind of hiss reverberates eerily from the stones below my feet. All the hair on my body stands at attention, as though ready to abandon ship at a second's notice. 

"What the heck was that?" I don't even realize I said the words out loud until Maxx replies. 

"A were of some sort, though I have never heard that particular sound from one." 

The next hiss nearly stops my heart. It rolls up from the bowels of the church and sounds entirely too much like a tormented soul from the depths of Hell for my liking. Maxx doesn't even flinch; just keeps on walking. Maybe he's used to it, considering where he's from and all, but it completely freaks me out. 

"Maxx, I don't think this is such a hot idea." I know I'm a coward for saying it, but those sounds are terrifying. I don't think I want to meet the monster they belong to. 

The big dog stops and turns his head to look at me. "We can leave if you like, but your curiosity will never be satisfied if we do." 

"I know." I know, but the thing below us is scary. "It's locked up, right?"

Maxx's answer does nothing to reassure me. "If it was roaming free, it would already be up here, tearing you apart. Do you wish to continue or not?"

Sure, let's go see the insane half. That sounds like a thrill a minute. I nod yes, because I'm stupid like that. And because it was my idea and I do have a sense of pride, misplaced as it is. 

The hallway winds itself downward, much like a spiral staircase, but without any stairs or railings of any kind. I rapidly lose all sense of direction or how deeply underground we are. I just know I'm entirely dependent upon Maxx-so it's a really good thing I trust him. Somewhere underneath our feet, a door splinters; accompanied by scrabbling, as though claws are fighting to gain purchase. 

"Uhhh, Maxx?"

His ears swivel back. "I hear it." 

"Is that the were? Did it get loose?" Oh my Gawd, Father Moss is going to kill me. He seriously is. I'm so screwed. 

"Stay behind me." The hair on Maxx's back bristles and he's suddenly, completely, full sized. 

I shrink backward as the scrabbling claw sounds get louder. This is going to be bad. I know I shouldn't shut my eyes...but I do...and say a quick, silent prayer to whatever God exists that I won't get eaten. And that Maxx won't die. 

The half-creature comes into view and I shrink backwards in anticipation of the coming fight between Maxx and it. The hell hound is already growling, low and rumbling; a steady sound I can feel deep in my chest. 

Maxx launches himself at the thing and I only get a glimpse of a vague man-shape before the two are tangled together so completely it's hard to tell them apart. It's over almost before it begins. After the initial jump towards the creature, Maxx backs off. I mean, he backs way off. The thing doesn't pursue him at all, which gives me all the time in the world to study it. And I kind of want to do exactly that. I mean, it's cool. Other than the fact that it's not even breathing heavily after its tussle with Maxx. That's kind of definitely horrifying. 

"It's a...were-lizard?" I'd laugh if I wasn't terrified of it. The thing is beautiful, but it's also around six feet tall and standing on human-like legs. It's covered in deep silver scales that look like they've been spray painted a light gold. The light gold deepens into a more solid color around its eyes. And its eyes are gorgeous in a flat reptilian way. I'm not even close enough to see its pupils, but the irises are lava red flecked with the same gold as its scales. It's amazing. I take a step toward it before I even realize what I'm doing. 

"That thing is not a were, Isisss. It is a half-dragon," Maxx growls. "Stay away from it." 

I blink. "You're kidding me. It looks like a lizard." 

"It is a half-Komodo dragon. They are giant lizards from Indonesia." He moves closer to me, until I can feel the heat emanating from him. "Are you sure you wish to pursue this further? We can turn around. It does not appear to be hungry at the moment." 

I've never heard of Komodo dragons before, so I'm not sure what the big deal is. "Can't we walk around it?" After all, it's hunched against the wall, just squatting there, staring at us.

Maxx sits. "I am not sure it would allow us to move past it/"

The Komodo thing's tongue flicks out. It's thin and forked, like a snake. I catch a brief glimpse of shark-like teeth before it's mouth snaps shut. Maybe there's a very good reason why Maxx is acting so cautious. I should take a page out of his book and stop acting as stupid as I feel.

"We can go back, Maxx. I'm okay with that, honest." I step backward, and the lizard man hisses at me. I freeze. So. Not going back, then. "If it's not hungry, why won't it let me leave?"

It blinks. Sideways. I mean, its eyelids open and shut from left to right. Rapidly. That's a blink, right?

"Can you understand me?" I ask. Hey, if it's half dragon, that means half of it's human, too. And if it's human, it can reason. Theoretically. 

It opens its mouth. "Ehhhhh...ehhhhh." It doesn't sound like anything close to human. I'm not sure why I expected something else; I can see the shape of its mouth, after all. It's not designed for human speech. 

The creature levers itself to its feet, using its front claws? Pads? Hands? for support. Maxx begins to steam. His fearsome jaws open wide and those fun strings of lavaesque saliva make their sizzling way to the ground. This is going to get real ugly real fast. I press myself back against the wall. The last place I want to be is between the giant hell hound and the massive lizard. 

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