The praying mantis rushed towards him and something else reached out above him to meet it. The branches struck the praying mantis in the middle of its dive, knocking it off course. It zoomed up into the air regaining its balance and dived once more. One of the branches reached out and smacked it on the head. Another curled around one of its legs. The praying mantis climbed higher, getting its leg out of harm’s way.
As Rodger blinked, the praying mantis hissed, waved its forelegs at him and buzzed off into the distance.
Rodger lay still staring at the sky, trying to regain control over his breathing.
He was alive.
He was safe. For the moment at least. He sat up. His thigh burned, but it was possible to ignore. He looked behind him. The tree was swimming back through the earth moving to the music. The mermaids were close by. The one with the spiral on its forehead was playing the flute and the other one looked a bit, what? Grumpy? It was difficult to tell with those black eyes.
When the tree was back in place, the Spiral placed the necklace holding the flute around the grumpy one’s neck. They placed their hands on each other’s cheeks and touched foreheads. They stood like that for a while and Rodger felt he was intruding a very intimate moment. He shifted his feet and looked at everything other than the mermaids until they moved apart again.
Rodger cleared his throat.
The Flute Bearer turned its back to him and slithered towards the water, but stopped when it saw that the Spiral was not following.
‘I’m really, very sorry,’ said Rodger and looked the Spiral in the eye. Then he remembered that that might be a threat and he looked down at his feet instead. ‘I really need your help.’
The Spiral approached him and touched his cheek with one cold hand. Rodger swallowed. What was he supposed to do? He put his own hand on the Spiral’s cheek. The Flute Bearer gurgled and the Spiral moved away from him towards the water.
‘Waitwaitwait,’ said Rodger and ran between them and the water, ‘I still have to get back.’ He pointed frantically back the way he had come. To them. To himself. Back the way he had come. When the mermaids still hesitated, he pushed the Spiral gently in the direction he meant. The Spiral gurgled and pointed to him, to a tree, to itself, to the water, to itself, to the same tree.
‘You want me to wait for you at that tree?’ Rodger pointed to himself and then the tree.
The Spiral pushed him towards the tree.
‘Alright,’ said Rodger, ‘but you better hurry back.’ He tried to mime them slithering back quickly, but the only answer he got was another push from the Spiral.
Rodger settled himself against the tree and looked at his watch. This was the fourth night since he had left Frederick and the machine. There was still time. If only he could make the mermaids understand. He hoped they would be back soon. And he especially hoped that the Flute Bearer would not convince the Spiral to not come back at all.
Read part one here: