PYRAMID POWER – snippet 41:
On a limb of the great tree, an ash tree so large that its branches split the sky and its roots went down into the very bones of the earth, Jerry Lukacs was learning how you kept someone in suspense. The spear-wound in his side didn’t help either. Hanging by his hands on a rope over nothingness, Jerry wondered if it was going to be his nerve or his arms that gave way first.
And now here was a squirrel climbing down his rope. It had unpleasantly big orange-yellow front teeth. A detached part of his mind said that there was something terribly undignified about having your throat torn out by a rabid squirrel. Another part of his mind said that worrying about dignity when you were about die was just incredibly dumb. But it was so surreal that it cut through the panic. Maybe he was already dead. The events of the last twenty-four hours gave him a sort of detachment about it all.
The squirrel seemed very amused by his predicament.
“Let your feet down,” it said.
Very cautiously Jerry did as he was told. If he was already hearing squirrels talk it was probably too late to clutch at the rope around his neck. His hands and forearms couldn’t have lasted much longer, anyway. They ached.
Feeling something to stand on under his feet made him feel really, really stupid. And so incredibly light and relieved that he felt as if he could float cheerfully up into the cold blue sky.
“I suggest you adopt the attitude of the corpses around you.”
“Attitude?” Their attitude seemed to be… dead. Maybe the squirrel meant laid-back? Dead-pan?
“Position. You are being watched,” explained the squirrel.
Jerry hung his head. It was a lot better than having his body hung. Ever since he’d been marched out onto a branch which led out over the cliff-edge, and was wide enough for three to walk abreast, he’d known that he was going to die. There were too many other decaying remains hanging there for him to reach any other conclusion. Why they had dressed him in a wide hat and blue cloak was another matter. They’d put the rope around his neck, and then Odin himself had come forward and sliced the ropes that bound his hands. Jerry’s first instinct had been to grab the rope around his neck… which had been exactly what Odin had planned. A sharp jab with that spear, and Jerry had fallen into space, clinging frantically to the rope.
A great laugh for the Æsir, no doubt. It had been a slight payback to see a large snake drop onto the branch and send them scurrying back to the cliff. It would have been more satisfying if the snake had eaten them.
But what it had actually done was far more satisfying and more terrifying. Jerry finally had the courage to look down. He was standing on the snake’s broad back. It was stretched between the branches. He only curbed his normal reaction just in time, or he would have been hanging… by the neck.
The squirrel on his chest chuckled nastily. “Góin likes you standing on her back as much as you like standing on it.”
“Tell her I am intensely grateful, and I apologize profusely,” said Jerry. This was not the time to let ophidiophobia get the better of him.
“Tell Loki. You’re going to have hold on again later, when the snakes change shifts.”
“Shifts… How long do I have to stay here?”
The squirrel switched its tail. “Nine days.”
Jerry took a deep breath. “I might as well jump. I don’t think I’ll manage nine hours.”
“Hmm,” said the squirrel. “And if I got you a little extra rope and you actually stood on the branch? We could probably get away with that. They can’t see that well. They must be oh, twenty-thirty leaps away. And there is a shred or two of fog blowing. Odin cheated a lot. I saw him.”
“I… I think I could manage to stand for a while on the tree-branch. I’m not sure about nine days. That’s a long time without food or water, even if I could stand still long enough. I’m sorry to be so difficult.” Jerry felt foolish to be apologizing, and still incredibly glad to be alive.
The squirrel shrugged. “Well, there is some joy in putting one over the Æsir. The problem is thus. There are two branches accessible from the cliff. Both are guarded, night and day. They put the ropes on the upper one, and bring the sacrifices along the lower one. I can run up the trunk, the snakes can wind their way up it, and the great stags can leap between branches. But even if they would carry you, the stags are loyal to Odin. So there is something of a problem in getting you away from here. And before you ask, a fair number of those sacrifice-hanging ropes are rotten. A couple of them broke under my weight.”
Jerry hadn’t even thought that far. A drift of cloud was blowing cold and damp around them. “Can we try moving onto the branch, and talk about it from there?”
“Surely. I think Góin would appreciate that,” said the squirrel.
The huge snake—which made a python look like blindworm—arched its back, lifting him. “Put your legs either side of his body,” said the squirrel. “You humans have absolutely no sense of balance.”
So Jerry knelt and then put his legs around the snake, and shimmied his way the few yards to the huge branch. He wouldn’t have said no to guard-rails, but compared to where he had been, the branch seemed as wide as a six-lane highway. And even if it meant certain death, he wasn’t going to endure that thing around his neck one instant longer. He slipped the noose free, and stood with in his hand.
“Slip it down the front of your shirt and tie it around your waist,” said the squirrel. “That’s what Odin did. Not with the noose though. Even without a noose I think it will cut you in half after a while.”
Jerry was willing to bet that it would do a person damage a lot faster than it would cut them in half, but it had to be more pleasant — and more secure — than a noose around his neck. With painful fingers he set about unknotting the noose that had nearly killed him. There was enough rope to do as the squirrel had suggested. And actually, once he had it snugged around his waist, tight, but not going to tighten any more, it did make him feel a lot more secure. Even if he did fall, the worst that could happen was a three yard swing—on a rope that he’d proved could hold him.