"A Professor Challenger Story"
By John Pirillo
It's this way."
He followed the voice in the dark, making sure to leave a chalk mark every few feet to mark directions. He wasn't going to get caught a thousand feet underground without knowing a way back. He'd been there, done that. His beard was driving him nuts though, the sweat from the heated passage dribbling from his jungle hat on his mop of thick red hair down across his eyebrows, cheeks and mouth, then neck and chest. He could live with the sweat; it was the dratted gnat bugs that were landing in his beard and sucking up the moisture, no surprise to him, just weren't in abundance.
"I'd appreciate a light."
"Not yet." The voice returned, steady and certain.
How in God's name and the name of Queen Mary of Scots had he gotten himself into this deplorable expedition, so far away from his friends? He could just see himself telling his tale to his friends on their usual night together. Sundays. They would talk about their sleuthing, explorations, experiments, and the souls they'd saved, or seen damned. Sometimes it was more of the first and less of the latter, and sometimes...far darker days in his mind...more of the latter. He might have a temper, he might be impulsive and compulsive at times, but his moral compass was tried and true. No life was worthless. None!
Even that dratted...
"Owww!" He cursed as the top of his head scraped the roof of the passage, knocking his helmet off and taking a hefty bite into his scalp.
"Shorty!" He roared angrily, feeling the blood now adding to the sweat in his blood. He mopped it away with what he was sure was now a blood stained, dirt stained, moss stained, and sweat stained coarse shirt he always wore on such expeditions. Good for warmth and cold.
"Challenger, if you insist on being insulting, I will have no recourse, but to leave you in the darkness."
"Go ahead, Batwings!" Challenger roared back. "See if I care. You've kept me in the dark the past six hours, what's another six going back."
"Your humor is most distasteful. You know I don't have batwings."
"No, but I would expect better eyesight from you."
The man ahead of him sighed. "I'm a Dracula, not a bat, and I have neither high pitched sounds to guide my path, nor wings to fly."
"And yet you can see in the dark." Accused Challenger.
"True enough. A small gift from..."
"Are we close or not, you buffoon!" Roared Challenger, his temper getting the best of him at that moment yet once more.
Suddenly, the floor vanished from beneath him and he plummeted helplessly in the dark to an uncertain fate.
"And it is my belief that the Draculas come from a subterranean civilization that once lived beneath the lands of Scotland." Professor Challenger announced to the assemblage of fellow scientists and philosophers.
Were it not for his personal notoriety as an explorer of great accomplishment, he would have been laughed off the platform; instead he was given a tolerant clap of hands.
He sighed inwardly, but bravely went on. "I am announcing an expedition to the highlands to explore a little known cavern, which I have every reason to believe, has a series of tunnels that lead directly to the lost kingdom of the Draculas.
A sturdy older man, Deputy Prime Minster Calloway, stood up. "Professor, am I to believe then that you think the entire vampire race stems from the Draculas?"
"Yes. I do."
The assemblage went wild with shouts and angry disavowals. He waited for it to crest, and then raised his hands for quiet. "And furthermore, I have a brave champion of our Victorian London, and an honored friend of Queen Mary of Scots, here to affirm my thoughts, as well as to help on the mission of exploration."
He turned slowly to the side and a dark and elegantly dressed man swept onto stage and joined him. The assemblage grew so silent you could hear a fly's wings.
"Count. If you will?"
"It is my pleasure, Professor Challenger." The Count replied, then swept his cape over his right shoulder and eyed the men and women gathered before him.
He smiled. "Ah, I can see the Vampire Clan of Easterbury is here tonight."
A group of men and women to his right suddenly tried to look small in their chairs. He turned to the middle and smiled again. "And the Clan of Brighton."
Another group of men and women looked suddenly busy.
Professor Challenger's eyes widened. He'd had no idea so many of the dark ones had assembled to listen to him. Had he thought that would be the case, he might have approached his speech a bit more carefully.
The Count started to expose another group, but shrugged. "It's enough to say that if my friends of the night are interested, then where there's smoke, surely there might be....fire?"
The assemblage stopped squirming in their chairs and examining each other and looked forward again.
Professor Challenger was not one to be fearful of death and dying, and rather than plunge to certain death, he reached to his right hip and slung loose a hook ended rope and flung it outwards. It scraped the walls of his plunge, and then with a huge jerk and a loud crunching sound, he was flung forward into the shaft's wall he had been falling into.
Then a funny thing occurred. He felt someone breathing at his left.
"I had you."
"You let me fall sixty meters to what seemed certain death..."
"Oh Challenger, stop being so dramatic."
Count Dracula used his strength to lower Challenger the rest of the way.
"I was prepared to catch you."
"You might have told me there was a shaft in front of me."
"What! And miss out on all the fun of seeing your face as you fell?"
"I hate you!" Challenger snorted in anger and derision.
Before he could say more a bright light flared, revealing he stood at the doorway of an immense cavern. Inside was a city like none other he had ever seen. It glowed with an eerie green luminescence.
"The home of our forefathers."
"You mean yours!"
"No, actually I mean ours. Man was not always a topside dweller. And he was not always...well, human as you appear."
Challenger gave the Count a scowl. "Have you been holding out on me, Count?"
"Let's just say, I've been dancing around the truth somewhat."
Challenger would've said more, but the lure of exploration overrode his anger. He strode through the immense doorway and stood on the crest of a small rise that descended into the city. "Just imagine what treasures must still remain here."
"I thought you were a man of science."
"I am. A man of science who needs to pay his bills just like any other man. Treasure pays for my next expedition."
The Count nodded. "In that case, let's explore."
They finally reached the last structure of the ancient underground city. It was carved from the rock of the cavern. It had scrollings and depictions all about its walls, inside and out. Challenger was cooing like a happy baby, when he finished examining the chamber inside. It had a huge dais with a throne the size of a giant.
"In those days Dracula's were giants, Professor."
"As now. Cattle."
"Cattle. Good lord, man, how can you be so callous?"
The Count shrugged. "What was, is not now, what is, could not have been then. My ancestors were the first to go against the laws of the ruling Draculas. They were shunned and sent to the earth above, where they lost much of their height over time as they intermingled with the masses of men above."
"You sound sad."
"That's because we should have risen as a society to greater heights than raising humans as cattle to slake our hunger."
Count Dracula flung down the backpack he was carrying. "I intend to wipe out every visage of this civilization that ever existed so no other vampire can ever again use this place to gain power and position."
He opened his backpack and revealed String bombs. "Tesla made these for me."
"Dear Lord, what are they?"
"The cleansing of history."
"Run! Run!" The Count hollered.
Professor Challenger was running behind him, the marks on the walls now luminous and glowing as he knew they would be.
"Why...run?" He gasped.
Then the world behind them shook them to the floor and a hammer of air pressure flung their bodies like balloons through the air.
Count Dracula caught Professor Challenger in his arms and ran faster, then leaped with all the strength he had as the very passage behind them began collapsing.
They tumbled into the high grassy knoll and its rocky fields as the short mountain behind them began to collapse.
"Run!" Count Dracula yelled.
"I've already run!" Professor Challenger shouted.
Then he saw the mountain began to collapse.
"Okay!" He agreed, and then began running again, his lungs and legs aching from the stress of his exertion.
Finally, they reached about twenty yards away from the collapse and it tumbled to a stop, leaving a huge smoking heap of rubble and an odd colored, green luminescent smoke that glittered and glowed in the dying sun of the highlands of Scotland.
"We made it." Professor Challenger sighed with relief. "But I had no time to get any treasure."
"Oh, but you did, my dear friend."
"The greatest treasure of all....your life!"