Raithe led the vampire gang from the Royal Court down a long hallway. To Key’s amazement, she was not walking on the floor, but on the ceiling with her arms folded feistily and her lips coiled in a cunning smirk.
The gang carried Key past several rooms. She could not keep them all straight. There was the Curious Common Room, the Demented Dining Room, and the Black Magic Billiard Room. There were also several more rooms for practicing swimming in blood, fencing with bones, and name-calling. And still some more rooms seemed to be alive with monstrous arms and legs coming up from the floor, great eyes blinking beside couches, and large mouths yawning beneath coffee tables. As Key was carried past one room in particular, a wide mouth in the carpet greeted her in a deep voice, “Well, hello there, Miss Frumpydoo.”
The gang carried Key along several twisting and turning hallways, and down numerous flights of winding stairs. Key tried to remember the way they were going in case she could figure out a way of escape – one left, two rights, three lefts, one upside down, one one-and-a-half right side ups – but in the end, the Necropolis Castle was too much like a maze, and she felt utterly lost.
When things seemed to be at their lowest, the Living Gargoyles, the Snooty Suits of Armor, and the vampire gang began chanting a cruel song, as if they had been oddly prepared to torture Key.
Toss the Troll away
before the break of day.
She’s wrecked our birth-night bash.
Let’s burn her into ash!
Let’s eat this wrecking Troll!
Let’s toss her in a hole!
Let’s keep our birth-nights safe
from this Trollish waif,
this urchin we’ll roughen
in the dungeon, in the deep
in the darkest hole we keep.
Let the dungeon be her grave,
till she’s eaten by the Knave
or by Toags with purple beaks
or by great big Crunkle Cheeks
or by the Sneezing Bogglesaurus
or the Wheezing Furble Chorus.
Let her heart be staked.
Let her toes be baked.
Let her nose be boiled.
Let her fingers be oiled.
Let her live her life
in loneliness and strife
in a darkness to beware
in the Dungeon of Despair!
The vampire gang carried Key down to the lowest part of the castle, until they came to a stone hallway, long and dark. The air down there was much colder and very thin, and it smelled of smoke and pepper and pigs.
The gang stopped just outside a door that one vampire called, “
,” which was barred and locked on the outside. Key assumed that massumongous meant that the door was both massive and humongous – even though the word
comes from the words
, which would make this door massively huge in its enormity. Key thought that was a very accurate description because this particular door stretched so high above her head that she could not see the top.
In the middle of this massumongous door was a large bronze knocker with the face of a hideous troll. The troll’s facial expression was frozen in a look of horror, with wide eyes and a grotesquely opened mouth. The look said in so many words to Key: “Despair: Once in, never out!”
Key had no idea what lay beyond the door, but her imagination was conjuring all sorts of horrible monsters that lived in the dark on the other side, just waiting to gobble her up.
Crudgel snickered at Key as he climbed up the door to unbar the bars and unlock the locks. He leaped down and struggled to swing it open. Several more vampires had to help him. Dust fell like snow from the doorframe. The hinges screamed for lack of oil. It was clear to Key that the dungeon door had not been opened for a long, long time and that nothing had come out for perhaps a much longer time.
“How long will I be down there?” she wondered in fear as the door opened wider. She tried to look more intently into the dark, but, although her new vampire vision was excellent, she could not see much beyond the doorframe. The dungeon’s darkness was so thick you could almost slice through it with a knife – like the birthday cake she never got to have. No, she could only see an old stone stairwell that led down into pitch-black gloom. The bottom was beyond her sight, which made the dungeon seem even scarier.
Still standing on the ceiling, Raithe looked down at Key. “Do you know what we call the dungeon, Troll?”
The vampire gang grabbed ahold of Key’s chin and angled her head up to face Raithe. Key shook her head, despite the strong hands gripping her face. She did not want to know what the dungeon was called. She did not want to be there anymore. She missed her mom and dad. Weren’t they going to rescue her? She wanted Mr. Fuddlebee to come back. Why had he gone in the first place?
Raithe’s thin lips curled in a cruel smile. “Welcome,” she hissed, “to the Dungeon of Despair.”
The vampire gang then flung Key headlong through the door, right before they slammed the door closed, barring the bars and locking the locks.
And thus, Key fell straight into darkness, tumbling down the hard stone steps, down far below the vampire castle, down below the City of the Dead, down into the Dungeon of Despair.
Oh, but do not worry. Key was not entirely alone.
— CHAPTER EIGHT —
Glowing Eyes in the Dark
Key had been thrown into Despair. Now her world was filled with utter darkness. She could see almost nothing. No torchlights hung on the walls. No candles burned on chandeliers. No warm fires burned in hearths. The dungeon was so dark that Key could not see her hand passing back and forth before her face.
The only thing Key could see were the slits of beastly eyes that glowed violet. Some
was watching her.
Whatever it was, Key didn’t want to know. She hurriedly crawled away from it. She would have crawled away from the darkness if that were possible, but as that would not be so for a very long time, she crawled until her head collided with the dungeon wall. Then she whirled around and sat with her back against it, hoping that she was actually sitting against a wall and not against some sort of stone monster – like a gargoyle.
The glowing eyes continued to watch her from a distance, not moving, just crouching, prepared at any moment to pounce.
Key sat for a few moments, slowing her breathing, and taking in her surroundings.
The dungeon was mostly silent. Sometimes there were strange creaks and pops and drips of water. The floor felt like soil and stones, both as cold as ice. The air was frosty in Key’s nose and throat and lungs, yet the dungeon smelled absolutely horrible. Key decided that Despair was without a doubt a very cold, very dirty, very horrible place. She wanted out and never to come back again.
Also, Key felt very grimy and covered head to foot in bruises. Her hands and knees and face felt smeared in dirt and soot. Her long curly hair felt knotted and tangled. Worse than these horrid things put together was that those cruel castle vampires had torn her birthday dress – the last gift she’d ever received from her mom and dad. Tearing it was like tearing the last link she had with them. She hoped to preserve her dress for as long as she could.
For a second, she imagined all this was just a bad dream that she might wake from at any moment. She longed to be home with her mom and dad. She’d even settle for being back inside Mr. Fuddlebee’s black carriage with its dumbwaiter and its chai tea with maple syrup. But as the coldness of the dungeon set in, she began to realize that being with her parents and Mr. Fuddlebee was the dream. The reality of living in the Dungeon of Despair was her nightmare that, she feared, she might never wake from.
Key suddenly felt a sharp pain in her stomach. Falling down the stairs had hurt badly, but that pain, surprisingly enough, disappeared fast as it was replaced by another pain in her stomach. This new pain seemed like hunger, although Key had never felt a hunger like it before. If it were hunger, she decided, it was like a beast in her belly – a beast she feared letting loose.
Key tried to think of all her favorite foods, but her mind turned to the birthday cake that she hadn’t even had a chance to taste. So she imagined eating it now. But the more she thought about tasting a delicious slice of cake, the more she felt sick to her stomach. Her new hunger seemed to be growling for some other kind of food.
She remembered how Margrave Snick had leered hungrily at her and she hoped she didn’t look like that. She hoped she wouldn’t have to drink blood like him. The last thing she wanted was to become like the vampire who had made her. Was he supposed to be her father? She surely hoped not.
It took an hour for Key’s vampire eyes to adjust to the dark. By then she could almost see what Despair looked like, with its stone pillars and floor and archways. Enduring that hour seemed almost endless. One minute in Despair seemed like an hour, and one hour seemed like a week, and the length of the whole night was starting to seem like an eternity of punishment.
Key quickly discovered that now she had a lot of time to think, and the first thing she thought about was losing her mom and dad. It was a thought that saddened her very much, so after a time she tried thinking differently, telling herself that dwelling on the past would do nothing to help her out of this terrible situation which she found herself in at present.
But she also quickly learned that trying to think differently and actually doing so were two very different tasks, as her mind stopped thinking about her mom and dad, and quickly switched to her last memory of them – at her ninth birthday party.
“Happy birthday,” she told herself softly, even though she didn’t feel very happy. And she didn’t feel like a nine-year-old girl, either. In some ways she felt younger while in other ways she felt older – much, much older.
Key wept for the rest of the night, wondering where her mom and dad were. Sometimes she called out for them in the darkness, hoping (foolishly, she thought) that they might be nearby. “Mom? Dad?”
Mostly the echo of her lonely voice responded. But one time the snickering of some foul creature replied from the dungeon’s soupy darkness. She looked for the violet glowing eyes, but they were there no longer. Not seeing them made them seem a little scarier, and for a very brief second, Key was tempted to hope that this mysterious beast with glowing eyes would devour her, bones and all, to end her misery.
The night ended when Key felt very drowsy. She could not see the sun rising while the dungeon was buried deep beneath the Necropolis Castle, which was buried far below Morrow Mountain. But she could feel sunrise’s effect on her. Every vampire could. The higher the sun rose, the sleepier they all became.
As Key’s eyelids grew heavier and heavier, she yawned wide, beginning to feel sleep coming on. She tried with all her might to stay awake, pinching herself and slapping her face, but the sunrise was just too powerful for her. Soon her sorrow no longer mattered, and her fears seemed fruitless, as she stretched out on the dirty dungeon floor, and fell fast asleep.
She did not have any pleasant dreams that day, only more wretched nightmares, because the last thing she saw before sunrise were those beastly glowing eyes, creeping closer, and closer, and closer.
— CHAPTER NINE —
Raithe & Crudgel
On the first night Key awoke in the Dungeon of Despair, she did so at exactly the moment when the sun sank down beyond the horizon. As with the sunrise, she could not see the sunset now, yet she could feel how it awakened her. Every vampire in the Necropolis Castle similarly felt the sun setting and had begun to rise from their coffins for the night.
Key felt very groggy as she opened her eyes in the dungeon’s darkness. For a second, before she fully awoke, she told herself that she’d had a nightmare about losing her mom and dad, about becoming a vampire, and about having to live in the City of the Dead. But when her sleepiness eventually wore away, Key realized that she hadn’t been dreaming – that her nightmare was real.
Then she realized that someone was touching her leg.
Sitting up with a start, she saw Raithe with a torch in one hand and in the other hand a shackle, which she was locking around Key’s ankle.
Seeing that Key was awake, Raithe laughed at her and shoved her back down. Then she swung her torch along the ground. The light shone on a long thick chain that ran from the shackle to the dungeon wall, where Crudgel was locking the other end of the chain in place.
Raithe and Crudgel yanked hard on the chain to make sure it would hold fast, one end to the dungeon wall, the other end to Key’s ankle.
Then Raithe held her torch in Key’s face. “Never say we weren’t charitable to you, Troll,” she hissed cruelly.
Crudgel grunted in agreement, adding, “We don’t want you to wander too far into Despair.”
Raithe then held the torch over Key’s birthday dress and the hem of the dress suddenly caught fire.
Key panicked, stood, and tried to run away. But her chain, firmly shackling her to the wall, tightened and yanked her backwards.
She fell flat on her face. The impact knocked out her two front teeth and pain rang in her head like a bell.
The good that came from this was that it made Key stop, drop, and roll – which is what you should do if you’re ever on fire. Stopping, dropping, and rolling completely put out the fire on Key’s dress.
Raithe and Crudgel fell over and rolled on the ground, holding their stomachs and howling with mocking laughter.
Key sat up, confused and in pain. Her skin had been badly singed. Her mouth throbbed with pain where her teeth were missing, and she worried about what she would do without two front teeth. But her worry did not compare to the sorrow she felt seeing black burn marks on the hem of her birthday dress. It seemed to her then that the gift her mom and dad had given her was already being destroyed by cruelty and Despair.