The grub clamped its jaws down on the side of his foot, taking a chunk out of his loafers and scraping the skin from the top of his foot. Scrumtumbler yelped in pain and, without thinking about it, drove his heel down onto its back.
In his panic, Scrumtumbler stomped hard enough to blast the creature’s innards out its mouth, spraying him with putrid ichor and ropy strands of insectoid guts.
“Thank goodness for lab coats,” he muttered to himself. He began to wipe the largest chunks off of his stained and splattered coat but then froze at the sound of something else in the darkness. It was that crackling and snapping sound. The popping might have been a fire burning wet wood, but whatever it was emitted neither light nor heat.
Scrumtumbler held his makeshift electric torch up to try to get a better view of his surroundings. Behind him was the sheer wall of the pit, its sides flaking with iron deposits. Beside him was the small subterranean stream. It was cloudy and white—sulfuric acid, Scrumtumbler realized. Somewhere upstream, this underground water must flow over a volcanic sulfur deposit, picking up the chemical and mixing it into this stinking concoction. To drink would mean death.
Peering beyond that, he saw a dozen other grubs crawling blindly along the floor. And beyond them was a pulsating mound of a great many bulbous things stacked in a slimy gelatin. The snapping sound happened again, and he saw one of the bulbous things burst open and disgorge a wriggling grub amid a sticky cascade of slime.
Eggs. Hundreds upon hundreds of eggs. He was to be the hatchlings’ first meal.
In that moment, his greatest regret was that his theories would die with him and his name would be forgotten.