The ocean lay empty. No boats graced her choppy, metallic grey surface. He’d witnessed the same yesterday, and the day before yesterday. The sky however, pale blue going darker above the horizon, bore shapes in their multitudes. Grey, cotton wool shreds of cloud, their bottoms, bruised ugly and black, hung pregnant with rain.
The coastline curved inwards to his right. Only the sea lay visible there. Left a couple of miles, mounted upon seaward reaching, dark yellow cliffs, an abandoned lighthouse stood bracing the elements, tall and white against the brooding cloud cover.
The overcast sky signified an approaching storm, as did the brisk, salt-tinged wind buffeting Simon’s clothes and hair. A solitary form on the beach, he stood arms-crossed, facing the mother of all life.
Mother? The word signified care, nurturing warmth, hardly words he’d use to describe the chaotic, mindless mass of ocean. Curling his toes, he wriggled them against the squishing sand.
“Monster,” he said, addressing the water. “You’d kill me if you could, wouldn’t you?” The waves beyond roared in reply, or was it a challenge? He took it as such, saying, “you’d drag me down there to rot, feeding future generations of monsters like yourself.”
Coming to the beach hadn’t been his idea; it was Ben’s.
Speak of the devil.
Breaking his morbid train of thought, approaching footsteps, crunching against the sand, turned squishy upon encountering the softer, water-saturated stretch Simon stood upon.
It couldn’t be anyone but Ben. He’d picked this empty stretch of coast precisely for its solitude, to Simon’s ongoing regret.
“Simon? A penny for your thoughts?”
Too many pennies to rent this place for the month, he thought, yet turned with a smile.
Ben returned the smile, his shoulder length, dark blond hair shivering in the wind. This combined with a yellow short-sleeved shirt and khaki combat shorts made him look very much the beach bum.
Simon liked the beach bum look; he just desired the beach without the ocean.
“I was just thinking,” he replied, “why you decided to rent this god-forsaken beach in the first place.” Behind him, the sea roared its disapproval.
“We have peace and quiet here, and the fresh air is to die for.” Breaching the gap, Ben paused before him.
“The salty abrasion harrying my throat and lungs would beg to differ.” Uncrossing his arms, he took Ben’s hands. They felt cold to the touch.
Ben’s face fell. “Harvey’s still not returned,” he said, his hands escaping Simon’s grip.
“Hell that’s not good, not good at all…” Shaking his head, he stared past Ben towards their cabin. Elevated on stubby concrete pylons, the white, box-like structure fronted a wide swath of trees. Deep, ancient, the forest appeared positively sinister beneath the darkening storm clouds. Two days earlier, on Simon’s orders, Harvey had been sent there to film and explore the scenery.
“Damn I’m sorry, I really am.” Simon turned from the offending forest, back towards Ben’s sad, doleful face. “Hey,” he continued, “have you considered checking out the hovercraft?”
Ben smiled, his sad expression lifting. Parked behind their cabin stood the surplus Russian Navy hovercraft they’d purchased for the holiday. It was feasible Harvey was there recharging his battery.
Worth a shot, Simon thought. Certainly, it had the desired effect on his partner.
“Listen I’ll be right back.” Stepping forward, Ben clasped Simon’s shoulders. Leaning forward, he kissed him heavily on the lips. “Thank you,” Ben continued. Warm, coffee tinged breath filled Simon’s nostrils. Spinning round, he padded off across the sand, saying, “I’ll come back in a little while.”
“Don’t worry,” Simon returned, raising his voice; Ben, in his eagerness, was already a good distance away. “I’ll see you back at the cabin.” Looking down, he followed his partner’s footprints towards his own, sand-encrusted toes.
Simon sighed. Really, upon coming home, it was a positronic cert Harvey would report in to his masters. This begged the question: what had befallen him within that dank, primal gloom?
He stared from Ben, disappearing behind the cabin, to the foreboding forest beyond. His whole environment felt hostile now. The shadowy mass of trees, the swollen waters behind him, the ocean hissed loudly, crawling across the sand. At least the screaming flocks of gulls hadn’t made an appearance today. Small mercy.
A light spatter of rain decided it: he would return to the cabin, leaving the mean outdoors post haste.
Heading swiftly across the sand, Simon trailed Ben’s footprints.
“He thinks I’m overreacting over Harvey.” Ben, striding past the cabin, scolded himself with stern, quiet words. Turning the corner he circled right, approaching the ramp at the hovercraft’s rear.
Forty feet long, splotch painted in camouflaged shades of blue, the vehicle stood fourteen feet wide, the cabin’s roof half this in height. Betraying its former function, pole-mounts for machine guns graced the walkway’s four corners, blocked torpedo tubes lying beneath its dented conical front.
The deflated air bag left the ramp inches from the sand. Stepping up towards the hatch, Ben’s anticipation swelled. The stiff handle forced him to use both hands. Yielding with a complaining creak, he pulled it up and open.
“Harvey you in there mate?” widening the gap, his biceps tensed. Within stood the cabin’s familiar dimensions. Hewn from a dull grey metal, between benches bolted to the walls two steel ladders led to the hatches on the roof.
Covered in dials, the cockpit’s control column followed.
Damn it. Ben’s hopes sank. The seats fronting the column lay empty. Ergo, Harvey was still missing. Filled with sadness, he released the handle. The hatch closed loudly on its own momentum.
Turning to leave the walkway, he cast the forest a wistful glance. Shoulders slumped, hands in his pockets, he left the hovercraft behind. The sky added insult to injury with a growing spatter of rain.
The light rain swelled into a full-blown storm. Joining him in the cabin, Ben replied sadly to Simon’s queries regarding the robot.
They spent the remainder of their day on the couch, watching movies and random television. By silent, mutual consent, Harvey went unmentioned. Sometimes however, when near the kitchen window, Ben stared accusingly towards the forest beyond.
Despite his thoughts to the contrary, Ben experienced a sound night’s sleep. The storm pounding against the cabin actually had a positive effect. The rain, the howling wind outside, lulled him to sleep.
Lost throughout that merciless storm, Harvey was still missing, injured, or worse. Washing the breakfast dishes, Ben stared towards the forest he’d entered and never left. At Simon’s suggestion, they’d be there soon enough, this helping to stay his looming despondency.
Wrist deep in warm water, he cleaned the frying pan mechanically, staring absently into space. A sudden movement turned his blank stare to one of utter surprise.
A hundred feet away between the trees, the yellow flicker was instantly recognizable.
Harvey! Discarding the pan, Ben shook his hands energetically, passing the sink towards the back door. He found it locked but the key was present. Turning it with slippery hands, he shoved then kicked the stiff door open.
“Hey what’s up in there?” Simon shouted from the lounge. Ben was too excited to reply.
He flew from the cabin, his face instantly assailed by fresh, salt-tinged air. Jumping from the steps he darted across the sodden sand towards Harvey’s lumbering form. From the first fleeting glimpse, he’d known something was terribly wrong.
“Hey, hey?” came Simon’s voice. Ben continued, his eyes set firmly on the machine. His mouth a hollow black circle, eyes pained, slanted slits, Harvey limped clumsily forward. A swift examination of the robot’s ribbed yellow hide revealed no exterior damage.
Noticing his approach, Harvey issued a long, inarticulate whine.
“Damn! Harvey, Harvey?”
A chaotic scene followed. Rushing past, Simon pounded a juggernaut rhythm across the sand. His footing precarious, Harvey tottered, falling into his arms.
Harvey stank, like overripe, composted fruit. The thick, ugly stench filled Simon’s nostrils and throat.
“Hey Harvey?” Neck muscles straining, he righted the robot, forcing him to stand with some semblance of balance. Face contorted, Harvey burped and wheezed.
What the hell happened to you out there? Sending the forest a quizzical glance, Simon turned. Pressing one arm beneath Harvey’s left armpit, he wrapped the other around his shoulder.
Ben stood frozen in his tracks. As Simon steered Harvey towards the cabin, he remained a static shape upon the sand. He stood gob-smacked, staring from Simon to the robot.
“What happened to him?” came Ben’s quiet, nervous voice. Struggling with Harvey, Simon kept his eyes on the cabin’s open doorway. Breathing through his mouth, he tried avoiding the pungent stink. The damp, salty air was hardly an improvement however. Between breaths, he replied.
“Something clogging up his mechanism, or brain damage even. We’ll check him out inside.”
Ben padded anxiously past, rushing into the cabin. Simon followed slowly behind.
“C’mon, give me a hand here,” he said, helping Harvey up the steps.
“What do you-” Ben stood slack jawed, his face as pale as driftwood washed up on the beach.
“Get the dining table cleared off,” Simon demanded, “We’ll examine him there.”
Snapping from his funk, Ben hurried towards the table, removing wine glasses and a vase of wilting flowers. Simon steered the crippled robot towards it.
Ben, waiting at the end of the table, gripped the wood with shaking, white-knuckled hands.
“Harvey,” Simon said, panting from his struggles, “We’re going to lift you to the table, okay.”
“Redz, white, blue. Encryption penzzzz,” the robot replied.
“Want me to?” Ben asked.
Ben stepped forward, Simon pausing at the table’s edge. “Harvey, move round for me please?”
Harvey reciprocated, turning clumsily on his heels.
“Ben, help me lift him.”
Mirroring Simon’s movements, he tucked his hands beneath the robot’s armpit and crotch.
“Hell he stinks,” Ben grimaced.
You’re preaching to the choir pal. Grunting, Simon lowered Harvey towards the table.
“Drag him along it okay?”
Ben reciprocated, following Simon’s lead. The wooden surface squealed, the varnish gouging beneath Harvey’s weight.
“There goes the deposit,” Ben said with a nervous snicker. A few seconds later they had Harvey laid flat.
Simon, ignoring Ben’s joke, said, “I’ll have a check inside first, then run a diagnostic.” Pressing his hand against Harvey’s chest, he examined the robot’s ribbed midsection.
“You think we can fix him?” Ben asked, nervously shuffling his feet.
“Hope so.” Simon began pressing each rib in turn. “At least a diagnostic will tell us the damage, and the extent. Ah, here we go.” Harvey’s chest hissed, a panel popping open beneath his hand.
“Ah God what is that?” Ben said between coughs.
“MMMMMMMMMMMMM, Zag,” Harvey added with a spasm.
The smell was intolerable, the rotten stink of upturned graves polluting the air around them.
Simon backed away, gagging. “Urgh, that’s rank.” Shielding his mouth, he turned towards Ben. “Under the sink. There’s fumigation gear. Masks and gloves if you can find them.”
Ben obeyed, returning with, in addition to the gloves and masks, two pairs of clear plastic goggles. He deposited the gear between them, Simon saying thanks. After the goggles and blue vinyl gloves, they each strapped on a white paper mask.
The smell dissipated, its echoes skulking within Simon’s nose and throat. Provoked by Harvey’s bizarre stench, his stomach churned, bubbling with bile. Despite his reservations however, his curiosity was perked. They’d gone this far anyway. “Time to go the whole hog.” Bracing himself, pressing one hand against Harvey’s lower abdomen, he raised the panel.
The chest-piece lifted on stiff hinges. Ben moaned. Simon just stared, dumbfounded. The exposed thing was hardly easy on the eye, or the mind for that matter. Its stench began poisoning the atmosphere, leaking in through his mask.
It resembled a starfish, somewhat. Of its myriad, dark green appendages, some were slim like worms; others looked thicker than Simon’s wrist. Scabby in texture, each lay speckled with metallic green flakes. Between the tentacles, surrounded by flaky, wrinkled green flesh lurked a roughly circular milk-white gob. Pulsing away it drummed an ugly, alien rhythm. Within this jellid ulcer Simon discerned movement: minuscule silver shapes swimming through the liquid core.
Some primal fear, some whispering warning deep within his brain, told Simon to run, run screaming from the hideous aberration. He ignored the warning. Instead, he settled for bunching his hands into fists.
“Ugh, that is just unreal. Have you ever seen anything like it?”
Ben, ignoring the question, issued a strangled gagging sound.
His gloves growing uncomfortably warm, Simon flattened his hands against the table. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Those scabrous green tentacles had utterly violated Harvey’s insides.
At least this went towards explaining his abnormal movements.
Simon shook his head. He’d seen quite enough, enough to last him a lifetime.
So had Ben it seemed. Turning from the table, he rushed towards the kitchen sink. Tearing off his goggles and mask, Ben heaved loudly into the bowl.
Gagging in sympathy, Simon clenched his teeth, swallowing it back. What the hell is it, a sea parasite? No despite its appearance, it must certainly be an air breather. Slamming the panel down, he removed the obscene thing from sight.
Ben returned, hugging his chest. “I’m sorry man,” he said hoarsely.
Removing his mask, between slow measure breaths Simon said, “don’t worry about it.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “But Ben, we need to get rid of Harvey.”
“No. We can’t do that, no way!” Ben shook his head. His voice held a desperate, pleading tone.
“You want to try and remove that thing then? You feel the same as me, don’t you, it’s damned unnatural, isn’t it?”
“But…” Ben pouted, turning silent.
Simon attempted supplication. “Look, look. Harvey, eject your hard drive.” He turned to the robot.
Harvey hissed, saying, “thievz, unnz spill.”
“Harvey obey me,” Simon continued.
“He doesn’t understand you man, just leave him alone.” Ben’s pleading tone bolstered Simon’s resolve. Reaching round, he placed a hand beneath the robot’s chin. With the other, he pressed his forefinger between his eyes. A sharp click followed, Harvey’s mouth disgorging a slim, shiny black tablet.
The hard drive felt slippery in his hand. On its removal, Harvey shuddered, shivering from head to toe.
“This… now this is Harvey.” Raising the plastic square, he held it to Ben. “This body,” he nodded towards Harvey’s still, silent bulk, “is just a shell now, and as I said, we need to get rid of it.”
Ben’s arms fell loosely to his sides. He nodded resignedly. “Okay then.”
“I’m sorry dude,” Simon added, placing the hard drive on the table.
“It’s okay, but where do we take him? It, sorry.”
Simon, having considered this already, said, “We dump the body into the sea.”
Ben again protested. Speaking through the rank air, a constant reminder of the thing festering within the robot’s guts, Simon quickly brought him around.
With the hard drive saved, and possibly repaired, they could easily buy a new body for Harvey.
Replacing their masks, Simon took Harvey’s armpits, Ben lifting the robot by the ankles. It proved laborious work, transporting him to the hovercraft. The pair had to pause, more than once, to relieve themselves of the dead weight.
Their goal eventually reached, Simon steered the hovercraft across the sand. The ocean followed.
“You sure we have to do this?” Ben said loudly above the engine’s hum.
The pair stood flanking the diver’s hatch, Harvey lying between them slumped against a bench. His chunky feet dangled over the shifting waters below.
“We have to do this,” Simon replied, “That thing is too obscene to live.”
How long have I been here? Disorientated, Simon woke on the beach, his body moulded into the cold, itching sand.
He opened his eyes to a light blue sky, dotted with slivers of white. The air felt chilly against skin bare but for a pair of knee-length shorts.
I must have fallen asleep. Lifting his head, he traced the blue towards a darkening apricot, terminating where sea touched sky. The sun, a glowering orange spot, floated above a choppy sea of dark metallic blues.
Rubbing his scalp, he loosened a clump of sand. “Damn I’m gonna need a shower.”
With a yawn, he climbed up onto his elbows, extracting himself from the sand. Staring absently towards the sea, he blinked. He noticed movement there, across the wavy drifts of sand, impossible movement.
“No way!” Thirty feet distant, where waves lashed shore, an object bobbed within the water.
It was Harvey. His features visibly distraught, his half-moon eyes lay curved around a circular, silently wailing mouth.
Despite the chill, beads of sweat formed across Simon’s brow.
“No, oh no, Harvey?”
Harvey, but not Harvey. Head bobbing closer, two wavering, dark green tentacles appeared from the water, flanking his sodden shoulders. Like a scarf, a third lay curled around his neck.
And Simon? Frozen in place, he curled his toes while helplessly gripping crumbling handfuls of sand.
Lumbering forward, Harvey fought through the waves, water splashing his rapidly revealed form. With gripping tentacles, the starfish-thing grown monstrous constricted his neck, waist and crotch.
Its white, ulcerous centre throbbed madly. Something within struggled to escape.
It’s coming for me. Simon tried moving but the power of motion betrayed him.
“Damn what’s happening to me?”
Harvey hissed sharply, a sound like spilled corrosives.
Leaving the water behind, Harvey’s woeful expression changed. Eyes slanting, his mouth twisted into a scowl.
In return, Simon issued a low, animal moan.
The sand held him like concrete. Teeth clamped together, a trail of drool dribbled down his chin. So cold… he could see his breath now, escaping his mouth in panicked plumes.
Stamping across the beach, Harvey grew ever nearer. He stank of fishy death, of unwholesome things dragged from the ocean floor and left to rot out in the sun.
In irrational panic Simon tried pushing himself into the sand. Eyes fixed on the robot’s chest, its twisted shadow fell upon him. Quaking with fear, he shrieked.
The ulcer popped. Splashing his face, his chest, ice-cold fluids rained down. Stinging his eyes, the rancid stuff filled his mouth.
“Agh!” he awoke with a spasm, struggling wildly beneath his sheets. A warm, invisible shape to his left, Ben moaned, rocking slightly in his sleep.
Damn that was intense. What a nightmare! Catching his breath, he struggled against the after-effects of Harvey’s terrible ocean rebirth. Staring through the darkness, he calmed his shaken form.
“Sorry, Ben.” Dragging his arm from the covers, he patted his partner’s rump. Ben muttered sleepy gibberish in return. Shifting beneath sheets damp with perspiration, Simon turned to face him.
He sighed. Coated in sourness, his mouth felt rank. It still tasted like nightmare. Simon craved a glass of water, yet found himself too fatigued to move. Giving Ben’s indistinct shape a final, sleepy stare, he closed his eyes to the night.
Ben awoke alone. Simon’s side of the bed felt cold: he’d been gone for a while. Dim light filtering in through thin green curtains illuminated his empty space. A yawn and a stretch later, Ben headed for the adjoining bathroom.
Relieving his bladder, he shivered in his boxers. It was a chilly morning. As such, after washing and drying his hands, Ben retrieved socks and a crumpled dressing gown from the tiles. Leaving the bathroom and the bedroom behind, he entered a short, wood-panelled corridor.
I smell coffee. Turning right, Ben followed his nose to the lounge. Brazilian Roast, he thought, nostrils flaring, nice! The room following was panelled, like the corridor, in varnished oak. Bare of furniture except for a faded green leather couch, the overstuffed seat stood facing a wall-mounted flat panel television. A window, flanking the door to the television’s left, provided a more natural light-source.
Simon sat crouched before the screen, half-dressed in a black t-shirt and boxers. A steaming, oversized mug of coffee stood on the floor beside him. Staring towards the television, he typed away on the laptop cradled in his lap. Beside the coffee, linked to the computer by means of a thin black wire, lay Harvey’s hard drive.
Seeing this, Ben approached feeling a pang of sadness.
“There’s a pot of coffee in the kitchen.” Simon spoke without turning. Face flooded in the light from the television, he looked fatigued, tired around the eyes.
Ben crouched, the floorboards sharply cold against his bare legs. “Can I have a sip of yours?” The scent was too strong to resist.
“Help yourself, that’s my second,” Simon replied.
Ben lifted the mug two-handed. Relishing the warmth, he gulped the sugary liquid down.
“You okay hun?” Since his arrival, Simon hadn’t once turned from the screen, the contents of which displayed an array of windows trailing numerical data.
“Slept for shit,” Simon replied. He gave Ben a wan smile before returning to the screen. “For the past hour I’ve been examining Harvey’s diagnostics,” he nodded towards the hard drive. “It’s been collating damaged sections all night, but I’ve had to synchronize the non-corrupted blocks manually.”
Pretending he understood this erudite explanation, Ben nodded. “It’s freezing in here dude, aren’t you freezing?”
“Heating should kick in soon enough. We’ve been sleeping late so I timed it for nine-thirty.”
The time now… Ben examined his wristwatch. 9:23 AM.
“Oh here we go,” Simon said. “Scoot closer.”
Ben scooted. Lowering the coffee to the floor, turning to the screen, he wrapped his arm around Simon.
The windows disappeared, replaced by cutesy ‘Cthulhu and Friends’ cartoon wallpaper. “I’ll just connect him to the player,” Simon explained. A moment later a black screened, blue-framed media player appeared. “I have Harvey’s video feed set for five minutes before the ‘terminal error’ message appeared.”
Terminal error? This didn’t sound good. He went to question Simon over this when the screen transformed, claiming his attention. Sparkling white, interspersed by thick black vertical lines, the blizzard-like image wavered momentarily. Replacing the indistinct view, a familiar, dark green forest appeared.
“Well here we go” Simon said, “whatever happened to Harvey, happens soon.”
Staring through Harvey’s eyes, they followed his progress between tree trunks coated in silvery brown, scaly bark. Their low, slender branches draped the scene with hanging green. Harvey brushed past these at a steady, forward pace, the leaf-smothered ground rustling beneath him. Fallen branches, low bushes sprouting large oval leaves, spotted the uneven forest base.
“Everything seems okay,” Simon whispered. Ben glanced round. Eyes set forward, the screen splashed him with colour. “Maybe…” Simon paused. Returning to the feed, Ben watched Harvey reach a slight incline. “Looks like a path,” he continued.
Simon was right; the robot had started following a bare brown trail of earth.
“A clearing up ahead, I think.” Ben mirrored Simon’s quiet tone. As the trail evened, a treeless space grew evident in the near distance.
“You see those?” Simon asked. The undergrowth surrounding the path lay spotted with dirty white stones, piled together like little funeral Cairns.
Harvey, continuing down the path, followed it towards the clearing. He paused at the outskirts, obviously intrigued. Ben could see why.
The oval space stood roughly thirty feet in diameter. Smothered in dead leaves, wilting, deformed trees surrounded it with darkness. Shadows held reign within the clearing, shadows and something else.
Centring the hollow stood a circle of stones matching those they’d seen surrounding the path. Leaving the path, which meandered right through the clearing, Harvey stepped towards the circle. As he approached, decaying leaves squelched moistly beneath his feet. Devoid of undergrowth the earth within appeared scorched black.
Halting before the stones, Harvey raised his hands, turning each in apparent confusion. His yellow fingers shook, as did he, shuddering wildly.
“This must be the malfunction,” Simon said. Ben nodded.
Then, something utterly unexpected happened.
Simon gasped, Ben blinking in disbelief. The clearing had disappeared, replaced by an empty, cobalt blue sky.
The view lurched dizzily, down towards the swiftly disappearing forest. Distant already, the green half moon curved around a dark yellow beach, their beach. Their cabin appeared, briefly, before Harvey’s impossible ascent turned the coast into a landmass.
Cold fear trickled down Ben’s spine. “What the hell is going on here?”
Simon shook his head.
The image disintegrated into an array of flashing, multicoloured blocks. A moment later, the speakers issued a low whine, swiftly mounting towards a high-pitched scream. Ben squinted, covering his ears.
Simon jabbed the keyboard, eliminating the tooth-jarring noise. The blocks disappeared also, the screen turning white.
The ensuing silence fell eerily within the cabin.
Lifting the laptop to the floor, Simon shuffled round. Ben followed suit, turning to face him.
“Can you explain that? Because I can’t.” His face bloodless, Simon’s nervous voice filled the room.
Shaking his head, vigorously, Ben replied, “I can’t, absolutely not.”
He reached down. Taking Simon’s hands into his own he pressed them against his knees. He was shaking.
Simon stared towards him, but through him, saying, “Abducted. They abducted Harvey then put that starfish thing inside of him.”
Forgoing a reply, Simon shook his head. Raising his hand to his chin, Ben stilled his mechanical movements.
His eyes focussed, finally. “We have to…”
A sudden, unexpected commotion left Simon’s sentence unfinished. The violent raps against the door made Ben flinch in surprise.
Already spooked by the video and Simon’s erratic behaviour, Ben turned to the door. “Now who could that be?” The cabin stood miles from anywhere, from anyone. It made no sense.
“It’s them, or Harvey,” Simon replied, his voice growing more panicked and shrill with each consecutive word.
“Harvey? Them? What do you mean?”
Dragging his hands away, Simon replied, “those things up there.” He glanced to the ceiling for emphasis.
His panic was contagious. Still Ben made the effort to speak calmly. “Simon, you just chill, I’ll go answer it.”
“No!” Simon bared his teeth in horror. A second assault on the door brought him quickly to his feet. He pulled Ben with him. “Come on!” he pleaded, gripping his hands painfully tight.
“Wh-what?” The following chaos saw Ben stammering in confusion. Their mysterious guest had begun kicking the door now. As Simon dragged him across the lounge, he watched it shudder on its hinges. The short corridor to the kitchen followed, Ben stopping him to say, “clothes man, what about…”
“No time.” His tone commanding, Simon drew him towards the kitchen.
The crack of splintering wood ended Ben’s conflict.
Simon released his hand. “We get to the hovercraft, then just get the hell out,” he panted, circling the table towards the back door.
His feet scrabbling to a halt, Ben watched Simon unlock it.
Unknown footsteps echoed loudly from the lounge. Following Simon’s lead, Ben didn’t look back.
Simon leapt down the steps. Charging towards the hovercraft, the sand scattered in his wake. A few feet behind him, Ben’s anticipation swelled. In a matter of seconds, they’d be in the hovercraft, and safe.
He reached the sand-dusted ramp. Before him, Simon stood tugging at the hatch. Almost there now, he thought in relief.
Mid-step, an invisible force thwarted his progress. A stranger sensation followed. Legs flailing, his feet lost the ramp. Following this sudden elevation, the hovercraft, and Simon, dropped away beneath him.
The sudden velocity made Ben gasp. His dressing gown flapping, the wind buffeted his body, ruffling through his hair. As the world turned miniature, he screamed Simon’s name.
Through waves of dizziness, his world turned painfully white.
The shifting waves roused him. How long have I been here? Disorientated, Simon regained consciousness sprawled out on the beach. His confusion grew: he couldn’t remember how he’d gotten there. His shirt and boxers felt damp, saturated in moisture. Pushing himself up, his arms sank through the wet sand.
I must have fallen asleep.
The overcast sky bordered on nightfall. On the horizon, the glowering sun floated above an unruly blue ocean. Fighting its departure to the underworld, it drenched the waters with crimson light.
Uncomfortable in his sodden clothes, he muttered, “damn I’m gonna need a shower soon. Wait there…”
Merciless in their intensity, sinister memories returned.
“Aw Christ no!” Harvey’s parasite, the video-feed… and Ben! “Ben!” Clambering from the sand, he turned to the cabin. Cracked around the hinges, the doorframe stood empty.
This was no nightmare, at least, not one he could awake from.
The sky had stolen Ben, drawing him up through the clouds. He had followed, struggling wildly towards a blinding white oblivion.
Following the painful memories came a sharp abdominal twitch. Looking down, Simon quickly parted his shirt. Just above his navel, shifting slowly beneath the skin, he discovered a lump.
The penny dropped.
Falling to his knees, Simon screamed himself hoarse, his tortured voice echoing across the beach. Then, with hesitant fingers, he examined the areas around the bulge. No scars were evident, and the lump… He cringed, the unwholesome parasite shuddering wildly at the touch.
They got me. It got me.
The pain passed, yet still he wept. Turning from the cabin, from the last vestige of his old, sane life, Simon climbed to his feet. Heading towards the ocean, he wiped his eyes clear, knowing what must be done.
He didn’t flinch from the icy shallows, didn’t once hesitate from his intended course. The alien abomination would die with him, within the briny deeps.
Wading deeper, the waters embraced him, numbingly cold. The mother of all life, and death, welcomed Simon, claiming man and parasite to her ancient, watery bosom.
Glynn Barrass lives in the North East of England and has been writing since late 2006. His work has appeared in over 50 magazines and anthologies including ‘Crossed Genres,’ ‘Lovecraft’s Disciples, ‘Night Land,’ and ‘Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities.’ If he hadn’t discovered Lovecraft at an early age, he never would have become a writer, and that is a story he has in common with many friends and literary idols.
Details and news of his latest fiction appearances can be found on his website ‘Stranger Aeons: The Domain of Writer Glynn Barrass’:
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Story illustration by Stjepan Lukac.