This story is by Joe Arcara and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Billy is gone.”
Sam blinked. The words clutched him close. Unease swirled his gut, turned to fear. “Gone? When?”
“Last night, I guess. I saw him at supper.”
“Shit. That makes six. No sign? Nothing at all?”
“Blood. Just like the others. Sam, if we don’t find a way off this rock…”
“Yeah, I know. Call everyone together. We have to do something. Supply ship’s still six months out. Won’t be any of us left by then.”
Several hundred yards from the two men she sat, hunched, eyes intent, focused on the conversation. Hungry. Always the hunger. She stared at the two walking back towards their camp and salivated. Hungry. Human flesh was good food. Fresh. Had to be fresh.
“Sam, we’re not soldiers. We’re miners.” The big man, dressed in dusty coveralls, kicked with a booted foot at a small, strangled shrub, raising more dust.
“Howard, all I’m saying is that we have to protect ourselves. Forty men landed here, and six are just gone.” Sam pushed back an unruly lock of hair, his frustration exaggerating the gesture. “If we don’t stand guard, there won’t be anyone left when the supply ship comes.
“It’s a big island, but a damn bigger ocean. No one’s coming to save us, boys. We’re on our own, and something on this island is killing us off.”
The circle of men drew strangled breaths. Several glanced around the rocky landscape and murmured their unease. “Jake disappeared first. Remember?” A short, bald, barrel chested man spoke. “I said goodnight to him by the chuck tent, and in the morning, he was gone. And, Jake was a fighter. He was a boxer, and a good one.”
Sam sighed. None of them had signed up for this. “I know, Paulie. And five more since. We have to have guards at night. And we need to keep the generators running so we always have lights. Wouldn’t hurt to build big fires by the tents, either.”
Howard stepped forward, shaking his head. “And, who’s gonna do all this extra work, Sam? We’re in that hole twelve, maybe fourteen hours a day. You add in meals and sleep and there ain’t no more time in the day. We need help. Radio the company.”
Sam raised his hands by his chest. “You don’t think I called? ‘Handle it’ they said. Those bean counters only think of the bottom line. About how much ore we can dig. If we’re gonna…”
A scream, high pitched and strangled echoed off the rocks. The men turned and necks twisted, searching towards the sound. Behind a boulder, just outside their circle, blue-jean legs and booted feet lay on the ground dragged behind the rock until they disappeared.
“Look, over there.”
“My god, what got him?”
Sam sprinted to the supply tent and grabbed a scoped 30.06 rifle he had loaded and placed against a tent pole. Running from the tent, he jogged towards the boulder, careful to keep some distance until the rear area came into view. Behind him, emboldened by the sight of the rifle, the others followed.
Drag marks were seen, splashed crimson, the coppery blood smell fresh, mingling with salty ocean air, its odor making the men huddle closer to Sam. Another smell overpowered blood smell. The stink of rotting fish.
“Who is it, Sam? I think it’s Tony. I don’t see him. Tony?” Howard turned towards the group, cupped his hands over his mouth, his voice loud, shaky. “Are you here?”
Sam pointed. “I see the drag marks, boys. They go into that cave. Howard, take two men back to the supply tent and get the other weapons. There’s two more rifles and a.45 pistol. There’re axes, too. Get anything that can be a weapon.
“I’ve been in that cave. There’s no exit. We got it trapped. We’re gonna kill whatever is in there, boys. It’s killed its last miner.”
Howard grunted, nodded at several men. They ran back along the rocks to the supply tent. Sam inched closer to the cave entrance, the odor of fish growing stronger with each step he took.
The remaining men, loathe to be away from the protection of the rifle, moved with him like a herd of cattle. Sam stopped several yards from the cave, the entrance taller than a man, but narrow. He was careful not to step in Tony’s coagulating blood. “Got you now, you son of a bitch. Kill my men, will you? Whatever you are, we will destroy you.”
They could hear Footsteps scrambling behind them. Howard and the others returned with an assortment of armament.
Sam turned to the men, but did not take his eyes from the cave entrance. “I’m going in there. Whatever is there has Tony. I don’t know if there’s still time to help him, but I’m damn sure going to try.”
Several men, including Howard stepped forward. Someone handed rifles and axes around. Their faces were grim, determined. The men nodded at Howard, who turned towards Sam. “We were talking, back there in the supply tent. We don’t know what’s in there, Sam, but you are the best shot, by far. We go in, all that volunteer, and flush that thing out to you. It can’t fight us all. We’ll have a big advantage.
“We’ll leave the exit open, let it get past us, and when it comes out, you plug it. When you yell for us, we’ll come out and finish it. We got enough guns, axes and butcher knives for anyone that wants to help.”
Sam shook his head. “Sounds damn stupid, Howard. It’s close in there. If that thing has claws and big teeth, men could get hurt. No, better I go in alone. I’m the foreman. I’m responsible for all of you. It’s my job.”
“No, Sam, you can’t…”
“Yes I can, and I’m going to. Give me one of those long knives and the pistol. Anything comes out of there besides me, you use whatever you have and you kill it.”
The men grumbled dissent. They all showed fear, some shook in terror, but Sam turned from them, checked his rifle, tucked a long barreled .45 and a wicked, long blade in his waistband, turned on the headlamp atop his miner’s helmet, and walked into the cave’s entrance.
The first thing upon entering was a stench not present when he had last explored the cave. Worse than rotting fish. It was the smell of decaying flesh. Sam stopped, moved his head around so the light moved over walls, ceiling and floor. The darkness was thick, sticking to him like rancid mud. The back of his neck tingled, a sinister chill that made his breath ragged and his bowels twitch. Sam licked dry lips, breathed through his mouth to escape the stench and took several small steps into the darkness. Nothing. He walked further.
Several steps later, he found bodies. They were torn, mutilated. They were his men, and he recognized none of them.
He played the light over the sinister rock walls and stepped. His booted foot landed on a human stomach. It made a squishing, putrid sound and exploded, gas, fluid and acid spraying his feet and legs, the stink of decay worse than he anything he thought possible.
His own stomach rebelled, and he vomited, hacking, gagging, spitting vile half eaten food over himself and the rocky floor. He turned, panicked, ready to flee, and saw a tunnel that had not been there when he had explored. Something had dug it. Something strong with sharp claws. He turned his head to shine the light at it and heard screams from outside, followed by shots fired and wails of pain.
Whatever it was had gotten out and circled around, attacking his men. Sam turned, rifle in front of him and within seconds exited the cave into a brightly lit world of bloody carnage.
Men lay over the ground, blood splattered and twitching, their lives seeping into the sandy soil, their bowels and limbs torn and cast aside.
Within the madness stood a creature made from nightmares. A thing whispered about by sailors for centuries, spoken of in frightened murmurs in the dark night. A monster from the sea that came to claim the unlucky.
Her head was shark like, green stringy hair like seaweed tresses covered human breasts and scaly skin. Clawed hands and feet twitched and clicked. Her mouth opened, rows of jagged, twisted teeth chewing what had been a man.
Sam screamed, lifted the rifle and fired, slamming back the bolt until only the click of an empty weapon remained. He pulled his pistol and pointing it at her monstrous head, fired until it too was empty.
His sanity gone, Sam kept pulling the trigger, his eyes locked on hers. On her black eyes, empty of pity. Eyes whose only emotion was savage hunger.
She grinned and approached the whimpering flesh before her.