The creature woke, surround by dead bodies. Shocked and disgusted it heard a lonely call for help…
Echoes | Bytes
As the sun licked across his rough, pocked-marked face, Tor, slummering amongst the roots of the ancient copse, stirred. The emerging light spread warmth through his creaking veins and he tried to lift an arm. Something heavy lay on top of it. As he yanked it free he grunted and realised his mouth was smeared and fetid. And in the air around, the stench was intolerable. He spat, and coughed. Then remembered something of the night before.
“Ah, why can’t I control myself!” He slapped the tree. Leaves trembled, flecks of dust and dirt shuddered from the branches and scattered around the hollow that had held Tor’s sleeping form during the hours of darkness. Sighing, Tor watched the passage of the aimless motes, his eyes traveling down the length of the tree until they fell upon the other bodies lying amongst the tangled roots. Tor put his hand to his mouth. Fourteen of them, each mangled into a variety of contortions, limbs bent into unlikely positions, horns shattered, hands either missing or truncated.
Tor bent over and retched. Tiny pieces of flesh, and red, wriggling lumps slithered onto the ground, slipping into earthy crevices, their foul aroma adding to his general discomfort. The lumps seemed to take on a life of their own, which disgusted Tor further; he lifted his head and drove his horns into the ground, crushing the pulpy masses, splitting them. He watched the dark juices ooze inelegantly.
Tor breathed deeply, trying to take control of himself. He looked up again, and his eyes glanced through the gap in the trees, further into the copse. There were more bodies, discarded and folded over every root and stone.
“I don’t remember all that!” He scratched his chest, noticing the dried blood on the broken nails. “Not sure what I do remember.” He stepped over the nearest body and peered behind the tree. The dense foliage beyond was still gripped by the darkness, but it was clear that the whole floor of this area of woodland was covered in bodies.
“Uh.” Somewhere he heard a moan. He turned swiftly, narrowed his eyes and crouched. The sound came from outside the copse, towards the slow, painful, rise of the sun. He shielded his eyes and tried to see beyond, to the stretch of land that lay between him and the distant hills. But the sun was too bright. He decided to ignore the moan. Perhaps it was just one of the trees, or the wind passing through.
He had just managed to calm himself, when he heard the moan again. This time it was a little closer. So he stepped back and tried to hide himself behind the nearest tree. But his horns tangled with the branches and rattled at the wood.
The moan stopped, mid-sound, it’s owner suddenly aware of a presence, if not its location. Tor closed his eyes. he felt sick again. He took another step back but this time stepped on a twig, which snapped. “Oh come on!” He hissed in frustration at himself. He shook his head and stepped out of the shade, his foot striking out beyond the wooded copse. It squelched. His foot felt wet, and uncomfortable. He looked down. He had stood in the stomach of another body. And to its right was another prone form, this one face down but it was next to a further body whose head was all but severed.
“Oh God.” Tor placed his palms across his face and tried to hide the tears that squeezed from his eyes, slipped across his cheeks and queued to fall from his chin. For a moment he stood there, feeling foolish, with the sun hauling itself up slowly from afar, warming his hands, he allowed himself to look through the gaps between his fingers. What he saw horrified him.
“Who could have done this?” He allowed his arms to drop by his side. In front of him, in the valley and the plains that sought across to the hills of the horizon, was a sea of death. Bodies piled on top of bodies, a charnel pit of flaccid flesh and broken limbs, rib cages thrust into the air, skin and muscle fluttering, gored.
And then he heard the voice again. This time it simpered.
“No, oh no!”
Tor was puzzled, through the sight of his disgusted eyes he began to see a pile of bodies, just to the left of the copse. Where everything else on view across the entire landscape was either silent or still, this pile of death shivered, then rocked. Tor looked on, apprehensively, as the pile shook again to reveal a bloodied figure pushing through the corpses, emerging from a frothing, oozing gap.
Tor moved across to put out his hand.
“No, no,” the figure’s filmy eyes popped and lolled, then widened with fear. Both it’s horns were broken, and, as it clambered out of the wallowing hole its Boney spine, spikes protruding fiercely, was clearly broken. The creature’s gait was awkward, and angular, as though walking backwards through a narrow tunnel.
“Let me help you!” Tor moved forward again, his hand reaching out, but the creature shuffled back, scrambling up the bodies behind it.
“NO!” It’s voice came to an abrupt end, as the creature fell backwards onto the splintered, exposed ribs of another wretched body. The voice died in a babbling blackness. Tor let his hand drop to his side. He looked out to see if anything else moved, but apart from the slowly shortening shadows the piles of bodies lay inert, a few trees behind him shedding leaves and dust still, as a faint breeze picked at their branches, and dabbled with the rotting flesh all around.
He looked at his hands, saw the smears of blood, the streaks of dirt and death across his arms. He seemed strangely satisfied to be the only remaining creature on this landscape, as though a part of him had started to act independently of his consciousn mind.
Suddenly, he felt what seemed to be a huge fist smash into his back. It shoved him forward, but he managed to stop himself falling. He shook his head, he couldn’t breath, and tried to turn, but the force of the blow had shocked his body and he couldn’t even twist. But behind him he heard a fluttering and spinning. The air exploded with tiny buzzing sounds and whirls, and he found his body was collapsing, folding in on itself, his skin shrivelling as the bones and muscle seemed to disintegrate. He screamed in pain and confusion.
As the remnants of himself fell to the floor, his empty limbs, his unravelled skin folding onto the body-strewn plain, his brain and eyeballs were the last to function. He saw a huge cluster of tiny spores blooming out from behind him, spinning and expanding; they scattered into a storm of colour and fell upon the bodies all around, devouring every particle in their path.
Tor’s last memory was his first, accessed in these final moments. He remembered his full name, Terraform Unit 101, and remembered lying down in a lab, with the container of terra-bytes inserted into his back, primed for activation when he had destroyed all living creatures on the planet, preparing the way for the new settlement of species. The demon experiment had reached an end.
His synthetic cranium shattered, his eyeballs rolled out, and within seconds the terraforming spores consumed the host unit that had incubated them for centuries.[end]
Text, image, audio © 2015 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam, Elise Wells (for the end credits to podcast links), Logic Pro, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, Apogee Condenser microphone, Rotring pens and inks, Daler Rowney acrylic ink, and Alfons Schmidt’s fantastic Notebook app.
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