Loot Mule – 00

“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.”

― H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

Under the gloaming and amongst the rocky slopes of the glacier-scoured wetlands, an upturned wagon lies partially submerged in the pulpy moss—its frame asunder and ablaze. The fierce flames of its remains licked the night sky, casting an orange glow that served as the only beacon of light in these harsh lands.

Fleeing the wagon was a man and a woman. And although their sprint had only just begun, their bodies were already lame and weary; breaths short, with weapons missing and clothes tattered—bearing the threads of an unceasing assailment.

They dashed towards the edge of the firelight, running through thickets of withered trees that sporadically marked the marshy pits beneath their feet; their wilted trunks standing stubborn, even in death, against the tumultuous winds that pelted sheets of rain down onto them both.

“Faster!” The man shouted, daring not to look back while darting deeper into the forest that thickened around them.

His heavy footfalls were punctuated by the sound of a muffled thud, followed by a breathy gasp. He stopped and turned to see his partner bent crooked over her ankle, writhing in pain. Her foot lay twisted under a gnarly and wry root that contorted itself up from under the soggy peat.

“Get up!” The man hissed, rushing to her aide.

But after only a few short steps, he froze. Held in place by a chill that ran the length of his spine. He looked deep into the darkness that pervaded the tangled trees around them… and he listened intently…

A voice called out.

“Help…me…”

It spoke with a low and guttural voice; twisting its tongue into shapes it was not accustomed to.

It did not sound that of a person, but more of a beast mimicking speech.

The woman, biting through the gnawing pain, awkwardly fumbled as she scurried to a standing position. She tried to run but her enfeebled ankle refused and collapsed from under her, throwing her harshly to the ground.

“Help…me…”

It was closer now; prowling the boundaries of what little light remains.

The woman desperately crawled towards her partner, digging her nails through detritus, panting and frantically glancing over her shoulder.

A fetid smell of wet musk overwhelmed their senses. Strings of teeth shimmered in the darkness and a gangrene coloured hand emerged from the thick undergrowth. It was ape-like and malformed; its coriaceous skin stretching over its spindly fingers as it grasped the woman’s ankle—its sickle-like nails piercing her skin, shredding it like paper as it pulled her into the cover of darkness.

“It’s got me!” The woman shrieked, dragging her fingers through the wet mud as she kicked and flailed at the grotesque hand, screaming hysterically and pleading for it to let go.

Her partner dashed to her side. He began prying at the creature’s misshapen fingers, but its grip was monumental, refusing to budge while its blackened nails dug deep into her flesh. He took a nearby rock and bashed it against the back of the creature’s hand. It landed with a sickening thud, but the creature seemed unfazed. He hit a second time, and a third time, repeatedly, each hit harder than the last, and more reckless, and more desperate than before.

The final hit was met with the sound of bones cracking and fingers caving inwards—followed by a horrendous howl that echoed from the shadows. The creature’s grip released, momentarily; and there was a shuffle of foliage from movement within the undergrowth.

The man flicked his eyes upwards and briefly caught a glimpse of the creature’s jagged nails slashing down at him. They lacerated his face, scraping his skin like butter. A white-hot searing pain immediately followed, and he collapsed to the ground.

The damp of the ground seeped into his clothes. A chill swathed his body—except for his face, which felt uncomfortably warm. He could hear his heartbeat in his head, deafening, beating like a drum as a deep pulsing of blood oozed from his face. His vision veiled in red followed by a creeping penumbra of black, and his final sights rested on the woman, once again, being dragged slowly into the undergrowth against her will…

His strength dwindled… and her screams grew fainter and fainter until… nothingness succumbed him.

Time passed and eventually, the man awoke; roused by the gentle drip of raindrops falling from the barren treetops, accompanied by the rhythmic rustle of foliage nearby.

He slowly opened his stiff eyes – immediately gasping at the jolt of intense pain that consumed the left side of his face, which continued to linger as a radiating ache. There was a blur to his vision; and the more he focused, the foggier and foggier it became until only a pinhole of light remained. He blinked, and his sight returned—but not in full and only in one eye. He tentatively brought his hand up to his face and grimaced at the touch of mangled flesh beneath his fingertips.

A muffled grunt and a snort echoed from the undergrowth nearby. Suddenly, memories of events just gone by came hurtling back to the man and he spun his head in a panic to face the noise. And although only one of his eyes was fit to see, when he lay witness to what was ahead of him… he wished for the other to be blind as well.

Staring back at him was the woman, his partner. Her eyes were dull and glazed like two balls of foggy glass, and her mouth hung loose with specks of dirt and grime smearing her pallid face. There was a trail in the mud that lead to where she lay, depicting a tapestry of frantic struggles, before ending at a thicket of dense undergrowth that swaddled most of her body like a harsh and thorny blanket. She was limp, and weary—but not dead, yet. There was breath in her lungs still, and a gentle shifting of her body.

It was then that the man realised that her movement was not of her own, but something forced upon her.

A faint whimper wisped from the woman’s mouth.

“It’s… eating me,” she said, “I can feel it eating me.”

She held her arm outstretched towards her partner.

“Help… me…” she begged.

The man shook his head as he clambered to his feet. He felt a bubbling sickness stew in the pit of his stomach, but he could not look away—he could not pry his eye from what remains of his partner.

“I’m sorry,” he said, as a sob crawled its way out of his throat… and he turned to run.

“I’m sorry.”