Wednesday, October 7, 2009


This is a first- a simulpost to this blog and my other, more casual blog. I'm going to go on a horror/thriller kick for the rest of the month. Don't worry, the heartwarming stories that you love so much will be back soon.

Aaron M. Smith - written October 2009

The carcasses were everywhere. There were soldiers milling all about in the aftermath of the attack, most looking for survivors. I knew somewhere deep inside that they wouldn’t find any.

“Lieutenant,” someone behind me said, and I turned to see the sandy-haired man in black combat gear jogging up to meet me, rifle slung over one shoulder. I saluted as he approached, and he returned the gesture.

“Captain Briggs, sir,” I said. It wasn’t often the captain came down to the front lines.
“Do you have a status report, Sawyer?” he gestured to the massacre around us; about a dozen or so of the soldiers under my command were coming into and out of the treeline here and there.
“It was nothing short of an ambush, sir.” I wanted to add more, but I couldn’t. My voice choked in my throat as one of my troops reached into the edge of the undergrowth to pull free a body trapped there- only to have the arm he was pulling slide free of the brush, severed cleanly just above the elbow. He turned and vomited into the weeds.

Captain Briggs walked to the nearest carcass and bent down to examine it, turning it over with the toe of his boot. I could hardly look at the nightmarish creature.
The body was chitinous and segmented, like a beetle the size of a great dane. It had mandibles that looked something like those of a spider (though it had been a while since I’d looked that closely at a spider) with tiny tusk-like pincers near its mouth. The mouth was little more than a maw filled with teeth in no apparent order. Its six legs stuck straight out at odd angles, a black ooze that looked disturbingly like motor oil oozing from its demolished thorax (I was pretty sure that part was called the thorax).

“What the hell did we get ourselves into?” I murmured. Captain Briggs turned to look at me.
“What were you expecting?” He said darkly. “A magic world of cupcakes and fairy tales?”
“Not this,” I muttered, turning away from the carcass. It did no good- there were half a dozen such scattered around the clearing where my troop had been marching when we’d been attacked. The captain stood and walked closer so that we wouldn’t be overheard.

“You knew we had no intelligence on this zone when you signed on, Marine.” The captain said. “You were offered this chance because you were one of the best minds we had in Afghanistan.”
“An opportunity to explore an alien world? Going headlong into a different dimension?” I parroted the e-mail that I’d received six months ago. “Who the hell turns down an opportunity like that?”

“Somebody had to be the first.” Captain Briggs said, his piercing blue eyes meeting my own. “You, and all the rest of these men, knew the risks.”
I hung my head, and knew that he was right. Of course, word of the discovery hadn’t been exposed to the general population yet. Civilians couldn’t know that inter-dimensional travel was no longer science fiction, not until further exploration and study had been done. Naturally, the grunt work went to the military. And naturally, the military made it sound like the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance you’d have to be a fool to pass up.

We were the first troop to explore beyond the base camp. We’d been gone about nine days (it’s so hard to tell time when the sun never sets) when we’d been attacked.
“Lieutenant!” A voice cried from somewhere within the trees to my right, instantly followed by the sound of automatic rifle fire. Six rounds had gone off before I’d brought my own gun to bear and charged in the direction of the voice.

Thirty feet from the edge of the clearing, a man named McNeil lay on his side on the ground, a vicious-looking wound on his left thigh oozing scarlet. He was propped up on one shoulder, his rifle in his hands.

“Look out! It’s invisible!” He cried, and then something moved to our right, shaking the leaves on a thick green tree.

I turned and opened fire into the brush, shredding the leaves and most of the tree trunk almost instantly. There was a horrible growl and hiss, like the sound of a tire blowing out, and before my eyes a torrent of motor oil-like fluid filled the air. A creature like the ones that lay dead in the clearing appeared for a moment, perched on the tree like a grasshopper on a screen door. Faster than I could blink, it leapt at me, hitting me in the chest with the speed and force of an NFL linebacker.

I cried out as it knocked me from my feet and slammed me to the ground, knocking the wind from my lungs as one of its clawed legs tore at my unarmored left shoulder. It hissed and spat at me, the horrible mandibles snapping hungrily at my face like a starving dog after a bone. I screamed and punched at it impotently with my right hand- it had a shell, like an insect. It didn’t seem to notice I was putting up a struggle at all.

There was an explosion of sound and heat from somewhere above me, and a tide of the thick viscous blood poured across my body. An instant later, Captain Briggs was kicking the monster’s mutilated body from off of me, the tip of his rifle still red hot. I tried to roll over and cried out- the wound in my shoulder was deep.

Briggs slipped my good arm around his shoulder and helped me to my feet, then did his best to get McNair into a standing position. I could hear the rest of the troop calling out their own names- they must have heard the gunfire and were calling out to see who was unaccounted for. They would no doubt be looking for us.

“Sawyer! Briggs! McNair!” I shouted, tearing a strip of cloth from the t-shirt I wore under my body armor. “Targets may still be in the area- they possess some kind of stealth! Multiple injuries!”

“Shit,” Briggs said as he slid under McNair’s arm, taking the weight off of his bad leg. “We’re going to have to use thermal imaging to find them.”

“We have bigger problems, sir.” McNair said, his voice tiny. Briggs and I both looked at the young man, whose freckled face was ashen. “Look at what I found. Over there.” He pointed, and the three of us took a few careful steps through the brush. I held my rifle as best I could with one hand.

Just out of sight was what appeared to be a narrow dirt path cut out of the underbrush. The path was beaten down with deep, jagged ruts.

“What is this? A marching path?” Briggs said. “Those look like claw marks, like their feet.”
A second later, it dawned on me. “Oh, God.” Briggs looked at me, his blue eyes wide. “They have a marching path. Which means, they march.” The blood drained out of Briggs face.
“They’re intelligent.” He said. “And not only intelligent, but organized. If they march, then there’s a marching order, and a chain of command.”

“Sir!” Someone shouted, and I turned to see two or three of the survivors of the attack walking through the brush to where the three of us stood.
“Turn back, soldier!” Captain Briggs shouted, his voice ringing with authority. “Get everyone to the clearing, now! Regroup, prepare to march out.” He turned to me as the other soldiers followed their commands. “Not a word of this to the others. There may be more of them headed here right now. We’ve got to get back to base camp.”

We trudged back the way we had come to meet the others in the clearing. I shuddered as I passed the carcass of the creature that had attacked me. How could we fight an enemy that we couldn’t see, couldn’t predict, and that knew the terrain better?

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