Hi, I’m back from my holidays and ready to write pointless drivel once more in the vain hope I help someone or at least don’t induce convulsions. I’m posting a short story I wrote for my writing group today. I hope you like it. If you don’t…. oh well.
Snow and ice crunched under his booted feet. The thin crust broke with every step,plunging his leg calf deep into the cold, white fluff that lay underneath. Graeme breathed hard, sucking the frigid,crystalline air into his lungs. Thestorage shed was only ten metres from the main research base, but it was along, cold ten metres. He looked to thenorth and grinned. Every direction wasnorth from where he was. The directionhe thought of as north, back toward Tasmania, was shrouded with a black blanketof storm clouds. He’d need to hurry ifhe didn’t want to spend the night in the shed again. He didn’t mind being the one to go. It gave him a chance to be away from theothers. It wasn’t as if he didn’t likethem, except for Marshall, but there was only so much he could take before heneeded some time alone. They’d been‘down south’, as they called it, since the Spring thawhad allowed their ship close enough and now Autumn was rapidly drawing to aclose.
The storage shed humped out of the white like the back of agiant turtle. Graeme crunched to a haltand put his mitted hand on the lever that unlatched the door. He looked over his shoulder at the domes ofthe main base and pursed his lips.Marshall had been knocking back a beer and laughing when he’d left. With any luck he’ll go outside for a walk andget lost. Graeme shook his head andturned his attention back to the door.With a firm yank he pulled the lever sideways and pushed it down. A heavy clunk indicated the locks had disengagedand the thick door pushed in. He stampedhis way inside, knocking the snow off his boots. The door swung back and with another firmpull he pushed the lever back into the locked position. His boots clanged on the rough grill in frontof the inner door. He banged his bootsagainst one another a couple of times, alternating which foot he raised. With the last of the snow falling throughonto the concrete slab, he turned the next door lever, pushed his way in andclosed it. The shed was heated, aseverything had to be down here, so he took the time totake his mitts and heavy jacket off.
The dome was hollow, filled with racks of pallets ofboxes. Some of the boxes were simplecardboard affairs while others were smooth, plastic walled insulated and lockedcontainers. He pulled the folder paperwith the location of the toilet supplies from his pocket and checked it. He sighed.Right at the back, behind everything else. It seems the other guys had decided to simplypile the equipment from the last outing in the front. This was going to take some time to sort out.
He’d just managed to expose the large pile of toilet paperhe was searching for when he heard the heavy clank of the door locksrelease. The door pushed in and a snowcovered, orange parker-clad figure staggered in, making a strange whining soundwith each heavy breath he expelled.Graeme stood with his hands on his hips, tapping a foot; the fool hadbrought a fresh pile of snow in with him instead of shaking it loose outside.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Fuck!” exclaimed Marshall, cuttingoff anything else Graeme was going to say.
“What?” Graeme asked, holding his hands out in query.
“No time,” Marshall said between ragged breaths as hegrabbed the snow shovel next to the door and wedged in the lever to jam it.
Graeme returned his hands to his hips and opened his mouthto abuse the shaking and wheezing man.
With a crash, the entire shed shuddered and Marshallyelped. Graeme’s tirade cut off and hecharged over to the door. He looked outthe porthole, trying to see what was going on.The porthole in the outside door showed white; the storm must havestarted.
“What?” was all he could think to ask. The situation made him reel, reminding himtoo closely of the terrible night two years ago, back on the mainland. He’d done the same thing, stood and asked‘what’ over and over, unable to think of anything better to ask.
“I,” panted Marshall. “I don’t know. I was taking a piss. I don’t know.”
Graeme clenched his jaw tight and balled his fists. He wanted to strike Marshall, smash him withall his strength. It really was justlike two years ago. Ignorance and panicwas what Marshall did best. Instead, herelaxed his hands and stalked away from the door. He’d taken no more than three steps when asecond hammering bash resounded from the small airlock to Marshall’s back. Graeme spun, his brow knitting, the cursedword on his lips again.
“Shit Graeme,” said Marshall. “Give it a rest and help meblock this door.”
Graeme watched Marshall gather heavy crates and shove themagainst the door.
“That’ll never work,” he said as another crash rang the domelike a bell. “You need something to jamit with, if you can push those crates around, anyone opening the door can too.”
Marshall looked up, his red face open, mouth ajar. He nodded and grabbed a second shovel fromthe expedition equipment. Anotherjarring crash shook the shed and snapped Graeme out of his inactivity. He found a pick and wedged it under theunlocking lever next to the snow shovel.They waited, but there were no more attacks on the outer door. Whoever was trying to get in hadn’t thoughtto use the handle. Graeme stood back andscratched his head.
“Who was that? What’s going on?”
Marshall looked up from where he sat with his back to thedoor, his face flushed and his eyes red rimmed.As good as it was to see him looking so distraught, Graeme was gettingconcerned.
“I had to take a leak,” said Marshall, swallowing. “It musthave come from below. I heard it inthere with them.”
“What?” asked Graeme, raising his voice infrustration.“What are you talking about? Who was that banging on the door?” He put his hands back on his hips and scowledat the miserable little prick at his feet.
“I guess it came up from the caves we broke into yesterday,”Marshall continued with his broken story despite Graeme’s sigh and rolledeyes. “I was having a beer with theothers. You had left for the shed and wewere talking.”
Graeme dropped his hands from his hips and found a crate tosit on. Something had happened, someonehad tried to bash their way in and Marshall hadn’t been this shaken since thatother time. That thought made his stomachdrop and he had to swallow to keep the bile down. The last time Graeme had seen Marshall thisconfused was two years ago. That day,the news Graeme had received had sucked the life from him. His son had been driving Marshall home fromthe pub when he lost control and hit a tree.Marshall had been drinking beer that day too, but so had his son. Marshall had let him drive them both homewhen they should have taken a taxi.
“Liz was so excited by what she’d found in the ice cores andKevin was sure the cave hadn’t been unsealed in hundreds of thousands ofyears. The atmosphere samples… Well we were talking and I left for thetoilet. I could hear their excitementthrough the door.”
Marshall stopped and looked at the grate visible between hisboots. The sound of his slow, deepbreaths filled the room. Graeme couldpicture the scene. He’d left just as theteam had returned from the cave and started sitting.
“What happened?” he found himself asking again. Marshall flicked his eyes back to him. They were red rimmed, bloodshot and tight atthe corners. “They’re dead?” guessedGraeme. It seemed surreal, like someoneshould jump out and tell him he’d been had, that they’d be posting his reactionon the ‘net. Had the floor collapsedinto the cave? Is that what Marshall wason about?
“Their voices stopped.I heard a crash and Liz started screaming. There were sounds. I didn’t know what they were. I wish hadn’t found out.”
“For crying out loud, spit it out. Do we need to go back and help them? Are they trapped?”
“No,” Marshall whispered and lowered his head again. “Wedon’t need to help them. They’re alldead. The sounds I’d heard… I wentback to the common room and looked through the window in the door. The sounds had reminded me of tearing clothand then of a sloshing mop bucket.” Hestopped and sucked a shuddering breath through his teeth.
Graeme’s mind worked overtime, whirring over thepossibilities, trying to find a scenario that didn’t fill him with dread. A sloshing mop bucket? He turned away and ran his hand through hishair.
“I didn’t see what had done it, but the doors to thedrilling room had been battered open from the inside. It must have seen me because it threw… Ithink it threw Liz at the door. Thewindow was covered. I ran. I could hear it chasing me, knocking doorsout of the way. I locked it in and gotdressed. I came here. It’s all I could think to do.”
The shed thrummed and both Graeme and Marshall lookedaround. A howling started along with thelight pattering sound of snow being driven against the shed walls; the stormhad hit.
“Shit,” said Graeme. “Shit, shit shit.” He stood and paced a circle. “Now I’m stuck here with you until the stormbreaks. Even when it does, there’s somecrazy son of a bitch out there looking to hack me to bits.”
“It wasn’t a person,” Marshall said to his feet, hugging hisknees.
“What else is it going to be?” Graeme said, throwing hisarms up. “A blood crazed penguin? A rampaging sea lion?Maybe a pissed off pelican?”
“I’m telling you, it wasn’t a person.”
Graeme grunted and dropped his hands. He curled his lip in distaste and stalked tothe far side of the shed, next to the newly revealed toilet paper.
“If it was a person, why didn’t they just use the doorhandle?” asked Marshall.
Graeme stood still, staring at the rolls of paper. He’d already thought of that. An axe murderer in Antarctica was as likelyas a rabid dolphin, but there were no dangerous predators here. Polar bears were in the north and as powerfulas bull seals were, they couldn’t smash through doors. He’d seen horror movies before and knew thatone source of monsters was a previously undisturbed cave.
“It doesn’t sound plausible,” he said, reaching out andsqueezing a toilet roll with one hand.
“Which part?” asked Marshall.
Graeme snorted. Therewere several parts to the situation that didn’t sound plausible.
“Granted the killer was not a person and given there are nolarge predators on Antarctica… The only place it could have come from is thecave.”
“But,” said Marshall. “That cavehas been sealed for some unknown thousands of years. Unless there is a complete undiscoveredeco-system in there including large prey animals for a predator to liveoff. I don’t think we saw any signs ofthat.”
The wind howled and snow plinked off the dome of the shed,as if underlining the point.
“It must be some kind of trick,” said Graeme, turning. “Not a joke, as such, but some arrangement offacts obfuscating the truth. A simpleanswer awaits discovery.”
“What? Like Kevinsmuggled an albino gorilla on steroids into the camp, kept it hidden in thecave since Spring?”
A spike of hot anger lanced through Graeme. He clench his jaw tostop from shouting at the annoying man. Therewas no point in explaining to Marshall what he meant. He took three deep breaths to calm himselfbefore speaking.
“The explanation is beside the point. Regardless what was bashing at the outsidedoor and despite what you say happened, we are in the same situation.”
Marshall opened his mouth and took a breath, butstopped. He let the air escape in agreat sigh. Themomentary anger draining away.
“We have to wait until the storm dies,” said Graeme as hemarked points off on his fingers. “Then we have to go outside to assess thesituation. Based on that, we eitherradio the ship to report or we pack up and fly out.”
“I’m not going out there,” mumbled Marshall.
Graeme again bit off the angry words he was going to slingat the pathetic man; they wouldn’t have helped.Instead, he pulled some packs of toilet paper down and climbed on top towait out the storm.
Graeme sat up, the plastic wrap around the packs he hadslept on ruffled, breaking the silence.A soft white light filtered through the porthole in the barricaded door,casting ghostly shadows along the grates covering the floor. Marshall lay curledon his side, a lump of orange winter clothes amongst the shovels andpicks. The storm had subsided. The clank of his boots hitting the metalgrill floor made Marshall start and flop about inpanic.
“The storm has finished,” said Graeme when Marshall lookedup at him.
“It’s night,” he said.
“Day, night, we still have to assess our situation,” Graemesaid with a shrug. “Themoon’sout, plenty of light to see by.”
He pulled the shovel and pick away from the door lever andMarshall heaved the crate out of the way.Keeping the pick, just in case, Graeme pulled the lever and eased thedoor open. He looked over his shoulderat Marshall and raised his eyebrows.Marshall grimaced, picked up a shovel and nodded. Graeme stopped to put his jacket and mitts onbefore taking the pick again and continuing to the outer door. The porthole was fogged over but by pressinghis forehead against the double glazed window, Graeme could just make out thedesolate, empty space in front of the main base.
“It’s clear,” he said pulling the door lever down andaround.
The door clanked and pulled inward with a groan of protest.
“What the hell could do that?” asked Marshall pointing atthe dented and bent door.
Graeme rubbed a mitted hand over the damage and sucked onhis teeth.
“A man with a big hammer, or the back of a fire axe,” hesaid, trying to dismiss Marshall’s concern.“Come on, whoever did it has cleared off.”
“Whatever, not whoever,” corrected Marshall.
Graeme looked at him and sneered. The man not only made bad decisions butcouldn’t think past his base fears.
“We’ll check that the sea plane survived the storm, then goand check the base,” he said, setting out.
The storm had wiped clear all trace of the tracks he andMarshall had left earlier in the day.They slogged through the calf deep snow to the white dusted tarp fiftymetres behind the storage shed. In thewhite reflected glow of the moon, the blue of the tarp looked black and shadowsbeneath the aeroplane’s wings looked like pools of deep water.
“You take that side,” said Graeme, gesturing to the farwing. “We’ll need to make sure we roll the tarp back to keep as much snow offthe plane as possible.”
Marshall trudged to the far side and took his position. Together they managed to heave the tarp upand back, throwing the snow to the ground behind the aeroplane. Puffing heavily, Graeme looked up to seeMarshall standing white faced and rigid.
“What?” he asked, mentally cursing himself for going back toasking ‘what’ all the time.
Marshall shifted his eyes to focus on Graeme and licked hislips.
“I thought I saw something, a shadow moving behind theshed,” he said.
Graeme flicked a glance over his shoulder at the roundedpile of snow that was the storage shed.Nothing moved. The light of themoon bounced off pristine snow. He shookhis head and checked the hatches on the sea plane were secure. Marshall joined him, checking the cargo hatchand peering in through the cockpit window.
“It all seems fine,” said Graeme, standing back and puttinghis hands on his hips. “Now we just needto see what’s what in the base and call the ship.”
“I’m not going back in there,” said Marshall, still lookingat the sea plane.
“We need the key to get the plane going,” said Graeme. “You can stay out here if you like, I’m goingin.”
He set off, retracing the churned snow back to theshed. After a moment’s hesitationMarshall scrambled after him. If therewas a monster lurking around the base, he hoped it got Marshall and choked onhis spine. It would be a fitting end tosuch a cowardly and irresponsible man.
When he arrived at the base, a collection of dome-likestructures, Graeme wiped his hand across the door’s porthole. Ice crystals splintered and sparkled as theyflitted away. The lights were off, soeven though he pushed his face right up to the glass he couldn’t see more thanthe short airlock entry vestibule. Hepulled away and cast a frown at Marshall, who stood a good two metres behindhim.
“What?” asked Marshall.
“Whatever,” corrected Marshall.
“OK, if whatever attacked the shed last night came throughthis door, it used the handle.”
Marshall frowned and looked left then right like he wasabout to cross the road.
“I could have sworn it followed me out. But it must have gone a different way.”
Graeme shrugged. Itwas all a bit too strange for him. Itwas easier to assume someone was playing a prank. He only had Marshall’s testimony to go onwith regards to what had happened. Thelever of the door turned easily. Hepushed the it open and waited for Marshall to followhim in and close the outer door before he opened the inner.
Immediately on entering, Graeme could smell it. A heavy, sickening stench of vomit and shitmixed with something else he couldn’t and didn’t want to identify. Marshall made a gagging noise behind him.
“What is that?” asked Graeme, holding his mitt to his faceas if he could filter the smell out.
“Liz and Kevin,’ chocked Marshall.
Graeme looked down the passage to the common room. Tearing cloth and asloshing mop bucket. Thedescription Marshall had given turned his stomach. The little light penetrating the base stoppedat the entrance. The passage ahead wastoo dark to make anything out, but he thought he could see some kind of darkstain leading toward him and then to the left.
“The garage,” he said pointing.
Marshall stepped forward and squinted.
“It must have gotten out through the roller door,” saidMarshall. “It’s a lot softer than the main doors.”
Graeme nodded. Itmade sense. He flicked the lightswitch. Nothing happened. They looked at each other.
“The generator must have failed,” said Graeme. “We probably don’t want the lights onanyway.”
Graeme approached the door to the common room, looking lefttoward the garage on his way. The garagedoor stood ajar, snow dusting the floor around it. Through the gap he could see the coldluminescence of the moon where it no doubt seeped through the raised rollerdoor. The only sound in the foetid,stench laden air, was the clumping of theirboots. The wet, glistening marks on thefloor were regular, spaced like foot prints.The light was too dim to make out any detail, but they were large. At the end of the corridor stood the doorsthat would reveal what had happened to the rest of the team. The porthole was smeared with a dark liquidon the other side. With one look to seethat Marshall stood behind him, Graeme reached out and pushed the door. It caught on something lying on the floor, sohe pushed harder. As theit opened, the smell of the place thickened. The reek of blood seemed to burn the back ofhis nose. He had to swallow severaltimes to keep from retching.
Through the open door lay a scene that could best bedescribed as the work of a demented Jackson Pollock. Lumpy, indescribable masses pock marked thestreaks of blood and other fluids that splashed the walls. It was like a butcher’s shop had exploded.
“Oh crap,” said Marshall.
Graeme nodded, mute. The doors to the right, the ones that lead tothe coring room and the cave were battered and hanging at odd angles. A stick of dynamite couldn’t have done a betterjob.
“I don’t want to meet whatever did this,” he said.
“You see why I don’t think it was a person now?” askedMarshall.
Graeme didn’t bother answering. He picked his way into the room, lit by theblood smeared skylight. The offices wereto the left.
“Let’s just get the keys and get out of here,” he said. “Wecan call the ship from the air.”
Without waiting for agreement from Marshall, he made his wayto the office doors. The carnage aroundhim, the smell and even the taste that hung in the air reminded him of theemergency room. Marshall had been withhim then too. He should have been theone being identified, not his son.
“What will we tell the ship when we call?” Marshall asked.“They’ll want to know what happened to the rest of the team.”
“We’ll tell them to come and look for themselves,” saidGraeme as he pushed his way into the offices, leaving the mess behind him. He really didn’t know what to make of all ofthis, but if it had been Liz or Kevin who had gone to the toilet, he would havebeen much happier about it. Maybe thecreature, surely it was not human, would catch Marshall standing around lookingpanicked and gormless. He clutched hispick tighter in his left hand and hefted it a couple of times.
“Yeah,” said Marshall. “No one would believe us if theydidn’t come and look for themselves.This was not the work of a person.”
Graeme relaxed his grip on the pick’s handle and nodded,more to himself than to agree with Marshall.It should have been him on the trolley covered in bloody rags. His son would otherwise have taken a taxi ifnot for Marshall.
“Here they are,” he said snatching the keys from the hookthey rested on. “Let’s get the fuck outof here while we still can.”
He turned and bumped into Marshall who was still shufflingabout the room; directionless as usual.With a shove, Graeme pushed past and lead the way back out of thebase. Whatever had attacked the teamseemed to have left for now. With thatthought, a soft whump sounded from around the corner,near the garage. Both men froze in theirtracks, straining to hear the telltale sound of crunching snow.
“Maybe it doesn’t sink into the snow?” whispered Marshall.
Graeme rolled his eyes from Marshall to look at the shed andback again. The corners of his mouthpulled back in what might have looked like a grin.
“What are we doing standing around here then? Let’s move it.”
They retraced their trail that lead past the shed toward thelanding field.
“Hold it,” said Graeme. “You’d better get some supplies. Food, water, a tent andsome sleeping bags in case we need to camp out on the ice waiting for theship.”
“I’ll get the plane started up, ready to leave as soon asyou catch up.”
Marshall split off, pushing the dinted door to the shed openand disappearing inside. Graeme strodeoff to the plane. His heart beat fasterand his head seemed to swim. This wasit, his chance.
Marshall grabbed a camp bag.It was large enough to fit a tent, two sleeping bags and four days ofmilitary style MRE ration packs. Hishands shook and he fought for breath.Every creak of the shelves set his heart racing. The thing had been so quick he didn’t see itwhen it had attacked. The events leadingup to when he went to the toilet were burned into his memory, but from the timehe heard the sounds to when he burst into the shed to find Graeme, everythingblurred. He kept trying to remember ifhe had seen the monster but whenever he thought about looking through theporthole, all he could see was Liz’s head flying across the room to smack witha wet thud against the glass. It must bea similar size to a person, the strength it had couldn’t reasonably be in asmaller body and if it were any bigger, it wouldn’t have so easily passedthrough the base.
The sound of the seaplane firing up focussed his mind on hisjob. He grabbed a pack and stuffed asmany ration bags in as he could and turned.The door to the shed was open. Hecouldn’t remember if he had shut it behind himself or not. Surely he had. He swallowed and cleared his throat. Casting his eyes about the shed he couldn’tsee anything. There was nothing else hecould do, so he picked up the camp bag and the pack and ran out. As he passed the last shelf the ripping ofclaws down his back never came. Hestopped outside and pulled the door shut, locking it just in case.
Graeme had started taxying the plane into position, slidingit around on its skids with the ease of experience. He had a bad feeling about Graeme. He’d never gotten over the terrible accidentof two years ago. With any luck he won’tbring it up before they get to the ship.Marshall jogged as best he could along the path they’d madeearlier. Puffing and wheezing in thefrigid air, he pulled up behind the plane and noted Graeme had already openedthe cargo hatch. He threw the bag and packin and slammed the door shut. It bounced open. Marshall reached for it, to push it closed. The latch had been torn free. He opened his mouth to call out to Graemejust as the engine powered up throwing snow over him. The plane pulled away, speeding down therunway leaving Marshall waving his arms over his head trying to get Graeme’sattention.