Another flash fiction challenge courtesy of the wonderful Chuck Wendig. Check out the original challenge here. It’s another game of aspects, this time with a horror twist. Consider this your Halloween present, everyone. I hope you enjoy it.
My radio crackles, so much static on the line I’m not even sure I have a connection at all.
“Hey, George, are you there?” My voice echoes inside my suit, my breath fogging up the glass for a second before the AC gets it.
I have to focus to hear him through the static. “Yeah, Douglas, what’s up?”
I look around at the cave I’m in. We’re at the bottom of the ocean floor, and I’ve been given the envious task of exploring a cave full of some weird bioluminescent fungus. It waves from the rock walls like a field of wheat, gentle currents making it bob this way and that. Light reflects at strange angles off of my helmet’s visor, giving the view a sunlit feel despite the dark waters outside the cave.
“I think I got a little bit turned around in here, and the mapping package busted about a half an hour ago. Do you think you can get a bead on me?”
George mutters something under his breath that barely crests the ocean of static, a silhouette beneath the sound waves. “Sorry, boss, your tracker’s out of contact. How much air do you have left?”
I check the gauge. “About an hour, and a half hour of reserves.”
“You’ll be fine. Just follow the leffff—shrnkkkkkkkk.” His voice dissolves into the static, and I can’t raise him again. It’s just me then.
I start walking, feeling like an idiot as I follow the left wall. The silt is soft below my feet and my heavy diving suit doesn’t let me swim, so it’s slow going as I raise a storm of dirt and debris behind me.
The cave slopes down slowly, forks going off into every direction. None of them seem to lead up, and they all look dimmer than this one. My hand is sinking into the strands of fungus on one side, like a shag carpet.
I reach a fork and see it go on a slight rise to the right. I turn towards it, but my hand sticks to the wall. I grunt with surprise, and find the fungus curled around my hand. It grips harder and harder as I try to pull away.
My scientist instincts get the better of me, and instead of focusing on this desperate struggle, man versus Nature at its finest, I wonder if the fungus is predatory in some way. The thought occupies my mind as my body screams for release, the panic like a lightning storm on a distant mountain: present, impressive, but not worth any particular attention unless you like watching reckless energy.
Pulling is getting me nowhere, I realize as I begin to calm down. I relax, and try to slide my hand along the left wall again. The fungus lets me go.
“You and George and in league with each other, huh?” I say to no-one, and then continue down the left path.
The cave is beginning to open up now, and the water gets darker and colder. I hear my suit’s climate control go into overdrive to combat the bone-chilling cold. I shiver anyway and flick on the flood lights on my helmet.
That’s when I see it. Ahead, what looks like a long black shaft with a blade at the end extending from a side tunnel. As soon as my light hits it, it retreats with a whisper of water.
I shake my head. I must be seeing things. Onward I travel into the darkness, my helmet light and the fungus my only companions in a world of briny dark.
I’ve reached a turn in the cave, a small hairpin that starts sloping back up. After an experimental tug, the fungus still won’t let go of my hand, and so I follow it, laborious steps shambling up the sandy embankment. I chance a look out into the rest of the hairpin as I begin to leave, for curiosity’s sake.
My jaw drops. There are panels on the other wall, panels made of what looks like steel and glass and plastic, and some black metal that seems to absorb the light that hits it, leaving only the smallest gleam. A screen sits atop it. It’s flashing red.
In the distance, I hear something. Now, sound doesn’t travel that well underwater, at least not when you’re in a suit, so that caused me to near jump right out of my skin. It sounded like a whale song dragged along a knife’s edge. Pale and keening, piercing into my head, causing my radio to throw up static and feedback like you wouldn’t believe.
The fungus is tugging at my hand, pulling me up the slope. It didn’t need to tell me twice. I start running, which is more like a stumbling walk in this suit, pounding my way up the slope. My breath rings loud inside the suit, great panting filling my ears. My lungs begin to burn, and my legs are starting to give out.
I check the oxygen gauge. I’m already on the reserves.
The fungus is flashing now, bright pulses that leave the world a pattern of afterimages on my eyes. I feel the water behind me surge forward, and am shoved to the ground. The fungus keeps my hand where it is, but in my fall I’m twisted around. Something goes in my shoulder, but I don’t have the breath to scream. Of course, then is when my light decides to go dead.
So it’s only by the light of the fungus that I see it. It looks like some sort of half-squid, half-whale, half-insect thing, covered in black chitin and with eyes that glow twilight grey. The fungus is pulsing faster now, a strobe light of terror, and the creature plunges its claws down into my suit.
As cold water floods in, freezing my bones, and I’m dragged into the cave, I hear nothing but the static. And then nothing at all.