Click here for Chapter 4
I slump backwards, resting against the tree trunk. The cackling creatures loiter around below us, bouncing. There is no way we can get down until they are gone. Jim swings his backpack forward and takes out a pen and a notebook.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“Writing down what I just saw.”
I look over as he writes, “Alchemist, big, with acid tank”, across the top of the page, followed by “Jesters, bouncing, clown-like features”. I chuckle and shake my head. Who but Jim, the workaholic director, would be in the mood to take notes at this juncture? I reach for my necklace and fiddle with it, gazing into the sea, thinking about Dad. How is he doing? Does he know what is happening? Or is he even still…
I shake the thought out of my mind. Whatever the case may be, I have to get to him. I imagine Dad sitting next to me right now, hugging the tree trunk and admiring the cityscape with me like we used to. Once, a bird had pooped on his head and he tumbled out of the tree in shock. I chortle at the thought.
“Why are you laughing?” Jim ask, still scribbling across the paper.
“Thinking about my father,” I reply.
“What about him?”
I started telling him about the story of the bird poop and before I know it, I am recounting every little thing about Dad: how we used to go for root beer float and ice cream waffles, how we used to build sandcastles together, and how we used to race to see who could climb trees faster. After a while, Jim sets his pen down and looks at me, listening intently. At times, he smiles at the funny little things Dad did, like biting into cheese balls and had cheese squirt out onto my face, or when he pretended clothes hangers were guns and imagined we were playing real life ‘Counterstrike’ while doing the laundry. Then he has the look of envy when I recollect how Dad liked to encourage and reassure me.
“He’d do this,” I say, sitting up straight and adopting my Dad’s deep voice, “You can do it, Clare.” And then I raise my left hand and give Jim’s shoulder a hard squeeze, just like what Dad always did to me. Jim laughs. Before we know it, the sun has risen. The cackling below fades away as the sun paints orange and yellow streaks across the sky.
“You have a great father,” Jim says after a while.
“I love him. He’s all I have left in the world,” I reply, still playing with the necklace. “What about you?”
“I lost my father when I was ten, and then my mother just two years ago.”
There is an awkward pause. It suddenly strikes me how little I know about him.
“Sorry.” I manage after a while.
“It’s alright. They weren’t great parents. They divorced and… I had to live at a different aunt’s place every week.”
“That’s awful,” I whisper.
“It’s over,” he says, plucking a leaf off the branch nearest to him.
“So…Where are you going from here?” I ask him, changing the subject.
“I don’t know. The tree seems like a pretty safe place to hide in. Maybe find a jungle and go be Tarzan?”
I laugh. “Well, that’s an interesting plan.”
“What about you?”
“I’m going to get my Dad. Bring him out of this place.” There is another pause.
Jim looks at me thoughtfully as I look out into the sea once again, blowing the bangs out of my eyes. Then, my stomach growls.
“Sorry,” I say, unable to suppress my giggles.”Let’s get out of here. Those foul things are gone.”
“What if there are those… Phantoms around?”
I begin making my descent when I catch sight of the tree branch that was pierced by the dagger the night before. “Jim, look!” I point.
Part of the branch where the dagger had struck has turned a scaly gray, but its leaves are greener than any others on the tree. I climb down and pluck out the dagger, examining it. It has a red and gold handle and a script which I can’t recognise carved into the blade. The sharp end of the blade appears to have been dipped in black liquid. Jim attempts to wipe it off with a towel. It stains the towel, but the tip remains black. He keeps the dagger in his backpack and we make our way down the tree, looking at the tree branch curiously.
We walk around nervously looking for food. Not daring to go into any of the shops, we break the door of a pushcart that says “Popcorn and Nachos” open and pack as much nachos as we can find into Jim’s backpack. Finally, we fill a giant bucket with cold popcorn and set off towards the exit of the theme park, walking as quietly as we can.
A loud smack breaks the tranquil silence and Jim crumples onto the floor, unconscious. Before I can respond, a stick comes down on my head and everything fades into darkness.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
I struggle to open my eyes and sit up. For a few seconds my vision is blurred, then it slowly comes into focus. I attempt to push myself up but something cuts into my wrists – my arms and legs are bound. A slight cramp in my legs tells me I have been out for quite some time, lying in that awkward position. Finally, my vision clears and I look around wildly. I turn and see Jim, already awake next to me. Behind him, a canopy bed stands at a corner, right next to the window and a small little closet. At the furthest end of the room is a table where a pale little girl sits, watching, in a wheelchair. A woman is seated in a wooden chair next to her, brandishing a stick. Her graying hair is tied in a bun and her clothes are torn and tattered. I try to say something, but all I manage is a loud “ummmph!” There is a distasteful piece of cloth stuffed in my mouth.
The woman walks towards us, dragging the wooden stick on the floor behind her. She swings it upwards as she nears us. I close my eyes, crouching away. Then, the gag is removed from my mouth. I open my eyes.
“What do you want?” Jim asks the moment the cloth in his mouth is removed.
The woman does not answer immediately but strolls over to the bed and sits, looking out of the window. The pale little girl wheels her chair over to her.
“This is my little girl. Her name is Annie.” The woman finally speaks in a crisp voice.
“She’s beautiful,” I reply softly.
“She’s dying,” she answers curtly. “I want her to live, to be able to walk, run, and eat like the others.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Jim cuts in. “But I don’t think we can help. We aren’t doctors.”
“Yes you can,” the woman says. She walks over to us and pulls us to our feet with bull-like strength. She drags us over to the window. The scenery outside reveals to be the theme park. We are in one of the hotels.
“You know what is out there. I saw you two last night.”
“Three of us,” Jim says roughly. “We had a friend.”
“And you saw him die. And then revived by the creatures of the sea.”
“How does that help your daughter?” I demand.
“Don’t you see? They can revive the dead. They make the normal people stronger,” she replies in a loud, harsh whisper. The image of Emma and her acid tank flashed past my mind.
“So?” Jim says. “What has that got to do with us?”
“You can save my Annie,” her eyes twinkle with insanity as she sinks onto the bed. “The monsters won’t come near her. You can be the bait.”
“Mother…” Annie speaks up for the first time, her voice weak.
“Hush, my little girl. You’ll be fine soon.”
The woman moves to the other end of the room and takes out two sets of clothes from the closet. She sets them on the bed. “These are what you will be wearing tonight. I want them to be able to smell you, sniff you out, and lead them to my Annie.”
“Ma’am, there must be some other way to help her,” I say desperately. “You can’t let her turn into something else.”
“Oh, my dear girl!” she exclaims as she pranced back to the window, laughing. “Look outside! Look at those things around you! How many of them are there? How many of us are here?”
She turns and looks me straight in the eyes, laughing hysterically. Then she stops very abruptly, and started walking towards me, swinging the stick upwards again.
“Don’t you realise it, stupid girl? Now we are the something else,” she snarls.
The stick swing downwards and my world goes black once more.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
I stir. My head feels like it has been split into two.
“Clare, wake up! It’s time to go!”
Someone is cutting the ropes binding me. I open my eyes wide. It is dark outside once again. Jim is sawing the ropes with the dagger we got from the Pirates. The little girl is sitting by the table again but the woman is nowhere to be seen.
“Run, as far as you can go,” Annie says. “I’m sorry about Mother.”
“Thank you,” Jim says urgently and pulls me to my feet.
“What is going on?” My head is still throbbing.
“I’ll explain later. Now let’s go.” He pockets the knife, grabs my hand and heads for the door.
“Wait! Annie, come with us,” I say softly, stretching my hand out.
“No. I will stay with Mother.” Annie smiles slightly and looks out of the window.
“But…” I begin.
Jim nudges me out of the door and we creep down the corridor. We turn into a staircase landing and start climbing up the steps. Jim fills me in about how Annie had said she was hungry, so her mother went out to find food. Then Annie freed him and told him that every morning at sunrise, a chopper would come to the helipad to wait for survivors.
“Annie said many parts of the island have already been infected. She had gone to many places with her mother, but they refused to go near her. In fact, they stayed away as far as possible from her.”
“No idea,” Jim whispers back. “But she told me about them. They prefer the dark but they’re blinded in the night and rely a lot on their sense of hearing and smell. They do attack in the day if they’re not hungry.”
“What do you mean? Aren’t we their food?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t have time to ask. I was afraid her mother would come back. She gave me directions to the helipad. That’s where we’re heading to. Come on.”
We climb in silence, listening hard. Occasionally we can hear retching coming from a distance, but we bypass the floors quietly. Finally, eight floors up, we exit and sneak into the corridor, closing the door quietly behind us. Everything is pitched black. We can’t even see each other. Jim and I instinctively grab each other’s hands and we tiptoe down the hallway, looking around cautiously. Quite very suddenly, a loud retching comes from right ahead.
“Did you hear that?”
“Ssshh… They can hear you.”
I am pretty sure our harsh whispers would have travelled to their nimble ears anyway. We inch along the corridors, our backs flat against the walls. There is a steady dripping of something which we are sure is not water. Jim slows to a stop.
“It’s round this corner, and then the door is at the next left turn,” Jim says in an undertone.
“How do we know that they are not down the corridor?”
“Even if they are, they can’t see us. They can’t see in the dark, remember?”
“They can smell!”
“When we are covered in shit? Come on. We smell just like them.” Jim tightens his hand around mine. “Let’s go, or we’d be stuck here forever.”
“You’re nuts,” I whisper back, petrified.
“We’ll be fine.” He doesn’t sound convinced himself.
Jim creeps forward slowly, pulling me along. I try to walk as stealthily as I can, even imitating their slow lumber in case we pass by them. Desperate to blend in, I check the smell of the feces on my shirt. It has been so long since we had climbed out of the sewers that I thought I smell normal. I bite my lip to stop myself from crying. Breathing as lightly as I can, I tuck my hands in to minimize my surface area, to minimize the chances of me brushing past them as much as possible. With every step I take, I feel utterly relieved not to have touched or felt anything brush past me. Numerous swear words have gone through my mind by now and I settle on “fuck” to repeat in my head over and over again.
Suddenly, Jim’s hand stiffens. He squeezes my hand and pulls me closer. I hold my breath. Something wet and cold brushes past my right, knocking into my shoulder and smearing thick liquid on my arm. A deep shadow lumbers past on my right and then another plods across my left. I take a larger step forward and stick as close to Jim as possible. Retching noises now fill the corridor and more and more shadows loom into view. Jim and I follow their slow rhythmic trudge, hunching as we squeeze past them. They are going in the opposite direction and I wonder how long we can stay undetected as imposters.
The retching grows louder and louder as we proceed and I take a chance to catch a quick breath. The air is foul and burns my nostrils. It overwhelms the smell of our feces-soaked outfits and helps us blend in. I knock into more and more shadows as I feel my movement space grow smaller and smaller. Jim navigates to the left, trying to move to the left side of the corridor as much as possible for us to make the turn. Our steps become more and more constricted, more and more cautious as we proceed, shuffling against the rest of the Retchers until we can no longer move. We are stuck.
The Final Evolution © 2013 by Auby Sparksfield. All rights reserved.
Written by: Ms. Auby Sparksfield
Edited by: Isaac Tan
Click here for Chapter 4