Click here for Chapter 6
“Arrggghhhhhhh!” Jim and I scream at the top of our lungs and the noises outside grows even louder.
“Shut it!” A rough voice comes from the dark and a few other torches click on, which faintly lights up the place.
It looks like the mini supermarket had been transformed into a makeshift camp. There are shelves and shelves of food, but three hammocks are tied between two pipes and there are mats on the floor. A pile of what looks like burnt blankets sits somewhere near the hammocks. There are a total of three men in the room, staring at us suspiciously. One of them is a boy, about seven years old, who is sitting by a fish tank housing fireflies. The man who had spoken has long hair, a fresh wound down his face and a tattoo across his arm. The other man closest to us is clean shaven, but has chapped lips and a pale complexion.
“Who are you?” Jim asks quietly as the noise outside subsides.
“We should be asking you that.” The man with the tattoo scowls. “We’ve combed the area before. There are no other survivors.”
“We arrived earlier today,” I reply, a little hesitant. “My name is Clare, he’s Jim.”
No one says anything in reply to that. The tattooed man lights a pipe and I watch as smoke billow out of it. He glares at me for a moment and then turns around to face a shelf of canned food. The pale one takes my arm and steers me over roughly to sit next to the boy. On a closer look, I realise the tank contains not fireflies, but three, glowing, stag beetles. The little boy looks at me and offers me the packet of marshmallows he is holding. I take one over.
“He’s Hermes,” the pale man tells us, nodding over at Tattoo-man. “This boy here is Sam, my nephew. They call me Uncle Timmy. We’ve been hiding here for weeks.”
“Weeks?” I ask in disbelief.
“Yes. We were escaping from them and Hermes let us in,” Uncle Timmy answers gruffly, setting down his torch. “Now why are you two here?”
Jim takes a deep breath and launch into the story of how we escaped our school and the theme park and how we ended up here to look for Dad.
“Your best chance is to stay in here. Your father is dead,” Hermes interrupts harshly. For some reason, I hate him the moment the words slip out of his mouth.
“How do you know?” I snap at him. “I bet you don’t even know where to look.”
“You don’t either, or else you wouldn’t be here.”
“Stop it!” Jim intercepts. “We’re here to figure out how to get out of here, not to quarrel. We have a radio phone with us. We can-”
“I’m not leaving until I’ve found Dad,” I cut in.
“Clare, you heard him. They have combed the area. There are no survivors. You saw what your house looked like,” Jim begins. “If we leave now, we still-”
“You said you’re coming with me and now you’re asking me to give up? Call the army if you want but I’m staying.” I am fuming.
“I know of a way to get out,” Sam pipes up suddenly. “There’s a tunnel there that leads to the beach.” He stuns us all at this pronouncement.
“Kid, how’d you know?” Hermes asks brusquely, breaking the silence.
“I had to feed my beetles. I knew I can’t go up there,” Sam explains, nodding towards the tank. “I was looking around here for something my beetles would eat, and I found another door that led me out to a tunnel. I followed it and arrived by a beach.”
“Sam, there are… creatures in the beach too,” I say gently.
“Well, I didn’t see any. But I let them out under a tree for some tree sap.”
“There was tree sap under a tree?” I ask, suspicious.
“Yeah. Just at the bottom of the tree trunk.”
“Is that when they started glowing?” Jim asks sharply.
“Let me see it.” Jim pushes his way to the tank. We watch as the beetles crawl. When they touch a leaf, it starts burning. “Are they aggressive?” Jim asks.
Jim takes a marshmallow from Sam and very carefully, lifts the small circular lid in the middle of the rectangular cover of the tank. When the marshmallow is dropped into the tank, the beetles attack it, but upon touching it, they head for the opening. They crash into the cover instead. Startled, Jim slams the lid shut and backs away.
“Strange. They’re not usually like this,” Sam says, staring into the tank curiously.
“I think they have become one of them. The Phantoms,” Jim whispers, looking at me.
“Here.” I pick up the torchlight Uncle Timmy had set down and shines it over the tank. The beetles first fade in the light and then reappear, glowing, safely tucked away under the shade of a leaf.
“Sam… I think what they had eaten might not be tree sap,” I begin slowly. “It could be the saliva of the Phantoms.”
“What the hell are Phantoms?” Uncle Timmy asks.
“The ones with the glowing skeletons in the dark,” Jim informs him.
“When did they become like this, Sam? When did they last eat?” I ask.
“Just this morning,” Sam replies.
“What other changes do you see?” Jim queries, cautiously tapping the tank, driving the beetles into a frenzy.
“They’ve stopped wrestling each other. They liked to do that a lot. But they haven’t wrestled all day. I thought it is pretty cool they started glowing.”
None of us know what to say.
“The Phantoms are there, I know it,” I say finally. “The beach isn’t a way out.”
“We can go out at night, they can’t see at night,” Jim points out.
“They could see us, remember? They changed direction and came straight for us just now!”
“They work together to see in the dark,” Hermes growls, his face looming into the light as he approaches us. “These… Phantoms as you call them, they can’t see with the glow from their own kind, but those retching monsters can. The Phantoms follow the noise they make.”
“They weren’t like that when we saw them in school,” Jim points out. “They were mostly with their own kind.”
“It takes time for them to realise they can make use of it,” Hermes adds. “But when they do, they use it well.”
“How do you know?” I ask.
“I’ve seen them at it,” he replies. “I have seen every single one of them. The ones that retch, their saliva turns people into something else. Same for the ones that glow. There are seafaring ones that come out from the sea. They turn people with their poison-tipped daggers. And then there are those with the tanks. They spit acid. These things, they turn everyone they see.”
“No they don’t.” I interject. “We saw it rip a girl’s heart out and eat it whole and toss her body to a mob of clowns to eat her up.”
“That is because the girl isn’t fit enough to live on.”
“Live on? What do you mean by ‘live on’?”
“She has an illness? Something like that?”
“She was already dying when we met her,” Jim says.
“Can’t live. Not with them, not with us. The best way for her is to die.”
“That isn’t the best way,” I snap at him again.
“This is the real world, lady. Open your eyes wide and see. I’ve seen your father. He was cornered by a group of those retching creatures in his own home.”
“I don’t believe you,” I retort hotly. “You don’t even know my father.”
“Brown eyes? He hangs out at the playground with you often, building sandcastles. I saw him. One day he was cornered by the retching monsters but made it home and lured them there. He couldn’t escape.”
I fall silent, glaring at him. “And you did nothing to help,” I said coldly.
“You know there is nothing one can do when he is outnumbered by them. We can only succumb to it when the time comes.”
“Rubbish. We can fight. We can help one another survive! But this is the cruel world isn’t it? You take care of yourself and neglect the rest. Selfish, evil bastard-” I begin tearfully. But before I can continue, Hermes pins me against the shelf behind me, sending it shaking precariously over us.
“You tell me whether you have saved anyone from those things out there. Have you not hidden somewhere out of sight when you were outnumbered?” he asks roughly. I think about the night I had let Johanna get attacked outside the dance studio and drop my gaze.
“I thought so too,” he sneers. “Look at yourself, in denial of all these things happening, rebelling against anyone who tries to talk sense into you, only caring about what you want. This is the way humans are. We think we’re the best, even when we’re not. Look at those things out there, figuring a way to work together to get what they want. Didn’t you see those beetles, eh? You heard the boy. They stop fighting when they transformed. These things are way better than us. Your father’s time was up, Clare, and I reckon yours will come soon.”
And with that, Hermes heads back into the darkness, leaving me shaken and guilt-ridden on the spot.
The Final Evolution © 2013 by Auby Sparksfield. All rights reserved.
Written by: Ms. Auby Sparksfield
Edited by: Isaac Tan
Click here for Chapter 6