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Throughout the night, the rest of us discuss the chances of heading out to the beach for escape while Hermes sleeps. There is no way anyone can come down and get us. Besides, I want to get out to look for Dad. I will never leave until I have found him. If he is well, we will leave this place together. If he isn’t… I shudder once the thought crosses my mind. Dad as one of those monsters out there is unthinkable. But there is no way I will know without looking for him. Plus, at least I know that he is still alive, right?
The occasional snarling and retching tells us the metal door is still barricaded by the monsters. Hours later, I tell them that I have decided to go out via the beach anyway. There will be no progress if I were to sit here all day. Unless another human being trespasses this area, the mob will still be outside. Jim agrees.
“Listen. This is the radio phone right here.” I take it out of the backpack and hands it to Uncle Timmy. “If you decide to head out for some help, use this. They said they’ll try their best to get to us. Wait. Do you smell that?” A weird smell has wafted into the minimart and I take a huge whiff of the air.
There is a loud pounding on the metal door.
WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!
The pounding grew steadily louder and faster.
“What is that?” I ask, mortified.
A huge dent appears on the door.
The door crashes open and an Alchemist storms into view, sunlight streaming in, his tank half full. The surface of the door is visibly melted by the Alchemist’s acid. He opens his mouth and roars.
“Get out of here!” Uncle Timmy shouts.
There is only one way left for us to go. Sam leads the way. We crash into shelves, toppling them as we run for the door, the Alchemist tossing them aside like toys. We run down the tunnel and I pray hard nothing is waiting for us on the other side. A short while later, the roaring of the Alchemist ominously stops. Are they heading somewhere else? These creatures have never behaved like this. They never attack unless they can hear or see. Why would it come crashing into the minimart when we hadn’t even made loud noises? How did it know we are in there? Had Hermes been right all along? I turn to check if they are coming after us, but they aren’t, and neither is Hermes. Soon, the thundering of the monsters fades away.
Sunlight shines upon us as we escape into the beach and we stop, staring at the trees, mesmerised. It is a realm of familiarity for me and I know a playground – my playground – stands nearby. Yet there is something drastically different. The trees are covered in dark, gray scales, their leaves vibrantly green. The ocean is clear blue and the fishes swimming in them bear the same scales of the trees. The sky is clear, instead of the usual gray thunderclouds I had seen growing up.
“Jim… This is…” I whisper, walking towards a tree and stretching out my hand.
“No. Don’t touch it!” Jim cried.
But I can’t. Something has started attacking me overhead, pelting at me from different directions as if someone has started throwing red hot stones at me, but I can’t see them.
“Dammit!” I scream, flailing my arms wildly. They hit something in the air which singes my coat. Suddenly, something grabs my legs and I slam into the ground.
“ARGH!” I yell.
I am being dragged on my back by something invisible. I can’t see where I am being taken to and crash into a tree or two along the way, nearly knocking the wind out of me. My ankles are burning.
“Jim!” I call out.
A strangled yell tells me he is being dragged too, right behind me, together with the rest. Sam is screaming for his Uncle Timmy but there is nothing any of us could do. We are being dragged like rag dolls. Finally, we slow to a stop. I manage to take a good look of the surroundings around us. We are in the playground. My playground. I slump into the sand as the Phantoms let go of me, Jim stopping next to me, our wrists burnt red. But Sam and Uncle Timmy are being dragged towards a group of Retchers. One of the monsters lashes out a tongue and hit Uncle Timmy’s face, dissolving his skin while he shrieks in pain. Jim and I stand up and prepare to run, but it is no use. We are surrounded by a whole group of them and presumably, the Phantoms. Screams and retches tell us that the Sam and Uncle Timmy are gone and are about to join the monsters’ army that is going to torture us both. There is a grunt and we whirl around.
Sitting on the edge of the slide is the Alchemist, its tank half full and its eyes boring into mine. Then it dawns upon me. Those are the brown eyes I had seen growing up, the brown eyes that fills with warmth whenever they look into mine. Those are the brown eyes of my father’s. But now, the warmth is no longer there.
“Dad?” I say softly. Jim turns to look at me as I start walking slowly towards him.
“Clare,” Jim warns softly. The retching and snarling grew louder with every step I take, but none of the creatures move, waiting for orders from the Alchemist. Dad does nothing, but stares at me, hostile, as I walk towards him.
I stop, leaving a gap between me and him as he continues glaring at me with his angry brown eyes. They narrow. For a moment we look at each other, then he lets out another roar.
I turn around to see Jim being dragged away once more by the invisible Phantoms, this time towards the forest nearby. He reaches for his air pistol and fires blindly. It hits the bottom of the Dad’s tank and shatters a hole in it. Hot green acid spills out as he roars, dissolving the slide behind him. He walks over to Jim as the Phantoms slow to a stop. Then, bending over him, Dad opens his mouth and retch.
“NO!!!” I scream.
Acid spills out of his foul mouth and onto Jim’s legs and torso as he screams and thrashes on the spot in pain. The flesh of his legs dissolves in patches, revealing the bones beneath. I tremble as the endless shrieks pierce the air. I run towards him but the Retchers pin me to the ground. I watch helplessly as the Phantoms drag a thrashing Jim into the forest. Tears well up in my eyes as I begin to shake uncontrollably in fear. Dad looks up and walks slowly towards me.
I struggle as hard as I can amongst my trembles but this seems to anger him. He leans over me and open his mouth, retching. I close my eyes, preparing for the acid to drown me, but nothing came. He roars in fury as he turns and reveals an empty tank. All of his acid has leaked out from the hole. The Retchers form a tight circle around both of us and the Dad raises his right hand angrily, poised, just like how the other Alchemist had ripped out Annie’s heart. Before he can strike, however, I cry out.
“Dad! It’s me! Clare!”
I do not know what to expect, but I am afraid, very afraid of what is going to happen next. This is my time. Hermes is right. But it has never crossed my mind that Dad would be the one to kill me. Will it hurt? Where will he toss my body? There are no Jesters to eat me up. Will he even realise that he had killed his own daughter?
But Dad just stops, his hand pausing in mid air as he uses his other hand to grip hold of my shoulder, giving it a small squeeze. A strange mist which I have never seen before is now emitting from the tank, engulfing me. It makes my throat burn. He looks straight into my eyes and I see, for a moment, a familiar warmth flash across them.
For some reason, I am no longer afraid, as though I know this is going to be the ending all along. I take a deep breath, close my eyes and bite my lip. Then his palms hit me. I refuse to scream for I know that Dad hates it when I am weak. Then his hands contract around my insides painfully. I can no longer hold back. I yell in pain as I feel something being ripped out, paralysing me. I sputter as I feel the last of my breath escape me, plunging me into a deep slumber.
The Final Evolution © 2013 by Auby Sparksfield. All rights reserved.
Written by: Ms. Auby Sparksfield
Edited by: Isaac Tan
Click here for Chapter 7