November Challenge: Day 24

Hello all. Not a whole lot to say today. Still really sick. The only difference today is that I no longer have the deep, many voice of a late night smooth jams radio DJ. Instead I sound more like Bobcat Goldthwait out of breath.

I’m noticing one thing about my writing recently. I’m not really discouraged by having to write consistently every day, which is good. What I am doing, though, is treating it more like a school assignment, constantly checking my word count, possibly avoiding long stretches of dialogue that might slow my progress down. I will be making a concerted effort in the coming days to avoid writing solely for volume because I feel like my quality is slipping a little as a consequence. I’m going to focus more on taking the story where it needs to go, where it should go. I think I’ve not been doing that as much lately. I’m still going to write 2,000 words a day, but I’m going to try to make them the “right” 2,000 words, if that makes any sense.

Today’s entry is a bit of a sci-fi horror thing. I may or may not have stolen the idea from another story I’ve read before. It’s a pretty common troupe though. Scientists on an alien planet, accompanied by soldiers, exploring and experimenting. They start being hunted by the local wildlife. Etc… It’s just what I felt like writing today.

Writing Challenge: Day 24 (Untitled)
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2119

The hunter slipped from one shadow to another, barely stirring the pebbles underfoot as it went. It kept itself low to the ground, spreading it’s weight across its legs and letting its natural camouflage keep it hidden in the space between. What appeared to most to be a flat, barren waste punctuated by smoldering mounds of rubble was a perfect playground for the hunter.

Up ahead, maybe two hundred meters, it could sense prey. It had followed the trail for hours, tongue darting out to sniff at the depressions in the dust and rocks that the prey had left, the smell of meat like a fluorescent invitation hanging in the air before it. It was so close now that the hunter could sense tiny vibrations traveling up from the rocky soil into the pads of its feet and hands. The spines on the hunters head and back quivered in excitement and it made a conscious effort to calm itself. After a moment the quills settled and the sound of them rubbing against one another, a sound like sand running through an hourglass, subsided. The hunter slithered out of its shadow and moved to the next, its body so low its stomach pressed against the ground. It flicked its tongue out one more time, tasted the meat-scent of the prey up ahead, and slunk off after it.

 

Sargent Major Kent Brixton puffed his cigar as though he were in a cigar smoking race. He only smoked cheap, mass produced cigars these days, with the occasional hand rolled import on special occasions, such as his birthday or the incredibly rare weekend leave. When he got agitated, or impatient, or excited he tended to take long puffs and expel them quickly before going back in for another so that the smoke spent barely any time at all in his lungs or mouth. When the cigar was just a nub he tended to extinguish it but leave it in his mouth so he had something to chew on for a bit. Right now, Sargent Brixton was very agitated indeed.

“Excuse me, Sargent, but would you mind putting that cigar out? Or at least smoking it upwind of our current position? It’s contaminating our samples.”

Brixton glared at the thin, aging man with the thick glasses and shiny plastic clipboard who was giving him a quite impressive glare of his own. Brixton had met drill Sargents who could learn a thing or two about intimidation from the little man.

“Today,” said the spectacled man, “if you don’t mind, Sargent.”

Sargent Brixton didn’t respond. He simply stood, shouldered his rifle and sauntered off to find another rock to sit on. As he passed the little man he made sure to blow a stream of smoke as close to his face and to the complicated instrument at his side as possible. The little man coughed and sputtered.

“Really now, Sargent, you were briefed on my medical condition. Please try to be more careful.”

Brixton decided that he might have been more inclined to listen to the man if he didn’t have such a high pitched, needling sort of voice. Forgetting for a moment that it rankled him to have to take orders from civilians it was a damn disgrace that he had to take them from a civilian like Kreiger. The rest of the troopers ringed around the perimeter of the crater snickered as the little man sputtered and wiped the thick lenses of his glasses in disgust. A few more scientists gathered around the cluster of sensors and computers in the center of the crater and began to take new readings. One of them, a pretty young girl with long brown hair smiled at him briefly before jotting something down on her own clipboard. Brixton puffed his cigar a little faster.

This whole detail was a joke, Brixton thought. This whole planet was as shit hole. It was too close to the system’s asteroid belt and seemed to get pelted by rocks every forty or fifty years it seemed. The only things on the planet that seemed to survive were the giant fungal growths that settled in the valleys and lowlands of the planet’s pock marked surface and around it’s poles, and a few rodent and insect-like creatures that scurried away whenever they heard the crunch of boots on dusty soil. They wouldn’t even be here if the giant mushrooms didn’t appear to be some evolutionary jackpot. Millenia of constant asteroid and occasional comet impact had altered the atmosphere of the planet, and with it the planet’s flora. The mushroom growths that seemed to be the full extent of this flora were now the biological equivalent of a Hoover. They scrubbed the thick, poisonous atmosphere so efficiently that it was possible to breathe on the planet’s surface most of the time.

Possible, but not enjoyable, Brixton thought as he mouthed the plastic tube by his left shoulder and breathed in a fresh lungful of pure oxygen. It was a bit like climbing a mountain with oxygen support, except instead of thin the air felt too thick. Thick and dirty.

Brixton understood why the planet was of interest to the scientific community. Even he could see the importance of learning from the planet’s peculiar circumstances. Air filtration was vital to space travel, and if it was possible to learn to increase efficiency from the pulpy, misshaped fungoids on some tiny dust ball in the middle of nowhere, then a tiny dust ball in the middle of nowhere was where someone would have to go. What Brixton didn’t understand was the need for an armed, military escort. Surly there was some private security firm who could handle a simple operation like this.

 

The hunter slithered to the lip of the next crater slowly. The prey was in there, it knew. The quills on the back of its head shook once more but ceased almost immediately as the hunter forced them to lie flat against its skin. It flicked it’s tongue over the rocky edge. The prey was close, but not too close. Slowly the hunter peeked it’s head over the lip until it had a good view of the entire crater and then froze. To any casual observer the part of the hunter’s head now visible above the rim of the crater was just another misshapen rock, its scales the same gray color as the rock and rubble around it, its two eyes just strangely regular divots in the otherwise normal rock face.

Down in the crater were nine figures. They were all bipedal and perhaps twice as large as the hunter. Four of the creatures appeared to be making no attempt to conceal themselves, shrouded as they were in long white garments and shuffling around the crater in noisy haste. The other five were only marginally better. They were partially, if inexpertly, camouflaged in appearance, though the hunter reasoned that this was not their natural coloration, merely additional material chosen consciously. This fact, coupled with the strange devices that the figures in white seemed so interested in, told the hunter that these creatures possessed some level of intelligence. Not much, given their inability to conceal themselves on a hostile world, but enough that the hunter realized on some basic level to treat them with caution. Especially the partially camouflaged ones with the black metal sticks. The hunter was not entirely sure what those objects were, but it recognized a weapon when it saw it.

As it watched, one of the figures in white made a sound with its mouth. Another answered it and gestured off to one side without looking up. The hunter also recognized language when it saw it. The figure that had spoken first, a shorter, rounder specimen than the others around it, put down whatever it was holding and made his way toward the edge of the crater, slightly in the direction of the hunter. The hunter almost recoiled, fearing it had been spotted, but none of the other figures made to move along with it. In fact, one of the camouflaged figures stood firmly in the other’s way, glaring at it as it edged its way between the man’s weapon and a lump of stone. The plump figure in white crested the lip of the crater barely ten meters from the hunters position but didn’t appear to see it. Then he made his way down the slight hill surrounding the crater and a short way further until it disappeared behind a particularly large pile of rubble.

The hunter’s quills vibrated again as it backed away from the crater’s edge and towards the isolated prey.

 

“Where’s Robertson?” Kreiger asked, looking up from his work for the first time in several minutes.

“Went to take a piss,” Brixton replied, idly chewing on the end of his spent cigar.

“And yet I see you found it prudent not to accompany him,” chided the scientist.

“If you wanna hold your people’s hands while they take care of nature’s business, be my guest.” Brixton sighed.

“They probably need it, eh Sarge?” This comment came from one of the soldiers on the other side of the crater. Brian Willowby chuckled and winked at Brixton, basking in the snickers of the other soldiers.

“That’s enough, Private.” Brixton said before Kreiger, already sputtering a reply, could protest. “If I remember correctly, you were a little damp the first time you saw action.” This got another, louder, chorus of laughs from the men in uniform. Even the scientists smirked a little.

“Well maybe if you’d have held my hand like I asked I wouldn’t have,” Willowby said in mock anguish. Say what you like about the little shit, Brixton thought, but he could take a joke about as well as he could give it.

Kreiger looked as though he were about to make some biting remark about the situation or the lack of decorum from the soldiers, but one of the machines at his side started beeping furiously and he soon lost all interest in the soldier’s conversation. The scientists went back to taking measurements and fiddling with knobs and dials and the soldiers back to hurling insults and spitting in the dirt. Brixton fished another cheap cigar out of his breast pocket and lit it up, making sure to keep the lighter away from the oxygen tube as he did.

 

The hunter slid silently onto a ledge overhanging the secluded refuge the fat man had chosen to relieve himself. The man hummed to himself and cast a few nervous glances around as he tried to do his business. The hunter waited patiently for the sound of liquid falling on the ground before he started moving. The fat man was obviously not used to his surroundings and his nerves were getting the better of him. It took nearly a minute for a steady stream to start, and even then the hunter waited a few seconds before it moved. It’s quills were vibrating now, and it was so caught up in the thrill of the hunt that it couldn’t quiet them. Normally the hunter would have been able to control itself, but these things were something new, and it always loved killing something new.

The hunter edged its way forward, mid and hind legs gripping the rock face, coiled and ready to spring should the prey become aware of its presence and bolt. Luckily for the hunter then twin sounds of the humming and the stream of liquid hitting the hard earth masked the sand-like sound of the vibrating quills. The hunter’s fangs, already dripping venom, slid from their sheathes in its mouth, joining the rows of solid, curved teeth that permanently ringed its maw. One bite was all it would take. The fangs would sink into the prey’s flesh, pumping neurotoxins into the bloodstream, while the rest of the teeth hooked the skin and clamped the victim in an inescapable death grip.

Suddenly, the sound of urination ceased and the fat man gave a sigh of relief. He arched his back and took a deep, labored breath. Then he opened his eyes and saw the hunter less than a foot away. He didn’t even have time to scream before the hunter pounced, sinking it’s fangs into his jugular and clamping a strong, scaly hand over his mouth. The toxins worked their way quickly through his body and into his brain, paralyzing him in less than a minute. His legs gave way and he slumped over. He couldn’t feel pain anymore, but he was horribly aware of the first few bites that the hunter took from his ample midsection. He passed out from lack of blood long before the toxin wore off.

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