I scramble on my hands and knees as Star pulls me deeper into the cave. My headlamp flashes around wildly, casting disorienting shadows through the tunnel and obscuring the others in front of me.
The drone of the vultures behind us fills the air with a sickening buzz. My hands and knees bang against hard, slippery rocks. When the top of my helmet slams against something above me, I duck down. The tunnel constricts around us, squeezing tighter and tighter.
I feel Star's grip on my arm release, but with just my headlamp I can hardly see what is going on ahead of me. I scoot along, practically on my stomach, to squeeze through as the tunnel gets narrower and narrower. My light flashes over the rough surface around us, illuminating the damp, reddish-pink mold covering the stones beneath my gloved hands.
Holding my breath, I squeeze through the tight passage like I'm swimming to the surface from somewhere deep underwater. The drone of the monsters chasing us rings through my ears, and the rocks and dirt constrict around me like the cave is closing in, preparing to swallow me whole. I feel like I'm crawling into the mouth of a serpent. I grit my teeth and pull myself along.
"Come on, Shawn," Star calls back to me as she crawls on ahead.
After shuffling a dozen steps on all fours, the space opens up on both sides and above me. I gasp in relief and push myself to my feet, but my back strikes the low ceiling before I can stand.
Buzzing and smacking echoes through the small entrance to the cave behind me. The swarm is closing in. Without missing a beat, I dive to my knees again, continuing to crawl behind the others. I whip my head around and glance over my shoulder. A ring of teeth barrels towards us, like a train through a tunnel, shining and flickering in the beam of my headlamp.
"Incoming!" I shriek.
With a thump, the monster collides into the face of the cliff. I brace myself as the entire cave shakes. Rubble and dirt tumble from above, coating me in a dusting of brownish pink.
The smacking sound intensifies, filling the entire tunnel with echoes. It's searching for us—seeing without eyes.
The worm's body pulses and writhes as it squirms through the small entrance. Its tentacles curl up along its side, pushing and thrusting its mass forward. When its wings reach the narrow part of the passage, they snap back. The joints contort so the wings lie flat against its body, allowing it to slink its way through. The maggots in its open mouth churn and gurgle like spaghetti in a blender.
"Oh my God! Oh my God!" I scream. My entire body shakes with fear.
"Don't stop, Shawn!" America yells from up ahead.
Grinding my teeth, I crawl behind the others. My ankle throbs each time my knee lands on the ground. It feels like the bones are sliding against each other, but I don't dare stop. The whacking and thrashing behind us pounds in my ears, driving me to keep moving.
Suddenly something wraps around my calf, like an octopus latching on to its prey. Pain explodes through my ankle. "Shit!" I scream. I roll over onto my back and kick my other foot at the huge tentacle squeezing my leg. "Get off!"
"Shawn!" Star shouts. The cave shakes around us—another one of the monsters colliding into the front of the cliff.
The grip on my ankle tightens as the tentacle snakes its way further up my calf, surrounding my knee. My headlamp flashes at it. The mouth consumes its entire face—a ring of chomping teeth with blood coated maggots twisting between them.
"I've got you!" Star yells. Her hand grabs me by the arm and pulls me back, but the monster yanks at my leg harder, and I'm tugged out of her grip and dragged a foot in the other direction—towards the monster.
YOU ARE READING
Down UnderScience Fiction
Shawn, a convicted criminal, never thought she'd see the sun again, let alone call another star system her home. When she's offered an out from her prison sentence, she embarks on a dangerous interstellar expedition along with 18 of Earth's most int...