I slam my hand over my mouth, choking back my own screams.
"Don't look," America whispers. He turns his headlamp away from the chamber, and the entire space goes dark.
Tears run from the corners of my eyes, stinging the tiny cuts that cover my face from when my helmet shattered. I collapse to my knees, my hands shaking as I clench them into fists. My fingers are still tingling from when I let her go. If I could have just held on a little tighter . . .
"We can't stay here, Shawn." America tugs my arm firmly. "We've got to get moving."
I squeeze my eyes shut for a second, shaking myself from the freeze that's come over me. Elias is gone. Star is gone. My friends . . . There is nothing we can do for them now.
"Let's go," I finally respond.
I lead the way, with America right behind me. His headlamp reveals the rough, jagged path the tunnel takes. I brace myself between the rocks on my hands and knees as we go. The surfaces of them are slick with mold, like algae on the rocks of a jetty.
As I scoot between two steep rocks, my foot slips, and I fall a foot and a half before my ankle lodges between two stones.
"Shit," I hiss. Pain prickles up my leg as I try to yank my foot out. The jagged rocks grind and scrape against my skin through the fabric of my spacesuit. "Fuck!" Panic courses through me. It feels like my blood is turning to ice in my veins.
If I can't get my foot out . . . I'll be trapped here. I'll die in this tunnel, a slow, gradual death in the dark with nothing to keep me company but my own thoughts. I hyperventilate as I tug at my foot harder.
"Shawn." America touches me on the shoulder.
"I'm stuck!" I gasp. My eyes sting with tears.
America's light flashes down to my ankle as he pauses beside me.
I close my eyes for a second and let myself breathe. The horror of everything that's just happened hasn't even sunken in. I've just watched two people die—two people I was starting to consider my friends. It feels like it can't be real. How can someone die so suddenly? So quickly?
I tug at my foot again, pain throbbing through it as the rocks constrict around me—tighter and tighter.
When I lost my sister, it wasn't sudden. She knew it was coming. I knew it, too.
What did she think about? The days—weeks—while she waited. How did she get through that?
Maybe what happened to Elias and Star was merciful. Maybe they were the lucky ones, and America and I are the fools, left in limbo waiting and wondering when it will finally be our turn. The only thing we can do is keep running and buy ourselves more time, but for what? When there were four of us, it seemed like maybe there was something to fight for, but now, even if we do get out of this cave somehow, why? We have no purpose. No mission, other than to save ourselves and put off dying for another few hours, maybe another few days if we're lucky.
"Just leave me here, America," I finally say. "I'm a lost cause, but you can still get out. Get back to the starship or something. I don't know."
"Shawn, just breathe for a second," America says calmly.
"How can I breathe?" I cry.
In the distance, the monster moans. The cave shakes as it slams itself against the wall. It's too big to get through, but once it starts burrowing, we'll be done for.
"Shawn, look at me," America says.
I pinch my eyes shut for a second before turning them up to meet his. "We're going to get you out of this. I'm not going to leave you here. Your foot got in there somehow, so we can get it out, but you have to quit tugging on it. You're only getting it stuck more tightly."
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Down UnderScience Fiction
|WATTYS 2022 WINNER - HORROR| 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 alo...