10 1 0

A sick feeling rises in my gut as I scan my surroundings. Another couple of lumps lie in the distance—more bodies. They are everywhere.

A gasp of wind rushes past, chilling me even through my spacesuit. I pause for a moment, listening for the sound of those monsters. If any of them are still around, I don't want to take another step closer and risk letting them hear me.

I lower myself to a squatting position, and I wait. I keep most of my weight on my good ankle, but I stay on my toes, ready to run if I see anything.

The next ten minutes drag on for what feels like an hour. I watch the clock in the display of my helmet, listening to nothing but the sound of my own heart pounding against my ribs and the occasional gust of wind roaring across the wasteland. I can't wait here forever. I need to get moving.

"Hello?" I finally call in a shaking voice, rising to my feet. If anything is alive out there, I don't want to be startled by it. I want to know it's there before going in.

"Is anyone there?" My voice echoes through the void. I keep my eyes trained on the starship, waiting for something to move, but everything is still.

A breeze gusts through the clearing, kicking up a rust-red dust. A chill shudders through my entire body.

I'm alone.

It's now or never.

My legs shake as I approach the spaceship. I make my way around the first body, holding my breath like I'm afraid my breathing will disturb the lifeless corpse.

The man lays on his front with his arms stretched out in front of him, like he was crawl to get away from something. Blood congeals around a massive bite on his right thigh. His left leg is missing from the knee down. Tiny, white maggots crawl within the remaining flesh, like rotten meat left in a dumpster. A few yards behind him, I spot the rest of his leg . . . or at least what is left of it. It's now nothing but a boney stump in a boot. Parasites pick away at the few remaining traces of muscle and skin.

The man's mouth gapes in a permanent scream. I know I must have met him during the orientation, but for the life of me I can't remember his name. His eyes are open—two pale blue irises blindly staring into the world. A single worm scurries across the surface of one of them before crawling beneath his lower eyelid. My stomach rolls with sickness.

His death must have been excruciating. I can only pray that it was quick.

At least he actually died, a haunting voice at the back of my head reminds me. He didn't have to go through the horror that Devin did—changing like that. What must it have felt like for Devin? I'm sure the physical pain was unbearable, but he lost his mind, too. What was that like? What did it feel like to suddenly have your soul and sanity stripped away?

I push the thoughts from my head as I pass the second body. The back of her spacesuit is torn open, revealing bite wounds where chunks have been ripped out of her flesh. Her rib bones and spine are exposed in a few places. Worms crawl across them, picking the flesh from the bone and devouring it. In just a few days, she'll be nothing but a skeleton.

As I inch my way around her, I get a look at her face. Blood and dirt cake her dark hair, and her cheeks are splotched with red. Her eyes are closed, but something moves beneath the lids—squirming. Even through the dirt, I know I recognize her face, but as with the man, I can't recall her name.

Down UnderWhere stories live. Discover now