Chapter 12

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The body tumbled awkwardly down the ravine and came to rest on the bank of a shallow stream. Except for the dilapidated barn the thing had just fled, there wasn't another structure in proximity. If there were others, they'd be easier to locate.

Mo descended the slope, weaving through birch and maple trees. He slid the final ten feet, riding a tide of decaying foliage to a smooth plateau of bedrock. Staring down the rifle's sight, he targeted the maimed form, which remained still and cautiously approached.

The unclothed thing was a grotesque blemish here amongst the natural beauty of the forest. Its head lay half-submerged in the stream, the water creating a gurgling sound as it rushed around the base of the neck.

As he drew closer, Mo noticed the rise and fall of the creature's chest. It was still alive, breathing...but how? Its face was under water. Obviously, he was in the presence of something that possessed amphibious qualities.

With a latex-gloved hand, Mo grabbed the thing's right ankle and dragged it out of the water. After a few seconds, it began to convulse and thrash about, turning toward Mo and displaying his misshapen head. A sound that was half-croak, half-hiss came from the gaping mouth.

As it turned back toward the stream, Mo raised the rifle and rested his right index finger on the trigger. He didn't immediately fire; a perverse awe beckoned him to observe the inhuman mechanics of the creature as it began to drag itself toward the bank. After a few feet, it flopped to the ground with a wet slap. It pressed its torso up and struggled against the uncooperative lower half of the body, which seemed to have become disabled. It croak-hissed again and Mo squeezed off a shot.

He stood over the body and studied the bullet's entry site. Blood oozed from the wound a little thicker than Mo believed blood ought to. Beneath the corpse, a gelatinous puddle of ink-dark fluid gathered.

"Jesus!" yelled Watley, sliding down the same rotting foliage, albeit not as gracefully. He fell to the bottom but then jumped to his feet and rushed toward the corpse, placing a small gasoline can by its side. He had never seen anyone die in person. "You killed him."'

"Freed him, you mean."

They hadn't come to commit murder, but to apprehend and contain. However, upon encountering this creature, it had become necessary to eliminate it. It'd be immoral to allow it to live. It might spread its blight. It might find another of its kin and procreate.

"Is it him? Dash?"

"No...not the one we're looking for."

"Torch it?" asked Watley.

Mo nodded and Watley doused the body with fuel. With the flick of a lighter, flames erupted and quickly engulfed the corpse.

In Mo's mind, it'd become necessary to destroy any biologically distorted specimens they encountered. He didn't know if it would discourage any spread of inhuman contagions, but it felt like the right thing to do. He imagined a mosquito feeding on the remains of this corpse, then flying off and injecting its infected fluids into a dog, then the dog biting a human, and so on. Or a bat eating the mosquito. The bat might bite a raccoon, the raccoon attacks a human. It would be impossible to stop. It could already be too late. He envisioned the chain eventually reaching Lacy. Then what would he do?

From beneath the body Mo noted a narrow thread of red that followed the sloping fissures in the bedrock. He walked to the bank and watched the rushing torrent as the ground fell away toward lower elevations. There the stream got quicker, white water tumbling over a waterfall.

The blood was in the water.

*****************

As they returned to their cycles, Watley noticed a smear of dark fluid on his suit and recognized it as the thing's blood. Shit. He should've been more careful. Along with Mo, he had been pumped full of antibiotics, vitamins and whatever else were in those shots given to them, so he figured he was fairly well protected. He decided to dismiss his carelessness, but promised himself to be more diligent in the future. Just some blood.

Without Mo noticing, he removed medical tape from a compartment on the cycle and triple-wrapped the area, to keep from coming into contact with the fluid. What he failed to see however, beneath the smear of blood, was the miniscule tear in his suit he had sustained when he descended the slope. 


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