Crawlers  by Michael Tippett

Competition: Short Story Challenge 2018, Final Round

Genre: Open   Subject: Altruism   Character: An actress

Original Illustration by Yevgenia Nayberg

   
     Sarah gripped the revolver.
It was heavy in her hands.

        “What am I supposed to do with this?”

        Brian directed her aim to his torso. “You shoot me here. Center mass. If that moment comes, you do not hesitate: point and pull the trigger. Got it?”

        Sarah frowned, lowered the gun. “That’s not gonna happen, Dad. If you die, we all die.”

        “Goddammit, Sarah. You’re a clever girl. Sometimes too clever for your own good. You’ll work it out.”

       “No, I won’t. You can hunt. Fish. I’m fifteen, with zero survival skills. If you go, we’re as good as dead.”

       Brian brushed a coarse hand across his chin. “Well, then, you’re just gonna have to learn.”

 

       Dusk settled over the lake and the weathered RV parked beside it as the sun drifted behind the tree line. Brian cooked by torchlight, swatting mosquitoes and hoping these were the only critters they would encounter tonight.

        Sarah was helping to bathe the twins at the water’s edge. The two five-year-old boys, Tom and Alex, were identical. Physically, that is. Behaviorally, they couldn’t be more different. Tom, much like his sister, had a nose for books. Alex on the other hand, had a keen nose for trouble.

        Brian flipped the fish on the grill. “It’s getting dark. Keep close to the RV.”

       The twins ignored their dad as they splashed water at each other. Underneath their sounds, Brian recognised the rumble of an approaching engine. He snatched his rifle. “Get inside.”

       Sarah ushered the boys into the RV. Brian moved around to meet the oncoming vehicle, poising his rifle and resting a steady finger on the trigger.

       A rusted pickup came to a stop. The driver’s door opened and a short, sinewy man stepped out, hands held high.

       “I’m not armed,” he shouted with a nasal twang.

       “Back in your truck and go.”

       “My name’s Travis. I just need water. Food, if you can spare it.”

       “There’s nothing here for you.”

       Travis chuckled. “Yeah, except a whole freshwater lake.”

       “I’ll tell you one more time...”

       “Dad.” Sarah stepped from the RV. “We can’t turn him away.”

       Travis grinned at Sarah’s words. “Mister, you’re welcome to keep that thing pointed at me while I’m here. I just want some water. Maybe hook a fish or two.”

       “Dad?” Sarah’s plea hung softly in the air.

       Brian sighed, lowered the rifle.

 

       Travis picked at the gaps in his teeth with a fishbone. Brian sat across from him, rifle resting on his lap.

       “Fine kids you got,” said Travis. “That daughter of yours is really something. She’s got a spark about her, y’know?”

       Sarah pranced around, sporting a knotted rope for hair as she performed Rapunzel for the attentive twins.

       Shadows played on Brian’s face. “Her mother used to say that one day she’d change the world.”

       “I don’t doubt it. She’s quite the performer.”

       “Yeah, she is. Would have been all of three or four when she caught the acting bug...” Brian’s voice cracked on the last word. He straightened in his chair, gripped the rifle. “Alright, boys. Bed.”

       The twins protested but eventually made their way into the RV. Sarah sat beside her father.

       The three shared a long silence before Brian set his gaze on Travis. “Boys are asleep now. So, let’s get down to it: how did you survive this long? Alone, unarmed?”

       “I was in Winston Falls,” said Travis.

       “Winston Falls? Bullshit. That place would be a nest. Like everywhere else.”

       “It is now. Wasn’t before. There was a man who kept the crawlers away. We called him Mr. Moses, on account of him being able to clear a path through those nasty fuckers.”

       “How’s that possible?” said Sarah.

       “He got infected then got clean somehow. Purged the bug. He reckons he had a stench about him after that, something that sent the crawlers running. He was old. Got sick, then sicker. Started ranting about how he used his monsters to beat theirs. I got the hell out soon after that. Didn’t want to be around when we lost our human bug repellent. Been on the road since.”

       Brian nodded. “If it’s all the same, I’d appreciate if you got back on the road in the morning.”

       Travis nodded back. “Understood. You’ve been mighty kind.”

 

       Brian woke to screams outside.

       Sarah. One of the boys.

       He leapt out of bed, searching for his rifle before realising it was gone. He grabbed the revolver from its hiding place and hurried for the door.  

       Sarah was hugging Tom on the grass. Both were crying. Dust roiled in the night air as the pickup truck’s lights veered off the trail and onto the main road.  

       “He took Alex!” screamed Sarah.

       Brian’s jaw tightened. He held the revolver out to Sarah. “Let’s go.”

 

       They spotted the truck a few miles down the road, tucked into a crumbling roadside motel.

       Headlights were on, both doors open. Alex stood next to the truck, his small body wracked with sobs. There was no sign of Travis.

       Sarah blanched. “He left him there?”

       Brian scanned the rooftops. Dark shapes were gathering. He swore under his breath. “This place is a nest. He wanted bait. A distraction. Looting, I’d say.”

       Sarah gasped at the shadows. “Dad, they’re coming!”

       “Hold on.” Brian floored the RV, gunning for Alex.

       Shrieks pierced the darkness as crawlers rained from above. Chitinous forms, enhanced by disproportionately elongated limbs and barbed talons, scuttled toward the RV as it screeched to a halt near the pickup.

       Brian raced for the door and out into the car park.

       Alex was several feet away, whimpering at the monsters closing on him. He spotted his father and made a terrified dash toward him.

       Brian scooped up Alex and threw him into the RV. He was about to follow when a creature hooked him from behind. His world blacked out momentarily as something forced itself down his mouth and wriggled into his stomach. Brian yelled, broke free, and scrambled into the RV.

       He kicked the door shut, locking it as the first crawler rammed against the other side. He jabbed a pair of fingers down his throat, hoping to vomit the thing that was rapidly unfurling inside. No such luck.

       “We’re surrounded.” Sarah was beside him, the two boys cowering behind her.

       Crawlers bashed at the sides of the RV. Talons raked the ceiling as it buckled under an increasing weight.

       “Sarah, it’s in me. You know what to do.” Brian glanced at the revolver in her hand before buckling to his knees. The thing inside him was pushing further into his body as it fought for control of his mind.

       The creatures outside charged the door, causing it to crack and splinter as it threatened to give.

       Sarah regarded the revolver, tears spilling down her hot cheeks. “I can’t, Daddy.”

       Brian was on all fours now as the darkness bore into his brain. He snarled at the children, suddenly aware of their enticing scent. “Sarah...please.”

       The roof at the rear of the RV collapsed. Crawlers spewed in, thrashing and gnashing on their path toward them.

       The twins screamed, hysterical with fright. Sarah stood in front, shielding them from the encroaching swarm and the thing that used to be their father. She raised the gun, trying to steady her shaking hand.

       Sarah spoke through her tears. “We need you, Daddy...”

       Brian growled at her words. He poised, ready to pounce, the tide of advancing creatures rolling in behind him.

       Sarah blinked. A twinge of realization in her gaze.

       A spark.

       Her aim steadied. “They need you, Daddy.”

       She cocked the hammer, just like he’d shown her, slid the barrel into her mouth and pulled the trigger.

 

       The gunshot rung out in the narrow confines of the RV.

       The twins squealed as Sarah’s body hit the floor.

       Brian roared, inhuman at first, but emotion quickly flooded in as his mind snapped back and reeled at what had just transpired. He shuddered, heaved, and then all the vileness rushed into his throat and expelled itself onto the floor, a writhing mass of alien viscera and black goo.

       The crawlers pouring into the RV shrieked and flounced, scrambling over each other in their desperation to scurry back through the hole in the ceiling.

       Brian pulled the twins in, hugging them tightly as they wept and shook. Eventually, he shuffled to Sarah’s body, cradled it in his arms and started howling as he rocked back and forth.

 

       The first pale tinges of dawn were seeping into the sky when they emerged from the RV.

       Brian carried Sarah’s body, Tom and Alex clutching either side of his pants. The boys whimpered when they saw the swarm of crawlers lurking in their way.

       “Don’t be scared,” said Brian, the tears drying on his face. “You don’t ever have to be scared again.”

       As Brian and the twins approached, the crawlers parted, before fleeing back to the nightmare they had escaped from.

 

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In addition to being a writer, Michael Tippett is an audio engineer with over twenty years in television, radio, and film. Michael is currently avoiding writing his first novel, although appears to be making progress despite himself..

 

 

 

 

 


  


 

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