Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Nightmare, 784 words

Odeda groaned and rolled over – or, rather, tried to roll over. She couldn't move.

She tried to yell, but choked on something plastic and hard. It was a length of tubing... The mask! The air mask they'd fit on her as she lay down in the tube, driving a lifeline of oxygen down her throat, gagging and choking as it went down...

Her eyes opened, and through the small plastic visor they'd all been fitted with, to protect their eyes from the pressure of the suspension gel, through the visor she saw she was still in the cryogenic tube. The suspension gel still encased her, held her immobile. The gel was a translucent blue, casting everything visible through the tube's windowed doorway in cerulean distortion, like seeing everything from underwater. She could see the bank of tubes across the room, and—

One of the tubes was open.

Odeda squinted and wracked her memory or whose tube it was. Anna, that was the name. Anna Caston. The aloof woman who had been sent along because she knew the secrets of magic.

Oh God. Her tube was open. Anna's tube was open, and she was still dormant inside. She would die soon, if she wasn't dead already. Had to get out, get out and help her, but the gel was solid and unyielding as a five-ton weight over her whole body.

She couldn't move. She couldn't raise an arm, lift a leg, nothing to help Anna. She couldn't even turn her head away, just close her eyes and... and wait for her own death, she realized.

Held fast, nutrients pumping into her through a needle in one arm, air forced down to her lungs, a catheter and hose carrying away her waste... and awake. No longer living at a ten-thousandth of time's normal flow and asleep for all of it, she would live stuck here for months, years, even decades, unable even to move enough to bite her own tongue and bleed out...

When the panic attack finally subsided, she noticed something new in the room. A figure, humanoid but not human, naked and muscular and scaly. It crouched near Anna's open tube, and even as Odeda watched, it plunged one arm into the gel of Anna's tube, almost solid in the cold chamber, and grasped one of Anna's arms. With a sharp yank, and a sick, wet, tearing sound audible even to ears full of gel, the creature tore Anna's arm off at the elbow and pulled it out of the tube.

It scraped the arm clean of gel, then set to with relish. It gnawed at the meat of her arm, sucked on the ragged, bloody stump of the elbow, and slowly cleaned all flesh off the bones. Casting the bones aside negligently, it reached in and took another piece of Anna. And another. And another...

Odeda tried to turn away, turn her head at least, ultimately could only close her eyes. But she could still hear, as if from a great distance, the foul wet sounds of the creature's feeding -- the shred of flesh, its sloppy open-mouthed chewing and slurping and sucking, the clatter of damp bones on the floor and each other.

There was a long silence, and eventually Odeda risked a peek.

The strange, inhuman creature had finished its grisly feast, finally, leaving nothing but bare bones piled on the floor. And then – as Odeda watched – it plucked up each bone, one after another, and put them back into the tube.

Not haphazardly, but with utmost care. Each bone was placed neatly in the suspension gel until the skeleton was reassembled whole. As if Anna Caston hadn't been torn apart and extracted, as if her flesh had simply faded away to leave her skeleton behind. After maybe 20 minutes, it was perfect.

The hideous monster, its belly distended and fat from its meal, lurched over to Odeda's tube. Odeda feigned sleep, suspension, anything to not have to stare at the grotesque, hungry cannibal. Eventually, she opened her eyes again – and the creature was still there, rigid and unmoving as a gargoyle.

Its eyes arrested hers, cold and reptilian, and its toothy maw hung open in a sick, leering grin. After a few seconds, the creature leaned close and licked the tube with its bloated purple tongue, smearing bloody spittle across the transparent plastic just inches from Odeda's nose. The stuff was viscous, phlegmy, and clung to the side of the tube.

Then, with a delicacy of motion entirely at odds with its brutal, monstrous nature, the creature ran a claw through the blood-streaked phlegm, writing backwards for her to read, and licking the claw clean afterwards.

Wake up, little girl.

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