It was a fine day, to those who were utterly insane. The sun was blazing, the birds were dead, and the animals that had survived long enough were strung up to sell to the local peoples. Just like last time, except a little bit more gory than before. Traders came and went, shielding their bodies with tatters of cloth in an attempt to protect themselves, both from the harsh environment and from the native men and women.
Hunters walked back and forth, some bringing back tasty morsels that they could scavenge. Others finding nothing, and faced the consequences of being torn apart by their friends and neighbours. Even their families tried to take a bite out of their flesh, the disgrace and the savage hunger too strong to ignore. The remains of the bodies couldn't even be considered corpses at all, being too badly damaged. Some of those doomed to suffer this grisly fate accepted it, their will to live being weaker than the loyalty to their family. Others fled, only to find themselves being scorched to death by the sun, assisted by the harsh climate. Their shrivelled corpses occasionally showed up if you had walked far enough.
William was used to seeing this local custom occur, sometimes watching as relatives strung up the remains of disgraced family members with hooks, ropes, or anything they could find that was durable enough to survive the heat. As he watched, one of them caught his eye. A broken mound of body parts hung to his left, the tatters of a dress clinging to the sticky mess told him it was once a girl who stepped out of line.
If he looked closely, he could see the pink flesh slowly turning a light shade of brown as it was cooked, even a glimpse of a ribcage covered in many bite marks, clearly an attempt to get to the bone marrow in the centre.
The head was almost completely severed at the neck, hanging to one side by a flap of skin, hardly even considered a "head" anymore. Simply a broken mass of red flesh. The brain, or what was left of it, was spilling out of a crack in the skull, reduced to mush. The skull was a fractured jigsaw, with lone tatters of skin, hair and muscle clinging to the bone. But the face....
William felt a sharp pang of anger and recognition, provoking tears to stream down his face. It was his sister, Marie. Or what remained of her physically. He got closer, for confirmation. "Mhm. That's definitely Marie", he monologued. An annoyed hiss from behind prompted him to turn around, to face one of his neighbours.
She was a vile, bent-backed crone, wearing a faded shroud of green that covered her from head to knee. Usually William observed her from a distance, unable to see what was beneath the hood. But up close, suddenly he wished he was far away again. Her fingers bunched into arthritic claws, seeming monstrous in the sun's glare. Yet it was the most normal thing about her, as many hungry people took on this appearance. In fact, he almost considered her as normal. Until he saw what was underneath the hood.
Her face was bloated, a mass of flesh that seemed to be pulsating from within. An eye, large and unwavering, stared down at him from her sunken sockets, the other eye reduced to rotting mush. A cavity, which seemed to be a mouth, opened and closed, giving a glimpse of broken teeth and blackened gums, and for a moment, something shiny at the back of her throat. Plates of silvery metal clung to the skin, mottled like scales.
As he came closer, a light humming could be heard, accompanied by the screech of gears turning and twisting. This woman was an amalgamation, a living patchwork of flesh and machinery. William reeled away in horror and disgust, unable to hold down the bile that was coming up his throat and out his lips, leaving a stain of half-digested food on the ground.
More people came to see the commotion that he was causing, staring at him. More people like her. Mutated and grotesque, patches of silver criss-crossing their faces. They all started to scream incomprehensibly, screaming and screaming until he could no longer take it. His heart was beating faster and faster, threatening to burst out of his chest. His ears were twitching madly, begging for the cacophony to stop, but their begging was answered with more screaming.
There were only two ways out; escape into the desert and meet his fate with dehydration and overheating, or stay here to be deafened and, eventually, to be savaged by the local peoples. He would have preferred staying here to die a gruesome death if his loyalty to his family was stronger than mere common sense. Instead, he chose to escape into the environment, where no monstrosities could interfere with what nature had in store for him, they being too frightened to venture beyond their local settlement.
He ran and ran as fast as he could go, before slowing to a jog and finally to a walk. He was tired, thirsty, and needed to find shelter before night came. There were things that roamed the barren landscape after dark, things that slithered, writhed, and clicked. Things that could swallow you whole when you weren't looking.
His eyes searched the place. There was nothing but a few sharp-looking boulders, a group of dead cacti, and a large outcrop of rock. The rest was just piles upon piles of sand and debris. William investigated the outcrop, in case of an entrance to a cave. It was an old creature, punctured by time and wind. There was a stench of decay in the air that became stronger as he came closer to it, and, as he circled carefully round the rock, he eventually found the source of the smell.
There was a small hole in the side of the rock, just big enough to squeeze through. So, Will, he thought, will you stay outside in spite of the smell, or will you go into the hole that, while the stench would probably kill your nose, could potentially save your life from whatever nocturnal monster lurks outside? I choose to go into the shelter. So William, though hesitant for a moment, decided to clamber into the possible shelter.
There was a tunnel beyond the entrance, and, though too dark to see, he felt his way as he crawled forwards. His knees scraped against the jagged rock of the tunnel's floor, sending a jolt of pain through him. But eventually, the tunnel led into a large area, entombed by walls of rock. A small crack in the ceiling allowed a trickle of sunlight through the room, shining on what seemed to be a half-eaten animal carcass.
Piles of rubble and gravel decorated the floor, the corners were splattered with obscenities and animal filth. He surveyed the room and, finding a comfortable spot, lay down in exhaustion. His knees and hands were scratched and bleeding from crawling around. As William nodded off to sleep, he had time to think.
He knew there were other settlements, others like the one he came from, others with the same psychotic culture, so he decided to stay away from those too. He didn't want trouble, as word of an escapee could spread quickly throughout all neighbouring settlements, even to the ones that were far away.
I wonder what happened to my family, he thought. They must have been butchered, by those who thought that my family had helped the traitor, me, run away. I love them so much. All the same though, I never really liked them for what they've done, especially to Marie. They killed her and ate her, like the many others that have suffered the same fate. He stopped for a moment, shocked at his own hypocrisy.
He had eaten the same food as his relatives, and it was ironic that he was judging them on what they had done. A painful irony, that could devour you if you couldn't accept it. After his nap, William opened his eyes, sat up, and turned around.
The carcass was gone.
He felt a sudden fear, something of which shouldn't have been able to move on its own. Adrenaline had worked his brain up into a frenzy, bombarded with confusion and fear. Flight is unnecessary, he could try to escape the thing that was in here with him, but he would meet a worse fate outside. Fight is good, but fight what? He didn't know what he was up against, and it could probably pick him up and tear him apart with ease.
So he waited, deciding to root himself to the spot. A low, aggressively distorted growl came through the shadows, followed by a triumphant groan. Slowly, but surely, the previously-seen carcass was dragging itself towards him, its remaining eyes turned toward him but unseeing. And then, it stopped. Just like that. William's heart was thundering in his torso, beating loudly enough that anything within 2 metres could hear it. Was it over? He couldn't know.
Something emerged from the cadaver, a slippery, worm-like creature. Another came, and then another, until the floor was crowded with them. They took on the appearance of oversized maggots, squirming and writhing in the partial blackness. William took a step forward, and accidentally trod on one, its gooey digestive system spurting out of it as he put his full weight upon it.
An angry hiss sounded from around the room. And then they lunged at him, all at once, taking him by surprise. They dug into his flesh and muscle, disrupting what natural mechanisms were in place. They were slowly killing him, but how? Physically? No. Mentally? Yes. He couldn't feel anything at all.
A light humming noise sounded from his chest as one of the creatures burst through it, sending fragments of ribcage and lung tissue into the air. It was accompanied by a faint whirring sound of gears turning. Well shit, I am one of them, he thought. What a surprise.
He noticed that he was slowly fading away, with each faltering beat of his heart sending him further out. As he watched his body stand up of its own accord and crawl back through the tunnel, William wondered what would happen next. Ah, well, he thought, I wanted to escape, and I got what I wanted. In a sense, anyway.
And with that, he went onwards. Where to, he couldn't be sure.
Written by Cynicate