By Patrick M. Tracy
Admiral Concord looked over at his first officer. The man’s face was pale and drawn, with deep gray patches below his eyes. He cleared his throat. “I don’t suppose you brought anything more powerful than that pistol, Mr. Higby.”
Higby wiped at his brow. “No, Sir. The marines had muskets, but…”
Yes, the marines and their muskets were long gone now. The placid looking natives had slit their throats in the night, and it had been all the old man had been capable of to escape on foot. The chanting—that damn chanting had been awful, and it preyed on a man’s mind.
“Ango-Vulo! Ka! Ja! Ango-Vulo!” It had gone something like that. An awful business. Idolatry and witchcraft of the worst sort, by the admiral’s estimation.
The natives had not bothered to chase them into these rocky highlands, though, and the admiral’s sprit remained high. Higby looked like he’d caught some wasting disease and would probably perish in the adventure, but he, Ezekiel Concord, would come out of this somehow.
“No heathen savages can lay me low, not with the Lord’s might behind me.” Concord had said as much to Higby on the first night.
That line of reasoning had always served him well. Now, with that awful, booming, flatulent sound coming from the trees and the shifting of a massive body in the vegetation, things were in doubt. Though he was loathe to consider such a thing, he thought that it was possible that he had passed beyond the reach of God’s good graces.
“I’m afraid, Admiral, that my hands are shaking too badly to hold the pistol,” Higby said. Concord could see the man’s legs quivering pitifully. He grimaced.
“Never mind. Give it here.” Concord checked the fuse and cocked the hammer back. It was a large caliber smooth bore, somewhat out of date, but still enough to knock a man clear over a ship’s railing at close range.
“It’s coming, Sir.” Higby’s eyes blinked rapidly. His lips pulled back from his yellowed teeth and withered gums.
Concord nodded. “All for the prospect of spending the night ashore, eh, Mr. Higby?”
“Suppose so, Sir.”
The profane tower of flesh burst from the trees at that moment. Concord’s hand went nerveless and he dropped the pistol. The creature was huge, easily the size of the African Elephant he’d seen many years previous. His mind strained to make rational sense of it, but failed.
“God in heaven,” he whispered.
Covered with matted, noisome red fur, it had all the legs of a monstrous centipede. Its body was an upright cone of blubbery flesh, topped by not a head but a mass of coiling, snot-slick pseudopods.
“Ango-Vulo,” Higby shrieked. His eyes turned upward in his head, his body sagging to the earth.
The admiral’s mind nearly broke. His every instinct was to bolt, to trust his old knees to a final sprint. Anything to turn away, to deny the presence of such a thing as shambled forward toward him. His bones seemed leaden. He couldn’t move from the spot. At the moment that the first of the insectile claws brushed against his thigh, he began to scream. He did not scream long.