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crawl-or-die-emilie-flory (5)

 

Art Design by Emilie Flory

 

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Ryan James Ford “Arthure Iccon”

 

 

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What I would give right now for a smoke. I’m almost out and down to my very last cigarette with no conceivable way of picking up another packet in the foreseeable. Having said that, I doubt I would be needing them anyway as right now I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place with no exit in sight other than the dubious one staring me right in the face. Not so much an exit as a thankless crawl deeper into desolation; I’m not strictly a gambling man but, if I were, I’d be far less than encouraged by my current odds for survival. Turning back would be suicide; my team has been rapidly whittled down and now only two of us remain. I’m supposed to be the one keeping our spirits high but that is increasingly hard to do when your own hope has all but vanquished.

Ammunition is beyond scarce; between us we have around thirty rounds remaining and I’m saving my very last bullet for the inevitable moment when pushing forward ceases being an option. When that time comes I will be ready and willing to rest that alloy barrel on my tongue and squeeze the trigger. It may seem like the easy way out and quitting isn’t a word ordinarily in my vocabulary but I would rather that than be torn limb from limb by the creature currently in hot pursuit. I say hot where utterly relentless would be far more fitting; it doesn’t look likely that it will lose interest, especially given that it has already devoured two-thirds of my unit and doesn’t appear willing to simply call it quits.

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The only other remaining survivor is Private Eddie Mouser or Mouse as I commonly refer to him. We met back at military academy and instantly hit it off, becoming as thick as thieves, and remaining best buddies ever since. While his nickname suggests that he would find himself at home within any nooks and crannies; it actually couldn’t be farther from the truth. Mouse consists of over 250 lbs of solid muscle with not so much as a gram of fat to be discerned. If there was one person I would want by my side in a situation such as this then he would be my first choice. However, in our current plight, his additional body mass leaves him at a distinct disadvantage and we both know that only too well.

“If you think I’m getting through there bro, you’re delirious”

“Come on man, you’ve gotta try”

“Says the dude who weighs 150 sopping wet. I’ve had dumps with a greater body mass index than you”

“I’m not leaving you here if that’s what you’re thinking”

“I’ll be alright”

“You will huh? Did you see what those things did to Draper?”

“I’ve got my security”

The security Mouse is speaking of is his trusty Beretta 92A1 9MM pistol which he is admittedly pretty handy with, although it has been strangely ineffective since the shit hit the fan twenty minutes back and couldn’t stop Draper from having his larynx torn out right in front of us.

“It ain’t doing shit and you know it”

“Well then maybe I’ll use harsh language”

“Jesus Mouse. Will you just get over here”

“What’s the point? So I can get my ass stuck in that shaft and die looking like Harold Lloyd? Thanks but I think I’ll take my chances”

“What fucking chance?”

“I can handle myself”

“Eddie listen to me…”

“Now I’m in trouble”

“What?”

“Even my mother don’t call me Eddie man. What gives?”

“I…am…not…leaving…you. Comprende? Not gonna happen”

“Just get out of here Piper. I’m worm meal and you know what? I’m actually alright with that”

“Yeah well I’m not. Now are you coming or are we gonna sit here pulling each other’s dick chords until that thing finds its way in here?”

“Who’s the stubborn one now?..Fine. Lead the way Piper”

Piper is the nickname I picked up on account of being the ringleader of many a harebrained scheme. My birth name is Eugene. Eugene Clyde McGovern. You can see why I have no qualms over being known as Piper.

“You first”

“Bro I had four onion bhajis at lunch. Believe me when I say it’s best you take the lead on this one”

“What is it you say? I’ll take my chances. There are worse ways to go”

“Seriously. I ain’t going first. I’m gonna end up slowing your ass down. If I don’t make it I want you to be the one telling Melissa that I died with dignity and a twitch in my nuts. You’re the Piper son”

How can I possibly argue with that logic? We don’t know the floor plan down here and this is strictly a case of the blind leading the blind. If I push forward and scout ahead then we may yet find a way out of this hell hole. Unfortunately, it appears as though any breathable oxygen is in decidedly scant supply right now and neither of us are under any illusion that we’ll locate an exit once we take this channel.

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If I needed any more convincing to get my ass in gear then the inhuman wail that just rung out is all the motivation I needed. I could barely register what exactly was tearing my company apart as light was at a distinct premium and panic far more readily available but I can say this: it was one butt ugly motherfucker. We already know they are aliens; that much was in our briefing. The world is in dire straits and the word on the street is that fertility may well be mankind’s undoing. Reproduction rates have drastically plummeted in the past few months and many don’t believe we stand a chance. I was always the optimist but it’s looking increasingly futile right now and that implacable groan of intent just confirmed such.

From the limited visual I received earlier, the alien in question, is not to be trifled with. Its elongated head is as smooth as a baby’s but there ain’t a bishop in the world who would relish anointing it. I made out what appeared to be several blackened appendages protruding from its back and all capable of heaping additional woe on its quarry. To ice this particularly dubious cake, said creature seemed au fait with both scuttling on its belly and using its hind legs to assume a more overbearing position. Damn right, I’m not wasting another second.

I scurry into the cylinder with relative ease. There is ample space to spare which should bode well for Mouse as his bulk is no longer a positive.

“What’s it like in there?”

“Come and see for yourself. It’s alright you know. A little tight but we should be okay”

I can hear him taking up his position inside the duct behind me so push forward and round the first bend in the framework. God, this tunnel is long. It has to be fifty yards or more to the next open passageway.

“How you doing back there?”

“Peachy. Can’t you tell?”

I know full well that Mouse isn’t a fan of enclosed spaces and his labored breathing offers all the proof I need that peachy he most definitely isn’t.

“Not much further. Keep going buddy”

“Is it just me or is this thing getting smaller?”

“That’s your mind fucking with you. Keep going, we’re almost there”

Both Mouse and I both know that his observation carried weight as it is indeed growing increasingly hard to traverse this tunnel. A little consistency in the architecture would be nice right now but instead whoever designed this harsh labyrinth was evidently having some sort of sick joke.

“Fuck!”

“What is it?”

“Fucking cramp man. Agh!”

“Walk it off”

“I’m gonna slap you hard if we get back to terra firma. Like your momma used to. There will be prints”

“My sense of humor’s about all I’ve got right now. You better?”

“I’ll make it. Keep moving will you. Another minute in here and I’m going postal”

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I’ve witnessed Mouse going postal on more than one occasion and it ain’t a pretty sight let me tell you. It’s commonly believed that the larger they come, the harder they fall but, in his case, the harder they punch would be more accurate. For a big guy he is pretty fast out of the traps and I haven’t met a man yet able to endure more than five seconds with him in an arm-wrestle. Knowing that he is bringing up the rear offers all the encouragement I need to believe we can still make it out of this sorry mess. I’m glad it’s him; if I’m going out today then I’d gladly bite the dirt alongside him. Alright; maybe gladly is a touch strong. There are still plenty of places I’d rather be than cramped in this increasingly restrictive pipe with an embittered extraterrestrial advancing fast but you get my gist.

“Alright. We made it”

“What we looking at?”

“A small clearing. Maybe fifteen square feet at best”

“Any way up?”

“Negative. Closed in I’m afraid but we can catch our breath here and there’s another entrance the other side”

“Excuse me if I don’t dance the jig brother”

Damn right he won’t be needing his dancing shoes. How do I possibly explain that he has two hopes of squeezing his child-bearing hips inside tunnel number two and they’re merely “no” pluralized. He’s FUBAR; it’s the end of the road for Mouse unless divine intervention decides to pay us a visit. Think I’ll let him suss this one out on his own. I just don’t have the heart.

“Nice. Guess this is where our paths deviate my friend”

“I told you I’m not leaving you”

“This ain’t Sophie’s Choice bitch. Get your lanky crank in there. I’m okay with this”

“Listen. We’re both screwed. The air quality is diminishing, this passage isn’t filling me with confidence, and I’m pretty sure our friend just climbed into the vent we just hauled ass through”

“Go”

“I can’t Mouse”

“FUCKING GO!”

I procrastinate for a full three seconds and eventually I know this is where our ride together terminates.

“Piper. Take this”

He offers up his precious sidearm.

“Not a chance bud. You’re gonna be needing that more than me”

“I’ve got what I need”

“Harsh language ain’t cutting it. You know that right?”

“I’m going hand-to-hand bitch. Fancy myself a scrap”

With that, Mouse produces a four-inch serrated US army knife from his right boot and assumes position.

“Love you man”

“I love you too you fucking Mary. Now get out of here will you. I need space to operate and you’re cramping my style”

These final words spoken between us are as close to sentimental as we were ever likely to get and I dive into the next crawl space without any further dalliance, leaving my best friend to get up-close-and-personal with our persistent foe. I took the gun but only because I know how stubborn Mouse is in such situations and backing down is a notion he pays absolutely no mind. However, I drop it quietly into the gravel behind him before making my exit. I still have my trusty Taurus which houses the single bullet required to paint the back wall with brain matter should it come to that. I am under no illusion that firepower will take it down as I emptied an entire clip into that fucker when it was making short work of Harper and it hardly even flinched.

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“Hello boy”

That’s my cue to keep wriggling as it means that Mouse is about to be granted his last dance.

“That all you got you fucking wimp. Here look, I’ll keep my left behind my back. Give you a chance”

Holy shit Mouse is one bad motherfucker. The funny thing is, it’s the alien that I feel sorry for. He won’t go out without a grapple that’s for sure. Pure testosterone, straight through to the marrow. What a legend.

“When you gonna stop tickling me son? You can do better than that”

Whatever the outcome, and I fear for Mouse that the writing is on the wall despite his honorable rearguard, he has bought me precious time and I can now see a second enclosure, although I’m growing increasingly hamstrung the further I muddle through the ever-decreasing circle before me. Gotta focus.

“Piper man. This dude ain’t got nothing. I’ve seen more fight in a teenage girl with brittle bone syndrome”

Always the joker.

________

Marcel Dettmann Radar (Byetone Remix)

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By the time I jam my shoulders through the opening and squirm forth into an even tighter pen than the last, I know only too well that my compatriot has succumbed. You wanna know the kicker? I know right; doesn’t appear to be many reasons to remain cheerful. His screams of agony were seasoned with laughter; even as that alien fuck prepared to put out his lights, he was still mocking it. I’m under no disillusion that Mouse’s amusement was authentic and that is precisely why I would trust him with my kidney. It was a show, one final charade, in my honor to offer me hope when his own was all but spent. We may never have got to take Melissa and Toni to Niagara Falls as planned but, should I get out of here alive, it’ll be the first thing I do man. God bless you Eddie.

________

Mouse would kick my fucking asshole through my skull-cap right now if he saw me snivelling like a bitch. I owe it to his memory to keep moving. I can’t make out much in the way of inviting options but hold up. What’s this? There appears to be something etched into the granite on the left hand wall. Whilst unlikely to offer a lifeline; I’m curious and I need a few seconds before I move so much as another solitary inch more than is absolutely necessary. One word.

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If nothing else, that proves in no uncertain terms that its worth keeping hope alive after all. Somebody else has been down here, moreover, it appears freshly carved and the fallout is still settling beneath where it is scribed. Who or what the fuck is Tank? Another wail from southwest offers all the encouragement I need to get back to the task at hand. Things just got a lot more fun; I now have a secondary mission to occupy myself as I attempt to slide beneath this barely discernible recess at ground level. Further recon with my shoulder-mounted flashlight confirms that this crawl space offers the only ventilation available and, thus, I know exactly what is required of me.

When I was twelve I dislocated my shoulder when a soft ball hit me full pelt during baseball practice. If I ever meet the dude who named it “softball” I’ll chin him for false advertising. Often it decides to fall out of joint momentarily. When this happens, and to its credit it always relocates its fixture within a second or two, it’s excruciating. Ordinarily I try not to use this as my party trick as, I may be a soldier, and pretty tidy in a skirmish, but I’m not what you would call an ambassador of pain unless it’s administered by Dita Von Teese, in which case, stick me gladly!

The relevance to this story now is that I will be required to dislodge my shoulder if I am to stand any chance of making it beneath this somewhat unappetizing underpass. No time for tossing coins; it is already growing difficult catching a breath as the oxygen back here is all but depleted. It has given up its time out and one would imagine Mouse provided more than a dash of acid reflux as he was denser than wet clay and likely still grappling all the way down to its stomach lining. I’d pay to watch it attempting to pass its first stool after that banquet. Right then; let’s do this.

________

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This is…this isn’t good.

I can’t breathe here. I can’t…fucking breathe. Oh fuck. Oh fucking hell…I…can’t…I can’t take this.

Delirium is beginning to kick in and the timing couldn’t be worse if it tried. My last line of defense is this blade and it’s making headway but not at the pace I was hoping. I got to keep digging; it’s crawl or die. Simple as that. As if oxygen wasn’t already a pressing concern, I have now been joined beneath the partition and can feel its cloying breath against my combats as I shuffle. I could just as easily pass out where I lay; such is the misery emanating from my extricated shoulder joint. However, I’m not going out like that. I have my orders; Mouse may not be here in body but the dumb bastard still won’t let me bow out. Not like this.

There it is. Light. It’s limited, but still bankable light which means now would be the ideal time for that final push. I got this; The Piper is leading and, if you can’t keep up, then that’s your headache you noxious fuck. Just a few more inches…and an oxygen mask if you’re feeling really generous.

I’m through and on my knees. First things first; my shoulder. Time to do this like Murtoch.

ARGH! JESUS SHITTING FUCK BALLS!

God damn; that really smarted. Oh no. Oh why? Why would you do this to me? I read your stinking bible and I even understood most of it. So why now? After the shit I’ve just been through.

Nothing. No diminutive alcoves or tiny tantalizing tubes to jerk through. Not a single thing outside of grim realization and imminent suffocation. This is it; I’ve done what I could. I think that Mouse would be proud right now. Fuck it, I KNOW Mouse is proud right now. He knows my game plan in such inhospitable circumstances. His choice was to fight tooth and nail until the final death rattle but I prefer to fade to black a little more briskly.

Well I’ll be damned. I still got me one smoke left. Back pocket. If I’m quick I can get a few drags in before cashing in my express ticket. Lucky Strikes; a touch more on the one-dimensional side than I prefer but beggars can’t be choosers with death’s jaws snapping at your Achilles.

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That is divine. Hardly any air left to suck in but still it hits you right where it should.

new-smoking

One in the chamber. Time’s up. I have company now. Sorry to disappoint you friend but I win.

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