Stack Goes Walking
by James A. Ford
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
They had walked for a full day. Nement kept the humanoid in front of him and pointed his weapon at it to insure compliance. Every once in a while he stopped to give the creature water; this seemed to help the humanoid and allow it to continue. Like most desert creatures, Nement took water directly from his food and was very efficient in retaining it, but out here he always carried an emergency supply. He was aware that life forms from other regions needed a lot more water, and this humanoid was certainly one of those. Weak.
Nement studied the humanoid, it was quite large; there was a lot of meat. Just looking at its pink flesh made Nement hungry, for he now knew exactly how good it would taste. Every once in a while, to abate his hunger and keep himself under control, Nement took a quick bite from the arm he had cut from Flynn. The meat was good enough for now, but he was sure it would taste so much better fresh.
Nement had seen this form of humanoid before in some of the settlement areas and not taken much notice; each year there seemed to be more of them. From now on he would look at them quite differently.
Stack was biding his time. He was aware that the creature had not saved him or wasted the stimulant shot and water on him to make friends. One look at the creature told him it was a meat-eating predator: vegetarians did not need a mouthful of sharp teeth. Although the creature had tried to hide it, Stack had seen what the thing was eating: crewman Flynn’s other arm, and that arm wouldn’t last much longer.
Stack knew the creature planned to eat him; he was being led to his death. Despite this terrible knowledge Stack salivated thinking of the arm the creature was gnawing.
He would have to fight, Stack knew this and prepared himself mentally for that certainty. Although the creature possessed a fierce-looking head full of teeth, it wasn’t any bigger or stronger-looking then Stack himself. He would have to strike without hesitation at the first opportunity, before he became too weak. Perhaps going for the creature’s two sets of bulbous, protruding eyes.
They had stopped for another water break. Stack knew immediately that something was different, the creature didn’t pour out any water. Stack watched as the creature dug at the base of a large red rock. As it dug something else became clear: it wasn’t just a rock: it was a marker.
The creature stopped digging and pulled a black tube from the ground. One large, clumsy, clawed finger picked off the end cap and a stream of water flowed from the tip. An underground aquifer. Stack remembered, vaguely from his initial briefing on the planet, there was supposedly an abundance of underground water, but he hadn’t expected a source in this godforsaken desert.
The creature drank his fill and then filled the small jar from which he had been doling water out to Stack. It held out the water for Stack to drink, but as Stack moved forward, there was a needle in the thing’s other huge hand, it was moving forward to give Stack another shot. This time the fluid in the needle was a bright yellow colour.
Nement meant to inject the humanoid with a powerful sedative, it would either sedate to the point of coma or kill the humanoid outright. Either way was fine, then Nement could eat in peace. The shot would also act as a muscle relaxant, instantly making the humanoid more tender for consumption.
Stack kicked the creature in its crotch as hard as he could. Nement was taken unawares; he hadn’t believed Stack could put up any kind of fight, let alone hurt him. The short needle dropped from Nement’s hand as he bent over in pain. Stack grabbed it and with out any ado jabbed it into Nement’s long exposed neck. The creature jerked once and fell flat on its face.
Stack collapsed in the sand still very weak. He crawled toward the still-flowing water and placed the end in his mouth and drank slow, nice and easy so as not to vomit it right back out. He dropped the hose and lay back in the sand. He wanted to sleep but didn’t want to be awakened by a hungry, pissed-off alien.
Stack roused himself and stood unsteady in the blowing sand. He rummaged through the creature’s sack until he found a length of thin but very sturdy-looking rope, made of some substance he was unfamiliar with. He tied the creature’s hands first and then its feet, he then joined the hands and feet with more rope behind its back and pulled tight just like in the old Terran videos he liked to watch. He believed it was how cow... cow... what was the term?... cowboys, that was it — it was how cowboys use to hogtie animals of some kind. Cows?
As he worked, Stack smiled, thinking that the creature had had so little respect for him as a threat that it hadn’t even thought to use this rope to tie him.
For a moment he thought about killing the creature outright, with its pistol or by cutting its throat, but he was confident that the shot would keep the creature out for some time. Too be sure, he drove his knife deep into the creature’s leg. It didn’t move. Satisfied with his work Stack covered himself (and all potential weapons) partially in the sand and slept.
Several hours later Stack awoke. Night had fallen, which meant that he would have to work in a semi-dark twilight. The huge yellow sun was now just below the horizon where it would stay for several Terran hours. It was never completely dark here, and although it felt weird to Stack, he was grateful: he could just imagine the horror of existing out here in pitch-black night, never knowing what might be sneaking up in the dark.
Stack made a fire out of the remnants of Nement’s backpack. He then took the creature’s own knife and started to cut off Nement’s right arm, it seemed a good place to start. Since eating Flynn’s arm, Stack now felt quite comfortable eating arms. Nement flinched as Stack worked. Stack thought the creature was having a bad dream that was pushing it towards partial consciousness.
The creature appeared to be coming to. It didn’t; the drug, whatever it was, kept the creature under. Stack was impressed: only a kick-ass shot could continue to sedate the creature while its arm was hacked off. There was bound to be a big market for such a drug; he’d have to look into obtaining more.
The arm finally separated from its body in a wash of blue-black fluid; the creature’s blood, thought Stack. The dark syrupy blood flooded out of the wound and ran down into the dry sand where it was sucked up almost immediately. Stack didn’t bother to stop up the flow as the creature was going to die soon one way or the other, for Stack meant to eat as much of him as he could before moving on.
The next chore was to actually cook the arm. Stack had eaten Flynn’s raw but wanted the alien’s arm cooked; it just made him feel better. The arm was about four feet long and well-muscled; there was no hair but there was a thin layer of dark scales. Stack thought that the scales looked like those of Terran fish; of course that was before fish had become extinct. He had never seen a real fish, only pictures and a vid doc once. The scales fascinated him; he fancied it was like going back in time.
He rigged a roasting pit out of some desert rocks he collected and stacked on either side of the fire. He relaxed and sat back once in a while turning the arm by its hand so that it cooked evenly.
Stack ate well that night. The meat tasted good, Stack liked it as much as Flynn; perhaps this creature wasn’t that far removed from himself. Pity that he had to eat him. Well, he thought, savouring another bite, the desert was a strange place.
Finishing up, Stack smothered the fire and buried the arm bones away from camp. He returned and looked down at the creature he had partially eaten for dinner. He thought again about cutting its throat or shooting it with the pistol it had carried. Once dead, Stack wouldn’t have to worry about the drug finally wearing off and the creature somehow getting loose at night.
He thought a while longer and then decided these fears were silly: True, the creature was still breathing, but how much of a fight could it launch tied securely and missing and arm, not to mention a lot of blood. Besides, if it lived through the night, Stack would get fresh meat for breakfast. The longer the creature lived, the longer its meat would last Stack.
He dug himself a shallow burrow in the sand and placed a few large rocks in the sand on either side of where his head would rest. He got in and lay down flat and then pulled sand in on himself, starting with his feet and burying himself so only his head protruded from the sand bed between the two rocks. The covering provided much needed protection from the wind and allowed him to stay warm in the cool desert night.
Stack was quite comfortable and went to sleep feeling fine and sated. He had food and a source of water, he didn’t really have any illusions of a quick rescue, but this aquifer could be a focal point in the desert, a crossroads, in fact. Not all the creatures in this desert were like the one he had just drugged and hogtied. He only needed one friendly to happen by to get out of here. Yes, he thought as he drifted off. Things were looking up.
Stack awoke in bright light. The sun was up but its heat had yet to penetrate the sand. Stack thought it was strange that he hadn’t awakened sooner, the sun was high and hot. Oh well, he thought. No need to get up just yet. He lay still for a moment, then with a start became very alert. Something was causing his inner alarm bells to ring: something was moving in the camp.
Stack jerked his head towards where he had tied the creature. It was still there. Stack blew out a relieved sigh; he could feel his heart slowing down back towards normal. The creature was still there and now looked very dead. He made a note to himself that he would have to eat as much of it as he could today before it started to rot. The movement had been the wind, nothing more, he told himself.
Might as well get up, he decided. I’m awake now. Stack tried to move but found he couldn’t. He raised his head with effort and took his first good look around: the shifting sands had covered him, he could see that the burrow he was in was submerged in a heavy layer of sand. He was trapped. He tensed all of his muscles in unison trying to burst from his cocoon. Nothing. Too much sand.
Then he had a thought that eased his rising panic. The wind would surely change and blow the sand off him just as it had buried him during the night; all he had to do was wait. Just relax and wait.
The wind didn’t change all day and the sand got heavier and heavier. Piling on in a large tan dune. The windbreak of rocks that Stack had placed around his head last night was the only thing keeping the sand off his face, for now.
Just before nightfall he began to scream. When the sound of his screams started to scare him, he forced himself to stop. There was a lunacy in his useless outburst: he wasn’t that far gone yet, he still had a chance if the wind would just change. Just wait, he told himself. Just wait.
Two days later and Stack was still waiting. He was delirious and advanced dehydration was robbing him of his vision. He’d had to stop yelling early yesterday; his throat had swollen and his voice box no longer worked. He prayed he wouldn’t last much longer.
Trying hard to focus his eyes Stack looked over at the body of the tied-up creature. Through the day, the wind had blown it over so its face pointed toward him. Its four staring eyes seemed to look directly into his. Perhaps it was the dehydration, or perhaps the delirium but Stack was sure that the creature was smiling.
Copyright © 2010 by James A. Ford