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Cracks in the Cavern

cracks in the cavern


Estimated reading time — 5 minutes

“Bone is lightweight, durable, and responsive. A bridge made of steel cannot double its length, but bone both grows and responds to stresses. Furthermore, bone mends itself. A shattered brick cannot do that. Bone has much to teach us about Earth’s history and the course of life on the planet. It is the world’s best building material.”

Dr Roy Meals, UCLA.

INITIATION

Harlow shook as his brother peeled off his fingernails. It was the first stage of transformation. He bit down on the mouth guard. The Puppets held Harlow’s shaking body down. The final nail plopped to the forest floor, a glistening pink lump. It stood out against the dirt and roots coating the damp tunnels. In the trees surrounding the entrance, the King watched and waited.

“The First Metamorphosis is complete. Are you prepared for the Second?” Nick, his brother, asked.

The parasitic worms in Harlow’s brain wriggled, encouraging him to nod. They had been a gift from the King.

“Let’s continue,” Nick said and reached for a blade with his third arm. His two original arms stroked Harlow’s cheek, comforting him.

The faithful whispered religious prayers. Nick peeled Harlow’s skin off like an orange. Slice and pull. Slice and pull. Bit by bit Harlow was stripped away. He screamed through the mouth guard. The worms caressed his dopamine receptors, mixing the pain and the pleasure like a shot of vodka did for an alcoholic.

Thump. Thump. Thump. The King slithered down the winding caves. It reached for Harlow’s skinless body. His nerves were on fire, his heart thrummed with adrenaline, and his brain ached from dopamine. Harlow’s skin lay on the floor like dirty laundry.

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“Please…” Harlow begged for mercy.

The King placed a hand on Harlow’s chest. The final gift slipped out and climbed inside his open body, latching onto bones, arteries, and organs. The gift injected its payload, preparing his body for the final transformation.

“The Third Metamorphosis has begun,” Nick said.

Harlow cried out as his bones broke apart, splintered, and reformed with the sound of cracking firewood. Flesh was pulled apart as cancerous bones bulged and expanded his body. Twisted new appendages slithered across the floor. The Puppets sang louder. Harlow’s skull split apart, and honeycombed eyeballs flooded into the gaps. Insectoid claws grew from his tattered fingers. The outer layer of flesh bubbled like sunburnt flesh, hardened, and then scabbed over. The carapace was the colour of spoilt milk.

Harlow tried to cry. He couldn’t. His vocal cords were no longer human.

RITUALS

The cult had once been human. That was before they had seen the many faces of the God, before their initiations by the King, before they had seen beyond the veil of death. The wretched buzz of the Puppets and Priests rose, as they offered prayer to the god of metamorphic change. They were hidden below the dank soil, inside endless warrens and caverns.

Harlow dragged the bodies of kangaroos, possums, and dogs behind him. His octopoidal arms had latched onto their fur, suckers biting through the still-living flesh. The wild animals tried to escape but were wrapped in tentacles. This far underground, there was nowhere for them to go.

Harlow’s brother, Noah, greeted him.

“The Doorway grows every day,” Noah buzzed. The faithful took up the call.

“And we are the servants laying down the path between,” came the response.

Harlow stitched the animals into the structure. They howled and bellowed when his needle fingers picked out strands of their muscles to use as thread. The Doorway groaned; a thousand animal bodies merged through pain, needles, and science. Corrupted blood flowed through the creatures, twisting their bones together. Electric pulses kept their animal hearts and brains working even as they fused into a single body, a single consciousness. The Doorway was already larger than the most magnificent mansion. It grew every day, hidden from sight beneath the dense hills of Boddingup.

Soon, the Doorway would open. The King had failed once before in Boddingup, locked away in a government facility. It would not fail again.

“Brother, the harvest is proving difficult,” Harlow said, “Every day we have to stray further away to find prey.”

“It seems that everything nearby has been collected, or run away,” Nick replied. Birds no longer sang in the forest; they had been the first to flee.

“What can we do? We’re so close to ascension,” Harlow asked.

“Perhaps it’s time to return home to Boddingup, there’s plenty of life to be found there.”

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“Are we ready to go back? I don’t think they would want our gifts.”

Nick sighed, a rustling noise made from bony ridges on his back, “Sadly, not everyone will accept the truth. But we must finish and crack through this cavern of reality. I’ll stay to manage the construction.”

Harlow would have smiled, if he could. “We’ll start with the outer streets and pick them clean.”

Nick’s claws clacked together with approval, “Make sure you leave no evidence. We cannot afford to be discovered.”

TITHES

The pale moonlight glinted off the insectile bodies of Harlow’s hive-brethren. They responded to his pheromones and buzzing commands. Harlow skittered forward like a cockroach, moving from shadow to shadow.

The town of Boddingup huddled against the night. Trees encircled the town, supplying a clear barrier between civilization and nature. Even so, branches reached out to snatch at the town’s borders. Nature would always win.

A small stone house sat at the end of Brewer Lane, the outermost street of Boddingup. That was Harlow’s target. His dozens of bug eyes picked out movement as he peered through the open windows. He could hear police cars cruising through the town. They’d been more active since the disappearance of several teenagers.

“Silent as spiders,” Harlow commanded.

The warriors crawled over the house, slipping down the chimney and through opened windows.

“Strike now,” Harlow’s pheromones whispered.

Like fire ants, the Puppets surged. They tackled the man and woman to the ground.

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The man wrestled with his attackers, “What the f-”

Before either of them finished screaming, the Puppets vomited a stream of fiber, cocooning their mouths shut. They were dragged out of their house, kicking and flailing.

The headlights of a police car lit up the church members as they scuttled across the road. The sirens whooped. Two uniformed officers stepped out, guns raised.

APOTHEOSIS

“Step back and lie down on the ground!” said the female cop, she turned her head to her radio, “This is Officer Miller, we have a possible assault and abduction on Brewer Lane.”

The male police officer approached the buzzing hornets, but kept his distance, “Those stupid costumes won’t do you any good, now lie down!”

Harlow flexed his spine, releasing pheromone spores. The many-limbed monsters sprang forth like arrows. The cops fired on instinct, pistols kicking from recoil. Gunfire echoed in the street. Most of the bullets sparked on the road, but one punched into Harlow. A shoulder popped like a pimple, spraying purple liquid.

With a growl, Harlow joined the fray. One of the faithful collapsed, bullets lodged in its brain and spinal cord. With a whir of chitin and violence, the metamorphic creatures ripped through the police officers. A claw separated Officer Miller’s legs from her waist. She collapsed and fainted from shock as her blood pumped onto the asphalt. The male officer turned to bolt. Spikes and tendrils pierced into his back, dragging him down like a mewling mustang.

Harlow stood. “So much for leaving no evidence,” he thought. With a rustle of ridged plates, he commanded his followers back into the forest. They dragged their still-living victims away to join the hive.

Soon the man and woman would be joined in holy communion to the Doorway. Their voices, bodies, and bones would become one.

Credit: Aaron Beardsell

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