The Survivors

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A chilling tale of primeval terrors coming true---Right in your own backyard!

The Survivors

A Short Story By Fuad Khan

May, 2008

 

Chapter 1

A Walk In The Dark

 

Josh muttered to himself as he walked down the narrow, leaf littered path along the deep thicket of oak trees that led to his house. He has had a rough day. His high school basketball team had failed to make it to the state championship, and he just could not accept the fact that he had to sit out for most of the qualifying game due to an early foul he had made. How could have he done that? And then, to top it all off, he had to stay back late at the school to help Mrs. Deacon set up the stalls and move equipment around for the upcoming science fair next week. Before he knew it, the sun had gone down and that fact that his house was barely seventy walking yards away did not do much to lighten up his dark mood.

 

He straightened his leather jacket collar up against the biting chill of the early October howling wind, and shifted his backpack to the other shoulder as he hurried across the towering trees surrounding him.

 

A pale, full moon had just started to peek out from behind the fluffy cumulus clouds, and an owl broke out in its eerie, haunting nightly hoot, probably signaling his presence to a potential mate.

 

Josh stopped dead in his tracks. Was it just his imagination or did the branches on the huge tree right in front of him really move? Josh peered harder through the darkness, attempting to use the filtering moonlight to his advantage. And then he heard the growl--- the low, guttural, beastly sound that made the hair stand on the back of his neck. He started to draw back, very slowly, step by step. He was so terrified by the unearthly sound  he had just heard that he barely noticed the hulking figure right behind him, the hot breath blowing right into his ears.

 

He turned, very slowly.

 

 

Chapter 2

The Discovery

 

 

Jena opened her eyes and stretched widely, trying to stifle the yawn that escaped her lips nonetheless. The bedside clock read seven AM, just about regular time for her to start getting ready for school. She was really excited about school today. It was the day when she would get the recognition and applause for being the topper at the science fair with her breathtaking presentation on ancient human civilizations and the dawn of science technology as mankind progressed. Being of mixed ancestry herself (she had half-American, half Pakistani blood from her paternal side, and part American, part Lebanese from her mothers’), she was well aware of how the intermingling of various cultures and races over time had contributed to the richness and diversity of humanity across the globe. Though she was proudly born and raised in the United States, she always felt an immense longing to reconnect with her roots, to explore and truly understand what it was like being a part of totally different societies and people.

 

 

She quickly got dressed and went down to the kitchen where her mother had fixed her a hearty breakfast of fried eggs, cereal and orange juice. She loved the fact that her mother always took the time and pains to ensure she ate a proper breakfast before heading to school, before she herself drove off to work at the county hospital where she worked as a nurse in the pediatrics unit. About to turn fifteen next month, she was really looking forward to getting her driver’s permit so she would be able to drive her beloved green Volkswagen Beetle to the school which, for the time being, served as the family’s backup car.

 

As she started her daily morning walk toward the school (she lived three blocks away), her mind turned to the terrible incident that had befallen one of her schoolmates who lived right by the school. Josh was well known and well liked as the school’s foremost athlete and spokesman for the student body, and life had seemed to be going great for him until about two weeks back. He was supposedly on his way home one evening from school after one of the qualifying basketball games when he was allegedly attacked by someone, or something, in the woods by his house and the only thing that probably saved his life was the fact that one of the neighbors’ car had come about the forlorn road at that time and he had found Josh lying on the street, badly bruised and unconscious. The police had come and investigated and the local newspapers reported the cops thought Josh had either been jumped by an odd mugger or got scared by a coyote or bobcat in the thicket and stumbled and knocked himself out. There was scant evidence at the site as the wind had been extremely strong that night and practically the whole forest got rearranged by the time the police got there. Josh was taken to the hospital where he had regained consciousness but was unable to tell what had happened to him, prompting the doctors to diagnose selective retrograde amnesia, meaning he had totally blacked out on the events of the night due to intense shock and trauma. His injuries were luckily superficial and he was discharged home after first aid and a prescription for two weeks bed rest and therapy sessions.

 

Jena shook off the thoughts of the incident as she neared her school, and presently the deafening roar of heavy machinery and rolling bulldozers demanded her attention. The school was being extended farther back into the woods as a new building housing a brand new gymnasium, a science lab and three additional technology classrooms was being constructed at a feverish pace. She sighed pitifully as she saw the beautiful, autumn red-orange oak trees being uprooted and displaced by chainsaws and Caterpillar tractors and the landscape changed completely in a matter of days. Sometimes she wondered if all this new development and construction were worth the price that was to be paid in terms of loss of precious habitats for a multitude of wildlife, all the trees with their fresh oxygen and colorful berries and the fluttering butterflies, all the wonderful shady spots to relax in and shake off the day’s worries. She had grown up in this neighborhood chasing squirrels, spotting cardinals and blue jays, listening to the howls of coyotes at night and chirping of crickets, but now---- she sighed again as the chainsaws got back to work.

 

 

CHAPTER 3

The Silhouette

 

Sheriff Nicholas “Nick” Bronson was in a quandary. It was not that he had not had his share of weird cases and happenings in the vicinity, but the fact that what he was seeing and hearing over the past month or so seemed totally out of the ordinary and defied all logical explanation the really bothered him. Things like that good, old Mr. Roberts reporting two of his goats and a horse missing from his ranch, Mrs. Branigan’s house broken into and her kitchen vandalized (a few other items were missing as well), The Sullivans’ boy Josh scared to pieces in the woods by someone or something (Too bad the kid could not recall anything-too badly freaked out) but he had to hand down the freak-out prize to Mrs. Hudson as she narrated her story to him as he stared at her in disbelief.

 

 

“I was fixing dinner last night, around eight o’ clock, when my German shepherd “Ranger” started going berserk. He just won’t quit barking. I ignored it at first thinking it was probably a wild cat or raccoon or something, but then I heard a loud crash as if something had been broken into pieces. My husband was in the shower, so I went over to the closet, fished out our big outdoors flashlight and stepped outside in our backyard to investigate. I could not believe my eyes at first. The first three pillars of our fence had been ripped off the ground, and through this opening was staring the ugliest, scariest, most monstrous beast I have ever seen. I mean, it was the stuff of nightmares. Red, bloodshot, piercing eyes, a large black muzzle, thick black fur, and the teeth--- Oh My God! It had the longest, most horrifying fangs I could ever imagine. I started to back up into the house slowly, when the most incredible thing happened.  I could not have taken my eyes off the beast for more than five seconds as I steadied myself, and when I looked again--- Oh My God! The face had changed--- it wasn’t an animal anymore, but it wasn’t completely human either. It was too wild and beastly to be called human. Anyways, I ran back into the house screaming. My husband had just come out of the shower, and stared at me in shock. I explained what had just happened to him, and he grabbed his shotgun and we rushed out together. By this time, the creature had disappeared and we were left with the broken fence.”

 

‘Mrs. Hudson, you understand what you are saying. You saw this dog—wolf like creature that supposedly turned into a semi human and ripped your fence out of the ground. Supposing that I accept the other impossible aspects of your story, I do not think an animal would have the strength to do that, not any animal found in this part of the world, at least.”

 

Mrs. Hudson looked pained. “I know you don’t believe me, Sheriff, I don’t really blame you either, but I am telling you the truth and I swear my life upon it. You can also talk to my husband when he gets back from work.”

 

“Alright”, Sheriff Bronson replied resignedly, “We’ll definitely take a look at this, but please--- and this is important, don’t go around telling the townsfolk about this just yet, we don’t want a national emergency at our hands before we sort this out.”

 

 

There really was not much evidence to build anything on. Sheriff Bronson two of his deputies had searched the Hudson residence and the whereabouts, but it was hopeless to look for footprints, or paw prints for that matter, in the long grass and dried leaves that surrounded the outer fence. Sure enough, whatever it was, had apparently enough strength to yank the solid wooden fence clean out of the ground, but just what in the world was it? Sheriff Bronson was no wildlife expert, and knew even less about ancient superstitions and mythical creatures. What he certainly did not want was any news reporters snooping around here and any sensational headlines screaming out from the newspapers about the killer beast on the prowl. His town was quiet and orderly most of the time, and he intended to keep it that way.

 

 

CHAPTER 4

The Dawn Of Mankind

 

“So Jena,” Mrs. Deacon cocked an eyebrow as she addressed her during the AP Biology class this bright Thursday morning, “What have you got to tell the class regarding your thesis on human evolution and descent?”

 

Jena had been waiting for this moment a long time, her chance to finally shine with her brilliant thesis that would open the door to extra college credits and establish her credentials as a most deserving candidate for pursuing paleo-anthropology, the science of studying ancient humans and their physical and social characteristics, as a career.

 

“Alright ladies and gentlemen,” Jena shuffled through her stack of research papers and began, “The story of human origin, in fact, the origin of all species on Earth begins with the brilliant insights and monumental works of the great English scientist and naturalist, Charles Robert Darwin. Darwin was 22 when he embarked on a life changing journey aboard the HMS Beagle from England to the tropics of the Southern Hemisphere. There, he observed spectacular forms of life, and was amazed at the diversity of organisms he found on various islands. His intensive and detailed study of ancient life forms and fossils led him to formulate his most dynamic and controversial theory—the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. Darwin argued that based on the fossil record, homologous structures and vestigial organs, as well as embryological similarities in different organisms, all life had emerged from one common ancestor, and subsequently split into various other branches as each life form adapted to its own environment. In other words, in this “struggle for existence”, there was only “survival of the fittest”, and therefore species evolved to reach their ultimate best adapted forms over long periods of time.”

 

Jena paused and glanced over at Mrs. Deacon.

 

“So what happened to the other life forms, Jena?”

 

She continued, “Well, most of them died out due to being outcompeted by the fitter, better adapted species. However, some pockets of relict populations did survive though. For example, the strange looking fish, the coelacanth, is more than 65 million years old and was presumed to be extinct until its rediscovery off the coast of the South African east coast in 1938. The crocodilians are also supposed to be living fossils literally.”

 

Mrs. Deacon pushed on, “Ok, move on to the human chain.”

 

Jena continued, “The earliest fossil record of hominids, man-like creatures, appears to be about 4 million years old. These beings were named australopithecines. Hairy bodied, massive jaws, big canines, males about five feet tall, weighing around 45 kilos, females were slightly shorter and lighter. The brain size is about that of a modern day chimpanzee. Then came the Homo habilis, the Handy Man, about 2 million years ago, smaller jaws, more sophisticated tool making techniques and bigger brains. The Homo erectus, the Upright Man, fossils arise about 1.5 million years ago. They had flatter faces with still larger brains and also supposedly the first hominids to use fire and make more advanced tools like axes and cleavers.”

 

After a pause, “The modern humans appear about 300,000 years ago in Africa and apparently migrated to Europe and Asia about 100,000 years ago.”

 

“Can you give specific examples, Jena?”

“Homo sapiens neanderthalensis”, replied Jena, “Commonly known as the Neanderthal Man, after the Neander Valley in Germany where one of the first skeletons were found. They had massive brow ridges, protruding large noses and jaws without a chin. Surprisingly, the brain mass was actually larger than the modern humans but that is believed to be for controlling the extra musculature that they had. They had to be extremely strong and muscular to survive in the harsh condition of the ice Age, dragging heavy carcasses to caves, cutting and moving through thick foliage and such. There is also evidence that they had some sort of a culture as flowers and tools were found around their burial sites. Yes, they did bury their dead! Maybe even certain deities they worshipped. Their isolated, pristine lives were interrupted by the arrival of the other human species, the so called Cro Magnons, or us. They had superior cultural and social skills, possibly because they definitely had a highly developed, sophisticated language with an extensive vocabulary. Soon enough, in keeping with the laws of survival of the fittest, the Neanderthals were outcompeted due to being unable to get enough resources, shelter, food, mates, and also lost out due to the modern humans’ superior tools and weapon-making capabilities. It appears that the last of the Neanderthals died out by the end of the last Ice age, though some evidence exists that they were around as recently as 4,000 years from now. That concludes my presentation.”

 

CHAPTER 5

FUR

 

Sheriff Bronson stared at the patch of fur hard. There had been evidence after all by the Hudson house. Gerald Hudson had been mowing his lawn a couple of days after the incident when he scooped up the fur patch out of the long grass. He had called the police right away and the sheriff had wasted no time.

 

“Well, sure looks like some kind of canine fur—dog, coyote, wolf--- I don’t know”. The sheriff shrugged his shoulders.

 

“What are you going to do about it?” Mr. Hudson probed.

“Don’t know much about wildlife. Tell you what, I will drop by Dr. smith’s place later on today, heard the guy is a heck of a wildlife expert, would like to hear what he has to say.”

Sheriff Bronson had driven straight off to Dr. Smith’s house from there. He inspected the fur in more ways and through way many more instruments than Sheriff Bronson could have ever imagined possible. And that is when the wrinkles appeared on Dr. Smith’s forehead.

“Hmm—fascinating,” was all that came out.

“Well, what is it?” The sheriff could not hide his impatience.

“If you ask me, I am inclined to say Canis lupus, the gray wolf. There has been an increase in their numbers ever since their reintroduction in the American West and northern states, but there is more to it.”

“Like?” The sheriff was definitely annoyed now.

“The hair is much thicker and longer than I have ever seen on any living wolf species and I probably have examined thousands of them.”

“So again, what do you think? Is it an unidentified species?”

“Well, this will need more sophisticated DNA analysis to come up with our canine friend.”

“And who will do that in what amount of time?”

“It will have to be sent to the National Center for Biomedical Research in D.C. Probably two weeks before we get the results back.”

 

CHAPTER 6

A STRANGE PARTNERSHIP

 

“Hey Jena, wait up!”

 

Jena was walking down the school hallway when she heard the deep, excited masculine voice behind her. She turned around to see Josh Sullivan running up to her, his head still bandaged.

 

“Boy, you walk fast!” He laughed out as he caught up with her, out of breath.

“Hey Josh, what’s up?” Jena asked, sounding cheerful.

“Just waiting till this darn bandage comes off. Hey, great presentation!”

“Thanks. I am glad you liked it.”

“Listen, Jena, I need to talk to you about something.”

“Yes?”

“Can we quickly walk down to the cafeteria or something?”

“Sure, no problem.”

They walked over past the students eating and chatting busily and sat down on the far table.

“There is something I have to tell you.”

“What is it?” Jena looked at him puzzled.

“You know what happened to me in the woods. Well, I have been having flashbacks ever since.”

“Flashbacks?” Jena was still confused.

“It was really dark in the woods, but I still got a good look at it---him.”

“What do you mean? At whom?”

“It sure looked like a man, but no ordinary man. He was more like one of those—you know, Neanderthals.”

“What?” Jena gasped out so loudly that the neighboring students looked up.

“Shh, relax, quiet down. I have not mentioned it to anyone, not even my parents. I thought they will think I had gone crazy doe to the head injury.”

“Well, have you?” It was an honest question on Jena’s part.

“Listen, Jena, I trust you. I have seen that you are a mature, down to earth kind of person. You are also one of the three students who live nearby. Joey and Sally are kind of silly and into their own things, but you are different. So I am telling you.”

“Listen, Josh, I am still wondering if I get you correctly. So, you are saying you were attacked by a Neanderthal in the woods.”

“I never said he attacked me. He was right behind me. I saw him up close. The only other time I saw that face was today on one of your human evolution slides in class.”

“But that is impossible, Josh.” Jena was almost pleading with him now. “The Neanderthals went extinct thousands of years ago with the last Ice Age.”

“But you mentioned in your presentation that pockets of ancient species survived, like that fish, what was it? Yeah, the coelacanth. What if the Neanderthals survived too in extremely small numbers in certain isolated places. I mean, think of all those Sasquatch/Bigfoot/Yeti sightings over the years. What if some of them can be explained on the basis of still surviving ancient hominids.”

 

Jena was thoughtful for a moment, and then replied.

“What you are saying, Josh, is extremely incredible. But why here, of all the places?”

 

“That is precisely what I am going to find out. Will you help me?”

 

“What? How?” Jena grew wide eyed.

 

“My parents are going to be out of town over the weekend. I know your dad is out of the country, and your mom works night shifts at the hospital. Will you join me on a recon mission in the woods this Friday night?”

 

“You are out of your mind, Josh! Good Lord! That is the dumbest idea I have ever heard. And why night time, may I ask?”

 

“Because that way we will maximize our chances of stumbling upon something. Instinct drove the ancient man to seek shelter in caves and hunt when he was most inconspicuous, in the dark, of course. The modern man works during the day and sleeps at night. The ancient, more primitive man had to be nocturnal, like all great predators.”

 

“Predators, huh? Guess it would be quite a surprise for our parents when they find our bones in the forest. Good God, Josh, what is wrong with you?”

 

“Jena, all new discoveries and exploration require risk taking. Nothing great was ever achieved without some sort of perilous undertaking. Call it the American way or whatever. Too many people would definitely scare him away, and we won’t see him if he does not want to show himself to us. He has to be darn good at hiding himself to be alive this long, supposedly after he should have been dead so long ago. This is our chance of potentially making the discovery of a lifetime, possibly the greatest discovery in human history. It has to be you and me, Jena.”

 

Jena could see that he was absolutely determined about the course of things.

 

 

 

Jena knew she was in mortal danger. It had been a foolish mistake. Josh and her had decided to come to the middle of the forest in the dead of the night, and they were passing by a huge oak tree when an enormous wooden club struck Josh on the head, splitting it open in the fraction of a second as his brain oozed out of the skull. Jena tried to scream, but her voice was torn away from her throat as a monstrous figure stepped out from behind a tree. He was about five feet tall, but his body was bigger and more muscular than any human being she had ever seen. His hair was shoulder long and disheveled, a bulbous nose almost entirely covered the wicked face, large, sharp teeth protruded from a hideous mouth that frothed with rage at the corners, but oh, the eyes! It was the eyes that turned Jena’s blood turn to red ice. Red, bloodshot, small eyes with the look of a crazed maniac in them who had murder on his mind. Slowly, he advanced toward her. She retreated, step by step, unable to scream, unable to run, till her back hit a big oak tree, cutting out all means of escape. The caveman was about two feet away from her, teeth clenched, club raised in a fit of fury, pure hatred dripping from his eyes. And then the club came down at her head with lightning speed. She felt red hot pain, blood gushing forth, brain shattered--- Jena finally screamed--- and her eyes fluttered open. The bedside clock read 3 AM. It was the worst nightmare of her life.

 

 

 

CHAPTER 7

PRIMEVAL

 

“I don’t know why I am doing this, Josh, partly because I really want to be a paleoanthropologist, partly because I cannot resist a good adventure, but I still think we are wasting our time.”

 

They were at the cafeteria again. It was a clear, bright Thursday morning. The forecast was for an Arctic front to roll into town late tonight, which would make Friday a less-than-ideal day for their planned excursion into the woods.

 

“ Great! Thanks, Jena. I just have to sort this thing out. You see, I am a competitor myself, and throwing away a good challenge is just beyond me. Tell you what, I will bring the flashlight and the survival kit, you take care of the Camcorder and the logs. Don’t forget your cellphone and winter coat.” Josh smiled wryly.

 

Jena stood up and suddenly had a huge urge to tell him about the terrible dream she has had, but decided against it.

 

“Alright, Josh, here goes nothing.”

 

 

 

Sheriff Bronson stared at the pictures in front of him. The first one was of a white, middle aged man, a nasty looking knife scar running across half of his face, an overgrown goatee, and cruel, cold eyes. A number of tattoos were visible on his neck and upper chest. The other picture showed a young, strongly built black man, big moustache, red bandana, many gold chains dangling from his neck. The third picture was of a thin young white man, clean shaven, thin frame glasses and a pleasant smile. Seemingly three different personalities, except for the fact that all three were conmen, all three were murderers, two were convicted of assault and rape in addition to a number of petty crimes, and all three were on the run after escaping from the maximum security prison in Arkansas and were suspected to have been hiding out somewhere in the Ozark mountains and the surrounding brush. That was Sheriff Bronson country, and he did not like it one bit. The three also had prior psychiatric histories, and were considered armed and dangerous.

 

The telephone rang in the sheriff’s office.

 

“Hello?”

 

“This is Deputy Richards, sir. Just got a lead on the Arkansas trio. They filled up at 9:30 this morning at the Racetrac down Eisenhower street. Red Ford 250F pickup truck, 98. The guy at the pump said they looked stoned. I ran a background check on the truck. It was stolen last Saturday from Flower Fair Boulevard and the owner filed a report the same day.”

 

Sheriff Bronson drummed his fingers on the table thoughtfully and said, “Where are you right now, Deputy?”

 

“By the Eisenhower mall, sir. I have radioed Jeff and Fitch about the lead as well.”

 

“Good. Now listen to me carefully. Let me know as soon as we get a spot on them. I want them safely tucked away before all hell breaks loose with the news people heading into town with all their hullabaloo.”

 

Sheriff Bronson had barely replaced the receiver when it rang again.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Good morning, Sheriff. I think you should come in right away. We got the DNA results back on the fur this morning.”

 

Dr. Smith sounded so excited Sheriff Bronson feared he might have a heart attack.

 

“What was it, Doctor?”

 

What Dr. Smith told him on the phone made Sheriff Bronson’s head spin. He thought he was a logical, rational person who could almost always put seemingly odd facts into perspective, but he did not know how to tackle this one. He grabbed his coat and hurried out the office door to drive down to Dr. Smith’s residence.

 

 

CHAPTER 8

THE STAND OFF

 

The night was bitterly cold. The Arctic front that had come in earlier had caused brisk flurries and freezing rain during the day, and on this frigid Friday night, there wasn’t a soul to be seen near the oak thickets by the town’s high school, except for two shuffling shadows that hurried across the narrow, winding path by the trees.

 

“Good Lord, Jena! You should lead our school’s sprint team. I am having a hard time keeping up with you.”

 

“That is also a protective measure against this kind of weather, Josh. We’d freeze to death pretty soon if we don’t keep pushing on at a decent pace.”

 

They were both dressed in black thermal jackets and slacks, black woollen caps pulled down over their ears, with small backpacks strapped across their backs. The dark clothing camouflaged perfectly with the black night.

 

“I can’t believe we are actually doing this, Josh. I mean, you almost got killed out here a few weeks ago, and on top of that, we are not even sure about who or what exactly is it that we are looking for. Consider the danger we are putting ourselves into.”

 

Josh smiled mischievously, “The sense of danger pales in comparison to the thrill of discovery and adventure, my dear friend. I mean, think about it this way, either nothing will happen tonight and nobody will know about us coming out here, or--------

 

Josh’s sentence was cut short by the distant hum of an approaching car. They both ducked for cover in the tall grass as the vehicle drew nearer. It was a dark colored pickup truck, and they couldn’t exactly tell the hue exactly as firstly, the night was very dark and cloudy and secondly, oddly enough, the truck’s headlights were turned off. The pair peered from behind the shrubs as the truck came to a silent stop in a little clearing among the trees.

 

There was no movement for a full five minutes, and then they saw the faint glow of a lighted cigarette inside the truck. The door opened slowly, and a tall man stepped out. He was wearing a black leather jacket with dark jeans, and they could see his muscular neck and upper chest being heavily tattooed. A second man stepped out from the other side, a black man in a white sweater and khakis. Both of them circled around the truck looking cautiously around, and then the white man opened the truck’s door again and pulled out a bulky black plastic bag. The bag must have been really heavy for the man had to struggle to maintain his balance in order to lift it up, even though he was strongly built. He took a few steps forward when his foot got tangled in the thick underbrush and he stumbled, dropping the bag to the ground. Jena barely managed to stifle a scream as the contents of the bag spilled out. It was the hacked up body of a once living, breathing, compact human being. Josh and Jena could see one leg, still wearing a black shoe, chopped off at the knee, an arm dangling halfway from the bag, and the remaining stump of where the neck had once been. A dark pool of blood was quickly gathering under the bag.

 

The white man cursed under his breath and called out to his partner in a low, hushed voice, “Hey, Arnie, hurry up, you gotta help me with this mess, man.”

 

The black guy pulled a large shovel from the back of the truck and started toward the bag.

“Too bad Fred had to open his mouth about the cash flow. We were gonna split it up anyways, too bad we had to split him up first.”

The two chuckled as Arnie started to quickly dig a hole in the ground right next to where the bag had fallen. Josh and Jena looked at each other, and there was an exchange of quick visual signals. They started to silently worm their way back into the dense undergrowth, their elbows and bellies protected against the sticking thorns and other debris of the forest floor by their thick jackets.

 

FWOOOM! An owl flew out of the tree right over the young sleuths’ heads as Jena screamed in panic. Both men jumped and turned around. There way was no point in hiding now. Josh and Jena got up and raced madly back the way they had come. They could hear heavy boots crunching on the dried leaves right behind them as the two men got in hot pursuit after them.

 

“Aaaahh”, Josh let out a scream of agony and pain and collapsed to the floor, rolling wildly through the long grass. Jena stared down at him in wide eyed horror. The gleaming blade of a long butcher’s knife jutted out from the back of his left thigh, his slacks turning a bloody red with every passing second.

 

“He’s down, Arnie! Get the girl.” The white man, who was an expert at throwing knives and slicing people up, shouted.

Jena turned around and ran like a mad woman through the trees. She had barely run ten yards when the violent slap to the back of her head sent her reeling on the floor, stabbing pain numbing her senses. When she opened her eyes, she saw two towering shadows looming over her. Then she saw the silhouette of an object raised high in one of the hands, and that was when the moon appeared from behind the clouds. The axe in Arnie’s hand looked heavy and glittering sharp, and it was descending on Jena’s head fast. She closed her eyes. The nightmare had been true after all, only it was the both of them who were going to die tonight in the woods at the hands of these two cold blooded murderers. She was forced to open her eyes again due to a piercing male scream. Arnie stood swaying like a giant tree in front of her, the axe going limp in his hands. Jena felt a hot, trickling fluid dripping down on her, before Arnie’s lifeless body came crashing down hard. A long, wooden spear was buried all the way through his back, impaling him effectively as the sharp tip poked out from the left side of his chest. The white man spun around alarmed, and came face to face with what should have belonged in either a natural history museum or a science fiction movie about prehistoric times.

 

The caveman stood about five feet three inches tall, effectively about a foot shorter than his modern day adversary, but with shoulders and chest muscles that could easily have ripped fences off the ground. His hairy torso was covered by a long cloth made of some kind of brownish animal hide, either goat or horse skin. Long hair flew by his shoulders in the strong wind, his face hard as stone, his eyes fixed coldly on the Homo sapien facing him.

 

The man whipped out a shiny black automatic pistol from under his jacket and aimed the muzzle at the caveman.

 

The snarl that followed was enough to freeze any living being’s blood to ice. A huge, dark, beastly shadow lunged from the thick brushes to the right of the man, ramming straight into him. The impact knocked him off his feet, the pistol went sliding across the forest floor into the bushes. Then there were the man’s agonizing screams and the beast’s vicious snarls and growls and the sickening sound of bones being crunched and flesh being torn. The last sensation that Jena had before she fainted due to overwhelming terror and shock was being scooped up effortlessly into the caveman’s powerful arms and the final lunge that he made into the base of the giant oak tree surrounded by a heaped up litter of dried leaves and tree branches which parted to reveal a big gaping hole in the ground, and then total darkness---  both outside and inside Jena’s mind.

 

CHAPTER 9

Old Memories

 

Jena’s eyes fluttered open as she felt cold water dripping on her face. Her head felt like it was hit by a rock, all sore and throbbing. It took her a while to get oriented to her surroundings. It was an enormous cave. She could see the dagger sharp stalactites hanging from the cave’s roof about a hundred feet high up into the air, and similarly shaped stalagmites rising up from the cave’s floor trying to meet up with their higher counterparts, giving Jena the impression of being trapped in a prehistoric giant monster’s deadly jaws. The air smelled damp and cold, even though she was heavily cloaked in her winter coat. Steady streams of water were running down the cave’s protruding walls, and there was an enormous sinkhole right in the middle which looked deep. Jena had learned in her science classes that these sinkholes overflowed with water during the rainy season, and it would be a bad idea to go boating in one of those as they had hidden whirlpools which could suck in any boat into their depths in no time.

Jena turned her head as her eyes caught the flicker of a fiery light. There were several wooden torches lit up lining the cave walls, casting dark, sinister shadows all around.

 

Jena nearly screamed with terror as her gaze fell to the floor. It was littered with animal bones, body parts, some still fresh carcasses and hides. There were dead horses, goats, cats, coyotes, dogs, raccoons, skunks, deer, all in various stages of death and decay. Most of the carcasses had been stripped clean of the flesh, fat and tissue in what seemed like very skilled ritual defleshing. Jena was relieved to see there were no human remains among the menagerie of dead organisms littered all around her.

 

The growl was so sudden and hideous that Jena almost passed out of shock. It carried raw hatred and ferocity, something so basic and primitive that Jena’s heart almost tore through her chest. She turned around, and all world seemed to fly back in time at that moment.

 

The beast stood about four and a half feet tall at the shoulder, covered in long, shaggy grayish black fur that almost reached the ground. The chest and rump were so muscular that Jena could see ripples going through the cords of muscle under the skin. The tail was about three feet long, tremendously hairy, swaying briskly from side to side showing the animal’s savage excitement. The head was bigger and broader than a modern day wolf, the legs much shorter and stouter, reminding Jena of the hyenas she had seen on wildlife documentaries. But it was the teeth that were really the stuff of nightmares. The two canines were so large and long that they protruded about four inches out of the animal’s mouth, dripping saliva, the rest of the teeth a horrifying showcase of little daggers showing as the beast curled back its lips in a snarl. Its eyes were small and bloodshot, unmovingly fixed on Jena with unflickering intensity.

 

Jena had seen the pictures in her books on paleontology and natural history. There were hundreds of such fossilized creatures in the famous La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles, trapped in the thick gooey material when they came to feast on the woolly mammoths, primitive rhinoceroses and bison stuck in the tar and got fatally stuck in it themselves. Canis dirus-the dire wolf, yes, that was the name of the species. These canines were thought to be more ancient than the modern day gray wolf though they both coexisted from about 100,000 years to about 10,000 years ago. The dire wolf was more massive and slower than the modern wolves, therefore most likely it was a scavenger cleaning up carcasses left behind by saber-toothed cats and cave bears. They were slowly outcompeted by their more swift and agile contemporaries and it was believed that they went extinct with the last Ice Age around 10,000-12,000 years ago, though some fossils found in Arkansas caves suggested they were around as recently as about 4000 years back. But how had this specimen survived to the present day?

 

Jena looked closely as the beast strained against a brownish green leash made up of animal hides and plant fibers strapped around its neck, the other end tied to a jagged rock protruding from the cave walls. And then her eyes fell upon the cave paintings.

 

It was a complete account of what had transpired though the times since the prehistoric era to modern day. The first paintings showed a group of Neanderthals huddled around a bonfire, children, adults, old people. Then there was a group of cavemen in animal hides running after a giant elk, its antlers large and wide enough to accommodate four men. Then, there was a new creature in the pictures---- a creature Jena knew all too well. Homo sapien sapiens, the modern human beings. They were shown carrying spears and cleavers, bows and arrows, pots and pans. One picture showed a group of Neanderthals meeting up with a group of men, their hands held up in the air in what looked like a heated argument. The, there were several pictures of the Neanderthals and modern men in open battles, some of them in hand to hand combat, others killing each other with spears and arrows. A picture showed a family of Neanderthals hiding in thick brush, looking secretively as a group of Homo sapiens passed by carrying some firewood. There were several pictures of massacred Neanderthals lying about, some missing heads and limbs while the modern men held up severed heads in triumphant poses. To Jena’s surprise, some of the newer pictures showed men carrying guns, the old style blunderbuss, looking around suspiciously as a Neanderthal crouched low to the ground, a terrified expression clear on his face. The final few pictures showed modern day human beings walking on the ground while several Neanderthals looked on through underground caves and from behind trees. It seemed like what the famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung called the “collective subconscious”, hidden or repressed memories that surface to the mind in dreams and other trance states that actually show us a glimpse into our past.

 

The realization suddenly dawned upon Jena as to what our race had done, and was still doing to this day. We were always occupied by a primitive urge to dominate and destroy, to hate all that did not look or act like us, those who did not necessarily share our faiths and beliefs, sometimes in the name of racial supremacy, sometimes in the name of religion, sometimes due to sheer selfishness and to plunder, loot and pilfer others’ resources. And Man had always found a logic, s twisted reason to justify his horrendous deeds, his dark urge to destroy life and property. Many names flashed through her mind, of people both past and present, who used their positions of leadership and authority or their twisted value or socio-religious systems to move unsuspecting people to kill and destroy others, in the name of self-preservation, in the name of revenge, in the name of unbridled greed and lust, in the name of God—

 

The Neanderthals were a classic study in Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection and struggle for existence. Most of them had been hunted down and annihilated by the modern man, but a few had survived hiding out in remote underground caves and inaccessible forests to this day. The cave ecosystem was naturally suited to their lifestyle. The Ozark Belt was home to thousands of undiscovered caves, an average of 600 new caves discovered each year, and some of these caves supported unique forms of life. Jena recalled what she had read about cave ecology in her textbooks. The caves had a uniform constant temperature of 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year, as they were well hidden from the rays of the sun and relatively immune to seasonal changes outside. This provided the ideal habitat for a Neanderthal, who needed cold places to survive considering they were built that way. They also provided the perfect hideouts for the cavemen from their modern day predators and adversaries, the modern human. They survived by hunting wild animals and occasionally, domestic livestock whenever they got a chance. The farmers, ranchers and wildlife experts put down these mysterious and unaccounted for animal disappearances to natural predators like wolves, coyotes, bobcats and the like. The more superstitious and occult inclined could always come up with the body snatchers. Werewolves, vampires and their ilk. They were never detected so far due to the fact that first of all, they were very few in numbers scattered over a large area in underground caves, and secondly, they restricted all evidence of their existence to their remote, isolated habitats.

 

 

Jena turned to the dire wolf and let her mind get back to work again. Dire wolves were opportunistic feeders. They made a hard living scavenging off the remains of other animals and human kills. Gradually, with the passage of time and emergence of other faster, swifter species, the dire wolves had an increasingly hard time making a living. However, Nature had found a way. Some of the Neanderthals, their backs against the walls, had domesticated and trained a few of these dire wolves, and together, the two had formed a symbiotic relationship. The Neanderthals would use their weapons to make kills that would be too tedious for the heavyset, slow moving dire wolves to make and the animals would scavenge off the remains, and the wolves in return protected the Neanderthals’ secret existence by chewing away and digesting all bone, fur, body parts as well as guarding their caves and alerting them to any approaching danger. After all, that was exactly how the modern dogs had been descended from wolves by man and the two species had formed a relationship of convenience. For the two more primitive species however, this was a partnership of survival. Together, the two were defying almost certain death and extinction and had survived to this day in secretive, isolated relict populations, though for the purpose of textbooks and modern scientific knowledge, they were already extinct.

 

Jena could clearly see now the basis of all the myths and folklore behind numerous cryptozoological creatures like the Sasquatch, the Java Man, The Chupacabra of Mexico, the sightings of the Tasmanian wolf (thought to be extinct), the Werewolf of Wisconsin in North America and various others. They were in actuality the rare sightings that the modern people have had of these clever, hardy but desperate survivors of the past.

 

Jena gasped as a big figure jumped out of the darkness of the cave’s bowels.

 

It was the caveman, standing not three feet away from her.

 

 

CHAPTER 10

THE SEARCH

 

The discovery had rocked the whole little Ozark town community. Nobody had thought in their wildest dreams what the construction site digging for the local high school had uncovered. Beneath their very feet, lying like an undiscovered ancient town, lay a huge cave complex extending possibly hundreds of thousands of miles. Speleologists, spelunkers, scientists, adventurers, tourists, the government people were all swarming into town like honeybees to see the ancient wonder dug out from the depths of the Earth by modern machinery. Among the assorted groups of people were Sheriff Nick Bronson, Dr. Smith, Josh and a whole team of professional cave searchers that worked closely with the police. Their mission was kept top secret, as the secret they had would have overshadowed the thrill and awe of the big cave discovery itself. In the meantime, Dr. Smith was giving a lecture to this small group of men on cave ecology.

 

“Caves are like Nature’s treasure troves. Many of them are formed by large bodies of water seeping through the cracks in the Earth forming what are called limestone caves. Though they are dark, deep, damp places away from that vital source of all energy, the Sun, yet they are teeming with a plethora of life. The cave organisms can roughly be divided into three large categories, the trogloxenes, or cave visitors, the troglophiles, or cave lovers, and the troglobites, or the cave dwellers. The trogloxenes include animals such as bats, bears, skunks, raccoons, mice, other rodents that visit the caves occasionally for protection, hibernation and stashing away food, and then leave for the outside world to go about their business. The troglophiles include animals like cave salamanders, most sculpin and springfish, critters that are well adapted to life in caves but could still survive and manage if exposed to the outside world. The last group, the troglobites, are organisms that have evolved so completely for their entire lives inside of caves and are so well adapted to it that they won’t survive in the outside world for long. They include animals like the cave crickets, the cavefish, the cave crayfish, blind salamander and the cave shrimp. They have lost all pigmentation in their skins because they don’t need any protection from the sun as there is none in the caves, so they are all albinos. Also, they are blind because their eyes have lost the light receptors as an adaptation for an entire life in darkness. Most of them are omnivores, that is, eat both plants and meat to survive on whatever they can get.”

 

“But if the Neanderthal bones have only been discovered in Europe and Asia, how could you explain a population right here in North America, given you do truly believe my story about the mayhem in the forest the other night and Jena’s disappearance?” Josh was adamant.

 

Dr. Smith scratched his head, “According to the early accounts I have read in papers from speleologists and geologists about this cave system, it seems to extend for a very long distance, possibly crossing continental barriers underground. I won’t be surprised if the interconnected channels go all the way to Europe. It is rare and unusual, but so is the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates and continental drift. If that is the case, it would give our ancient cousins an exemption from the international passport requirement for crossing world borders.” A wry smile appeared on Dr. Smith’s face, followed by many others in the group.

Sheriff Bronson spoke up, “Which makes our task of finding the girl even more difficult and hazardous. I suggest we break up in groups and maintain wireless contact. We don’t have time on our side. Every second matters.”

 

They all knew the truth and significance of those words.

 

 

 

CHAPTER 11

THE EMOTIONS

 

Jena did not move for a full five minutes, neither did the caveman. There was the eye contact, between two closely relate species separated by a supposed interval of 10,000-20,000 years, or at least that’s what all the books said. Even though Jena was scared out of her wits, still she could feel this sense of overwhelming excitement and exhilaration at being possibly the only other human being to actually see a real, living, breathing Neanderthal in real life, close up. There were questions though. How had he ended up here? And how had he survived the incredibly long lapse of time since his species dominated the planet? Did they have any other living members around to reproduce with? Was it a genetically and reproductively viable population? And biggest of all, why had he saved her from those two brutes? Yes, they were the real brutes, the so called civilized modern human beings, ever ready to tear apart other innocent ones of their own kind, not this poor, isolated soul just trying to survive and scrape by in this brutal, cruel, technological world of ours. Strangely enough, Jena felt sympathy for him in her heart.

The caveman extended his rough, stubby hand toward her. It had wild berries in it from the forest above. Jena could have sworn she saw a look of compassion and concern in the caveman’s wild eyes.

 

“No, thank you, I am not hungry.” Jena smiled, “And oh, by the way, thanks for saving my life.”

 

The caveman looked at her puzzled, and then withdrew his hand. He moved toward the growling dire wolf, and patted its neck softly. The beast started whining and wagging its tail.

 

Jena had read in books that the Neanderthals could not talk like modern humans, but likely made grunting sounds and used gestures to converse with each other. The discovery of a fully developed hyoid bone in a cave in Israel that belonged to a Neanderthal had challenged that notion though, and some scientists believed they had developed a sophisticated language.

Jena looked around and saw two blackened rocks lying by the cave wall with the most paintings on it. She walked over, picked up the stones and drew the pictures of the struggle between herself, Josh and the two criminals up in the forest.

“Why did you save me?” Jena said out aloud, while she made a quizzical face and motioned with her hands.

The caveman looked at her puzzled for a moment, then shook his head and walked over to her, extending his hands. Jena handed over the rocks to him. He went to the wall and started drawing.

The picture showed a Neanderthal family, a man, a woman, a teenaged girl and two small boys along woth a dire wolf. Then, the second picture showed a huge flood in the cave, the man, woman and girl clinging for their lives to the stalactites in the roof of the cave, while the two babies fall into the torrent of water and are swept away as the wolf swims desperately through the flood. The third picture showed the survivors—the man, the woman, and the girl, along with the wolf traveling on foot through the vast interconnected channels of the cave. Then, the picture showed a scene that Jena recognized instantly, the construction site of her high school with the roaring bulldozers and cranes, and then a loud explosion to clear up the land causing the walls of the underground cave to collapse, the woman and the girl instantly buried, while the man and the wolf are on the other side of the collapsed wall, looking on.

 

The caveman turned slowly to face her, the rocks falling to the floor due to his shaking hands. There were tears in his eyes, and a sadness that could tell a thousand stories.

 

Jena felt hot tears flowing down her own cheeks. She held out her hand, took the caveman’s hand in her own, and squeezed it. For what seemed like a very long time, they both just stood there, heads bowed to the ground, holding hands while tears rolled freely down their eyes and soaked into the moist ground below. The caveman had seen his lost daughter in Jena, and he had gambled his life, his hiding place, his very survival to pull her out of danger. Jena could almost see his eyes saying, “I have lost a good many members of my family to fate, to technology, to human destruction and interference, to heartless cruelty. I don’t have much to live for, but you are young, fresh, have your whole life in front of you, just like my daughter did. I won’t let you get lost—I won’t.”

 

The sudden crack of a gun going off made both of them jump. It was followed by Sheriff Bronson’s booming voice, “Freeze, right there. Don’t worry Jena, you are going to be okay.”

 

“No,” Jena screamed in her mind, “I will not be okay. I will never be okay. When will we stop? When will we ever stop? This heartless, cold blooded, senseless killing. Who cares if we are making technological advancement? Most of it is at the expense of rape and mutilation of Nature, of innocent lives—we were supposed to be the caretakers of this planet. We are the superior species, right? Well, look what a wonderful job we have done of it! The caveman was no intruder, no danger, no enemy. We were. We destroyed what was rightfully his home before us, we barged into his pristine wilderness and beautiful surroundings and pushed him against the wall, took his family, his people away from him. He had every right to fight back, to steal whatever food he could, scare a few people in the process, try to stay alive. And in spite of all that, he had risked his very existence to save a member of the same species that had decimated his own forever.

 

“Noooo”, Jena screamed, but it was too late. The caveman had lunged forward to fend off the intruders into his place (what will you do if there were intruders in your house?) but Sheriff Bronson’s automatic pistol, that marvelous invention of human genius, spat quick fire. The caveman was thrown back due to the impact of the bullets. Blood sprouted like a fountain from his chest, reddening the cave floor. The dire wolf howled and strained madly against his leash, which snapped, sending the beast darting away into the dark interior channels of the cave.

Jena ran to the dying caveman. She was sobbing hysterically now, her whole body quaking like a dried leaf in strong wind. She held the caveman’s bloody hand. He squeezed her hand back lightly. Jena looked up. There was the faintest hint of a smile on the caveman’s lips. He motioned with his eyes toward the wall. Jena turned to look. There was the picture of the caveman’s daughter, and right next to it, Jena could see her own reflection in the running water.

 

Jena looked back. The caveman’s eyes were lifeless, though the smile was still frozen on his lips.

 

CHAPTER 12

A FRESH START

 

Jena was wrapped up in a warm blanket, Sheriff Bronson helping her walk on one side, Josh on the other. There were about twenty policemen thronging the area, busily shouting instructions to each other. Many flashing police cars were lined up by the trees.

 

“Are you feeling alright, Jena?” She heard Josh’s warm, concerned voice. She nodded. There were no words to describe the hurt and emotional turmoil that was raging within her. She had no clue how she was going to get back to her normal routine, having gone through what she just had and having known so much.

 

She felt a strange sensation in her stomach, the kind you feel when you are being watched. She spun around quickly. There, under the giant oak tree, into the darkness of the cave, she saw wide eyes and a familiar face staring at her. She knew that face from the caveman’s paintings, and his own face. It was the daughter! Jena blinked, and the face was gone. Sheriff Bronson turned around, concerned.

 

“You ok, kid?”

“Yes,” Jena replied, “I am okay now, Sheriff.”

 

And then she smiled. There was still hope in the world. There were still a few good people out there. Survivors like herself, Josh and the familiar face she had just seen in the darkness.

 

They moved on.

 

THE END

AUTHOR’s BIOGRAPHY

 

I was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. Trained to be a medical doctor, my other passions included writing and Nature. I wrote several children’s stories as a child myself, and after immigrating to the United States, practiced medicine as a resident briefly in Chicago, IL. However, my initial, true inclinations pulled me back to where my heart lay, in the field of teaching science and continuing my passion as a writer. Currently, I am a high school science teacher at a charter school and a human anatomy & physiology professor at a local community college in Fort Worth, TX. My influences include writers like Michael Crichton, Michael Slade, David Case to name just a few. Drawing on my medical, scientific and ethnic background, I try to weave my tales around characters who are strong willed, willing to make a difference in the world around them, as well as incorporating elements from contemporary horror/mystery genres, with a generous sprinkling of science fiction and science based vocabulary, environmental issues, human emotion and the triumph of good over evil.

 

I currently reside in Fort Worth, TX with my wife and our three children.

 

My contact email is:

Fuadkhan2002@yahoo.com

 

Fuad Khan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: December 31, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Fuad Khan. All rights reserved.

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