Hell's Outpost

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

Strange stuff.

God shake me from this nightmare.
Take me before it can take me . . . free my arms, my legs—pull off this warm sticky mucus . . . take it—just get it off before that thing returns.
And as if cued, it’s back:  that looming, ruby-winged horror; all gangly legs, sucking feet, and groping chainsaw mouth. No eyes, no eyes, just black searching pits. There’s a sudden press of legs, and it’s on me—crushing . . . the long slick tongue reaching, the curved stinger rising, plunging, jacking into my chest . . . the spotted burgundy abdomen, turning about, sinking onto my face . . . Christ, my mouth’s a sump clogged by red putrid slime. No, please . . . don’t wake me—let me die right now, let me pass in my dreams.
Doctor Freedman waddles back into the examination room. Elderly, white, artificially hearty, but now with a lateral crease to his smile. He motions me over to a little stainless steel desk, places my scan on the polished easel, and backlights it. “Here’s the source of your stomach complaint; no doubt about it.”
We’re looking at an x-ray plate of my fisting, semi-spiral gut, all swollen and contorted.
“Forget carcinoma, forget ulceration, forget diverticula. That’s why you’re so sick, that explains the dramatic weight loss. Your complaint’s parasitic.”
I stare uncertainly. “You’re telling me I have worms?”
Freedman shakes his head. “Singular. At least as far as the preliminary goes. But it’s not a hookworm, not a tapeworm, not a pinworm. How it’s surviving in a gastric environment is beyond me.” The doctor lifts the scan to view against the fluorescents. “That,” he gushes, “simply has to be the largest parasitic growth ever encountered in a living human being!” He looks at me as though I’ve just won the lottery. The good doctor sets down the scan. “Go home and relax while I research this little anomaly. If you show signs of anemia call me immediately. But first, let’s go over the fine points once more. You say that your income is inherited, that you live on a boat right here in our marina, and that you keep your personal area scrupulously clean. You mention becoming sick after eating a burrito at a little cantina in town. Describe that experience again.”
“It was awful,” I say, and a rottenness comes to my palate. “Beef and cheese. I didn’t check it out first; I was hungry. I took one swallow, gagged, and spat out the rest. It was such a horrible taste, doctor. I couldn’t flush it; not with mouthwash, not with bicarb. I tried to walk off the whole thing, but I simply got more and more depressed. Eventually I stretched out on a little harbor bench and just lay there with my head lolling and my stomach clenching. When I opened my eyes there were all these sea gulls and pelicans standing around me; dead-quiet, riveted, just staring. Creepiest minute of my life. I guess I was hallucinating, but that strikes me as the first piece in the puzzle about the nightmare; I mean that flying thing in my boat I told you about.”
“Okay. We all know an unhappy stomach can play tricks on the mind. ‘. . . a bit of undigested beef,’ and all that, coincidentally enough. There are no indications of toxic ingestion or of food poisoning, and despite the weight loss and overall haggardness your blood count is normal, so it’s safe to say your mental stress is a direct outcome of your body’s stress. I’m not prescribing any medications until I’m clearer on this thing. Go home and take your mind off it. Get some rest, Mr. Rowan. Relax.”
I’ve always been a man on the water. The California marinas have always been my home. I’ve lived on this little sailboat, moored in Mer Harbor, for the last twenty years, in East Basin’s deepest slip—farthest from land, farthest from the profane enticements of neon, farthest from your silly press and scatter. I’m a loner, rooming only with the sea. And, because of my self-enforced isolation, I’m aware of the breadth of things; things shut out by the glare of civilization. I am, by my own honest evaluation, far saner than all you so-called normal people put together.
And I swear I can see them from my port window:  giant crimson fireflies in the night, moving like embers slung in a line. They pass low over the waves from one beach community to the next. Housefly, dragonfly, gremlin, harpy—what are you things—a new breed, a mutation, some kind of alien stock? And why are there no reports of sightings, no observations other than mine? Maybe because you’re, like me, under the radar, outside the window, obscured by the glare. I’m tying down the tarp over this roofless cabin, though the pain in my gut demands I rest. But how can I relax in the open air, vulnerable? The knots are secure, the tarp as taut as a drum. If you come back again you’ll have to earn me.
The water boils around my boat—another hallucination? On a distant yacht a housecat wails on and on, and the leathery sound of wings hammers in my skull. My stomach swells and sinks. I’m being sucked dry. Got to recline, got to rest.
But to rest is to sleep.
“Dr. Freedman?” I breathe into the mouthpiece, and sag against the glass. My stomach squeezes into a knot, relaxes, squeezes again. “I got your message on my pager. I’m calling from a pay phone. What’d you learn?”
“Mr. Rowan—I’m so glad you called! I’ve conferred with specialists who’ve gone over your scans in depth. That’s not a worm in your stomach after all.”
I jerk upright at a sudden spasm, and grate, “That’s a relief.”
There’s a long pause on the other end. Finally Freedman says, measuredly, “Mr. Rowan . . . it’s a maggot.”
I sag again. “Pardon?”
“I know, I know. Damnedest thing. But we can’t argue with these results. Now, I need you to come to the hospital right away. We’ll run a series of tests, all painless, and there are a number of people who want to speak with you personally. The hospital will of course pay for everything—these are amazing circumstances, Mr. Rowan.”
“Amazing,” I echo.
“How are you feeling? Have you noticed any improvement?”
The receiver grows slippery in my hand. The booth reels, and I can feel the blood trickling down the backs of my thighs. “Oh, same ol’ same ol’, I guess. How’s ’bout yourself?”
“Good, then you’re stable. Get thee to the hospital, Mr. Rowan, ASAP. These are some extraordinary times!”
“That they are,” I mumble, and let the receiver fall.
It’s back.
I can feel it approaching, even as I feel the goo congealing at my wrists and ankles. It’s worrying at the canvas tarp; a scattering silhouette of wings and legs dancing port to starboard. The scratching and tapping picks up; the tarp sags at its center.
The stretching canvas produces a space between knots, and a spindly black leg works its way in. The leg kicks about, reaching. My gut leaps and locks spasmodically, but I can’t move, can’t back away. The black body bounces above me, trying to force the leg deeper. There’s a snap, cotton-soft in my delirium, as the shift in weight redistributes tension in the tie-downs, causing the tarp’s edge to tighten and cleanly sever that limb.
The tarp vibrates furiously. In a moment there’s another scratching at the point of entry, then the great silhouette lifts and passes. The throbbing in my gut subsides.
I can surface.
I’ve no qualms about laying out my thoughts and experiences on this little dictaphone. It fits right in my pocket, and it’s going with me everywhere. Now it’s time to start my spoken journal.
So here goes:
I know just where they’re heading. They’ve passed below the horizon, but they were in descent before disappearing. Hell’s Outpost. It’s on my chart; more a footnote than anything. Dead and porous, only six hundred square feet and barely sixteen feet above sea level. Useful for bearings, otherwise a navigation hazard. The ocean’s a fractured mirror, the wind’s a dry and fickle breeze. My little boat leaves a black arrow of a wake below the bright gibbous moon, far behind that low-flying red arrow.
The Loner’s stocked with five-gallon cans of gasoline—I’m gonna burn out those bastards’ nest or hive or whatever, before that little present in my belly eats me alive. Just over there, to the southwest at ten o’clock, I can see a flat smudge on the horizon, like a dried-out scab on the ocean. There’s no sign of activity. I’m pulling up smoothly, one eye to the waterline.
The whole island stinks, even against the night and sea. But it’s not a guano smell:  it’s upchuck-foul. There’s a slight cove to moor in. The rocks gleam dully; a dead air hangs over this place. I’m creeping rock to rock in new rubber boots, Hell’s Outpost’s lone scuttling crab, a flashlight between my teeth and four full gas cans clamped under my arms.
Now the stink’s godawful vile. The island’s gutted, pocked, honeycombed; big fissures lean in, some almost at water-level. I’m pausing at a wide opening, and I’m setting down the cans so I can transfer my flashlight. The light’s beam is torn by crags, illuminating only hints . . . that stench, rising round the openings—if I puke I’ll pass out. A man can just squeeze in on hands and knees. Now slimed-over rocks are catching in my clothes and fouling my fingers. But I’m in.
It’s a cavern, a low rocky vault eaten away on all sides. My light glances off mounds and mounds of rotting flesh—sharks and dolphins, pelicans. Gulls, cats and dogs . . . folks, of all shapes and sizes, children and adults. The whole sprawling mess is wildly alive, crawling with glistening maggots and juvenile versions of those scarlet flying monsters. The stench is . . . Christ, my stomach’s leaping furiously. Air. I’ve got to get out.
A flurry at the opening drives me back. Two long saw-toothed legs feel about as I stagger in reverse, slip on the slime-humped rocks, and collapse smothered in vermin. My stomach blows apart and that fat white maggot I’ve been carrying erupts glistening with gut, even as the scraping shape breaks through the opening and moonlight floods the cave.
The pain rocks me to my feet. Slap off the crawlers . . . toss handfuls of gas on that flailing red silhouette . . . it backs away kicking, but won’t relinquish the opening. I can see myself, as from on high, wildly shaking can after can on the writhing mounds. When I strike and toss my lighter the flare-up almost knocks me over.
Somewhere in there I must have totally lost it—covered with wiggly slime, eclipsing the flames and sandwiched by all that horror. Reminiscing now is almost like watching a film; I have vivid memories of crowing triumphantly while that massive maggot lurched down my leg, of the thing in the opening bursting in to meet me, of embracing it with my arms and hair on fire, of dragging it in pieces as I blindly made my way, sucking and hacking fumes, across the rocks to my boat and home.
The above is a print version of the tape-recorded journal found aboard Wesley Rowan’s boat The Loner. The District Attorney’s office is treating the recording as a suicide note, and the coroner has ruled Mr. Rowan’s demise as death by misadventure. We at The Harbor Herald received permission to print a verbatim transcript, and so have presented it here in unmodified form for our readers’ interpretations, whatever they may be. While Rowan’s narrative is disjointed and manifestly impossible as a straightforward recording, it is, as posited by at least one analyst, certainly within the parameters of a taped dramatic reliving on a subsequent return in The Loner. At any rate, all appended comments are solely those of the journalists assigned, and are not meant to reflect the paper’s overall point of view.
Hell’s Outpost was indeed visited by a mariner on the night of 6-4-09; there are mooring marks on the island’s rocks, and these marks match scrapes found on the hull of The Loner. Moreover, the island’s interior was completely burned out in a petroleum blaze, and Rowan was subjected to third-degree burns over sixty-five percent of his body. These data fully support the journal’s storyline. The frantic statement concerning the sudden egress of “that fat white maggot I’ve been carrying” suggests a kind of premonitory dream-state, given the prior lab findings and initial autopsy report. The journal itself only buttresses the evaluation of Rowan’s personal physician, Doctor Ruben Freedman, as to his patient’s wildly fickle state of mind.
The Loner was discovered crashed into its slip; the vessel unmoored, the cabin a bloody mess. Wesley Rowan was deemed, even in deep rigor mortis, to be misshapen and resolved in a manner beyond the pale of all historical pathology. According to the coroner’s final report, a large object of unknown specificity had been forced, or had in some manner independently worked its way, through Rowan’s digestive system, beginning in the stomach and making egress at the anus, mangling and elongating the tract’s every twist and turn in the process. This drawn-out passage contorted his body into a bizarre arch the report describes as “physically improbable.” Evidence taken from the cabin, corroborated by the testimony of several neighbors mortified by “oscillating screams,” suggest that Mister Rowan was alive and fully conscious throughout the ordeal.
This case, while officially closed, will certainly draw the attention of those interested in tales of the bizarre. It seems likely, too, that associations will be made between Rowan’s tape-recorded ravings and the recent spate of reports involving lost children and pets, along with all these supposed sightings of a humming blood-red creature swooping around the beach communities in the wee hours. It is not The Herald’s intent to throw fuel on these fancies, so we submit this column solely for purposes of elucidation, and beg our faithful and intelligent readers to make of it as they will.


Submitted: December 28, 2010

© Copyright 2021 RonSanders. All rights reserved.

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