The dark catacombs of the archaeological dig were deathly silent, punctuated only by the labored breathing of the two scientists. Robert Stone held his soiled and sweaty hand out into the darkness, the flashlight in his other hand casting flickering light against the glossy cavern walls as he steadied his balance on the narrow ledge.
“Jump! You’ve got to jump!” He shook his outstretched hand to emphasize the urgency.
On the other side, Jason Stone held his own flashlight steady, its beam projecting across the ominous chasm and dimly illuminating his brother’s pleading hand. He tilted the beam slightly to reveal Robert’s anxious face framed by a scratched and dented delver’s helm.
“Robert, I can’t make it with my leg . . . it’s too far. You can see that. You barely made the jump yourself.”
Robert retracted his hand and leaned back against the cold wall. “You have to try. Surely it’s looking for us and will be here soon. We have to get out of here!”
“Maybe it didn’t follow us. Maybe it didn’t see us . . . ” Jason winced.
“The hell it didn’t!” Robert growled. “It literally can’t live without the device we acquired. You saw how it clung to it and pawed at it obsessively, like it was feeding off it. I can guarantee you that it’s crawling through these catacombs right now looking for what we have . . . and looking for us!”
“Acquired? That’s an interesting way of putting it,” Jason retorted.
“How we obtained it is no longer relevant, is it?”
Jason knew his older brother was right. Their fate . . . no . . . his fate was all but sealed. He turned his attention and flashlight to his left leg and inspected the damage from the fall he’d taken earlier. The sharp glass-like rock structures on which he’d landed had cut long, deep gashes into his leg and they wouldn’t stop bleeding. Despite the belt he’d cinched around his thigh, blood continued to trickle down his leg soaking his protective pants a deep red. He could feel the warm squishiness of it pooling in his boot.
“I can’t make that jump with my leg torn up like this. I can barely stand on it and I’m starting to lose feeling. Our ropes are gone. We can’t go backward, you can only go forward . . .”
“But . . . ,” Robert interrupted.
“No, shut up and listen to me for once. You have to get out of here with what we stole and let the rest of the archeological team know what we’ve found. Warn them of what we’ve unearthed. I’ll try to hide as best I can until you make it back with help. Now go!”
Jason’s voice reverberated down the black pit which separated them by what now felt like miles. His echoing voice faded to silence. That’s when they heard it. A faint twittering and clacking sound came from the tunnel behind Jason, getting perceptibly louder with each passing beat of their racing hearts.
Robert’s eyes grew wide. He tried to wipe the sweat from his hand, then thrust it out again. It hung in the space between them like a fragile tree branch, trembling and glistening in the dim light.
“It’s coming! Jump, now! I’ll try to catch you.”
“And have you go down with me? You never were the bright one in the family.” Jason eased himself slowly to the ground in resignation. He reached deliberately into his backpack, withdrew a small rectangular device and flicked it across the space to his brother. Part of him wished his meager throw would land short and the accursed thing would plummet into the hole from which it came, because he knew his brother would never leave it behind.
Robert made a clumsy catch and stared at the glow which began to emanate at his touch. The light illuminated the terror on his face, while at the same time mesmerizing him with its wonder. He was absorbed in the warm glow of its technology, suddenly oblivious to the situation surrounding him.
The sound behind Jason had become alarmingly loud, the ominous twittering and clacking bounced about the cavern and threatened to drive them both to the brink of madness with its shrill repetition. It was close, very close.
Jason looked up and saw his brother robotically extend an index finger to touch the glow. Grinding his teeth against the pain, he raised himself on his good leg and screamed, “Runnnnnnnnnn!”
Before Robert broke from his trance, a blinding light bloomed in the cavern dissolving the alien surroundings into a fog of hazy, white nothingness. They squinted in pain, covering their eyes with their forearms.
“Bobby! Jake! Get down from there!” a shrill voice yelled.
Opening their eyes, they each stood on beds facing one another across the room, staring at the thing with its finger on the bedroom light switch. Bobby with his skateboard helmet strapped to his head and flashlight in hand. Jake likewise holding a flashlight, with his Spongebob backpack hanging limply from his shoulders and his left leg ensconced in a red cast.
Bobby and Jake were frozen in terror waiting for the creature to make its next move.
“Both of you back to bed, it’s late! Jake, I know you’re bored, but you’re not supposed to be on that leg yet!” She raised her hand straight out with the palm facing upward and snapped her fingers impatiently. “And Bobby, hand over my cellphone.”
“Awwwwww, Mom!” they groaned in unison.
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Author’s note: This was a piece of flash fiction I wrote based on a one word prompt from my wife. The word she picked was “jump” naturally. If memory serves me, I wrote it straight out in about 45 minutes. It’s a fun little story about role playing and how we’re becoming obsessed with technology, sometimes to the detriment of face to face activities like role playing (and gaming).
© 2013-2019, Neal Ulen. All rights reserved.
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