Armathia

I ventured to island Armathia to search for the elusive Otlsah species , and my life was changed forever.

I push through a narrow path of palm trees, branches slapping me in the face. A swamp, carpeted with green algae blocks my way. The nose and dark eyes of an alligator emerges from beneath it, watching me. Its head is as long as my arm. My pulse races faster. A forest of sunburned grass extends beyond my view through a bog to the right. It reeks of rotten eggs. The muddy marsh sucks my legs knee-deep as I hurry for higher ground. My gaze meets two more, large, alligators loafing not fifteen yards away. My heart hammering in my ears, I quickly ascend a small grassy mound, out of the bog.

  I make a sun-visor with my and realize the beach is east. A gauntlet of tall, thorn bushes crowds the way. Nowhere else to go, I fight through–barbs cutting my arms and sharp branches stabbing my spine. The harsh jungle starts to swallow me as flies flit against my face.  Strides ahead, I come upon two alabaster skulls on the ground. Two thick, bronze husks curl out from the end of their wide snouts while two more curl backwards. Otlsah’s. The tingling excitement in my body dominates as I grab my camera and snap several photos. I want to see one of the species alive. According to speculations they have a diverse appetite, feeding off feral horses and Armathia’s insects. Yeah, they have a diverse appetite. At least they are not know to eat humans. All attacks on the island have been related to alligators, but no one as ventured as far as I have.

  The darkening sky brought a sour taste in my mouth. Camp is far away.

 Clambering over an entanglement of thorny vines, I trudge out of the marshland. Sweat running down my face and my shirt wet against my back, I continue to fight my way through.

 A shaft of light shines through the lime-green underbrush in front of me. The smell of sea salt invades my nostrils. The sound of waves crash upon my ears. I hurry out of the brush into a valley guarded by bone-white sand mountains, my arms and face stinging with incisions.

I stop and slip off my backpack. The tent. Where is it? It is gone. Damn. I touch my chest, feeling my heart pound. The thorn bushes must have rip the tent off, and  I was too worried about walking upon an alligator or snake to notice. There is no way I’d find it in the thick brush before the sun disappears. And wandering the wetlands at night is asking to having my legs and arms tore off by the dinosaurs that inhabit it. Besides the whereabouts of There is one question dominating my mine. Where in the hell will I sleep? I’ll have to trek the eleven miles back to Armathia’s research station.

 My shoes rubbing the flesh from my feet, I slog across a hard beach. The arid wind waters my eyes blind and blows snot across my face. I swipe it away and push my throbbing legs as fast as they allow. I pull the canteen from the side of my pack, tilt it to my lips and swallow…the last of my water moistening my leathery throat.

A lonely fishing vessel drifts with a dim light out in a mass of black water. A bitter cold air accompanies the flaming orange sun as it set over the choppy sea. Sea gulls swoop down by the frothy surge, sticking their beaks in the water. Dead ghost crabs lay scattered on the ground along with bronze and ivory shells. The corpse of a jelly fish lay with neon-green dots glimmering inside of it like Christmas lights. Another creature lay with its mouth howling; full of shrill teeth. A ship anchor worn to rust set in front of me. The tide roles in closer. Night isn’t far away and I still have a jungle to hike through if I want to reach the station.

 To the right, a wide path caked with ashy sand burrows into the forest. Maybe this is a shortcut. It has to run in to an encampment somewhere, where I can at least have someone escort me to the station in their vehicle, or loan me a tent.

  Night falls, and a blood-orange moon watches as I slog into the black woods. A pair of bright-yellow eyes stare from a limb high on a tree. I flick the switch on the flashlight and run it up the trunk, and across its thick twisted branches. An owl spreads its wings–at least twenty-five feet across–before it swoops down across the passage in front of me before vanishing in the chasm of forest, hooting.

My light paving a path through the thick blackness, I follow the stony route. A bitter wind nips my face. Something ruffles in the foliage next to me. It is big. I rip the taser from the side of my pants, my breaths lodged in my throat. There is nothing but the shadows of branches blowing in the wind. The sound never returns and I hurry on.

  In front, off the passage, a small campfire blazes bright-orange. I cover my nose as it reeks of burnt beef stewed with feces. There is no gossiping, no movement, just the firewood crackling in the stark night. In the corner of the camp, three black silhouettes of figures sit in a large tent. One rose to his feet, soaring an easy seven-foot with a bald head. Another one sags on his knees, carving something with a long blade. They are silent.  Maybe these guys could point me in the correct direction, or have a vehicle nearby. But what in the hell are they cooking?

As I shamble in front of the enclosed gazebo, my mouth flies open, breath locks in my throat. I cannot feel my legs beneath me. Inside, heads are posted in a circle, scalped and their mouths bellowing.  A man–wearing a dirty-blond mohawk with a cigarette dangling from his mouth–severs the head off a naked corpse.  The giant of a man bursts from the tent. His bald head is as pale as the moon and his face is frozen in a frown.

“Ah, a vis-it-or,” he walks slowly toward me. “And all by himself.”

“Wat yer saying?” the other man emerges from the tent. He flicks his cigarette to the ground and stomps on it.

“Who do we owe da honor to,” he scrubs his hand across his fleshy, square face and glances at the colossal man.  He looks at me. “Yer one of dos scientists?”

I walk backwards toward the trail. The giant calmly pulls a long blade smudged with blood.

“Ya don found wat ya not suppose to,” the other man grimaces. “Nosey fuckin scientist. Well…did ya find wat yer looking for?”

‘Did I find what I was looking for?’ The Otlsah does not eat humans and post their heads around a tent. No, I did not.

The giant tightens his gnarled-fingers around the handle of his blade as he steps closer.

 My words hanging in my throat with my breath, I turn and bolt for the path, and stumble over a root. I spring to my feet as the giant’s heavy feet pound the ground behind me. Laughing, he stops at the edge of the path.

“Come back ya lil queer,” he says. “You’d make a good appetizer.”

“Nah, that’s not right,” the other man says, “he’s leaving without given us anything. Don’t ya want a taste of some human meat?” he chuckles. “What’s that? He says it disgusting” He laughs louder. “Oh come on sir, we’re jus joking. Maybe you’ll jus give us men some head. We promise ya we ain’t goin to cut it off,” the giant and the other man laugh together, like two bullies in the school hall.

Running, I rip the taser from the side of my pants; my hands trembling. I drop it.  My intestines churning violently, I hurry along the trail.  A man, humped nose with long stringy hair walks toward me, like some drunk imbecile.  His dark eyes spark on his corpse-like face as blades protruded from under his shirt sleeves. Lunging at me with a hiss, he knocks me to the ground.

His teeth shine like tiny blades in the chasm of his mouth. He slams the end of the blade into my stomach.  A pain pulsates through my entire body, pinching my nerves and aching my bones. I taste something like an old iron fence as blood runs out of my mouth. I weakly grab his arm and push, but I’m too weak. The woods, the monster on top of me, the sky, all spin. He slowly pulls the blade from my stomach, looking in to my eyes–is eyes wide and empty and drool running down his chin. Raising the blade in both of his hands, he slams the blade down in my stomach once again, twisting it around my intestines. It feels as if a dozen lit matches burning inside my body.

Blackness consumes me, and my senses depart.

***

My eyes open to a bright sun, but I did not find the need to squint. Running my hand over my torso, my eyes widen. Dry blood covers my shirt. No…no.

I grab my head. How can this be possible? I feel nothing:no pain shooting up my nerve endings, no burning feeling in my body.

Logs set in a pile between an opening in the woods, burnt and blackened. A giant fellow, wearing baggy khakis and flannel shirt sits on a log. He scrubs his hand over his bald head, talking to a guy across from him, the man with the filthy mohawk. He lounges with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Another guy with long, stringy hair the color of tar and a humped nose sat, sagging next to the giant–staring at the ground, with his bottom lip jutting forward.

I creep over, snapping a few limbs beneath my feet. The carry on about their business as if I’m not here. I step in front of the entrance to their tent. Inside, heads are pierced through the top of spikes with their heads scalped. I collapse to the soil, my mouth hanging open as my body, bloodied and head pale. My heart isn’t pounding. I’m not even breathing.

I’m…dead.

A blade as long as a sword leans next to a tree, its steel end smeared with blood. I go to grab the hand, and my hand goes through it as if it is a hologram. Again, swiping my hands at the blade’s handle, I attempt to grip it. I cannot.

Waves break on the white, sandy shore.  A large, pearly white bird swoops down in the water and traps a fish with its beak. I won’t ever enjoy the smell of the sea again. I imagine my family and friends at my funeral, hurting because of me, my selfish decision to accept this voyage alone. Never again will I have the chance to feel Olivia’s heart beat against mine.

Maybe this is not the end. I can explore Armathia, every inch of it, every cavern, and species.

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