Chuck gave us another listed of random-generated titles this week, and this caught my eye, but then I steered myself away from something to do with Big Pete and the Swede, and set it back into my ‘explorer group’. I hope I didn’t kill off Carruthers in the past. If I did, this must be a prequel. It’s 1000 words.
These Damned Insects
“Gotcha!” Carruthers slapped his neck before another whining mosquito got him. Or maybe it got him first, he thought, studying the mess on his hand. He wiped it on his corduroys and reached for the coffee pot on the campfire.
“Thought the smoke would keep them away.” Martensen blew a smoke-ring as he lay back against the rock.
“Your smoke, maybe, but I reckon they’ve learnt that campfires have meat by them.”
“You’ve got your nets all set up?”
“Yeah. I considered getting one of those head-nets for this trip. Damned expensive for a little bit of gauze, but maybe I should have done.”
“That or a good deterrent. I swear by this UB40.”
“What’s it made of?”
“DDT, bog myrtle oil and essence of pennyroyal. Good for the skin, too.”
“They always say that the only good way is to cover up.”
“Still leaves your neck and ears, even if you keep them off your face.” Martensen watched Carruthers give another slap to the back of his neck, and pull his cotton polo neck up higher. “Try a scarf, old boy.”
“Thanks, I think I will.” Carruthers rose and slid carefully through his tentflap, opening it just enough to get through. Even though he had the mosquito net suspended over his cot, keeping the beasties out altogether was best. Stopped him listening to them and wondering about gaps in the net.
He returned, settling his hat back over the scarf he’d wrapped around his head and neck like a peasant woman. “So, you reckon we’ll find the cave tomorrow?”
“And still no sign of the opposition. You don’t reckon they’re ahead of the game?”
“I told you, there’s no way they could have made a copy of our map. They are working on the press leaks and our tracks. We’re way ahead.”
For some reason Carruthers wasn’t comforted. He lay on his cot, trying to sleep, listening to the doppler notes of the few mosquitos inside the tent. Eventually he turned over, pulled the sheet over his head, and drifted off.
The purple shadow masked the entrance of the cave, a gaping maw in the fold of the red sandstone. Strange white domes hung down like teeth just inside the entrance.
“Bees,” spat Carruthers as he waved his arms around his body to keep them off. He climbed over some white rocks to gain the cavern beyond, but it quickly closed in on him and he turned sideways, following his light as the darkness stretched before him. He became aware of a line by his right shoulder, undulating along the rock, a glistening snail trail accompanying his snail’s pace. As he went deeper into the cave system, the wall mark broadened, until it could only be made by a foot-wide mollusc. He had heard of Giant African Land Snails, but not one that could shrink as it reached the light. It must be a seam in the rock.
The slabs of rock seemed molten, moving just enough to let him through, giving him an uneasy feel of closing after he had passed. There was no sound, save the occasional scrape as he slid on smooth slope, or a crunch as his boot shattered something beneath his foot, pebbles, or perhaps shells. He tried to picture the labyrinth described on the map, It was simple enough; a left hand spiral with bars every now and then, suggesting a step. His instincts told him he was climbing up, but every dozen strides he had to feel down for his footing, like a giant saw edge he was clambering round. A giant, spiral, serrated saw.
Visions of a mosquito leg under the microscope filtered into his thoughts. The delicate feelers, the joint and then the leg, with hairs like serrations, then clean legs up as far as the thorax. The mouth parts on the head, the feeding tube, filled with the juices of whatever it had eaten last, ready to inject its anaesthetic on the skin of its next victim— her next victim, as she plunged her mouth parts in to suck, and to transfer the malarial infection into her victim’s blood. His pulse quickened, his face felt hot, surely he was suffering from some malady. He could feel a mosquito around his left ear – now his right, whining in the high-pitch that he could only hear on one side, the result of the explosion so many years ago. Such a high-pitched note, adding to the feverishness of his thoughts.
He had quickened his pace now, clutching at the rocks and risking dropping his light. The uneven reflections ahead of him invented shadows more terrible than any beast in the grasslands outside. A five-horned rhinosaur bent itself around a corner and made off into the distance. Was that a giraffe peering down on him, or a brontosaurus? The shadows swept down on him and he cowered, ducking beneath outstretched wings of a giant bat, or maybe a pterosaur.
The cleft in the rocks swept him leftwards, leftwards, leftwards until he was dizzy with the motion inside the rock, a whirlpool of glittering gemstones, taunting him, drawing him onwards, into the depths of their sparkling wealth. If he could only reach them, stash them into his bag, and find his way out again…
Jewel-like eyes whirled at him as he flattened himself against the wall of the cavern. Wings clattered as a hundred blue-green stones rose into the air in strings, then started a dance of death, approaching him and darting away again. One landed on the rock next to him, caught fully in the feeble glow of his light. The blue eyes, ringed with black, looked squarely at him, and he registered the four stiff wings and the elongated abdomen stretching out behind it. Why, it’s just a dragonfly, Carruthers told himself. It only looks big because it’s right in front of my face.
Then, behind it, the parent rose, and he screamed.
© J M Pett 2016