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The Bulgarian ambassador is found eviscerated in his London quarters, and Major Sonja Slade of the Prussian Army searches for his killer while trying to forget her own ties to the dead man.

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Wednesday
Aug282013

Week 30

John, The Insurance Clerk

It is better to remember some things as dreams. Even though you may know full well that they were never dreams, that perhaps all the times you thought you dreamed about them they were actually real, it is better to say "that must have been a dream". I said this to myself many times over the next few minutes. "This is a dream," I told myself, "with dream logic, and dream happenings. I shall wake soon to find myself safe in my bed at home with Mabel. No, Elizabeth. No, Mabel. This confusion proves it is a dream." It would be infinitely better if it were a dream. If only it were.

The ship lurched violently to the side. It was sudden. Almost as soon as the captain had stopped talking. A lurch, with groaning metal. Not a sea-motion, not a roll-and-return. We tipped sideways and stayed there, at an angle. And something happened to the air - it was thicker, with a musty tang, the scent of old fish. The captain roared at me.

"It's coming!" he shouted, "It's here you bloody idiot, you've brought it here!"

And I knew it was the thing from my dream.

"Come with me!" The captain grabbed my arm and pushed me and Evangelos up the stairs in front of him. "We've got to get to the bridge. I'm not letting you out of my sight for a moment."

"But the bridge is... the other way?" I motioned behind us.

"Not that bridge you fool." He turned and grabbed me by the lapels breathing into my face. "Listen," he said, "You've probably killed every man aboard but each of us must try to save ourselves now. There's another bridge, aft. One deck down from here. If you survive to get there, you must pull the red lever, you understand? The red lever." He turned his face to me and to Evangelos to check if we understood.

I nodded, silently. Behind him, across our path, I saw a flicker of movement. I knew what it was in my skin before I could see it properly. The captain saw my eyes glance behind him. He turned. And saw the thing. And screamed.

It came toward us before we could move. Moving fast, too fast for the slithering thing it was, and too bunched up. The lights flickered off. I could barely see anything by the faint red glow of the emergency lighting. The captain grabbed my shoulder and whispered: "Keep still. If you're still it might not..."

I pressed myself into the bulkhead. I could see the start of the thing, but not the end. It was fuzzy, unfocused somehow. And the noise it made. A keening buzz. A sort of wail. A blood-scented baying. There was no mouth, but in the writhing tentacles massed together there was an opening and within it further reaching, waving fronds and I knew that if those fronds touched me, I would...

Evangelos began to shake uncontrollably. His heels clanged against the bulkhead and a questing, ravenous frond reached out – stirring as if we were underwater, but we were not underwater – for his face. He let out a tiny yelp. I did not move. The waving frond poked towards him, inch by inch. I have never seen purer terror on a man's face than on Evangelos' at that moment.

The thing found his flesh, the skin of his cheek. He tried to scream, pull it off, but it was too late. The tentacle was in him, pushing in through his face, and he was screaming but it made no difference, it pushed in and more came, and more, blood-red through him and out through his mouth and eyes and into his abdomen and through his back and the wet sticky mess that had been Evangelos was part of the creature now and it began to walk toward us, looking with its waving fronds through what had been his eyes.

"Run!" shouted the captain, "Run!"

"Where? There's nowhere to run!"

And the sound drew the Evangelos-thing toward us, and though we tried to move we were rooted to the spot as if by glue on our feet and the tentacles began to reach toward us. They found the captain first. I could not look as the thing was done to him, although his screams will haunt me till I die.

And now me, I thought. Now me. I should have tried to move. I could not. The fronds stirred here and there. They began to move towards me. I screamed. I shouted. I believe I begged for mercy, for Mabel, for Elizabeth, for my mother. The fronds were inexorable. Slow but unstoppable. They came towards me, reaching for my face and... passed over.

The sticky blood-forms of my two companions moved on. Away from the bulkhead. The tentacle-presence receded from the deck. The lights flickered back on. I was... alive. I did not know what had happened, could not begin to explain it. I knew one thing only. Aft. One deck down. I ran.

I passed the fronds a dozen times before I reached the second bridge the captain had told me of. Each time, they seemed to reach for me. Each time, they passed me by. The ship was covered in them, throbbing with a multitude of red sticky filaments, sailors eaten up so only their form remained. I ran, and did not care to try my luck if I should touch one of those strands or attempt to rescue the screaming, shrieking sailors.

I found the room. I opened the door. Inside was the red lever the captain had told me of. I stood with my hand poised on it for a moment. At the doorway, the abomination began to creep in. It was everywhere now, thick like carpet, waving like algae. I had dreamed of it a million times. I knew it. Why did it not know me?

A tentacle probed toward me. I felt the heavy lever under my thumb. "God help me," I said. "If there is a God." I pulled the lever.