I’ll never understand why military vehicles don’t come with seatbelts.

I sit white-knuckled next to Corporal Anderson, my fingers digging into the cheap fabric covering the seat cushions, as he drives us towards Trans-Hub. With each bump in the road – of which there are many – I feel my teeth chatter and fight to keep myself grounded in my seat. Glancing over at the young Corporal, I see an almost masochistic smile on his face as he navigates the winding roads, turning from left to right. It’s then, just as we dip with a heavy thud and I have to pull myself down to stay on my seat, that I realize that Anderson is hitting every-single-bump that he can find.

The bastard.

Apart from the sound of the transport bouncing along the road, the ride is silent. Anderson has no desire to talk or even acknowledge my existence, and I am more than okay with that. As he drives, I look out the side window at the trees, bushes and wildlife that we’re passing by. As we drive, I notice a small glowing dot in the--

“Oh, shi--”

Before I can register what’s happening my head bounces off the dashboard as the vehicle comes to an abrupt stop. In the moments that follow, the only sounds that fill the interior of the vehicle is the labored breathing of the startled Corporal and my grumbling, under-my-breath cursing.

“What the hell was tha-”

“Shut up,” Anderson interrupts. “It’s... it’s something.”

“‘Something’? That doesn’t exactly narrow it down.”

“I think it’s a person.”

“How can you be sure?”

Anderson doesn’t answer, instead keeping his full attention faced forward. As I turn my gaze towards the window, it becomes difficult to keep my jaw from dropping. In front of us, no further than maybe twenty meters up the road, we can make out the silhouettes of some kind of husk. They emanate a stark purple glow as they lumber their way across the road.

“Wait here,” Anderson says bluntly. “You’ll be safe in here.”

The young Corporal reaches behind his seat and grabs an Accord Standard Issue AR-42 assault rifle. Before I even have the chance to try and stop him the Corporal steps out of the transport, closing the heavy door behind him. I keep my eyes locked on him as he walks in front of the vehicle, weapon at the ready, as he slowly approaches the glowing silhouettes in the distance.

“Excuse me,” I hear Anderson shout, presumably towards whatever is in front of him. My eyes narrow, fighting to see through the darkness. In an effort to help myself see I reach up and flip off the cabin light. After a few moments of darkness my eyes begin to adjust. Slowly I’m able to make out the trees and bushes near the truck, and before long I can vaguely make out the creatures Anderson is approaching.

Reaching into my pocket, I pull out my paper and chalk, which I typically use to sketch the landscapes when I’m in need of a break from my writing. I begin to sketch, my eyes never leaving the figures for more than a second at a time, my focus switching between them and Corporal Anderson.

Nftm02As I see Anderson approach them, I look down at what I’ve sketched. As I look at, something sparks in my head and I swear that I’ve seen this… before…

Oh, hell.

Memories of my time with Dr. Benton come rushing back; of the Nautilus Science Facility, of the laboratories, and of the twisted monstrosity that was being kept in one of their glass stasis tubes.

Immediately alarmed, I try to signal to Anderson. I reach over and punch the center of the steering wheel, expecting the loud blast of the horn to grab his attention. Instead, all I receive is a loud smack against hard plastic, and a hand that is now sore. I look around the cabin for something that could grab his attention, eventually looking up and flicking the switch to turn the cabin light back on. And suddenly I’m struck by inspiration.

I begin to flick the light on and off in a rapid and random set. As he steps closer and closer to the monstrosities, I flick the light switch faster and faster. Just when I start to think that hope was lost, I see him pause. A moment later he turns and looks over his shoulder – right at me. Anderson arches a brow, turning and taking a step back towards the vehicle. As he starts to approach, I begin to wave my free hand around as I continue to flick the switch.

Anderson begins a steady walk back towards the vehicle, shrugging his shoulders and giving me a look which screams do you have problems? But as he starts to walk back towards the vehicle, I see that the soulless, twisted and empty husks are following after him. My eyes go wide, and I begin to point wildly – and again I’m met with a look of what the hell is wrong with you? But I keep pointing, and after another moment Anderson looks behind him. Seeing the procession behind him, Anderson pivots and aims his rifle at the mass of Melding freaks as he continues to back towards the truck.

“Stay back,” Anderson shouts, his rifle ready. “Stay back or I’ll open fire!”

They ignore his warnings, and continue to inch closer to him. After taking a few more steps backward, he turns and starts to jog towards the vehicle. As he approaches I begin to climb over to open the driver’s side door, but before I make it I seem Anderson slide to a halt, falling down on the dirt road and scrambling backwards.

“Don’t open the door!” Anderson shouts at me. As I make my way to the door and look out the window, I hear a loud, agonizing shriek that is certainly not human. A moment later I hear the first volley of rounds from Anderson’s rifle before seeing him climb to his feet, backing away and to the right from the truck as another, louder series of shrieks ring out all around me. The noise is almost deafening, almost drowning out the weapons fire from Corporal Anderson as he continues to move further away from the vehicle. Suddenly, they make their move.

Their movements aren’t fluid or graceful, but they are fast – damn fast. Faster than you’d think they could move. Before I can blink at least a dozen of the things charge at Anderson, who mows them down in a hail of bullets – many of which ting off the side of the transport, making me instinctively duck down. As I duck below the windshield, I hear more assault rifle fire over the sound of more screams. But after a few moments I notice how the gunfire has grown more quiet, and the tings of ammunition striking the armor plating has all but gone. Slowly I peek my head up to look out the windshield. What I find it nothing short of a massacre: at least twenty of those damn things lie on the ground, though Anderson is nowhere to be seen. The world immediately around me has grown deathly quiet, and I slowly open the door and climb out.

The air is crisp, with a slightly chilling bite to it. I don’t bother to close the door as I step away from the vehicle, looking at the bodies littering the ground. In the distance I hear the gunfire ring out for a few more rounds before the weapons go silent. As I start to walk further away from the vehicle, I hear a familiar voice crying out – immediately I know that the young, cold, impersonal Corporal Anderson is beyond salvation.

I look around at where I am. I know that I can’t pilot the Accord transport – Anderson took the damn key with him. But I see the warm, yellow glow of Trans-Hub in the distance. If I double-time it, I just might be able to make it…

-Emmanuel Almas