The Other Four

A wasp the size of a person's fist buzzed noisily across a patchy grey sky. It didn't notice itself being observed from below by an alien creature. Julia wouldn't have thought of herself as an alien, but she certainly wasn't a native of this planet. Neither was in any danger from the other, Julia was there to observe and catalogue, the wasp was there to collect nectar and had no sting. The wasp disappeared out of site as all five feet ten of Julia rose from the thick carpet of greenish leaves. Looking around she could see fevered activity in all directions. Insects of every kind leaped from flower to flower grasping at the nectar, small furry things chased around stuffing enormous cheeks with anything remotely edible. Night was coming and all must prepare.

Julia walked calmly back towards the bubble she called home. The bubble was tethered by a small stream a few miles away. Julia had lived in the bubble on and off for several years. It wasn't always here of course, and wouldn't be for much longer. Her duty tour as cartographer and biologist almost up, she was due to be picked up and taken back to the main settlement half a continent away. The Sun was already low in the sky, but wouldn't set for several days yet. A "day" on this planet was about 53 earth days long, about half of which was actually dark. She skipped down a boulder strewn slope to the bubble, low gravity and her muscular physique made easy work of it. A small hatch on one side of the bubble opened as she approached, she climbed in and it closed behind her.

Although it was bubble shaped it was actually very tough and air tight to several atmospheres. Inside it was exactly the same temperature as the outside, but without the cooling breeze. Julia stripped off a layer of clothing, tied back her long black hair and sat on a small stool beside her small comms unit. After a while it spoke in a soft voice," You have one message...'pick-up delayed, tropical storms over main base'...message ends".

Julia looked out of the bubble towards the coming night. A cold shiver ran down her back. Her hands slowly clenched until her nails dug into her palms. Her voice was quiet and wavering as she spoke, "oh great! Just get here before dark will you." * * *

Laying on the bed looking up into the cloudy sky, Julia saw movement out of her left eye, but when she turned to look it seemed to move with her. She lay as still as she could and pretended to close her eyes. A black shape like a hand crept slowly up the side of the bubble. When she opened her eyes fully it vanished, as though it had never been. Julia tried to settle down to sleep again. A few moments later there came a tapping sound from somewhere above. Opening her eyes slowly she caught site of a black star shape darting away into the vegetation. She was intrigued, and although good sense put in an appearance it quickly left. She rolled slowly off her bed and padded across to the hatch. There was a slight pop as it opened, with the usual rush of scented blooms. Their perfume was very strong today, almost intoxicating. Quietly she stepped on to the flat rock that was her doorstep, senses alert for any sight or sound.

Her eyes locked on to the place where the black star had gone, she crept slowly forward. The star had disappeared into a thick prickly bush with feathery leafs. Carefully Julia pulled a couple of the branches apart and peered in. At first she saw nothing, then the black thing was there in front of her. It did look like a hand, not so much black, more a patch of void.

The hand began to grow and swell, pushing aside the undergrowth, crushing it like match wood. Julia quickly stepped back, suddenly afraid, but the hand followed getting bigger and wider as it came. She could now see shapes within the black, swirling masses of darkness, solid writhing creatures made from shadow itself. She turned and ran towards the bubble, stumbling in her mad dash to safety. But the hand grabbed her as she fought to stay on her feet, wrapping its cold dark fingers around her naked body. All sound ceased, her mind seemed to fill with a pulsing black emptiness. The palm of the hand started to sweat against her back, a sticky repulsive wetness. The fingers pressed cold against her chest and stomach, far colder than she had ever felt before, the coldness of space. The index finger began to move up her neck towards her mouth. She tried to scream, but nothing came out. The breath was being crushed from her body. The tip of the finger forced itself against her face. A great rush of panic crashed through her as her senses failed. Her arms and legs thrashed wildly, death throes of an endangered soul. Again she opened her mouth to scream for help, but the dark void of the finger flowed between her teeth and began to pour into her throat. She choked, heaved; her body went into spasms.

- Copyright Steve Dean