Coughing and wheezing, that was all I could do as I ran through the dark cave tunnel. Beside me, I could see my comrades. Their eyes wide in terror, just like mine were. Our eyes were beginning to fail. I knew this because it was getting harder and harder to see in here. The shadows looked as if they were closing in on us. Still we ran. What else could we do? Our attacker was right behind us. I could hear its footsteps, its gawd awful screeching. If we make it out of this alive, that horrid image will be engraved into my skull for the rest of my life.
As we ran, whatever was left of my brain began to flood my thoughts with memories of the past, how things came up to this point. It's funny, really, when you think about it. Things can go so wrong and when you look back on it, many ways it could have been prevented, and often what lead things up to that point seemed so meaningless, as if it wasn't a big deal. I knew there was nothing funny about this, yet I couldn't help but emit a small chuckle to myself as I took a trip down memory lane.
It had all started only a week prior. We were on a journey, looking for a new home. We had become separated from our herd, and we stuck together like glue. The landscape was harsh and unforgiving. Wild predators roamed the lands, including one particularly massive one, almost of legend. We weren't too afraid. So long as we stuck together, we could get through anything. But a part of me wondered how long we would survive. There was no food around and we had used up our rashons we had brought with us.
My two comrades, Omer and Ache, had called my name. I heard 'Ysef!' repeated over and over. I found them sitting close to the edge of a huge drop off. I paused and wondered what they were doing there. Curious, I walked over to them and asked them what they were up to. They didn't answer. They didn't even look at me. They simply pointed downwards. I looked at them strangely. What was wrong with them? I rolled my eyes and went to the edge. I swear if this was another one of their pranks...
I took in a sharp gasp of shock when I saw what laid before me. Now I could see why they were frozen where they were. Down below, the cliff I stood on almost seemed to explode, creating a huge gap in the floor. Jetting out of the ground were a couple massive mountains. I hadn't noticed them until now. I gazed in amazement at their size. I had never seen a volcanic region this close before. I was starting to feel the heat from the volcano and the rivers and pools of lava below me. I turned to Omer and Ache and told them we should be leaving.
As we turned around, the volcano behind us started to rumble. In turn, it caused the ground around it to shake. I screamed as I fell onto my stomach. My comrades, a few feet away, saw this. They ran towards me. I tried to tell them to run off and save themselves. But they were always so stubborn. They grabbed my arms and pulled me. The ground couldn't handle the added weight and it crumbled. We screamed as we roll down the side of the cliff. We landed heavily on top of each other at the bottom.
We got up and looked around. All around us, we saw nothing but lava, ash, and unsteady ground. The heat was almost unbearable now. Even though my skin was thick, it was feeling the burden of this intense warmth. The volcano was erupting. Thankfully it wasn't a massive eruption, but the lava pouring down its sides would surely rise the lava rivers around us. We had to find higher ground and fast.
We desperately looked for some place to go. But with the brightness of the lava, it was hard to make out anything. Breathing in the ash was an uncomfortable feeling and we started to feel light heated from it. What concerned me more was how it seemed harder and harder to breathe as each second passed. We wouldn't last long out here, I knew, unless we found shelter. I moved a few feet away from my comrades, put my hand over my eyes, and looked around. The shade provided by my hand made it a little easier for me to look and I found something off in the distance.
Me and my comrades approached it. Walking across the treacherous ground wasn't easy, let me tell you. Half our steps almost resulted in our feet being charred off. The ground was a little too low to the lava and it showed. The ground began to break apart and we stopped in our tracks. All around us, the ground that was once solid was now transformed into a lava pool. Luckily, there were still a few large stone platforms we could jump on, but we had to be careful lest we burn ourselves alive. We jumped from rock to rock, balancing ourselves, and we reached the other side.
We managed to find what it is I saw from a distance. It was a cave system. What luck! The opening was high above the ground, so it would take some climbing skills to get to it. But at least it was away from the lava. The air in the cave should be more refreshing than out here. We squeezed through the small opening and fall down inside the cave. Immediately, I felt relief from both the heat and the ashes. We looked around and got up onto our feet. My comrades suggested this would make for a good shelter until the volcano stopped erupting. I suggested we explore it. The cave system must have another exit, one far away from here and maybe close to somewhere fertile.
Omer didn't seem to like the idea of traveling through an unknown cave. He says the cave may not have any other entrance, and that even if it did, it may just be around this area. Ache was a bit more optimistic, and he agreed with me exploring the cave may be our best solution. He criticized Omer's fear and said that if we stuck together, it wouldn't be so bad. Omer really wanted to stay put, near where he knew he could get out, but Ache and I wouldn't let him and insisted he come with us. We were brothers and we weren't going to leave each other behind. Oh how I wish now that I had listened to Omer...
We began trekking down inside one of the cave tunnels. There were many of them, likely created by an extinct volcano long ago. Hidden under the crust, the air was cool and helped our burning skin feel better. The first few hours of walking in the cave were relaxing. My mind had almost forgotten about the hardships we had faced on the way here. I looked over at my comrades, my brothers, and they seemed to be a bit more relaxed. Unsurprisingly, Omer was still a little nervous. I had wanted to comfort him, but knew there was nothing I could say. When he was worried, he stayed worried, so I knew it was best to just let him alone.
But the hours soon turned into about two days. There was no exit in site. I bit my lip and wondered if Omer was right. Maybe we should have stayed near that one exit we found earlier. Ache still looked optimistic, but even he was starting to get worried. This tunnel was unusually long. I haven't seen any cave system like this. Just where was it taking us and did it have any kind of second exit?
As we continued to trek down the seemingly endless cave, I was growing hungrier and wearier. None of us knew how long we would be in here. The coolness of the air that once felt so good was starting to feel chilling. The walls of the tunnel seemed so much smaller now. I was feeling cramped and I wanted to run far away. It took all my will to keep myself from running. I resorted to wrapping my arms around my chest and shivering, looking around with an expression that looked the closest to fear that my comrades had ever seen.
By day four, we had almost collapsed many times from exhaustion, from thirst, and from hunger. There was still no signs of an exit. By now it was too late to head back. Could we live through another four days without food or water? Perhaps food, but we would die soon if we didn't find some water. We dragged our thinning bodies through the cave. Our mouths were open, tongues hanging out, as we rubbed our parched throats. The walls of the cave were moist and we were tempted to lick them. But it would do us no good. It wasn't enough moisture to sustain us for long.
Then something caught our attention. We heard it, a drip. In here, it sounded more like a splash. My eyes widened and I smacked my lips together. Could it be? Finally? Water? I ran out in front of my brothers. They followed me close behind. I guessed they heard it too. We continued to run until the cave opened up to...another large cave. At first we were disappointed, but that disappointment soon turned into joy as we saw a large pool of water down below, fed by a small opening and a small stream of water pouring down.
We climbed down the side and ran towards the water. We stared at it for a long time. We wondered if it was a hallucination brought on by days without water. Ache reached his hand into the water to test to see if it was real. He reached to the cold and brought his hand back. He nodded his head and said it was real. Overjoyed, we began to drink the water. Fresh, cool water entering our throats was soothing. We continued to drink until we could drink no more. Water dripped down my face. I wiped it off and looked at Omer and Ache.
They were laying on the ground. They appeared to be knocked out. It had been a rough few days for all of us. I decided I would go to sleep as well. Had I known how different things were going to be when I woke up, I may never have went to sleep to begin with. But then, how can you predict disaster? How can you tell when something was going to go wrong? None of us do. Yet it was so simple...something I could have prevented just by listening to Omer four days ago.
I awoke the next day and found that Omer was missing. Panic started to run through my mind. Where could he have gotten to? I wondered if he had gone back the other way. I hoped he didn't. That would have been suicide! I got onto my feet, careful not to wake up Ache, and walked around the area a little. I didn't want to go too far and lose sight of Ache, but I didn't know how far Omer had gone.
I felt blessed that I found him only a few minutes later. He was standing near one of the walls, almost hidden by a rock surface jetting outwards from the wall. I call out his name, but it takes him minutes to respond. When he looked at me, I let out a gasp. His eyes looked very distant. The pupils and irises looked smaller than they should. He looked as if he didn't recognize me at first, but he waved and smiled like nothing was wrong. His gait was a little funny. He moved almost animalistic, his body lacking the rhythm it once had. I wondered what could have caused this.
I was alarmed when he lowered himself towards the ground and began to dig with his hands. It was useless. The ground here was too hard. He was still trying to dig, though. His fingers were getting bruised up easily. I ran towards him and grabbed his hands. I demanded to know what he was doing. All he could say was 'Hungry' repeatedly. Had hunger been what did this to him? Then how come I wasn't feeling like this? I put a hand on his shoulder and told him we would find food soon. I wished I could be sure I was being truthful. But how could I find food in a cave?
Ache woke up soon after. I was grateful that he was acting normal. I informed him of Omer's unusual behavior. Ache seemed a little less worried and thought that it was just hunger doing it. I secretly hoped it was. It was painful for me to see the way this guy was walking, a little wobbly and almost menacing-like. His fingers flexed like a predators would on the hunt. He would grind his teeth a few times. It was like a subconscious behavior, a newly acquired one as I never seen him do this before.
We tried searching the caves for any signs of food. We didn't find anything we felt we could eat. Just a few lizards roaming around and some bugs. Nothing we were accustomed to eating. We might get sick eating these. The hours passed quickly and there was still nothing. I rubbed my stomach, its growl getting louder as each minute passed. I looked over at Omer. He was fairing no better. He was looking around, his body trembling, his eyes wide, his teeth bared. If I didn't know him better, I would say he was acting like a disturbed predator in a bizarre environment.
No sign of food anywhere. I decided that we should head back to the water. At least being hydrated would keep us going for a little longer. I felt bad for Omer. He didn't eat the longest out of all of us. I was amazed he could still walk. He looked sickly. Ache also felt bad for him, and that's something since he was the most bitter out of us all and the least sympathetic. Yet Omer's condition caused him to lay down besides him once we got back to the water hole.
Rest would help us feel better, even if just briefly. I moved in closer to my brothers. I wanted to feel some form of security. The cave had been transformed into a cold prison. I wished we had taken our chances outside. Death came so much swifter by lava than by a freezing cave. I looked down at the water. I drank some of it, hoping it would help me feel a little better. It didn't. No surprise. I looked over and saw Omer and Ache drink up as well. I let out a small smile. I laid down my head to rest.
The next day, things had taken a turn for the worst. Now both Omer and Ache were gone. But this time, I didn't need to look far to find one of them. Ache was standing just a few feet away, in the opposite direction I found Omer the other day. Ache was swaying back and forth. Drool dripped from his mouth. His pupils and irises had gone small just like Omer. I put my hands to my mouth to hide my gasp of shock. Ache was moving in a similar animalistic pattern as Omer was.
'Ysef' He would say. It was like he was trying to tell me something, but more words refused to come out of him. So all he could do was repeat my name. I took a few steps towards him. He started shaking like a leaf. He rubbed his stomach. I knew he was hungry. He looked around, just like Omer had. I looked around, trying to find Omer. I couldn't see him anywhere. What was going on?
I walked around, not straying too far from Ache. I looked around, trying to look for any signs of movement. I saw a flash of movement and I ran towards the source. I turned a corner and stopped in my tracks. I could see Omer before me, hidden mostly in shadow. His back was turned to me. He was hunched over something. I heard cracking sounds. I swallowed hard and reached out to touch him, whispering his name.
He slowly turned his head towards me. He eyed me with those eyes. I grew nervous and pulled my hand back. Omer turned around slowly. I tried not to scream in horror at what he was doing. In his hand, he was holding the remains of a lizard. Blood was dripping from his mouth. The lizard's body was half gone and I could see its bones and organs. Omer didn't blink once as he shoved the rest of the lizard in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed.
I wanted to run away from him. The being standing before me wasn't Omer, not completely. He looked like Omer, but he didn't act like him anymore. He stared at me intently and emitted a low growl. I didn't know what to do. He approached me slowly, sizing me up. What was he going to do? He wouldn't kill his own brother, would he? He backed me up against the wall. I looked away, waiting for the blow. It never came.
He asked me what was wrong. I looked back at him and realized he wasn't displaying the symptoms he was yesterday. He seemed almost normal now, save for the blood on his body. I told him he had eaten a lizard right in front of me. He didn't act surprised, and I knew this was unusual. The Omer I knew would be disgusted by the prospect of eating raw flesh. But here, now, he just shrugged it off, saying it at least filled him up. His gait was still a little odd when he walked back towards the water, but it wasn't as bad as it was yesterday. Who knew how long that was going to last?
I didn't know what to think about Omer anymore. I didn't know if I wanted him near me during sleep time. He was my brother and I knew I shouldn't turn him away. But it was still troubling, the way his behavior seemed to change so fast. I walked away from him and sat down on the ground. I tried to think of what was going on. I looked over at Ache to see how he was doing.
He was still exhibiting those odd behaviors. The swaying, the teeth grinding, the trembling, all that, just like Omer had. Only his behavior seemed to get worse more rapidly. Already he was growling and trying to dig at the ground, as if hunting for prey. I was feeling very afraid by this point. I didn't know if I could trust either of my brothers now. Something had happened to them, caused them to change to..this. What was it? What had we done? It was then that something dawned on me. I looked over at the water hole. I walked slowly towards it and stared downwards at it.
Could the water have done this? Could something in the water have altered my comrades' behavior so drastically? I cupped a small handful of water and looked at it closely. It didn't look unusual, just like any normal water. But looks could be deceiving. I flung the water onto the ground and shook my hand dry. I knew the only choice we had. As much as it was painful for me to do, I had to tell my brothers to drink the water no more. We would leave tomorrow to find another source of water, one that hopefully wasn't potentially tainted like this one was.
I didn't know if they could understand me now. Omer was hunched on the ground again. He wasn't eating anything, but he remained hunched, looking around for probably another lizard to munch on. Ache was wandering around. He never strayed far, but he would walk around in circles, looking around in desperation, likely for food. I wanted to get this out of my mind. So I went off into a corner and laid down to take a short nap. It was going to be hard to sleep in here, with my comrades the way they were, but I had to relax my mind lest I succumb to madness as well.
My nap was short lived. A few hours later, I was brought awake suddenly by a loud sound. I sat up and looked around. Omer hadn't moved from his spot. He was still eyeing the ground. But Ache was a different story. I gasped in horror at what he had done. He had grabbed a lizard by the head and was smashing it against the wall. The lizard let out loud hisses. That was the sound that woke me up. I got to my feet and ran towards Ache, shouting at him to let the lizard go. He didn't listen and then twisted the lizard's neck, snapping it easily.
I stopped and watched in disgust and fear as Ache started to eat the lizard whole. The lizard slid down his throat and into his stomach. I stood there, eyes wide and frozen in shock. I remained like that for several minutes. In that time, Ache's behavior slowly changed to mostly normal, as if the feeling of food inside of him was enough to curb that behavior. I fell to my knees, trying to make sense of it all. The water had to be responsible for this. It just had to! What else could it have been? Everything was fine until we drank that water.
Oh no...I realized in horror that I had drank some of the water myself. Twice even, just like my comrades. I looked over at them slowly. They were looking for food again. How long would it be until I succumbed to this as well? I pressed my head against the ground, feeling a tear run down my face. I didn't want this to be real. I begged to myself to say it wasn't true. This is just some horrible dream and I would wake up soon. I curled up against the wall and started to cry softly to myself. None of my brothers checked on me to see what was wrong. Should I have been surprised? Given what happened next, I was not.
You see, it didn't take me long to start feeling the effects of whatever was in the water. The next day, I was feeling unusual after I woke up. I was walking, but had noticed my gait was strange. Or was it? It almost seemed normal to me at the time. Walking like this felt almost natural. The cave around me looked less threatening. It was darker, and yet somehow the darkness looked welcoming, comforting. The smells of the cave had dulled down, and all I could smell was food, yet I could not see any.
I began walking around, searching around my surroundings. The behaviors of Omer and Ache no longer bothered me. It was like we were moving as a group once again. I felt my mind begin to transform. I started to bare my teeth in anticipation for food. I knew it was around here somewhere. Together, we walked through the cave, entering a new tunnel that headed in a direction we hadn't gone in before. The walk seemed to take many hours, but neither of us cared. It was like we were on the hunt, and we would be successful. I hadn't doubted our abilities.
The final day, my mind had blanked out mostly. I was capable of thinking, but not as much as before. All I was focused on was eating. Part of me wanted to feel disgusted that I was craving meat like my comrades, but another part of me told me that it was either meat or no food at all. And when we had caught sight of a little girl wandering the caves, all sense of reality diminished for us.
Around and around we had chased the girl. We slammed into the ground, trying to maul her with our hands and mouths. She screamed and called for help. No one was coming for her. Ache and I tried to trap her but she slipped out and caused us to crash into each other. She rolled away and landed in an open area. All at once, my brothers and I surrounded her. Hunger was on my mind and she would be our meal. We surrounded her and raised our hands, preparing for the kill. She just cowered there on the ground. This was going to be easy.
Sight was getting even dimmer for us. Yet despite losing our ability to see, we weren't afraid. We glared down at the girl with complete malice. We must have been truly terrifying, a trio like us attacking a little girl like her. I wished I had been brought back to my senses faster, before all this had happened. But alas, fate doesn't always work in your favor. I know that more than anyone else now.
Just then, something huge came out into the cave. I couldn't describe it now if I tried. It was black and spiky and tall. It was nothing like any of us had ever seen. The sight of this creature was enough to snap our brains back to reality, giving us a little control over ourselves. We stared at the frightened girl, disgusted by what we were about to do to her. We looked at the black towering creature and couldn't bring ourselves to scream in horror. We just ran.
And that brings me to where we are now. My comrades and I are still running. We do not know if the creature is chasing us. We finally collapse of exhaustion. By now our vision is all but gone. Blackness surrounds us. I knew we weren't going to live for much longer. The water, it was doing much more damage than I thought. Just..what was in that water anyway?
Before my eyes closed, I heard a cry, 'Cera come back! Come back!' Then my mind blanked out as I slipped into unconsciousness.