Winner of the SCREAMS! Contest.
Was something else.
The first case happened a few weeks before, to a woman down on the beach. She’d been collecting seashells to make another one of her gawdy crafts and suddenly, she just stopped.
Stopped everything. Forever. She was dead before she hit the sand. Her brain and eyes had been eaten right out of her head. No one saw the culprit or what exactly happened, but for some unknown and terrifying reason, the phenomenon was not one in a million.
Three other victims, in varying locations on the island, had been struck by the same parasite, or alien, or bloodthirsty bird (to name a few of the popular theories). Needless to say, everyone was a bit panicked. Who would be next? Was there anything we could do to prevent it? Not knowing the answers had proved to be the real terror.
I was no different. I spent the dreadful weeks indoors. I’d kept track of the locations where this dreadful thing occurred, and they were all outdoors so far. The woman on the beach. A little boy up on the bluffs, the old man taking a swim. All the same. Eyes and brains eaten clean out of their skulls.
It was after the woman in the hut next to mine fell “under the weather” that I knew I had to do something. This whole business crept a little too close for my sanity. She’d been consumed while inside her home. That ruled out my theory, and I was, quite frankly, a mess.
I packed quickly, which wasn’t difficult because I didn't own much. I threw everything except my clothing into a ratty old duffel bag. The clothing, which consisted of a few bikinis, tank tops, and sarongs, I threw on, layering them. The sarongs, I wrapped around my head, making sure to cover my eyes so that I could see through the gauzy fabric.
Maybe this would protect me. I didn’t know, but I had to escape, and I needed something between my tasty bits and whatever hungry demon was out there.
The beach was deserted. I could hear a few cries and shouts from the neighboring huts. Soon, everyone would be trying to take the one small boat to the mainland. I had to beat them to it. At one time, the boat was sufficient. However, the romance of island life had attributed to rabbit-like population growth.
I’d take the small vessel, get to safety and send for the rest after I found someone that believed me and was willing to help. Would the government be interested in such a thing? I didn’t know, but I couldn’t stand around and watch any more tragedies occur.
First, the real danger awaited. The boat was a couple miles away, the terrain was rough in places, and I didn’t have much daylight left.
I ran until I was passed the small shacks, then slowed to conserve energy. I continued on and kept close to the path that wound through the rocks along the shore. The quiet of the evening unnerved me. Only the waves of the ocean dared to disturb the night. Where were the birds? The insects? I strained my ears to pick up any anomaly. I wondered what it felt like, to be eaten like that.
I shivered at the thought. Soon, I came upon the familiar cave in the side of a steep rocky cliff face. The cavern had served as our first home on the island after we’d first arrived. Now, its yawning mouth gaped threateningly in the near dark.
I wanted to continue on, and try to make it to the boat, but my common sense told me to sleep in the cave and head for the boat in the morning. The chances were good, that no one back on the beach would be heading toward the boat until morning, and I already had a head start. Plus, the light was fading fast, and who knew what was out there.
Inside the cave, I crept in the dark to the spot where we used to build campfires and hoped we had left a few pieces of wood in there somewhere so I didn’t have to go hunting in the dark. I navigated the cold, damp space by memory.
Success. A few brittle pieces of driftwood remained. I fumbled for my matches and soon an orange glow flickered on the cave walls. I began to relax. I was more tired than I realized.
Then I heard it. Footsteps. Had the others decided to head for the boat? That had to be it. I left the fire blazing and headed for the exit to meet them, only to crash into a figure that jumped in my way at the last second. I gasped.
The black, empty eye sockets of the woman on the beach gaped at me. Her mouth curved up into a too-wide smile as if she were a puppet controlled by an unseen hand. Behind her, the old man who had fallen “under the weather” on the bluffs joined her. A wide ear-to-ear smile plagued his dead face.
I backed away, as their arms reached out to me, grasping at the air where I used to be. I had to assume that the other dead ones would be coming soon. The man and woman were blocking the cave exit. I had to think fast. How could they even see me without eyes?
My plan formed quickly, but it was weak. I raced to the fire and picked up a burning log. I held it out in front of me and hoped that the fear of fire would scare the demon zombies off. The light illuminated the woman’s face and I could see something scurrying around in her eye sockets. No, not something. A million somethings.
Her mouth gaped open, and a massive cloud of screaming mosquitoes erupted from her. In my terror, I dropped the burning stick and raced in the dark out of the cave, pushing the old man aside as I went.
The high pitched screamy buzz of the cloud followed me, keeping a steady pace. They were playing with me. This was fun for them. A sort of game.
I’d never make the boat. Still a long way off, my chest felt like it was going to explode. I didn’t even know if the boat would be there.
I considered what was happening. A boat would keep me safe from the walking dead, but not from the hoard of mosquitoes. The only thing I could think of that might help was the flaming torch I’d left behind in the cave.
I found myself slow down with exhaustion, though the bugs stayed the same distance behind. Maybe I’d be safe if I took a short rest. I had to try.
I panted, gasping for breath as I strained my eyes to see where I was. The dock lay just ahead, the small boat was still there, rocking gently with the waves.
I could make a run for it, but the mosquitos would follow me, and I couldn’t bear the thought of transferring that plague to the mainland.
I reached in my pocket and clutched the matchbook. There had to be something around here that I could burn, as long as the swarming cloud of mosquito demons kept a safe distance.
There. Peaking out from beside a boulder, a tuft of dry grasses waved. It was a start, but I needed more. I scanned the area for branches, driftwood, anything. I got to work and gathered the necessary items. The tense night air clung heavy and hard to breathe. Or maybe it was the dread of knowing that my imminent death could occur at any second.
The match struck, I lowered the gentle flame and prayed that the dry weeds would catch.
Something crashed into me from the side, knocking me over, and pinned me down. As the fire caught and grew, the face of the little boy stared down at me with the same gruesome grin.
The first of the mosquitoes landed gingerly on my skin. I tried to shake them off but to no avail. Soon, a wisp of them curled out of the boy’s mouth like smoke and plunged like a dagger into my ear.
The pain was immediate. Sharp and unending. I begged for the sweet relief of death. The fire was the only way. With strength I hadn’t known before, I pushed the boy aside and headed straight for the flames. The gauzy fabric on my head hadn’t stopped the swarm, but it would catch fire quite nicely.
It was warm. And bright.
The buzzing stopped and I trembled with glee as my life floated away with the red embers.
It smelled like burnt marshmallows.