From the blackness around us came rustlings and whispers of movement in the thick brush. Something moved at one end of the breastworks, and then the other. Several times we distinctly heard quick footsteps moving around our position at the bonfire. Sims and other stewards called out, demanding to know who was there. No reply came to us.
Time wore on, into the deepest dark; a slow, unspooling madness of insects, thirst, fear, and the groans and quivering of the wounded, while we attempted to keep the utmost attention and focus, though about what we had no idea. Puzzled stewards and corpsmen alike began to flag and drowse.
Someone at the breastworks shouted, and several of us ran to the front of the tent. Earl stood, pointing at a ragged corner.
“It took him,” Earl said. “Something came under the flap and took the wounded man who was there.”
We went to the end of the breastworks and saw the empty whicker cot, the stained sheet on the ground. The lantern light illuminated the torn piece of tent wall. Before we could look further, shouts echoed from the rear of the encampment. The group of us ran out the side door and to the rear. Barton aimed his carbine into the darkness and spat curses. Sims calmed him, and spoke to him.
“What did you see?” Sims said.
The steward caught his breath. “Two figures with no clothes. They were very strange. They appeared to be young men, but very strange.”
Sims called out to us to make more fires, however we could, and then he quickly went into the place where Dr. DeGroot lay. He pulled the gag from the mad surgeon’s mouth, saying, “Doctor, sir, what are these things?”
The surgeon was shaking and sweating. His legs jangled against the ground. He forced himself to speak: “We are not able to combat them, Mr. Sims. We must dispatch the wounded as quickly as we can, and then gather together and do our best.”
“We will not kill the wounded, sir.”
“But we must, Mr. Sims. The wounded men are what these things want.”
Screams and shots came from outside, and the three stewards came rushing inside the tent, their eyes wild, one of them shouting “Devils!”
“Keep your head, men,” Sims yelled. “Reload and be ready.”
None of us were ready.
At first, we heard a scampering around the outside of the tent, and then fists pounded the tent walls from without. Sims shouted orders to hold fire. Dr. DeGroot began to babble hysterically, and some of the wounded began to wail, too.
Then these things came in—shapes, black and quick, like thieving animals low to the ground. But then they leaped through the space, arms swinging, raising a loud buzzing sound from their throats, so loud and strange that it pulsated in the center of every man’s brain. The invaders were roughly human-size and human-like, females and males, several large; their gangly arms and legs and naked, pot-bellied bodies were a greasy black in color; their boxy heads and idiotic faces colored a foul, slimy green.
We fired and missed as the dozen ghoulish things bounded past us on clawed feet. They raced through the tent in pairs, ripping down the strings of photographs while snatching wounded men off their cots, and then tearing through the tent walls or the opened flaps.
Sims screamed for order as the last of the ugly things escaped. Corpsmen grabbed lanterns that had fallen. Miraculously, nothing had caught fire.
We quickly tended to two wounded men who were bleeding terribly. They struggled in their cots, and died quickly. We were not sure whose shots had hit them, but we had no chance for debate. Five cots were empty.
# # #[In honor of Halloween, Scott Bowen Creative will be running excerpts from the recently completed collection, Horror 12: Stories of Terror & Possession. A previously published story appears here, at HorrorZine.com.]