Chapter 8 of Cargo
The night desert ambience soothes me, but the chill air amplifies my dread.
In the heart of the cold desert, the campfire flickered, casting dancing shadows on the sand. The flames burn hot causing the bottom section of the barrel to glow. The light it emits illuminates up to a limited periphery. Outside of this ring of light is pitch-black nothingness, the mountains in the far distance made visible only by the urban lights beyond them.
I count eight tents in a perfect circle around me, the starlight reflecting off the silver fabric, enough to make it a visible grey. Not a word echoes from them, the men inside waiting with their weapons, their shadows masking their determination and or any hint of trepidation.
The more I wrestle with the cable ties the further the hard plastic cuts into my skin, so I press against the metal spike and start rubbing up and down, against the surface rust, in an attempt to cut my way to freedom. I have no idea what to do once I’m free. Do I try attacking one of the gangsters, stealing the key and fleeing with one of the utilities?
Do I run out into the desert void, and hope my theory holds true, that this beast won’t touch me? Either way, I need to liberate my hands, get mobile, and survive any way I can.
Suddenly, a bone-chilling screech pierces the silence, causing shivers to race down my spine. The eerie stillness that had settled over the place shatters. The sound seems to emanate from the very depths of the darkness that envelopes the encampment, resonating with an otherworldly quality that defies explanation. My heart pounds in my chest, and I strain to identify the direction of this unearthly cry. Is it the call of some nocturnal wildlife, or perhaps the echoing wail of the wind through unseen crevices?
In the distance, I can discern faint rustling, as if the very shadows have come alive with a mysterious presence. Each movement seems to be a whisper of something malevolent and foreboding, hidden just beyond my line of sight. My senses heighten, tuning to every sound, every rustle of the undergrowth, as I try to comprehend the source of this unnerving spectacle.
In a silent battle, fear and curiosity continue to coexist within me. A rush of adrenaline surge through my veins. Whatever awaits us in the depths of the night seems to draw nearer, beckoning with an ominous allure.
I brace myself for whatever revelation awaited me, knowing that the truth might be more unsettling than any fiction my imagination could conjure. In this enigmatic landscape, I stood as both an observer and a participant, ready to unravel the mysteries that lay beyond the veil of silence and darkness.
The desert falls silent.
An unsettling sound pierces the night. Turning my head towards the tent behind me, I strain to pinpoint the source of the commotion. A sudden swoosh of air fills my ears, followed by the distinct tearing of fabric—a telltale sign of something or someone breaching the shelter. Panic courses through me, and my mind raced to comprehend the unfolding chaos.
The pandemonium has begun.
Before I can react, the night erupts with gunfire, the sharp cracks echoing through the darkness like thunder. Each shot feels like a punch to my senses, amplifying the fear that grips me. My instincts urge me to seek cover, to flee from the danger that has been unleashed just meters away, but my body seems paralyzed by a mix of terror and disbelief.
Amidst the tumult, a chilling human shriek pierces the air, sending a shiver down my spine, haunting and primal, carrying with it a desperate plea for salvation. Time seems to slow, each second stretching into eternity, as I struggle to find my bearings in the midst of the mayhem. The darkness that once provided a comforting cloak now felt like a suffocating embrace, concealing the unknown horrors that surround me.
Another human scream is violently cut short.
I roll up into a ball and freeze. The sound of each assault is harrowing, echoing through the desolate landscape. I hear the creature moving with lethal precision, the dark rendering its actions elusive, leaving no trace of its presence. The gangsters, now trapped in their tents, could only rely on their instincts and the hope that their carefully laid plan will succeed.
In the chaotic frenzy, the once serene campsite has transformed into a nightmarish battlefield. The beast’s inhuman growls and gunshots reverberate through the cold air, unsettling the very foundations of reality. Human screams mingle with the cacophony, creating a symphony of horror that resonate through the night desert valley.
One by one, the tents crumble like fragile structures before the relentless onslaught of the creature. Its fury seems boundless, tearing through the campsite with an almost preternatural force. The fabric of reality seems to warp and bend under its rage, shadows cast by the starlight twisting and writhing like serpentine entities.
Gunfire erupts like sporadic bursts of light amidst the darkness, the sharp cracks slicing through the night’s thick atmosphere. The creature seems impervious to the bullets, its otherworldly strength and cunning defying comprehension. The shadows seem to dance in its presence, conspiring with the beast in an eerie display of malice.
A heavy stench of fear and blood descends over the campsite, a bitter reminder of the battle being waged. A tragic tapestry of violence and panic reigns supreme as Miĉjo’s men scatter in desperate attempts to escape the relentless predator. Amidst the chaos, a primal instinct to survive takes hold, driving each soul to seek safety in the desert night. Within the remaining tents, a mixture of panic and desperation swirls. The gunmen fire off rounds valiantly, some bullets hitting the barrel next to me, but their efforts are met with a ferocious adversary that seems to anticipate their every move. It is clear that their plan has backfired, as the monster proves to be far deadlier than they had anticipated.
The night wears on, and the sounds of the beast’s rampage gradually diminish, replace by sporadic howls and guns going off. The campfire dwindles, its flames casting feeble light on the carnage that surrounds it. The once confident gangsters now lay scattered, their hopes shattered, and their efforts turned to nightmares. The desert sands absorb the creature’s cries, a haunting reminder of this ill-fated endeavour.
Huddled in a fetal position, I await my turn, once again counting the final screams of men. The cold progresses into my bone as the crickets return to work, chirping against the cool breeze. I wait with my eyes closed, agreeing that my end is not worth watching.
Hours of gutwrenching fear later, I am still alive.
The black sky begins to evaporate as a southerly wind picks up, carrying with it the promise of a new nightmare. As the first rays of sunlight break through the horizon, the beast seems to have retreated into the depths of the desert, leaving behind a scene of devastation.
The camp and excavation site lay in ruins, an eerie stillness settling over the once lively place. Those who survived huddled together in the shadows, their hearts pounding with a mix of relief and sorrow for those lost to the creature’s wrath. The expected bodies of men, battered and broken, are nowhere to be seen. Only muddy pools of wet crimson remain. The shredded tents are smeared with blood. Gory fragments of viscera are splattered on rocks and across the sand. My face twitches with grief and disbelief, not that I cared for Micjo, but this wholesale butchery affects me. I do feel sorry for them, having underestimated the true nature of the unseen adversary they sought to capture, and they knew more about the beast than I do.
As the sun rises, casting its golden hues over the desolate landscape, I vow to learn from their mistakes, to never underestimate the unknown, and also to look into the mythology behind all this.
The mystery of the Snake Island Foundation and what it represents swirls in my mind, overcoming the horrific memory of the last few days. I shift back onto my knees and resume grinding my plastic restraints against the metal peg. The smell and warmth of the barrel alert me to an idea. Using my feet, I kick over a burnt piece of wood that has fallen from the bonfire and manoeuvre it to the peg. I blow on it until I get the embers glowing, using the heat to melt the cable tie.
Ignoring the debilitating pain in my joints, I muster all my strength to stand and limp towards one of the buried trenches. The adrenaline coursing through my veins overshadows the physical discomfort as I dig into the sand with my bare hand, freeing one of the serpentine statues from its sandy tomb. The weight of the stone feels heavy in my grasp, but the sense of purpose gives me strength.
As I approach the row of dormant SUVs, I search frantically for a key. In the dim morning light, I spot Miĉjo in one of the vehicles, his face etched with pain and determination. I notice the bloodstains on his clothing, evidence of the fierce battle he must have fought. His left arm is missing, bound with a makeshift tourniquet. Despite his injury, his eyes burn with resolve.
“Keys,” I demand.
He nods his pale-skinned head, indicating for me to enter the vehicle. “We must leave,” he utters. Miĉjo’s voice is hoarse, but the urgency in his tone is clear. As I sit in the driver’s seat. He motions for me to show him the serpentine statue, and I comply without hesitation.
“I need to know,” I tell him.
Miĉjo doesn’t seem to care, instead, he indicates for us to get moving.
The engine roars to life, and we speed away from the excavation site. The dry wind whips through the open windows, carrying with it the scent of danger and uncertainty. My heart races, my mind grappling to make sense of the events that have unfolded.
“What happened back there?” I finally manage to ask, my voice barely above a whisper.
Miĉjo’s gaze is fixed on the horizon, his face a mix of pain and determination. “You have stumbled upon something ancient and sacred,” he explains, his words measured. “Those statues are more than just artifacts; they hold power beyond your comprehension.”
“And what is that creature?” I demand. “Is some kind of guardian? Does it protect this age-old secret?”
“It’s just a pet,” he says.
“What the fuck does that even mean?” I yell.
“From them,” answers Miĉjo as he gazes through the windscreen up at the pale blue sky.
“And the statues? What kind of fuckery is this? Why are you trying to fake an archeological find?”
“Those are not forgeries. Get us back to the villa. It’s the safest place for now. I know someone who can help us.”
“One of them.”
I cease my attempts to decipher his words and focus on the trail back to the villa. The serpentine statue in my lap feels like a conduit to a mysterious world, a world of ancient secrets and unimaginable power. I spend the next hour with my eyes never leaving the winding road ahead, doing the math in my head, trying to work out what the hell is going on.