"Crap!" Was all I could think. There was no use calling after PFC Brown to try to get her to come back. The look in her eyes said that she was gone, immersed in the hunt, with the thrill of a chase.
"I'll go after her," I told Chief Mac and handed her my radio. I kept my cell phone, though it was likely to get wet, and had spotty reception at best, it was still a fairly good communications link.
In hindsight, going after her was the worst thing I could have done, even though it was the only thing I could do. If only we had kept a closer watch on her, if only we had realized earlier how she had been affected by the proceedings of that day, the distortion of time and space, the confusion of direction and purpose. She clearly thought that we had plenty of time, that we had nothing better to do, that this was a good use of her time and that she was tacitly approved to aid in the rescue effort, a noble task to be sure.
I vaulted the rail and landed square on the tree both the PFC and LTC had traversed. In two bouncy steps I was on the porch. It gave a rotted, spongy thud with no ring of healthy lumber. It was a sickening thump, followed by dull creaky footsteps as I walked into the house. I really had no idea where to go once inside.
Stepping inside the house was like putting your head in an open pit latrine in mid-summer, that had had several loaves of moldy bread dropped in for good measure. It took my breath and choked me so that I couldn't get another. Everything was rotting and soaked. My eyes watered and my vision swam. As my ocular senses struggled my auditory ones sudden gave clear direction with the aid of a piercing scream.
There are animal noises and human noises. Speech sounds are distinct and uniquely human. This scream was not a speech sound, but it was somehow not animal. It was short and sharp, with a direction more clear than any others I had had that day.
I followed the sound out the front of the house, onto the front porch, across to the neighbor's porch, then the next, and into the third house. I found the source of the sound, and ...
The LTC was standing in the house stone still, his mouth open with no sound coming at all, though he had been the one from which the shocking sound had come. Before him, in the middle of the moldy, foetid, rotted room whimpered a creature like I had never seen.
A dog was involved, to be sure, but it was not, had not been the one he had been chasing. This dog was large and looked like it had been healthy, probably bullying others and leading a pack of feral creatures. Though it was upright it was not standing on it's own feet, though it was alive, with a crazed, terrified look in it's poor goggling eyes, it was not making a sound.
Through the dog, that's the only way I can think to describe it, had materialized another creature. I could not begin to guess how the creature had come to be there. It was partially through the dog, but where they met they seemed to be melded together, the dog getting the worst but not the only bad mix.
This must have been one of the creatures I had seen moving through the sewage in the streets. It was several meters long, or so I guessed it had been. It was almost as wide as the dog was high along it's whole length, but I somehow got the impression that it could equally be be oriented either horizontally or vertically. The dark hide was armored and covered in coarse fur like an alligator with a the pelt of a razorback. There were several sets of appendages of varying lengths and thicknesses arranged in an unknown pattern through the middle of the overall length. Each appendage seemed a cross between the chilatinous leg of a trantula and the barbed suckered tentcle of a titanic squid, ending in bifuricated digital tentacles.
The head was protruding from the side of the dog opposite the body of the creature. It seemed to be a collection of sensory stalks, eye, antenna, ear funnel, proboscus and tongue darting narrow mouth. It was from these aardvarkesque mouths that the whimpering moaned. The creature baefully turned it's eyed stalks toward us, pleading for what I could not begin to fathom.
Given no aid from us the creature lurched and scrambled it's limbs to try to raise itself. The tentacles gathered under it's bulk and tensed to lift, yet failed. It struggled again and this time the dog gave a tiny gasp of pain. The creature smacked the dog's face and continued to attempt to lift itself.
I grabbed the LTC's arm and pulled. "Let's get the hell out."
He followed mindlessly. "Wha - wha - what was that?"
"I have no idea what it is, but I need to find my soldier. Can you help me sir?"
He was clearly of no help whatsoever. I pointed him in the direction of the street, just beyond our view, and pushed. "Get back to the others, sir! Go now!" I shouted in his ear. He heard and obeyed more because of his training than of any concious will. He stumbled forward and in the direction of the vehicles.
Standing on the porch alone, with an unknown horror in the house behind me, I struggled to know where to go, what to do next, I only knew I had to go somewhere and get my soldier back.