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THE CHOSEN Part Two: IN THE PADDED BELLY OF A CONCRETE WHALE Chapter 18

Enveloped in the near-complete darkness of the jungle, surrounded by madness and oppressed by chaos, Deb Ashemoore had gazed into the abyss, and the abyss had almost swallowed her. The Darkness had reached out to grasp her as a child might crush a captured firefly in its hand. Then, at the last instant, it had released her, turning its attention from the insignificant glimmer of her soul to focus more of its efforts on a greater irritation—far greater. Deb, of course, understood none of that. But she sensed on a subconscious level that she had escaped some grave threat. Collapsing to her hands and knees, she vomited, voiding the contents of her stomach, then trembled with dry heaves as her body sought to purge itself of the taint left by the touch of the Darkness.

“Take it easy.” Gale knelt beside her. “It’s okay.”

“We gotta get away!” Deb muttered.

“Deb?” Gale said. “That’s your name, right? Deb?”

Deb nodded.

“Deb, I need you to get up, okay? I need your help. I don’t know what to do.”

“Like I do?” Deb spat to clear her mouth.

“It’s so dark,” Gale said. “I can’t find the trail. I can’t see anything.”

Sanura sat three feet away, hunched over her knees, hugging herself. She felt cold. As a doctor, she recognized all the warning signs of shock, just as she knew how much blood a human body could lose and remain conscious. She watched Gale. Sanura knew her friend wouldn’t leave her, would stay with her as long as she drew breath, even if it meant sacrificing herself in the process. Sanura prayed that she could remain awake and able to move. Otherwise she prayed for a quick and painless death. Above all, she prayed that she would not, by her presence, her wounded condition, endanger her friend’s life.

As if in answer to her prayers, something burst from the undergrowth, giving voice to a banshee wail, like the Angel of Death come to carry her away. Despite her prayers and her wishes, Sanura screamed.

It happened so fast that neither Gale nor Deb had the chance to react. Both jerked around at the sound of the scream, seeing nothing. Sanura’s screams grew fainter, then ceased altogether.

“Sanura!” Gale shouted, leaping to her feet, the gun in her hands. Deb caught her by the leg.

“No!” Deb said.

“Let me go!”

“No,” Deb pulled herself up, still hanging onto Gale. “There’s nothing you can do. She’s gone.”

“Let me go!” Gale repeated.

“Listen,” Deb said. “I think that was a leopard. I’ve heard them scream like that before. She’s already dead.”

“Shut up!”

“She is.” Deb caught Gale by the shoulders, trying to make out her face. “Leopards can see in the dark. They can outrun an Olympic sprinter and drag a freakin’ zebra up a tree. And they kill their prey instantly.” She softened her grip. “I’m sorry, Doc, but your friend is gone.”

Gale crumbled, dropping to the wet ground, her body jerking with sobs as she shrieked her anguish into the dirt. Deb knelt over her; she wrapped her arms around the doctor. Gale Merrick seemed now like nothing more than a scared little girl. Deb held her, while her own eyes scanned the dark surrounding them.

She knew monsters crouched in those shadows.

TheCheezman • June 21, 2020


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