Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror

#34


A homage to H.P. Lovecraft by way of Tremours...What more could you ask for? A chilling tale in a chilling clime. Beware, Faithful Fiends, when the worm turns...

Big Nasty

By Joshua Reynolds
About the author


"NOW THAT IS ONE BIG WORM, DOC. We gonna go fishin’ for Moby Dick?” Tony Calibretto quipped as he wiped his snow goggles clean of ice and squatted beside the lip of the collapsed ice shelf and looked down at the latest find of Miskatonic University’s Antarctic expedition team. The leader of said expedition and the target of Calibretto’s query, Leonidas Sarlowe, Doctor of Ancient Cultures at Miskatonic, gazed down at the much shorter Brooklyn native and replied with a chuckle.

“Personally Tony, I’d hate to see the hook we’d have to use.”

Leonidas Sarlowe stood at somewhere around six foot eight, and topped the scale at nearly three hundred pounds, little of it fat. Appearance-wise one smart-mouth had likened Doctor Sarlowe to ‘a human wall’, and indeed he was almost as broad as he was tall. Such were the proportions of his frame that all of his clothing, including the insulated cold weather gear he was wearing at the moment, had to be specially tailored in order to fit comfortably on him. Regardless of this, his features were well sculpted, even handsome, though by no means unordinary. Rumors abounded among his peers in the halls of academia as well as among his students about the origins of his form as well as what had caused the premature whitening of the thirty year old’s well trimmed hair. Also a hot topic of debate was his native land. Notwithstanding the English origins of his last name, he possessed no identifiable accent and chose to reveal little of his personal life. Despite this, he was a good natured and jovial man, and as many students of the University could attest, a superb teacher.

Currently, he was the senior researcher at the famous (or infamous) Starkweather-Moore Antarctic Expedition Site, where excavation was first begun in the late thirties. For various reasons, the site was abandoned only a year after formation and had not been touched since that time until now. Unlike the large expeditions favored by his colleagues, he had brought with him only five of his best graduate students as his aids. Tony Calibretto was one such. The stocky New Yorker was attending the University on a football scholarship, but despite his pursuit of more physical activities, displayed a marked willingness to learn whatever was put in front of him, unlike many collegiate sportsmen of recent years. While considerably shorter than Sarlowe, Calibretto was no slouch of a physical specimen. He was brawny and olive skinned, a testimony to his Italian heritage, with dark, curly hair and bright eyes, topped by his ever-present faded blue Yankees ball cap.

At the moment, both of them were standing above the newly expanded site of the original thirties dig. The Starkweather-Moore Expedition had only excavated below the primary layers of the ground. Their main concern had been the odd geometrical structures discovered some miles away, and they had evidently happily abandoned digging in the frosty dirt to go play with weird rocks. Of course, they had been using the tools available to them at that time, whereas Sarlowe’s bunch were using items of a more highly advanced nature.

Construction vehicles, drilling equipment and computerized ground sonar, all specially modified for use in extreme temperatures, made things a lot easier. Miskatonic University had gained deep pockets over the passage of a few decades. The initial dig had been enlarged and deepened considerably over the past seventy-two hours since Sarlowe and co.’s arrival in the area that his students had affectionately termed ‘Eskimo Hell’. Twenty-four hours ago, they had hit the jackpot.

Below Sarlowe and Calibretto, still partially buried in the frozen dirt, was an immense specimen of Pre-Cambrian life, as well as the find of the century. What could be seen of the creature was well preserved. Pulpy gray-black flesh covered an elongated segmented form, which was tipped with a mass of stiff, lengthy tentacles. Little else was visible, and the layers of ice hid any particular details.

Tony shivered slightly and stood. “Damn Doc…big worm aside, I don’t know if bein’ forced to put up with this kinda weather is worth it. Plus, I’m getting sick of pork and beans for supper.”

“Well, ya gobshite, if ye wanna cook, be my guest!” came the voice of another of Sarlowe’s students, the irrepressible Molly Quinn.

The henna haired Molly, she of the biting wit and furious fists, was a true daughter of Erin, attending the University through a foreign student program. The Irish girl was tall and slim, but well muscled, with the stereotypical mop of flame red hair and green eyes. She was also possessed of the stereotypical Irish temperament, which had caused more than one person to step lightly around her. At the moment though, she looked more Inuit than Irish, bundled up like the other two in cold weather gear. She strode from the direction of the tents and tossed an empty can of Pork-n-beans at Calibretto, narrowly missing his head. “Is it my fault if ye assume tha’ I can cook jus’ because I’m a woman? Besides, it ain’t like ther Doc requisitioned steak an lobster fer th’ trip, now is it?”

“She does raise a valid point Doc…what is with the food around here? Ah mean geez…ya got us eatin’ astronaut food fer chrissakes!” yet another member of the team chimed in.

Cooper Marley swung himself up the ladder out of the excavation site, the various archeological tools rattling loudly in the harness he wore over his insulated clothes. Marley was a Southerner, born, bred, and raised on daytime television and Credence Clearwater Revival albums. He was attending the University under an Anthropology degree at the moment, and would do so for as long as humanly possible. Meaning as long as the federal aid kept coming. Tall and compact with tanned skin, Marley looked much like old pictures of Davy Crockett, a figure he proudly claimed as an ancestor, despite all historical evidence to the contrary.

“Sorry people…it was either digging equipment or decent supplies. The fact that I’m on a diet had no bearing on my decision.” Sarlowe grinned. Calibretto slapped his forehead in disgust.

“Doc, just because you gotta suffer don’t mean we should…”

Sarlowe turned to Marley, patting Calibretto on the shoulder. “Well, Coop? Analysis?”

“Wellll…it’s big. And most definitely Pre-Cambrian. Plus…Ah’m not a hundred percent sure, but Ah think it’s an ugly bugger. Probably why it’s up here like it is…God thought it was too damn ugly ta’ live. An that’s my official analysis,” Marley said, walking past the doctor and heading for the tents. The others followed as Doctor Sarlowe continued to put questions to Cooper. Just as the group was preparing to enter the lunch tent, a coughing, mechanical roar announced the arrival of the last two members of Sarlowe’s team.

The snow-cat shrieked to a halt, sliding sideways in front of the group, spraying Calibretto and Marley, the two unfortunate enough to be closest, with loose snow. The vehicles driver was one Carmen Hart, a short, slender girl of African descent. Behind her, his arms tightened about her waist by dint of the sheer terror said to accompany any person who rode with Carmen on any sort of motorized transport, was thin, bespectacled Harlan West.

Carmen was a native of Bromwich, England, and like Molly, had come to the University via a foreign exchange program. Her soft accent, delicate brown eyes, electric blue hair and petite build had caused many a man’s mind to wander, including professors, but her looks hid a sharp mind. She was concentrating on a psych degree at the moment, but had an eye on a biology degree to go along with it.

West on the other hand was a short, thin prodigy with a malnourished look about him. Harlan was one of Miskatonic University’s greatest achievements to date. The latest in a long line of alumni. Possessor of two degrees already and working on the third. He was also only fifteen, and had the personality and diabolical cunning of Professor Moriarty, Fu Manchu, and the Hamburglar rolled into one. When he was ten he built an atom smasher small enough to fit under his bed. When he was eleven, he built a fully operational thermo-nuclear device the size of a pineapple and entered it into his school science fair. When he didn’t get first prize he held the school hostage for three hours before his parents could talk him out of setting the thing off. In his time at Miskatonic, Harlan had blown up the chemistry lab no less than twelve times, and irradiated the entire campus at least once.

“Well, kids? How do they look?” Sarlowe asked. Carmen slid off of the ‘cat, pausing only to unlatch Harlan’s death grip, and dragged a faded notebook out of her snowsuit.

“It’s exactly like the journals said, Doc! Right down to every bloody detail! Big geometric formations, cryptic symbols, whole nine yards!” she yelled over the howling winds.

“Excellent. As soon as we finish excavating that oversize tequila worm back there, we’ll move the camp to the ruins. Now, everybody back to the tents, night’s coming, wind’s picking up, and dinner’s getting cold!”

“Great, I’m starving! What do we have?” Harlan said excitedly as he trudged towards the tent.

“Take a wild guess!” Molly snarled, wrenching the empty pork-n-beans can out of Tony’s hands and bouncing it off of West’s pointy-head.

***

As the group hurried into the warm confines of the dinner tent, within the pit ‘that oversize Tequila worm’, as Doc Sarlowe had called it, began to shudder, slowly, imperceptibly to the naked eye. The ice cracked at the edges of the pit, falling in, tiny avalanches all about its circumference. Gray-black flesh rippled slightly.

Ep, ep-eeth, fl’hur G’uhhk

Fhtagn Shudde-M’ell Negg’h

***

Dinner was relatively silent, to Sarlowe’s point of view, as he sat writing in his log within his tent. Other than Tony’s ‘great beans’ comment that had provoked Molly into attempting to dive across the table and perform the ancient Viking Blood-Eagle ritual on him with a butter knife, nothing had happened. It wouldn’t last. He sighed to himself as he lit his pipe. It never did. Someone was bound to duct tape somebody to something, or cause an explosion of some type. It had happened last time in Dunwich. And the time before that in Charleston.

At least there were no people around this time. He chuckled and shook his head. Then, suddenly, the hairs on the back of his neck rose. “What the devil?”

On his writing desk, his thermos of coffee sloshed suddenly, and fell over, rolling off of the desk.

***

“Hey, you hear that?” Cooper said as he sat up suddenly, throwing the thick covers back. Carmen only growled in reply, and proceeded to tug the covers back up over her head. “C’mon. Wakey wakey. Up an at'em, honey. Something’s goin’ on.” He tried again, patting at the lump under the covers as he swung his feet onto the canvas floor of the tent.

“Christ. This is why I don’ sleep with white boys more often. Yer bloody arses are up at friggin’ three AM all th’ time. Can’t a gel get her beauty rest? Is that too much ta ask?” Carmen muttered as Cooper yanked the covers back with one hand, pulling on his thermal suit with the other.

“Whine whine whine. You weren’t complaining last night. Now, perk up. Somethin’ is goin’ down.”

“Really. Something is occurring at three AM in the Antarctic. What proof do you have? I want facts, Coop, or my pert ass ain't gettin’ up outta this bed,” Carmen said mock sweetly as she tugged at the covers in Cooper’s grasp.

Suddenly, a great cracking sound filled the air, and a whooshing noise followed seconds later.

Cooper turned back to Carmen and smiled sweetly, gesturing to the tent flap.

“Awright. Fine. Be out in a minute. Bloody smart-ass. Knew we shoulda never let you people win. Get all egotistical,” she muttered as she rolled out of the cot, groping for her thermal suit.

***

As Sarlowe thundered out of his tent, he managed to catch sight of the tail end of the pits disintegration in an explosion of ice and snow. “Damnation!” he cursed as the other members of the expedition came out of their own tents, hastily belting on equipment or zipping up their thermal suits.

“Doc, what the hell--?” Calibretto yelled as he started towards the pit.

“Tony, all of you, stay back! It could be dangerous!” Sarlowe roared, moving quickly past his students up to the rapidly widening outer edge of the now collapsed excavation. Squatting, he peered down into the depths as tendrils of released frost ascended into the star filled sky. “Gone. Completely.”

“Doc, what happened?” Cooper asked coming up behind him. West replied for Sarlowe.

“Geological instability is the obvious conclusion. It collapsed under its own weight.”

Sarlowe shook his head. “Good answer, Harlan, but no. I think not. Something caused this.” He stood and turned to face the group. “Lets all get back inside. We’ll figure this out in the morning.”

Suddenly Carmen raised a hand from where she knelt a few feet from the rest of the group. The others looked at her as she said, “Does anybody else see that?” Carmen pointed at a small clump of debris.

“What about it?” Harlan snorted. Then the tiny hill of dirt and snow collapsed, pieces of rock and ice hopping about slightly. “What in--?”

“The ground’s vibrating,” Carmen whispered.

“Is that supposed to happen around here?” Tony said in a puzzled voice. Seconds later he was thrown backwards as the ground beneath his booted feet erupted in a gigantic gout of snow and dirt and a great shadow loomed suddenly overhead.

***

The blood once more flowed through hard purple black flesh, rendering what was once frozen into immobility complete freedom. Long tentacles writhed joyously in the biting air. Freedom! After a millennia of oblivion with not even the dreams of its brothers to comfort it.

Fhtagn Shudde-M’ell Fhtagn N’gghe

Time to feed once more on the mewling monkey things that cluttered the world above.

Fhtagn Shudde-M’ell IA IA IA Fhtagn

***

“TELL ME THAT ISN’T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN AROUND HERE!!!” Tony yowled as he scrambled backwards away from the writhing abomination that reared from the ruptured ground. Carmen dived forward frantically as the great worm smashed head first into the earth where only moments before she had crouched. Its immense, swollen length disappeared beneath the white ground too quickly, too easily.

“I THOUGHT YE SAID THAT THING WAS DEAD, YE GOBSHITE!!” Molly yelled as the tail end of the beast vanished. Cooper turned towards her, his eyes wide, but his voice deceptively calm.

“Nope. Ah said it was ugly. Never said a damn thing ‘bout it bein’ dead.”

“Recriminations later, people! Survival first!” Sarlowe growled.

“Doc’s right! We need some place off the ground…this thing’s a burrower. We can’t let it sense us by our vibrations!” Harlan yelled, pointing to the heavy all terrain trucks the group had used to lug their equipment out to the site. Cooper nodded, slapping Harlan on the back.

“Yer a reg’lar Kevin Bacon, you know that?” he said.

West merely grunted in reply as the movie reference flew completely over his head. The others bunched around the two as they headed for the trucks. Sarlowe, at the back of the group, stopped suddenly. The ground vibrated slightly, causing snow to fall off the vehicles around them.

“Doc, what is it? What’s wrong?” Tony asked. Sarlowe waved the group on.

“It’s coming back. I’ll try and distract it. Break for the trucks when it turns towards me.” With that, Sarlowe sprinted back towards the pit, moving quickly for a man of his size. Cursing, Tony prodded the others towards the trucks as the ground at their feet began to churn. Rock and dirt flew as the big nasty plowed through the soil.

Sarlowe spared a glance behind him as he ran. Good. The kids had made the trucks. And the big nasty was following him. Just as he planned. The question was, now that it was chasing him, what was he going to do with it?

Calibretto watched Sarlowe zig-zag across the white ground. “We can’t just let that thing get him!” he growled, swinging around to look at the others.

“No, we damn well ain’t!” Cooper hissed. With one kick of his foot he smashed open the window into the truck and seconds later was in the driver's seat and coaxing the engine into grumbling life.

“You know, Marley, you could have just slid open the window. It is a rental after all…” West murmured, leaning his lanky form through the shattered glass. Marley brought one forearm back without looking, smacking into West’s nose and knocking him back into the bed of the truck.

“Shaddap.”

***

Sarlowe leapt into the air over the rim of the now-collapsed pit just as the big nasty reared up with a shriek out of the disemboweled ground. The worm-thing shot towards his tumbling form, face tentacles wriggling, reaching for him. The shock of mid-air contact knocked the breathe out the professor as slithering, hideously warm eyeless snakes slithered over his form, wrapping about his chest and legs, tightening, grinding his bones. Sarlowe struggled amidst the fleshy vines, held almost immobile over the pit.

Big hands fastened about the tentacles blindly sliding over his shoulders and face. Muscles bulged under snowsuit as wide arms straightened to their length, pulling the things that they gripped taut. Sarlowe yanked hard. Some of the thinner tentacles snapped like weak stalks, spraying a sulphurous yellowish liquid over Sarlowe’s stony features.

Sarlowe felt more than heard the thing’s screech of rage. He hadn’t actually hurt it to any great extent. He had simply annoyed it. And despite his struggles, he was being pulled steadily, inexorably down deeper into the nest of tentacles, towards the mouth he knew was under there somewhere. And even if he managed to get loose, he would tumble to the jagged slope of rock and ice below.

Some days it didn’t pay to get out of bed.

***

The heavy all terrain truck lumbered towards the abomination that wriggled disgustingly against the skyline, its speed building as it hurtled toward its target. The scarred and pitted bulldozer blade lowered over the top of the cab. In the bed of the truck, sleeves were shredded and the ensuing rags shoved into the mouths of the several gasoline cans that shared the back with the four graduate students. Marley tossed his lighter over his shoulder without taking his eyes off of the beast looming in the trucks windshield. Molly caught it with a deft gesture and snapped the cover back, bringing a shot of flame to life in the cold, snow choked air. Light from the fast approaching dawn caught glinting upon West’s spectacles as he hefted one of the rag-gagged cans over his head. He looked at Molly and nodded and she lit the rag. Then she shot the lighter over to Carmen who repeated the procedure with the can being lifted by Calibretto. Molly grinned and smacked the back of Cooper’s head. Gunning the engine, Cooper let out a wild rebel yell, like the cry of some demented panther.

***

Sarlowe grunted and pulled his legs up to his chest before slamming them forward like a jackhammer, shattering the circular saw-edged teeth that emerged from the small forest of tentacles like shark fins. He did this repeatedly, until his legs were coated in yellow serum. The creature’s mental howl rattled his teeth, and the face tentacles tightened about his torso, cracking his ribcage. Gasping, Sarlowe thrashed desperately, trying to gain some leverage. The creature shook him like a terrier shakes a rat.

***

The truck slammed into the segments of the big nasty nearest the ground, the heavy bulldozer blade digging into the filthy alien flesh like some huge blunt butcher knife. Seconds after regaining their feet from the impact, West and Calibretto tossed their burdens at the big nasty’s wounded hide.

The gasoline cans exploded as they bounced off, sending burning shrapnel into the body of both beast and truck.

With a feral yelp, Cooper struggled with the blade controls, digging the bulldozer deeper into the monster’s form, causing a stinking rain of yellow to spatter and eventually cover the cracked windshield.

***

As the tentacles loosened, Sarlowe battered his way free. The creature began to twist about, shrieking in his mind like the electric whine of a buzz saw. Sarlowe was flung back the way he had run. He landed hard upon the top of the truck’s cab, gasping and dazed. Hands clutched him and yanked him off and away.

***

Mere moments before the damaged truck was crushed by the collapsing form of the beast, Calibretto and Marley grasped Sarlowe’s shoulders and dragged him away from the truck to where the others were huddled, watching in awe as the big nasty toppled like a felled redwood onto the truck which promptly exploded. The edge of the pit, under such immense pressures, collapsed, the radius widening significantly.

Big nasty, along with the burning skeleton of the truck imbedded in its hide, fell with the edge of the pit, buried with a loud crash beneath a half ton of ice and snow.

Fthagn Shudde-M’elllllereptipthafgne Fthagn,

IAIAIAIAIAIAIAIAIAaaaa………

***

Sarlowe wearily opened his eyes. The five concerned faces of his students looked worriedly at him. “You all get ‘A’s for the semester,” he said with a weak grin. Then Leonidas Sarlowe fainted. The students high-fived each other and leapt up, whooping a victory chant. They rushed off towards the tents for the stash of champagne hidden in Sarlowe’s tent. A few minutes later they shame facedly returned, and dragged Sarlowe back with them this time. After all he was their favorite teacher. And besides if he died of hypothermia, they might not get those ‘A’s.

***

…aaaiaiaIAIAIAIAIAIA…

The End.




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Big Nasty is copyright Joshua Reynolds. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)