PREVIOUSLY: Mariner discovers the Husses are, in fact, Nazi sympathizers and plan to use the radioactive meteorite they've found to help create a Nazi master race. When Mariner refuses to go along with their scheme, he is shot...
Mariner groaned and opened his eyes. His head ached, and he winced upon touching the spot where it had struck a rock hidden among the ferns. His fingers came away sticky with blood.
“I should be dead by rights,” he thought, touching his chest where the shot had found its mark. He felt the small but thick book he had hurriedly stuffed in his pocket, and removed it. The bullet had penetrated all but the last few pages.
“Well, I can truly say a First Aid manual saved my life,” came the amused thought.
Sobering, he climbed unsteadily to his feet and looked about. He was alone and unarmed. Fear for Ma-Ku’s safety tore at him like a savage beast, and all about the lush vegetation was mute to his enquiring gaze.
A woman’s scream suddenly shattered the humid stillness of the jungle, jarring his taut nerves.
Again, the wild cry rang out, spurring him to action. Bursting through a tangle of vines, he came upon a chilling scene. Ma-Ku had been bound stark naked to a tree, and three mosquitoes as large as hawks were clinging to her, preparing to drive their proboscises deep into her flesh.
Snapping off a branch he dashed to the girl and swatted one glowing insect from her, breaking it in half. The other two took flight, whining angrily around him. One landed on his back, and he threw himself to the ground, crushing it beneath his weight.
Rolling to his feet, Mariner glimpsed the remaining mosquito resettling upon Ma-Ku’s belly. He reached the girl in a single bound, tore the horrid thing from her and cast it to the earth where he stomped it to a pulp.
“Praise be to Lao-tien-ye you’re still alive,” gasped the girl as he cut her free with his pocket-knife and caught her slim, but well formed body in his arms. “There is no time to lose, the Germans have the meteorite and are heading for your boat.”
He clung to her tightly, and she to him. His mind was swirling with contrary emotions – vast relief that she was safe, implacable hatred for the beasts that could do such a thing.
Who are the true monsters? Came his worrying thought. If men would know the Devil, then perhaps all they need do is look at one another.
An ominous rumble interrupted further reflection. Looking inland towards the source of the thunderous sound, Mariner saw black smoke and fire erupting from the island’s volcano. Already, lava was spilling out of its crater in a glowing flood, and a rain of lava bombs and ash began to fall about them.
“Sweet Jesus!” cried Mariner as he gazed in horror at the awesome spectacle. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
Both ran madly through the clinging verdure, the sound of volcanic explosions and falling ejecta spurring them on. It seemed that all of Nature had turned against them and sought with cruel perversity to hinder escape from the impending cataclysm.
A sudden violent tremor shook the island, as if some giant beast was stirring within the Earth’s Plutonian depths, sending them tumbling to the ground. Ma-Ku clung to Mariner as the mad undulations of the jungle floor shook the trees like some mighty hand.
One tree, huge and stately, but weakened with the rot of ages, began to topple under the lashings of the earth. The tremendous cracking of its splintering timber drew Mariner’s startled gaze, and he looked with horror as it fell upon them like a giant’s club.
In a surge of panic he hauled the frightened girl to her feet, and barely managed to drag her clear of the collapsing titan, which flattened the place where they had lain with fearsome force.
Onward they fled. Branches caught Ma-Ku’s hair in their gnarled fingers, and tugged at Mariner’s clothes, while rocks and roots seemed to rise from the earth to deliberately trip the fleeing pair. After what seemed an age of headlong nightmarish flight they finally burst upon the beach.
White Cloud still lay at anchor in waist deep water fifty yards to their left. It was something of a miracle that their mad dash had brought them so close to her, and Mariner breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief. The Germans were nowhere to be seen. Despite a head start their progress had obviously been slowed by the meteorite’s hefty weight.
A rifle cracked. Mariner cried out and staggered as the bullet grazed his shoulder.
“Come on!” yelled Ma-Ku as she grabbed his arm and steadied him, thinking: “Father-Heaven, lend wings to our feet.”
Huss watched the two running towards the water’s edge. Somehow both were still alive, but he’d soon remedy that. He smiled in triumph as he aimed the Lee-Enfield at Mariner’s broad back.
“Kill them!” cried Mara, her face livid with blood lust, for hell has no fury like a woman scorned. “Kill them before they reach the boat.” And then, sotto voce: “If I can’t have him, then neither will that slut.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t miss this time,” replied Huss as his finger slowly squeezed the trigger.
This story is copyright by Kirk Straughen. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)