01 Feb Tales from a Rookie Storm Chaser Part 13
As soon as the creature disappeared from the tree line with Caleb, the forest went silent again. Olivia jumped out of the van, her eyes frantically scanning for any signs of life as she called out his name.
“We need to move on foot and do it fast, they’ve probably taken him to the nest,” her father insisted.
I helped him out with gathering our gear in one place, making certain I had everything to enact his plan along with that of his daughters. Caleb’s sudden disappearance was enough to keep him distracted that he didn’t really pay the extra bits of gear any attention.
“What the hell is happening? What do they want from us??” Natalie screamed anxiously. That was a question I knew we didn’t have time to ask, so once we finished loading up two backpacks, I helped Paul with his crutch and remarked, “I know you want to do this yourself. And you’ve proven that you don’t let your disability stop you. But this is going to be different. We are going to be up against monsters larger than life.“
“I think I should echo the words you gave me when I told you not to take this job,” Paul quipped as he strapped a rifle on his back.
We moved to the spot where Caleb was taken and Olivia examines the ground, noting the displacement of brush and leaves and using that to gauge which direction he was dragged in.
“They haven’t killed him… why haven’t they killed him?” she muttered as she saw little scratch marks on trees where Caleb had tried to hold on for dear life. Despite the fact that I had never particularly liked the hunter, I felt sorry for him. It was fate worse than death from what Paul and his daughter had described on the drive up.
Olivia took the lead, following the small trail up through the mountains. The forest was dense here and all of us did our best to stay close to one another. But even then, I felt disoriented and lost. There weren’t any stars in the sky, jus the continuous swirling mass of the storm. As we got closer, the displacements of the trail became more apparent as though Caleb were fighting again and the creature was having a hard time. Unfortunately these scuffles that caused marks on the surrounding folia were making it difficult to determine which way to go.
We paused at one of these when Natalie checked the atmospheric pressure using the small portable laptop she had opted to bring. “The readings are off the charts in the valley to the north. Might be what we are looking for?” We climbed to the next ridge to look down toward it; my mouth agape at the sight.
From the heavens to the forest canopy was a massive funnel that seemed to span the size of four football field. It had to be the largest tornado I had ever seen. It wasn’t moving though, simply swirling with a huge amount of intense gusts of wind in the valley that Natalie had identified. The scanners showed the speeds were reaching almost 330 mph.
The nest had to be inside. “How the hell are we going to go in that? If we even get close it will rip us to shreds.” Paul watched as the funnel continued to destroy everything in the surrounding area and thought for a moment.
“At those speeds, even these demons couldn’t possibly get close to return to the nest so that must mean they have another entry point. Perhaps underground tunnels of some sort?” he suggested as we climbed down toward the next ridge. Even at this distance we could hear the howling of the winds. Natalie’s eyes widened at his suggestion and she said, “That’s it! Yes I remember when I checked the radar… before the storm was here, I noticed there was an abandoned mine not too far.”
“A network of caverns could do nicely for a colony of overgrown ants,” Paul agreed.
“Hold on I brought a few maps from the van.” I tossed down my pack carelessly and one of the transponders I brought rolled out onto the forest floor.
Olivia froze as her father looked at it.
“What’s this?” Mister Kearny asked picking up and then looking toward me for an explanation.
His daughter opened her mouth to explain but I had already conceived of a convincing lie.
“When we get inside the nest we’re going to need a distraction if we want to destroy it. Creating a confined broadcast using the equipment from the station will be perfect. The drones won’t know what hit them, and we can blow the place sky high.“
Paul looked at it thoughtfully before placing it back in the pack.
“Good thinking Dillion. Next time share with the class and we could have brought the rest,” he said as I took out the map and nervously glanced at Olivia. She remained quiet as I spread out the chart to show the others.
“Do you remember which parts of the radar matched up with our road trip from Emerald Bay?“
Natalie studied the charts as Olivia focused on finding the trail again and we moved south. The trees themselves shook violently with each step. It was like walking through a wind tunnel even from the distance we were at.
“These might be the mines,” Natalie suggested passing the map back to me and pointing toward one of the landmarks.
“But I’m afraid in here I can’t make heads or tails of anything, it’s like a whole other world,” she admitted shivering as the cold finally hit.
I paused, remembering how the cold always seemed to imply we were close to the storm and looked toward several slopes that ran along a river. “They are attracted to the cold…“
On a hunch I followed the stream south, marking a few trees as I went. That was when I saw the mine. And even more exciting I saw a few of the drones flying inside.
“Looks like we found one of the entry points,” Paul said patting my back in enthusiasm.
“How will we get inside?” Olivia asked. I watched the drones come and go for a few minutes, noting their patterns and muttered, “Looks like there is about a ninety second gap between them. We’ll have to make it quick.“
With the howling winds at our back and a timer counting down in my head, I grabbed Olivia’s arm and all four of us moved as one.
The stream of water trickled straight into the mine, and once inside, it wasn’t difficult to guess which way to go; there were literally dozens of fresh bones scattered down the mineshaft guiding our way. Most of them were animals but as we followed the dense dark corridor, I gathered that the creatures had also used this place to dispose of other remains as well. “This is like their sewage system,” Natalie realized as we came to a wide open area that had stairs leading up. Most of it was covered in green sticky goo or dead skin, but we didn’t have time to be concerned about the aesthetics when Caleb’s life hung in the balance.
The climb led us up and out to another mineshaft where we saw hundreds of drones lining up to make their way toward a shining bright light. They seemed to pay no heed to us as we slowly moved on the side of the corridor toward this illumination.
“The nest?” Olivia guessed.
Paul looked down the next long tunnel, frowning as he realized something.
“I think we may already be there,” he said as he gestured toward the rows and rows of cocoons. It looked like some sort of twisted nursery, with dozens of fresh corpses being forced into the webbing by larger drones.
“They are drawn to the cold, it makes sense that an underground network like this would be ideal for them. And the storm protects them from above. Without the right know how, anyone who came close would be obliterated.“
“Or worse,” Olivia said as she covered her mouth and pointed toward a cocoon about seven rows down.
“It’s Caleb, he’s still alive,” she said excitedly. “Dillion. Give me the charges and Natalie and I will get to work setting them along these passages. I think as long as we make no sudden moves the colony won’t view us as a threat here,” Paul said gesturing toward the drones that were blindly following the light.
I looked toward Olivia for confirmation. She nodded and I passed it to him before following her down the webbing toward Caleb.
“How are we going to do this? There’s literally hundreds of people here being prepared to change into these things… we can’t save them all.“
“I don’t know yet,” she admitted as she took out a knife and began to cut away at the cocoon.
The whole webbing vibrated as she did and I nervously looked about hoping none of the creatures would notice.
As Caleb was freed from his trappings and gasped for air, she muttered, “This is a colony right, so there’s got to be like some kind of queen? The one giving out all of the commands. That’s where we need to interrupt the signal.” As Caleb kept coughing up blood he pointed weakly toward the light that we saw from above. But before I had a chance to look toward it again, something in the caverns above stirred. It had a growl deeper than any of the creatures I had encountered before. And as I looked up to get a better view, I realized that was because it was at least twice as large as the massive entity we had encountered at the train yard. This one had giant legs like rose stems with thorns poking at and driving into the tunnel walls along with more than a dozen strange openings on its body which resembled miniature mouths with rows and rows of gnashing teeth.
As it got closer I saw the main body had dozens of dangling feelers that blindly searched for prey and I grabbed at Olivia to get out of there. She refused to do so until I helped with Caleb as well.
The creature screamed so loud that I was sure the whole colony shook. There was no where to hide from its wrath. All of the drones responded to its shrieks as we ran through the dark paths. We moved to one of the massive chambers with more cocoons like the one that Caleb had broken free of, which had tons of tons of disturbed webbing as well, the hatchlings had woken. Now we found ourselves staring down the lifeless eyes of newly hatched monsters, half turned from their old human bodies to eat us alive.
I raised a gun to fire and told Olivia to get behind me. Then the whole colony was down on top of us.