#StitchedSaturday – Mike Duke – Hollow Earth Assassins

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Hollow Earth Assassins

by Mike Duke

 

Antarctica

Williams and Brown Expedition, funded by the High Society for Historical Accuracy in Science

Journal of Sir Anthony Williams

June 12, 1902

 

It’s been two days since we located the entrance and made our way into this world that lies within our world. A prehistoric zoological Imaginarium created by the fancies of school boys who devoured their science textbooks but also dreamt of dinosaurs, pyramids, and all things Paleolithic every chance they found.

I never suspected we would locate it … this Hollow Earth. Its existence runs contrary to every accepted scientific theory and the indisputable truths professors lecture on daily from elementary school through university.

But here we are.

After driving dogs and sleds across bitter ice fields and then up a mountain pass, a crater opened before us. We left the sleds and dogs there with their handler to watch and feed them. The rest of us, six men in total, made our way within. As we did so, the world seemed to lose its wits. Down became up and up became down. When we should have fallen into thin air, gravity somehow defied its own laws and held us to the interior walls of the earth’s crust. The hollowed-out area became our sky with more crust miles away on the other side of the planet’s interior.

There was a faint light ever present, shining from what I believe to be the earth’s core, a spinning, molten mass. This far away, though, the illumination was minimal but twice daily, when the sun shined on each pole, the world around us lit up brightly, the gold, silver, platinum and precious gemstones of every kind imaginable reflecting the sun’s rays and disseminating them across the entire interior. Because of this, this world’s ‘night and day’ cycled about every six hours roughly.

The earth’s core provided more than ample heat. It was much like a sauna, hot and extremely humid, more so the further inward we travelled, forcing us to shed our winter clothing and strip down to pants, boots and a shirt essentially. Hats were of no real use either.

It wasn’t long before the local fauna blossomed and ran amok. Plants, trees, and flowers of all kinds were gargantuan, and denser than most jungles with the exception of one location we stumbled upon. It was a clearing full of water. A hot spring bubbled up from the ground and above us, from a tall rocky edifice covered in foliage, a waterfall spilled down, the two water sources mingling together to form a relatively shallow lagoon.

Massive moss-covered trees grew up along the border dwarfing everything about them. Sporadically placed along the trees were large circular formations. They appeared to have moss and vines growing on them but at a distance it looked like there was something else beneath, something that didn’t look like the trees.

It seemed a trivial thing at the time.

The plants did not overrun the lagoon. Whether they held their march at the water’s edge of their own accord or whether the animals here kept the growth in check in feeding, was not clear. But this was where we saw the first of many uncanny creatures to come. They were totally alien – in form, design and function – compared to anything ever witnessed above ground in all the fossil record. They were gigantic as well, much like the plant life, and, thank goodness, they were also herbivores. Otherwise, we would have been devoured right away.

As luck would have it, we were like ants in their eyes and they paid us no mind.

We proceeded down to the water’s edge where these unusual beasts drank and lounged about. It was a herd of them, fifteen in all if my count was accurate. Multiple male and female couplings with one child each which they guarded and kept on a short leash.

Their bodies were lanky, limbs long and thin with minimal muscle and flesh. Their pelvises had a human-like shape but were reverse, causing their hind legs to bend with their knee caps reaching up in the air. Their forelimbs were exceptionally long, like a man’s arms but elongated, particularly from the wrist to the hands and their fingers as well which seemed to curl under like an ape almost and bear their weight. But they could rear up or sit back on their haunches and use their fingers to grasp food or manipulate their environment just as well as any primate could.

Their heads, perhaps, were the oddest part of them. Long curving necks blending into rounded skulls ending in squat prawn-like faces with multiple tentacles hanging from mouths full of small blunt teeth meant for crushing vegetation. After looking at them for some time and watching them move about with a graceful sense of leisure they reminded me very much of giraffes. If it were a giraffe of a height exceeding that of a brachiosaur.

They were peaceful animals. And the sight of them engendered a sense of peace in all of us. It made us want to simply sit and spectate, watch their ambling movements and listen to their little coos and trills as they spoke to one another and fed as a family.

It wasn’t long before the light began to fade. The creatures didn’t leave but we did notice them move closer to the water and bring the young ones into the middle. We decided to find a place to make camp near them and wait for sunlight to appear again before exploring further.

The darkness brought with it a large amount of insectile noise, which alone was enough to put our teeth on edge and make us set two guards armed with rifles. If the insects were as large as everything else, proportionately speaking, they could be quite deadly. Little did we know that it wasn’t the insects we had to worry about in this lagoon.

No. It was far, far more bizarre.

I remember hearing an extremely faint sound. It came every few seconds, but the source was impossible to pin down. It felt like it was everywhere and nowhere in particular at the same time. A wet, sticky sliding noise. So slow and so soft, creeping toward its destination like some sniper low crawling through the brush to get into position, or a cheetah stalking through the tall grass, making its final approach before launching itself forward to ambush its prey. Only this assassin moved a hundred times slower, invisible to the eye in the dusky dark.

I realized too late just what it was.

The circular formations on the trees had shifted position. Most of them were lined up along the bottom of the tree now while a few of them were already on the ground and halfway to the creatures by the water, who I observed were asleep.

All except a little one.

The niave offspring had moved away from the herd and was now leaning over, headed lowered, examining the base of the closest circular formation, which – despite being covered in moss, lichen and some dead vines – I finally identified. They were immense gastropods. Snails.

The one the creature was inspecting was large but not the biggest specimen I observed by any means. The snail’s shell stood taller than the youngster, which was curiously sniffing and assessing this mysterious, mobile outcropping. Apparently, it had never seen something of the snail’s kind before, and, without any reference, wondered where such a thing had sprung up from.

It would learn the hard way that if its kind saw these gastropods they should flee immediately and without hesitation.

The snail being scrutinized crept ever so gently forward, incrementally. A dark and fleshy mass eased forth from the shell, glistening with a covering of slime. It was almost touching the child creature now and yet the ignorant critter still stood there attempting to decipher the unknown. The snail’s face parted and something round and sickly white pushed outward, opening slightly into a cavernous oval shape. From within an even paler length of flesh emerged, slipping beneath the belly of the inquisitive youth. It remained there, motionless for a moment, tasting the air and feeling the shape and size of its prey.

Then it moved with blinding speed, the tongue shooting all the way out, wrapping under and around the young animal, grasping it with an irresistible strength. In a blur of motion, the spindly limbed creature was snatched off its feet, body folding in half as it was forcefully pulled inside a gaping, white maw which had ballooned open to, quite literally, inhale the snail’s prey. The poor beast didn’t even have time to scream or squeal before it was gone.

If I had blinked, I would have missed its consumption entirely and wondered if it had somehow pulled a Houdini and disappeared before my very eyes.

The movement, however, stirred the parents. They lurched to their feet, searching for their progeny, eyes wide, anxious bleating noises escaping their elongated throats. One of them spotted the snail and reared up on its hind legs, like a horse ready to stomp a snake. But before it could bring its fist-like feet down, another tongue shot out from the largest of the snails that was positioned off to its right side. The snail’s tongue hooked the adult creature’s torso and yanked it inside its bulging orifice, almost whole.

As a biologist, I knew a bit about gastropods. In fact, the giant snails found in certain locations in the world have an enormous number of teeth to break down what they can’t swallow whole. The limbs of this animal were the only part that hadn’t gone down into the belly of the humongous snail right away. So, I assume, some six thousand teeth began to chomp and chew and grind the extremities into a minced meal. The same amount possessed by the giant snails I had studied in the wild on one occasion before. And by giant, I mean a bit bigger than a man’s fist, perhaps. The description for those gastropods now seemed wholly inappropriate.

I stood in shock. Brain attempting to process the impossible while fumbling with distant related data that did nothing to help me in the moment. I remained dumb and speechless … until I heard one of our own people scream. Another one of these silent assassins had sucked down Sir Robert Brown in the blink of an eye. I turned and watched the rest of our team fleeing like cockroaches when the light comes on or a group of mice when a cat jumps down in the middle of them, seizing one of their kin in its fangs.

The terror was painted across their faces, visible in the frantic pumping of their arms and legs as they scrambled to flee. I scanned around quickly and began retreating towards an area where I didn’t see any of the gigantic snails, waving my colleagues to come to me and avoid certain death. All of them heard my voice and locked on to me, observed my waving arms guiding them to safety like a flight crewman wielding the lighted flares signaling a pilot where to land in the chaos of a storm or power outage. They began converging on my location.

All of them except one.

Walter Bryant, God rest his soul, never heard me or saw my efforts to save him. Panic had overcome him, and he ran without purpose, right into the path of a snail whose mouth and tongue were already pressing outward, testing the air. Walter ran within mere feet of the protruding member. A blur and Walter cartwheeled upside down amidst a flash of pallid flesh entangling his body before dragging him in.

The damn things had tongues faster than trapdoor spiders.

The rest of us were lucky to survive our first encounter with these ungodly invertebrates. But that luck wouldn’t last in the coming days.

It wouldn’t last at all.

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