William could feel his heart beating in his chest, it was so fast that it began to hurt. He held his hand over his mouth to silence the noise of his nervous panting.
He had never been so scared. It had come from nowhere and cut the others down as if they were nothing. Only he had survived, managing to hide behind a low stone wall. His ankles hurt with the strain of staying put. But he didn't dare move, hiding behind the wall was the only thing keeping him alive.
He could hear the creature feeding on what remained of his team. They had started as six. Two he did not know, he'd only met them earlier that day, the only thing he had was their names, Paul and Jason.
He knew the others from the academy. He'd only met Grant once, but Dan and Mike had been his friends. They'd trained together and spent many an hour joking over a beer or two. William had been relieved when he'd learnt that his two closest friends would be in his team in the final test. He knew they'd have his back. As it turned out however he did not have theirs or they would still be here, not bloody remains on the floor.
William knew the last test was dangerous and that few got out alive, but he didn't think the team would be down to one man so soon after entering the ‘testing zone’, and certainly didn't think it would be him.
His training at the academy had been vigorous and demanding and had turned him into an efficient and capable soldier but nothing could have prepared him for the creature that now blocked his passage to the exit.
It wasn't that they'd sent them in there unarmed, they each had a large laser-gun that could destroy a human body in seconds, but the laser seemed to only graze the creature. The laser-gun was of little importance now however, he’d lost it when the creature attacked, or to put it better he’d dropped it and ran the moment the onslaught began, something he now lambasted himself for.
He’d caught his breath now and his heart beat had begun to settle. He remembered the attack, Jason had been the first to go, a large purple tentacle wrapped around his neck then seconds later his head was taken from his body. Grant fired a laser at the creature, it let out a loud scream of pain from its large mouth that was filled with an array of large dagger like teeth. Seconds later the creature had incapacitated him with a paralysing needle like barb, shot from its torso before tearing Grant apart with its tentacles. At this point William had panicked and hid behind the wall so didn't see what happened to the others but he'd heard the screams.
The screams had stopped now, the only sound, the grunts and snorts of the creature as it finished its meal. William knew it would come for him soon so he had to act fast. He'd scanned the area quickly before the creature had attacked. He hadn’t seen any exits, only more low walls running at uneven intervals along the passageway he was in.
The only move he had was forward - straight into the path of the creature. He had no weapons, not that they’d done the others much good. The weapons would still be lying where they had fallen but he'd have to find the one that belonged to him as each weapon was registered to the fingerprints of the person to whom it belonged and would be useless to anyone else. The likelihood of William finding his gun before the creature got to him was pretty slim.
The only thing William had left on his side was speed, he was the fastest cadet at the academy. It was unlikely, but there was a chance he could outrun the creature, as long as he wasn't hit by one of its barbs. He had to try, it was better than dying there.
However the first problem wasn't outrunning the creature it was getting past the thing. Having a fat ball shaped body meant the creature took up most of the space in the narrow pathway. He knew the only way he could pass the creature was to distract it and make it move in a way that would create a space big enough for him to pass by.
The creature had no eyes that William could see and seemed to guide its way around using its tentacles. It had spotted the group earlier due to the sound of their heavy boots on the hard ground. William knew that if he removed his black academy issued boots then his bare feet would make little or no sound and there was a good chance he could pass unnoticed. But he still had to create a way passed. The removed boots would make a good distraction if he threw them back the way the team had come. The sound would attract the creature, possibly even long enough for William to reach the exit, if he could find it, and escape. It was unlikely however, he'd still have to rely on his speed and ability to outrun it.
The creature grunted again, its meal was almost done. William had to act fast or the creature would soon find him. He slowly untied the dark laces of his black boots and then slipped them off, being careful not to make any noise.
He suddenly had to swallow hard as he caught a whiff of the creature's foul breath, the smell of rotten human flesh and stale blood. He had to stop himself from being sick as the stench filled the air. It was moving closer, he needed to act now. Still with one hand over his mouth and nose, he grabbed one of his boots and with all the strength he could muster he flung it as far as he could in the direction his team had originally come.
The boot bounced against the stone wall several feet away from William, making a loud bang that echoed through the narrow passageway. It got the creature's attention. Within seconds it had rose from its feast and flew along the passage at immense speed. It passed William, his plan had worked, the way was clear.
Now for the next stage, the getaway. He sprang into action, with the creature's back to him he made a run for it. Disaster! He slipped in the bloody remains of his former team mates. The blood was everywhere mixed with the goo of half eaten flesh and splintered bones making it almost impossible for William to regain his footing.
However what was worse was that all the commotion had attracted the attention of the creature. It had turned around once again and was now heading straight for William using its tentacles to pull itself along. William struggled to escape the gore that surrounded him. As the creature was almost on him he caught sight of one of the guns lying amongst the remains. A severed hand still gripped the trigger, a disgusting thing but it meant William could use the weapon as the severed fingerprint would register the gun. He grabbed it. The riffle size weapon was slippery and wet due to a coating of blood, but he was able to aim and fire a laser that hit the creature in the mouth sending it hurtling backwards with a high-pitched wail.
William pushed himself free from the gore and struggled unsteadily to his feet. He saw the creature rising from the ground where it had fallen. Sparing no time he aimed the gun once again and fired. The creature let out an even louder shriek this time as it was pushed even further along the passage.
Unfortunately, the laser had little effect on the creature other that causing it pain and holding it from attacking him. He knew he must run, but first he would shoot the creature one last time. He aimed and fired. This time the laser hit one of the creature's long tentacles. The impact caused the tentacle to explode. He'd found a weakness, if he fired at the tentacles he’d be able to escape.
He aimed the gun and fired, hitting another tentacle which exploded into a mixture of flames and purple slime. He aimed again and fired, hitting a tentacle causing the creature to shriek out in pain. The creature had six tentacles, William had destroyed three. Using its remaining tentacles the creature began to pull itself along. William didn't waste time, he fired again destroying another tentacle, only two left. He fired another shot, success, then he angled the gun and aimed for the creature’s last remaining tentacle and fired.
The tentacles where destroyed, the circular body of the creature fell to the ground with a thud. It suddenly let out a strange sound different to the others, not a squeal of pain but something else, something more horrifying. The sound echoed throughout the maze. Then William heard more of the strange sounds in reply. The creature was calling for help. He didn't have enough power in the gun to fight more of them, he had to get out of there now.
It was then that he noticed the creature's tentacles were slowly beginning to grow back. He began to run. He dropped the gun, it was too heavy and would only slow him down.
He could hear the creatures amassing behind him as he continued through the maze, he didn't know the number, but it was far more than he could outrun, he needed to get out. He looked back the way he'd come, two of the creature had turned the corner, pulling themselves along with their tentacles. He turned a corner and followed the passage round, but was met by a third creature blocking the way. He went back the way he’d come, the first two were gaining on him, being joined by the third creature. William could still hear more creatures in the surrounding area which could at any time join their kin in pursuing him.
He made it to the end of the passage which turned again into another identical passage. He kept running and the creatures kept pursuing. His breathing had become heavy now and he was finding it harder and harder to keep at such a quick pace, but he knew that if he stopped, even for a second, to catch his breath then then they would catch him.
He continued running and soon found himself turning down the next passage and then the next. He resisted the temptation to turn around and inspect the progress of the pursuing creatures but he knew by the growing sound of squawks and squeals that they had grown in number.
He turned into what felt like the one hundredth passage. Once again it was identical to the rest except for one thing, at the end was not a turning but a large black door. Finally, he had found the exit, he just needed to reach it.
He continued at the same pace along the passage. He was about half way as the creatures turned the corner. As he neared the exit he could see that the black wasn't the door but in fact the darkness of the room on the other side. He'd reached the final stretch, less than twenty metres to go. But as he approached a white metal door began to close over the exit, he needed to beat it or he would be doomed.
Ten metres to go and the door was halfway closed. He leapt forward to try and cut out some of the length which worked, he'd cleared double the amount of space in half the time. The door was now three quarters of the way closed but he was almost there, just one last leap.
Then he was there, the door was almost closed but there was just enough space for him to squeeze through then bang the door was shut. He was on the right side, he took a sigh of relief, if he had been a second later he would have been crushed by the door or worse, a meal for the creatures that were now trapped on the other side. He could hear them banging against the door trying desperately to get to their meal.
The darkness of the room vanished as a large bright light filled it. The light revealed the room to be an empty square shape with an opening opposite him, that he hoped would lead him back to civilisation.
The robotic voice of a woman came over an unseen speaker, 'Congratulations, 76541,' his code name, 'you have successfully completed your training please report for debrief,' the voice then stopped as quickly as it had begun.
William could still hear the creatures, grunting and snarling behind the metal door. He was finally safe, he took a deep breath then made his way for debriefing.
Author Notes: I recently had a short story published in the online magazine 'Tigershark.'
If you would like to read it, it's titled 'The Dream' and can be found in issue 24 https://tigersharkpublishing.wordpress.com/home/issues-of-tigershark-ezine/
It's free to download.