Author: Sean O’Leary | Banner: Maelstrom
Staring out the window of my cell, the world outside illuminated by neon and pollution, I recalled the horrid events that had led to my incarceration to the inquisitive officers, researchers, and fearful onlookers.
“Land, ho!” yelled the crew members aboard the boat, as our ship approached the island. Staring out at the horizon, a small green speck began to manifest in my vision. Selgio Island. As it grew bigger and bigger, I began to reflect on my mission, and what had led me to this mysterious island.
By the late 2040’s, nearly all farmed chickens in Asia had been culled due to a dangerous strain of Avian Flu. People around the world had grown fearful of birds. It had spread from chickens to pelicans, hawks, and even warm blooded mammals. Precautions had been taken by local and prefectural governments to cull the populations of pigeons, ducks, and other waterfowl that for thousands of years had peacefully coexisted with humanity. Tough guidance on how to deal with birds turned into irrational horror when ordinary people began to take matters into their own hands, and eradicated any bird they could, on sight, with crude weapons. Just the other day, on my way to port for departure, I had seen a group of boys, donned in protective gear, beat a wounded pigeon to a bloody pulp. Perhaps this would seem shocking, or strange, to someone in the past century if not for all the other strange occurrences going on.
Global warming has allowed strange parasitic diseases to flourish and wipe out many populations of fruit. Released from icy prisons, strange beasts began to awaken from the world and cause havoc on a regular basis. Giant slugs began to appear in urban areas. People with blue blood began to appear, and whispers of extraterrestrial interference were becoming more and more mainstream. To say the least, our world was in peril.
Although we had been mostly unscathed from the monster attacks, Japan’s peace had grown sour. In contrast to the late 20th century, violence and political upheaval became more and more commonplace. With each passing day, seemingly guaranteed aspects of lives, luxuries and necessities, were taken from us and rationed out. While the fruit and vegetable population had remained safe from famine due to extreme border control, the fear of food insecurity was becoming more and more of a reality due to the chaos around the world and the lack of poultry. No one said it, not the comedians on TV or the political commentators, but everyone was worried of everything going from bad to worse, way worse.
And that’s why we were here, on Selgio Island. Speculation. Speculation of a new food source. Mantises.
Three months ago, a boat of refugees arrived in Japan from the rapidly sinking Indonesia. While skinny, and only a few having survived a harrowing ordeal, their story took a strange turn when what had allowed them to survive was uncovered. The carcass of a large mantis.
Sailing for weeks, the refugees had a great misfortune when a large storm hit, knocking most of their food off the side of the boat. Out of supplies, they had come across an uninhabited island. Unable to find any fish, or edible fruit, on the shores, they made their way inland, looking for turtles or something else to eat. They couldn’t find anything, but mantises. Giant mantises. Two meters tall. They had attacked and killed over half of the crew. Fleeing to the boat, they loaded it up with what little supplies they had, and continued towards Japan. One mantis had climbed aboard, and in a frenzy, the refugees in unison began to batter and stab at the mantis until it no longer moved. Miraculously, they had succeeded, and killed the mantis with minimal casualties.
At first, they were hesitant to eat their kill. But as days passed, adrift with no new food, it became readily apparent that they would need to succumb to their instincts for survival. They ate the mantis, cracking open its hard exoskeleton to reveal juicy, almost lobster-like, meat. Not unlike the whalers and sailors that had taken tortoises and cooked them in their own shells in the past, the refugees cooked the mantis meat in its own exoskeleton. Only a few days later, a JSDF patrol found their boat near the Ogasawara Islands.
Annoyance and dehumanization of the refugees turned to intrigue when the body of the mantis was discovered, and had, thus far, proven to be edible. No one that had eaten the mantis meat was observed to have any strange side effects or abnormalities. The possibility of the giant mantises as a suitable food source was raised in meetings and what little meat remained on the carcass was studied and approved for human consumption. It wasn’t a stretch, even before the bird crisis, countries around the world had begun to switch over from meat-based diets to insect-based ones. Grubs around the world were being harvested for food and gobbled up world-wide. But, for Japan, this discovery of a population of giant edible mantises within their now fiercely guarded border seemed to be miraculous. It seemed unlikely for the avian flu, which had spread from birds to warm-blooded mammals like sea-lions, to spread to the mantises. An expedition had formed and after a few weeks we had arrived here. That is how we wound up on that fateful island.
The boat stopped, and three smaller boats, along with supplies, were ready to head inland. On the bow of the ship, I walked over to Captain Kasai and the military man that would be accompanying us, Officer Koyama.
Upon seeing me, their conversation ended. Over our long voyage, Captain Kasai and Officer Koyama had made it obvious that they did not care for me. “You remember what our mission is?” Koyama asked me. I was annoyed by his question, but knew not to complain. I was the one that should have been asking him that, I was technically in charge. But, it would be a bad idea to have someone meant to ensure my safety dislike me even more.
“Our mission has three major directives. The first is to bring three live specimens and at least five dead specimens of the Gimantis species back to Japan for further scientific study. The second is to map out Selgio Island and record its topography and fauna. Finally, we are to establish a preliminary foot camp so that future excursions to the island can more easily explore the island with minimal issues.”
“Correct. Make sure you inform your assistant. We depart in thirty minutes,” Officer Koyama gruffed at me. He motioned over to a soldier carrying a case and undid the strap. From it, inside, a strange apparatus. I took it out, a strange orange jumpsuit.
“Put it on. If you are in danger, hit this button to harden the suit. Hit it again to loosen it up. Mind you, it’ll make movement a little more difficult, but it should protect you from any mantis attacks; it’s able to deflect machetes.” The rest of the soldiers on the deck also began to suit up. I did as I was told while everyone else around me continued to prepare.
The soldiers had been outfitted with special weapons and uniforms. Full-Metal Rifles. Rather than standard traditional bullets, the Full-Metal Rifles fired high power, javelin-like spears that were designed to puncture the increasingly popular mechanized armor that soldiers around the world were designing. But in Japan, so far free from the plague of foreign wars that had broken out throughout the continent, the soldiers had no opportunity to fire or test out their new toys. The developer had claimed they’d go through something like “crap through a goose”, but to me, the missing word was someone, not something. Those weapons would inevitably be used to kill other human beings. I suppose being used now for Mantis hunting was a peaceful alternative.
I helped load up the boats, best I could, and we headed towards the island.
“Dr. Murai, are you worried?”
I looked at Ms. Soma. I couldn’t help but feel as though she was projecting her own fears onto me.
“A little bit. No doubt, if it’s true, then this has the chance to solve a lot of our problems. And we’ll both become well-known researchers. But for now, let’s enjoy the sun. The air out here is fresh, unlike the toxic air from the mainland. It’s beautiful out here, isn’t it?”
Soma didn’t say anything. She was a fantastic entomologist, but ultimately redundant, thanks to my own presence. I had pressured her into coming with me on this voyage, hopeful that this adventure onto a strange island would be the catalyst towards her feeling something for me.
A soldier to the right of me asked Officer Koyama in a polite tone.
“When do we get to kill the mantises?” said one of the soldiers out of place.
“Soon.” grinned Officer Koyama.
He motioned over to me, “You know for once I agree with Bug Doctor. I like it here. It’s refreshing to be out here, on the water, rather than trapped in that hell-hole of constant preparation for thermonuclear war. Out here we’ll actually be able to fire our weapons before being obliterated.”
As we edged closer towards the island, a strange spell fell upon us. Silence. No noise came from the island, save for the swaying of palm reeds in light wind and the waves crashing against the boat. The refugees had mentioned the island being nearly entirely devoid of animals, but this was something else. Nothing. No birds, no fish, no visible animal life on the shores. Worse off, it was completely silent. Selgio had a strange silence to it all.
At last, the boats reached the shore, and we all stepped out, with the soldiers in the front armed and ready. The beach, composed of muddy and gray sand, was a depressing oddity in what should have otherwise been a tropical paradise. A few loose-lipped soldiers lamented how they were disappointed in the beach. Others, including Koyama, chastised them for thinking of enjoyment, when they should have been thinking only of setting up the camp. I couldn’t help but think that the way they kept repeating mission over and over again was only a pretense for bloodlust, to get what they needed to get done out of the way as soon as possible so that the killing could begin.
We set up base camp. A row of soldiers ran out onto the beach, towards an elevated section where the high-tide would not reach, and formed a line, pointing their weapons in the direction of the jungle, ready for anything that might emerge. Next, we followed, lugging tents, equipment, and some sort of electrified fencing that would zap any bugs that would come near us. This moment, we thought, would have been the most dangerous part of the mission. It was the only moment where we weren’t prepared and vulnerable. We were wrong. The horror would come later.
A few hours later, once the camp had been finished setting up, and the soldiers had all rested for a bit, an early scouting party had been sent out. They claimed to have seen a mantis. Quickly, without much thought, Officer Koyama and nearly twenty soldiers ran off into the jungle. Not to be outdone, I quickly grabbed our cameras, diaries, and basic survival gear, and ran after them into the jungle.
“Come on,” I shouted to Soma, forcing her to follow me.
With half the soldiers still remaining at the base camp, we headed off the beach and into the jungle. Catching up to the soldiers, the rush of excitement dissipated, after they realized they had to trudge through the humid sea of green the soldiers slowed down, and we were able to catch up. Through the jungle, over moldy logs and dense trees, we marched through the jungle as a unit.
Without fanfare, it was ahead of us. A lone Mantis stood in the forest.
While I had seen the remains of the carcasses brought back to Japan by the refugees, this was different. The hairs all on my body grew all over me as I saw it moving around, slowly, methodically, peeking its head around it, as if searching for something. The soldiers readied their weapons, and edged towards it. I wanted to spend all day studying the creature in its natural habitat, watching each and every one of its moves. Although in my mind, I knew it was most likely a carnivore, given the lack of animals on the island, I wanted to know what its diet consisted of. What led these mantises to getting so big in such a mysterious jungle?
I offered advice: “Try to get the claws, or the legs. If you can remove the claws, it’ll be easier to capture alive.”
It was quick: One of the officers stepped forward, out of the brush, and fired. They didn’t listen to me, and a clean shot of the missile flew through the mantises head, splitting the triangular shape into a clean half.
The soldiers walked up to the body of the carcass and posed. They looked like big game hunters, rather than disciplined servicemen. This only lasted for a brief moment.
I could sense a change in the demeanor around me. Although they were excited by their success, the entire ordeal had been rather simple and drawn out. Just approach, fire, and that’s it. Not so much excitement. In a small notepad, I began to write down everything I observed. The Mantises, most likely the only major predator on the island, were not used to encountering other animals they needed to worry about or flee from. They were a lame prey. I think the soldiers had imagined some kind of grand adventure, but instead, they were hunting large seemingly docile creatures.
Only a few moments later, another soldier shouted, ”Over here!”
Before the other soldiers had a chance, I hurried ahead, waving. “Don’t kill it! We need live specimens as well!”
One of the soldiers aimed for a large tree, above the giant mantis. With a pop, the metal missile shot out and broke the branch above. It fell upon the mantis, over its back, almost flattening it. The mantis, while to my knowledge still alive, was immobilized under the weight of the tree. The soldiers surrounded the mantis, awkwardly cracked off its claws with the full metal missiles, and began to prepare to wrap it up in a large metal net they had brought along.
“When will we see some real action, that was kind of lame,” complained one of the soldiers to Officer Koyama. “We didn’t come here to shoot trees,”
I butted in, “Yes, you didn’t come here to shoot trees, you came here to capture mantises.”
The two ignored me, and Koyama reassured him, “Soon, we’ll find something more appropriate to engage. I’m sure there will be plenty of fun.”
We continued into the forest. Deeper and deeper. Denser and denser. The fauna changed, more strange fungi became commonplace, itself a point of intrigue. The world around us became filled with a humid mist. The soldiers, in their hardened armor, became impersonal, ghoul-like entities. I didn’t want to continue on.
“Shouldn’t we stop now? We’ve already gotten two specimens, one of them alive.”
“No, we keep going.”
At that moment, I realized something on the island had consumed the men.
“SHHH” said Koyama, and motioned for everyone to stop, before passing me his pair of binoculars. “Look up ahead.”
I looked out. And there it was, a mass of orange. Five or so giant mantises. All conglomerating around something strange. Clawing away at something fleshy protruding from the ground. Some sort of fungus.
“Sir, I’d recommend we wait. Let’s scout out the island a little more, map it all out, before making any moves.”
A few of the soldiers, around fifteen or so, gathered around the pile. Already I could tell what they were going to do.
“Wait, stop them. It may be better to observe their behavior rather than kill them.”
“If we don’t do this now, we might lose the tactical advantage!” shouted Koyama.
Forming a line, they raised their weapons towards the mantis creatures.
The jungle erupted with a horrific sound of harpoons of pure metal cracking and piercing against the mantises’ exoskeleton. Slower than normal bullets, they shot out one by one, every second. The full metal harpoons collided with their large yellow eyes, thoraxes, and claws, severely crippling, if not outright killing them.
I shouted at the top of my lungs, “Stop that! We need specimens! Not piles of mush!”
But they didn’t listen. They kept firing.
Mantises fell over quickly, but not instantly. The firing continued, as the metal harpoons began to clink off one another. Overkill. A mere moment later, thinking they were done, finally satisfied by their bloodlust, the soldiers stopped, and edged towards their bounty.
Something jumped up. One of the mantises, on the other side of the pile, survived the initial assault. It leapt up into the air, charging at the men. For a brief half-second, it seemed like it would collide with the soldiers, destroying their formation and inciting chaos, but was quickly downed and harpooned in the wing by a reflexive soldier. It fell against the rest of the mantis bodies with a large cracking sound. The soldier calmly walked towards the downed body and finished it off with one more harpoon to its head. In front of everyone, a pile of twitching, quickly dying mantises. Everyone, except for Soma and I, cheered.
Koyama pulled Soma and I aside, away from the group of cheering soldiers around the mantises. “See, how’s that for efficiency? We got you your bodies, didn’t we?”
“It was stupid. I’m sorry to say but your men are badly behaved. While the bodies should be useful, it seems a great deal of their musculature has been ruined. I’d like to see if their locomotion more—“
The sky above us darkened.
The world around me became tense with silence as we realized what was going on, before we had any time to react. It took a moment to process it all, the horror that towered over us.
Peering over the trees, a large triangular head stared at us. A far larger mantis, bigger than any of the specimens we had encountered so far. Five stories tall. A colossal mantis. Its ugly, almost lit up, insectoid eyes stared down on us, like cruel suns. In all the commotion, it had crept up on us, lying in wait, ready to pounce. Other than its disgusting mandibles, chewing the air in anticipation, it remained still. Panic consumed my body, froze it in fear as I realized what would happen next.
While it had been irrelevant before, due to us roughly being the same size as the giant mantises, I should have explained it to those in my company. How mantises really hunt.
The group of soldiers to my right erupted with a howl. Some reflexively fled, some fired, and some collapsed in astonishment. It didn’t matter. The instant sudden movement registered, the horrid beast’s right claw, a red and sickly scythe closed in and snapped shut around the group. Those that were not crushed by the claw’s impact were clamped shut. A horrible gurgling and screaming filled the air, as the soldiers’ bodies were crushed and nearly entirely bisected by the devilish claw. Within a moment, the mantis brought its prize up to its mouth, and began to devour the men. Some unlucky survivors, who had just barely survived in its clutches through sheer accident, screamed what little air could leave their crushed chest as the mantis devoured them.
To my right, Koyama remained frozen just as well. Unmoving, as if shocked that nearly half his men could be gobbled up and killed within just a single swipe of a claw. A few men, those that had just narrowly escaped the claw, fired their full-metal rifles at the giant insect. The full-metal spikes jabbed into the side of the creature, but did not dig deep, and fell to the ground with little fanfare. The mantis responded quickly. Some continued to fire, or ducked on the ground, before being quickly skewered by the Mantis’ thinner left claw.
Soma grabbed me, pulling me away. Koyama pulled out something, a grenade, and tossed it, before backing away into the trees behind us. The three of us, and what soldiers had survived, ran as far as we could. Behind us, a powerful explosion rang out, but we didn’t look back. We knew that the grenade had only slightly deterred the monster.
We ran along through the jungle, narrowly avoiding the large scythe-like claws. Trees fell down all around us. Screams rang out as soldiers around us were plucked from the ground, one by one. While we were running, the mantis was above us, slowly moving forward, picking us off one by one, with little rush or excitement.
We ran and ran. With no time to think or care about those around us dying by the minute.
Up ahead was a clearing. The forest was gone and led out to a rocky area with a small beach. We would have nowhere left to run, and be exposed to the mantis. But wait, there it was, a large rock formation, with a cave, in the middle of the beach. I motioned and pointed towards the cave to Soma and Koyama. With little choice, they followed.
The beach looked familiar, although I couldn’t quite figure out if I had been there before. I remembered no such rock formation before. We ran down the slope, towards the sand, towards the rock formation. We kept running and running, not looking back on our mantis pursuer, knowing that even one pause, one hesitation could mean the difference between life and death.
As we got nearer to our rocky sanctuary, it became noticeable that something was strange, off, wrong with the rock. As legs protruded from the side of the mountain, I realized we had made a horrible mistake. The mountain was alive.
We had no time to react. The Mantis was relentless in pursuit, and perhaps the natural camouflage of the rock-monster worked.
And to my shock, some of the few surviving soldiers ran up to the side of the waking mountain, unfettered by the possibility that it would arrive. Forced between a living rock and a hungry mantis, I ran as close to the living mountain as possible. Some of the men had even tried to climb the side of the mountain. With a sharp thwack, the mantis skewered another one of the soldiers.
The mountain erupted with life.
Out from a crevice, a long neck shot out in retaliation, locking onto the spear-like claw. A large turtle’s head bit deeply into the arm. Confused and taken aback, the Mantis looked down at us, unsure what to do. In retaliation, it readied its other claw, ready to strike and sever the turtle’s neck from its body. Before the blow connected, the turtle withdrew its muscular head, taking with it the Mantis’ skewer-like arm. With a large pop, having been released from its arm, the Mantis fell back.
The turtle, now fully awake, threw away the remaining arm, and readied itself. It got on all fours. It roared out at the mantis, challenging its aggressor. This was our chance, as the two focused solely on one another, we all began to run away, to a safe distance. Behind us, we heard the thrash of mandibles against what must have been the turtle’s rocky shell. Frenzied and angered cries from the two monsters rang out from behind us as we ran back into the forest for safety.
To our horror, another giant mantis popped out from the forest. Another towering mantis, not an anomaly. There must have been a larger subspecies.
The mantis moved forward, towards us. Everyone screamed. This was the end.
Yet, it wasn’t. When the shock wore off, we saw the giant red mantis jump, jump far above us, and extend its wings, as it glided towards the other two combatants to aid what must have considered its companion. Tired of running, we looked back on the chaos.
The turtle was clinging to a section near the injured Mantis’ neck as it feebly attempted to stand up on its hind legs, using the Mantis’ own body to balance itself up upright. It appeared to be trying to rear up, before attempting to crush the mantis with its immense weight. The second mantis collided with the two from the side, releasing its companion, and throwing the turtle off balance. Hitting the ground with its immense weight, a large shockwave reverberated over the sand. But the turtle was unfazed. It got onto its legs, and walked towards the flinching and injured mantis that was missing its claw. With a sizable leap, the living mountain pressed its body weight on top of the creature. A horrible cracking sound fell throughout the air, as the Mantis’ body was crushed. When the turtle got off its foe, the first Mantis was a horrible crushed mess of cracked exoskeleton, twitching skin, and green blood. The strange yellow eyes that had once haunted us, chased us down, were now dimmed.
One Mantis down, one to go. One again, the newly arrived Mantis jumped up and began to glide around. It circled around the gigantic turtle, who was unable to keep up with the Mantis’ speed. The turtle tried its best to follow with its vision, but it became more and more obvious that it was too fast. The turtle, now dizzied and slow, provided an opening for an attack.
From behind the behemoth, the Mantis lunged forward and onto the back of the monster. It latched itself onto the immense back of the turtle. Hooking itself onto the hard carapace with its four legs, it began to use both of its claws to hammer down on the shell of the turtle.
THWACK THWACK THWACK.
A horrible cracking sound reverberated throughout the air. But it was not the shell of the turtle. Rather, it was the chitinous arms of the mantis, broken and shattered against the shell of the gigantic turtle. Unable to strike, or damage the creature, the mantis quickly realized its mistake. Jumping up forward, it began to flee.
The turtle, mustering strength, leapt up and extended its neck all the way, just barely locking on to the edge of the mantis. Crashing to the ground once more, the turtle took the mantis with it, violently cracking it against the ground. Wings, claws, and legs broken, it was unable to escape. Once again, it rose into the air, and slammed down, crushing the feeble insect before it.
Mostly uninjured, only a little tired from exerting energy and doused with superficial scratches, the turtle roared out in victory.
But, then it appeared. A third mantis.
There was something different about this mantis. Something off. Something wrong.
While this mantis was roughly the same size as the others that came before it, something was strange. It took me a moment to realize what was wrong. Its entire body was swollen. It looked slightly more muscular, with its exoskeleton bulging. Unlike the other mantises, with their screeching and munching mandibles, this one’s mandibles remained inert, and unmoving. Its eyes, unlike the bright yellow of the others, were milky and cloudy. The Mantis took a step, and another, slowly and unnaturally, as if it was some form of perverse puppet. The strange Mantis moved towards the giant turtle.
Accepting another challenger, the turtle roared out towards the strange shambling insect.
Instantly, the Mantis hit a nearby boulder with its claw that then collided with the turtle’s head. Taken aback by the change of tactics, the seeming intelligence behind the creature’s actions, the turtle did not have a chance to withdraw its head. Even if its head was protected by a rocky helmet-like carapace, it still took a severe hit from the blow. In agony, the turtle leapt up onto its hind legs, screeching out in pain. Taking advantage of the situation, the Mantis rushed forward and began pressing all of its weight against the turtle’s body. The strange mantis collided with the giant turtle.
I thought it should’ve been obvious what would happen next: This newer, stranger mantis would end up like a pancake like the others. But through something strange, the expected didn’t happen. Perhaps due to the great turtle tiring, or the Mantis being empowered by something, the tides began to turn. Pushing forward, the Mantis continued, pressing forward, catching the turtle off guard. After a moment of great exertion, the turtle was flipped onto its back. Instantly, all its limbs retreated into the shell, as the mantis began to circle around the turtle, looking for a vantage point to continue to attack.
The mantis pressed two of its front legs onto the turtle’s upper carapace on the softer underside.
Instantly, the Mantis began to scratch and claw away at the turtle’s underbelly. The spear-like mantis arm stabbed away. Softer than the turtle’s mountain-like shell, the underbelly could only take so much, before the turtle’s stomach would be exhumed into a pile of gore. Quickly, knowing on an instinctual level that it would die if it didn’t do something, the turtle made a risky gambit. It extended its neck out of its shell.
The gambit paid off.
The turtle managed to bite into one of the legs. Locked on, it pulled its head back in, once again tearing away the leg from the body. The mantis was caught off balance, and fell over, but strangely did not stop. The mantis did not flinch as it kept cutting into the giant turtle’s stomach. Blood of the turtle oozed out. The turtle made its risky gambit once more, extending its neck into the other mantis leg. Success. The Mantis, now missing its two front legs, fell off the turtle and crashed onto the forest below.
The turtle finally extended its arms, and pushing against a nearby rock formation, began the slow and arduous process of attempting to flip itself over. The creature rocked itself back and forth, in a desperate attempt to flip over. Interestingly, despite missing its front legs, the strange mantis was not done. Using its claws, almost in a zombie-like state, it pulled its body slowly towards the giant turtle which was still recovering.
Suddenly, like a perverse marionette, the body of the mantis thrust itself off the ground and forward, right at the turtle. Right before the mantis would have collided with its body, the turtle mustered all its power internally in order to flip over. And it did. While flipping over, the turtle had managed to dodge the attack of the mantis, which once again collided with the trees.
The turtle, seizing the opportunity, charged towards the strange mantis. This time, it wasn’t taking any chances. Swiftly, exerting as much energy as it could, the turtle pressed its right arm onto the thorax of the mantis, while its left arm and mouth began tearing away at the creature. The right arm came off, and then the turtle began to tear into the creature’s head. Eyes and antennae were torn off from the giant insect. However, rather than blood, or other fluids, a strange beige substance erupted from the mantis creature. It spread out onto the turtle. But the turtle did not stop, and continued to dig into the mantis’s soon-to-be corpse.
The mantis, head nearly eaten and torn to shreds, let out one final zombified attack: a last swipe from its remaining scythe-like claw. The blow connected, cutting off the turtle’s left paw. Blood sprayed out, as the turtle screamed out in agony. But it was already over, the mantis was already dead. The turtle continued its assault on the nearly lifeless body. A moment later, the mantis was no more than a pile of strange goop with twitching claws, lips, and broken antenna. The turtle looked down on the mantis, as though to make sure the job was done.
I reminded myself that this was our chance, our chance to escape.
“Come on, we have to get away!” I said, shaking Koyama and Soma out of their trance. “There might be more of those mantises, or turtles!”
Koyama pointed out in the distance, down the beach. A tiny speck. The base camp.
“We have to get there!” he commanded.
Everyone alive nodded in agreement. We ran, ran down the coast, towards the base camp. It was arduous. Our feet hit the sand, and all of us were covered in sweat. The surviving soldiers looked excruciatingly tired. Still in their mechanical suits, which were now completely useless, their stamina was beginning to entirely deplete. We kept running forward, without looking back, fearful of any mantises that might intervene.
The camp became closer and closer, as we were now able to make out the individual tents and vehicles that had been erected.
Just a little further.
Someone fell, one of the soldiers. As I turned around to help him, as Koyama rushed ahead, I screamed. The turtle, bloodied and damaged, had followed us onto the beach, and was chasing us. Perhaps it was wounded, blaming us for the injuries that had been inflicted upon by the Mantises, or viewed us as another invader towards the territory. Maybe it wanted food to recover from its intense struggle. In any case, it ran towards us.
A mountain, screaming in agony and rage, moving towards us.
We knew at that moment not everyone would make it, as people abandoned each other. It was every person for themselves. We ran, as that horrible bloodied cry rang out across the shore.
“Hit the ground” screamed Koyama as he fell flat to the sand. “Hit the ground now!” It didn’t make sense, until it did. Flashes and gunfire rang out in the distance. A soldier up ahead of us, the one in the front, was shot. Friendly fire. Instantly, upon recognizing what was going on, I grabbed Soma and pushed her and me into the sand.
Some of the remaining soldiers did not listen, and ran forward, fearful of the giant turtle behind us. They quickly fell to the ground, although not voluntarily. They had been shot.
The sand around us shook with violence. Mustering all the courage I had, I looked up at the darkened sky above me. What I saw was horrific: turtle entrails. Only a few meters above us, the bleeding belly of the giant turtle hung over us, while blood rained down above us. Soma and I screamed out, as the undulating bloody creature moved forward, away from us. And towards the camp.
Maybe it was our fault. Our fault for leading that monster towards the camp, but it was the soldiers fault for further antagonizing it. The gung-ho nature of Captain Koyama extended out to not only those who had joined us in the fateful jungle excursion, but nearly everyone at the camp. They were idiots.
We stayed prone against the sand, only slightly tilting our heads towards the camp to watch the pandemonium ahead of us unfold.
Full Metal Missiles, traditional weaponry, and even grenades continued to collide against the frenzied turtle. But despite their desperate attack, it was already over. Nothing could stop it. The bloodied creature stomped into the camp, tramping and tearing apart anything it could. Horrid cries rang out in terror as people were squished, munched on, and died from the explosions caused by their own weapons.
Eventually, the carnage and screams were completely snuffed. In the distance, with the wreckage of the camp beneath it, the turtle remained still, and retreated into its shell, to recover from its wounds.
We had survived. Soma and I. We were not the only ones, Officer Koyama and two other soldiers had miraculously survived as well. We were lucky. Around us lay crushed bodies, trampled to death by the turtle’s feet, or dead from bullets shot by their comrades. Our wary group looked back on the resting turtle.
A mountain of bleeding. Blood ran out from all over the creature’s shell.
Then they came from the jungle. The swarm. The swarm of mantises. Giant mantises, like the original we had seen, the ones that we had originally come to hunt, emerged from the forest. They came quickly, like an orange and red wave.
The turtle, asleep and resting in its shell, didn’t notice. We watched in horror as the mantises swarmed the turtle, and began to slash and attack it from the outside, crawling inside the creature’s wounded shell. A tired grunt rang out through the air, as the turtle awoke. But, it was too late. The giant mantises were eating the turtle alive, slashing at any exposed flesh and digging inside it.
If the turtle wasn’t dead yet, it would be soon. The mantises had won.
We retreated into the forest, away from the swarm, hearing the final agonized cries of the turtle. We ran away in the direction we had just come from, sticking near the coast on the off chance.
We kept running, until we found a small stream, which we followed inland. Fearful of the insects and life, we didn’t go too deep. Around a small brook, not saying anything, one by one we began to splash water against our faces. A temporary reprieve.
We had spent the last few hours just trying to survive. Adrenaline filled, we had broken ourselves to near complete exhaustion. Not thinking, only reacting. Outrunning Mantises, outrunning turtles, it was crazy. Only now could we think, really reflect on everything that had happened. Only a few of us had survived.
We were now trapped on an island filled with strange predatory creatures.
We were doomed.
“Surely, they’ll send someone to rescue us,” I demanded to Officer Koyama.
He shrugged, non-responsively.
Soma shouted with a panicked, but practical, question, “What will we eat?”
Koyama looked around and pointed at a strange fruit. We all moved forward towards it. Looking towards our savior.
No, it wasn’t a fruit, it was a fungus. The same kind of fleshy and pale mushrooms that the group of mantises had been digging underground.
As I stared at the mushroom, I couldn’t help but feel that this was not just a conflict between the mantises and the turtle. Rather, some hidden, third force, had entered the fray. Even if it had not made itself explicitly known, it had existed here, silently strangling and consuming everything around it.
Winner: Kamoebas (Showa)