True North
By: Lallie Napier

Emily stared in disbelief at the newspaper. How could they do that? Condos where our dog park is? This is so unfair! Where will I take him for walks now? In a little bed by the fridge lay her baby doggy. He was the most adorable, ugly dog she had ever seen. One of those mutts of dubious origins, with patchy hair and a tongue that was perpetually lolling out of his mouth. He had been slated for destruction when she found him at the shelter years ago. One look at his vacant bug eyes and she was hooked! Condos…those bastards!

Within a week the construction company had cordoned off the dog park. Emily and Pugpug had been searching around for a new place to play, with few options. So many places were too far for poor little Pugpug to walk to without his breathing acting up. There was some trouble with his lungs that the vet couldn't figure out. Emily's salary as a part time teacher didn't afford her the opportunity to have him assessed properly. So far, his symptoms had involved a lot of sneezing.

The local dog groups on Facebook were full of angry pet owners who were in the same position as she. The city relented and earmarked a section of a nearby forest for a new dog park. It was 20 minutes from Emily's apartment and council had approved a splash pad and activity center, construction would start in the spring!

Fall came with Emily starting another position at another school. She had trouble taking Pugpug out as often as she would have liked. The walks to the distant dog park were taking their toll on him. She had already been denied access to the bus system, they had a zero tolerance policy. One cool day before the leaves hit the ground Emily decided to take Pugpug to the location the city said they would build a shiny new dog park in the spring. They walked down a well–traveled path under glorious old trees. The wind was causing the branches to moan with pleasure as the leaves applauded its progress. Pugpug caught a scent on the wind, he strained against the leash, whimpering at Emily to let him run. Caught up in the majesty of the forest Emily took off his leash. Pugpug bolted off the trail and down a small embankment. Emily waited a few minutes and called to him…there was no answer, just the sound of the leaves' ovation. A terrifying yelp hit her ears, she called again for Pugpug.

Silence.

The trees cheered her efforts to deafening levels as she left the path and climbed down the embankment, calling for her baby with increasing desperation. He was just gone! She hollered his name again and again, her voice was straining through the tightness in her throat as panic was barely held at bay. She slowly turned straining to hear the slightest sound through the creak of the trees and the laudation of those fall leaves. Emily sat down in the dirt and cried…calling Pugpug's name every time her desperate sorrow would allow. It was well past sundown before she finally gave up and returned home, she posted her entire ordeal on Facebook and called all of her local friends to organize a search the next day.

What Emily didn't know was a few meters from where she had sat in the dirt Pugpug was encapsulated in 8 long, milky, finger–like tendrils with a proboscis running down his little throat; while it did afford him the ability to survive, he was also being impregnated with a species alien to anything he had ever encountered. It was like something out of a horror movie! His poor little body was paralyzed while this crushing creature was completely hiding him from the light of day.

After what had to be the worst night of her life, Emily untangled herself from sweaty sheets, choked down a bowl of cereal that had no taste and headed out to the woods to start the search for Pugpug. She could hear the other dogs before she got there and was completely blown away! So many familiar faces whose names she did not know, and their dogs, had come out to help find her baby. She brought up the newest picture of him on her phone and started introducing Pugpug, and herself to everyone there. She even remembered his spring jacket so the dogs could catch his scent. The plan was simple, they would search down the embankment where Pugpug was last seen and hope for the best.

As a group they fanned out along the trail and started down the embankment, calling for Pugpug as they went. As Emily walked down the slope she heard the most beautiful noise, a tiny sneeze! He was curled up in the exact spot she had sat the night before. "Pugpug!" she cried as she crouched to gently pick him up. He was shaking and looked a little beat up, but otherwise fine. The call went out to the volunteers that he had been found. They raised a cheer then each took a turn petting Pugpug as Emily thanked them for their help and thank goodness it had worked out so well, and so fast! While she was carrying Pugpug home she called the vet and made an appointment for the following day. They advised her to make sure he was warm, comfortable and had plenty of water and food. They also warned of potential vomiting as he was out all night and may have eaten anything.

Emily settled Pugpug in his bed by the fridge with a big bowl of fresh water and overfilled his food dish. She spent the entire day watching him sleep and eat, and sleep, and eat, and EAT! Wow! What an appetite he had, you would think he'd not eaten in a week! One last check on Pugpug found him lying on his back, paws in the air, tongue lolling out and twitching. Confident her dog was happy and comfortable Emily went to bed.

What was that? Emily sat up in bed. There was a faint skittering noise coming from the kitchen, she was about to get up when she heard Pugpug sneeze and, smiling, went back to sleep.

The sizzle of acid against the kitchen wall was too quiet for Emily to hear. The unwelcome being dove out into the world as soon as the hole it was etching got big enough.

Emily's horrified scream woke half the building the next morning. She had gone into the kitchen to check on Pugpug, his little body was curled up in his bed with a gaping hole in the center of his chest. Blood was splattered everywhere…his little tongue was still lolling out of his mouth. Emily screamed for all she was worth and ran for her phone.

The creature had found a cozy corner of a utility room in the sewers. It was warm, dry and full of rats for food. Having already doubled in size and still growing, food was a priority. It emerged from its incubation the size of a small Spaniel, 50Lbs of black armored killing machine, with only one goal…North. Its instincts were pulling it north so it ran. A tireless creature, it stopped only to feed. It followed its instinctual needs without flaw or fail, north.

It ran through the day, the night, over rock, over snow, through rain, through ice, he ran, north.

#

This has to be the shittiest job I've ever had! Mitch thought to himself as he fired up the blowtorch once again. There were only so many ways into Arctic Reticent Mining Station, or ARMS (Mitch still thought it was a ridiculous name) this was the least inconvenient. He started heating the edges of the metal hatch, just another half hour and I can finally pee, he thought. What a job…who would have thought I'd have to thaw my way into my office just to pee. He had been told the horror stories when he first arrived about the miners who had not heeded the warnings and tried to pee outside. In this cold? No wonder their bits fell off! So Mitch kept at it, soon enough he would be safe and warm inside and he could have some nice, tasty rations and melted snow water…yum.

Watching patiently from a nearby ice shelf it lay with its tail curled around its side, head up attentively watching this figure trying to open the door. Its little secondary jaws were lolling out of its mouth, randomly chomping at the wind. It needed to get inside this structure. It did not know why, only that it was necessary. Its instincts were driving him down…deep into the ice and rock.

The door popped open, finally thought Mitch. He ducked inside and started to pull the door closed behind him, it got caught on an ice spur "Fuck, again? Of all the stupid…" he saw a flicker of movement, a shadow on the wind. Flattening himself against the wall Mitch peered down the dim hallway "…Fuck, now I'm seeing things" he mumbled as he went back to wrestling with the door and cursing this company that sent him to the edge of frozen hell for some stupid rocks.

It worked his way through the maze of passageways, honeycombed under the frozen surface. It was approaching its point of descent, it rounded a corner and a wall stood before it. Between it and its goal. It roared in frustration and threw itself at the wall. No amount of clawing and biting would let it through. It roared again in frustration which was interrupted by a sneeze. Acid spewed from its mouth, showering the offending wall with its caustic presence.

Phillip was standing at the top of the complex' descending shaft, 'The Pit'. There were ropes, pulleys, metal platforms, a crazy collection of a dozen different machines all designed to get people and supplies down and get the minerals up. No one was scheduled to ascend or descend for another hour so Phillip was sitting with his chair tilted back and his head against the wall, reading a book and fighting sleep. As his eyes drifted closed he could swear he heard the sound of a freshly poured can of pop. Thousands of teeny tiny bubbles dancing just out of sight. It had been so long since he had anything with those delightful tickling bubbles. The back of his head started to feel warm, with a tickly, bubbling sensation. "What the hell?" He said as the first drops of acid ate their way through the wall onto the back of his head. Phillip screamed and howled in pain as the back of his head was slowly eaten by its acid. He tried to wipe it away with his hands which caused his fingers to blister and burn. Water! He thought as he bolted for the nearest exit screaming and cursing the entire way.

Mitch heard the commotion and stepped out into the hallway. Phillip came wildly careening toward him screaming about burning and water? What the hell was wrong with this guy? Maybe it was the psychosis they had been warned about, thought Mitch, being confined so far from civilization with no internet and only a CB radio sometimes Mitch felt himself slip a little. Phillip turned the corner heading outside when Mitch tackled him "You're gonna kill yourself going outside without gear Phil!" but Phillip didn't hear. It was so hot and hurt so much! The screaming stopped as the acid dove hungrily into his brain. Phillip died before he hit the floor.

Mitch stood over Phillip's body. He was shocked, all he did was tackle the guy and he was dead? What? That made no sense! He checked for vital signs, there were none. He searched the body for possible cause of death. Phillips hands showed chemical burns, Mitch knew they didn't have anything in ARMS that could cause them. Then he reached Phillips head, he discovered a cavern where the back of his head should have been. "What the fuck?" Mitch didn't know what to make of it. He ran back to his office and called the staff doctor before checking where Phillip had been working that day. Went to The Pit, found Phillip's chair on its side and a gaping hole melted through the wall!? A closer look revealed that a substance had indeed eaten through 5 inches of industrial steel. "What the hell did this?" He searched around the platform and saw some scratches and small burns. The trail led him directly to the descent shaft. He grabbed a walkie–talkie and a shotgun from the supply closet and started his descent, unknowingly helping it to get that much closer to its instinctual goal. It clung to the bottom of the platform, its little secondary jaws lolling out the side of its mouth.

#

She raised her head and looked to the south. She could feel him getting ever closer. The speed of his approach pleased her. She would soon be out of this frozen prison.

#

Mitch searched the antechamber looking for any sign of the chemical spill. When he found none he moved deeper into the complex, his shadow moving behind him ever so slowly. The slow stalking search continued until Mitch was secure in the knowledge that nothing had come through 'the Basement' before him. He figured he should probably do a full sweep, just in case. This one had him baffled. There had been some weird deaths since he started here but most were macho idiots with less experience than brains. Every spring they had a 'culling' of the new staff, the few that made it were usually great additions to the ARMS family. Mitch called security and told them what had happened. "We talked to Doc, Mitch. We've got a party ready to join you in The Pit." Mitch smiled to himself, "Send 'em down, Frank. We're doing a full sweep."

The security team was split into pairs and sent off to the different veins of minerals to check nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Mitch and Frank took the deepest tunnels as they had been at ARMS the longest. They headed down to the secondary lift and began the slow descent to sub–level 8.

It knew it had to get down there too. He climbed down the shaft, slowly behind the elevator. Silent as death.

As the elevator jerked to a halt Mitch jumped with surprise. "A little jumpy, eh Mitch?" Frank said as he checked his gear. "If you had seen what I saw Frank, you would be too." The serious tone of his voice left nothing to the imagination. They were in trouble here, they just had to figure it out before it got any worse. The men set out through the Eastern passage. Slowly checking every side passage and room as they went.

It was stuck in the shaft. It did not like being confined. It searched the top of the elevator for a weakness, there were none. He roared in frustration…

"What the fuck was that?" Frank said, turning back toward the elevator and taking the safety off in one motion

…It clawed and bit at the metal cage to no avail.

Mitch looked to Frank to take the lead, but Frank wasn't moving! It didn't sound like anything he'd ever seen before. The shrieking was putting his teeth on edge! One step at a time he edged back toward the lift

…Another unearthly howl of disappointment echoed through the lower levels of ARMS. It was so close to its goal, it could feel it…

As they approached the door to the elevator Frank suddenly remembered that HE was the head of security and took the point position. Mitch was so happy he didn't have to go first toward whatever was making that noise! The doors opened.

…Suddenly, a miracle, It sneezed. Acid foam spewed from his mouth over the top of the cage. Frank took the bulk of the spray in his face and on his chest. He screamed as he fell to the ground. Rolling with his hands on his face, trying in vain to put out the fire that was consuming him. Mitch fell on top of him and started taking off his clothes before the acid made in through. It jumped down through the hole it had made. It looked at Mitch, with its secondary jaws lolling out the side of its mouth, then ran down the Eastern passage. Frank took his hands from his unrecognizable face, which was blackened and melted. "My gun…" he whispered and died.

Mitch picked up Frank's gun and started after the creature. Suddenly he stopped. What the hell am I doing? He asked himself. He returned to the elevator, checked to see if there was any damage to the cables and pressed the button for 'The Basement'.

It ran with abandon through the newest tunnels until it found its goal. There she was. It's queen. Several tons of muscle and bone, with an exoskeleton the inkiest of blacks. There were eggs full of face–huggers all around her. She roared in recognition of its arrival, it was a beautiful sound. It came before her and sat with its skeletal tail wagging and its little secondary jaws lolling out the side of its mouth. Her giant head descended to look him over. She was not impressed. Her razor talons made short work of his tiny body.

Mitch made it to 'The Basement' as he heard a much more powerful roar coming up the shaft below him. Oh, yes…right choice. As he hit the emergency button that triggered the lower levels to collapse on themselves. There was a gust of frigid air and dust that was vomited from the shaft as the tunnels closed forever.

Deep in a hole, far to the north, she stirred.

-

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