Max fell into a deep sleep after a long day, grateful for the end of a tedious week at work as a managing partner of his law firm. He dreamed of a relaxing facial and could feel the tender caress of the masseuse’s fingers on his face. The feel of the fingers was so real, it roused him. He the felt tiny ripples move across his face, and brushed at them, but they kept moving. And that’s when Maxwell realized he hadn’t brushed away whatever was on his face, that his hand hadn’t moved at all, that his hand couldn’t move! Terrified eyes shot open and looked around widely. “What the heck?! What the heck?! What the heck?!” was on repeat in his mind. It wasn’t just his hand that couldn’t move; his whole body was paralyzed. His heart beat in his ears as he struggled to scream, but instead involuntarily swallowed. Whatever was crawling over his face was falling into his mouth, and he was swallowing it. Panic set in as he tried desperately to use his tongue to push out whatever it was that was falling in his mouth. He felt movement on his nose and strained his eyes to see what it was, while his tongue worked feverishly, and in futility, to remove the foreign object from his mouth. And that’s when he saw the biggest maggot he had ever seen, making its way up his nose to his forehead. A gurgled, silent scream choked down the maggots that had fallen into his mouth. And he gagged and threw up into his mouth, and choked on that as it had nowhere to go but back down. His body convulsed as his eyes searched around what was no longer his bedroom, but somewhere sandy; he could hear waves. He didn’t care where he was. He needed to get up. He screamed at his body to move, but he was going nowhere. His tears welled in the crevices of his ears. He had exhausted himself from the effort to move. His eyes closed against a maggot that had crawled across the lid of his left eye, and his world went black.
He woke up to a blood-curdling scream. Max immediately sat up, then, having realised he could sit up, groped at his arms, his legs, his chest, as if to check if they were all there. Then he fell forward and retched. He hunched his back toward the sky as he tried to bring up the long-downed maggots. His heart pounded as his senses came alive as he processed his situation. Did he hear a scream? Yes, he was still hearing it. He spun around to a woman who stood, staring, shaking and hyperventilating, and emitting the most piercing scream he had heard. His ears rung and his head felt light. He barely had time to process this development of what he had hoped was a bizarre dream when he looked toward where the screaming woman was transfixed. There, right beside where he was, was a body, or what was left of a body, as maggots feasted on the banquet of a decapitated carcass whose outstretched arms reached for the water. And, for the second time, Max was on his knees, heaving. His head spun. “What the heck is going on?! Where am I??” he screamed. He turned to the woman, who had now stopped screaming and was being held by a wiry man who looked just as shaken, but who had the presence of mind to comfort the screamer. Max scrambled over to them. “What is this?? Do you know where we are? What the hell is going on?!”
“I don’t know! I woke up here and I’m freaked out of my mind!” the man replied shakily, anxiously looking around at the scenery of trees, sand and water. The woman was now a mess of shudders in his arms. Max spun around, looking left and right for something, anything that would help him make sense of where he was, and what this was. They were on a beach somewhere. How in the world had he gotten to an island? Was he drugged? He struggled to steady his breathing so he could think clearly. He looked around again, caught a glimpse of the body, and could feel his mouth start to fill again. He stood hunched over with his hands on his knees. He took deep breaths and steadied himself. He looked up, and that’s when he noticed that there were two more people there- another man and woman. They looked as if they had just been roused from sleep, and Max saw the confusion and panic he was feeling, written on their faces. “What is going on here?! Where are we?? Who are you people??” the third man demanded as he trudged over the others as he looked around. He was a burly man who looked like he could lift a truck. His faced was flushed with rage and confusion. Max stepped back as he approached. The woman, a mousy-looking picture of frailty, timidly followed behind him. She was as white as a sheet and was chewing nervously on the edge of a laminated card that she held with one hand, and was tugging on her gray jumpsuit with the other.
“These aren’t my clothes. These aren’t my clothes. These aren’t my clothes,” mumbled the woman “Someone changed my clothes. Someone hand their hands on me and I can’t remember it! These aren’t my clothes!” She wrapped her arms around herself and continued mumbling. And that’s when the rest of them noticed that they too were not wearing their own clothes, and that they had no shoes on either. The screamer started a new round of wailing as she tugged on the front of her suit. The atmosphere was a cacophony of confusion.
“I’ll never see my family again. My husband. My kids,” the screamer moaned.
The thin woman presented to the group the card she had been chewing on, “I—I—I found this in my pocket. Whatever this nightmare is, we have to go through it for seven days. I can’t survive on an island for seven days. I can barely survive civilization!” The thin woman whispered, as if saying it too loudly would make their situation a level of real she could not yet handle.
“What?!” responded the rest of the group in collective horror. Max reached into his pocket yanked out a laminated note out and read:
“Welcome to Gore Island. —”
“We’re on an island?! How the heck did we get on an island?” the wiry man interrupted as he looked at the jungle beyond the beach.
“None of us know! We’re just as confused as you are, so who exactly are you asking?!” a now tense Max shot back. He took a deep breath and he continued to read:
“You’ve been booked for a seven-day stay.
Unfortunately, you aren’t the only ones on this private island.
You are sharing the facilities with some… creatures.
They are not there to make you feel at home,
Unless your home is in the afterlife.
Survive seven days, and you will go back to yours.”
Screaming. Burly clapped his hand over the mouth of the siren. Her head snapped back with the force. “Shut up!” he barked. “He just read something that said we’re not here alone, and your first instinct is to open your mouth and let them know where we are?!” The woman stood wide-eyed, staring into the face of the man whose hand nearly covered her whole face.
The wiry man spoke up, “Monsters?? Come on now! I’m a scientist. You can’t really think there are monsters, and that they are here.”
“Well, I don’t know, but I woke up to the maggots from a dead man crawling into my mouth! What happened to him?!” Max retorted, pointing at the rotting carcass. “Listen, whatever is on this island, I think our best chance is to stick together. I think it’s our best shot at surviving, even if there are no monsters.” A brief silence hung over the group until Max broke it with a sigh, “I’m Max. Might as well at least know each other’s names as we’re all in this together.”
“Peter,” responded the burly man. The rest of the traumatised lot introduced themselves. The wiry man was Paul; the screamer was Jessica, and the timid woman was Lauren.
“We’re gonna be stuck here for a week and, if the note is right, we will have company, so we’re gonna need to protect ourselves,” Max said firmly. The lawyer in him took control of the situation.
“I—I— This makes no sense! Are we really standing here talking about protecting ourselves from monsters? The only monster that exists is the one who put us here!” protested Jessica. Just then, she flinched. “Ow!” She looked down at her bare feet on the sand and her eyes became grapefruits as she saw the burrow holes that had appeared around her feet, and what seemed to be blood-red tentacles launch themselves out of the holes and attached themselves to her feet. “Aaah!!! Aaah!!” she screamed in terror. The others looked down at the sand and saw small tunnels being formed in the sand, and that whatever was making these holes was headed in in their direction! Max and Peter held on to Jessica and pulled at her, so hard that she yelled for her arms. By this time, the tunnels had closed in, and the men started hopping from one foot to the other, while the others ran for the grassy thicket of trees. The men tugged at Jessica while trying to keep themselves safe, but they had no luck, and jumped back away from the advancing attack.
Their hearts pounded in their throats as they watched in horror what was happening to Jessica. “Help me! Somebody help me!! I can’t—I can’t move!! My legs are on fire!” The tentacles anchored Jessica to the spot where she stood. She frantically tugged at the unmoving tentacles that held on to her legs, which started to swell into clusters of boils, which popped open and oozed a thick, yellow into the crevices on the lumpy terrain of Jessica’s legs.
Paul gasped, “Oh my gosh! Those things look like a mutation of the Mongolian death worm! Oh no, oh no, oh no!”
“What? Death worms?? Hold on, Jessica!” Max shouted. He looked around and found a coconut frond that seemed long enough to reach out to Jessica. He aimed it her way and yelled out for her to grab hold. Her shaky hands missed, and she fell on all fours in the treacherous sand. As she landed, the monster beneath the sand grabbed her wrists, and tentacles made their way up her arms. Sobs mixed with screams shook Jessica’s body as the venom from the creature had begun to crack open and singe her now leprous body. Max yelled out in agony for the woman. Peter stood, his mouth ajar, staring at the horrific sight in front of him. Paul shielded his face as he tended to Lauren, who collapsed at the base of a tree. Jessica’s screams turned into a gargled whimper as the pus flowed from her opened mouth as she lay flat on the beach. Her eyes looked pleadingly at the group. And then, in the twilight of day one of seven, there was nothing. Nothing other than the laboured breathing of four shell-shocked people who dared not to break the silence with words that would cement what they had just witnessed.
Suddenly, the silence was decimated by the high-pitched screech of a creature unlike any they had ever heard before. Paul fainted beside a now-lucid Lauren. Max and Peter stepped back against the trees and watched dumbfounded as Jessica’s body was hoisted into the air by the tentacles that held fast and, out of the sand, came the monster they belonged to. The creature was about five feet long and about half as wide. Except for the red tentacles that grew from its back, the creature was translucent. What could be called its face was a gaping hole with two murky-gray eyes on either side. It slithered on the sand like a snake and made its way to the water’s edge and dipped Jessica’s body in and raised it back out. The mixture of venom and salt water produced even more pus that now oozed from every pore of her body and ran down the tentacles and was dripping onto the sand. And that’s when the creature extended a tongue almost the length of its body and proceeded to wrap Jessica in it and loudly slurp her deformed body clean of the thick pus that ran from it; the creature’s translucent body took on the sickly yellow of the meal it was having. When it had had its fill, it tossed the mangled remains of Jessica to the sand. The body landed with a wet thud. Max fell to the ground and tried to empty his already-empty stomach as he retched again and again. The creature whipped its head around, and screeched at the others and charged over to where they were frozen in shock. But, upon touching the grass, the creature yelped in pain and slithered back and forth at the edge of the island jungle, looking for a way to get to them, then gave up and sank grudgingly back beneath the sand.
“It killed her! She’s dead and it killed her! She’s dead!” a visibly distraught Lauren whisper-shouted. She sat and gnawed violently at her fingers. Her teeth chattered as she shook her head, as if to clear away what she had just seen.
Paul paced back and forth between two trees, “I’m a good person. I did nothing to deserve this! I’m a good person! Why am I here? That woman just died! In front of my eyes!”
“Everybody, calm down!” Peter bellowed. His voice rattled Lauren into a shuddering silence. “Listen, we’re up against something that we don’t know, but I’m not about to die on this island! I have a life to get back to! I don’t know about you, but I plan to survive this week so I can find who did this to me so I can wrap my hands around their cowardly necks and squeeze! So I plan to save myself, and you saying that we’re going to die is not helping, so shut up and let us think!”
Max chimed in, “It’s almost dark now, and we don’t know if the monsters we have to survive only live under the sand, so we need to find somewhere safe to stay and wait this out. We stick together, we survive.” Paul and Peter nodded in agreement as Lauren sat and rocked back and forth.
The anxious group armed themselves with sticks and stones and made their way around the perimeter of the island jungle, looking for a safe place to set up camp for the remaining six days. Max led the group, and Peter brought up the rear. Paul held on to the whimpering Lauren, whose fingers were now sore from her chewing, and had gone back to chewing on the laminated note that described their fate. After what seemed like an eternity in limbo, they came upon a tiny cave on top of a jagged rock at the edge of the jungle. Max and Peter stood at the mouth of the cave, threw several large rocks inside, and braced for what would run out to attack them, but nothing emerged. The two men, armed with sticks and rocks, gingerly entered the cave and knocked around in it. Peter whispered, “Max, seriously man, I am not about to die here, and those two out there are gonna get us killed. They’re both useless. If push comes to shove, we have to leave them behind to give ourselves a shot.”
“These people have reasons to live too. You can’t make a snap judgement like that. Look what happened today. Look what we woke up to. Of course we’re all shaken up,” Max replied, trying to meet the eyes of the man in the darkness of the cave. “We have a long way to go, and we might stand a fighting chance with more hands to fight.” With that, he exited the cave and informed the others it was safe. They all went in and settled down to a sleepless night.
The morning of the second day was met by the sunken eyes of trauma. The four slowly roused themselves from the cramped sitting position they had held in the small cave. They looked at each other as the reality of their situation took a firm hold on them. A long, deep growl sent the men scrambling for the mouth of the cave, only for Lauren to sheepishly exit after and admit, her face a scarlet red, that it was her stomach they had heard. They all doubled over in a fit of laughter. They were catching their breaths when Peter said, “Yeah, we really have to find what’s edible on this damn island. We know there are coconut trees.”
“Can we survive for six days on coconuts?” Paul wondered out loud.
“Well, we will have to if that’s all that we have. Or we would have to actually venture into the jungle to see what we can find, and I am not about go digging around in a place that has creatures that can, and want to, kill me!” Max responded.
Lauren observed, “It’s too quiet. Guys, don’t you think it’s too quiet? What kind of jungle doesn’t have at least the sound of birds or something?”
“Lauren’s right. There’s something off about this place,” said Max. “We don’t know what this place has in store for us. We have to all stay together.” He looked directly at Peter as he said this. Peter sighed, shook his head, and looked away to the jungle. The group armed themselves with their makeshift weapons and headed back in the direction of the coconut trees. In an eerie silence, they stealthily made their way to sustenance. Paul shimmied his small frame up the trunk of the tree and tossed down eight coconuts. They hammered at them with sharp stones, and greedily guzzled down the water and ate the flesh. They were barely full, but glad they had something to eat. Paul climbed another tree and everyone had another two coconuts to take back to the cave. They walked back the way they came, and that’s when they heard it- a chorus of rattling hisses that came from the trees behind them. The coconuts fell to the floor as they armed themselves with their sticks, and picked up more rocks. “Oh my god! What was that?” asked Lauren.
“Shut up!” whispered Peter.
“We have to get out of here!” Lauren screeched.
“Shut up!” Peter shouted.
Paul whispered, “Maybe we can scare them wi —”
“Paul, no!!” Max yelled. But the rock had already left his hand and headed in the direction of the hissing. The four froze. Thud. The frantic rustling of the bushes brought the hissing to a crescendo as the sources neared the inanimate group.
“Run!!” Max commanded, but the others didn’t need to be told. They sprinted toward the cave, not daring to look back at what was giving chase. And then Paul tripped and fell. Max stopped and screamed, “Paul!!” Then he saw them. There were three of them. What exactly they were was just as much a mystery as the sand creature. They had snouts like alligators, and showed their piranha fangs as they came charging through the bushes. Saliva as thick as mucous hung from their mouths, trailing from their hissing, forked tongues. Their backs were covered in huge brown scales that were raised from their backs and vibrating, making the rattling sound. Paul looked back and scrambled to get to his feet. By this time, Max had reached Paul’s side and helped him up, but not before the first of the creatures sank its jagged teeth into Paul’s leg, and yanked him out of Max’s hands. Max, startled, staggered backward. Paul fell to the floor and anguish was plastered on his face. The other two creatures caught up and were about to charge at Max when he took off. They turned instead to the incapacitated Paul. His cries echoed across the island as the creature who had his leg thrashed its head back and forth until Paul’s leg was ripped clean from the joint. Blood spurted out of the wound and splattered the face of the creature. He dropped the leg and whipped his tongue across his face and swallowed. He then went to devouring the severed leg. The other two creatures paced around the man desperately trying to crawl away. They licked their fangs with delight at the fear in his eyes, watched him raise himself to see that his leg was now a bloody stump. “Please, let me go,” Paul pleaded desperately. “Help!!” he screamed, hoping that somebody would have returned for the person who just risked his life to feed them. “Heee—”. The second creature locked its jaws over Paul’s head and squeezed. His skull cracked under the pressure, and the creature snapped its jaw shut and, with a splatter of brain matter, the remnants of Paul’s final thoughts dripping down its mouth. And, with that, the third feasted on coconut flavored intestines.
Back at the cave, the three remaining people were left to, again, make come to terms with their seemingly inevitable, gruesome deaths. They were unable to calm their nerves. “It’s just the second day and we’ve already lost two people! How can we survive until the end of the week?” a frazzled Max moaned.
“We don’t,” whimpered Lauren, who was again chewing the now frayed edges of the laminated note; the piece of paper inside could almost be slid out. “We die here. No, we don’t die. We get eaten here!”
“We don’t get eaten if we don’t go where they are,” Max said. “We have five more days. We must be able to survive without going back near the jungle. There’s some sort of moss growing on the rock. Maybe we can eat that. We stay as far away as possible from the jungle. And, if this cave gets attacked, we run! Together!”
“Fine. That sounds like a plan. We stay in the cave and wait out the days,” Peter agreed.
Things went as planned until, on day four, they were driven by hunger to venture a bit away from the cave. This time, they went in the direction away from the coconuts, cautiously looking for anything edible. They had finally found some sort of root that they devoured, and gathered to take back to the cave. Their spirits were lifted, and they could see the end of their captivity. They were walking back to the cave when Lauren screamed and fell to the ground. Her face was contorted in pain. “What is it?!” a frightened Max asked her. But she could not speak. She only pointed to a spike protruding from the sole of her right foot, which was turning a bluish purple and spreading up her leg. She tried to stand, but her strength failed her. As Max stooped to tend to her, he suddenly realised that the ground where they were, had a row of in tiny spikes, hidden under the fallen leaves. As he lifted her, a spike shot out of the ground and shot past Lauren’s face. More spikes raised, poised to shoot out of the ground. Lauren was paralysed. “Leave her!” Peter shouted. “I am not about to get killed out here!”
Max, instead, lifted Lauren into his adrenaline-strengthened arms, and ran for the cave behind Peter, who had taken off. Back at the cave, Max wrapped the spike in his shirt and yanked it out of Lauren’s foot. What he had thought was probably two inches was about six inches long. He pulled it out and threw it to the ground. He then quickly wrapped Lauren’s thigh in a tourniquet to stop whatever venom was travelling up her leg. She lay immobile for the rest of the night.
“I told you she was a liability!” Paul whispered to Max. “We should have left her there. What happens now if we’re attacked? We have to fend for ourselves and for her? I’m not doing it, man! I’m not.”
“I couldn’t just leave her there. She was the one person I got a chance to save. I couldn’t do anything for the others… You don’t have to fend for her. I will. I brought her back. She’s my responsibility. Just drop it,” Max replied.
“Just know, if worse comes to worse, it’s just me and you, man. Me and you.”
The next couple days saw Lauren was awake and moving. She could walk, but with the help of a stick. Max insisted she stay in the cave while he and Paul went to look for food. It was day six, and Peter and Maxwell were in high spirits because they only had to survive one more day, and would be free of that cursed place. Their high spirits lowered their vigilance, and they wandered into the jungle. A snarl brought them back to their reality as they looked up into the trees, but saw nothing. It wasn’t until the trunk of the tree began to move that they realised that they were not looking at the trunk at all, but another monster. This time, this one was camouflaged like the trunk of the tree. It trained its milky white eyes on the two men and raised itself off the trunk. It had fangs like a sabretooth tiger. And the two men saw that the creature had spanned the length of the tree from root to tip. Its bark-like skin bristled as the creature prepared to pounce. Barely able to process the magnitude of the danger of this creature, the men scrambled toward the cave. Their hearts pounded as they tried to escape what was looking very much like their possible end. The ferocious creature leaped from tree to tree behind them, almost as if playing with its intended meal. They were nearing the cave when Peter tripped and fell. Max braked and turned to help him but, as he pulled Peter up, Peter pushed Max to the floor and took off like a rocket. “I’m sorry, man! I really am, but I gotta get home!” Peter threw over his shoulder as he bolted through the trees. A terrified and livid Max tried to get up, but slipped and fell. The creature was almost on top of him so he curled up on the ground, shielded his head and said a prayer. He prayed for death before the monster got to him. Death never came, and neither did the monster as it leaped over Max and bounded after Peter. It seemed to like the chase. Max couldn’t believe the miracle he had just experienced. He was lightheaded, but struggled to regain control of his mind so he could get out of the jungle alive. He took a moment to catch his ragged breath, then scrambled to his feet and gingerly followed, ducking behind tree after tree, until the ear-shattering pitch of Peter’s cry shook him to the core. He crouched down behind a bush as the monster walked back to its tree, with Peter’s lifeless body dangling from its bloody lips. Max then sprinted out of the jungle and toward the cave.
“That coward! That rotten, stinking coward!! After everything, he tried to save himself by sacrificing me! Bastard!” Max paced about the cave as Lauren sat quietly and let him vent. “Both of us could have escaped that thing, but he chose his life over mine! You know he wanted me to leave you that day?” he asked Lauren.
“I couldn’t speak or move, but I heard everything. I never trusted him,” Lauren replied. There was a pregnant pause. “Well, as horrible as the last week has been, we made it. Tomorrow, we get to go home. I can’t say we go back to normal, because how can anything be normal after what we just experienced? I wish I could unsee everything!”
“Yeah. We just have to make it through the night, and we’re free of this nightmare! Just need to figure out how to get across the beach to the water without being attacked by the thing that killed Jessica.”
“I thought about that too. I remember that it couldn’t come into the jungle cuz it seems like it is affected by the grass and trees. I’m thinking that we could strap some of those big leaves to our feet, and those should help us.”
“That’s crazy enough to work, Lauren! I still can’t believe we live to tell what happened here! I’ll be back.” With that, Max left the cave and came back with four huge leaves for them to make shoes from. They went to sleep that final night.
The sun the next day seemed especially bright. Max woke up with his heart beating out of his chest. He stood at the mouth of the cave, and he cried. He had held himself together for all seven days, and the prospects of freedom overwhelmed him. He took a deep breath, wiped his face, and turned to tend to Lauren. She was sitting, looking pensive as she adjusted the cloth wrapped around her leg. She looked up as Max approached. “Unbelievable, huh? Look who made it. The bag of bones!” She laughed a laugh that rattled Max a little. He smiled as he bent down to secure the leaves to her feet, then to his own. He helped her up and handed her, her walking stick. That’s when they heard it- the blare of a horn. “The bastards are back for us! As happy as I am, I can’t wait to see who is behind this!” Max exclaimed. They looked towards the shore and, sure enough, there was a boat moored, and waiting for them. Max and Lauren climbed down the rock to the edge of the jungle, then cautiously stepped onto the sand. Immediately, tentacles shot up, but retreated as soon as they came into contact with the leaves. Lauren cried with joy as Max hugged her. They, Lauren leaning on Max, walked towards the boat. Just as they neared the water, Lauren needed to stop to adjust the cloth on her leg. She rummaged around in it, then threw her hand back around Max’s neck, but tried to put more of her weight on the walking stick. Max couldn’t believe his good fortune. He survived. He survived. “I survi—” Max’s words froze in his mouth as he began to fall forward, the paralyzing spike from Lauren’s foot sticking out from his neck. As he fell, dumbfounded into the sand, he looked quizzically up at Lauren.
“I’m sooo sorry, Max. But this was my chance. I’m sorry. I’m sorry it had to end this way, but it has to be me. I have to go,” Lauren pleaded. As she ran crying towards the boat, she dropped a piece of paper, the paper that was in the laminated card, the one she had chewed open. The message on the front was not the only thing written on it. The paper floated to the ground and landed in front of Max’s face. He gulped and sputtered as he read what was written on the inside of the paper. It made his blood run cold.
“As much as it would be awesome for you all to check out of our island resort,
The boat only has space for one person.”
For the second time, max felt the pangs of betrayal beat at what remained of his pounding heart. His breaths came short and quick, until he started to feel the sand shift beneath him. Once again, he found himself praying for death. This time, he was sure that his prayer would be answered, but not in the way he wanted. As he lay on the sand, he cursed at himself for having not seen past the camouflage of the most dangerous monster on the island. He was so caught up in playing hero that he forgot to be cautious. As he lay waiting for his inevitable end, he thought of the leaves tied to his feet. The leaves protected an attack from his feet, but there was nothing protecting the rest of him. Tears rolled down his face and sank into the sand, and right where his tear fell, came the tip of a blood-red tentacle.