Under the Wall

By Darci Meadows

From CHM #37 July 2023

The first thing that struck the crew about the island was the silence. It was almost a welcome aspect at first, after the thunderclaps and crashing waves of the typhoon that had deposited them there. But over the ensuing hours, as the crew of The Endeavor slowly pulled their battered and broken forms from the shattered hulk of their vessel, the eerie silence began to gnaw at them. The ship that had once been their livelihood along with all 7 of its crew had been marooned in the midst of a vast jungle, somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and yet there were no sounds. No birds cried or sang, no insects buzzed or crawled, no animal cried out from the endless greenery—there were simply the waves of the sea that seemed to echo between the trees.

It wasn’t till the silence was broken that its eeriness truly dawned on the men, as Randal Danning, their cabin boy, rushed through the undergrowth crying out for the crew to follow him quickly. There, not 20 yards from the shipwreck, was the first time they saw the wall. The silence returned as the men looked upon it, the ancient moss covered stone stretching nearly 70 feet into the sky. It extended seemingly infinitely in both directions, an impassable and impossible gash slit into the very flesh of the island. There were no sign of blocks or bricks to it, almost as if the entire wall was one single massive slab of stone laid across the landscape.

As the crew stared at the megalith, the silence enveloped them once more, the distant sound of crashing waves the only thing to muffle the whispering fear of their own thoughts. Captain Mercer spoke first, in a tone that strained for determination but came up just short. “A mystery for better minds,” he said, attempting to turn and leave only to find the remaining crew still in place. A hushed murmur had begun to spread between them, each man speaking allowed the questions of the wall as their voices blurred together into a babel. Only the Captain seemed entirely unchanged, though his fear shown through the tremble in his voice and the shake of his hand. He grabbed the first mate, Harold Fielding, by the shoulder, shaking him as if from a stupor. The man simply stared straight ahead, his neck craning upwards towards the top of the wall that lingered nearly out of sight.

As the Captain continued his impotent pleas, he failed to notice Randal, the boy who’d brought the crew to the wall, had begun to approach it, slowly at first with his arm outstretched but growing nearer and nearer. It wasn’t till the boy began screaming that the crew woke from their trance, suddenly aware of the young man with his arm shoved against the ancient stone of the impossible edifice. In a moment they rushed towards him, catching him as he collapsed. In quick succession they dragged the unconscious cabin boy back towards the ship, leaving the wall alone and silent.

By the time night fell the crew longed for the silence of the morning. Randal had recovered physically but changed; a boy had gone to the wall and something else had come back from it. His eyes were wild, and his lips seemed unable to cover his teeth anymore. In truth, he no longer had teeth, but fangs curling within his mouth. His body hair had grown course and rough, creeping over more and more of his skin, and his fingernails had become sunken and gray. He no longer spoke English, instead he raved and muttered in some guttural language no one could understand, like the cry of a dumb animal mixed with the disturbed ramblings of a madman. The crew had been forced to restrain him, eventually chaining him to a nearby tree, though he broke seaman Wilmore’s arm before the struggle was ended. As night fell and the crew lit a small campfire, the thing that used to be Randall still paced and babbled under its breath, wide eyes glinting menacingly in the dim firelight.

The First sounds of the island came only after the last light of the sun had faded and the absolute black of the open sea had enveloped them. The fire was dwindling, and the men had just established a night watch schedule when they heard the cries. A thundering sound, echoing tonal and mighty across the vast jungle foliage of the island, a sound from the other side of the wall. It sounded like thunder mixed with the roar of a train car, like the crashing of the waves and the roar of lion, like something neither man nor beast. The thing that used to be Randal howled back its own answer as the crew hunkered down  for a fitful and uneasy night.

In the morning a new horrible silence greeted them. The Randal creature had finally given in to exhaustion and was huddled in a ball under the shelter of its tree, but David Tibbs, the cook and last watchmen for the night, was gone. No sign of the man could be found anywhere in the small crater that marked their makeshift camp, nor could he be found at the hulk of The Endeavor. After an hour of searching, seaman Wilmore called out after coming upon the only hint of his final fate. It was a pair of shoes, the only pair that David Tibbs had ever owned, left lying on the ground near the edge of the camp. Above them, the canopy had been torn away; specks of blood and viscera still lingering on the jungle foliage. It was as if some force had ripped him from the Earth, with only what it could not hold left behind to mark his passing.

The day past quickly after that discovery, the men setting about repairs as best they could hope to affect them. The work was slow and fruitless, even as the sun seemed to race across the horizon. It was nearly 2 hours before any of them spoke. Seaman Wilmore and the Captain had been attempting to hammer whatever wood could be salvage from the limited cargo into the shape of the mast. The glare of the sun was strangely strong and hot even through the dense canopy. It was then Wilmore stopped and turned to the captain asking, “Have you ever heard of Tanga?” For a moment the two men simply breathed in the silence between them, the question hanging heavy in the sticky humid air.

“It’s a superstition,” replied the captain, “a myth they mutter along island chains from Madagascar to Sumatra—some kind of local god or spirit.” The captain’s words were stern, but his gaze was averted, he didn’t see Wilmore turn away and face towards the wall—you could just make out the gray of its stone through the denseness of the trees.

“Yeah…” replied the sailor. “Something monstrous and all-powerful, something alive, holding these islands in its fist.” The captain finally turned to spot the man’s gaze. “Something ancient, almost as ancient as whoever built that wall out there, something so ancient and powerful it came ages before there were any men—before there was even the idea of men or the idea of Gods, something…”

“WILMORE!” In a moment the captain snapped him out of his trance, and Wilmore realized he’d begun walking toward the wall.

There wasn’t much talk after that, even as the fruitlessness of the task became more and more clear to the men. The captain did his best to keep everyone moving, setting up a base camp at the small crater they’d found where wood could be chopped, and Randal guarded while the rest of the crew tried their best to patch the ship. The men all knew their situation was hopeless, even if they could somehow repair the catastrophic damage done to The Endeavor, they had no way to get it back to the sea. Still, they toiled on, till the sun hung low and deck hand Carl Johnson pulled the captain aside.

“What do you mean, listening?” asked the captain, rubbing his brow in frustration and exhaustion.

“Just that, Captain. They were listening to him, Bishop and Fielding both.”

“How could they be listening to Randal—the man’s a gibbering lunatic.”

“All the same sir, last time I was at the base camp…it was like they didn’t even see me? Just standing there, listening to Randal spew out that weird language like—like he was preaching.”

“Did they do anything else?”

“Not to me sir, like I said they didn’t even acknowledge me, but when I left, they’d drawn in closer to him, sitting cross-legged on the jungle floor, hanging on his every word.” The captain frowned deeply and considered the large knife he’d been using to try and shape the remaining wood.

“We should head back there, make sure they’re alright, if anything’s wrong…it’ll be just you and me, Wilmore can’t do anything with that arm. Still, that’s two against two.”

“Unless they let Randal loose.” replied Johnson gravely.

“Not much chance of that son, I’m the only one with a key to his chain.

When the three men returned to the camp site it was completely empty. No first mate, no boatswain, no thing called Randal chained to a tree, only the scattered salvaged remains they’d chosen to set-up as a makeshift haven in the crater. Randal’s chain still hung from the deep-rooted tree it’d been latched too. The only sign the crazed cabin boy had ever even been there was his severed left hand lying limp on the dirt with the chain still padlocked around its wrist. The silence came for the three remaining men yet again in that moment, oppressive and overpowering, the silence of eyes watching and teeth being bared.

Finally, they decided to retreat to the relative safety of The Endeavor. It may not have been much, but it at least had walls and doors they could cower behind. Working together, the three carried whatever supplies they felt necessary back to the hulk of the ship as quickly as possible. The captain was last to leave the abandoned camp, hurrying to avoid being alone too long in the place, but stopping long enough to mark the shape of the strange crater they’d been staying in, the shape of 5 fingers and a palm, as if some giant hand had reached down from above and pressed itself into the Earth.

As night fell across the island, the three men huddled in the presumed safety of what remained of the Endeavor. The blanket of silence returned to eat away at their courage with every passing moment. Like an oppressive blanket of empty space they could fill with all the terror in their hearts. Even as they closed their eyes and pretended to sleep, they strained their ears through the dead quiet listening for any hint of danger. It was in this state that the screams began. They were howls no longer human, barely recognizable as the missing crew, reverberating off the ancient trees and the even older stone of the wall.

They seem to drift down from some place high above and every so often would be answered by the deep wail that had come the night before. The cries burned long into the night, chanting and shouting that somehow seemed worse than the silence, till it mingled with the screams of the men themselves. No one saw what happened, their eyes tightly clenched attempting to shut out all sensory input, but when they opened them seaman Wilmore lay dead on the floor of the endeavor, a great dark shape skittering away into the blackness of the wild. The Captain and Johnson resolved not to sleep again after that, to sit awake, back-to-back, till the night passed and they might make for the shore, even as the howling men taunted them, and their eyelids felt heavier.

When Captain Mercer awoke, he was bound. His arms and legs were held tightly in place, jungle vines pressed so deeply into his skin they cut off the circulation to his hands. He could feel a hard, flat, wooden board against his back like a stretcher. Barely able to turn his head he could make out the hunched skulking figures of his former crew,their clothes tattered, faces slathered in red liquid, hands and arms stretched and extended in unnatural ways as their open mouths showed sharp teeth. They muttered and grunted in an unrecognizable tongue, looking back and forth till one of them dragged the makeshift stretcher that held the captain out of the hull.

From his vantage point on the jungle floor, he could still see the shape of figures within the ship, the remaining creatures standing over Johnson who appeared unmoving. In an instant the two figures set upon the sleeping man wildly, their fists crashing down on his head and chest again and again, blood splattering across their bodies and the walls of the broken ship. Even from outside the captain could make out the gurgled screams of fear and terror before they slowly gave way to a dying wail of pain as the man’s throat and mouth were mashed into bloody pulp against the deck boards.

Their gristly work completed; the things that used to be the crew of the Endeavor reconvened. Together they hoisted the captain’s stretcher and began to drag him away from the wreck, toward the wall. As they went and the captain struggled hopelessly against the bonds of his stretcher, he could see the green foliage of the jungle creeping across the ship. In an instant, vines grasped the wheelhouse, crushing the wood and steel of the structure to pieces. Roots jutted out of the ground to ensnare the body of the ship, splintering it as they went. It was as if the jungle itself had formed a fist around the Endeavor and in one smooth motion destroyed it.

By the time they reached the wall the captain had given up struggling against his bonds. He could barely feel his fingers anymore and even if he could escape, he had nowhere to hide from the trio who’d just savagely beaten his last alley to death. In a quick, jarring motion he found himself once more on the ground, staring upwards as the figures began to climb the wall. Each man was quick and agile, even Danning with his single hand, seemed to be able to scale the sheer rock face of the edifice with alarming speed. As they reached the top, Captain Mercer could feel a rope affixed to the top of his stretcher begin to tighten dragging him up after them. For a moment the entire jungle seemed to rush past as he was pulled higher and higher before he was suddenly above the tree line and staring out at the ocean beyond. Finally, he was perched atop the wall, his stretcher fit easily into a set of grooves built into the ancient stone structure.

He could see the wall ran from one side of the island to the other, and beyond it was sheer cliff face and mountain. On the other side of the wall stretched out untold miles of dense jungle, imposing mountains, and God only knew what else. Together, the three creatures began to howl once more, their deep throaty call echoing across the vast island. It was as if a frenzy took them, howling and pounding each other’s chests, stamping along the wall, till a single word emerged from their revelry, a phrase uttered over and over again amid the indecipherable language they now all spoke: Tanga.

They screamed the name from somewhere deep in the pit of their stomach, blood spitting from their mouths their throats had been screamed so raw. They shouted and chanted till finally, the reply came in the form of the deep rumbling howl, this time far closer than it had ever been before. The figures rejoiced at the sound, a mawkish dancing atop the wall and the low animalist approximation of laughter as the roar came again, nearer still.

Finally, content their task had been completed, the three turned back towards the captain, their mouths peeled back in menacing, mirthless smiles. And then they were gone, flinging themselves one-by-one over the wall towards the sound, their bodies splattering on the rocky ground below. The silence returned to the island once more, like a thick blanket smothering everything it covered. The captain, still strapped to his makeshift stretcher and affixed to the top of the wall, went blank for a moment, the panic of his situation washing over him. Suddenly, he remembered the knife he’d kept tucked into the back of his belt.

Slowly but desperately, he began to try and work his arms around towards its handle. He was almost there when the roar came again, and the trees began to split. It was just as his fingertips touched the hilt of the knife that the shape emerged. A huge dark figure, bursting forth from the jungle tree line, a silhouette in the blazing sun but unmistakably the shape of massive shoulders and head, bigger even than the wall itself. And set in its face, the same wild eyes as the transformed crew. They burned with terrible hatred and sinister intelligence, glinting in the light, as the figure drew closer, and the knife slipped from the captain’s grasp.

End.

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Darci Meadows is a trans horror author looking to do great things in the genre. After years in a strictly reviewer capacity she’s made the jump to successful jump to professional short fiction. She’s been published previously in Decoded Pride Issue #3 and will be featured in the upcoming eco-sci-fi anthology book To Root Somewhere Beautiful

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