As the canoes landed there soon came the distinct grunt-cough of a generator being pull started. Once the generator steadily chugged a string of bare bulbs laid along the ground sputtered to life illuminating a path cut into the foliage. Off in the depths drums began beating. The painted scouts hustled us off the boats, and into the darkness.
We saw little save for silhouettes at the edge of the light. Caliban's followers seemed to be avoiding the brighter electric glow which itself appeared to avoid them as well. Still, it was plain to see we were surrounded on all sides by dozens, possibly even a hundred sinewy figures all painted to look as demonic as possible.
The string of bulbs lit the way to several small dwellings. Each appeared to be an amalgamation of whatever outdoor equipment Caliban's people managed to scavenge. For instance, a hut made of tent poles and mangrove leaves as well as two different tents sewn together into a larger one. The impression wasn't so much one of squalor, but of a tribe steadily reverting to some atavistic state that didn't involve even the semblance of human innovation. Whatever pragmatic purpose the survival equipment may have served, it didn't serve their ultimate end. They were on their way to the most animalistic level of primitive -- raw savages.
In the middle of the camp a roaring bonfire spat sparks at the stars. Around it a circle of fiends danced, wilding themselves into a frothy madness. They screamed and howled like hellish animals. The drums beat on, whipping the dancers into ever greater states of lunacy. Instruments made of bone, skin, and tendons, joined the drums, turning the cacophony into a wicked melody that made me want to piss myself to escape the chill creeping through my blood.
The scouts forced Joyce and I onto our knees before the fire.
I whispered to her, "How you doing?"
Joyce said, "Doesn't matter."
She gestured with a nod of her head. I looked up.
Through the flames I saw a man sitting on a pile of corpses. Two attendants wearing skins which looked freshly flayed -- still dripping -- busied themselves screwing a set of antlers onto two small nubs embedded in his skull. His eyes shone like obsidian. No one needed to say his name. I felt his presence like grease between their fingers, smoke in the lungs, and bleach in the eyes.
Horns in place Caliban rose from his seat. His attendants wrapped him in a loose robe. He pulled a hood up. Slits cut in the hood allowed him to bring the covering passed the antlers, far enough for his face to disappear.
He came around the fire. Stopping beside Joyce he placed a hand on her head. She shuddered at his touch. Even when he took his hand away she continued to shiver. Caliban then brushed his fingertips across my face. My stomach lurched to escape my body only to be knocked back when it collided with my heart as it tried to bolt out in the opposite direction. My whole body stopped accepting signals from my brain; and for a brief moment I thought I might just die right there -- one brief shining moment.
Caliban bent over to kiss the top of the head before whispering in my ear, "I look forward to you."
His voice crawled into my ear like a worm.
The attendants went to work tying Joyce and I to a set of wooden stakes. It was impossible not to watch what happened next, though witnessing it will haunt me the rest of my life. Caliban and his followers continued wildly dancing in the firelight. All the while the band played the same hideous tune, a sparse cluster of simple notes that the more I heard them the more certain I became they distorted reality at some quantum level. Caliban and his people went into a frenzy that had them tearing at their own skin. At which point the attendants brought out a few pigs which the mad denizens in that heart of darkness soon ripped to pieces with their bare hands.
Sufficiently aroused, streaked in blood, Caliban turned. I felt his eyes like a slimy tongue tracing the lines of my body. I summoned every fiber of my being, and tried willing him to die. No luck.
This is it, I thought, this is how it ends for me. Not quite what I expected, but how many people ever really predict their death? The few who do are probably just playing out some self-fulfilling prophecy anyway.
I glanced at Joyce. Her face morphed into the perfect passion mask for hate. Whatever happened, she wasn't going to go quietly. Sadly, I figured these freaks preferred as much. Still, I did my best to adopt her attitude.
I said, "It's been a pleasure Joyce."
She replied, "Let's hope we go quick."
Caliban stepped towards me. At once his followers and the band fell silent. After several minutes of their maniacal clamoring the resulting silence felt worse than their mad howls. The quiet offered no distraction. The only thing to do now was watch Caliban's slow procession, close my eyes, and endure the nightmare until death washed over me.
But then I heard something. At first it sounded like the generator chugging on more loudly. However it soon became clear there were two distinct motors running, and one was getting louder... closer.
From out of the jungle burst a motorcycle with a sidecar. Nigel sat astride the cycle, an AK-47 in one hand. He brought the bike to a screeching halt, spraying Caliban's followers as he slid along. The crowd scattered, even Caliban ducked for cover, none of them demented enough to take on bullets.
Without a pause Nigel leapt from the bike. He used a bowie knife to slash through Joyce and my restraints. Laying down a suppressing fire he shouted for us to get on the bike. Joyce climbed onto the cycle and revved the engine. The second I flopped into the sidecar she took off, aiming for Nigel. As we roared by the anthro deftly jumped onto the back of the bike.
The three of us tore off into the night chased by a furious scream of disappointment from the devil himself. It was only then I realized the whole time there had been the faintest humming the whole while. Camera drones had been in the sky the entire time, an audience waiting to see our gruesome death.
Part 11: Out of the Darkness Into the Light