EDGE OF DARKNESS by Pauline
With thanks to Liz & Diane.
Admiral Nelson, head of the research institute that bore his name, pushed his way through the thick vegetation overgrowing the trail. They were being led by a native from the local tribe that inhabited the region. This was a long way from the institute back in Santa Barbara. They were here to search for Dr. Justin Owterz, who had disappeared while on an expedition here to look for a plant that was supposed to have medicinal properties. The local tribe’s people used it as an aphrodisiac, but Owterz believed it had other, more orthodox uses.
The humid, steamy atmosphere sapped their strength, and Nelson wiped an arm across his forehead. They had been on the trail for most of the day, and he was about ready to stop and set up camp for the night. “How much further?”
Their guide stopped and turned to Nelson. “Not much further, we are almost there.”
Nelson nodded, and then glanced over his shoulder to his companions, Lee Crane and Seaman Kowalski and Patterson. “All right, Lee?”
Crane nodded. “We’re fine, Admiral.”
Nelson turned his attention back to their guide as he started to move off. They trudged on deeper into the jungle. Above them in the canopy, the calls of Toucans and Macaw mixed with the cries of the Spider Monkeys. The whole jungle was alive with life. Nelson hoped that they did not encounter some of the more dangerous species that lived here, such as the Poison Dart Frog. It’s poison caused paralysis and could kill a man and the tribes’ people used it on their arrows when hunting.
Thirty minutes later they arrived at the doctor’s campsite. The camp appeared to be deserted. After a quick scout around, both tents were found to be empty. The first smaller of the two, was sleeping accommodation, the larger, divided into a Med Bay and Laboratory. There were also some huts built from wood with thatched roofs.
“Owterz, where are you?” Nelson called. The light was fading fast, and he had no wish to start a search now. “Owterz!”
“Let’s get a fire going and set a perimeter,” Crane suggested.
Nelson nodded in agreement. “Good idea.”
They started gathering material to build a fire. There were enough dead branches and debris on the jungle floor to provide enough firewood. Nelson watched Lee build the fire and get it started, while Kowalski and Patterson scouted the perimeter. The jungle never sleeps and soon the sounds of the day were replaced by the sounds of the creatures of the night, most deadly of which was the jaguar. But there was no danger to them, jaguars were solitary creatures and would not come near the camp, however, Nelson did wonder what had become of Owterz and his men. They would start a search of the area tomorrow.
After a meal of field rations and coffee brewed over the fire, they all sat around the fire in silence; relaxing after their exhausting trek through the jungle. Their guide had made his own bed in one of the small huts and he could just see the glow from the hut.
“I’ll take first watch, Admiral,” Lee offered as he added more wood to the fire.
Nelson nodded as he climbed to his feet. “I’ll take the bed in the Med tent, Kowalski and Patterson can take the other tent. Wake me in four hours.”
Lee watched as they retired to their respective tents and the lights were turned off
Leaving just the glow of the fire and the hurricane lamps that had been placed at intervals around the perimeter of the camp. Their glow swallowed by the darkness beyond the edge of the campsite. Lee sat near the fire, listening for any sound that did not belong, anything that might signal danger. The fire was more to keep away predators than for warmth. Even at night the temperature was in the 70s with the thick tree canopy holding in the heat and humidity. Beyond the camp the darkness was complete, wrapping the jungle in a deep blanket of blackness and turning it into a mysterious secret world of strange sounds and occasional flashes of iridescence as its nocturnal inhabitants hunted for food. It was a frightening and dangerous place for anyone that did not know the region; where if allowed, the imagination could run riot, conjuring up all sort of terrifying monsters. Since captaining Seaview Lee had experienced his share of nightmare ghosts and monsters. This in comparison was easy and he was trained in survival skills for several types of terrain.
Lee got to his feet and did a circle of the camp perimeter and checked the lamps. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, he returned to the fire and sat down. The occupants of the tents were quietly sleeping. He tossed more fuel onto the fire before poured himself a cup of the strong coffee. He was about to take a sip when he caught a blur of movement on the edge of his vision. He looked around, but there was nothing. Feeling distinctly uneasy, he got to his feet and backed up towards the tents listening intently to the noises of the night.
Suddenly there was a flare of pain in the back of his head and he dropped to his knees, hardly holding on to consciousness. He raised a hand to his head, his fingers finding warm wet blood. A hand around his throat forced him to his feet and he came face to face with Owterz, his eyes glowed red and his lips curled to reveal fangs. Lee struggled, desperately clawing at the icy hand around his throat, trying to break the hold that was threatening to crush his windpipe, slowly choking him. This couldn’t be happening. Vampires didn’t exist, did they?
His lungs fought to drag in air and his eyes blurred. He knew that he couldn’t hold on much longer. Giving up the struggle to break free, his hand went to the holster and he managed to free the gun. A bullet wouldn’t kill a vampire, but it might slow it down he thought. He emptied the clip into his attacker.
Owterz roared with rage and threw Lee across the camp.
Lee landed on his back in the debris carpeting the jungle floor, driving the breath from his lungs. He hurt; every muscle and bone in his body screamed in protest. He fought darkness and dizziness, gasping in air as he tried to get to his feet. He had to warn Nelson and the others. But in the blink of an eye, Owterz was bending over him, his face only inches away. Lee could smell the fetid breath as Owterz hissed, baring his fangs.
The gunshots had woken the others and Patterson and Kowalski launched themselves at Owterz, trying to drag him away, but they were tossed aside like rag dolls. More shots rang out and Lee saw Nelson standing in the tent opening, gun in hand.
While Owterz turned his attention on Nelson, Lee dragged himself over to the fire and grabbed a burning log. Stumbling forward, he shoved the burning end of the wood into Owterz back as he attacked Nelson; the smell of burning flesh almost made him nauseous.
Owterz screamed and turned, knocking him down again. Lee pushed himself up and came to his hands and knees, shaking his head. How were they going to stop a vampire? A hand grabbed his upper arm and helped him up.
“You okay, Skipper?” Kowalski asked.
“Fine...Kowalski,” Lee croaked taking a deep breath and straightened to see that Nelson was in trouble. He had abandoned his gun and had found a hatchet, but Owterz was too quick, and he easily knocked it out of Nelson’s hand as he swung at him.
Kowalski had seen the danger too and before Lee could get his feet to move, the crewman had retrieved the hatchet from where Nelson had dropped it and buried it in Owterz neck, just as he was about to sink his fangs into Nelson’s neck.
Owterz screamed with outrage and pain, reeling away from Nelson with the blade still in his neck as Kowalski ducked out of the way.
Lee looked around for a weapon; he knew that the hatchet would not stop the vampire for long. Still unsteady on his feet, he stumbled towards one of the hurricane lamps and snatched it from its hook.
Everyone was converging on the spot where Owterz was clawing at the handle of the hatchet, trying to pull the blade out. Lee heard the sickening squelch as the blade came free. Kowalski moved towards Lee as he closed on the vampire and grabbed his arm to steady him.
“We have to burn it...only way to stop it,” he told the crewman.
Kowalski nodded understanding and released his hold.
Lee swung the lamp at Owterz, the kerosene spilled and ignited, setting his clothes alight. Lee felt a hand on his arm, pulling him away from the creature that had once been Owterz and he screamed and stumbled. The flames were spreading quickly, engulfing him and he fell to the ground. Lee sagged against Kowalski’s support, the stench of blood and burning meat making him nauseas. Kowalski guided him towards the med tent.
“You’d better let me take at look at you, Sir.”
“I’m fine,” he lied. His head hurt, his throat hurt and he was so tired.
“Sit.” Kowalski ordered, gently pushing him towards the bed where he was joined by Nelson, who also looked a little worse for wear. “Sir,” he added.
“You alright Lee?” Nelson asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.
“Yes, Sir,” Lee nodded tiredly.
“There’s blood here,” Kowalski said. “I need more light.”
“Sit down, Lee,” Nelson ordered gently. “Patterson, light some more of the lamps and bring them here.”
While Patterson fetched the lamps, Nelson found the first aid kit and put it down beside Lee.
“Admiral, what just happened?” Lee asked. Had they really been attacked by a vampire?
Nelson shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Kowalski took some antiseptic wipes from the kit and dabbed the cut on Lee’s scalp. Lee bit his lip as the crewman cleaner the wound.
“It’ not too bad, I don’t think it needs stitching.”
“Thanks,” Lee croaked. His throat was dry and sore. He looked up at Nelson who stood watching. “What are you...going to...put in your report?”
Nelson shrugged. “I’m certainly not going to put that Owterz turned into a vampire and that we were forced to kill him.”
“Yeah, I guess...that would sound...pretty strange.” Lee managed a smile.
“Right now you don’t sound very good, Captain,” Nelson looked questioningly at Kowalski.
“I’m okay,” Lee insisted.
“You need to rest, Sir,” Kowalski told him as he handed him two tablets and a cup of water.
Lee eyes him suspiciously and was about to protest, but Nelson put a restraining hand on his shoulder. “Take them and get some rest, Captain. That’s an order.”
“Yes, Sir,” Lee swallowed the tablets before reluctantly stretching out on the bed and closing his eyes.
The trek back was arduous, their guide had disappeared during the attack and there had been no sign of him this morning. They were forced to find their own way through the jungle. The trees and vegetation was so thick in places that they lost the trail and had to retrace their steps to pick it up again. The hot, humid atmosphere persisted with temperatures in the high eighties, and Nelson was worried about Crane. Although Lee had insisted that he was fine, he had tripped and stumbled several time, only saved from falling by Kowalski.
Nelson wondered what had happened to the rest of the research team. Had they fell victim to Owterz? Or were they to vampires, stalking the jungle for prey. He also wondered why Owterz had attacked Lee. According to legend, vampires were supposed to possess great speed and strength; he could have killed them all. Had there been some spark of humanity left?
He mopped sweat from his face and turned to his men. “We’ll rest here for a few minutes.” Shrugging off his rucksack, he pulled out the canteen and offered it to Lee, who had sunk down against a tree.
“Thanks,” Lee accepted the canteen and took a drink, grimacing as he swallowed and tentatively massaged his throat. His neck was bruised and Nelson guessed that his throat was sore; what other injuries was Lee hiding? He frowned, pondering how Lee was going to account for his injuries with Jamieson.
Kowalski had taken the first-aid kit from his backpack and squatted down beside Lee, offering two tablets. Lee hesitated for a few seconds before accepting them without argument, and washed them down with another swig of water.
Nelson turned away, hiding a smile. He was pleased to see that, for once his Captain was being sensible. Lee usually refused to admit to any pain or injury until he was on the point of collapse. He turned back in time to see Kowalski try to look at the cut on Lee’s skull, Lee shrugged him off, telling him to leave it alone. “Do as you are told Lee, there are all sorts of bugs and things that can crawl into open wounds,” Nelson told him.
Lee sighed, “Okay Ski, get on with it.”
Nelson was feeling the effects of his own battle with Owterz, his legs had stiffened and he felt bruised and battered. It had been a long trek back. At last they were approaching the inlet, and he pulled out the radio to call Seaview. “Nelson calling Seaview, come in Seaview, over.”
“Receiving you, go ahead, Admiral,” Sparks’ voice came over the radio.
“We’re at the landing site, have SF.1 come and pick us up.”
“Right away, Admiral. Seaview out.”
Nelson hadn’t bothered to report Lee’s injuries; it could wait until they were back aboard. Once Lee was in Jamieson’s clutches, he would have all the care and attention he needed. For himself, he was looking forward to a hot shower and some proper food. They would have to send in a cleanup crew to dismantle the camp and ship everything back to Santa Barbara. Maybe they could work with the native tribes’ people to harvest the plant and continue the research at the institute.
He was never more pleased to see the Flying Sub as she skimmed the water and came to rest stern first against the small wooden jetty. Nelson entered via the rear hatch, which was just above the water line.
Chief Sharkey swung round in the pilot seat and grinned. “Admiral, Sir – are you a sight for sore eyes.”
“Thank you, Chief,” Nelson moved to the co-pilot seat and prepared to strap in while the rest of the team boarded. “Lee, take the bunk,” he ordered.
“I’m okay, Admiral,” Lee replied suddenly reverting back to his usual stubborn self in front of the Chief.
Nelson shook his head, he wouldn’t argue with Lee in front of the men. Instead he turned his attention to the controls. “All right, Chief, let’s get back to Seaview.”
“Aye, Sir.” Sharkey acknowledged cheerfully as he too returned his seat to the forward position.
Showered and in clean uniforms, Kowalski and Patterson sat in the crews mess enjoying a late dinner. They hadn’t spoken to anyone about what had happened; no-one would believe them anyway. Hell, until yesterday, they thought that vampires were a myth, dating back to the 15th century and Vlad the Impaler.
“I can’t believe it, Ski, a real vampire. I mean, they’re not supposed to exist,” Patterson complained.
“Yeah,” Kowalski agreed, he was having a hard time coming to terms with the realisation that such things existed, and the implications.
“Do you think there are any more of them out there?” Patterson glanced around nervously.
Unable to admit to his own fears, Kowalski shrugged. “Who knows?”
“As soon as we get home, I’m going to get myself a crucifix.”
Kowalski nodded in agreement. The world had suddenly become a more frightening place and he would never feel completely safe in the dark again.
“Are you guys coming to the party tonight?” One of the galley hands asked.
“Party?” Kowalski asked, not sure what the man was talking about.
“Yeah, Halloween remember? Cookies making pumpkin pie and witches fingers, and some of the guys are going to put up decorations.”
Kowalski and Patterson exchanged glances. Ski shivered, suddenly glad that they were in a submarine below the ocean, where he hoped they would be safe from vampires and spirits. “Err, I think I’ll give it a miss, I’m kinda tired.”
“Yeah, me too,” Patterson nodded agreement.
Lee closed his personal log and rubbed his gritty eyes; it was 0100 hours. He’d been unable to sleep because of the burning pain in his throat from the attack in which he had been nearly strangled. The pain killers Jamie had given him did little to relieve the discomfort, and doing paperwork helped to take his mind off it. He reached for the glass of water on the desk and took a sip, grimacing as he swallowed; even water was difficult to swallow.
Putting his log into the desk drawer, he got to his feet, if he didn’t get some sleep soon he would be fit for nothing. For a brief moment he considered going to sick bay for some sleeping pills, but decided against it; if doc found out that he’d been awake at this time of night, he’d be in trouble and he had no desire to spend the night in Sickbay doped to the gills.
Moving to his bunk, he stretched out and rested back against the stack of pillows he’d been using since Jamieson had allowed him to return to his cabin. Closing his eyes, he tried to relax, but it was difficult to ignore the pain; try as he might. At least his head injury had not required stitches, for which he was thankful. It felt like it had all been a bad dream, but his injuries told him that it had been real.
He would have to do something he decided. Remembering that when he’d been ill as a child, his mother had given him ice cream, he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bunk. Slipping his feet into his slippers, he headed for the door.
The crew were used to seeing their Captain roaming the boat at all hours, but he did not encounter anyone on his way to the ward room. At least at this time he should be safe from discovery by Chip or Nelson. His luck held and there was no-one in the wardroom when he arrived, and he dropped into one of the seats.
A steward emerged from the galley and approached him. “Captain Crane, Sir – can I get you something?”
“Have you got any ice cream?” Lee asked, feeling a little self conscious.
“Yes, Sir – what flavour would you like?”
Lee shook his head. “It doesn’t matter, anything will do.”
“Sure thing, Captain,” smiling, the steward turned away and headed back to the galley.
Lee grinned, when a few minutes later the steward returned with a large bowl of chocolate and vanilla ice cream and put it down in front of him. Cookie probably made sure that they kept a supply for Chocolate Chip Morton. “Thanks.”
Lee ate slowly, feeling the ice cream cool and sooth his throat; it was such a relief to have some respite from the discomfort he’d been suffering for hours; he wished that he had thought of it earlier. He planted one elbow on the table and rested his head on his hand and yawned. He was so tired, the lack of sleep was catching up with him; he could close his eyes and go to sleep right there. His cabin suddenly felt like it was a million miles away. He looked at his watch; he had to be in the control room in six hours. He’d finish the ice cream and then crash in his cabin for a few hours before he returned to duty.
Hearing someone enter the wardroom, Lee opened his eyes and levered himself upright. Seeing that it was Nelson, Lee took a deep, relaxing breath, he was a little jumpy. “Admiral,” he smiled.
“Lee, what are you doing here at this time of night?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” Lee admitted.
“Mind if I join you?”
“Please,” Lee indicated the seat opposite.
As Nelson came closer and sat down, Lee noticed that Nelson’s usual alert blue eyes were glowing red and when he smiled he revealed fangs. “Admiral, what...?” Lee pushed to his feet.
“What’s wrong Lee?” Nelson tormented, watching him with cold red eyes.
Lee tried to slide out from behind the table, horrified and saddened that his friend had been infected by the same thing that had turned Owterz into a vampire. Nelson snarled and grabbed Lee’s robe, dragging him across the table towards him.
“No, stay away from me,” Lee knew that there was nothing he could do against the superior strength, but his life was not the only thing in danger, he knew that the only way to stop the creature that Nelson had become was to kill him. A part of him was glad that it would not be him who would have to give that order. Strangely there was no pain as Nelson sank his fangs into his throat...
Lee awoke abruptly and he bit back a cry of panic. He pushed away from the table and tried to stand before he was fully awake. His legs wouldn’t work and he fell to the floor.
“Lee, what’s going on?”
Lee looked up into the worried faces of Will Jamieson, Chip Morton and Nelson. He took a deep breath, starting to regain his senses. “Jamie...what...?”
Jamieson smiled and knelt down beside him. “That must have been some dream. You scared the hell out of Jackson.”
Lee put out a hand to steady himself and felt a sharp pain as he came in contact with the broken dish that he had knocked to the floor.
“Did you hurt yourself?” Jamieson asked, reaching out and taking hold of Lee’s wrist to inspect his hand.
“Lee, are you okay?” Chip was looking at him with concern.
Lee looked from Jamieson to Chip, still feeling stunned and a little disorientated. “Yeah...I’m fine.”
“What happened?” Nelson asked as he stepped closer.
“I...must have fallen asleep,” he answered. “It felt so real.”
“Come on, let’s get you to sickbay,” Jamieson took his arm to help him up.
“I don’t need to go to sickbay,” Lee shrugged the doctor off. “I’ll go back to my cabin,” he insisted, climbing unsteadily to his feet.
“I need to clean and dress that hand and you’ve opened that head wound,” Jamieson informed him with determined look. “Besides which, you look a little shaken up.” Jamieson took his arm and Chip moved to his other side.
Lee glared at him, but Chip’s expression told him that there was no point in arguing.
Nelson paused outside the Captain’s cabin door and listened for any sound from inside. If Lee was asleep, he didn’t want to wake him. Lee had refused to stay in Sickbay and Jamieson had finally relented and let him return to his cabin, if somewhat reluctantly. That had been six hours ago and the doctor had finally made his way to his own cabin, leaving his corpsman in charge.
Unable to detect any sign of life from inside, Nelson carefully opened the cabin door and peaked inside; Lee was lying in his bunk. “Lee, are you awake?” Nelson asked softly.
“Yeah, come on in Admiral.”
Nelson entered and closed the door before walking over to the bunk. “How are you feeling?”
“Embarrassed,” Lee replied with a grimace.
Nelson pulled the chair out from Lee’s desk and turned it around to face the bunk and then sat down. “Want to tell me what happened?”
Lee sighed, looking at his injured hand. “I must have fallen asleep. I was having this horrible dream,” he shook his head. “It felt so real.”
“What was it about?” Nelson encouraged. If something was playing on Lee’s mind enough for him to have nightmares, then he needed to talk about it.
“Vampires,” Lee answered quietly.
“Not surprising after what happened in the jungle, combined with the medication and lack of sleep.”
Lee sat up and adjusted the pillows. “What did happen in that jungle? Was that really a vampire, or some experiment gone wrong?”
Nelson shrugged. “I don’t know for sure. It’s a pity we don’t have a body for Jamieson to autopsy, but I do have the hatchet, I might be able to get a blood sample and run a DNA test.”
“I thought vampire blood was supposed to evaporate or something in sunlight.”
“Well why don’t you join me in the lab and we’ll find out,” Nelson smiled. Lee maybe on the sick list, but he couldn’t see him being happy with resting in his cabin for long. At least this way he could keep an eye on the young man and make sure that he ate.
Lee’s expression brightened. “I’d like that, thank you, Admiral.”
“Make sure you stop by the wardroom for breakfast first, I don’t want Doc on my case for distracting you,” Nelson warned good naturedly.
“Aye, Sir,” Lee laughed.
Nelson stood and returned the chair to the desk. It was good to see Lee smile. Maybe together they could find some answers and lay the ghost of Owterz and the memory of what had happened. This was one Halloween story that had been all too real.