John remained perfectly still. What was it that had made his senses react so violently? He strained his ears, listening.
There was the buzz and hum of small insects and the distant lap of the waves on the beach, muted by the almost impenetrable trees surrounding him.
Not a sound then. But what? Some scent or sight? Yes, that was it. He’d seen something.
The beam of the torch was still streaming out into the darkness, held dead steady in the vice-like grip of his left hand. Without turning his head, his eyes scanned the jungle around the shaft of light. Nothing but vines, leaves and trees with trunks wider than John himself.
Then he saw it and the hairs at the base of his neck stood up like a company of soldiers on parade.
It was huge, perhaps 12 feet tall, standing out of the direct light of the torch beam and partly obscured by a tree trunk about 10 yards away. A dark, shaggy shape, like that of a man. But that was where the similarities to a human being ended. The creature had long dark tangled hair all over its body. The powerfully-built chest looked as tough as the hide of a rhinoceros. Its hands were massive, with fingers like machine tools. Then there was the beast’s terrible head.
Two glaring yellow eyes were set deep in a sickly grey skull. The pointed snout ended in a pair of slits that seemed to be twitching curiously. Below these were a viscous set of fangs that glowed faintly in the dim jungle light. It was, John thought, one of the most horrific sights he had ever seen.
Suddenly, the unsightly head jerked and stared directly at John. It had been quite a while since the young Tracy had felt real fear in the pit of his stomach and his training went into overdrive trying to get the impulse under control. He knew that panicking or showing alarm could be fatal. The thought flashed through his mind that whatever the creature was, it could well have been responsible for Henderson’s disappearance.
As slowly as he dared, he let his right hand drop to the lilac holster at his hip. The blue barrel containing smoke pellets was already loaded in the machine pistol. His slender fingers curled around the grip of of the weapon.
Then the creature charged.
Its speed was incredible. John barely had time to dive out of the way before the creature would have trampled him as if he’d been a fallen branch. The beast smashed into the trunk of a nearby tree with a thud that echoed around the jungle. John flung up his pistol and fired a quick burst of pellets around the creature.
Dense plumes of smoke billowed up around it and it roared in frustration, swiping the air ineffectually with its huge hands that John saw were tipped with razor-sharp claws.
He backed up, keeping his eyes on the beast. He felt a cluster of vines against his back and spun around. They disappeared into the trees above and looked like they would take his weight.
The smoke was starting to clear. With one last look at the creature, John holstered his gun then leapt into the air. He grabbed a handful of vines and began hauling himself up them.
The creature roared in fury and charged at John, its claws outstretched. At the last second, John threw his legs up like an acrobat as the razor-like claws sliced through the thick vines with no more difficulty than if they had been made of cotton.
John kept climbing and finally thrust himself up onto the branch at the top. He looked down at the creature. It was walking back and forth at the base of the tree about 30 feet below, staring up at him with its teeth bared.
John drew his pistol and switched out the blue barrel for the yellow one filled with knockout darts. He had no idea if the tiny missiles, designed for use against enemy agents, would have any hope of piercing the creature’s thick skin, but he wasn’t prepared to use lethal force yet.
The creature seemed to make up its mind. It approached the tree and, digging its obscene claws into the thick trunk, began to climb up after John…
TO BE CONTINUED