Day 30. We had nearly given in to the numb terror of our surroundings, and surely would have perished in that hellish womb. But the faceless ghouls who had once been our countrymen had forgotten one thing: when an Englishman looks at death, he prefers to face it on his feet. And my Webley Mk 4 still had four bullets in its cylinder.
The smoke and roar of my first shot shook the other men from their stupor. One of the Lost Patrol spasmed and fell as I lined up my second shot. The others quickly drew their own sidearms, and I cannot be sure which of us killed the second and third of these grotesque marionettes.
But some greater mind detected our violence, and a sound like a teakettle’s whistle suddenly stabbed at our eardrums. In the next instant the pulsating walls leaned inward. Ruddy globules reached out to touch the men at the perimeter of our group, and to absorb them.
Through a bubble’s translucence I saw the screaming face of Nawang become a skull and then a cinder. I wasted my final bullet on the oozing wall itself. And then I prepared to meet my Lord.
I do not know who triggered the mechanism; perhaps it was Cadogan as he thrashed about while his legs dissolved. But the platform on which we stood clattered to life and began to climb back up the shaft. Red pseudopods reached for me as the lift ascended. I felt relief when I saw them retreat, then gripping despair as I realized that I was the only survivor.
I reached the surface and found cover in a copse of trees. I have no rations and no bullets, and the wild beasts of the island will surely be on the prowl. But I do have our communications gear, and the skies are clear. If I can relay my coordinates and hold out long enough, I will be here to meet the rescuers after they arrive to investigate the signal’s source.
Latitude 40.446, Longitude -178.242. First transmission.
Day 29. They have come out of the light, these shuffling figures of shadow. They do not speak but I recognize their gait. Murrish, Damerell, Lynds, Dacosta, and the Captain. The Lost Patrol.
There is no solid ground between us and them, so we cannot approach. They gesticulate wildly, but slowly, as if submerged and drowning. They moan. Some of their limbs are missing, with a pointed stump suggesting something new is growing in its place.
At first I thought they were victims. Now I believe they are to be our tormentors. Whatever has transformed them has made them into beasts, not Englishmen.
Day 28. The lift ground to a halt and we stood surrounded by heat and light. Whether it is magma or blood, this is the pulsating, organic heart powering everything we have seen on our journey. Does it view us as pilgrims to a holy land, or as infections to be cleansed?
Day 27. Last night while the others slept, Thackeray and I stood guard. We bore witness as the huge circles among which we had made camp began to rumble and turn, shaking loose the dirt above them and revealing the polished silver gears beneath.
Everyone sprang awake, but there was nowhere to run. The grinding teeth of the gears threatened to chew apart anyone who crossed the clockwork landscape. We remained where we were, in the center of the largest gear, as it slowly began to descend.
Hours have passed, and still we sink. Machinery lines the walls of the shaft, but the bottom — if there is one — is shrouded in blackness.
Lost Patrol Day 26. I am now sure that we were watched during our trek across the plateau, for when we awoke this morning we were greeted with the sharp smell of smoke. A ring of grey haze surrounded us on all sides, less than a mile distant at the closest radius. Hiking to the edge confirmed the presence of a flame and ash barricade that is utterly impassable.
The fire has not moved inland and will not consume us, yet unless it burns out we have nowhere to go. We have retreated to the center, the farthest possible point from any of the smoke plumes, where the circular Nazca Lines intersect in tight clusters.
Day 25. At this higher elevation our equipment is again picking up outside signals. No transmissions so far from the party members we abandoned at the lake, but the Lost Patrol’s beacon is strong.
We have followed it through this desert plateau only to encounter colossal geometric shapes inscribed into the dirt, similar to the Nazca Lines of Southern Peru. But these rings play havoc with our gear the closer we approach, as if they themselves are giving off electromagnetic signals. And if they are, then who or what could they be signalling?
Day 24. The desert has become a pebbly field of volcanic rock. This region is also home to brightly-colored serpents measuring between ten and twenty-five feet in length.
Is this species venomous? I no longer care. I ordered our best marksmen to riddle this one with bullets so we could continue our march.
Day 23. We scaled the wall only to find ourselves at the heart of a rocky desert. Given the higher elevation we spent the evening listening for radio signals. No sign from the other members of our party, but a crackle of static and a squelch of garbled speech convinced me that the Lost Patrol is still transmitting.
Heading northeast, we set out across the desert. The sun-bleached skeletons of these enormous beasts have been picked clean. I pray this is not a bad omen.
Day 22. The dark tunnel emptied out into some kind of alcove or paddock, filled with wet sand and hemmed in on all sides by a towering wall.
Our only choice is to scale the wall or to head back the way we came, which is no choice at all. We are lucky that Nawang is still with us. He will free-climb the structure, then fix the ropes that will allow us to follow.
Day 21. At last we spot daylight.
We survived the mad rush through the spider’s den, even though the webbing clung to us like glue. Strips of skin tore away from my face and forearms as I barreled forward, and several of the others cut themselves loose from the strands with machetes. I did not see the beast, but I heard it: it was the sound of skittering feet and a giant pair of shears opening and closing. When we finally stopped running a head count assured me that we had lost no one.
Our surroundings have become increasingly artificial, marked by stone floorboards and metal ductwork. Now, for the first time in nearly a week, we will see the sun.