1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Contest Winner! Congrats to @gingercoffee for stone games contest #175

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Jul 21, 2015.

    Whoops, forgot to post this.

    Short Story Contest # 175
    Theme: "Stones" courtesy of @Lancie.

    Congratulations @GingerCoffee for her second medal with the science fiction story, Stone Games.

    _____________________________________________
    Stone Games [words ~2450]

    I watched the heavy stone bounce across the sand, a good throw. Dozens of sand crabs popped out of their holes and raced toward the rock. The winner put its huge claw on the prize, instantly freezing all movement on the beach.

    I threw another and watched the ritual replay. Sand crab society rules were fixed, you get there first, it’s yours, none other challenges the first to arrive.

    Or, were they reading the victor’s cues, it wasn’t food? I didn’t have a piece of food to throw. And what would the beasts do if the ‘food’ fought back, got away? Would that start a new race?

    “What’s the verdict, Doc? Swim for it or run the gauntlet?” Winston’s palms glistened with nervous sweat. “If we wait any longer, the tide is going to decide for us.”

    Six survivors, safe for the moment, paced about on a solid rocky outcrop. Behind us stood a towering cliff face, vertical and smooth, with barely a crack or ledge one might use to climb up and away from this forsaken place. The other end of the small half-moon beach taunted us with the safety of rocks and no daunting cliff barring our escape.

    A wave reached the edge of the rocks. The spray on our faces reminded us our shelter was temporary.

    “What if we acted like one of them?” Spencer said. “You throw a stone, we all run after it then freeze in place like the other losers. Throw another, we go again, getting closer to the rocks on the other side of the bight.”

    “We don’t know if they go on the rocks after their prey,” Tibideau pointed out.

    “They haven’t come near these rocks,” Spencer snapped back.

    “You want to test your idea?” I asked her, dubious.

    “Sure. I’ll go. All this planning’s not getting us anywhere. That last wave said we’re out of time. If it fails I’ll cut the thing’s claw off.” She unsheathed her knife and felt the edge. “Or maybe the eyestalks.”

    Spencer would be the food I needed. It was her choice. I didn’t ask her to do it. Her impatience chose for her. I refused any guilt.

    “Throw one of those stones out. Let’s get this over with.”

    I threw a stone. Hundreds of eyestalks sticking out of half as many holes morphed into giant beasts running toward the stone. Then the scene froze as the winner reached its prize.

    “Throw another one.”

    I looked next to me, expecting Spencer to still be there, but it was Winston telling me to throw again. Spencer was out on the sand, a dozen meters away, frozen in her tracks, unnoticed by the giant creatures.

    Taking the cue the others started throwing stones.

    “No! Stop!” I yelled, but it was too late. Fools!

    Instead of causing a single distraction, pandemonium broke out. The crabs began clawing at anything that moved including each other. Several of them caught Spencer and fought over her, pulling in multiple directions. We heard a scream. She managed to slice off both eyestalks of one of them before she was torn into three bloody pieces.

    Crabs attacked their blinded member. The rules of ownership were broken. Dozens gorged on pieces of flesh from the two corpses. I averted my eyes from the gory feast. At least it was quick.

    I surmised from the turn of events that creating pandemonium was not a useful tactic, and if it’s food and not a stone, it might be a sand crab free for all.

    Another wave reached the rocks. A thin layer of water swirled around our feet and receded.

    “Well that didn’t work. What next, Doc?”

    “How the hell do I know?”

    “I say swim,” Winston said, offering himself up as another potential test subject.

    I was viewing them all as test subjects now, as long as they kept volunteering anyway.

    “Swim? Are you having a short-term memory problem? Did we not just lose four members of our party and escape by the skin of our teeth from that water?” Cederman asked.

    Winston answered. “Do you not see all those eyestalks? Because I see at least one in every square meter of sand out there. Do you see anything in the water now? I don’t. Choose your poison.”

    “You can’t see in the water. That doesn’t mean nothing’s there,” the arguing continued.

    I didn’t care which escape plan was tested next, as long as I wasn’t the food.

    “It’s a long swim to the other rocks,” Cederman said.

    “If I don’t make it, least I won’t be drawn and quartered.”

    Great! You test it, I thought, not cruel enough to say it out loud. Instead I said, “What can we do to help you?”

    “Wish me luck I guess.”

    Another wave reached us, leaving several inches of water hesitating on the rocks before draining away. Winston waded out with the water’s retreat till he reached swimming depth and dove in. He didn’t surface. Instead swirls of red came up on the rocks with the next wave.

    “Oh God! That’s his blood,” Cederman cried out. “We’re standing in his blood!”

    Another failure, I thought. If only it would get dark before the tide came in. The crabs might not be nocturnal hunters.

    The next wave reached some of their holes, causing the eyestalks to disappear.

    “Look, they’re hiding under the sand when the waves reach them!” Tibideau said. “We might be able to walk down the beach at the tide line to the rocks past the sand.”

    “Only one should go," I said. " Let’s see what happens before we all charge out there.”

    “I’ll go. Throw a stone after a receding wave. Let’s see first how close to the water they’ll go.”

    “Excellent idea.” I should have thought before to test their water boundary.

    I picked out a flatter stone and threw it with a side-arm fling, successfully skipping the stone across the receding wave. The ritual of sand monsters racing toward the moving stone repeated. They stopped in unison as the stone sank beneath the water.

    “Let me try a few more,” I said, “to better mark their limits.”

    Another wave swirled around our feet, reaching mid-calf and leaving an ankle deep lake behind. Close enough to amplify our fear, not close enough to do us in and get it over with. Death was playing with us.

    “Forget it, we don’t have time for your experiments.” Tibideau darted out of the cave toward the receding wave.

    The crabs started after him. This time their behavior changed. They stalked him along the waterline, retreating when a wave came toward them like a playing child would run from the water, and charging toward him as the wave withdrew. The line of beasts kept an oddly uniform distance between each other, while the bulk of those higher up the beach returned to their holes leaving peering eyestalks keen on the shoreline action.

    “He’s going to make it,” Cederman said.

    I paid careful attention and was able to determine the crabs would go only so far as the wet sand, but no further. The runner stayed deeper in the water than he needed to. Before I could yell at him, a large tentacle wrapped itself around one leg pulling him dragging and screaming into deeper water. More tentacles emerged covering all of him until the last bit disappeared beneath the surface.

    A wave of waist deep water came in this time. It receded leaving water up to our calves behind. We moved back on the rocks to the narrow step-up lip that rimmed the cliff. I leaned against the cold wall.

    “There are three options left,” I said. Try the sand again but only throw one stone at a time. Try the waterline but skirt closer to the dry sand. Or find a way to scale the cliff behind us.”

    It went without saying the water would force our hand. With the incoming tide came the sea monsters. Chose your poison couldn’t have been more literal: eaten, drowned, and/or torn to pieces. I supposed I should add, or fall from the cliff if climbing failed.

    “Time to choose I guess,” Smith said. He waded back nervously into the knee-deep water, weighing his pockets down with large round stones that lie there. “Not that I want to be torn apart, but I’ve always had nightmares about drowning. Don’t either of you throw so much as a grain of sand.”

    “Of course not,” I said, anxious to see the first option properly tested.

    He threw one of the stones. The sand crab ritual ensued. I could see him shaking, hesitant. He threw another stone as another wave rolled in. The water was black. Whatever was swimming around his legs could not be seen.

    With the third stone he took off, and froze when the first crab reached the stone. He threw another and ran again until the whole gaggle of crabs again stopped in unison. The crab nearest him towered over him. I hadn’t realized just how large they were. A body being ripped into pieces tends to take up your full attention.

    “It’s working!” Cederman said.

    I would wait until he made it before drawing that conclusion. He was only midway across the beach. The crabs were more densely populated around him there, harder to throw the stones and not have the movement noticed.

    No sooner did I think it than it happened. He threw a stone and his arm movement attracted the closest clawed beast. It ran at him.

    Serendipity, I could test another idea. If there was no pandemonium, what would the crabs do when the food fought with the winner or kept running? We already saw that chaos disrupted social order.

    The crab reached him, put its claw on him. He froze just as the losing crabs froze. Was it possible the beast would see him as inanimate, holding still like he was? Which of their senses did they use? Something in the claw gave the crab sensory feedback. I knew because seconds later the claw clamped down on his neck, severing his head.

    “Oh no.” Cederman, the last one besides me, said again, “Oh god no.”

    Other nearby beasts raced toward the body. I didn’t look, couldn’t look this time.

    Another wave raised the water level leaving knee-deep water behind on our last foot of rock refuge.

    “What choices are left?” Cederman asked.

    “The cliff, or the tide line but closer to the shore,” I said.

    “I’m less afraid of heights than drowning or being eaten. Guess I’ll try the cliff. What about you?”

    I didn’t want to tell her I would wait and see how she fared. “I don’t know. Maybe indecision will mean I die by sea creature when the tide gets high enough to let them reach me,” I lied.

    “Wish me luck.”

    “Luck,” I said and hugged her. “I do hope you make it.” What I didn’t say was, I hoped she’d make it because it would show me the way.

    “I need you to make it too,” she said. I don’t want to be alone in this godforsaken place.”

    “All you have to do is survive. There’ll be a rescue party soon enough,” It’s why I didn’t care if any of them made it but me.

    “All I need to do is get high enough to wait out the tide,” Cederman said.

    “Not sure you could hold on that long clinging to a sheer cliff.” I had thought of the option of climbing higher than the tide line, but there were no footholds, no ledges in the wall above us. The watermarks on the cliff said high tide flooded well over the top of these rocks, at least another two meters higher on the cliff wall than where we stood. I wasn’t sure Cederman could get higher than the tide line, let alone stay there for hours.

    The water reached mid-thigh before retreating. Cederman began her climb. She managed to get several meters higher but looked to be stuck.

    “Can you hold on there?” I called up.

    She didn’t answer. She didn’t flinch a single muscle.

    A wave swirled around the ledge soaking my pants to the waist. The rocks below were more than a meter deep in water now. A couple more waves and one would wash me off this narrow perch.

    A dull thud sounded to the right of me, Cederman. I made my way to her, felt her pulse. Both legs were bent where they shouldn’t have been. Her eyelids fluttered.

    “Kill me,” came a weak whisper. “I don’t want to be eaten alive.”

    I took out my knife and asked her if she was sure. She nodded. I plunged the blade into her heart. Blood poured from her mouth and her eyes rolled back in her head.

    “Thanks, Cederman. You’ve given me a new option.” Working swiftly I split off her arms at the shoulders and her legs at the knees. I couldn’t carry more than that. The blood in the water would draw predators; I had no time left. I took off in a run splashing in terror through the water-covered rocks until I reached the sand. I kept running, following the wave edges in and out.

    The sand beasts were much bigger from this close. Just as the first one reached a claw toward me, I threw one of the arms out. It worked. They went for it. All I needed was to stay far enough away from deeper water and avoid the tentacles that were no doubt close by.

    Another arm thrown and I was half-way to the safer rocks, my load lighter. I threw out the first leg. Most of the crabs went for it, but one kept its eye on me, its prize. I needed the other leg for the last stretch. I couldn’t risk going deeper in the water. The beast kept up with my stride, parallel, stalking me. Further down the beach, more of its kind joined it.

    I caught a disturbance in the water out of the corner of my eye. I moved back to the shallowest edge of the wave and threw the last body part, Cederman’s leg, as far as I could up the beach. My destination was only a couple meters away now. I would make it, all the planning, testing, I would make it!

    A shadow passed over me, maybe three meters wide. Then I felt it, talons painfully puncturing both shoulders. My feet no longer felt ground under them as I watched my rocky destination quickly receding below. “Damn this planet sucks.”
     
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  2. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    A thoroughly enjoyable read. :agreed:
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Thank you. :D
     
  4. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    I was wondering where your congrats thread was. Congrats!!! :)
     
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  5. Theoneandonly99
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    Theoneandonly99 Member

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    Wow. Amazing read. Though I kinda hoped for a different ending :/
    Still, great job!
     
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