Serial Killers: On the Origin of the Species (Part 3) by Avital Malenky

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

The search party walked the makeshift streets heading towards the river. The air was almost mute in Hannah’s ears as she walked with the rest of the searchers. She was out on the alien planet, looking for its monsters. The vines absorbed the sounds as the vegetation completely took over the surface. Within a few short steps, the small party left their budding civilization and its loud white noises far behind.  

They followed the river. The only paths carved through the greenery were made by the force of water as there were no animals to create animal tracks, or so they thought. The humans didn’t know yet where the creatures lived or moved so they started with searching places they could access.

Dryad had 48 moons which reflected its sun constantly, effectively keeping daylight constant above the canopy. The many clouds and endless rain were blocking some of the sunlight but could hardly control the jungle.

Deep under the canopy where the humans lived the sun was mostly blocked, seeing the sky was a great surprise for Hannah and a long-awaited delight. How she missed the sun. The constant darkness she lived in darkened her mind and she hadn’t noticed, not until she came into the light, looking for her daughter’s monsters.

Walking the bright green edges of the forest, the water whispering around her feet, Hannah felt in a trance. The sounds of the planet were clear and carried pure in the air, free of any vocal growls, they rang precise in her mind. Vines of all widths and colors had made an impenetrable wall to her left and right and she ravished the sights of the bright green ravine coming to life in the sharp yellow sunlight.

The bottom layers of the vines along the banks had been rotting away into compost for eons it seems, how many of them Hannah had no idea. A year here – that is, the time it takes Dryad to circle once around its star is 90 earth days thereabout. The years were short because Dryad was a big planet and its Sun a small one.

The dead plants at the base of the living walls lost their spectrum of green colors and took on a rainbow of dead earthly tones. Browns and greys, purples and mustards. Beneath the green canopy the planet was so much more colorful than Hannah ever imagined. The walls of vegetation stretched for meters above her, as far as she could see, swallowing all sunlight in its hungry pigments, leaving only a slither of  direct light Hannah saw crisscrossing across the water. Everything was so different and alien, how could they ever hope to find anything in this mass?

These animals, these taloned monsters, stayed away for years. Their attack was a complete surprise and everyone in the colony hoped it would not repeat itself again. Hannah, as well, hoped to find a weak enemy if they had to find an enemy at all.

Far better would be to find nothing despite all the searches. That would mean the two species could be separated completely, each of them ignoring the other, it was a big world. Slowly, the other species will be forgotten. Out of sight out of mind.

Hannah knew the people were angry and hurt. The attack on her daughter felt like a personal attack on each of them and they all took it to heart. They felt that after all these years thinking Dryad was the perfect planet, everything crumbled to dust the night her little Edith was attacked. Hannah knew this and the fact that if push comes to shove, humanity will do whatever it can to survive. All the aliens will have to die. If this beautiful world will have to be wiped clean, so be it. It was life above all for the humans.

The planet was full of sound even though it was almost devoid of life, Hannah was wrong thinking it was silent. The vines strained against each other and were making a moaning haunting sound as the wind picked up. The rippling gurgling of the water gushed in the gorge and bounced off of the living walls with every step she took along the shallow banks. The life of Dryad all around her made the air vibrate with a non-stop hypnotic melody. How precious was this universe, how terrifying and unforgiving to us.    

The vines when rotted looked like old bones even though Hannah knew it was just the exposed inner layers of their alien cellular structure. The sight still made her think of her own death, how one day she will die, and so will her daughter, and so will everyone else walking beside her.

The sides of the river suddenly looked like a grave, bones upon bones lay on top of each other, the colors of decay adding to the effect, receding down ever browning cliffs of doom. She must be mad, Hannah thought, walking a strange planet instead of nursing her own daughter back to health after a vicious alien attack.

Everyone in the colony was very sorry for the little girl being attacked but children were fragile and the first to suffer from any conflict or disease, unfortunately, they were usually the first to go. Many lost children and pregnancies on the voyage over and during the first few hard years of building the colony. You try your best but you can never really fully protect the children, every mother knows that.

Still, the common feeling in the community was that of hope. Most of the settlers thought that if Hannah’s daughter would survive, it would prove that life on Dryad was possible after all.

The searches continued all the while Hannah nursed little Edith back to health, but nothing new was ever found. Weeks and then months passed while Dryad kept its secrets safe.

As the days after the attack lengthened and no other encounters were reported, the settlers settled into the assumption that the whole thing was a one-time-only incident. It seemed a fragile coexistence was not impossible, as the aliens were clearly unable or just disinterested in hurting the humans any further.

Edith eventually was well enough to be released from the infirmary even though Hannah knew deep inside that she wasn’t. She wasn’t better. Edith was infected by that animal somehow and was changing right before her mother’s grieving eyes. Hannah watched in horror as her child was growing a bit more alien every day.

Avital Malenky

I grew up in an ultra-orthodox community in Israel but left that life very young. Having traveled all over the world after my Military service in Army Intelligence, I settled with my husband and son in England. I battle PTSD daily and am caring for my son, recently diagnosed with autism.

Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis is a member of the HWA and writes dark speculative prose and poetry which has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including Flame Tree Press' A Dying Planet and Nosetouch Press' Fiends in the Furrows. She is the author of gothic novella, Bottled, from Silver Shamrock Publishing and the novelette, Asylum of Shadows from Demain Publishing. Her first novel, The Way of the Mother, is due out in October, via Silver Shamrock. She can be found at https://stephanieellis.org/ and on twitter @el_Stevie.

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