Big Pete never made it back from the truck.
He’d gone to unload the new drill heads while Mike and I busied ourselves in the site office trying to make sense of the old plans.
The sky had been cloudless as we’d driven across the last stretch of desert to the old mine, yet Big Pete must have only just reached the truck as the storm broke.
The sudden darkness drew us to the window.
Stretching out above the plain to the hills on the far horizon were the most unnatural clouds I’d ever seen. Their very fabric looked like a dark, dense liquid churning in on itself in constant movement with forks of lightening shooting across the surface like glowing, electric veins.
But more unsettling was the current plight of Big Pete.
Instead of being absorbed into the parched earth, the thick black rain was pooling into huge black puddles around the truck itself. Big Pete had given up his mission and was now running full pelt back towards the site office, but the pools from around the truck were following him!
Arms held over his head he was beating the rain off as it hit him like bullets, but the black liquid was rising from the puddles like feral roots, clawing its way up his legs.
As he reached the site office building, half his torso was already consumed by this black, writhing cocoon.
Suddenly Mike grabbed up an old shovel that had been standing against the wall and rammed its blade against the back of the door. I looked at him in shock but that shock soon paled at the image of Big Pete on the other side of the door’s glass panel, his hands now living shiny black gloves pressed to the glass, framing the terrified expression in his eyes for a solitary moment before they became two perfect black marbles as the inky liquid filled his sockets and completed the ebony sculpture.
Mike held fiercely against the shovel as Pete’s body slid down with a thump on the other side of the door.
The black oily rain pelted against the glass and suddenly I noticed a rivulet had forced its way through a hairline crack and was making towards the shovel.
“Mike!” I shouted, pointing. He looked down just in time to see the blade become engulfed by the black liquid. Like a hot coal he dropped it as black tendrils shot up the shaft. As it hit the floor the liquid splashed free into an inert puddle.
“What in God’s name is that?!” exclaimed Mike. I shook my head speechless. He looked up at the corrugated iron ceiling on which the rain was drumming relentlessly, “Do you think that’ll hold?”
“If it’s waterproof” I replied “but I’d keep away from the walls!”
“Right!” he replied and we both backed over to the desk in the middle of the room. Mike grabbed for the telephone and punched impatiently at the keys before throwing it across the room. “Your mobile?” I grabbed it out of my jeans pocket, “Not even one bar!”
“Christ!” He collapsed into the office chair next to the desk and I noticed the oily black patch on the tread of his boot “Mike! Your boot!” Already the toe was glistening and mike kicked at his heel with his other, sending the boot flying – only to reveal a shiny black sock beneath. He ripped it off but the black tide was already flowing up his leg. He tore at his clothes until his shirt came off but his body was already lost and, as he staggered towards me with shiny black arms outstretched, he pleaded, “Please! Help me!…….”
His neck and chin disappeared as the black liquid poured up into his mouth covering his teeth and tongue but there was nothing I could do but watch him gurgling for breath as two inky black dots expanded from within his nostrils to cover his top lip. By the time it reached his eyes, the life in them had gone and his oily corpse slid to the floor.
“Stay calm! Focus! Keep the hell away from everything! Touch nothing!”
My head was pounding and I was short of breath but I had to get control. I tried not to look at Mike’s body and turned away, “Try to think of anything but…….”
“Come on!….One,…..Two,…..” Yes! It was working – I could hear my heart beat slowing and…….and then I noticed the patter of the rain on the roof was slowing as well! I froze and looked up. “My God!” I held my breath for a moment but yes it had stopped!
As quickly as it had appeared it had vanished! I looked out at the dayglo orange and green “Navaho Hills Mining” logo on the side of the truck shining in the sun against the flawless blue sky. Even the black puddles had disappeared!
I looked at the desk, “Keys! Keys! Come on!” I turned to the door, “Now just wait a minute!” I stopped and turned back, steadying myself with one hand on the desk and took another deep breath. Absent mindedly I grabbed at the plastic bottle of mineral water sat there and took a swig.
“If I can just make it to the truck safely, I’m home free…..”
It was only then I looked down at the bottle to see the oily black liquid swirling within……