Q Island by Russell James Chapter 1
He’d never been so hot.
Despite the plummeting temperature, rivulets of sweat streamed under the wooly mammoth’s thick, coarse hair. He felt as hot as on a summer’s day, though the cold north wind whipped a dusting of crystalline snow around his feet.
All week, he’d felt abnormal. His joints ached. When he dug for roots with his tusks, shooting pains, like two massive splinters, ran through his skull. In these last few days, he had felt progressively worse. The Siberian plain seemed to bend and roll before his eyes.
Waves of rage often crashed within him without cause, and then receded. Sometimes strange sights and colors appeared, and then disappeared as if by magic.
He scanned the endless grayscape through his watery eyes. The overcast sky and the vast open plain met at some invisible point on the horizon, giving the world a haunting uniformity. Save for wisps of blowing snow, nothing moved.
His mother’s herd of twenty had fallen as quickly as petals from a dying flower. First his cousin died, dropping without warning as the herd moved south to better grazing lands.
Blood poured from her mouth as she twitched on the taiga. The herd gathered around her, unsure why she suddenly fell and went mute. They nudged and prodded her to no effect.
As they realized she’d passed, each gave her forehead a caress with the tip of their trunk. By the time mother trumpeted for them to continue, dozens of bloody footprints circled the corpse in the crushed grass. Their heads bowed lower, and with a slow mourning step, the family continued the journey behind the matriarch who knew the way to winter pastures and the sun-driven schedule they had to keep.
By the next morning, three others were stricken. The two youngest and the grandmother were found bleeding in the grasses as the illness struck the furthest ends of his family tree.
The tragedy stunned the herd. With such long lifespans, the passing of family members was rare. To see so many losses in such a short time…
Each day dawned upon more dying mammoths, lumps of steaming hair and puddles of congealing blood. His mother balanced the mourning of the herd with the need to survive.
She pushed them south, somehow strong enough to carry both the burden of the dead and her responsibility to the living. On the plague’s fourth day, the herd’s guiding star went dark. He and his sister stayed at their mother’s side as she labored to breathe in the cool morning mist. When her heart went still, his own went numb, unable to understand the loss of what he held most dear. He and his sister spent the day and the night standing, then lying beside her cooling carcass. By morning, the leaderless herd had scattered. That afternoon, his sister fell ill and collapsed.
He tucked his tusks under his sister’s body and tried to help her stand. It felt like he was moving a fallen tree. She made no response. He set her back down and caressed her face with the tip of his trunk. He could tell she was dying. Her psychic communal bond with the herd had grown weaker each day, like a tangled mat of ivy, breaking one strand at a time.
The last strand broke. He nudged her eyelids closed. The world wavered and swam. A chill ran up his spine.
Her eyes snapped wide open. His heart skipped a beat with joy at her resurrection then stopped in terror. Her soft-brown eyes had turned the bright, glowing red of a prairie fire.
She rolled up on her feet, and let loose a furious trumpeting. She turned and charged him.
He reacted on instinct with lowered tusks. Before he knew it, his twin ivory spears pierced her side. Blood gushed from two gaping wounds. She fell to the ground, still. No steam rose from her mouth.
Now, for the first time in his ever-shortening life, he was alone. His relief at survival ran tempered by the hollowing sorrow of unbearable loss. As a pounding headache echoed in his enormous skull, he trumpeted a low mourning cry.
The wind picked up. A blast ruffled his thick fur, and a jet of subzero air froze a stream of sweat to his skin. Still, he felt hot beyond anything he’d ever experienced. The fury that had ebbed and flowed since he fell ill rushed in with more force each time. He burned from the inside out. Even the world around him seemed washed in red.
Ahead, the ground sloped steeply down to a small pond. A thin sheet of ice had already formed across the surface. The mammoth saw relief in that frigid water, a gulp to quell the raging fire in his gut and the inferno of anger in his mind.
His aching joints would only move in slow motion. He lumbered forward, trying to make a straight line for the pond as the ground seemed to ripple and sway beneath him.
The hot metallic taste of blood filled his mouth. Time was short. If he could make it to the pond, the water would make everything all right.
He staggered to the pond’s edge. The world took a dizzying spin, and his knees buckled under him. With a panicked trumpeted wail, he fell to his side. Tons of dead weight hit the ground like a falling boulder. He slid into the pond, shattering the ice at the surface and sending a shower of crystal shards into the air.
The water ran deep. The pond filled a sinkhole that stretched far into the limestone.
The mammoth gave one huge shudder in a weak attempt to surface. He snaked his trunk upward for a breath of air. It tapped against the clear ice that had already re-formed.
The mammoth bellowed out an agonized cry, consumed by the sting of his losses and the pain of his passing. He sank deeper. The world went dark.
He saw one last bright hallucinogenic vision. His mother and sisters stood on a verdant meadow of waving green grass. They beckoned him forward with their trunks. He joined them.
The air temperature crossed minus 30°F. The ice spread downward. In no time, it encased the mammoth’s cooling body. It would remain undisturbed for ten thousand years.
* * * * *
The stench of frozen flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Winter of Zombie Blog Tour 2015, with 40+ of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of November.
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