Dennis could not carry the man far, but he needed to carry him far enough so that if he did not expire immediately there was no chance he could crawl back to their raft and alarm the women.  Dennis had no idea what the man’s idiot wife would do if she saw her husband in his current, and obviously, terminal state.  “C’mon buddy, there you go, a little more, yea your doing great.”  Ward coaxed his burden along.  Herb, not surprisingly, responded much better to positive reinforcement as opposed to the ruthless whip-cracking the Doctor had previously employed.  The fat man’s condition only continued to deteriorate; his breathing had become a shrill and labored whistle, signifying that his throat had all but closed.  Each step Herb took was painfully laborious, and the man could barely manage to continue forward progress.  The final nail, and greatest indicator, of Herbs impending demise, was the frothy pink fluid that now caked his chin and mouth and had begun to crust on his neck and shirt collar.  There could be only two things this could be, lung tissue or esophageal lining, either way Herb was dead, it was only a matter of slow or slower.

An un-measureable amount of time elapsed and Dennis felt that they had gone far enough.  He thought of trying the revolver and decided against it on account of the noise and the wasting of his limited ammunition.  In his mind an act of kindness, once they had gotten far enough, Dennis leaned to the side and just shrugged the tremendous man off his back and into one of the bubbling pools that riddled the unearthly landscape.  Herbert Milton hit the slime pool with a loud splat; he hardly had time to issue a throaty sound of surprise before the thick, black, churning sludge devoured him.

Dennis took a moment to stretch out his back and revise his course of action.  The hot, merciless sun beat relentlessly upon his blistered brow.  The ground, if it could be called such, sucked at his tired feet, and gave forth the most wretched of stenches.  Even the very air was noxious, the fumes having tainted the surrounding sky for miles around.  All around him was waste and death, a true testament to the follies of man.

Dennis Ward, dehydrated, exhausted and near delirium was wrestling with the idea of collecting more of the poison bottles and either trying them himself or bringing them back to the raft for Sadie to try when he saw it.  He thought it at first a hallucination, a mirage brought on by the heat and the other adverse conditions, but despite these things Dr. Dennis Ward knew that his eyes did not deceive him.  It could have been the way the thing moved, or the stark quality of the silhouette he witnessed with horror on the horizon.  But what was undeniably real was the feeling of utter terror he felt in the deep pit in his stomach, this feeling of wrongness and impossibility could be brought on by no imagined thing.

What he saw, far in the hazy distance, was the silhouette of what appeared to be a man.  The figure was too far away for details to be discerned, but Dennis was sure that this was a man, something despite his crab-like gait or his fidgety, jerky movements spoke inarguably of humanity.  The feeling deep in the Doctors stomach spread quickly down his legs and up his arms sapping the strength from him.  His knees felt weak and so as to avoid collapse he sunk down upon them leaving a deep impression in the stinking muck.  His breathing quickened and he feared he might faint.  What was that?  How is this possible? Am I mad?  Could there have been another wreck?  A myriad of questions ricocheted around Dennis’s dizzy head, and Dennis, not for the first time since they had been lost, questioned his sanity.

The chance still existed for rational explanation he told himself.  There could be a million reasons that someone else was here.  In all likely hood it was some type of scientist perhaps come to measure the level of pollution, or a fisherman looking to dumb the refuse from his ship.  All these rationalities Dennis repeated to himself over and over as he watched the strange creature, but no matter how he attempted to make sense of it there was something undeniably wrong with the image.  Perhaps it was the same things that identified the thing as a man that disturbed Dennis, the odd movements or the crouched digging motions, but what bothered Dennis the most was that whatever it was it seemed to be holding a large battered umbrella over it’s head.

Still unable to take his eyes off the man, if man it was, Dennis vomited in between his already fouled knees.  He rocked back and spasmed forward retching again, he was relieved when his belly could bring forth no more.  He pulled John Hobb’s revolver out of his waist band and held the gun tightly.  He seemed to draw courage from the warm metal and somehow found the strength to stand.  When he blinked the tears away he saw that the object of his terror had disappeared.

He did not doubt for a moment the existence of that awful phantom, for the feeling of wrongness that it had brought with it still lingered thickly in the air.  The unbelievable reality of the situation now began to settle on the Doctor.  He slowly surveyed the landscape before him, taking in all of its unnaturalness.  It all felt so surreal, like he was traversing some mad dreamscape.  No matter how hard he attempted to accept his current position and situation he could not shake a sense of disconnectedness.

He stood, for minutes, utterly dumbstruck.  His mouth hung wide open, his shoulders sagged down into his chest, desperately he clutched the Smith and Wesson.  At some point his rational mind asserted control and he accepted the fact that he was probably starting to go into shock.  The understanding of what was befalling him helped him to clear his cloudy mind.  He had to do something.  Dennis assessed the situation and began to run thru the possible courses of action.  There was no point to try and reason it all thru, it was, and had been, all about survival.  He knew only one thing with complete certainty, if he did not get water very soon he was going to die.

His figuring led him to one conclusion, the thing, the man he had seen was his best chance at finding a source of the life giving liquid.  He had to find the man.  With effort driven by renewed purpose, Dennis forged ahead.  His mind made up he was determined.  He stalked across the fields and up the massive hills of garbage.  Treading upon fish carcasses like carpet, he weaved his way around the misshapen pools of frothy muck.  Twice he almost fell thru into the bog but managed to grasp desperately to some unidentifiable protrusion.  Then he saw him again and his heart leapt into his throat.

He was much closer this time and still appeared not to notice the Doctor.  It was most definitely a man, that much Dennis could be sure of, bent and malformed, crooked where he should have been straight, but a man.  He was less than fifty yards away from Dr. Ward and had his back facing the frozen Doctor, how Dennis had not noticed the creature before now he could not understand, and could only contribute it to the idea that this individual knew more of the nooks and crannies of the island than he.  Dennis opened his mouth to call to the man but could produce no sound.  The man started off in the same direction, heading away from the Doctor.

The way he moved, that jerking, rigid scuttle, was so unnerving to the Doctor he almost screamed but instead composed himself enough to call out weakly to the frightful beast.  Dr Dennis Ward could not stifle the gasp as the creature turned toward him.  He did not turn completely around, nor did he twist at the waist but simply cocked his head and turned his neck exposing his profile.  Even from fifty yards away the Doctor shuddered at the range of deformity the thing showed, its skin for one looked baked, burnt brown tough and leathery, something akin to one who had been very severely burned.  His posture and movement were horribly wrong and painful to watch, he loped about crossing his legs at the knees and galloping facing sideways, as he moved forward his upper body jerked backwards as if the man suffered from some spinal malformation, and the whole process was made effective by the severe hunch in the man’s crippled back.  He moved with his good side facing the sun and had looked at Dennis with his bad side, this distinction being made by the obvious ravage of nearly the entire right side of the face.  Starting from the ear and extending down to the chin and up as high as his non-existent hairline the man’s face was riddled with massive ,black tumors.

The twisted man stared at Dennis for a moment and the speechless Doctor swore the thing smiled.  It then raised an elongated brown arm and pointed at something that Dennis could not see.  As he followed the line of sight that the man’s long bony finger indicated Dennis made the mistake of taking his eyes off the creature for a mere moment and the elusive being disappeared.

The world spun around the Doctor and looking up he noticed the sun beginning to make its descent.  The hateful star looked a brilliant gold thru the acrid, fog-like haze that hung low, and seemed to gather thickest around the boiling slime pools.  It would be dark soon and once the sun went down Dennis would be hopelessly lost.  He began a slow jog in the direction the man had pointed.  As rapidly as he dared he began to speed up, he did not want to exert too much energy, but he certainly did not want to be stranded in this stinking swamp after dark.  The landscape blurred around him, he blocked everything from his mind, and focused on the only thing that could save him.

He found a strange but somehow empty comfort in the knowledge that his quarry was a man.  A man broken and lost himself but a man, and a man could be reasoned with, and if a man could not be reasoned with he could be threatened.  If a man did not take seriously those threats, then a man could hurt, a man could bleed, and a man could die.  Dennis held the small revolver tighter still, like a lifeline to an outside world, a realer world, where, if Dennis played his cards right, he just might find himself again one day.

He stopped running when he began to feel light headed.  An alien twilight had crept up upon him and the ghastly and foreign colors that the setting sun cast on the land around him sent shivers up the good Doctors spine.  He realized then that he had stumbled onto a ground entirely different than the one previously traversed.  He now stood upon a firmer surface, still black as pitch and covered with a thick slime, it did not now seem to be comprised of the marine debris.  Still littered with dead sea animals and the bones of fish and crustaceans but the plastic was all but gone.  Odd rock formations stood in place of the heaps of trash and the earth beneath him felt as such unlike the feel of the unnatural floating island.

Dennis thought he stood upon land that, until very recently, had rested for millennia, miles beneath the Atlantic.  Instead of relief at the change he felt a deeper, more profound fear.  He felt in the presence of ancient and unknown things, things that, although of this earth, were alien to man.   The physically impossible leaning rock formations, thin where they should have been thick and leaning at peculiar angles were perhaps the most disturbing.

He should not have ran, the strain had been too much.  He tried to suck air through dry cracked lips and choked.  The atmosphere was thick and poisonous, tainted by the foul ooze that baked in the now waning sun.  He did not have long now; the effects of being too long without water could no longer be ignored.  His muscles were tight and cramping, he felt nauseous and lightheaded and it was only the intense fear he felt of being lost in this strange place that kept him from fainting.  He forced himself to press on, his strength was gone it was through will alone that he did proceed.

This is Part 4 of The Plastic Sea, a five-part series. Part 5 will be published next Friday. In case you missed it, you can read Part 1 here, read Part 2 here, and read Part 3 here.

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