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On Rob’s insistence – and a mutual desire to not let Loco have died for nothing – they set off for the part of the river where the waters narrowed.
‘I packed gear for this, in case we came here, though I intended it as a last resort only,’ Rob said.
He seemed to have gone into his shell since Loco’s death and it was understandable – it had been horrific to witness, especially when he had plopped out of the creature’s mouth all partly-digested.
‘I don’t think it’s a good idea, but we’ll definitely catch something down there,’ he said, carefully ravelling a strong piece of rope around a small wooden board. ‘This is it, stop here.’
There was an area of roughly half a mile where the river banks met.
The river went back out again, leaving a strange little mud island in the middle of the two rivers. It was eerie, dark, as though the sun shunned it.
‘We need to go in there,’ Rob said, his voice cracking a little.
They trudged into the middle of the island.
The mud seemed to separate, almost turning into sand around here.
It reminded Davey of weekends spent at the seaside when he was a kid and it made his heart ache for such a simpler, happier time.
It became hard to walk as the sand took all of their weight and made them pull their feet out in order to progress.
‘When the tides are high, this is where the runoff goes,’ Rob said. ‘It’s underwater most of the year, but with the lack of rain we’ve had recently, it’s accessible.’
‘What are we doing here?’ Davey said.
Rob took a bit of one of the dead rats and put it into a net that was roughly the size of his hand. He then attached this to a small weight.
‘We’re going crabbing,’ he said, throwing the net into one of the pools of water in the middle of the island.
Dark pools of water lay all around the rocks that made up the island.
‘There are bound to be some around here,’ Rob said.
He left the line to settle for a moment, then got another of the traps from the fridge unit.
He repeated the procedure with his net and threw this one into the next rock pool.
‘Whoa, got one already,’ he said, pointing to the first one which had begun to twitch a little.
He moved in cautiously and grabbed the rope.
He pulled a little, but the rope resisted.
‘They’re big around here, due to the runoff from the chemical factories,’ he said.
Still, he was unprepared for what Rob managed to haul out of the water.
The crab was matt black, the size of a house cat.
Its pincers clacked as it emerged from the pool.
Its sickly yellow eyeballs were on thin blood red stalks.
The pupils made a horrid scraping sound as they looked from side to side.
Its face seemed to change a little as its eyes fell upon them.
‘Shit,’ Luna said. ‘That’s a big fuckin crab.’
Rob nodded, not taking his eyes from the water.
The crab scuttled towards him, its claws making harsh sounds as they clacked against the rocks.
It moved fast, and he could sense it was coming towards him.
Davey moved in and administered a hard kick to its side, trying to divert its course from Rob.
It was like kicking a tree stump.
His leg went numb from the middle of his shin down over.
He cried out in anguish as he realised the limb would not support his weight.
The others did not look at him, for they had other problems to consider.
The crab had darted towards Rob, its pincers clacking like two bricks being slammed together.
Before he could fend it off, it had snapped one of its pincers on his boot.
The sole of the boot came away in tatters.
Rob’s previously white – but now mud- and blood-stained – sock showed through the hole.
He looked down in disbelief.
The claw opened again and lunged for his shin, but Tia had darted in with a large section of stone which she proceeded to bray into the crab’s head.
The rock shattered upon impact with the hard shell, but the crab didn’t seem to even notice the blow.
Although it did distract it from Rob.
The pale eyes slid over her.
It began to hiss ominously then darted towards her.
Luna’s catapult popped its left eye in a hail of blood and gelatinous goo.
It let out a hideous squeal and began to twitch on the spot.
Rob moved in and took his knife to the other eye, sticking it right through the swollen orb.
Thick blood coursed over his hand.
The crab lashed out, carving a deep wound in his forearm.
Had it been any closer he had no doubt it would have severed his arm altogether.
He could see the raw flesh that made up his muscles through the blood that welled up to pour down his arm.
The crab seemed to smell the blood and surged towards him.
Davey gained the presence of mind to fire the gun at it.
The bullet ricocheted harmlessly off its shell.
The crab lashed out again, carving a shallow wound in Rob’s shin.
He cried out as he realised it was going down fighting.
Luna rushed it from the side, hitting it with a bastardised rugby tackle.
Her momentum was enough to flip it onto its back. The shell made a horrendous clack as it hit the rock beneath.
Its claws lashed out instinctively, raking her face and sending blood pouring down to drip off her chin.
She saw the pale, fish-belly white of its belly.
There was a thin indentation running down the middle of its chest.
She pulled her knife, grunting as its razor sharp claws opened her forearm.
Blood ran down her arm and dripped into her eyes.
The crab let out a horrid hissing sound.
It was doing its best to flip itself over with its claws.
Now or never, she thought and plunged the knife into the line on its chest with everything she had.
The knife sunk in up to the hilt, forcing out a dark stream of blood.
She was sure she saw maggots writhing in the reeking liquid.
The crab let out a horrid sound and began to twitch.
She pulled the knife out, splattering her face in the stinking gore, and plunged it down until the crab ceased hissing and fell still.
‘Fuck me,’ Luna said, wiping a mixture of sweat and blood from her brow. ‘I think I’d rather just eat people than go through this again, like.’
She fixed Davey with a hard stare as this had all been his idea.
He shrugged. ‘Might taste better,’ he said.
She shook her head, furious.
‘Better on the conscience too,’ Tia said, catching Davey’s eye.
‘I’m not sure how many more of those things we can catch,’ Rob said. ‘One of them nearly took all of us out.’
Tia laughed nervously. ‘Yeah. Not good.’
‘I reckon we should go for a couple more,’ Rob said. ‘Since we came all this fucking way out here.’
They debated it for a minute or so and agreed.
Rob baited another trap and threw it into the water.
There was a hard pull, almost enough to pull him off the huge slab of rock.
‘Shit, this feels big,’ he said, pulling the line hard to pick up the slack.
The line pulled back just as hard.
‘Someone grab this with me,’ he said.
Luna came on behind him and grabbed the line too.
They pulled hard, hauling the next crab from the water.
It was smaller than the other one had been, which puzzled them.
Until they saw another four behind it.
‘Shit,’ Davey muttered upon seeing five of the murderous creatures instead of the one he was expecting.
The smallest one, clearly not happy at being tricked out of the water, darted towards Rob.
He managed to just step back out of the way before its claws tore through the space where his stomach had been.
He whistled in shock and swung his knife towards the creature’s eye.
It knocked the knife from his hand with one swipe of its claw.
He cried out in dismay as his hand began to spasm and pain shot down his arm.
The crab darted for him again.
Luna’s catapult shot narrowly missed its eye; sending a ball bearing bouncing off its shell.
The other crabs darted for them.
‘Get to the dozer,’ Tia cried. ‘Try and flip ’em over.’
‘No chance, I can barely walk,’ Davey said.
As if they understood what he had said, two of the crabs changed course and began clacking across the ground towards him.
‘Shit,’ he said, desperately trying to drag himself away.
His leg threatened to buckle when he put his weight on it.
Luna darted for the nearest one and dodged the wild swings of its claws.
She sunk her boot into its mouth, let it take a bite, then flipped it over with one smooth movement.
‘Lucky I got steelies on, you ugly fucker,’ she said, plunging her knife into the line on its chest.
It squealed and fell still.
The others turned as if in response to their kin’s death rattle.
Davey was glad for the reprieve, but he didn’t like the way they were all trying to surround Luna.
‘Come on then,’ she hissed, getting to her feet and circling, trying to always face the closest of the crabs.
Tia was almost at the dozer.
Rob was a bit behind her, but he turned when he heard Davey’s cry of despair.
Davey hit the eye of one crab, showering the contents over the front of Luna’s dungarees.
She was unsure of where to start, but it seemed she was cornered.
The situation was rapidly getting out of control.
They saw the crab’s claws open a savage wound in Luna’s side.
She fell back, arms clutched to her ribs.
Blood gushed through her fingers.
The crabs darted in, slashing at her face.
There was a hissing sound that sounded different to that made by the crabs.
Before Davey knew what was going on, an arrow appeared, sticking through the eye of one of the creatures.
The weight of the arrow was too much for the eye and it flopped forward, the wooden shaft bouncing off the crab’s shell.
A hail of arrows parted the air.
The crab with the punctured eye fell as an arrow went right through its mouth and out of its back.
Blood poured from the tip of the arrows as the creature let out a hideous squeal.
More arrows came, bursting the eye stalks.
From nowhere, figures dressed in the black hoods of the Grims appeared.
There were maybe a dozen of them, swarming all over the crabs.
They flipped them with what looked like custom-made shovels and plunged the other end of the handle into the crabs’ bellies.
More crabs came from beneath the filthy waters.
Arrows hit some of these.
But there seemed more crabs than there even were Grims.
The Grims that were there bagged the dead crabs in thick hessian sacks then beat a hasty retreat.
One of them grabbed Davey by the scruff of the neck and ran, shoving him along in front of him.
Another Grim took one last swing at the crabs surrounding Luna and picked her up, hoisting her over his shoulder and running off.
It was just in time; the ground was starting to rumble beneath their feet.
The huge section of rock – maybe fifty feet across – suddenly raised a full metre out of the water.
Davey screamed as he realised that this was the shell of an absolutely immense crab.
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