It was a luxury item. An old wine from some dead civilization. Specialty stuff made of now extinct plants and methods lost to history. It was rare, expensive, and the captain had a whole crate of the stuff.
We thought he wouldn’t miss one bottle. And if he did, there was no way he could know it was us. Still, I could feel it. We all could. An almost palpable shadow seemed to cloud our thoughts. After that drink was gone, not even the usual release of drunkenness could wash it away.
It was Crane who broke first. He began hearing things in the darkness. A shadow flicking around, watching him with shining golden eyes. He said he felt a constant pressure in his brain. Something whispering into his thoughts. We told him he was stupid. That it was his guilt talking. We got away, we told him. We were free. Still, he kept screaming and moaning and we knew he would be saying something to somebody. We couldn’t risk it. We didn’t want Natseyvia on our asses. So, we had a drink at the bar. A few shots of the shadow labyrinth special and he was barely walking. Then, it was a trip into one of the darker halls and a drop into one of the old garbage chute’s. He might survive the fall, but he would have broken something. There are scavengers in the ship depths who love a crawling meal.
With that, we were done. No more nervous Crane to blab on us. That was until Mitch started getting the shakes. He started seeing the same as Crane. The same shadows and the same eyes following him in the corridors. I knew that killing Crane must have gotten to him. I knew that son of a bitch would crack. I tried to explain it was nothing. I tried to tell him not to worry, but he kept hallucinating. He said he might confess to Father Caine. I couldn’t risk that. Caine was a confessor, but he was still loyal to the captain. Who knew if in the end if he was just a toadie in holy garb.
Truth be told, Mitch should have seen it coming. A part of me thinks that maybe he wanted it to happen. When I stabbed him, he barely put up any resistance, and as his eyes slowly blanked, I swear he breathed a sigh of relief. The body went down the same chute. The scavengers were very happy that day.
I was down two friends but I was alive. That’s all that mattered. That thought kept me going, for about a day.
Then, the shadow appeared. Always in the corner of my eye, never fully formed. Was the guilt getting to me? For days, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was being watched. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. My back became permanently bent in fear. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.
I ran. I ran what felt like miles to the darkest corners of the ship. Down long forgotten hallways and surprised vermin. I ran till my lungs burned and my legs collapsed beneath me. The only thing sustaining me was my anger. My anger at myself for acting like this.
I wouldn’t go down like this. I wouldn’t break like Crane and Mitch. I was stronger than this. I was stronger then them.
“Come out here you fucker!”, I yelled into the darkness. More out of frustration then expecting any real answer. Hallucinations don’t answer back, usually. At least, not with the soft patter that seemed to be coming up behind me.
I turned and saw a small of thing of fur and whiskers looking up at me quizzically. Its head tilted at an odd angle.
I stared blankly for what felt like forever, and then the laughter started. A belly laugh that seemed to pour out of me.
It was natesevia’s pet. Slyvix, I think it was called. A sleek long creature of brown fur and cute whiskers. It liked to go around hunting for the small animals that roamed the ship. Sometimes, crewmen would feed it scraps of meat and it would let them pet it. A few joked that it was what happened to Natseyvia’s compassion when she kicked it out of her skull.
The stupidity of the situation hit hard. The fear left me in a moment of clarity and I felt I was finally free. I fell on my ass, giggling the entire time.
The animal looked at me, its silent witness only making me laugh more.
I kept laughing, till what felt like a spike bashed into my brain. The pain wasn’t physical, but it still hurt all the same. It was as if a ball of emotion took me right between the eyes. I could only get bits and pieces, but the biggest piece came through loud and clear. It was the satisfaction a predator felt at the end of a successful hunt.
I looked down at the creature in front of me and saw it begin to change. Its brown eyes turned into a shining gold and it’s gray coat turning as black as the now familiar shadows. Those shadows were very real and, I realized, they had been playing with me. As the creature leapt at me, its claws out and its dagger laden mouth aimed at my throat, I couldn’t help but think that all of this was for some of the worst alcohol I had ever tasted.
An hour later, Natesyvia’s door cracked open and a furry head looked around the room. Guns and various alien artifacts littered the walls and floor. Each device in perfect condition and with research notes attached to each. Natseyvia herself slept on her bed, her guns within easy reach in case of intrusion.
Slyvix silently walked across the room, leapt onto the bed, curled up next up to her human, and slept. Its legs began to twitch, dreaming of what its next hunt would entail.
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