's 2017 Horror Write-off:

Down Under

Submitted by Sam Miller

A man dashes out in the outback, fence to his back. He has escaped into that dry and red wilderness which dominates the view, that wasteland which takes up the bulk of the country. He is a prisoner, rather was a prisoner, an Irishman who stole from his landlords and was sent to this land. Darting across to a lone tree atop a lone hill, he cowers behind it, the stars staring down at him from above. A shout, eyes wide open. He jumps up and dashes away, sweat streaming down his face in the hot Australian night. The warden will not find him, giving up and assuming he's dead in the desert.

Days. For days upon days he has been crawling through the outback, his once pale skin almost as red as his hair from the burning, cloying influence of the sun. He is parched. His shoes are starting to tear apart. During the nights he stares above and sees stars hopping about like crazed creatures, like the eyes of far-off things which stare back down at him. He feels like he is being watched, but he never is, or it's just some desert lizard. He jumps for the desert lizard and cooks it atop his fire, smoke curling in the sky in the shape of a spiral, circling above like a secret omen.

The Irishman cannot seem to find another town for the life of him. It's just desert, red and sandy desert as far as the eye can see. Shrubland and scrubland, short trees that dot the wasteland. It is dry. Very dry. It is dry for days, the sweat on his skin just about the only water around. He sees a kangaroo atop a hill in the distance, hopping about until it sees him. It stops. It stares. Its far-off eyes cannot be seen. Its ears move about until the hopping thing jumps away, away from his view and beyond the distant hill. He still has not found much water.

He feels like he should be dead, like he should not be able to keep on going without water like this. His mouth sticks together, parched and dry, his tongue a thick slab of dry meat sitting squatly in his mouth. His eyes dart this way and that for the water which he so desires, which he so needs, but he sees another kangaroo, two kangaroos in fact, sitting atop a distant hill. He runs for them but cannot reach them, their hopping legs moving too fast for the poor, poor man. He continues walking through the outback.

A grey and brown face, long and strange, looms over the sunburnt skin of the Irishman. He jumps, his emaciated frame almost flying out of his rough and loose clothes, the long-faced thing surprising him and making his heart stop. As he sees what it is, however, he calms down. It is a kangaroo, just a normal nice creature, a calm animal of the outback. It stands up tall, almost as tall as him, its arms hanging in front of its torso like a nervous man, its legs lanky and contorted into the strange loping shape of the kangaroo. Its eyes stare into the Irishman's eyes, glittering like the stars above, wet and jet black like the outback sky. The kangaroo begins to hop off, but the Irishman follows, close upon the heels of the hopping beast, wandering off into the deep wilderness where he will never be found, though how different is that really from the land he has wandered for so long already.

The sky above spirals about in circles and circles, sickening in its motion. Flashing stars reveal themselves, blinking like eyes down at the traveling pair. The world spins in opposite motion to the sky, and a little bit of vomit comes up through the Irishman's throat. The kangaroo just keeps on hopping ahead of him. The crumbly rocky red ground underfoot gives way to smooth red surface, completely unlike the outback dominated by scrubland and shrubland before. A single tree up ahead, looming above them on a hill, reaches up into the spiralling sky, the only thing which is standing still in this spinning world. The kangaroo just keeps on hopping ahead of him.

They reach the hill, the kangaroo sitting still at its base. The head of the hopping thing stares up at the sky, up at the neverending branching boughs of the eucalyptus tree. A low rumble emanates from somewhere, the kangaroo's mouth open but the sound not coming from its mouth. A large bead of sweat crawls down the temple of the Irishman, his eyes darting this way and that in the loud confusion, the panopticon of red and black and kangaroo grey. Many small things come crawling down the tree, and the Irishman jumps in surprise. Dropbears! He leans in to see one clearer now, still standing back for fear of one jumping onto him and slashing at his poor sunburnt face. He feels a patch of long dead skin on his shoulder peel away. He sees that these little crawling things have no eyes.

A circle of the little things, tiny puffy ears, big black noses, no eyes to be seen amongst any of them, forms around the neverending outback tree. The kangaroo hops over to the tree, hopping above the little things and onto the tree itself. The world spirals around him, a circle with him at its center, everything in even patterns, everything in even spirals, everything but for that kangaroo, that lone kangaroo. The kangaroo hops up the side of the tree, into the spiralling blackness above. It is like a circle of magpies, a circle of smoke, a swaying circle of little tiny dropbears sitting around a central lanky tree. The Irishman carefully steps over the little things and climbs the tree after the kangaroo.

He crawls for hours upon hours, nothing of note, dead branches long picked clean by the blind cloying mouths of the little things, the red earth below stretching for miles around, as far as the eye can see. He feels nauseous. The Irishman passes through the horrible spiraling black clouds, the horrible circling air around him, and enters a place very red, much redder than even the dirt of the outback. Veins and slimy goo cover everything, great bumps oozing liquids which stink to high heaven. The branches of the tree grow leaves here, reaching into the surrounding flesh and piercing it with its long eucalyptus boughs. There is no light here, but rather some light which pours in from without, through the thin wall of the veiny surrounding. Climbing further, he glances up and sees the kangaroo, still bounding up the side of the tree as if it were the ground underfoot. There is a tear in the wall here, and the Irishman can see a scene from without. A great big bonfire. Darkness surrounding all else. He can barely make out some shape in the flames, some lanky thing with a snout and two long tendrils reaching out. Dancing around this fire, throwing eggs into it, are some sort of strange cultists, not aborigines, nor British, nor Irish like him, some sort of scaled people. They have long muzzle faces, and fat torsos that mismatch their long lanky arms. It is the outback. There is a red rock face, painted art of kangaroos drawn into it. The dancing scaled men continue to throw eggs into the great big bonfire, heedless of the Irishman watching them.

He continues climbing the neverending tree. He comes upon a great section of fleshy wall, warm and wet, dotted with a great number of those nozzles, little pink things clinging to them. They purr and mewl and suckle at the flesh, their eyes unformed, their bodies wet and slimy. They have no teeth. They have no legs. They have an unformed head and an unformed body. He touches one lightly, and it shivers and quakes like a boneless sea cucumber at his touch. He kisses it softly. He continues climbing.

The kangaroo above him makes one final jump through an opening into some black void beyond. He stays still for a moment, sweat streaming down his face, his clothing soaked with his own juices and those that are not his own. Ultimately, though he wavers, he jumps through the orifice. It is a cold void, though one lit by dancing and hopping stars. He can make out their shapes now, shapes of serpents and jumping kangaroos. His eyes dart around at the dancing shapes around him, suggestions of creatures made by outlines of stars, and he turns and sees Her. She is the mother, She is that which creates. She is a massive wall of furry flesh, featureless but for an orifice sitting squarely at its center, a wall of furry flesh which goes in every direction for an unknowable distance. He sees jumping motions in the distant void below him, but whatever legs are down there cannot jump off of anything. He hears a voice in his head, the squeaking and warbling voice of Her, of the kangaroos. Tears stream down his face, as he stares and as he hears.

He lies down on the red sand, tears staining his red face. A kangaroo nibbles on his skin but then hops off, coming up to a very tall tree which sits atop a very tall hill. It climbs up the tree. Looks like the warden was right.