The Bloats

The Bloats

by David Turton

 

In a world subjugated by giant, grotesque monsters, Romeo and his brothers must forage for food in a race for survival.

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The brothers ran across the deserted plain, towards the safety of their subterranean home. They hadn’t seen any Bloats, but the low rumbling of their giant vehicles sounded ominously in the distance.

They sprinted through the high grass, jumped over the huge knotted weeds that had grown in the neglected urban sprawl, and crawled under broken wooden fences. They effortlessly slid down the entrance to their underground dwelling, running through the huge pipe that led underground, darting through tight corners in the dark, labyrinthine cavern.

Home meant safety, and safety meant they could look at the yield from their latest mission. The four brothers eyed each other worriedly as they sat in a circle and threw the food in the middle of the dank room. Romeo put down a mouldy egg sandwich, while Victor offered a half-eaten slice of chicken pizza. Mike shrugged. He had nothing to show for the trip, and not for the first time. When it came to scavenging, Mike’s talents left a lot to be desired. Oscar pushed a bag of tortilla chips in with the rest of the food.

Spicy flavour!” Romeo remarked, his nose twitching with the tangy odour. “Haven’t had a bag of them for a while.” He picked it up and groaned irritably. “Oscar, it’s empty.” He could have laughed if their situation wasn’t so desperate. They had to feed their families and food was running low. And the more desperate they became, the more risks they had to take. Romeo had only been on scavenging missions for a few weeks, although the daily trips soon became routine. He’d never seen one of the Bloats, but he was aware when they were near. Their unfathomable machinery clanged and clanked, and warning of their imminent presence came with their hideous odour. It was an oily, chemical musk, which hung in the air for miles around. Romeo’s heart raced every time he came near a Bloat, he would dart away and sprint, yelling warnings to his brothers and trying to keep hold of any bounty he had gathered. He’d heard the stories from others in the compound, although he wasn’t too sure how much of it was exaggerated myth. They were aliens, beamed down from another planet. They stood so tall that their heads would brush the clouds. He wasn’t sure how much of it was true. Charlie, one of the compound’s oldest residents who still scavenged, once told him that the Bloats’ faces were a grotesque pink colour, the exposed flesh hanging from their faces, with patchy fur covering their huge scaly bodies. His mother had warned him about the Bloats’ elaborate death traps, to be on the lookout for anything that could harm him and his brothers on their missions outside their home.

Romeo’s stomach rumbled as he looked at his surroundings, the sound merging with the dripping of water in the damp, sour compound. His brothers were busy dividing the food into small rations to distribute to the compound’s twenty-eight residents. It wasn’t going to stretch very far.

We’re going to have to get closer. Take more risks,” Romeo said to the group.

They all looked up with worried, knowing eyes. Victor scratched his nose nervously.

Closer means danger. Likely death,” Oscar said. “If they catch sight of us we’re gone. And that’s not to even mention their traps.”

What’s the alternative?” Romeo asked. “We starve down here in this horrid cavern? Our families starve? Our sisters? Our father?

They looked at each other one by one. In silence, their eyes spoke for them. It was agreed, they would need to go closer to where the Bloats lived. It was there that the richest rewards were.

It will be safer if we split into twos,” Victor said. “Mike, you and Oscar go together. Romeo, I’ll go with you.” It made sense. Oscar, despite his mistake with the tortilla chips, was the best scavenger in the compound. Mike would slow him down, but pairing the strongest and the weakest was a logical strategy.

Romeo looked down at the floor and then raised his head inquisitively.

Why is this so hard? Why do they hate us so much?” he asked. “The Bloats, I mean. Why do they want us dead?

Victor shrugged. “Who knows? They just do. Ask Papa, he knows everything.

Romeo nodded. He grabbed a chunk of pizza and turned to walk out of the room. “Maybe I will.

***

Papa’s room was darker than the rest of the compound. He didn’t need light, in old age Papa had completely lost his eyesight. He sniffed the air as Romeo came closer.

Romeo?” he said. His sense of smell had compensated for his loss of sight. “You’ve brought me some food. Good boy!

Yes, Papa,” Romeo replied and handed Papa the pizza chunk. He ate it immediately, his missing teeth making a repulsive chewing sound that made Romeo wince. He felt guilty about this reaction and reminded himself that he too would get old one day. If he wasn’t murdered by one of the Bloats, that is.

Something is bothering you, son. Please tell.

It was a real talent of Papa’s. He could sense unease, almost as if he could smell the odour of moods in the thick air of the compound.

I just was wondering about the Bloats. Why do they hate us so much, Papa? Why do they want us dead?

Papa nodded sagely. “A good question and one I don’t necessarily have the answers to, Romeo. But my guess is that the Bloats fear us.

They fear us? But that’s crazy. They’re about fifty times the size of us. They have machines that can wipe us out. They –

They are less than us,” Papa interrupted. “We outnumber them, Romeo. I know of fifty compounds like ours in this city alone. Imagine how many of us have been driven underground across the entire planet by these beings.

Then why don’t we unite and fight?

It is fear, Romeo. Fear of their machines, their traps, their weapons. They could wipe us out, but we could do the same to them. Would war help us, Romeo? Possibly, it would make a better world for your grandchildren if we won, but it would not come without risk. If there is the chance that all of our kind are eliminated permanently from the planet, then is it worth that risk?

Has it always been like this?” asked Romeo.

Ever since I have known. But stories have been passed down the generations of the time before. I know not of its truth, but two thousand years ago, the Bloats arrived on this planet. At first, they made it a better place. We used to live alongside them, believe it or not, in relative harmony.

Romeo’s eyes widened. It seemed impossible.

I know what you’re thinking, my son,” Papa continued. “And I do not know if this is the truth. Our ancestors used to roam freely above ground. We travelled the world, explored, conquered. But the Bloats grew in confidence. They became stronger and stranger, grew bigger. They persecuted us, drove us away from them, in these squalid underground caverns where we live out of their sight.

Wow. I never knew. I suppose I just thought it was always like this.

Why would you think differently? It’s all you’ve ever known. It’s all anyone has known for generations. I suppose you are asking because you need to go further?

Yes, Papa. We’re splitting into two pairs tomorrow and we plan to go further than we have been before.

Be careful, my son. Their evil knows no bounds.

***

The next morning came and the four brothers embraced before embarking on their most dangerous mission. Oscar and Mike set off first, Mike glancing back at Romeo as he climbed the steep slope that led to the world above ground. The glance betrayed Mike’s chronic fear of what lay ahead. Romeo closed his eyes and prayed that he would see his brothers again. When he opened them, he noticed Victor staring at him warmly.

You ready for this, Romes?

Romeo nodded. “I’m glad it’s me and you, Vic.” And he really meant it. Victor and Romeo were the closest of all the brothers. He looked at his brother tenderly and his eyes became damp. He would die for Victor, but he hoped to God it wouldn’t come to that.

I love you, brother,” Victor said.

I love you too, brother,” Romeo replied. “Let’s do this.

The first mile was easy, they covered old ground and stuck to a disused railway line in a deep valley that hid them from sight. They picked up a few discarded food items on the way, but as before, the yield was poor. They had to press on and find the Bloats’ home, where there would be a higher chance of food.

What would be your ideal haul, Vic?

Oh, that’s a great question. Where do I start? A chocolate cake maybe? What about you?

A big greasy burger. Even better if it’s still warm.

Oh, now you’re talking,” said Victor. “Mind you, you’d better watch your waistline if you have too many of ‘em!

They laughed, but a shadow cast over them, throwing the brothers into silence. A huge glass structure came into view. The top of the building was immersed in clouds that gave it a surreal, infinite appearance.

Bloats…” Romeo muttered, his voice spiked with trepidation.

That’s what we came for, bro,” Victor replied. “Imagine all the burgers near that building.

They walked toward the tower in silence. Bloats were near, that was for sure. Their pungent stench hung heavily in the air.

After ten minutes, they squeezed through a hole in a huge wooden fence that surrounded a building near the foot of the skyscraper. A large green garden lay in front of them, with trees and plants bordering a finely cut lawn. Victor led the way, quickening his pace as he set foot on the grass. Romeo was still squeezing his body through the gap in the fence when he heard a bloodcurdling scream from his brother.

Romeo, run!” he yelled and turned back to face him.

When Romeo saw what had frightened his brother, his mouth gaped open with horror.

A huge black beast, a bigger animal than Romeo had ever seen, was sprinting towards them. Its giant jaws were open, displaying a set of sharp yellow teeth. Even from ten yards away, Romeo could smell its hot, meaty breath as it neared closer to Victor. The muscles on the beast’s four legs rippled with effort as it rushed powerfully towards them. Its long tongue hung menacingly towards the ground. Victor ran at breakneck pace back toward Romeo, but slipped on a rock at the last second. Romeo looked on in horror as the beast lowered its grisly face to the ground and swept his brother into its drooling mouth.

Victor screamed with pain, and Romeo saw blood leak out of his body as the beast’s teeth sank into his soft flesh. Then he saw something that would haunt his dreams for the rest of his life. A giant figure appeared from the other end of the lawn. It was a Bloat. Romeo gasped as he saw its ghastly form. The being was huge, its fur-covered head stood at a similar height to the apple tree in the garden. Romeo froze with fright. The exposed flesh on the Bloat’s face was pink and hideous. And the smell was stronger than ever, a chemical stink that burned the back of Romeo’s throat. An immense wave of grief hit him as he looked at Victor’s body, which lay in the beast’s warm mouth, and watched it shake him violently from side to side. Romeo recoiled as he heard his brother’s spine snap and saw his lifeless eyes glaze, his ruined body still lying in the beast’s mouth.

In a guttural, booming voice, spoken in an alien language with words Romeo could not understand, the Bloat spoke directly to the beast.

Max, bad dog. Put down that dirty rat right now. You could catch a disease!

Romeo backed out of the hole in the fence and fled, his four legs carrying him rapidly across the deserted rail tracks, his twitching nose guiding him on the long journey back to the sewer.

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