Harvestmen

📅 Published on June 12, 2021

“Harvestmen”

Written by Heath Pfaff
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 13 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Plummeting through the sky in freefall as fire licks up around you, trying its damnedest to erase you from existence, never gets easier. I was old enough to have forgotten more drops than I remembered, but that feeling of your stomach trying to crawl up and out of your throat somehow managed to feel fresh each time.  The window on the pod door was so bright with friction fire that I had to close my eyes, even behind the glass of my safety visor.  I kept them closed, too, until the red coming through my eyelids went dark.

Below me, coming into view through the clouds, was an alien terrain that looked like it was woefully depressed to see me.  Bog and swamp consumed where there was anything to see.  Everywhere else was a thick fog that had an unsettling, yellowish tinge to it.

The planet was called Kadius-4A.  Kadius was the system, and it was the fourth planet from the red giant it circled.  The “A” stood for “Adaptable,” which meant that it was a planet that could support human life with certain “acceptable” adaptations necessary.  Final determinations on the planet’s safety hadn’t yet been established, but the scientific crew sent to make those determinations hadn’t checked in for the last four cycles. That seemed to bode ill, so that was why we were dropping in.

In this kind of case, the men in charge preferred to send in a small fireteam of scouts familiar with planetary recon on frontier worlds.  Field Exploration and Area Reconnaissance teams (FEAR troops) were usually the first down on a new planet, to begin with.  They picked “safe” landing spots for the scientific teams to follow. However, when something went wrong, then we had to come back, figure out what had caused the failure, and attempt to extract the crews without suffering losses that could cripple company interests in the area.

You see, the scientists were replaceable, but their ships – capable of landing on a planet and lifting back up into space under their own power – and the equipment they carried down to the surface, those were expensive tools.  Officially we were looking for the crew and ensuring their safety, but our actual task was to recover the Far Reach 951 and her equipment suite.  If we had time and could do it without too much trouble, we were to bring the crew back as well.  Though I always went down intending to bring them back.

The atmospheric brakes hit hard. I was jerked against the harness in the pod as the outer shell opened its spinning wings and began to convert momentum into energy for the repulsors that would stop us from crushing against the surface like a can beneath a boot heel.   “Brace for repulsor fire in 8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . “  The voice of the computer was the final warning before impact.  I took a few quick breaths and then inhaled, exhaled, and relaxed my body.

For a moment, everything was in a complete chaos of motion, pain, light, sound.  Nothing made sense, and then the hiss of the capsule’s door releasing brought it all back into clarity.  We were down.  I’d survived another drop.  I checked the heads-up display in my visor and saw that the other two drop craft were safely down as well.

As the drop leader, I had to report our status. “Kadius Station, this is FEAR-8 lead, Sentinel. We have made planetfall, commencing operations.  Next scheduled report is in one hour.”

“Confirmed.”  She chirped.

I shifted back to the local secure com line.  “Tower, Corpse, on channel?”

“Coming up on the left,”  Tower answered, his voice deep and resonant.  He was a big guy, and his voice gave it away even before you saw him.

“I’m about one-hundred and thirty yards ahead.  I’ll run scans and wait.”  Corpse was the lucky man today.  He got to sit and relax while the rest marched over unfamiliar terrain.  He was no fun to talk to anyway.  He never had much to say.

“Alright, Corpse.  En route.”  I responded. The sound of crunching and sloshing off to my left informed me that Tower was getting close.  “I’m going to try to raise the Far Reach crew,”  I said,  then dialed into the local emergency frequency.

“Far Reach crew, this is FEAR-8. We are here to assist you in any way that we can.  If any of you are able to broadcast on local channels, please apprise us of your situation as soon as possible.”  I waited a few minutes, repeated the message again, and then set it to repeat every five minutes after automatically.

Tower came into view on my side as I shut off the output to the public and placed it back to secure.

The com system was an insert that plugged in behind our ears and interfaced directly with our neural mainframes.  It was much higher tech than the coms most people had installed in their heads.  It meant we had to have an additional antenna running up the back of our skull and down through our spine, but the range and signal clarity was amazing.  Compared to some of the more specialized environment modifications some people willingly took on, our gear was at least subtle.  Out of uniform, we only had a few ports to show that we were modified.

The land was swampy, and traversing it was slow going.  After a few minutes in advance, I decided to check on Corpse.  “Corpse, how are those scans coming?”  My readings were nill for movement beyond Tower and Myself, and we weren’t yet close enough to pick up Corpse, not while we were walking.

I waited for the reply.  A minute passed in silence, and I looked over to see Tower looking at me.  Beneath his visor, I could see the tense expression that asked me wordlessly, ‘Are we good?’

“Corpse, check in,” I chirped on the radio, checking the local map.  We were approaching where his drop pod had landed.

“Scans are coming in,” Corpse said, and I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding in.  “I thought I saw something,  a white environmental suit . . .”  His voice cut off.  There was a crackle on the line and then a fast beeping that indicated a transmission on the emergency line.

“…help us,” a voice rattled in my ears.  “We are waiting for help.”  It sounded strained, as though the person speaking was having difficulty forcing air through their vocal cords.

“Far Reach crew, please activate your suit beacons so we can find you.  What is the nature of your situation?”  I replied.  If they were still alive, why hadn’t they patched their coms to the ship and sent for help from the station?  We’d had no contact in a week, and I’d expected that we were coming down for an equipment-only recovery.  Unease settled in like a weight added to my equipment pack.

We walked as we waited for a reply, and it wasn’t long before we reached Corpse’s drop pod.  He wasn’t there.  I cursed quietly and swapped frequencies again.

“Corpse, where are you?” I asked, keeping my voice as calm as possible, though I was feeling edgy.  I’d been in situations where things went sideways before, and this definitely had the makings of one.

Tower came up to my side and leaned on a strange tree next to where the pod had landed.  “This place sucks.  I hate the damn spooky planets like this, dark and swampy.  No one wants to live here. Why even bother sending a crew in?”

I answered with a shrug.  “It’s mostly about resources.  The planet may be awful, but you never know what properties the flora and fauna might have that someone thinks will be valuable.”

Tower laughed.  “Seems like the flora and fauna ate the scientists… maybe Corpse too.  In my book, that is less than useful.”

“I’m sure someone would find that valuable,” I offered my normal dark humor in reply, but Corpse’s absence was gnawing at me.  I’d landed on so many rocks with him over the years that I knew he was a capable man.  He was reliable.

“Corpse, if you can hear this, chirp or I’m going to eat your lunch rations.”  I wasn’t sure if that was a punishment or a blessing, really.  Protein bricks made you keep going, but they weren’t exactly pleasant.

“Sentinel, North – 16 degrees.”  Tower’s voice was low and urgent, which had me turning to orient my compass immediately.  It was mag locked to the Far Reach, giving us all a steady point of reference since magnetic poles were not necessarily stable on all planets.  My eyes swept in the indicated direction, and I stopped when I caught sight of someone in a white explorer’s suit.

They were standing at the edge of the thick fog that covered most of the terrain, a copse of trees stretching up into the haze around them.

“Far Reach crew, this is Sentinel. We have visual contact.  Please identify yourself.”  I spoke as I popped the proximity speaker on in my visor.  “We’re here to help you get back to orbit. Who are you?”  I spoke out loud to the other person.  Tower was sweeping out to my left side, his plasma rifle at the ready.  I hadn’t drawn my weapon yet, but I could feel this moment stretching unnaturally long.  That feeling that something was off about this whole situation was starting to get more intrusive.

“…about one-hundred-and-thirty yards ahead,” Corpse’s voice crackled into life on the private channel.

“Shit, Corpse, I thought you were… what are you doing ahead of us?  We’ve got contact with a member of the crew.”  I let a slow breath out, trying to gather myself.

“Help us.”  The voice called from across the distance between myself and the Far Reach crew member.  It had that strange, forced growl to it again. It sounded female, but it was difficult to tell.

“We’d like to help you.  What happened here?” I pressed again.

The crew member lifted an arm and waved us forward, the motion jerky and unnatural.

“Something is wrong with her,” Tower whispered into coms.  “I’m up on her right now and . . . there is something hooked to the back of her helmet.”

I grabbed the plasma pistol at my hip and activated the energy spin up.  I silenced my external speaker.  “What is hooked to her helmet?”  I asked, then toggled the speaker back on.  “I’m not coming over there until you tell me what is happening here,”  I told the woman.

“I don’t know.  I can’t see… Let me get a bit closer.”  Tower’s voice was as tense as I felt inside.

“Tell me your name.  Tell me anything besides that you need help.”  I put the command into the words, wanting something here to go the way it was supposed to.

“Sentinel, it’s in her suit.”  Tower’s voice on com.

“What?” I asked, the word going over the com channel and out loud.  I switched off the speaker.

“It’s in her damn suit!”  He repeated in a harsh whisper.  “Something broke through the back of her helmet and is inside her suit.  It’s like a vine or something.  It’s going off into the fog.”  Tower was in the copse of trees now, close to the right side of the target.

“Alright, keep your rifle ready.  I’m going to move forward, but be ready to fire on my order.”  I leveled my pistol at the crew member’s head and reactivated the proximity speaker.  I stepped down into deepening water.  The marsh between myself and the suited figure was deep, and it wasn’t until I was halfway across the distance that I realized something upsetting.  I was up to just above my knees, and Tower was up to his entirely.  The crew member appeared to be standing atop the water.

“Tell me who you are and what is happening here now, or we will assume that you’re a threat.  I don’t think you’ll enjoy the way we take care of threats.”  I wasn’t sure what made me keep advancing.  Part of it was a certain confidence in my training, and part of it was idiotic curiosity.  I was chock full of that.

I drew closer.

“Help us.”  I saw movement behind the mask.  I flicked my eyes to the right and used my HUD to activate the lights on my shoulders.  Light spilled across the distance between myself and the other, pouring into the darkness and sending it fleeing out of the helmet.

I couldn’t understand what I was seeing.  The human mind is designed to identify faces, and mine was stumbling in its attempt to put together a semblance of order to the mess I was looking at.

“Help us.”  The mouth moved, and that helped me find some order in what I was seeing, but that just made things worse.  The top of the woman’s head was fleshless, the skull shattered in such a way that pieces of it lay in the bottom of her helmet, and cracks could be seen running down over the area that had been her eyes to the fleshy mouth that remained.  Dark tubes had broken through her eye sockets and wrapped around the top of her splintered cranial chamber as though attempting to hold things together.

I had seen terrible things over the years.  I’d gone to planets where alien viruses had reduced men to puddles of mushy soup and bone and seen men chewed in half by beasts that saw us as the bottom of the food chain.  I once saw a plant that grew in human skin rip an entire group of people to pieces, but this was somehow worse.  It was worse because she was still moving.  I could still hear her voice, and her arms and legs twitched and shuddered.  Whatever this thing was either hadn’t killed her or was making use of her like a puppet, and it was on an entirely different level of wrong.

I pulled the trigger on my plasma blaster, and then everything went to hell.  It felt like the entire world suddenly surged upward, although there was actually no great upheaval of the terrain. The trees in front of me did shift because they weren’t trees.  What I’d taken to be trees were the legs of some kind of insect-like monstrosity.  It made me think of harvestmen, those long-legged insects that were thought of as fairly benign on the homeworld, but this thing was so large that each massive leg was wider around than I could have reached.  The body was nothing more than a dark shape in the haze above, but the tube-like appendages that came snaking down from above were born of a nightmare.

They were black and fleshy, like frost burned fingers, but as thick around as two of my arms together, and the end was equipped with what looked like a trepanning bore on a massive scale.  Inside of the spiral, I could see blackened tendrils sliding around, waiting to push out into whatever mass that spiral pierced, like the back of that crew woman’s skull.

A tree-sized leg smashed down into the muck at my feet, and I barely cleared the space in time to avoid being thrown down into it.

I heard a woman screaming as I struggled to regain my balance, and then I was being grappled from the side by a white-suited horror. The arms moved all wrong, but they held their tight grip as they circled around me.  I found myself eye-to-eye with the nightmare visage of the crew woman. Only now, the glass of her helm was blown open, and parts of her head were sloshing around inside the helmet, mixed with swamp and brains.

A thick, dark worm tube came slithering out of the clump of meat that had once been a human head and started pushing its way in my direction.  I did what any rational person would do in that situation;  I started pulling the trigger on my plasma pistol.  The weapon was facing the right direction, and I was less worried about plasma burns and more worried about my skull being cracked open like overripe fruit, so I didn’t stop pulling the trigger until the weapon overheated and locked.

The body holding me exploded into pieces which caused it to lose the grip it was trying to maintain.  Everywhere that flesh flew away, new tendrils sprang forth. I pushed away from the mess.  One of those bore-ended offshoots pierced the space my body had been a moment before, slamming into a chunk of the crew woman’s remains.  There was a terrible squelching sound as something exploded from the end and out into the already wrecked corpse.

The gun in my hand was hissing, the cooling coils fully extended as they tried to shed heat so the weapon could fire again, but I wasn’t waiting around to see what happened next.  I ran as fast as I ever had, running towards the Far Reach by instinct alone.  The beacon on my compass was a guiding light.

“Tower, Corpse, Extraction,” I panted over the radio as the trees in the swamp behind me began to move, probably in pursuit.  It seemed slow, but it was so big, and those bore-headed tentacles weren’t slow.  No, they were deadly fast.

“Scans are coming in.  Saw something.”  Corpse’s voice crackled like his receiver was damaged.

“Fuck the scans, Corpse.  Do you read?  Get to the ship, now!  The mission is a loss.  We’re recovering the Far Reach and extracting.”

There was more crackling and then Tower’s voice.  “It’s in my head, Sent. I can feel it in my head.”

The words sent a chill down my spine so profound that I almost seized up.  Only training kept me moving forward.  I was close to the ship.  I didn’t know what to say to Tower, or to whatever had Tower.

A scream came over the secure frequency, and the volume tuning system activated to protect my ears.  Tower’s signal was open.  “It knows us, Sentinel.  It knows everything!  It knows…”  There was a cracking, tearing sound, and then the com cut out.

I was still running, the terrain making it harder than it should have been.  Tower was gone.  He wouldn’t be coming home with me this time. I knew that. However, at that moment, I didn’t have time to think about the loss of a friend.  It didn’t feel real.  The sadness would come later when I was safe again.  Corpse and I could . . . no, I couldn’t trust Corpse.  Something was wrong with him, and I had to at least consider the possibility that one of those things had gotten him too.

“Corpse, where are you?”  I felt numb.  I could hear the strain in my voice, the emptiness left by the horrors I’d already seen.

“I’m here, Sent.  I’m at extraction.”  The com hissed and crackled.

That didn’t fill me with the sense of relief that it should have as I dove through a line of thick, sodden plants and came into sight of the Far Reach.  It was standing peacefully in the center of a clearing, lines of equipment out front as though the crew might return at any moment and get back to work.

“I’m almost there, but I don’t see you.”  I tried to hide the trepidation in my voice.  I couldn’t see much beyond the ship.  I couldn’t see above it either, but I also hadn’t spotted any of those strange “trees” I’d seen before.  I’d lost the one behind me, I hoped.

“Sentinel, I’m here, at extraction.  I’ll prep the engines.”  Corpse was still crackling on the coms, but his voice didn’t sound right.  My pistol had cooled its coils, so I readied it again.  The engines of the Far Reach powered up, coming on in proper sequence as the test systems went through checks.  I relaxed the slightest bit.

Corpse was a pilot.  We all were, but there was no way the thing eating people out here could fly one of our ships, right?  I moved closer to the docking bay of the ship.  It was open, and I could see up into the storage area and the crew quarters beyond.  There was no sign of Corpse, but he’d be on the bridge now, starting the take-off sequence.

“Tower is gone,”  I said aloud. I wasn’t sure what I hoped to achieve with the words, but I needed to say them.

“Yes, he is,” Corpse answered.  “Come aboard.  It’s time to leave this place.”

I looked at the equipment on the ground and then grabbed a few of the more expensive pieces and dragged them up into the storage area of the ship.  I made two more trips, keeping my eyes open for those tree things, but then the Far Reach was just about finished with pre-checks, so I boarded.  I looked up at the cockpit door, then back at the ramp.  Everything was orderly.

“Corpse, you’re still you, right?”  I asked, and then the ramp made a loud clunking sound which nearly caused me to jump out of my suit before it started to close.  It was quicker than one would expect, and then it was shut.  Corpse hadn’t answered me.

“You’re still human, right?”  I turned back to that closed door to the flight cabin.  Those things couldn’t fit on the ship.  There was no way they could get up the ramp.  I took a step that way.

“Corpse?”  My voice was barely a whisper.

“Come join me in the cabin, Sentinel.”

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Heath Pfaff
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Heath Pfaff


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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Steven De Bondt
Steven De Bondt
3 months ago

I really like all your stories! Maybe put them in the right catagories, for they deserve more votes!

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