Oornu woke with a start, and before he had even registered the thick new stench that surrounded him he vomited hard, spraying his recent meal across the side of the grass tunnel and Uurna’s back. It was laced with blood. He gasped, the shock of the sudden expulsion taking him by surprise. He chastised himself for falling asleep.
And then he registered the foul new smell. He grimaced, retching, and then a sense of dread filled his mind. He turned slowly. The sun was now almost overhead; streaks of its hot light penetrated the swaying grass fronds above. The two stoors were standing in the light, snorting and grunting. Their backs were steaming, and rancid fluid was dripping from their chins and bellies. And they were starting to shudder.
Oornu reached over and slapped Uurna. He whispered. “Wake up!”
With a groan Uurna evacuated what little remained in her stomach. She sat up, coughing and spitting blood. She was annoyed. “What?”
She blinked away her sleepiness and looked. As she did so the nearest stoor let out a piercing shriek. It shook itself violently, scattering rancid chunks of skin and fat to either side. The second stoor did the same. Some of their bones and muscles were now exposed. Expanding clouds of vapour drifted through the grass.
Oornu was feeling faint. “The mist! We must run!” He grabbed Uurna and helped her to her feet. Unsteadily they headed into a denser region of grass.
Behind them both stoors were now shrieking. There was a splattering sound as the creatures shook away more of their rotten flesh. And then the crunch and thud of their foot falls started.
Oornu was gasping; his weakened body sucking in air to fuel his terror-induced flee.
Uurna struggled behind him. She was moaning as she ran, and almost tripping up at every step. “We can’t go on like this.” She said, her voice a weakened groan. “We must hide.”
“We have to go on!”
Despite her feebleness Uurna managed to shout. “But we cannot!” She stopped and bent over, resting her hands on her knees.
Oornu turned and grabbed her shoulders. He pulled her up. “The mist will only spread and thicken. It will consume us!”
Uurna struggled and broke free from Oornu’s grip. “The mist is warm, it will not sink.” She pointed down. “And the dead grass is deep!”
Oornu looked at the ground. It was a carpet of drying fronds, layer upon layer of them, and it was indeed deep. The noise of the stoors was growing. He nodded. “Get under it!”
Oornu and Uurna knelt down and parted the dead grass. They forced their legs in and then pulled themselves under and down to the cool dampness beneath. They pulled closed the hole they had made and then waited silently, half-submerged in the compost.
They could feel the vibrations of the stoors as they approached. And then the grass above pushed down on them. The creatures were right overhead.
Oornu focused on his breathing, keeping it steady and quiet. He could tell that Uurna was doing the same. She was gripping his hand tightly. The stoors seemed quieter and less aggressive now. Uurna’s plan might just work.
And then both stoors let out their loudest shriek yet. The layers of grass above shook as the two creatures stomped around. There was the sound of splattering, and then a wet thudding sound as if several waterlogged things of great weight had been dropped. And now there was the sound of running water.
Oornu felt something warm on his head. With dread he reached up and touched it, and then sniffed his hand. The powerful tangy stench caused him to retch, and then cough. His mouth filled with the taste of bile and blood. “They’re emptying!”
Uurna pulled herself closer to Oornu. He looked at her, her face almost invisible in the gloom of their hiding place. He whispered. “Their waste water is foul, but not harmful.”
“What about their solids? If any of them touch us we’ll…”
“They’re always big and sticky. Small bits never break off. We are safe down here.”
Uurna was trembling. “But we will have to climb up sometime. They have empted right above us. Their solids will be potent for at least a season!”
The stoors were still stomping around above, their shrieks loud and prolonged. There was more spattering.
Oornu nodded. “Once they leave we will dig sideways. We can go back up in another place.”
“But the mist!”
Oornu frowned, tired of his mate’s constant distress. “We will wait until after sun fall. The mist will lose its strength. We must be patient.”
Uurna nodded slowly, and then rested her head on Oornu’s shoulder. Something dripped onto her nose. She tensed up, and then vomited violently.