Escape from Robodeath Island

Summary: A small group of high-school students stranded on a small island after a field trip goes awry, and then a strange death machine begins pursuing them...

The annual field trip to Voorhees Island was the highlight of Mr. Myers' AP Biology class. A select group of students, an even blend of those with the highest grades and those that otherwise assisted classmates in the lab. The Saint Jason Catholic High School in southern New Jersey made such annual sojourns to the wildlife preserve on Voorhees Island prior to the onset of the tourist rush after Memorial Day. As such, it signified the imminent onset of summer vacation and the promise of warmer days to come.

Voorhees Island itself was a barrier island between Wildwood and Cape May, wedged uneasily between degeneracy and tedium. A narrow bridge connected it to the mainland, which was in a similar state of disrepair as the rest of the state's subpar, decaying infrastructure. Due to being the nesting grounds of certain types of rare seabirds and the small size of the island, it was designated as a wildlife preserve that drew only a handful of tourists, ornithologists, and birdwatchers each year. The seemingly idyllic, forested isle was nevertheless surrounded by detritus from the Jersey Shore.

Like the corpse of a beached whale, the surrounding New Jersey coast became increasing putrid with each passing year. The beach stank like rancid tallow heated by the summer sun. The sounds were as a swarm of buzzing maggots writhing within the carcass. While Voorhees Island was nominally a nature preserve, it nevertheless was polluted by the medical waste, used drug paraphernalia, industrial waste, and similar flotsam that washed up against its shores. The subhuman mutants that migrated to the coast in summer similarly blighted the state like an infestation of botfly larvae.

Despite the gallery of grotesqueries that surrounded Voorhees Island, it was nevertheless a welcome change of pace for Mr. Myers' half-dozen students. Despite being teenagers chronologically, they nevertheless looked a decade older. With supplies in their van, they headed to the campsite that would be their domiciles for the coming weekend. Mr. Myers was largely silent while driving, as though deep in religious reflection.

Behind him were Dexter and Matt, one short and stout, and the other tall and lean. Both of their skins were pockmarked with acne, and they similarly wore dark-framed glasses held together with tape. They compared notes on the various wildlife migration patterns, while typing up character sheets for the roleplaying campaign they'd planned for the night. With the vicariousness of aged children, they surrounded themselves in math and science. They checked the props they had for live-action role-playing in the woods, so they could get deeper into character than they'd ever gone before. Only to such nerds would such an endeavor seem like an illicit thrill.

Utterly apathetic to her classmates was Dana, the potential valedictorian of their class. While her round, dark glasses and lack of makeup separated her from the other girls, the trench-coat she wore over her uniform was enough for most of her peers to avoid her. While more than willing to engage in conversation with anyone around her, she selectively reserved her choice words for cases where they stung like a swarm of enraged hornets. With an off-putting aloofness, she kept her hands folded on her lap.

Behind Dana was the only black student in their class, Marcus. He was reading through the collected works of Kant, after finishing off a treatise on thermal imagining technology. A pothole in the road sent books flying from his open backpack, revealing as eclectic works as The Book of Five Rings, the latest Monster Manual, computer programming guides, and countless others. Used to the way the other students ignored him, he retreated once more into his portable library.

In the back of the van were Chad and Chloe. Chad was the star quarterback of the school's football team, and the son of an affluent government contractor. Like a teenaged Adonis, he sat back like a triumphant warrior-king upon his throne. Necking with him was Chloe, the blonde cheerleader uncharitably nicknamed the sports bike, for both her real and rumored liaisons with the school's prominent athletes. Both joined the others through assisting Mr. Myers' classes, rather than academic prowess. Nevertheless, they leered down upon the others as though they were dismissive courtiers.

Mr. Myers, with his brown mustache and round race, drove the van as the overcast sky darkened above them. They crossed the wooden causeway that connected the island to the mainland as the wind picked up. White-capped waves formed in the bay, like the flecks of spittle from a rabid dog. He seemed oblivious to the ominous weather as he drove down the forested road, where trees loomed over them like an arboreal cathedral.

Mr. Myers followed the road to its muddy terminus, a parking lot outside a single-story dwelling were the park ranger lived. It was a shack barely worthy of the title, powered by solar panels on the roof. Beside it were a row of even smaller wooden lean-to shelters that would provide the students' accommodation for the trip. He pulled up to the shack and honked the horn. When no signs of movement came from the shack, he honked it again. Visibly distraught, he stepped out of the vehicle.

"Hold on, I'll be right back," Mr. Myers said as he hoped out of the driver's seat, taking the keys with him. "The ranger must be busy."

Mr. Myers walked towards the shack, cautiously observing his surroundings. There was no sign of the ranger's pickup truck, nor of any other parked vehicles. There was a stack of firewood beside the house, with an axe embedded in a stump beside it. He momentarily wondered if there was some storm warning he'd missed, or if the ranger went into town for supplies or stimulation. He saw strange set of tracks that led into the woods from the other side of the building, like the treads of a scaled-down tank, which went around the side of the building. Shrugging, he followed.

Mr. Myers would have dismissed the broken window as the work of drunken vandals, had he seen it under any other circumstance. Having never seen or heard about any vandalism on the isolated isle before, he felt an involuntary shudder descend his spine, as though caressed by Old Man Winter. He considered driving back across the bridge, especially after hearing thunder and lightning precede rainfall with an almost unnatural alacrity. The creaking of wood he heard over the wind did not fill him with confidence regarding the safety of a drive back. His cell phone similarly showed a peculiar lack of coverage.

"Looks like the ranger's not here," Mr. Myers said, putting on his best smile. "So we've got the island to ourselves for now. Say, do any of your phones work?"

All of the students pulled out their phones to check. From seeing their shaking heads, a resounding "no" came back from all of them. Dexter, however, opened his laptop. "No signal for this, either, even though there's some strange source nearby."

"Well, why don't you see if you can get a message out?" Mr. Myers said. "I'm going to go look for the ranger."

With that, Mr. Myers vanished into the woods, never to be seen again. Meanwhile, the students were too focused on relocating to the crude wooden shelters as the rain fell down around them. The uncouth lean-tos had seen many classes stay beneath their rooves, almost for as long as Mr. Myers had been bringing his class to the island. Each had four bunks, but the students broke off to make the most of their private space.

Matt and Dexter claimed one for themselves, and they began dressing up as their roleplaying characters. Chad rolled his eyes at them, leading Chloe to the shelter at the end of the row. Seeking space for his books, Marcus claimed an entire lean-to for himself. Dana selected one at the opposite end, well away from the others. As the rain fell, the sun departed the sky. The tremendous groaning and crash of timbers was heard over the whipping winds, roaring surf, and lashing rains. With terrible celerity, the students realized the bridge collapsed.

"There goes the way out," Matt said, shivering in the wind. He slipped into his outfit earlier, that of an elven archer, and wrapped himself in his sleeping bag. "You think Mr. Myers is okay?"

"Assuming he didn't skip out on us," his portly companion Dexter said, speaking in a deep voice that fit the axe-brandishing dwarven warrior he dressed as. "You know he's done it before, like last year's class. He just wants us to complete the assignment by Monday."

"So two days to ourselves. What if one of us needs help? There's no cell phone or wi-fi on the island. Must be down due to the storm."

"But there is that strange source from beforeā€¦"

"Probably just wi-fi from a passing boat. Anyway, ready for the campaign to start?"

Dexter and Matt went silent as they heard footfalls in the woods behind their lean-to. While some daylight lingered over the horizon, they nevertheless heard strange sounds echo through the woods, like a cacophony of maddened insects. Through the trees came a cadence of feet upon leaves, moving with greater celerity as it approached them. With a swiftness he thought himself incapable of, Dexter reached for the flashlight, and aimed it directly at the source.

Marcus covered his eyes with his books, almost stumbling in the process. He lowered the books in his hands and pulled out the dice from his pocket. He took a seat between Dexter and Matt and unfurled a grid-covered mat before him. "Guys got your character sheets ready?"

Both nodded, before looking out the side of the lean-to. Marcus followed their gazes. He saw Dana wandering towards the ranger's house, for reasons he could not discern. He also heard the sounds of kissing and sloshing of bodily fluids from Chad and Chloe's shelter. He saw the two disdainfully detect the nerds' stares before vanishing into the woods to continue. Not caring what the jock and his girlfriend were up to, he returned to the sacred duty of game-mastering.

Chad and Chloe ran deep into the woods, giggling as they embraced against a tree. They kissed, they held each other tighter, and pressed against their sweat-soaked bodies. Chad felt himself press further against the girl before him, ignoring the chill from the rain that ran down from the branches above them. He felt Chloe hesitate for a bit, though, as if she was reminded of something urgent. She backed away from Chad cautiously.

Marcus heard Chloe's scream echo all the way into their lean-to. He instinctively arched his back when he heard the bizarre sounds that followed. There was the roar, as of some great industrial saw cleaving through meat. There was a wet dripping, as though the sloshing of some bodily fluids. There was a droning, as if some great and terrible mechanism was awoken from a period of prolonged disuse. Finally, there was a throaty gurgle, like the sucking of bathwater down the drain. Then, all he heard was the patter of raindrops on the murky ground.

"W-what was that?" Matt asked. "Everyone's okay, right?"

Marcus stood up and looked outside. A shape moved in the abject darkness of the forest. He looked around for a weapon, anything he could use. He grabbed a heavy stick from the ground and took a flashlight in his other hand. For a moment, he thought his beam reflected off something with a metallic sheen to it, but focus on the thing that was shambling towards them. He heard a belabored breathing and saw an empty gaze. It was Chad, bloodied and minus his shirt. He stepped forwards, babbling. "Hello?" Marcus asked.

He received only nonsensical muttering in response.

"Dex, he's in shock," Marcus said. "Grab the sleeping bag. Matt, grab the first aid kit in my bag."

The two nerds vanished into the shelter to retrieve the items Marcus specified. He reached inside to pull out a sterile pad, which he used to wipe the blood off Chad's shirt. He saw no wounds or lacerations from his cursory inspection, which nevertheless caused him to think the blood was from another.

"Chad, if you can hear me, where's Chloe?" Marcus asked. "Is she okay?"

Something crashed through the distant brush, causing them to look up. They did not see Chad's finger slipping along the screen of his smart phone, nor the grin that momentarily crossed his face. Marcus nevertheless laid him down, commanding the nerds like a surgeon issuing instructions to medical orderlies.

Away from the camp, Dana entered the ranger's house. Seeking a warmer shelter than the rotting lean-to, she slowly opened the door through the broken window, being careful to avoid the broken glass. Given the shards were scattered about across the kitchen, she decided to avoid that if possible. She entered the building, looking about with her flashlight. There was the small kitchenette, a bathroom of similar proportions to an airliner, a cot, and a small couch beside a dead television. Considering herself a winner of an unlikely lottery, she nevertheless resolved to beg forgiveness later rather than ask permission from an absent adult.

Dana set her pack beside the cot, only to feel something heavy and metallic. Beside the bed was a pump-action shotgun, propped upwards at the ceiling at an angle. Recalling the responsibilities of the park ranger, she imagined it might've been used for scaring off birds. She considered examining it closer, but set it down rather than risk an accident in the darkened room. She'd read enough Darwin Awards to know how those occurred.

Dana looked beside the bed to see a radio on the nightstand, with a dusty owner's manual beside it. She turned the power on the musty machine, and she began scanning all frequencies. All she heard was the disappointing crackle of white noise, even on the emergency channel. She wondered if it was plugged in or the power was on, but found the battery backup indicated they were fully charged.

Pulling out her old flip phone, Dana noted the lack of service on it, despite her previous trip to the area having no such issues. A fatalistic curiosity arose in her mind as she considered the strangeness of the ranger's own radio being down, as though someone wished to remove the island's communications with the outside world. To her ears, the white noise was a funereal shroud settling over the island. Thunder crashed that instant, causing her to jump. A second later, it crashed out of the woods.

Marcus saw it first in his peripheral vision, but Matt and Dex reacted before he could. They turned and ran as something shot forth from the woods, faster than a phantasmal javelin. It erupted from the front of Dexter's chest like a crimson butterfly. Bloodied but thrashing, the nerd stared down in disbelief before the harpoon was ripped backwards into the woods, taking him with it. A mechanical claw swept across their vision like a lightning strike, before something metallic swept and sharp down from above.

Dexter's scream echoed through the woods, as an oscillating red light scanned through the forest like a demonic eye. The thrashing teenager vanished beneath its glow, before a wet slurping was heard. As the eye fell upon them, Matt hugged Marcus. Marcus tried to run, only for the scared nerd to cling tightly onto him. A gurgling sound like water rushing through a clogged pipe emanated from the woods, and the light continued to advance.

Suddenly, a thunderous explosion ripped through the dark, without lightning to herald it. The light immediately shifted. The wracking of a shotgun pump preceded the second shot. That sanguine strobe receded into the forest, gradually and warily. Like a circling scavenger, it reminded in the distance. It vanished entirely from view by the third shot. Marcus and Matt simultaneously exhaled in relief, before turning to see Dana lowering the shotgun.

"I want to go home!" Matt said as he began to wet himself. Marcus pushed him away.

"It's gone for now, but it might be back," Dana said. "So come with me if you want to live."

"What was that thing?" Marcus asked, pushing the urinating Matt away. "I all remember is hearing Chloe scream, then Chad stumbled deliriously out of the woods, covered in blood."

"Grab Chad and let's head back to the ranger's house," Dana said. "I found an ammo cache."

"Good idea," Marcus said. "Matt, help me carry Chad."

Slipping on their packs, Marcus walked over to the prone jock, and hoisted him up in a fireman's carry. Matt came along to assist, but his lanky frame struggled under the athlete's weight. As Dana scanned the woods with her newfound weapon, he carried him over to the small house. As they moved, Dana pulled the woodcutter's axe out of the stump and used it to prop the door opened. They set Chad on the bed, and Marcus picked up his improvised weapon.

"What the hell happened?!" Matt asked. "What was that thing?!"

"Probably what got the ranger and Mr. Myers, too," Dana said. "But it's afraid of bullets."

"Or we just got lucky," Marcus said. "Whatever that thing is, it'll be back. I vote we get the hell out of here."

"Agreed," Dana said. "But Mr. Myers had the keys to the van. So unless we hotwire it-"

Matt pulled his phone out and pressed 9-1-1. "Say, anyone's phone working?" Matt asked. "I'm not getting any reception here."

"None here, despite it working on this island before," Dana said, turning to Marcus. "You?"

"None," Marcus said. "What about Chad's phone? Could be dead, too, but worth a shot."

Marcus reached into the muttering athlete's pocket, slowly fumbling around until he found it. Chad moaned, and he turned his head to Marcus. "Is that your hand in my pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"

"Chad, you okay?" Marcus asked, kneeling down. "There was a lot of blood on you, but I didn't see any scars."

"T-that thing, it got her," he said, stammering. "Some kind of machine."

"It got Dexter, too," Matt interjected. "It had some kind of harpoon gun, but Dana drove it off with a shotgun."

Chad sighed. "I didn't get a good look at it," he said. "But it moved around on tracks, like a tank."

"So it could be heavily armored," Matt said. "The treads distribute the weight of a heavy hull."

"Which means a shotgun might not be enough for it," Marcus said. "Say, does your phone work?"

Chad reached into his pants pocket and pulled out the phone. He briefly looked at the screen and slipped it back in. "Nope. Dead as a doornail."

"So it could have some kind of communications jammer," Matt said. "Maybe some kind of robot tank?"

"But why use a harpoon gun? Why not a regular gun?" Dana asked.

"Why hunt us at all?" Marcus asked, a despondent sigh escaping his lips. "Look, it could be a rogue military machine or escaped science project for all we know. The bridge is out, our communications are down, and we have no way of knowing where this thing is."

"Wait!" Matt said. "I think I know how we can track it. I remember I saw a strange signal on my laptop earlier. Maybe white noise from the communications jammer? I could use the signal strength to estimate its location."

Dana slapped on him on the back, and Marcus grinned triumphantly. "Yeah, that's more like it."

"You know, Matt," Dana said. "I saw broken glass near the kitchen window. I think the ranger might've been yanked out the window."

"And Mr. Myers went off to look for him, and probably stumbled onto it as well," Marcus said. "Not liking these odds."

"Actually, time could be on our side," Matt said. "It would need a lot of power to move a heavy machine around. If we can find out where it is, we just need to avoid it."

"Mark, how about we take turns watching for it?" Dana suggested. "This room only has the one window, so it's easier to defend."

"Um, guys?" Matt said. "The signal strength's increasing. It's moving towards us."

"Shit," Marcus said. "Everyone, take cover along the walls. Stay low, be quiet, and don't move."

Matt shrieked in a high pitched voice, only for Chad to cover his mouth with a pillow. Matt watched with his laptop under the bed, while Chad locked himself in the small bathroom in the far corner. Dana crouched beside the window with the shotgun, while Marcus crouched across from her with the axe. They breathed slowly and deliberately, as if the slightest movement would give them away.

Marcus waited with bated breath. That infernal beam scanned once more through the room, illuminating the cabin like the light of a demoniac sun. He tightened his grip on the axe, as though it were the totem of a warrior spirit. The beam made another pass, and he pressed tighter against the wall. Sweat glistened on across his face, and he waited for the third pass to end. He saw Matt vanish further under the bed. The light began to dim and once more ebbed, like a wraith returning to oblivion.

"Hey, it's going away," Matt said, climbing out from under the bed. "I think we're safe."

The harpoon crashed through the window, skewering Matt like an archer's quarry. His laptop fell to the floor as he reeled from the blow. Forsaking his own safety, Marcus hacked at the taut line with his hatchet. The axe-head rebounded off the steel cable, sending him off balance from the force of the blow. He heard sound of an idling motor before some unseen mechanism ripped Matt's helpless form back through the window. His friend's face, forever frozen with eyes open in an unanswered pleading for help, was the last he saw of him.

Rage overcame Marcus' senses. He realized how futile their strategy was. The death machine was toying with them, reminding them how defenseless they truly were. The entire island was its macabre killing ground, and they were naught but livestock for it to slaughter at its leisure. Well-aware the machine might be following some esoteric logic impossible for humans, he resolved to buy his classmates time. They were not his closest friends, but he nevertheless could help them.

"Make a break for the bay and swim," Marcus said as he readied the axe. "Don't worry about me."

Dana fired off the last shell in the shotgun before Marcus charged. With a war-cry like a maddened berserker, he sprinted in the direction of the diabolical apparatus. His axe was held high over his head, and with the valor of a Cimmerian war-chief, he darted into the darkened forest. His scream echoed a few moments later, unheard by those he sacrificed himself to save.

Dana sprinted through the woods in the opposite direction, followed closely by Chad. Despite the frantic sprint she found herself performing, she nevertheless noted the nonchalance in his gait. A smirk formed on his mouth as he wove through the underbrush. Ahead of them, the bay sat like a plain of abyssal blackness, broken only by the lights of marinas on the other side.

As she waded into the water, Chad grabbed her hand and chuckled.

"What are you doing?" she asked angrily. "We're almost out of here."

"Don't worry," he said, pulling out his phone. "It won't bother us out here."

Chad yanked her back, and he grabbed at her trench-coat. A predator's grin appeared in his eyes, and his expression was that of a hungry wolf.

"It just got the nigger, you know, but I'll have to deal with the body later," he said, a sadistic grin appearing on his face. "So we don't have anyone else to worry about."

"Chad, are you crazy? We need to get off this island!" Dana said, recoiling away. Her instincts told her to start swimming, but the athlete's strength prevented her planned, expeditious retreat.

"No, I just need to get some," he muttered. "It all was going fine, but that whore wouldn't put out. You know she slept with half the basketball team, but not me?"

"Chad, we have to go!" Dana said. "Let go!"

Chad pulled out his phone and pressed a button. The robot emerged from the woods, and Dana beheld the horrible device in its full and terrible glory. It was the size of a small car, but had a pair of scorpion-like mechanical pincers that extended twice as long as its squat body. Between them was that terrible cyclopean eye, that mechanical herald of doom. Above its rear was the harpoon gun, which was feed into a winch mechanism atop a turret above an artificial tail. The central part of its abdomen was a pair of bloodied grinders, still caked with gore and rags from its prior victims. Where legs would have been on a scorpion were instead a pair of trends. There were minor dents in the armor from where her buckshot hit. The whole thing reminded Dana of the bastard offspring of a tank and scorpion.

Chad paused for a moment, as if to further taunt his prey. "You know this thing was originally designed as a military scout drone? It's called a gastrobot, a machine that uses a tank of microbes to digest its prey. They were going to scrap this thing, but thankfully, I managed to sneak it out of Dad's research lab."

Chad tapped on the trends, before flashing a maniacal grin. "This thing's amphibious, so don't bother trying to out-swim it. The military wasn't keen on flesh-eating robots, if you can believe that."

"Why, Chad? Why'd you murder everyone?!" Dana asked, backing away. She was looking for an opening, but the harpoon gun tracked her every movement. She had no doubts her life could be ended at any moment by the maniac before her.

"Mr. Myers was going to fail me, despite me slaving away in his stupid lab. Can you believe my football scholarship was at risk because of that ungrateful asshole?" he said. "So I knew this would be my only chance to do it with no witnesses. Had to get rid of the ranger and cut the bridge, too."

"And all of us?" Dana asked.

"Once that bitch refused, had to put her out of her misery. Then she screamed too loud, so the rest of you had to go," he said. "Nothing personal. But if you stay still, I'll make it quick."

Dana walked between the ocean and Chad, and knelt down. The victorious jock stepped forwards, slipping his phone into his pocket. Realizing her position, Chad instead stepped to the side. "Nope. Stay still," he said, pointing to the harpoon gun. "It'll be quick. I promise."

Chad shoved Dana to the ground, putting his foot on her back. She was tempted to give in, to surrender, to cease resisting. The maniac pressed down on her, driving his heel into the base of her spine. Dana looked up, and she saw something out of the corner of her eye. She crawled towards the robot, and Chad followed. He interposed himself between the forest and her, trying to preclude any escape route.

Pulling out the phone, Chad was about to open his mouth once more, undoubtedly to utter more condescending threats and sadistic boasts, but was cut short. A dark shape leap from beneath and behind the ball turret, descending onto Chad's back. He was bloodied and wounded, but still tenacious enough to put up a fight. Dana saw Marcus leap onto the athlete's back, and she grabbed the phone he dropped.

Dana sprinted out of Chad's grasp as he cursed after her. She saw plainly it was some sort of remote control for the killer machine before her, displaying possible targets. An infrared sensor's targeting cursor danced between her face, Chad, and Marcus. The entwined duo continued thrashing about, until Chad knocked Marcus against a tree. With her classmate prone, Chad raised his foot to stomp his head. Without hesitation, she selected her target.

Dana watched the harpoon impale Chad with a sense of relief rather than of sadistic vengeance. As he was pulled into the grinders, his final utterance was a scream in a grating, effete voice. She did not watch as his body was rendered and torn into a steaming ooze of charnel pollution. She did not see the way the microbes dissolved what little remained of him. She did not care to watch such perversities, as she bore other priorities. Instead of reveling in Chad's demise, Dana shut the machine down and helped Marcus to back to the house.