I kneel on the ground near my rescuer, vomiting in huge contractions. Bile and mucus dribble from my lips. The intense encounter can’t be entirely to blame for this reaction. Something else curdles my blood and turns my bones to leaden weights. The heavy ache in my pelvic region is survivable but these other symptoms threaten to shut me down completely.
The cure is at hand.
I grope pockets for the loyal pill case; it never leaves me, and shake four Dexadrine down my neck. Downward plunging faculties will meet that onrushing bulldozer real soon.
The face I grip feels two sizes too big.
Gooey white tendrils spattered across the front of my jacket wriggle. Like tiny worms.
Fucking disgusting. I flick them off then unpeel ruined gloves to inspect a damaged hand.
I retrieve spare gloves from the rucksack. If I have to touch the broken parasite it won’t be bare skinned contact. No sir, it will not.
The girl lays peacefully, face down in the dirt. I hunker to carefully observe her and the squished hat draped over her head. She breathes and IT doesn’t. I’d be happy enough if they’d both exited this world. My guilty conscience might let me leave then.
I dab my face with a handful of tissues. It comes away red everywhere I touch. I stuff a wad up my nose and poke another in my ear.
With a sigh of the unappreciated I reach out with the shotgun to prod the beast again. My bravery reserves are so far in deficit, refilling the hole left behind will take some time. I should get a medal for handling this shit. Torn stomach muscles clench when I grab the carcass. Closing my eyes helps.
A hard yank leaves me holding a soft, dripping, headless, legless body. Couldn’t be that easy could it? I drop the soggy remains and lean in to puzzle out why the embedded claws won’t come out. I notice the head is in good shape and is secured to four of the most deeply embedded legs. Dead eyes stare into my soul as I reach for it. Can’t do it. Touching the razor jawed, bulging eyed, glistening fanged head is beyond my abilities.
Instead I delicately pinch a thorny leg segment between finger and thumb. Tugging experimentally shows how each claw has a ratchet mechanism that digs the claws in further the harder I pull.
I disengage each one individually, screwing my face up in a fearsome grimace when I lift the head away by the attached legs. The procedure is repeated with the orphan legs. It takes forever and leaves me with a sizable stack. Good thing the girl’s unconscious, the operation is not kind to her flesh.
I wipe away the ropey white stuff and grey goo from her matted hair. I’m not sure what swims around in that stuff but I take care to keep it clear of her mouth. Some slop touches my wrist, cold and greasy. I’ll be chucking these gloves too.
All the body pieces are disentangled and most of the disgusting crap is scraped from her hair. A small pile of mangled pieces makes a neat pyramid.
It still scares me.
The hysterical voice inside my head freaks out when I stomp hard and repeatedly on the remains. The crunch and squish of disintegrating body parts beneath my boot sends my nerve endings crazy.
Overreacting like this rids me of a few repressed fears that were too scared to come out earlier. They would have waited for me to dream and vindictively formed a thousand nightmares for a thousand nights. Probably will anyway.
I snap out of my hate filled hoedown when the Dexadrine kicks in hard. I suck down a cool inrushing breath and it pours like desert heat. I scan the area, revitalised. Get a grip man, take stock.
I’ve been shooting and screaming and generally breaking Rule Two: ‘never stay in the open’, or was it ‘don't make undue noise’?
Parasites are drawn to noise and although they operate hosts like learner drivers they could hear pretty bloody well. If any were in earshot they would be converging on this place right now.
I contemplate abandoning the girl for the tenth time. Would my conscience haunt me forever to leave her unprotected body lying here, ripe for the next parasite that wandered by? Bugger. I know it would.
I crouch again and push crusty hair away from her face. A fouled glove smears a scratched cheek with ooze. They are flung into the weeds. I can’t tell if she’d been bitten but trickles of blood run from dozens of claw marks around her face.
I roll her over. She groans as if resenting the way my eyes wander across her body. She’s youngish, early twenties maybe, slim build, lean and muscular like a dancer or an aerobics junkie.
I kick myself for wasting time. She might be attractive under the blood and dirt but I should be thinking of getting her out of here.
Instead of what I was actually thinking.
Her choice of clothing is ludicrous. Here I was, fully armoured and carrying half a tonne of weaponry. She wears tight jeans, sneakers and a tight cotton shirt. It shows the swell of her breasts nicely. How she’d survived this long without weapons was an interesting question. One I might have the chance to ask later.
Carrying her will mean leaving the rucksack. Guess she better wake up. To my surprise, slapping her cheeks, the universal and only method I know of to wake the unconscious, works. She resurfaces, blindly punching and screaming with terror. I grab her fists. My face is messed up enough without her fingernails gouging me. Her eyes clear from terror to fear as her brain recognises me. She stops screaming but keeps struggling.