My escape plans are complicated by the uncompromising politics of both parties in this war.
Neither the vigilantes nor the Parasite hosts are big on negotiation if they catch you. One side kills deserters on sight; the other welcomes all comers with open mouths.
Not being a particularly proactive kind of guy I wait until my procrastinating hand is forced. The terrible day of reckoning arrives early one morning. A large contingent of Parasite hosts tire of our forays into their hives. They bring the fight to us. The lookout sounds the alarm, waking me from broken sleep. I wipe the sleep from my eyes and look down at the oncoming mass. I have time to notice their motor controls are much improved before wakening properly. Like a headless chicken I run about looking for cover.
The hosts fight with aggressive passiveness, concentrating their numbers on one spot until the position is overrun. When they break through, ‘Poppers’ sacrifice themselves in our midst, releasing tiny scuttling monstrosities. I’ve squeezed into a steel locker. The limited view from its vent shows me more than I want to see. The aftermath of exploded bodies and dark, crawling things that seek new homes. The closest soldiers vehemently reject their advances. Bullets fly in all directions.
The concussion of grenades, machine gun fire and angry, scared howls punctuate the savage fighting. Bullets ricochet around my cabinet. One bullet punctures the upright steel coffin at knee level. I stare down at the jagged hole waiting for pain that doesn’t come. Missed. I block my ears to keep out the terrible screams of the overwhelmed. Hosts shuffle past me and are gunned down. There seem to be endless replacements for those who fall.
The combat continues without let-up all day and into the night. Ammunition must be running low by the time Lieutenants scream orders to hold fire, fall back, regroup, retreat.
Hysterical ‘abandon camp’ shouts ring out. Disordered running figures pass my locker in different directions followed by shambling horrors and spasmodic shooting.
The ensuing panic is contagious. I am ill with it. Opening the rattly cabinet door to sneak away into the night is frighteningly heroic. I had no choice. A spasming cramp was making my leg kick like a mule.
I run for about a block and cut across a park and spy a small building hidden amongst the trees. It is here I accidentally happen upon others of my ilk. They moan with fear when I ease open the door of a small garden shed they are hiding in. Their fear turns to annoyance when they see who has discovered them. I swallow the heart that has leapt into my throat. We tolerate each other’s presence for another 18 hours while the distant crack of rifles and boom of larger explosives mark the end stages of the melee.
The second day fades, dominated by nerve-wracking silences. Scraping footsteps lock our muscles in inconvenient poses. We’d win a group mime competition.
A brave watcher slips in and out, whispering reports of satisfied hosts filtering from the battleground, heading back to wherever hosts roost. They carry the spoils of victory. Whole, live, struggling bodies. And not so live body parts. We know the HDC camp will not be reopening.
The hosts have gone. We stiffly exit the shed on dusk and immediately are spied by two wounded soldiers left to fend for themselves by the more fleet of foot. They club me and an older man to the ground, thinking this will encourage us to help them. The rest of our associates run away.
The soldiers are in a bad way. They bleed heavily from bites. I wait for an opening and wrestle a pistol from weak fingers and perform my first ever murders. It’s surprisingly easy to kill them though I ruin the moment with hot tears and mad screeching laughter. These two faces were responsible for many past grievances. I, and the ghosts of other defenceless men and women, demanded vengeance for abuse suffered at their hands. I kid myself later that I’d acted mercifully to spare them from the Parasites.
I remember the fading bloodlust as I stood over the bodies with a white knuckled grip on the pistol. All I desired was Hadley’s face in my sights. I would have pulled that trigger a time or two more. A lethargic nature rules out dedicating the rest of my life to bringing him to justice. The Parasites can have that pleasure.
The older man backs away from my blood-splattered grinning face with wide, frightened eyes. His hands are high in the air. I let him run from a pitiable crooning I can't stop.