Kristine will have to remain in the combat zone. I’m legging it down several corridors to collect the cobbled together weapon. The comforting blanket of artificial calm I’ve relied on to stay focused is gone, flushed away by adrenaline’s brutal entrance.
I barge into a supply room and haul the heavy gas cylinder out on its trolley. Haste causes the attached neat coil of tubing to unravel. It tangles around my feet, tripping me and toppling the gas cylinder in slow motion. It hits the concrete with a resounding clang.
I wince, fully expecting the valve to snap off, sending the cylinder, my only defence from the imminent birth, rocketing away.
Fast breaths correspond to high-pressure squeaks from a closed throat. I try to stay cool but there’s a bunch of Parasites about to overrun my home. With the trolley righted I push it fast only to be wrenched to a standstill by the trailing hose catching on everything in sight. Running back I gather it to my chest in an untidy bundle.
Getting the gear into the observation room is like a scene from a slap-stick comedy. Barked shins and smashed elbows abound. I reassure myself that I’ve reached the easy part. All I have to do is shove the pipe through the food slot and incinerate the host, safely external.
The crafty Parasite screws this part up too. It crawls out of reach, pressing against the wall directly under the mirror. I look down upon its bald, scabby head and curse.
Fuck. Now I’ll have to go in there, up close and personal.
Burning someone alive, even a host, does not come naturally to me. I over-react to the smaller problem of getting the cell open to prevent myself thinking about it. Then there’s the difficulty of fitting the trolley through the door, and then wrestling with the bundle of hopelessly tangled tubing. These things occupy me admirably.
The host squirms, adjusting itself to a reclined position. With one eye riveted on it I turn the valve. The gas gushes out with far more force than I’d anticipated. In hindsight I should have attached a valve to the lance for better control. Too late for refinements now.
I fumble with the lighter. A sweetish smell of LP gas overlays the appalling sewer stench in here. Leaning forward, I snap the sparking lever.
Half the room becomes a huge fireball as the gas ignites. I drop the lance and dive sideways through the door as a rolling flame spills out over me.
Son of a bitch, my face is burned. I bet I’ve got no eyebrows left. Kristine escapes the heat that scorches ceiling tiles and sets off every smoke alarm in sight. The disconnected sprinkler system spurts shortly and drips unpressurised contents from affected nozzles. The noisy clanging is ignored. I’d had the forethought to cut wires leading to external fire alarms long ago.
I get up and step on the flaming wand sliding listlessly towards the cylinder. A more manageable fire jet leaps from the tube after I adjust the flow.
The demon is scorched by my incompetent ignition, but it has not moved. Its rags smoke, and blisters erupt on exposed skin. Watchful eyes in that sickening skull glow with intense interest, well aware the roaring flame I swing towards it will destroy the host.
Without a flicker of pain, skeletal fingers dig deep into the ripe stomach and rip the skin open.
Jesus. The sight of spurting blood and tearing skin is sickening. The balled-up creatures flowing from that bulging belly in a wave of bloody mucus will never leave my memory. Spindly legs unfold, lashing the slippery ground for purchase.
Dozens more scurry eagerly from the ragged gash in the used up body, gnashing tiny teeth as they look for something to chew. Of course they see me and scuttle across the floor, hampered by full abdomens that bulge from overindulgence.
Vomit races up my throat. I dare not turn aside so I throw up all over my shirt. Without wasting a second to wipe away strings of saliva I wrench the cylinder knob further open. The flame pours forth in a welcoming rush to envelope the frontrunners. I lift the lance to wash over the mercifully lifeless woman they continue to spew from. Mini-Parasites shrivel and writhe as the burning gas touches them. Their squealing death throes are accompanied by a loud sizzling. Several pop open, spilling their white liquid guts. I play the flame back and forth over the tiny bodies until they flare.
The really dangerous ones, two larger Parasites, struggle to free themselves from the gaping, blackened hole in Shanna’s stomach. I tilt the lance to direct fire into the hole, boiling them in their offspring’s embryonic fluid. While I incinerate the parents more of the baby Parasites from the initial release of fluid are busily unfolding legs and rapidly scuttle in every direction.
I can’t allow any of them to escape. I turn the flame higher still and flood the cell with a roaring inferno that scorches me too. The mat under Shanna’s body blackens and catches fire, adding to the conflagration. The nearby mattress smokes and melts.
When I’m sure all the Parasites are dead I continue sterilising everything in the cell to hot ash. Only the body hasn’t burned to my satisfaction but I’ll stand here cooking it until the gas runs out if I have to.
My lungs aren’t too pleased by this idea. They are scorched and every gasping intake of breath makes me choke and cough on toxic vapour released from fire retardant materials. Almost passing out I drop to my knees, suffocating. Cleaner air down low revives me.
Then the roof caves in.
Ceiling tiles, dislodged in the explosion, choose this moment to fall. A jumble of ducting, lights and wiring come with it, crashing down around me and burying the cylinder. A sharp edge neatly slices through the rubber tubing instantly cutting off the flame. I throw the useless pipe away as the rubber hose whips and hisses under the rubble.
I shuffle out fast on hands and knees, grabbing Kristine by the collar on the way past. When that gas reaches the smouldering bedding it will go bang.
We are in the cool of the corridor with the door closing behind us. I congratulate myself on a job half done. Coughing uncontrollably I lug Kristine across the floor with infrequent jerks to distance us from the imminent fireball.
Instead of flame the loudest sound I’ve ever heard accompanies a hard shove. I clutch Kristine to me by reflex as we fall.
The cylinder has exploded. Maybe I should have fitted a flashback arrestor to it. Wood, steel and glass bounce and rattle down around us in a destructive ballet.
It takes a long time for my ears to stop ringing. I sit for a while watching smoke drift along the corridor with Kristine’s head lying on my thigh. I remember her and Shanna in this pose while they awaited my return in the ute tray. I’d been jealous of the love they’d shared.
Ash from my hand marks her face as I brush her cheek.
Ash that used to be Shanna.