Hesitation will ruin the impulsiveness this inadvisable plan needs.
Biding time to string Kristine out until early morning’s light is fraught by opportunities to reconsider. I finally pack her frailty into deep sleep using manufactured softness and find my own mounting fear calling for their smooth-edged pharmaceutical cousins.
Caringly concerned about a premature awakening, I place water bottles and individually wrapped cookies; the soft chewy ones she likes, on a bedside table. Prominently displaying a plastic cup containing another dose of ‘lights out’ completes the banquet. Going by past days, she’ll reach for the promise of another languid afternoon rather than seek my company.
The lounge room stinks of oil and metal. I layer myself with guns and knives and pack too many spares, overcompensating for previous screw-ups. Hefting two weighty duffle bags is a short-lived exercise. They crash to the carpet and are left behind. I accept the company of a shotgun and stuff cartridges into pants pockets until they bulge.
The truck’s preparation involves sloshing cans of fuel into the tank, throwing scant gear into the cab and turning the ignition. Its previous battering hasn’t affected the engine’s performance. The motor starts and runs smoothly.
The rank interior is as second-hand as the exterior. Bloody handprints and mud stains on the seats. Reminders of past follies aren’t able to divert my single-minded purpose.
It takes a fierce concentration on minutiae to block the extreme danger an excursion of this type in this condition. Mirror positions, seat suspension, hairstyle.
Somewhere inside an often consulted paranoia resents being ignored. It wriggles uncomfortably when driven out the gate and into an unpopulated street. My calm disconnection and courageous anticipation is, of course, artificially managed by tipping another gel cap over quivering lips. I suck it down with a cold breath.
I see my first Creep for the day. He’s a large one, complete with massive white beard, ambling along the road.
Santa has arrived early this year.
He swivels at the motor's drone and steps into the truck’s path. I have no compunction about mowing down mythical beings. Especially those who failed to deliver on childhood demands. The truck shrugs off the impact, bouncing the Creep along the road in a bone breaking flailing of arms and legs.
Shades of indescribable hues blind and dull my vision in a cosmic light-show of firing synapses. Donning a pair of dark sunnies tones down a battering received from the ball of gas. Rippling skin warms and exudes tiny domes of acrid sweat.
Empty suburbia cruises by in a Sunday morning’s pretence.
I swallow and feel the saliva slide down a tingling throat. A shaky hand rasps across numb bristled chin indecisively. The highway I enter for expediency is a parking lot of a hundred thousand stalled, dirty cars. They close in on my singular, forcefully freed, lane. Silent metal carriages, bearing the aggression of that final rush hour, retain their owner's panic.
An illegal turn leaves this river of steel and its phantom roar behind at the first available opening. I prefer to hammer down a maze of quieter residential streets, lurching across crackling drifts of fallen leaves. Mother Nature’s encroachment and clutter is remarkable. Without man’s intervention, the wake of winter’s second relaxing grip reveals an increasingly bold advance. I nod approvingly towards the green, gold and russet tinges spreading over every surface.
The Golden Pine Nursery is easily found due to a circuitous route traced carefully in the map book. Individual humanoid figures dotted about are ominously numerous, though disregarded as hazardous.
The premise’s security is intact. I’m not surprised no one has wasted energy raiding a garden supply store. Landscaping materials have few emergency uses during Parasite invasions. Sturdy gates burst at weak hinges when reversed into with a large enough mass.
I disembark and slip between the truck and its damage to survey the untidy profusion of greenery filling the shade-clothed expanse. It hums with life. Bugs and mosquitoes fill the air, disturbed as I pass. Those drawn to my scent will be the only parasites tolerated today.
Low rows of wire mesh benches hold a multitudinous freight of black plastic pots. They spill healthy weeds, growing around the dead sticks of less robust rightful owners. The common and vigorous have overwhelmed the beautiful and coddled.
The natural selection saddens me on an already gloomy day. My head clouds with Shanna’s stolen life and Kristine’s consequentially shattered spirit. Anger rises.
Using the shotgun as a makeshift machete, vines and shrubs are lashed aside. I forge a path towards a hand-painted sign. A universal depiction of a Christmas tree.
Located here is a different graveyard of needle-shedding, brown limbs. These trees survived to outgrow the limits of their pots, then died in windblown domino falls; root bound and starving.
The prickly, crumbling forest resists my advance, protecting a stunted tree that clings to life. A chest-high, sickly book-leaf pine, shaded by its dead brothers. Questing roots festoon the pot, braving the elements to foraging between pavers. In the absence of a healthier specimen I accept its portentous survival as a ‘sour grape’ bonus. The roots tear free after much rocking.
We strut away under a shower of dying leaves; accolades thrown by deceased shrubs and thriving weeds as if they wish the ragged prize well.
The symbol is secured in the truck's rear; its tiny footprint ridiculous on such a massive deck space. It would be unreasonable to return with only one tree to show for my efforts. A study of the establishment's other wares enlivens a grand design in my head.
The company’s forklift has charge in its battery and starts after interminable cranking. I use it to pilfer pallets of fertilizer and potting mixes. Hoses, fittings and an assortment of tools are sourced from the shop’s interior wares. The pallet jack I must use to unload at the other end will be disagreeably hard work but the forklift can’t be persuaded to load itself.
The afternoon rolls over my paper thin luck like a steamroller. Part of me lurks irritably aside from the enthusiastic pillaging, becoming more dissatisfied as the booty mounts, and eager to return home. That same part will rejoin me when safety is regained and uncap congratulations and condemnation in equal measures. It is while considering this early celebration that muffled scrapings and the hint of movement beyond the shade-clothed fence is noticed.
I’ve been here too long.
The Creeps have found me.
And they’ve brought all their friends.