I stand with considerable, unwanted assistance from Cricket. We stare into the bustling crowd for several moments due to my unwillingness to proceed. The horror show is in town and I’m to join their parade under the untested sanctity of an invisible cloak. Maybe if I pretend the Creeps are shoppers from the good old days, spending cash and buying crap they don't need, it will be easier to mix with them.
It doesn’t work. Those well-meaning, rose-hued glasses get the flick. Reality’s brown-tinted ones slide into their usual position. I’m used to everything being coated in the colour of shit, coincidently the same name of this creek I’m paddling up in a barbed-wire canoe.
The unnatural quietness is the main sticking point I have when grasping for a suspension of disbelief. We humans aren’t a quiet race. This setting should have inane muzak overlaying the howls of spoiled brats demanding lollies, and teenager's loud, obscenity filled conversations on mobile phones.
There’s none of that with the Creeps. Not a cough or sneeze. Not a covert whisper between them. Not a single word.
Perhaps Darwin’s law, the survival of the fittest, would eventually sort the Parasites out. At the rate they breed they’ll consume beyond their prey’s reproductive capabilities. Soon enough the land will be stripped bare and perhaps then humans will rise again.
These thoughts aren’t helpful right here and now, nor do they fill me with philanthropic happiness. My incessant worry is of imminent discovery far outweighs concerns for the human race’s revival.
Depression usually rises whenever I contemplate my violent death. It vies for space, but every chink of me is already saturated with scared. Depression won’t be retaking its throne anytime soon either. The next level up is terror and it waits nervously in the wings for my extraordinary bad luck to return. At that point it’s ready to play the screaming and sprinting game.
Bring it on; I have flash new running shoes and my voice has a fine range.
Cricket’s iron grip around my elbow is better than the neck pinch he’d employed earlier, even if his enthusiasm cuts off the circulation. The reverie of times gone past is shaken off and I prompt him to reinsert us into the Creepy flow. We have concubines to find.
Closing my eyes and letting the Other-sight take over calms a jumpy pulse rate as we merge. The shield shapes itself, fitting snugly to exclude the press of bodies brushing against us. It’s so easy to manipulate; the psychic manifestations intuitively match my needs almost of their own accord. The missing instruction manual may not be such a hindrance after all.
I flinch and cover my lapse poorly when a whip-thin tendril spears the head of a neighbouring Creep. It retracts then stabs the next Creep’s head, and the next, over and over. Looking further ahead I see hundreds of black hoses at work along the wide thoroughfare.
Inside our bubble we are safely excluded from this treatment and Cricket accepts my orders as indistinguishable from those his real masters give. He strides forth, confidently tracing a path deeper into his home.
I absentmindedly collect snippets of information, losing myself in the counting of enemy units for a debriefing that may never come. One hundred, two hundred, three hundred, four hundred.
Abruptly I’m hauled to a halt, pulled sideways then shoved into the back of a Hawaiian shirt wearing Creep.
Oh, I see, you’d like me to get in line, Cricket. We stand in a queue leading onto an escalator, come stairs. I fidget during the slow rise above the crowds in regular upward steps. Rubber-necking the goings-on around me worsen a booming headache with the strain of rolling eyes to the sockets extremities. I close them, releasing the third eye. It soars in a three-sixty degree reveal and I’m struck by how boringly mechanical Creeps are when they aren’t killing people.
Hopefully events will continue to bore me for the rest of my stay.
The down escalator is filled with hosts departing empty-handed, having delivered goods and received new orders to forage.
We reach the top stair where Creeps fan out in all directions. The apparent randomness of their dispersal is advantageous. I have Cricket remove us to one side, even though we are the only loiterers. I lean over the glass and chrome balustrade to oversee the floor below. A steady sweep of the area, then smooth pan up for a perusal of this upper floor boosts my confidence that I have control of the filtered vision.
Uh-oh. Wait a minute. What’s that way down there? Guards encased in other-realm bubbles like mine. They are alert and seeking trouble.
I spin away, returning true-vision and dampen my cloak to wrap us like a second skin. Cricket engages immediately to frog-march me across the massive food-court with my eager encouragement. I hope we will blend in with other moving meat. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up in a cold sweat as we cross the open space, exuding innocence under the eyes of those far off guards.
We don't stop until a huge jumble of aluminium chairs and tables, piled in the centre of the food court, hides us from view. Obviously the new owners of this place don't want their employees sitting down on the job. Three avenues of escape diverge from here, disappearing into a shaded fogginess of Parasite design. Each of these avenues is lined with raided speciality shops, and end in unfriendly darkness at the entrances to well-known chain stores.
None of them emanate anything but a garden variety of danger.
But the fourth direction, on the other side of this mountain of metal, leads to David Jones. And Davo’s store holds something special enough to warrant extra-vigilant guards.
A single Creep strolls past, holding something glistening and bloody. She shows no curiosity why a human is hiding here. I sneak around the pile to watch her. Cricket stamps along beside me, a handcuffed shadow. He stands in full view, ruining the purpose of my secretive peering.
I wish this murk would clear.
A disorientating telescopic function kicks in, nearly knocking me over as my vision extends. If not for Cricket’s steadiness, I might have taken a pratfall in surprise.
My wits recover. This is cool. Zoom in, zoom out, zoom in, zoom out, just by thinking about it.
When I finish playing around with my latest ability, the far-sight barges into the fog to focus on the Creep and her armful of meat offerings. A shift to the left and right reveals the hosts who radiate dark power. There are quite a few of them lined up across the shop's frontage.
Positioned every ten metres they make a formidable force.
The loose cordon they form is a definitive border the delivery Creeps may not cross. She places the bloody parcels on the ground and leaves.
That could easily have been parts of me. There’s still a good chance I might end up that way if I don't move out soon.
But I can’t take my eyes off the guard’s strange auras. They are protected from the very fog all other Creeps are exposed to. Since I have a similar shield, I am concerned that its positive benefits have underlying negative connotations. I don't want anything that belongs to the Parasites. I know they’ve been inside my head, which is now rewired somehow, and I begin to have doubts that the whole transformation was a fantastic accident after all.
What if they’ve changed me on purpose?