I concentrate hard on the closest guard, a swarthy, large-boned man. My eye’s zoom lens reveals his features. They wouldn’t go astray on a sumo-wrestler who chops wood with his face. The clear air inside his shield exposes a listless, fixed tendril, embedded in his head. This is not one of the energetic appendages seen stabbing everything in sight. This one flops on the floor, returning to a common manifold that runs behind their line, connecting each guard. From there its length is lost behind a broken, vandal-proof shutter.
I’d rather not know what it’s connected to, though speculation is rife regarding the tethered guards.
Trip wires to an early warning alarm?
Hardwired Creeps on high alert?
Hmmm, wouldn’t have anything to do with the ruckus I’d caused outside by any chance?
Then, of course, Mr Paranoia pipes up, whispering conspiratorially.
‘You’re being puppeteered too, my lad. You have a shield like theirs, doncha? Maybe you’ve got a tube stuck in your brain. You probably do, you know. It’s in there, sucking and squirming around.’
The top of my head itches.
Sad to say, I abandon ship, locking muscles and departing the body at high speed. I crash into Cricket’s cavernously empty mind, rocking the young Parasite from its semi-doze. It accepts my rude entry with a well-trained butler’s patience, ready to obey. We withdraw from me as if I’m about to explode, stretching the shield into a tipped over hour-glass.
The dopey looking carcass is frozen in place. Thankfully I don't see a whipping cable sprouting from my head.
To make sure, I tell Cricket to advance and have a poke around.
It’s a peculiar feeling to be sneaking up on ones-self and I can almost feel Cricket’s hand patting my hair despite not being in residence.
Though expected, it is unsettling when the Other-world socket swims into Other-view. It sits as a sunken crown in my head. The aggressive Parasites who’d burst into this incredible doorway to perform their painful cranial sabotage, have left it a bit stretched and misshapen. I look closely into the floating circle of endless depth and swirling, smoky blackness.
Is it a passage into my thoughts or, dare I say it, another dimension?
Nothing is too weird to take under advisement at the moment.
Cricket’s gaze is drawn to the space. I hurriedly pull his host’s eyes away and catch a half-formed emotion from the Parasite.
It is enraptured. Enthralled. I have something it respects greatly but can’t fathom the reasoning behind this.
I search the underside of the bubble above my head for a break or seam.
Nope, nothing obvious.
More questions without answers pile up and I sense it would be a mistake to ask Cricket his opinion. The Other-sight switches off. Relief at not being plugged in like a toaster is instantly soured by a revelation of dandruff and a very small bald patch, just beginning to show.
That sucks, I’m not even forty.
An idle thought crosses my mind. I wonder if pain can be transmitted to me when I’m out of my body. I tell Cricket to give my rump a firm tap with his foot as an experiment.
The kick he delivers isn’t as light as requested. I’m booted into the teetering pile of chairs and tables, bringing down a noisy avalanche of aluminium on top of my body.
Oh, nice one. So much for remaining incognito. That’ll teach me to forget Parasites have no concept of moderation.
The hypothesis concludes hurts are transmitted as ghostly pressures on my astral body.
I don't look forward to regaining ownership of the real thing.
Curtly, I ask Cricket to clamp onto an ankle protruding from the tumbled pile and pull me out. He does so to the accompaniment of clattering chairs that skitter across the tiles. We receive sidelong glances from every host nearby.
I dive into my banged up body to untangle it from chair legs all the while slapping Cricket’s overly helpful hands away.
Bloody Hell. All these new bruises will take forever to catalogue, I’ll have to do it later. There are the parts of me bleeding too. Cricket has a lot to answer for. He’s lucky I still need him or he’d be getting more than kicked bottom.
I stand up in readiness to fight, rubbing a bruised arse-cheek, but no massed attack descends.
A solitary Creep breaks from the crowd.
Have they so little respect for me they are sending only one?
He passes by, indifferent to my threatening Karate stance, heading to David Jones with another small parcel of meat. He comes from the Target store, the place a line of Creeps take in live prisoners and come out with bloody hands and mouths.
A butchery and cafeteria? The thought is filled with terrible imagery.
I am not compelled to investigate whatever unpleasantness goes on in there either.
It’s time to mobilise Cricket and vacate this area, but a movement behind the guards catches my marvellous telescoping eye. An emaciated host has slipped from a ragged break in David Jones’ shutters. He hitches loose fitting briefs, his only clothing, and shoulder blades stretch thin skin when he bends to retrieve the meat. He returns to his hungry master without delay.
I’ve seen enough.
We relinquish still-life poses, all the more suspicious amidst the food courts norm of constant movement. We put Target’s meatfest behind us as Cricket guides me along a less travelled avenue. Weight sloughs from my shoulders as a corner hides David Jones’ hosts and the secretive occupant they guard.
We head into Myers. The interior, unlit by sky lights, grows dimmer the deeper we go, though Cricket’s pace does not slow.
I balk at unseen objects that graze me in the darkness. I jump to Crickets eyes as he seems to be able to see. The Parasite has overridden the host’s irises to maximum dilation though the vision it gets is well short of a cat’s. The dim shapes it detects are barely sufficient for navigation.
I’d try it for myself if I wasn't sure an eyeball would pop out by mistake.
I’m reminded a Parasite has no concern for minor dents and scratches on its host or prisoner when my kneecap hits the edge of a showcase. My duco has enough damage so I oversee Cricket’s steps, making slight corrections to avoid objects as we traverse the shop floor.
As a result nobody’s testicles are slammed into anything pointy.
We clump up another out-of-work escalator to the furniture department. A cheerful, luminous sign, receiving light from a candle, points towards bedding and manchester.
I suppose it’s an apt place to breed.
A very large pile of shed clothing is heaped here.
Nudists only after this point? I’ll keep mine on for the moment.
Relocating to my own body, I find these eyes have adjusted slightly. My nose, however, is working overtime. The smell of this place is funky with sweat and body fluids.
A bit like my bedroom back home at the lock-up.
Before Kristine cleaned it up.
That reminds me. Kristine. I wonder if she’ll be missing me yet. This morning was so long ago. My inexplicable disappearance could have upset her state further. Then again she was about as low as she can go. The drugs I left her would tide her over until tomorrow. After that she was on her own.
Guilt should be rapping on compassions door but all I can come up with is resentment. She’s lying in bed, stoned out of her mind, and here I am, in the bowels of a Parasite encampment, scared out of mine.
Should it be this dark? Candles are flaring everywhere but the illumination thrown by them is swallowed by a grey shroud, unless... the mind fog! Second sight is detrimental in here. Shutting it down wrenches the dimmer switch up full and the surroundings are revealed.
Close by, a rather large, very naked woman sprawls across rumpled sheets. Several dressers and side tables segregate her bed into its own room. In fact, by the islands of flickering light in the semi-darkness, I can see the entire furniture display floor is arranged into cubicles, each containing a bed and an occupant. Judging from the sounds of soft moans and the creaking of springs, several cubicles contain more than one person.
The reclining nude woman reaches into a stack of tinned food on top a bedside table. My stomach responds in instant hunger pangs. They retreat as quickly upon seeing how she eats. The can, held close to her mouth, is dreamily dug into it, using fingers as a spoon. She opens heavy lidded eyes as I shift nearer, dipping juice down her chin, chewing with bulging cheeks.
I sneak into her mind to check if a Parasite is in residence. Nothing much there other than a comforting blanket of soft-porn sex and food.
“I’m ready to have you inside me.”
I jump out of her head, perplexed. Had she sensed me snooping?
“Huh, I was just looking? Oh, you mean sex. No thanks.”
My refusal confuses her. She mustn’t get many knock-backs.
“Has it gone soft? I can make it hard if you need me too.”
Cricket looks at me and I swear his eyebrow raises a touch.
“No, no, it’s not that I can’t... umm, you got any idea what’s inside the David Jones store?”
She blinks a few times at the question.
“Lie down; I’ll make it hard so you can put it in me.”
She pats the grubby, crusty sheet.
It’s no good. I won’t get through to her this way. The fog overrides everything but her need to copulate. Removing its influence should bring her out of its spell.
My shield bulges outwards, encompassing her body. It has an effective and immediate reaction.
“Ohhhh. What? Who are you? What’s going on? I haven’t got any clothes on! HELP! HELP!”
I quickly jerk the shield away. The fog enfolds her, placating the panicked woman with heavy-handed compression.
“Owwwwoowwooo. I feel so tired... can’t think...”
We tip-toe off, letting the fog lull her to sleep. I hear the can drop from her pudgy fingers, spilling green string-beans across the garbage strewn floor.
Before we get two steps I’m accosted again.
“Heeeey! I know your voice. How come you aren’t all doped out like the rest? And how come you didn’t help me.”
Oh, God. It’s Pansy Boy.