We continue our interrupted journey, delving deeper into the indoor forest. They have diligently converted the mall's tiled purity into an oasis of their own dark design. It thickens with heavy growth. The air sours with sharp smells of acid overlaid with aged mustiness. To dwell on the creatures that are emitting these odours and secretions is unavoidable, no matter how counterproductive. Keeping the Creep in sight, I take exaggerated care to avoid further contact with the foliage.
A few turns later my guide detours off the main path to enter a tight clearing ringed by looping vines covered by ragged, hanging mesh. Inside the clearing a man-sized pillar stands as a central feature, covered in knotted bulges and hollows. Slime, reeking of astringent chemicals, bubbles slowly from its innards.
Surprisingly the Creep takes a handful from a cupped opening and spreads it liberally over his head.
I’d seen them slide off his skin, and he’d survived being covered in the little buggers. My sneer of distaste turns to thoughtfulness. I move closer to dip a finger in the revolting, cold, snot-like stickiness, cautiously sniffing at it.
“Fucken hell, that’s totally bloody disgusting.”
The Creep pauses. His gormless glare focuses on the goo covering my impertinent fingertips. He shakes his head authoritatively.
“Oh? Aren’t I supposed to be touching this stuff?”
Contrary to my first intentions I dip a full handful of the clear slime and ape his movements, wiping it into my hair. Slow stringers of the stuff run down my neck, stinging slightly like muscle balm. I give the Creep a look of wide-eyed innocence and a big shit-eating grin.
Screw you, Pal. If this stuff keeps Parasites off, I’m having some.
I look down to dig in for more and don't see him coming for me. He knocks me off balance and I stagger a few feet away, catching the baby's floppy little body between my arm and waist.
“Hey, easy with the rough stuff, buddy. I’d kick your arse if it wasn’t for this kid.”
Unconcerned, he turns his back to me, blocking access to the pillar when I try to dart around him and continues to apply sparing handfuls over himself.
I’m peeved by this selfish attitude. I consider giving him a rabbit chop to the base of his skull. However, continually juggling the slippery infant to relieve unworkable cradling arrangements handicaps my range of movement. A nasty smile brightens my face as another idea blooms.
Prankishly, I take hold of his loin-cloth and yank it down, then immediately sidestep to another of the pillar’s openings to scoop the stuff out one-handed. I move from one reservoir to the next as the hobbled Creep shuffles after me. My childish antics perplex the Parasite’s limited intelligence. He repeatedly lunges at me instead of repairing his state of dress.
To deny the Creep a share of the liquid I empty each reservoirs of jelly onto myself and spill the rest on the ground. When all the openings are empty I walk away.
The loser of this futile game of tag is outwardly unmoved by my vandalism. He bends to gather his minimalist clothing from around his ankles and reties it in place. Not kicking him in the face while he’s hunched over requires a great deal of will-power. Stealing the cloth is a passing fancy until I see the fresh brown skid mark inside.
I take my time distributing the thick coat of smelly slime. I look like the monster from a bad B-grade movie. My loss of dignity is a small price to pay for whatever protection this crap affords me. Besides, it’s not all bad. He po
Apart from the pleasure of pissing off the Creep, I also gain a semi-pleasant warm, tingling sensation.
The slimy child might find it discomforting but she stays deeply asleep.
I watch the Creep pitifully checking all the bowls in the depleted dispenser. He scapes up some residue from the floor to wipe onto his skin then imperiously demands we leave with a pointed finger. I salute sharply, playfully flicking an excess of slime into his face. I hope it will get in his eyes. Some got in mine and it burns.
A human would tut irritably or beat me for my insolence; the Creep merely looks down his nose and leaves the clearing in a huff.
Oh dear; I’ve upset him.
Wiping fingers on my butt cheek to clean off the elephant snot, I follow.
He hasn’t gone far. Just around the corner is a clumped section of Parasite jungle lit by two flaming torches. The light they throw is welcoming. The dark hole next to the Creep is not. He holds aside a curtain of netting, voicelessly inviting me to enter.
Is it the entrance to a temple?
Or a tomb?
I slow down a few meters away, rubber-necking for danger.
As a reminder that everything here is prejudiced against me, a heavy weight drapes itself over my shield. I shrug at it and feel a concentrated effort of will push back.
As if in answer, a vast yet insubstantial presence lifts then swipes my bubble, battering at it angrily when it doesn’t break. I am unharmed and the sensation recedes. In its place a hesitant tendril emerges from the dark entrance. It inspects the Creep shortly and extends to sniff at my shield. I stand still as it tests the bubble’s integrity for weak spots, covering every part with a sweeping tip.
Shit, I forgot to enclose the child. The snaking cable finds the baby’s connection and it enters.
I barge into the child’s serene head, prepared to evict the intruder with all guns blazing. I grab the tendril's tip but it is already exiting like a scalded cat. I sense its distress and make a split decision to integrate with it.
‘This new-birthed-meat has no Katall! It is dangerous. Deepen the trance. It must not wake.’
Haltingly I decipher the alarmed Parasite Mother’s speech. It would be nice to know what causes such fear. I’d like to use it against her.
Why is the child dangerous?
And what the hell is a Katall?
Maybe it hates the sound of a crying baby more than I do.
Hyper-alert to sever contact if attacked, I expand my consciousness. A sickening, multifaceted vision of a thousand viewpoints over-taxes the sorting area of my brain. I dial the intensity down to a single Other-sight screen. It shows another tendril whipping from the dark hole to stab the nappy-wearing Creep in the head. The touch completes a circuit I scurry to tune into. The Parasite’s mind booms into me with sudden and aching clarity.
‘... the disruptor of the collective, the one that will not trance?’
The Creep guide replies in fast picture-telepathy. My brain goes into overdrive to convert the information into a format I can understand.
The harder I concentrate the more it hurts.
‘Yes, Mother. This meat blocks the trance. It thralls Workers with mind-touch.’
The second voice is whiney and subordinate. The first; laden with lazy arrogance and power.
‘All Workers warped by the meat are cleansed from us. We find no tampering in your mind.’
‘It does not communicate, Mother, and it could not influence the Younglings. Should we not consume it?’
‘It is unpredictable. The Melding will consume it. We will use its weakness for the mating act to lure it. We watched it join with the fruiting meat many times. First remove the empty new-birthed meat from it. Give it to the Katall. They crave the strength of its husk.’
I feel unfairly pigeon-holed as a sex maniac. I’d just been making up for a period of enforced abstinence, that’s all.
‘All meat shall be consumed.’
The Creep speaks the phrase with ritualised gestures of pleasure and the Mother speaks again.
‘The Katall begins the Melding now. Let the meat enter our chamber. The fruiting meat will occupy its desires. We will watch until the meat spasms seed. Then its mind can be devoured.’
I struggle to catch up, missing important nuances when certain abrupt and highly illustrated images stream past me.
Let’s see. The ‘Katall’ appears to be a contingent of silent, children who stare at my point of view unnervingly. A ‘Melding’ is a swirl of colour and light. The ‘fruiting meat’ are women straight from the pages of a Playboy magazine.
I retain these images for a closer look. My distraction further muddies the complex soup of the Mother’s mind-speak as she gives an additional order. Decoding the threatening part is skimmed over in preference of the pictures of perfectly formed women.
Some dressed in Victoria’s Secret’s finest lingerie!
Paranoia’s disinterest in sex undoubtedly has its uses about now.
“Hey! Snap out of it. The Parasite knows you are in her mind. She’s trancing you. Get your arse back in your body. Come on now, back to your body. There’s a good boy.”
Grudgingly I acknowledge Paranoia’s wheedling banter. I sneak from the Mother’s mind and in a blink I’m back inside myself, shaking from the after effects of her supercharged thought processes.
There's no time to recover. The Creep comes to take the baby. Should I give it over like a good boy?
Why start now?
Not one to belabour a decision I turn on my heel. Entering the cave of the Parasite Mother will be the very last option. I’ll run away. Very fast.
‘If it runs, let the Younglings incapacitate it.’
The casual violence behind the voice-picture attached to this thought seizes all the muscles I need for sprinting.
I don’t want to be incapacitated like that.
Flickering torch-light reveal Younglings closing in. Like fleas on a dog they infest the netting overhead as leaping, scampering specks.
The very last option is now the only one.