Hope that all Parasites have died in sympathy with the deceased Mother is crushed in that split-second of high-beam illumination. The inflamed fear I carry in my chest tightens in iron bands. A locked brain slows the action and runs a recollection reel inside my head in the absence of constructive ideas.
I had once watched a program about Emperor Qin’s Terra Cotta Warriors in China. Comparing those long lines of still and silent castings with these basement-dwelling, Creeps is a dubiously connected at best. As their real life revisitations, these Creeps, somewhat over-represented by the aged, are hardly awe-inspiring.
They stand waiting, drooping in resignation.
I stop counting dissimilarities between Creeps and fake pottery men when interest in the car’s oncoming noise tweaks their apathy. Bucking headlights reveal movement, leaving no doubt these sallow-skinned hosts are alive and dangerous.
Is this a retirement home for the least efficient? A staging area for backup bodies? A larder?
The world speeds up to real time, and further useless wonderment is interrupted by an impatient hand that gropes for the handbrake. A vague thought to help out catches up and tactile contact with the lever drags me fully into the moment.
I wrench on the emergency brake violently, almost ripping it from the mount. The little car slides; underinflated rubber shrieks across slicked concrete. It does not perform the precision one-eighty degree flick-turn I envisaged, but ends up sideways in the tight passage. Headlights flare from white-painted walls, blinding me to the Creep's response at this clown-car performance.
I push down my door lock.
We’ve stopped mid-ramp. Amazingly I’ve missed both walls by less than a metre. Such positioning might require a careful five point turn to prevent damage. However, such luxuries as care cannot be embraced.
Besides, this is a borrowed car and its bumpers are a disposable asset.
I ram the wall, breaking a headlight; and slap the wheel in a hasty full-lock turn. Tyres chirp shortly in a reverse bunny-hop, although the slippery ramp doesn’t allow them much grip. Despite this we rear-end the wall behind hard enough to roll the snugly wrapped baby towards the seat. There’s no time to steady her, but fortuitous placement of the stuffed toy cushions her from contacting sharp metal levers poking from its base.
Uninjured, she cries in protest anyway.
The Creeps watch the urgently goaded car as it revs and lurches, shedding plastic parts from a third heavy, forward contact. Their deadpan faces refuse to express consternation at my poor driving skills. They are moving in for a closer look, but the massed co-ordination I’d once excited is missing.
Hands and feet move independently of a musing brain’s consideration about why this might be so. One more crunching crash and we’re clear, grinding a mirror along the wall in the sharpest turn the steering wheel can wring from the tyres.
The car doesn’t have the momentum to get airborne at the ramp's top lip, but the suspension bottoms out in a rough return to earth. I hold the gear lever tightly in first as the engine free revs then loads up. Rubber bites concrete and my knuckles graze a button on the gaudy stereo on landing. The huge display screen - probably worth more than the entire car cost new - bursts into life, blasting me with light and noise.
Techno drivel. A teenager’s toy to annoy her elders in an olden day inter-generational war.
I am punched, rapid-fire, in the back of the head, and the whole car shakes and vibrates in rhythmic poundings. A frightened glance over one shoulder to see what assaults me is only semi-reassuring. I am looking down the barrel of a giant, huffing subwoofer.
Before overworked eyes can seek the off switch on the complicated stereo’s many buttons, my attention is diverted to the windshield at the heart-stopping sound of rending metal.
We’ve rammed a lone shopping trolley.
It scarpers off, dragging its bent chassis across the ground in a shower of sparks.
The mobile rave party continues unabated. I’m too occupied swapping cogs in this unfamiliar gearbox and swerving around debris and concrete poles to pay it any attention.
The remaining crooked headlight picks out an exit sign. I swerve in the suggested direction and obey a faded arrow lying beneath a layer of dust. These guides dictate further screeching turns and race me towards an upwardly spiralling ramp.
Brilliant sunshine streams from this portal, painful to dilated irises. A wish for sunglasses is unexpectedly granted when a last speed-bump jolts every bone in my body. The glasses literally drop into my lap from a holster attached to the sun visor.
Without a thought of slowing I zip across a wide-open outside parking lot. Exhilaration bubbles up a constricted airway. I breathe out in a rush, unaware I’d stopped breathing. Selecting a higher gear lessens the stuttering engine’s torture and I take a second to lean over, pat the kid reassuringly, and slip on the pair of love-heart shaped sunnies.
Better than nothing I suppose.
A few meandering Creeps, lethargic and shy, shun my speeding, music-pumping machine. I dodge around them and they seem just as concerned to avoid me. The concentrated hordes I expected have not assembled. The lack of an organisational mind behind their movements has reduced the Creeps I do see to aimless wanderings.
Belting through the gears, I choose a direction at random and clatter along a suburban feeder road at a fair clip, encountering few observers.
Pressing each button on the stereo eventually shuts the raucous noise off. My ears get no respite. The engine, pushed above its preferred limit, is almost as bad as the music, and the child continues reciting a litany of various cries.
We encounter the barrier of rubbish after several minutes. I turn left, and run parallel to the eyesore using whatever fast and loose route I can find to keep it in sight. The footpaths, overgrown parks and concrete drains I take are mighty hard on the car's suspension.
Glancing at the fuel gauge is a mistake. Anxiety compounds as the needle hovers under the quarter full mark and dips to empty each time I take a corner at speed.
I almost miss a breach. It is no more than a three metre wide gap in the garbage. Its existence is only brought to my notice when I veer away from the knot of uncoordinated hosts milling about its maw.
How many of them choke the shadowy depths is unknown.
I slam on the brakes, stopping fifty metres from the exit.
Bulling through a snarl of bodies in that tight passage will be a lot to ask of this little car. Two strong men could tip us over if they put their minds to it. But the Creeps haven’t displayed a willingness to attack since the kid and I destroyed their Mother.
I decide to risk it.
What other choice do I have? Other exits may be similarly obstructed.
But just because the Creeps have regained strong self-preservation instincts, that doesn’t mean they are any less hungry. Whether actively or passively obstructed, getting by them will be risky.
To curtail an extended debate I select first gear and crawl forward. Winding up my window and hitting the apologetic horn, we slowly approach. The puny engine mocks an attempt to rev it threateningly; blatting a tinny, asthmatic cough and backfire.
The noises part a grouping of outermost Creeps as they do indeed display a heightened desire to preserve their hosts.
I pass the bystanders and shove my bonnet into the melee, clipping hips and ramming butts in the scrum ahead. Immediately Creeps collect around the car, pressing close against the glass, slapping and clawing, keen to get at the meat inside.
However they are not well focused, expending more energy fighting off brother and sister Creeps who also want a part of us. The brawl moves with the car’s halting progress; localised hindrances that steadily strip the car of every removable part.
Constantly slipping the clutch overheats it. Smoke seeps into the closed interior, stinking up the air in a toxic haze. About a third of the way in, I raise the aggression level of our slow progress before it burns out completely. Using higher revs, and pumping the clutch pedal, I ram the legs of the crowd in front of us, moving forward to fill the gap each time.
The method forces me to wait several terrifying minutes. Those who fall must be allowed to regain their feet.
We don't have the ground clearance to run them over.
The temperature gauge climbs and every panel ripples and pops under an assault of fists, elbows and heads.
Still no sign of blue sky freedom.
I ram forward again and again, spinning the wheels when the shockwave rebounds from bruised flesh and broken bones. The unluckiest are ground between the car and spiky protuberances. As we pass their bodies are eagerly torn apart by the following hungry Creeps.
Suddenly we are out, pushing through the dispersing crowd of bruised and battered hosts who formed the plug. I accelerate, laying out one slow woman who slams into the bonnet. I dislodge her determined grip on the cowling with a bit of judicious swerving.
One of the rear tyres chooses this happy moment to shred. Steel-belted whips flail the mud guard in fury.