...an awakening thunders over sleep’s tranquility, bringing with it harsh reality. Consciousness rejects it again and again, returning me to deep slumber until the inactive brain grows bored. I am attacked by signals of bodily needs. Pains I haven’t the fortitude to ignore chew holes in soft slumber.
Groaning scuffs at a tongue drier than the Sahara Desert. Each breath aggravates a basketball-sized bladder. A cooling dampness beneath me indicates at least one impatient release has occurred.
Boy, something smells rank in here! Worse than urine.
Opened eyes fill with crumbled sand from caked eyelids. I blink rapidly in semi-darkness and find I’m enveloped by a bed-sheet. Someone still cares enough to cover me. Or is it a wishful shroud?
Pain cavorts, stabbing my prone body, like stick-wielding hyperactive children on a sugar high.
The whole idea of getting up is all too hard.
I will a return to the Land of Nod. Just before the impossible is achieved I sense someone sneaking into the room. An adrenaline rush ruins sleep’s seduction for good.
“I know you’re awake.”
An emotionally distant voice speaks above me, nasal with blocked sinuses and dulled by anti-depressants.
“Where’ve you been...you foun’ a baby...?
“Whaddeva. Don’ wan to talk to you ever again anyway... Just ged up an’ shower...you stink!”
The bedroom door slams.
What’s her problem? She used to hide her contempt and disgust.
Maybe she’s got her period.
Why does she sound drugged? She doesn’t usually take drugs.
Oh wait. Yeah, now I remember. I’d knocked her out so I could kill Shanna. And then I’d left a few pills to get her through instead of being there for her.
Thinking about these events too deeply might reveal the scumbag I really am to myself.
So I don’t.
The upshot is; I won’t be nursed through my pains.
Probably be cooking my own breakfast too.
The bending and twisting involved with rising from my filthy bed is accompanied by cracks, pops and groans from a torture-porn movie. Gravity must have tripled. The looser parts of me droop towards the floor. I stand, sagging like a stringless marionette, except for one part holding back the contents of a pressurised bag of urine.
The urge is unstoppable. I rush the last few steps to the shower stall, releasing a painfully strong yellow stream on the way. Twisting taps sends freezing, then scalding water over an overcompensating hand.
I dial a groan up and down my throat beneath the shower’s fullest pressure. Loose dirt and Parasite faeces erode from me until finally a brush is needed to scrub the last of it away.
The man who exits the shower is no sprightlier than the one who went in, but he is cleaner. Even so the reddened skin still smells ‘off’. I cover myself with a liberal dose of deodorant.
The bathroom mirror is as unkind as ever. My gaze drops shyly from puffy, bent and scraped-up features to find a familiar orange bottle next to the sink. I gratefully spin the lid off and swallow the last three pills within.
Perfect for all occasions
I slowly dress in a grotty dressing gown. Kristine has objected to its propensity to flap open in the past, but I wear it anyway.
Her disgust at me cannot be cranked to a higher level.
I leave the bedroom, attentively monitoring the receding pain. Kristine is nesting in a couch-curled position. I am not greeted. She wears a cute pink track-suit; the daggiest clothing her standards allow. Her turned head when I front her is telling.
There’s only so much of the silent treatment I can stand. I fume to myself for a few seconds mulling over how much leeway I should give her.
At least she’s out of bed.
But, let's not forget, while she’s been lying around feeling sorry for herself, I’d been fighting the good fight.
Sure, the weeks she’d suffered as Shanna deteriorated had run her down a bit but I remember how much her denial had affected me too.
I can try to imagine how my underhanded tactic of drugging her so I could kill her girlfriend has broken her spirit. Then my hasty burial of Shanna’s remains denies her the closure of laying Shanna's body to rest.
Stuff like this can take their toll on a person’s mental state.
Certainly didn't do me any favours.
Dammit, my past actions have been rather extreme. I better try something. She might think it’s a bit weird for me to hover here opening and closing my mouth soundlessly. How should I initiate a conversation with her? I am no judge of how long a person needs to grieve.
I eye the baby lying in her lap. She’s clean and wears a fresh nappy. Kristine’s mental turmoil isn't preventing her looking after the kid anyway.
I give the tot a little wave.
“Stop standing there. Stop looking at me.”
Any communication, even angry words, unties my tongue. I launch into my extraordinary tale, confident she’ll have to forgive me after hearing these exploits. She’ll snap out of her depression by sheer incredibility.
“You wouldn’t believe what happened to me. I have the worst luck in the world. I’ve been in the group mind of the Parasites, and I got swallowed...”
Kristine stands up slowly, cradling the baby with care, and walks towards her room.
“Don’ talk to me. I hate you.”
“Ohh. Well. OK. I understand you’re still a bit upset, but this is important...”
More door slamming.
I’d been rather excited about relating the discovery of my telepathic skills and monster killing activities. But if Kristine needs a little longer to get over what I’d done to Shanna then it would have to wait.
There are many ways to recover from the experiences I’d faced. Pharmacology is one of them.
A new daily routine develops over the next week. It is apparent Kristine won’t leave her room while I’m around. To give her the run of the place - and give myself a break from the crying machine - I withdraw to the roof for several hours every day.
Beer and snacks are on hand to keep me company, but as a rule I follow George Thorogood’s lyrics, ‘You know when I drink alone; I prefer to be by myself.’
This particular day finds me sitting atop our castle under the shade-cloth hut I’d made, idly looking over the city. I reach down to crack the morning’s first beer when a massive dark thread waves at the edge of my vision. I spill from my seat in fright, twisting towards the east, instantly erasing the mark from sight as I turn.
A scratching at the corners of my eyes is not alleviated by hard rubbing.
Other-sight rises from dormancy, a polite leviathan inviting itself into frantic eyeballs.
My weedy doorman grants it full entry, surprised by the Royal visit and unwilling to invoke its displeasure with obstructions.
There is no time to examine its make-up. Veils fall across my eyes, enhancing and obscuring physical elements until the way I see is moulded into a new dimension.
Sunlight darkens by degrees until day dims into patchy duskiness.
Parasite fog? Shouldn’t that be broken up by now?
Living things; the trees and animals roaming the Savannah of our grounds below; glow with an inner luminescence. I pick out rats, cats and various other native species foraging and rummaging for food. The renewed novelty of exploring its capabilities sidetrack me from the reason it chose to revisit.
As a competent single-use mechanism, Other-sight picks out the tendril I’d seen moments before. I look up and stiffen in fear. It is indeed a Parasite manufactured streak that streaks the sky. As high and thin as a jet engine’s contrail, black instead of white, invisible to all but me.
Recalling a protection is required from such ghostly limbs, I look down at myself. The protective shield does not glow around me.
Other-sight snaps off at my dismay. I scuttle like a crab at a ridiculous half-crouch towards the roof door. I feel horribly exposed beneath that waving limb, even if it is several thousand feet high.
I run recklessly along corridors feeling the muted pain of badly bandaged feet. The thick socks I wear in lieu of shoes are a recipe for a nasty fall at this pace.
I rely on pre-digested medications to ensure potential hurts are covered.
Reaching the Staff Quarters in one piece, I find Kristine in the kitchen. She’s mixing baby formula from a tin I’d found for her among the stockpile downstairs. She jumps in fright at my unexpected entry then feigns total disinterest.
“More Parasites! One of their feelers is above us!”
“Shut up. Not talkin’ to you.”
“Don’t hafta talk. Listen! There’s a Parasite tendril... or tentacle... whatever! I can see it... but you probably can’t. It’s above us. Whatever sent it out must be HUGE! I killed the other one, it was pretty big, but there’s probably thousands of nests, and they might be all linked together, and if they are, they’ll know what I did!”
I’m gabbling. Kristine looks at me with irritable blankness. Panting for breath I try again, slower.
“See there’s parasites INSIDE the Parasites. Remember that grey shit on Shanna’s gums...”
Oh fuck. That was the wrong thing to say. Her face crumples and tears are instant. She switches off the stove, takes the baby bottle, and returns to her room at a trot.
I follow, leaning against the door slammed in my face.
“You gotta believe me. I’m so sorry about Shanna. Please...”
I plead and apologise, hunkering at her threshold for hours in abject misery.
Eventually I crawl away to the couch.
People think they can reach the rocky bottom of the depths of despair. They are wrong. They may find a ledge on the way down but there is no bottom. Despair is a misty void that goes down forever.
Excluded from their company I hear the baby’s contented cries and Kristine’s soft crooning.
I fall further still.
When faced with overwhelming depression I tend to wander. This aimless walk-about returns me to the outer doors leading to the dock several times.
I haven’t thought of the truck or its contents since my return.
Whatever my subconscious is prompting, it probably won’t leave me alone until I look. I open the doors, not expecting to find the tools of redemption.
A truck-load of gardening supplies?
The spoils of my foray into Creep territory are disappointing. This crap is the reason I’d suffered through several near-death experiences?
Thought processes hum while I handle the implements and bags of fertilizer. Then I see the stupid half dead pine tree. Original intentions well up and expel the dark clouds.
Immediately I get to work unloading.