Many sweaty hours are spent each day in our tranquil little park. I build, plant, water and dig. The hardest work I’ve done in months stretches and tears flabby muscles, which are instantly soothed by chemical affection. Daily exhaustion is absolved by blackouts.
I visit the roof often to watch the skies. If I’m not too wrecked I scan the heavens with supplemented Sight. On the occasions it can’t be coaxed out, my imagination twists cloud formations and shades of light into evil fiends.
All observations are equally worrying.
Fright at the single black tendril streaking azure skies is diluted by time passing. But then a second thin stain crawls from the northern horizon on a southerly heading. Over consecutive days it spears high above us and collides at right angles, stabbing its twin amidship. They commune for a time before the head of the second tendril continues on its southerly journey.
I gape up at the axis of the giant, pencil-thin X they leave in the sky. It is, very nearly, directly overhead.
The completion of the garden project is defined by the limits of my skill. I waste the best part of a day picking up individual leaves and hiding them under bushes. Pitiful, cowardly delaying tactics.
The hardest part is next - weathering Kristine’s hate and sorrow when I request her presence down here.
Several wheelchairs lie about the building, left awry from past, drunken episodes. I’d careened through the corridors, crashing into things, giggling like a school-girl.
One of them is destined to return to less mirthful duties.
A reasonably unbent chair is nominated and sent to our floor via the shunned lift. Stair climbing eats a reserve of energy saved for the task ahead.
Upstairs I slump into the delivered wheelie and take a brief time-out, chewing tiny measures of chemical strength. I roll myself to the heavy Staff Quarters door and fight an unnecessarily handicapped battle with the cantankerous closer instead of getting up.
Kristine is incurious about my clattering, swearing entry. She remains parked on the couch, staring sightlessly at the sleeping baby who slips precariously between slack thighs.
Kristine’s dulled senses are rooted in the sedative offerings I leave out each morning. The pills disappear when I turn my back and the fast-acting ingredients prevent a retreat to her room. This development is encouraged. I hold her attention by playing a constant loop of kiddie DVDs. The TV’s cheerful childishness is a stop-gap measure, alleviating an unbearable, ticking silence between us.
I’m drawn to the TV’s bright flaring colours and watch plastic characters joyfully solve minor upsets. A female’s soft, slow and mournful voice croons from stereo speakers. An incongruous soundtrack to accompany outrageous hyperbole.
This is partially my fault for not checking the suitability of albums in the stacker.
At least she’d got it together enough to turn it on. I’d thought this action beyond her.
I begin my advance.
“I’ve made something for you.”
“All you make are messes.”
My objectionable presence alone is enough to provoke bitter words. She will not tolerate me speaking to her as well. Instant tears glitter in dark-ringed eyes as she grapples with the child and stands unsteadily, ready to withdraw from my sight.
I’m ready for this tactic.
Holding a baby is an encumbrance I can use to my advantage. Totally deluded by my past abhorrence of raising a hand against her, Kristine is shocked when I unexpectedly, and firmly, take her by the shoulders. Steering her backwards we cross the few steps to the wheelchair without tripping. She falls into the seat with a short scream and I wrap the restraining belt around her waist, securing it behind the chair.
“Owww! What are you doing? Don't touch me, you pig! I’m not going anywhere with you!”
“Just this once, you’re going to do as I say.”
Before she can think to kick me in the nuts, I move out of range.
“C’mon, let’s get some sunshine.”
She sighs, too depressed and confused to argue further. She's occupied by cuddling and shushing the baby, who howls in objection to our jostling, while I wheel them into the lift and press the ground floor button.
I sprint downstairs when the doors clunk together. Puffing, I reach the ground floor, turning on the speed when I hear the ‘ding’ of arrival. The doors open then begin to close again. I’m only just quick enough to get a hand between them, slapping the safety buffer. I hear Kristine furiously mashing the ‘Close’ button a few more times anyway.
The doors retract and she greets my cheery grin with a scowl.
“Gotta be quicker than that, sister.”
Another deep sigh of resignation and she surrenders to whatever lunacy I have in store. I push them along the corridor, risking an epileptic fit by speeding past blocks of afternoon sun slanting through security-meshed windows.
We reach the garden. I slow to allow Kristine’s muddled brain to take in the weld-mesh arch I’d constructed to frame the entrance. Flowering vines, planted from seed, are as yet spindly shoots poking from the ground and are sadly bereft of the bouquets depicted on the packet.
I note her head movements and choose to believe she appreciates the intended transformation. We move on. Crushed gravel crunches beneath the chair’s wheels and we pass by a line of whatever flowering shrubs I could find around the place. The result is mismatched, yet pleasing in its waist-high, hacked symmetry.
We reach the focal point.
A bark chip strewn mound of dirt in the middle of the lawn, surrounded by youthful trees of eventual shade. Some have been kind enough to open early buds for the occasion after heavy applications of fertilizer.
Using my foot, I surreptitiously brush a few leaves from the Mint plants that skirt the mound. The fresh scent almost covers the animal stink of blood and bone fertilizer.
That scruffy little pine I’d risked all to bring back limply takes pride of place atop the pile. A commemorative plaque, pried from the building’s entrance, is propped at the foot of the tree.
A single word is welded into metal that glows in afternoon sunlight.
Took me several goes to get that right. I don’t think the grinder marks are noticeable where I’d forgotten to include the second ‘N’.
Kristine stares, struck dumb and stilled.
Unable to emulate her frozen state I impatiently tap fingers on the chair's handles and kick the tyres.
I’m not very good at waiting.
“Well, is it alright?”
She hands me the baby and tries to rise. I tuck the kid under one arm and unsnap her lap belt. Slowly she moves to the plaque, running a delicate finger across the lettering. Tears fall, one after another, splashing on the burnished steel. A hand lifts to caress the pine needles of the stunted tree and a small wail escapes her.
I am confident she doesn’t need its significance explained.
“Oh, Sam. It’s so...beautiful, so...perfect.”
She smiles through the tears. For the first time since she’d left to find Shanna I am viewed without hate, fear, or madness muddying her features. She cries; gasping and cupping hands to an anguished face. Her body language asks me to hold her, but I don't move, fearing a misinterpretation.
My throat tightens and both eyes mist. Bloody hell, I’m about to start bawling too. She sees my pain and runs to me. The massive gap between us closes and my heart implodes.
We sob together, clinging as though we’d never let go. Forgiveness leaks from her, one tear at a time.
The baby ruins the moment by wailing her own upset at being squashed between us. Kristine shyly eases away from me to comfort the kid. I reach out to hold her hand and pat the child’s downy head.
We stand at Shanna’s grave, entrenched in our impenetrable thoughts until the light fades.
I’m only on sleeping pills now. The child grows, thriving on the love of a good woman and the teasing of a not-so-good man.
Kristine and I remain on speaking terms, though the exchanges are strained. Explaining what happened to me after Shanna’s death is not handled well. Her nervous glances at my pill bottles or the glass in my hand speak the volumes of incredulous disbelief she refuses to voice. Exasperated by her motherly patience my thoughts are scattered. Each time the tale comes out in indigestible chunks and halting misremembrances until I wind down to a guilty silence.
She raises an eyebrow particularly high at the part my psychic abilities played. I compound the unlikely nature of this claim by waving arms vigorously to prove the existence of the Parasite fog. I’ve noticed it thickening by the day, refuelling my shield’s sickly glow. I strain every fibre of my being to generate the same change inside Kristine’s mind without success.
“What are you doing? Why are you scrunching your face up like that? Are you constipated?”
The experiment is aborted.
“No I’m trying to... ahh, forget it.”
The third Parasite thread takes longer to arrive, but I have been vigilant; half-expecting its appearance. The tendril streaks another dark line across the sky, halving one quadrant as it joins the X’s locus a week later.
I keep the disturbing, unprovable information to myself.
The dearth of Creeps around our broken-fenced home is reversed around the time a fourth tendril slices the sky into smaller pie wedges. I believe the nest I destroyed is being triangulated by other nests. The incoming, road weary Creeps I begin to see on the highways, and in my lucid dreams, are the scouts of a larger Army, seeking answers.
We are hunted.
But this time I have a weapon that can hurt them.
And, if I can’t run away, I will fight them to my last breath.