Disappointingly the God-like mightiness flattens swiftly. Shrugging into the artificially alert state that remains, I become a model of efficiency. I rummage deeper in the pack, tossing anything that will slow me down aside. No rifle means no need for these cartridges. Seeya. Rope? It’s out of here. Pliers, wire, tape? Goodbye.
The weighty packet of pistol bullets reminds me of the guns shot dry. I squat against the shop wall to reload. Rule 11: ‘Never travel with empty weapons.’
I’ve got a lot of Rules. Mostly I just made them up on the spur of the moment. However Rule 11 has a sound background. It’s stupid to carry ammo on your back if your weapon is empty.
A squeeze bottle peeks at me from a side pocket reminding me I’m as dry as a dead dingo’s dick. I snatch at its sloshing fullness and gulp from the teat. It’s not water. A reactive cough causes a mouthful back up through my nose. Teary eyed and with nostrils burning I manfully re-swallow what I haven’t spluttered down my front. Lemon flavoured vodka is an unpleasant surprise when you aren’t expecting it. Looks like I failed to pack any water. I guess my original plan of whipping down to the pharmacy and back home was only supposed to take an hour or so. The original plan also places me on the lounge getting messed up by now. But, noooo! Let’s get lost in the suburbs instead. Fuckwit!
I sigh at my unbelievably bad luck.
Vodka is not a thirst quencher but I’m so damn thirsty I tip my head back to take another slug of it. The impromptu piss-up is interrupted by a movement at my vision’s periphery.
My eyes are drawn to the Granny’s body which is just visible through a thin veil of grass. Did her head just move, or what? I stop sucking at the lemony alcoholic goodness. The dead woman’s head rolls over to face me. My bowels lurch.
Ohhhhh, now I need to shit.
My throat refuses to swallow. Vodka spills down my chin as I lower the bottle The pistol in my hand rises.
Her bloodied face stares at me with dead eyes. I stare back with scared ones.
I stand; either the leather or my joints creaking loudly.
Woah, what the fuck is her neck doing. Her wrinkled skin of her throat has stretched drum-tight. Something moves in there, heading towards her mouth.
I unsnap a fastener by feel, totally unwilling to take my eyes off the corpse, and slide a cut down shotgun from the pack’s deep side pocket.
Disconnected from the common sense option of running blindly away, I take a step towards her, and another, letting the pistol take point.
Now her cheeks are bulging as the thing within reaches her mouth.
I forbid my eyelids to blink. I’ve moved close enough now to see the woman’s teeth are shifting. I numbly recognise them as her dentures when the upper set slowly pokes from between her lips. This knowledge does nothing to quieten my ever-present fear. Something is in her mouth, pushing those teeth outwards. The top plate, covered in a furry grey growth, tumbles to the ground. The bottom plate works its way out in a similar fashion and clatters next to its twin.
I can’t draw breath; this is too much. Shooting her in the face doesn’t seem right; not at this range; I might miss.
I move closer still.
There’s no describing the frozen spears of terror that stab my spine when two slimy, black, miniature pincers slide between her lips. They click together once and then lever at the gums to laboriously open her mouth. She gapes at me in a silent scream that I am well prepared to voice for her.
The angle of the sun throws dark shadow into the cavern of her maw. Something darker than black shifts languidly in there. Pushing against an invisible, restraining hand of good sense I bend forward for a better look. A nauseating, wet, tearing sound reaches me ears. Unconsciously I have copied her open-mouthed gape although mine is caused by revulsion and a dry retch tears at my stomach. My throat is only just managing to hold- the scream building in my chest. I’ll hold it in reserve, just in case.
Another two ugly, black, spiky twigs extend from the woman’s mouth. These twigs have nasty, sharp hooks at their ends instead of pincers. Working alternately they wrap around to latch into her soft cheeks, tugging hard to dislodge its body caught in the back of her throat. The claws steadily release their grip to renew its hold further out, carelessly incising flesh and exposing its pencil-thin leg segments a centimetre at a time. In horrified wonderment I can’t help calculating its size. The fucking thing must be wider than my hand span.
The struggle to eject itself must tire it. Forward movement ceases while the two un-pincered legs extend through the woman’s flopping lips to wave around above her face like antennae. Their razor hooks come together in my direction like divining rods discovering water.
Can it sense me, or is it stuck?
I take another half-step closer, the pistol and shotgun pointed straight and true. So this is the infamous Parasite! The world destroyer! I’d never seen one like this. . I’d always imagined them as gooey slug-like creatures, bunkered down in people’s chests.
Judging by the legs its arachnoid genes are dominant in its make-up. That’s bad. I don’t like spiders much. Hate them in fact. They terrify me beyond reason. Even so I lean down to examine this one in sick fascination. I mean, this is mankind’s most dangerous enemy, and I have my boomstick in hand. I’m in full control of the situation.
My brain is bleating something about overly curious cats and I sense I’m about to be paid back for unmercifully warping it with drugs and alcohol over the last week.
With my face continuing to twist in loathing I move the Ruger closer, almost touching those black, hooked legs.
“That’s far enough, buddy.”
My voice must spook the slimy presence hunched down in its Host’s neck. Both spindly legs whip up, lightning fast, to grip the gun sight strongly. Of course I jerk the gun back, yelling in fright, pulling the trigger like a madman.
Not a single shot is fired. All I succeed in doing is yanking the creature from the Host’s toothless mouth.
The safety! The safety!
An horrific, blood-slopped, impossibly heavy creature dangles from the gun sight. It swings there, dripping gore as I hold the gun as far from me as possible with two fingers, shaking it like mad. Of course I drop it and dance away shuddering uncontrollably.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, cockhead!
The creature splats onto the ground wetly and the pistol clatters next it. The Parasite is not about to play dead. It lays a proprietary claw on the gun barrel, as if daring me to reach for it.
“Fuck you! Keep the fucking thing, ya bastard!”
Screaming at it relieves my tension a little. Jacking a round into the shotgun chamber, I check the safety is off twice, and then shoulder the gun, swallowing convulsively to force back vomit caused by terror and disgust. Sighting along the barrel I aim at the weakly moving creature. A measure of confidence and courage returns.
“Righto! Aim and squeeze, it’s not fucking rocket science and we are not at home to Mr Fuckup.”
My hands won’t stop shaking. I examine my foe minutely while willing them to be still. I take several, highly reluctant baby steps forwards.
Jesus! It has fangs Dracula would be proud of. Its deeply creased, slimy abdomen, about half the size of my fist, is gradually inflating. Extra legs have spilled loosely from grooves along its sides. This must streamline it for the journey up the Host’s throat. Each breath it takes is opening a hundred tiny slashes long the thorax, displaying flashes of red flesh beneath. Some sort of gills perhaps? Thin white threads coated in pinkish fluid oozes from a back orifice. It is retracting these threads. The worm-like mess is slipping from the woman’s mouth and across her nose; writhing actively as they slide back up its rear end. I gag.
The creature flexes its pincers and I test the pressure of my trigger finger, breathing raggedly.
It looks crook.
I edge a smidgin closer, flinching when the two large eyes on top of the beast’s head flick open, fixing on me. Emotionless, cold, and direct. Those black orbs turn my blood to powdered ice.
For no good reason, my heart-felt belief that the death of a Host meant the automatic death of the Parasite shatters me. How many of these things have I let loose after killing their Hosts in the past?
A reminder that I should be chucking bricks instead of berating myself is too late. The lapse gives my opponent the advantage.
A back leg shifts; lifting and limbering up with a few stretches. One after the other the rest follow suite, trailing stringers of sticky secretions as they settle around the pulsing body sac.
My brain finally kicks in with, “Hey numb-nuts, this thing’s about to get mobile”.
The Parasite rises.
I’m abruptly aware that a very large, spider creature is crouching below my face with a leg span that could cover a dinner plate.
“You are one, big, ugly motherfucker!”
I want to stamp on it, but it’s just too big. What if it ran up my leg?
The cagey bugger suddenly scurries away. It’s fast and hides behind the old woman’s head before I can fire. Its speed straightens me like I’ve been rammed up the butt with a traffic cone. It’s not sick and it’s not slow.
This is bad. Shooting at it now will blow her head off. I’ll get brains all over me.
On this very thought the Parasite crawls on top of her head and looks at me challengingly.
I am instantly and overwhelmingly regretful that I broke my neurotically inspired Rules, most of which are specifically designed to avoid exactly this type of situation. As it’s too late for breast-beating, I thrust the stubby barrel out at arm’s length and pull the trigger.
The creature springs off its ex-host’ face as the load of lead destroys her head. Temporarily blinded by gore, it’s the weight of the Parasite landing on the shotgun that prompts me to drop it. Goddamit, I’ve been disarmed by a fucking insect!
Seemingly predicting my every move the creature has already bunched its legs and launches at my face.
So terrifyingly quick.
I catch a glimpse of flailing legs, extended like a net as it flies through the air.
My eyelids snap shut in denial, leaving me to blindly stumble backwards, waving my hands around, and praying I’ll knock it away.
It won’t be denied. The top of my head feels its sharp claws rough grip and it proceeds to tear at my face with all its considerable energy.