Their haughty ‘English butler’ expressions convey the suggestion that we should go quietly, without fuss or an attempt to run away. Astonishingly, my mind is agreeable to this. I cross-examine my brain’s motives doubtfully, and point out the gnawed bones littering the ground around their designated positions. My brain seems disconcertingly unconvinced.
The first few Hosts who reach the fence are forming an orderly line, glaring at us through the mesh, like zoo animals waiting for a handout. Ignoring my humming brain I reach for Kristine’s hand, preparing to move us from a slow waltz to a quick step. More Creeps arrive, pressing against the uncomplaining front row. The fence wire stretches and bows outwards.
Kristine does not react to the tug of my hand. She is staring at the Hosts with confused, glazing eyes. Maybe those soothing, overlapping, subliminal voices I hear are finally penetrating her panicked mind. I slap her face hard. She blinks and recoils, and our shaky relationship is summarily cancelled.
“Wha...wha...they’re in my head. Make it stoooooooopp!” she shouts, and then legs it back the way we came.
Oh, crap. Umm, seeya later. Nice to have met you and all that.
I watch her flee, slightly relieved. The Hosts take our separation badly. They split into Sam and Kristine fan clubs, and, popular as ever, I get the larger half. My lot rolls along the fence adoringly as I move off once more. They are an amorphous organism of tumbling limbs and bodies, heaving and grasping, enraged at my nonchalant pace and their inability to reach me.
Tie wires snap and ping free, and the loosening mesh whips and rattles against its poles. The only other sounds are shoes and bare feet scuffing and scraping at the asphalt. Although artificially calm, I move faster in response to the distressed fence’s destruction. The hairs on my neck stand up as the Host’s retract the pressure on my mind and begin gabbling to themselves. Their nonsense speech tickles the edge of my understanding. I avoid the temptation to meet the many stony, soul sucking eyes that bore into the side of my head.
The dim tunnel of the covered bridge engulfs me. Ticketless, I clamber over a locked turnstile and hurry inside. The massed Hosts in the car park are beset by a similar problem. They are less able to overcome the incomprehensible barriers of the turnstiles that prevent them following me. They crash about upsetting seats and pot plants, and jam up against bars that refuse to revolve. As the front-runners compress and collapse beneath the weight of those behind a few are able to crawl over their backs. Soon these pursuers will spill over the gates and start after me again.
The bridge is very wide; about fifteen metres across at a guess. Large glass panels are embedded at intervals as flooring. While I hurry along I catch flickering glimpses e through these portals of strange goings-on below. My forehead wrinkles into a puzzled frown and I halt at the next panel to confirm what I think I’m seeing.
I peer down at the carpet of Hosts on the road below. Every one of them has stopped moving. A quick check behind shows my admirers continue to work overtime, building their human bridge.
Looking back down I suck in a breath. Even Valium can’t repress my shock. Every single Host lifts their head in unison to return my gaze. Then, with seamless precision, they turn towards the central station in their hundreds, stomping towards the area that will fed them up the centre stair-well.
At risk of being block between the two masses I am galvanised into action. I grip my rucksack straps tight and flee at the speed of warming molasses, passing the central staircase before the Hosts reach the bridge level. A swift look down reveals they are still two flights down. The wide stairway is packed solid with Creeps. I inspire a half jog from my rubber legs with thought of what they will do to me if I’m caught.
Bursting through the exit gate I leap a garden bed and feel soft earth under my boots. A downward slope assists my jog which becomes a run. If I had the breath I’d let out a victory whoop.
Someone behind lets one off for me. However, it’s more a desperate yell than a victorious whoop. Snatching a backwards glance I see a small dot, running. Kristine is crossing the bridge.
Bloody woman! What does she want now?
She sure can sprint; dodging and weaving between the foremost Creeps to arrive at the top, she gets by unhindered. I leave the easy path to bull my way into thickening shrubbery. Seconds later she crashes into my back with a frightened squeal, then matches my red-faced, gasping pace.
Wildly high-stepping and sweeping aside the tall grasses we eventually burst from the jungle onto an extremely overgrown dirt road. The opposite side of this road is bordered by half a metre of concrete blocks, topped by two metres of cyclone wire. Razor wire caps the top rail as a final barrier. A casual observer might find this combination formidable and retreat.
Kristine rolling eyes indicate a woman teetering on the edge of madness. To prove my suspicion she leaps at the fence, prepared to risk being shredded by razor wire rather than be taken by the Parasites.
I know the feeling, but I also know of a better way to get through this wall.
First, I hook an arm around Kristine’s thighs and reef prise her from the fence. I drop her in a heap on the ground and then check our back trail. No Creeps; yet. But they will be coming.
Sounding a bit winded Kristine tries to talk and take deep breaths at the same time.
“What are you doing you big ape...I can make it over...can’t go back...followed us...almost got me.”
So far I’ve managed to weather multiple difficulties by not thinking about them. Masking my problems with drugs has helped, yet I can’t help wondering why they keep wearing off so quickly. And Kristine was right. I’ve taken an awful lot of them in the last few hours. I should be dead twice over. I have a sneaking suspicion the Crawly’s poison is counteracting their effects in some way.
I slowly wheeze some energy back into my leaden limbs and stack unhelpful thoughts in a confused pile inside my head. The air lacks oxygen and I feel like I’m suffocating, but we’re nearly there. Just got to keep going, a little further. My nice soft death-bed awaits. It’s only fair this small request of mine should be granted. If you’re out there Celestial Being, and you can be bothered listening, make it so. I promise to do good; maybe in my next life.
I look through the mesh, wishing I could fly. The other side is twenty acres of wide, flat lawns gone to seed. Small shrubs and head high grasses obscure a sprawling three-story building deep in there.
My beautiful stronghold of forbidding, grey concrete.
I turn one way and then the other, torn between the directions. Faint tyre tracks on the maintenance road show through the greenery. I’m pretty sure I know exactly where we are.
“Tha way, I think.”
I point and Kristine trustingly hops up and darts along the track.
I slowly crunch along the gravel in her wake and rediscover her whereabouts a few minutes later. She’s standings beside a beat up, rusting car reading the sign attached to the fence. With a quizzical note in her voice she reads it out loud.
“Warning! - Keep Out! - Burnside Juvenile Detention Centre."