We dawdle over a late lunch in our kitchen even if our conversation is hampered by the revelations below. I let the pieces patter around me for the mental janitor to sweep up and toss into the ‘Not My Problem’ pile. Kristine seems geared up to carry the entire weight of guilt on her shoulders. I might have to prepare for a blow up or breakdown, and would prefer either of these to the slow clink of her knife on that plate. It’s getting on my nerves.
“There’s a good view of town from the roof, we can have a look tomorrow if you want.”
“Can we go right now? I want to watch the sunset and think about things.”
Sitting around getting drunk is what I’d rather be doing, though fulfilling her wish needn’t cancel out mine. Grumbling under my breath, I pack beers, chocolate bars and an ice brick into an esky.
Kristine watches my preparations with arms folded and thin lips. She unzips the bag and tosses in a water bottle.
“I don't want that.”
“It’s for me, you ignorant pig.”
I see that I’m still expected to carry the esky. Supplied and ready I signal her to follow me.
The route to the rooftop involves trekking deep into the arena of maintenance corridors. More staircases burn my complaining leg muscles. Before proceeding outside I give Kristine a pair of tinted safety glasses from a PPE station. It also dispenses earplugs, sun-cream and hand-wash for maintenance worker’s tasks of old. Stepping onto the roof we squint from the glaring reflections bouncing off the white roof. The sunnies cut out the worst of it.
The roof itself is a boring, flat expanse, but the view is commendable. Smog free air brings the city skyline into sharp relief, and even sprawling suburbia is a riot of fresh autumn colours.
Kristine wanders around, looking down into the central garden we’d recently left. She walks the perimeter to view the car parks, generator block, maintenance shed and vast lawns.
I leave her to it and head for the roof’s only structure. A short, brick lift motor housing. On one side of this structure I have tautly secured a sail-shade. The two poles are tethered to several twenty litre paint tins. I’ve stashed a few odds and ends beneath this cool wedge of shade. Plastic chairs, several large stainless steel tool chests, and a tripod.
Kristine has drifted over by the time I’ve rummaged about in the boxes to set up a telescope. It’s one of several items removed from a camera shop that I liked to amuse myself with by surveying my kingdom.
I wave a hand in invitation for Kristine to have a look while I crack open a beer and sit. Kristine fidgets with the eye piece and orientate herself with quick glances into the distance.
“Hey, look, there’s a naked woman down there,” she exclaims, turning the focus. I leap up and thrust my beer in her hand. The telescope reveals the manikin I’d set up a couple of kilometres away to range in a sniper rifle. There were no holes in it, but the trees around the plastic-breasted beauty are missing large chunks.
“What are you on about? That’s a dummy.”
“You pervert. Shoulda seen how quick you moved just now.”
Kristine laughs and swigs from my bottle. I aim a slap at her arm but she skips out of reach. Bitch.
“Keep it then. I opened it with my arse crack.”
I keep track of her sins. Falsely reporting nudity and stealing beer. Hope she likes the punishment of loud heavy metal tonight when we go back to our rooms.
I fish a fresh beer from the esky and she reclaims the scope to casts around for other distractions. There’s a pin prick of movement on the street running along the front of the grounds. I point it out and she zooms in to report a tight formation of shuffling people.
“Creeps. Crap, hope they can’t see us.”
“That’s why I keep the scope under shade; sun doesn’t reflect off it. And if you don't wave your arms or shout they shouldn't pick us out.”
A pair of naval binoculars are within arm’s reach so I use them to confirm her reports. The high magnification brings a Creep disturbingly close. I find it hard not to duck when one stares straight at me in that ultra-slow survey they do of everything they pass. I’d named their dead panned faces the ‘we are not amused’ look. Kristine laughs when I share this.
Score ‘one’ to Sam the comedian.
The Hosts are in pretty good shape for the most part. There are no fat ones. Parasites must be supreme dieticians. None have obvious sores or diseases and a Parasite’s liking for raw flesh doesn’t appear to be detrimental to a Host’s health.
I bring out a notebook where I’d jotted daily entries for a while. Descriptions of Host movements and behaviour.
“See that. One just peeled off from the pack. They scatter themselves like ants, foraging, leaving sentries along the way to keep an eye out and to call others if something interesting, like us, comes along.”
“You think they’re that smart?”
“I know they are. I’ve been putting it together for a while. A lot of it gelled for me when we were having that nice walk back from town a few weeks back. Some of the stuff I saw explains a lot. Really got me thinking. Those sentries; I think they’re repeater stations, passing on signals to somewhere central. All’s well, all’s not well, there’s food here, that kind of stuff. And then something sends a signal back. Go here, go there, etc. Whatever is sending those signals, I haven’t seen yet. Don’t wanna neither. They recognize each other’s Parasite too. Somehow they know I don’t have one in me.”
I skip why I think this is so. I probable give myself away every time by the fright on my face and the way I run away like a fat cheetah.
“A signal? Like telekinesis? Really? That’s kinda ‘out there’, Sam.”
She should talk. Bloody hippie chick.
“I saw a pack of dogs attack one once.”
I flick pages to the entry and read it out.
“Host grabs dogs by muzzle. Breaks neck. Other dogs bugger off.”
“They’re stronger than you’d give them credit for. Those elderly ones; even they can kick arse. Lucky Parasites don’t possess animals; we’d be fucked for sure.”
The setting sun interferes with the scope and I’ve run out of beer. Kristine needs a toilet break and won’t follow my lead of urinating off the side of the building. We troop down to construct dinner but return an hour later with another six-pack. I set up the night-sight scope which pulls in the starlight and illuminates the darkness. We take turns spotting Creeps and discuss the unseasonably good weather. The monstrous and mundane combine as we wile away the evening.
The days drip slowly by. Kristine puts her newly granted freedom to use, disappearing deep into the facility each day. I wallow in my own disinterest.
When our power supply needs tending once again we are forced together. After the duty is completed, before we go our separate ways again I show Kristine the rest of my gun collection. I keep a formidable array of killing equipment laid out on tables at one end of a gymnasium.
I familiarise her with the weapons. I work on the theory if the weapon is properly loaded, readied for action and aimed in the right direction, a threat may still be taken down. Her accuracy may improve with practice.
I allow Kristine her patented closed-eyes, turned-head method of shooting until she accidentally hits the crotch of one of the targets. At near point-blank range. I move her back a few metres and she fires the magazine out with short, scared shrieks. I shoulder a shotgun and clip the ear from another cut-out with a single pellet.
At the end of our session the emasculated, earless silhouettes are the only casualties. Kristine insists her improvements to her aim are hampered by inept tutoring. I claim the shakiness of withdrawal as my handicap. A draw is called.
I get a makeover. Kristine hints at a hairdressing course she did, while staring at the bird’s nest on top of my head. With a shrug of acceptance, I’m subjected to a full work up. She tuts and fiddles with a fringe that she claims is ruined by my self-shearing of the hair that got in my eyes with haphazard scissors.
Last I checked, hair grows continuously, so what does it matter if my fringe stops at the top of my head. She has bogged a second comb into snarls that flow over my shoulder blades in what I like to think of as ‘derelict Fabio style’. A unilateral decision is made to reduce its length.
The three styles she tries are subject to shorter and shorter lengths. I end up leaving her studio to buzz-cut the last, layered, streaked atrocity she’s committed upon me. I return to her pouting lips which can be formidable weapons. I surrender to her ministrations once more and she shaves off my tangled beard as well. Razor burn and white skin are left to glow around sunburned cheeks.
Happy to have gotten her way, Kristine happily packs up the instruments. I hope she doesn’t expect me to maintain this new external man. I meet him in the mirror and we are speechless in our examination until we approve of the new look with a shrug of acceptance.