The voice is whiny but quite unlike Kristine’s. Is it a Creep? Have they learned to talk?
I twist around to glimpse the particular brand of bad luck who kneels on top of my back It’s a small man with pointy jaw, stringy muscles and rancid body odour.
He glares angrily into my face.
There’s no sign of Parasite-occupation in those eyes. A bonus regrettably negated by an unfriendly attitude. Manic strength fills his scrawny body; I can’t move, and not for want of trying.
“Stop struggling or I’ll knife ya.”
He kneels on my arm and twists the jacket’s collar in a tight chokehold. I hope Kristine will come out soon and shoot him in the eye.
As if to prove his strength I’m raised skyward. My bruised lungs suck in a new breath which is immediately slammed out of me as the pavement crashes against me again. He adds his weight to ground me properly.
“Where’s your slut gone then, fatso?”
He’s not very consistent. Tells me not to speak, and then asks me questions.
“Oiw dunno. Disneyland?”
It’s hard to talk when somebody has positioned their knee against the back of your neck.
“When she comes out, ya gonna be real quiet.”
No way, Buddy, I’ll be yelling my head off.
A wickedly sharp knife tip presses against my lower eyelid. It’s my favourite eye too.
Maybe I will be quiet then.
The holder of the knife continues our one-sided chat.
“You got a nice little set-up aintcha? Me lucky day see’n’ya come out of the juvie lockup.”
“Mush have the wrong couple. We’re at the Hilton.”
This clever misdirection halts him for a second.
“Fucken smart cunt, huh? I followed ya here, dickhead. I seen ya lead off that buncha Gloomers. But I know’d yous’ed come back so I waited. See’n if ya got mates comin. Bin waitin a looong time, watching that cute bit of arse.”
His urgent whispering spatters my face with saliva that stinks of sewerage.
“Thanks for noticing, I’ve been working out.”
He rams a bony knee into my thigh as punishment. The pain feeds anger born of fright. Droning recriminations from Mr Paranoia fill an 'I told you so’ quota that he is quick to fill now that I’m as good as dead.
“Oww. Lemme go, you prick. What do you want?”
“I want in. I want inta your nice, safe little home. I want in, away from them Gloomers.”
Not sure that he’d be a good choice of house guest, I improvise.
“Owkway. Thas nize. Dwop aroun sometime.”
He presses my face hard into the gritty concrete and I hear the buzz of a zip tie pulling tight around my wrist. It pinches my skin sharply and I squeal. The other wrist is subjected to the same treatment and my alarm escalates. A last ditch effort to do an escape roll is prevented by a police hold that tears ligaments in my shoulder. When I am subdued once again he connects the ties together with another and I have the fearful thought that he’s done this before.
My flaming nerves are agonizing. An involuntary cry is punished by more punches to the face. Stars explode and I spit dirt and blood. The choke hold on my collar saws at raw neck flesh as I’m relocated around the truck’s side with hard tugs. I extend my belly to create maximum friction and cough breathes in and out wretchedly. Serrated steel is dragged painfully down one cheek leaving blood beads welling from parallel lines. Craning away from the blade only makes him press down on my neck harder until I am contorted to its fullest extent.
This would be a good point from Kristine to show up and bust this guy’s head open with copper-jacketed projectiles. Deliverance of this fervently prayed for fantasy does not occur.
Loony Tunes is muttering to himself, jerking pistols and knives from my belt and patting me down for anything he missed. The keys me wants are crushed beneath me for now but he’ll find them soon enough.
“If ya don wanna tell me howta get in ya lockup, then I’m gonna hafta git it outa ya bitch. You kin watch. Hahahaha.”
On this cue we hear Kristine’s boots thumping out of a shop, frills and lace clutched to her chest. He has been waiting for the huge intake of breath, and my mouth that opens to scream a warning. A rag of dubious cleanliness is shoved behind my teeth and he stabs my defenceless buttock with a sharp knife tip to punish my disobedience. Kristine hears my muffled animal cries from around the truck’s far side.
“Sam? Are you OK? If you’re taking a leak I’ll just leave these here.”
I’m leaking. Blood mainly.
She waits for a moment, probably wondering why I don’t answer. Slow footsteps approach until she’s just about to peek around the canopy. My antagonist tenses, then launches at her slender neck before her brain can take in the scene before her .
They hit the ground with screams and growls. The strangler is cushioned by Kristine’s body and the padding of loose clothes she still clutches between them. Kristine has taken the brunt of the fall and is immobilised by the man’s weight. His fingers dig deep into her neck and his other busy hand is tearing at the layers of ladies-wear between them. He isn’t searching for keys in the pocket-less shift she’s wearing.
Kristine is dazed by the fall, but the groping quickly helps her regain her senses. She releases a full powered shriek of terror, and then swings an admirable fist that connect with the jutting, bony jaw above her.
Christ, yeah, smash that fucker! She’s doing better than I had!
From the second that bastard had jumped off my back I’d been squirming towards the truck. Swearing through the foul tasting rag I manage to roll over and use my forehead to inch myself up the truck’s tyre. I gain my knees in this prayerful pose and hear that hateful mutterer delivering sweet nothings to my only friend.
“Well aintcha a fiery bit of snatch. I got somfink for ya. It’ll be the last one yule av, so might as well juss lay back an enjoy it.”
He’s perfectly happy now; in control. A side view of his wide, nasty grin proves poor oral hygiene has left him with few teeth. The ones remaining I intend head-butting down his throat.
Kristine face is bright red from the stranglehold. She dredges up the energy to deliver another hard punch to his face which dampens the attacker’s good humour. A vicious series of backhanders flay her lips. She tries to cover her face with a free arm but is weakened, ineffectually pushing at his chest.
The zip ties around my wrists are unbreakable. I strain at them with no concern for the blood that courses down numb hands. Utter frustration builds into a murderous rage and I let a bellow erupt from my hoarse throat as the gag finally falls out.
The maniac is tearing at Kristine’s smock, bending to bite her exposed breasts while squeezing a hand between kicking legs. Repulsed by Kristine’s rape I furiously lunge upwards, dragging my face fast up the load beds’ canvas cover. . I steady myself, never minding that my tied hands are cold and useless, and line up the bastard’s head to cave it in.
Two steps into my run, the filthy little runt notices me. He springs to poised feet, jerking my pistol from between Kristine’s thighs.
Probably his idea of foreplay.
I trip, a millisecond before he tugs at the trigger. An uncaring pattern of bricks absorb the second body blow I’ve had to contend with today. My abused chest takes the effect of gravity that tethered hands are unable to alleviate. Bruised ribs now feel like panes of shattered glass. I grind to a stop using an ear and cheek to brake the momentum of my aborted attack.
“Hahahahah. Wait cha turn, Fat Boy. I’ll git ta ya soona nuff.”
So this is how it ends? Raped and bullet ridden corpses in a suburban shopping mall. I defiantly stare down the spiral scored barrel and decide not to die snivelling for mercy from a friendless piece of trash. Hopefully I can goad him into shooting me before he finishes with Kristine.
I am about to speak when a large object moves beyond the killer’s shoulder. Unfixing my attention from his squinty eyes I focus thanklessly on the newest of my troubles that are being crammed into this moment by some mirthless God. Sweat ices my skin and a sudden urge to take a dump compete to make my death as memorable as possible.
Two Hosts are approaching our tableau. One white, one black, both undeniably containing a Crawley judging by expressionless faces and slow tread. They wear Gold’s Gym muscle shirts and look fit enough to be worthy of the clothing.
Mr Rapist; ignorant of their presence; is still hesitating over a decision of what to do first. Kill or rape. We are a dramatic depiction normally only seen on the covers of super-human comic books.
“Go ahead you scum-sucking shit-bag, take your best shot.”
I don’t care if I die from a shot in the head. It is a far more attractive proposition compared to the barehanded tearing of flesh or the paralysing fangs from a venomous face-hugging Parasite that seems to be my alternative.
I laugh when Rat-face lets his loosened pants fall, exposing an erection that bobs ridiculously.
The Creeps loom over him as he bends down to correct his obscene display. I pray he shoots straight before they take him.
“Now I see why you prefer girls, Krissie.”
It’s nothing pithy, my final farewell.
Maddeningly the Creeps stop reaching for Rat-face at the sound of my voice, and their expressionless eyes lock onto me.
“A dyke is she? Mebbe she juss need’s the right cock, eh Fatso?”
Delightfully unaware, Rat-face strokes his dick and chuckles at his little joke. His actions serve to reabsorb all of the Creeps’ alien attention. His evil expression droops as I smile in anticipation of what’s about to happen to him. My humour, instead of the expected blubbering makes him angry and uncertain.
“Laugh this off, fucker.”
Snarling, he pulls the trigger.
Jesus Christ, I almost messed myself. Close sphincter, open eyes.
The gun is stayed silent. He thrusts it at me again and the trigger clicks four more times. This low angle shows no danger from a misfire. The magazine is absent. The grip is hollow.
Three cheers for my unforgivable forgetfulness. I’ve forgotten to load the gun!
Rat-face is infuriated by the gun’s deception. I snicker and he rushes at me to crease my face twice with the barrel. I’m laid out, sick and dizzy.
“We kin do it the slow way then.”
A reach for his favoured huge knife is blocked by a Creep who grips his elbow. The Creeps have finally chosen a target.
“Huh? Git orf me! Shit Gloomers!”
He adapts quickly; whistling his baby machete through the air in an attempt to separate a Creep’s head from his body. The blade never makes it. The other Creep confiscates the blade mid-swing and lets it drop to the ground. Rat-face screeches like a banshee when parted from his toy; held tight in a dedicated clinch by the second Creep.
From previous encounters I know that a Creep’s strength is compromised by their slowed reflexes. They disappoint me by failing to hold onto the adrenaline injected, psycho contortionist. He wriggles free, kicking away the pants that tangle around his feet.
Hell’s teeth, he accelerates faster than a drag car. I sorrowfully watch these uncalled for events from my grounded vantage point.
Bugger me sideways, he’s getting away. Karma, you suck.
Karma shudders at my lack of faith. Rat-face’s bad energy must be due for rebalancing as Kristine is given the chance to revenge herself. Spillages from her overflowing bins surround her. Most items are unlikely weapons however her groping hands close around a large wok. Personally I would have chosen the pointy candelabra.
Kristine’s escape route leads him to leap her prostrate body. He doesn’t count on the rapidly ascending wok that she swings at his bony knee with gusto. A hollow gong marks the collision, overlaid by a new screamer of agony. The kneecap dislocates, and the ground receives his tumbling body with its hard embrace.
The prolonged yowling is joyful music to my ears. Try to run on that mess, buddy.
I restrain a whoop of glee as the Creeps who are heading his way with a deliberate step. Inviting them to easier prey would be unwise.
I shake my head wildly behind their turned backs when Kristine goggily looks over at me. She nods her understanding and sinks back to hide in the mess of clothing around her. She holds her nerve even as the Creeps brush by her; eyes locked on their sobbing, pants-less prey.
The damaged man has gained his good leg and proceeds to hop energetically away, imploring the Hosts to leave him be. They ignore both his entreaties and the following abuse.
At the first opportunity Kristine is up and crawling away on all fours; scrambling to hide behind a concrete planter. She clings to its edge and watches the Creeps shuffle away from us down the Mall. Moments later she turns and runs. I’m stunned into morose resignation, but shrug her abandonment off stiffly. Who can blame her for panicking? I can’t truthfully say I’d do any different. Instead of feeling alarm, I experience a strange calm. Freak-out time has been paused for the moment. Maybe I’ll just lie here and watch the Creeps eat our mugger. Then, when they return for me, I’ll bash my head against the bricks until I’m unconscious.
Plans made, I struggle to turn on one side to better view the show. But my bucking movements are arrested by a hand that clamps one strained shoulder. I draw breath for a really good scream only to hear Kristine’s whisper.
“Shhhhhh. It’s only me.”
Why did I ever doubt her? Of course she’s come back to save me. Again! It’s me who runs in terror at the snap of a stick. The love I feel for her is devastating. Cheerless hope is revived, dusty with disuse, to see what the fuss is about. Kristine levers me to a sitting position and examines my bloody hands.
“I can’t see the rope. Your skin is all swollen and there’s lots of blood.”
“S’not rope, cable ties. Gotta cut between my wrists. A knife. There’s three of the frigging things around here somewhere.”
Of the three to choose from, Kristine finds the bluntest, shortest, most useless knife, and saws delicately between my blood-slicked wrists. Freed, my hands fly apart; releasing spring-loaded lightning bolts that shoot into clumps of cramped muscle. Numbness eliminates the dexterity I’d need to cut the remaining two embedded bands myself. I shove the puffy sausages at Kristine for her to deal with them.
Her tentative probes into the deep bloody grooves with what suddenly feels like a razor sharp knife are recipes for slashed arteries. I pull away after several yelps. The truck’s tool kit holds less dangerous tools. I run to the passenger door and flap my useless hands at the handle.
“Quick, open it! Tool box! Get out of the way!”
Floppy, unfeeling fingers dive into the container. Hammer, wire, screwdriver. I can’t grip anything properly to acquire what I want.
“Kristine. Side cutters, side cutters!”
I yank my useless digits out of the way. It’s urgent; they’re deep red, almost black.
“This one? This one? This one?”
Kristine has no idea what side-cutters are. She shows me each tool and flings it aside at my negative groans. Finally the right one appears.
They were at the bottom.
I ignore the painful nips as my flesh is gouged in search of those tough plastic bands. The left snaps under her two-handed grip and then the right one is dealt with more quickly.
I clasp those freed wrists with opposite hands, gasping as blood rushes into and over the freezing balloons they’ve become. Heat and painful pins and needles are reassuring. I hope normal sensation will fully return soon.
The squealing noises from our attacker have ceased. We seek out his position and find him spotlighted by a shaft of sunlight. He is a far off, limping figure in a fluke of shifting cloud. He’s still on the hobble, saving his breath for the failing escape attempt.
A third Host has joined the hunt. It’s an enthralling sight.
“Oh dear! Check this out, Krissie. He’s putting up a good fight. Nope. He’s down. They got him. He’s screwed.”
I look away from the far-off scuffling and concentrate on gathering weapons to fill my lightened belt. After a careful check around, the gun with the misplaced magazine is found. The dishonourable reason I’d survived being shot by it is not spoken about. I cage it in with the many other secrets I keep from her.
Kristine is crashing fast. Her settling heart-rate kicks out that crutch to allow shock to wrack her body with shivers. At first I blame it on cool winds and ripped clothes until she swoons against me and is unresponsive to the shaking I give her. All I get in return is a hoarse cough that sprays flecks of blood over dry lips and her glassy eyes flutter closed.
My anger is set to full burn for the bastard who made her suffer while in my care. Making sure he is dead override all other considerations. The vengeful blaze in my gut crushes my indifferent common sense that should be encouraging me to make for home. I drag Kristine to the truck and position her in the passenger seat. She is lost in the folds of the parker I drape around her shoulders. She huddles inside it like a sleepy two-year-old.
In my angry mood I grab the shotgun and needlessly cycle another round into the chamber. There’s a significance attached to the unfired cartridge that is ejected and spins away under the truck. I take it as due warning; bad luck can return to me as swiftly as it left.
And bugger it, now I’ve only got seven shots left.
Sore, unpredictable hands can’t be trusted to hold the boom-stick yet. I put it aside and throw the last load of Kristine’s stuff into the truck. I refuse to leave anything behind. We'd paid a hefty price for all this shit. The last item I scoop up is the wok. That bony knee did zero damage to it. I decide to frame it… if we ever get back.
The ramp retracts and the shotgun I’ve propped against the rear wheel is lucky not to be forgotten. I circle around the truck with care, shotgun levelled, expecting to be jumped from every side. I’m so wound up the slightest movement is likely to get a face full of double-O buckshot. To tease me, shadows squirm with phantoms. Deceiving targets play with my under-medicated mind. I’m not sure how I restrain myself from unloading a wasteful lead-storm at the shifting nothingness.
I spring into my seat and slam the door on the soggy wound in my butt-cheek. I hiss in refried anger and punch my door lock down hard. Lunge across Kristine’s stuporous body, I secure hers too.
The truck starts with its heartening reliability. Its idle jiggles us gently while I gather up the determination to go after our enemy. The side mirrors attract the inquisition of my gaze while my weeping wrists burn in a lingering reminder of the man I wish to murder.
Perhaps I won’t have to. Maybe the Creeps have eaten their prize, or perhaps a Parasite is already crawling inside him?
It is then I entertain other concerns.
Can a Parasite access a Host’s memories?
Will they be able to dredge his mind for knowledge of our fortress?
I talk myself down from this spiral of paranoid delusions. Let’s forget he exists. Let’s just go home and recover.
I’ve only just made this resolution when I slap at an empty spot on my belt. There’s something missing. I can guess who has taken the magnetic card on its retractable tether.
Getting back into our home without it is almost impossible.