Misgivings about where I’m being steered, mounts. We’re led into a suburban estate where I become hopelessly lost. The back trail route that I’d been trying to keep straight in my head puffs into smoke leaving naked fear exposed for all to see. Each side road we might use to escape has an equal chance of being blocked.
And then I am left with no choice at all. All the side roads are deliberately blocked by piles of garbage. Vehicle wrecks line the gutters, pressed nose to tail as a makeshift wall. The calculated placement of this mess is disturbing.
The barricades are constructed from the contents you’d find in a typical house. I’m driving over a carpet of leftover crap that crunches and cracks beneath the wheels, jarring the suspension. If I need to travel over this surface at speed it will be difficult to say the least. My anxiety levels are peaking. I am now totally focussed on searching for any space to perform five quick homicides and pull a U-turn out of here.
To top off my impending sense of doom, a huge wall looms up ahead. It is a monument to human excess. The Creeps must have stripped every building in the district to construct this barrier of fridges, TV’s, couches and tables. The mound, over two stories high, disappears between the emptied shells of gutted houses. It is an untidy line that curves away out of sight.
Further proof an inhuman intelligence is at work here.
The Creep foursome walks through the single break in this wall. I uncertainly guesstimate that the truck will fit through. The Creeps don’t stop to declare their luggage to the guards manning the entrance hole. They are let through gratis. It is we who are their sole source of bored fascination.
My foot wavers on the throttle and a neon sign flashes ‘Flee’ in my head. But the Parasite’s continue to stay their Hosts from attack. I return the bug-infected man’s stare as we scrape by, and wonder what that alien mind has in store for us.
Since I’ve just entered their walled enclave, we’ll probably be finding out real soon.
Our entourage continues to clear us past immobile bouncers that appear on every consecutive street corner from this point. Shadowy recesses hold numerous other forewarned, silent and watchful figures.
My eyes flick side to side and scour the mirrors as our parade grows. Brain cells I have tranquilized to low levels stall for time when I ask them for assistance.
The Creeps’ inexplicable behaviour is so very frightening. They’ve never disregarded the movement of a vehicle before. I had assumed they were hard-wired to attack us. Perhaps they are unused to their meals being self-delivered to their front doors.
Their reticent behaviour reminds me of a sneaky Doberman I once lived next door to. It would let anyone in, but nobody leaves with their skin and clothes intact.
My middle ear has developed a rising buzz which stodgy nerves and stubbornness have not picked up on until now. Something else is happening here. The air itself seems to vibrate.
A group of three hosts, closely followed by another group of four, stamp past in strict formation. Their necks swivel in military precision to fix our vehicle with attentive disapproval.
I salute them but they are not amused.
Creeps appear and leave my field of view in growing numbers, intent on various tasks not connected to us. We’re deeply and foolishly amongst them now.
Their density has reached a proportion where our right-of-way comes under dispute. Kristine almost falls off the seat when I must brake sharply, clipping an aging crone who has wandered in front of the truck. This Host is way past its use-by date with her thin white hair, skin like crumpled parchment. She wears a long frilly nightgown with terry towelling slippers. She might cut a sweet Grandmotherly figure to some although my sentiments are less flattering. My own Grandmother used to burn me with cigarettes if I misbehaved.
The Creep regains her feet and we stare at each other through the windscreen. I let the truck roll forward to nudge her with the bull-bar. Being prevented from moving is a mounting terror.
“C’mon, c’mon, you’re in the way you stupid old cow.”
She doesn’t take the hint. Instead she dictates our pace by shuffling directly up the centre of the street. We are now losing ground to the card-carrying captive.
We’re being boxed in for the kill. This realisation is all the motivation I need to finally make my move. I spy a section of street that is reasonably clear of clutter and build a few revs before launching the truck at the ancient woman’s back. I can almost see her call for aid before I smash her down. The urgent broadcast shimmers in the air and many more Creeps turn on us at once, from every compass point. I take wisdom from a hunch and brake the truck to dead stop, and wait as the horde thickens around us.
Kristine rises from her blacked out state at a bad time. Her eyelids blink slowly and then fly up fast, her dull mind is brightened by fear. She is at pains to understand why we’re stationary in the middle of a hostile crowd.
“What are you doing!? You’re stirring them up on purpose!?”
“Yep. Look up there, that's our friend disappearing. How many Creeps are up there? Four. How many around us? Bloody Hell, there’s about fifty now! Where the hell did they all come from? Oh well, more the merrier, I guess.”
“And why is more good?”
“Cos we’re faster than they are. If we concentrate their numbers here, they won’t annoy us when we get over there. Since you have decided to wake up, I need your help. Sit in the middle and get ready to take the wheel. I’ve got a brilliant plan.”
Despite her level of fright she rolls her eyes. She had never had much faith in my judgement.
The truck’s motor winds up to a powerful growl. I swerving to miss as many Creeps as possible as building speed is my goal. This tactic is partially successful although quite a few Hosts are tumbled about like nine pins, scattering a few of their mates as they are tossed aside.
I lower the window and estimate the braking distance perfectly for a smooth arrival at our destination. I breeze up beside the four carriers as coolly as a horny bloke propositioning a street prostitute.
“Hey Rat-face, you need a lift?”
I get a doubtful glare from the ugly rapist.
“It’s up to you, mate. I’ll run these two fuckers down and you grab my arm, OK?”
He doesn’t need to think about the offer, nodding harder than a head banger at a Motorhead concert.
Brake, steer right, and accelerate.
I pull off this manoeuvre flawlessly. The two Creeps on my side go under the tyres and I make a grab at the reaching hands of Rat-face. The rear suspension bounces over soft, lumpy, terrain and the two surviving Creeps hit the deck, thrown off balance when I snatch their prey from their grip.
Small as he is, Rat-face’s weight drags painfully at my one-armed support. I take the opportunity to drag along the ground for a bit as the truck accelerates. The strain is too much to play with him for long so I try to drag him up. His lack of help and constant screaming is getting on my nerves. Not to mention he has tugged me half-way out the window.
I keep the throttle down and lunge out with my other arm to take the pressure of the armpit that was being sawn in two on the window ledge. The skinny bugger must eat lead for breakfast. My new-found friend has the grip of a preschooler refusing to relinquish a parents hand on the first day of school. His steady crying has given way to a merry hooting as he sees his fortunes changing for the better. The abuse he throws back at the sprawling Hosts who’d lugged him so far is premature in my opinion.
“Up ya arse, Gloomers.”
“Shut up. Get on the step, you’re breaking my arm. Hold on to something else.”
He scrambles up on the side step and gives me a wide grin, full of rotten teeth.
“No ard feelin’s fucker, but yer gitten out here an I’m takin the truck.”
I’d rather expected this treachery and I even let him lunge at my face. It’s the perfect opportunity to snatch the card that flaps around his neck.
With my treasure in hand I concern myself with avoiding the broken fingernails that scratch at my eyes. He bites into my arm and I scream. Impacts from my fist to his head are ineffectual in his psychotic state and my unfinished plan falls apart in tatters. It is raw instinct that makes me draw back when Kristine screams in my ear.
Her boot heel scrapes across my face and connects with the rapist’s mouth. Lips smash and teeth are dislodged.
Damn! Those kick-boxing exercise videos have come in handy at last. I blink rapidly; slightly shocked by the near miss that could have resulted in a broken nose.
Rat-face isn’t able to shake off his blow so easily. He slips from his precarious perch but is saved by the same item that bought us to him. The card’s strong lanyard is still wrapped around his neck. The card I will never let go of again is pulled out the window and I go with it, clinging grimly to the sharp plastic rectangle that could mean life of death for us. Hanging outside again I see the cord is caught under his wing-nut ears. Instead of ducking to release the pressure he has arched his neck to prevent it sliding over his head. It cuts into his flesh but he bears this pain with a bloody grin and boggling red eyes.
He’s too low for me to grab at. His feet drag on the road. I blindly reach a hand towards Kristine. She picks up on my need and slaps a gun barrel into my imploring palm. I use it to bash at the fingers clinging to a bending mirror mount.
“Let! Go! You! Prick!”
He laughs at my fruitless attempt to dislodge him and hangs tough. Being left behind to face the Creeps’ wrath lends him the strength to ignore any pain I can inflict.
It occurs to me I’m using the weapon incorrectly. I rectify this by pointing the dangerous end of the pistol down, directly at the snarling face below.
It’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel.
As I fire the truck jolts over a brick and the bullet ricochets off the road.
I shoot three more times with similar results but the forth bullet creases his shoulder. He howls at the searing pain and the blessedly released card is mine. I blindly throw it to Kristine and lean further out my window to ensure he’s history.
No, he’s not! The heavily damaged son-of-a-bitch has managed to grab hold of the fuel tank.
“Don shoot! Take me outa here. We kin call it quits if ya do.”
Yeah, right! I swing my door open and twist uncomfortably against the seat belt, emptying the gun at our unshakable barnacle. My contortions knock Kristine’s hands from the wheel and we veer off the road, slamming over gutters and raising clouds of dust. Whether by bullet, or all this bouncing, he is shaken loose. The rear wheels deal with the obstruction he becomes with a solid thump.
“Haha. Howdya like that, weirdo!”
I slam the door and take a last look back to gloat leaving Kristine to continue steering. We crash heavily over another curb and rumble along a section of smoother bitumen again. I seriously consider asking how she got her license.
I see Rat-face finishing a barrel roll and coming to rest in a heap behind us. My satisfied smile slips when I note the liquid spraying beneath me and the wide trail we are leaving behind. I look down. Gee, nice grouping of shots there. It’s an impressive display of accuracy, except for the fact that all four holes have punctured the fuel tank.
“Is he gone? We’ve got the card! Can we go home?”
She coughs and holds her bruised throat but the pain of speaking isn’t slowing her questions any.
I slump back in the driver’s seat and stare at the fuel gauge without telling her what I’ve done. After all, I can’t apologise profusely for every tiny mistake I’ve made today; that would take about an hour.
Kristine grips the precious, blood-streaked rectangle to her breast and I chew over the implications of my latest fuck up. The road ahead is largely clear of debris allowing me to dwell on the fuel gauge that depletes our fuel reserves.
We’re making good time, as you seem to do whenever you are headed in exactly the wrong direction. The density of Creeps climb to ever higher levels as I take random twists after guessed turns. I can’t seem to find a straight piece of road left that leads consistently in one direction in this privately owned maze. I also entertain the reasons for such monumental defences. Whatever they seek to protect must be highly valuable to them. And if I’m not mistaken we’re heading into its centre.
The cities impressive skyscrapers gleam with reflected sunlight as they swap from left to right as we travel towards them. They’d be a much nicer sight if they were receding at our backs but we’re hopelessly lost and turning around would only make us lost in a different direction. The residential side streets either side of our current thoroughfare are useless. Each one is lined by damaged cars, either dumped by overworked tow-trucks during the mass exodus or placed there by the Creeps.
Our only other course of action would be to stop. However, the safety I feel when moving leaves us travelling at high speed into their slowly closing trap. My head twirls like a top. Dimmed brain power calls for the help only Super-drug can provide. I gobble the assistance they supply using the digital numbers on the dash clock to space my doses. . It’s three-fifteen and the breaking news is that the Creeps no longer shun our tour of their territory. They actively hinder our progress by congregating in thickening knots that I must swerve to avoid. I seek to stay ahead of their... telepathic warnings... and can’t believe I’m so easily accepting the possibility of this mind power. Unfortunately the truck doesn’t travel at the speed of thought.
I switch off the irritating CD when at last a plan is bared by the lack of any other option. I have spied a single undamaged street sign.
“Douglas Street and Elm Avenue! Get the map book! Find out where we are!”
Kristine finds the out of date directory and struggles to find the right page as I swerve off the road around a burned out wreck. Some inconsiderate cripple has left a wheelchair on the sidewalk. The truck bulls it aside.
She flips the pages as I disobey a stop sign at the next intersection.
“Okay. Run straight west…then back streets to highway…not far from our place.”
“No back streets. And don’t send us down any road marked in red.”
“The whole page has red marks!”
“We’re kinda deep in enemy territory, in case you didn't notice. Those roadblocks I started marking around the edges of the city centre, they’re from ages ago. I reckon they’re the start of that Great Wall they’ve built since then. Join all them smaller red circles together. It’ll give us a perimeter. I need an idea of which streets are still passable so we can find a hole to crawl through.”
“That might take me a while.”
She swallows painfully.
“You want me to pull over? I’ll get us a burger while you turn it into a work of art. Just scratch a fucking square around the city centre!”
If looks could kill, I’d be a dead man.
The truck growls over a crest in the road demanding a gear change.
The sight that greets us from the top is beyond horrific.
“Woah, what the fuck?”
The road is passing through the congested zone of small businesses. Low-rise buildings spread out in every direction and the ground in between the buildings literally swarms with Creeps. A thickly roiling throng, who cover every flat surface. Bobbing heads interweave in a never ending pattern of movement.
Then they’re as motionless as if I’ve hit the pause button on a DVD.
Lifeless eyes rotate in every face, and every head is turned our way.
They stand immobile, waiting for instructions in a deathly silence.
The air vibrates with malevolence and I slowly become aware of a force that is testing a resisting envelope around me. I sense an invisible tentacle that probes at this shield until it finds its way inside. The clammy feel of its touch caresses the front of my mind and the power of its inquisition turns my bowels to slush.
“Sam. Please don’t freak out, but I think there’s something feeling around inside my head."