Creeps have shuffled along both sides of the truck as we’d sat here in judgment. We are surrounded by a solid wall of flesh and more of them stroll towards is from every direction.
I chew a handful of Duramine and tap the fuel gauge which has dropped to the ‘E’.
Kristine hyperventilates and then shrinks into herself. We brace for a slow breaking wave of post-humans; an onrushing tide of evil intent.
There’s a ninety per cent chance we aren’t getting out of this alive. The short stretch of empty space ahead of us is closing. Bad as these other factors are, it’s the rippling black shroud of Crawlies running over the top of the ranks that I am determined to evade. They hop eagerly towards us like blood-starved fleas.
A tight alleyway over to our left offers a singular opportunity to run. It would have been nice of Kristine to point that out earlier but as then again the Duramine empowers me to see opportunities that mere mortals would miss. Who cares if we can fit, or if it is a dead end, we’re going in!
A high revved motor accepts a second gear start. We accelerate, gaining momentum on a downhill run towards the oncoming mob.
“What the fuck are you doing?!”
“We shan’t be going into town, darling. It would appear a Creepy-Crawly convention is on today. Jolly inconvenient, wot?”
A passable English accent of insane parody is my alternative to screaming. Kristine is already doing enough of that for both of us so I thunder down to the packed mob of Hosts with a cry of enthusiastic glee.
Tyres squeal on the fast left hand turn that aligns us with the skinny lane. Poorly packed, the load shifts, canting the truck over to my side and affecting the steering. It’s possible only through the pressure of that heaving crowd, whose front line I flatten, that allows the truck to remain upright. I regain control and enter the alley at warp speed.
The Crawlies are flinging themselves at the retreating truck. I see them shower down on the road behind us. The mirrors I stare into explode as air-conditioning units on the walls either side are ripped from their mounts. It sure is a tight squeeze down here.
Several Creeps, late for the party, are caught halfway down the alley. Their flesh separates from bone as I plough into them, even at a paltry forty kilometres an hour. The kills are sexless, blurred impacts. I only see the bodies bounce in juddering impacts from the nudge bar; and hear the limbs and heads slam firmly into a disintegrating grille.
Bloody strands of red and grey brain splatter across the windscreen like red rain. Wipers smear the blood, leaving a vision impairing network of red cracks behind.
My annoyance at the damage to my pristine truck prompts a fleeting and improper deed. I open my door to take out a male Creep who has kindly moved aside to let me by. His face shuts the door with a cab rattling crash. The window bursts over me.
That’ll leave a dent to remember.
Several more bodies slip beneath our wheels, cobbling the road with bone and muscle, and I wince when there’s a solid bang underneath when the differential connects something fleshy.
The impacts slow us somewhat but I hold second gear and rely on torque to recover our momentum. The chromed bar is badly dented and partly folded against the cab but it is still of use to deflect boxes, wheelie bins and yet another fanatical Host. I lose interest in what I am hitting. Anything in my path is ground into the asphalt.
The lane ends, ejecting us onto a broader road in another tyre-howling turn to the left. I sideswipe several parked cars; breaking glass, shattering plastic and buckling metal. In my heightened state I hear every particle hit the ground. Third gear brings with it a measure of prudence. I swerve around Creeps instead of creaming them to prevent major damage to ourselves and the truck. It is hard to dodge their suicidal lunges, especially since the revving truck is a magnet for them.
We pass another entrance to the underground nest. It spews forth pre-warned Hosts and Crawlies that press outwards in controlled splendour, with not a sign of a push or a shove. Tens of thousands of them must live down there in complete harmony.
Ramming speed is too slow for the escape velocity I have attained. I skirt the expanding mob, removing a few smaller Host from the edges just for the hell of it.
And then we’re through, leaving the multitude behind!
“Hey! Hey! I need directions!”
Kristine has blinded herself to my driving with a hand over her eyes. Spread fingers let her see the book in her lap.
Her voice is croaky; nearly used up. I hit the brakes and cut the corner a near impossible turn.
Whoa. Slow down, boy. No need to wreck us now. Save fuel.
We pass fewer Creeps, though each proves they’ve received a personal message to obstruct us by any means. Mostly I am able to evade their reaching hands. The truck has enough damage that I’m worried it might strand us soon.
Kristine gives directions with her hands to avoid speaking. One of her directions is a poor choice and we come to a shuddering halt at a bus that has flipped on its side to show its underside immodestly. Also, it is effectively blocking the road.
Our motor stutters and stalls.
The needle rests against the stop under ‘E’.
We’re completely out of fuel.
“You want some gum?”
Kristine shakes her head, astonished at the question. I am busy unwrapping an entire packet and stuff the strips in my mouth. Hmmm, spearmint flavour. Not a favourite, but beggers can’t be choosers.
An avalanche of cubed glass tumbles from my body as I jump from the cab. They tinkle from the folds in my leather and I shake them , dog-like, from my hair. There’s a prevailing hush that aches to be broken. Even my chewing sounds loud.
My sore, bleeding lips remind me of their hurt. The stab wound in my butt is sticky and sore from friction of the seat. My ear and cheek stings too. Ribs? Yep, tender; other than that, I’m great.
I shove a pistol into my belt.
“What’re you doing? Why’dya turn the truck off? Do we have to walk?”
“Be quiet woman. Stay there, I have to fix a small fuck up.”
The side locker gives up a dirty old a rag, tape, and a plastic bag. I wipe diesel from around the punctures near the bottom of the fuel tank and press the chewed gum into ragged group of holes. With a bit of luck the tape will hold the gum in place. The top holes aren’t a problem.
I walk to the bus and pump five bullets down its fuel tank. The recent practise I’ve had on our truck is rewarded by the splash of diesel from the lower three holes. Enough litres are captured by the plastic bag and I transport it carefully and splash the fuel into our empty tank. The salvaged quantity is less than twenty litre by the time I’m finished but it will have to do.
I resume my seat with wide-eyed innocence, pretending not to notice Kristine’s frightened face.
“You shot the fuel tank. That’s crazy, it could have blown up!”
“No it can’t. It’s diesel. You watch too much TV. Anyway you didn't complain when I shot ours?”
“Is that what you did? You shot our fuel tank?”
“Got it four times, this close together.”
I make a circle with forefinger and thumb. Kristine isn’t impressed by my marksmanship.
The motor cranks for a long time in a lazy man’s priming method. It finally fires up before I drain the battery and I rev it hard. Babying this truck is a thing of the past.
Backing out of the blocked street with absent mirrors is a neck stretching manoeuvre.
The smeared blood across the windshield turns it dangerously opaque when low beams of sunlight appear between towers of cloud. An early dusk threatens, with the additional hardship of rain. Both wipers prove to be broken; they twitch sporadically when asked to clear away the mess. Water sprayers have also gone on strike in sympathy.
Recalculating fuel to kilometres occupies my gambling nature after the gauge bangs on empty again and is unable to deliver pertinent information. Kristine lapses back into a semi-doze, leaving me to pull a long looping detour; navigating myself.
I have been begging the black clouds to open and they take pity on us in a spectacular, torrential downpour. I’m instantly soaked through the broken window, but it is also a license to head directly for home. Parasites rely on vision and sound to operate and I’ve found their rate of pursuit drops with their visual acuity. Driving in the storm with no wipers is nearly as bad as the sun blinding and I only have one working headlight that is skewed hard to the left. I forgive its useless view when I spot the tall fence of home-sweet-home. I follow its run alongside Kristine’s window and rejoice inwardly.
From this point I celebrate each small advancement separately. The main gate’ proximity card scanner recognises the popularly sought after card and the gate closes at our backs with a heavenly solid clunk. I allow myself to take the first relaxed breath in two hours.
To make our homecoming official I take the time to back onto the dock. The abrupt stop against the rubber buffer jolts Kristine awake with a hurtful gasp . Wind-swept needles of rain spear me when I exit the cab to secure the dock’s mesh doors.
Kristine is not at all well. I lift her from the cab and carry her up the dock steps. Her weight drags at my battered arms and hunch against the heavy rain rattling deafeningly against the tin roof. The desired storm has outstayed its invitation to party into the night.
Kristine’s fingernails dig into my skin and she finds the voice to croak at me.
“Something moved, behind the truck!”
A brilliant flash of lightning reveals a waving arm stretched out towards us. I nearly drop her when thunder booms, shaking the dock’s metal walls.
Something is moving. A kid in his late teens. My gut freezes, realising I’ve brought a Creep into our fortress.
The Host’s quest to maim us is being curtailed by the truck’s hitch that crushes him to the dock. He’s no immediate threat, and I see by the blood splashed up from his inverted waist that he won’t be alive much longer.
In light of this information I manage to calm my thoughts. He cannot hurt us, and our remoteness from his fellow Hosts means he can’t inform them where we are. Hopefully.
I lower Kristine and sit her on an empty milk crate, never taking an eye from the silently writhing man. Two pistols appear in my fists, safeties off. Ten rounds explode into his head and chest; the booming gunshots compete with rolling crashes of thunder.
I reload and wait for the Parasite.
It does not get to crawl all the way out of the dead boy’s shattered face. As soon as I see its clawed legs flail, I shoot it with maximum prejudice. The dreaded mistakes I’d made while examining the Granny Parasite are not to be retold.
Rapid explosions destroy both the sickly moving beast and the Host’s head. Blood splatters my hands and guns. The damage I’m doing to the dying Host is stomach churning. I’d throw up if the Parasite’s extinction wasn't so stimulating.
The pistols stop bucking. My aching wrists are wreathed in smoke. I inspect the bodies, pronouncing both irrefutably dead. To be utter certain I find a convenient stick to drag the dead Parasite from the remains of that boy’s head and bash it into mush.