Ending the fight releases all my tension. The relief descends like a shroud and I lower the gun to kneel and vomit in huge contractions. When I’m finished I lift me head weakly and let the bile and mucus dribble from my wrecked lips. Blood curdles around my aching bones and refuses to refresh the muscles attached.
I seek the only instant cure I know to this deathly state.
Another trip to the pack.
I crawl to it and lucky dip Dexadrine pills from the pile. Swallowing is difficult. I push the capsules over a dead lump of tongue and shake them down my throat. It is a band-aid measure for this level of weariness but it will have to suffice.
Gooey white tendrils are splattered across the front of my jacket. They wriggle, like tiny worms. Fucking disgusting. I flick them off then peel ruined gloves from my hands to inspect the damage. They are speckled with nasty punctures; red and hot.
I take the spare set of gloves from the rucksack. Touching mashed Parasite with my bare-hands is out of the question.
I return to the girl whose dusty body lays exactly where she’d fallen. With any luck she’ll be dead and I can leave. I hunker; carefully observing her breathing. Crap! She’s alive. It’s a complication I could do without.
The remains of the beast drape her head like a squished hat. Removing it is an unavoidable chore. I have to check how badly I’ve wounded her.
With a practiced sigh of the unappreciated, I reach out with the shotgun and prod the monster, hoping it will fall off. Multiple claws hold it tightly in place, stuck fast even in death. The creature’s dimmed, black eyes continue to stare into my soul. I clench my teeth and stomach muscles, and then quickly grab the flaccid carcass with club-like hands. It tears apart leaving me with a dripping, headless, legless body in my hands. I fling it away with a short eulogy.
“Yuuuuuuuuucckkk! Jesus! That’s disgusting.”
I should get a medal of valour for this shit.
Shaking violently, I look at the mess left tangled in the girl’s hair. Couldn’t bloody well come away in one piece, could it?
Recovering my composure I take a moment to inspect the Parasite’s decapitated head up close. Its Frankenstein physiology is obvious, with many dissimilar parts cleverly melded together. The fanged, razor-toothed mouth parts are machinery of destruction, and those nasty, pincer legs are attached directly to lumps of muscle at the back of a plated skull.
The pincers seem to be clinging to her skin particularly firmly. I think I will deal with them last.
Experimentally, I pull at one of the lesser, hooked legs. The claw appears to dig in further every time I yank it up. On closer inspection I see there’s a ratchet mechanism at the first joint that tightens its grip with no muscular movement required. I decide a delicately placed blade should be able to twist the hooks out. The method is unkind to the girl’s skin but she’s probably got worse injuries to worry about. I continue working around her face, individually freeing the deeply embedded claws and throwing them over my shoulder.
I’m getting into a routine now; the drugs have steadied me, so I tackle the pincers before my nerve goes. One pincer has a firm grip of her earlobe and the other grasps a generous fold of skin at her eyebrow. I pry this one open first and jump when it snaps together when the knife withdraws. The earlobe gripper is harder to remove. I prise it open but can’t disengage the bloody thing from her ear.
My patience is short. I yank it. Oh, shit! Whoops. I’ve torn her earlobe a bit. Damn thing must have been holding onto an earring. I catch a glimpse of a large, glittering stone before the claw snaps shut on it.
Pity; might have been a real diamond too.
I gather the two released pincer legs in one hand and lift its head from hers. Before disposing of it, I wipe away the wriggling ropey, white stuff from her matted hair that was running down towards her mouth. I’m not sure what it is, but letting her ingest it seems inadvisable. Parasite guts slide down my sleeve, cold and greasy. I’ll be scrubbing myself tonight, and chucking these gloves away too.
That evil head, swinging in my hand, still frightens me beyond reason. I stand and take it several metres away where I can zealously perform a hate filled hoe down on it. The crunch and squish of its disintegration beneath my boots is satisfying, and hides the waves of goose-bumps and shudders that run through me for a full thirty seconds.
There’s no doubt my repository for hateful memories will vindictively form them into a thousand nightmares later.
I calm myself. Cooling air rushing into my lungs pours out like desert heat. I scan the area, revitalised, and gather pertinent concerns for a briefing.
Rule Two: ‘never stay in the open’; or was it ‘don't make undue noise’?
If any Parasites were in earshot they’ll be converging on this place. Although they operate Hosts like learner drivers, they can hear pretty bloody well. I contemplate the girl again and wonder if I should stash her in one of the shops. Carrying her that far will fill the obligation I feel.
I remove my fouled gloves and drop them into the weeds while walking back to her. I crouch and push a swatch of crusty hair from her face. Her cheeks are scratched but she doesn’t appear to have been bitten.
I roll her over so she’s on her back. She groans, as if resenting the way my eyes wander down her body even though her eyes are closed. She’s young; early twenties maybe, slim build, lean and muscular, like a dancer or an aerobics junkie. Her choice of clothing is ludicrous. Here I am, fully armoured and carrying half a tonne of weaponry. She wears tight jeans, sneakers and a tight, shirt designed to show cleavage. How she’s survived this long without weapons is an interesting question. One I’m unable to ask anyway.
To my surprise, slapping her cheeks, the universally accepted method to wake the unconscious, works! She resurfaces, blindly punching at my face and screaming with terror. I grab her fists. My head is messed up enough without her fingernails gouging me further. Her eyes eventually clear enough to recognise who holds her. This recognition does not change the violence of her struggles.
“Hey! You hit me, you fucking wanker! Let go!”
That’s not very nice. I saved her life.
Then again, I did bash her with a hammer, and slap her awake. I release her and step away. Surprised by my compliance she falls back on her elbows.
The dirty look she’s able to throw my way reveals her state of health is not critical. She raises a hand to her ear and winces. Pointing at my torn lips I mime how my own hurts are not insignificant.
Our stare-down lasts another few seconds as we bleed and weigh each other’s intentions up. I suppose my current demented murderer look, complete with blood-splattered jacket, pissed pants, and vomit on my chin could be unsettling her.
“Where is it?”
Her voice is ragged.
I nod towards the scattering of legs and mush around her.
“Thank God! You killed it? It’s dead, right? It came at me so quick! I’ve never seen one like that before.”
Shivering with shock she gets to her feet, all the while eyeing me warily. I don't offer to help her up.
Unsteadily, I scout around; pick up my guns and zip up the pack. Donning the sweaty helmet is painful, but I do it anyway. Some bastard has loaded the pack with bricks while my back was turned. Shouldering the weight is a major effort. Ready to leave, I chance another look at the girl. Full sunlight falls on her as she bends to pick up the hunting knife. She is a picture of confusion, pain and fear; and the rivulets of blood running down her face and neck would raise protective feelings in a self-respecting man.
Pity there’s no one like that around here.
“I’m goan ome. Goobye.”