The situation is hopeless. I form a final plan of action after deliberating on and discarding a dozen different options. Phase One is immediately put into action. Re-establishment of trust. I knock on the door of the observation room where I know she dwells.
“Go away. I hate you.”
“I won’t try to come in. You and Shanna have to eat. I’ve brought food. I’ll leave it at the door.”
“Fine. Now go away!”
“I’ll bring whatever you need, OK? You can use the toilets across the corridor. I’ve put some containers of water in there.”
She’s so easy to undermine. I wear her down with kindness. After a few days she answers my gentle taps less aggressively and takes the tray with a tiny “thank you”. She makes a point of tasting a little of everything before withdrawing to feed Shanna. I see her combine the contents of both plates before the automatic closer swings the door shut. I also note that no bones or other inedible bits are returned with the plates for my disposal. If the host is eating most of Kristine’s share as I suspect, it must be ravenous.
I start to include vitamins and health shakes on the menu so that Kristine’s token bites and sips are enough to keep her going.
Alone in our staff wing rooms, I carefully go over everything I know about Poppers. It isn’t much. I think they’re proximity sensitive. The ones I saw previously burst on demand when they neared their prey. But if access to their desired live meat containers, our bodies, continues to be denied them, I don’t know what is likely to happen. How long will the Parasite retain its destructive litter inside its Host? I am very troubled. I haven’t been able to gauge Shanna’s current condition. I have to get in there for a look, soon.
It takes another eight days before Kristine opens the way for me to properly exploit her trust. She is waiting for me outside the cell door.
“There’s something wrong with Shanna. I think she’s dying! If you’ve poisoned her, you’ve poisoned me too.”
More accusations of misdeeds. Anything I say will only start an argument. I pick up the hamburger I’ve brought her and take a large bite before dropping the rest back on the plate and handing her the tray. It’s tasty. I make a pretty good hamburger.
Hours later I return on pick up duty. The tray is in the corridor, empty. Kristine hears me clattering about with the dishes and darts out. She’s skittish and won’t meet my eye. It’s clear she’s at the end of her rope.
“Sorry about what I said...before.”
I pluck carefully at the one precarious strand left that ties her to me.
“It’s alright. I haven’t given you much reason to trust me, so I can’t get mad. Hey. You know what? I was reading one of my old journals...I think there’s something we can try...it’s a long shot but...”
“Really? You know how to help her? Is there something we can do? Please.”
She’s undone by her own love and hope. I hesitate cunningly, as if thinking deeply. Kristine would happily sell her soul for Shanna’s life at this point. She weakens from the unbearable tension within and begs me once more.
“Yes. I’m pretty sure I can get those things out. How does she look?”
“She looks...she looks...pregnant but she can’t be...unless...”
I sense where she is heading and feign anger to unbalance her further.
“What are you saying? You’re going to blame me? I wouldn’t even touch it, let alone fuck it. If you don’t want my help; fine!”
“No, I didn't mean...please don't go!”
I walk away, feeling like the scumbag I am. Her pleas trail off and an angry yell is thrown at my back.
“And stop calling Shanna ‘it’!”
The door slams but doesn’t lock. The cue I’ve been waiting for. This might be my only chance.
I wait until I turn the corner then break into a sprint. Down in the workshop I work for several hours, finishing the devices that will clean up Kristine’s mess. I move the components upstairs, closer to the isolation cell. All up my weapons include a large gas bottle attached to a trolley, rubber tubing, copper pipe and a sparking flint.
I have made a crude, undeniably effective flamethrower. And Phase Two begins.
A Valium rush composes my overly tightened nerves. I crush eight Rohypnol into a jug, add two bottles of lemon, lime and bitters and a handful of ice; Kristine’s favourite drink. I gamble on her accepting the carafe as an eccentricity of mine; giving her the bottles with broken seals is liable to make her suspicious. She’s always on the lookout for my misdeeds. But as a fellow paranoid I know how to fool my own kind, especially one who is new to the illness. I sip the bitter liquid and decide the taste of the tablets isn't noticeable.
She should be very thirsty enough by now to drink a large dose. I made sure the previous food delivery consisted of chocolates, Coke, coffee and salty snacks. I need a few other props to get inside. I throw together a less than inspiring cover meal consisting on several health bars from the cupboard and a pound cake direct from the freezer. It’s the best I can do at short notice as I haven’t had time to cook.
Even though all the equipment is in place, my mind remains unprepared. I face down the door to the chamber of horrors for quite some time before reaching out to knock briefly and then turn the unlocked handle. If Kristine has relocked it I intended returning with a steel battering ram. I’ve already welded one together for just such a contingency.
But the door opens and I am able to dispel the rising thoughts of violent confrontations. I step into the darkened room slowly and let my eyes adjust. Kristine is pressed against the glass and does not turn when I enter.
“Leave the light off. Shanna’s eyes hurt.”
The smell in here isn’t pleasant. I put the tray down, coughing at the eye watering stench.
I have to take control. It’s what she wants.
“Oh, God, fucking stinks, I umm, need some light to examine her. You do want my help, don't you?”
“OK. But only the desk lamp.”
The hooded, low-wattage bulb reveals a scene in the cell that is beyond foul. My eyes become fully accustomed to the dimness, revealing more detail. The floor is covered in faeces, urine, paper plates and the scraps of past meals. I immediately realise Kristine’s claim that Shanna’s eyes are light sensitive eyes is a fabrication. She seeks to obscure her own vision of the misshapen thing before her.
The Host lies on a mattress covered in dark stains. Sheets and pillows are bunched and torn around it. Its clothes are filthy and I cringe at the sight of the exposed stomach. It is a place of obscene swellings and movement. Shanna’s once fine body has hideously deteriorated. It is skeletal; a pot-bellied starvation victim. The full breasts I’d previously admired sag beneath the grotty yellow top she wears. Veins stand out noticeably against an unhealthy pallor. Muscles have wasted until stringy ligaments are the only support her caved-in skin has. Her death’s head skull is hairless, apart from a few clinging wisps.
I’ve never seen one of them like this before. Surely she can’t last much longer.
The creature smells either me or the food. It slips to the floor and crawls its Host through the disgusting mess, bringing it to the door slot. Kristine’s turns to me woodenly. She makes no comment about my selection of food or the horror show beyond. She merely unwraps the bars and cake and breaks them into small pieces, picking at a few crumbs by habit before handing to the creatures claw that slaps demandingly at the observation slot.
It is too far gone to stand. It drags the contents down instead and the cake cascades to the floor. The scattered pieces are scraped into a toothless mouth with a weakly grasping hand. This sustenance is not destined to strengthen the Host. The offspring inside will receive full benefit.
Now that Kristine has moved out of the way, I move the desk lamp closer to the glass. The light reveals the skin sores that have broken out all over its body. My mouth suddenly has too much saliva in it and I swallow bile that surges up my throat.
“Can we clean her room? She’s too weak to hurt us. We can go in, can’t we?”
“If we go in there, we’ll set it off. It’s waiting for us to make that mistake.”
For the last time I risk asking permission to end her lover’s suffering. I use all the tact at my disposal.
“If you had an animal you loved; one that was suffering; nobody would think any less of you for putting it down.”
She shakes her head slowly, stubbornly staring through the dirty window.
“You said you could help her.”
Her agreement to a mercy killing had not been expected. Her stubbornness forces my underhanded plan another step forward.
“Yeah, I did, and I will. I’ll need to watch her a bit more first.”
As casually as possible I pour two cups of doctored tea and casually hand one to Kristine. She drinks in large gulps which serves to lock in my next step. I refill her glass while pretending to sip at mine.
Time ticks minutes away. I deflect questions with bullshit and lies while feeding her more soft-drink and hard-drugs. I feel like the evilest bastard on the planet right now, and considering the reduction in population numbers my status is quite a distinct possibility. I still wish there were some other way.
“Are you sure Shanna’s not pregnant?”
“Don't start that again.”
“I’m not saying it was you.”
Humouring her is easy now that the drug is infusing.
“Good. In that case, let’s assume Parasites use male Hosts to impregnate female Hosts. It’s a logical supposition, and I’ve thought about this a great deal. They’re smart enough to use our physiology for their own designs, no different to us breeding animals to eat. Newborns would make convenient, brand-new Hosts.”
Kristine empties her cup again and I fill it to the top. She appears to be accepting my spontaneous fabrication so I lean towards the truth, pointing at the caged beast.
“This one’s not carrying a human baby though. Look at the stomach.”
She won’t look. She’s slumping now and rubbing her eyes.
“What are we going to do with a baby?”
It doesn’t really matter what I say at this point.
“You and Shanna can keep it and love it ‘til the end of time.”
The calmness of my lies are buoyed by chemicals. Right now, if Shanna were to float around the cell with fairy floss shooting out of her arse I wouldn’t even blink. Valium is good like that.
The decaying Host finishes the food. I watch its swollen belly wriggle with very active life forms as it crawls laboriously to the putrescent mattress.
Kristine has started to nod off but she jerks her head up, blinking in confusion.
I cup her chin, steadying her heavy-lidded gaze into mine.
“What have you done to me?”
“I’ve drugged you, babe. You’re going to sleep now. I’m going to put Shanna to rest, you understand?”
She understands all right. Defiant tears bring a burst of energy from somewhere deep inside.
“No, no, no, not my Shanna. You fucking bastard.”
She slaps me hard across the face. The blow rocks me but I continue holding her shoulders carefully until her screams and sobs drain her last reserves of energy. I get one more punch in the stomach before she weakens enough for me to ease her to the floor.
“Not my Shanna. Don't take her from me again. I found her…oh…kill me…kill me too.”
She fades with every word
“Let yourself go. It’ll be over by the time you wake up.”
“I don't want to wake up. I don't want to live without her.”
“She’s already gone, Krissie. She’s been gone for a long time, but I need you. I can love you.”
I’m whispering; scared she’ll hear those last words that have snuck out of my most private of places; scared she would refute them. She drops away before delivering that most awful denial to me.
I lay her down gently and then scowl through the observation window. The Host; all but a shrivelled corpse already; cranes to stare through the mirror with sunken eyes. The skin of its stomach is so distended it shines. It probes at the perimeter of my brain, knowing something is amiss. The psychic link forged with Kristine has broken and it seeks my thoughts to understand the reason. Failing to penetrate my closed thought it reacts with no hesitation. There is no time to remove Kristine. With the lousiest timing, I think the bitch has gone into labour.