Leaving Kristine in the combat zone wasn’t part of the plan. Flustered, I leg it down several corridors, trying to recall the comforting blanket of artificial calm I rely on to stay sane. It is long gone, flushed away by adrenaline’s brutal entrance.
I barge into the supply room where I’ve hidden my cobbled together weapon, and wheel the heavy gas cylinder out. Haste causes the neatly coiled tubing to unravel. It tangles around my feet, tripping me and toppling the gas cylinder in slow motion. It hits the concrete with a resounding clang.
I wince, fully expecting the valve to snap off, sending the cylinder, my last line of defence from the imminent birth, rocketing away.
Fast breaths correspond to high-pressure squeaks from a closed throat. I try to stay cool but there’s little chance of that with a bunch of baby Parasites about to overrun my home. With the trolley righted I push it fast only to be wrenched to a standstill by the trailing hose that catches on everything in sight. Running back I gather it in an untidy bundle to my chest.
Getting the gear into the observation room would make an apt scene for a slap-stick comedy. Barked shins and smashed elbows abound. I reassure myself that I’ve reached the easy part. All I have to do is shove the pipe through the food slot and incinerate the Host from the safety of this outer room.
The crafty Parasite leeches into my untidy mind. It feels my aggression and crawls its Host out of reach, under the mirror. I press against the one-way glass and look down upon its bald, scabby head, cursing.
Fuck it. Now I have to go in there, up close and personal.
Burning someone alive; even a Host; calls for a certain girding of one’s loins. I carefully unlock the door, get the trolley set up and unravel a few metres of hopelessly tangled tubing.
I step inside and face what must be done. The Parasite mind squirms across the forefront of my own and my hateful intent is recognised, triggering its purpose. The Host lies back and the Parasite calls out to its children.
With one eye riveted on it, I ready the lighter and turn the gas cylinder valve on. I fumble with the lighter overlong, snapping the lever multiple times without getting it to spark. The sickly sweetish smell of LP gas builds, overlaying the appalling sewer stench in here. Leaning forward, I use two hands to force the flint across the steel.
A fire ball erupts, filling half the room with flame. A hollow boom of ignition shakes my core. I drop the lance, diving sideways through the door as a rolling ball of flame spills over me.
Son of a bitch, my face is hot. I bet I’ve got no eyebrows left. Kristine escapes injury as the flame and smoke rise to scorch ceiling tiles. The fact I’d remembered to disconnect the smoke alarms and sprinkler system limits this cluster fuck to a point.
I collect my scattered wits and step on the flaming wand that is licking the base of the gas cylinder. I adjust the valve until a more manageable fire jet leaps from the tube.
The demon is scorched by my incompetent ignition, but it does not slap at its smoking rags or clutch at the blisters that erupt on exposed skin. Watchful eyes in that sickening skull glow with intense interest, well aware the roaring flame I hold is about to cause its destruction.
Without the slightest hesitation, the Hosts’ skeletal fingers dig deep into that ripe stomach and rip the skin open. Jesus! The sight of spurting blood and tearing skin is sickening. The balled-up creatures that flow from a bulging belly in a wave of bloody mucus are branded into my memory for ever. Spindly legs unfold, and lash the slippery ground for purchase. Dozens more scurry eagerly from the ragged gash in the body they have drained. Their tiny teeth gnash and claws click as they look for someone to bite.
Of course they see me. The strongest few are already scuttling across the floor, dragging full abdomens that bulge from over-indulgence. Vomit races up my throat. I dare not turn aside so I am sick down my shirt front. Without wasting a second to wipe away the strings of saliva, I wrench the cylinder knob open. The passive flame blooms, billowing forth in a welcoming rush, enveloping the front-runners. I lift the lance and play it over Shanna’s writhing body as the spawn continue to burst from her stomach wound.
The mini-Parasites shrivel and writhe as the burning gas touches them. Their squealing death throes are accompanied by a loud sizzling, and they pop as their boiling insides swell and pop, spilling liquid guts. I continue to flame the dead until their tiny bodies flare.
Shanna’s scorched ribcage shifts as the full grown Parasite struggles to free itself from her organs. This is a pleasing development as I won’t have to go in after it. I tilt the lance to direct my flame into the blackened hole of Shanna’s gut and boil it in her fluids. Before the parent is properly incinerated, movements from the corner of my eye show additional baby Parasites. They have changed tactics and are rapidly fleeing from my wrath in every direction.
If even a single horror escapes I will never feel safe here again. Leaving here and rebuilding a fortress somewhere else is an intolerable thought. I turn the flame higher still and flood the cell with a roaring inferno. The back-blast scorches me too, making me shuffle backwards to the doorway, but I never reduce the fuel.
The floor mat beneath Shanna’s body blackens and catches fire, adding to the conflagration. The nearby mattress smokes and melts until all of the Parasites are undeniably dead, and yet I continue to sterilise the room. I won’t be satisfied until everything in this cell is rendered to hot ash.
Shanna’s body refuses to reduce to my specification, but I’m determined to cook it until the gas runs out. My lungs aren’t too pleased with this idea. They’re scorched, and every inhalation draws in more toxic vapours, released from fire retardant materials. Almost passing out I drop to my knees. I’m suffocating.
Cleaner air down low revives me just as the roof caves in. Ceiling tiles rain down, bringing with them a jumble of ducting, lights and wiring. I am battered by this rubble and the cylinder is buried. A sharp metal edge neatly slices through my lance’s tubing, instantly cutting off the flame. I throw the useless pipe away and search fruitlessly for the rubber hose that whips and hisses somewhere in that mess.
The smell the gas encourages me to shuffle out of there fast on hands and knees. Kristine is almost forgotten but I stumble over her dust-coated form, and drag her out of the room with me. We gain the coolness of the corridor and I kick the door closed, congratulating myself on completely ballsing-up what should have been a straight forward murder. Between fits of coughing I lug Kristine across the floor with infrequent jerks to distance I deem safe.
As if to test my estimate, the loudest sound I’ve ever heard accompanies a hard shove in the back. I clutch Kristine to me by reflex as we fall amongst the wood, steel and glass that bounce and rattle around us in a destructive ballet.
It takes a very long time for my ears to stop ringing. I slump against a wall for a while, watching patterns of smoke drift up the corridor, patting ash from Kristine’s hair. Tongues of fire lick from the rubble, discouraging the malaise that binds me to this spot. I look deep into Kristine’s sleeping face and wish hard for a new beginning.
Time does not reverse at my request. Spurred by the pop and crackle of burning furniture I launch into action, cringing at the grinding crash and thud of something fragile being struck heavily by something else that is not.
Placing Kristine’s head carefully on the floor, I heave the weight of the world onto feet of clay and snatch up a nearby extinguisher. It’s not eager to be used, making me struggle to wrench free its safety pin free. Together we clamber through the disarray, puffing cold vapour at red flickers on an extended tour of localised destruction. Structurally, this part of the building appears sound. However, more than a few offices will need a makeover.
A second extinguisher expires and drops from my aching fingers. Rather than search out another, I crush one last, smouldering hot-spot under my heel and then blunder over broken office furniture to Kristine’s still form. As I drape her familiarly across my arms it occurs to me that the only times I’ve held her has been due to my ill-treatment. No wonder I never get laid.