The day has passed by the time I am woken from a commonplace nightmare by the sound of a motor. I snatch up the scope to bring a red utility passing through the gate into view. I focus on the windshield and Kristine’s face fills the lens. She’s come back to me! Emotions boil. I don’t know whether to be angry or ecstatic.
The truck roars around the opposite end of the building. I hear tyres skid to a halt near the reception area.
My voice cracks as I yell in her direction while sprinting for the rooftop door.
“I’ll be right down!”
On the way I counsel myself to be understanding, yet firm. It’s a given that I’ll go off my nut before calming while she apologises profusely. It had better be a long well thought out apology too. After all, she’s given me one hell of a scare.
I thud down stairs and slap along corridors in my thongs, crashing doors into walls extra hard. Warned of my approach she stands inside the airlock of the main outer doors, strangely euphoric and hyped up.
Something’s wrong. I slow my headlong rush, forgetting the prepared reprimand.
“What happened, what have you done?”
I know a look of guilt when I see one. That look is reflected back each time I pass a mirror. Kristine has scratches down her face and arms. Someone or something has been at her. She’s in a mild state of shock. A speed freak jitters less than she does.
“Y-you’re not going to li-like this.”
I want to block my ears. The corners of my mouth almost meet under my chin. Whatever it is, it threatens the simple life I crave.
“What happened?” I repeat, a little more gently.
“You were right. After we talked last night...people do go back to places they know.”
Why does she look so excited, so scared?
“Ooohhkayyyy.” I stall. Last night’s talk is a fuzzy memory. “What people?”
“I found her! I found Shanna!”
“Good God! Really? That must have been disturbing.”
Christ, what were the odds? Well, it could have been worse. At least she’d come back to me in one piece.
“Come on in. You can tell me all about it upstairs; I’ll fix these scratches.”
“No. There’s something else...”
A defiant look in her eye strikes me with a hint of madness.
“What? Just leave the ute there. I’ll move it later.”
“It’s Shanna. She’s in the back.”
Kristine unsnaps the tonneau fasteners. I’m still stunned that Kristine has brought the body of her girlfriend back here. I move in cautiously, preoccupied with scanning the car park for danger.
The pulled back tarp reveals a pair of legs, bound by tape. Christ! She’s actually brought a body back here! And the Host is still in one piece. I rip a pistol out so fast the holster almost catches fire.
“Fucking Hell! Tell me the Parasite is already out of her?! Shit! I never told you that there might be more than one. She might be a Popper for fuck’s sake!”
Kristine doesn’t answer and avoids my eye. She finishes wrenching the canvas away to fully reveal the trussed body of a young woman.
So this is Shanna. Slim and possibly attractive once. Hard to tell with the dirty, matted hair falling over a bruised face and taped up mouth. I’m guessing Kristine wants to bury her here. I bet I have to dig the hole.
“Smart move taping her mouth but you didn't have to tape her hands and feet. You want me to take care of the Parasite? It’s not going to be pretty...”
Shanna’s eyelid open and her gaze bores into me. I scream a warning and thrust the pistol at the Host’s head, already squeezing the trigger.
“Look out, she’s alive! She’s still alive!”
Kristine screams too, but at me, and throws herself between Shanna and the gun to face me down. Both of her hands grasp the pistol to press it deep into her own stomach. My finger is a twitch away from blasting a crater in her. She fiercely meets my wide, frightened eyes as I struggle to shove her clear and take the shot.
“No Sam! Don’t hurt her! I’m going to bring her back! Please, help me save her.”
The calmness of her voice carries that scary streak of madness I’d seen blooming. I’m startled into recognising something I should have seen coming. She’s suffered a complete psychotic break. Upsetting her further could bring me dangers I can’t handle.
Even so I tug at the gun again futilely. Her iron grip brings us to an impasse. Defeated, I let the weapon go and step away cautiously; as I might retreat from a pair of angry snakes. I am cowed by the strength and madness that flares in her eyes.
Shanna’s own eyes are chilling and impassive. They watch my jerky movements as I pace fretfully. I shutter my thoughts as I feel the Parasite inside her attempting to read me.
“She’s in my head.”
Kristine flicks tears from her face and turns to stare deeply into Shanna’s. I shiver when a raucous crowd stomps across my grave. I decide to turn the tables on this thing that scratches at my door.
I push Kristine aside and locking gazes with Shanna, opening myself to the creature’s scrutiny. It tugs me inside Shanna’s mind with difficulty. It is dark in here and the ravenous hunger is overwhelming. I feel its weak stirring across my mind as it calls for my Parasite.
“She can’t hurt us. She’s tied up. Please Sam.”
Despite the tears, Kristine’s steely determination is not reduced. I break the mind connection harshly and fixate on the pistol now held correctly in Kristine’s hand. The muzzle points at the ground, but my interest in it causes her finger to touch the trigger.
I stop pacing, hopelessly numb.
“You gonna shoot me, Krissie?”
We’d been through so much, it can’t end like this.
Her beseeching eyes plumb me for understanding.
“No Sam, you’re my friend, and I love you. But you must understand that I love her more. If you kill her...I’m going to shoot myself.”
She’s crying hard now, her momentous day’s events catching up. I’m angry, scared and confused. Love and fear curdles rational thought. I explode from my own private hell.
“Well I’m not helping you. This is stupid! Stupid! She’s got a thing in her!”
Hoping to penetrate the crazy blinkers she’d put on, I lay down an ultimatum.
“You’re not bringing that fucking bitch in here.”
Kristine is blindly sobbing. She flings the pistol at my feet and climbs into the truck. The slamming door throws me off my rant. I’d only just gotten started too.
“What are you doing? Where you going? You can’t go!”
I run to the window as she starts the engine.
“No, you’re right Sam. It’s not fair to ask you to do this. I’ll go.”