A moan starts way down in the back of my throat, losing velocity through a constriction of choking knots. I crumple like paper, slowly lowering my head to the truck’s warm bonnet. The engine stalls and a door hinges creak. Kristine’s hand is squeezing my shoulder tentatively. I feel her body mould to my hunched posture in an awkward hug.
The cooling metal under my face ticks slowly; counting the restless fears that jostling for space in my head. The spreading infection of insanity grows stronger in this one-sided embrace.
Quiet, furtive movements in the tray break our indecisive limbo. We separate; gathering the rags of good judgment around us, like a worn out cloak we’ve retained for appearances.
I bend to pick up the pistol, holding it carefully by the barrel as we move to the tailgate. I consider the interloper hatefully. My hand is slow to holster the gun and Kristine watches tensely, ready to protect Shanna from harm. She reads me like a large print book.
“Don't hurt her, Sam. Whatever you do to her, you do to me.”
“Life’s never going to get boring with you around, is it Krissie?”
She holds in a slightly hysterical hiccup of a laugh and touches my face affectionately, but when she turns to Shanna her face relaxes into tenderness that will never be shown to me.
“It’s going to be alright now, Shanna.”
I long to tell her that crazy prediction has foundations of smoke and air.
Shanna’s darting eyes continue to watch us both, devoid of emotion. I know it isn’t recognition that causes her to gaze into Kristine’s face. It is hunger.
A stop-gap measure comes to me by degrees, shouldering past the continuing desire to eliminate the threat. We have a prison at our disposal. Containing an alien creature that has taken up residence inside your room-mate’s girlfriend shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.
“There’s the infirmary. A stretcher with tie-down straps should hold her.”
Kristine nods ascent at the hasty plan of transportation. She’s not likely to leave me with Shanna so I volunteer to get the gurney. Before leaving I take her wrist and slap the pistol butt against her palm, with a pointed nod at Shanna. A frown darkens Kristine’s forehead but she grips it and pushes me toward the entrance.
“Hurry up, it’s getting dark.”
It’s an unnecessary reminder; I have noticed the shadows lengthening.
I jog to the infirmary, latching doors against walls on the way. I hate leaving her alone and it spurs me to snatch the nearest stretcher and run back at high speed. I crash through the outer doors to find Kristine rising from the lowered tailgate. The pistol lays unattended nearby. She lowers Shanna’s head that had been cradled in her lap.
They say love is blind but that’s just plain ridiculous.
I clamp my lips in a disapproving frown and bang the gurney into the ute’s side. Kristine’s unapologetic glare dares me to abuse Shanna in the same way. We drag the Host onto the gurney where I strap her down very tight with the wide leather chest and thigh restraints. Kristine opens her mouth to object but I break in angrily.
“I’m not taking any chances. You want my help? She’s gotta be tied down at all times. Hosts don't feel pain anyway.”
It’s apparent my constant reminders of Shanna’s metamorphosis makes Kristine unhappy. Instead of accepting the fact, she closes up, absently running her fingers through Shanna’s long, blond hair. I shake off the building, jealous anger.
Kristine trundles our patient into the facility while I lock up behind. The ritual no longer brings comfort. We’re locking the enemy inside with us.
The infirmary is an inspired choice. It has a separate, glass-enclosed trauma room to treat serious cases in a clean-room environment. I certainly classify this case as serious.
The emergency lighting is dim in here. It shows many shadowy pieces of expensive equipment arranged around the walls. I am forced to wonder if, and how, Kristine intends to use them to ‘bring back’ Shanna. At this very second I’m only interested in closing the Parasite within these glass walls. If it escapes her body I don't want it running around the place.
Releasing pent up emotions in a tired sigh I fall into a nurse’s chair. Working out the next move seems a lot of trouble to go to when there is really only one course of action. Kristine distracts me with more demands.
“Can you get the power on in here, Sam?”
“Yeah. There’s a circuit board in the main corridor. You’re not going to do anything silly while I’m gone are you?”
“Like what? Everything’s going to be fine.”
She turns away, missing my disgusted expression.
It takes several minutes to track down the power circuits I want. I am at pains to avoid accidentally lighting up any of the building’s outer rooms and advertise our presence here. Eventually I find the right combination to fire up banks of fluorescent lights along several choice corridors. Air-conditioning vents rattle and begin to blow cool air. A plethora of office equipment powers up around me; beeping and chiming their self-checks. I wonder how my own status would show up if similarly examined and then decline to delve that deeply into myself.
Shuffling back to the infirmary, with all the enthusiasm of a child visiting the dentist for a filling, only delays the arrival by another minute. Long enough for Kristine to have loosened Shanna’s restraining straps. She is talking at Shanna’s unsmiling face as I silently enter. Shanna’s rapt attention slides from Kristine’s face and fixes on me. Kristine turns her head too. They both see the fear tap-dancing along my spine.
Somehow I don't run away screaming.
Our patient is constantly fidgeting. I’d feel better if all of the gurneys’ robust leather straps were around her limbs instead of those few layers of duct tape. I point at one, subverting my true motives with fake concern.
“Do you think she’d be more comfortable in these?”
Kristine touches the sheepskin lined leather.
“Yeah. I suppose that’s a good idea. Any scissors about?”
A search of the cupboards rewards me with a scalpel. It is firmly taken away from me. Shrugging off her lack of faith, I busy myself wrapping a padded belt around Shanna’s throat. Tightening it to the last buckle hole would solve a few problems but I resist the temptation.
Shanna is uncooperative when it comes time to secure her arms. I grab hold of her elbows and fool her into helping by pulling her in the opposite the direction I want to go. I wait for her to resist then drag her arms towards me. Kristine buckles Shanna’s forearm and we prepare to cut the tape and move her other arm to the other side.
“Damn, she’s strong. Do that one up tighter. She’ll tear your fucking eyes out if she gets free.”
Or worse; mine.
“It is tight!”
“Ok. Ready to cut the tape? I’ll try the same trick.”
As soon as the tape parts Shanna grips her chest belt around her waist, frustrating my efforts to move it. The Parasite learns fast. I get the impression it understood me. Or maybe it plucked it directly from my mind.
Even though she’s enhanced, I have the leverage. I feel her bones bend under my grip and violently tug her arm into place.
“Do up the strap! I’m slipping!”
“Shit. Your hands are in the way. Get her wrist through further.”
There’s a loud snap as Shanna’s forearm breaks. I slam the suddenly weakened arm into the restraint.
“Oh Jesus, you broke her arm! You broke her fucking arm!”
“Just do the fucking buckle up! Have you got it tight?!”
“Yes! Let her go!”
We jump back and watch the other leather cuff creak. Shanna’s supercharged muscles strain, testing its limits. There is another snap. Her other arm breaks and flops uselessly.
We watch, dumbfounded.
“Can you believe this shit?”
I dart in and pull the chest belt another notch tighter then step away quickly.
“Don’t loosen it. She can breathe fine. And don't worry; they heal quickly. See, she’s relaxing now. It knows her body isn’t capable of breaking free. How the hell did you take her down by yourself?”
“There was a bottle of gas in the dentist office next to this one. Guess I was lucky too. When I saw her...I wasn't thinking straight...she came to me, like she recognised me. Except she tried to bite. I got the gas mask over her face and held on till she collapsed. I taped her up before she woke. The gas doesn’t last long.”
I can tell talking to me is an irritating distraction. She constantly returns her gaze to Shanna’s face, mesmerised with longing.
“You could have told me that before I broke her arm. Where’s the gas?”
“I think I forgot to pick it up. Getting her into the car took a while.”
“Well, that’s just great. We’ll have to do her ankles the hard way then.”
Another struggle ensues to secure Shanna’s legs. I pretty much have to lie across them, putting up with repeated kicks by her bony knees. Kristine and I are breathing heavily by the time we’re done.
“Why’d you tape her mouth?”
“In case the Crawlie came out.”
“They only come out when the body dies...I think...could be wrong though.”
“I have to feed her. What should we do?”
“There must be something in here we can use.”
We root through drawers until I come up with a plastic mouthpiece. Designed to keep a patient’s mouth open for tubes to be put in place, it would be just as useful as a muzzle.
“Reckon this might work.”
I dangle the instrument in front of Kristine by its rubber ties. She nods and addresses Shanna.
“Sorry, honey. It’s only until we get you better.”
Kristine carefully cuts the tape while I hold Shanna’s head and rehearse the movements needed to get out the door if something goes wrong. In case something black and spiny leaps at me.
Kristine’s method of removing the tape is slow and gentle. It’s taking forever. I grab the other end and give it a helpful tug. It tears off leaving a painful looking weal across Shanna’s mouth. She never even twitches.
“Hey! Be careful. I was going to dissolve the glue with alcohol.”
“Don't yell at me. You’re the one who taped her up. Wow! Look how much hair came out.”
“I warned you about hurting her. Get away! Back the fuck off!”
“She’s a Host, Krissie. There’s a Parasite in her. Let’s not forget that in all the excitement.”
It feels stupid to state the obvious over and over, but she doesn't seem to be getting the picture.
“I...I know that. It’s still Shanna though. We can get it out. She’ll be OK if we get it out.”
I look down at our captive with great foreboding. That inhuman stare switches back and forth from our faces, following our conversation. Her reddened lips move.
“What’s that Shanna? What are you trying to say?”
Her gums are grey. A continuing fear of the Parasite’s sudden exit starts a nervous tic going in my eye.
“She’s not saying anything. I think it’s just a reflex or something. You going to fit that gag?”
Kristine’s crouches lower over Shanna mouth.
“Don’t do that. She’ll bite.”
I push Kristine away even as Shanna tenses and whips her head forward, coming up short against the neck restraint. I’m appalled at the close call and fit the gag roughly.
“We need to talk. Let’s go up and get something to eat.”
Kristine shakes her head.
“I’m staying here.”
Exasperated, I throw up my hands and leave.
“Fine, starve; as long as you’ve got your precious girlfriend’s body I’m sure you won’t need anything else.”
Or anyone else for the matter. Self-pity tears at my heart.