My feet stop moving and my eyelids involuntarily flutter closed as I reach the nurses’ station doorway. I rub them and feel dry crust crumble from the lashes. Re-opening my eyes is a great effort.
The key I hold twists silently in the lock. I expel a breath and slide noisily through a three-quarter open gap like a fat, untrained Ninja.
The trauma room beyond is in complete darkness. Shadows made large by a remotely set lamp throws tentacles across its glassed wall. I jump and twitch at sounds my own movements cause as I reach for the light switch.
Sparks shoot through humming tubes of gas and Kristine’s figure is revealed. Her head rests on Shanna’s shoulder and her arm flops across the creatures’ waist. Is she asleep, or dead, or… occupied by one of those things? A hand electrified by frightened indecision pumps a round into the waiting chamber.
Shanna’s creature wakes at the mechanical clatter. It watches me steadfastly through her blue eyes. I do my best to avoid the creepy bitch’s stare; after first ensuring her gag is in place. Disconcertingly a crisp white sheet hides the status of her other restraints.
I cuddle the reassuring shotgun to my chest and look about their room. A pile of clothes and a stained sheet lie in one corner. Kristine must have cut Shanna from her soiled clothes. But did she loosen the belts?
Not knowing if she’s still firmly tied down is freaking me out. My faith in Kristine’s state of mind only creates more suspicions. But if Shanna is loose would her Parasites have the guile to lay in wait? There’s a chance that it does, and I choose not to enter.
A basin filled with dirty wipes and empty bottles of saline are on a bench. I’d forgotten the plumbing doesn’t work down here and I see that all the water bottles are empty. My human inmate deserves better treatment than this. Kristine’s incarceration was poorly thought out. I’ll have to organise a schedule for exercise, toilet visits, supply her with food, water, medicines and clothes… God, that sounds like a lot of work… Or... I can put that Host out of its misery and fix everything at once. I lift the shotgun and squint down the barrel until Shanna’s head fills wavering sights.
Immediately a “greyness” fogs my mind spoiling the red haze of righteous anger I’m nurturing. Unsettled by the feeling, I sway forward, bumping the gun barrel against the glass. The dull clunk has two effects. Kristine snaps awake, and the grey fog dissipates. Kristine searches for the origin of the sound with bleary eyes. Hurriedly I drop the shotgun to a casual one-handed grip at my side.
Sleep slips gradually from her face and my hulking attendance outside the glass is noticed without pleasure. She looks down at Shanna who receives a smile woodenly. Something I can’t hear is muttered to her and the overt favouritism picks at the open sore of jealousy on my heart. I feel a nasty pleasure when Shanna shifts away from Kristine’s touch.
The glass door rumbles open and Kristine leaves the trauma room to move in close to me. The urge to hug her dies as she stares me down. Drugged as I am, I have the dubious advantage of not flinching forcing Kristine to break our face-off.
“Look! No monster.”
The assertion is followed by her wide open mouth being thrust at my face. She extends her tongue so I can see all the way inside. I note that her gums are a healthy pink before remarking on her aggressive display.
“That’s not funny.”
“You sure looked for a long time. Need a torch?”
Her contempt has me feeling deservedly stupid.
“No, umm, sorry. I’ve been thinking.”
She crosses her arms and waits; foregoing the obvious, tension-breaking quip. Her set of keys clink brightly as I toss them on a table.
“Here. Have these back. I want to talk.”
“Talk or make more demands?”
“I’m not up to arguing with you so let’s try to be rational.”
“So, you gonna let us out?”
“No that thing, just you. Locking you in with it was... unforgivable. But letting it out is not going to happen. That’s what we need to talk about.”
“I’ll decide what we are going to talk about. Like, what were you planning to do with that gun. Shanna showed me you pointing it at her.”
Her pistol is on the table, left from the night before. She doesn’t reach for it, though both our eyes flick that way for a moment.
“Yeah? You’re letting that thing into your mind?”
She clams up. Her secretiveness is as good as a signed statement of guilt.
“Look, you need to come upstairs. I’ll cook you breakfast and you can have a good sleep. I’ve got a clearer head after my...uhh...rest. I was very stressed yesterday. I wasn’t making sense.”
I remember my night of demon wrestling all too clearly and shudder. Kristine doesn’t care but she does sniff at her armpit and wrinkles her nose prettily. Her self-neglect makes more impact than my words ever could.
“OK. I stink. But, you go first. And put that bloody safety on. You’re making me nervous.”
Oh, that’s just classic! She sleeps an entire night beside a Host, yet I make her nervous. I’m resentful and offended.
“Don’t worry, the less time I’m near that thing the better.”
We troop upstairs. Surprisingly, Kristine pushes me into her bedroom and I’m seated on the bed with a shove. The door slams and is locked before she strips immodestly behind a half closed bathroom door. The suggestiveness of her actions is not misread. Even my sex-starved senses are cowed by the disdainful look she throws my way when I peek. She checks that I haven’t moved several times while showering and I look at the floor. Being collared and chained up would be less humiliating.
I manage to fit in a second breakfast that Kristine cooks me by mechanical routine. She rejects my initial offers to help and a lengthening silence strains my nerves. I break the ice with a sledge-hammer opinion.
“You know, it would be kindest just to put her down, painlessly.”
I blurt this out as Kristine is walking behind me to the stove. She freezes and stands very still. I’m afraid to look around at her. Eventually she speaks very softly and slowly.
“For the last time; if you do anything to her, I will kill you, and then I will kill myself. Can I get any plainer than that?”
I hear the sizzling frypan scrape off the hot plate and feel the heat of it across the back of my neck as she swings it past me. Fear interferes with my heartbeats until a lump of reconstituted egg is dumped on my plate. The hot pan swings away again and crashes into the sink. I dig into at the yellow pile and choke a mouthful down and consider the girl I used to know.
Kristine flops in a seat opposite and folds her arms. It is a familiar angry pose that I avoid by looking down rather than challenge her glowering eyes. A few minutes go by before I dare to attempt to resume discussing the impossible task ahead of us.
Like opposing armies we strategize, looking for an acceptable solution to an intolerable situation, circling around each other’s objectives to reach a compromise that isn’t there. Kristine outlines her expectations and my overstretched brain races to fill in her reasonings’ gaping holes with logic.
There is a breakthrough when Kristine yet again demands Shanna be unshackled.
“It’s unhygienic keeping her tied down. She’ll get bedsores. I can’t clean her properly.”
“If we take her off the gurney, she has to go into a cell.”
“I’m not putting her in with those dead kids! Don't even think about it. And I want to be able to see her, talk to her.”
I think harder and find inspiration.
“I got it! There’s a suicide cell down from the infirmary. Very secure. I can plumb water to it, and there’s a food slot. These things can feed themselves and they’re smart. It might even work out how to use the toilet!”
My excitement doesn’t rub off.
“I want to be with her.”
“You can! There’s a connecting office with a big observation window. It’s got a speaker so you can talk to her all you want.”
Kristine mulls it over, looking for flaws, and then agrees to inspect the room.
The suicide cell is perfectly austere, designed for round-the-clock observation with minimal possibilities of the occupant harming him or herself. A combination toilet/sink unit is attached to one corner. A concrete plinth with rounded corners is moulded to the back wall, designed as a sleeping and sitting surface.
The room is deemed suitable and soon Kristine is occupied prettying it up. The thin, stained mattress is given to me to toss out. A larger one, that I am ordered to procure from a spare room, is made up with fresh sheets and a doona. A bright throw rug and decorative pillows are arranged to soften the grey walls. I shake my head at these preparations but wisely shut my mouth. When I’m ordered to seek out a bedside table I do it without a word of protest. She fills a nook with books that will never be read and magazines that will never be flicked through. The only sensible thing I see her do is lay out a range of clothing.
I leave her obsessive homemaking to crawl along a tight maintenance corridor behind the cell, fitting poly-pipe to the toilets’ inlet. After checking my handiwork I then insist on a practise run before we transport Shanna to the cell. We use a heavy CPR dummy strapped to spare stretcher and make a mess of every attempt.