I wander from Kristine’s room and instantly lose my train of thought. Obviously, events the average mind shouldn’t be asked to deal with have caught up with me. The drugs dampen a frothing upwelling of emotion but their hold is tenuous.
I squelch when I slump into the sofa. A little sob is forced out but I clamp it down resolutely and concentrate on peeling off the sodden leather. The jacket and pants cling to my body like a Boa-constrictor. Liberation from its wet embrace lifts my depression a peg or two; enough to consider my next move anyway.
Dumping my clothes in a sloppy coil on the floor reminds me of the last excursion and its similarly bad ending.
Both of them caused by my fuck-ups.
I’m determined to put it all behind me, now that I’m safely reinstalled in my man-made womb. Contracting into a huddled pose and never moving again is a preoccupation that is both unhelpful and highly attractive.
The cold air pumping from an over-enthusiastic air-conditioning vent goose-bumps my skin. I sigh and reach for a discarded blanket, using it to towel off. The blanket was hiding a nearly finished bottle of scotch which I grab by the neck. The bottles’ usefulness is ended as I guzzle the dregs.
A stiff drink is the perfect pick-me-up. Alcohol lights up any remaining specks of medicine in an otherwise empty stomach, turning nervous tension to crumpled silken pleasure. Pain production factories all over me gradually lower their output. This floating sensation could use enhancement. I get up and make for my collection of bottles. Several anti-depressants dissolve in a beer; chased by more liquor.
Lightening flares through the kitchen window. I shut off the lights and open the blinds wide to watch the impressive display scorch clouds and arc to ground. The building shakes with the muted concussion of rolling thunder. Rain batters thick glass in solid sheets. The building’s solid exclusion of the furious storm comforts my vulnerable disposition.
But, there’s something I must do before falling into the longed for sleep. Maybe the thought of those inevitable dreams helps me to dial back my inner glow and leads me to the kitchen table where I sit gingerly. Abused back muscles knot and lock; resisting the seated position. A trickle of blood runs down one leg, tickling. The fiery cavern inside my stabbed butt cheek burns uncomfortably. Even the pharmaceuticals can’t erase that particular deep throbbing.
Pen and paper appear beneath my hands and I descend into a semi-hypnotic state as I debrief myself. Page by page I list and record the residual images that Parasite mind probe left behind. I am barely controlling the nib that continues to print letters at high speed. The free-association writing session dismisses the deep, healing sleep that waits for its chance to claim me.
Scrabbling for more instruments I cover a city map with concentric circles. The smallest of these is the location of our rude attack. Intuitively, I tap my pen on top of the massive shopping plaza nearby and feel certain it is here they must dwell. We’d touched the outer perimeter of a giant nest and stirred up a widespread, and very active, community.
I’m forced to admit they’ve chosen their location well. The Plaza contains kilometres of underground, shop-lined thoroughfares, fed by dozens of escalators and stairwells which were purposefully installed to deliver and expel high volumes of human traffic. My admiration for their use of our temple of consumerism is tempered by my imaginings of the horrors it now contains. From the numbers we’d seen above ground, what would it be like down in the depths of that place?
Whether caused by the drugs, brain damage or a micro-sleep I sense something twitch inside my head. I fall inward and examine a deceitful mark, left plastered to my mind like a smoky imprint, presumably left by the child-host. This soft brain-scab, a barely sentient entity, shifts nervously under my gaze. Divorced from the higher intelligence it normally plugs into, the alien things’ reactions are dull. Even so, before my awareness of it has fully formed, the repugnant thought-mist erupts in fear. It bumps around my mind, like a blow-fly in a jar, before finding a way out of my head.
It runs and I instinctively follow, splitting from my physical form with a painless tearing that promises to hurt later, when, or if, I return. Undeterred by this knowledge, and dismissing the magnitude of this occurrence, I trail the scurrying spy at a soundless, super-speed, bursting through our fortress walls. The guiding dark streak and my consciousness rush across the dead city, directly towards the Plaza we so recently fled from.
Strangely watered-down terror is easily ignored as I break inertia’s laws and slow effortlessly above the massive sprawling building. The sneaky smudge I’ve followed bonds with the murk covering the Plaza and is gone. The terror-free state I enjoy buoys my curiosity. I am emboldened to penetrate the rippling, grubby cling-film. It absorbs me without resistance and I seep fluidly through the porous steel and concrete roof. Here I come to a halt, floating mildly above a seething cast of thousands.
I watch, intrigued, as the mingling crush of Creeps and Crawlies shuffle and skitter around below me in the unlit dimness. I feel their collective mind lap at me. It contains strong impulses that guide their every move. I draw in these second-hand senses and taste the thick, hot stench of uncirculated air; foul with human waste and rotting meat. Never is a word spoken, nor a cough or sneeze expelled. In fact there is very little noise at all. Theirs is a deathly quiet lair that rustles with the rub of skin and clothing; unbroken by a single human voice.
A radiated signal flows around me. A harsh and uncompromising order to obey flow to the masses. Like a large bell tolling, the command has a repetitive, comforting feel about it. I redirect my point of view in the direction of a ponderous shifting. The real world is ruffled by clouded depths and the dark palace of a Queen is revealed through a veil of dark matter. She procreates without pause as telepathic demands radiate from her mind. No: She doesn’t initiate those orders. She is only an amplifier of this signal. A further, dangerous curiousness wrenches me in towards the source.
I am dared to pry into a cavernous space that I “recognise” as a war-room. The floor is littered with the listless husks of small children. They are all infected by Parasites. The term “Generals” intuitively come to mind, and I know them as the most intelligent of their species. These are the ones who formulate their plans and direct their army against us.
A subtle atmospheric change alerts me to danger. The spy has been debriefed and the highly sensitive Generals cast alertly for my ghostly presence. We share the shock as I am discovered, but they recover quickly and reach for my tenuous form.
Somewhat urgently, I rush from their lair at break-neck speed. I careen blindly back along a pre-determined path to crash into my body. The entire wild ride takes a micro-second.
Roughly re-bodied I blink my tearing eyes and clasp a throbbing head, sweating and dwelling on the… imagined… scenes. I am shaking and overcome with self-doubt. Can I really accept the fantastic possibility that I have just travelled a large distance, and witnessed secrets, without moving? Astral travelling? Telepathy? Mind control?
Despite the bizarre events that occur to me all too often these days, I flounder in the absurdity these terms bring forth. Even now my natural inclination to scoff.
After a few moments I hesitantly delve once more inside my own head and sink into the quicksand of my mind. Alone this time I look around in wonderment at the shredded surrounds. That child-host has done me some grievous damage with its gouging. The mess of nerve connections it so recently tore up are crackling with energy and waving about blindly. I try to contain the fear of what effect this destruction means to my well-being. I also wonder how long it will be before those creatures learn to use their clumsy sorcery more subtly. Once they work out how to manipulate our very thoughts we won’t be safe anywhere.
Returning to the world is like being turned inside out. I clutch the tables’ edge hard and stare down at the bits of paper I have drawn impossible conclusions from. They will need further study and interpretation, but not right now. I’m tired and sore, and a deep and most deserved sleep calls to me.
I step into my bathroom to face the mirror. My reflection and I clamp our lips tight, determined not to discuss the damage we see. Some people have said my features had already felt the Ugly Stick’s wrath at birth. Well, they should see me now. My face is an arrangement of lumps and cuts. Dirt and blood fill any gaps that are not slashed or abraded.
Mirror-me’s eyes are accusatory. They want to know why I must return from these excursions minus half my skin and blood. It’s a good question with no ready answer.
I turn my head and see how a persons’ ear fares when slid across a brick surface. In my case; not so good. I have an asymmetrical, bloodied knob in its place. It doesn’t help my humour when I recall it’s the same ear molested by a Parasite’s leg not so long ago.
A field of shallow cuts criss-cross one of my cheeks. That was courtesy of that lunatic’s surprise barbering session with his combat knife’s serrated back edge. A grossly swollen eye socket completes my Elephant Man impression with a static half-wink.
I look down a little. The room for bruises had run out on my chest but they are happy to overlap in the more popular places. Luckily exercise avoidance has maintained a cushioning fat layer, possibly saving my ribs from being broken. The joy of this revelation is subdued.
A low pressure, warm shower soaks my wounds and revives tamped down pains. I scrub at facial gravel-rash as a self-inflicted payback for the hurt I caused Kristine when cleaning out her cuts. Screaming through clenched teeth is unfulfilling, but I am mindful of my patient.
An alcohol wash, liberally applied to wounds, is overenthusiastic. I get some in my eye and almost bite through a towel I cram into my mouth to quieten a yell. My butt is hard to see. I blindly pour alcohol across the area and rub cream in by feel. The wound is hot and swollen. After gently caking my ring-barked wrists I’m set to dress.
Another selection of pills alters my reality further as I move from mere pain suppression to playtime. I deserve a blow out; I’ve been through a lot. Before the indulgence takes hold, I check on Kristine. She sleeps like the dead in a far too realistic way and I must sneak very close before her shallow breathing is discernable.
Selfishly I relieve myself of any further responsibility and quietly close the door.