At this penultimate moment, the netting above us billows gently as if blown by a light breeze; yet no wind is felt. A rising, unearthly tone flusters the Crawlies into stilled silence. The low resonance builds in my head until every Crawly in sight is rushing to depart; retreating as if their lives depend on it. I sincerely hope the price of their Mother’s wrath is that high.
I cast for Her presence using Other-sight. The closest amplification of Her signal comes from the bulges and clots that hang above me. I mentally break into their coverings to find emaciated human forms, suspended from sticky knots. Some spew that ever-present fog from their minds in thick, black waves. Others are emitting rippling cones of the Mother’s “rejection” sound, directing them like search beams in a prison yard. I watch Crawlies being swept away by its fierce music.
There are many more areas of unnatural darkness up there. Some are less distinguishable as human packages; cocooned and connected by pulsing cables, like a battery of minds joined in series. I do not trouble myself to delve into their purposes.
All becomes still, if not completely silent. The baby’s cries have built up to full power. My Creep guide is reddened and pinched, and is giving me the evil eye. I graciously withdraw my shield from the child who quietens in the thick fog. I shrug off the Host’s glare at the trouble I’ve caused with indifference.
We continue our interrupted journey, delving deeper into the indoor forest. The Parasites’ homemaking diligence has converted this part of the stores’ tiled purity into a dark design of soured air and inexplicable growths. Sharp, acidic smells are overlaid by aged mustiness. To dwell on the creatures that emit these odours and secretions is counterproductive, but I do so compulsively.
Keeping the Creep in sight, I take exaggerated care to avoid further contact with the foliage. A few twists and turns later we detour from the main path and enter a clearing ringed by looping vines and more of that ragged, hanging mesh. At the centre stands a pillar. It is a living thing, covered in knotted bulges and hollows. Slime, reeking of astringent chemicals, bubbles slowly from its innards.
Surprisingly, the Creep takes a handful of this slop from a cupped opening and spreads it liberally over his head. Parasite repellent! I’d watched them slide from his skin, and he’d survived being covered in them so it’s a fair bet. My sneer of distaste slackens and I move closer to dip a finger in the revolting, cold, snot-like stickiness. Cautiously I sniff at it.
“Fucken hell, that’s totally, bloody disgusting!”
The Creep pauses at my loud assertion. His gormless glare focuses on the goo covering my impertinent fingertips. He shakes his head authoritatively.
“Oh? Aren’t I supposed to be touching this stuff?”
Contrary to my first intention to leave it be, I dip a full handful of the clearest slime and ape his movements, wiping it onto my hair. Slow stringers of the stuff runs down my neck, stinging like muscle balm. The Creep’s annoyance is not deflected by my wide-eyed innocence and a nasty grin.
“Screw you, Pal. If this stuff keeps Crawlies off, I’m having some.”
I look down to dig in for more and don't see him coming. He shoves me off balance and I stagger a few feet away, juggling the baby’s floppy little body.
“Hey, easy with the rough stuff, buddy. I’d kick your arse if I wasn’t holding this kid.”
Unconcerned about his arse, he turns his back to me, blocking access to the pillar. I’m peeved by this selfish attitude and consider the merits of giving him a rabbit chop to the base of his skull. However, the slippery infant would make combat difficult. An even nastier smile brightens my face as another idea blooms.
Prankishly, I sneak up to the Creep and yank his loin-cloth down. Immediately I sidestep to another slime opening to scoop the repellent stuff out one-handed, moving from one reservoir to the next, slapping handfuls of the stuff all over me. Instead of disentangling his feet, the hobbled Creep keeps lunging at me. Thusly handicapped he is easily evaded. When I am adequately covered I take pleasure in denying the Creep his share of the liquid by sloshing what is left of the jelly onto the ground. Finished with my torment I walk away.
The loser of our futile game of tag is outwardly unmoved by my vandalism. Seeing me desist, he bends to gather the minimalist clothing from around his ankles and methodically reties it in place. Not kicking him in the face while he’s hunched over requires a great deal of will-power on my part. And the only reason I don’t steal his cloth is the fresh, brown skid mark I saw inside it.
Whilst he is otherwise engaged, I take time to distribute the thick coat of smelly slime across any bits I missed. I now look like an extra from a low-budget B-grade movie. It’s a small price to pay for whatever protection this crap affords me. Besides, it’s not all bad news. Apart from the pleasure of pissing off the Creep, I’ve also gained a semi-pleasant warm, tingling sensation. The slimed child sleeps deeply through the discomfort.
I snicker as the Creep scrapes at the empty bowls in the dispenser. He isn’t pleased and imperiously demands we leave with a pointed finger. I salute sharply, playfully flicking excess slime into his face. I hope it gets in his eyes. Some got in mine and it burns. A human would probably beat me for this insolence; the Creep merely leaves the clearing. Happy to have upset him, I follow.
We don’t have far to go. Just around the corner is a thickly clumped section of Parasite jungle; the path lit by two flaming torches. The light they throw is welcoming. The dark hole he exposes by pulling aside some netting is not. I slow, still a few meters away from the opening, rubber-necking for danger. Voicelessly, I am commanded to enter their temple; or tomb.