..I wake in a tiny body that is weighted heavily with the pain of its abuses. A stuffy atmosphere of stinking gas presses into the child’s nose. Opening her eyes, I fuzzily see rhythmically pulsing walls of throbbing red flesh, striated with fatty tissue, curving overhead. A warm, wet, soft floor is against our back.
This is the Mother’s gut. Out of the frying pan...
The poor view I have of my surroundings is aided by a luminously glowing river of jelly that oozes slowly around us. I lift one arm with titanic effort to wipe this fluid from the baby’s face. The limb flails disobediently. I blink rapidly and sneeze muck out of our lungs before looking around, instantly wishing I hadn’t.
We lie amongst a charnel scene of burst open children. They lie in agonised poses, split bellies gaping emptily. The bodies are bubbling as if immersed in a powerful acid. Since we lie in the same stuff as them I woozily hope the digestive enzymes in this slop restricts itself to dead flesh. In any case it doesn’t burn this child’s living skin.
Reminded of the creatures that have clawed their way out of those kids, I look wildly for the Parasites. Several of them scattered about but they are also dead and steaming in acidic dissolution.
I draw on the experiences in the collective mind and I’m slightly calmed when I realise this is not the Mother beast’s stomach. It is a holding chamber for the ‘Melding’. I suppose these human batteries and amplifiers must power the Sludge’s mental chain of command. That is until my crying baby drove their Parasites insane and killed them with that penetrating frequency of noise.
I look further afield in this small enclosure and see a larger human form. It isn’t being dissolved like the rest so I assume it is alive. The man’s gut sticks out above the stick-thin children’s bodies around him.
He looks familiar. Oh, yeah. That fatso is me!
I check about inside the baby’s mind. No resident Parasite dominates her. Just more of that fog. That much I can deal with. Now, how do I get this thing moving?
The baby’s mind is like a tight, new engine, disconnected from its harness. She is highly sensitised to touch yet can’t make deliberate movements with any distinction. She doesn’t even know what her limbs are for! Test-driving her legs results in spastic kicks; as reactive and controllable as an electrified dead frog.
I don’t have time for this. She’s impossible to coordinate. Why the hell can’t humans bear young like the so-called lesser animals? I mean, for Christ’s sake, a Gazelle’s offspring are sprinting around the savannah after a few minutes. Sprinting for this kid will take years of training.
She has less strength than a ninety-year-old although I must admit that it was me who drained her of energy. Just keeping these eyes open is a monumental effort. I’d always thought babies were useless, but this helplessness, this paralysis; it’s so restricting! No wonder they cry so much. The frustrating futility is making me want to bawl as well.
So that’s it then. I’m going to die locked inside a baby’s head, inside a Parasite. There’s absolutely no chance of using her to transport me to myself; no chance at all...
Wait a minute! What’s that shuddering? There’s a wet, sucking sound and a large skin-flap opens in the stomach cavity’s lining. A rush of slimy spit precedes the delivery of another baby into this holding pen. Is it one of the first replacements for the children my baby broke? These Parasites sure don't waste time. I raise my child’s head for a better look at the new arrival. Another girl. Welcome to Hell, kid.
I keep our head up to prevent the rush of foul smelling, warm liquid from washing over our face. These neck muscles can be made to work, though my personal expenditure of mental effort is huge. The fresh enzymes flood the corpses, speeding their decomposition.
The renewed sizzling creates a wave of foam that drain down deep runnels in the Mother’s pre-stomach lining. A large, low-set valve peels open to swallow the effluent then closes again. Great; when we eventually die in here that will be our burial method too.
My baby’s bright eyes catch sight of something else that has washed in with the latest arrival. A black rock? It rolls to a stop near us. Ughh, fuck! It’s a Crawly!
Tightly folded legs unlimber and raise the fat, ugly abdomen. Its multiple black eyes glisten. They are wide open and fixed on the child. I sense it sense me inside her. My unsubtle passage here has been traced without much detective work on their part. And I’m pretty sure this Parasite isn’t interested in possession. It’s an assassin sent to snuff out the trouble-maker. Pincers snap a semaphore of murderous intent to prove my point and the creature wriggles towards us. Its passage is tauntingly slowed by the mire of running jelly.
Suddenly the impossible becomes possible. I charge the circuit boards in the baby’s head and push all the energy I can muster to arch her supple back while kicking and swinging her arms. I’ve seen break-dance performances this bad at a beginner class I once took, but I am driven by primal fear. That vow never to have a Crawly on my face again is still fresh in my mind. Not even this borrowed one.
Something sharp nips at our soft foot. The dance-moves quadruple as I scrabble and clutch with tiny limbs to crawl us over someone’s liquefying legs. A nightmarish heaviness drags her down but I’m closing on my own battered, barely breathing flesh and I heave with all her diminutive strength.
The ‘floor’ shudders again and I look back to see a second Parasite spill in on another thick rivulet of digestive gunk. It floats unhappily, unfolding those sharp stick legs and waving clicking pincers aggressively. To stop itself from being washed across the room it catches hold of a dead child’s ear. The deteriorating skin tears under the flurry of clawing legs that battle to find purchase on the boy’s melting face. Eventually it gains the island of flesh and disdainfully flicks fluid from its spiny legs, one at a time.
My first pursuer catches up and I feel another nip to our feet. With a squeal I break that hypnotic eye contact with its sibling and fast-crawl over another red-foamed body, feeling bones crumble beneath our forearms.
We’re nearly there. One last lunge forward and I fall against my own body’s lightly glowing shield...