…my thankful fall into unconsciousness is rudely interrupted by a heavy slap. Warm, bitter liquid washes over us and shoves me a few feet before the splashing wave loses its impetus.
Spluttering awake, I open one eye. The background noise of a thundering waterfall induces a fuzzy illusion, but the fantasy of a green glade and swimming-hole is soon crushed by harsh reality. I have not been magically transported from this dingy car park; I am lying in a shallow pool of metallic-tasting muck.
I strain my neck to find the origin of the roar and see the Mother’s carcass. It is draining fast. Several thousand litres of Sludge and other internal fluids push a mini-tidal wave which disperses swiftly across the concrete floor. A shallow river, full of clotted filth, drains down a ramp to a lower level.
I blink another stinging eye open and remember to hang onto the frightened, coughing child before sitting up. The baby and I stare at each other, stunned and dripping. Deciding she doesn’t like what she sees, her face scrunches. Thankfully, less energetic cries are emitted this time. The terrible, killing sound she’d destroyed my mortal enemy with no longer has fog amplification. Her current whining falls into the lesser category of irritating. I withdraw my shield and attempt to comfort her with a mixture of cooing and a tired string of profanities.
What’s left of the Other-worldly fog cannot calm her. It has thinned noticeably, leaving the air almost sparkling. A single, thin tendril makes a last appearance to lash aimlessly around the Mother’s dead body. It’s as threatening as a headless snake and I watch it without fear until it dissolves.
Eyeing the Mother’s sagging butt for further movement occupies another nervous minute. My fear evaporates as it slumps ever lower through the toilet hole, deflating like a punctured hot air balloon. A belief that we might have won sneaks past my pessimism, and I wave a tattered flag of victory in my head. A tentative, wry smile pulls at my lips, unaccompanied by a celebratory jig. There is still danger here. In fact the damaged nest might be even more dangerous than before in this stirred up state.
I am extra keen to get back home. Though the question is; how far have those Creeps progressed in their demolition of the detention centre’s fence? I’m almost too afraid to find out. Maybe there is no home, or roommate, to return to.
My overburdened mind ignites a guilty fire. The flare up shows me Kristine’s terrified face. Shutting out her probable fate is a difficult achievement. Vague memories of a hasty, and drug affected exit damns me. I’m pretty sure I’d left the place wide open on my departure.
A drink or ten, followed by a full metal and physical collapse would relieve me of this premature remorse I feel. Hatefully, the alcohol needed to achieve such a state is not available. I absently wipe a lump of brown slime from the baby’s back. Her cries slow so I pat her again. My small gesture of affection, or perhaps her failing strength, quietens the whinging. Either way my ears are grateful.
I rise, trying hard not to slip in the slurried crap, and carry the girl in a slow limp towards the nearest car. It’s a poxy four-cylinder hatch-back, popular with teenage girls and grandmothers. It sits on four semi-deflated tyres with peeling flower decals stuck to the dented sides. I am roundly unimpressed.
A few metres further on I glimpse the twin pipes of a rusty V8 sedan. I’m drawn to it until I discover the front-end is severely bent around a stanchion. Some long-gone ram-raider grossly underestimated that particular piller, didn’t they? Several other cars moulder in the distant darkness; none of them are close enough, or in markedly better condition than the one I stand beside.
Exhaustion prolongs my visual investigation of the first car’s interior. I press my nose to the hatchback’s dirty glass and confirm it is a manual shift. A wad of dark material, tucked in a foot-well reminds me of my nakedness and prompts me to open the passenger door. I snatch up the purple knitted jumper and hold it up for critically examination. It fails my colour, odour and knitting skill standards but there’s nothing else on offer.
I lay the baby on an ancient newspaper that the previous owner used to cover the badly cracked vinyl seat. The headline promises lower taxes. I pull the voluminous jumper over my head and read a few more lines of print around the restless child, grunting with indifference at yesteryear’s economic growth figures.
By stretching it low the jumper just about covers my butt. The itchy wool sticks to the filth I’m caked with, but it is empowering to be clothed. I find another folded square of material jammed into the map pocket in the door. It is a dirty sarong, weighted with something heavy wrapped inside.
When unrolled, a faux leather purse falls out. The child claims the sarong, grasping a tassel tightly. I consider yanking it from her tiny fingers since it would cover my bottom half nicely, but a guilty conscience’s frowns at me.
“You want it? Fine! Merry fucking Christmas.”
I wrap the child in the musty cloth, straining to remember if swaddling infants was an acceptable baby-care method, or a form of child abuse. It quietens her whimpers, so the end result suits both of us; and my throbbing headache.
Lying unsecured on a passenger seat is no place for bottles of booze or babies. The foot-well has served me well in the past as a safe haven for breakables. I place her on the mangy carpet and grab a plush teddy bear from the parcel shelf, pressing it into service as a roll preventative device. She sneezes from the dust I disturb and begins another weak round of crying.
I sigh and reach for the abandoned purse. A five dollar note flutters to the ground when I open the clasp. My eyes follow its fall yet I resist the automatic urge to pick it up. Inside the purse, amongst some coins, is a most unexpected stroke of luck. A car key!
The possibility of good fortune unnerves me. I almost run around to the driver’s door, holding that cold sliver of metal tightly. Through the open window I jab it into the ignition switch, take a deep breath, and turn. No noise and even less action results. Twisting it extra hard has a similar outcome.
A tiny part of me is happy. In my experience, too much good luck would inevitably be followed by bad. With a resigned sigh I pull the bonnet release catch, walk to the front and lift the lid. I wipe my tender nose with the sweater’s sleeve when a drop of blood falls into the engine bay. Possible internal haemorrhaging will have to wait in line to be my next problem, after this one is taken care of.
Before me lies a tiny motor, battery, and radiator, with all the bits connected together. I slam the bonnet and stick my head through the window to check the fuel situation. Quarter full. So there appears to be no reason a push start shouldn’t succeed. Key on, transmission in neutral, I throw myself against the door frame. A tearing sound, which could be the damage I’m doing to my back muscles, actually comes from long unturned wheels freeing themselves from spider-webs. Where the spiders might be is a moot concern compared to my recent activities.
The car is not terribly heavy but I’m almost completely done in. Ignoring my limits I scuff my feet in grit so they grip and turn the wheels towards a down ramp.
We splash through the broken Parasite Queen’s innards and of course I slip in this wetness as the car rolls over the ramp’s crest. Desperate not to be left behind as it gathers speed into darkness, I dive inside. The newspaper, so carefully positioned on the sun-hardened, cracked vinyl of the driver’s seat, is dislodged. It’s a rude shock to my naked behind and other bits that dangle down there, but not painful enough to stop me from booting in the clutch and selecting a gear. I certainly wince a fair bit though.
Rushing down into the deepest blackness, I pray we don’t collide with a stalled car. The probability of this is high so I pop the clutch early and engage the engine. Pumping the throttle stretches my face into a grin when mechanical wizardry bursts cold steel into life. I slam in the clutch and rev the motor as if my life depends on it. Which it pretty much does!
By reflex I flick the headlights on and the glaring lamps are swift to bring bad news to my eyes. A thousand manikins, all standing in rows like Chinese terra cotta warriors, are roused by our noise and light. They are Creeps, and they lift their heads to query my unconventional entrance.