I had secretly hoped all Parasites would conveniently die when I killed the Mother. Unfortunately the high-beam illumination says otherwise and refreshed fright tightens my chest with iron bands.
I wrench on the emergency brake, almost ripping the lever from its mount. The little cars’ underinflated rubber shrieks across slick concrete. We do not perform the precision one-eighty degree flick-turn I’d envisaged, but end up sideways, mid-ramp. Headlights flare from white-painted walls, blinding me to the Creep’s response at this clown-car performance. I push down my door lock.
I’ve managed to miss both ramp walls by less than a metre. This tight position will require a careful five point turn to prevent damage. However, being careful is a luxury I can’t afford; this is a borrowed car and its bumpers are disposable assets.
Ramming the wall in front breaks a headlight. Shit! I slap the gear stick into reverse and hastily turn the steering wheel the other way to full-lock. The tyres spin wildly as we rear-end the wall behind, hard. There’s no time to steady the snuggly wrapped baby, but the stuffed toy does its job of keeping her in place. She cries in protest, despite this thoughtful placement.
The Hosts have not advanced on me. My panic levels off while I idle in place and dwell on suppositions. These basement-dwellers seem over-represented by the aged. Is this a retirement home for the least efficient? A staging area for back-up bodies? A larder?
The world speeds up to real time, and further useless wonderment is interrupted when a Creep finally moves in for a closer look. Though the massed co-ordination I’d once excited is missing I abandon my musings about why this might be so.
One more crunching crash and a mirror grinds along the wall in the sharpest turn the steering wheel can wring from the tyres. We don’t quite gain enough momentum to get airborne at the ramp’s top edge, but the suspension floats then bottoms out savagely. I hold the gear stick tightly as rubber bites concrete and my knuckles bash against the gaudy stereo as we bounce several times.
A huge dash-mounted display screen, probably worth more than a car was new, bursts into life, blasting us with light and noise. Some type of Techno-drivel designed to annoy the elderly. The whole car shakes and vibrates to arrhythmic poundings. Frightened by the unexpected assault, I glance over one shoulder to look down the barrel of a giant, booming subwoofer. It’s like being punched, rapid-fire, in the back of the head.
The stereo’s complicated face-plate has no obvious off switch. Looking for it while driving at speed proves to be inadvisable. A loud bang and the heart-stopping sound of rending metal returns my flustered attention to the windscreen. We’ve rammed a lone shopping trolley which rockets away smartly, dragging a bent chassis across the ground in a shower of sparks.
Leaving the mobile rave party blasting away, I occupy myself with swapping cogs and dodging concrete poles. The remaining crooked headlight thoughtfully picks out an exit sign. I swerve in the suggested direction and obey a dust faded arrow. These guides dictate several screeching turns and then we are racing towards an upwardly spiralling ramp.
Brilliant sunshine streams from this portal; painful to dilated irises. A wish for sunglasses is instantly granted when an unseen speed bump jolts every bone in my body and a pair of shades drop into my lap from behind the sun-visor.
Without slowing, I blast across the open-air parking lot outside. Exhilaration bubbles up my constricted throat and I release a breath that I’d held it in for the last minute or more. Selecting a higher gear lessens the stuttering engine’s torture and I take a second to lean over and pat the adopted kid reassuringly, before slipping on the love-heart shaped sunnies. They cut the glare to pink-tinged smog which is better than nothing.
A few meandering Creeps, lethargic and unaccountably shy, shun my speeding, bass-pumping machine. I dodge around them, and for once, they seem just as concerned to avoid me. The concentrated hordes I’d expected are not assembling. The lack of an organisational mind behind their movements has reduced them to aimless wanderers.
Throwing the car into top gear, I choose a direction at random and clatter along a suburban feeder road at a fair clip, encountering many observers but no attackers. With the excitement of escaping over, I have time to press a few buttons and finally shut off the raucous noise. The respite my ears should be enjoying is accosted by an engine that is being pushed above its preferred limit and a child who recites a litany of cries.
We encounter the Creeps’ barrier of rubbish after several minutes of fast driving. I turn left, and run parallel to the eyesore, using whatever fast and loose route I can find to keep it in sight. The footpaths, overgrown parks and concrete drains I take abuse the car’s springs mightily.
Glancing at the fuel gauge is a mistake. Anxiety compounds as the needle dips to empty each time I take a corner at speed.
I almost miss the breach in the wall that I’d been searching for. This one is no more than a three metre wide garbage gap. Its existence is brought to my notice by a knot of uncoordinated Hosts milling about its maw. How many of them choke the shadowy depths is hard to know.