I had the awful realization that I was looking at a machine of some kind and just when I thought nothing here could surprise me, I looked into the television screen and was proven wrong.
A trailer—this trailer—was on the screen.
Small, as if being seen from a distance.
But getting bigger.
The viewer moving closer.
Somebody’s point of view, heading this direction. If the feed was live, just a minute away.
I turned, stepped forward, fell flat on my face. The lantern crashed to the floor, rolling, sending light and shadow dancing over every surface. It gave me a quick, strobe-light view of the huge slug thing I had tripped over, which was now resting under my splayed legs. It had moved out to the center of the room with startling speed.
I could feel the thing warmly pulsing and quivering under me, its soft mass giving under my legs. I kicked off of it, pushing backward on my ass, saw the thing squish its way after me. The lantern went out, casting me into a darkness broken only by the soft glow of the mutant television and a shaft of yellow light from the bathroom above.
I could hear the thing sliming around me, felt it near my face. I stumbled to my feet, slipped in the huge pool of shit in the center of the room, back onto my ass, bouncing my head off the hard ground. I got up on my hands just as a heavy weight like a canvas bag filled with meat landed on my chest.
The fucking thing had jumped on me.
A hundred-pound bag of slime compressing my lungs.
I waited for it to bite my face off.
A few seconds later, the low, rattly sound resumed.
After a long moment I realized that it had gone to sleep. I gently rolled the snoring creature onto the floor, careful not to wake it. I very quietly stood and jumped halfway up the ladder. In ten seconds I had my palms down on the sticky bathroom floor, shoulders brown with what was hopefully mud, pants stained with shit. I decided right then I would leave and go home and watch some TV and drink a—
I almost pissed myself. It was a faint sound, from the other end of the trailer. The kitchen end. I stepped into the hall, expecting to see a flame-shooting vampire, a hybrid squid/clown, the Devil himself.
Nothing. Probably just wind. A micro-earthquake. Sudden termite migration.
A heavy sound, violent. Adrenaline set my muscles on fire and, like a dumbass, I moved toward the sound. Definitely from the kitchen. In seven steps I crossed the Robert Marley estate.
My shoes hit linoleum. I looked around the counter, floor and appliances. No elves, no gremlins, no nothing. Not yet.
Dead silence. I realized I was holding my breath. I realized I was not holding a weapon. I glanced around for something like a knife—
No. The freezer section at the top. The little door up there rattled with the sound, like it was bumped—
—from the inside.
Get out. Get out, David. Go. Go. Go. Go. GO. GO. GO!
With one last thump, the freezer door flew open.
A round, frosty lump the size of a coffee can tumbled out of the freezer, fell to the floor, rolled to a stop two feet away from me. I stared at it, stared into the open, empty freezer. I steeled my courage—
—then turned and ran my ass off.
I stomped toward the exit, made it in three flying strides. A half second before my hand would have ripped the knob off the front door, I happened to glance out the window and see a sedan parked out there where none had been before. Plain white, but too many antennas.
Somebody getting out.
Fucking Morgan Freeman.
He walked toward the front door, ten feet away from me. I spun around, searching for a back exit. Even if there was one, it would mean stepping over the possessed jar or whatever had rolled out of the freezer, which was now sitting on the tile, rocking back and forth, steaming faintly. I saw now the thing was a bundle of duct tape, something wrapped in layer after layer of the stuff.
A look back outside. My cop friend was coming this way, pausing to turn and look back over his shoulder at something I couldn’t see. What would I say when he came in? I can usually cobble together a pretty good lie if I have a couple of hours to plan—
A hollow snapping sound, from the freezer jar. The thing hopped an inch off the floor and so did I when I heard that sound.
It did it again, jumped higher.
Shit, like something trying to punch its way out from inside—
That’s how I spell the sound of a doorknob turning. Morgan was just two feet away from me now, on the other side of a door-shaped piece of imitation wood, coming in. I ducked down, looked at the jar now with hope that the leprechaun or demon or whatever jumped out of it would distract the cop from asking the rather obvious question of why the hell I was here after walking out on my interrogation. I braced myself for what was sure to be one of the more awkward moments of my life.
The doorknob snapped back into place, released from the other side. I risked a look through a living room window and saw Morgan looking away, toward the gravel driveway and this time saw what he saw: a white van pulling in, parking next to his cruiser. Big logo on the side. CHANNEL 5 NEWS. A guy stepped out of the driver’s seat, hauling out a camera and a folded tripod, and a pretty reporter emerged from the passenger side. Not only was I about to be discovered lurking around a restricted crime scene, but my arrest for said offense was about to be broadcast on live television. It would literally be the worst job of secretly sneaking into a restricted area in recorded history.
POCK! POCK!! POCK!!!
There was a bulge now on the side of the jar or whatever it was, strands of duct tape fibers popping out in the center, giving under the strain. All of a sudden being arrested didn’t seem so bad and I should have ducked outside with my hands raised high in surrender. But fear kept my ass Velcroed to the carpet. The jar convulsed, and again I wished I had a weapon, preferably a flamethrower.
Outside, I could barely hear cop and reporter having a terse forced-politeness contest.
“Hi, I’m Kathy Bortz, Channel Five—”
“—All inquiries go through the captain, you’ve got the number. It’s all cleaned up in there anyway, you missed the really good pictures by a few hours—”
She may have missed the story, Morgan, but I bet she’d be pleased to capture a live shot of whatever was about to happen to me.
Here’s exclusive Channel 5 video of a local man having his brain eaten by a winged gremlin. Local gremlin experts warn that—
The jar erupted, ejaculated, gave birth in a cloud of stringy tape bits. A shotgun hole blew out from the guts of the can and a little blur of an object zipped out and bounced off the paneled wall above me. The offspring fell to the carpet, bounced and landed next to my shoe.
A little shiny metal canister, the size of a pill bottle. Not moving or growling or glowing. Just sitting.
I stared dully, then forced myself to crane my neck up and around to see the scene outside, the cop turned right toward me, gesturing. I threw my head back down out of the way, sat down hard on the carpet with my back against the wall.
He saw you. Did you see the flicker of surprise on his face? He caught a glimpse of your head looking out from the trailer window. Dumbass.
I looked at the little metal vial, scooted back from it. Are those footsteps I hear outside? I raised my foot to kick the vial away, then reconsidered.
You know what’s in there, right?
Nope. No idea.
You know Robert had a stash of the shit that infected John . . .
Faint voices, from outside.
“What part of ‘no comment’ do you not fucking understand?”
Closer than before?
. . . and if he had a stash, he couldn’t just cram it under his bed. That black shit moves. It has a will, an attitude. It bites.
And then I realized, all at once, what I had come here for. John led me here, of course. When I was on the stuff, the little hit in my bloodstream I got when it attacked my thigh, I could communicate with—
—with John. When it wore off, I could not. My one chance to save him lay inside the bottle, wicked as it apparently was.
I picked up the bottle, cold as an ice cube. I found a seam and twisted the top half off, expected black oil to ooze out.
Instead, out tumbled two tiny, cold pebbles. Perfect and black in my palm, like two coal-flavored Tic Tacs. The same stuff, I figured, in convenient capsule form for those who are afraid of needles.
You’re afraid of needles.
If it had been a hypodermic, you wouldn’t have even considered putting it inside you. How convenient.
I closed my eyes, steeled myself like the first time I did a shot of whiskey.
It knew. And what is it you’re doing, exactly? For all you know, this stuff oozed out of a crashed meteor. You’ve found it in the home of a dead man, after following a trail of dead bodies to get here. So go ahead, put it right in your mouth, dipshit.
I hesitated, felt an itching in my palm where the capsules sat. I could hear nothing from outside, which fed a little sprout of hope that maybe everybody had just left.
If you do this, there ain’t no turning back. Somehow you know that.
I felt the itch again, a crawling sensation on my palm. I looked down and saw the capsules sitting innocently and then—I saw them move. Wriggling in my hand like a couple of fat, black maggots. I flung them to the carpet, flailing my hand around like it was on fire. I stumbled to my feet. The things twisted, changed, grew tiny little black limbs.
Two flat appendages grew out of one of the capsules, began to twitch, move, flap. A blur now. Wings. The black blob made a terrible, insectile fluttering sound against the carpet. Then, the Tic Tac launched itself at me, a faint, dark streak.
I didn’t realize my mouth was hanging open until that moment and if I had known I would have closed it, I assure you. In an instant the thing was skipping off my tongue and landing as a horrible, twitching tickle on the back of my throat. I coughed, hacked, convulsed. The soy sauce insect crawled down my esophagus. I felt its little tingly legs all the way down to my gut.