“Look. I respect your bullshit detector. Everything that I’m about to say is true. Read it in my eyes. There are factors at work here that you would not understand, and that we do not have time to explain. There is nothing more you can do here, detective, other than to get out of our way. You came here to find a man. You found him. He’s lying at your feet. Now go home.”
Falconer gave me a hard look. He lowered his gun, strode past me, and threw open the bedroom door.
His eyes went right to the bed. What he saw were four bloody turkeys—no, that wasn’t right. What he saw were four bloody turkey skeletons, laying on my bed among piles of feathers. The larvae had all but stripped them clean, within minutes. What I saw, but Falconer did not, was that the spiders were now in the carpet, on the walls and crawling around the glass of the bedroom window. They were growing at an impossible rate, some already the size of a fist.
I felt a single drop of sweat fall down the back of my neck, trickling down my spine. I took a reflexive step back. One of the spiders crawled across Falconer’s shoe. He wouldn’t have noticed if he’d been looking directly at it.
“What is that in there, some kind of ritual? Voodoo bullshit? Trying to summon a ghost or demon or whatever you guys do?”
“No. I told you. Detective … you’re not going to solve this one.”
“Sure. I understand.” He holstered his gun.
Then, in a blur he grabbed my arm, spun me around, and slammed me against the door frame of the bedroom. He got my right arm up behind my back and pain exploded down my shoulder joint, the ligaments twisting around bone. I screamed.
To John, Falconer shouted, “BACK.”
Cold steel on my right wrist—handcuffs. Falconer pushed me into the bedroom. He shoved me to my knees, among the newborn spiders. I heard John shout, “NO! NO!” but Falconer spun and put his gun on him. With his free hand he looped the handcuff chain around the metal frame of the bed and snapped the remaining cuff around my other wrist.
I was on my bare knees, hands chained around the bed, and I could feel itchy spider legs crawling up one of my thighs, over my feet.
Falconer stood, held his gun on John and said, “Now. I’m not unlocking that until you’ve explained everything.”
100 Minutes Prior to Outbreak
Amy peed a lot when she got tense.
A nervous bladder and a three-hour-long bus ride don’t make for a great combination, but worrying wasn’t something she could just turn off (her roommate at school had taught her some tai chi but that wasn’t the sort of thing you could do on a bus without being asked to leave). She couldn’t get David or John on the phone, and that was weird. Really weird. David always picked up unless he was in the shower or his phone was dead, but she had been trying since early in the morning. And John, free spirit that he was, had Amy on his list of “must answer” calls. He knew she didn’t call him unless it was a big deal and/or she couldn’t raise David. She never abused this privilege.
David had sounded so ominous the night before, getting in one of his moods where he thinks the whole world depends on him and that he’s about to let everyone down. It was Amy’s job to take his mind off it when he got like that and it usually wasn’t all that hard. He was a guy, after all. A guy with a thing for red underpants. But nothing was helping this time and Amy was once again frustrated by the distance.
David needed her and there were things you just couldn’t do over the phone or a webcam. The school was only 130 miles away but she didn’t drive and, quite frankly, David couldn’t afford to make the trip. Not just because of the $60 in gas he burned every time, but the time missed at work. That’s why she had bought a Greyhound ticket within five minutes of getting off the phone with him the day before.
From the window seat on the bus, she dialed him again. With her phone to her ear, she stared out at the trees zipping by, imagining a little running man out there trying to keep up with the bus, jumping over obstacles as they flew past. Four rings, then voice mail. Again.
She tried hard not to be clingy. She had been on the other end of that with her last boyfriend, a guy who had never touched a girl before and therefore thought if she was cut open, a gush of rainbows and unicorns would spill out. Calling five times a day, showing up unannounced, kind of acting like one of those sleazy photographers who follow celebrities everywhere. It was no fun and David, more than most people, demanded distance. He was the type to reflexively push other people away, never figuring out that the gnawing feeling inside him is what the rest of us call “loneliness.” You have to ease people out of that. It takes time.
But, with David’s history, she had earned the right to assume the worst when she didn’t hear from him. It had come to the worst more than once.
She felt her bladder swelling. Where was her body getting the liquid from? She hadn’t drank anything since breakfast. She wondered how long it was until the next rest stop. The bus had a bathroom but it was gross. Really gross, like on a medical level. It looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since the Bush administration and there were probably things crawling on that toilet seat that she didn’t want anywhere near her private parts.
90 Minutes Prior to Outbreak
Alien spiders crawled toward my balls. I felt one on my neck and shook it off with a shrug. I thought I had another one in my hair. One got into my armpit and I crushed it against my ribs with my bicep. I tried to squash them with my knees. Falconer must have thought I was having a seizure.
John tried to construct an argument to dissuade Falconer, saying, “AAAH! SHIT! FUCK! DETECTIVE! NO! THIS IS BAD!”
Trying to control my voice I said, “Listen. Franky had something inside him that took over his brain. It laid eggs. They hatched. They’re in here. They—”
I paused to shake off a spider on my ear, like a dog flinging off water after a bath.
“—they’re crawling around but you can’t see them.”
“Because they’re invisible, right?”
“Yes! Yes, they AAAAHHH—”
One of them bit my ear. I squished it off with my shoulder.
Something crashed behind me. There was a scuffle, and grunts. I looked back and saw John had gone after Falconer. Falconer threw him off, hitting him hard in the nose with an elbow. He pointed his gun at John’s face.
“You’re fucking crazy. Both of you. What did you give him? What drug did you give Franky?”
“Goddamnit, we’re going in circles. They had him in the hospital long enough to get blood, they said so on the news! Did tests show anything? Anything at all?”
“So you understand my confusion.”
A spider crawled up my neck, over my chin. It tried to push its way into my mouth and I spat and tried to wipe it off by rubbing my face on the bedspread. I couldn’t dislodge it. Its tiny legs pushed it past my lips.
I bit it. I cut it in half with my front teeth and ground it up with my molars, spitting and gagging on an intense salt taste that made my whole body convulse.
One of the spiders crawled off the bed, across the handcuff chain, and onto the underside of my forearm. I started to scrape it off, then stopped.
I twisted my body around to face Falconer and said, “Look. At my arm. Watch.”
“I don’t see any—”
“No, I know you don’t, yet. Wait. Just wait. One of those things—they’re like little spiders or bugs—it’s sitting right there. It’s … going to start eating soon. And I’m pretty sure you’ll see—GAH!—”
I hissed in a breath and clenched my teeth. The inch-long larvae bit down with its tiny mandibles and ripped up a chunk of skin. Holding it with its two front legs, it started munching on me. A second later, it repeated the process, tearing with its mandibles, ripping up a tiny patch of tissue, eating. And again.
I pressed my eyes shut, trying to block out the pain, the itching of tiny legs on my feet and calves and thighs and ass and back. Tried to escape, to block out the fact that I was being eaten alive by arachnids. For some reason the only thing I could replace it with was the image of being eaten by tiny clowns.
Man, I’m not even sure those were amphetamines …
I opened my eyes and the expression on Falconer’s face almost made the whole thing worth it. From his point of view, a strip of skin the width of a pencil was spontaneously vanishing from my arm, leaving a trench of blood and pink fat behind. What did he think? That I had a flesh-eating virus? That John and I were faking the whole thing with horror movie makeup, as part of an elaborate and gruesome prank?
I said, “If you leave me here, by this afternoon I’ll look like those turkeys up there. Wet, red bones. They’re all over me. And I see at least three of them on your pants. There’s one on the sleeve of your jacket. If we don’t … exterminate these fuckers somehow, they’ll breed and they’ll be everywhere and nobody will be able to stop them because nobody else can see them.”
He lowered his gun.
“Detective, only the three of us in this room understand what’s happening here—AAGH!” I growled as the bug took another bite. Hungry little bastard. “And … only we can stop it. And if you don’t help us then it’s just me and John and we’re just a couple of dildos. Please, unlock these goddamned handcuffs.”
Falconer thought about it for what seemed like a day and a half but was probably just a few seconds. He dug in his jacket pocket for a tiny set of keys, tossed them to John and nodded in my direction.
Instead of unlocking the cuffs, John said, “Hold still,” then grabbed a nearby shoe and started slapping my arm with it.
The baby spider fell off and John ground it into the carpet with his foot. He went to work on the cuffs with the tiny key and was able to unlock them after only 137 or so tries.
I hurriedly grabbed some khaki pants and a T-shirt I found draped over a nearby chair and flew from the room. We slammed the door and crammed the towels under the gap once more. John squashed half a dozen bugs that had escaped into the hall, and cleaned off the ones we found crawling on Falconer. I yanked on the clothes and kept right on walking, out the front door.