One eye had collapsed in on itself and the socket wept thick yellow fluid. Jewels' white teeth were now stained and putrid and gaps where teeth had fallen out showed through when he smiled. He was filthy and stank like a corpse left out in the hot sun too long.
"I told them to leave you be for a while Miss Ally. Wanted to make sure you was good and ready first. I think they resent me somewhat for it. They had already got me a new host lined up, a big white boy, strong as ox, probably just as smart too. But girls make better hosts, and one as young and healthy as you I could get a year or more ..."
"Over my dead body you sick Fuck!" she screamed at him, trying hard not to think about the sweet old man he had been.
"Tsk, tsk, such language, would your momma approve of you talkin to your elders that way girl? Well this oughta make you a bit more easy to get along with." He snapped his fingers and a wraith slipped up beside him in an odd three legged gait. It was carrying something. It appeared to be a small bait bucket. She could hear the sounds of them trying to find their way out. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what they were.
"I been in this body too long. It's falling apart. I was desperate otherwise I would never have picked such a wasted shell to use. I can usually make the swap on my own. But as much as I hate to admit it I need a little help this time."
He moved to where the wraith had set the bait bucket and held the lamp over it while he removed the styrofoam lid. She could see their shadows as they struggled to climb the sides of the bucket.
"These will do fine," he nodded to the wraith that had carried it in. He patted it on the head as one would a puppy and it nuzzled his hand. Ally's stomach lurched in revulsion. The wasted old scarecrow of a man kicked the bucket over before man and wraiths turned and left the room. The door slammed shut, plunging her once again into total darkness.
* * *
Dotty had been unable to sleep much the night before and had spent much of the night in the light tower watching over the empty town. She knew something was wrong when she saw the little red truck winding its way through town. She hit the kill switch for the mines on the little remote in her pocket and headed downstairs. It would relay through the main control panel downstairs. up the breakwater to the lighthouse.
She was stiff from the cold and moving slow. By the time she had got her jacket and boots on the Volvo was heading up the breakwater to the lighthouse. One of them was already pounding on the door when her hand fell on the heavy bar securing the steel door.
The young blond woman was carrying her red haired brother. He was frightfully pale. The other young woman was nowhere in sight. She had Dee lay him down on the one of the cots they had used on their previous stay that for some reason had never been put away. While Dee was doing that while she fetched her first aid kit. The kit was in a large steel ammo box. It was heavy but just about anything she could possibly need in an emergency was in there. He had already been stripped down but was wrapped in a blanket. She nodded approvingly at the bandages as she peeled them off. She had seen enough of them on herself to recognize them. The venom of wraith bugs, as she had heard them referred to while eavesdropping on radio conversations, suppressed the immune system. She had experienced this phenomena first hand. Secondary infection could be a major problem. The wounds would have to be cleaned out and watched very carefully. She knew several herbal concoctions that would help boost one's immune system as well as cleanse the toxins. She ordered Dee about like a general while she tended to the boy. But she could sense that she wanted to go back out. She had not said a word about what happened so far though.
"Well we've done what we can for him for now. But I'm guessing that you are wanting to go back and rescue your sis ... " she turned to find that she was talking to an empty room, the door was already closed and shortly she could hear the truck backing done the breakwater. Dotty went to the door and slid the bar back into place. Back up in the tower she watched as the red truck crossed the breakwater onto the mainland before she reactivated the mines.
* * *
An inspiration struck her while she had been sitting in the dark. In the faint glow she had seen a lock bolt at the top of the door. The wraiths were smart and stealthy for such large creatures, but they really knew nothing about construction or locks.
The pipes were slippery and her left arm was really quite useless at this point. But still she managed to hang on. On top of the stench of the room there was now the caustic tang of ammonia in the air and it was almost as bad, but it had seemed to be keeping the bugs at bay. She had knocked the bottle of ammonia off on of the shelves in her mad scramble to get away from the bugs. It had hit the edge of the floor basin and popped the cap off. After locking locking the door, she somehow found enough strength to climb up pipes get away from the bugs. The door could be unlocked from the outside of course, but she was pretty sure that one of them many keys fastened to the chain she had gotten from the wraith would fit the door and even if they knew about keys she doubted that they had other copies. It would be a while before they got through that door. She did not plan on being here when they did.
She hooked her left arm through a crook in the pipe, reached up and punched through the acoustic ceiling tile. A shower of dust and debris rained down on her. She expected the wraiths guarding the door to come pounding at the door to investigate the noise, but apparently they were expecting sounds of struggle so thought nothing of it.
Her left arm screamed in protest but she managed to pull herself up through the support framework for the ceiling tiles and from there onto an air conditioning duct. One room over she managed to get into the duct through a vent. They always made air ducts look so clean in the pre-disappearance movies she watched with Olly and Dee back home. But the reality was far less sanitary. For one thing rats also liked to use ducts to get from one room to another. She squirmed through the duct as quietly as she could. But the duct work was a maze and she had no light to navigate by. She was quickly lost. She had just given up hope of finding her way out when she fell down through a vertical shaft. She hit an elbow in the duct work and found that it was not designed to take this much stress. It broke apart when she hit and she fell hard onto the concrete floor.
The wind was knocked out of her but she suffered no additional injuries. She managed to squirm out of the duct she had fallen with. She hoped that she had not escaped the frying pan only to find herself in the fire. The wraiths liked cool dark basements to sleep in. But she was alone. And for the first time she since waking up in the janitor's closet she found herself in relatively clean surroundings. The floor was dusty, but dry and here was a musty smell to the air, like a basement in a long vacant house. She stumbled about in the dark till she bumped into a steel workbench. She felt about the surface and found scraps of metal a pair of pliers and and a bench mounted vice. There was square steel bar clamped in the vice with one end narrowed to a chisel point. It was as if the room had not been disturbed since the disappearance.
She bent down and started feeling along the floor. Her father had often talked about how creepy it was to walk into a house or store and find piles of empty clothes that the previous occupants had evaporated out of. Schools were mostly populated by children and teenagers. Of all the kids her age back on Door Island, she did not know a single one of them that did not carry a lighter, matches or a flashlight. She somehow doubted that this was a fundamental change in adolescent and teen psychology since the disappearance. She started searching pockets. She was hoping for a disposable lighter or book of matches but hit the jackpot on the second set of clothes she searched. She found a box of wooden matches and a candle in the large pocket of a heavy denim apron. On the fourth try she finally got one of the mouldy matches to light. She quickly lit the candle and was finally able to take in her surroundings.
In the dim light of the single candle she could see three rows of steel workbenches. Tools and half finished projects littered the work surfaces. There were were piles of cloths at each workstation. The high school metal shop. She quickly checked the doors. The door was unlocked and unblocked. She had no idea why this room should be untouched as it was, but she was thankful for it.
Owing to the fact that explosive gases were stored in the metal shop, the doors were heavy fire safe doors. The small rectangular windows were reinforced glass. She eased one of the big double doors open and peered out into the hallway. A jumble of broken duct work and tipped over lockers covered the front end of a car that had smashed through the wall of what she presumed to the the school's auto shop. The wreckage completely blocked the hallway.
She climbed over the lockers to check the door on the other side of the jumbled mess. Holding the candle away she peered through one of the small glass panels in the big double doors.
The corridor beyond was littered with debris and caked in shit. Several wraiths dozed on the other side. She jumped back from the window and checked the door. It opened out towards her and the front bumper of the car was pinning a row of lockers against the door. She sighed in relief. There was no way they would get through this door she thought.
She turned to go back to the metal shop and lost her footing when a warped locker door she was standing on shifted. She fell hard on one of the locker doors with a loud boom. The candle flew out of her hand. She sat in silence for a few moments praying that the din she had created had gone unnoticed. There was a muffled grunt and some snuffling from the other side of the door. Well maybe God was busy somewhere else.
By the time she made it back to the metal shop it was banging and scratching at the doors. She closed and locked the door, hoping that would give her enough time to think of something.
A thought occurred to her and she returned to the apron to get another candle before looking for what she needed. She found it after a few moments search, but it was locked behind a steel gate with the other flammable gases. She grabbed a hammer and started beating at the lock with it before she remembered the keys.
* * *
Dee pulled into the parking lot of the school just in time to see the fireball erupt from the back corner of the school. Fire spread through the school within seconds. Explosions rocked the building from one end to the other. Wraiths lept from upper floor windows only to be blown apart by explosions from the lower levels. Burning monstrosities ran out of doors and into the parking lot to expire in a smouldering heaps. Very few seemed to be making it out alive. She watched in horror as the building was quickly consumed. She could see no sign of Allison. She got out of the Volvo and stared into the blaze.
Some wraiths were making it out of the inferno, but they showed no interest in her, being concerned only with escaping the fire. Some escaped, but most she was able to shoot down before they got too far. No Masters escaped that she saw and the lesser wraiths were only as much a threat than any other large predator without a Master directing them. When at last she saw no further movement from the school, she sank to her knees. This mission of hers had been a complete, shameful failure. How was she going to break the news to Mom.
"Nice shootin sis!"
Dee whirled around to look at her sister. She was covered head to toe in filth and looked like she had been drug through a landfill by a speeding garbage truck, but still managed an impish grin. She looked at Ally, looked at the burning school and then back at Ally in disbelief.
"You did this?"
"Who knew wraith shit was so flammable?"
The two of them stared at each other for several seconds before the burst out laughing. When they finally managed to get themselves under control again Dee started to hug Ally, but pulled up short when she caught her first whiff of the malodorous muck covering her sister.
"You're riding in the back."
© 2010 R. Keith McBride