Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Land Of Shadows: Chapter XXVII - Surrender

Sandy helped the old man settle back into the couch in lobby.  They had been here three days.  She still had no idea what this place was or why they were here.  But Puck insisted that the man and who had kidnapped the old man's daughter was headed here.  Whenever she pressed him on the matter he would only mutter something about the man killing his father, sometimes he would say the answers were in his father's journals.  The details all seemed rather fuzzy and would change and shift.  She did not doubt that he was being honest, but she did doubt if he was being factual.  The last few days he had been operating at a fever pitch.  He had been driving like a madman and would rarely let her behind the wheel.  She loved him but had begun to fear him. 

The old man was barely hanging on.  His belly was distended like pregnant sow's.  She didn't have to open his shirt to know that his whole abdomen would be a massive bruise.  She could see the little fuckers moving about just under the skin.  He smelled like he was dead already.  She checked the load on her .45, there was one in the chamber and five in the magazine.  At most there would be four of them more likely three.  It was time to end this.  Puck would not like it.  For some reason he had a soft spot for the old man.  But he had gone off looking for something.  She had only seen him a couple of times in the last two days

She flicked the safety off the Colt and looked to the old man.  His breathing was labored.  For a moment he looked at her and she could see clear lucid calculation in his eyes.  She shivered despite the seventy-eight degrees of the lobby.  But he faded out again and she though it was just her imagination. 

Movement outside caught her eye.  She moved to one of the big broken glass panels to see if Puck had found what he was looking for and come back. 

She could barely believe her eyes.  A man leading a horse, a woman, two teens and a younger girl were approaching.  The youngest girl fit the description in the old man's daughter to a tee. 

"Jonas, is this your ... " she started to turn and ask, and found him right behind her. 

His eyes were clear and full of malevolent life.  His shirt was now a bloody rag.  She started to back away from him, but he moved with impossible speed.  He grabbed her and pulled her towards him in a hateful embrace.  She fought with him but somehow he managed to get her gun.  She heard it fire even as she felt something slicing into her own belly.  Something warm and slick found its way into her shirt and began cutting into her, frantically digging at her flesh. 

In desperation she bit into the loose flesh of the old man's neck.  She drew blood it filled her mouth with the foul taste of rotten meat.  But he loosened his grip enough that she could get free of him.  She kicked out and caught him in the hip.  He lost balance and fell to the floor in a heap.  But still she was being torn into by at least two of the abominations.  She felt herself losing her balance.  One of them was actually inside her now.  She stuck her hand in her shirt to grab it and a pair of razor sharp claws sliced her index finger off at the second joint.  She pulled her hand back stared at it. 

She saw Puck burst through the doors at the north end of the lobby.  And then everything faded. 

*     *     *

Puck could no longer clearly remember exactly why he was here.  He was going to bring more of his kind here, but why.  He was was beginning to feel oddly disconnected with them.  He was more than this withered black thing carried around in his belly.  But even among his own kind he was never fully accepted.  They obeyed him, they feared him, they were in awe of him, but they hated him too.

His memories were beginning to blur too.  He was having trouble separating his and the host's memories.  He even found phantom memories that he doubted came from either, possibly from a previous host, but he did not know for sure.  He found himself making up stories and believing them.  In his seven thousand years he had taken so many hosts, but it had not been until he was snatched from his home world and forced to take his first native host that he'd had so much trouble. 

But with Sandy he found peace and acceptance.  If he activated this human machine again, he knew that it would merge his world and the human world.  Sandy would be torn from him.  He decided that was not acceptable.  This body would eventually die, but he could find a new host and stay with Her. 

Yesterday he had found what he believed to be a control room.  The power was even still on and the machines appeared to work.  He had absently pecked at a few buttons here and there at random, but without being able to read he had no idea what if any effect he was having. 

A gunshot interupted his thoughts.  He sprinted through the maze of corridors he had been searching and slammed through the door.  The old man with the belly full of workers was dead in a heap.  Sandy was staring at her dripping red hand she had just pulled out of the bloody tatters of her shirt.  He had experienced anger before, but rage like this was entirely alien to him.  He rushed to Sandy and eased her to the carpeted floor before ripping her shirt open.  He reached into the wounds in her belly and began yanking the infant wraiths from her belly.  There were three of them.  Each one he pulled out he squeezed in his fist till its little body popped.  They slashed and stabbed at his fingers with the sharp little claws, but it was of no consequence to him. 

He could do nothing for her, he fled from the horror of it but emerging from the front door of the building he found a woman staring at him with a weapon pointed at his midsection. 

"You have to help her!" was the first thing out of his mouth.  "Please hurry!" 

Dee stood there in shocked wonder at this turn of events.  The thing she had pursued halfway across the country was standing before her, hands dripping with blood and begging for her help.  She could easily cut him in half with the submachine gun, but for some reason she was unable to pull the trigger.  He turned and ran  back into the building.  She could hear him calling back to her to please hurry.  Allison was out from behind the UPS truck screaming.

"That's him, for God's sake don't let him get away now!" 

Whatever it was that had frozen her momentarily evaporated with that.  She sprinted after him, expecting a lengthy persuit, but he had stopped just inside the lobby.  The carnage inside told a confusing tale.  A wasted looking old man sprawled on the floor, his guts spilling all over the carpet, a pretty young blonde woman with similar belly wounds had been gently laid out on the floor.  The remnants of three emergent wraiths littered the floor around her.  Dee was no doctor, she knew some first aid, but nothing that could help here.  She turned to look behind her at the others. 

Elias moved to the girl's side and began quickly examining her.  It was hopeless.  Too much blood had already been lost.  Her liver was shredded, one kidney was gone and her large intestine bisected in several places.  Even had he had a fully equipped trauma center with staff, he doubted that he would be able to save her.  She shuddered once and was still.  Elias placed a bloody finger on her carotid artery, felt nothing.  Dee placed her hands over the girl's face and closed her eyes.  She looked to her adversary and saw the utter devastation on his face.  Though she wanted to hate him she suddenly found she could not, perhaps it was some sort of pheromone reaction like her father and Dr. Cooper had told her about, perhaps it was that he just looked so young and so lost. 

But still it needed to be done.

She stood up and pointed her weapon at him.  The safety was already off.  She fingered the trigger.  He lifted his own pistol.  But he did not point it at her.  He held it with the butt of the gun towards her. 

Puck probed inwards and suddenly found that all lines of communication were open.  Deek/Jewels welcomed a dialog with Puck.  They conferred without any conscious words.  The understanding was total, the decision, unanimous and equitable.  But there had to be a certain degree of cooperation for it to be carried out.

Dee watched in with barely suppressed revulsion as a thin black appendage emerged from the young man's belly.  He grasped it in one hand being careful of the stinger and it gently wrapped itself about his wrist.  The young man tugged and the tail tightened its grip.  It was clearly a painful process, but Dee was reluctant to interfere.  She gestured them all to stand back.  With a sound like a rubber glove being pulled off a greasy fist the parasite suddenly emerged.  It was a tiny thing, fragile and helpless without its host.  From head to the base if it's tail it was about eight inches and wrinkled, thin root like appendages trailed out from its body.  When it was clear of the wound the tail unwound from the boy's wrist and he dropped it before he himself fell to the floor.

It let out one short keening wail before a single gunshot echoed across the lobby silencing it. 

© 2011 R. Keith McBride

Monday, September 12, 2011

Land of Shadows: Chapter XXVI - Showdown

Elias looked down at the trio huddled in the shadow of an overturned truck.  They were just kids.  The oldest would have been just out of diapers when he stepped into the projector chamber.  The other two were barely older than his silent companion seated behind him on Penny.

They had obviously been through Hell.  They were clearly exhausted and somewhat battered.  A large Rottweiler lay with his head across the lap of the younger girl.  The older girl clutched the handle of a beat up square case in her sleep.  A shotgun lay across her lap. 

The dog woke up as he stood there holding Penny's reins.  Elias stood his ground as the dog started growling.  The girl clutched at his collar even as she wokeup.  In the time it took him to glance from the dog to the younger girl and then back to the older girl, she had the shotgun pumped and aimed at his face. 

The standoff was brief, none of them really felt like putting any effort into a fight even had they been so inclined.  They spend most of the afternoon talking and trying to stay cool in the shade.  They were quite enthralled by his tale, but the younger  girl, Allison, was skeptical.  Dee, however was more quietly accepting of his story, as if it verified something she already knew or had heard.  She told him of her own quest that had started out as simple vengeance, but had grown into something much more.  Since it appeared that their goals were so intertwined they decided to travel together. 

They camped that night in the partial shelter of the overturned truck.  He finally did learn the girl's name was June when she opened up to Allison that evening.  They were close to the same age.  But he was still very concerned for the girl.  The image that came most often to mind when he thought of her was a time bomb with the clock face painted over.  

Being the only one not on foot Elias scouted ahead.  He found a small town a couple miles south and returned to inform them.  By that evening they had all re-equipped themselves from a small gun shop.  The dry climate had preserved the guns perfectly.  

*     *     *

The old man in the back seat of the tow truck was dying.  Sandy recognized the signs.  Puck seemed oblivious to it, but she could smell it. 

They had picked the old man up at the side of the road, next to the smouldering carcass of a dead ATV.  He had been raving about his kidnapped daughter.  That was the only reason Sandy had not put a bullet in him already.  She hoped to reunite him with his little girl before it was too late.  

*     *     *
 Deek/Jewels contemplated the old man for some time.  It was decided that at the earliest opportunity he/they would wrest control from the parasite and eliminate this new threat it he/they could.  He/they were stronger now.  It was only a matter of time before they would be stronger than the invader.

*     *     *

The trip down through Texas was mostly uneventful.  That had seen very few wraiths.  The weather was warm but dry this far south and the wraiths liked humid conditions. 

*     *     *

Global Power Management Systems Inc.

The five of them stood staring at the sign over the main entrance checkpoint.  A chain link fence topped with rusty razor wire stretched off into the distance on either side.  Empty aircraft hangers stood nearby, barracks had been replaced with low office buildings and Air Force fighter aircraft had been swapped for an assortment of private jets and helicopters, but the place still looked and felt like the military air base it had been.  The parking lot was full of cars and unmarked company vans.  But what really dominated the scene was the large domed building loomed at the center of it all. 

Elias was the only one that knew what it was,  he had spent enough time in the Alaskan projection chamber examining the latest test subjects to recognize this one.  It was much larger and above ground, but it was close enough. 

The other three looked to him, and he shrugged before leading Penny through the checkpoint and the empty guardhouse. 

There was a circle drive at the largest office building, a glass and steel cracker box.  A large awning shaded the entrance.  A UPS van with six flat tires, ramp down and the rear door rolled up was parked near the entrance to make its last delivery.  Behind it was flatbed tow truck.  Dee was just beginning to think the tow truck looked out of place when a bullet slammed into the sidewalk at her feet.  Bits of concrete sprayed her ankles and she ducked behind the UPS van.  She was soon joined by the others. 

"You know this thing is just a pop can on wheels," Allison informed her. 

"Fine, you go out there and find me an armored car!" Dee snapped back at her.  "Let me think!"

Their own personal time warp seemed to form about them as they scanned for any possible cover, but they did not even really know where the shooter was.  Finally after what seemed like an hour but was in reality only six minutes Olly spoke up.

"We're pinned down and we have no place to go.  Why hasn't he finished us off?  If he got here before us he probably had plenty of time to set up a proper trap.  Why wait?"

It was a good question. 

Dee flipped the safety off her Colt SMG and  stepped out from behind the van.  She ready to duck back at any sign of movement.  But nothing happened.  The others were calling for her to come back.  But she took a step forward instead.  The big glass doors were just twenty yards away.  She proceeded slowly, not knowing what their enemy had in mind.  At ten yards she paused, thinking she heard something.  She was ready to bolt when the door swung open. 

What she saw was the one thing she was totally unprepared for. 

© 2011 R. Keith McBride