Chapter Twenty: Adrift
When the second crystalline web impacted the ground, no more than four feet away, I realized there was more than one. Instinctively, I juked to the left and then deftly side-stepped in the opposite direction, hoping to throw off this second assailant, wherever it was.
Behind me, Rosalyn squealed. “Jerry, don’t leave me! Don’t let them have me!”
I didn’t bother with a retort. I glanced upward instead, to where the unlikely wall atop the buildings lining either side of the alley met the roof. It felt like I’d been punched in the stomach when I saw more of the gem-hued arachnids gazing down upon us. There were scores. Some of them were larger than the one chasing after us.
I looked to either side of the alleyway, searching over the angled double doorways, looking for one that was open, even partially. We couldn’t make it through one that was closed. The spider was too close. If it was locked, we’d be toast.
Another blast of crystal ruptured the asphalt a yard to my right. I dodged left. Another blast, this one behind me, it was right upon my heels. I urged my legs to move faster, willing every ounce of speed I could squeeze out of them. I steadied my breathing, immediately falling into the rhythmic pattern I used when I raced cross-country. Two quick inhalations, followed by a long exhale, in pace with the pounding of my feet. I could keep this up for at least a mile. And then…
It came down from directly above, crossing my forehead, touching the place between my eyebrows. All at once, an icy shockwave assaulted my senses. It was a brain-freeze on a monstrous scale, painful, seething. I stumbled as the remaining ray of minerals thundered into the ground. I lost my balance, careened to the side, my shoulder smacking into yet another trash bin. I screeched through clenched teeth, feeling the throb throughout my upper arm and the paralyzing cold clawing about my head. I put a blind hand before me, just in case I fell to the ground. I didn’t want to thwack my skull against the pavement. I’d pass out for sure.
Her hands were under my armpits, tiny, spasmodic, but it was enough. I got a foot underneath my weight, centered. The other followed, muscle memory saving me. I lurched upright, still moving as fast I could through the rubble clogging the way.
I could hear them now. It was the loudest chittering I would ever hear in my lifetime. A constant cacophony of clicks and clacks, ticks and tats, incessant, building in volume as they came nearer.
They were coming down the walls now. They had to be. They were behind us as well. They were getting closer. They were coming faster. I could hear the urgency grow within them, the noise grew. I could smell it. They were excreting it from between the forest of spindly hairs growing from their bulbous bodies.
Chittering, nattering - chattering, clattering - they were gaining!
I shook my head violently, hoping to clear the fog muddling my thoughts, trying desperately to keep my body and brain from misfiring.
I saw it, out of the corner of my eye. A doorway, it was open! From within shone a sickly green light, the color of avocado left in the air too long. I didn’t care. I shifted my body toward it at once. My left hand grabbing ahold of Rosalyn’s still underneath my arm.
“Come on! Run! For the door, run!”
She didn’t reply. Her hand gripped mine fiercely. I was plain she wasn’t about to let go.
I held her just as tight. Though she’d been the harbinger of my family destruction, though she’d coerced my father into grotesque sexual scenarios, in that instant when my life, her life, was on the line, I was glad for that tiny bit of human contact. I didn’t care, in that fraction of an eye-blink who, or what, she was. She was there. She was with me, and that was enough.
Then, she wasn’t.
Another unearthly bolt from yet another rainbow spider had hit her. Where, I did not know. At once, her hand ripped from mine. I heard her scream as she went down.
I skidded to a halt, spun as quickly as I could, feeling the tension in my legs. One iota of pressure in addition to what I was applying and I’d tear muscle.
My eyes found hers almost immediately. There were tears streaking down her face. Her hand was reaching out to me, her fingers more like talons, physical expressions of the pain in her body, of the sheer terror in her mind.
I leapt for her, an amazing jump really. I can’t tell you how far, there was no distance in that place, in my mind. I was away, and then, I was near. It is the only way I can explain it.
Our hands clasped one another.
I yanked viciously.
She yelped in pain, but came to her feet as I hauled her upon them. She was scraped and bruised about her arms, her skin-tight leggings torn, blood dripping through.
“Move your fucking ass!” I yelled, though there was no need.
Her visage was ghastly. She was frightened beyond her innermost fears. I was seeing her very soul wail in despair.
We darted for the portal, dashing over the remaining ground faster than we could’ve dreamed.
Another web blasted into one of the partially opened doors, throwing it wide as it ricocheted into the chamber beyond.
Piercing shards cut our arms and cheeks, but we didn’t stop. We rushed through the doorway, slamming the doors shut with every ounce of strength we possessed. They closed with a resounding clamor.
The giant spiders slammed into it a second later.
Rosalyn and I were tossed onto the ground, landing on our rear ends, bouncing, our arms stretched behind us, palms searching for purchase.
To this day, I thank god the doors were like the ones leading into the Boy’s Gymnasium back at my old high school. They had long, traversing rails that operated when one pushed in a downward fashion. Otherwise, they would lock, the moment the flange clicked into place.
Before the onslaught of the multi-colored arachnids, they held.
She got to her feet before I did. Standing shakily upon her heeled boots, now scuffed and swathed with the grime of the alley we’d vacated in a panic.
I remained seated, staring up at the large metal doors, seeing them vibrate in their hinges every time one of the morbidly beautiful spiders smashed into it. Tiny tendrils of dust drifted sedately to the floor with each impact, the cross-rails rattling in their sockets, but the barrier held. The doors were too strong for the likes of the arachnids.
“Oh god, Jerry, what is this place?” asked Rosalyn, strangled as if she couldn’t breathe.
I glanced her way.
Her hand had come to her mouth, her raven looks were cast in shadow. The vomitous green light within the room hung from the middle of the chamber, illuminating her face from left to right, the bridge of her nose forming a streak of darkness across her face.
I could tell her eyes were wide open, but what else she was expressing was hidden from view. I stood, stepping about, gazing in the direction she was looking. Immediately, I felt my heart lurch, sour bile rising, and then staying at the cusp of my throat. Rosalyn had it right. What was this place?
The chamber was large, though not nearly as large as some of the others I had already been within. It was roughly fifty yards square, built like an airplane hangar and not like the vast rooms of before. They had an overall warehouse appeal about them. This architecture was much starker, utilitarian even. The roof was peaked at the center line, large metal beams, forming trusses that spanned its’ width. As I mentioned before, in the middle of space, suspended from the supports, hanging down from a great chain, was the source of light. It was enclosed in a brazier-like, copper casement and shone its’ diseased luminosity through a myriad of carved holes in the metal itself. The copper covering depicted a scene of some sort, though I couldn’t ascertain what it might’ve been, the glare, though low-leveled, was difficult to peer through. For the most part the room seemed normal.
I was about to mention to this to her when a strange gurgling followed by something that sounded like rubber squeaking caught my attention. It was then my eyes locked on to what Rosalyn had been referring.
They were other-worldly, as if anything in this cursed place had been “worldly” thus far. They were roughly cylindrical, but in a natural fashion. They did not seem to be manufactured. They were closed at either end, possibly fused, because the longer I looked at them, the ends appeared to be apertures - openings that had been sealed. They were the color of puke, varying shades of green, yellow and orange, intermixed as if they’d been liquid once and the colors had been blended by a huge spatula.
Unwittingly, I took a stride toward them, my orbs piercing the semi-dark. The skin at either end was pinched.
“What’s inside of them?” asked Rosalyn, still shaken.
I hadn’t noticed that detail until then, but the moment she spoke, I could tell there were shadows within each of the pod-like structures.
Yes, that’s what they were, pods! Why hadn’t I seen that before?
“Are they moving?”
“What?” came my surly response. Moving?
She pointed, coming up to my side, her knees and waist slightly bend so she was poised upon the balls of her feet. The stance made her appear to be leaning toward them. “I saw one of them move a second ago,” she clarified, for my sake, though she didn’t glance my way.
I walked closer, then stopped on a dime, my heart in my throat when her earlier observation proved accurate.
From within one of them pods, something moved.
From my nearer vantage, I was suddenly able to determine what I was looking at. Shocked, nauseated, I inadvertently backed into her. Her arms came about my waist offering and searching for support simultaneously. We remained unmoving, eyes riveted to the shadow in the… pickle? Was that what I was looking at? Was this a giant, pregnant pickle? My mouth went dry. I heard the awful squeaking once more, saw as something humanoid clawed at the pickle-pod from within. It was trying to get out. Lethargically, as if its’ movements were the last ones it would ever have, it scratched at thick fleshiness surrounding it.
Rosalyn buried her face in my back. I could feel her trembling, her hands gripping either bicep from behind, holding on for some kind, any kind, of solace. “Oh dear god, they’re trapped. They’re trapped… they’re trapped… they’re trapped…,” she kept saying, again and again.
My eyes roamed. I tried to figure out how many people? were stuck inside the terrible pods, running the calculations quick in my head. Not sure why, I counted. When I reached somewhere around the number fifty and there were still many more giant-sized pickles to tabulate, I was unable to continue. The ones further away weren’t like those that were nearer Rosalyn and me. These were different. There were no distinct figures within. They were cloudy, murky, as if…
…They had dissolved?
“Oh fuck, we gotta go,” I mumbled to no one in particular. “This isn’t right. This is - .”
I was never able to finish.
My father’s mistress went rigid without warning, her body pressing against the entire length of me. She was so close she could easily speak directly into my ear. “Jerry, look!” she indicated, one of her delicate digits pointing.
I followed the tip of her index finger. At once, I caught sight of a door across the way, light of a much more cheerful sort shining through the cracks. I didn’t care. I didn’t waste time.
“Come on!” I ordered and we ran passed the front row of the enormous pickles and the helpless people trapped within, across the chamber to an identical set of doors we’d come through in our desperation to ditch the spiders. Their rails came down smoothly, they weren’t locked to us.
We went through without a word…
…And strode right into the middle of my bedroom on the second floor of my mother’s house at 1052 Lincoln Drive.
We were standing in the middle of the narrow entryway, the rest of my bedroom angling off toward our right. The fireplace stood along that same wall, where the confines of my domain opened up. My bed stood against the far wall, the doors to my bathroom and the closet I shared with Elijah on the western facing wall, to our left.
I paced deeper into the room, taking note of the nightstands and the matching lamps. My desk was on the other side of the fireplace from the door we’d walked through moments prior. The bedspread, the carpeting – everything was how I left it when I’d got up. My blankets were still thrown asunder, the rumpled sheets below, visible, tangled from my hasty exit when I had heard someone battering down the front door. How long ago had that been? How much time had passed since I’d run downstairs intent on saving my mother? Half an hour? An hour? Two? I had no real concept of time, so much had happened since I had walked through the door that should’ve led me to the root cellar, but had led me somewhere else entirely. It had happened so fast, so many events piled onto one another, packed, squished. There was no way I could fathom time. Not here. Not now.
Rosalyn strode passed me and sat on the bed without preamble, her hands spayed to either side, lightly touching the covers on the bed.
I half-expected some flippant remark, drenched in sexual innuendo, but when none came forth. I made a concerted effort to determine her mood. But it didn’t take long. Her feelings were unmistakable. She was relieved. She was glad to be somewhere, sitting up something, she understood. Sitting there on my bed (me being the boy she’d come onto at my Graduation Party), she was content. There was nothing carnal about her.
I sighed as quietly as I could manage, not wanting my relief to tip her off in any fashion. She was just fine the way she was as far I was concerned.
“You ok?” I asked, deflecting.
She stared up at me, a tired smile barely touching her lips. She nodded.
I nodded back. “Good,” I mouthed.
With an arbitrary saunter, I walked about my room, double-checking everything was in place, reassuring myself all was as it should be. I ended up near my desk, my mini-word processor closed atop its’ surface, a thin layer of what looked like dust having accumulated upon it.
I sucked at my cheek.
This was unusual for me. I was typically fastidious when it came to the care of my electronics. Down to my Walkman, I made they were always clean, their vents clear of any lent that might’ve accrued. I made it a common practice to take care as I plugged and unplugged them, not wanting to bend the tiny connecting prongs, which would render the devices useless. I wasn’t quite obsessive about it, but I was close. I guess you could say, I had a detailed routine about how I cared for my technological gadgets. It was a practice I’ve followed to this very day.
That was why, gazing down at the cover of my word processor, seeing some collected deposit layering the hard plastic exterior, puzzled me. I was certain I had wiped it off before I had gone to bed, and yet…
No, I had wiped it. I remembered then. I had used the age-old washcloth I used to use when I was a kid. It had been my all-purpose rag for years now. Yes! I had wiped it down and placed the rag on the mantle of my fireplace.
I side-stepped, stretching to my fullest height, eyes peering over the very same shelf, and felt instant consternation when I saw it there, folded in fours, precisely where I’d left it.
I circled back to me desk, inspecting the word processor with greater scrutiny. With the lightest touch, I ran a finger over the dust. My brow furled more when, to my surprise, it didn’t feel like dust at all. It was drier, if one could imagine such a thing, and didn’t gather together as dust or lent would when pressure was applied to it. Rather, it flaked.
I bent to get a closer look, my eyes adjusting to the difference in perspective. The moment everything became clear, I knew I wasn’t gazing at dust or lent or fine-layered dirt. It was nothing like any of those substances. The texture was wrong. The composition was incorrect. The very structure behaved differently when compared to things of that nature. This was something else entirely.
I ran my finger across it once more, watching as it flaked some more. As my finger continued, some of it began to stick to my skin before it fell away. It was thin, the same as the diameter of a hair, partially transparent with microscopic ridges and valleys etched throughout. Some tiny bit of recognition tickled my brain. Where had I seen this before? I swiped at the material once more, with a little more force this time around. It was almost a rub, but not quite, but the effect on the chalky stuff was noticeable at once. It didn’t globule like before. No, its’ reaction was much more peculiar. It rolled-up.
I jerked my hand away to peer at the itty-bitty, burrito-like compound upon the tip of my finger. “I’ve seen this before,” I said aloud, though I was still talking to myself.
“What did you say?” inquired Rosalyn from a few feet away, still upon my bed, having pushed back to the underside of her knees.
I frowned as I looked her way, though not at her directly. I was about to say something sarcastic, but forestalled my tongue. A better thought came to mind. “What do you make of this?” I asked, my hand, index finger extended out toward her.
She came from the bed, bent at the neck. She reeled back a few inches in confusion almost immediately. “Where did you get that?”
“From the cover of my word processor. Why?”
“Why would there be dead skin on top of your word processor?”
“What?” It was squeak, not unlike those emanating from my mouth when my vocal cords constantly betrayed me during the onset of puberty.
“It’s dead skin, Jerry. Why would it be there?”
“Dead skin?” I was so shocked I know I sounded like a complete dweeb, but I couldn’t help it. Dead skin? Are you fucking kidding me?
“Yeah, dead skin,” she answered stepping around me to look at the cover for herself.
I noticed there were similar flakes covering her butt and the back of her legs where they’d met my bed when she sat.
She spoke before I could mention it. “What the hell…?”
The words I’d formulated in my mind blew away like mist. I craned my neck so I could see around her voluptuous frame. “What is it?” I was almost afraid of the answer.
“There’s something underneath the skin… something pink,” she retorted.
I was more bewildered than I’d been a second before. “What are you talking about?” I asked at the same time she reached out to touch the cover. I edged closer.
Her finger pushed toward the hard, dark plastic.
To my dread, the tip of her digit didn’t stop upon reaching the surface. I knew I had been wrong moments ago. It wasn’t the unforgiving manmade material I’d been looking at. This unlikely substance was less substantial. It offered some resistance to the pressure she was applying, but not a lot. Her finger dimpled this pink… tissue? Wait, was it flesh? Nearly a quarter of an inch of her finger became obscured as she poked downward.
I think I was about to say something painfully obvious. I’m fairly certain I was, but it wasn’t to be the case.
He screamed then. Like I’d heard earlier, when I’d come from the writhing tentacle-like coils beneath the clothing. I knew it was him the moment I heard the sound. There was no mistaking the shrill wail, the pain, the agony being visited upon him.
But, how? Why? How was any of this possible?
Rosalyn leaped back like she’d been electrocuted. Possibly, she had. She bumped up against me, her firm rear jutting into my pelvis. “Oooh!” she squawked, bringing her hands to her mouth, reeling back onto her heels. If it hadn’t been for our inappropriate closeness, she would’ve fallen onto the floor.
“It’s Lenny,” I supplied unnecessarily.
“I know,” she replied at once.
I frowned, wondering how she’d know that, then cringed, grabbing her by the shoulders and physically moved her arm’s length from me. I didn’t want to think about the things she’d done to my bi-sexual parent. That was the Rosalyn I despised. That was the Rosalyn who’d hurt my family.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” I urged, stepping past her when my eyes caught sight of my bed. Where she’d been sitting the dry skin there had rubbed away as well. I gaged when I understood why she’d had it on back of her legs.
She noticed my discomfiture. “What?”
I didn’t answer. My eyes were glued to the pink flesh exposed beneath the twisted bed sheet and comforter on my bed. My father’s newborn flesh was visible there as well, flushed with blood, raw, tender before the onrushing air in the room. It was twitching, shuddering, pulsating with a heartbeat all its’ own. I glanced about, seeing similar patches of withered dermis throughout my bedroom. Lenny’s dead outer membrane was completely surrounding us. We were cocooned in an inverted space made entirely of my father. Yes, it was my father! With every step more skin flaked away, no matter how softly I trod, the soles of my slippers came away with huge swaths of it. The tiniest flecks floated into the air about my knees, some even higher.
Both Rosalyn and I held our breath, repulsed to a near-frenzy at inhaling any of it. I heard her retch more than once. We made it to the door. There were two of them now, like I’d seen countless times in the alley.
I hardly noticed. Holding my father’s mistress’s hand within mine, we plunged through the door, chins at our chests, free hands covering our mouths and noses.
All the while, Lenny’s human dust wafted in the current of our passing.