Connor was still trying to process what he was seeing in between the red flashing of the emergency lights. As Leyla screamed, a person made of rats and bugs was standing over her, reaching it’s writhing, centipede finger towards her. Leyla scrambled backwards on all fours as she screamed again. The man of bugs started moving towards her. Her plea was desperate. “Connor, help me!”
Connor trembled, but regained some of his focus. He went up the next row and got behind the shelf that was dead even with the strange creature. He pushed on the wire shelving, but it only teetered a bit. He tried rocking it back and forth to get it to finally unbalance; the shelving was shaky yet still remained stubbornly upright. Finally, with a last great effort, he took a running start and rammed the wire frame with his shoulder. The shelves upended completely, and the various bins collided with the bug person. The sounds of skittering accompanied a mass exodus of insects and rats from where the thing had stood. Connor jumped over the shelf and helped Leyla stand.
She wrapped her arms around him and whispered, “Thank you.”
“We gotta get outta here, doll.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice.”
They turned towards the door, but found a surprise waiting there for them. The thing Connor had heard breathing, the man in the corpse costume, was standing in front of the door. Connor looked back and saw a shadowy, indistinct figure emerge from the shelves. He looked both directions again, doing a double take, but his mind simply could not accept what his eyes were seeing. “I don’t believe any of this. There’s no way it could be real.”
Leyla sounded calmer now, but still highly freaked out. Connor couldn’t blame her for that. “Believe it later. We’ve got to run from it now.”
The mass of rats started skittering under them, placing themselves underfoot as Connor and Leyla began to run for the door. One of the rodents managed to get itself directly under Connor’s foot, almost sending him reeling to the floor. Only Leyla’s hand steadied him enough to keep from landing teeth first on the threadbare carpet. Connor stepped more carefully, slowing his pace. It was too hard to go any faster than a brisk walk with the intermittent, red light and the little scurrying impediments at his feet. His stomach lurched as the rats responded to his slower pace by beginning to climb on him. He brushed them off as he continued his forward march, but one of the rats bit him, drawing a curse from his lips.
“This is fuckin’ impossible, Leyla. That thing is gaining on us.”
“We’re almost to the door. Keep going.” The rats were slowing them down more and more as the pair were swarmed.
“And what are we going to do about corpsey boy up there?”
“I don’t know; think of something.”
Connor was trying to think of something when, through the red pulsing of the emergency lights, he thought he saw the corpse smile. In the bursts of intense, red light, he could see the door strangely growing darker. Every pulse of light caused the darkness to grow in fits and starts until, finally, it was all black and shiny in the strobing red glow. The beetles and cockroaches that had until recently done their best human impression covered the exit completely. Connor’s stomach sank as he realized they were completely cut off from any hope of making it out alive.
Connor pulled Leyla away from the door and then down the furthest row of shelves. Her eyes were wide and frightened. Her voice came in panicked gasps as she said, “Connor, we’re not getting out of here, are we?”
He kept pulling her forward. “I’ve been in better situations.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I have something I should tell you.”
“Save it for the postscript, dollface. I think I might have an idea, but I need a lot of time to do it. I need you to be my misdirect.”
“What?!” This had clearly been the last thing on her mind.
“Look, that thing wants you, not me. If we separate, it will follow you and I will have the time to get us a way out of here.”
“No. You can’t leave me! That thing’s gonna kill me, Connor. You have to save me.”
“It’s the only way. Just tell yourself that it’s just like any other job. You distract while I make with the thievery.”
Her voice was pathetic, almost a whining moan, “Connor, please don’t make me do this.”
“It’s either this or we die for certain.”
“B-but, how do I know you won’t leave me here once you have a way out?”
“You think I’d leave you in the lurch? Come on, doll, let’s do the job. You can trust me.”
When they reached the end of the row, Connor bolted away towards the far wall while Leyla scrambled down another aisle of shelves. The rats all ran after her and soon his feet were clear to move forward unimpeded. He reached the far wall with a sigh of relief. He spared one last look at Leyla before he dropped his bag to the ground. The mass of creatures following her was growing larger and faster. He had to hurry, he realized. The indistinct man was looking at her in a way that made Connor think he was ready to pounce.
Connor pulled hard on the shelf that was against the far wall until it slid out of place. Reaching down into the bag, he pulled out the water saw. It was made to cut through tougher material than drywall, so he hoped that it would make quick work of carving out a new exit. The saw wasn’t anywhere near noiseless, though. He estimated that he was on the corner furthest away from the guards’ station, so he had the best chance of making his hole here without being caught. Even if the guards did find him, though, he decided it was better to be arrested by the police than be killed by whatever the hell lived in this God-forsaken room.
He got on one knee, put the blade to the drywall, and was shocked to discover the wall was reinforced behind the drywall. He realized such a thing should have been obvious; it was a secure room, after all. With a frustrated groan, he realized how little choice he had. He began to cut.
He wasn’t sure if the reinforcement was tough or he was too spiked on adrenaline, but the cutting took forever. He pushed as hard as he could, but the blade just crawled its way slowly up, it’s little whirrr hardly registering over the thump of his heart beating in his ears. He kept looking back for Leyla, but he couldn’t see exactly where she was from his kneeling position.
Every once in awhile he would look back and see a large black blur, maybe from the indistinct man or from the bug and rat creature reborn. In either case, it put a quiet desperation into his work as the saw circled back around to complete the little portal he was carving. As the blade finished its work, he inspected the size. He hoped it would be big enough for them to crawl through, but it was hard to tell in the blinking, red light. He decided he had no choice. Pulling out the piece he had cut, he peered inside and noticed another layer of drywall on the other side. With an irritated resignation, he moved the saw into position for the second cut.
“Connor, please hurry!” Leyla sounded out of breath and exhausted. Connor pushed the saw as fast as it would go, which wasn’t much in the cramped space between the walls. He kept looking back and forth, seeing nothing in the red intermittence of the emergency lights. He had to hurry, had to go faster, had to save Leyla. He wanted to be done, but the saw moved on its own schedule, hardly concerned with the two of them and the dire straits they were in. With only drywall on this side he stopped after cutting a rough ‘L’ shape then pulled the saw out and kicked the drywall out with a thump. He tried to take a deep breath, but only shallow panic filled his lungs.
“Leyla! It’s done, come on!” He yelled as loud as he could. It didn’t feel sufficient, with as little air as he was taking in he didn’t have much to put into his volume, but a peek of blonde hair running between the shelves told him that she had heard him. When he saw her turn the corner, he threw the bag through the small portal then slid through it himself. It was tighter than he was hoping. Apparently in his haste he had misestimated exactly how large a person was. He’d ended up having to slide on his belly to get through, but got to the other side no problem. Looking around he saw no guards, so he stuck his head back through and reached out a hand for Leyla.
The bug guy was right behind her, so she went to her belly and reached out for Connor’s arm. He began to pull her through. Her arm came with him as he emerged from the wall. Next her head came through, then her shoulders, then her chest, and then nothing. He tugged at her arm as she winced in pain. His mind reeled as he realized that her hips were too wide to make it through the rough second hole he had kicked out. She looked back at the portal then looked at him, fear and dread seeping out of every pore. “Connor, get me out of here!”
Connor tugged and tugged, but she wouldn’t budge. He tried to think of something else to do other than his useless pulling, but came up blank. Even if he had the time, he couldn’t saw around her, and there were no other tools at his disposal that might get the job done. The only possibility was to pull. So he yanked harder and harder, grabbing both of her arms and giving it everything he had. Still she was stuck fast in his sloppy exit.
He sank down to his knees
“Connor, I can feel it crawling up my legs.” Her voice was a whimper and tears welled up in her eyes.
He put both his feet solidly on the wall.
“Connor … I …” She was openly sobbing now. The tears and panic cutting off her ability to speak clearly.
Connor put both his legs and his arms into the act of pulling on Leyla. He could hear a small groan from the wall and finally the drywall gave way. Leyla came out in a rush, landing on top of him. She looked down at him for a brief moment, relieved, but then her eyes filled with renewed anguish as Connor saw bugs and rats peeking over the top of her head.
She screamed and rolled off of him, clearing the bugs as she did. In her hurry to get away, she tripped over the gear, landing on the black bag. Her limbs flailed as she worked to find her feet again. When she had finally gotten the linoleum under her feet, she took off like a shot. Connor could see the form of the bug guy working its way out of the hole. He rolled onto his knees and did the same, picking up the bag as he ran.
The door had already closed by the time Connor had made it down the corridor. He looked left and saw the flashlight of a guard coming around the corner. He pushed through the exit, seeing the bug guy right behind him as he did. He made it outside just in time to hear the engine to the minivan revving and the headlights coming on. He ran across the alleyway, narrowly avoiding getting run over by Leyla as the van came careening out of the little drydock. He was forced to jump to the side, kissing the brick wall as the vehicle missed his back by inches. He ran after it, screaming, “Leyla!”
He was on the street now, with the few pedestrians staring at his bizarre outburst. For them it was just like any other night. With trepidation he turned around and saw the man of bugs coming forward. If it had eyes, they would have been locked on him. A great thud echoed from his heart outwards as he realized that, in lieu of its original target, the creature had him in its sights now. He started backing away, getting ready to turn and run, when he backed up into the plastic body of a car door.
“Get in, Connor!” Mickey’s voice shouted from behind him. Turning, he opened the door to the rear seat and jumped in. The car came to life as it sped off down the street, leaving the strange man far behind.
“Goddamnit, Connor, what the hell was that thing?”
“I have no clue, Mick, and it’s probably better that we don’t.”
“I’ve seen some crazy shit, but that takes the cake.”
“What the hell happened back there? You were supposed to stop her from leaving me behind.”
“Sorry. I saw her run out scared and then you run out scared. It was a total shock when she just sped off without you. For half a second I thought about trying to stop her, but by then that weird thing had come out and I didn’t know what I should be doing.”
Connor punched the seat. “Of all the times to sit down on the job, Mick.”
“Hey, I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, though, she looked really scared.”
“No shit. I’m really scared too. Big, buggy whatevers coming after you will do that to you. But that’s no reason to not do your job. Now she might be in danger, Mickey, and what am I supposed to do to help her? She’s off by herself and God knows what’s happening to her.”
“Are you really that worried about her?”
“Of course I am. That thing nearly took our heads off. What would you do if that happened to you?”
“I dunno, lay low?”
“Exactly, but who knows how the hell creepy bug things find people. She could be hiding herself from everyone, but the thing that wants to find her. She might end up cornered by that monster with no backup. We gotta find her, Mick. Take me by her place. Maybe she’s there, and I can catch her before she’s in the wind.”
“God, I’m sorry, Connor. I am. I’m really sorry.” Mickey looked back and forth between Connor in the rearview mirror and the road.
“Whatever, Mick. You didn’t know what was going on. I understand freezing up when shit hits the fan. I just hope that it isn’t too late.”
“Did you ask her?”
“No.” Connor looked moodily out the window.
“Do you wish you had?”
“That point is pretty moot right now, Mick.”
He did wish he had asked her or at least told her how he felt. He wondered at what point she had gotten the hook in him so deep. He hadn’t even noticed it creeping up on him. They had been doing jobs and having some fun. Now the only thing he could think about was her.
The worry that filled him gnawed in his stomach as if an errant rat from that room had worked its way down in there. His mind raced, supplying his imagination with the million horrible things that could be happening to Leyla right now without him there to watch her back. A word existed for what he was feeling. A word that he didn’t want to acknowledge in his mind. It was too scary an idea to contemplate, so instead he closed his eyes for a moment and tried to blink away the replay images of bugs, rats, and Leyla’s terrified face. His effort was valiant, but ultimately unfruitful. He looked at the street instead, hoping for some distraction.
The world seemed distant and hollow as he stared out the window. In his mind, he was just a ghost in a phantom car that was slipping in between the cracks of reality. Something was going to get him someday. Maybe it would be that disgusting thing from Securities, Ltd. or some other weird, bump in the night, kind of creature, but a gun or a knife would do him just as well.
It didn’t matter what the cause was; what would be left behind of Connor Donnelly? A couple of pals that would forget him as soon as they had a new score lined up and a dame that had left him out in the cold to save her own skin. In a couple years, maybe less, every one of them would be asking, ‘Connor who?’ That was assuming anyone even thought to bring up his name. He was a blip in the world. A tiny dot that barely existed at all, and didn’t even warrant notice by anything in it. He was nothingness, he wasn’t really there at all, he decided. He held the feeling close, nursing it until nonexistence radiated from his very being.
It was a genuine surprise, then, when the car hit them.
Connor was looking out the window when it happened. Mickey was driving through the intersection, and Connor saw the two headlights as they approached. His mind got that funny tickle that something was off, and for a split second he thought about saying something to Mickey about watching out for that car. He found, upon trying to speak, that everything was moving so slowly that his mind was perceiving more quickly than his mouth could form words.
As such, he was stuck there, watching the headlights come ever closer, unable to do a single thing about it other than to jerk his arms up to protect his head. He had been forced to protect his head a lot back when he was in juvie. This felt slightly different, though, as the body of Mickey’s little, red car gave way to the onslaught of steel coming in through the left. Glass buffeted Connor as it shattered and he could hear the great creak and the squeal of the tires as their vehicle slid out of control. He tightened his arms around himself, seeing nothing even as the car came to a sudden stop by colliding with a streetlight.
Connor felt dizzy and far away as he unclasped his seatbelt and opened the opposite door from him. Getting out, he found his legs were much more unsteady than he suspected. He had to balance himself against the sides of the car as he inched around to the driver’s side. Mickey was motionless, his head leaning against the steering wheel with blood crawling down the side of it. Connor shook him for a moment, then realized this was more a nine-one-one case than a walk-it-off deal.
He was all thumbs as he rifled through his jacket, looking for a cell phone he could use. Realizing he hadn’t brought one due to the job, he reached down to get Mickey’s out of his pants pocket. Coming up, he fumbled with the keys and turned around to survey the scene of the accident. He could see a crowd forming, fingers pointing out among them towards the other side of the intersection. The other vehicle in the collision had just started back up and was beginning to drive away. He had just enough time to register complete shock as the minivan and its blonde driver sped off into the night.