Updated: Mar 7
There aren’t any words to describe what happened. Honestly, this isn’t a job for words. You could try staring directly into the sun for about ten years while someone pours oatmeal into your ears through a funnel. To be clear, that’s not what it felt like. But that might open your senses to a degree of perception that would allow the inference of the idea to exist in your mind… However, we don’t really have time for that, so I’ll give language a shot and do the best I can.
I found myself falling off of the face of the world, like my mind had been a 1-dimensional cup of coffee stretched out and remastered into 3D, played backwards on a network of computers that could only be used by beings with eyes that see in reverse. My coffee--the thoughts--spilled out all over the table (there’s a table in this simulation. Right next to the bowl of fruit.)
Time was slowed down for me. I could control it. I could make it stop, if I wanted to. And yet, I was acutely aware that the timeflow for everyone else and everything else was still ongoing, and while that may seem like, for all intents and purposes, time was still moving normally for me as well, I can assure you, that time was… shit, where was I?
I looked around me and realized that I’d slipped out of my body long ago. I’d forgotten it back at the gas station, in a closet, surrounded by swarms of dick-gnats. And I’d left my wallet and keys and phone on my body, so I was truly naked now in the most literal and metaphysical way possible.
I was somewhere inside of an infinity, and my brain was somewhere inside another infinity, and my body was somewhere inside a different infinity, and in some ways, I was infinity. I felt the universe’s cruel love and understood that I was just a molecule in an exploding star. The world didn’t need me. I could live and exist among the cosmos forever. There was a gorgeous, shining light, and I was part of it. All the pain my mortal body had ever endured was so small in comparison to forever. I was at peace. This whole stupid scary gas station thing was dumb anyway. Maybe in the next life I could be a bat. Some bats eat fruit, right? I could do that. Sleep all day. Eat berries all night. Fly in a group with friends. Live forever. Solve mysteries. Ride rollercoasters. Bats ride rollercoasters, don’t they? If not, they will. I just need to rearrange reality slightly and I can do and be anything I want.
I felt a shock. The universe pushing back against my absurd attempt to interrupt the melody. The song was already in motion. I couldn’t change it. Only listen and enjoy. Close enough. I settled in to ride the wave. To see what the storyteller had in store for--
Jerry smacked me across the face.
“DUDE! Snap out of it! We gots shit to do.”
I was back in the gas station supply room, sitting in the corner and drooling all over myself. How long had I been gone? And where exactly had I gone to?
Yen knelt in front of me and shined the red flashlight into my eyes. “His pupils are dilated,” she announced. “Did you hit your head?”
“This could be a sign of traumatic brain injury. We need to get out of here and find a hospital--”
“Nah,” Jerry interrupted. “It’s just the drugs finally kicking in.”
I sat up, and the entire world sloshed into place after me. The room had some momentary lag to it. And strangely enough, I could see everything as clear as ever.
“What drugs?” I asked.
“Okay, so, promise you won’t get mad,” he said.
“I will not promise that.”
“Okay, well, if you promise you won’t get mad, I’ll tell you. Remember how I requested to work tonight? Well, the reason was because I needed someone responsible like you to be here in case things got heavy. You know, because I trust you to make sure I’m safe and not call the cops if I have a bad trip.”
The world finally snapped into place around me. Everything was back to normal, except for the fact that I could suddenly see everybody’s aura. Looking back, that seems rather strange, but at the moment it felt perfectly inconsequential.
“What did you do?” I asked.
Jerry’s aura was a strange kind of sunny yellow and pink, swirling with vibrant energy. It was a controlled chaos, like a Picasso painting in a blender. “Well, as you know, Halloween is sacred to me, and I wanted to make sure I did something special for it. So, I made some hallucinogenic tea, and I may have been microdosing for the last few days to optimize my high. I thought it would let me see some other worlds, but for the most part it just showed me truths about how tiny we are in the universe.”
"I know right!" I said with excitement before snapping out of the spell. "What was in that flask you gave me?”
“It’s a special homebrew. There’s a few different ingredients. Primarily…” he mumbled a couple of words under his breath as his aura shifted to purple and baby blue. He didn’t want me to know.
He couldn’t look at me. “I said, primarily ayahuasca and peyote.”
Lucy let out a loud and inappropriate, “Ha!” Yen gave her a disapproving mom face, but Lucy shrugged. “What? That’s actually funny. You know, in a we’re all gonna die, but at least you’re high kinda way.” Her aura was bright orange and fire red.
Yen’s was cool blue and wavy. “I’d prefer we find a way out of this where nobody else has to die.”
My tongue felt funny. “I don’t know a lot about recreational drugs.”
Jerry seemed almost offended by my choice of words. His aura made a frowny face as he explained, “These are not recreational. They’re spiritual and medicinal. Native Americans used peyote to treat influenza, snake and scorpion bites, even blindness. Because it helps you see out of more than just your eyes.”
Yen nodded, “Actually, he’s not completely wrong. Ayahuasca has been used for ages by indigenous peoples to combat tropical parasites.”
Lucy said, “Great, so we accidentally dumb-lucked our way into the antidote for zombism.”
Yen was quick to distance herself from where the conversation was headed. “Wait, we’re not honestly saying Bart is some kind of… reanimated corpse. That’s absolutely absurd. He must have simply had a weak pulse that I couldn’t detect. The blood loss probably left him confused and disoriented. And that brain injury from the sword must be what caused him to break the glass in an effort to get away. There is a perfectly normal explanation for everything that’s happened tonight.” How annoyingly rational of her.
Lucy scrunched up her nose. “You may be right, but I’ve seen enough weird shit in my life to know that monsters are real. I don’t suppose you guys have any more of that stuff, do you?”
“Alas,” Jerry answered. “Jack power-chugged it like he was a freshman at rush week.”
“Not as sorry as you’re gonna be. There’s a fuse before that stuff hits all at once, and if you’re not used to the effects, well… You may find yourself falling in and out of corporeality. That’s normal. If you end up in the other place, look for the mescalito spirit to be your guide. He doesn’t always appear for first-timers, but considering how much tea you drank, I think he’ll pretty much have to show.”
I nearly jumped out of my skin when we heard the sound of a knocking at the door, and with those drugs coursing through my veins, such a thing felt very possible.
“Who is it?” Jerry said in a strange, high-pitched voice.
“Open the door!” blasted Owen. Or, at least, something using Owen’s voice. Yen jumped for the door, but Lucy snatched her by the wrist with both hands and stopped her.
“Let go!” she said. “Owen’s out there in that mess!”
The voice on the other side of the door was desperate, “Come on! Let me in! These things are everywhere! I can barely breathe!” He started coughing loudly, convincingly, then continued, “Please! I’m hurt! I’m bleeding really badly! You have to open up!”
Yen shook her hand free from Lucy’s grasp and said, “We have to let him in! He’ll die out there! I know he’s a shitty person, but he doesn’t deserve this!” Her aura was glowing white hot. But something else was drowning it out.
I could see the aura of whatever was standing on the other side of the door, and it was monstrous, hungry, and angry. It was shaped like a human, but it radiated an unholy energy. Now I understood; this must have been what Jerry saw when he looked at Abrahm. It acted human, presented human, but it was not.
“Hey,” I said, pulling myself to my feet. “That’s not Owen. If you open that door, we’re all screwed.”
Her aura went red the moment she made up her mind. I knew what was coming, but I didn’t have the time to stop it. “You’re all crazy!” With that, she lunged forward and slid open the lock.
The door swung open immediately, and the thing, the vessel that had once been Owen, stepped inside our room. His face was covered in lines of green dots, racing around and over one another, crawling in and out of the holes where his nose and eyes used to be. His once-handsome face was now skeletal caverns for the highway of insects, wearing away to the bone as the mobilised army of infant mayflies took millions of tiny bites. He lifted his hands, one of which had been degloved at the wrist where the zip tie had held him in place. His fingers caught Yen by the throat and squeezed her screams into silence.
They both went down. Yen hit her back against the floor. That thing landed on top of her, still squeezing. Its jaw opened as a pair of long, thin appendages reached out, dangling from the other side of his teeth, inches above her face.
The swarm of insects invaded the room. Jerry launched onto Owen’s back. Lucy grabbed the flashlight and broke it against Owen’s face. The thing released its grip on Yen just long enough to grab the other two and throw them into the hallway. When it turned back to its victim, the Queen was already halfway removed from Owen’s mouth. Its eyes staring at the poor woman crying in front of it. Its fishbone legs scratching the skin of Owen’s mouth away in chunks like it couldn’t wait to free itself.
Suddenly, they were far away.
Or I was far away.
No, no, no, not now! Keep it together, Jack! You can trip later! They need you!
The room was gone. I was standing outside. Cold, wet air blew against my face, filling my nostrils with the smell of wood smoke and sand. The sky above me was filled with crisp stars reaching all the way down to the horizon on all sides. The earth beneath me was brown. Nearby, a fire crackled, inviting me over.
But the… the queen thing… it was about to crawl inside Yen?!
I slowly turned around a full three hundred and sixty degrees. There was no Yen here, no millipede, no gas station. This felt just as real as anything. Maybe I’d hallucinated the whole thing. Maybe I’d never even worked at a gas station. Maybe I just came out here to do some drugs and now I couldn’t remember which side of the dream I started out on.
I walked over to the fire. Not like I had much choice. My only options were: A) approach the fire, or B) don’t approach the fire. I’d already tried B without any success.
The bonfire was only three logs big, but put off enough heat that I could feel it from ten feet away. As soon as I was close enough to enter its bubble of warmth, I heard the man standing next to me.
“You’re finally here, Jack.”
He was taller than me by a couple of heads. His skin lime green, with pointy ears and no hair. He wore no clothes, and I kept my eyes aimed up at his face, just to stay polite.
“Hi,” I said, doing my best impression of a friendly gas station clerk. “Who are you?”
“I’m, like, your spirit guide or whatever.” He had a distinctly surfer-bro accent. Not at all what I expected. I mean, I didn’t expect anything, but especially not this. “I’m here to show you how to find the answers you seek, I guess.”
“Oh. Okay, well, I was in the middle of something when I got here. Do you think we can rain check this and send me back? I’m pretty sure my body is being eaten by bugs as we speak.”
“Your body is safe, but your mind is torn asunderrr,” the vision waved its green hands as it spoke. It felt slightly overacted, but I was going to be polite. “Your thoughts are poisoned. You bleed memories. Your spiritual injuries go deep, and if you do not tend to them first, your body will outlive you, man.”
I sighed. “Okay, fine. How does this work? What’s the fastest way to get this over with?”
The mezzi spirit crossed his arms and said, “Well, I guess we can dispense with the formalities.”
“Great! I hate formalities.”
“Aw, me too, man. Okay, let’s get right to it. First, a few ground rules. Okay? Number one: No kissing.”
“Absolutely no kissing! Understand? I can’t even tell you how many times people have tried to make out with me. Like, come on. I’m a primeval spirit of nature, not some booty call. Anyway... Number two: If you want to listen to music--”
His words turned into a muted scream as the blade entered his neck. Another figure had appeared out of the darkness, jumped onto the spirit’s back, and drove a filet knife into it. The spirit hit the ground as the man removed the knife and stabbed it back in over and over. Black blood sprayed out in every direction as the man turned him into a bloody pincushion. He held the knife handle with two hands and thrust it again and again until the blood wasn’t spraying anymore.
The man heaved loudly until his breathing returned to normal, then he plunged the weapon one last time into the spirit’s back, all the way to the hilt, before standing up and dusting himself off. Once done, he looked at me and gave a strange smile.
“Heya, Jack. Looks like I got this one just in time. Are you okay?”
The man looked like old Abrahm. At least, mostly, anyway. He was a fair amount younger, slightly thinner, and his yellowed beard was almost brown.
“What the hell did you do that for?” I asked.
“What are you talking about?” His voice was definitely Abrahm’s. “I just saved your damn life.” The man looked at the destroyed creature at his feet as doubt crept into his words. “Didn’t I?”
“What? Really? It looked just like one of them aliens like the one they caught humpin’ goats on the Brown farm. I mean, look at him. He’s all green!”
“Lots of supernatural things are green! That was the spirit guide! He was supposed to show me how to navigate this plane of existence.”
“Oh. Shit. Really?”
Abrahm kicked at the body. It didn’t budge. “Well damn. Honest mistake, Jack.”
With nothing else to do with our night, we tried digging a hole to bury the body of our deceased spirit guide, but the ground was just too hard so we gave up almost right away. In the end, we decided to roll the body away and try to ignore it while we sat down by the fire. I had to wonder if anyone had ever killed their spirit guide before. Was there a protocol for this kind of thing? Was I going to get in trouble? Jerry would probably know the answers to that. Wherever Jerry was… Which reminded me, I was still trapped in another state of materiality from where I was supposed to be. The young version of Abrahm pulled a burning twig away from the fire and used it to light a cigarette.
“How did you even get here?” I asked. “And what are you, like some kind of ghost or something?”
Abrahm laughed. “Come on, Jack. There ain’t no such thing as ghosts.”
“Nah, see, I’m just a vestige of the mayfly queen. The thing is, she don’t just take over a host. What she does is way more cruel.” He took a slow drag before continuing. Evidently, this vestige wasn’t in any hurry, and from the look of things, it wouldn’t have mattered if he was. We didn’t have any real way out of this. “The queen bitch doesn’t do much work for herself. She outsources it all. She makes her host eat for her. Makes it breathe for her. I even had to remember things for her! Supposed to just be a one way street, but there’s always a little cross-contamination. Some of my memories stayed inside of her when she made me kill myself. And when your brain got sloppy seconds, she must have deposited some Abrahm-thoughts inside your dome. That’s what I am.”
“Ah,” I said. “That’s really gross. But as long as I have you here, maybe we can make the most of it. Is there anything you can tell me about the queen? Any weaknesses? How do I kill it?”
“I’m afraid you ain’t got much option. All I know is this, and don’t ask me how I know it: The queen needs a body to stay alive. She can make do with a corpse for a little while, but if she can’t crawl into a healthy host after about five minutes, she’s done. That’s why she made me come to the gas station. ” He closed his eyes and rubbed them. His lips quivered like he was trying to keep from breaking.
“She made me do it! She made me do so many things. I honestly didn’t even know why I was doing it. I didn’t know I was infected. Started with weird little stuff. I got all these crazy cravings. I wanted to drink puddle water. Wanted to eat dirt. I just had to live with it. I thought, we all got our fuckups, right? Then, coupla months back, I started having to collect corpses. Mostly roadkill, at first. Then a new urge hit me. I had to start setting traps. Then I started ‘collecting’ pets. I ran out of room in my deepfreeze, so I started stacking them wherever they’d fit in my house. I’ve been sleeping in a hotel for the last week because I couldn’t stand the smell any time I went home, and let me remind you, I drive garbage trucks for a living.”
I tried to think of some way to change the subject. This was horrible, but not exactly useful information. When I couldn’t think of anything, I let him continue, hoping he was almost out of steam.
“That thing inside my brain forced me to fill up the back of my garbage truck with all this rotting meat and drive it out to the gas station where we’d be separated from the rest of town. She remembered all the times I saw you out there and thought it would be a safe hunting ground. Turn one of you into her new host, turn the others into food, alongside the meat from the garbage truck. Then she’d spend the next five years laying more eggs. You don’t want to know how she lays her eggs in other people, Jack. It’s real nasty. But I couldn’t help it! I didn’t have no control! Even when she made me take that knife and…” He balled his hands into fists. “Well, let’s just say I finally feel like myself again.”
I looked away from him and stared at the fire. This sucked. I knew what I was going to have to do, and I hated it.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“The queen needs a healthy host. If I’m gonna kill it, there’s only one way to do that. I have to make sure there aren’t any healthy hosts left to occupy.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I get back to the gas station, I’m going to have to kill Yen and Lucy.”
Clap. Clap. Clap.
I turned to see the naked green giant, standing behind us and slowly clapping his hands together. “There, you figured it out on your own. This was all part of your spiritual voyage. I was meant to get stabbed all along.”
I stood up and faced the vision. “Really?”
“Yeah, Jack, this is totally how I intended for it to go. And now that you have your epiphany, I’m gonna, like, send you back or whatever. Uh, and, like, don’t forget if you enjoyed your vision to rate me five stars. Alright, my guy, time to go home.”
I shot up, struggling for air and finding none. I was underwater, flailing, bathed in darkness. The world clung to my limbs, pulling me, resisting my motions, I gasped and fell and hit my head, and then my hands touched the sticky concrete floor.
The universe stopped spinning, and I regained my bearings. I was back in the supply closet, wrapped up beneath a plastic tarp. I carefully pried it free and sucked in as much air as my lungs would take. My head pounded, my bruises screamed, my left hand was numb all the way to the wrist, but I was alive. And even better, my hallucinogen night-vision was still working.
Wait. That’s not right. The light was on overhead. Which meant someone--or something--had found the breaker box and turned power back on to the station.
The supply closet door was shut, and I was all alone, if you don’t count the dried-up carcass of a businessman by the door or the oodles of carnivorous green dots crawling in, on, and around him. I couldn’t tell how long I’d been in the other place, but something told me I still had time to stop the queen. But if I was going to do that, I would need to open the one box I hoped I’d never need to open. It was the most desperate measure, for sure. But these were the most desperate times. When this whole thing blows over, I’m going to need a long vacation.
I climbed up to the top shelf, reached into the corner, and pulled out the small, innocuous shoebox labeled in tiny print “Code reds only. Put this back. Whatever is happening, it isn’t a code red.”
I brought it down, carefully set in onto the ground in front of me, and opened the lid. Inside was a smaller box, a fire safe with a combination lock. This is really happening, huh? I’m about to go kill some innocent people to save this sorry town. I entered the combination, “666,” and snapped open the lid.
The code red box contained exactly two things: A cigarette. And a hand grenade.
I took the grenade and stuffed it into my hoodie pocket… right inside my… Oh that’s right, my hoodie is still outside. I took the grenade and stuffed it into my pants-- What?! Why don’t sweatpants have pockets? I took the grenade and looked at it. How the hell was I going to transport this thing without the queen seeing it? I couldn’t very well hide it in my underwear, even if I wanted to.
I didn’t have time to let my next idea disgust me into reconsidering. I just bit the bullet, pried Owen’s expensive suit jacket from what remained of his body, slammed it against the wall a couple times, and put it on. It fit surprisingly well, all things considered. With the grenade stuffed into the inner jacket pocket, I went to the closet door and pulled it open.
As I stepped into the hallway, my shoes squished into something that felt like cat litter. It wasn’t long before the liquid worked its way through my socks. The floor was completely coated in a blanket of green several inches thick. The walls were all coated in that same stuff. And the ceiling. And the fixtures. I was walking down a solid green squirming tube into an equally green cave shaped like the front of the gas station. Each step I took left a small footprint that quickly filled itself back in.
The mayflies had finally become maycrawls--having reached the stage in their lifecycle where their wings fall off. Now they piled together, caking any surface area they could find. I could hear the sound of billions of microscopic teeth prying at the wood, slowly devouring, digesting the building from the inside out.
As I passed a giant green stalagmite that was once a spinning rack of bagged chips, I saw her. She was sitting on a living, wriggling, green throne where the gas station counter used to be. She had a smile on her face--the one that it stole from Yen--and an aura from the floor to the ceiling of powerful verdant green.
“I was looking for you,” she said in Yen’s voice. “Where did you go?”
“Sorry, I slipped out of reality for a minute. What did I miss?”
“That’s a neat trick. Why in the world would you ever come back?”
“I was kinda hoping to save my friends. Have you seen them?”
As I stood still, an untold number of crawlers climbed my pants legs. I could feel their weight pulling me down like I was being swallowed by quicksand.
“They escaped,” she said, her aura never wavering. “You should have done the same thing. No matter, we can always use more food.”
I knew she thought she was telling the truth. I also knew Jerry would never leave me behind. Which meant he also had a plan.
“Listen to me, Yen, I know you’re in there.”
She laughed. “There is no Yen anymore.”
“I know you can hear me. I wanted to tell you something. I’m sure you’ve probably seen it a million times. When a dog comes into the shelter, and there’s nothing you can do for it, and it’s suffering, what do you do? When you can’t treat it and you can’t save it, and you’re out of options…” I reached inside the jacket. My fingers curled around the grenade right as the colony of crawlers passed my knees. “Look, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. Okay?”
She laughed. “What do you think you can do to hurt me? I’m a god! You’re food!”
Right as my thumb touched the grenade pin, I heard something. At first, I thought it was just another hallucination, but as it grew louder and closer, it seemed even the Yen-Queen was beginning to show a little concern.
“What is that?” she asked.
We realized the answer at the same time, as soon as the garbage truck had backed all the way up to the building and crashed right through the front door, sending chunks of cheap wall and bug splatter all over the place. The shock of the collision freed swaths of bugs from their colonies on the ceiling, and they fell as a single enormous unit. The impact nearly doubled the size of the bug pit on the floor. It was deep enough to drown in.
I released my grip on the grenade and brushed the clumps of bugs off of my head and shoulders. The queen jumped to her feet and walked over to a spot on the floor. A circle cleared the way for her, revealing the clean floor underneath, and the baseball bat that she was reaching for. With the weapon in hand, she stepped over to the garbage truck.
I didn’t even think before bending down, scooping up a big handful of maycrawlers, and smooshing them into a ball very reminiscent of a snowball. Some of them skittered up my arms, but most of them stayed intact. I lobbed it as hard as I could, and struck the queen in the back of her head. She turned around with her mouth open and a very human expression on her face, one that begged the question, ‘Did you really just hit me with a ball of my own children!!?
The distraction was enough for her not to notice the sound of hydraulic lifts behind her. And before she could take a step towards me, the gate of the garbage truck had swung open, and an avalanche of dead and rotting animals and body parts spilled onto her, crushing her. Wet goop spilled across the floor, washing away heaps of crawlers. The wave of blood and viscera hit me just a few moments after the smell… and to be honest, this is also not a job for words. Whatever you imagine the smell being, I swear it was a lot worse than that. I would have projectile vomited all over the place, but as luck(?) would have it, there wasn’t anything left inside of me.
The mountain of death covered almost the entirety of the front wall now, save for a small window at the top of the door frame. Hardly enough to see through, and certainly not enough to escape from, but I ran for it all the same. Once I hit the pile of Abrahm’s collections, I started climbing. There were hooves and antlers, more cat faces than a grandmother’s Facebook page, and an alarming number of limbs that could have at one point belonged to humans. Abrahm did say he’d been setting traps. He didn’t say what kind.
When I finally reached the top of the pile, I dropped down on top of some sort of ribcage squirming with green bugs and peered out the opening. Jerry had climbed up the other side to meet me.
“Hey bro!” he said excitedly. “I see you’re awake now. How was the other side? Did you see the spirit guide?”
“Yeah, we accidentally killed him.”
“Jerry, where is Lucy?”
“She went around to the back door to rescue you while I caused a distraction. By the way, I learned how to operate a garbage truck! It was super easy! Hey, is that Owen’s coat?”
I turned onto my back and slid down the mountain of gore. No sooner had my feet hit the floor than a hand erupted from below the pile and snagged my sweatpants. I ripped free right as the Yen thing pushed her broken body out from the pile. Her arms were bent in places they should not bend. Bones poked out of her skin from the inside. Animal bones poked into her skin from the outside. Her jaw dangled lopsided, and her aura burned to the ceiling, green and angry. Her vessel was broken, and she only had one spare remaining.
“Jack!” I turned to see the last person I wanted to see, and likely the first person the queen wanted to see. Lucy was close enough to grab me. “We need to go! Now!”
I turned back just in time to see the queen millipede erupt from the center of Yen’s neck and launch itself forward.
Lucy and I scrambled for the back door, but I knew we couldn’t let it out. We needed to finish it right here. Her hand was around my wrist, I bent it, then wrapped my own fingers around her wrist. As soon as we reached the cooler, I pulled her to a stop. She looked back at me with worry in her eyes. I didn’t have time to relay the whole plan. I just grabbed the cooler door and pulled, hoping she’d pick up on it.
It scraped open a few inches, but the ground cover of green insects made it nearly impossible to move. Worse, the ground cover made it nearly impossible to see where the queen had gone. Lucy grabbed the door with me, and together we pooled our weight and pried the door open just enough to jump inside.
Abrahm’s body was still on the floor. I ran to it and freed the filet knife just in time to hear Lucy scream, “Over there!” The queen skittered across the wall and into a corner. I lost sight of it almost immediately. A metal shelf crashed against the floor. Then Lucy pulled me towards, then through, the cooler door. Once out, she slammed it shut behind us.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I trapped that thing underneath some boxes! What the fuck was that?!”
“You’re sure? You’re positive you trapped it?”
“Yeah, positive. It’s still in there!”
I hate how little time I get for such important decisions, but the bugs under my clothes had started biting, so time was up. I made a snap judgment to trust her.
“Okay.” I pulled out the grenade, yanked the pin, reopened the cooler door just enough to toss the weapon inside, then shut it and leaned my back against the door. Lucy’s eyes were huge.
“Was that--???” She pointed at the door with horror.
Her hands grasped me by either side of my collar, and she pulled me away from the door and flung me hard into the pile of bugs in the front of the store. Before I could get up, she landed on top of me. A second later--
The ringing in my ears never really went away, but after a few seconds, the cloud of green dust had finally settled and I could see that the cooler door had been blown clean off its hinges. If Lucy hadn’t thrown me out of the way…
Damn. Movies do not do grenade blasts justice!
We sat up and tried to catch our breaths. Lucy got to her feet first, coughing violently. I found where the filet knife had landed a couple feet away, grabbed it, then slowly worked my way up.
Lucy leaned against the counter. She was breathing loud and fast. This whole thing had been sprint-speed and marathon-length, and now was the time we finally got to rest. Her head was down. Her back to me. She couldn’t see the knife in my hand, just like I didn’t get to see the queen trapped under that box.
The spirit vision may have been an idiot, but it was also right. There was only one way to make sure the queen was dead and stayed dead. There was only one way.
Lucy wouldn’t see it coming. She wouldn’t feel a thing. Considering how everyone else had died tonight, that’s really not such a bad way to go. Would we all be so lucky.
I was sitting outside in a circle of salt (Jerry figured out about an hour too late that crawlers absolutely hate salt--something to remember for next time, I guess) when the first helicopter landed on the street outside of our parking lot. It expelled its contents before it even finished landing. Three guys with machine guns and gas masks, a couple in white hazmat suits and gas masks, and a familiar G-man in a black suit and tie. No gas mask on this one, just a pair of completely pointless sunglasses.
The fed shouted orders to the others as they closed in on our building, but froze mid-sentence once he saw me.
“Jack?!” he said. “I don’t believe it. I don’t frickin’ believe it. You’re still alive?! Jesus, I just lost fifty bucks!”
“Hey there, Agent Roscoe.”
“Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. Wonders never cease.”
“You’re a little late to the party. Where’s your partner?”
“You know your gas station isn’t the only locale of interest on a night like this, right?”
He took off his sunglasses, and I swear, he was wearing another pair of sunglasses underneath them. Or maybe the drugs were still messing with me, it’s hard to say. He looked at the teetering remains of the gas station and said, “Well, you wanna start telling us what happened?”
Over the next hour, I gave my statement. More choppers landed, and more men in gas masks arrived to clean up the damage and mayfly debris. They had brooms, snow shovels, and devices that looked an awful lot like proton packs. A few of them left the gas station carrying kennels with pissed off racoons scratching away at the walls from the inside.
One of the men interrupted my story to inform Agent Roscoe that they’d captured “all three” racoons. The agent dismissed this news much more easily than I would have expected.
“Alright, alright, I’ve heard enough,” he said to me. “Here’s how this is going to play. You got hit by terrorists. Wait, scratch that, we already did terrorists this week. Uh, let’s say gang activity. A local gang broke in and did some Halloween vandalism. This sort of thing is an epidemic, you know? They’ve been going up and down the interstate, looking for gas stations off the beaten path to tear up.”
“What about all the bodies?” I asked.
“We’ll figure that out later. Jesus, Jack, my night is just getting started! This is like my Monday morning. Get off my back!” He looked over my shoulder and lowered his voice. “I know you can keep a secret, but what about that one?”
Behind me, Jerry was cleaning off his katana by rubbing it in the grass. “I wouldn’t worry about him. He’s what you might call an ‘unreliable witness.’”
Roscoe nodded, then subtly pointed at the young woman in fox makeup talking to an agent about ten feet away. “What about her? She’s new. Is she going to be a problem?”
I shook my head, “No, she knows the deal already.”
He grinned. “I want to let you in on a little secret, just between you and me. When I first started doing this job, I thought I had a pretty finely tuned moral compass. But after a few mercy-killings and real world trolley problems, I started to realize something. The right choice and the moral choice ain’t always the same thing. It’s possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason, or the wrong thing for the right reason. You could be forgiven for little mistakes, even if they cause a lot of people to die gruesome deaths.”
“Thanks,” I said, uncertainly.
“And, uh, Jack, forgive me for asking, but you are certain you saw the queen die, right?”
Am I really that bad at lying? Or do I just constantly encounter people with bullshit detectors set to eleven?
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
“Well, I guess we’ll find out in five years, huh?” He raised his voice and called out to the others, “Alright, let’s double time it! Wheel’s up in thirty minutes! Gotta leave time for the cleanup crew!”
A few minutes after the cleanup crew arrived, Jerry and Lucy approached me. “Hey man,” Jerry said. “We’re about to go back to my place and do, like, all the drugs. You wanna come?”
Before I could answer, my eyes caught something standing in the treeline across the parking lot. Something watching us with two shining red eyes. It was a racoon. I know it could have been nothing more than the remnants of Jerry’s tea playing tricks on me, but I could have sworn that this racoon had an aura--one that was ten feet tall, glowing green, and angry.