Updated: Mar 7
“Come on, man, you do it,” I argued.
“No way. You’re already missing a finger, you do it,” Jerry argued back.
“How does that make me more qualified to pull off his mask?”
“I’m just saying, if he bites you, you’ve got a little less to lose.”
“Well maybe it’s your turn to lose a digit!”
We had been standing in the cooler for about five minutes, bickering back and forth. The blood-soaked thing in the unicorn mask had been right there with us the whole time, standing completely still like it was some sort of mix-and-match Halloween decoration.
The phone battery was getting low, and the last thing I wanted was to be stuck in the dark with whatever this was. Jerry and I both agreed that it would be a wise course of action to remove the mask and see what we were dealing with. We disagreed on how to do it.
“Alright,” Jerry said, lighting yet another cigarette. “How about this? We play paper/rock/scissors. Loser has to remove the mask.”
“Because you always pick rock. You’ve never not picked rock. And if we play and I beat you and then you remove the mask and get your hand bitten off, I’m going to feel really guilty.”
“Aww,” he said. “Thanks.”
“How about we just pull it off together on the count of three?”
We both crept closer to the unicorn. It stayed perfectly still. Together, we reached out and grabbed the mask by either side.
“Okay,” I started. “On the count of three.”
I took a deep breath. My heart was beating like crazy. I didn’t know what to expect, but no matter what it was, I was not ready. Regardless, I started the count. “One…”
“Three!” Jerry yelled, ripping off the mask.
We both took a step back.
“Oh,” I said.
It was probably the least surprising thing possible. Just good old dead Abrahm, lips slightly parted, eyes wide open, face pale and devoid of life.
Jerry sounded almost disappointed. “Well that was stupid.”
I tried talking to the dead man, even though I knew that wasn’t going to work.
“Hey, Mr. Abrahm? Can you hear me?”
A low croak escaped his mouth. At least, I thought it wasn’t going to work!
“What… what did he just say?” I asked.
Jerry dropped the cigarette onto the floor and stomped it out. “I think he said, ‘to blave.’ That mean anything to you?”
Abrahm’s head cocked back slightly as another hoarse noise began spilling out of his throat. The sound was somewhere between an annoyed cow and an angry frog. A rancid smell like vinegar and onions filled the air. Jerry visibly gagged and pulled his mask back over his mouth.
“Feel better?” he asked Abrahm.
I wasn’t expecting a response. In fact, I was very much hoping there wasn’t going to be a response. But sure enough, a response we had. It felt like he was sounding out the words to the Macarena, very very slowly. To my ears, it was just creaky gibberish, but then hand gestures got involved.
The Abrahm-bomination lifted both hands up to the handle of the knife and wrapped all of his fingers around it. I thought he was going to pull it out, but I was wrong.
He continued to mumble hard syllables as he forced the knife downward, ripping his chest wide open and spilling wet gooey intestines all over the floor in a steaming pile. Green dots the size of sugar ants skittered forth from inside his open wound cavity. They crawled away from the sliding blade and took flight, filling the air with a swarm of infant green mayflies.
The knife reached the bottom of his beer belly, but it was only a short snag. The thing continued to disembowel itself, cutting straight down through the belt and causing the pants to fall to the ground. More and more of those bugs dropped or crawled out of him. Some were even flying out directly.
At this point, I realized to my dismay that the guts on the floor were squirming, rich with life, with those baby insects. It seemed that Abrahm’s blood was thick and lousy with mayfly larvae.
I didn’t even realize that we were moving away until our backs hit the cold door. I kept my eyes on Abrahm as I banged on the door as hard as I could. My hair was itching now. Those baby mayflies were landing on me, crawling into my nose and ears and getting caught in my eyelashes. Whenever they piled too thick over the phone, I’d flick my wrist and send a miniature green dust cloud into the air that hovered and reammassed and settled onto the phone again.
Only when the knife had gone as far as Abrahm could push it did I realize I needed to start doing something if I didn’t want to end up like him or worse. I brought out the can of bug spray, yelled out “Hold your breath!” and started blasting.
The amassment of green died on impact, plummeting to the ground in thick clumps like wool being sheared from the sky. As they died, the body of Abrahm seemed to react, launching its head back and screaming in a voice like a fork scraping against a glass plate.
The noise ended abruptly as a lump the size of a gumball pressed against his neck from the inside, working its way up from his stomach until it emerged from Abrahm’s open mouth.
I stopped spraying. The game had just changed, and I didn’t want to play anymore. I turned around and banged on the door with enough force to bruise my hands, elbows, and one of my knees, but I knew it was all for naught. They couldn’t hear us out there, and the door was not opening until someone on the other side deemed it so. I slowly turned back to face what was waiting.
The thing had started evacuating Abrahm’s mouth. About three inches of needle legs, green armadillo-scales, and two bulging eyes crawled up Abrahm’s face.
“I knew it!” Jerry laughed.
“What?! What did you know? What could you possibly know?!”
The legs operated in waves like those of a millipede, and when the entire half-foot of horror had finally emerged, it left Abrahm’s mouth to the sound of a wet “thoink.” The old man’s empty shell instantly went ragdoll and collapsed in a heap on top of his guts, and the demon-millipede rolled into a ball and launched itself towards us.
Jerry went left. I went right. The phone escaped my grip, and the light hit the floor. I heard the millipede ram into the door and bounce off, and then I lost track of it.
Jerry screamed, “There!” and pointed. I turned just in time to see it scaling the wall before leaping at me. Suddenly, the floor whipped out from under my feet, and I hit a pile of human debris ass-first. I’d accidentally slipped in a puddle of Abrahm, and not a second too soon. The green bug whizzed over my head. Great!
“Yoinks!” Jerry yelled. I looked up to see that the millipede had landed and attached itself to him at stomach level. Not great!
I got to my feet and at his side as quickly as I could, but the millipede had already climbed about a foot up Jerry’s body. I tried to get a hold, but the way it moved made that impossible. Each time a leg landed, the tips hooked into Jerry, through his shirt, and into his flesh. Every time I pulled, I was pulling a hundred needles. Each step it took left one hole and made another. It crawled up Jerry’s chest and neck, leaving a trail of countless bleeding pin-pricks.
“Shit, shit, shit!” Jerry said, straining his eyes to watch the thing that had just passed his chin.
I pulled out the lighter, flicked it on, and held the flame against the green shell, but there was no effect.
“Shit, shit, shit, what’s he doing now? Aw, aw gross! Gross, gross. Gross!”
The millipede stopped and perched on top of Jerry’s face mask, almost like it was trying to figure out what it was looking at. I’d run out of good ideas by this point, so I just went with brute strength, grabbed the millipede by its head, and yanked.
I may as well have grabbed a broken glass bottle. The teeth or claws or whatever I touched ripped the flesh off my palm down to the bone. I instinctively fell to the ground and hugged my hand as it squirted blood with enough force to make me consider doing something serious about my blood pressure if I somehow survived the night. I snapped out of it and played through the pain. Jerry was going to need help if--
The millipede used its front two leg claws to slice a perfect slit over Jerry’s mask, then proceeded to crawl down his fucking throat.
He lurched forward onto his hands and knees, wincing hard for at least a minute. Then he started exhaling in forceful spurts like he was working up a hairball.
“Jerry?” I said. “Are you… Are you okay?”
He spat out a long, slimy stream of blood, then made a noise that sounded like, “Cah. Cah. Cah. Hag. Hacgckgk.” He lifted his head and looked at me. Through the tattered mask, I could see a real smile on his face.
His sounds turned into laughter.
His laughter turned into a cackle.
He stood up. He wasn’t looking at me anymore. And when he spoke, bloody spittle frothed out of his mouth. “Yeah, you don’t like that. Do ya, bitch?”
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Is that inhospitable to you?” Jerry punched himself in the stomach. “How’sabout now, huh?” He punched himself again. “Yeah, that’s right biatch. This is my house. Ain’t nobody burning it down except for me!”
He lurched forward and hit the ground, barely able to get his hands out in front in time to stop from cracking open his face on the floor. A huge splattering of red and green expelled forth from his mouth like we were in the Exorcist. The projectile vomit coated the floor, and in the center of the slop was the writhing body of the millipede. It flicked around a few times, then formed a ball and rolled away into a corner.
“Jerry!” I screamed. “Are you even fucking alive right now?”
“Have you… have you seen… my cigarettes? I could really go for a smoke right about HOLY FUCK JACK IT’S ON YOUR SLEEVE!”
“What?” I looked down and saw the fucking hellspawn millipede racing up my arm. I grabbed at it, but the moment my fingers touched, the asshole latched in the needle legs. It hurt a lot worse than Jerry’s reaction made it seem, but I suppose his tattoo collection probably gave him a better frame of reference for this kind of pain. If I had to think of something to compare it to, I’d say imagine being stabbed by a thousand needles over and over again… Yeah, there’s really nothing comparable.
Jerry pulled off his belt and flung it around the neck of the creature. As he pulled, the needles tore into my skin. He pulled again, hard enough to knock me off balance. I hit the ground all over again and the damn thing just deepened its grip. It was at my shoulder. The eyes staring right at my mouth. Blood, vomit, and bile dripping from its wet shell. Jerry tried yanking again, but this time the bug just clawed the belt in half. As Jerry tumbled to the ground, I realized I was all out of luck.
The needles stabbed into my neck. Then my chin. I clenched my teeth together as tight as I could, tight enough that I was certain they’d shatter if I kept it up. But the millipede didn’t let me. It extended a pair of front legs and sliced the mask off of my face. Then, with two more legs, it pried open my lips. Then, with several legs, it grabbed hold of my front teeth and forced open my mouth.
Jerry sat up and looked right at me as the thing plunged into my mouth and down my throat faster than I could bite.
Pain ripped into me from everywhere.
That was a close call, but I made it. It shouldn’t have been so close. It’s never been this close before. Was I getting sloppy in my old age? No. I’m at my prime. It’s these hosts. There’s something wrong with them. They’re not normal.
Wait, hang on. What?
Jerry helped me to my feet.
“Jack. Listen. Can you hear me?”
“It’s gonna be okay. Okay?”
“Did I just swallow a monster bug?”
Fuck, what the hell is even wrong with this one? These reaction times are pathetic! And, what is going on with this leg? At least this is inhabitable but how can I hurt anyone with these weak hands?
Wait. I know. I just need to find that knife.
I looked around for the knife that Abrahm had stabbed himself with, but…
Why was I looking for Abrahm’s knife?
And how did I know that Abrahm stabbed himself?
Well, because I was there, of course. I was inside Abrahm when it happened. No, I was Abrahm. I waited until I had all of the food together in one place, and then I went to begin the harvesting. I needed my children to have something to eat when the time was ready. Duh.
Wait… No, none of that made sense.
Whose memories are in my head right now?
Jerry put a flask into my hand.
“Look, dude. Here’s the thing. I know you’re fighting for control of your mind right now, but if there’s any of you left in there, you gotta drink this.”
“What is it?”
“It’s the reason she couldn’t live inside of me.”
NO FUCKING WAY! Throw that shit down right now! Do not drink it!
I don’t want to drink it.
Then don’t drink it.
I wasn’t planning on drinking it.
I’m glad we’re in agreement.
I opened the flask and threw it back. The whole time it went down my throat, I could hear two different voices in my head screaming at me that this was a bad idea. I knew they were both right, but sometimes bad ideas are the only ones we have.
As I drained the flask, I realized that the mystery drink was not as--shall we say, lethal as most of Jerry’s concoctions. It just tasted like soap and sugar and little more. When it was finally done, I dropped it onto the floor.
Jerry laughed, but it wasn’t his normal laugh. It wasn’t the showing off how cool I am laugh or the I just thought of a funny laugh or even the whoops. Didn’t mean to send you that dick pic laugh. It was a nervous, concerned laugh.
“Wow.” He said. “You, uh. You drank the whole thing?”
“Was I not supposed to?”
“No, no, that’s fine. I’m just impressed.”
“Why? It didn’t taste that alcoholic.”
“It… wasn’t alcohol.”
Oh God. I’m about to be sick.
I felt red hot pangs shooting through my intestines. What IS THIS? You stupid… um… what are these things called anyway? People? How can I possibly be losing this badly to people? They’re food! I needed to get away. I needed to regroup. I needed a plan, but this one was fighting me for control of his mind, and that meant I couldn’t come up with the plan until after I’d disconnected.
It wouldn’t take long to kill this one, though. All I had to do was shred some organs. It could be done in a matter of seconds. These bodies are so frail. But this fire. Whatever it was. I couldn’t… I couldn’t bear it for another moment.
I fell onto my knees and braced for what I knew was coming. I hacked up the six-inch millipede with the force of a canon. The taste of acid and blood filled my mouth, and I felt incredibly weak. I’d been chopped down the middle. I felt like all energy had left, and half of my life, my memories, evacuated alongside it. Or, at least they tried. With what little mental acuity I had left, I snagged an errant memory on its way to the exit.
No. You’re not going anywhere. You’re *my* memory now.
As far as memories go, this was the mother lode.
The millipede rolled into a ball in my vomit, and promptly launched across the room as Jerry raced up and kicked it, screaming, “Yeeto mosquito!”
I pushed myself up, horrified by the new information now residing inside my head.
“Jerry. That’s the mayfly queen. It’s some kind of parasite. Every season it awakens and feeds and finds hosts to lay eggs inside of. And each season they hatch and erupt out of the bodies… That’s where the mayflies come from! They come out of humans! And one unlucky schmuck gets to be her vessel for five years while she lays dormant and absorbs all the knowledge of her chosen victim. Abrahm didn’t even know that thing was inside of him! And she’s been doing this for millions of years!”
The air pressure suddenly changed. Behind me, the door to the cooler opened wide. I turned just in time to see the queen millipede skitter across the ceiling and out the open door, completely unbeknownst to Lucy, who was standing in the doorway with a look of pure shock on her face.