Chapter 8: The Creature
Note: This chapter is one where I’m considering breaking it apart, namely after the action dies down. I’m still not sure if the aftermath makes more sense to be included here, combined with the next chapter, or broken off into its own (short) chapter.
Silence reigned for a brief moment, before I filled the silence with an, “Uhm, sure.” It was far from elegant, but I felt that I had to say something.
“Come. Have a seat.” The man leaned down to pick-up a chair from where it had fallen, he tried to wipe a few drops of blood off of the backrest as he did so but only succeeded in smearing it across the wood. When he stood upright, moments before he set the chair down beside the table, his eyes lingered on Tom and he froze. He stood stock still and simply stared for a long moment. I looked between Rick, Bobbi, and Tom in confusion but only Tom seemed to have any idea of what was happening. At least, he would not meet my gaze and instead stared at the little man in the same manner.
“Uhm….Are.” Just as I was about to ask what was happening, suddenly the tiny man dropped his chair and his eyes went wide.
“Creat-ure! Be-gone!” With each word his voice became more guttural and enraged, until his voice barely resembled human speech but seemed more a bestial growl. “Mon-ster.” He started twitching his arms wildly and with each spasm and thrust his arms seemed to grow slightly longer. His wide eyes bulged out from his head and threatened to burst like grapes. The orbs glazed over and became smoky and clouded with a thick dark film until they transformed into angry black piles of gelatin. He finally released a roar as he leapt towards Tom with murder in his eyes.
Tom continued to stare, stock still and seemingly unaware of the transformation and agression of the other man. There was no reaction: no fear, no yelp, not even a single muscle tremor. It was as if Tom had been replaced with a mannequin, his breathing was the only sign that he was still a living human being. His expressionless face simply continued to stare straight ahead at his assailant.
Seeing Tom’s inaction, Bobbi glared at the creature and grabbed a mostly intact chair with the intention of throwing it into the beast. She missed her mark and the wooden projectile simply bounced off the floor with no effect. I vaguely noted a string of curses from the girl, but I was more fascinated with the creature’s complete lack of interest in the attack. It seemed to see nothing, except Tom.
A half-heartbeat later, I saw Rick rocket past me and dive toward the creature. In the eternal moment between the creature’s leap and Rick’s reaction, I saw the beast flying wildly towards Tom. As it flew the air its teeth elongated and came to points, becoming something like a terrible bear trap shoved between the jaws of the beast. It gnashed those terrible chompers and prepared to rend Tom asunder. Rick slammed into the creature and the creature wasn’t prepared for such an assault. Taken completely by surprise, the man-turned-beast went limp and the pair landed hard. Hitting the stone floor bodily, they slid through a few shattered bits of furniture to slam forcefully against the nearby wall. Collapsing onto the floor in a writhing mass of limbs and fangs, neither moved for a moment. Wincing at the sound of the impact, I hoped Rick was alright. Almost as an after thought I wondered if he had at least been thoughtful enough to lead with his uninjured arm, or this might get much worse very quickly.
After a moment to regain its senses, the creature began to thrash and slam itself against Rick. Desperate to help Bobbi grabbed another broken chair leg to use as a club and joined the fray. I was shocked at the bravery and stupidity of both injured individuals. I could already see a fatal flaw with their plan. Both held their own for the moment and kept the creature’s snapping jaws and twisted limbs from doing any significant damage. They were holding the creature at bay for now, but it didn’t take an expert to realize that it was only a matter of time. One of them made a mistake and the beast would gain purchase and everything would go downhill from that point.
Tom continued to stand stock still, as if the scuffle before him were completely inconsequential. My eyes darted from him, to the pile of bodies and finally on the creature’s desperate struggles to break free from the grip of my companions. I knew what I had to do.
I dropped my makeshift club and ran. Away from the creature and away from the bodies, I bolted for the kitchen. I knew that I had seen a blade, a large butcher’s knife, in there somewhere. Eyes scanning frantically, I tried to remember where it had been. Then I saw it, it glimmered beside to the stove where the creature’s terrible stew continued to bubble and boil. I ran and grabbed it, and immediately regretted it. The creature did not care for its tools well, and large amounts of grease were dripping down the handle, making it both unpleasant and difficult to maintain a solid grip. I desperately sought something to wipe it clean but found nothing. Trying to force the revulsion from my mind, I wrapped the blade with the lower portion of my shirt, wiping it clean across the front of my clothing. Finally, the handle clean enough to grip safely, I tore from the room and back into the dining room.
The fight had moved from the spot where I had last seen them collapsed in a heap. Following the sound of the scuffle to the far corner of the room, I saw Bobbi throwing everything she could find a creature whose skin had since shifted towards a pale white. I could not see Rick at first, but after a moment I saw he had been thrown into the pile of bodies that still haunted the middle of the room where he seemed safe but horrified. Shaking off his disgust and having gathered his wits he leapt up and flung himself at the creature once more. I noticed his arm hung limp however, he had aggravated his fracture and the arm was flailing loose from its makeshift sling. Tom still stood stoic, having barely moved, and I had begun to wonder if this was still simple trauma or something more serious. Those thoughts would have to wait though, as I could see both of the others starting to tire.
The beast swung, and in a single motion, knocked both Rick and Bobbi away. I knew that if I were to make my move, it would have to be now. I ran with all of my remaining energy into a mad and desperate dash. Bringing the blade forward, I hoped to slam the blade into the creature with all the power of my momentum. Someone screamed and a moment later I realized that it was me. The beast turned to face me and released a guttural roar. I lunged. There was screaming. I felt a dull thud as I struck my target. A thick wetness splashed across my face. Searing pain shot through my arm. A tingling sensation, a strangely warm and pleasant numbness, coursed down my arms to my very core. The world rapidly descended into the realm of sensation, and I rode the wave downwards into that simple world.
I glanced down. My numbness and disconnection distanced me from the reality of what I saw. The man, for a man he had once more become, lay limp on the floor. His glassy eyes stared up as he silently accused me of his murder. He looked so normal. His arms, short and fitting for his small frame, lay slack at his side. His mouth lay open, his yellow-stained teeth plain as day to the naked eye. In the center of his frail chest, a butcher’s blade protruded. His ribs were shattered from the impact and blood slowly spread across the floor. The blade looked so strangely normal.
I felt a hand rest on my shoulder, and I realized that I could not hear anything. The world sounded like the roar of some distant ocean. I looked at the hand, following the attached arm up to the serious face attached, Rick’s face. He said something. I barely understood what he said, it was something about backing away. I needed to get away. I sat there, straddling the quickly cooling corpse and could not remember why I had not yet moved. Slowly, with Rick’s help, I stood. I glanced down at the body, wondering why it seemed so bizarre and so foreign. I had seen many dead bodies in my studies, I had even opened them up with my own hands. This was different.
Slowly, I felt myself being turned and the world shifted. I glimpsed the pile of bodies in the center of the floor. I paid them no mind. The bodies were simply part of the background now. Center stage was behind me, all of reality focused within the spotlight over the man. I desperately wanted this to be a dream or a hallucination. The world had seemed so simple when I had grabbed that knife. There was a monster, and it was attacking the closest thing to friends I had known since we had touched ground. Now, it was a tiny, middle-aged man that lay dead on the floor. I didn’t know why or how, only that I was responsible. “What did I do?” I felt the hand upon my shoulder tighten, a gesture of comfort and care, but I only felt the discomfort that the pressure brought. “Nothing. It was self-defense.” Rick’s words were true no matter the reality of the man, creature, or whatever it was truly. It did not matter. Not any more.
“The guy was going nuts, attacking us. He didn’t look right. Like some weird beastie, and mad. It wasn’t your fault,” Bobbi’s accented voice was disembodied, I could hear her from somewhere behind me, but I could not see her. My mind was being spiteful as it sought to drag me out of the fog my mind was resting in and into the depths of self-loathing, treating me to the image of the dead man’s slack mouth intoning the words in Bobbi’s voice. Accusing me.
“But…” I trailed off, unsure of just what I had meant to say. I dimly heard, through my slowly returning senses, the scrape of wood against tile and the clacking of a chair landing hastily upon the floor. I was coaxed into the chair, facing the corner with the least sign of the macabre nature of the room. A moment later, after the sound of another chair righted, I saw Rick’s smiling face slide into view.
“It’ll be alright. Don’t worry. You did the right thing. Without you, Bobbi and I would probably be in rough shape right about now.” He gripped his arm and winced as he tried to force it bodily back into the makeshift sling. Without thinking, I reached out and took his arm. My face was expressionless but Rick smiled back at me with an assured grin, as if he trusted me completely with this task. I saw him grimace as I adjusted his arm, trying to simultaneously examine and reposition it.
“Your shoulder’s worse, Rick. You put too much strain on it. The fracture’s probably worse, might even be broken now.” I was firm but I tried to be gentle too. When his arm was finally back in the sling, I leaned back in my chair. My sense of my surroundings were returning, and I was beginning to regret it. I could smell Rick’s musk, the result of too long without a shower and the recent stress. I doubted I smelled any better. However, that smell was nothing compared to the odor that was spreading throughout the room, the smell of death.
The stench had lingered in the room before but it had been faint, a reminder of troubles long past. Now the smell of gore and viscera was fresh and terrible. I wished the world would return to the numbness and calm that followed my shock. It was not a good place, and I knew that, but it was comfortingly simple.
Instead of retreating, I focused on Rick’s bruised and dirty face. I reached out with the end of my sleeve in an attempt to use it to wipe away the dirt. The mixture of sweat and blood did little to help the process, spreading a grimy mixture across his face rather than wiping it clean. I chuckled lightly as I examined my ruined sleeve, a small and infectious thing that quickly got Rick laughing along. The horror of the last hour momentarily forgotten in that simple and absurd moment of amusement. Our reprieve was short-lived when I heard a dull thud from behind me.
“Dammit, Tom. What the hell’s wrong with you?” Bobbi’s voice called out from behind me, exasperation clear in her voice. Instinctively I whipped my head around to see what the issue was, and I was treated to a strange scene. Bobbi was standing by the door, covered in blood and with the little man’s body sprawled across the floor beside her feet. She was glaring at Tom, who was standing, stock still and in the same position as where he had parked himself when we first arrived. His face was painted with a broad and demented grin plastered across his face.
I was confused. I had already come to expect many strange things from Tom. He had clearly been the most profoundly impacted by the strangeness of our situation. I had initially assumed that he was simply in shock, but as time had progressed and we experienced stranger and stranger events the rest of us had coped. We either ignored impossible details or sought to explain it somehow, but not Tom. Tom had met every strange occurrence, every awkward and confusing moment in the same distant and nervous fashion. When we had arrived in this cursed building he had initially seemed terrified. By that point I had already accepted this as part of his current norm, but now he had this terrible and strange smile. I couldn’t make sense of it. Was this a good sign? Or a bad one?
Tom stared straight ahead, still unseeing and unresponsive. I did my best to ignore the lifeless form crumpled upon the floor and walked to the door. I waved my hands before his eyes. I poked and prodded him in various places. I even tried speaking both calmly and harshly to him. Nothing elicited a response. His pulse was strong, and he was breathing regular, there was simply no response. “The lights are on, but no one is home.” I turned to Bobbi and Rick with a shrug. “I have no idea why he is doing this. It almost seems like he slipped into some sort of waking coma.”
Bobbi continued to glare, but much of the maliciousness of moments before was now gone from her expression. “Can we move him? He’s blocking the only way out.”
“I do not see why not, but he isn’t exactly light…” I glanced at Rick, who shrugged. “If he doesn’t cooperate… It’ll probably take all of us to move him. I’d want to lay him down too if we can… If he’s truly unconscious, despite still standing, I’d like to
minimize the chance that he gets hurt. You know, if he falls or something.”
Bobbi and Rick looked at me for a moment, clearly uncertain how to respond. They were getting annoyed with Tom, especially now that he seemed to be completely checked out. I couldn’t blame them. I glanced over to Rick and he nodded with a sigh before crossing the room. His gaze lingered on the floor for a moment, but I still didn’t want to think about that overmuch. He nodded to Bobbi, who grunted and walked over to help. Between the three of us and all five working arms, we lifted Tom’s heavy form. He was stiff as a board and far from light. With sweat and effort, we had managed to lay him lightly on the floor. I bunched up my over-shirt to use as a makeshift pillow for his head and looked him over once more. There was still nothing to indicate what had happened.
While gave Tom another examination, Bobbi and the body disappeared. Bobbi returned alone a short time later. She and Rick shared a look. I could guess this was some unspoken confirmation that the source of my distress was now gone. I knew what they were up to, but I appreciated the sentiment and chose not to say anything. Instead, I focused on my patient, wondering what we should do next.