Chapter 15: The Bad Grub
Envy screamed as the beast’s gnashing teeth started poking through the thick rubber of the sole of her boot like hundreds of little nails. “Rusty, help!” she cried, kicking at it in an unsuccessful attempt to dislodge it from her foot.
The thing had six stubby legs and a matte purple color to is taut, pebbly skin that luminesced dully, like a water-balloon filled with napalm. The way it chewed at her, however, and the little grunting-snarling sounds it was making, was reminiscent of a rabid weasel.
Down in the willow grove, Rusty threw down his rabbits and came charging up the hill with the titanic energy of an angry bull.
“Here’s a rock!” Douglass cried, tossing a big lump of stone at her.
“I’m not gonna squish it!” Envy cried, trying to kick the fat, bulging thing loose as it gnawed on the rubber. “Are you kidding me? It looks like it’s gonna explode!”
Douglass’s face went pale. “So how do we kill it?!”
“I’ll kick off my boot and throw it down the—”
She was interrupted as a panicked hillbilly suddenly grabbed the thrashing thing by the pulsing butt with apelike hands, yanked it free of her boot in a heave, and hurled it down the hill with the aptitude of a major league pitcher. Then he grabbed her, threw her over his shoulder, and started running up the mountain.
“I can walk!” Envy cried. “Grab Douglass!”
Rusty kept charging ahead, and for a moment, it looked like he would ignore her and keep running.
“Put me down and grab the doctor,” Envy snapped, slapping his shoulder in an effort to get him to release her legs.
Reluctantly, Rusty did as he was told. Envy immediately snatched up the blanket and started running uphill, right past the eight-foot-wide hole that the doomed duffel had burned into the ground.
She never made it past the hole. Instead, she stopped and stared, the overwhelming sense of dread returning like a hit with a necromantic sledgehammer.
Crystals were growing from the hole, white-violet, the length of her arm, burning with inner fire. And they were getting bigger, spreading up through the dirt where they had begun poking through the charred plants. The wriggling black shapes of maggots were slithering towards them from all directions, slipping down into the hole and falling into it like cockroaches scuttling to shelter.
“Shit…” Envy managed, right at the same time Douglass cried, “What the fuck is that?!”
Even Rusty, who had been wild-eyes and panicked only moments before, had stopped to stare at the crystalline growth even then slowly spreading outward from their ruined bag.
“That’s it,” Douglass said. “I give up. We’re fucked.” He slapped Rusty’s shoulder. “Hey, just throw me down that hole so I can get a better look.”
Rusty started shifting Douglass’s weight on his shoulder.
“Don’t throw him down the hole,” Envy said.
“Oh come on,” Douglass cried. “You actually think we’re gonna live much longer?” He gestured to the smoking pit. “At least that wouldn’t hurt.”
“Pretty sure it would hurt,” Envy said, looking at the jagged crystals randomly jutting out into the pit as far as the eye could see.
“For long,” Douglass said. “It wouldn’t hurt for long.”
Envy, fed up with his pessimistic crap, rounded on him. “Doug, I want to live, which means you need to live. So if you want, oh, say, great sex in, say, a week, shut the fuck up, grow a pair, and start helping us figure out how to kill aliens.”
Douglass blinked at her, and his eyes actually locked on hers for a split second before his face went red and they quickly dropped away.
“Why’s he get sex?” Rusty whined.
“Because he’s the weak one,” Envy said.
Rusty frowned at that a little.
“It’s a pity fuck,” Envy clarified.
Rusty’s eyebrows went up, then they narrowed thoughtfully and he started to nod, seeming to find that an acceptable answer. Suddenly, he burst into a grin. “You hear that, little man?” Still holding the doctor slung over his shoulder, Rusty slapped Douglass on the ass. “You get a pity-fuck. Hopefully your nuts drop by the end of the week, eh?” He slapped the doctor’s ass again. “Hate for you to disappoint our lady-friend, here…”
“Put me down,” Douglass said.
“Don’t put him down,” Envy said. “Let’s go. We’re gonna find some other place to sleep.”
“Sleep?!” Douglass cried. “Who’s gonna sleep?! Like, ever again? We’ve got no supplies, no food, no shelter.”
“We got maggots,” Rusty noted.
“Oh, that’s right, how could I forget?” Douglass said, glaring at Rusty. From the big man’s shoulder, he waved his arms dramatically. “We’ve got exponentially-growing, flesh-eating, Gaia-raping baby aliens trying to tear out our throats so they can feast on us as we sleep!”
“One of them attacked my boot,” Envy said. “It’s a little premature to say he was trying to eat—” Then her eyes widened as she saw the luminescent grub come skittering out of the snow right behind Rusty, four razor-toothed jaws open wide, a forearm-length bullet aimed right at the big man’s calf.
“Out of the way!” Envy cried, throwing the blanket between Rusty and the creature. It hit the material hard, like a baseball from a pitching machine, then got lost in a fold, thrashing.
“Fuck—grab it, grab it!” Envy cried, rolling the blanket around the creature like a cigar. Inside the wrap, she could feel it struggling, and it was strong. “Rusty, drop him and help me!” she cried, pinning it unsuccessfully with her weight. “It’s getting out!”
Maybe she should have been a bit more careful with her instructions, because that’s exactly what Rusty did. He dropped Douglass, full-body, in a back-flip into the snow, then jumped on the blanket holding the squirming flesh-eating alien.
“Ow you mother fucker!” Douglass gasped, staring up at the starry sky, spread-eagled in the snow.
Rusty and Envy didn’t hear him. The creature was thrashing, snapping at them through the blanket, and the former Marine was cursing loudly enough to be heard in space, already having been bitten two or three times, his hand bleeding all over the blue fabric. Then the thing slipped from his grasp and it was biting Envy and she was bleeding, and it was tearing up their blanket and both of them were scrambling to keep from losing fingers.
“You asshole, you just dropped me!” Douglass shouted.
“Shut up!” Rusty and Envy snapped back, still struggling desperately to get the insect under control. It was taking both of their joint effort to keep the baby alien pressed to the ground, and Envy finally got the blanket wrapped around its four-piece jaws to hold them shut.
Eventually, the alien’s struggles subsided. Envy could still feel it moving in there, its ribbed, pebbled sides expanding and contracting like an angry grub.
“Now what?” Rusty panted. It was mostly his weight that had subdued the creature, because it sure hadn’t been Envy’s upper body strength.
Both of them were afraid to move. They could feel the creature trapped under their grip, and they knew the moment they let it go, it would either a) ruin their blanket, b) ruin their hands, or c) spit gobs of that internal liquid fire at them like acid from Alien, because Murphy had been taking a shit on them pretty much all of the last week. Which, if it could spit gobs of molten fire, would then ruin their blanket and their hands.
“I hope it doesn’t spit fire,” Envy muttered. Please, gawd, don’t let them spit fire.
“Maybe it will run if we let it go,” Rusty said.
“I think we need to skewer it somehow,” Envy said, grimacing. “Then get the hell out of the way before it sloshes that stuff on us.” She thought about sacrificing their only knife to the cause, however, and her enthusiasm waned pretty quickly.
“If you hold it, I could take your knife, go get a stick, and sharpen it,” Envy said. “Then you let it go and I stab it.”
“Or we could just stab it through the blanket,” Rusty said, nursing a bleeding palm as he pressed his full weight on the thing with one knee. “Safer that way.”
“It’s our only blanket,” Envy said. And, soggy and singed as it was, it and Rusty’s buck knife were the only things keeping them alive at this point. “We can’t risk it.”
“That miner’s cabin might have another one,” Rusty offered. Obviously, he didn’t want to let the thing out of the blanket.
“I don’t wanna risk our lives on ‘might.’” Envy said. “Hold it for me while I go make us a stick.” She gingerly shifted her weight so he could take over, then yanked his Buck knife from his belt and hurried down the slope for a suitable willow branch. She would’ve preferred something dead—dead wood dried harder—but they’d burned what little dead wood they could find and all that were left were green mountain willow shrubs barely wider than her thumb. Their saving grace, however, was because they grew so slowly, they were hard, and she figured they would probably do the job with enough force. She cut one down—that, in itself, took more time than she wanted with nothing but a big, smooth blade—then quickly whittled it to a point.
“You coming back?” Rusty cried from up the hill, obviously starting to get nervous that he’d been left with the alien.
“Got it,” Envy called, jogging back. She slumped back to the ground beside Rusty and said, “All right. This is how it’s gonna work. You let its head out—”
“But it can bite me with its head—”
“Let its head out,” Envy repeated, “and before it bites you, I drive this thing through its skull and pin the fucker to the ground while you get you, Douglass, and the blanket as far away as possible.”
Rusty seemed to weigh that in his mind, then reluctantly nodded. “Okay, Captain.”
“Right.” Envy just hoped she had the strength it would take to jab the sharpened stake through the wriggling black head. It looked like its dimpled skin was ultra-thin and stretched to the limit, sure to explode at any minute, but what if that’s exactly what happened? What if it exploded and she got covered in molten rock?
But Rusty was already unwrapping the thing’s head, and she didn’t have time to worry about it. “You ready, Captain?”
She wasn’t, but she readied her spear anyway, putting as much space between her hand and the thing’s pressurized body as she could without compromising accuracy.
“Okay,” Rusty said, tensing. “Here goes. One…two…three!” He yanked his hand back, exposing the head.
Envy had just enough time to see the bulbous head twist, the jaws open and gnash, and a wad of purple-white fire sloshing at the back of its gaping throat before she jabbed the stick as hard as she could between its tapeworm-black eyes. At the same time, the sloshing wad of fire launched at her like a spitball, and it was her own motion in skewering the bug that stopped her from taking it right between the eyes. Instead, it only burned her in its proximity as it flew past her face, leaving a streak along her cheek of bubbled skin.
On the ground, her stick caught fire, then fell away as the alien larvae started to thrash. Purple-white liquid started leaking from its mouth, dribbling to the ground, immediately setting it ablaze.
That thing just spit fire at me, she thought, stunned. She touched her bubbled cheek, watching the dying alien writhe in horror. It would’ve got me right in the face… And, she knew, had it done so, it would’ve burned straight to the brain. As it was, the fingernail-sized wad had shot past her head and hit the snow outside the melted ring of their camp, immediately setting that on fire. All she could do, facing such a realization, was sit there and stare in shock, watching it thrash and fling pretty droplets of liquid fire as it died.
Then big hands were grabbing her, dragging her away from the oozing, dripping, fiery mess. “…you crazy, Captain Travis?!” Rusty demanded as he pulled her to safety. “You want it to burn you?!”
Envy didn’t reply. “We’re fucked,” she said quietly, unable to think of anything else. For the first time, she realized they didn’t have a chance. Not a chance in hell. The world had been attacked by aliens, rattled apart, drowned, and now they had these fire-spitting fuck-knew-what burrowing all around them, eating each other and getting bigger, and they couldn’t even kill them without fear of getting sprayed with molten fire.
Douglass was right. Jumping down the hole would be the more merciful choice. “Just fucked,” she whispered.
“Maybe not,” Douglass said. He was squatting over the beast’s corpse, prodding at something with the burned remnants of the stick she had used to kill it. “Guys, check this out…”