Chapter 9 - Slimy Bastards
“What is it?” Claire urged, clearly worried at his reaction and appearance. James looked deathly pale and very upset; he was shivering slightly.
“Umm,” he began. “Slimy bastards. They’re everywhere.”
“What? What are, the slugs? The people? What?” Claire asked, confused.
“The slugs, they’re like a freakin’ army; they’ve formed black lines across all the gardens,” he began, breathlessly struggling with what he’d seen. “I also think I know where all the people from out the front have gone.”
James’ cryptic clues frustrated her so she took the binoculars from him and took a look for herself. And then slid back down next to him, her face drained.
“What the…” she began before drying up.
As far as James could tell, these people were all but dead, so how could they walk, climb fences, and make their way over to houses to stare in? He’d heard of zombie ants, infected by parasites that control the nervous system, but that was with a relatively primitive creature where the control of a measly few ganglia meant controlling the whole body, or at least the important functions. Was this possible for humans? Surely human bodily systems were too complex for a single organism to take control. Maybe the slugs interconnected within the occupied body, perhaps they behaved like the cellular network of sponges, individual cellular organisms configuring themselves to act as one.
James didn’t answer her. His head was spinning, mulling over the terrible and rather gory fate of the Fat Controller and trying to put it into the perspective of what he was seeing outside.
He played out the sequence of events in his mind. The man fell onto the grass and was bitten almost immediately. His train of thought faltered – rerunning the picture in his mind he realised that the poor man had been made to fall, no, slip over in fact. If his memory was correct and not playing games with him, this incident and what he’d seen right outside this window pretty much implied there was some sort of intelligence behind what was happening. Had he hit the proverbial nail on the head? Were slugs rising against the humans, a race that considered themselves to be superior beings who had over the years developed a thousand ways of killing the little gobbets of garden snot? Were slugs creating a single intelligence or colonies in each human they inhabited? He heaved a little as he imagined the slimy little creatures sliding their unstoppable way along his veins and arteries, crawling through his own carcase; he swallowed the resulting acid reflux, wincing at the burning sensation. He swallowed hard again to stop the pain. If true, then by extension, each inhabited human could possibly communicate with another wordlessly. The implication was immediately obvious; there was no-where he and Claire could go that they could not be followed or detected by this body invasion. If they were malevolent, truly they would be hard to evade. Deciding on sorting out their immediate problem of escaping before they were surrounded, he made a decision.
“We need to get away from here,” he began, his thoughts focusing a little more.
“I don’t want to leave our house. It’s safe in here,” she insisted, her face showing a genuine terror of what lay in wait outside.
“Look, love, as I see it, they have changed in the last hour or so. They didn’t move at all earlier, now they are all over the back gardens.”
He stopped explaining his position and rushed to the front room and carefully peered outside. When he’d arrived home there were only a couple of them in the street. Now he counted seven. They were completely stationary and it reminded him of that Dr Who episode with the angels that only moved when you didn’t look at them. If he looked away would they make their way to his house? He dared not experiment with this idea, instead rushing back to Claire.
“They are starting to collect out the front as well. We’re becoming surrounded,” James declared. “I don’t know where’s safe right now, but I believe we have to get out before they block our escape. You never know, it’s possible they may even be attracted to us because we aren’t one of them.”
“What about our neighbours? What are they doing?”
“I didn’t see anyone I recognised in the street, so maybe most were at work.” He paused. “We can’t help them. I’m not putting you and the bump at risk.”
“There are two kids two doors up,” she said. Pregnancy was changing her, and it seemed for the better, if that was even possible. Before she became pregnant, quite by accident, the two of them hadn’t even discussed kids, theirs or someone else’s; now it seemed she would put herself at risk for some strangers. Part of him warmed to the change, in spite of its craziness.
“They are probably at school,” James countered.
“Probably?” she said, looking askance at him. “We have to find out for sure, or I won’t be able to live with myself.”
James sighed and gave it some thought.
“Right. I’ll check them out. What number do they live at?”
“It’s three doors up, the door is dark blue.”
“Okay, if I do this, you have to promise me you’ll be ready to leave the minute I get back. I’m not going out there without a weapon either.”
Together they went back downstairs, doing their best to stay out of the line of sight of the watchers. Claire opened the under stairs cupboard and rummaged through the collection of life’s detritus. A broom handle fell outwards and to the floor.
“That’s it,” James said. “I’ll use the broom head to push them out of the way if I can’t get to the door or if they start to move.”
“In the Walking Dead they used machetes and guns,” Claire replied, trying a little humour as a coping mechanism. James laughed a little.
“You do know that was fiction, don’t you?” James asked rhetorically. “I hope to god it’s not that widespread and that these guys aren’t zombies.”
Her observation, joke as it was, unnerved him a little.
“Anyway,” he continued, brushing off his fear. “I can’t imagine just killing someone wantonly. Not sure I could. You never know, whatever it is, it might just be curable. Apart from that, this is England, and only crooks and farmers have guns.”
She smiled wryly at his jibe.
“Ha, ha. There you go, taking a pop at my family again.” She wore a look of mock disapproval.
James’ joke was not much of one, but he still liked to remind Claire of her provenance from time to time. Much to James’ surprise, a couple of years previously Claire had admitted that her father was both a farmer and a crook, albeit a gentleman crook, she joked. Her parents remained oblivious of this declaration; Claire’s intent in her confession was to prevent James from treading on metaphoric landmines when visiting their farm. She believed it was also best to go into a serious relationship without secrets, and this particular one could have been a deal breaker – or worse.
It seemed that Robert Bruford, the aberrant father in point, rather enjoyed using the significant EU bureaucratic complexities and the open Schengen Area against itself to buy and sell livestock then ship it and other what he called “value added products” across the whole of Europe, making money at every turn. As far as he was concerned it had never been so easy to break the law, and as long as the local plod didn’t discover what he was doing he would soon be set for life. Even Claire was in the dark as to the contents of those additional packages. It was her father’s way of multiplying subsidies to ensure a good life and an excellent retirement.
When visiting, James did his best not to discuss politics – or little else for that matter – with his prospective father-in-law, somehow he felt that conversations with the man would not lead to a good place, after all Bruford owned a shotgun and a herd of pigs.
“Seriously, get a few things together while I’m out. Not much, but grab the water bottles as well. You never know. Also, put a thick coat on that covers your arms for protection. I think we might do well to get to your parents’ place, not many people out there so the infection might not have reached them. You can also sort out your problem with your mum face to face.”
“Why don’t you get a knife from the kitchen, you know, just in case?” She suggested, her face serious once more.
James liked the idea and rushed to the kitchen, hoping that if he was quick the creatures outside wouldn’t get aggressive - or whatever it was they did earlier. He grabbed the big carving knife.
Picking it up, he glanced out the window and froze. The faces had changed. Now they appeared mean and deeply malevolent; their skin looked like the simmering skin of a rice pudding, steam bubbles rising and falling under the skin. Worse still, in the centre of all the writhing faces was the Fat Controller, looking very unfriendly. The man lifted his left arm and punched the glass hard. The force of the punch shattered the window into a cascade of shards, some of the larger ones falling outwards, one cutting the neck of his nearest neighbour. The wound oozed with what looked like black molasses, just as, for some reason, James expected. What he didn’t expect was the trails of black splitting out into dark, shiny individual slugs surrounded by darting smaller insects James instinctively knew to be earwigs. A remaining large piece of glass fell from the top of the frame and severed George’s outstretched hand completely. It fell into the kitchen sink while black ooze pumped from the stump. The shimmering slime flowed actively across the white porcelain surface, again splitting out into swarms of slugs. Swarms? Was that the right word, he wondered? What was the right word for a group or herd of slugs? A slither of slugs, that had to be it.
He shrieked like a little girl in horror, his guts liquefying. He stumbled back into the hallway and saw Claire holding the broom and a box of rubber gloves. She had a quizzical look on her face.