Chapter 19 - Pubs Are Not Safe Houses
Sitting on the floor in the sudden darkness, huddled up next to Claire, James felt a cold, wet pressure slap onto his face followed almost immediately by a tingling sensation. Instinctively he batted it away and for a moment it stuck to his hand, the skin of which immediately suffered an almost imperceptible pricking sensation. His skin rose in goose bumps and his muscles contracted in fright as he realised what it was; the bloody thing had to be the size of Churchill’s cigar. Shit, he cried aloud in surprise, the bloody slug had landed on him from above. He gagged as a pungent decaying stench pervaded the hall, all the while he felt small thumps against his face and clothing as they rained down in ever increasing numbers all over the frightened group.
Shirley screamed loudly before she was suddenly gagged as the slugs filled her mouth with unrelenting determination. Claire started to gibber and convulse next to James who held her tightly and whispered in her ear, desperately trying to sooth her while at the same time putting a hand over her mouth to stop her screaming. That would have been fatal as the slugs seemed to be focusing by the hundred on their mouths for access to their bodies. James bit his cheek drawing blood while struggling to stifle his own scream. His hands were stinging painfully now as the parasites left the slugs in their millions and penetrated the skin surface. He imagined them swimming in his blood stream and prayed that the alcohol was doing its job as predicted and hoped.
He continued to hold Claire tightly as he began to hear desperation and revulsion in the cries and screams coming from the rest of the group. A smell of urine and faeces was detectable over the stench of the horde of invaders as fear did what it did to humans suffering unimaginable horror.
James could feel them all over his face now, their muscular feet gripping tightly as their large radulae, their tooth-laden tongues, scoured his skin in a determined effort to gain access; his brain’s reaction was a gag reflex which he struggled to resist. He would rather drown in it than open his mouth to them. The back of his throat was burning from the rising stomach acid and residual brandy that was still in his stomach and he began to thank the gods who were keeping his nostrils clear at this moment.
Claire was moaning and writhing in pain as she tried to resist their onslaught. James could sense that for the sake of her baby she was holding out; her hands were clenched over her belly bump in a vain effort to stop the grubs from getting close. James could feel the tickling earwig feet running across his face. It suddenly occurred to him that his ears were exposed and the irrational thought that earwigs were named for a reason made him hold his breath and exert pressure from the inside in the hope that nothing would get down his Eustachian tubes and into his head. He needed two more hands for his ears and a further two for Claire’s. But unfortunately he wasn’t related to Shiva.
Around his ankles he could feel a pressure being exerted against the blockage caused by the shoelaces and hoped he’d tied them tightly enough to stop the slimy little bastards. With increased horror, as if it could get any worse, he felt them begin to work their way across his stomach under his clothes; they had gotten past the coat’s cinch around his waist. From what he could feel the slugs seemed to be surrounded by ever-active earwigs. Good luck getting through my belly button fluff, he thought with a wry sense of small victory. Claire was writhing uncontrollably now; clearly she was suffering the same problem as the persistent little bastards gained access to her skin under the clothes. After a moment she went limp as she passed out under the combination of terror and pain.
James could feel the raw burning sensation all over his body now; it was becoming unbearable. After a while he, too, passed out as his senses were finally overwhelmed by the indescribable hideousness of it all.
Warm sunshine on his face woke James. He could feel that his facial skin was tight with dried mucus. Frightened of moving his head he surveyed the hall using only his eyes. Seeing nothing of any threat he sat up. He felt woozy and clutched his forehead. His hand came away slimy. Claire stirred at the same time and sat bolt upright when she realised where and when she was. She jumped up and shook herself uncontrollably, clawing furiously at her clothes trying to remove any vestige of the night before. As a few dead slugs and scurrying earwigs fell from her clothes she retched, bringing up old brandy and bile. She tore her jacket off and threw it away from her. Untucking her top and loosening her trousers she flicked at the remnants of their attackers.
“They’ve been everywhere,” she moaned in horror, he hands slick with slime from her legs.
The slime was everywhere and stank of death and wet soil. Looking around she saw James, Billy and her mother doing pretty much the same. Luke was on the other side of the room staring out of the window towards the church.
Looking around the room James realised that the rock salt had had a significant effect although it had not saved them; thousands of destroyed slugs carpeted the floor, making it impossible not to tread on their yellow-slimed bodies. Armies of earwigs seemed to be dragging them away where they were able, and for whatever reason they had.
Shirley lay on her side, still asleep. James remembered hearing her scream during the attack and went over to check on her. He prodded her gently and receiving no response rolled her onto her back. Her mouth was full of coagulated blood and the yellow, puss-coloured bodies of remaining slugs, some of which were still writhing slightly. Making an educated guess, it seemed to James that slugs also succumbed to the alcohol in blood, effectively killing them upon contact.
Andrea McLean sat up and vomited. She then proceeded to go through the same de-slugging rituals as the rest of the survivors.
“We survived,” Andrea said in a disbelieving and hushed tone. This had been her second escape in twenty four hours. She looked around. “Anyone got any problems, wounds?”
Looking around it appeared that all were pretty much unscathed, at least physically if not mentally, apart from poor old Shirley. Billy found a tablecloth and covered her face, and not just for decency’s sake.
“Hey, Luke. You ok buddy?” he called across the room.
Luke ignored him and continued to stare outside.
“Whatcha lookin’ at?” he tried again and began to walk towards his friend.
Finally, Luke turned around and Billy stopped, his mouth open in horror. Luke’s newfound menagerie was taking a morning stroll around his face disappearing in and out of each orifice. Billy turned away and puked on the floor. Luke’s face changed, taking on an aggressive appearance.
Recovering, he picked up an open bottle of whisky and rushed his friend, forcing him to the floor. He upended the bottle into Luke’s mouth, pouring the liquid in. Several of the slugs exited but in reality it was too late for the man. After a moment Billy arose and stepped away from Luke. Luke got up, his face now expressionless and stood near the oak doors, motionless and disconnected. To be fair to Shirley, the doors hadn’t failed. Shame the rest of the room wasn’t slug proofed.
“Why didn’t it work for Luke?” Billy demanded of Andrea.
“I can only think that he hadn’t drunk enough to prevent infection,” Andrea suggested. “I am so sorry, Billy.”
“I think we’d all better top up,” James suggested. “Maybe they’ll leave us alone now they know we can’t be infected while inebriated.”
“You’re suggesting intelligence, James,” Andrea said.
“You still doubt that?” James countered. “It may not be intellectual but they have proven a certain level of calculation at least.”
“Can we just get rid of him, please?” Amelie demanded. “He is still a threat to us.”
“He saved us!” Billy shouted indignantly.
“I know, young man,” Amelie retorted, her voice conciliatory this time. “But as long as he’s in here, he is a danger to us. I’m so sorry.”
Amelie turned to her daughter and smiled, seeing that Claire and the bump seemed to have come to no obvious harm.
“While I was lying on the floor before we were attacked,” Amelie said. “I was thinking that we ought to get to the coast; coastal areas have a much lesser slug problem. I don’t know why I know that. With the sea air and salt water, we might have a chance of defending ourselves, maybe even settle down until we have a proper plan in place. What do you think?”
“Whatever we do, I think we need to leave here,” Claire agreed. “Look up, all of you.”
They did as she said. Above them the gabled roof had hundreds of small holes that James would have sworn weren’t there the previous afternoon. The slugs seemed unstoppable when it came to entering and attacking. The roof had been turned into one almighty shower rose. While many slugs had fallen onto the floor and succumbed to the salt crystals, many more had just dropped right onto their erstwhile victims. James remembered the first contact in the dark with one on his cheek and shuddered at the memory.