Copyright © 2012 Adam Cesare
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Long Island, NY, 1988
The night was cool and clear: the perfect night for being young, drunk and unemployed.
Jake liked to get high while they did it. Rhonda didn’t, but she had no complaints. Jake was a big, tall, sandy-haired Irish beach bum who probably took in more sun than was healthy. Rhonda just wanted to do it, period.
The night had been a serviceable, if unspectacular, date. First they stopped at one of the last drive-ins left on Long Island. The movie was Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.It had already been open for months, but the drive-in ran its movies until the film dissolved. Jake was upset that Jason didn’t take more time killing “city trash”, but Rhonda enjoyed it. After that they parked in the woods and had a few beers, Jake ate something out of a plastic Baggie (mushrooms, she assumed) and then turned on the stereo for a little late-night hanky-panky in Jake’s van. The park after closing was a favorite place for the couple to end a night. After the sex they would usually turn the music down and listen to the crickets and look for falling stars through the sunroof.
“Little Dolls” boomed on the cassette player, rattling the windows and sending pleasant vibrations up her buttocks and lower back. Jake had his drugs and Rhonda had her Ozzy. Different strokes for different folks, she thought, as long as they were both getting hot.
For a few minutes it was great. Heavy metal, sweet sweat and warm hands mingled with Jake’s rough-but-sincere gyrations. Rhonda smiled and let loose a tiny moan.
It started to get weird when Jake’s beads of sweat became less morning dew, more rushing river.
The night was chilly. Fall was already here and the heat in the van hadn’t worked since they had started dating, years ago now. Jake shouldn’t have been sweating so much, even in the throes of passion.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
He just grunted and kept pumping, a soft wheeze in his breath. Must be the drugs, she thought. It was getting so good now that she didn’t care.
His nails dug into her back. “Not yet,” she moaned. He didn’t. The song was now Alice Cooper’s “Poison”. Not as good as Alice’s earlier stuff, but Jake was cute for putting together a mix tape for her.
They kept at it, but something was wrong. Jake was unusually quiet. He was not muttering his usual foulmouthed compliments, the kind he picked up from dirty movies. Instead of telling her how “hot” she was, he remained silent, his stomach audibly grumbling.
The gurgles were distracting. What they were doing stopped feeling good and began to feel gross.
“Let’s stop, honey.”
Jake just shook his head. She could see even in what little light there was that he had gone pale. Jake kept his mouth shut, his lower lip trembling like a nauseated person trying to stay with it. He began thrusting harder, and things went from uncomfortable to painful.
“I said stop!” She pushed his hips away just as he opened his mouth to vomit. Liquid sprinkled her naked belly as she tried to crawl away from him. He was sick all over the carpet. Rhonda despaired for a moment over how difficult the van was going to be to clean, then snapped back to reality.
“Hold on, baby.” She threw a blanket over his shivering body and placed the back of her hand against his forehead. He was burning up, but that wasn’t the most alarming part. There were dark swirls of blood in his puke and a bulge forming in his neck.
“Oh Jesus,” she said and wrapped her arms around him from behind. Whatever was stuck in there, she had to clear it from his airway. She had her CPR certification and had spent summers as a lifeguard at Jones Beach. Even though she’d spent most of her time at work sipping vodka cranberries and chewing spearmint gum to hide the scent from her boss, she still knew the Heimlich.
She put her hands at the proper position and pulled up and in with a quick jerk. Jake groaned but the bulge didn’t move. Blood dribbled down his chin.
Rhonda put one blood-streaked hand to her mouth. Tears stung her eyes and she tried to wipe them away. You had to keep the patient calm.
The bubble in Jake’s neck got bigger, looking like an enlarged Adam’s apple, slowly shifting higher and higher. Blood started running from his nose and eyes.
He needs a hospital. She began searching through his balled-up clothes for the keys to the van.
Jake made a sound like he was trying to clear phlegm; she stopped and stared at him. The bulge looked like it had almost passed now. She figured the hospital would be too far away if he was choking to death. Wrapping her arms around him again, she gave another tug. Tearing at his ribs with all her might, she finally elicited a sound like uncorking a bottle. He made one last wheeze and collapsed facedown, his head bouncing off the floor of the van.
When she turned him over, she got her first look at the obstruction. Between his half-parted lips she could see it moving inside of his mouth. Tiny wet tendrils cautiously licked out at the corners of his lips. The appendages felt the air outside and then darted back in, as if it were some kind of hermit crab with Jake’s head as a shell.
Rhonda screamed. Jake lay still. She checked his pulse: nothing. She was momentarily relieved when his mouth started to move, but then came the realization that it wasn’t Jake moving. The thing in his mouth was moving him.
One spiny leg and then another jutted out from Jake’s mouth. They worked their way to his cheeks, where they slipped and left streaks of slime before finding purchase. Small pearls of blood appeared beneath the legs’ sharp points as they pierced his skin.
Rhonda pressed herself against the door of the van, staring aghast. She choked back tears and tried to remain quiet as she fumbled for the door handle.
The creature began to push against the corners of Jake’s mouth, its legs forming a grotesque, impossibly wide smile on her boyfriend’s face as it pushed itself free. Rhonda heard a crack and winced as she thought of Jake’s crushed jaw and destroyed teeth.
It was a form impossible to fathom. A giant cockroach blended with a squid and a porcupine writhed and shook its way free from Jake’s mouth. It was about the size of a loaf of bread and was something no biology class could have prepared her for. Smooth and slimy on its belly, yet jagged and angular along its back: at once insect and reptilian. Even in all of her little sister’s “Zoobooks”, the ones the two sisters had been so fond of growing up, there was nothing like the thing in the van.
Rhonda let out a surprised, pained scream as she opened the sliding door and tumbled to the ground outside. Dead leaves broke her fall when she landed with a puff of dust and dirt. She rose to her feet, keeping her eyes on the creature. It was standing on Jake’s chest and shaking off its myriad spines like a wet dog. Blood and meat sprayed the van’s carpeting and splotched against the nearest wall.
She slid the door shut and looked in the van’s circular window. The creature appeared disinterested in Rhonda. It wandered around Jake’s body, occasionally making a loud clicking noise that she could hear even from outside of the van.
Something in the back of her mind screamed run. But she stayed and watched as the bug, or whatever it was, clumsily tiptoed around Jake’s body. When it had made several rounds, it stopped and produced a long, spiked tentacle from under its mouth. A nightmare of a hypodermic needle attached to what looked like an umbilical cord. She screamed for a second time as the tentacle dug into Jake’s chest with a squirt of blood.
Retracting the blade, the creature turned to sense where the sound had come from. Two flaps on either side of its body rose up, like ears or satellite dishes. It then tossed itself at the van’s window with suicidal abandon, thudding against the glass and leaving a splotch of mucus and blood behind. That was all the incentive Rhonda needed to start running.
She was only a few feet away when she heard a second thud and the glass cracking. She did not turn around. Run and don’t look back.
In junior high she had been on the varsity track team. Once she got to high school and began dating Jake Connolly, her afternoon run had been replaced by a steady diet of heavy metal radio and cigarettes. Now that she had been out of school for a year and was no longer required to take basic phys ed, she became winded just walking down the block.
Suppressing a cough, she heard the glass shatter in the distance. She turned instinctively and instantly regretted it. The creature used its barbed tentacle to dig into the metal door of the van and catapult itself after her. It sailed ten or so feet and hit the ground running. All six legs galloped in perfect formation, no four touching the ground at the same time.
She whipped her head forward and commanded herself to focus on getting away. Her bare feet pounded the grass and dirt. Twigs and leaves snapped as she prayed she would not stomp all of her weight down onto anything sharp in the darkness. She remembered the movie from earlier that night, how those types of movies always had a scene just like this. That girl in the movies was always scantily clad. She always fell when chased. Rhonda Krieger would not fall.
The sounds of the creature’s pursuit were gaining too fast. She turned again, just in time to watch as it crouched low to the ground and hefted its bulbous body with unbelievable speed and grace. It passed a low-hanging branch and shot out its prehensile feeler, wrapped it around the limb and swung for a few feet.
Too fast was the last thought she could muster before it was upon her, hitting her with the same force it must have used to break the window. Its sharp body scraped up her abdomen as it knocked her over. The ground kicked the wind out of her as she landed on her back.
By the time she caught her breath, the thing was already standing on her stomach. It clicked its small jaws together inches from her face. She tried using her fists to knock it off of her chest, flailing against it with all the strength she could muster, but her attempt at self-defense resulted in nothing but pain. She put her hands in front of her eyes to protect her face from the creature’s small, foul-smelling mouth. As she raised her fists, she could see that she had broken off several of the animal’s sharp quills. The spines stuck through the flesh in her hands, sending waves of sharp pain up her arms.
She saw all of this by the lights of the distant parking lot. The fluorescence of the bulbs filtered through the trees of the park and illuminated the thing’s oozing body. It was a grotesque, pointed and clattering mess. The needle-tipped appendage glinted as it hovered above her for a moment. The creature’s clicks and screams accelerated, reaching a crescendo as it shot the stinger down into Rhonda’s chest.
Pain. There was pain between her breasts. The creature’s clicks subsided and she could hear the beast suckle at her insides. Before the pain stopped completely she felt a rush of cold…as if the creature were leaving something dark there inside her body.