I spent the remainder of the evening looking frantically around for my Sampson.
To be honest, my friends had drifted away from me as my personal recession deepened. It'd been a very gradual process, like a frog in boiling water, that snowballed as my money ran out. AT first, I'd skipped a beer or two when we were at a bar. Instead, I'd watch my friends pound back longnecks one after the other. I found out the hard way that sober people in bars make drunks self-conscious of their altered mental state. They are forced to view themselves, their slurry speech, stumbled gait and weaving balance in the reflection of the sober person's eye. Seeing reality isn't any fun when you want to escape from reality and it dampens the drunk's buzz considerably. It started by skipped calls on weekends, when the calls would go right to voicemail or a single-ring so they could say they called but not long enough that I could pick up. I told myself that I didn't mind, I was choosing to save money and being responsible. Before I knew it, I had to ration gas money and merge errands to a single trip: then really managing my money went from a choice to a reality. A few friends checked on me surreptitiously through email now and again, but the majority had long decided that unemployment was my lazy ass' fault yet treated me as if my financial condition was as communicable, and deadly, as hepatitis. The only sentient being who I could depend on for emotional love and affection was my cat.
I looked under my bed and sofa; I looked in my closet and kitchen pantry; I looked behind the dresser and the pile of laundry. No Sampson to be found. I rattled his food container several times to no avail. After the sound of Purina food failed to draw him out, I came to grips with the fact he was gone. I sat down on the kitchen floor and started to cry from stress, horror and misery. I hunched my head over my curled up knees, wrapped my arms around my shins and let loose heart-rending sobs that were anchored from the pit of my chest. It felt cathartic to bawl my tears out. All the anguish swelled in long-breaking rolls of foamy sorrow that crashed one after another.
The last time I'd cried so hard was after my dad had died.
The first month after his death had been a complete unreal shock. I hadn't cried or show much emotion, just kept everything in a tight, white-hot ball in my chest which I could feel growing slowly like a tumor. I'd been in my dorm room, looking out the window at various kids walking to class four stories below me. My roommate was wrapped up in playing a computer game with headphones jacked in. A sudden, overwhelming urge to jump out of the window seized me. Slide the window, pop the screen, jump. So simple, a demonic voice in the back of my head postulated, so completely rational. Jump. You don't have to do any work, gravity will end all your torment. You won't have to lift a finger or feel anything. I felt my legs tense up, pushing my body from the chair in an unbidden action. As I started to rise, the ceiling of my brain, a small clear portion took emergency action and overwhelmed this sensation of a third person taking over my body. My brain directed me away from the beckoning, seductive screened-over steel maw, and took me into the moldy-carpeted hallway of our dorm.
I let my back thump up against the shellacked-cinderblock wall, just to the right of the door and listened to the sounds of the student-inhabited hive: the hiss and splat of a shower; multiple TVs tuned to random stations in an endless cacophony of meaningless sound; my roommate tacking and clicking away on the keyboard, playing his engrossing computer game.
I slumped against the wall, feeling my t-shirt catch on a snagged outcropping nub of poured concrete. My shirt rode up as my body descended and I felt the cool wicking away of body heat into the greedy building material. I sat cross legged, staring at the carpet's pattern.
Curiously, it began to distort: wavered and mirrored double. I blinked, trying to clear and reset my eyes' vision. Salty gobs of tepid liquid seeped out. I watched them fall and absorb into the carpeting's shag. My internal spigots turned, opening up valves in my tearducts. An interior dam broke, and I felt an onrushing deluge of emotions completely overtake and sweep my being. I gave in.
I cried for over fifteen minutes before someone had to courage to approach me.
Within five, a small crowd had gathered as the residential assistant came. He shooed away the crowd and dialed my (then) girlfriend's number. Within a week, I was seeing a therapist.
The relationship I'd had with my therapist was beneficial. It pained me to quit seeing him but I had no choice. Health insurance coverage ended six months after my graduation and, with health-insurance tied to a job, there was no way in hell I could get it. I made too much for Medicaid but not enough to buy off-the-shelf insurance. For every American who dies around the world in a terrorist-related incident each year, fifty-eight die from lack of health insurance. Invade insurance companies, not foreign country.
It was my psychiatrists' familiar grumbling, rumbling voice that I heard comforting me in my head, telling me to not feel guilty about exhibiting my internal emotional turmoil. I listened to his ghostly advice and let it out for a good twenty minutes before slowing to a series of snotty, tear-smeared dry heaves. I wiped away the various oozing facial body-liquids with my t-shirt and blew my nose for good measure with the tail. I felt drained and utterly empty. My body was exhausted and my mind a foggy cloud of self-pity, sorrow and woe. It couldn't get much worse, I told myself. It really can't.
I pulled myself up off the floor using the refrigerator door's handle. I decided to splurge on what little food I had to make myself feel better. I opened up the door, got the dreaded bowl of food and dug in. Salt and pepper, liberally applied, made the mass much more palatable. I guzzled a few more glasses of tepid water and felt my stomach signal my brain that it was full.
I crawled off to bed.
I pulled my sheets up over my limp form lying atop the mattress. Ugh, I'd forgotten to take my clothes off. I wriggled out of my boxers and wrestled my t-shirt over my head. Sleeping naked was at least a decade old habit. It'd started in Texas. The sultry humid nights were as oppressive as sitting in a steam room, wrapped in an electric blanket. Shedding clothing down to skin was the only option. Sometimes, if it was really horrible, you'd take a hot shower, completely scalding hot, so when you stepped out you'd feel chilled by the ambient air temperature. But that only lasted for five minutes or so.
I tossed and turned, settling on a starfish-style position: my limbs twisted and splayed in all directions. The last thought I had before drifting off to sleep was wishing my cat was there to purr me asleep.
I dreamt of a crushing weight on my back.
I woke up to a gentle needling, a pressure like a cat's paw, on my neck. I tried to crane my neck around, to see if it was Sampson returning against all odds but it was paralyzed. I tried to lift my body and found I couldn't either. I tried to yell but I was completely mute.
I was fucking fucked.
The dream had been reality filtered through my subconscious like a sieve. I had a weight on my back concentrated in at least four spots, about the size of fists. They moved around like an animal finding better purchase on uneven terrain. I heard a low buzzing noise, like a housefly's wings vibrating, and the pressure lifted for a moment.
The needling turned into a sharp pain and I felt a rush of cold something injected into the side of my neck.
The world spiraled into a transitory blur of warm purple nothing.
I awoke later on. God knows how much later.
I was on the back of a… a thing. I could see my naked body wrapped in a silky-sticky thread, gossamer strands the size of mechanical pencil lead. The organic packaging material was strapping me to whatever was underneath me. Stars shone above me, a canopy of white and silver dots spreading out over the sky. We were nowhere near any cities or urban noises. I heard rustling of dead leaves and sticks as the thing moved on all fours quickly over the ground felt rhythmic dip-and-sway of walking. By the negative pattern of stars blocked out I could see two legs moving up and down.
I felt us suddenly dip, headfirst, into the ground. We started moving down a tunnel burrowed into the dirt. A half-gnawed away root scraped a long gash along my arm, and I felt the crusty grime of dirt mash into it. As we walked down, the rear legs knocked off clods of dirt which fell onto my face and rolled along my naked body.
We went deeper and deeper, the narrow opening of the tunnel grew more tiny. The stars started to disappear and they vanished. Complete darkness surrounded me; a velvety texture, an absence of light that had no difference if I opened or closed my eyes. I saw red dots start to swirl as my head pounded from the blood rushing and pooling as we continued to descend. The dots grew larger and I blacked out again.
I woke up in an underground cavern. Sunlight filtered down from the hole, illuminating a blackish tar-filled pool in the center of the cave. I huddled in a ball, not sure if I was awake or asleep. The temperature was cool but not frigid.
Stalactites and stalagmites of rock jutted around. A few solid columns held the roof up in several areas. A spidery-pattern of bioluminescent cave moss spiraled around the various columns and grew upwards towards the ceiling. My eyes followed it up; it was then that I saw them.
Gigantic creatures the size of pigmy hippos swarmed on the ceiling. They had anywhere from four to six legs, segmented like an insect, that curved up from the thorax before descending gracefully down towards the floor. Either their feet were hooks or suction cups as they hung unperturbed from the ceiling.
Their heads were mostly multi-faceted eyes, milky white biologic disco balls that captured what little light came in. Pincher clacked on either side of their mouths, with feelers that constantly inserted themselves to be gently cleaned.
Their bodies were tapered ovals, of a thick chitinous material that was reflective.
They had wings, translucent and venous.
I tore my horrified look away from them and tried to find somewhere to hide frantically, my eyes darting around the dim cell.
I noticed another human form on the ground, about twenty feet away. I glanced up at the creatures and, making a calculated move, skittered along the cave floor in the direction of the other human.
It was a girl. She was naked, too. She was dirty, bedraggled and completely in shock. Her brown tattered and matted hair covered her shoulders and she was hunched over staring at the floor lifelessly.
I came up and whispered as loud as I dared, "Hey, what in the fuck is going on here?"
She didn't hear. I cleared my throat.
I grabbed her shoulder and felt her involuntarily move away from me. She looked away but I spun her around.
Her arms flailed as she was turned, her breasts unappealingly and pityingly gyrating, the sacs of fat and flesh stained with dirt. Her stomach was smooth and her legs dark with stubble. She hadn't shaved in at least a week.
"What. In. The. Fuck. Is going on here?" I asked her.
She stared at me, her broken eyes uncomprehending. She furrowed her brow and then answered with one word.
She turned away and I let her go, too horrified to comprehend what I had just heard.
I looked around for a stalactite thin enough to break off as a weapon but thick enough to not shattered when I hit one of… them.
I saw one and crabbed my way towards it. I heard a rush of air, and a flock of them flew down behind me to land near the girl. She screamed.
I sprinted towards the rock and kicked at it, once, twice. I felt a bone inside my foot snap before the stone did. I bellowed in anguish but kicked again. The stalactite toppled over and I grabbed it. I turned back, ignoring a fiery stitch of anguish with each step. The thin rock column became a fencing foil as I stabbed at the closest one. My foil, thick as a water bottle, bounced off the shell. I tried bringing it down, from over my head; nothing happened except a ringing recoil that hurt enough I dropped it. My weapon shattered on the floor.
The thing ignored me completely.
I watched as they crowded her in a school, hungrily ripping into her body. One gnawed chunks of flesh off of her upper arm. It sunk in its pinchers, twisting its head in a pulling motion away from her arm. A wad of meat slid up a torn tendon, caught in its jaws. The white sinewy strand clung to its former sheath and popped like a guitar string to hang limply on either side of her arm.
Her screaming had gone hoarse as she was eaten alive.
One dug into her smooth abdomen, hungrily slurping at her intestines. It nuzzled deeper into her abdominal cavity and I watched as her organs were pushed in a bulge against her far stomach.
Skin tore around a broken rib. A pool of black liquid quickly spread underneath her, draining towards the pool.
I backed away and tripped over rubble from my sword. I landed on my tailbone, hard. I felt nauseated at the sight in front of me and felt a regurgitative pop: I threw up all over my chest, hot bile and food slithering down to nestle in my pubic hair. I kept heaving until dry bile burned my throat and mouth.
I dissolved into spastic hiccoughs and heaving.
It took twenty minutes before they flew off.
I looked at her, unable to look away.
A ragged torso remained. Her liver had fallen out and lay on the rock floor, glistening. Her arms had been torn off and one leg had only bone remaining. Her face was half-gnawed, her missing left-cheek showing grinning teeth. I went up to her body, hoping to see if there was a bracelet or something with her name on it.
"Roll.. me.." She said, her labored chest rising as she forced air with her grayish-white exposed diaphragm . "Pool…"
I nodded and took a step before taking it back, hesitating.
I lifted her body underneath what would've been her arms. Ragged flesh stumps remained. I caught them and dragged. I felt the raw flesh contract as I touched it, shrinking inwards from the harsh stimuli of my grasp. I rolled her into the pool and said a prayer that she'd drown quickly.
Her body slowly floated underneath.
I walked away and huddled in a ball, trying to get some sleep.
I had almost fell asleep when they came to eat me.