Doug has a hard time concentrating.
I found the only lighter we had in the place and got the incense sticks lit for Glenn. He dashed off like a good little soldier with a cape of gray smoke trailing behind him. I turned the lighter onto my candle next, wondering what sort of strange Pagan ritual I was about to undertake. The whole thing seemed oddly un-Catholic, but then again I was never a very good Catholic myself, so I had no reservations about following his instructions. As long as it worked, I couldn’t care less.
As I set to work on my task, my thoughts drifted to all the enemies I had made since turning into Mantula. My first priority was dealing with the curse, though I had quite the new nemesis lurking outside waiting to dash my brains out against the table. Charlie would have loved the name Mantipede. It would have cracked him up. Just like Mantula and ManQuail would crack him up. I just wondered how powerful that nasty looking centipede would be if we locked horns. Hopefully I wouldn’t find out. I wasn’t feeling all that confident about my human-man strength at this point in the game.
I melted the wax into the center of the bowl, then stuck the candle on it. At that moment the flame went out. I waited to relight it, however, until after I filled the bowl with water. With that done, I lit the candle again and started focusing on the curse. This would be the hard part. There were too many distractions going on around me. First off, the army of nastiness outside would, I was sure, bust into our crappy little apartment at any moment. Secondly, a cussing quail ran all around me every few minutes holding sticks of stinky incense. Combine the two and I was lucky to get even the smallest bit of focus loose on the world. I tried though, I centered my mind on how I was once a man, a father, and even a husband – once upon a time. There was nothing exceptional about me, I thought, only that I tried to be a good man to my wife and son. They were my world. And when my wife was gone, I tried to be a good dad. There were no six pack abs on my stomach, no prizes for scientific achievements on my mantle (I didn’t even have a mantle), but I had a healthy and happy boy, so that counted for something I think. Then I focused on what I had become, a suicidal tarantula hell bent on ending his own life. I thought of the beginning of my twisted tale, then focused on how I’d grown, how my human strength remained, and how I wanted nothing more than to go back to who I was. Only different. I knew I wouldn’t be alone when this ended; I had a new friend in Glenn. And there was Diana Sturgis to think about, though I tried not to do that while meditating over the black candle.
“F#cking Sh#t,” ManQuail uttered his usual expletives, but with a note of urgency. I looked up in time to see him dash from the window and jump atop the kitchen table. He pecked at the keyboard with his beak, then turned for me to read the words.
He wrote, “The apartment complex across the street is on fire.
“Thanks, Glenn. Trying to concentrate. Keep spreading the incense around. Try not to look out the window.”
“Anyone in there? Hello?”
The wife from below. I hadn’t seen her since I laid out her abusive husband. I heard Glenn cuss from the bedroom.
“Hello? If there’s anyone in there, you need to get out now. The apartments are on fire! Hello?”
She pounded again, but quickly thumped her way downstairs after realizing no one was home. We were home of course, but we never answered the door. Especially not today. In the distance were sirens. The Cottonwood Fire Department would, with luck, get here in time. At least in enough time to save our section. I didn’t want to draw this candle-burning thing out.
I tried to drown out all other thoughts as I watched the flickering flame on the candle. It sure burned slowly. Not like the apartments, I’d bet. I sensed ManQuail next to me. He used the lighter on a few new sticks of incense and started smoking up the living room again. I focused on a visual image of the crazy old witch Jackie Sturgis, her hate and anger towards the Catholic saints that brought Glenn back to life, and started praying (yes, praying) for her to find peace. Not only that, but I prayed for a peaceful ending to the whole situation. It was probably the wrong thing to do on retrospect. Because at the moment, we heard a clamor on the outside porch. Lots of scurrying and clawing at our door. Maybe if I hadn’t prayed for a peaceful ending, there would have been one. I guess I will never know.
Baldy finally faces Doug.
I turned just as the first furry creature smashed through the living room window. It was a rat I think, but following it were two quails, a scrub jay, and a bunch of bugs. Beyond them I could see nothing but gray skies. The army roared toward me like a gross tidal wave of segmented bodies, feathers, and unwashed rodent fur. Whether the gray skies were approaching thunderstorms or smoke from the burning buildings I couldn’t tell. There were more immediate concerns on my mind.
The War of the Cursed had begun.
My human-sized strength made it easy to swat the first few away. I even managed to keep any of their weird little bodies from snuffing out the candle. I smacked at a titmouse, knocked a gecko across the room, and batted at a fellow tarantula. They were nothing against my strength – insects to a lumberjack. What I didn’t like was the hummingbird that dove in for the kill. The thing’s beak stabbed at me painfully, but then ManQuail appeared out of nowhere. He sailed through the room like a champ and grabbed that little bird right out of the sky. As he took the enemy down, I saw he still held incense in his hand. I yelled for my friend to stick close to me. His strength wasn’t on par with my own, though you wouldn’t be able to tell by the effort he was putting in.
“Keep the candle from going out!” I shouted at him while bitch-slapping a horny toad. How many of these cursed creatures were there? I looked over the sea of attackers flooding into the crappy little apartment and saw no sign of Mantipede. What I did notice was that these creatures, just like my friend and I, had grown far larger than we were supposed to be. The curse was wearing off for all of us it seemed, and it made for something of a grotesque sight.
I heard an unknown voice in my head. “That’s the quail we saw in the window,” it shouted. I realized the voice belonged to a small brown snake that had just slithered into the room. It figured they spotted Glenn when he looked out of the window. Thanks, buddy.
But then it dawned on me. I could hear all of their voices. As the curse weakened, so did the mental barriers between all of us. I continued to toss bodies across the room while Glenn flapped and pecked at a rat to keep it away from the burning black candle.
Someone shouted back at me. “You lie!”
“Sit and spin, douche bag!”
So much for anything resembling peace. I kept beating them down, finding myself quickly surrounded. The more I fought them off, the more I realized they seemed to be stronger too. It was as if the candle melting, the incense burning, were releasing their strength as well. Mine had come from a glitch in the curse, from crossed spiritual wires that couldn’t decide whether I should be depressed or addicted, when in reality I was both, but they had never had that strength. None of the other cursed creatures had, at least not until now.
“Move aside you filthy bastards!”
I looked just in time to see a large centipede drop from the windowsill. “Let me get a crack at this ass. I’ve been waiting a long time to come up against this one.”
Mantipede appeared in front of me. Also known as Baldy, this was a guy who definitely hated me. I could feel it bleeding from his pores, if centipedes had pores. The tone of his voice told me everything, however. Usually that’s all one needs is to hear the tone in someone’s voice to gauge the level of terror they should feel.
This guy wanted to kill me hard.
MANTULA will return