Doug nearly loses his candle.
If there’s one thing I hate it’s making friends.
It’s a problem for a lot of guys, so being a bit revolted by the idea of getting to know people doesn’t make me weird. It just makes me a normal guy stuck in the body of a grotesquely enlarged tarantula. We’re lone wolves, as the cool kids say, and guys like me like their alone time. We like being with that special someone too, but crowds, social gatherings; that’s a whole ‘nother enchilada. It’s a bit icky.
That being said, thank God for friends.
One friend in particular, really my only friend; he’s the reason I’m still sucking in air. Were it not for Glenn and his fast moving wings and beak, I would be a glob of arachnid pudding. I felt close to turning into just that by the time he showed up like an angel sent from the Great Beyond.
“Not so damn cocky now, are you? You filthy spider, you sickening creepy bastard, you disgusting sack of…,” Mantipede had me right where he wanted me thanks to an intellect that jumped from reactive thinking to analytical thinking without the green light from me. It made me lose focus, which provided an easy opening for the giant centipede with the mind of a street thug to dive in and wrap his armored insect body around my hairy spider body.
So much for their crappy little apartment.
I fought the black spots forming around my vision and tried, with every ounce of energy I had left, extend my eight legs and repel the giant bug who was very nearly the victor in our battle. I couldn’t move him an inch. Bells began to sound in my head, gonging me from the show of life. I very nearly laughed about my predicament then, and had turned my thoughts to my son, when a blinding flash of hot light caused me to shrink back to reality.
ManQuail somehow managed to get between Mantipede and my limp form. He swung his beak between us, burning the tip of his incense into the giant centipede’s eyes. Mantipede howled in my head and his grip faltered, allowing me to break loose. With a flurry of wings and a good shove, I went sprawling toward the kitchen. The gawkers moved aside, letting me tumble to a stop near the burning black candle. The heat of the apartment fire, I discovered, helped things along. The black candle was very nearly burned out. Once snuffed, I had to bury the entire thing, water and all. At that point my task was done. Only, staring around at an apartment full of vengeful creatures and flames destroying all I held dear, I wondered how I would do that one simple task. It’s not like the Catholic saints Dymphna and Kolbe would come to my rescue. They were likely busy with their own tasks back at Diana’s place.
It was then I saw her. The wormy witch appeared in the middle of the living room, surrounded by heat and fire, and pointed her wretched talon-like fingers in my direction. “Kill the Mantula,” she screamed. “Kill him dead and end your pain!” The grotesque old woman turned her green, oily face to the centipede. Mantipede had barely managed to compose himself from his burns. “Up you!” She shouted to him. “Kill your enemy. Kill! Kill!”
At this point everyone seemed a little dazed and confused. I wasn’t dead, for one thing, which probably came as a shock to many of the creatures swarming in the room. They were all growing bigger as the Sturgis curse weakened and died for another thing. And the heat was getting to everyone. Some of the animals closest to the window and door were already making a beeline for safety. The rest, including me, were about to drop from smoke inhalation. No one seemed inclined to do what the witchy woman ordered. Mantipede might have made another attempt were it not for ManQuail.
Again, thank God for friends.
He leaped in front of me, panting and frantic, and gestured to me to get on his feathered back. “F#cking Sh#t,” he yelled in my head. “Sh#t! Sh#t!” I wrapped two of my furry legs around the bowl and candle, covering as much as I could with my own body, then scrambled atop my friend. He flopped and floundered, but managed to get enough air that we soared over most of the critters’ heads. I looked up, thinking we were about to crash into the wormy witch, but realized she had vanished. I felt a claw rake across my leg from somewhere below, but managed to hang onto my candle and bowl. Looking behind us, I realized we were getting out of my crappy little apartment at the right time.
Flames engulfed the old white stove in the corner of the kitchen and the whole room suddenly felt as if it were taking in a last, deep breath of air. Then it all went to hell. The room exploded in a fireball of lava and pain. ManQuail, with me holding on for dear life, burst through the window, flapping his wings like a madman, as a plume of fire shot over our heads. The next moment I felt cool air touch my singed body, then the impact as I hit the dirt outside of the apartment complex. I couldn’t believe we hadn’t died in there. Others had. There was no mistaking the room had been cleared of life by the explosion. A handful of cursed lives, Mantipede’s included, were now gone thanks to the ghost of Jackie Sturgis. And my crappy little apartment, and my memories of Charlie, were also gone.
I climbed groggily to my feet and realized I dropped the bowl and candle at some point during our fiery exit. It sat, unbroken and right-side up, a few feet away. Perhaps there’d been a little saintly intervention after all. It didn’t even look as though a single drop had been spilled. I grabbed the bowl and made my way into the shadows beyond the glow of the fire. ManQuail followed close behind me, keeping an eye out for other attackers with a mind to finish what Baldy began. We saw no one, except for gawkers staring into the flames of what was once their neighbors’ homes. Fire trucks, police cars and ambulances lined the street to the south of us, but so far we hadn’t been seen. If anything I’d be confused as a dog. With our growing bodies, we could no longer hide as easily as we could before this melee began.
I tore easily into the earth, ripping out huge chunks at a time, and made a neat little pile behind me. Glenn stood guard over the bowl and candle, then helped me heave both items into the pit. We both took turns burying the items. We’d no sooner patted the last bit of soil down than we could feel the beginnings of the change. My skin felt as though it were stretching. My eyes felt as if they were blurring and rotating in their sockets. And it was painful, but not as bad as you might think. Not sure why really, except that every part of my body had become gooey and malleable, which probably changed how my nerve endings reacted to things.
And ManQuail, who was beginning to look more like a man than a quail, finally got his speech back.
“It’s happening,” he said with a laugh. “It’s like I always said. You put your mind to something and you can accomplish anything.” It was the first time I heard Glenn’s real voice.
Staring past my friend, I noticed a figure running past the fire. He ducked beneath a wooden fence into a nearby alley, tossing a gasoline can as he fled. There was no doubt in my mind who that gasoline can belonged to, nor who was to blame for the fire that burned my crappy little apartment.
“Kip Mooney.” My voice sounded weird to my ears. I hadn’t heard it speak aloud in some time.
“Where do you think he’s off to in such a hurry?” Glenn asked.
I knew the answer to that question in a flash of course. There could only be one other location that he’d find as appealing as my place.
“He’s not finished yet, Glenn. That bastard plans to burn down Diana’s house just as he burned down these crappy apartments.”
MANTULA will return.