by Trista DiGiuseppi
Waking up in a bathtub of chilled water isn’t what Deidre considered a normal way to start the day. …Or was it night? Either way, she flew forward with a gasp, aspirating cold water particles mixed with the taste of stale bathroom air. Deidre heaved and choked, wildly scanning the room for a hint – a clue – as to where she was and what had happened to her. Looking down, she realized she was nude. Deidre screamed, mindlessly reaching for the shower curtain to hoist her weight from the tub. The curtain’s tension rod slipped away from the wall, crashing down on top of her head. Deidre madly shrieked with pain and confusion as she thrashed beneath the cold stickiness of a moldy, plastic curtain. Water splashed out of the tub, seeping along the cracked stone flooring that blanketed the interior of the mysterious bathroom. Pulling herself over the side of the tub, Deidre’s smooth, wet skin glided along the porcelain with ease. She collapsed to the stone floor, clutching her head, panting violently, fighting the sparkly dots in her vision that indicated a sudden rush of blood.
Where the hell am I?
Standing to her feet, Deidre convulsed and shook. Her skin was so cold that she couldn’t feel – everything went numb. She clutched her arms around her waist, sliding her feet along the dirty bathroom floor. Aside from herself, the tub, and a toilet with no seat– the room was relatively empty. She made her way toward the door. As Deidre approached the bathroom’s exit, she reached for the handle, half expecting it to be locked. To her delight, it turned and the door opened right up.
“Help!” she cried, turning down a long corridor. The hall was lined with the same skuzzy stone texture that collected mildew and grime. Fluorescent light fixtures hung haphazardly from the ceiling, flickering with a low, obnoxious buzz. “Somebody help me!” she screamed.
Deidre’s hair stuck to her neck in frozen strands. As she walked chilly droplets of water trickled from her hair to her spine. She began to warm up since she could feel the droplets. The sudden indication of heat nauseated her. Deidre couldn’t ascertain as to why.
“Help!” she repeated and continued walking, albeit awkwardly – like a clumsy drunk. As Deidre continued onward, she spat on the ground. Her saliva tasted odd, so she continued to spit. Deidre looked down at her spit – something about it caught her eye. It was bright green, as if she had recently eaten candy. But this certainly didn’t taste like candy. Something about Deidre’s spit tasted metallic and putrid. Disturbed by the green coloration, she forced herself to swallow it, unable to process reasons as to why the color would be anything but clear.
Moving forward, she spotted an iron ladder soldered to the wall. Craning her neck, Deidre realized it led to a hatch in the ceiling. Instinctively, she began to climb. As she reached the hatch, she pushed her hand flat against it, forcing the surface to break away from a weak suction that pinned it shut. With a soft pop and the creak of a hinge, the hatch flipped up, landing backwards against a flat surface above. Deidre saw no ceilings, broken toilets, or light fixtures. Above there was simply a blue sky with large, puffy clouds.
I’m out. I just need to find help.
She climbed above and crawled along the fresh grass. Her eyes mildly stung from the sudden shock of sunlight. Deidre looked around and called out – as loudly as she could – for help. No one came to her, and she noticed that everything around her seemed empty. She stood in the middle of a grassy park, surrounded by benches, trees, sidewalks, and buildings. But no people came to her. There was no one around.
She meandered a bit, stumbling and shivering as usual. Deidre couldn’t shake that awful taste from her mouth and decided to spit out the green stuff even if it was disconcerting. She spit in the grass. When it hit the ground, Deidre heard a sizzle. Looking down upon further inspection, she watched her saliva eat away at the blades of grass, literally burning right through it.
What in the hell…?
Suddenly, a noise startled her – something ripped through the air and smacked against the flimsy trunk of a small tree. Then the sound came again and hit the ground, popping a tiny chunk of soil up from the earth.
Deidre turned quickly, scanning across the streets, benches, buildings and trees. From far off, inside of a red, rusted out pickup truck, there was a man aiming a rifle at her. The gunshot came again, this time grazing Deidre’s thigh. She screamed and tumbled to the ground, clutching her leg. At that moment, something blistered inside of her, as if struggling to erupt. Then it diminished, and Deidre soon forgot the strange sensation. Her attention turned on the man with the gun. Who was he? Why was he trying to kill her?
Then, another person emerged from hiding – it was a woman, holding a rifle as well. She moved out from behind the foliage of the park, circling the area in which Deidre occupied. The woman kept her rifle pointed vigilantly, moving in closer and closer. Meanwhile, Deidre tended to her leg, noticing that the blood seeping from her shallow wound was not red… but green.
“Go on!” yelled the woman. “Get back under the street!”
“Who are you? What’s happening?” asked Deidre, confused.
“That’s close enough, Liza!” yelled the man from the truck. “Don’ get close to that thing…” The woman looked back at him and nodded.
Confused, Deidre stood, suddenly aware there was something …not right… about herself.
“Dragged my boy down there…” muttered the woman from behind her gun. “Dragged ‘im down and tore ‘im up…” She scowled at Deidre.
“Look I don’t know what you’re talking about-”
“Course not. Go through this every time – right b‘fore you kill somebody. Get back down there… back in the ground.”
Deidre peered at the woman. “Or else what? You’ll kill me?” Something about the woman’s body language indicated she feared Deidre even though she was the one with the gun.
“Liza, back away!” yelled the man. “Don’ piss it off! Let’s go!”
Taking cues from what she could, Deidre said, “Yeah… you don’t want to piss me off. How about you point me to a phone?”
Liza backed away slowly, pointing her gun at Deidre. “Ain’t no phones. You know that.”
“Apparently not,” said Deidre, walking toward Liza, unafraid that the weapon was pointed right at her. The sudden confidence was liberating, however confusing. Deidre had not yet understood from where it came.
“E’er since those things came…” said Liza, “E’er since they changed people, we gotta keep watch on you creatures below. My poor boy…” she trailed off. Then she muttered, “Only thing you bastards can’t stand is dry heat…”
“What actually happened to your boy?” asked Deidre, her voice suddenly clear and low. She asked the question, but a dark part of her already knew the answer.
“Already told you what happened!” yelled Liza as she furiously cocked back the gun, impulsively pulling the trigger. A bullet soared through the air, smacking Deidre’s chest with a bloody burst. She heaved painfully, looking down at her leg that had earlier been grazed by the same weapon. The wound on her thigh… it healed. Gone. It was just… gone.
“Liza goddammit! Get in the truck!” yelled the man. He started the engine and zipped along the street. Liza strapped the gun to her back and ran, sprinting for the truck as it rolled along the cement. Its passenger door popped open and Liza leaped in the vehicle as it tore off into the distance.
Deidre shook from the impact against her bleeding chest and something deep inside of her bubbled with ferocity. Green liquid oozed down her front, trailing its way past her knees and sizzling along the grass. Her bones and skin pulsated and grew, amassing into a fleshy concoction of alien appendages that weren’t part of her before. Deidre’s mind went numb and her vision expanded like a magnifying glass – to Deidre, or to what had become of her, everything in the city slowed to a cold, listless pause, painted in mutated colors that no human eye could see.
Liza and the man tore off down the street in the red pickup truck. A disturbing noise carried through the wind as the man checked his review mirror. What he saw compelled him to flatten the accelerator down to its furthest point.
…A massive, writhing creature emerged from between the trees of the city park.