The One Thing You're Good At, Part 2
A short story by Tobias Wilde
The langeriformed falls down. It's so loud when it hits the ground. Then it is still. Once you kill the host the monster becomes like an empty husk. Lifeless, or so it appears, and defenseless, at least for now. Now it's in the pseudo-sleep, a hibernation until another human host walks too close to its empty cloak of flesh. But I have a good four hours before the pouch re-ripens to make itself viable for implantation again, so now comes the labor-intensive part of cutting off the beast's head, its legs, and burning the pouch where the human host incubates—a gelatinous sac that can regenerate on its own long after the langeriformed's framework is dissolved or severed. The sac, I take for the bonfire. The decapitated head and severed limbs I can leave for the worms.
The langeriformed still wails when I begin to saw through its neck—a low, mournful bay filled with pain, unlike the screaming agony of the human hosts when I release them from their subjugation. The same, but different. I don’t know if one affects me more than the other, or if it should.
There are more monsters swaggering toward me, all with their human hosts, screaming. The people are all screaming. Worst is when they're in the vicinity of one another so the hosts see each other die. I wish it didn't have to be that way.
I begin with another one, a woman who I've chosen because her arms are already absorbed, so dispatching her will be quicker, easier. I decide to alternate—hands, no hands. Pain, more pain.
"Help me, please help me!" The woman cries. "What's going to happen to me?!" "You'll be better soon," I say to her, and to each of them in turn.
It's going to be a long night.
I am standing in an expanse of severed limbs, fur, and blood where I breathe heavily, sweating. My skin is wet under my uniform and my arms are going soft from carving through necks all night—human and inhuman. What was I thinking? This machete is wrecked. I need a new tool like right fucking now. I can get one when I go to the west quadrant.
This last beast has been evading me all night—pacing, nervous. The smaller ones are actually cagier and more dangerous, because they're quick. I can already tell this one is reluctant to let its life go. Some of these creatures think they're special, but I run them through all the same. It's a young one, or at least I assume. Young and so full of the desire for its own existence. For perfection. The bigger ones go more easily because they just seem apathetic, if a beast can be that.
I have to side step to get in front of the monster. Its human host is quiet, which is great—maybe this one already died. They don't usually, but it happens. Would explain the beast's erratic behavior—manic before it drops, which sometimes happens too. But no, then I see the host's face blinking, looking at me. I see her eyes.
I see her eyes.
"Jeff, I got caught."
The monster has stopped ten feet away, its cloak of flesh still shuddering from the movement that has ceased. And her face—Stephanie's face—is looking out at me over the tract of bloodied terrain from within the folds of hell.
"Steph!" I say. I have no other words. "Steph—"
"I'm so sorry." Stephanie puts her hands on her chest. "I didn’t know. I was trying to get back to you." She is crying. She's looking at me from across the dark, and she is crying.
"Steph, how did you?—When did you?—"
"I've ruined everything!" she yells. The beast almost seems to react to her voice. Its head tics. Steph puts her hand on her throat, as if to will herself quieter, then gestures through the
indescribable pain she must be feeling. "I need you to do something for me. I need you to burn my body."
"Burn your body? I—I don’t understand." I am moving closer to her as the small beast's black eyes burn into me, looking at me while not looking at me. I am beginning to cry.
The beast is swaying but Steph is poised, unmoving, in the center. She is trying to talk through her tears. "You can’t let it out. You need to burn my body. It’s the only way it won’t survive."
I just keep walking toward her, looking and walking until I can see her face as clear as I did during those weeks we spent in the bed at the dispatch center.
"Jeff—" Her eyes are pleading. "This is bad. It's really bad. You have to do this for me. I would do it for you."
"I don't want to do this anymore!" I yell. "Why do you get to die and I don't?!"
"I'm so sorry," she says, and finally reaches out to put her small hands around my bandaged knuckles. They're trembling. "In another world, a better one, I lived out my whole life with you and we died together, okay? Just keep thinking about that."
Her hands are still warm. It feels like being with her.
"I want to be where you are." I am crying.
She squeezes my hands. "But you are so good. You got this."
"Don't—" I tell her.
"I love you," she says. There are tears streaming down her face. "You'll be better soon."
My heart jumped. I should have said something. I should have said, "Don't you dare comfort me when you are about to die." I should have said, "I love you too." I should have said anything, anything at all, instead of what I did.
I never hesitate. But she said the thing—that thing I say to everyone else. The thing I say to the people who I know are beyond comfort.
Maybe she did it on purpose.
Because I hesitated, and in that moment, my hand was loose. Not tight, not wound, like it should be. I left it loose. And in that moment, Steph put both her hands on it, grabbed it with all her force, and plunged the spikes into her neck.
The beast spasmed. Steph's arms went limp and dropped from my wrist. I pulled my fist away from her neck and there was blood—so much blood. It was pouring down her skin to her chest. "No no no!" I hear myself yelling. I try to cover the holes in her neck but her blood is running between my fingers. I began moving my hands and arms in a rage and a blur. There were tears in my eyes, and I thought I was fighting, but I couldn’t see. It felt like I was fighting, but I realized it was not nearly as difficult as it should be. I was barely trying, even though I was trying. And I wasn’t even fighting, I was grabbing the monster.
I was grabbing the monster, and pulling it toward me.
And the monster was pushing me away.
"Not you," it said to me.
It spoke. I had never heard one speak. I grabbed it again.
"Not you," it repeated and shoved me again, harder. But not to hurt me, just to create more distance between itself and I, to keep me at bay. I rushed it, getting as close as possible.
"Take me!" I yelled at the monster, banging my fists into the side of its head and beating its chest with the metal spikes on my knuckles. Steph's spikes. I am pounding the monster over and over and there is blood coming out of its body and splattering my face, going in my mouth. "Take me!" I screamed again. "You need another host, you piece of shit! You just don’t know it yet! Take me!"
I was wearing out the strength in my voice. My breath was tired. I leaned on the monster and could smell its oily fur. "I'm done," I said. I meant it. I put my arms around the monster's back.
"Not you." The monster shoved me again, and I fell to the ground.
How could it still be alive?! I could see the death in Stephanie's ragdoll arms and the slack in her handing head. Why wouldn’t the monster take me?! A langeriformed only refuses a host when it already has one, and Steph had been dead almost a minute now. The monster should have dropped within seconds or at least charged me with my raging and taunting it like I was. I put my hands on my knees, panting.
"It's the only way it won't survive," Steph had said. What did that mean? We never have to burn the entire langeriformed, just the pouch. And why would I burn her body, so it wouldn’t survive? It?
"No!" I yelled. "Then you give her to me!" I charged the monster and reached inside its cloak of skin and fur. I grabbed Steph's ribcage, under her arms, and pulled. I had never tried this before. I mean, doctors had tried things like this, but with tools, and books, and sterile shit. On an operating table. And the host always died. Because the host always dies. Far as I knew, doctors had never tried to remove an expired host. I had never tried either, but Steph was dead already. And I had to fight now.
I had to fight for her body.
The beast screeched and clawed my face, swaying. It's voice was shrill as it wrenched to one side and threw me so my body twisted as I fell. I rushed it again and it clamped its long, toothed snout down on my forearm, but I still hit it with all my weight. The anti-langeriformed gear adds a good fifty pounds and this asshole is small—smaller than the rest. I knock it to the ground and shove my arm farther into its gullet until it gags and has to unlock its jaws. We are down there in the dirt now, together, and Steph's head is falling to one side, tipping to and fro as the beast and I roll. The creature seems confused lying on its back, facing the sky, and its scream rises with a tone of panic. I take this opportunity to punch it in the face again, and again, and again.
I couldn't stop until its head had disappeared into the ground. There was blood and tissue and bone and pulp spread out in a fan around the beast's neck, and it was all over my hand and stuck between the spikes on my knuckles.
Steph's chest is visible down to her waist, where her body disappears into the gray fur. I don't even know how much of her is left of her in there. Gently, I push my arms deep into the monster's flesh and cradle Steph's back. I pull. I can feel her ribs, her form, still warm. I can feel her. I start crying again. I can't see, but I don’t need to. I stand, bending at the waist, and hug her body to mine.
"I got you," I say. Then I tense my arms, grip her, put my boot against the body of the beast, and pull. I can hear her body and the langeriformed's ripping as I part them.
I fall backwards holding her corpse when she comes out. I am afraid to look. She didn’t have any legs; they had already been dissolved into the creature.
But her torso is intact.
I looked at her face all the while I carried her back to the dispatch center. It was almost like she was really here.
The moon is blanching as I cross through the fencing to the dispatch base. After the harvest moon fades, it always feels like it's the darkest place in the world.
I kissed Steph on the forehead before laying her on the work table. I looked down at her and smoothed the dirty blonde hair out of her face.
"I'm sorry, Steph. I don’t like things, anymore. This life has beat that out of me. But I love you. And I can't burn your body. I won't. I can't let you go."
I had basic medical training in the army, but they never showed me how to remove a uterus, or incubate a fetus. But I’m gonna learn.
And maybe I can be good at three things. Maybe I can be a good Dad.
DISPATCH CENTER B OFFICIAL REPORT: ON LOCATION
DISPATCH CENTER B CONFIRMED AS THE DISTRICT THAT STOPPED DOING MOONRISE ROTATIONS. DCB WAS ENTRUSTED TO PRIVATE FIRST CLASS JEFFREY STITCHER, AGE 29. VERIFICATION THAT HARVESTS WERE COMPLETED UP THROUGH #73. PRESUMABLY, SOLDIER HAS FLED.
THERE ARE HUMAN BLOOD STAINS FROM THE DOOR TO THE DRAFT TABLE. THERE ARE ALSO REMAINS OF PREPARED LANGERIFORMED EDIBLES INSIDE THE COMPOUND AND EVIDENCE OF LANGERIFORMED HABITATION INDOORS.
THERE IS A FRESH BURIAL SITE OUTSIDE, MARKED WITH SOME SORT OF MAKESHIFT STEEL KNUCKLES.
NO FURTHER NEWS ON THE NEW HUMANOID LANGERIFORMED MUTATION. AS WE KNOW, THE SMALLER SPECIMENS ARE FASTER AND MORE AGGRESSIVE, AND THIS ONE IS THE SMALLEST YET—THE SIZE OF A HUMAN INFANT. WE DO KNOW IT FORMS COMPLETE ORGANS INDEPENDENTLY, AND THUS KEEPS THE HUMAN HOST INTACT. SPECIMEN INSTEAD COMPELS HOST TO GUARD CAVE DWELLINGS DURING THE DAY, WHEN SPECIMENS ARE VULNERABLE.
WE DO NOT YET KNOW WHAT MEANS IT EMPLOYS TO PREVENT THE HOST FROM SIMPLY DESERTING. SPECIAL OPS BELIEVES SPECIMEN MAY SECRETE A PHEROMONE THAT SOMEHOW ELICITS A PROTECTIVE INSTINCT IN THE HOST AND SIMULATES A PARENT / CHILD RELATIONSHIP.
BEGINNING PROTOCOL TO PREP SOLDIERS FOR DISPATCH OF SPECIMENS THAT LOOK AND ACT LIKE HUMAN CHILDREN. PSYCH-BAY IS ON STANDBY FOR THOSE WHO NEED MENTAL HELP, BUT REMEMBER, EXTREME CASES ONLY. WE ONLY HAVE THE RESOURCES FOR ONE SUBJECT PER MONTH. BY CHOOSING BETTER CANDIDATES FOR COMBAT, WE CAN KEEP OUR TRAUMA NUMBERS DOWN.
NEED NEW SOLIDER FOR DCB ASAP. THIS INDISCRETION HAS ALREADY ADDED AN ADDITIONAL TWELVE MONTHS TO THE REMAINING SIX-MONTH HARVEST SCHEDULE. PFC STITCHER WAS HERE TWENTY-FOUR MONTHS, THE LONGEST YET. STITCHER WAS PRECEDED AT THIS STATION BY TRAINER AND SPECIALIST TRAVIS BUCHANAN, SEVENTEEN MONTHS.
PLEASE PULL UP STITCHER'S PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE AND TEST THE INCOMING TROOPS AGAINST IT FOR A MATCH. REMEMBER, LONERS, ANTI-SOCIALS, MISANTHROPES PREFERABLE. THE LESS THEY LIKE PEOPLE, THE MORE MILEAGE WE GET OUT OF THEM AT THESE STATIONS.
THE END ###
(Click here for Part 1)
The One Thing You’re Good At copyright © 2015 by Tobias Wilde
All rights reserved. Except for the use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form, by electronic, mechanical or any other means, is forbidden without the express permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and settings are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.