Unanswerable questions buzzed in my mind like a swarm of something angry and winged.
Where did it go? Is it still here? Why is it here? Why did it take its shed skin down from the rafters? Is it watching us right now? Why doesn't anything make sense anymore?
My frenzied thoughts were quickly cut off when Lola stepped closer to me, actually cringed against me, letting out a cry that was half squeal half wheeze. On the ground, way too close for comfort, I glimpsed what had caused her apprehension: a large rat with course, matted fur, and sparkling almost crimson eyes. I gasped at its size, for it was nearly as big as a cat. Jutting out of its snout were sharp uneven teeth that could be easily seen even in this bad light, because it opened its little mouth and hissed threateningly, those pale front feet furiously raking the air as if in absolute anger upon seeing intruders in this gloomy little place it called home.
It had to have been a Wharf rat, because those things are bold, cunning, and notorious for their size and steely reluctance to flee from human beings, especially when they feel threatened. This fact didn't help us deal with the nasty little thing any easier, and if I hadn't been so on edge from the current circumstances, I would have had the courage to drive it away.
Instead, like the true scaredy-cat that I know myself to be at heart, I screamed. To my surprise, Lola screamed along with me, and we both began to back away from the rat.
Seeing this, it hissed again, and began to scuttle towards us.
I don't exactly know the precise moment it happened, because for one, I was too frightened out of my wits and probably at the time didn't want to admit to myself the next thing that occurred, but something whipped from above, from that fluid darkness that we didn't want to look at because it struck primal fears in us that lie even in the strongest hearts. At first, I thought it was a snake, for it was long, sinuous, about as thick as my arm, and writhing slowly.
Then I saw how pale it was, how it looked soft and wet with something thick and revolting and horribly familiar. It somehow reminded me of a tube or a…proboscis, partly because I noticed the rat wasn't coming for us anymore.
Instead, it was captured on the suckered end of that tube-like appendage, shrieking and struggling as it was lifted upward and into the darkness above.
I wanted to run, I really needed to run, and Lola probably did too, but we were paralyzed by fear and intrigue. We knew that the creature was up there now, feeding on that rat with the proboscis or whatever the heck it used to suck into helpless prey and drink their insides as though they were some kind of protein shake.
Fueling our terror, our complete and utter terror, yet also our fascination and stupid curiosity, was a soft, subtle slurping noise. Underlying this, the agonized squalls of the dying rat as it was quickly drained of all body fluids and much more.
My heart, like a horse pounding its hooves against confining stable doors, hammered hard in my chest, and my legs felt as thin and flimsy as spaghetti noodles. Nevertheless, I forced myself to move them, to bolt away from the hidden feast, to flee in the direction we had entered before it was too late to escape, and I could hear Lola's footsteps as she hurried behind me.
We had gone several steps before I realized I had dropped my flashlight, but Lola still clutched hers. The beam bobbed rapidly back and forth as she ran, and it suddenly ceased as she halted, turned around.
"What are you doing?" I demanded in a squeaky, terrified voice that I barely recognized as my own.
"Wait!" she said, and there was a sudden brief glow of whitish-blue light as Lola snapped a picture with her camera, which I had forgotten she still had.
In that brief illumination of the camera flash, I caught a short glimpse of the creature, hanging upside-down from the ceiling with multiple gnarled limbs. Vague impressions revealed a head with what appeared to be fierce, serrated mandibles jutting out of the face, a long and seemingly muscular body that was infinitely strange in comparison to anything I had ever seen before in my life, massive moth-like wings, fanning out so much that it was difficult to judge where they ended, and black bulging eyes that gleamed on either side of the head.
Before we turned to flee again, I thought I saw it turn and look at me, and my imagination, or maybe something far more profound, gave me the impression of a wicked, hungry smile.
We were hurrying up the escalator as fast as our legs would take us, daring not to turn around and peek behind us to see if we were being pursued, when that same, haunting, smooth-as-cream voice seemed to echo from everywhere at once.
"Come back…come back…come back…come back..."
Crazily, inexplicably, I felt the scar on my hand, that possibly infected wound that came with not even the slightest pain, begin to pulse in rhythm with the creature's voice, to throb with each fluctuation of its tone, to palpate along with the almost musical words as they sounded all around us.
“Oh, God!” I screamed raggedly to Lola. “I feel it!”
I couldn't see her face but I could feel her confusion and terror almost as acutely as my own. “What?”
“-Stay calm and do not run away...” sang the insect, and its voice sounded as if it were coming from across the deepest blackest Abyss.
In unison with this command, the scar pulsed even more rapidly. I felt like there was a living heartbeat in my hand.
We forced ourselves to go faster, and adrenaline gave me the strength to do so. Everything seemed to flash in a vividness and clarity I had never before experienced. The musty smell of this place, the vaguely perceived dimensions of the stony walls around us, and the terrible yet painless throbbing of my hand in sync with the creature's melodious voice.
I felt the urge to glance behind us, to see if it was there, coming our way, but lacked the guts to do so.
“Guts.” said my frantic thoughts. “Hurry and get out of here or you wont have them anymore.”
Down another hall, the voice still speaking in that calm and creepy tone but now rapidly receding and becoming fainter, we did not stop or slow down even when we saw the foggy night dimly peering in at the end of the last exit. As we ran towards it, I heard the trilling noise that the creature had issued previously, and it was as piercing and taunting as before.
Then: “Come back...come back...COME BACK!”
The exit was now only a few steps away when the voice became louder than I had ever heard. It seemed stern, commanding. The calm, smooth, almost playful edge was still there, but heavily dominated by this new tone.
Compared to this place, the dark, damp and blurry world out there at the last exit seemed welcoming like a toasty hearth flooded with the warm light of a fireplace. I almost cried out with relief when we finally made it out, but I knew it wasn't over until we got as far away as possible from the abandoned subway, because if that thing decided to chase us all the way into the street, no one would be around to hear us scream.
So Lola and I kept running, striving to keep as close to one another as possible.
My feet were pounding against the asphalt as hard as my heart was thumping, and great gusts of air whooshed out of my mouth as I sprinted like a deer in danger.
The blanket of fog made it dangerous to run at full speed, for we could have crashed right into trees or telephone poles or something even worse, but we could not stop, would not stop.
Apparently luck was on our side. There were no collisions to hamper our escape, and stamina was curiously plentiful. The pulsing pressure in my hand had ceased, and now it felt numb.
Eventually Arrow Street was behind us and we finally paused to catch our breath. Then Lola said, "That was awesome."
I didn't even need to ask her if she was serious, because I know how she always is under fear's tightening knot: sarcastic. Her face was as pale as baking flour in the light of a nearby street lamp, and her blond hair almost looked white. Everyone puts up a brave exterior to prepare themselves for the surprises and horrors of this world, but no matter how tough someone seems, we are always snail-soft at our core, unable to prevent ourselves from being scared and shocked by the things that we dare not acknowledge until there is no choice anymore.
Lola's grin looked ghastly and forced when she held up the camera from its strap around her neck. It was a digital camera, equipped with a memory card to store a good number of images taken, and I heard a series of beeps as she pushed buttons, searching for the picture she had snapped of the creature.
After a few moments of searching, her strained smile faded as quickly as it had appeared. She held up the camera to show me the view screen. Instead of a clear shot of the rat-eating thing that she had tried so hard to obtain, all I saw on the screen was a dark cobweb-ridden ceiling, and nothing else to enlighten anyone but us with the truth.
A weary, pent-up breath escaped me, and I inquired shakily, "No proof now?" Though I already knew the answer to that question.
Lola shook her head and slipped the camera around her neck again; staring at me, regret carving her features. "Sorry."
"No, no. don't be sorry. The good thing is we got out. That's all that matters. Everyone would have thought it was a hoax anyway."
"You don't know that." She protested. "Maybe if I could have gotten closer to it or something, I could have taken a clearer shot."
"Would you have wanted to get closer?"
We both chuckled dryly, and simultaneously were overcome with a siege of the shivers as we stared back at the end of the street where we had just come from, as if expecting the creature to be there, quickly coming through the wall of fog around us with intentions of turning us into highly nutritional meaty protein shakes.
"No matter how much I think and wonder," I began, my breath making tendrils of mist quiver in front of my face. "I can't get my mind around any of this."
"Maybe Mulder and Skully. They deal with this kind of crap almost every day."
“And with enthusiasm.”
"But they were on a TV show. Real life doesn't make that much sense."
"Unless you want it to."
As if in disagreement to her statement, the fog seemed to swirl closer around us, like a thick and heavy shroud.
We walked back to Lola's house. Nothing followed us there. The whole time my mind, like a VCR perpetually commanded to replay the same movie scene over and over again, relived things that we had heard and barely saw in the subway only minutes ago. I had known this would happen, the plaguing thoughts that haunt all conscious human minds, unless you count those who are heavy in meditation, and attempting to eliminate their inner dialogue.
Strangely, the night no longer seemed sinister or watchful. Now it seemed asleep, burned out, like a child who had spent hours playing and romping, and then grew tired and decided to nap. As we walked down the street, passing the obscured forms of houses and hulking trees, my heart was no longer thudding so fast, but it still beat hard, another constant reminder of the terror that had so easily come.
Lola seemed focused on some distant oblivion as she walked beside me, her hands tucked into the pockets of her coat, her eyes looking forward as far as the fog would allow, while I was gazing around rapidly, still prepared to run as fast as I could if something decided to come after us. Of course, it didn't, but it didn't hurt to be prepared.
After a few more minutes of walking, we had almost reached Lola's house, and then I turned to her. “Did you see it when the camera flashed?”
Biting her lip, she replied, “kind of...sort of...not really sure. Maybe it was just my eyes playing tricks on me or something.”
“No.” I said, shaking my head. “It was there.”
She didn't reply.
Shivering slightly from the damp cold, but also due to the shock, I also buried my hands into the pockets of my own coat. My fear had passed now, and was replaced with an eagerness to understand all of this, which surprised me. Numbness also accompanied these new feelings, and gradually I stopped acting like a jittery mouse sensing snake company nearby, ceased looking around in search of monsters that would probably not come, and concentrated on ridding my mind of frantic, uncontrollable thought. If Tibetan Monks could do it, so could I.
When the welcoming glow of Lola's house could be seen at the end of the street, I wondered out loud, “Why didn't it come after us? What was the purpose of letting us hear all those...those...”
“Eating noises?” Lola suggested somberly.
“Yeah...but why didn't it just have us for a meal instead?”
“Who knows. I don't know. Maybe we don't seem appetizing enough.”
“Then why did it want us to come back?”
“Maybe it wanted to show us its marvelous collection of perfectly preserved rat carcasses.”
“All of this...doesn't make any sense.” I murmured softly, disbelievingly.
“I guess that is just the way of the world these days. Or the way of Oakville.” She shrugged.
“We need to tell someone. The police, anyone...” I trailed off, not really sure where I was going with this. If we did ever let anyone know even minor details of what we had seen and heard in the abandoned subway, they would either pass us off as bored teenagers desperate to get attention, or they would humor us and go in there out of curiosity, or mild concern. If they did, the insect creature would hide and refuse to be found, or devour them alive like that unfortunate rat.
Any outcomes of the choice of telling the truth to authorities were not worth the possible consequences. Lola and I decided we would think, wait, but we would never go into the subway again. We were determined that if we left this alone, life would go on as normal as our strange town allowed, and some element of peace would be preserved if we did.
We dared to hope the creature would stay where it was, and not come out anytime soon. We did not want to think of what might happen if it suddenly grew bored in its lair, and, drawn by needs no human could understand, decided to venture out, in the midst of all the people who drove and walked on Arrow Street and all the other places that make up this part of Oakville. It kept us sane to hope.
However, our thoughts and expectations were not the only forces in the universe. Fate must have had other plans.
In Lola's dimly lit kitchen, we both sat in the white wooden dining chairs next to a round glass table, sipping hot chocolate out of large ceramic mugs and munching on corn chips. Lola's parents had already gone to bed, and they were fully comfortable with us staying up late while they slept. They believed that sleepovers just wouldn't be fun if they included actually going to sleep. For as long as I have known Lola, I have always felt comfortable coming into her house. It is peaceful, welcoming, and there were so many times where I sat in those same white chairs, talking with the only one who doesn't judge me about the strange things that I see, talking about things many people my age never even ponder.
There were also times where I could have sworn I have done something like this before, but somewhere else, in a different time, as a different person altogether. Lola is more of a sister to me than my own brother is even a brother, and this was not only because Dustin never truly wanted to be my brother in the first place. The one thing all these weird happenings have done to me is give me an extremely open mind, and since Lola's was already, (perhaps even more so) we could both agree on the possibility that we had been sisters before.
To elaborate, we believed in reincarnation, in the prospect of human life repeating itself in a variety of ways, and also in the notion that there were also even more lives to come for us and for so many others that shared this world. Like everything that happens which cannot be fully explained, there was no proof of any of this. Yet this belief has been with us for a long time.
So Lola and I sat, as we could have done in past lives in faraway places that were so long ago and at the same time so close, listening to the quiet humming of the refrigerator, for once not stressed about what had been happening since the very morning I woke up to another strange mystery. I was truly surprised that we had calmed down so easily and in such little time. Perhaps that was the biggest mystery of all.
“I forgot to bring my backpack.” I announced.
“Or maybe you dropped it while we were in there. Wasn't the dagger in there too?”
“Yeah. The bug can keep it. I don't want it.”
Yoyo was curled up in Lola's lap, sleeping soundly, unlike us. Gently stroking the cat's soft gray fur, Lola asked, “I've been wondering this time and time again; how come no one else sees stuff here like we do?”
“Maybe they do, but they don't want to say anything.”
“Or no one will let them say anything.”
This idea brought on another thoughtful silence.
Lola daintily sipped at her steaming mug of hot chocolate. “You think some of this has to do with the government? Something they have done, or are still doing?”
“That would certainly give them a reason to hide the truth.”
“But if we knew it, or let them be aware of what we already know, what would they do to us? Would they try to keep us silent?”
“You should be a conspiracy theorist.” I mused.
“Very funny. But really, what if this had something to do with them? This intelligent insect freak...do things like that just appear without any reason at all?”
“In this town, they do.” I replied, taking a long gulp of chocolate.
“But without a reason? It can't be all because of the vortex. People would notice. People would be afraid.”
“People could be afraid, but for more than one reason.”
“Maybe they're sending out Black Ops to make sure people don't try to say anything?”
“Jeez, we are definitely wandering into the conspiracy zone...have you been watching too much 'Men in Black?'”
Smiling broadly, Lola reached across the table to snatch some corn chips from the bowl, and shoved the handful into her mouth, crunching noisily. “Love that movie.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Especially the part where Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones destroy that giant bug...”
Lola's eyes widened suddenly. So did mine, as the most incredible possibility made itself known to us.
“Oh My God.” Lola exclaimed, jumping up from the table with her mouth still stuffed with corn chips. She looked like a chipmunk with nuts bulging in its cheeks. “That must be it.”
“But a movie-”
“All movies are fictional, Wendy. But, they are inspired by things in real life. What if that's what this thing is? An insectoid alien.”
Though the possibility definitely existed, I was perhaps determined not to know exactly what this thing was. But at the exact same time, I wanted to at least find some answers. Perhaps because it would take away some of the fear of the unknown.
“Maybe so, but we don't know.” I said, taking a few corn chips from the bowl to give myself an excuse not to say anything else for a moment.
Lola raised her eyebrows quizzically. “Does anyone, ever know anything?”
“Oh, stop with this cryptic dribble. You're giving me a headache.”
“That's your problem. In the future, you better not listen to anything even remotely profound unless you want your brains to implode from the intensity of having to reflect on it.”
“Confucius say, girl who preaches philosophical junk to best friend without ceasing, will wake up in morning with a horse head in her bed.”
We both giggled.
What I had just said probably made no sense, and the absurdity was what made it humorous.
For some reason, I suddenly looked at my hand. The scar looked no different, but I remembered how it had fluttered in symphony with the insect's voice. In an instant, my mental and emotional numbness lifted and disquiet seeped in. My mind was already trying to wrap around the whys and hows, but they were way too scary to consider at that moment. With considerable effort, I tried to shove it out of my mind.
“I wonder what Sammy's doing right about now.” Lola wondered.
“Hiding from Dustin, probably.”
“He sure is a cool dog, just like Storm. Except Sammy doesn't maul me whenever I walk through the door.”
“Maul you? Isn't that a harsh word?”
“I'm serious, whenever I come home from school he's either in the back yard or waiting for me at the door, and he barks like he's rabid, takes a flying leap, and lands on top of me. How is that not mauling?”
“Well, for one, he doesn't try to tear you limb from limb. He's a face-licker.” I noted.
Lola smiled. “That's my Stormy, so forcefully, aggressively affectionate.”
“But not toward Yoyo.”
“Well, did you ever notice how much Yoyo here resembles a little gray bunny rabbit? That's what Huskies, or almost any dogs for that matter, go after in the wild. Cute little bunny rabbits. Its too bad they won't get along.”
At the mention of his name, the cat sat up, yawned, and pricked his ears, those round green eyes fixed on me for a moment. He got up from Lola's lap and sauntered over the the round metal food bowl on the other side of the kitchen, which displayed his name in fancy engraved lettering. Large and stocky, the cat walked with Imperial pride, and nibbled at his dry food as if it were some fine, expensive delicacy.
If he had Storm's advantage of size, no doubt Yoyo would be ruling this household.
Suddenly, from somewhere below us, obviously in the cellar, someone issued a soft groan.
When I jumped in my seat, Lola said calmly, “Samelio.”
I relaxed, because the dead Opera singer was the only supernatural thing that I wasn't completely terrified of.
“He's been real restless lately.” Lola explained.
“Maybe he senses our feelings. Ghosts can be pretty perceptive to the living, because they've been through what we have, and much more.”
“I wonder when he'll move on. He must be super lonely down there.”
Closing her eyes and sighing, Lola said, “Sometimes I try to talk to him.”
“Does he ever answer?” I wondered.
“Rarely, and when he does, its not very specific. He doesn't try all that hard to communicate.”
“Kind of ironic, isn't it?”
She opened her eyes. “What?”
“Its always the bad, scary ones that want to talk.”
For a moment we sat in silence, until our cups were empty, and until we could think of some things we needed to address, of things we needed to admit to ourselves. We stared at the scented candle at the center of the table. The dancing, flickering flame was almost lulling, and it seemed as though that small fire was a metaphor of so many things in life. Beautiful and intriguing but dangerous and unpredictable in the right context. Sometimes helpful, often hurtful.
After chatting about random subjects for a few more minutes, Lola and I both got tired and decided to go to sleep. I slept across the hall, in the guest room. I had thought that it would have been nearly impossible drifting off because of what had happened tonight, but almost as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was gone.
At first the dreams were pleasant, full of sunshine, grassy meadows filled with vibrant wildflowers, and pure blue skies. In those places I felt peace and safety, two things I wanted more than anything else. Maybe I was really experiencing what it must be like to be in a higher realm, where the pain and fear of this life would never exist, and where everyone could be happy and young and full of life without their physical bodies to hold them back, and where every heart would not by troubled by the burdens of this world. For a long while I enjoyed exploring these meadows, enjoyed running past butterflies and beautiful flowers, relishing in the peace.
Then gradually the good dreams, as they often do, grew darker and more surreal, shaped to suit real life. The meadows faded away and were replaced with a sinister place that was both familiar and foreign, both new and old.
Black soil, dark like soot and as thick as the deadly murk of prehistoric tar pits squelched around my feet as I ran from the insect creature in a landscape changed as something only can be in a dream. The sky was the deepest cerulean, clustered with smoking clouds and the distant forms of mountains, and somehow the leafy plants and unfamiliar trees around me seemed...primordial.
When the beast with the giant wings constantly called my name in that deceptively soothing tone, I was motivated to move faster, but lacked the stamina and grace to prevail. My legs felt heavy like lead, but I kept fleeing nonetheless, the whole time sensing it behind me, getting closer and closer.
In horridly vivid detail, I felt it groping at me from behind with spindly fingers, and I thought I felt cold, thin feelers tasting the back of my neck.
Without a sequence of events leading to this, I found myself wrapped, trapped, in a giant cocoon made of silken purple threads and oozing slime. My arms bound to my sides, and my legs encased in thick gluey muck, only my head was exposed, and I could see the creature towering over me, triumphant, grinning even though it had mandibles and not lips, that proboscis squirming out of a sucking hole in its huge, gaping mouth. Even though this was a nightmare, and I never win in nightmares, I still struggled with all my might against the super-strong strands of the biological straitjacket of the cocoon, to no avail, and the creature loomed over, craning its head towards me, black eyes gleaming like evil jewels...
Suddenly released from this horrible dream and snapped back to reality, I lurched up in the guest room bed, only half conscious, and shrieking at the top of my lungs. My eyes were still unfocused and I no longer felt the wet material of the cocoon around me, yet I was certain the hideous creature was in the room with me now, waiting in the darkness.
Lola and her parents soon rushed into the room, and even when they did I was still squealing like a stuck pig and bringing myself back from the place my dream had brought me. Why my mind did these kinds of things to me, I do not know, but this wasn't the first time I have had nightmares such as this.
Mr. and Mrs. Cooper had their arms around me, and were trying to snap me out of this terrified trance. Eventually I calmed down, and was still.
They demanded to know what was wrong, even though they probably already knew. They kept asking if they should call my parents, and I declined, telling them I was fine. Lola obviously knew what had happened too, only she just stood there, her eyes owlish.
“Wendy, I've never seen anyone do that before,” said Mr. Cooper, his gray eyes squinting with worry. As if it were a nervous tic, he kept running a calloused hand through his thick brown hair, and his lips were pressed tight.
“I know, I know...” I muttered. “And I've never had a nightmare like that before. But it was only a dream, nothing more. I'm fine now.”
Mrs. Cooper was nervously fingering the laced collar of her pink nightgown, and she looked like she had just stuck her finger in a light socket and gotten an instant perm. Extreme bed hair.
I probably looked worse, sunken-eyed and pale.
After I assured them several more times that I was okay, they finally went back to bed. Lola stayed in the room with me and though for a while she said nothing, her eyes said something along the lines of, “spill the beans,” or “what the Hell happened?”
I described the nightmare in the realistic detail as it was presented to me. The whole time her gaze was fixed on the ceiling fan, which spun its blades through the air above us, making a quiet rattling noise. Noticing this, she turned it off with the switch near the door.
After I told her everything, she said in a voice thick with grogginess, “that wasn't a bad dream.”
Instead of getting upset or annoyed or angry at this baffling statement, I waited for her to continue.
“I read about dreams a lot. Sometimes, even when they are so morbid and twisted in your mind, they actually mean something good about your life.”
“Don't know what could be good at all about this one Lola, but I sure hope you're right.”
“Can you sleep?” she asked.
“Yeah, I think so. Can you?”
“No. I think I'll just watch some TV for a while.”
The fear of having another nightmare tugged at my mind, and I knew that I was kidding myself. After this fiasco, how was I supposed to get any sleep?
Lola and I watched movies all night and finally crashed at about six in the morning. The whole time, I was in too deep a sleep to remember my dreams. Maybe that was a good thing.