By Cpl Ferro
The hempen noose was easy to tie; Blair had learned it once for Hallowe'en at the Boy Scouts when he was 11 years old. Now it held a new meaning for him, no longer fun and ghouls but sober dread. He looked at the bolted door where MacReady had last denied his plea to come back in the camp. No telling how far the substance had spread throughout them, the dogs, the food. The longer they waited to free him, the harder it would be for Blair to get back his bearings, to even begin to trust any of them. And any of them could come for him at any time...to absorb him. He was defenceless, helpless. Hopeless.
Blair remembered a lava lamp he'd bought as a teacher in 1962. He was never big on fads, but found himself entranced by this glassed-in, red blobular wonder. He bought in on impulse for $14 and kept it plugged into a corner of his English class to pacify the dunces at the back. Now there was a new liquid at work in his life, and it was time to pull the plug.
The rope was a tad scratchy, and he cinched it tight, making it hard to swallow. He thought to pray, could think of no prayers. His lips twitched. Then he buckled his knees and...
Blair awoke in a featureless white cell neither cramped nor spacious. One wall boasted a pale blue metallic door inset with a large pane of glass. Through it he saw a white corridor, and endless other blue metallic doors. He felt faintly itchy.
Blair tried the door's handle and found it could be pushed open. He looked this way and that and saw that the corridor was endless, the doors indeed looked endless.
A figure brushed past him unexpectedly, and he saw a man with a white robe and long brown hair open a glassless door and step through. Suddenly thinking it was important Blair reached out for the door but it had already swung shut. He tried the handle but it was locked.
Blair gave a shudder.
He started walking and looked in one cell and saw it filled with 4 inch diameter coloured balls: red, blue, yellow, green, orange. In the corner a man with dark glasses perched on his forehead shuddered in a corner, hiding his eyes—weeping? Blair tried the door handle: locked.
He knocked on the glass, but the figure wouldn't respond.
He looked in a second cell and saw a man in a jean vest and bouffant hair with his mouth open screaming and screaming and screaming. Blair couldn't hear him but he put a hand to the glass and could feel the vibrations. This cell, too, was locked.
He kept walking, and looked in third cell and saw it contained a large, frightening insectoid creature, like some alien deity, faced with a column of glowing coloured cubes. Blair noticed the creature's limbs were tied to hooks in the walls by black cords, and its antennae swished meaningfully. In wonder at the awfulness off the thing, he didn't dare try the door.
Another cell held a balding man in an orange vest, who just stood there, staring into space, clutching his neck with both hands.
Another cell held a man with bushy eyebrows and a grim yet upset face. He came near the door and shouted, stabbing at Blair with his right forefinger, but the glass contained his rage.
Yet another cell held a young brown-skinned man bopping his head slowly as he shook and muttered to himself.
Another cell held a chubby man kneeling and bringing his hands up together in prayer, but only briefly do his hands touch before they fall to his sides. He starts to get up, then goes back down, raising his hands again, and they fall again, over and over.
Another cell held a husky, pacing in circles.
Another cell held a strange brown fishlike animal with small erect tentacles and massive gills, flopping on dry land.
Another cell held a cat-sized protean blue glob that arced its way like a Slinky around the room.
Another cell held a beautiful yellow alien bird, with three purple eyes and wings too small for flight on Earth.
And every cell held another being, large or small, some with no legs, some with two, some with five--all alive, all locked in, all unhappy.
Blair looked down the corridor and saw no limit to it.
“Millions,” he muttered.
A raucous, wailing, throbbing noise split the air in the corridor, and Blair covered his ears. He ran back to his cell and went inside beyond the bulletproof glass. The moment the door closed behind him the wailing was replaced by his favourite composition, Mozart's Jupiter symphony. Yet now it sounded awful, just random violin scratchings.
“I shouldn't have killed myself!” Blair cried, pulling at his face, “I was scared! I didn't want to be absorbed! How can I get out of here?!”
“Help,” implored a voice.
“Who are you?” asked Blair.
“My name is Click. The star-demon devoured my soul as it did yours.”
“Where are you?”
“...Are you the insect?”
“You were the pilot of the spacecraft that landed?”
“Why did you crash?”
“I am not like the other souls. I can exert some will over my copy. I exerted will that crashed the ship, hoping to destroy it. Now the demon has placed me in psychic fetters, and I can no longer solve my puzzle. Please, help me, I must solve my geometrical puzzle in order to leave this spirit prison and go to paradise.”
“Isn't your door locked?”
“No. You can move between cells too, for a brief time until it stores you again. Please help me.”
Blair left the Jupiter symphony to find the wailing in the corridor finished. He went to the alien bug's cell and found it unlocked. Hesitantly at first, before resolving himself, he untied the cords from the bug's limbs and it immediately came alive.
“Thank you,” it said. “Now, you must leave.”
“Where do I go?”
“Anywhere but here.”
“But I'm trapped here!”
“You must solve your own puzzle. I cannot help you. I know only geometry. Go, there is a geometric symbol in your cell that will guide you.”
In his cell Blair found an altar, dressed with frontal, crucifix, missal on its stand, lit candles and glass vessels of water and wine. But no priest.
Blair remembered when he was seven and committing his first confession. He was wearing tan khaki safari shorts and and an orange and white striped teeshirt. The priest, old but not venerable, waited in the snug basement of the church. Blair had memorised his statement of Reconciliation and went up to the priest, but was taken aback when he bid Blair to sit on his knee. “Now, Alois, we all do bad things now and then, am I right?” Blair nodded. “But we know that God forgives us whatever we do. Keep that in mind. Now, these are for you,” he said as he produced a bag of scones and a Hershey chocolate bar, bidding Blair to take them. Blair left, disconcerted, crushing his Reconciliation in his mouth, which tasted like chocolate and scones.
“God help me,” Blair said and assumed a priestly position at the altar. He was now wearing sacramental vestments. Blundering, hands shaking imperceptibly, he blessed the water and wine, combining them into a chalice. “If God be pleased, I...” he broke off. He was a child and knew not what to do. He held up the chalice, “Dear Lord I offer this to you, fruit of the vine and work of human hands, may it be our eternal drink.”
He set it aside and held up a communion wafer, beige-white and stamped with a small plus-sign in the middle, shivering. “Behold the body of God, broken for us now and forever that we may sup at the table of the Lord.”
The Blair-priest then broke the wafer in two, and ate one half. Chewing and swallowing gingerly, he reached over and took the chalice, knocking it nearly over, causing a lap of consecrated red wine to spill onto the brilliant white frontal.
The spilled wine began to crawl across the frontal.
He stared at the crawling wine.
Blair took the chalice carefully and brought it to his lips...and drank a mouthful.
* * *
Blair left his cell, but instead of returning to Click's cell, he walked in the other direction down the corridor. In the first cell he looked into a strong-looking bearded man sat back in a hot, dry, sky-blue cell, wearing a muted brown-and-gold Hawaiian shirt and white shorts and relaxing in a lawn-recliner while holding a pineapple drink with a little red umbrella, under a big blue beach umbrella shielding him from the beating light above.
Blair went in.
“What are you doing here?” Blair cried.
“Same as you, old boy. You don't remember getting to me? You even tore up my undies to frame me, but I guess it wasn't a frame since you really did get to me. You could call it a double frame. We sure like keeping those Earthmen on their toes.”
“No it's not. This place can't hold together forever. Sooner or later we'll be freed. I know the score now.”
“Why would you help free...you're...one of them.”
“What gave you that idea? No, old boy, I just see the inside workings now. It can't get to me, any more than it could get to Click. It thinks we're part of it, and we follow along.”
“Why can't it absorb you?”
“Because I know I'm human, Blair. It can take my body away but it can't take away my soul. You know enough to realise that.”
“Then it can't hold me.”
“No. It doesn't know you're out there.”
“Where is it? Why don't we see it?”
“We're inside it. Or at least, you're inside it. I'm in the basement right now, wondering where the hell the generator went, wondering where you are, where the other guys are.”
“I'm right here!”
“Don't be thick, Blair. We're already meeting.”
Blair felt a stab of fear. This was his world now, and his world was ending. He hastened back into his cell and as he ran the blaring alarm tripped again and he felt an exhilaration in his face, jaw, neck, head, upper chest and right arm. He stopped inside, stunned by the ten foot vacant dogwood cross fixed upright in his cell.
The locked door clicked shut behind him.
* * *
Childs staggered towards the Apocalyptic inferno that used to be his home, bucking the slashing winds and clutching his flamethrower. He could see now that what he had done before in the radio room, the vehicles, the kennels, was small change compared to this. The men had decided to commit suicide.
He felt nauseated. He didn't know whether to sweat or shiver and so settled for doing both. The white snow looked black, he was crushing through it with boots, disliking their cling. To be away from here, to not be freezing all the thing, what the hell was he doing here? He must have made a mistake.
But he realised there was no mistaking this, no self-delusion. He would live, and his dreams of cool, leafy forests, mist-covered mountains, would remain faint and funny. His thoughts grew towards body temperature, toward biomass, hunger, thirst, ambient heat...and strategy.
Movement caught his eye: a human with a blanket, wavy brown hair, a flow of breath, a bottle.
He stepped out of the shadows, ready to kill an enemy but loathe to kill a friend.
Mac turned, surprised, frightened, but impotent.
“You the only one who made it?” Childs asked.
“Not the only one.”
They talked more to no consequence. Mac passed him the bottle of wine. It burned his mouth and palate, but even a sip of the stuff eased the nausea. They both chuckled. Soon they would die, and then they would live forever, and Blair felt happy.