Bailey strolled into the boy’s dark room without a look to Damion, who’d been nominated to open the door despite his protests. Her steps were slow and measured and a bit tentative. She stopped at the threshold of where the overhead light extended. Everyone stared, transfixed, awaiting her next step or a noise or anything.
Jimmy unzipped his backpack.
A bit nervous to scooch toward the kitchen table with the rifle, Margie kept her eye on Elyse but the doctor had too much focus on a specific cabinet to notice. Her focus was, in fact, distracting to Margie, and to James, who watched from the couch. He had set down Beagsley next to Rose, still peeking out under her blanket.
A boy, about 7, with shaggy hair full of static, stepped out from the darkness, dragging Bailey by a two-armed headlock-hug till they were outside the door. Bailey bowed her head as the boy plopped on the ground and used the pup as a pillow with fine, ticklish fur that bristled against him as he rubbed his face letting her warm scent send him back to sleep.
“Why all the secrecy?” Margie snapped.
“What secrecy?” Elyse said with a laugh at the absurd accusation. “Am I being secretive about the secrecy now? We just wanted him to sleep and you never know with kids, if they’ll see a dog and think pillow or playground.” At the cabinet she’d been so intent on, she pulled out a tin canister to put a pot of coffee on for the officer. “How do you take it?”
“More sugar than beans,” Jimmy said warmly, but then his demeanor changed as he looked at the kid. “Elyse, is this really how you want to do this?”
“I could put on tea instead.”
He shook his head, then approached the boy. “Howdy, pardner,” he said in an exaggerated drawl. “Sawry to wake ya, but mind if I have a little lookie-loo around yer room?” He tried handing the boy his sheriff’s badge, not a star but shiny enough.
The kid didn’t let off the dog. His arms were absorbed in the fur.
“How about a super jump, pal?” Back to his normal voice, Jimmy offered both hands, ready to fling the kid toward the ceiling. He wanted the dog and the boy to separate, if they even still could. “Bet you could smash a light if we try hard enough.”
“Maybe don’t get him riled up,” Elyse said.
“Not like he has school in the morning.”
The boy stared down Jimmy.
“He could be cranky.”
Jimmy’s hand was in his bag when a black tentacle wrapped around his arm, constricting at the elbow till it broke and it dragged the empty hand out of the bag letting something heavy drop to the bottom and before he could use his other hand, not that there was much risk of that with the paralysis of pain, another tentacle shot out and stretched his arms around, trying to touch his wrists together behind his back. First his joints, then his muscles under shirt buttons popped. A scream roiled in his throat.
It let loose only once a third tentacle speared him from behind, striking a kidney, working its way deeper inside till its imprint was visible on his belly. It did not rip that flesh open. Instead it tore through farther north and using his clavicle as a hold, it dragged him back to the darkness. The door slammed shut. The dog stayed on guard.
Margie, close but too injured, dove for the bag and landed at the feet of the one who swiped it away at her fingertips--Elyse. She grabbed her about the knee and it threw off her balance and both were on the floor, the rifle bullet clattering out of her pocket, and the wrestling went on till one accidentally well-aimed kick to Margie’s bruised hip released her clutch on Elyse. The doctor scrambled away, gripping the bag.
Beagsley, riled by action that didn’t terrify him to the core, barked nonstop.
“The hell are you two doing?” Quinn yelled.
“You wouldn’t understand,” the boy’s mother said.
“Even if that were your kid, you wouldn’t let him steal Skittles at the impulse aisle and you’re doing nothing after he kills people?”
“SHUT UP!” Margie screamed at the dog.
The wall standing tall between Sunny and Damion and the fight was James. To take him on, a much bigger man who’d already tackled Damion upon entering, meant turning their backs to the dog and the door and they wanted a watchful eye for when that thing emerged.
Quinn took up the fight against Elyse, two doctors battling it out, shoving one another up against the kitchen cabinets so hard the plates inside jangled as they jostled, a chair getting rocked by a stray knee, and ultimately ending with tug-of-war on the bag--Quinn holding a strap trying to tear it open so the contents popped out and Elyse wanting the bag sealed.
It only ended there because Margie had loaded the rifle with the final bullet that had tumbled out of Elyse’s pocket in their scuffle and now the barrel aimed at the doctor.
James was finally ready to act. “Give them the bag.”
The door popped open to everyone’s surprise, so much so that Margie’s finger almost pulled an end to Elyse’s life. Damion, being so close to the door, got yanked by an ankle inward then Rose stood up suddenly and attracted attention her way. Her blanket still drifted to the couch, over Beagsley, who had shut up again, by the time she was disappeared. The dark of the room lifted enough that when the three were visible again, they were lined up like action figures arranged by heights against the wall. And the boy, just a boy, strolled out but around him crawling along the floor were tentacles looking for more things to play with.
Elyse ripped the bag from Quinn.
“You’ll hurt yourself,” she whispered but then she set the canister covered in warning labels on the counter as she opened the coffee tin and pulled out two syringes.
James took one and the dog apparently remembered it somewhere in what remained of her mind because it started to backup toward the boy, who hugged it, perhaps for comfort, his or the dog’s, but the effect was that of a vet tech keeping it still for the scary shot.
The couple injected their two loves, the boy and the dog, who went limp on the floor.
They were a puddle of limbs and fur.
Then that puddle darkened and melded together and spread along the wood and ran into the cracks and the wood, too, lost its solid shape and color and then it wasn’t just the two and around the two but everything around the surviving party. The walls went wet. The ceiling dripped.
A cabinet trickled onto the canister from Jimmy’s backpack and James reached into the goo to free it, in the process ripping off patches of skin on his knuckles that the goo desperately wanted. The cabinets had no bottoms and their contents, plates and a box of donuts, clattered to the ground. Ceramic shards and coffee crumb-top bits everywhere. But those, too, melted into the black.
Quinn grabbed Margie before rushing out the door, right behind Sunny and the Beags, and it closed from above behind them as the whole cabin was lost, running down the mountain slope.
They breathed deep taking in the night around them. It was dark. A dry spot in the snow where the cabin had once been and a trail showed the path of where it’d gone.
No one knew what had happened and so they didn’t know what to say or do now.
Then rising from the trees, a giant fist the size of the living room came slamming down giving Quinn just enough time to shove Margie out of its path. Quinn had no such savior. She was crushed, and when the fist lifted, her corpse was stuck to the bottom, slowly receding inside.
Sunny retreated for the treeline slightly uphill. Margie wanted to run and hide, too, but the wounds from the mountain slide had opened up and there just wasn’t anything left inside her. No energy. No hope.
Then the hand reached through the trees, snapping them off, adding leafy, splintered spears to its sticky mass and as its fingers curled around Sunny, they pierced her dead before she too was absorbed into its biomass.
The monstrous thing planted both hands down on either side to lift the rest of its body from the depths. Its head emerged for the first time. A cloak of snow and trees surrounded the twisted but vaguely dog-like face. It leaned over, looming, getting closer, opening wide its corkscrew snout so there was no light around Margie. The wind stopped. Every sound but her own sobbing stopped. The stuffy, too warm air inside its beak had her clawing at her skin, letting chipped fingernails dig into open wounds to relieve the itch.
All she had was this useless rifle and one bullet.
It was useless but she tried anyway.
She aimed at where it’s uvula might’ve been.
Then a wheezing squeal sent a hurricane gust around her and the monster reeled back only to come pounding down on Margie. The butt of the gun dislocated her last good shoulder.
She was squashed beneath the behemoth.
But as it melted away, the puddle flushing down the slope, leaving a trail of undigested friends, in the shade of a crusty white shell of its form that then collapsed.
Margie was alive, but dying.
In its death rattle, it had thrown James and Elyse into the trees. She was killed by the fall, the sudden snap of her neck against the ground, and he was impaled on so many branches that were not instant nor painless. He’d drip to death.
He deserved a quick death. They had killed it.
Using the canister of sulfuric acid from Jimmy’s bag, they had killed that amalgamation of their two loves, their greatest fears, and an experiment done without permission gone wrong that they did not have the resources or the time to fix. They had been complicit as it spread its death through the mountain and as he dangled there dying, James hoped that was enough to get at least her into a peaceful rest. It wasn’t her fault.
Margie saw him hanging up there and, aiming the rifle, she gave him the merciful quickness he deserved. .
Beagsley ran over. He was untouched through it all. He stopped at Sunny’s corpse then Quinn then came at the pained sound of Margie. He stepped in her blood.
“You did it, boy,” she whispered.
Her eyelids fluttered closed.
Nestled in her lap, Beagsley kept her awake a moment longer.
She took in the surroundings, finding comfort in the dead staying dead.
The pup hopped off her lap. He’d survive. A skier, a hiker, the police, someone would find him as he wandered down the mountain. She heard his little paws crunch the snow.
Then while clinging to that final thought, she heard dragging footsteps follow the dog.