The Matriarch – Part 4

The fourth installment of a short story my husband wrote for Halloween. You can catch up with Part 1 here , Part 2 here and Part 3 Here.

biohazard-2696875_640

The Matriarch – Part 4

THURSDAY AFTERNOON

Ursula sped down the highway in her beat-up hatchback with a white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel. “God, those things are hideous!  Where did they come from?  How did they….”

“Not important right now,” Greg answered curtly.  “Their Queen is dead.  Without her, their numbers can only dwindle.  We need to keep them from getting their hands on this one.  I know a safe place we can go.  Once we get there, I can answer all your questions.  Or you can just leave, and you’ll never see either of us again.”

“Is that thing still alive?  Why don’t we just kill it, too?  Who cares if I never see you again?  I’m going to be wondering about everyone I meet for the rest of my life!  And about people I’ve already known for years!”

Greg sighed.  “Because, for lack of a better term, you could say we’re vegetarians.”

“Wait….what do you mean ‘we’!?”

Greg shook his head. “Homo Sapiens are omnivores by nature, capable of surviving on a variety of diets.  Like most predator species, they possess forward binocular vision as opposed to having their eyes on the sides of their heads like horses, cattle, or other prey species.  Their digestive tract benefits from the ingestion of fruits and vegetables, but also excels at digesting the proteins and fats from other animals.

“Many humans decide to forego their ability to consume animal matter, despite having the biological capability to do so, out of the belief that it is not ethical to consume other animals.

“Now, consider Felis Domesticus, the common house cat.  They do not possess such an adaptable digestive tract.  They are obligate carnivores.  They evolved to hunt, catch living prey, and eat it.  If there is not sufficient animal protein in their diet, they will die.  Perhaps it is a mercy that no feline species evolved self-awareness and sapience the way humans did.  If such a being ever felt guilt over their consumption of other animals, they would have to live with such guilt.  Or die from it.

“Miss Thelstein, my people are not obligate carnivores.  We are obligate parasites.  And the universe is cruel enough that we evolved to be intelligent enough to empathize with the suffering and pain we cause to our host organisms.  But we cannot survive without those hosts.

“Those of us that feel this empathy are a minority.  A hunted and persecuted political faction among our species.  The others happily invade and infest the human race with no reluctance other than being cautious enough not to get caught.

“But now that faction has lost their brood-queen.  Their time is over.  When they realize this, they will seek revenge.  I must keep my Queen safe until their death throes are spent.

“No.  Not dead.  Dormant.  In stasis.  I won’t wake her until a suitable host is found.  And she would not find you suitable.  For ethical reasons.

“The body I inhabit had already been taken by one of those who did not feel empathy towards our hosts.  When I destroyed him, the central nervous system of the host was too ravaged to survive without continued connection to one of our kind.  It was too late for me to help him, so I took the body.  Not ideal, but I can inhabit this body without violating our code.

“Violent criminals.  Those of your species who do deliberate harm to others.  If we are obligated to be parasites, we can at least take the ones you would be better off without.  No, it’s still not consent.  But they don’t get that from their victims either.  It’s as ethical as we are capable of being in order to survive.  It will have to be enough.”

The Matriarch – Part 3

The third installment of a short story my husband wrote for Halloween. You can catch up with Part 1 here and Part 2 herebiohazard-2696875_640

The Matriarch – Part 3

WEDNESDAY NIGHT

“Easy, Number Nine.  Mr. Allen gets the point.”

Greg coughed as his airway opened, and he massaged the bruises Nine had left on his neck.

“It would inconvenient for us to find someone else for this task,” said shark-boy.  “Your background has allowed you an unusual degree of independence, but any further flippancy will not be tolerated.  We can find someone else, if necessary.”  The shark-grin became a frown.  “You will do this task for us.  And you will not survive failure.”

Well, thought Greg, that’s that, then.

He took a deep breath, bit his tooth until he felt a break in the surface, and let out a long exhale as though he were sighing.  He’d just killed them all, even if it would be hours until they realized it.

“I submit, Great One.  How exactly can I serve you?”

Shark-boy, unaware of his now-inescapable death, went back to grinning.

“We believe we’d found the upstart rival queen that disappeared thirty years ago.  She’s been in stasis all this time.  Revive her.  Earn her trust by helping her find a new host, and she’ll think you’re one of hers. The upstarts will flock to her, and you will destroy them one by one.”

 

 THURSDAY

Ursula screamed as Dr. Allen crouched over the prone body of the Director and tore off the Director’s shirt.  Then her eyes widened and her scream died as Dr. Allen clutched an elongated worm-like creature and peeled it off the Director’s spine.

Her breath came in shallow bursts as Ursula stared in disbelief at the hideous creature in Dr. Allen’s hands. She couldn’t help but notice the horrifying similarity to the unknown specimen in the cylinder.

Dr. Allen dropped the worm on the floor, then crunched the eyeless head under the heel of his shoe with a nauseating squelch.  Yellow ichor covered his shoe and pant leg and dripped from his fingers where he’d gripped it.

He looked at Ursula. “Your Director was under that thing’s control for weeks.  This whole Special Exhibit idea was part of its plan.  You’re not one of them, but I don’t know how many of your coworkers are.  You are in danger. We need to get out, and if we run across anyone else, let me do the talking.”

Ursula blinked, flared her nostrils, and held up a finger.  She turned and grabbed a wastebasket just in time to not get any vomit on her clothes or shoes.

“Okay,” she said, her brain spinning as she tried to come to grips with truth of the ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’.

Dr. Allen strode over to the other specimen, the one still in the glass cylinder floating in a clear liquid, and picked it up.  “All right.  Follow me.”

 

WEDNESDAY, 3:30 AM

Greg took his temperature.  Ninety-eight-point-seven degrees Fahrenheit.  The fever had broken.  He felt tired and dehydrated, but his bio-enhancements had helped him to survive the virus.  That was a relief.  He’d had this body for a long time, and it wouldn’t be easy to replace if it died.  Not with all the enhancements he’d made to it since its acquisition.

It had originally been host to one of the Great Queen’s prime offspring.  Shortly after helping his own Queen-Matriarch enter bio-stasis and go into hiding, he’d begun working out how to steal the body and masquerade as an agent of the Great Queen.

Once he’d gotten the body, he’d waited patiently for a chance to act.  Now it was time.

Shark-boy, Number Nine, and the others would be dead by now.  After the limo driver had collapsed, Greg (he’d gotten used to thinking of himself as the name of this host body) had broken the window to the front area and taken the wheel.  He’d driven the limo into a ditch and covered it with brush and branches to hide it as well as he could while his body’s boosted immunity fought the virus.

By the time the Great One and her Primes managed to disengage from their dying hosts, it would be too late.  There were no other suitable hosts for miles, and they could only survive a few minutes without a host.

It would be hours before the Great Queen’s other agents began to suspect something was wrong.  Until then he would continue to pretend to be one of hers and recover his own Queen-Matriarch.

The Matriarch – Part 2

Part 2 of my husband’s short story. You can catch up with Part 1 here.

biohazard-2696875_640

The Matriarch – Part 2

 THURSDAY MORNING

Behind her pursed lips, Ursula’s teeth clenched together as she turned the glass cylinder over in her hands.  The elongated grey, many-segmented worm-like creature that floated in the yellowish liquid was not something she recognized, but then she’d only been researching parasites since the unwelcome task of dredging them up from archival storage had fallen on her lap.

The parasite made her skin crawl.  It would be perfect for the special exhibit.  But the glass cylinder was unlabelled.  She’d have to do some digging to find out what it was a specimen of and then get some brain-bleach to make her nightmares go away.  Still, it was exactly the kind of repulsive-but-facinating thing that the Museum Director wanted for the exhibit.

She began shuffling through the faded, crumpled newspapers in the box the glass cylinder had been packed in.  Maybe the specimen label had come loose.

“Miss Thelstein?”  Ursula looked up from the box and cursed under her breath at the sound of the Director’s voice.  “Are you in here?”

“Over here,” she said.

“Right this way.” The Director’s only sounded like that when he was talking to someone important. Like a donor.

Ursula heard two sets of footsteps making their way down along the disorganized aisles of shelves, crates, boxes, and display cases that sat in the sub-basement archives.

As they came around the corner, Ursula nodded in greeting to the salt-and-pepper haired Director, and a russet-haired fellow with the ugliest pair of horn-rimmed glasses ever made and an expression that warned his sense of humor had been surgically removed.  Before she could say anything, the Director’s eyes lit up and a smile curved the left side of his mouth.

“Well, now,” he cooed.  “That’s certainly an interesting specimen!  Looks like something out of a horror movie.  Are there any more like that?”

Ursula blinked at the strange conversation.  “Not that I’ve found yet.  Besides this one, just some tapeworms and African earwigs.  Creepy, yes, but not enough to make a full special exhibit out of.”  Ursula figured besides the real specimens, he’d also want full-color displays illustrating their life-cycles and how they infected their host organisms.  That would go a long way towards making the exhibit complete.  But she didn’t make the suggestion for fear of being put in charge of it.

The stranger spoke.  It sounded to Ursula as though he was having difficulty unclenching his teeth.  “Where did you….find that?”

The Director beamed at him, then back at Ursula, then at the stranger again.  “I’m terribly sorry.  I haven’t made introductions.  “Miss Thelstein, this is….Doctor…Greg Allen.  He’s a…”  The Director hesitated.

“A Veterinary Parasitologist,” said Dr. Allen.  His tone suggested that the words left a nauseating taste in his mouth.

“Yes!” The Director seemed oddly delighted.  “And this is Miss Ursula Thelstein, one of the archivists from our research department and Ad Hoc Display Coordinator for the upcoming Special Exhibit!”

Ursula gave a pained-but-polite smile.  “Ad Hoc” was Latin for “this title comes with neither a promotion nor a raise.”

“And to what do I owe the pleasure of Dr. Allen’s visit?” she asked.

 

THURSDAY NIGHT, PREVIOUS

The boy’s shark-grin instantly turned to a frown.  “There are troublesome elements I need dealt with.”

Greg made a slight tilt of his head toward Baldy.  “Isn’t that what he’s for?”

The boy’s grin returned.  “There are times to use a wrecking ball and times to use a set of lockpicks.  I want them all rounded up before they realize we’re onto them.  That calls for quiet footsteps and quick hands.”

“Quiet footsteps and quick hands?”  Greg pursed his lips.  “It sounds like you want someone in better shape than me.  Some shadowy ninja-type guy.”  He managed to keep a straight face.

“I have plenty of those.” The boy flicked his wrist.

Greg pondered the timing of the limo’s arrival minutes after his tire blew out.  If he was ever able to return to his car, he was positive any trace of a sniper’s bullet would’ve already been long removed.

“Sounds like you’re all set.  Thanks for the lift, and you can drop me off right…”  Greg’s words cut off as a muscular hand suddenly squeezing his larynx.

“You,” scowled the granite-slab voice, “will show respect.”

 

THURSDAY MORNING

Dr. Allen pointed to the odd specimen-without-a-label that the Museum Director was so excited about.  “I’m here for that, actually.  Where did you get that?  Do you know what it is?”

Ursula shrugged.  “A few decades ago, the State University apparently donated a box from their Bio department to the museum.  Looks like it got shelved in the archives and forgotten about before anyone got around to cataloguing it.”

Ursula thought that odd.  She’d had heard that museums in London had an enormous backlog in their archives yet to catalogue and were still finding treasures from ancient Egypt that British archaeologists had brought home with them in the nineteenth century.  But that didn’t make sense here.  It wasn’t that big of a box, and it’s not like this museum had ever been overwhelmed by a sudden influx of inventory that it couldn’t be catalogued in less than a day.

Dr. Allen turned to the Director.  “Thank you.  I’ll take it from here.”

“Are you sure you don’t need my help?”  The Director’s eyes flicked from the specimen, to Dr. Allen, then to Ursula.

“No,” said Dr. Allen more curtly than Ursula expected.  “I’m sure you’re very busy.  I’ll help Miss…Thelstein?…with the…star…of the exhibit.”

Ursula was getting an odd feeling about all this.  All alone in the museum sub-basement with a stranger?

“Oh, I’m certainly not too busy.” The Director smiled.  “I think it would be best if I….”

The Director’s sentence was cut off as Dr. Allen swept behind him and gripped the base of the Director’s neck and struck him with the other hand in the kidneys.

The Matriarch

My husband wrote a longer short story to celebrate Halloween, and I am very happy to share it here! It’s a longer story, so I will be putting it up in parts over the next few days. I hope you enjoy!

biohazard-2696875_640

The Matriarch – Part 1

THURSDAY MORNING

Ursula finished cataloging the contents of the box, closed the lid, and placed it back on the dusty shelf where it had sat for who-knows-how-many years before she’d opened it.

“12 specimens of Taenia solium, common tapeworm, each preserved individually in glass jars of formaldehyde.  Labels faded but legible,”  she dutifully recorded her notes in the museum archives inventory.

Popular exhibits like dinosaurs and mummies brought the public into the museum and hopefully, to help the museum make ends meet, the gift shop as well.  A special exhibit on Parasitology?  You don’t help anyone’s budget crunch by driving off the public with disgust.

But Halloween was approaching and the Director, thinking to play on the fascination some people had with “creepy crawly” or “gross” things, had decided to try something other than the safe option of promoting the mummies again.

The Curator had delegated the task to of putting together the special exhibit, and Ursula had drawn the short straw.

Now tapeworms that had been floating in preservative for twenty-plus years were going to get their day in the spotlight.  Along with a plethora of other horrifying creatures in jars that she’d come across in inventory.

To the accompaniment of the sub-basement archives’ flicking fluorescent lighting, Ursula took a sip from the now-cold mocha cappuccino that she really shouldn’t have splurged on and questioned her life choices.

 

 WEDNESDAY NIGHT, PREVIOUS

Greg’s body felt tired and achy, but his hands continued to grip the cold metal tire iron, slippery from the night’s rain, as he struggled to loosen the lug nuts of the blown-out rear passenger-side tire of his grey sedan.

He looked up at the approaching sound of a running engine and tires on wet highway pavement, then held up his hand, trying to shield against the headlights.  The other driver had their high-beams on.

A black limousine.  The high-beams dropped to regular headlights and it slowed to a stop next to his sedan.  The sound of splattering raindrops was punctuated by the opening of a car door.  Across the roof of the limousine, Greg watched as a thickset, bald man in a dark suit rose and fixed eyes like steel on him.

“Mr. Greg Allen.”  It wasn’t a question.  Greg’s heart quickened.  The wet tire-iron in his hand was an option, but the bald man was likely carrying far-less-polite hardware.

“My employer would like to speak with you.” The bald man’s voice was like a slab of granite. You couldn’t argue with it.

In the back of the limousine, the sound of rain splattering on pavement was replaced with drops muffled by the luxurious upholstery.  Greg was seated next to the bald man who continued to look as though he was trying to crush Greg’s skull with the power of scowling.  Across from them sat a grey-haired woman in sensible shoes that matched her tight bun, and a sandy-haired boy who looked about ten-years-old wearing a perfectly tailored Armani suit.

The boy’s smile reminded Greg of a shark.

“Nasty rain,” the boy said. “Isn’t it lucky for you we came along to give you a ride, Mr. Allen?”

Greg’s tongue gingerly flicked against his upper-right bicuspid as the rainy countryside passed the heavily tinted windows. The weaponized strain of enterovirus inside the hollow tooth had been engineered to have a limited duration once the seal was broken.  If he bit down and exhaled, it was likely that the deadly pathogen would be inert by the time anyone found the bodies.

Still, Greg was hesitant to field test his own enhanced immune system against this particular strain.  Things weren’t that desperate yet.

“Thank you,” Greg said, trying to keep sarcasm out of his voice.  “I don’t suppose there’s some way I might repay you?”

“Oh, Momma Look!” Never Ends Well

At least, it never ends well for me.

So, when we were at Home Depot of all places, and that come out of my daughter’s mouth, I knew I was really in trouble.

What had caught her attention? An eleven foot dragon. Yeah, she’s totally my kid.

dragon1
This one.

I have to admit, she has good taste. But it looked HUGE in Home Depot. I couldn’t imagine how big it would be on our suburban front lawn.

Of course, she reminds me that we have no other decorations. Which, she’s not wrong. I don’t suppose the three little pumpkin walkway lights really count. I love watching the kids dress up at Halloween, but I hate anything macabre. You can keep your ghosts, skeletons and dead brides, thank you very much!

But she’s now at the age where she really wants to decorate for the holidays. Unlike my husband and I who were known to go without even a Christmas tree before we had kids.

I told her I’d think about it, hoping she’d forget. Of course she didn’t forget, and she reminded me about it for the next two weeks.

So, we went back to get the eleven foot dragon. When we got to Home Depot, the thing was sold out. Even the floor model was gone. This was back at the end of September, and I was shocked. A quick search with my phone showed no other Home Depots with guaranteed stock in the area. But I could still get it online.

online1
Thank goodness!

So, I assuage my daughter’s crushing disappointment that she isn’t getting it that day with the fact that it will arrive in three to five days and we probably wouldn’t have had time to put it up that weekend anyway. She trudges back to the car, but at least I got her out of the store without a scene. There’s more than one reason why I do so much shopping online!.

The dragon arrived, my husband put it up for her, and she is now totally excited. So excited, in fact, that when she and her sister saw the dragon deflated the next morning on the way to school, they both were super insistent that I needed to “fix” the dragon.

Raising a pair of dragon lovers. Couldn’t be more proud!

 

Do you decorate for Halloween? If so, do you go all out, or were you like us with our three little pumpkins? Any of your neighbors go all out? What’s the best or worst display you’ve seen?