Gray woke up on the floor of his room. He couldn’t tell how long he’d
been there for.
Neon light was still belching in through the window, so it was still evening. The thing was still moving inside his abdomen. If he listened, he thought he could hear it. Maybe he could feel it biting. He was weak now, almost too weak to move.
None of this was happening. He must have been fed a hallucinogenic drug at some point. The documents he were carrying – somebody had identified him, drugged him, and was waiting for the right moment to come in and take them … Gray entertained this notion for a while, then discarded it for the fantasy it was. He was dying here, with something crawling around inside him, and to think anything else was unrealistic, self-deception.
Still, something willed him onward. He began to crawl for the doorway.
* * *
Rog staggered on, staring at the pavement, bumping into people but not looking up. As he blundered along, people yelled at him or shoved him back, but he blundered on. Perhaps if he didn’t look up, things would be alright. He’d just had a bad pint, that was all. Or somebody had slipped something in his drink. That was right. Probably happened all the time.
But the voice that kept whispering look-up-look-up-look-up wasn’t something that happened all the time. Rog was a sensible bloke, he knew that if you had something in your drink, you should wake up a day later without your clothes, your shoes or your wallet. You shouldn’t have somebody whispering at you to look up and around.
Well, he wasn’t going to. Who did they think they were, trying to boss around a proper Englishman like him? He wasn’t some mug who was going to be told what to do by a mad old Chinese bloke with a crap toupee and a couple of tarts hanging on his every word. He’d get back to his room, he’d get some sleep, in the morning he’d wake up and find this was some mad dream from eating too much cheese or being out in the sun too much today. And he’d never, never go back to that place. He’d stick to the places with the girls he knew, the decent, proper ones. Not these ones who talked funny and smelt of the sewer.
He’d laugh at all this in the morning, he told himself, loud enough to drown out the look-up-look-up-look-around-you still babbling through his head. He swore, finding that if he spoke out loud, the voice would go. Again, he bumped into somebody who yelled at him, but Roger carried on down the street, swearing as he did so. That kept the voice in check.
He would not have been able to say how he recognised the front door of the Happy Man Guesthouse. Perhaps it was the particular stains on the pavement outside. Maybe it was the configuration of rubbish outside. It could have just been dumb luck. In any case, he pushed the door open, and walked up the stairs, continuing to mumble to himself to block out the voice.
Upstairs the light was out. Roger had to feel his way along the corridor by touch. turn-on-the-light-turn-on-the-light-look-around-cock! shit! balls! –turn-on-the-light
Roger tripped and fell, banging his knee against the wall as he went down. Enraged, he groped in the darkness to try to find what he’d fallen over, reached out and touched something hairy, felt down, realised he had his hand on somebody’s face. Somebody with a fever, their skin hot to the touch.
“What are you doing, you bloody idiot, lying here in the way?”
“Help me … please … ” he rasped.
“Help you? Don’t be a bloody fool, just get up and -”
The man lying there on the floor reached out and took hold of Roger’s wrist.
“Please … get help … ” His hand was damp with sweat. Roger recoiled in disgust, trying to pull his hand back, but the grip was too strong. He slapped at it with his other hand, pushing himself backwards down the hallway with his legs, dragging the other man along with him.
“Get off!” open-your-eyes-open-your-eyes-turn-on-the-light-open-your-eyes
“Help” came the moan in reply. Roger slapped again at the hand, but for nothing. The man moaned again, but this time more quietly.
Roger started shouting, not words now, just noise, anything to drown out the voice in his head, and kept flailing at the man, trying to break free of his grip. Flapping with his hand was no use – he kicked out instead, connecting with the head of the man who was holding onto him. The grip loosened. He kicked again, harder, still shouting, and the man shuddered, moaned, and then released him.
Roger scrambled to his feet, reached out for a light switch. There was none in the hallway.
The sudden silence unsettled him. Distantly, he could make out the traffic on the street, but that was a world away, at the end of a long, narrow tunnel. He felt like he was under the sea, shielded from the noise of the world, like so much rain falling on the waves above his head.
“Are you … alright?” he asked.
The man didn’t make any noise. What if he was dead? What if Roger had kicked him too hard? That was not going to look good. He had to get into his room, hide. No, think Roger, think. You need to get outside, to get an alibi, pick up a girl in one of the clubs. Nobody can have seen what’s happened in here, it’s too dark, there’s no witnesses.
But what if he’s just knocked out? Some idiot, drunk too much, collapsed in the hallway. Maybe he was just sleeping.
Roger knelt down, felt out for the man’s head. “Are you alright?” he repeated.
There was a squelching noise from somewhere, like somebody treading in thick mud. Roger moved his head closer to the floor, whispered “are you alright?” again.
The man farted, a long, shuddering noise like a malfunctioning toilet. “Gaw” Roger complained, waving his hands in front of him to waft away the pestilential stink from the man’s guts. “You dirty bugg-”
The tentacles wrapped round his face, stinging and squeezing him. He fell back onto his haunches, hands waving ineffectually. There was a stench of rotten flesh, of stagnant water, the taste filling his mouth again, just as it had in the T10. Something was slithering, pressing up against his face. The tentacles squeezed tighter, wriggling into his nostrils, pressing against his eyes. He brought his hands up, trying to fight off whatever had got hold of him in the dark, felt his hands go numb, flop to his sides. Roger tried to cry out, but as he did so, a fleshy appendage rammed into his mouth, while the tentacles sucked and squeezed at his face. Blotches of red light appeared before his eyes as the tentacles squeezed, as the mass of filthy, fishy tasting thing forced itself further into his mouth.
He brought his arms up again, tried to use his forearms instead to fight it off, felt them brush against a huge sac of flesh hanging from his face, tendrils dangling from it to the floor. There was a burst of pain as the thing in his mouth pushed its way down his throat. It changed from something rigid to the consistency of a plastic bag filled with half-set jelly. More of it fed its way down his throat. He felt his gorge rising, as certain as if somebody had stuffed two fingers down his throat, the bile bubbling in his stomach, and then the thing, whatever it was, began to push the rest of its body into his face. He tried to retch, tried to cry out, tried to stand up, failed at all three of these things. The tentacles relinquished their grip on his face, followed the rest of the thing into his mouth, down his throat, into his stomach. As he fought for breath, he felt his stomach bloating outwards, filling up with this spasming thing, squirting and biting and thrashing inside him. Hot liquid spurted out of his mouth and down his chin, as his body shook with the pain, shuddering as the thing inside him grew hooks and sharp edges, jammed them into his body like a climber crampons into a rockface.
He gagged again, falling onto his hands and knees. There was a ringing noise in his ears, a persistent whine, then interrupted by the sounds of boots on the stairs. He raised his head to see the lights being shone in his face. Somebody spoke in Cantonese, and he was hit in the face, and then as a thankful release he lost consciousness.