Callie, Natasha, the Trio, and Ben stared into the building where Jacob had just run screaming. Each of them felt their skin rise in gooseflesh at the thought of going in after him. The blackness was like an open mouth just waiting to swallow them whole. They knew, without a doubt, that it was no coincidence that there appeared to be only one way into the building that would not involve tampering with the web that covered the structure. They had suspected it before, but the crawlie’s ambush had turned that suspicion into a certainty. The crawlies wanted them to enter.
“No fucking way,” Natasha said, her breath coming fast and threatening to quickly go out of control. “There is no fucking way I am going in there now.” She backed up as she spoke, but quickly jumped when she felt the bushes at the back of her legs. She took a single step forward and wrapped her arms across her chest, embracing herself in a tight hug.
“We can’t just leave him,” Ben insisted. Callie knew he was right, but she also knew that he was likely lying about his reasoning for wanting to continue in despite the drastic turn of events. Ben looked at each of them in turn. “He would have done it for any of you!”
“He had a death wish,” Callie mumbled. She was shocked at her own willingness to speak up against the will of one of the group, but she was becoming more and more convinced that Ben did not have their best interests at heart.
“What did you say?” Ben stared at her with a mixture of anger and incredulity.
Callie dug deep within herself and forced her voice louder. “I said, there was a part of him that wanted to die. Especially considering that the only thing keeping him alive got drug into that building.” She pointed as though there were a question of which building they were talking about.
“All the more reason to go in there!” Ben shouted at her now. “We have two people in that building all alone.” His eyes shone with hatred for her at that moment and Callie was taken aback at the ferocity of his glare.
Bob stepped forward and spoke up. “We were going in there anyway.” He would not quite meet Callie’s eyes at this remark. “We could go in now and set a smaller fire then we had originally planned. That way it won’t get out of control.”
“He’s right,” Ben said, his eyes showing a feeling of vindication at a member of the group agreeing with him. “Besides, at this point, who cares if the entire city burns? We’ve been here for two months and not seen a single sign of another survivor. Let’s torch the place and move on!”
Callie turned and stared down the high-rise lined street. She could think of no reason why they needed to save it. True, there might be other survivors out there, but they were not likely to outnumber the crawlies that they could kill by doing this. They had planned on moving on anyway. What was stopping her? She turned back and watched Ben fidget. She quickly realized that what was holding her back was her intense distrust for the man who was demanding they risk their lives for a plan she had never believed in. She tried to take an objective measure of the situation and put her feelings about Ben aside, but found herself unable to do so. Her mind was made up for her as both Will and Sammy stepped forward and agreed to back Ben.
Sammy looked to her with sympathy in his eyes. “It’s for the best,” he tried to assure her, but she knew he was simply unwilling to pass up the chance to do some damage. Just as Jacob had lived for Elizabeth; Sammy, Will, and Bob lived for the rush of the hunt and the kill. Callie envied them in a way. That same quality that would likely one day lead to their deaths was providing them with reason to really try to live. She felt for a long time like her only goal was survival. It was becoming harder and harder each day to accept that as a sole reason for going on. She thought she had sensed the same feeling in Natasha as well.
Callie looked to Natasha. The teenager’s eyes begged her not to agree to go with them. Callie knew that, in a way, she was not only making the decision for herself, but for Natasha as well. The young girl did not want to enter the building, but she was too scared to remain the only one left outside alone. Callie surveyed the scene around her and thought of the crawlie leaping out of the bushes to grab Elizabeth. She had a false sense that they were no safer outside the building then they were inside of it. Reluctantly, she shook her head in agreement and prepared to follow the rest of the group into the building. She could hear Natasha’s sigh of surrender as she followed the rest of them into the nest.
They slowly stepped into the darkness and felt like they were entering another world. In this world, darkness reigned and the creatures who could see in that darkness were far superior to any other. Crawlies could see in the dark. It was unknown exactly how they did it. Scientists had not made it far enough with their research before the plague of arachnid like creatures had reached epidemic proportions. It was possible that they drew in on what little light was available like a cat, that they utilized radar like bats, or even that they possessed some completely never-before-seen sixth sense. The only certainty was that they moved as efficiently in the darkness as they did in the light. Natasha removed a lighter from her pocket and a home-made torch from her backpack. She lit the torch and the blaze illuminated the hallway in front of them, causing the shadows to retreat to the recesses far in front of and behind them.
Callie nodded at Natasha and stepped up next to her with the trio right behind them and Ben taking up the rear. Natasha had made it clear from the start that any macho chauvinism masquerading as chivalry would not be tolerated and she often took the lead in the groups despite her age. Her eye sight was keen and she often caught things that the others missed. Callie knew that, in this instance, she could use the extra support at her side, but that she would never request it from any of the men. Natasha nodded back at Callie and they started forward.
The hall way quickly t-boned and the group paused for just a moment before Natasha caught sight of the blood trail towards the bottom of the wall. Apparently, the crawlie was moving along the wall and dragging Elizabeth with it. When it came down this hall with its prize, she was still bleeding, but the uniformity and neatness of the blood stains made it clear that she was not struggling. Callie put a hand on Natasha’s shoulder and after a brief second, Natasha took a deep breath and moved on.
As they moved down the hall, they were standing two-by-two. Natasha and Callie continued in the lead. The trio had been split by the formation and the need to allow for some ease of movement were they to be attacked. Will and Bob were in the middle, armed with a thin club with nails protruding from it and a machete, respectively. Sammy and Ben took up the rear. Ben carried a small 9mm pistol that Callie highly doubted would do much damage. Sammy was a little better prepared, in Callie’s opinion, with an M-4 Carbine he had taken off a dead soldier somewhere along his path. They continued to follow the blood trail through the hallway. They passed closed doors to their left and right and quickly noted that the handles were standard twist-knobs, meaning they did not have to worry about a crawlie suddenly opening a door. The creatures would be physically unable to manipulate these type of knobs.
As they progressed, Natasha suddenly slung an arm across Callie’s chest and stopped in place. She said nothing, but turned her canted head slightly to the left and right as if trying to pick up a sound. Callie threw up her arm with her hand in a fist to signal the rest of the group to stop and they immediately did so. Callie tried to listen intently. She thought she might have heard the sound of scratching from above them, but it could have been her nerves playing tricks on her. However, she had not survived this long by ignoring her instincts. She tapped Natasha’s arm and pointed up towards the ceiling. They both looked up at the crisscrossing beams that held up the tiles above them. Callie was certain she saw several seem to shift slightly right behind Sammy and Ben. She pointed to Sammy and then to the ceiling.
Sammy nodded his understanding and raised his rifle to aim at the tiles. He looked back to Callie with his weapon still aimed at the ceiling. He mouthed the words “what should I do?” Before she could reply, the tile directly above Ben burst and a crawlie dropped onto the unsuspecting man. He screamed a shrill, high pitched shriek and managed to grab the cocker-spaniel sized creature by its body and throw it onto Sammy. The boy didn’t have time to properly react or defend himself. The crawlie flexed its legs around Sammy’s back and dug all eight claw-ended appendages into on either side of his spine, piercing the flesh and muscle beneath.
Will rushed back to try to help Sammy. In his panic, Sammy squeezed the trigger on his rifle and the shots went wild, spraying the hallway. Two of the bullets caught Will in the leg and he went down yelling in pain. Everyone else hit the ground until the weapon’s clip was empty. By the time they felt safe to get up, Sammy was on the ground with the crawlie on top of him. Bob and Callie rushed to help Sammy while Natasha went to Will’s aid. Ben simply tried to make himself as small as possible, pressing himself back against the wall behind him as if he could merge through the wall and into the room it protected. No one took any notice of him at that point as he shook uncontrollably and began to whimper.
Bob slashed and hacked at the back of the crawlie with reckless abandon, but little effect. Each hit almost sounded like the clink of metal on metal as his blade hit the exoskeleton. Callie could see small dents and chips in the back of the crawlie, but knew that if Sammy was still alive, he would be dead by the time Bob made any impact with his methods. She pushed Bob back and snatched the machete out of his hand. She was aware that the fact that the crawlie had yet to change position or try to maneuver itself away from the attack could only mean one thing. She carefully lined up the machete and plunged the blade deep into the creature’s head all the way through the bottom of its mouth, almost impaling Sammy at the same time. The creature shuddered and loosened its grip on Sammy. Bob grabbed it around its middle and flung it off of his friend. What they saw the moment it was on the ground confirmed Callie’s fears.
- - -
It was generally agreed upon by all of the experts that in order to be able to stop the spread of the crawlies, it was vital to understand how they reproduced. Each major country in the world that was contributing to the solution to the “crawlie menace” had a division assigned to this task alone. In an unprecedented show of cooperation, each countries head scientists in these divisions held weekly video conferences in order to share any information that had recently discovered and see if their pieces could be put together to form a useful whole. It was the British scientists that showed the greatest breakthrough.
While studying several dead specimens and one live one that a Special Forces unit had managed to bring back with them on a recent mission, one of the scientists was able to determine that the crawlies were actually hermaphrodites. They asexually reproduced and then located a place in which to lay their eggs. It was unknown what conditions the crawlies needed in which to lay their eggs or how long the incubation period lasted. This is where the British’s information ended, but the Russians were able to provide an important piece of the puzzle.
The Russians had been sending out their own military units to escort teams of scientists across their country in order to answer any reports of crawlie outbreaks. On one of their recent missions, an Outbreak Assessment Team arrived at the home of a man who claimed to have been bitten by a crawlie. The team was skeptical at first, as there had not been any reports of people being bitten a single time and then left alive prior to this. The man was insistent and showed them the bite mark on his chest. The scientists studied the injury and noted that it appeared as if something had stung the man in the chest. The wound had healed but was red and agitated. The man seemed to be suffering from nervous ticks and shakes as they examined him. When questioned about these, he claimed that they had started after he had been bitten. The commander remained unsure of the situation.
As the team commander was conversing with his lead scientist, the victim began to go into violent convulsions. Before the team could react, the victim collapsed and almost seemed to burst apart in sprays of blood and skin. Four crawlies, each the size of a small cat, rushed from the corpse and immediately scurried out of the house before a single shot could be fired. All of this had been recorded by one of the scientists and the video was shared during the video conference. The British scientists took a single look at this video and became convinced that they had the answer as to where the crawlies laid their eggs.
The British shared this theory with the rest of the group and then set about a series of experiments. Teams were sent out to collect mature crawlies and bring them back. Forty-seven lives were lost in the missions that resulted in the capture of seven mature crawlies. The crawlies were each put in a separate containment unit with twenty-four hour video monitoring. Different mammals were placed in each containment unit varying in size. Within one week the first crawlie was observed to implant their eggs into a host. The crawlie injected its fertilized eggs into the host, a small beagle in this case, by means of a stinger that came out of an opening in their abdomen just above the anus. It then left the host alone and the team of scientists removed the host from the crawlie containment unit and set it into its own. Within the next week, the other six crawlies had also injected their provided hosts.
It turned out that the incubation period varied by animal. The larger the animal, the longer the incubation period. The periods seemed to range from two weeks for a small rat to six weeks for a large dog. In each case, the end was the same for the hosts and mirrored what the Russian team had observed. The animals seemed to explode and five to six crawlies would come out of the host’s corpse. Perhaps the most disturbing fact ascertained from these experiments were that the size of the crawlies varied with the size of the host. The larger the host, the larger the crawlies that were born from the death of the host. The experiments were repeated and the results confirmed with the crawlies that had been born of the first set of experiments. The results were shared via the next several video conferences. The British were getting ready to incinerate the majority of the crawlies that had been generated from the experiments, the quickly growing population was making some of the higher-ups nervous, when someone got careless and several crawlies were able to escape their containment. Since the crawlies were not yet mature and had no need for hosts, the result was the death of every person working in the facility.
PART 3 COMING IN ONE WEEK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!