So, for those who have been waiting, here is the conclusion to "Crawlies!" If you missed any of the previous parts, here are the links:
Part 3 - The Conclusion
Bob firmly believed that anyone who said that crawlies were just stupid creatures no more intelligent than the average insect or arachnid was asking for trouble by underestimating the enemy. Ben believed a lot of things about the crawlies that stemmed from research he had been a part of prior to the worst of the outbreak. He had yet to share this information, or his background, with the rest of the group. Given where they were and what they were facing, he thought it might be best to come clean. He was getting ready to stop the group and confess when Natasha spoke up.
“Do you think those things could have been controlling Ben’s mind?” She asked, vocalizing their biggest fear. Ben had played off of all of their weaknesses to get them into this situation. There was a lot of doubt as to whether they would get out of it alive. It did not make sense that he would have seen anything to gain by doing it of his own free will.
Bob saw his opening and spoke up. “It was theorized that the growing crawlies could gain control of a host mind once they reached a certain point in their development.” He knew there was no turning back now so he went on. “That’s why so few people who had been infected committed suicide or otherwise tried to remove the creatures from themselves.”
Callie stared at Bob. “How would you know that?” She asked, almost demanding in her tone. “There was never anything like that in the news.”
“I know,” Bob said with a sigh, “because I was a big proponent on my research team for the theory even though I lacked the clout to have it formally investigated.”
“Your research team?” Natasha asked as if she could not believe the words that Bob had just spoken.
“Yes, my research team.” Bob stopped and helped prop Will against a wall. All three of them were staring at him now. “I worked for the CDC at the beginning of the outbreak. I had been a researcher there for about four years right out of college. Low level stuff for the most part. When the outbreak started to get serious, however, the higher ups were willing to listen to anyone in the agency. I had the right contacts within the CDC and was placed on one of the research teams as an assistant. The team I was on was close and my opinion was considered even though I had the least seniority and status of anyone on the team.”
“You worked for the government?” Callie was stunned by what she was hearing. “You had inside knowledge about these things and you are just telling us this now?”
“I had a lot of theories and suspicions.” Bob said in defense of his decision to keep the information quiet. “No one really knew anything solid about these things.”
“You bastard!” Natasha screamed suddenly. She rushed towards Bob and started slapping him repeatedly. Each slap was accented by a loud thwack and Bob’s face was instantly red. He didn’t try to stop her. After a minute when Natasha showed no sign of slowing, Callie pulled her back. Natasha broke down into tears. “Why didn’t you tell us?” She asked through her sobs. “You might have known something that could have helped us!”
“I told you anything that could have been of help. What difference does it make if I didn’t tell you why I knew?” Bob was hiding something, Callie could tell.
“That’s up to us to decide if it was helpful!” Natasha continued yelling at him. “We put our lives in each other’s hands repeatedly. We have a right to know about each other!”
“Right, what right?” Bob was screaming back now. “What makes you think you have any right to know anything? I helped when I was needed. I provided information when it was needed. If I had told you what my background was, you would have been looking to me for every single decision. We have survived just fine without ‘expert’ opinions.”
“Tell that to Elizabeth,” Natasha shot back, the venom dripping from her voice. Her words were meant to cut, but they sliced deeper then perhaps even she had intended.
Bob got close enough to kiss Natasha, pushing Callie out of the way in the process, but a kiss was definitely not what he had in mind. “You know what? Fuck you! I have done everything I can to contribute to this group. Just because you work for some government agency everyone thinks you have all the answers. Then, when you give them those answers, they blame you when your information is incomplete or outdated. Even if they don’t speak up and blame you, they are constantly thinking it. Your attempts to help just end up getting people hurt or killed and then you are the one left holding the bag. Well, fuck that! I won’t be put in that position again!”
Natasha tried to back away, but quickly found herself against a wall. All she heard was the fury in Bob’s voice and all she saw was the impending violence in his eyes. Callie, however, saw and heard something else. She saw the look in his eyes was equal mixture of anger and pain. She heard the fury in his voice, but could not miss the sound of regret. She saw the same thing when she looked in the mirror and heard the same thing each time she spoke.
“Who did you lose, Bob?” Callie asked softly. She cautiously put a hand on his arm and guided him back from Natasha.
“Who says I lost anyone?” Bob asked, but his voice was now like a child’s, full of denial and shame at having been caught.
“Who did you try to save?” Callie’s voice held the inflection of sympathy and acceptance. Bob hesitated for a moment. Callie saw a single tear leak out of the corner of his eye and drip down his face. Finally, he spoke up. The anger in his voice was completely gone and was now replaced by defeat and sorrow.
“It was shortly after the outbreak began. My family had gathered for a cookout to celebrate my niece graduating from high school. My parents, my brother, his wife and three children, and my two younger sisters were all there.” He paused for a minute and gathered himself to go on. “I couldn’t be there because we were really starting to get a lot of sightings and were being stretched thin at the Columbus CDC. I was on the phone with Julie, my niece, congratulating her and promising to visit as soon as I could. That’s when I heard my mother scream in the background. I asked Julie what was going on and she said she didn’t know but would check. She put the phone down and went outside. I heard more screams in the background. After what seemed like an eternity, she came back on and told me that they were being attacked by giant spiders like the ones that had been in the news lately. She asked me what to do.” Bob hung his head, unable to go on.
“It’s okay,” Natasha said, surprising them all with her compassion. “You told them what you thought was best at the time and it didn’t work. Is that it?”
Bob nodded slowly. He let out a long sigh and went on. “I told them to go inside and get towards the center of the house. We didn’t realize at the time just how smart the crawlies were. They did as they were told, but when the crawlies found their way in, the entire family was slaughtered.” He looked up and the tears were streaming now. “They all died because they trusted my ‘expert’ knowledge. They wouldn’t have even been there if I hadn’t told them the area was safe.”
“You couldn’t have known.” Will spoke up for the first time since they had stopped. “We were all working with bad information, civilian and government alike. Hell, we still don’t know exactly what these things are and we probably never will with most of the major governments having fallen.”
“Maybe not,” Bob said. “But they might have been more on the lookout if they hadn’t just blindly trusted what I had said. I thought just because no nests had been detected in the area that they would be okay. We still didn’t know that they could breed by infecting a host. That’s how it spread so quickly. While we were focused on finding and eliminating the nests, they were spreading through infection. For all we know, they adapted to our attack on the nests.”
“Look man, I hate to break up this stroll down memory road,” Will said, straining to get up from where he had been slouched against the wall. “But the fact is that no one knew shit and you need to let it go. Right now, we need to get moving or we’re all going to be dead. Those things could be anywhere.”
As if the mere mention of the crawlies had summoned them, a grate suddenly flew from the top of the wall. A crawlie that looked like it must have had to crush itself into the ventilation system to be able to fit came springing out of the hole. It was heading straight for Natasha, who had her back to it. Without thinking, Will pushed himself off the wall and shoved her out of the way, putting himself right in its path.
The crawlie latched onto his back and quickly scurried around to his chest. Will was face to face with the thing. Before anyone could react, the crawlie leaned its head back slightly and then lunged forward. Its mandibles tore into Will’s face and the scream that emitted from his throat was unlike anything they had heard before. Will had fallen onto his back and was trying to pull the creature off with both hands. Bob ran forward and grabbed the crawlie’s back. He yanked as hard as he could and managed to pull it off. The crawlie scurried away, but not without its prize. It had torn off Will’s face.
Bob looked up in horror at the bloody pulp that had been hiding beneath Will’s skin. Bob was trying to figure out what to do when a claw burst through the back of Wills throat and Bob was sprayed with the arterial blood. As he watched the crawlies start to swarm out of the vent, he felt a distant tugging at his arm. The tugging became more insistent and Bob looked at Callie in confusion.
“Let’s go, Bob,” She screamed. “We have to go now. He’s gone!” Bob continued to stare at her. Without warning, she slapped him hard across the face. That snapped him out of it and he grabbed her arm and ran.
Natasha was already ahead of them. She had run the moment she saw the first crawlie come out of the vent. Bob and Callie caught up with her and they ran deeper into the building, away from the swarm coming their way.
“In here,” Natasha shouted, running through a dark, open doorway. Bob hesitated for a second, but when he looked behind and saw the creatures converging on him, covering every inch of floor, wall, and ceiling, he ran through the door and slammed it behind him.
The room was black and musky. The air was hot and full of moisture. Bob, Callie, and Natasha all began to sweat within moments of entering. The torch had gone out in the rushing wind of the door being slammed shut. They couldn’t see anything around them, but they could sense that the area was large and cavernous. The sound of skittering claws were all around them and Bob instantly knew that they had made a mistake. At the same time, there was no going back.
A light suddenly pierced the darkness and Bob saw that Natasha had relit the torch. It appeared as if they had entered a warehouse that was attached to the building. Bob had not been paying much attention to where they had been going while running from the swarm. As he looked around, he had a sinking suspicion that they would not be making it out of here alive. What he saw chilled him to the core.
They had found the nest. The largest crawlie that Bob had ever seen was laying in the center of the room. It was easily the size of a whale and looked about as mobile on land. Behind it was a huge web covered with egg sacs. Bob guessed that each sac must have contained over a hundred eggs. There must have been over a hundred sacs on the web. To its left was another web, this one was covered with cocooned people and animals. Bob guessed that these were intended as meals for when the eggs hatched. The giant creature seemed to have its meals delivered to it directly.
Bodies were scattered all around the floor. Age, gender, and race knew no distinction among the litter of corpses. Bob took one look at the creature, its victims, and its oncoming offspring and knew that the world stood no chance against these things. He doubted that this could be the only one of these massive breeders. The chance that they would stumble on to the sole creature of its type was beyond unlikely. Humanity was over. At the moment, that did not matter to Bob.
The importance of all of human existence paled at the moment in comparison to the survival of Bob and his friends. Theirs was a microcosm that was the focus of all of his attention. He knew that there was little hope for any living thing on a planet infested with these creatures and he could not grasp the possibility of survival on a global scale. What he did know was that he was not about to let any more people die around him. That was when his eyes wandered onto Jacob and Elizabeth.
Their corpses were fresher than the others surrounding the large creature. They were torn apart and, judging from the puddles around them, bled dry. The bodies were desiccated and barely recognizable except by shreds of clothes that they had been wearing. Bob felt the blood drain from his own face. He looked at the huge creature and the smaller crawlies scampering all around it. He looked around the room with little hope. As his eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness, he spotted a door to the rear of the room, past the crawlies and their queen. He knew then that he had only one choice.
Bob knew that they could not all make it out alive. If he had to die, he would die trying to atone for the lives that had been lost to his misinformation. He knew that he had not only the blood of his own family on his soul, but countless others as well that had followed false advice put out by him and others like him who had been trying to justify their self-importance. He scanned the room for anything of use and the moment his eyes found it, he had a plan.
“When I say,” he spoke to the two women out of the corner of his mouth, not taking his eyes off of the crawlies. “Run for that door at the corner of the room. I’ll get their attention.”
“What are you going to do?” Callie asked with fear in her voice. She had also taken in the grave nature of their situation, but was unwilling to concede that they would have to willingly lose anyone else.
“Just trust me and run, NOW!” Bob screamed the last word and ran right at the crawlies. The creatures did not know what to make of this show of bravado at first, but quickly got over their confusion and came towards him. At the last possible moment, Bob veered off and turned towards the shelf of gas cans he had spotted off to the side. He prayed that they were not empty. Callie and Natasha did not think about what they were doing, but simply followed their instructions and ran. A couple of crawlies spotted them and gave chase, but they managed to get to the door.
Callie tugged at the door with no success. She grunted and pulled with everything she had, but the door would not budge. A crawlie got close enough to prepare to spring and Natasha punted it right under its mouth. The creature was knocked off balance long enough for Natasha to grab and pull the sliding lock that had been preventing Callie from opening the door. The two women grabbed the door and it flew open. The rushed outside and slammed the door behind them hearing the thud of the crawlie hitting the door right as it shut. They both fell to the ground and tried to regain their breath. They had both accepted the fact without having to say it that if there were more of the creatures out here, they were done. They had nothing left in them. They looked around and drew a deep breath at the sight that greeted them.
Inside, Bob had managed to grab the two gas cans and had run around the queen dousing it with gasoline. He barely managed to escape the crawlies as he ran in serpentine. Their size worked against them as they had to maneuver the bodies and various obstacles spread around the room. Bob finished the can and used the second one to douse the floors and the web to the best of his ability. As he was focused on the web, a crawlie jumped onto his back and knocked him to the floor.
He could feel its claws dig into his back. He thought that it must weigh at least fifty pounds and he could feel every single ounce. He frantically tried to push himself up enough to reach his inside coat pocket. He managed to push himself up slightly and then crashed back down at the weight of the crawlie. He quickly shifted his weight and used all of his remaining strength to roll to his right and flung the crawlie off of his back. It tore at through his clothing and straight into his flesh, leaving track marks like no lover ever had.
Bob screamed as he landed right on the wounds the crawlie had just created. He saw it coming right back at him, his efforts having only bought him temporary reprieve. He managed to grab the lighter out of his pocket and set the gasoline line ablaze right as three crawlies all came from different directions and began to tear his body apart. As his life ended, he watched the flames spread and he thought he could hear the queen scream in defeat. Had he not been in such agony, he might have been able to appreciate that sound more before he died.
Outside, Callie and Natasha looked around and saw that they had come out behind the business complex near the river. The surrounding land was blissfully clear of any crawlies. After gathering their strength for a moment, they began to walk away. Their attention was suddenly drawn back to the building when they heard an ear-splitting shriek pierce the air. The building suddenly exploded outward and the air pressure from the blast knocked them off of their feet. As they came back to their senses, they saw the fire start to catch and spread.
“What the hell just happened?” Natasha wondered aloud as she rubbed at her head.
“Complex that size must have had a large generator.” Callie mused. “I guess it was still pretty full.” The women looked at each other briefly and then set off without another word. They knew that Bob had bought them a temporary stay of execution at best. The world was still crawling with whatever had come to infest it those few, yet long years ago. There was no promise and little hope of long-term survival, but they would take what they could get and try to not look back.
If you enjoyed Crawlies, tune in next month for my next work of original fiction!