“I am the swarm. Armies will be shattered. Worlds will burn.” – Kerrigan, Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm
There was darkness and pain, terrible pain. It burrowed deep, shocking her to the core and exploding into her mind. Rational thought was beyond her. All she could do was draw a breath, first one and then a second. A third. A fourth. Slowly, her mind began to clear.
Where am I? What happened?
The screaming was so loud. Was she screaming? Katie brought a hand up to her own lips and found them shut tight. Something wet and warm coated her fingers. She tasted copper. Blood. She was bleeding. Her tongue was on fire. Had she bitten it?
There was a heavy thump above her, followed by wild, erratic bangs, like someone pounding on a car roof. A car roof. The car. She was in a car. Lindsay’s car! They’d crashed, hit a tree! She had to see if Lindsay was okay, had to just open her eyes and see. It felt impossible, they were welded shut. Her left hand reached up and wiped away something else that felt like blood. How badly was she hurt?
The pain in her body erupted again as she reached up with her right arm to do the same. Something felt jammed into her shoulder. Any movement was excruciating. Slowly she opened her left eye and looked down. A shard of glass was protruding from her right shoulder, just below the collar bone. She stared at it, confused, unsure if what she saw was even real. Absently, she reached up with her left hand and touched it. More pain shot through her and she cried out, dropping her left hand into her lap.
What the hell was that sound? Katie turned her single-eyed gaze up towards the windshield and saw a pair of shredded pants. A smear of blood arched from them to the driver’s side. At first she didn’t understand until she saw that there were stumps of legs in those pants. They twitched.
Above her, the roof dented inward. The legs moved again. Another hard bang and the dent was deeper and the legs once more twitched. Whoever it was, they were alive and banging on the car roof! She had to get out there, help them!
She quickly wiped the blood from her right eye with her left arm, drawing her jacket’s sleeve across her face. Her vision cleared and she looked over. Lindsay’s eyes were closed, her arms hanging loosely at her side. The airbag hung limply from the steering wheel and Lindsay had blood on her face. Broken nose. Possible concussion. That first aid training was coming in handy all of a sudden.
“Lin? Lindsay! Wake up!”
Was she dead? No, her chest was moving. She couldn’t tell how much through her jacket, but at least it was moving. She fumbled for her belt as another loud bang brought the roof in closer to her head.
“Lin! Lin, wake up!” she reached over and nudged her, though she remembered something about not moving someone with a possible neck or spinal injury. Shit, I should call 911. She reached for her phone but it was in her right pocket and any movement from her right arm sent a debilitating shock of pain through her. Sudden, fierce tears stung her eyes. She was hurt and scared and wasn’t sure what to do, but her dad’s voice echoed in her mind. When you were faced with an impossible situation, focus on what you can do right now.
She shifted in her seat, leaning across the car’s console and reached up to touch her friend’s cheek. Another bang and she heard something give above her. “Stop!” she shouted. The banging came again, and again and again. Louder, faster. Frantic. The roof bent inward in multiple places. Somewhere in her mind, she thought that you had to be awfully strong to do that.
A window shattered.
Katie looked back towards the passenger side door and saw a bloody hand reaching through the broken glass. She was transfixed, unable to look away from the sight of the flesh torn and tattered, peeling away from the bone. The smell of something foul wafted in, mixing with the biting cold. The shards of glass were smeared with dark blood. It didn’t run, or drip like it did in horror movies. She found that maddening.
“Lindsay!” she shouted again and this time she heard her friend groan. Katie reached down with her left hand and unsnapped her friend’s seatbelt before undoing her own. She slid across the console towards her. Lindsay still wasn’t opening her eyes, but her head had lolled back against the seat. Progress.
A hiss, followed by the chattering of teeth grinding together drew her attention back to the window. A man’s face appeared there. His lips were drawn back over yellow teeth and black gums. His eyes were wide open, sunken and glassy. They were dead eyes. His face was that of a corpse mask and he was forcing himself inside. First, the ruin of his hand, then a shoulder. The face was pushing through the broken glass, a sound escaping his throat that somewhere between a scream and a gasp.
“Stay away!” she said, but the hand was reaching for her, clutching at her jacket. She pushed herself against the center console and the hand slipped away, leaving a smear of blood.
“Lin!” She turned to see Lindsay’s eyes open but unfocused. Her friend looked dazed and barely conscious. Katie felt the man’s hand grasp at her right arm and the pain made her scream.
“Wha—what is… Mister Turn—Turner?” Lindsay was staring past her. “Your hand is bleeding, Mister Turner…”
Katie reached across Lindsay’s lap and pulled the door release, then pushed with her legs to send the door flying open. With her left arm, she pushed at Lindsay, yelling for her to get out.
“Katie? What… why is…”
“Get out! Lin, get out!”
Lindsay partially turned and groaned, half falling out of the car and half laying on the seat. Katie heard her begin to cry.
“I’m hurt… Katie… I’m hurt…”
Katie felt the man grab at her coat again and heard the glass giving way more and more. He was pulling himself through the broken window! She forced herself to look. Instantly, she knew the image would haunt her for the rest of her life. The skin on one side of his face was pulling off the bone. The jaw was snapping shut over and over as he pulled himself towards her. For a heartbeat, she was too stunned, too filled with fear to act.
What is happening?
She’d heard what bath salts could do to someone. There’d been a man who ate a homeless man’s flesh while high on the stuff. Is that what this guy was on? The sight of his face, the memory of the homeless man’s pictures before surgery snapped her out of her paralysis.
She twisted away from his grasp and then kicked with all her strength. Her boot caught the man in the forehead and she felt something give way. He slid a little further back so she kicked again and again and again. The man howled as he was forced back through the door’s broken window, inch by inch. Katie found herself yelling as well, both in pain from her arm and from fear. She felt like a wild animal fighting to survive.
Moments later, she found herself on the road, lying next to Lindsay. She didn’t remember getting out of the car, but her head was pounding. I must have landed on my head, she thought, and rolled over to try and get to her knees.
The man was crawling towards them from beneath the car.
In an instant, she was on her feet, the adrenaline subduing the pain her arm. She pulled Lindsay up with her left hand and wrapped an arm around her waist, supporting her with her left shoulder.
“Lin, can you walk? Lin, talk to me!”
“Huh? Yeah… I… where’s Mister Turner? Is he okay?”
Katie didn’t bother to explain and began to hobble them away from the wreck. They moved slowly, nearly falling twice, but they cleared the front of the car, crested the ditch and climbed onto the road. She glanced back over her shoulder and saw that the man was crawling towards them. His left arm was missing, and the right was clawing at the ground. He was pulling himself slowly along like a sinking boat trying row through muddy water.
She turned away and concentrated on moving one step after the other. The storm had slowed, but the freezing rain continued to soak her clothes and her hair. At this rate, they’d never make the town. They’d freeze to death on the side of the road.
A buzzing sensation in her pocket signaled that her phone was going off. She reached into her pocket, her injured arm sending wave after wave of pain through her until she felt like she’d vomit, pass out, or both. Somehow, she managed to pull it free.
The incoming call was from her dad.