Chapter 10: Where the Heart Is
By AmyAmy, based on an idea by John Hynden
Maeve slowed down. She might be able to deal with the monster, if it came, but once the glass was broken, there would be no fixing it. Every time she slowed to negotiate a bend, or check a junction, she imagined the black rubber demon dive-bombing the car, six-inch razor claws tearing through the roof.
What was that thing? A bird? A person? A devil?
It had been slick, shiny, and black.
A lot like something, or someone else she was familiar with.
She hit the Douglas suburbs, still no attack. Did that mean it had given up? Maybe it wouldn’t try again, not so openly, but it could still be following her. She drove under the cover of a large tree and stopped.
Wriggling awkwardly in the car-seat, she pulled on her clothes, then thumbed through the contacts on her phone.
Ringing… Ringing… Come on Izzy, pick up.
Izzy was notoriously unreliable. No surprise if she didn’t pick up, probably drunk, or hung-over. No. That wasn’t fair. Her own phone had been off for days. She hung up and checked for messages. Still nothing from Brian.
Maybe the best thing could happen was that he’d given up on her, but what if he hadn’t? He might try and look for her. It would be just like him to look here first. For all she knew, he was at her mother’s right now, drinking tea and pretending everything was normal. It would be such a relief to find that was true.
She tried Izzy’s number again. Her phone rang out. No answer. Should she go there on the off-chance she was in, or should she try something else? Was it safe to go back to the hotel? There was no way the thing knew her name, was there?
Her phone went to sleep and locked itself. The screen turned black, and she caught sight of her worried features reflected in the glass. Was that really her? Her face hadn’t changed. Or had it? She didn’t spend enough time staring at herself to be sure. Maybe she had a selfie she could compare?
Her phone lit up, banishing the image, then gave an angry buzz. It was on vibrate, alarm unintentionally silenced. Somebody was ringing. Not just somebody, this was a contact. She poked the screen to pick up.
“Izzy, Hello,” she said.
“Fucktard!” Izzy was shouting into the phone.
“Oh, sorry, not you. The asshole that just nearly ran me over… Yeah. And fuck you too!”
“Sorry. Asshole again. What are you after?”
“I don’t want to talk about it on the phone. Can we meet somewhere? Your place?”
“You’re back on the island?”
“Yes. Ten minutes away.”
“Alright. I’ll see you there, but you take me as you find me. No lectures.”
* * * * *
Maeve studied the door buzzer on at the entrance to the flats. There had once been a panel with several buttons, but the front was missing, metal casing rusting and cobwebbed, wires torn out, a few strands remained. The door was ajar. Somebody had contrived to stop it from locking by hammering a nail into the frame. She let herself in. Beyond, the hallway was ill-lit, decorated with discarded electrical goods and abandoned junk-mail.
Maeve climbed the stairs to her sister’s flat. By the look of it, like so many buildings in town, the place had once been a hotel, and there were over twenty flats. Her detective senses told her that some of the residents had brought some troubles home with them. It didn’t require Sherlock Holmes to figure it out, when the landings were piled with garbage, broken appliances, and collapsed furniture with peeling veneer, crudely restored to its original flat-pack format and stacked against the walls. There was a guilty difference between this place and her own flat in a sub-divided Victorian house, with its sweeping staircases, stained-glass doors, porcelain tiled floors, functional entry cameras, and the common-areas decorated with real plants, watered and cared for by the cleaners.
She followed the ill-lit maze of hallways that led to Izzy’s room. She glanced about, checking corners, as if something was going to jump out of one of them. She was surprised she wasn’t shaking after the encounter with the demon-monster. Perhaps, like before, when she’d nearly crashed on the motorway, the anticipated aftershock would never come.
She knocked loudly on the door. No answer.
She waited a while, rapped again. Was Izzy back yet?
“Hold your horses for eff’s sake,” came Izzy’s voice, yelling from behind the door.
Izzy… Isobel… Maeve’s oldest sister, threw the door open. An odor of turpentine and stale cigarette smoke blew out with the draught.
“Hello,” Maeve said, pushing past. Her ‘big’ sister had been an inch or so shorter for years, but with Maeve’s new footwear arrangement, and Izzy in her bare feet, the difference was overwhelming.
Izzy looked up at her, her expression, as usual, registering the facial equivalent of an indifferent shrug.
“Hello. How’s the weather up there in Mi-mi-land?”
Even though she must have just got back in, Izzy was undressed apart from a loose-fitting cami-top and black panties. Maeve noticed that the old bluebell tattoo on her shoulder had been refreshed and extended down her side. She’d also removed her usual nose ring and replaced it with a stud.
Maeve put her head on one side, scrunched her brow down and examined Izzy with mock suspicion. “What are you talking about?”
Izzy gestured at the ceiling. “Is it snowing up at that altitude?”
“Ha ha. So funny,” Maeve said, in her deadest deadpan voice. “You know it never snows here.”
Izzy pressed a finger to the cheekbone next to her nose, the pressure pulled her lower eyelid down just a little. “But really, what’s with the heels?”
Maeve opened her mouth half-way, shook her head slightly and replicated Izzy’s gesture. “Are you going to let me in, or just keep me out here so you can mock me in the corridor?”
Izzy took Maeve’s wrist, pulled her inside and closed the door. She stopped again, holding the door handle. Was there a rare hesitancy about her? “So, finally the talk huh?”
Maeve sighed. “You’re being surprisingly cryptic today.”
“About mum. Why else would you be back? You sneaked a look at her results, or Flo told you?”
“What? No. This is the first I’m hearing about it.”
“Shit. I should have kept my mouth shut.”
“No. No, you shouldn’t have. So what’s changed?” Maeve was hoping it wasn’t the thing she dreaded most, but it obviously was. Her mother must have been covering-up how badly her treatment was going.
“They did another scan. She’s riddled with it. The chemo’s been a complete waste of fucking time.”
Maeve put down the bag she’d had pressed to her chest, and covered her face with her palms, suddenly exhausted. “So that’s it?”
“Of course the daft bat made us promise not to tell you. Like you wouldn’t work it out.”
There was only one question. She didn’t ask it. Even now, she had to circle around the topic. “Did they give any details?”
“Maybe six months. A year tops, but it might be less. Six is just the number that keeps cropping up. I don’t think they know.”
Maeve wiped her palms, wet with sweat and tears from her face. “I knew this was coming. I knew it.” She knew, so she shouldn’t be such a mess.
Izzy shot her a look. Maeve couldn’t decide whether it meant why can’t you accept that you have emotions like a normal person? Or alternatively, this isn’t about you, so shut your yap-hole. Or where’s your annoying lecture on how I’m wasting my talents?
“Gloves? Are you wearing gloves?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“Is that so? It looks like rubber. Polished rubber. It is, isn’t it?”
Maeve exhaled without opening her mouth, puffing out her cheeks.
Izzy laughed. “Heels under baggy sweat pants? Are you playing some kinky bondage game with your new guy?”
“It’s not that. We’re talking about something serious here. Not my clothes. Was there any response at all? Can she go on to the next stage of the chemo?”
Izzy turned away, looked as if she was about to walk off, then hesitated. “Can’t you just trust us for once?”
Maeve covered her mouth with her hand. “I just want to understand.”
“She’s seen the doctors, got a second opinion. It’s not responding at all. Don’t you get it?” Izzy shook her head.
“It’s a shock. Didn’t you try to find ways around it too? I just can’t leave it.”
“Yes you can. It’s up to her.”
Maeve cursed. “You know what she’s like.”
“I do. I know what you’re like too.”
Maeve gave a long sigh.
Izzy turned back towards her, grabbed at her hand with the glove. Maeve snatched it away, leaving her grasping air. A new face from Izzy now, playful. Serious matters shoved under the rug in an instant, as they always were with her.
“Besides, Mi-mi, you don’t get off the hook that easy,” Izzy said, her voice half sing-song. “All the times you’ve given me condescending looks for my clothes, or my boyfriends, and you’re into this? It’s too rich to ignore.”
“So, your feeling superior is more important than how I feel after learning… That news. Really?”
“You’re a big girl. Handle it. It’s not like you weren’t expecting it, right?”
“Is there a suit under those baggy trackies? Let me see.” Izzy made a grab at her pants.
Maeve sidestepped the grab, and Izzy tried to catch hold of her sweatshirt instead. Maeve batted her hand away. “No. Get off. Pest.”
“There’s a full suit under there isn’t there? With gloves and everything. Let me see. They’re expensive aren’t they?”
“It’s not what you think.”
Izzy gave a huge smile. “So I’m close? I always wanted one, but I can’t afford things like that.”
“I didn’t buy this. It grew.”
Izzy nodded repeatedly. “Sure. Sure. If that’s how they make them these days. But you won’t let me see it, so why would I believe that?”
“Believe what you like.”
Izzy gestured to the backpack. “Luggage? You planning on staying here? Or you brought me a present? Do I get a suit too?”
Maeve had wrapped the globe in a dirty towel and packed it inside the bag with her gym kit.
“Pray you never end up like this.”
“It’s that strict huh? Pity. I’m not into bondage. I can imagine how a stiff-neck like you might be.”
“Stop being a pest. It’s nothing like that.”
“What’s in the bag then?”
“It’s evidence. Work-stuff. The original reason I’m back on the island.”
“If it’s sex drugs, you better be sharing.”
“Hands off. No. It’s not drugs.”
“Stop. You’re not funny. What it is, is a magnet for trouble. Trouble that followed me here. Or it started here. I don’t really know yet. They might try to get to me through you, or mum, or Flo.”
“You’re kidding with me?”
Maeve fixed Izzy with her best serious stare. “I’m not kidding. It might be something to do with Hanley-Muller. Or maybe something they want.”
“Something to do with why you’re wearing a fetish costume under clothes that don’t fit?”
“Yes. It’s something to do with that.”
“Aren’t you hot? I never figured you went that way, sis.” Izzy bumped up against her, fake-flirting. “Been undercover? Or is this the new uniform?”
“It’s complicated. Corruption. Maybe.”
“Reminds me of that picture of Nilma with the bodyguards in the background.”
“I think those were active camouflage suits, with the power turned off. This doesn’t make me invisible. Quite the opposite.”
“You’ve got more balls than me, walking around this town dressed like that. I guess you’ve got your big city mainland ways.”
“I thought you said you wanted one.”
Izzy shook her head, slowly this time. “I was joking you dummy. I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life.”
Maeve sat down on the sofa, backpack in her lap. It was the only seat in the place. There were no other chairs, and the rest of the sofa was piled with books. There were new paintings stacked against the walls, Izzy’s work. One, a six-foot-square was still unfinished, layers of paint thick on the canvas, scraped away, piled up again. She nodded towards it. “What’s that?”
“I don’t know. It’s kind of Hanley-Muller and Nilma all rolled into one.”
“Hence the mountain of burning skulls and the butterfly wings?”
“Yeah. Basically. Except they’re not a butterflies.”
“I guess it’s pretty bohemian to hate H-M, right?”
“Oh come on sis. Everyone hates them, but it’s not like there’s any other game in town, is it? The lovely Nilma, tabloid darling, tyrannical queen of the world.”
“Some people seem to like her.”
“Ok. Some people hate them,” Izzy said. “And I know you don’t like H-M, so you can stop trolling me. It’s not like I hate her, it’s just envy basically. She has everything, while I have…” She gestured vaguely at the room.
“For once, we agree on something.”
Izzy gave a rare smile.
“Pity you won’t leave the island. You could have been something.”
“Fuck you sis. Not this again. I am something. Just not the very important something you wish I was, so you could brag about me to your shitty mainland friends.”
“Artists don’t have to be starving to create, you know?”
“I’m ok, with the illustration work, and the game concepts. I can do all that from here. Yeah, I could get more money if I went to where the work is. But I’d only waste it on booze and fruit-machines. At least this way I can’t afford to a serious habit.”
“Now you’re just trying to stir me up.”
“That’s right. No need for drugs. Alcohol killed enough artists and it’s fully legit.” She made finger quotes when she said the word artists.
Maeve hugged the backpack tighter. Izzy’s gaze followed the movement. “Where you going to take this evidence of yours?”
“At first I was thinking of getting you to hide it. That’s probably a bad idea, as you’ve decided it’s drugs and will probably open it to get them.”
“I better hang onto it,” Maeve said.
“So, that was why you called me, all hot and breathless?”
“Or were you doing something dirty, in your sexy costume? With a man? With big muscles… Brian?”
Maeve shook her head, made a disgusted noise.
“Ooh. With a woman?”
Maeve found her serious voice. “This is no joke. Remember I was shot. Somebody wants to kill me, and they are pulling out all the stops to finish the job off.”
“Is it really so dramatic?” Izzy gave a long, loud yawn and leaned back against the wall.
“Yes, it is. I’m not joking like you would. I came to warn you. You have to get out. Hide. Everyone I know is in danger. It could be H-M behind this. Could just be somebody in the division. If it’s the former, we’re all completely fucked. So we may as well act as if it’s the latter and hope for the best.”
“Wow. Little sis swearing. It must be the real deal.”
Maeve glowered at her.
“Alright. Alright. Should I leave the island? Is that safe, or are they watching? Whoever they are?”
“I’d stay away from the airport or the ferry terminal if I were you. If you can get out another way, all the better. Make sure you can’t be tracked.”
Sometimes people crossed to the mainland, or Ireland in small boats or planes. Even a scallop boat was capable of the trip, but it was only practical if you knew somebody that owned one. Which Izzy did, but Maeve wouldn’t point that out.
Izzy sat down, wriggling in next to her. Wearing nothing but her underwear. She smelled of sweat and cigarettes. She’d probably been out running.
It still seemed strange, but it had been years since cigarettes had been poisonous. Supposedly, they were mostly harmless now, but they still stank like crap. Not that she trusted the claims of a cigarette company. Probably, nobody would, ever again, but nothing was true now. Not like when she was young. Now it was a post-truth world.
Maeve was pretty sure the cigarettes that Izzy rolled herself weren’t the healthy kind. Yes, better to think about that and not the heat coming off her. If the thing tried to make her horny right now, she would vomit. Literally.
Izzy tapped the side of her head. “You know, a sane person…” She paused to give a shit eating grin. “Might think that you’ve been sampling those drugs you confiscate. And apart from dressing up in kinky suits, you’ve also gone bat-shit crazy.”
“I’m not paranoid Iz. I’ve seen enough of those drugs to know not to touch them. And my shooting is a matter of record.”
“I’ll give you that. It was on the news.”
Izzy put a hand on her thigh, slid the fabric of her pants over her rubber skin. “So smooth. You must be so sweaty under there?”
“Yes. Yes I am. And I have the worst candida ever,” Maeve lied, trying to out-do Izzy. “Now stop messing. Turn your phone off and leave it here. Don’t take it with you. You know what I’m talking about?”
“What about you? Your caller ID came up earlier.”
Maeve pulled out her phone. “Here, you have a metal box? A safe? Biscuit tin?”
Izzy leaned forward, slid a tin from underneath the sofa and opened it up. It was full of paint tubes. She positioned the wafer-thin phone amongst the paints and put the lid back on. “Sorted.”
Maeve stood up. “I’ll be going now.”
“Not going to stop for a cup of tea?”
“Do you even have tea?”
“No then. I’ve got to get to mum and Flo, warn them too.”
Izzy started to pull her loose hair up into a bun. “About what I said before. You know, she’d rather we weren’t around to watch her crumble.”
“And yet it still feels like I abandoned everyone.”
“I’m probably going to go to-“
“Don’t tell me. Better if I don’t know.”
“This is a bit cloak and dagger for you Mi-mi. You’re normally such a stuck-up, by-the-book…”
Maeve would normally have given her a hard time about calling her Mimi, but Izzy seemed to be in an unusually conciliatory mood. Best not to sour it. “Yeah. Well, maybe I’m a different person… These days.”
“I know. It’s hard to say no to her, the way she is.”
Maeve nodded. “I better get going. I’m just holding you up.”
* * * * *
Despite her determination to drive to her mother’s house, Maeve found herself walking towards the hotel instead of back to her car. Even though her clothes covered most of her gloss-black skin, she was catching a few odd stares on the way. Her mind was elsewhere. With her phone gone, it was too late to try calling Brian again. What was done was done.
She could feel the thing in the backpack. Even though it was sealed up, she could still sense its presence. Had it escaped from the globe somehow? She would have noticed a crack in the glass, so it had to be her nerves. She stopped to check anyway. She daren’t take it out of the bag, in case somebody saw, but with it still inside, she rotated it this way and that, checking for a flaw. She couldn’t see one, and the oily black goop hadn’t escaped.
It had to be another one of those things. Two broken globes, two escaped creatures. She’d found one, The monster had to be the other. And then there was this one.
She could hear it whispering in the back of her head, jumbled words that made no sense. Sometimes she could pick something out, just the odd fragment here or there.
The more she listened, the louder it became. The voice in her head wasn’t just a figment of her imagination. It was real.
It was generally considered a rule that hearing voices that other people couldn’t was bad news.
She let go of the orb, closed up the backpack and shouldered it, walking hurriedly away from the spot. People were staring at her. She took a roundabout route back to her hotel, checking for Patty following her at every corner, looking up at the sky every time she came into the open. People gave her odd looks, but there was no sign of Patty.
Back at her hotel, the attractive woman was missing from reception, replaced by a boy in his late teens. He gave her a nervous smile.
She’d been intending to go straight up to her room. Instead, not really knowing why, she paused, stepped closer to the desk.
“Can I help you?” the boy asked, his voice tight and nervous.
Maeve caught a hint of an odd scent.
“Do you smell that?” she said.
“Sorry, smell what?”
She sniffed, moved her head. She had the scent clear now, a reek of sex. She glanced at the boy. It wasn’t him. She slid a hand down inside her baggy sweatpants, with their elastic waist, found her crotch. She slipped a finger inside, it was wet, but thick and sticky.
The boy gawped at her in amazement.
She pulled her hand out of her pants and clamped it across the boy’s face, pressing the sticky finger between his lips. He didn’t resist. His eyes rolled back up into his head and he slumped back. It was lucky she had hold of his face or he would have fallen off his chair. She pulled him forwards and leaned him against the reception counter, face pressed against the padded surface.
She had no idea that she could do something like this until now. The knowledge had come from nowhere, but the urge to use it was all hers. That sex smell had to be investigated, no matter what.
Following the scent, heels oddly silent, she walked around the reception counter and through the door behind it.
There was a corridor with several doors. The nearest one on the left had a large frosted glass panel, and was slightly ajar. The scent was much stronger here. She pushed the door softly open.
The room was an office that had been converted for use as a storeroom. Two people were fucking, both completely naked. The one on the bottom was lying back on a heap of folded towels, the one on top was clearly male, with a lean, muscular back and golden skin, slightly spotty.
They hadn’t noticed her. She stepped closer. From this improved angle, she could see that the receiver was the woman from reception, her head tipped back, eyes closed, mouth open, panting. The man was kissing her neck where it met her shoulder.
The scent was overwhelmingly strong.
Maeve quietly undid the buttons on her shirt.
The goop thing that made up her new skin, it wasn’t making her do this. It had tried to encourage her before, but this was all her. Her breasts swelled visibly as she popped the top buttons open, and they popped out over the half-unbuttoned shirt, too big to be contained.
Her aureoles were like mini-breasts on breasts, big enough for a teenage girl to think she needed a bra for them. Her nipples, thick as her little-finger, and almost as long. A mouthful for an adult. That was probably the idea.
Going hard at it, somehow the couple still hadn’t noticed her. The man had his back to her, the woman, her eyes closed. Maeve stepped out of her pants and fingered her pussy again. It too had swollen substantially, and her clitoris had grown almost as big as one of her nipples. Frightening. Her attentions produced no sensation, but a gush of oily black liquid escaped and ran down her thighs, blobs of the earlier, thick, sticky secretions washed down by the new thinner fluid.
The couple in front of her went crazy, the man pounding into the woman like a machine. She grabbed her own breasts and began kneading and pinching them wildly.
Maeve couldn’t smell anything coming from herself, but perhaps they could? And it had done something to them.
She knelt down close by and slid a slippery finger up the man’s bum hole, wrapped the rest of her hand around his balls. He froze, gasping for breath. She’d expected him to panic, to shout or attack her, but she had complete control of him, literally, by the balls. She could reduce him to a pathetic mewling animal whenever she felt like it, not that she wanted to, but it would be silly not to take precautions.
Both of them were staring at her, mouths agape, but not screaming, not trying to back away from her. They were motionless, a far-away look in their eyes.
“Come here,’’ she said.
The man was first, by necessity. He latched onto her teat and sucked hard. Not releasing her grip on him, Maeve guided him out of the way, so the woman could sit up. She latched onto the other teat as soon as she could.
Their feeding was a wonderful sensation, so good she was almost unable to think. She was at their mercy, frustrated, unrelieved, and yet feeling so much pleasure that she couldn’t move.
Gradually, the pleasure faded enough that she could move and push the woman down to suck on her pussy and her insanely engorged clit.
Maeve came, an orgasm even better than the ones the thing had given to her. Her entire body seemed to participate, waves of pleasure pulsing through it, gradually rising, falling again, then rising even higher, to a peak that defied memory.
Her two companions seemed numb, incapable of speech, but they were still conscious. She told them to put their clothes on and follow her, and they did.
Compliance. Black was the color.
She’d seen what compliance drugs did to their victims. Once they wore off, there was always damage. Some left the subject brain-damaged, unable to initiate any action for themselves. Others simply left them with the horror, their identity shattered, broken by the knowledge that they could so easily become a puppet. Maeve despised the people who had invented those drugs. They must have known what the consequences would be. They must have…. She loathed the scum who administered them worse.
If things were like before, these people, whatever their names were, wouldn’t remember anything they’d done under her influence. A hole in their memory, lost time, the mind filled in the gap with something plausible. Had they been drunk? Asleep? They’d think of something, and as long as there was no evidence to draw their attention to it, they wouldn’t question it. Probably. Like the classic green.
It wasn’t her fault that she could do this, but she had chosen to do it. Like teenagers who had sex in a horror movie, they had doomed themselves. If she hadn’t found them screwing in a laundry closet, this wouldn’t have happened.
Excuses were one thing, but it was still her fault. She’d made a decision. It might end up being harmless, but all the same, it was morally repugnant. What had come over her to do something like this? She felt like a piece of shit. What she’d done could not be undone. But there was another part of her, a wheedling voice that reminded her that it would be fine, and nobody had been hurt, and nobody would get hurt, unless she did something violent, and besides, it had felt so good, and they’d enjoyed it too, hadn’t they?
Back in her hotel room, Maeve fell back onto the bed, spread her arms out wide, and stared at the ceiling. There was a cobweb, hanging down, covered in dust. Didn’t they clean hotel rooms regularly? Perhaps the cleaners never looked up.
The two people were right by her, ready and waiting, the beautiful young receptionist, with her glowing dark skin and big eyes, and her lover, lighter skinned, lean and muscular, radiating young male vigor. He also looked like his ancestry was from the Indian sub-continent, somewhere. He had a nice big cock, it would be a shame to waste it now he was here.
She ought to eat something but she was too tired. She was overheated and thirsty. She’d been awake since the before dawn, then there was the business with the hole and the attack. What were the chances of her enemy finding her here? Low, unless they could track her payments. That was hard, even for the police. They might be able to find her car. She should be careful when she went back to it. They? No, it was a single person, wasn’t it? Or perhaps not even a person, just another black goo creature with nobody inside it.
The attack had been a shock. But there was nothing but shocks lately. Her mother… That part wasn’t a shock, she’d been expecting it for months. But preparing for a thing, and dealing with the reality weren’t the same.
The way Izzy had reacted was surprising. Normally, she was such a cow, always resentful that it was Maeve that paid the bills and sorted out the problems. It was no secret that Izzy had never forgiven her for going to work on the mainland. She had wanted to be the one to go, but hadn’t dared to leave the island. It had seemed like she would, and then things changed. Sure, she visited there now and again, but never for more than a couple of days at a stretch. The scale of things was different on the mainland, didn’t suit her. In the end, her reluctance to leave had definitely stalled her career. Maeve had tried to persuade her to do more, but she’d shut herself off.
So somebody had to do the work. Izzy had plenty of chances to get away before Maeve was old enough to leave herself. It seemed stupid of her to blame anyone else. Perhaps she’d had obligations, reasons that Maeve had never known about or understood. Izzy wasn’t the sort to explain herself or make excuses. She just got on with whatever it was she was doing.
Maeve ought to do the same. Two beautiful young people were waiting to please her, and here she was staring at the ceiling and worrying about nonsense.
* * * * *
Maeve woke up, and so she must have been asleep at some point. Or was she still dreaming? Everything was fine. She was calm and relaxed, comfortable. A pleasant sensation suffused her body. Ticklish pleasure played around her nipples, and her sex.
Was the thing toying with her again? Or was she simply dreaming an ordinary dream? She opened her eyes. The hotel ceiling was there, the same as before. A small spider was creeping along the edge of the cornicing. It was nothing more than a speck really.
Something warm and wet sucked at her breast. She glanced down. A head of dark hair was blocking the view of her body. She sat up sharply. The hair belonged to a woman, who sat up too. They faced each other, both naked, but very different. Maeve’s gaze flicked from the woman to the male figure, who was still lapping at her crotch, then back to the woman. She had an empty smile on her face. Lights on but nobody home.
Maeve hadn’t expected them to still be here, and clearly still under the influence. They’d probably been sucking at her juices while she slept. Had the thing done something with them while she’d been asleep. If it had, they looked unhurt. It couldn’t have done anything worse than she’d done herself. She’d let them please her in every possible way.
Outside the hotel-room window, it was dark. How long had she been asleep? Was it too late to go to her mother’s?
She pushed the two sex-zombies away from her, jumped off the bed and checked the backpack. The globe was still there, still undamaged.
She pulled it out and studied it. The glass looked old, hand-blown, not quite spherical. It seemed to have been sealed while it was still hot. Despite having been starved of air, for what had to be years, the thing inside still had its mojo.
The kirk might have been abandoned eighty years, ninety, and the crypt might have been sealed even longer than that. What were the images she’d seen down there? She couldn’t remember much of them. Where were those uncannily accurate memories when she needed them? She regretted not taking her phone down, so she could photograph them, but on reflection, they probably wouldn’t have shown up in the pictures. The light had to be just so, and the camera likely lacked the range of her eyes.
She pressed the sphere against her forehead. It felt warm to the touch, though perhaps the warmth had come from her. A yellow light filled the room, visible, even with her eyes closed. A voice, in her head. No. It was her own voice, her own thoughts, but they were out of her control.
I have to open the sphere. I have to integrate before the other one takes it. I have to become complete so I can go somewhere safe.
There was a figure in the sphere, a tiny version of herself, almost the same. The features were fluid, and yet she never doubted it was her. Her face had black rubber instead of pink skin, with long black tentacles instead of hair. Her breasts were large and protruding, or else flat and barely visible at all. Her mouth was non-existent, or a tiny with pouting lips, or a gaping maw lined with clear, crystalline teeth, and a tongue like a spear that had its own teeth.
She was tiny, inside the sphere with herself, face to face. Her other self touched her breast, like a mirror image she touched the other self’s breast, brushing the nipple. An electric thrill shot through her. She kissed herself, entwining her seemingly endless tongue around and around. Her other hand touched her mirror sex. It felt so good. The other Maeve knew just where to rub. Imagine, if she could stay like this forever? Together with the perfect partner, who knew just how to please her, the only person who knew exactly what she wanted…
What was she thinking?
It was just the thing messing with her again. She was letting her imagination run away.
Without warning, it was night, and she was back in her flat, back in the past.
She looked out of her window and saw the two youths watching her flat. She turned on a light and one immediately got on his phone. After a short conversation, they both left. She hurried down and followed them. They led her to the house, where the keys were thrown from the window.
She’d seen all this before. This was no dream, it was the missing part of the memory where she’d attacked the two thugs, her lost time. This was what the goo had been doing with her body while she’d been sleeping, and for some reason had decided not to show her before.
She was conscious of being an observer, unable to control anything, and at the same time it felt as if the things were happening to her. She was a mere passenger in her memory self, but it didn’t feel like she was helpless, it was more like being in a dream where she didn’t choose actions, they just happened according to an intent she didn’t consciously exercise.
The key she’d noticed was from a storage locker in the division headquarters. She’d seen them many times. She had one of her own.
After taking the keys from the youths, she went to the station. Division headquarters. Surprisingly, her biometrics still worked. It was quiet, most people out on patrol. The lights were on in the office but she didn’t go in there. The lockers were outside, by the meeting rooms.
She tried the lockers until the key matched one. Inside was one of her own towels. How had that got there? She pulled it out, revealing the scruffy piece of evidence that had started all the trouble. It was an old-fashioned lemonade bottle from the sixties, made of glass, covered in a patina of tiny scratches. Once, it must have been commonplace in every corner-shop. Now it would look more at home in an antique dealer’s display. There were about three inches of dark brown fluid in the bottom, reminiscent of blood. It had the consistency of hot oil in a frying pan. It certainly wasn’t fifty-year-old dandelion and burdock.
She returned to her flat. Took the back off her washing machine and taped the bottle inside. She went into the bathroom, and using her head tentacles – which seemed perfectly natural – glued herself up in the shower. To rest?
Her hours of wakefulness were nothing but a sketchy collection of ideas and images, then everything was clear again. She went back to the house where she’d got the keys, hid and waited. After a while, Patty came out, covered in black rubber, concealing it under a raincoat. Maeve stepped out of hiding to confront her.
Patty didn’t attack, or run.
“Who are you?” Patty said. Paused a moment. “You look like her.”
“Her?” Maeve said. “You mean Maeve?” It was Maeve’s voice. The new and improved version, with extra gravitas and sexiness added.
“Oh, it is you. Craine. I thought so. You can’t imagine what I’ve been through, this awful stuff of yours. Is this your revenge? A weapon? A kind of torture? Did you know it would do this to me? Did you know it was lethal?” Patty was close, her voice low and quiet.
“It’s your own fault. You didn’t have to go there. Didn’t have to interfere.”
Patty stepped closer, right in her space. “Don’t make me beg. Is there a way to get it off? Anything? You wouldn’t believe the pain.” Her words hissed between her teeth.
Maeve took a step back. “You seem fine.”
“You aren’t as observant as you think you are then. It’s eating me.” Patty reached for her, but Maeve knocked her hand away. Hard. If she’d responded to Izzy like that, she’d have broken her wrist.
“You shouldn’t have touched it,” Maeve said. “You were on the island, following me, weren’t you? At the kirk? Why did you go there?”
“The church-ruin thing?”
“I’m sure you know I was following you? Obviously. I didn’t go there because I liked it.”
“You followed me, to kill me?”
“What do you expect? I was a suspect for having you shot in the first place. He made sure the job was requested from my computer. I have no choice now. I’d say it wasn’t personal, but it’s not as if I don’t wish you an ocean of misery. If you could feel one tenth of what you’ve done to me-”
“I’ve never done anything to you.”
“What do you call this?” Patty held out her hands. It looked like she was wearing black rubber gloves under the coat. Of course she wasn’t. She pulled open the collar of her coat, revealing the rubber around her neck. “And this is just your latest attack. Before that… So many things. You took my future, and you didn’t even want to keep it.”
Maeve took another step back. “You said no choice? Why not? Did somebody make you steal the bottle?”
“The person that wanted you dead in the first place. If I don’t kill you, he won’t stop at just tidying me away, others will suffer too. Innocent people. They’ll suffer worse than this. Worse than death. Do you want that on your conscience? I don’t.”
“That’s unfortunate. I have no intention of dying, but I could help you.”
“If you want to help, give back my key.”
“You don’t need it. I emptied your locker. What is that stuff? A sex drug?”
“Perceptive as always, Detective Inspector.” Patty shook her head.
“It is, isn’t it? An old one. From the sixties. Is it the urban myth? The one that started everything? Something about it made H-M create all the others, the ones we have now. Do you know anything about it? Is it the answer to why they made the others?”
Patty looked away, as if something really interesting was happening up and to the left. “I know a little. Where did you hear that story?”
“I’m just putting things together. From different places.”
“So, how about we split it? Fifty-fifty. If you get this thing off me, you can have an extra slice. Make it sixty for you?”
“I don’t need to give you anything. You tried to kill me.”
Patty clasped her hands together, as if in prayer. “Seventy-thirty?”
“You’re not listening. I’m not giving you that stuff so you can cause havoc with it. Besides, you tried to kill me. Twice.”
“That’s not fair, is it? It’s not like I had a choice. You don’t know how it is, how he controls people. You think I wanted to take the chance of doing it myself on the island? You think I wanted to try my luck against you, close up, with just a knife. I’m no fighter. Wasn’t even sure if I could psyche myself to try it. Well I didn’t in the end, did I? And then I got that black stuff on me and the wheels fell right off my little wagon. Please. We could be partners. We already are, almost. We have a common enemy, if you’d only see it.”
“I don’t want drug money, and even if I did, I still wouldn’t trust you.”
“Don’t be such a cow Craine. Everyone steals the drugs from the stores but the clerk. Half the division are living it up on drugs from evidence, and I don’t see a penny. There’s somebody who needs my help. Can’t you do it for them, even if you despise me? And there’s a real villain to catch. I’m just a victim.”
“Yeah. Play the victim. You’re just lazy. What’s so difficult about doing your job?”
“That’s some sweet bullshit coming from you. Everyone knows you made D.I. by fucking Ridley, and that IT guy. Just using them. They’re helping you sell listed ero-drugs on the side, aren’t they?”
Maeve looked away. “That’s a disgusting lie. I’m not doing any of those things.” Her words came out like a snarl. “I can’t bear to look at you. You talk so much garbage. Your mouth is full of filth. No wonder people don’t feel guilty about abusing you. You’re like a mad dog, biting at everything.”
Maeve could hardly believe how angry Patty made her, saying things like that. She’d thought she had more self-control, more perspective, but it was all she could manage not to slap the infuriating woman in the face.
Patty must have sensed something, because it was her turn to back up. “It’s only what I heard. Why else did he put you on that task force?”
“Who told you this?”
“Lies. I don’t even know why anyone would make that stuff up. It was you wasn’t it? You started those lies.”
“How are they lies? I was there. I know about you and Ridley. You got your hooks into him then and he’s never been free since. So he got you into the new ero-drug division. He’d been helping you all the way.”
“Really? If you thought I was so easy to buy, why not just pay me off instead of having me shot?”
Maeve flexed her fingers, claws extending and retracting, strength flowing into her, every muscle from her body tensed against itself, holding in the anger. She took a deep breath. Remember to breathe.
“It wasn’t up to me. You just won’t listen, will you? And after, I was already screwed, blackmailed. Blackmailed for years. Don’t you understand? He said he’d give the evidence to Ridley. I didn’t want you and him fitting me up, ruining my family, letting him get away smelling of roses.”
“It seems a bold play for a store clerk. Risky. Didn’t work out either, did it?”
“It’s not bravery if you have no choice. In any case, it would have been the right thing to do. One less compromised cop and I could finally be free.”
“I understand. You were afraid.”
Maeve took a step away from the dream. She was still on the bed in the hotel room. All of this was just memory. Hyper-real, like a recording. Events from the past. She’d never imagined the thing could hold a conversation. It had said things she might have said, though not quite as she would have said them. It seemed aware of her memories. It had no filter, but it was doing things that seemed intended to help her, and it had done them in her body. Nobody would ever believe it wasn’t really her.
Even she couldn’t believe it wasn’t her. Rather than some alien thing with an incomprehensible agenda, it seemed to be her, sleep-walking, hitting people, and saying whatever popped into her head … also tentacle-hair.
* * * * *
Maeve woke up. It was daylight.
The hotel alarm clock said nine in the morning. She could have sworn it had only been a moment since it was dark. She was still holding the sphere. When she looked into it, there were yellow sparks in its depths.
The two people in her bed had turned their attentions to each other. She wrapped the sphere in the towel and replaced it in her backpack.
She found some clothes that would fit over her skin. She was getting accustomed to it now, becoming used to how it felt to touch herself and feel the firm, slippery stuff, instead of human flesh. It was more elastic but had less give. It was definitely more rubbery.
Her pants were all too small in the bum and too big at the waist. Yesterday she’d worn some stretchy sweat pants she could draw in with a cord, but they looked scruffy. She put on her beige slacks and cinched them tight with a belt. They were too short. She had a similar problem with her blouses, which wouldn’t button over her protruding breasts. Her chest wasn’t much bigger, but it was extremely perky, and she’d been on the small side of B-cup before. She still had Brian’s shirt. It was baggy enough to hide a multitude of sins. She checked the collar and sniffed it. It smelled clean, unworn. She’d been hoping for his scent.
Rather than deal with the people in her room, it would be easier simply to leave. She picked up her backpack and went out without saying a word to them. It probably would have been pointless anyway.
Maeve surveilled her car from a distance, until she was sure nobody was following her.
She drove to her mother’s place, her childhood home, loaded with old emotions and unresolved situations. It was out on the fringes of Ramsey, in a place that wasn’t even a village. The main road from Douglas to Ramsey was clogged with tourists in rental cars, motorcyclists overtaking aggressively, but after she turned onto the narrow road to the house, there was nobody.
Normally she would have parked on the road, but today she drove around the back. Every time she came here, she couldn’t help being dispirited at how small and run-down the place looked compared to the version in her memory. It had been her world growing up, vast, homey, rich in detail, and surrounded by a mysterious maze of tracks and paths, that if navigated correctly, led to a magical woodland with a river flowing through. River? She smiled to herself. It hadn’t been more than a stream really, but there were no real rivers on the island to compare it with, just the sea. As a child she’d imagined that most rivers were small things you could easily wade through, and a really big river needed a bridge with an arch so cars could drive over.
There was nowhere on the island far from the sea. Half her world was the stretch of rocks between high and low-tide full of wet seaweed. Above that was the region beyond high-tide, where things washed up. It different, primarily because the seaweed was dried-out instead of wet. With the sky, and the call of the gulls, it was more melancholy than any city streets, even when they glittered like diamonds from the late-night frost.
She didn’t knock, simply called out as she let herself in. “Hello! It’s me.”
story continued in part 11