"I want you to watch this next part real close, sweet cheeks," Mr. Ludich said to her. "Because I'm pretty sure what I'm gonna do next will blow your tiny little mind."
Even if he had a weird grin and a wooden cane, he was still just an old man, right? If she tackled Mr. Ludich, and knocked him down onto the ground, there wouldn't be any way that he could take both her and Russell. Right?
But that desperate plan evaporated as the old man hefted her boyfriend up into the air, growing a bit taller as he did so. He wasn't as weak as he'd seemed. "Now pay attention, doll, because I want you to see, really see, what it is that I'm going to do to you."
The old man grunted, and his body expanded. Something was happening that she couldn't see, but whatever it was, it made a tearing noise, and Russell woke up. His eyes opened wide, and as he came out of his stupor, he began to struggle and scream. "Please, stop! Don't do this."
"Sorry, kid, but you're just an egg for my omelet."
Her boyfriend's eyes caught hers. "Betsey, help!"
Betsey took a step toward him then stopped. There was a rustling in her thoughts. Something she wasn't supposed to remember. This isn't happening. But it was happening, and it was happening to Russell. Betsey took a step forward.
She stopped when Mr. Ludich's body heaved. The old man began to expand like an old inner tube, filling up his suit until he was splitting the seams of his shirt. Betsey couldn't fully make it out in the darkness, but whatever it was that was bulging from inside of him, it was horrible.
Russell shuddered as two long, black insect arms shot out from the front of his own body. Betsey screamed and stumbled backward as they rocketed toward her. They stopped a foot away from her face, the pincers on the ends of them twitching in front of her. A thin layer of glistening black fur covered the knobby limbs, dotted by eruptions of cloudy eyes and rotting teeth. Russell had stopped screaming now. His face was frozen in pain, his eyes and mouth wide open.
Anger? Shock? Fear?
Betsey felt locked in place, trapped by a cage of sensations trying to sort through what she was feeling.
Anger! Shock! Fear! Why wasn't she feeling it more?
Russell is dying, and I'm doing nothing. A vague memory floated up. A first-aid class in a church basement. I must be in shock.
The Ludich-monster shifted. The body blurred as it moved. Pieces of it appeared and disappeared as it changed position, rotating out of reality. It looked like a special effect, but a cheesy one where someone had spliced together two pieces of film that didn't match up. Watching it made her feel dizzy, like the moment on the roller coaster when you realize that your stomach is no longer going along for the ride.
Keep it together, Bets, she told herself. But she wasn't doing a great job of that, really. "What the hell?"
"Mmmm-hmmm," the Ludich-monster said happily. "You get it now? I just want you to see what I see, doll. I want to see if your dumb little shadow brain can really get what's happening here."
The insect arms twitched, and Russell screamed again. "Betsey! Help me! You've got to get me out of here!"
She saw something shimmering around the edges of her boyfriend's body. It was as if something had come loose inside of him, a silver glow that shifted around him.
"You a religious girl, Betsey?" Mr. Ludich was shouting at her now. "You believe that people have souls?"
Her mother did. Her sister did. Her brother had. After her father died, Betsey had decided that she was an atheist. She'd told everyone that she could tell, and it had had the desired shocking effect.
At that moment, looking at something that was so utterly demonic, she needed to believe there was something good out there, even if she wasn't exactly a church-going girl anymore. "I don't know," she replied. If she could just stall the thing, maybe she could figure out a way to hurt it.
"It doesn't really matter to me either way, but after you see this, maybe you won't think a soul is such a good thing to have." The Ludich-monster smiled again. The grin bulged and ballooned outward. When it was done, the top half of Mr. Ludich's face was perched on top of a smiling black football.
The monster peeled open its newly enlarged mouth, its human face rolling backward like a deranged Muppet. For a second, Betsey wondered if the top of Mr. Ludich's head was going to flip right off, but it seemed to still be firmly attached. What she saw made her realize that whatever it was she had thought was going on here, whatever expectations she’d had about the way the world actually worked up until that point, it was obvious that she really had no idea about the way things really were—not a single freakin' clue.
Between the jaws weren't the usual tongue and teeth; instead, there were rows of undulating tentacles, some of them tipped with razor-sharp triangles of white bone that looked like sharks' teeth, all writhing around like a horrific blender.
As it reared back, Betsey screamed at it to stop, but it ignored her, leaning down and clamping its huge mouth across Russell's neck, shoulder, and chest.
"Stop!" she yelled, but the cry sounded pathetic, even to her own ears.
Betsey watched in stunned fascination as what had seemed to be a glowing halo loosely surrounding Russell exploded on contact with the monster's teeth. Pierced by the demon's jaws, the halo that surrounded her boyfriend burst into a shower of shining liquid droplets. The monster slurped furiously, some of the smaller tentacles crawling out to lick the glistening liquid off Russell's jacket.
Betsey let out a yelp as the shining soul-juice splattered her. It tingled where it struck. She felt the echoes of sensation somewhere between warmth and love as it sank into her skin. And instead of freaking her out, it made her feel calm. It was as if she could feel Russell's warmest thoughts straight through her skin.
Dumb ass, she thought. You're next.
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