Part Six: Gary drank three more beers and thought about Shelia. Gary knew better. He knew better than to socialize. He knew better than to even think about a woman. But they were all screwed anyway, right? Hell, he was doing all the dirty work and chances were he’d be the last one eaten, but he was still a dead man. “Keepers”? Is that how people saw him? Gary knew it was. He might die tomorrow, just one day later than some, six months later than most, but he was still a dead man. They were all going to die, horribly, and there wasn’t anything he really wanted more than just to talk to a woman, that woman, right now. But he knew better. He knew he was talking himself into more trouble than he needed, or she needed, or anyone else needed. But Gary kept walking towards the elevator. The doors opened and Gary blinked. There was no one, and nothing, inside. He pushed the button for the second floor and in a few seconds the doors opened again. There was no one there and nothing there. 209 was on the left, three doors down. It was odd to see people sitting on their beds watching movies as if the world was still the same. The doors were gone, but people were doing people things. They had adjusted to it enough to pretend that death couldn’t just walk in and take them at any moment.
209 has been stenciled on the wall next to the doorway and Gary wondered how people announced themselves. He had never been in anyone else’s room before, not unless there was a body, or parts of a body to remove. Gary had stepped into the doorway before he realized what he was doing. It was a shock to see two people in bed doing anything but the act of lovemaking, so close to a public hallway, stopped Gary in his tracks. Benny was on top of Shelia, she was thrusting away in time with his body, and Gary just eased back into the hall. Why wouldn’t they be making love? Gary discovered he was not only jealous but he was angry. Not twenty minutes after she had come to him for a new room she was breaking it in with another man. Gary tried to fight back against the irrational emotion flooding through his body but the more he fought it the deeper it got. He stormed through the lobby without looking around and walked out into the street. It was the beer talking, Gary told himself, and the stress. For all he knew Benny was a decent person and hell, Gary paused to consider this, he had hired the man. How could he be jealous over a woman he had seen twice, well three times if the last time counted, and a man he had only met once? Hell, Benny seemed like he could be an asset…
One of the monsters was standing right in front of him and Gary nearly bumped into it. In the harsh glare of the street light the iridescent scales looked obscenely colorful. Gary took a step back then forced himself to stand still. He tried to empty his mind.
“Bennnnnny” the creature said and it stood up and walked around Gary as if it were a dog sniffing another. Gary closed his eyes and tried to think about the collection for the week, the number of people he had, over or under for the feeding, he tried to think about anything but the creature nudged him with its snout. “Bennnnnnnny” it said and it nudged Gary hard enough to push him forward.
Gary knew what was going to happen next. They had done this before but this was the first time he had gotten someone killed over a woman. Gary tried not the think about as the creature’s pointed feet ticked away on the pavement as it danced around him like a dog happy to see its master, “Bennnnny! Bennnnnny!” Gary thought of numbers, of herding people into the stadium, or how they might get more and how he might get the rails running again. Gary had trained himself, had steeled himself hundreds of times against letting the monsters into his brain, to think about nothing and nothing and nothing and…
“Sheeeeeliaaaa” the monster reared up on its hind legs and pranced as the though came unbidden into Gary’s mind. There was no more hiding now. Gary’s greatest fears came rushing into his head and he knew he was going to have to watch them both die.
The creature nudged him up the stairway, and Gary had no idea why it wanted to use the stairs, but it killed a man who had started down. Gary was covered in blood and before he knew what he had done, he hoped that Benny and Shelia weren’t in bed together. The monster picked up on the thought as Gary tried to hide it. It nudged him harder and it began making the hooting noises they made as they began getting excited about feeding. It sounded like a two year old who was about to open a present.
Gary walked into the room with the monster behind him. Benny was sitting up in the bed and the creature spiked Benny through the chest with one of its feet and dragged him down to the floor. Benny shrieked in pain as the creature tossed him across the room. Shelia, still nude, stood in the doorway of the bathroom and screamed. Everyone had seen them feed before. Everyone had seen them feed slowly before. Gary closed his eyes and didn’t watch and tried to think of numbers. He could hear Shelia moaning, “No, no, no, please no.” but the monster didn’t stop. Eventually, Benny stopped screaming. Gary hoped he would be next. He opened his eyes and she was still in the doorway of the bathroom, still nude, and still beautiful. He hoped this would the last thing he saw. He hoped he didn’t have to watch her die like that. He didn’t want to listen. But when the monster was done it sat on its haunches, its head ducked to miss the ceiling, and it stared at Shelia. Gary could hear in his mind, he could see it, the images that the creature was sending to her. Despite the gore and the horror, Gary felt his body warming to the idea, he wanted her and he couldn’t deny it. Maybe she…
“I rather die,” Shelia hissed at Gary, “and so would any other woman on earth. You’re a goddam traitor and before I let you touch me I’ll die slow.”
And she did.
Gary thought about numbers and rail cars and anything else he had left in his mind as the screams rose and fell. The monster stopped feeding before Shelia was dead and simply left the room. Gary looked Shelia and knew there was no way to save her, no way to heal that sort of damage, but there was no way to end her suffering. Shelia moaned, tried to speak and used her one arm to try to move. “Benny,”she whispered. Gary went downstairs, picked up a bottle of Scotch from the bar and told Kim room 209 needed a cleaning, please, thank you. And then Gary went up to his room and drank until his mind shut off.
Gary woke up to the sound of his cell phone ringing. He answered it and to his horror there was someone screaming. He nearly threw the phone across the room but he realized it was Kim. He was yelling, screaming, but he was happy. There were other people cheering.
“They’re leaving! They’re leaving!” was all Gary could make out.
Gary went out on the rooftop and there were streaks of silver light all over the city, reaching out for the sky. They looked like falling stars but they were all heading up and up and up. Falling back to the ground were thin strands of iridescent threads. Gary tried to count them, tried to focus on the numbers but there were too many. He looked down at the street below and saw monsters lined up. One by one they shimmered brightly, seemed to dissolve, and then disappeared into the sky. Silvery threads rained down like confetti during a celebration. After the last one left the hotel emptied. People were coming out of buildings and Benny didn’t realize there were so few left. He could hear the sound of cheering in the streets far below. They were leaving. The monsters were, for reasons unknown, leaving.
Gary cleared his mind of all things, thought of numbers and railcars. Gary took a deep breath and a step forward off the roof.