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The vine carrying the soldier's corpse retreated into the nest of moving shapes above... other vines twisted around one another, some of them carrying more fresh "fruit". Dee lost sight of the latest addition and returned her attention to the creature. Its circular maw flexed open; the mosquito-like tongue darted out and down. The tip punctured the second shape that stood frozen in the solidified goo, vanishing into the torso. A second later, the tongue's translucent length turned red as it drew nourishment.
Dee glanced around. The creature hadn't seen her yet... but the other things had been throwing rocks at her until the moment she ducked behind the column. They knew where she was. Were they coming? She didn't hear any movement. She slid around the far side of the column and looked up.
Red-eyed shapes glared down at her from the ledge where her SUV had landed.... but only two. Where were the others? There had been a crowd before. They were probably going back they way they had come; moving down the slab to the ground, surrounding her in the shadows. She needed to make a break for it... but she had no idea where or what "it" was. She could run in the direction that the soldiers had been trying to flee, and hope there was some exit that way. But how many of those men had made it? She couldn't tell. The last two certainly didn't get very far. Maybe if she found a place to hide...
Yes. Yes, that was it... if she could make it somewhere without being noticed-
Something hard slid up to the center of Dee's throat and lodged itself there.
The barking wasn't coming from above, but somewhere off to her left. Somewhere close.
"Shhh!" Dee hissed.
The black and white pit bull had found his way down and was running happily toward her. Announcing her location with joyous barking and the clatter of claws on stone
"Sit!" Dee ordered in a soft hiss.
Treach ran up all the way up to her before obediently planting himself at her feet and panting loudly.
Bright red light gleamed in the dog's eyes.
Dee jerked away before realizing that it was a reflection...
...from... behind her.
The creature had interrupted its meal; the trio of eyes fixed on her. The bulging, segmented orbs gleamed in the light cast by the third. The tip of its tongue slurped back into the center of the leech-like mouth. Concentric rows of teeth curved inward in what seemed like an all too human tightening of the lips.
"NO!" Dee hissed. The growling ceased.
Too late to run. Too late to hide. Dee moved back, following the surface of the column in an effort to place the stone pillar between her and the creature. She moved slowly, not wanting to startle the thing into attacking.
But it attacked anyway.
The gigantic head slid back slowly; the entire body undulating to accomplish the motion. Dee expected the head to snap forward and spray her with goo. She was already ducking behind the pillar when the head jerked upward. The creature raised itself before the remnants of its meal, exposing its underbelly. Again, Dee saw the long, vertical wound that someone had dealt it... a vicious downward slash along the first segment below the head.
But it wasn't a wound.
Dee saw the truth as the supposed "wound" peeled open to reveal a fleshy... pocket... surrounded by muscular vertical lips. Something slid out from between them... out of the creature's flesh and into the open air. It was a knot... a ball... a misshapen tumor dangling from uncountable strands of quivering black tissue. It was large, and it swelled larger as it descended toward the floor. Swelling and unfolding... unclenching like a mutated fist opening into... not a hand... but a...
A tall, almost-feminine shape enveloped in folds of dark tissue.
The folds trailed behind her like the train of a black gown... flowing along the floor for a distance before arcing upward into the open slit that that birthed the figure. What the folds did not cover was pale and slick, like bone protruding from a deep wound.
Dee swooned. The world lost focus as her mind attempted to un-see the last few seconds. It couldn't. This was the woman she'd seen earlier. Only, it wasn't a woman. Wasn't human at all. It was some kind of growth... a giant organ that could be extended and retracted at will. Earlier, Dee had thought the woman was wearing a long, black robe... but it was just flaps and strings of flesh that trailed off behind it, connecting it to the main creature that was literally reeling it out like a kite on a string. If it had still been as dark as it had been before... if the creature had been still half-hidden in the shadows... it would look like a human. Even now, as the thing "walked" toward her, the movements of its "body" made it seem a separate creature. The "clothing" fell into place, tightening around the figure to solidify the illusion of humanity. Femininity. Even then, the pseudo-garment never stopped moving... never stopped flowing and twitching and fluttering.
The bone-white face emerged from the folds, slick and featureless. Hands, and then fingers unfurled. Dee's mind begged to follow the illusion... wanted to make this thing into a human being. But she'd seen it emerge. She'd seen the thing that had birthed it.
"I'm.... loosing my mind," Dee muttered. "This isn't real. None of this is real." She was dead. She was dead in her SUV.... she and Treach were both wrapped around some tree in what remained in her neighborhood, or resting at the bottom of Mobile bay. She was dead and all of this... the soldiers... the red-eyed men.... THIS thing walking toward her... were the last few impulses of a dying, oxygen-starved brain. No bright light for her. No tunnel... no heaven full of long-dead relatives. Her brain had scrambled together the most insane hell imaginable and served it up instead... a self-induced punishment for a stupid, stupid death.
But it would be over soon. Any second now...
The figure approached, and Treach began to whine at Dee's feet.
The "woman"... or whatever it was... halted a few yards away. The bone-white face fixed on Dee. The sunken pits where the eyes should have been stared into her. An arm draped in black "cloth" rose to point a white digit at Dee. The thing had no lips, but something... something beneath the featureless face moved as it spoke:
"What... Are You?"