This article is part of the That Insidious Beast series.
Tall Boy turns and bends to examine the front tire. An immense, gray-green head pushes down through the brambles on the driver's side. Through the foliage I can see the trunk of a huge and terrible body rippling with unnatural muscles. I can't cry out in warning. I can't even inhale.
The creature's head is as large as the bed of the truck, its reptilian skull topped with a red, boney crown. Its nostrils flare at the unwashed scent of Tall Boy and it regards him with small, golden eyes. It snuffles loudly. I can feel the heat of its breath through the open door. The creature's head rotates curiously and its jaws snap.
It closes its little eyes to swallow the lump of flesh and bone. It has torn out most of the unlucky tender's pelvis and back. Blood is spilling and spraying from every edge of the gaping wound. His gray uniform has gone instantly dark red and blood is overflowing his rubber boots.
Gravity pulls out his viscera. I can see the wet bags of Tall Boy's lungs and his beating heart. He gags on blood and struggles to turn. He's reaching for one of his knives. Taking it up into his hand and turning to face the thing that has already killed him. His guts are spilling out around him. He slips and falls into his entrails.
The way Tall Boy writhes mindlessly is so much like-
We're stopped on the highway. The truck is sideways and facing the concrete crash wall. The door is still open, but Tall Boy is no longer standing next to the truck.
Tall Boy is no longer anywhere or much of anything. Just a stain and a few bits of gristle on the side of the truck.
Fatso gurgles in confusion. Blood drips against the front of my uniform.
That tone is so loud. It's vibrating my skull with its intensity. It is louder than ever before. The blood is pattering like rain on my BDU jacket. I struggle to breathe.
Fatso recovers before me and drags me to his side of the truck. He cradles my head in the soft mitt of his swollen hand. He murmurs to me in his sweet, high voice. Like a child's. He douses my face with water from a silver vial kept chained to his belt.
"God, don't take this'n too. I need this'n to get back to home. Please, God, keep and preserve us from dragons and disappearing trees. God, watch over Tender Gordon Brewer and rest his soul. He was a loyal servant of The Host. God, smite the dragon. God..."
On and on, Fatso implores God in his lardy castrato for a laundry list of favors big and small. "God protect us from this stuff that don't make any sense" is matched with "God, don't let the truck get no more flat tires."
The tone dies away gradually. I regain my faculties and sit up. Fatso hands me a dirty rag. I tear off strips and shove them into my nostrils.
Fatso gets out to change the tires once he is assured I am not going to bleed out through my nose. We have three flats and only two spares. The ride is rough and the truck pulls violently to the left.
We make it to a service station in a tiny speck of a town called Gum. We're not too far from Murfreesboro. The station is a big one with a snack mart, but the shelves are bare and the coolers are empty. Only one pump works and the lone attendant blanches when he sees Fatso in his white hood.
Fatso commandeers tires and forces the poor attendant to change them out for the bald spares on the truck. There are pieces of gore clinging to the driver's side door. The attendant wipes out the wheel well with a rag.
Tulsa's boys in blue reach out to an unlikely group for support: the senior community.
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