Smoke filled the long stretch that was lined on either side by stores. Helmets and rifles, along the bodies of their former owners, were strewn liberally across the path. Rankin tossed away his nearly drained laser and picked up one that was in only slightly better condition. Aside from their footsteps, Martin’s low, painful moans, and Rice’s mouth breathing, the mall was quiet. Too quiet.
“Martin,” Jack said, hoisting his rifle to the ready. “Cover formation.”
Wounded but loyal, Martin grabbed his own weapon from the floor and joined Rankin in leading the way into the shopping mall. Sounds echoed. Things stirred. Rubble shifted but ever so slightly. Something was moving in the smoke and amidst the strewn remains of store inventories. Just what it was...they could not see.
“Ahhhck! Dead kid! Dead kid!” Rice screamed like a six year-old girl.
He followed that by scorching the entire floor in front of him with laser fire. Benson attempted to restrain him as Rankin got knocked in the head by a child’s arm flung airborne by the blasts. Well, the arm of a child mannequin from a kid’s clothing store, at any rate.
“Whoa! Whoa, there, Tex!” Rankin ordered.
He took hold of the rifle barrel and nudged it skyward. Lisa had her arms around Rice’s waist and her hands conveniently atop his crotch. The smell of ozone wafted from the charged air of the barrel as Rice’s heavy breathing slowed. As it did, his eyes shifted rapidly left to right. No slime creatures in sight, he immediately felt silly.
“Sorry,” he said.
Martin returned from a recon of the area and brought forth a glass bottle in one hand and an Orange Julius in the other. He declared that the bottle had been found while making a sweep of a looted pharmacy and then tossed it towards the commander. Rankin caught it with his cat-like reflexes.
“Night Train,” he said reading the label. Twisting off the cap, he took a drink. The smooth spirit rolled down his throat, filling his mouth with the taste of cheap wine and even cheaper women past. “Not bad. Think the kid could use it more than me, though.”
Rankin handed the liquor bottle over to Rice. The young man’s eyes lit and glistened before he twisted off the cap and hoisted the bottle high to drunk fully from it. Rivulets of purple fluid dripped from the corners of his mouth. In time he disengaged the bottle from his mouth and thanked the Commander, saying “he needed that.” Dr. Benson approached the Commander and placed her hands on his elbow.
“Jack, do you think it wise to give alcohol to a young man in this situation?” she asked.
“His chances of getting out of here are just as lousy as ours,” he said. “I say, what the hell?”
A light, draping sensation went down Lisa’s back. This was followed by a tingle in her nerve endings that bordered on pain, conjuring memories of her curious, five year-old fingers in a light socket. In a slow rotation made with the greatest of trepidations, Lisa turned a half circle to look behind her. She found herself gazing into a single eye and the hiss of a hot breath on her face.
Lisa screamed as the slime tentacle wrapped around her. Upon hearing the woman’s cry, Jack turned to open up with a hail of laser fire. The tentacle severed and fell to the floor, just in time to spare Lisa from electrocution. Her clothes were not so lucky. The ripping claw had, in an event of uncanny coincidence, torn away certain parts of her unitard to leave her with what amounted to a bikini top.
“All right!” Rice voiced his approval of Lisa’s new look.
Multiple bangs echoed their dull sound from a wall next to Spencer’s Gifts. On the other side of the party, the fluid draining from the creature’s tentacle began to bubble and congeal. Martin slurped the last of his Orange Julius through the straw and let the cup drop to the ground.
“Oh, how long can that wall hold out, Jack?” Lisa asked as she clung to Jack, their bare skin touching for the first time in years.
“How should I know? I’m not a structural engineer!” Jack said. “Back to back circle formation! Termination sweep!”
The four of them took the commanded stance. The thuds grew louder and the call of creature shrieks crescendo-ed into form. Unable to take the strain of the continuous hammering and beating, the wall gave in and the monsters flooded through. The three men started shooting. They kept shooting until the sustained fire heated the barrels of their laser rifles to a near translucent white.
“Dance, bitches!” Rice cackled, blasting the creatures while pulling gulps of liquor from the Thunderbird bottle.
“Commander! We’re running out of time!” Martin implored. “We’ve got to get outside before the evac pods leave!”
Rankin nodded a “yes” and then moved out, taking the now scantily-clad Lisa with him. Martin followed suit, spraying laser cover fire. Attempting to do the same, Rice backed towards them. The kid at that point however, was a little too drunk for his own good. He tripped over his own foot and fell to the floor. The creatures then swarmed over him and the smell of burnt flesh hit the air. A few of the things died with him though, as Rice sent short bursts of laser into the air, along with a final, drunken cry of “dance, bitches!” Meanwhile, the others fought on towards their escape route.
Plan A of escape was vaporized as Martin kicked open the door to the outside. The silhouettes of hundreds of creatures greeted their eyes. Shock and dejection kicked them in the collective crotch. Rankin and Lisa did a rapid about face and ran in the opposite direction. Martin did the same, but before he could cover any real ground, a clawed-tentacle ran itself from the back of his head out the socket of his right eye. Blood and skull fragments went flying while his body twitched with convulsions. Unable to do anything else for his impaled comrade, Rankin shot him.
Air burned in Lisa’s and Jack’s lungs from constant running. The creatures weren’t especially fast, but what they lacked in speed they made up for in number. The couple could hardly make a turn in the mall without running into a mass of the things, or jumping back to evade sweeping tentacles, or pausing to fire bursts from the laser. Eventually, the two of them, all beaten and used up, emerged from the shopping mall...just in time to see the evac pods lift off from the open grounds and shoot into the starry night sky.
“Oh you pus-buckets!” Jack exclaimed with a slap of the rifle against his legs as he watched the tiny ships disappear from sight.
“What do we do now, Jack?” Lisa asked.
A gradual enclosure began to build around them, one of writhing creatures with spiky-clawed tentacles. A rumble sounded. Jack looked upwards and saw that attack helicopters were still making final runs to ensure the escape of the final pods. Looking about at the red claws that glistened with green slime in the firelight, he knew there was no way the choppers would make it to their position in time. Then, perhaps out of sheer terror and the need for emotional connection in desperate times (or she was just plain horny), Lisa kissed Jack.
“Lisa,” Jack said as he took hold of his ex-girlfriend, maybe for the last time. “It looks bad for us. So I need you to know once and for all just how sorry I am about Vince. That’s why I got you this.”
He reached into his pocket and produced a terra cotta pig with a plastic bag of seeds taped to it. With a loving touch, he placed the pig in her soft hands.
“It’s a Chia Pet,” Jack said, eyes glowing with pride. “Grabbed one for you back in the mall. It’s supposed to grow a fuzzy, planty afro.”
The doctor’s face contorted, expressing confusion as she looked from the pig up to Jack, and then back down to the pottery pig in her hand. The creatures were swarming, drawing closer and closer. Her last moments on earth were at hand...and they were going to be spent in a bikini top in front of a bare-chested, mustard faced man while holding a Chia Pet.
“Jack...” she gasped. “You jagoff.”
A rush of hot air coursed over them in a whoosh. Both of them watched as a fighter plane circled back around in the sky and came in low and fast on their position. Jack caught a glimpse of its starboard side. An opening had slid...well, open and a vicious looking gattling pulse cannon protruded from the hole.
With a cry, Jack knocked Lisa to the ground. The fighter interceptor opened up with its cannon as it passed over, wiping out the encroaching monsters. Green blood splattered onto the cowering couple and shredded fragments of creatures sprayed across them like coleslaw from a blender. Again the blast of hot hair enveloped them as the fighter slowed to a hover, extended its landing gear, and came to rest on the ground before them. The canopy popped up and the pilot with the blonde flattop spoke to them.
“You lost your shirt, Jack...and there’s mustard on your face.”
“Vince!!” Lisa called out.
Indeed it was Commander Vince Elliot, somehow, inexplicably, back from the dead. Corpse or not, it did not stop Lisa Benson from running straight for the man, throwing her arms around his neck, and kissing him deeply. Jack Rankin approached the cockpit with less lust, but an equal amount of astonishment.
“Vince?” he asked. “H-how...?”
“I wasn’t dead, num-nut,” Vince replied between tongue-suckings. “And you left me there!”
Elliot then explained how.
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