(December 18, 2010)
For once, Fiona could not remember her dream. It was lost the moment she woke, somewhere between her racing heart and panicked breath. Felt taunted by the light of the stars as they shined through the living room windows, beckoning her to return to sleep. She wouldn’t have it. Instead, she rose from her mattress that was laid on the floor and stretched, taking care not to wake the others.

     It was nearly silent. The stillness of the night air was broken only by the distant chirr of a solitary cricket. The repetitive song grated on her nerves, but she closed her eyes and convinced herself to tune it out.

     Coffee, she thought. She headed toward the kitchen, grabbing a nearly empty bag and carefully–quietly–emptied the beans into a manual grinder. She took her time spinning the grip, determined to make as little noise as possible, and when Roderigo began mumbling from the next room she stopped for a moment to be sure that he hadn’t awoken.

     Through the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of movement near the rear-most window. She froze. A pale figure began to move from just outside of the porch light’s range. Its skin caught the shine of the lamp and seemed to glisten, as if it were made of gelatin. It moved too fluidly to be real; Fiona almost dismissed it as a product of an exhausted mind, until she realized that the cricket from before had stopped chirping.

     She glanced back out the window. This time, she caught a clearer view of the figure, and the answer for why the night was so silent was immediately clear. The thing held almost a human shape, albeit hideously bloated and without a face; it was more a mockery of humanity, a bulging thing that tried its damnedest to appear human but had never seen one itself. It seemed empty–hollow and boneless, without any real internal structure or even fat behind its flab, no organs, no muscle, and no bones, hair or nails. Worst of all, a lip-like crease seemed to vertically split its torso down the middle, and as she stared at the monstrosity she realized that it was a mouth–a ghastly, gargantuan mouth–and as she realized this she shuddered in horror. It was the other fiend from her nightmares–the faceless beast that always spied through the hole in the floor, the one that was always inches from her feet gazing back at her. And now that she saw it in full it made her sick, and its very presence seemed to make her every hair stand on end.

     As it neared the window, she stood petrified, her eyes fixated on its uncanny image. No words passed her lips as it reached its hand out for the door, nothing but her terrified breaths as the knob began to turn. When the door stuck still, the being simply pushed out a boarded-up section of window and reached one gargantuan hand through, letting it fumble for the lock.

     It only took a moment for that hand seemed to find its query, and it grasped the lever tight as it turned it. There was a soft click as the door unlocked, followed by the handle rattling, and then turning. The door began to creak open, and slowly one wet, boneless leg stepped into view.

     It’s in the house, she thought. It’s in the house….

     Fiona tried to scream, but her voice failed. Adrenaline surged through her body, pushing her to run, but her body failed to move. She stood, frozen in terror as the creature slid into the kitchen, its head pressed to its side as its cheek rubbed against the ceiling--eight feet, she remembered, that ceiling is eight feet high–and she tried in vain to force herself to move, to scream out, to call for help. She felt the blood rush from her head as her knees began to buckle. She saw the beast’s body begin to split open–fully revealing that horrible, empty cavity behind it–with its flab stretching out to its sides to form a shapeless maw, all of it reaching toward her, ready to engulf her.

     Her last conscious thought trying and failing to register the source of that deafening, echoing pop.

* * *

“She’s coming to–give her some room.” The sweet voice was a welcome sound to Fiona’s ears. She opened her eyes to see her family crowding her, and a woman kneeling next to her. A bright light blinded her, passing over each eye, and the woman said, “Her pupils are responsive. She probably doesn’t have any permanent damage.”

     “Damage?” Fiona muttered, trying to focus on the scene at hand. Did that thing attack her? Was she hurt? She couldn’t feel any pain, aside from a mild headache. For all intents and purposes, she felt fine.

     “You hit your head when you fell,” Roderigo said. As Fiona sat up, he handed her a cup of coffee. “Decaf,” he said as she forced it down. “We were out of the good stuff anyway.”

     “You don’t appear to have a skull fracture,” the woman said, reaching down to help her to her feet. “I’m guessing it’s a mild concussion. I recommend you get a CT, but I doubt you’ve done any real damage.”

     “Don’t really have time for one,” Fiona said, gazing toward a frightened Sabbath.

     Suddenly it occurred to her who this woman was: Dr. Elisabeth Hassan, an old friend of her mother’s, one she hadn’t seen in over a decade. Last time, in fact, was just after the New Year’s Incident, when she examined their injuries after returning to port. She was a resident then, doing an internship in emergency surgery. As Fiona recalled, the hospital had been overflowing with casualties from the raid on Sanns’ warehouse. Elisabeth had shown great skill in assessing and stabilizing the steady influx of patients; as a result, Fiona had assumed that she would end up at the top of her field.

     “Ideally I would want to keep you overnight to observe you,” Elisabeth said, but as she gazed at the slimy puddle in the corner of her vision, she continued, “however, I’m guessing you’d probably prefer not to. You do need to get some rest. Limit your reading and television and stay in bed.”

     Fat chance of that happening, Fiona thought.

     “One last thing,” Elisabeth said. “If you feel dizzy, get nauseous, your speech slurs or you have difficulty walking, go to the ER. Don’t waste any time on it, okay?”

     She began packing her things in her medical bag, blatantly trying to avoid looking at the mess. “I’ll give you a call in the morning to see how you’re doing. If you have any questions, your father has my phone number. Just give me a call.”

     “Thanks, Liz,” Carter said. He walked her to the door as Fiona seated herself in a nearby chair. After a prolonged moment of silence, he returned, shaking his head. “I wonder what she thought of it,” he sighed, taking a brief look at the gelatinous mess near the doorway. “How’d it get in, anyway?”

     “It just… opened the door,” Fiona said. Roderigo placed a pair of acetaminophen tablets on the counter next to her, which she happily swallowed. “It broke through the window, unlocked the door, and opened it.”

     “They can do that?” Steven asked.

     “Apparently so.”

     Carter frowned. “We’re going to need to reinforce that damn window.” Looking at Roderigo he said, “Do you know anyone right for the job?”

     “I can ask Marty to do it. He’d probably do it cheap and fast.”

     “Don’t forget good,” Carter said. “Last thing we need is another one of those things getting inside. He turned and walked back upstairs. Roderigo followed, taking care to secure his revolver into its pocket holster. I hope Elisabeth didn’t see that, Fiona thought.

     In the kitchen, she could hear Steven and Ash talking. The conversation sounded subdued but serious; however, she didn’t really care enough to listen to what they were saying. Instead, she stretched her body across the couch and–after reflecting for a moment on what Elisabeth had said–turned on the morning news.

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