He Crawls

He is a wretched old thing.

He is all black tendrils flowing and insectile legs skittering across the ground.

He crawls now, slowly, in those places that used to be bogs but are not bogs anymore. Bogs are a thing of the past, an ecosystem in collapse. Who wants a bog on their property when they can have a lake or a field?

He belongs to the bog. A long long time ago, when someone would walk into the bog and never come out, it would be because he had got them. Got them and consumed them.

What a marvelous feast those fearful children were. Delectable. Gone, gone.

How powerful he had once been. What fear he commanded in the hearts of humans. A boogey man that parents told their children about to scare them away from the bog.
Now, humans only really fear each other. They do not fear the minor spirits of nature. Forests are orchards now. Rivers are irrigation. Bogs are drained and made into quarries and the quarries are made into parks.

No more space for him, no more fear for him, and so he starves and grows weaker each century, day by day. His insides scream with hunger and he cannot feed, for he has grown so weak that his tendrils can barely pierce the veil between worlds.

But perhaps. Perhaps if one of the humans was weakened enough. Their vigor depleted enough. Too self-absorbed to see what was coming. Imagining themselves dead. And their spirit open enough that it would be a cavity, a thin part of the veil.

Perhaps then he could have one more meal. And grow strong again.

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One day, he crawled to the city. Then he crawled out again. It was overwhelmingly, hatefully dry.

Next day, he gathered his strength and his retinue, his forest boys and girls, and they all crawled. They crawled to the city.

On the way, they came across a man taking a leak in a lay-by. He’d left his van door open in his forgetful desperation to micturate. They crawled into the van. They climbed on the seats, between the seats, into the seats. They seeped onto and into the floor.

The young man, wiry and ready to go, got back in front of the wheel, pulling a roll up from behind his ear and lighting it. His surgical mask was tucked under his chin, the elastic tugging into his ears. He caught a dark sight in his periphery and a black tendril wavered toward his lips as if to keep him forever quiet.

“RIDE,” came a voice from the centre of the Earth.

Fabian, Fabe/brother/idiot to his sister depending on her mood, Avian/ to his old friends, Fabee to his mother and father, was not really a person that fitted his name. Or at least he never felt that he did. He was the first child in his family and he had been named “Man of wisdom”.

His mother and father had worked a lot in helping him with school in hopes he would amount to more than they had been. It had worked for his sister, she was working away at uni. For him? Not so much. It wasn’t that he wasn’t bright, it was just that every time he sat in school his mind would wander. Now, years after dropping out and finding a life he didn’t so much enjoy as endure, he was having a particularly rough week. Global pandemics didn’t make people use their pipes less after all.

He had been driving the company car from the outer suburbs where he had been submerged in stressed out families with clogged bathrooms. He had been taking the shortcut through the old passage, large sign for the tourists that never found their way here that it was supposedly haunted by a demon, or a river troll, or some other fancy back in the days when this had been a mudflat bogland. It cut about 20 minutes of traffic on most days going this direction and while he’d never tell his superstitious grandmother that he drove that way, he just couldn’t be arsed when all he wanted was to go home, shower, masturbate and fall asleep to some podcast on self improvement.

Now, sitting down and lighting a cigarette after having taken a leak he’d been desperately holding in the last half hour, he felt something. A incorporeal mass just out of sight, a whispering of touch as something slithered across his lips just as he was about to scream. He felt his whole body lock up.

Toby, one of the older plumber in the firm, had a penchant for horror films and would regularly engage Fabian and the rest in discussions about the latest one he’d seen during the Monday morning meetings. Fabian had argued with Toby about the stupidity of doing something a monster commanded one to do in such a scenario.

As Fabian heard “RIDE” he now felt that he understood those characters more.

He stepped on the gas and, with a mass of sinister darkness riding shotgun, he rode towards the city.

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Ing Typographia nest under the skins, they crawl into a weak individual and make a hole for their ritual of expansion. They communicate through olfactory signals and other chemicals traveling through the air and left on surfaces. Through their prosperity, they are an important species that helps the process of deterioration of their chosen individual. They leave their eggs along a line under the skin and when their babies hatch they crawl their way by eating the flesh, growing bigger and bigger for each bite. When they have reached full size they crawl off to start their own colonies, at this point their individual is left to host other species. They can crawl for miles but prefer to catch rides with their individuals vehicles before they slowly take over whole brain systems. Ing Typographia live in symbiosis with certain mushrooms, specifically those that grows in pipes. Due to the recent global warming, they thrive as they prefer a warmer climate.

They leave traces in the skins resembling signs of pre-historical cave paintings as wells as crop circles. Their are many speculations about what these symbols could actually mean and who the sender is. Many speculate that they act as a vessel of communicating important messages from the gods, or aliens. But none of this has yet been confirmed.

The intrigue is coming thick and fast and I’ve not even left the office. I’m working late under the satanic fluorescent light that gives me an inverted tan. Getting up for a stretch and to treat myself to an expressive clench of the buttocks, I catch a dire sight of myself in the double glazing as a fractured blur. I go for a closer look and take out my scrunchie to loosen up my follicles. Behind this engrossing portrait of tiredness, I notice some movement by the bins. My office has the most stunning view of all the bins of all the offices and all the workshops and businesses on this little industrial estate. Weaving between them is a lanky young chap followed by his writhing, boiling, wriggling and utterly independent shadow. His face mask is bright and white in the gloaming. Why is this young lad out? I shouldn’t even really be here, everyone else has got the right idea by staying the fuck in. I buzz security, my only gloomy company. “Alan, there’s a young chap out back, can you see on the CCTV? Can you have a word, please?” There comes a passive aggressive mumble that wilts my lust for life. Sometimes I just will do anything to crawl out of this city.

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But what are the subsequent species, those which parasitize the abandoned host, making homes in withered, devoured flesh? They are indirectly symbiotic to Ing Typographia, symbiotic across time instead of space, eaters who reuse the trace digestive enzymes of their predecessors, which, catalyzed by their own chemicals, dissolve the tough, remaining cartilage. They have their own symbiotes; there is a forgotten ecosystem of parasites, which march through bodies like a macabre parade, each consuming the offal of the other.

The host, naturally, remains alive until the very end of this process."

Cecilia closed her biology textbook; she really didn’t have the stomach for this chapter, its diagrams of rotting organs and masticated skin. She rolled over in bed, and checked her phone for messages from Fabe, who had promised he would be in town this evening, a welcome hiatus from quarantine.

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And he crawls out of the wagon and onto the asphalt. People walk around him as they always do. Like he exists but doesn’t. He doesn’t figure for them. He crawls and he crawls and everything hurts especially the empty sucking void that is his hunger. And then he smells it. The scent of hopelessness. A hiss of excitement leaves him. He scampers now, sniffing the ether around him.

The alley is almost completely dark. But he does not need light to sense his quarry. It is wet and muddy, black stuff from the machines mixed in with dust from the air. It’s so much like a bog he almost feels its cold black embrace. And there, huddled underneath a blanket he sees the two.

The hunger rises in him. Not that it ever abates, but with the souls of the unprotected so close he can smell their vulnerability, and it causes his craving to be in stark relief against the darkness of the alley.

So why shouldn’t I take it? They had their chance at life. And now I will have mine again!

Waiting for him. Waiting to please him. He crawls to cover them like their pitiful blanket. Comes real close. With what effort he can he prepares to feed on their souls.

And then. An irresistible force grabs his neck. Lifts him up. Tosses his gnarly body against the wall.

“Their fate does not end with the likes of you!”, a voice booms.

He shrieks. Withdraws. Anyone who can perceive his true form can hurt him. He cannot risk it even for the first meal in a century. He slinks away, withdraws.

And keeps crawling.

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Fabian stumbled up from behind the bins where he had passed out and walked to the drain that the thing he had brought into the city had disappeared into. Had that been a faun that had attacked it? It had had antlers though, and shone slightly at some part of it?

“Hey, what are you doing loitering around here?” a grey-haired security guard said to him from the doorway of a building, “Look, I get that it is a good spot but you have to move on.”

Fabian just nodded and started to walk slowly out of the place. Something felt off. More off than just the feeling of having met two mythological creatures in one day. But it also, strangely, felt good.

He felt something wriggle inside of him, as if something had slithered into his skin. On his arm he saw a tattoo starting to appear. Strange shapes and circles.

“YOU ARE MINE” the voice from before spoke in his mind, “YOU SERVE ME NOW.”

Fabian went to his van, and lit the last cigarette of the pack. He hadn’t slept all night having gone roaming with the creature at his back. He thought of all the little ways the world had failed him and of the misery of his life, maybe this could finally give some semblance of meaning to it. “Fuck it” he said, “Sure, I’m game, what do you want me to do?”

“FOOD. I’M FAMISHED” came the reply, as if the world itself had spoken to him with bared teeth.

“Cool, what do you want then? I know a few good places this part of town.” As he said it, he got the impression of cold mirth.

“MY KIND DON’T EAT YOUR FOOD”

“Right, creature of darkness, what do you eat then?” Fabian said.

“THE SOULS OF THE WEAK AND THE LOST AND THE FORGOTTEN. OF THE LONELY TRAVELLER ON CLOUDY NIGHTS AND THOSE WHO HAVE GIVEN UP HOPE.”

“Cheerful.” Fabian said as his mobile buzzed, “Hold that thought.”
He looked at the screen

He let it ring out. He didn’t want to talk to his sister right now, not when he finally had found purpose.

He drove the van a few meters up the road and parked over a drain. “You wanna hop on in?”
He felt it more than anything, the change in the small microcosm of the inside of this van. A sudden feeling of the clammy warmth of rot. “So, we need to find lost people?” He said smiling, “I think I know a place to start.”

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It is futile. Between the fae who can sense his presence and the rest of the humans quickly gaining strength in numbers and shaking off their toxins, this is not the field for him to hunt and feed. And he is now so very weak. He has expended so much of his meagre reserves hoarded over the centuries on this desperate foray into these urban bogs.

He may have had a shot at one of these creatures apart. They each have their shortcomings, their weaknesses to exploit; but together they are formidable. They would have been dangerous to him even in his prime. So he slinks back, leaving only his scent, and crawls. Into the small metallic hole at the bottom of the grey porcelain room. He shimmies through metal pipes, senses wide, seeking prey.

And finds it. A lone and weakened individual separated from her herd. The familiar scent of hopelessness, dignity lost, confusion…

She is separated from her people only by a wall, but it is all he needs to make the kill. And it’s entirely clear now: he is on his last reserves. It is him or her at this point. If he does not feed it will be the end of him.

He enters the tiled bathroom. He summons all of his remaining strength and comes out as a billowing cloud of black tar, covering her escape route as she stares at her self in the mirror, incredulous and dazed, and as he envelops her he hears her thoughts:

He meets her on the edge of the chasm.