AP and I took lead. I stormed through toward the front door as quickly as I could. As I breached the opening and reached out for the door handle, I notcied a single tentacle slowly slither over the top of the door, as if letting me know we would not be going through there. I checked my right and found thousands of shining red orbs giving away their presence. I turned back toward the dining room and found more of them over the wall, daring me to go that way. Jackson stood on the other side, back stepping as slowly as he could to not attract attention.
I mouthed for him to go and moments later the ground shook and a loud rumble gave Jackson the courage to jump straight through the dining room window. A second window crash came soon after and, while I never saw it, I assumed Benny had followed suit.
A few of the tentacled machines dropped from the walls and crawled out after them at a pace that showed there was no real concern over Benny and Jackson being able to escape.
The rest of the machines that had stayed began to crawl together and corral around us. They moved slowly, their tendrils making a bonechilling ticking over the wood each time they touched it. They inched us away from the door, leaving only the stairs open for us to take. Each time they came forward we stepped back, like dogs herding sheep.
I took a step backwards onto the first stair and helped AP limp up. The wood creaked loudly as both our weights came down on it. I checked the step behind and took it as they encroached. By the fourth step they were climbing up the steps with us, up the steprails, the walls. They hung there, pushing us further back, enshrouding everything in front of us, but not a single one of them would push further than the closest one would come.
The rumble came again and this time I heard the sound of metal being forced to bend. I carefully stepped back two more steps only to have the board give under us as AP limped onto it. It snapped and sent us knee deep into the stairs. AP cried out in pain and I gritted my teeth at the thought of his mangled foot jamming into the broken chunks of wood beneath us.
I scrambled to get us out and managed to pull out one leg but I realized I would have no time. The tendrils ticked forward, pushing toward us as I desperately tried to get us out.
A faint illumination shone fro the dining room, growing brighter as the flames that followed fed on the putrid wood. I turned my neck enough to see a similar brightness coming fro the rooms above. I pulled Torrance’s phone from my pocket and pulled the chip from it, holding it tight to my fist.
I knew we were dead, but if the possibility that I somehow survived was still there…
I contemplated which would be the better way to go; the fire feasting on our skin or the creatures shredding us apart.
-Which one did you decide?
Those things. Because it meant that while they took me, there was more chance the flames would take them too.
They kept crawling toward us until they were inches from us. I squeezed AP tight. I wanted to let him know he was not alone. I closed my eyes and waited.
I felt their thin, tiny claws jab into my skin but not hard enough to pierce it, just enough to make me shudder. I waited for them to begin slicing through but they just kept covering more of my body with their claws. I finally felt it, the needles tight and sliding in.
And then I was lifted out from the hole in the steps. I felt them all over me as their tendrils wrapped around me, completely enveloping me, but in no way hurting me. I opened my eyes and saw thousands of their tentacles flailing around me, wrapping around just enough to pass me off to the next, like a crowd surfer at a packed concert. I turned my head and saw the same happening to AP, but he was no longer conscious. They slid us toward the bottom of the steps, where the flames were beginning to show themselves in the open doorway of the dining room.
The blue and red lights that everyone recognizes immediately flashed through the windows.
We were held in place by those things, listening to the wood cracking, the upstairs floors giving out and crashing down to feed the inferno below, feeling the heat dry out our skin and tease our nerves as it tightened like leather. They held us until the door burst open and a man in uniform stepped in, and they all scattered away like insects in the spotlight.
The man seemed to not see them, he rushed toward us, taking hold of AP and trying to lift him. Three more men came after him, holstering their guns and helping him. Two of them took me as if I was incapable of moving and I took the opportunity as they lifted to shove the chip in my mouth without them seeing. I scanned the room, watching all the tentacled machines disappearing but it seemed I was alone. When the men saw my eyes shifting around they nearly dropped me, not expecting me to be awake. THey loosened their grip, likely to keep distance between their necks and my teeth.
“This one’s lucid,” said one of them.
They dragged us out past the fence as more squad cars pulled up. They lay AP and myself on the ground and one of their knees pressed down over the back of my neck, holding me in place as they cuffed me. I made no effort to resist, I just watched as the house burned. I watched as a single blue jet of flames in the rear of the house died to the wind high in the sky.
They lifted me up and sat me against one of the cars. They tried to question me, about what I can’t say. I was too focused on the fire, too focused on processing everything I’d seen, too focused on hoping that Jackson and Benny had made it. On hoping that somehow, all of us would be safe.
When they got tired of my silence, they shoved me in the car and I watched as the long jets of water clashed into the remaining flames. I wanted to tell them to stop, to let it all burn down annd let it take as much of it as it could, even if it took some of the other houses in the process. The whole fucking city if it meant taking those things to hell.
They put AP in an ambulance and not soon after, the front door opened and an officer stepped into the driver seat. He said nothing, just sat in silence with me as all the commotion raged around us. Eventually a fat man in a half buttoned uniform approached the car and waited for the window to be lowered.
“Take him to the station, some of the cells are still good,” said the fat man. “I’ll have a couple of the guys follow you.”
The man nodded and closed the window. He placed his arm over the passenger headrest and looked back before reversing. I realized it was the first guy who had come into the house. I stared at the back of his head as he drove, as he left everything behind him. I wasn’t sure if I should have been scared, hell, I wasn’t even sure if he had actually seen those things scatter or just ignored them, but something told me he had. Something told me he had seen it all and had not been surprised, but I was too far cooked for fear.
I swallowed down the chip and asked, “You’re one of them, aren’t you?” He didn’t respond. It was as if he never even heard me. “Why ain’t y’all kill me yet?”
His head turned toward the passenger seat, just enough for me to see the bright red gleam shine from his eye.
I didn’t need him to say anything. I didn’t need their answers. I knew.
They didn’t need to kill me because what they had in store for me was way worse. I was headed straight to the big leagues, and there was nothig I could ever do to fight it. Even if I went free and tried to speak up about what had really happened, they would make sure the world would think I was a kook and cover it all up. I mean, I’m sure you’re probably thinking my whole story sounds like a fucking joke right now. Like one of Jackson’s crazy web personalities raving about this conspiracy or that. It’s nothing more than one of Benny’s jokes, right?
-That’s why you’ve stayed quiet this whole time?
I would’ve only helped their cause. I think they were hoping I would talk. Cause a stir among the people so they ca come along and shit on them, label them as crazies and irrational. Further distance the line between the ‘levelheaded’ and the ‘uneducated’ all because they follow a psycho. See, the villain is only the villain if he loses, and they know they can’t lose. They’re the doll behind the veil, forever in control.
We are never truly free not until we decide to be.
-Is that it?
Everyone knows what happened after that.
-Thirty years is a long time to stay quiet. Especially if you know you were innocent the whole time.
Not when you’ve made a choice.
-What choice is that?
Stay quiet, keep you head down, lay low. The less attention I draw to myself, the longer I live.
All I’ve been waiting for was for this moment.
-I’m not following Eric. What you want me to believe is radically different than the evidence pointed to. There’s video footage of you murdering Officer Torrance at the station with his own pistol.
-Your prints were all over the bat and needle you used on your aunt and uncle to recreate what happened to your parents. Benny and Jackson never once came to your defense or corroborated being there with you, in fact, they blamed you for Sugar and AP getting mixed in with the Butter epidemic. Even AP eventually came clean on that. Do you really expect this story to make this all just, disappear?
Benny and Jackson are dead. Just because I had hoped we would all be safe doesn’t make it real. And so was AP, before he ever said that shit.
-Benny and Jackson are very much alive. Jackson’s a teacher and Benny is a lawyer, a pretty good one at that. How do you explain that? Also, let’s not forget that AP didn’t kill himself until months after he confessed to everything.
That footage is fake. All of it. That shit never happened. I never touched my aunt and uncle, they were the ones who laid hands on me. Everything I’ve told you today is the truth. I know you were hoping to get a good story that the public could eat up, a confession to everything they pinned on me, but that would be a lie. The story I gave you, the public will eat it up way more than you could ever imagine. The story I’m giving you is the truth.
-*chuckle* What proof?
Give me your hand. Come on, put it out. I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. Don’t look at them, look at me. You don’t need their permission to make your choices. Besides, they can’t save you anyway. Come on.
*places a tiny object in interviewer’s hand*
Guard that with your life.
-What is this?
Proof. It’s passed through me more times than I care to admit, but it has never been damaged. And don’t worry, it’s clean.
-You expect me to believe this is the same chip?
The truth is on there. Our freedom is on there. The chance to open the people’s eyes is there and now you can make it happen.
This thing, this organization, whatever they are, they weren’t just in Juniper. I thought at first it was our government but it went further. Butter went everywhere, it went all over the world, which means so have they.
I’m dead already, but now I’m choosing to be free. I can’t force anyone to be free, but I have given you that opportunity to choose for yourself. Now, it’s up to you to make sure everyone else gets to make that choice too.
-I…I will Eric. Thank you for letting me interview you. Maybe we can talk again?
*smile* I doubt it. Next time you see me, I’ll be dead.
*smile* I hope not. It’s been a pleasure…Alright, that’s a wrap!
*over intercom* Please stay seated while we remove the prisoner.
*guards enter and place handcuffs over Eric.*
Wait. Wait! No. His eyes. His eyes glowed!
*they begin to pull him away as he thrashes violently*
How the fuck did you not see that? Stop! Please, he has the chip. He’s one of them. I need to get it back. Please!
*Eric is forced out and a man in a uniform walks in. He stands next to the interviewer and watches Eric fighting back against the guards*
-Is he always this violent?
–No. I’ve never seen him like this. I’m starting to regret letting you do this interview with him.
*the interviewer holds up the chip between his fingers*
-Could he really have been holding on to this for as long as he claims without anyone noticing?
–It’s certainly possible, but likely? Not so much. There’s frequent inspections, cavity searches and the like. We would have found it eventually. He’s been caught with other paraphanelia before as well.
–He’s been a good prisoner, never causes trouble, so he has a lot of access to areas that the others don’t. I bet he just came across it there and had it smuggled in so he could do it. He’s a smart guy, but it’s very obvious he’s not all there. I bet you he’s cooked this whole thing up so deep that he truly believes there’s something on that. Probably gonna have to keep him locked up so he doesn’t hurt himself.
-Please do. Do you mind if I keep this?
–I really shouldn’t.
-Please. Maybe I can find out what’s really on it and find a way to help him see.
–Sure. Let’s just hope he doesn’t kill himself before that.
-Thank you. Maybe one of those rooms can help. The ones with the cushions.
–If someone is dead set on hurting themselves, they will. Just look at his friend AP. We thought what he did was impossible, but it happened.
-*smile* Yes. Yes it did.