The creature could not remember its name. It was not sure when it had forgotten, but it knew it could no longer recall. It also knew it had been human once, but the memory was insubstantial and distant – like reaching out towards a star pulsing brightly in the velvety black sky. Innumerable coruscations, like innumerable memories. They might as well be figments of the creature’s imagination, for all the use they were. Truthfully, it could not recall the night sky, either.
Only one thing was concrete to the creature, as it sat in its tiny, bare room, the asphalt warm beneath its leathery hide: the feeding.
It had broken the timing down exactly, learned to count the moments leading up to its morsel. That’s when it actually saw The Scientists and The Men in Coats. They appeared on the other-side of the wall, the steel partition giving way to Plexiglas of some sort. It could not penetrate it. During a feeding once, the creature had ripped it’s bed from the floor, the elongated wail of the rivets jerked from the floor filling the room before it finally launched the oversized projectile. A spider web of hairline cracks spread through the impacted area. Before the creature could resume another barrage, one of the Men in the Coats had gingerly clicked something off to side of the viewing area. The wall of metal burst up from its recesses again, sealing the creature in with its food, back in the washed out ruby light that filled its room. It had noticed feverish movement of pens across clipboards as the barrier separated them.
Nobody had ever fixed the bed. As far as it could remember, since it had stopped being human at least, it had never really had anyone come in but to drop off its food. The food couldn’t talk. It wouldn’t have cared if it could, anyway. It ate once a week. They knew it was ravenous by the time its meal was served.
Soon, it would be. They’d come to watch it again, come to observe. Only this time, the creature had planned. This time, it had a way out.
It coiled itself into a corner, the plates of chitinous shells on its back facing towards the nearly indiscernible entrance to the creature’s vault. It drew its knees up to its chest and tightened its body into a motionless black sphere in the corner, chameleonic hide melting into the nook of shadows. A few feet away from the still upturned bed, and waited, thinking of stars. It did not dream. Or perhaps it did, but it could no longer remember if it did.
The whirring shriek of gears drawing the steel panel down drew it from slumber.
There was a memory there, on the outermost fringe of its waking thoughts. A little girl, like smoke and starlight whirling together. She was small and as the creature parted ways with her, its olfactory senses kept the lingering fragrance of something sweet and earthy.
Conscious, it could not remember her and soon the creature forgot of a little girl and sweet smells.
A sharp tapping called its attention. The creature stretched its scaly limbs, didactyl toes curling with long, coal-colored talons clicking against the ground. It turned to look at the people through the glass. Its extended mandible opened and snapped shut a few times in loud claps.
The creature hoisted to its feet and pressed its arms out widely, trident-clawed hands scratching the walls, then flapped the curtains of sinewy flesh under its arms.
Then, without another movement, it lunged at the glass. Its gibbering howl filled the room, filled the little slits that functioned as ears, before it collided with the wall fruitlessly. The helmet of carapace on its skull cracked.
The creature was seized by a fury and began stomping around the room, flailing its heavily armored arms. It rammed its body against the glass and unleashed a shrill trilling sound, then opened its mouth, forked, sandpapery tongue drawing circles in cloudy yellow saliva on the surface as it began a discordant trumpeting. The entire symphony of sound it unleashed was visceral. It knew a human would not know to make these sounds in anger. But the creature did them, because it was no longer human.
It backed away from the glass after its rage subsided and crouched behind its bed, resting its head on pungent smelling mattress. Some time ago the creature had urinated on the frame and allowed the ichor oozing from its body to saturate the linens. The result was a convenient way to soothe itself when its wrath was particularly great.
The men watching shook their heads and elbowed each other affably. It could hear them chortling, through the walls. It could hear them approaching, though it couldn’t understand their language anymore.
The creature knew they had done this to it. They had made it whatever it was.
A new man and woman had joined the observation. The man wore a navy blue blazer, with many small medals across his chest. He stood barrel chested and stoic, eyeing the creature and not joining in the good-natured jostling of the scientists. The woman wore one of the white coats and smiled as if wearing a mask, like armor. Her hair fell around her shoulder in black ringlets and she also watched the creature attentively. One of the scientists the creature was recognized – one with large glasses – turned to her and said something. She nodded.
It wanted to walk up to the glass and examine the woman more. But it did not, because it would escape today. The creature had been waiting for this moment for many days.
Minutes slipped by in silence before there was a wave of nods and the mumbles of approval. The woman closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. It shifted on its haunches, felt the taut muscles there clenching to spring.
For many weeks they had allowed the door to linger open for a few moments. They were too confident, trusting that the creature was voracious because of food deprivation for so many days. As a rule, they were correct. It sprung on its food with predatory violence and ate relative silence, with the exception of bones crunching and the tearing of meat. They taught it was a beast of instinct.
But when the steel panel slid aside, it remembered its new plan.
The meal this time was fatty. A man was pushed through, sobbing and jiggling. He wobbled unsteadily into the room, stumbling and nearly falling a few feet away from the creature. His body had been shaved assiduously, leaving him hairless as a newborn, his skin scrubbed nearly raw. There was a look like a piglet to him. All precautions they had taken. Uncleaned meat made the creature ill and enraged it. Hair simply sickened it. One meal they had offered had been a bushy, dark skinned man. It had attacked him with gusto and simply dismembered him in a cacophony of demoniac screaming.
Its belly roiled and twisted. Ropes of saliva rappelled from its jaw into pools of yellow near its onyx-like claw. It was hungry. But some primeval thing drove it beyond hunger.
Without a sound, it launched itself…
Past the weeping fat man, towards the door.
It heard the people scream as it moved, its agility in proportion to its formidable height always seeming to shock them. But it shouldn’t. The creature did not know who it was, or where it came from, or why it was the way it was. It did, however, know what it was: it was the predator.
It hurled passed the door by seconds. As its toe crossed the threshold beyond the room, it heard the hard crunch of metal and the sound of something dripping. Glancing back, it saw a large, wet mass of pale, glistening meat on the floor, a murky puddle of blood spreading around it. Splintered white bone jutted out from where it had messily been severed from the forearm. The creature heard something like maddened howling from beyond the door. It reached down and seized the appendage, throwing it whole into its great, gaping jaws. The grinding funnel of its teeth and burr-like mill of its throat ground the flesh and bone down as they passed into the creature’s stomach.
It chirruped contentedly and turned to see the route of its escape.
It found itself in a great box of glass, surrounded by men in coats and uniforms. The woman with black ringlets had a hand over her mouth, staring fixedly at the creature.
Overhead were great, metallic tubes. It could hear them revving with life and smelled some pungent. Then the room exploded with pillars of flame.
The creature clicked and trumpeted all at once, banging on the glass class walls around it as the room filled with flames. Great tongues of fire lapped at the walls, unleashed shimmering explosions of bright orange which reflected in its burnished-looking black carapace, like glass catching hearth light.
It turned and clawed at the door, which slid open obligingly. The one armed fat man splayed in the corner, his body turning pale as ebbing spurts of blood gushed out of his wound. Liters blood had already fountained from the wound and pooled around him.
The creature leapt in and loped around the room, trying to ignore the sharp ache of burns across its hide.
It seized the fat man, lifting him overhead, dipping his remaining arm into its gullet before slamming its jaw shut, ripping the appendage loose. Blood shot in a geyser across its face. The man’s ululation of agony became part of its psychotic din.
With one herculean throw, it flung the man at the wall. He hit it with a meaty thwack. The creature followed behind, head crashing into the wall. It then reached down and began to tear chunks of the man off, smearing them against the glass. Its tongue darted out and licked crisscross trails through the stew of bone fragments and tendons and spaghetti like veins plastered against the surface.
One of the scientists turned away and began to vomit violently.
The woman with the black ringlets though was crying, pushing her hand against the glass, mouthing a brief word over and over again.
It paused its onslaught for a moment and leaned forward, pressing its gore-painted countenance against the wall, breathing deeply.
There was a smell of something sweet and earthy, and the creature thought it could see starlight and smoke in a silhouette through the canvass of red.
Instead of the woman, it saw the little girl again, mouthing that brief, powerful word over and over. A human word.
But it was no longer human, it remembered, and so it unclenched its jaw and began to lick its gritty meal from the glass.
This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Nicholas Brack…
“River Flows in You” – Composed and Performed by Yiruma
These weekly scenes & stories are part of an ongoing project codenamed “Garage Fiction”. Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack, Jinn Zhong and I) have committed to writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week. We post on Fridays and dissect on Tuesdays via podcast.