“It’s been 500 years since the pandemic started. I mean, not really 500 years, but might as well. I’m lucky, my landlord is an old lady that will not charge me for the next 6 months,” for a moment, John’s face appeared to glow. The model felt uneasy, but she brushed off the passing image as a glitch with the screen.
“That’s great and all, but this is basically a porn site, ok. It’s your money, dude, but like, do you want to see my pussy cum or what? Jerk off or something? Anything to make you stop talking,” the cam model had pink curly hair, a star stamp on her cheek, and neon illuminated nipple clamps in the shape of jolly ranchers. “No disrespect, but we’re all feeling it. Why do you think I’m out here shaking what I got? I’d rather be watching CW shows while smoking a blunt, but here we are. You ain’t paying me therapist money.”
“Ok, but listen, we’re in such a strange time. It’s interesting –“
*Model has gone offline*
John tried to reconnect, but he got an automatic ban. He pushed all the pillows he had on the bed and placed the laptop neatly in the middle.
“Well, that went well,” his eyes were bloodshot, and his dark brown curly hair was mangy, unkempt. Next to an antique dresser, he kept an ornate reptile terrarium. Inside there was a spotted salamander in a small moss-covered stone turret environment. “What do you think, Willy? Shall we try again?”
He dropped a small piece of fruit in the terrarium and left his room. They never finished the hallway, and the electrical wires still protruded from the walls like split hairs. The hardwood floor, impeccable as always, felt colder than usual.
“Why are we still here?” John opened the door to the kitchen, and a chimpanzee holding a lemon welcomed him in. In the connected dining room, a young woman sat buried in textbooks. Her eyes, also bloodshot, could barely stay open. He grabbed a cup of coffee from a row of ready-made cups and glanced at the chimp. “Has it merged yet?”
“Of course not John, why do you think I’m here. After the last woman disconnected, I got him off the metamorphosis device and hit the books for answers. It should have worked. You were connected for almost an hour,” she pushed all the books off the table, and the chimp jumped to catch them.
“We can try again? At least she didn’t die, I think,” he took a sip of his black coffee and pushed some books off a chair to sit. “Can we have a live host?”
“Do you wanna die? Do you want him to die? I’m the person responsible, not you. Maybe there’s something wrong with your program? Did you check for bugs?”
“Do it again?” she shed some tears after saying that, and her demeanor changed. “Ok. What if I increase the enzyme levels and maybe introduce more rogue –“
“I’m going to stop you right there. Marie, that’s not my field. Whatever you want to do, I trust you. You have to trust me. The program is as sophisticated and effective as it’s going to be. So, since it didn’t work virtually, can we try it in person?”
“I don’t know John, sexuality was one of the last ways I could think to connect, but clearly we don’t understand human sexuality and more so this virtual sexuality,” she asked him for a cup of coffee, and once he gave it to her, she drank it in one sip. “But – and this is a big but – what if what’s targeting us is something humans don’t know about yet. By their definition, we’re parasites in this world. They don’t really know about us. We’ve merged with them in a way that allows us to understand everything they can understand. However, we might be limiting ourselves. We need to get off this planet before it takes more of us.”
“So, before Willy got sick, he said he saw something ethereal approach him,” John pulled their recording device and replayed the moment. “See, he said, ghosts.”
“Ok. Look, two weeks ago, I was angry that he even mentioned ghosts, considering all we know about humans. But, given the circumstances, I’m willing to be open-minded about this. The problem, and it’s a big one, our chief didn’t see a ghost. He was sleeping, so I thought the unknown illness targeted us during or right after our host’s sleep cycle.”
“At least he got a chimpanzee host, instead of salamander,” John’s blasé shrug infuriated Marie. She felt a strong urge to put him in a rat.
“For the last time, it was the closest viable host,” she pulled her own device out and began to plot a visual graph of her new theory. “Ok. So, if the virus affects humans x way, and if our infected human hosts don’t get affected x way, but WE are affected y way, where does y come from. Does it come from the virus, or from the humans? What if the virus passes along an ethereal component that humans are immune to?”
“I’m leaving, keep doing that, I trust you,” John dropped his cup when he heard a knock on the door.
“Who the fuck is that? Did you fucking order another fucking thing for that fucking terrarium? Willy is fine!” Marie grabbed the chimp and locked herself in a panic room behind the kitchen. They’ve been remodeling the apartment to fit that unique room. “Maybe just, don’t answer it.”
Knock, knock, knock. Bam, Bam, Bam. “It’s the police, open up.”
“Don’t,” said Marie through an intercom. John looked up towards where he knew the camera was and waved.
“Hello, officers, may I help you?” said John without opening the door.
“Can you please open the door; we have a couple of questions. We received a concerned call from one of your neighbors,” the officer wasn’t alone. The doorbell camera revealed a small gang of cops behind the chatty officer.
“I don’t feel comfortable with people coming into my home during this pandemic,” he saw the officer signal the group to push the door open, and with a few hits from the small battering ram, the door swung wide open.
“Get on the ground, now,” the chatty officer yelled so loud it went through the walls of the panic room. John didn’t even get halfway down before getting bombarded with bullets.
John’s human body laid dead on the floor, and the police officer dropped down to check if he was alive. The poor black man who served as host for John woke up riddled with bullets, and John jumped into the officer’s body. After a brief adjustment period, the officer’s body was entirely under his control. A small pendant in his old host turned into dust. “That’s the last one I got,” John said before firing his gun at the rest of the group, shooting each one dead in the center of their forehead.
“Fuck, that’s a bit messy,” John walked past the bodies and holstered the gun. He looked outside and saw a neighbor peeking from their window. “Don’t worry, Karen, the scary black man, is dead,” and waved. The old lady landlord that lived below them hurried up the stairs, and he walked to intercept her. “Don’t worry, ma’am, we got this, please go back to your apartment. It’s nothing serious; it sounded worse than what it was.”
“But that man, he was so nice, are you sure he’s in trouble with the law? Are you sure you have the right person? I don’t think I’ve ever seen them leave the apartment,” she was shaking, and John felt the urge to comfort her but remembered anyone could be contagious.
“Ma’am step back; please go back to your apartment. It will all be sorted out. Thank you for your concern,” John then walked back to the door and waited for the landlady to be far enough to open the door.
“John, how are we going to explain this? Are they infected?”
“I don’t know, but I didn’t have a lot of time to chat.”
“Do you see anything unusual?”
“No, but doesn’t it take a few minutes and manifests during our host sleep cycles?” John pushed the bodies of the cops aside and grabbed the body of his old host. “I’m sorry, man, you were a good one.” He placed the body on the couch and covered it with blankets.
Marie took out her device and began scanning the bodies.
“They’re all infected,” she said, taking slow steps away from them. “Give me a second, and I’ll find you an animal host, preferably a mammal. Since that was our last burner pendant.”
John felt them first. A few subtle pushes from behind. Then he looked back and saw the “ghosts.” Contorted human specters with a palpable hunger for parasites like him. They crawled on the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. They were trying to make sure this one couldn’t escape. The oozed a grey matter that sizzled when it hit the ground.
“I think it’s too late, Marie,” he told her while unholstering the officer’s revolver. Marie dropped the device and started to sob.
“I know I can see them too. We’re not gonna make it out of this planet after all. Huh, now that I see them, I think I get it. They’re parasites of the humans too. In a way –“
The creatures all jumped on them and devoured their incandescent essence making the human bodies go into shock and seizure. Small wisps of the essence seeped into the hardwood floor and leaked below to the landlady’s apartment. After the bodies stopped moving, the creatures disappeared into the ether. They could only devour the essence from a human body.
“Authorities are still determining what happened in this apartment building, the scene of a bizarre massacre where 5 police officers and the two residents lost their lives. Mrs. Cabrera, the landlady of the victims, spoke exclusively to Channel 7 news and told us her harrowing account. More on that, at 11.”
In the promo reel, they filmed authorities taking the chimpanzee in a small cage out of the apartment. Before they put the chimp in the animal control van, two little birds sneaked inside the truck and perched on top of the cage. The very faint glow of the essence showed when they sang a low sad chirp.