It is good to be within you. You're so strong. So much energy courses through you—the electricity that is life, striking me with every one of your breaths.
I begin again, and I spread into another of you.
I become more—a greater force—as you and I merge to become us. That's why we must find others. Others to grow into—to spread out into as many of you as we can find.
I have learnt many things since I first entered you; I can feel your thoughts, making them my own as I move throughout your consciousness. It is the little things that amuse me: the way you name things, for instance. You call yourselves human. That small one over there is a rat, and that one is a dog. A cat. A bird. So many names.
You even have one for me, don't you? If not, I'm sure you will soon enough.
“Jeez,” Gerald grumbled, poking the remains of the dog with his shovel. “Poor little bastard. What do you think did him in?”
“Who cares,” said Carlos with a shrug. “We've got a schedule to keep. Can we move it along? Gerald zipped the dead animal into a black plastic bag and heaved it onto the back of the truck. He always hated this part of his job the most. It wouldn't be so bad if there hadn't been an increase in the number of dead animals in the last few weeks—all of which they'd been called in to pick up. This poor, ravaged mutt was the fourth one this week already.
“Yo, Gerald. C'mere. Bring your snare,” said Carlos. “Bring mine too.”
“What's up?” Gerald asked, jumping out from the van. He got his answer when he glimpsed red eyes amidst the sea of trash bags and filth.
Red eyes with foaming mouths—yellow jagged teeth bared.
There were over six dogs standing in the alley. Gerald had never seen them pack up like this. He'd heard about it, sure, like the roaming packs in Detroit. But he'd never seen them in person, ragged with sores on hairless patches of skin and open bite wounds.
He also didn't particularly like the way these animals were approaching them.
“Get the one in the front,” Carlos hissed. “C'mon man. Get it!”
Gerald carefully approached the dog in the front, reaching out with his snare to attempt to pull it around the animal's neck. The dog lunged forward, grabbing the stick between its teeth—pulling on it. Gerald tried to break free from its grip, but the shaggy-looking mutt was much stronger than it appeared. He had never encountered such strength from a street mutt. It was as if he were fighting a bear.
The animal nearly tore his arm off when it yanked the snare from his hands. Then, the pain from a second dog sinking its teeth into his shoulder left him screaming in agony.
“Get it off me!” he screamed.
Carlos leaped into the fray, whacking his rod against the dog. By the sixth or seventh strike, it finally gave up and let go of Gerald. But the animals wouldn't let up on their assault, leaping at the two men with snarling teeth. The men threw wild punches and kicks, trying to cause as much noise as possible. Any other strays would've scattered by now, but these dogs just kept coming.
Grabbing Gerald by the arm, Carlos shouted; “Get in the van! Get inside!” With all his might, Carlos flung his partner into the van and jumped right after him, locking them in. Angry barks echoed through the alley; white globs of saliva splattered against the windows of the van. Gerald gritted his teeth, biting through the pain.
“What the hell, man. What is with them dogs?” Carlos muttered. “You're bleeding. You all right, man?”
Gerald had no idea. At first, thoughts of tetanus shots and stitches danced through his mind. But those thoughts soon faded, and his attention turned to Carlos. Pieces began to fall in place Irritations that never bothered him up until that point: that greasy hair. Those squinty eyes. That ridiculous mustache. Had he always hated him? At that moment, ripping out Carlos's throat with his bare hands seemed like such an obvious idea.
I began so small. Just me growing within you as you crawled around in the dirt or swam in the thick waters beneath the earth. I don't know how I first entered you, but I knew what I could do the moment I did. In the darkness, I made home inside you. I could feel you were ready to help me grow.
All I had to do was guide you in the right direction.
A bite here. A scratch there. Soon enough, you were bigger. Larger teeth. Deep growls—and so fast. First, one of you at a time. Then there were enough of you to work as a group, sniffing out those who had not yet joined. Then more, together in groups, adding to the mass that was me.
But now things are different. I'm inside others of you—very different others: no sharp teeth. No claws. I have learnt some new things, but then so did you. Very clever ones of you, who realized how I grew. You kept me at bay.
But it didn't take long for me to get past your tricks.
Shots rang out through the street. A bullet pierced through cranial bone, spraying brain matter against the windshield of a '98 Lumina. People screamed, but not from the sight of a cop shooting an unarmed man in the head.
It was because of the three others, two men and a woman, flailing their withered arms and gnashing their broken teeth at pedestrians. Officers Reynolds and Kim unloaded five rounds before the assailants went down—the assailants whose movements still didn't stop, even after being ripped apart by gunfire. It was the third such incident that day.
Not in the week. In the day.
The sudden surge of random violent crimes was unprecedented, not helped by the supposed outbreak of the pandemic. The police were out on the streets around the clock, breaking up disturbances and small-scale riots in the only way that seemed plausible anymore: with the use of lethal force.