He took his pistol into the bathroom and laid it on the toothpaste-splattered rim of the sink before locking the door. He showered quickly, trying to keep it under a minute. Military-showers, his parents used to call them. Water was money in their little double-wide, especially hot water. He didn’t bother washing his hair after all. He had no desire to lose his eyesight, even for a couple of seconds.
He got out, toweled off. The hot water had worked the tension out of his shoulders, and the rest of him followed. It would all be fine.
With the towel around his waist, he opened the bathroom door to the darkness of the hallway. As he did, his ears caught the sound of leaves in the wind. The water on his skin chilled as a cool morning breeze blew through his house through either an open door or an open window.
He looked down into the twilight hallway and saw what he first took to be a cast-aside long-sleeve T-shirt. He wasn’t the best housekeeper. The trash needed taking out and it had been so long since he’d vacuumed the carpet that even he was starting to notice how flattened it had become. And he was not averse to dropping his clothes wherever he felt like taking them off. He lived alone, after all.
But he had never owned a long-sleeve T-shirt.
He was still observing the strange shape when one of the sleeves moved. It lurched a few inches off the carpet and then landed on the floor with a weighted thud. The other sleeve twitched as well. Then it rose and coiled and caught just enough light for Nutter to see that this was no empty sleeve at all; it was some strange, glistening black appendage, skin sutured to some gelatinous mass as tight as a sausage casing.
That limb landed and a thin white something protruded from the end. He was reminded of a cat’s retractable claw, except their claws did not have knuckles. The something dug into the carpet with a sound like a nail being twisted out of pulpy wood, and then the thing lurched forward into the light.
It was not black after all, but a deep shade of navy. Leaves, filth, and chunks of gravel stuck to its slimy underside. Below the thin membrane of its skin, Nutter could make out pinpoints of white against the darkness, like bubbles or stars. He briefly thought of dissecting flatworms in science class. He’d been partnered with that dead girl, hadn’t he?
This thing blocked the hallway, cutting him off from the rest of his house and leaving his only refuge as a windowless bathroom. It slapped down one of its bloated three-foot appendages and again it dug into the carpet with a bone-white claw-knuckle. He heard a dry twist as the sharp end of its nail cut into the floorboards. He was reminded of the sounds of black beetles chewing wood pulp.
Nutter reached for his gun without looking – he didn’t want to take his eyes off of the thing. His fingers brushed the barrel and the handgun slid from the edge of the sink, bounced off the rim of his toilet and then landed inside the filthy basin with a splash. Nutter did not spare it another look, still backing away from the thing that now advanced with a hungry fervor, pulling itself further into the light. It carried a smell with it, oily and sick and woodsy. The smell reminded him of the pungent stink of harvestman spiders, or as he called them in his younger days, granddaddy longlegs.
The thing pulled the shapeless mass of its body forward and then both of its arms/legs slapped against the wet tile of his bathroom floor, impaling the linoleum. Nutter retreated in one awkward step and hit the edge of his bathtub at the top of his hamstrings. Both knees buckled and he collapsed ass-first into his narrow tub. He struggled for purchase, and for a moment the traction of his rough hands against the congealed soap-grime gave him hope, but then they peeled through that to the slick enamel beneath. As he struggled fruitlessly, the thing in the hallway crossed the bathroom and came to the edge of the tub.
Both of the appendages rose into his line of sight, swaying for a moment like entranced cobras. Each protruded its knuckled claw and then lowered them to the rim of the basin, tapping against it with a dainty precision to produce a hollow echo. Then each arm blossomed translucent octopus-like suckers spider-webbed with veins and a dripping, snotty clear fluid. They slapped down on either side of Nutter’s buckling knees and held fast, and then launched the body of the thing into the bathtub like a slingshot.
The thing struck his chest had to weigh north of fifty pounds. It knocked the air out of his body. It was cold and moist. The initial sensation of weight and temperature gave way to a maddening itch as it settled with a visible jiggle across his lap and beer-gut. Headless, faceless, it still seemed to observe him in quiet deliberation.