Tabitha Grey, monster hunter

This is a follow-up book sample to an older post starring Tabitha, the supernatural star of my upcoming sci-fi novel. In a post-apocalyptic world where alien spiders have all but killed off humanity, one woman survives by a billion-to-one chance: her body has adapted to the alien venom she was injected with, and it’s started to give her some very strange powers. Her metallic hands and newfound strength are a match for the alien spiders lurking in her home town, but she’ll soon encounter an altogether more terrifying threat…

The rain spat down cold and hard, lashing against broken windows and tumbling down them in paper-thin waterfalls. For one sudden second, lightning struck the whole world blind. Thunder followed right after, filling the tomb-grey sky. The toppled buildings of the city in the distance turned the horizon into jagged concrete teeth. Tabitha walked on alone down the street, pulling the hood down further over her wet and shadowed face. On either side of her the abandoned cars lay dead and mangled. They had been parked through lamp posts, bus stops, walls and one another. They’d been given the fastest five minutes of their lives down the road out of town, hitting speeds they’d been built for but never dreamt of, only to be ploughed into obstacles by drivers senseless with fear. Here and there Tabitha saw bite marks in the cars’ bodywork. The marks were scraping gouges, twisted and torn out of side panels and roofs. Molten metal had been drooled around the bite marks and set hard like solder. One car’s bonnet had been torn half off. The car bled oil down the road. Looking into the dark cavity, something had gorged itself on half the engine block. The alien’s fading motor-oil footprints led off up the road ahead, into the heart of the toppled city. But these footprints weren’t the small, neat, countless dots of spidery feet that she’d expected. They were big, heavy, clawed, brutal. Bigger than both her feet pressed together. They were the footprints of a predator.

   The city was a stinking grey tomb. Tabitha smelled drains overflowing. The leaden sky gave everything a mood, and the rain pummelled any peace out of the scene. Whatever buildings weren’t toppled and lying dead on the road were cracked and shattered where they stood; crumbled and half-demolished into ragged standing shells. There weren’t any spiders here – it looked like they’d been and gone long ago. There was nothing here, street after street, and that’s what spooked her the most. A city centre should never have nothing in it, she thought, even if it was half-destroyed. Wispy tufts of grass had grown up in the cracks all over the road, and were bent and dripping in the rain. Plastic bottles and wrappers still filled the city streets, browned and sullied in the rain-soaked mud of brick dust that coated everything. Looking around at the rubble of civilisation, part of her wished she’d seen it all come down. She’d always believed that some part of human nature drove them to watch things go horribly wrong. But there had been no great last stand here; no tragic battlefield, or fallen monument to the defiant human spirit. Her first glimpse of humanity took the same form as it had in her own town – a rotten empty skin on a doorstep, caught by the spiders and drained out dry.
   The square in the city centre was a vast open space with a huge statue at its centre; enclosed by towering shops and offices, half of which still stood upright. But nothing seemed to live here. Here and there, a greying human skin flapped in the wind, or lay half-buried in the thin coat of mud that covered the pavements. She tried not to look at their stretched rubber-mask faces, contorted in hole-eyed screams. She tried not to look at their soaking tangles of hair, hanging in clumps from decaying scalps, on heads creased and crumpled like popped balloons. She tried not to think about how humanity could be reduced to empty wrappers, to blow and soak and rot amongst their plastic bags and soiled newspapers. Her next footstep was slippery and soft. She didn’t look down; she couldn’t. The square was carpeted in muddy grey skins, laid out and overlapping like fallen cardboard cut-outs. A sea of skin. It was the small skins that caught her eye though; they made her stare. And the very small skins. She felt the warm sting of tears once she’d noticed the very small skins. She looked up and kept on walking, had to keep on walking. She wiped the tears from her eyes so she could see her way. She had to find whatever had done this. She wanted to let it know that it had missed one. She wanted to make it wish that it hadn’t come to this world.
   Through the world-filling whisper of the rain, Tabitha heard a noise. Thunder split and broke overhead like a god growling, but that wasn’t what she’d heard. What she’d heard sounded like a car crash, around the next street corner and off down the road.

   She didn’t make out its shape at first. It was only when it drooled glowing molten metal as it fed that she noticed it, sprawled out and gripping close to the side of the city tram, like it was making love to it. Its molten slather beaded and slopped from its mouth and hit the wet road in a hissing cloud of steam. Its white eyes stared at the sky, unblinking, while it shredded sheet metal and devoured it with grinding black jaws. Everything about it was black and heaving. It swallowed its mouthful of molten metal so loudly that Tabitha heard it up the road. Some kind of exhaust jutted out of its back then, a glowing growth that hissed and sighed a great jet of steam. The monster’s rubbery black metal body gleamed in the rain and the grey daylight, dripping and hulking as it dropped down to the road and rested. Suddenly its head snapped around in her direction, white eyes staring. She’d hidden behind a half-eaten taxi, its bodywork covered in messy welding where the creature had bitten and slobbered. She peered around from the wheel arch – looking through the doorless back door, through the taxi’s torn-open front, to where the alien stood in the distance. It hadn’t moved; it hadn’t turned its head. It was just staring, eyes glowing like fairy lights, staring down the road for any sign of the intruder. Tabitha didn’t dare breathe.

   Her legs had cramped up. She didn’t know how long it had been; it felt like an hour at least. The thing hadn’t moved; frozen like a watching statue, staring down the road, dripping in the never-ending rain. Tabitha was freezing; she couldn’t take this any more. But she couldn’t face it either. Her hard hands may have been enough to dent those silvery spiders, but not this thing. Its own hands were huge; black and clawed and cruel. It was bigger than a bear. It could crush her, skin her, vomit molten steel over her… whatever it was going to do if it found her, she wouldn’t be able to fight it. Now she understood why the city was empty – everything had to run from it. Or try to. And still it stared into the distance; unmoving, unblinking, just breathing in the rain.
   Tabitha wasn’t sure how long it had been. She couldn’t feel her feet any more, and she’d never thought that she could shiver so much. Still the thing hadn’t moved; hadn’t come to look for her. She couldn’t take it any more. Tabitha reached into the back door of the taxi and pulled out a shard of glass, and getting a good grip on it she sent it spinning up overhead, high over the creature, and it shattered on the road behind it. Tabitha watched it wide-eyed from behind the taxi. As soon as it turned away to search down the road, Tabitha was up and running. Instantly she regretted it; her cramping legs wobbled and stumbled beneath her. You idiot! You stupid woman! She said to herself, dragging herself up from the pavement to run on numb feet, looking over her shoulder down the road. The creature still had its back turned, prowling down the road. Suddenly it swung its huge arms and flung a car across the street in search of her. Tabitha stuck to the kerb, where the cars and bins could hide her while she put some distance between her and it. The thing glanced back up the street and turned away again; she hid behind a bin in the middle of the pavement. She couldn’t just run – she was far away from it now, but there was a clear line of sight down the road. It would chase her down. Instead, she looked over to her right, to the door of an old pub that was hanging open. She didn’t care who or what might be inside – it couldn’t have been worse than being hunted out here. The thing turned again to look back up the street, but Tabitha had already darted inside the open door of the pub.
   It was dark in here, very dark. She was glad. She made straight for the bar, hiding away behind it. She’d hesitated at first when she saw a figure, but it was just her reflection in the mirrored wall behind the bar. She sat down on the floor and pressed her back against the wood, facing the fridges, facing away from the front door. It was a solid old bar, made of good, strong, dark wood. She told herself this as if it mattered, as if it would protect her. There just had to be something big and solid and safe between her and that… thing. She was so frightened she could hardly think. The only thought in her head was an instinct – hide. The only sound was her heavy breathing; the patter of the rain outside. And then, a pounding on the road. Footsteps. And a sound like sniffing, deep and hungry. Tabitha peered around the bar, and saw white eyes in the half-open doorway. She heard a heavy panting, massive and furious. Tabitha pressed her back against the wood of the bar where she sat, and clutched her grey metal hand to her mouth. She prayed to whatever gods were up there, whatever cosmic forces had anything to do with anything, that she wouldn’t hear the sound. The sound of a heavy foot creaking on the floorboards inside the doorway. The sound of death coming for her… The floorboards creaked. Tabitha felt her chest pounding. Everything sped up and slowed down at once, and fresh adrenaline surged every time the creaking footsteps drew closer to the bar. Tabitha looked up from the floor, eyes wide with terror, as the wooden bar-top creaked and groaned under the weight of a gigantic black hand. The smell of burning wood filled her head as the alien drooled molten metal down on the bar, peering right over Tabitha’s head at its reflection in the large mirror. Tabitha watched its white eyes in the mirror, drifting as it swayed its head, figuring out the image of itself. She watched its reflection look down at her, hiding behind the bar. She saw its white-circle eyes shrink to murderous dots. The last thing it saw was a blinding white cloud, as Tabitha emptied the fire extinguisher into its face. She crawled out from behind the bar as the monster smashed it to splintered pieces, roaring and spitting red-hot metal. Blinded, the creature spun and pounced on the spot where it heard her footsteps, demolishing the floorboards. Tabitha bolted out of the door and off up the street, back the way she’d come, back to the square. There was a dust-cloud explosion behind her as the thing burst out of the brick wall, roaring and blind, punching a car into wreckage. But she was already far up the street, looking back at the huge black thing thrashing around on the road, colliding into cars and walls in an unseeing rage. She had to get away from here, out of the city.
   She stopped running when she reached the square, and looked around her. The greying skins soaked in the mud beneath her feet; countless corpses, stretching on forever. She saw the small skins too, and the very small skins. Far down the street she saw the black monster, clawing at the blinding foam on its eyes, but only managing to smear it around. That thing had so many lives to answer for, and she’d managed to trick it and trap it. Maybe it was time the aliens learned something about humanity’s talent for vengeance. Tabitha clenched her metal fists, gritted her teeth, and started walking down the road back towards it.
   ‘Ready when you are.’


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