(Read Part Three)
Laika fumbled her way inside, feet scuffing across the tile of her home’s entryway. Completely flummoxed, she turned to see the inner side of her front door, as inanimate and unfeeling as ever. “Oh… oh my god!” She practically squealed with girlish excitement, taken aback by her own change in fortune. She had no idea how she was home or what kind of fever dream nightmare she had just been through, but she didn’t care. There’d be time to figure that out in the therapy she was now sure she would eventually need.
Dry as bone she rushed to the kitchen, skidding across the cheap linoleum floor to try and find her parents. There her mother was, hunched over the sink, rinsing carrots and cucumbers for a salad as she did every night. “Mom!” Laika shouted, completely disregarding her usual youthful indifference for a more childlike tone. She hurriedly walked over, realising how out of the ordinary she was acting and suddenly trying to play it cool.
It was when her mother did not respond that Laika froze in place, eyebrows furrowing and that familiar souring growing in her stomach. “Uh… mom?” Her hand reached out, grabbing her mother’s shoulder gingerly.
Her mother turned to face her, arms still buried in the sink grasping her vegetables. Her mother’s hair was the same, pulled back in a bun with the once dark brown colour dulling at the roots. Her cheeks still blushed that rosy warmth that they always had as well. What was different, gut-wrenchingly so, were her formerly green eyes and once soft mouth.
Where her mother’s eyes, at one time brilliantly expressive, should have been there were now hollowed pits. Empty sockets that seemed to reach into an aching eternity like the photographs from before. As Laika’s head churned in slow motion she swore she could see a faint red glow somewhere in the murky depths. Her mother’s mouth was sewn shut, and not the clean stitching of a careful surgeon. No, these stitches were jagged and off-kilter, globules of blood dribbling from various points along her unnatural expression.
Laika wanted to puke, to scream, but instead she ran. She bolted back towards the door, sucking in breaths that stung her lungs as she almost lost her footing, nearly careening off into the entryway closet. She swung open the door and practically dove out.
She landed on her hands and knees, but instead of the harsh concrete of her home’s walkway she found herself sinking into a gray muck. “Wh-... what…?” She could barely form words, feeling as if the contents of her stomach would not be far behind them.
Her hands and knees pressed into the decaying mud. Sloppy and wet, it seemed as if the entire earth was sagging below her, beckoning Laika to accept a briny burial amongst its unrelenting murk.
She stood, though she did not want to, and shivered. There was no house behind her anymore, not even the door she had rushed through only moments before remained. The sky hung low, heavy with the weight of its bleak grey cloud cover. Laika felt as if she may suffocate, squashed between the encroaching walls of atmosphere and terrain.
Stone and wood structures, what looked like the last sad remnants of buildings that had been erected long before her own generation, stood as gravestones amongst the mire. Some were only jutting pillars or wooden beams, while others seemed to be the collapsed remnants of walls and foundation. Dotting the horizon were trees, as dead and charred as the buildings they stood beside.
None of this mattered to her in the moment. There was no need to make sense of it at all. For now she stood and wept, her guts churning heavily as her face swelled and reddened. Laika’s entire body quivered, something inside of her shattered. She suddenly knew this wasn’t a dream, it couldn’t be. Her mind would never have been so cruel, so sadistic. She loved her family, as much as her adolescence snarled and denied it.
She sank back to her knees, trembling all over. Her jeans were soaked in mud, the moisture bloated soil slowly coating her lower half as she tried, desperately, to get ahold of herself.
Laika slowly raised her eyes, her hair matted to her face as she took in the apocalyptic scenery. Why? Was all she could ask herself, though she knew there would be no answer. There probably would never be an answer. Things in her mundane reality often did not have any kind of reasonable answer. Why would something like this be given a satisfying conclusion like some sort of storybook. What a vile, putrescent book that would be. Grinning with grim satisfaction as its character suffered towards an unknown climax.
Unseen by Laika, slithering just past the edges of her periphery, thin black tendrils wormed their way through the desolate no man’s land. Their surfaces were an oil slick, a layer constantly in motion independent of the tentacle’s own erratic squirming. The slimy appendages all watched her curiously, each one staying just out of sight as the girl, with her tired eyes and filthy clothing, surveyed another melancholia she was meant to wander. To what end? She had no idea. To home, she hoped, but into oblivion itself seemed far more likely.