Ford’s nails dug feverishly into the skin of his wrist. Whether he knew he was doing it intentionally or was some kind of nervous tick that he hadn’t fully noticed, it made no difference to him. Red scratches criss-crossed his skin, glaring an angry crimson in the orange light of the bedside lamp. The pain was sharp but brought clarity; it brought things into focus, rooted him into the lumpy bed that he was shaking in. He was deathly afraid that if he were to stop, then he would float away, untethered and mindless, unable to come back down.
But doing this was only bringing him more harm than good.
Ford grimaced sourly; he willed himself to try and stop clawing at himself like some caged animal and try and get some rest. He definitely needed it; it wasn’t every day that a man gave birth to literal Hellspawn.
“Speak of the Devil,” Ford thought bitterly as the muffled mewling of those insidious creatures drifted up from underneath the bed to meet his ringing ears. Despite being quiet squeaks that sounded awfully similar to sleeping animals (but lacking any sense of adoration or even basic sympathy), they were as loud as detonating grenades to Ford. He was momentarily convinced that they were actually shrieking in a grotesque, indescribable cacophony of gurgling misery, but when Stan made no motion towards them, Ford did his best to ignore them.
How on Earth Stan could just sleep across the cabin in his own smelly bunk after such a traumatic and tumultuous night was far beyond Ford’s comprehension, and he had seen and experienced things that would have almost certainly had him condemned had he dared to speak of them. Still, Stan’s rasping, shameless snoring was something of a respite for Ford. It made him feel somewhat more at ease.
The familiarity was oddly soothing, even if it was occasionally drowned out by a particularly haunting squeal from the creatures.
Ford bit his lip, and stopped scratching. He’d managed to draw a tiny runner of blood, which slowly snaked a glistening trail down his hairy forearm. Upon seeing it, Ford was struck with a sudden flare of panic; what if those creatures squeaking underneath his bed could smell his blood? What if they came out in a hissing, glistening swarm, milky eyes bugging out of their gelatinous bodies and clawing at him with their slimy, six-fingered hands?
Ford didn’t want to risk it. He hastily scrubbed the blood off his wrist with his duvet, uncaring of the mess it left behind. He’d clean it in the morning.
Now, he needed rest.
That was gonna be a task in and of itself.
He was still in pain from the events that had transpired earlier that night.
Yes, it had dulled into a smarting ache that pulsed in his stomach, legs, groin, but it was still enough to keep him up. Ford winced, biting his bottom lip; he could still feel sharp spikes of pain in his taint from where a jagged opening had gaped open, where some dozen creatures had been forced through from the giant lump in his stomach that had been lingering for weeks.
The creatures that were Bill’s offspring.
Ford refused to acknowledge those creatures as anything but. They weren’t his. They weren’t even human. They were purely Bill’s creation, just one more sickening game he had to play with his puppet.
No doubt he was hoping that this would be the straw that broke the camel’s back. If possession, ostracization, and the literal apocalypse weren’t enough, then having Bill seize his body and break him down by impregnating with tiny parasites was certainly Bill’s magnum opus.
But Ford would be damned before he allowed that monster to strip away everything he had left. He had Stan, he had the kids, he had the Stan O’ War; that was all he really needed. The creatures that had been incubating in him for weeks and had been making his life a living Hell were in no way part of the equation; there were as good as dead to him.
Somewhat saddened by the absence of his fingernails raking at his skin, Ford did his best to ease into a more comfortable position. He curled over in his bed, pressing his knees up to his chest. He tried nuzzling down into the pillow (which was much too hard and much too cold to be comfortable), but was disturbed by the constant whining of the creatures underneath his bed.
In a silent flurry of aggravation, Ford jerked back up again (biting the inside of his cheek to stop himself from crying out from the pain flaring in his lower body) and bent over the edge of the bunk. He reached underneath the mattress, rummaging around in the dark until his six-fingered hands brushed against cardboard. He hauled out the shoebox that he and Stan had decided would be the brood’s designated home for the time being.
Rather, what Stan had decided.
If Ford had his way, he would have tossed them all overboard into the black ocean without a second thought. But Stan, being the persuasive guy he was, had somehow talked him out of it.
Ford propped the shoebox onto the duvet of his bed. He stole a side glance across the darkened cabin to make sure that Stan was still asleep. The loud snoring continued, so Ford dared to crack open the lid of the shoebox. It was full of blankets that were sticky and congealed with a translucent brown gristle that appeared to be some kind of vernix, and smelled rancid. Ford’s nose wrinkled at the ghastly odour, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it. The cluster of tiny creatures inside were much too small to be safely washed by even the most tender of hands, and they didn’t even seem all that physical anyway.
Ford removed the lid of the box entirely, and peered in at the creatures he’d given birth to just a few hours prior. They hadn’t changed much since their birth. Some had darkened from being perfectly translucent to differing shades of grey, but they were still boneless and squirming. The lamp-light illuminated the fine webbing of veins underneath their slimy surfaces; their triangular bodies huddled together for warmth.
However, when Ford tenderly reached in with one large, six-fingered hand to carefully scoop one up, he found that it was still slimy and cold to the touch. It sagged in his hand, a pulsating glob that keened at the contact and reached out with tiny hands to clasp at his thumb. It clung to him like some kind of marsupial, its one milky white eye glazed and unfocused. Ford honestly couldn’t tell if it were alive or dead.
Upon seeing how pathetic and needy the tiny creature was in his palm, Ford felt a sharp flare of resentment towards the thing, towards Bill, towards everything that had led up to this moment. He just barely managed to stop himself from clenching his hand into a fist and crushing the thing, allowing its slimy remains to dribble out between his trembling fingers.
That didn’t stop him from jerking his hand to the side.
The tiny thing flew across the room and collided with the lamp. It made a sickening sound upon impact, and a wailing squeal emitted from it before it fell and crumpled onto the bedside table. It was such a spur of the moment thing that Ford didn’t even have time to register what he’d done. He didn’t have time to register the creature’s gurgling plea for help from its insidious siblings before Ford scooped it up and shoved it back in the shoebox. Uncaring of its discomfort, Ford took the box and roughly pushed it all the way underneath the bed. It hit the far wall with a soft thunk!, followed by a chorus of squeals.
Ford debated on stuffing the box within a pillow to muffle their cries, but he decided against it.
Instead, he lay back down and stared up at the ceiling of the cabin, tracing the wood-grain with his tired eyes.
A sick satisfaction came from harming something that resembled Bill.
He hadn’t ever physically laid his hands on Bill; he’d felt the creature in his dreams, brushing his exposed skin with his inky black hands and running his oily tendrils along Ford’s back, snaking between his clothes and his shivering, clammy flesh.
But that didn’t matter. Being able to hurt a being that had once been a part of Cipher was a pleasure that Ford found himself savouring like a delicacy; it was so sickeningly profound to be able to exercise a sense of domination over a creature that had caused him and his family so much pain and misery.
No, the disgusting brood keening underneath his bunk weren’t to blame for their existence, but that wasn’t gonna get in Ford’s way.
Being able to take out his anger on something whose existence didn’t at all matter to him was something he’d only ever dreamed of in his darkest fantasies. And that creature resembling his arch nemesis in an unnervingly familiar way? Maybe keeping those things around wouldn't be so bad. Much like how an abuser keeps around their victim to take out the frustrations of their own inadequacy on them. Except Ford wasn't an abuser. He was...something else.
As the exhaustion of the day began forcing Ford’s weary eyelids closed, one last lingering thought swam up into the forefront of Ford’s mind. It wasn't his own. It wasn't his own voice.
“You're gonna regret that, Sixer.”