Ten hours into the apocalypse, Charlie is alone.
Logan’s body gave out moments after the beetles attacked the van. He collapsed onto the floor with a sick, wet thud, and it was then that Charlie first saw the gaping hole in his ribs. If Charlie hadn’t been so horrified, he’d guess that he could fit two, maybe three of his fingers into the deep wound in Logan’s side.
Logan was dead before Charlie could ask what had happened, but it didn’t take a genius to guess that one of the beetles had descended upon him before they’d made their safe return to the van.
His body seemed to take up more space than it should, a bloated silence pressing on Charlie’s skin and leaving a thick, filmy guilt wherever it touched. He hadn’t touched Logan except to sit him upright against the back of the passenger’s seat. His body was still warm, then. His skin felt a little too pliant, like if Charlie tried hard enough, he could press his fingers right through and into Logan’s ribs.
Like that beetle had done.
The wound was rough when you got to look at it up close. The skin around it was tattered and gnawed away, revealing a slinky wet tunnel of pinkish red flesh that disappeared into Logan’s ribcage somewhere.
Charlie didn’t look too close at it. He was focused on surviving, getting far enough from the starving swarms that he could give Logan some sort of proper funeral. The van was out of gas, but if he could distract the beetles long enough, maybe he could run to the nearest gas station. If his memory wasn’t failing him this time, he was pretty sure they were only a couple hundred feet from the next roadside station.
Charlie got to work on figuring out what exactly the swarming masses of mutant insects wanted.
He crawled to the windshield and tapped along it from left to right, watching the beetles to see if their congregation grew denser where the sound was coming from. They followed his movements, but it was only after one of them nearly broke off a mandible biting the glass that Charlie realized they only followed the sound because sound indicated something living. Something to eat.
There wasn’t much food inside the van. There were a couple empty snack-food packages strewn about the mess of instruments and clothes and blood, but nothing actually edible. Charlie didn’t figure the beetles were too picky, but he also figured that Logan wouldn’t mind giving up a bit more flesh so that Charlie could get them both to safety. He dug around on the van floor before he found a pocketknife that had once belonged to their bassist (what the hell was that guy’s name, anyway?), flicking it open in the dim, greenish light. The knife kicked some of the tainted sunlight back to the beetles, who only seemed to grow hungrier at the indication of life within the van. Charlie slowly lifted Logan’s shirt with one hand, fingers trembling against the icy, still-pliant skin.
It wasn’t until Charlie had the pocketknife poised over a bit of Logan’s abdomen did he realize that he really, really didn’t want to do any more damage. It felt like a desecration of an already exhausted, torn up body. Logan deserved to rest. Charlie could handle a bit of pain.
He retracted the blade, tugging Logan’s shirt back down and gently patting one shoulder.
“Sorry, buddy.” He mumbled. He shifted his weight and pressed one hand against the floor of the van.
His palm grew slick on the wooden handle of the pocketknife as he raised it over his opposite hand, splayed out on the floor. How much flesh would the beetles need to chase after? Not very much, Charlie hoped.
Worst case scenario… His eyes drifted to Logan’s corpse. It was already turning a mottled, whitish purple in places.
He took a deep breath. While looking away, as if to catch himself by surprise, he dropped the blade, guillotine-like, on his own little finger. A cacophony of swears tumbled past his lips as he pushed the blade downwards, until it suddenly snapped, popped, and slipped through his pinky, setting it free from the rest of his hand. He pressed a handful of old, mismatched fast food napkins against the wound to stem the bleeding and picked up the finger, looking down at the piece of himself in his hand.
It seemed a bit small for all the pain.
The next problem: how to lob the finger from the van without letting any of those freak things in, or without them dragging him out.
All of the windows were absolutely covered in a shifting array of carapaces, mouthparts, and legs, wings sending a dirty greenish light into the van as the sun shone through them. Some of the beetles had long, whip-like antennae. Others had large crushing mandibles. All of them were ravenous carnivores just waiting to shred the next unfortunate creature that they could get those undulating mouthparts on.
Charlie figured that if he could wedge the pinky between the door and the outside, the beetles themselves would do the work of yanking it out of the van and get preoccupied in fighting over it.
He knocked a few times on the opposite window to the one he wanted to wedge the finger in, waiting for the beetles to congregate where his fist had been before turning back to the designated trap door. He reached up and wrapped his fingers around the inside handle of the door, tugging it just enough for the resistance to start, but not enough for the door to pop open. There were a few beetles still scuttling around the window, legs scraping on the glass. Charlie stared at their soft shiny underbellies, watching their legs work, the undulation of those hideous mandibles.
Once they had cleared the seam in the door, Charlie opened it. He took a deep breath and pushed until a sliver of light shone into the dark interior of the van. He shoved the pinky through the crack just as the beetles started to crawl towards his remaining fingers.
A whiplike antenna dug into the crack of the door. Charlie keened, slamming the door shut on the finger and the antenna, severing it and letting it fall in his lap.
“Aw, shit, man…” He murmured in a high tremolo.
He stared silently at the antenna across his legs, listening to the beetles’ frantic gnawing and scraping and the soft gurgling from Logan’s corpse within the van.
The gurgling started soft, then slowly grew to a thick noise, foamy and slick. Charlie turned his head at an agonizing pace, eyes huge behind his lenses.
Logan was moving.
No, that wasn’t it.
Something inside Logan was moving. His stomach was rolling and stretching beneath his shirt, something round scuttling around under his skin.
Charlie stood, picking up the pocketknife and taking a step closer.
The thing inside Logan’s body scrambled up towards his sternum before dipping down below the surface of his organs like some great whale diving back below the water. His body went silent for a moment.
And then, all at once, it seemed to explode outward.
Blood, cold and half-clotted, spattered across Charlie’s face and the floor of the van. Something shot from his gut, two somethings, hooked and long, that ended in two smooth claws. They hinged in three places, with wiry hairs that stood out like the spines of a cactus. They stretched outward and raised up.
The legs of a beetle.
Logan’s head lolled forward, then back, those dead eyes suddenly full of a cold, icy light. The pupils dilated. A faceted web spread across from left to right. They flooded with black, until Charlie was staring at the eyes…
of a beetle.
He stumbled backwards, tripping over a pile of clothes until he fell on his ass. Logan’s corpse shambled up to its feet. His body was still lax, spine flopping forward like a stringless marionette. His bent posture allowed Charlie a full view as two knobs began to sprout from Logan’s shoulderblades, snapping through the skin with a disgusting elastic sound. Shimmering iridescent wings grew from the knobs, reaching out in a fan over Logan’s back.
His spine straightened out at a snail’s pace. His neck snapped up to look at Charlie at an inhuman angle. Two mouthparts like long, jointed fingers hung from Logan’s mouth in front of his teeth. With a pop and a crack, Logan’s jaw shimmied from side to side, and mandibles like a stag beetle’s spread out from the inside of his mouth.
Chitin was spreading down his arms, covering his fingers in plates that pointed to the effect of claws.
The scrubby sound of shredding fabric overpowered all other sound in the van as more hooks grew from Logan’s legs, chitinous and shiny. Claws pushed through the rubber fronts of his high-tops.
With a final two, wet pops, antennae whipped out from the sides of Logan’s head, hooked on the end and brushing against the inner ceiling of the van.
Charlie’s chest heaved as he stared up at the creature.
“Ch… Char… lie…” The creature hissed. Its voice was Logan’s with a sick remix of mucus, blood, and the rattle of chitin against itself.
It reached out one clawed hand. Charlie didn’t move.
“Please… H… Hurts…” It hissed. Its eyes, though black and compound, were narrowed in an expression of fear and pain.
Charlie reached back.
The creature linked their fingers, pulling Charlie closer.
Then promptly dug its mandibles into his shoulder. The mandibles acted as a vice, holding him in place at about a foot’s distance, points digging into his skin.
Charlie howled, tugging against the thing in his friend’s body as it fed his fingers past those beetle-like mouthparts, crushing the bones with a series of disgusting, thick crunches. Charlie’s voice split upward into a high hog’s squeal. The insect-Logan shifted its mandibles a little higher on Charlie’s shoulder, continuing to feed his hand into its mouth. Charlie tugged against it, like playing some form of fucked-up tug of war with a dog, feeling the mouthparts and teeth continue to crush the structures of his hand into mush.
He swung his other fist around and dug the pocketknife into insect-Logan’s eye.
The creature shrieked, blackish, half-clotted blood mixed with a clear, foul-smelling liquid poured from the creature’s eye as it shrunk away from him, finally releasing his opposite arm.
The arm ended in a pulpy mass of stringy flesh that dripped to the floor of the van in shreds. Charlie drew in a few shuddering breaths as he stared down at the bloody knife in one hand, and the creature’s howling form across the small space. It whirled around, howls diminishing into a ragged, raspy breathing. Its shoulders rose and fell at an accelerated rate, fingers flexing at its side as blood dripped down its face.
They stared at each other in absolute silence, chests heaving, glittering compound eye glowing maliciously.
The beetles outside the van grew more frantic, legs skittering and clawing against the glass at the scent of blood within. The insect-Logan looked around at them through the windows, antennae folding backwards down towards its back.
Charlie raised the pocketknife, heart pounding a dancing little staccato in his chest.
The insect-Logan slowly began to crouch, undamaged eye entirely unmoving from Charlie’s own. Charlie braced himself for the thing to spring at him, hiding the knife a bit lower in his fist.
And then the creature straightened out, bass guitar clutched in one clawed fist by the neck. Charlie’s heart fell.
The creature raised the guitar, and in a single smooth arc, sent it through the window.
The last thing Charlie saw was a flood of greenish-black chitin.