Real Life By Nerys Wheatley

He hid in plain sight.

Or maybe blended would be a better word. Dressed in jeans and a dark blue hoodie, he was simply a part of the scenery on the busy street, nothing about him to attract a second glance. When you were what he was, you stayed in the background of life.

He leaned casually against the wall, hood pulled forward to hide his face, searching. Hundreds must have passed him, going about their everyday lives, unsuspecting. There were plenty of potential targets, but no-one who really caught his attention. Then he saw her, brunette, young, pretty, although that wasn’t what drew him. She had a strength about her. She would need it.

Pushing away from the wall, he followed her along the street, looking for an opportunity. As she left the main thoroughfare and turned onto a quieter road, he saw his chance ahead and picked up his pace.

Reaching the alley, he grabbed her arm, pulling her into the narrow space between buildings and pushing her back against the wall.

She opened her mouth to scream. He slapped his hand over it.

His crotch exploded in agony.

Biting back a whimper, he shoved her knee down and moved his body forward to keep it there. “Please don’t do that again,” he hissed.

Anger flashed in the brown eyes above the hand still covering her mouth. She tried to push him back, but he was too strong.

Taking a syringe from his pocket, he flipped the cap from the needle with his thumb.

“Sorry,” he said, “but this is going to hurt.”

Her eyes widened and she struggled harder, beating her fists against his arms and shoulders. Ignoring the pummelling, he jabbed the needle into the side of her neck, depressing the plunger.

She stopped moving, her body going stiff. He took a step back and caught her as she fell, lying her on the ground out of sight of the road behind a dumpster. Still conscious, but no longer in control, her terrified gaze fixed on him as he knelt over her.

For a full half minute she didn’t move and he began to worry something had gone wrong. This was the first time he’d used the drug. Was it supposed to happen like this? He was wondering if something had gone wrong when her body began to spasm. Grabbing his wallet from his back pocket, he jammed it into her mouth, her teeth clamping down so hard he thought there was a danger she might bite through the leather. She started to thrash, back arching, eyes rolling back in their sockets. Grasping her arms, he held her down.

The seizure lasted for ten long seconds before she stilled, slumping back onto the asphalt, her eyes closed. He carefully pried the wallet from her mouth and felt her neck for a pulse.

Her eyes snapped open, green irises flashing. Both arms shot out, fists slamming into his chest. He flew into the air, sailing seven feet across the alley, hitting the building on the other side, and dropping to the ground.

For a moment he lay on his back, grimacing. “Ouch.”

The woman turned towards him at the sound of his voice, sitting up. He climbed to his feet and approached her cautiously. He didn’t want to be sent flying again.

She looked down at herself, touching her skirt as if she wasn’t sure what it was, then she scanned her surroundings, her green eyes taking in the alley, the dumpster, and finally, him.

He crouched next to her. “What’s your name?”

She lifted one hand and he braced himself, ready to dodge out of the way.

Her fingers touched her face, confusion in her eyes. “Elaine.” She frowned. “But that’s not right, is it?”

He relaxed, allowing himself a small smile. It had worked. “No, it’s not. What’s your real name?”

She closed her eyes for a few seconds. When she opened them again, he saw a new certainty. “Tiah.”

He nodded. “You remember. That’s good.” The distant sound of a police siren drew his attention. “We have to get out of here. The drug I gave you is weakening the parasite so your immune system can destroy it, but it’s sending out a distress signal.”

She pressed one hand to her chest. “I’m free?”

“You’re free. Well, relatively speaking, since you’re now a fugitive.”

He stood and offered her a hand, rubbing at his aching chest as he helped her to her feet.

“Sorry I hit you, um…?”

“Evven. And it’s nothing.”

It wasn’t nothing, he’d have bruises in the morning. But he’d expected it when he chose the woman. Females were stronger than males in their species. They remembered that, when they were free of the parasite that turned them into something they weren’t.

The sirens were getting louder.

“Come on,” he said, turning to go.

“Where to?”

She looked afraid. Evven understood what she was feeling. He’d felt the same uncertain fear when he was first freed, when everything he thought he knew was suddenly exposed for the lie it was. Although when it happened to him, he had just gone through major surgery to remove the human parasite, performed in the back of a moving truck so they wouldn’t be caught when it broadcast its cry for help to the authorities.

Now all it took was a simple injection. The resistance had come a long way in the seven years since his liberation. Even further in the twenty years since his species had become unwilling hosts to the mutated, dying human race.

Evven smiled, taking Tiah’s hand again. “We’re going somewhere safe.”

“Are there more of us?”

“Hundreds.” He held up the syringe before slipping it back into his pocket. “And now we know this works, our numbers will grow. We’ll kill every human. Our people will be free.” He couldn’t help but feel an almost euphoric sense of victory. “Humanity’s reign on earth is finally over.”

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