Day 27: 28 Aug 2010
We drove for a good 10 or 15 minutes before either of us said anything. We were both in shock, I guess. Cassie didn't even seem to know where she was going -- she just kept making sporadic right turns, her head on a constant swivel.
"So, you want to tell me just what the fuck happened?" I said, breaking the silence.
"I don't know, really," she said, shrugging. "That was the first time I've seen it that close."
"All right, Cassie. Let's stop fucking around here," I spat. My face felt red. "Tell me what the fuck they did to my brother. Now. No more stalling, no more 'this guy can explain it to you,' none of that shit."
"I told you they turned him into a monster," she said, slowing the Lexus down to stop at a red light.
"You're playing that? Again? Fine. Fuck you, then."
As the Lexus rolled to a stop, I opened my door and got out, slamming it behind me.
Even through the closed doors and windows, I could hear Cassie. But no. I wasn't going back to that car. I'd find my own answers. Don't get me wrong -- I was glad she wasn't dead, and all, but I was just about through letting Cassie jerk me around. Fuck that.
I heard the Lexus' tires squeal, and it rocketed down the street in front of me. Cassie slammed on the brakes just five feet from me. She rolled down the passenger window.
"If I don't get you out of Las Vegas. . . I don't even want to think what it'll do to me."
"Your problem, not mine."
"Look, if you get back in the car, I'll tell you everything I know. No bullshit, no stalling."
"Not getting back in the car, Cassie. You'd probably tase me, punch me out, or drug me. You want to tell me? Fine. You do it here. Right now, on the street. Otherwise, take your chances with Jared."
Cassie pulled the car into a parking spot along the street. She quickly killed the engine and got out, jogging to catch up to me.
We were in a residential part of town, and not a good one. The houses were tiny and cheap, and all of them had sand instead of yards. Most of the lights were out, and a few were boarded up.
"There's a. . . thing. It's at the bottom of the sea, and it's dead, but also not dead. It moves."
"You're not making sense."
"I'm trying to. OK, OK. You ever read any Greek legends? Hercules, the Iliad, stuff like that?"
"I did go to college, yes."
"OK. So you remember they wrote about monsters all the time. The Hydra, Medusa, Scylla and Charybdis. . ."
"Yeah, I remember. And Zeus used to turn himself into a cow to have sex with women. We're not talking in the realm of believability, here," I said.
"Bear with me. Some of the stories were just stories, but there are people who believe that some of them were more or less true. That, at one point, humans and monsters existed together."
"Bullshit. Someone would have found evidence by now. Like, fossils."
"Not necessarily. Not if there was only one Hydra, say, and someone managed to kill it. That thing's bones would be picked clean. Sold off, made into fancy weapons and trophies."
"Fine. So you're saying there's a Greek sea monster somewhere. Poseidon, maybe?"
"Don't be an ass. The Greek legend thing was just an example. And Poseidon was a god, not a monster," she said, glaring at me. "I'm saying that imagine -- just for a second -- that there used to be monsters in the world. And there aren't anymore. Not really. But there's this one -- a dead one -- at the bottom of the ocean. Down so deep we humans can't get to it -- the pressure, the cold. They'd kill us, but not this thing."
"You said it was dead."
"In the way we understand death. Maybe more like a coma."
"Comatose ancient sea monster. Right. Got it," I said, sighing. "Really, I didn't expect your bullshit to be this creative. Kudos. You get points for originality."
"I would if I was making it up. This thing. . . it's real. And every six years or so. . . well, it's a little longer, actually, but it. . . gives birth, sort of. It sends this small, living thing up to the surface. A little slug-like thing about eight inches long. Most of them die in the sunlight, but in the rare case someone picks one up. . ."
She trailed off, and I tapped her on the shoulder.
"Yes? Believe it or not, I'm actually listening to you."
"I know. This is the part where it really gets tough to explain," she said.
"Oh. This is the part," I snickered.
"You're being an ass. Again. OK, so, back in the 1700s, one of them washed up on the coast of France. It was alive, barely. A guy found it, picked it up. It went into him, and changed him. He became. . . stronger. Faster. Tougher. No sword could cut him, no man could take him down. At least, that's what made it into the stories. But after a year, boom, he just dropped dead. The slug was dead, too."
"There are a lot of these stories around, if you know where to look. It happened to a lot of people. And always the same result. A year, two at the outside, then -- dead."
"So they became -- "
"Monsters. Walking around in human bodies. Like your brother. Organized crime started paying top dollar for these things in the 40s, and had varying degrees of success. Sometimes it worked. They got themselves a super-assassin. Other times, as soon as the slug went in, the host body liquefied almost immediately. Really. Just turned right to goop. But even the good ones lasted maybe a year and a half. They never could hold it."
"This sounds. . ."
"Made up? Complete bullshit? Wait, it gets better. Your brother got implanted with one of these slugs. . . six years ago. And I think you'll agree, he doesn't look even remotely like a pile of goop."
I said nothing. I just stopped walking, stood still. I looked at her for a long second.
"How do you know all this?" I finally said. "You're, like, 12."
"I'm 26, jerk," she said. "I just look young. And I know this because Kevin told me. He was part of a group -- a really tiny group, now. Me and two other guys. They knew about these things, had seen a couple first-hand. And they reached out to you because Jared was different. Special."
"Because he could hold onto the slug thingy."
"Yes. But more than that -- he retained some of his personality, Kevin thought. The others became almost mindless, but Jared -- Kevin knew him before the change. He said there were times when Jared broke through. He knew things. He talked about you, your family. He even joked. None of the others did any of that. We think he's still in there."
I was starting to get it now.
"That's why you wanted to get me and him together. To see if he'd recognize me. Know who I was. Maybe see if you could use me to get through to him."
"Yes. But we have a big problem now."
"Me. Everyone thinks I can. . . They think I can be like Jared. Hold onto the slug. Be like he is."
"Exactly. They think they can use you like they use him."
"My guess is -- yeah. It has to be something genetic, something in Jared's DNA. If he has it, you probably do, too."
Cassie pulled out a cigarette and lit it -- she offered one to me, and I took it. I hadn't smoked in years, but I wanted one now. I hate to say it, but smoking was every bit as great as I remembered it.
"There are two guys left in my group. They know. . . well, a lot more than I do. One of them is here, in Vegas. I can arrange to meet with him. He can fill you in," Cassie told me.
I nodded. My head hurt. I wanted to sit down.
"Now, will you get back in the goddamn car?"
I nodded again.