With his novel in hand, I pushed through the crowd to see the writer speak at the university. The standing audience was crammed together, and each barely resisted my progress to the front; as I pushed by, they wobbled back and forth like inflatable punching bags weighted at the bottom.
The writer stood at the podium, smiling as he finished his talk. I was confused and looked at the photo on the back of my copy. The man on stage was not the one in the picture. He was taller and reedier, and looked like he fussed about his face and hair. I recognized the woman beside him as his wife; she took a picture of him using a camera with an enormous flashbulb. The author photo on the back of my copy changed to the man before us. The image smiled at me and nodded.
The writer’s wife stepped to the microphone. “For a meet and greet, and possible signing, please follow us below.” A hole opened in the stage revealing a stairwell; the writer and his wife descended.
I joined a flood of audience members onto the platform and down the long staircase. When I reached the bottom, however, all those who had jostled around me vanished. I was alone at the foot of the stairs in a featureless basement, lit only by weak fluorescents on a low ceiling. Alone, except for two bespectacled fans by the far wall. They were nearly identical, swaying as if drunk in unwashed clothes, hair greasy and dripping liquid fat that solidified in falling through the cold air to splat in lumps on the concrete floor. To their left, the wall opened into a dark alcove, its depths illuminated by shaky candlelight. In that uncertain light, I could see the writer’s head and neck. He grinned at the fan closest to the opening, and the fan smiled and approached the darkness. In the shadows below the writer’s head, slender hands moved close to the floor, reaching out and pulling in. His wife’s hands. Gathering what I couldn’t see.
As the fan pushed his copy of the book into the alcove, a large, chitinous limb emerged from the black. Broad and purple and crenellated, it sharpened at its end into what resembled a stinger.
The boy huffed and tried to retreat, but the exoskeleton fanned away from the stinger, revealing a soft, wet muscle which coiled around the boy in less than a moment. The fan peered out at me from between ropes of phlegm; he seemed nonplussed, his tongue lolling out. The chitin folded over him and the muscle like a closing umbrella.
The other fan ran past me, making a sound like a pig in a vice. I turned to run as well, but not before I saw what clicked out of that recess. The stinger limb was attached to a smooth purple column; the column was supported by five scrabbling legs. It lunged for me, but I leapt forward, passing the remaining boy. The stairs were gone; all that remained was a small window in the wall. I scrambled to jump through.
Dream Part One Over