The sludge oozed around my feet, a syrupy slime that congealed around my ankles, chilling me from the inside out. It was getting higher. Just moments before the tips of my toes were still dry, but I could no longer see them through the muddy goop that seeped beneath the door.
I rested my hand against the splintered wood, then traced my fingers along the rusted metal band that held the planks in place. How long would it hold? The others whispered that nothing could keep it out, that there was no use hoping for escape.
I stepped closer to the door and peered through a small hole near the top, fighting the sludge that clung to my feet and pulled me back down like it didn't want me to see what was coming. An ocean drowned the streets and anything unfortunate enough to be out there when the manhole covers first erupted like a rolling boil, spewing the thick black—what exactly was this? It looked like molasses—sludge into the air. Except it was ice cold.
"Is it bad?"
I turned my head at his raspy voice but ignored his question. He didn't want to know what was out there. Didn't believe it anyway.
A scream made me turn away from the door. The two women huddled against the far wall were scrambling over each other, reaching for the pipe that ran along the length of the ceiling. The younger woman grabbed her friend's shoulder and, with a quick yank to free her feet from the muck, leapt for the ceiling and grasped the pipe.
A deep groan echoed through the dank room.
He turned to face them. "It won't hold you."
The young woman's eyes darted his way, then back to the other woman. "Yes it will. Jump, Matusa."
Matusa swatted at her legs and a tremor ran through her corpulent frame. She looked up at the younger woman and slowly shook her head. Tears slid down her cheeks.
It didn't make a difference to me. Dangling from a pipe would only delay the inevitable; fighting for five extra minutes wasn't how I planned to die.
Matusa tried to jump but the sludge had her by the knees.
It was rising faster.
Panic rocked through me and I was sure my heart would stop—it wasn't meant to beat this fast. I glared at him, still smug against the wall, and fought to control my breathing when my skin began to crawl.
I looked down at my own legs, but it wasn't my skin that was crawling.
Tiny white creatures swarmed over my pants, undulating upwards in an eerie dance that mesmerized me. Now I understood their screams. They wormed through the hole in the door and I snapped into action, beating my legs, my torso, my arms, desperate to get them off me.
I eyed the pipe. Maybe five extra minutes was worth it.
But it was too late. The powerful sludge pulled at my hips, trapping me next to the door. I cast a desperate glance at him, but it was too late for that, too.
The terrible moaning grew louder and the pipe shattered, sending slivers of metal raining into my flesh, into the sludge.
Unable to move—even my arms were trapped now—I watched the blood trickle down my chest as if it was someone else standing here, some other fool who didn't run when she had the chance. If only he had believed. The metallic odor reached the creatures and they moved faster, devouring the warm liquid that was so different from the muck that carried them here.
The screams began again but I couldn't tear my eyes away from what was happening to me. Was this how they died? I had assumed they drowned, smothered by the sludge—no one said anything about creatures feasting on their flesh. But how could they? There would be no way for that part of the story to pass on to the others.
An unnatural brightness filled the room, and the dark walls became white as the creatures searched for food.
I could hear him choking, gasping. Trying to speak. His voice came out a hiss. "S-s-s-s…sorry."
But it was too late.