It sat in the cafeteria, swimming — though out of water. It swam through a head, a brain… the brain of an air breather. The host was strange – its blood was warm, its skeleton internal. Instead of an armour of interlocking plates, it had a soft skin like a worm. And yet it would do. It would do!
Barry Hodges sat in the Trilobite Park cafeteria, drinking the worst coffee he’d ever tasted and listening to really lazily written narration from the prehistoric ghost-trilobite or whatever the Hell it was that had taken up residence in his head. To make matters worse, he couldn’t manage to get Captain Pete to sit down with him and finish the paperwork. All in all, it was turning into a pretty shitty day.
It stared through the strange eyes of the one known as ‘Bar-Ry.’ The air-breather was… well, not resisting it as such. More ignoring it. It couldn’t help feeling a little bit put out. But that wasn’t the point. It had more important work to do…
Barry flagged down an unbelievably lackadaisical looking teenager who looked like she worked there. “Is this place licensed?”
“Yeah, uh, look… I do have a food safety certificate, but my dog ate it,” the greasy young woman said. Her eyes widened. “Did I say dog? Ha ha, I meant… what animal is allowed in a kitchen? Uh… My komodo dragon ate it.”
“No,” Barry said, shuddering. “I mean, do you serve alcohol?”
“Bottled alcohol,” he added quickly. “Preferably, with all bottles in their original boxes. And sealed.”
“No, we don’t serve booze,” Hayley said. “But if you want something stronger, you see Jesse over there, serving chips? He’s usually carrying, and he doesn’t mind…”
“I was really hoping for legally acquired alcohol,” Barry said, quite loudly. “Because I’m being possessed by a sort of primordial trilobite spirit and it’s giving me a headache.”
How? How, it wondered, did this primitive with its meaty brain…
“Oh shut up!” Barry said. “It’s okay, I was talking to my brain, not you.”
“That’s cool,” Hayley said. “You seem to be taking it pretty well.”
“This ain’t my first rodeo,” Barry said. “This is the forth… no, fifth time I’ve been possessed by an ancient spirit being.”
Barry meant to stop there, but Hayley’s enthusiasm blindsided him. He had a daughter her age who was never interested in anything he said, so Hayley’s ‘go on, tell me more’ look was impossible to resist. Deep inside, he supposed that Hayley would be interested in literally anything that anyone said that didn’t relate to her job, but even so…
“Five times, yeah,” he said. “Let’s see… the Egyptian god Bast, an alien energy being, the ghost of Dr Crippen, a rogue artificial intelligence and now a trilobite.”
Impossible! From across the aeons…
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
“Cool,” Hayley said. Barry spotted a young man in a chef’s uniform standing behind her, hopping from one foot to the other, hoping to be noticed. “Who’s Dr Crippen?”
“A famous murderer,” Barry said. “In his day. My friend Kemal was possessed by the ghost of Jack the Ripper. Realistically? That’s way cooler. I mean, you know, if you have to be possessed by…”
“Crisis!” the young chef squeaked. “Crisis!”
“Yeah, hold on Dylan. God! Anyway, so what’s this ghost trilobite want you to do?”
“Beats me, it’s just monologuing so far,” Barry said. “When it makes its move, it’ll probably want me to free the trilobites, or turn me into a big trilobite, or flood the Earth or something. Not that we’re not flooding the Earth pretty well already. But faster, I guess.”
“Awesome,” Hayley said. “Well, I gotta go. There’s a crisis or some shit, I guess.”
“Same here, same here,” Barry chuckled. He watched her walk away, scratching her rear end as she went. “Was I like that when I was young?” he wondered — before deciding, ‘no’.
Maria woke up. Her head felt like lead, and her mouth tasted like sandpaper. “Mama mia!” she gasped. She was so out of it, it was a full moment before she realised that she couldn’t see.
“Is that you, sis?”
“Luigina? Wassamatta you?”
“Are you like extra Italian right now, or something?”
“Fuggeddaboudit. Ugh, can’t see. Am I blindfolded?”
“I’m not, but also can’t see. I think we’re in a dark room.”
“You tied up?”
“Well this sucks.”
“I know, right?”
“Well let’s retrace our steps,” Maria said.
“Maria, this isn’t a hens’ night gone wrong,” Luigina’s voice said. “We were knocked out by flying barrels.”
“Oh, yeah, I tried to get at the ape who was throwing them.”
“It was an ape?”
“Figure of speech, sis. Some goon. Shush a minute.”
Maria took a deep breath. Position. Seated position, but the blood was running to her left ear. Left side of her body sore. Butt asleep. Probable conclusion: she’d been tied to a chair, which had fallen over.
“You on a chair?”
“Tied to one.”
“Ugh, cliché. Okay, I’m on the floor. I think I can reach the microtorch in my overall pocket. Ugh… Got it!”
“Don’t burn yourself!”
“Not planning on it. Okay… Found the nozzle. I tell you, nice thing about clichéd peril? You can just use a clichéd escape. Saves a lot of mental effort. So if I can just twist the torch around, aim it at the ropes around my wrists and hope it doesn’t need a new flint…”
Suddenly, painfully, light stabbed Maria’s eyes as a door opened. A silhouetted shape stood in the doorway.
“That’s funny, the lights should be on,” it said. “Hang on a tick!”
Fluorescent lights flickered on. Maria squinted in the brightness, and slowly opened her eyes. Instead of finding herself in a deserted storeroom she expected, she was lying on the linoleum floor of a comfortable – albeit windowless – educational room, dotted with desks and festooned with trilobite-themed posters. Luigina was sitting on a plastic chair, a couple of metres away, looking just as confused as Maria felt.
In the doorway was a Korean woman carrying a clipboard. Behind her were a bunch of confused-looking teenagers.
“Uh…” the woman said. “What… what’s… what is… Look, just what?”