Ghost of a Smile
by: Simon R. Green
“Took one look at what?” said Happy.
“I don’t know,” said Melody. “But I’m pretty sure whatever these things were, they’re still here.”
She shut down the computer and stood up abruptly, glaring about her. The others huddled together unconsciously, checking out every possible hiding place with a hard look, and still they couldn’t see anything. The atmosphere had moved beyond tense to actually oppressive. They all felt like they were being watched, studied, by cold, unseen eyes. Happy sniffed the air.
“Is it only me, or can you smell something?”
“Yes,” said JC. “A ripe, spoiled sort of smell. Meat that’s gone off. Blood, too. Other things of that nature, none of them good.”
“It’s getting stronger,” said Happy. “It’s leaving a really nasty taste in the back of my mouth.”
“Hush,” said Melody. “I can hear something . . .”
They all stood very still, straining their ears against the quiet, and slowly they began to hear soft, approaching sounds. Dragging sounds, of something heavy hauling itself along the floor, through sheer will-power. Wet, slapping sounds, slipping and sliding, coming from a dozen different directions at once.
“Oh no,” said Happy. “I know it’s going to be some horrible human shape of patched-together organs, probably all red and blobby with no proper exterior, so you can see things moving inside, with dozens of eyes bobbing about at the top. Dripping blood and bile and leaving a smoking trail of acid behind it . . .”
He stopped as he realized they were all looking at him.
“You’ve been watching those Japanese manga movies again, haven’t you?” said JC.
Happy wrapped his dignity around him, and stared back. “Legend of the Overfiend is a classic! Though it does practically define the phrase guilty pleasure.”
“Take a few of your little chemical helpers, and get yourself together,” said JC. “You’re no use to me if you can’t keep your head in game.”
“I am trying to cope without them,” said Happy. “Ever since my piss started turning funny colours. Better living through chemistry is all very well, but in practice it doesn’t half take it out on your liver.”
“And because you can’t get it up when you’re trashed,” said Melody.
“Why do you keep putting mental images into my head that I know I’m going to have to scour out with wire wool?” said JC.
“Heh-heh,” said Melody.
Kim drifted in beside her. “Maybe we should make time for some girlie talk, later,” she said. “It’s not easy having a love life when you’re dead.”
They all looked round sharply. The heavy, dragging sounds were definitely closer. Wet, slippery sounds accompanied them, sounds that grated on the nerves and upset the stomach. All of them heading straight for the group, with definite purpose.
“I suppose a big transplant Frankenstein thing isn’t entirely out of the question,” said Melody. “But the noises don’t seem right for that.”
“Definitely organic,” said Kim. “And kind of squishy.”
“They were only developing organs,” JC said firmly. “Not building actual people.”
“Who knows what happened after the new energies changed things?” said Melody.
“Hell with this,” JC said briskly. “I’m not built for standing around and waiting.”
He strode down the long, open floor, towards the sounds. It took him a while to realize that none of the others were following him. Not even Kim. JC stopped and looked back.
“Oh come on! This is definitely time for Go team go!”
“Not even for a substantial raise and a stretch limo all my own,” said Happy. “I know my limitations. And they very definitely include squishy things.”
“Right,” said Melody. “I have a really bad feeling about this. I say we skip this floor and go straight up to face the New People. I could cope with New People. Strange, invisible, squishy things is something else entirely.”
“What is the matter with you people?” said JC. “Big Black Dogges with mouthfuls of huge jaggedy teeth didn’t even slow you down!”
“Don’t like strange squelchy things,” Kim said firmly. “Especially ones I can’t see.”
“Right,” said Happy.
“Damn right,” said Melody.
JC looked round suddenly. Something was moving about very near him. He spun round and round, glaring in every direction, and then, finally, he looked down. And said, “Oh shit.”