“Tell me about your wife.”
“She ate the dog.” There was a quiver in his voice. “She almost ate me.”
“Not what she is now,” I said. “Who she was.”
Barry sat in the backseat of the squad car. “How does something like this happen? She’s human.”
I could see Barry was going to be hard to get to. Considering he’d just witnessed his wife devouring their beloved family pet, it wasn’t unexpected.
“Are they going to kill it?” he asked.
Barely an hour after watching her transform into something monstrous, she was already an it. This would be a tough one.
The SWAT team was ready to storm the house, but even armed to the teeth, they were reluctant to make the charge. The thing inside wasn’t bulletproof, but it sure as hell wasn’t going down without a fight.
“What was her name?” I asked.
“Penelope,” he said.
“Do you love her?”
He glanced to the house. A shadow passed by a window, and the thing that had been, that maybe still was, Penelope, howled.
“It’s complicated,” I replied. “Not really sure how or why it happens. Not consistent. But sometimes, when a person isn’t thought of as a person, when they get ignored and dismissed, when nobody in their life sees them as human . . . sometimes, they stop being human. Sometimes, they cease to exist. Sometimes, they become something else.”
The horrific thing that had been Penelope lobbed a chair out a window and roared painfully.
“Do you love her?” I asked again.
“I did. I don’t know now.”
Penelope squealed as if he’d punched her in the gut. If she had a gut now. I hadn’t seen her up close yet.
“Before the transformation,” I said, “What about then?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. We were having trouble. Fighting a lot. But people fight. They don’t become monsters because of it.”
“Sure they do. Maybe not writhing masses of tentacles and anger, but we’re all ready to become monsters, in one way or another.”
“Can you save her?”
“Me? No. She doesn’t know me. I don’t know her. Any compassion I can offer would be too little, too late. She needs someone who cares about her to go in there. Someone to remind her she’s human.”
“Her parents are dead. She doesn’t have any family other than me.”
“Then it’s up to you,” I said. “I can’t make you go back in there or guarantee your safety if you do. But either you go in and talk her down or these guys will be forced to put her down.”
The SWAT team held their weapons at the ready.
“You can’t ask me to do that,” he said.
“I’m not asking you to do anything. I’m giving you your options. Only you know if you care about Penelope enough to see what’s underneath the thing she’s become. And it’s no pressure, but if she isn’t fixed soon, it’ll be too late.”
He sat there, thinking, for a while.
“We met in college.”
“Don’t tell me,” I said. “Tell her.”
Barry screwed up his courage and went into the house. Penelope howled and screeched and tossed several pieces of furniture into the walls. She punched a hole in the roof with a lashing tentacle.
I went inside. The house was a mess. Barry sat on the floor with Penelope, naked and frail and human again. They held onto each other like nothing else in the universe mattered.
It was a fragile thing, humanity, but sometimes, it was the only thing keeping us from falling apart in this lousy world.