The Creature that carries me comes to a halt at the very edge of the crater. I find myself looking across the broad back of the feeder, a vast armoured dome studded with spines and riven with cracks. And even as I watch the largest crack of all splits open, wide open, and I find myself looking down into a throat, a great black throat with teeth on every side. The teeth are moving, the wide gaping pit of the mouth pulsating. The stench of blood and rotting flesh almost overwhelms me. I gag, stomach empty.
This is what Sharon saw, I think. This is what it must have felt like. And all I did was watch. All I did was watch her die.
I turn my head painfully and catch sight of Lisa. She's dangling from the arm of a Creature that stands, like mine, on the very lip of the pit, only a few metres away. She's struggling weakly, tiny human hands pawing at the great armoured claw of the Creature.
"Lisa!" I yell. She stops struggling and tries to turn and look at me, but the way the monster's holding her makes it impossible.
"I'm here," I shout back. "I'm here." It's all I can think to say.
That's all you can give her, David. The chance not to die alone.
A Creature on the far side of Lisa steps forward and throws something into the throat of the feeder. I just catch its shape as it flies through the air: some kind of animal, a deer perhaps. Whatever it is disappears into the mouth, which snaps shut. I feel hot fluid spray across my face and body. I wish I could shut my ears to the sounds of grinding, of tearing flesh.
Just then I slip a little in the Creature's grip. The claw tightens about me again, choking, crushing. I feel for a moment as though no air is entering my lungs, as though I'm about to pass out. But I don't, and I realise in that moment that one of my arms has come free of the Creature's grasp.
I raise it and hammer my fist against the armoured shoulder of the monster. It's like hitting a brick wall. Pain flares and I stop.
The mouth gapes open once more. And this time something is thrown from the other side. Another deer, I think, though I can't bring myself to look close enough to make sure. Again the awful tearing noises. How long before that's me? Or Lisa? Oh, God, don't let her be first. I don't think I could stand to see that.
My heart's hammering, my breath catching. My body straining to live, desperate to live. I become aware of something pressing into my neck. I put my free hand to it and find a thick strap caught around my shoulders. I look down. Dangling around my neck is the belt of grenades I picked up so long ago in the ruins of the city.
The mouth gapes open again. And I feel the Creature holding me begin to move. As it does, my brain shuts down. I don't think. I don't feel. I don't hear Lisa scream my name. I don't feel the claw crushing me, the blood pounding in my brain, the white hot air screaming in my lungs.
I seize the belt and yank it towards my mouth. My teeth encounter metal, I feel the blunt pain of a broken tooth, but I bite down, pull back, find the pin between my lips, pull, spit. And then I rip the belt away from me and throw it towards that gaping pit of a mouth.
The next second I'm falling. And then all the world is noise, and pain.