By now, Yard’s agile bulk had propelled itself as far as the tenth floor where it paused to refill its fast emptying weapon, mop sweat and ease the stitch in its side. As the motion-provoked swaying of his loose, blubbery mantle ceased, he became aware of another vibration, asynchronous with his familiar own, that was low and insistent, and which penetrated to Yard’s remote core where it inspired a faint nausea before being finally absorbed. It was a sensation not dissimilar to hunger except that it began at his feet and worked its way up.
He waded obliviously through a family exiting by the fire doors and entered the body of the building. There the vibration, accompanied by a low chthonian rumble, engulfed him. Down the long blank corridor to the fire doors at the lift well the strip lighting flickered incontinently. He inflated himself to his full height and girth, adopted a smile like a banana split and, gurgling happily, proceeded.
In the erratic light Yard could make out a dark huddled mass halfway down toward the lifts. He drew the bolt on his Uzi and held it out ahead of him one handed. In his paw the thing looked little more than a toy. The black pile heaved and flopped still. It had now resolved itself into a mess of tentacles spilling across the hall from a doorway as if some giant squid were trying to free itself from the tiny flat.
A loud clanging startles Yard. It comes from the steel door immediately to his right and he has to check the impulse to fire, leery of ricochets. The banging becomes louder, more urgent, then the door bursts from its frame and Yard is immediately smothered by a tonne of writhing roots.
He rolls onto his front and heaves, comes up from the vegetable depths swinging his blade to loosen the last intimate holds of this presumptuous plant. Once upright, he remains thigh deep in the tangle. In front of him dozens of slatted, head-sized leaves on craning stalks bob and sway, bewildered to find themselves there, wondering what they are doing so close to their roots. Yard licks some of the ice cream off his banana-split smile and readies his blade about his ear — which is about as high as he can raise his arm — and picks out with relish the arc of his first swing. The motion of the leaves changes abruptly to a frenzied thrashing so that the doorway and the leaves appear to Yard as the maw and poisonous incisors on an enraged jabberwocky.
Beyond them, the creature’s black heart is forcing its way up the gullet, thickly wrapped in viscera, to personally oversee the policeman’s dismemberment. Yard let it have it long and good, firing from his outstretched arm whose heavy trunk easily absorbed the weapon’s buck. Something inside the flat recoiled.
‘Ha!’ thinks Yard — then the doorway copiously vomits plant stuff. Embedded in the crest of the spume is a grotesque mannequin, flapping loosely as it is shoved in Yard’s face for his inspection — for it is his own work. Yard bats it away in disgust with a big boxing-glove fist and it flops onto the convoluted versant of the root pile. It is the formerly missing Mr. Perkins who is just about the former Mr. Perkins, twitching violently and expiring with a long gurgle and riddled with Yard’s bullets.
‘You have the right to remain silent,’ Yard began. ‘You are entitled to, er … something, and one phone call, and, er … a cup of tea, but not a very good one.’ Yard knew he was obliged to read the arrested their rights, but could never remember what they were. ‘Ok, Perkins, you’re nicked. Obstruction — to wit, obstructing the progress of police bullets, you twit — endangerment, assaulting a pi — a police officer, constipation — I mean conspiracy — and bleeding on the carpet. You are going to come quietly. It is a well known scientific fact that cooperating with the authorities vastly reduces your chances of falling down stairs.’
Yard observes with a professional eye that the almost late inhabitant of number 1,249 Nirvana Heights is uniformly covered with a fine white dust which nicely shows up the bright whorish smear of blood round his mouth, and that his hair and pyjamas contain lumps of plaster and masonry. Perkins must have been displaced from his bed, carried down through two floors and laterally through several walls before being regurgitated through the doorway of number 1,064 here and into the path of Yard’s bullets. And all while the poor git was still in his jimjams. Yard might have wondered what kind of monster it was that was filling up the interior of Nirvana heights with greenery, but he thinks he already knows.
However, knowing is not helping right now. Yard is trapped, pinned against the wall, chest deep in the spillage over which newly arrived tentacles slither. Out of sight, hirsute fingers probe his nethers, perhaps assessing his nutritional value, his nitrogen content. Encased, Yard wobbles helplessly. The floor sags, tearing away from the skirting with a muffled whump that expels fat billows of dust through the crevices and pores of the tangled vegetable.
Fighting to regain his footing he cackles into his radio, ‘A real party, up here. Room for a few more if you’ve nothing better to do.’ This is the closest he has ever come to saying he needed help — this is possibly the first time he has needed help and the phenomenon amuses him.
‘Time!’ exclaims Yard, as if he has an urgent appointment at his grandmother’s. ‘Time to make like a tree and leave.’ With an endearing burble of delight he swells and gathers himself tightly into a yet rounder shape and moves, urging his gargantuan bulk against the tons of tangled creeper. He barges belly-first and the root pack moves minutely with him until the floor beneath exhales once more, spilling another knotty tsunami downhill at his head. Up to his nose in it now, Yard puts his shoulder down and his adversary retreats in a slow skid, still tenaciously braced against him.
‘Oh? Sumo salad, is it?’ asks Yard. The reluctant theatre judders around them and Yard slips out of sight beneath the coils.