The hemlocks are chasing me down the street. I turn the corner, climb the wall, and hide under the archway between two buildings, in the shadows. Or, should I say, the other hemlocks. I haven’t been one for very long, but I feel both invigorated and drained. I feel a fire flowing in my veins that I’ve never felt before. I feel as if I’m sulking through the world. It alternates, and it doesn’t matter what time of day it is or what’s going on, it just shifts. Perhaps my body is getting used to this.
I notice another hemlock perched in the corner of the building. He spits his poison out at me, and it flies past my eyes, missing me by a centimeter. I can smell the overly floral fragrance of his spawn. It hits a dog in the eyes and worms its way into his mouth and down into his stomach. A few moments later the dog keels over, drags himself towards the sunlight, but cannot move any further.
I sit, waiting for the hemlocks, the other hemlocks, to stop chasing me. I made enemies quickly. I had no idea I was spitting out poison, and I broke the cardinal rule. Never spray a hemlock’s family, they’re off limits.
I sit there for hours, my ankles start to hurt and my suction cup skin is starting to wriggle loose. I haven’t gotten the hang of it yet, or I haven’t eaten the right things to keep it going.
The dog gets up, his eyes whited over and oozing puss. He pukes up a translucent sac with a creature the size of an eel within. The dog faints and convulses, writhing in pain, and I’m not sure he’s survived the attack. The sac breaks and the eel wriggles into a dark corner. It harbors itself there for about an hour. It gets up on its new legs and starts walking around. An exact copy of its parent, the one who spat it out, only hollow and filled with a substance like a slushy. It walks over to the dog and subsumes it into its body. The dog squeals, I guess he was still alive. I can see through the new hemlock-spawn’s skin and the dog is slowly mashed into paste. He becomes the food for this new spawn.
The spawn sees me, and as if it knows I’ve broken the cardinal rule, jumps at me and attacks. It pops, and splashes and covers me in blood and guts. It only has one attack in it. It’s more like a pawn than a spawn. I begin to asphyxiate as the hemlock-spawn goop invades my body and covers every cell of skin, clogging the pores of my lungs. I fall off the wall and start to beg, who knows who, for my life. I don’t know how to stop this.
A woman comes up to me and attaches an oxygen mask to my face. Something humid is coming out of the hole where the oxygen should be. It smells of alcohol and formaldehyde. Slowly, I can breathe again. After about half an hour, she takes the mask off of me, lends a hand to lift me up, and asks if I’m alright. I tell her everything that’s happened since I became a hemlock yesterday. Her face reveals pity for me. She tells me she saves people from hemlocks, but she’s never saved another hemlock before. She looks scared. I tell her I don’t want to hurt anyone.
Thankfully, I can still mostly eat human food. I just can’t drink water anymore, I have to drink oil. She explains these things to me. I let her speak, even though this basic info has been on the nightly news for about a year, since hemlocks were discovered. Or created. Who knows what started this. We guess it started with some experiment, but no one I know has any idea.
She says if I’m back here tomorrow night she can take me somewhere she’s heard is safe. She wishes me good luck and leaves the alley. I decide I need a better place to hide. I start sneaking around the alleys, trying to find a safe corner somewhere. I decide to build a cardboard hut for myself, to hide from the sunlight when it rises in an hour or so. Then I’ll be safe from other hemlocks, but I won’t be able to move. I decide it’s worth the risk, to see that woman again, to get her help. I don’t know where she would bring me, but anywhere is safer than this city. I spend the day inside the cardboard, too afraid to move a muscle. I ache and grow tired.
When night falls, I fear the hemlocks coming after me. I return to the alley where I met her and hide again in the corner of the archway between two buildings. In a couple of hours she returns. She brings me to a ship just outside this hidden space, on the street. It’s a small cruiser. She tells me there’s a safe place for peaceful hemlocks across the border. I don’t know if I can trust her, but I take the chance.
We land in an open field and the woman leads me to a storm cellar. Underneath I find a huge bunker filled with hundreds of other hemlocks. They let me in, assuming I mean to be peaceful. There are oil jugs laid out like coffee at a support group. There are cakes and crackers to hold us over. We have no idea how we’ll brave the future, or what we’ll do for food, or who is helping us. I’m guessing it’s whoever caused this all to happen. They must feel responsible.
The next day, someone comes into the bunker and announces that they have farm work for all of us. We can work at night, under stadium lights, and sleep during the day down here in the bunker. We’ll work for food, lodging and some luxuries, but they can’t pay us. I figure this is better than death, or being attacked by malicious hemlocks.
That’s how I ended up here. And I’ve been working on this farm for three years. I don’t know when it will end, or if we’ll ever have a better life, or a normal life. I just want to meet a hemlock woman and live a simple life. I know it could be much worse. But lately I’ve been hoping it could be much better.