The Perimeter

The Perimeter by Will McIntosh Read Free Book Online

Book: The Perimeter by Will McIntosh Read Free Book Online
Authors: Will McIntosh
Tags: Science Fiction - Short Stories
The Perimeter
    A sound like the scrabbling of a hundred fingernails woke Phillipa. At first she thought it was part of whatever dream she’d been having, but it grew louder as she came fully awake instead of fading away.
    It was coming from both the closet and the ceiling. She couldn’t imagine what it could be. There were no mice on Cyan, but it was too uneven—too intentional—to be machinery. She pulled the covers to her chest and drew her legs up, her bare feet suddenly feeling exposed. Nothing from the wild was supposed to be able to penetrate the settlement’s perimeter fence, but how many failures and breaches had there been since they’d arrived ten years ago? Twenty at least. More every year.
    The skittering stopped.
    Just as she was beginning to feel relieved, it returned. A sharper sound joined it, of clicking on tile. A prickling dread ran through Phillipa as she propped herself onto her elbows to peer into the dark closet. She could see something moving inside but couldn’t make out what it was. Her heart was hammering.
    What she needed to do was leap off the bed, take two huge steps so her feet spent as little time as possible on the floor, and get out.
    A small, bulbous head squeezed through the crack in the door. Phillipa inhaled sharply and screamed for help. The thing stopped short and looked at her, its eyes narrowing. It hissed a warning as Phillipa drew her knees to her chest and screamed again, unsure if anyone could hear her.
    Round, intelligent, lidless eyes stared up at her as it emerged. It had so many legs. Phillipa clapped her hand over her mouth to partially muffle a terrified squeal.
    It just kept coming, unwinding out of the closet, pressing along the baseboard. The brilliant teal-and-burgundy legs rippled like waves as the thing moved. It had no feet—its legs ended in points.
    Phillipa’s breath came in tremulous gasps. She looked around the room for something she could use to kill the thing or drive it away, but there was nothing hard, nothing sharp. Only clothes, framed photos, a half-eaten melon on a plastic plate.
    By the time the thing’s tail (pointing toward the ceiling like a terrier’s) appeared, it was pressed along all four walls. It had to be twenty-five feet long. Its neck stretched horribly as the thing raised its head almost level with her bed. She had to get out of there. Stand on the bed, leap to the floor, one step and use her adrenaline to leap high over the thing and out the door. Slam the door shut, get out of the apartment—
    The thing exploded into movement. It darted under her bed—a long chain snaking crazily, its tail whipping. Phillipa pulled herself into a ball, unable to breathe, as a gentle scratching started and the blanket at the bottom of the bed fluttered and danced, and she could feel its pointed feet scrabbling on the sheets. Phillipa cried for help in an airy whimper. She was quivering uncontrollably, drenched with sweat and sobbing. She was afraid to move an inch, terrified to look under the blanket. But she had to do something, had to get herself to safety. She lifted the blanket and peered beneath.
    It was everywhere.
    Tears rolled down Phillipa’s face. Her lungs refused to accept air as the thing took a ginger step onto her stomach, a pointed leg pressing, threatening to puncture. It was watching her, its three eyes a kaleidoscopic yellow and pink. It took another step. Phillipa slid partially upright, ever so gently. The thing gargled, pressed a needlelike foot into her stomach until she felt a painful prick. She froze. The pressure eased.
    Propped on one elbow, she watched, terrified, as it crossed her stomach, slid beneath her—its legs scrabbling against her back like a hundred roaches—and came out the other side. Then it crawled across her stomach again.
    It wound around her a second time. Dozens of needle-sharp legs pressed against her skin, each leaving a slight indentation, threatening to press harder. The legs fidgeted; the

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