Chapter Three – Jam and the Maiden
The gloom in the supermarket was broken only by light of the emergency exit signs. The soft green glow reflected off the shards of glass and shells that writhed in the ooze of jams. The crayfish seemed utterly absorbed in their gluttony and Alex figured he’d just watch for a bit and see if a plan presented itself to him. Clearly the shellfish wanted their jam back and were prepared to kill for it.
Alex was growing accustomed to the weird factor, until he leaned on the edge of the shelf and a hand slid on to his arm. That made him jump, but it only got worse when he followed the arm up into the staring dead eyes of the cashier girl, Maybe Alice. A yelp escaped his throat. Not too loud – he managed to suppress it by clamping his hand across his mouth. Not the one under Maybe Alice’s hand, but his right hand: the one holding the shopping basket. Now that was loud.
The sticky crusty mass snapped alert and roiled forwards – they advanced in a strawberry scented wave of tar. Alex fell back, struggling to keep his eyes off Maybe Alice and on the sluggish crawl. Abruptly, the crayfish seemed to give up the chase and coagulated into a dripping mound which rose into the shape of a man. It hissed and clacked at him, its arms made of chains of creatures reaching for him.
“More jam-filled man to eat? Ooh, such sweet meat,” the creature made a horrible gobbling sound and one of the smaller crayfish ran down its throat theatrically, “come to The Crayfish.”
Alex just knew it was capitalising itself. He felt obscurely grateful to have a name for the beast. As one of his mentors in South America had said: “name it, know it, kill it”. Excellent advice. Alex could feel strange tendrils of thought reaching for his mind. It was unlike any connection he’d ever had with another person. It was sharp, clicky and distinctly unpleasant. Its voice crooned into his head as the sound rolled into his ears like seashells being shaken in a bucket.
“Jam, jam, jammy jam-filled man. Come for my jam? Sweet sweety sweetened man make you soft softened edible mandible chew. Take you thoughts and send you out to get more. Have some jam.” It reached for him with its claws and mind, stretching out as more crayfish ran along its arms.
“Sorry mate, I’m more of a Marmite person.” A shriek of rage assaulted Alex’ mind so hard that he stumbled backwards. The mound of shell shuddered and spat angrily, ejecting a pair of jam-smeared crayfish at him. Alex snatched up the fork he’d stuffed into the basket and smashed them out of the air. While pretty damn slick, that may not have been the best possible plan: now he’d really annoyed the chitinous aggregation. It was hissing and moaning to itself, drawing in the two shattered projectiles.
With a garden fork in one hand and a basket full of firelighters in the other Alex felt like he’d been separated from an angry mob. Time to up the ante. He struggled with the child-proof cap of the barbecue lighter fluid – it spun endlessly under his sweaty palms. The Crayfish slid towards him with its gelatinous crawl. Alex gripped the bottle top in his teeth, bit and twisted; splashing lighter fluid down his t-shirt. Alex shook the fluid wildly at the encroaching molasses mass of crustacean. Half full, he threw the bottle at the beast. It stuck to the assemblage’s face. It didn’t seem to notice, but it paid more attention when he ripped open the packet of firelighters and tossed them into the jammy pile, followed by most of the lighters.
It continued to burble about jam in its own hideous way, trying to persuade him to have some too. Alex didn’t fancy that. Dave had had some jam, he didn’t turn out too well. And what about Maybe Alice? Had she been in on the jam ring too? It was getting worryingly close, though it had thankfully not tried flinging its composite crayfish at him. Alex flicked the wheel on one of the lovely transparent green lighters, twisted down the wheel to keep the flame on and turned it up to a huge ribbon of fire. Then he tossed it gently into the stream of fluid between him and The Crayfish.
The aisle went up beautifully. The lighter fluid had trickled into all the crannies of the crustaceaous monster and its every orifice was agape with flame. That distracted the crayfish. Alex dashed off for more bottles of lighter fluid, intent on burning the fucker out before the sprinklers kicked in. As in any good supermarket, the section he wanted had disappeared. Shit. He ran back with handfuls of match boxes and candles instead.
He tossed the match boxes half-open, spilling their igniting tips into the blaze. The candles were more disappointing – they tended to just stick to things and drip. But the lighters were melting and spraying fire, the firelighters were taking hold and the jam that saturated the aisle was bubbling and burning. In that horrid mess The Crayfish had collapsed and were desperately trying to escape their mire of fire. But the gummy filth clung to them like the mud of the Somme. They clawed their way on, as the fire licked at the shelves, tonguing the cardboard and plastic with flame. The flames were reaching Maybe Alice and Alex felt bad about leaving her there to burn with the freaky sea food. He seized her by the arm and heaved her still warm (re-warming?) body from the shelf, to find that there was only her top half left. Oh well, less to carry.
The signs that swung merrily from the ceiling were starting to catch fire and the sprinklers were ineffectually pissing on the conflagration. He headed for the fire exit. With a snap, crackle and pop, a length of crustacean chain flung itself up out of the flames. It scrabbled along the ceiling leaving sticky black stains on the alabaster tiles.
In genuine action man style, Alex kicked at the fire exit bars (it really hurt) and they gave way with surprising speed so that he fell through them and jarred his ankle on the ground. He dropped Maybe Alice and turned to close the doors. They’re really hard to close from outside – apparently it’s good form to leave them open – so Alex was trying to slam them shut when the tangle of blackened crayfish leaped from the ceiling into the gap between the doors. The lead crayfish was massive and gnarly, snapping its pincers at the Alex’ face. Alex smashed the doors together, kicking and slamming them over and over again, a pulp of chitinous ruin oozing out of the emergency crack.
A series of minor explosions inside made him step away from the gooey murder pile into the car park. The fire alarms had been going off for a while now, Alex realised, joined by rising sirens in the distance. He felt no desire to hang around and explain himself, or why there was half a woman outside the fire exit. Absently he checked her supermarket ID badge: Mary. Bollocks. The flames were reaching out of the windows now. Alex was hopeful that any evidence of his entirely justifiable but unbelievable arson would be destroyed. He walked out of the car park, brushing soot off his jacket and failing to notice that the rusty white van was gone. It was now 3 am so at least the ASDA down the road would still be open.