Read an Excerpt: Little Heaven by Nick Cutter
There is an old saying that goes: Evil never dies; it merely sleeps. And when that evil awakes, it does so soundlessly—or almost so.
Even insects can scream.
The little aphid did, though at a register too high for any human ear to perceive. The aphid toiled in the root system of a cactus plant growing on the edge of the New Mexico desert. An insect so small that it was practically invisible to the naked eye.
This was how it began. How it began again.
While the aphid fed on sugars deposited in the cactus roots, something curled up from the blackest recesses of the earth. It slipped inside the aphid’s body. If there was any pain—and yes, there would be—the insect was unable to articulate its agony beyond that thin scream.
The aphid trundled up the root stem, through the loose-packed sand, up onto one of the cactus’s fleshy leaves. There it encountered a honey ant, which fed on the honeydew that aphids produce.
Their antennae touched briefly. Whatever had gotten inside the aphid then slipped soundlessly inside the ant.
The aphid erupted with a tiny pressurized hiss.
The ant made its way back to its hill, skittering through a fall of lemony afternoon sunlight. The little honey ant disappeared down the hole. Shortly afterwards the hill emptied, ants pouring forth in furious multitudes.
The ants organized themselves in a line, like soldiers on the march, and proceeded determinedly until they came to the burrow of a meadow mouse. They filed down the burrow, thousand upon thousand. There came an agonized squeal.
Presently the mouse emerged. It hopped and shook, its skin squirming. The mouse spun a few agitated circles before righting itself and dashing into the dry grass. It paused here and there to gnaw at its flesh, drawing blood. In time, it crossed paths with a desert shrew. Moments later there arose the high, mindless shriek of pain and confusion.
The desert shrew encountered an opossum, which in turn encountered a black-tailed jackrabbit, which hurled itself screechingly into the jaws of a kit fox, which thrashed and gibbered and scurried into a den that housed a family of jaguaramundi. More shrieks, cresting across the arid expanse of sand.
Night fell over the desert. In the darkness, something shambled from the den. The moon touched upon its strange extrusions of flesh, which shone wetly in the pale moonlight. It breathed through many mouths and gazed through a cluster of eyes lodged in a knot of fatted, bloodstreaked fur. It locomoted on many legs, each of them foreshortened, compressed like the bellows of an accordion so that the creature, whatever it was, scuttled in the manner of a crab. This abomination carried itself across the sands, moving stealthily, its quartet of snouts dilated to the breeze.
A solitary grey wolf sat on a rocky outcropping, scanning the mesa. An old wolf, much scarred, an ear torn off in some long-ago territorial battle—a battle it had won, as it always won. The old wolf spotted movement. A shape shambled into the wolf’s view. This thing did not move as other creatures did. It moved as though wounded, and yet the wolf’s predatory instincts said no, no, no—this thing was not hurt. It was . . . something else.
The wolf loped off to investigate. It was wary but unafraid. If this other creature could feel pain, if it could bleed, the wolf would bleed it.
It had no fear. The wolf was apex. It had never encountered a creature that was its equal, not once in its long life.