“Hey, Bridge?” Dom calls. Something’s off in their voice, like maybe they did find a damn corpse after all.
“Is it sentient mold?” She heads back to the kitchen. Dom has taken off the mask and is wearing their best what-the-hell-is-this-shit face, which, to be fair, they use quite often. In the sink, several recently decontaminated Tupperware containers are piled up. One is laid out on the table, although even from here, Bridge can tell those tomato stains on the side are never coming out. Like blood, she thinks, but of course it’s not. It’s her mom’s ratatouille. Zucchini and eggplant and onion and vegan chorizo and a shit-ton of tomato and garlic. Her favorite when she was a kid.
There’s something inside it. You can see the shape through the stained plastic, and it’s somehow off. About the size of an avocado, but saggy, malformed. Familiar. Foreboding.
“What is it?” she says.
“Fucked if I know. It was buried under the leftovers, emerged like ancient anthrax from the melting permafrost.” “Frozen assets,” Bridge says, realizing. How cryptic, how unnecessary, how freaking typical of her mom. A breeze through the broken window tugs at the candle flame, wafting vanilla and unease across the room.
Dom comes to stand beside her, rubber gloves drip-drip-dripping dirty dishwater onto the floor. Bridge’s hands reach for the lid even though she doesn’t want to open it, would in fact much rather do all the paper sorting in the world right now, deal with all the accounts in arrears.
She lifts away the lid. No ceremony. Get it over with. Reveals a lumpen yarn-y cocoon. It’s grayish yellow, bulbous, and striated, like a spindle wrapped in rotting elastic bands.
Dom leans over her shoulder. “Some kind of disgusting German delicacy? Schmorgenborst?”
But Bridge knows. She recognizes it. From a lifetime ago. From a witch woman in New Orleans. From sitting on the bed in her room while Daddy was at work and her mom strummed dreamy chords on that sitar, and they watched the spinning toy, around and around, and Jo kissed the top of her head and said, Don’t forget to come home.
She’d forgotten. Willfully repressed it, burned through the memory, curled black edges around the hole. Didn’t want to deal with the implications. Which she is reeling away from now, thank you. A fantasy. Make-believe.
“What is it?” Dom says again.
“The dreamworm,” Bridge says and eases her fingers underneath the finely bound mesh of the carapace. It’s brittle and somehow warm, and a strand comes right off in her hand, as easy as if it belonged there — and maybe it does. Gold in the light, not moldy yellow. This is also familiar.
“Am I supposed to know what that is?” Dom asks.
“It opens doors to other worlds.” And before she can think about it, before Dom can stop her, Bridge puts the strand in her mouth — baby bird — and swallows it whole.
Extract taken from Bridge by Lauren Beukes (Michael Joseph, out now), the latest pick for the New Scientist Book Club. Sign up and read along with us here