Not Safe For Work version, by ...
"Like a ghost don't need a key...
Your best friend, I've come to be...
Oh, please don't think of getting up for me
You don't even need to speak...
I've been here for just one day
You'll already miss me if I go away...
So close the blinds and shut the door
You won't need other friends any more...
If you're cold, I'll keep you warm...
If you're low... just hold on!
'Cause I will be your safety
Oh, don't leave home...
I arrived when you were weak
I'll make you weaker, like a child...
Now all your love you give to me
When your heart is all I need...
Oh how quiet, how quiet the world can be
When it's just you and little me!
Everything is clear, and everything is new...
So you won't be leaving... will you?
'Cause I will be your safety!
I will be your safety...
I WILL BE YOUR SAFETY!
Oh, don't leave home...!"
Dido Armstrong; 'Don't Leave Home'
(a beautiful and eerie song about the love between the drug and the drug-user, sung from the point of view of the addictive substance…
For Silver, it perfectly captures the unhealthy, co-dependence of the parasite and its ‘Soft Pumpkins’…
It’s as sinister and disturbing as all hell, but it’s still a love-song, and it’s still sincere…)
She shivered despite the wet heat. The sounds of the swamps echoed all about her – animal cries and distant, primal sounds. Dragonflies hovered upon the black surface of the still waters, their iridescent wings glimmering with rainbow colours; a beauty that belied the deadliness of the mangroves. Brightly-hued reptiles slithered from tree-bough to water, seeking their tiny prey. Somewhere in the dim light, something screamed its last… the endless dance of hunter and hunted played out, a thousand times across the bayou.
Not for the first time, Sylvia ‘Silver’ Rush wondered why she had come here. It was the longest of long-shots that Doc Darwin would even be able to help her, and time was running out, fast. But his ‘experimental treatment’ was her only real hope now – a scientifick breakthrough that might well save her life. Conventional medicine could do nothing for her condition, after all. And she was always, at heart, a gambler. A slight chance was better than no chance at all - sometimes fortune might be won on a flip of a coin, or the turn of a card. It was a faint hope, but one she had to cling to.
So here she was, alone, in a place forgotten by men and by time. She was following in the footsteps of Doc Darwin’s expedition, stepping through the shimmering portal at Scrogg’s Bog, just south of Seto’s Mill. Foul vapours and a clinging mist had seeped out of the bog ever since the portal had opened, enshrouding the Mill in greenish fog. The townsfolk had begun to sicken, and some had died. Already, many were leaving, seeking lands that were not cursed by the coming Darkness. She idly wondered if the key to curing the curse was here, somewhere buried in the old waterlogged temples or burial grounds, or held by the tribals who still dwelled here in the hidden places of the mire. She wondered where they had come from originally, how long they had lived here in Jargono, forgotten by the lands of men.
Grimly, she pressed on, stumbling at almost every step. Swamp water filled her boots now and she felt soaked through with mud and sweat. She cursed herself for not asking Candy or Cheyenne to come along; she was born to the cities out east, and had no love of slogging along in some filthy marsh.
But she couldn’t have brought herself to ask them, even though she knew they would have accompanied her without question. She had grown fond of the younger girls; she understood how hard it was to be a woman in a man’s world. She understood what drove them; to make a name for themselves, beyond the shadows of their famous fathers. She could relate to that. And she wanted them to remember her as she was; not growing sickly and pale as the illness slowly ate her away. The thought of ‘dying with her boots off’ scared her – perhaps it would be better if she perished here, a meal to one of the carnivorous behemoths that hunted here in this primal murk. Better the quick death with nobody watching…
A noise, to her right… The smooth grip of the LeMat pistol was in her hand, as if by magick, by now an extension of her body. The other hand lit a match, and the soft glow illuminated the gloom. Her keen eyes watched through the darkness, awaiting any twitch, any sign of hostile life. She still had sharp instincts, and nobody ever got the drop on her…
But it smelled her...! The scent of her blood, between her legs… thick and oozing, delicious…! In its few, frantic moments of new life, it and its brothers had only one instinct as they swam through the dark birthing waters… to locate a host, ideally one of the higher-order reptiles, who would assure a longer and more satisfying life as a predator rather than prey. Without delicious juices, they would quickly starve; without a host, they were naught but food for the many hunters in the dark waters. Many hundreds would perish, but this one scented something large and warm…! With every last effort in its spindly little limbs, it swam towards the host.
“What…! No, stop – “ It moved in a blur of motion, desperation giving it speed and purpose. It was too small for her to spot among the dark waters, and by the time she reacted, it was upon her…
She screamed in terror as something skittered up her leg, tearing through the fabric of her denims with sharp little teeth. With a sudden sense of overwhelming horror, she realised it was not trying to devour her…!
“…no…! ohgodsno…!” she shrieked, falling backwards onto the muddy bank, hands frantically trying to tear it off. But it was too fast, too needy and hungry. It tore through her garments and sought the openings in her sweet flesh, the oozing, delicious blood and dark, damp places where it would live –
She screamed as she woke up, eyes snapping open. She looked about her, gulping in deep gasps of air. The austere room in the hostel at the Mill was quiet and dark, the only sound, her heavy breathing, and the hammering of their heart.
You are worries, Soft Pumpkins…
It’s voice, lisping inside her head, hearing its words as if they were her own.
“N-no, it’s all right…!” she chuckled softly. They shared thoughts, but she liked to talk to it aloud, when they were alone. Doing so made her… feel less crazy, somehow.
I is sorry, Soft Pumpkins, it crooned.
No time to speak then. Only hungry.
“It’s okay,” she assured it. She felt it shift and move slightly within her body. “I understand now.”
I needed to live, Soft Pumpkins, it murmured gently.
You needed to live, too.
I finds it in you, the Hurting Thing. I sings it to sleep…
Hush, hush little hurt thing. Sleep now.
“I know,” she smiled softly. “I appreciate it, I do.”
She swung her body out of bed, lit a match, and fumbled for the bottle at her bedside.
“A few hours to dawn…” she mused. “Want some scotch?”
Sweet, sweet juices, Soft Pumpkins…! It chuckled. But never as sweet as yours…!
Sylvia Rush was born about 37 years ago in Pennsylvania. She says little about her past, save to explain her accent and that she trained as a girl with the legendary Vera Strong, one of the few female gunmen in the Weird West. She learned how to live as a woman in a man’s world, and has taught that lesson to other girls as she grew older. She first moved to Shannedam County in Texas about twenty years ago, making her name as a card-player at the gambling tables, as well as a deadly shootist. As the saying went, ‘God made women, but Samuel Colt made then equal!’ She fell in love with her fellow gunsel, Cornelius Van Horn, who was also making a reputation in the county’s boom years. After a whirlwind romance, they married with wild celebrations… a tempestuous relationship that lasted less than a year. Some say shots were fired at their divorce, but it is clear that nearly twenty years later, they both still harbour considerable affection for the other.
A veteran adventuress, Silver is something of a den-mother figure for younger women and always happy to give advice and the benefit of her experience. She's long been a woman in a man's world, and has fought to establish a dangerous reputation against the odds. She was one of the first people the lawmen turned to when rounding up a posse to fight outlaws… but she had friends on the other side of that divide also, and (until recently) was welcome in dens of scum and villainy across the county.
After the Night of Screams, when the Darkness fell across the land and a call went out for Heroes, Laverne Lafferty and Candy Kane chose not to join their illustrious fathers, preferring to form their own posse comprised of other young women trying to make a name for themselves. Silver, who had been a mother-figure to Candy for some years by now, saw much of herself in these young women, and agreed to join up and give them the benefit of her experience. A cool head and laconic, easy-going sort, she brought a sense of calm and wisdom to their youthful exuberance. Although they frequently frustrated her with their reckless enthusiasm, she enjoyed it more than she had expected, and did everything she could to keep them alive and well during their adventures.
But just over a year in, she began to feel increasingly unwell. She had never lived very cleanly, frequently indulging in hard liquor and tobacco, but she was relatively young and healthy for all that. It took several doctors to establish the cause she most feared; woman cancer. The kind of sickness that didn’t get better all by itself. Upset by the news, she took her leave of the Fallen Angels, explaining that she had ‘personal business’ to attend to, and promising to come back when she could. She sought out the one man who might possibly be able to cure her of her terminal illness – Doctor Darwin Drake, a man renowned for his brilliant genius and eccentricity. Drake pioneered many new forms of treatment for illness and disease, specialising in the new technologies he found in the OtherWorlds such as the Targa Plateau and the Blasted Wastes. In return for his aid, he asked her to travel to the lost world of Jargono, in search of any sign of an expedition he had sent that way a few weeks beforehand. Lacking any other alternative, she sought out the portal at Seto’s Mill, a town in the south-east of the county that had become afflicted with strange sicknesses from the nearby Scrogg’s Bog.
In Jargono, she found a world of lost tribes, deadly predators and gigantic reptilian monsters… And something else, something she had not bargained for.
The attack struck her before she could react, as the newly-born swamp parasite burrowed deeply into her flesh, attracted by the scent of her menstrual blood. Both adapted surprisingly quickly to the turn of events. The parasite, one of many seeking a host, was surprised to find itself becoming a symbiote to a human, something vastly more intelligent than the reptilian predators they usually attached themselves to. The parasites seemed to develop a strong bond to their hosts, matching their intelligence as they fed on the vital juices of the host. Most did not climb beyond the basic instincts of the predator lizards at best, but this one grew in intelligence exponentially, as it experienced her senses and her human thoughts. Before very long, it was mimicking her words, speaking directly to her mind, trying to work out what this meant for both of them now.
Most notably, the creature said it found a ‘sickness’ within her, something that was causing her hurt. The parasite could offer benefits to its host -making them stronger, quicker, swifter in motion, so as to be an efficient hunter and ensure a longer life for both of them. But in a human host, the creature found it was able to heal her hurts, even to the degree it could ‘calm’ her tumour, preventing it from growing any larger. While it could not remove the malignant growth, it could prevent her from suffering from its effects… as long as it was safely ensconced within her, naturally.
Nurtured by a human intelligence, the parasite was able to form opinions on what it was, and how it worked. It found itself affectionate towards its host, desiring to keep her safe and happy, ensuring a better life for them both. It assured her that it could not control her, and it would not grow any larger or cause her harm. It explained that it lived off her bodily juices, her vital fluids and waste, and that it could navigate the tubes and passages of her body like the smaller parasites did, feeding in her stomach. It was able to improve her reflexes and perception, to make her faster and better. It would ensure she remained healthy and happy, and feasted on things she would not miss. It posited that it could not survive for very long outside its host, and that it feared her ‘sickness’ would continue to grow without it there to keep it dormant. Thus, they both needed the other.
Silver had little choice but to agree. She was smart enough to understand it might be lying, but the alternative was a horrible, wasting death. She believed its soft blandishments, because the alternative was something she could not contemplate.
And in time, she grew to appreciate its company and advice, like a twisted Jiminy Cricket. She felt its thoughts as her own; there was no point in keeping secrets to something that had access directly to your own mind. The symbiote (as it called itself) and the host had become ‘we’ now. They needed one another to survive, and it became fiercely protective of her, and distrusting of the other humans. It alone would be her safety; it alone had her best interests at heart, because they either lived together or died apart. It was especially wary of certain kinds of mineral springs, sensing that such waters would send it into a stupefied slumber, and causing it to detach from her… resulting in its death, and eventually, in hers to her sickness. Again, Silver believed it was telling the truth, because there was no real alternative.
And so together, they became a finely-tuned unit, exploring the ‘Birthing Place’ of Jargono together. The symbiote felt race-memories of others of its kind, and could help to guide her in the still waters of the lost world. She eventually came across one of the human native tribes, who had dwelled within Jargono for centuries and adapted to its ways. She became a den mother to a pair of them, a brother named Carin and his younger sister, Tula, and together they helped the tribe against the fierce Serpent Men and the Worms That Walk, as well as other dangers of the swamp.
By nature, Silver is a friendly, laid-back and laconic person, someone who’s lived a long and eventful life and acts like she’s seen it and done it all. She tends to act as a mother figure for the younger folks, and they (mostly) respond well to that. She does not tell them about her symbiote, as that is a deeply personal matter and something she prefers to keep quiet about.
Although she is not particularly promiscuous, she does sometimes connect with other travellers, and has the occasional fling with men who take her fancy. One of these affairs was with a fellow young enough to be her son; something she prefers not to dwell on. The young man – a pugilist named Will Bonnean – became very smitten with her, wanting them to make it a permanent thing and travel together as a couple. Silver wasn’t sure what she wanted from the relationship, and did not want the young man to be saddled to an older lover when he had the rest of his life ahead of him. She suggested they spend some time apart, and that he experienced more of the world for himself. If he still wanted a relationship, she promised she would try and make it work. Although Will was a very desirable bachelor, and was pursued by a great many attractive women, he did indeed return to her, asking if she was ready for a relationship. Despite her concerns – not to mention the jealousy of her symbiote! – Silver agreed to stay and work something out. Silver discovered that Will too had dark secrets of his own, and there was far more to him than met the eye. Despite her misgivings, they have been together for a while now, and he very much feels he’s found ‘the one’ he wants to spend his life with.
Recently, Silver met up with Jess Cartwright, a young woman plagued by strange forces of her own, and who had supposedly dug herself out of her own grave. To her amazement, Jess seemed to be able to hear her parasite, whether she wanted to or not, and heard its whispers as surely as Silver herself heard them in her head. Jess was disgusted with the concept of some bug living inside her body and feeding off her juices – pointing out that for all she knew, the creature was growing and would one day take her over completely, or else gnaw itself out through her flesh. The parasite took an instant dislike to Jess, fearing this other human and the way she could see it. It warned Silver jealously that this new human would only cause them harm. Silver pointed out that she had little choice but to believe the symbiote, as her alternative was a painful, lingering death… and that it had not guided her falsely thus far. While Jess helped her locate Dr Drake’s missing expedition, the creature had an uneasy relationship with the young Drifter at absolute best.
Other frictions slowly grew between them too – Jess idolised her father Jed, but had a difficult relationship with her mother, Cassie, and did not take well to Silver’s mothering ways. Jess was also growing close to Tula, a naïve young tribal girl of the lost world, who was an accomplished warrior and huntress, but innocent in the ways of love. Silver looked out for the young tribal, and felt Jess was moving too quickly, and was likely to break her heart and leave the girl lonely and miserable. Jess, for her part, found Silver’s over-protective ways cloying and didn’t see that their growing relationship was any of her business. Although they located the lost expedition and returned their journal to Drake, tensions remained between them. While Jess had promised to help Tula’s people, she left them abruptly after speaking with a strange woman who called herself ‘Rose Red’ and claimed to be a literal fallen angel. Silver felt some relief when she left, although both had respected the other for their abilities. The last Silver heard, Jess was now helping Cheyenne’s tribe back in Shannedam County, and she still isn’t certain if she should be relieved or disappointed.