The room rumbled with several progressive percussive concussions as the grinders landed. Erica shook awake--the lights of the grinders burned through the venetian blinds--she flung off her covers and ran for the closet. The window burst in a shower of glass--the metal-organic arms of the grinder shot through and found her waist. It pulled her back violently, scraping her leg against the bed frame, tearing it open; blood ran freely and created a trail to the lawn as she was pulled screaming and writhing into the mouth of the machine, into its belly with her frightened, incoherent neighbors.
The grinder moved quickly through the cul-de-sac, along with its brothers, sucking up all the humans and their dogs and cats and even one pet rabbit, picking the neighborhood clean. When there was no more to be had, the grinders started to burrow into the asphalt, screeching and braying, and in their bellies the humans, scraped and bleed, clung to each other, jostling, mouths agape, holding their hands against their ears to fend off the unearthly sound, shaking, crying, and rocking.
Erica moved through the crowd, with arms and elbows and knees, swimming through torn up flesh and tears and broken dreams, to the outside edge of the belly, the part that touched the cold earth that was parting, and as the grinder dug further, grunting, the dim light that penetrated the skin of the beast faded and died altogether, and then there was just the smell of the frightened humans, the sobbing, choking, sorrow.
The grinder settled. It breathed with giant, jerking sighs. The air grew close and rancid and the humans quieted. They began to speak to each other, transmitting their fear and wonder and awe. Then the internal abdomen lit up, like a white fire, and the whole belly glowed. Multiple gnarled fingers, fleshed as exoskeleton, four feet long, pulled at the bottom edges of the belly, scooping in stray legs and arms and clothes, catching, pulling, tearing, and humans, one by one, were being drawn into the digestive membrane.
Screams. Scrambling, climbing, hitting punching, pulling, pushing. The humans tried to hit and break the fingers, but all who tried adhered through countless tiny unseen barbs, and they disappeared inside the digestive membrane, licked away by sticky paddles. The grinder ground. Limbs and heads and flailing intestine splattered against the inside of the membrane. Blood pooled, gurgled, splashed about, and the membrane grew dark.
Erica vibrated, her eyes enormous, taking in every photon of light available, rendering the picture against the back of her brain, but not registering what to do. Her next-door neighbor pulled her down, face contorted, trying to claw up her back and further away from the fingers. The humans bunched up to the back of the belly, pushing outward against the earth, falling, and sliding towards the fingers, screaming. Erica pushed up, pulled herself on top, braced a leg against the side of belly, and leapt onto the top of the membrane, its cartilaginous ribs bouncing, barely supporting her weight. She started to slide--the membrane was coated with the same barbs, pointing downward towards the fingers. She pushed her hands into the barbs, a thousand pricks and blood droplets, she opened her mouth in agony but did not scream. She pulled up, snagging her nightgown, scoring the flesh of her abdomen.
"Help me!" she yelled.
She pushed down into the membrane to gain purchase, and slowly inched up, finally wedging herself in the nook where the membrane connected to the upper belly. She looked down. Not one of her neighbors remained, not even a dog.
Bitting her lip she shoved her hand savagely into the nook and met warm liquid, squirting out, staining her gown a gelatinous brown and which stung her many wounds. The grinder shook and squealed. She shoved in further, screaming primally, and she thread her fingers unwittingly into the nervous tissue. She pulled, and a spaghetti mess of white nerve fibers spilled out. The grinder shimmied violently, then went still. Below her the fingers twitched, but stopped scraping.
Erica breathed shallow and fast. Tears streamed down her face. She clung for five minutes, unmoving, as the membrane slowly grew dark. When the darkness was nearly complete, she slid down, falling into a fetal heap. She rested for half a minute, then started crawling towards the mouth. She stumbled past coiled, taught arms. She shoved a foot through the mouth hole, expanding it, and stepped into frigid soil. She pushed her other leg through, her hips, her chest. She pushed up on the carcass of the grinder and found enough room to pull her head out.
She worked frantically, unable to breath, pressed against the outside of the thing and the earth, clawing, digging, and pushing upward.
Cold air flooded into her lungs. She gasped, and pushed up her hands, pushed out, found broken asphalt, more scrapes; she pulled and extracted her body onto the torn up road. She coughed up small clumps of dirt, and lay prone on the frosty road.
Erica stumbled to her feet, stunned, and surveyed what she saw. Five she counted. Five grinder nesting holes, and this one dead. The houses were shattered messes of wood and shingles and siding. Not a window survived the assault. She found herself standing in front of the remains her house. She sucked in a deep breath.
More concussions. In the distance. Erica turned and looked. The sky was streaked with pods. A thousand, a million. In a brief moment, she thought the cacophony of glowing contrails was beautiful. Then she balled up her fists and ground her teeth, and started running barefoot towards the forest and the river within.