So, last week I wrote a little short story thing. That particular piece of writing had been percolating in my brain for a while, so it was nice to get it out for others to see it. There’s only one problem.
It didn’t let go.
What follows is a continuation of that story. For lack of a better term, this is “Chapter One”, and that was a prologue. If you haven’t read that yet, please, feel free to do so here, and then come back. Or read them in any order. Still not sure how far I’ll end up taking this, let alone how much I’ll end up posting here on the blog, but here’s some more.
The sun was filtering through the boarded-up windows of the rundown house. Dust floated through the air, gently catching the filtered daylight as it was buoyed about by ambient air currents. The house occasionally creaked, settling on its foundation in an uneasy fashion. There was no calming hum of electricity, no scent of gas burners heating up on the stove. Everything stood in a state of disrepair, and a neighboring tree had poked its way through one of the upstairs windows.
Dakota Florence took a deep breath, adjusted the knife on her hip, and started wrapping up her bedroll. She had almost started to think of this as a safe space; a place she could return to and start rebuilding a life. Instead, just like with every place before, the alarms had brought reality crashing back down around her, and it was once again time to move on. At least this place had been near a river, she thought, running her fingers through her grimy hair. Should be able to at least refill the canteens.
As Dakota packed up her few possessions, her eyes fell on a rotting book; The Stand, by Stephen King. She almost laughed, thinking how much better it might have been if King’s vision of the apocalypse had been what actually came to pass. Instead of plague, it had been monsters, but the end result was the same. Humanity was practically wiped out. Those few survivors were forced to band together where they could. And yet, even with the ever-present threat lurking somewhere in the darkness, humanity couldn’t help but fall upon itself. Too many good people had been lost, and too many more had fallen from their pedestals to baser natures. It was why Dakota preferred to survive alone, even knowing that doing so increased the chances that her time would be cut short.
Three years, she mused as she assembled her pack, settling it on her shoulders. Almost three years to the day since the world fell apart. The world had once been full of life. Offices were full of people milling about their workday. Highways were choked with traffic, all flowing from point A to point B and back again. Parks had echoed with the sounds of laughing children, and birds filled the air with their songs.
Then it all changed.
That was the day that “they” came. The day that humankind started losing not just the battle, but also the war. It all happened so quickly, and there was nothing that could be done to stop it.
Nobody knew exactly what “they” were. The news channels tried to latch onto a unified story, to bring people together into the fight, but descriptions were as varied as the victims. Some reports came in of terrible creatures with hideous fangs, maws dripping with caustic saliva. Others claimed that the monsters looked almost human, if you could only ignore the pupil-less eyes and elongated claws. Tentacles, aliens, demons; eye witnesses seemed to only be able to see their own greatest fears. The only thing that the reports agreed on was that, where the monsters went, death followed.
In the first week after “they” first arrived, the global population was decimated. Those killed ranged from the homeless and powerless to world leaders. The creatures did not discriminate, and they did not empathize. Prisoners were never taken, and remains were never gathered. Those world leaders who remained had attempted to band together, but old grudges died slower than the populace, and agreements couldn’t be reached in time. Religions found a common ground sooner, but were met with just as fruitless of efforts. The end times were upon the Earth, but no consensus could be reached to avoid any further destruction. Dakota had retreated to a cabin, one of the few places she had always felt safe.
Within one month, humanity had been reduced by half. Entire family lines were obliterated, and whole cities were wiped off of the map. The surviving populace started turning inward for answers, hoping against hope that this global event might somehow spare them and move away. Prayers filled the streets during the day, even as each night brought more blood to the gutters. The remainder of the military attempted to ration goods and services, assuming that this fight would be a long drawn-out siege. Air-raid sirens were retrofitted to be powered without electricity. Dakota hunted and cleaned her first squirrel since she was 12, after almost a week of practice with a throwing knife.
At the one year mark, the attacks seemed to slow dramatically. It may have been that the population was a mere shadow of its former count, or it may have been that “they” had adopted a new tactic. Fortified camps started to dot the landscape, and the survivors were forced to scavenge for food. Crude radio broadcasts sometimes crackled out, letting people know where they could find safety, but that safety was always short-lived. More than a few of the camps were left lifeless practically overnight, bodies strewn about, most with weapons still sheathed. The alarms warned those within earshot that the creatures were nearby, and those that survived were those that quickly moved on. Legends began to spring up of humans who had not only faced down the monsters, but survived to tell the tale, but those who were held up as heroes carried a hollow look in their eyes. Dakota fell in with a small band, two men and one woman. Seventeen days later, while picking through the pieces of an abandoned gas station, the alarms sounded, and Dakota ran. The rest of her band never found her again.
It has now been almost three years. Nature has reclaimed the cities, bursting through mankind’s attempt to control it. The act of moving from place to place, shelter to shelter, has become almost second nature, and Dakota can barely remember what it’s like to truly feel safe. Like others who have survived this long, she has seen the creatures with her own eyes, albeit through scavenged binoculars, giving her time to get away. Silence has become her closest ally, and the knife at her hip has become her truest confidant. Three years of running, hoping, and, above all, surviving.
Dakota sighed to herself as she pulled her pack onto her shoulders, the bedroll tied tightly in place. She honestly hadn’t expected to make it this long, and, if the nightmares kept plaguing her, she might almost welcome death’s embrace. She didn’t dread sleeping because of a fear of being defenseless; she dreaded sleeping because she was terrified of remembering how good things used to be, before “they” came. She wasn’t even sure what had become of her family. They hadn’t journeyed to the cabin with her, so she assumed that they were long gone, which just made the dreams that much more painful. However, her father had taught her to be a fighter, and she wasn’t going to back down yet.
Cautiously opening the front door of the house, Dakota listened again. She had heard the alarms an hour ago, but now only stillness filled the air. Maybe the operator finally got caught, she mused. The morning sun filtered down onto the cracked street, grass and weeds spurting up and destroying the asphalt. Absent-mindedly fingering the hilt of her knife, Dakota stepped out into the morning air, her eyes scanning the immediate area. Sensing nothing amiss, she turned to her left, moving the same direction she had been three days prior. Going backwards wasn’t an option, not anymore.
A short distance away from the house, Dakota found the river bubbling past, and she dipped her canteens into the cool rushing water. She even allowed herself the indulgence of quickly splashing some water on her face and through her hair, trying to rinse away some of the recent grime both had accumulated. As she was topping off her reserves, she found herself wondering if she had merely imagined the alarms in her head; it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that her mind had tricked her ears. However, it was usually voices lulling her into a false sense of security, not warnings spurring her to action. She replaced her canteens into her pack, drew a deep, full drink from the river, and pushed her concerns aside.
As the noon hour approached, Dakota noticed the houses around her becoming denser. She hadn’t been paying close attention to where she was headed, only knowing that she needed to move away from where she had been. She had kept herself vigilant for the creatures, sacrificing closer attention to the path immediately before her, even though she knew full well that they stuck to the darkest hours. She had heard tales of them attacking during daylight, but chalked that up to a modern-day boogeyman, even seeing the irony of needing to have deeper fears than the actual ones lurking in the night.
Dakota had never felt truly comfortable in cities. It’s why she had immediately retreated to the cabin when “they” first arrived. Dakota firmly believed that her dislike of urban existence had provided her the opportunity to survive as long as she had. Even now, with the planet reclaiming the areas that mankind had attempted to tame, she felt an instinctive distrust. She couldn’t help but imagine the streets teeming with people, all of them firmly believing that their own concerns were more important than anyone elses. By the same token, the cities had been hit the hardest in the attacks, and there was often still plenty of non-perishable food to be scavenged. Sometimes venturing within them was a necessary evil, and Dakota’s stomach did its best to remind her of this.
A gentle breeze blew Dakota’s hair about her face, and she dug into a pocket, feeling for the leather band she used to tie it back. As she pulled her hair out of her face, and small glimmer of movement caught her eye. Dakota immediately dropped into a crouch, preparing to pull her knife from its sheathe. She looked ahead of her, trying see if it had merely been a trick of the light.
Again, a quick glimpse of motion was seen. If she hadn’t become so used to hunting squirrels for some food, she might have missed it. As it was, it was hard to make out exactly. Whatever was moving was approximately three blocks ahead of her, and the tall grass hid most of its form. It did seem to be moving towards her, and Dakota got herself lower to the ground, drawing her knife and holding it at the ready. She focused her breathing to a slow, cautious pace, silently cursing the fact that whatever was coming her direction was downwind of her.
The figure kept approaching, seemingly unaware that she was nearby. As it got closer, Dakota could see that it was another person, and one that had seen better days. He was walking with a pronounced limp, and she could see a dark stain on his pants leg. The man walked with his arms crossed tightly over his chest, and she could see his mouth moving rapidly. It wasn’t until he got nearer that she heard what he was repeating over and over again.
“And they came and they ate and they carved and they danced and they came and they ate and-”, the man muttered to himself, cheeks sunken, eyes hollow. Dakota felt an instant of pity. Here was a man who had recently seen death incarnate, and he had come out broken.
The man continued to draw nearer, repeating his hollow mantra to himself. When he drew within twenty yards of Dakota’s location, he suddenly stopped, casting his eyes about frantically. The words stopped falling from his lips, and his mouth began to open and close rapidly, as though his tongue was searching for new words. He took a cautious step forward, his wounded leg almost buckling under his weight. Uncrossing his arms, he looked skyward, his voice rising and finding a new chorus.
“The alarms, the alarms, the alarms,” he shrieked, his voice making Dakota’s blood curdle. “Have you heard the alarms, the alarms, the alarms?”
Dakota found herself inching slowly backwards, subconsciously trying to stay out of the man’s path. Suddenly, his eyes turned towards her, blazing with a new-found fire.
“The alarms, the alarms, the alarms,” he repeated. “The alarms are messengers. You are a messenger. You carry what you do not know.” As his words filled the air, he closed his eyes and turned around, looking back through the tall grass. Without warning, his body started to crumple in on itself, as though there was nothing inside to hold it together. Dakota fought back the bile that rose in her throat, until she heard his final sentence whisper through the air.
“They are coming for you, Dakota. They are coming.”
Dakota retched into the tall grass, feeling the sun’s heat beating down upon her.