I dream of a puppy in a field of grass and sun. A mutt with bright eyes and big clumsy paws. I watch it chasing a butterfly, leaping through the air and yipping a happy bark. I laugh and it bounds through the high grass to me. Tail wagging it leaps into my arms and licks my face. I kiss it on the nose and laugh again. A cloud crosses the sun. The puppy whines and looks up at me. A cold wind sweeps across the field. “What is it boy?” I ask, and hold him closer. His whining increases in volume, turning into the howl of pain that ends when, with an audible snap, something inside him breaks and a flood of blood cascades from his mouth. His bright pleading eyes are still looking up at me when they rupture, spilling ocular fluid, like egg yolk, down the sides of his bloody muzzle. The flesh along his spine splits open exposing a gaping mouth complete with fleshy lips and two rows of razor sharp teeth. A thickly veined tongue darts out, exploring the teeth for a moment, then passes slowly over the lips before darting back into the mouth. It smiles. A voice like a skull splitting open, “Hello Brian.” God help me, it knows my name...
I wake with a start, my hand scrambling for the 9mm pistol in the holster at my side. My heart is racing and I’ve sweat completely through my fatigues. I briefly wonder if I’ve pissed myself, but, fuck it, no one around who’d care anyway.
Same dream, different day. Nothing ever changes, but it still gets me every time.
A couple of deep breaths later, and I’m in control again. I close my eyes and try to feel my surroundings.
The room is completely dark, no windows, and only one think steel door nestled tight in the jamb. Even that tiny gap is taped over with 2 layers of duct tape, so eyes are useless.
The walls are two feet of cinder block buried six feet under the Miller’s back yard. Ears are useless as well.
I smell the sewer stench of the bucket I use as my toilet and I smell my own thick body odor. Nothing else.
I relax and clear my mind, waiting for the visions to come.
You don’t rush it. If you rush it, you lose it. I’m learning.
Plenty of time for learning after the power went out. That was two days after they TV went blank, one week before the batteries died in the radio, 5 days before the last station went dead. That was days, weeks, months before now. I no longer know when now is. When you’re riding out the shit storm of all history it doesn’t matter what day it is, only whether it’s over or not.
If anyone survives this, there’ll be a new calendar anyway. Next year will be 1 AH. The year of The Damned. 1 After Hell.
But first, I search.
My mind is a pool. Shimmering and liquid and bottomless.
Sparks in the depths. Shining, spinning, rising.
One spark rises faster than the other, speeding towards my inner eye at an alarming rate. I remain calm. If you flinch you lose it. I’ve learned this too.
The spark grows to fill my entire consciousness, and I see.
A flash of an unknown street, odd shaped buildings in the distance, maybe Moscow, what looks like a misshapen bum with too many mouths and too many eyes shuffling along biting chunks out of his own hand.
A flash of an Asian family huddled in an empty house. Each dead of a bullet wound through the head. The father holding a gun.
A flash of a blinking stop light. Dust covered cars stretching into the distance. Street signs are English. Getting closer.
The images flash, seemingly random but getting closer to the Miller’s backyard. Zooming in.
Flash, empty streets, flash, a burned church full of corpses, Flash, death, flash, destruction, flash, why, flash, are, flash, you, flash, still, flash, alive...
Finally I see the Miller’s street. Empty. Then their backyard. Empty. Then the entrance to the storm cellar. The corpse of the mutant is still collapsed outside the door looking mostly melted, but no longer bubbling like it was the first few times I saw it.
Then inside the shelter, I see my own eyes, white against the black, staring into the darkness.
In my mind there is a ‘snap’ and I’m seeing with my regular eyes again.
My head throbs and I feel the faint tickle of blood dripping from my nose as I pass out.
I awake. No dreams this time.
There is light and the smell of sulfur. The light goes out. A scratch, the light is back. I look over and see Sarah huddled in the far corner of the cellar staring intently at the kitchen match burning in her hand, illuminating the knots in her hair and the dirt in her clothes.
The match winks out. Scratch. Another one is lit.
“Damn it Sarah, what the fuck are you doing?” it came out harsher than I’d hoped. She practically jumped out of her skin, dropping the match and trying to scuttle, beetle like, further into the corner. Before the match flared out I caught a brief glimpse of the sheer terror in her eyes. Must be one of her bad days. More frequent now. Not really much human rolling around in her noggin anymore. I try to muster up some sympathy. Unlike me, all she’s seen for weeks, months, whatever, is four cinder block walls and plenty of dark. That and the faces of me and Mc Murphy who, somewhere in the dark, was quietly ‘tut-tut’ing his tongue at me.
“Ah, lad. You shouldn’t be so rough with her.” I hear a lantern hiss, a match scratches and light fills the room.
I look around. Sarah’s burrowed into a pile of trash in the corner, whimpering quietly. My eyes finally find Mc Murphy sitting in a battered folding chair by the door of the shelter. Tall frame hunched over, blue eyes glowing from his dirty face, red beard and hair long and matted with filth.
“She’s had a time of it, she has. Asides, she might be the only woman left and you ought and try an stay on her good side if you know what I mean.” The last part makes him cackle.
I briefly wonder how many marbles he’s got rattling around up there, but decide to let it go. After all, if it wasn’t for Mc Murphy, we’d all be dead right now. Dead or worse.
Mc Murphy rises a couple inches off the chair and rushes across the room, dragging the chair behind him. For just a moment I think he is coming to kill me, and I almost welcome it.
He stops inches from my face and thumps back down into the chair.
The sound of the dragging chair has obviously startled Sarah and I hear her trying to burrow further into the mound of trash, whimpering.
“So lad. I see from that leaky nose of yours that you been do’in a bit of poking around out there.” He puts his hand on my shoulder and leans in even closer. His rotten breath is hot on my face. Our foreheads are touching now. “Now be a good boy and tell me whatcha saw. And don’t you be leaving anything out, for I’d hate to be whuppin’ you. And it better be good news this time, cause much more time in here and we’ll end up guttin’ and eatin’ each other.” He sat back, staring at me for a long moment before clapping me on the shoulder and laughing.. “Just joshin’ you there boy’o. A little humor to pass the time.”
Mc Murphy laughed again and gave me what was supposed to be a playful slug on the shoulder. It was much harder than it should have been. “But in all seriousness, Lad, tell me what you seen. Any of those freaks close by? Has it settled down out there yet? You know we need to be gettin out of here soon. Your girlie can’t take much more of this. Might be too late for her already. Foods running low and I for one am tired of smelling your piss covered pants.”
So much for no one being around who’d care if I pissed myself.
I sighed. “Well, the one outside the door definitely looks dead and I didn’t see any within at least a couple of blocks of here.”
Mc Murphy sat back in the chair and stroked his beard. “Well lad, I’m thinking now is as good a time as any. Why don’t you round up that crazy lass of yours and let’s see what the wild world has to offer us. How you feel about stretching those legs and finding a bottle of whiskey?”
“You know, Mc Murphy, I can only see the future. I think what I saw was close to now, but I don’t really know for sure.”
Mc Murphy smiled. “Well, you didn’t see our dead bodies did ye? And that’s good enough for me. Pack up your weapons, slap your girl until she gets her head at least part-ways on straight, and let’s get the hell out of here.”
*for those of you who missed it, this is part nine of a continuing bad story Ray started as a challenge months ago. Feel free to catch up if you wanna punish yourselves...