Aftermath: Chapter Fourteen

“We have to keep moving,” Orchid said. “The cult might be gone but there are other dangers.”

“Alright, I’m coming,” replied Kyle. “Don’t know what the rush is. The train is gone.”

“There may be another one.”

“No one said there was more than one. They said there was one steam-powered train running. One.”

“We should still go back to the station. If I know Cesar they’ll send it back for us.”

“Great, let’s just sit around at the train station like sitting ducks. What do we do about food? Water?”

“Kyle enough. I miss her too but Sam wouldn’t want us to just give up. She was ready to do whatever it took. She wanted to live. She wanted us to live.”

Kyle was silent. His eyes searched the ground. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. We’ll figure something out. You were a good scavenger before you came to us.”

“Sure, I’ll just raid a few houses. There’s always something.”

“In the morning when we have some light. Too dangerous right now.”

Footfalls got Orchid’s attention. She brought her hand across Kyle’s chest stopping him cold.

“What is—”

She hushed him. “Listen,” she whispered.

More steps sounded followed by chains rattling and weapons clinking.

“A street gang,” Kyle muttered.

Orchid nodded. “This way, out of the streets.”

They moved into an alley then to a playground by a run-down school. The grass was tall and overgrown. Chain-link fencing was infested with rust and moss. The swings in the playground were broken and wriggled in a new breeze.

Orchid gestured for Kyle to lie down in the grass and keep his head down.

In the distance, the intersection visible to Orchid from the school, she saw shadows moving. Firelight set the area aglow. The men were carrying torches with flickering flames. One of them turned to look in her direction.

###

Cesar let Justin stretch out in the seat with him, resting his head on his lap and stretching his feet to the windows. He looked over at Justin’s father Jack and shrugged.

“It’s okay by me,” Jack whispered. “I could use the break.”

“You and me both.” Cesar rubbed his chin and the side of the face. “I’m still reeling from that fight. Thank God for you Jack, we would all be dead now.”

“Nah, it’s nothing.”

“Everyone is looking up to you. Your power makes them feel safe.”

“Me? I’m the last person for that. I’m no leader. Never have been. My wife used to make all the decisions. I just want the rest of our people back. You and Morganna should lead for now.”

“We should lead together. In any event, when we reach the next station I’m gonna ask the conductor to make a run back. Orchid would come back to the station. If she was able to find Sam, then she and Kyle would head back there. We can’t leave her behind. I won’t leave her behind. Our fight isn’t over with that masked creature. I can feel it.”

“When will our fight ever be over?”

“Wish I knew, Jack. Wish I knew.”

###

She stumbled from street to street, panting, tongue flicking in and out of her mouth. Luana’s eyes were still adjusting, her new vision wasn’t as sharp as her old eyes. She took in various smells and sensations each time her tongue slid out of her month.

Where were her men? Why were they not with her? She needed the escort. She couldn’t get her clawed hands to operate her laser gun or her radio.

The streets were still dark but seemed brighter to her. Bonfires inside trash cans hurt her eyes.  A man in rags, searching for food, took one look at her and ran off as if she were going to eat him alive.

Finally some familiar sights. A smoldering patch of earth. Puddles that seemed to boil. Shells of cars and trucks dotted the landscape. Discarded weapons, failed experiments and drained energy sources cluttered her path now.

“Almosssst there…”

Luana’s base loomed around the next corner. She stormed toward it, her clawed feet making it a bit hard to run. Was that the beginnings of a tail at the base of her spine? No… it can’t be… must cut this flesh out of me. Burn it off if I have to!

She pushed her way into the base. What was left of her soldiers jumped to attention. Their faces drained of all color. They cocked their weapons.

“Mutant! Mutant attack!” One of her men cried.

“Die dirty mutant!” another called.

“No! Wait!” Luana put up her clawed hands. “It’ssssssss me. Lua..annnnnnnna…”

“What is it saying?”

“I don’t know, it’s a freaking monster. Where is Luana? What has it done to Luana?”

“It’s meeeeee, you foolsssssss.” She stepped toward them and they opened fire. Guns exploded. Shots rattled the base. A hail of bullets screamed at her.

Luana twitched and buckled, her entire body filled with bullets and she crashed to the floor. She reached one arm up to them.

One of her men rushed over and kicked her out of the base. “Where the hell is Luana,” he barked. “It’s getting late.”

She tried to get to her feet but the darkness came and the cold swallowed her. It was so cold now and only getting colder….

###

Orchid and Kyle watched the men mill around. Orchid studied them closely, her heart beating faster now. Gooseflesh spread down her arms.

Kyle crawled over to her. “What are we doing?”

“I’m trying to avoid a fight and see where they’re going. I don’t want us to have to fight if we don’t need to.”

“They’re going to come this way.”

“Hush, they will if they hear you.”

Kyle looked around, behind them the school sat dark and silent.

Yes. Head for the school.

“Huh, Orchid did you say something?”

“No, now be quiet.”

Kyle listen to me, they won’t go near the school. They think it’s haunted. Tell Orchid to move now.

“Who…what are you?”

It’s me Sam. Now go.

“Sam?”

Later. Tell Orchid now.

“Orchid, Sam says to duck into the school.”

“Kyle, I know how hard it is but you need to be…”

“I’m not kidding around. You have to trust me. She just told me to go there. They won’t go in there. Now, we have to go now.” He got up, still crouching and dashed for the school.

“For God’s sake.” Orchid turned and followed him.

Kyle reached the doors and took the handle. Way to go handsome. I’m right here with you. I’ll never leave. Not even a bunch of flesh-eaters can keep me from you.


Aftermath: Chapter Thirteen

The train’s whistle cut through the night. Faces brightened, smiles appeared as the train eased its way to a stop in front of the battered, brick station.

“Where’s Kyle and Sam?” Orchid looked around. Jack and Lila shook their heads as they loaded supplies onto the train.

Cesar approached Orchid. “I haven’t seen them in some time. We don’t have time for this.”

“I’m going to look for them.” Orchid started away from the station.

“Orchid no, we need you. Everyone depends on you and Morganna. There’s not time, the train will leave as soon as we’re all on.”

“I won’t leave them behind.”

“Orchid,” Morganna made her way between Cesar and Orchid. “There is danger. Be careful.”

“I knew it. All of you go on ahead. We’ll catch up to you.”

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Cesar said. “Please don’t do anything foolish. Look for us at the next station if you can.”

“Don’t worry. I can take care of myself these days.” She smiled and dashed down the station stairs.

The dark slithered all around her. Howling wind rustled through the trees. Out near the rear of the station she heard a groan. Orchid moved slowly through tall, overgrown grass, stepped over some garbage and saw a form squirming on the ground.

She ran to it. “Kyle!” She wiped blood from his forehead and brushed his hair. “C’mon kiddo. Are you okay? Kyle?”

Kyle opened eyes and moaned. He reached for his head. “What the…” His eyes widened. “Sam! They took Sam!”

“Who, who took her?”

“Some men in red robes…we gotta find her!”

“First, we gotta get you some help.”

“No, no.” He pushed her away. “There’s no time for that. We need to go after them. I know them. They’re cannibals. They’re gonna….gonna…”

“Okay, I’ll go right now. You get back to the train with the others. It’s about to leave.”

“The hell with that. I’m going with you. I know where they operate. I’ve seen them downtown.”

“You really are a stubborn kid. C’mon, let’s go.”

The train whistle started again.

###

Cesar stood between the cars and watched the landscape stream by. The air was tinged with the smell of soot. It had become a bit colder outside. The sky was a shade of purple with hints of the stars behind it, like a veil. He noticed some of the haze was fading as they left the city.

The train reached the outskirts of the city and pair of headlights lit up the tracks. Cesar froze, his heart pounded as large truck pulled onto the tracks. The train whistle blew over and over but the truck didn’t budge. Finally, the train came to a screeching halt, coming dangerously close to barreling into the truck.

The truck doors sprung open and Luana leapt out with her men. They attacked the train with vicious drive. Guns rattled, swords clanked and the men rushed aboard.

Cesar pushed his way back into his car. “We’re under attack! Morganna hide!”

Screams filled the train. People fell to the tracks, riddled with bullets. A few of the telekinetics willed soldiers off the train and into the streets.

Jack pushed his son Justin under one of the seats as the car doors flung open. “Get off our train,” Jack’s hands lit up with fire.

The men aimed and fired. Jack thrust both hands and a cone of fire roared toward them. Bullets exploded in the flames. The fire rolled on, catching the men and igniting them instantly.

“Go!” Jack cried to Cesar, Morganna and Lila. “I’ll hold them off.”

Cesar led the others from car to car until stumbling into a cargo hold. The side door burst opened and Luana climbed in with her men.

Ghost growled and jumped across the cargo hold, tackling one of the soldiers. Both fell outside the train.

Three more men took the fallen soldier’s place. They advanced on Cesar, Lila and Morganna.  Cesar rushed the men and got the butt of a gun across his jaw for his trouble. Unimaginable pain burned through his face and he went down. Lila screamed.

Luana spotted Morganna behind a pile of crates and trunks. “Come out, come out, little one. Our time has come.”

“Ghost!” Lila called for her wolf but there was no response.

One of Luana’s men shoved his gun into her face. “Shut up or you’ll end up like your friend.”

All around the train shots fired, people screamed. Psychic powers wreaked havoc on men and the train itself. Bodies levitated past the open cargo doors.

“Stay away,” Morganna called. “I’m warning you. You should leave now.”

“Just hand over your gem stone and I will. I’ll go away as soon as I have it.” Luana pulled the crates down one by one, her arms were covered in scales, her face showed signs of reptilian skin on her forehead.

“Ah, there you are.” Luana kicked one more trunk out of her way to reveal Morganna cringing against the wall. Luana reached for the girl and her necklace but a still Morganna grabbed hold of Luana’s arm. Luana screamed.

The connected doors to the car burst opened and Jack rushed in with Justin. He hurled a couple of fireballs at the soldiers, engulfing them. They threw themselves from the train, screaming, smoke billowing into the air.

He turned to see Morganna with a firm grip on Luana’s arm. “Let your true self come out,” Morganna hissed.

Luana felt the flesh slide from her face, shedding like a snake. Beneath a reptilian face leered, moist, green scales rippled, yellow eyes glinted. She saw her own reflection in Morganna’s green stone. A baleful screech escaped her and she threw herself backwards, away from the little girl.

Luana fell on her back and ran her clawed hands over her face. “No! No!” She climbed to her feet and jumped from the train, running off into the night.

“Is Cesar alright?” Jack bent to the unconscious man, turning him over.

“They knocked him out,” Lila said. She crawled over to him, cradling his head in her arms.

Morganna came out from hiding and joined the others.

“What happened to her?” Lila asked her.

“She saw her real face.”

Shots continued to ring out. Ghost hopped back into the cargo hold and went to Lila’s side. He licked Cesar’s face.

“Everyone stay here.” Jack climbed out of the train, grabbing hold of the ladder just outside the cargo hold. He climbed to the roof. A few soldiers rushed him and he set them ablaze.

He spotted the truck on the tracks ahead blocking their path. He rubbed his hands together and a great fireball formed, he expanded it and expanded it until finally throwing it at the truck with all of his strength.

The fireball swallowed the truck, spreading flames over every inch of it.

“Crash through it!” Jack called to the conductor. “Get us out of here and drive threw it!”

The train whistle blared, the train roared and hissed, the wheels churned. Jack flung himself onto the ladder and back to the cargo car. He slid the doors shut. “Everyone keep down.”

The train plowed into the truck, sending it off the tracks, rolling onto its side where it exploded. Fire rained across the skies. The sound of the explosion echoed for miles and the train raced out of the city.

###

“Are you sure this is right?” Orchid asked Kyle.

“I’m sure. They’re right around here.”

Orchid heard the sound of animals rummaging through old trashcans. Footsteps sounded in the distance. Night creatures scampered here and there.

Kyle bent to a sewer cover and tried prying it free, grimacing, struggling. It was a bit too heavy for him.

“Here,” Orchid said. She pointed at the cover and it lifted from the street, settling in a vacant lot.

“Ok, last time I saw them, they were going in and out of the sewers,” Kyle said.

“Let’s get down there, then.”

He climbed in first, Orchid following right behind. The sewer catacombs echoed with dripping sounds. It was dank and dark, a stench so awful rose the moment they began sloshing through putrid water.

“I sense something,” Orchid said. “Energy or something…”

“You are sensing things now?”

“I know…I feel like I’m becoming more like Morganna everyday. I think we go left.”

Orchid turned the corner and felt a breeze tickle her face, there was warmth in it.

The catacombs stretched long, unending, dark until flickering light appeared in the distance. Chanting rose.

She turned to Kyle and put her finger to her mouth. There was no chance for mistakes, no alerting to their arrival. They had to be extremely careful if they were to get out alive.

They reached another threshold and there the first torches of the cult blurred their vision. A few feet away was the main hub, a junction of many tunnels and catacombs. Shadows writhed, figures shifted. Sam screamed.

“No!” Kyle yelled and Orchid rolled her eyes.

Men in red-robes rushed them with swords and knives. Orchid wove her hands and the men lifted into the air. She sent them crashing against the walls.

“Sam! Samantha!” Kyle called before being tackled into the water.

Men threw themselves at Orchid left and right and she propelled them backwards with psychic throws but ultimately found herself surrounded.

One of the men rose from the water, his blade around Kyle’s throat.

“Enough interlopers!” Octavius hissed. “One more move and their will be two sacrifices tonight.” He moved to one side to reveal Sam’s lifeless body.

They were too late. A dagger protruded from her bare chest, blood ran down the makeshift altar and into the water.

“The Lord of the feast is angry for your interruption. We must eat to conclude our sacred rite.”

Orchid looked over at Kyle, he was defeated, a shell, withering in the arms of evil. She seethed with anger. She eyed Octavius with his sword about to cut into Sam’s body.

Orchid felt her power surge through her, traveling down her veins, filling her every fiber. Her fingers twitched. Strands of her hair stood up.

“No more food for you!” Orchid said with a booming voice. A gust of wind swept into the sewers. It blew all of the cult members off of their feet and tumbled their altar.

Men flew against the walls, some landed on their own daggers and swords.

Orchid rushed to Kyle and grabbed his arm. “Let’s get out of here.”

She ran with him down the catacombs, she heard Octavius behind her. He and Malek were in pursuit, wielding swords, the rest of cult behind them.

She ascended the first set of rungs they came to, pulling Kyle up with her. Out in the street, she saw a huge warehouse in front of them and made her way to it.

They spanned the parking lot to the warehouse doors. She looked over her shoulder. Octavius and the others popped out of the sewers one by one.

“Inside, quick,” she said to Kyle, pushing him through a broken window, the remaining glass cracking and crashing to the floor.

The warehouse lights flickered upon Orchid’s arrival. The building trembled, the roof shook. The cult stormed the building, breaking down doors, shuffling across the floor, yelling and cursing.

Orchid ushered Kyle to a set of stairs and a network of catwalks. “Hold on to me tight.” She latched her arms around him and he followed suit. Behind her a window glowed with light. “Shut your eyes, lower your head!”

“What are you doing?”

“Ending this now!”

Orchid lifted into the air, carrying Kyle and glided through the window. The glass shattered but did not touch them. They hovered in the air, the wind wrapping around them as if holding them up.

She looked down at the building’s roof. “I think this world has had enough of you.” The roof rumbled violently and with an explosion it collapsed, crashing in on the cannibal cult and burying them.

Orchid lowered slowly, finding soft grass in the midst of a park. They touched down by a swing set and Kyle buried his face in Orchid’s arms. He wept for Sam and the loss of all she was. A light in the dark. A reason to go on. A beacon of hope. Now gone.

Orchid hugged him tight, running her hands over his head. “I know sweetie, I know. It’s okay…let it out…let it all out. We will never forget her. Never Kyle…”


Aftermath: Chapter Twelve

Luana pulled gloves onto both arms, green scales covered her skin up to the elbow. After, she dug a leather trench coat out of the piles of scavenged clothes, tools, weapons and other items. She found the trench in the basement of a burnt-out department store. She had wondered if she’d ever have use for it.

She slipped it on, covering most of her conspicuous areas. She ran her gloved hands over the coat, pressing it into her grip then grinding it in her palms a bit. Her sunglasses found themselves to her last. She put them on and peeked at herself in a cracked mirror. One of her men stood in the reflection.

Luana pressed the front of her foot down on the floor. A button clicked and the door to her quarters shut and locked.

“How long have you been standing there?’ she asked.

The soldier trembled. His mouth opened but no words came out.

“Shall I repeat my question?”

“ah…ah…n-n-not long…I swear. I didn’t s-s-see anything.”

“I can’t take any chances.” She extended her arm and her laser bracelet coiled around her wrist. She took aim and fired.

The blast sent him flying against the wall. His body smoldered. A host of footsteps resounded behind the door. Luana pressed the button in the floor again and the door reopened.

Soldiers rushed into the room, guns armed and ready. They stopped as soon as they saw Luana and the body.

“Get rid of that.” She pointed at the dead man and the others dragged him out of the room without question.

How long? Luana punched the wall. How long before I am a thing….I can’t let them see me….I can’t. They mustn’t see me!

She curled her hand into a fist and smashed her mirror. Glass splintered to the floor, reflecting the light of her chambers.

###

“Mommy!” Justin rolled over in his sleeping bag, thrashing his legs, breathing hard. “Mommy… mommy!”

“Hey.” Jack shook his sleeping bag off and rushed to his son’s side. “Hey buddy, it’s okay.” He brushed the boy’s hair. “Daddy’s right here. Don’t be scared. It’s just a dream. Just a dream.”

“I want mommy…I want h-h-her now.”

“Mommy’s in heaven now, Justin. She’s watching us and smiling.”

“I want to see her.”

“You can’t right now buddy but she’s always with you. In here.” He pointed to the little boy’s chest. “Remember we talked about that?”

Justin nodded, wiping his tears away.

Orchid watched from the doorway. Her heart broke for him. So many had lost someone. Some had lost their entire families. It sucked. Even survivors of the end of the world still couldn’t rest or find peace. Danger snatched the innocent from one moment to the next.

Morganna appeared beside Orchid. She looked up at Orchid. “He’s here.”

“Jack,” Orchid said. “We gotta go.”

“I’ll stay with him.” Morganna looked toward Jack.

Jack grimaced, gritted his teeth. Orchid could tell he wanted to explode, his skin glowed with fiery light. “Yeah.”

They left the bedroom and joined the others in an old dining room inside the caretaker’s house. The house butted up against the lighthouse, connected to it by time and function. Old wallpaper still clung to the walls, oil lamps sat on the mantle above the brick fireplace. The wooden floor creaked beneath their steps.

“Sam, are you ready?” Orchid asked.

“I think so. I’m a bit nervous but ready to go.”

“Okay, the rest of us will wear him down. Use our powers together as one. Remember, teamwork and focus. We should be able to weaken him. We’ll need Jack’s fire, Lila’s animal friends, some of the telekinetics.”

“What can I do?” Kyle stepped away from the wallpaper and its busy pattern. No one had known he was there.

“Keep yourself from getting hurt,” replied Orchid. “Hide and track his moves. Observe him. See if he makes any mistakes we can use against him.”

“Sounds lame, but I’ll do it anyway.”

“Good boy. Okay everyone. He’s nearly here. Let’s meet him head on.”

Cesar made his way over to Orchid. “Be careful. If he gets too close, send him into the ocean and we’ll run.”

“We’re done running. Keep those special hands of yours ready though. You just never know.” She winked at him and led the others outside. The morning sunlight was just shimmering over the trees. A light breeze stirred. Gulls circled the lighthouse tower.

###

Orchid walked away from the tower and up the beach. Thunder rolled across the ocean. Something else rumbled from the opposite direction.

Jack joined Orchid’s side and took her hand. Lila took Jack’s, the wolf stood right with her. Gulls perched on Lila’s shoulders.  Some of the others in the group stood with Lila, a telekinetic woman and Girard, a man who could levitate himself.

Kyle came out of the tower holding Sam’s hand. Orchid looked back at them, watching them kiss. Exchanging whispers with each other, smiling happily. She hoped everything would be ok, There was always a chance of losing someone. That’s why she told Kyle to hide and observe. He wasn’t as strong as the others. His power was meant to protect him.

Sam let go of Kyle’s hand and joined the others. Her eyes met Orchid’s and she nodded.

The ground rumbled.  Kyle stepped back and blended into the lighthouse’s tower, his flesh taking on the white of the paint, strewn with cracks and chipped plaster, a bit of green flecks from some moss.

The rumble grew louder, Orchid turned to watch the killer rise out of the dunes, stepping through sea brush and sand.

Emily the telekinetic willed the killer off his feet slamming him into the sand. She then hurled him backwards.

He recovered quickly.  Girard lifted himself into the air and soared at the recovering masked man.

“Girard, no!” Orchid cried. “Stay with us!”

Girard ignored her and slammed his feet into the killer’s face. The killer stumbled back but kept his footing, he reached up and plucked Girard out of the sky.  Girard screamed and squirmed but the killer made short of work of him, snapping his neck.

“No!” Orchid cried. The wind stirred. A dark cloud formed above the ocean.

Jack unleashed a ray of fire as Orchid directed it.  The wolf howled, leaping from his perch. The gulls launched into the air and ignited with fire, each transforming into a phoenix.

Jack’s ray sent the killer down again, the blast stunning him, flames engulfing his chest.  He lay there prone. A moment later he jumped up and patted out the fire. Ghost the wolf howled and opened his mouth. He spit a cloud of fire at the masked assassin, advancing on him like a dragon.

The killer fought his way through the waves of fire and backhanded the wolf. Ghost rolled across the sand and yelped but quickly got to his feet. His hair bristled and his size double. He was ready for more.

The phoenix gulls dove at the killers head, ripping at his mask. He swatted at them again and again. Their screeches filled the air.

Orchid shivered from head to toe, her skin glowed. She felt intense power building inside of her. Her hair teased from static electricity. The clouds above her clustered and shifted to black.

Her grip tightened on the others, Jack and Lila stared at her with dread. Thunder crashed.

The killer grabbed one of the gulls and crushed it in his palm. the other glided away from his strike. The killer turned to Orchid and the others. He stormed toward them.

The sky crackled with energy and a gust of wind tore at the masked man. He fought against it, struggling step by step, pushing himself as the wind howled.

Rage filled Orchid, she gritted her teeth, feeling the inside of her mouth vibrate. The scent of ozone filled the air, the charge caressed her tongue.

Lightning streaked across the sky and struck the masked man in the chest. He was thrown off his feet. His arms twitched another strike forced him down. Another ignited the ground around him.

A crack resounded across the sky. The clouds whirled. The ocean churned. One final lightning strike exploded upon the assassin and he flipped onto his belly.

He remained unmoving.

“Sam,” Orchid yelled, the power easing out of her. “Now!”

Sam’s eyes fluttered and collapsed. Jack caught her in his arms. Orchid saw a misty form rise from the girl’s slumbering body. “Go get’em Sam.”

###

Ok, ok, I can do this. Won’t be so bad.  Inside the body of an unstoppable, insane killer. Sure no problem. Sam floated through the air. She looked back on the others, most were staring at her body but Orchid was watching her soul. Orchid could see her.

She hovered above the ton of fun. His muscular body seemingly dormant, his tree-trunk legs sprawling over the sand, his masked face lolling to one side.

Ok…you can do this, you can do this.

She lifted a bit higher, stretched herself over his body and shot toward him.

Oh my God…. No… no….what are you doing here? And you?  Or you?  Can’t…can’t…argggghhhhh…..too many…. Too many….I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

Feelings of suffocation overwhelmed Sam. She felt many hands clamoring over her incorporeal form. Blackness filled her, oily, dark, foul. A stink thickened inside of her, weighing her weightless soul down. Voices cried inside her mind…hundreds of lost voices.

No, stop, please! NO!

In an instant she was propelled outside of his body and soared into the air.  Sam wasted no time, she raced back to her body and…

###

She opened her eyes and gasped.

“Sam, what happened?” Orchid asked.

Jack held the weakened girl.

Her eyes widened. Terror in them. She coughed until words came. “I couldn’t take possession of his body…. There wasn’t any more room for me.  God…there’s so many souls stuffed into him. Hundreds maybe thousands. They were all like soldiers or something but from different time periods… there were Roman centurions, Greek warriors, Native Americans, US Marines…all kinds…it was awful. They were so angry I was there…they wanted out in a bad way.  I-I-I was… thrown out of him.”

“He’s still out,” Jack said, looking toward the killer.

“First time we’ve kept him down that long,” Orchid said. “We need more time.” She turned and willed the killer’s unconscious body into the air and hurled it across the ocean.

“It will take him hours to get back here. Sam, let’s get you some rest.”

“Guys! Guys!” Cesar hurried from the lighthouse.

Orchid turned, he was out of breath, his eyes lit up. “What’s going on?”

“Our scouts found a train station still working… a train is coming. A steam-powered train. We can get out of the city on the train.”

“Let’s freaking do it,” Jack said.

“Cesar, are you sure,” Orchid asked.

“Absolutely. I think we should go. Morganna hasn’t sensed any others like us, but another place might harbor more. She thinks it’s a good idea.”

“Then we go. Let’s get Sam to a bed and start packing. Tell everyone.”

“It’s about time.” Jack helped Sam to her feet and guided her back to the lighthouse.

###

Kyle and Sam snuck off to the back of the train station as the others waited on the platform. They kissed under the stars. “I was worried about you,” Kyle said. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“Yes, silly, I’m fine. It was over fast.”

“I can’t believe what you told us was inside him. It must have been like being in hell.”

“There is no hell. There are only phases of existence. Planes we cross to reach the God consciousness. Some make their own hell when they die, trapped forever in twisted energy and deeds. They haunt the lower planes.”

“Sometimes you baffle the hell out of me.”

She nodded. “I know, that’s why you like me.” She kissed him again until rustling bushes interrupted them. “What is that? Do you see the red…”

Before Sam could finish two red-robed cultists rushed from the dark and knocked Kyle unconscious with the hilt of a sword.

Octavius slipped behind Sam and covered her mouth. “Our new sacrifice is delivered to us. Praise the Lord of the Feast.”

Malek snickered as he helped Octavius drag Sam into the night.


Aftermath: Chapter Eleven

The masked assassin stood beneath the huge bridge in the milky sunlight. It was abandoned. Remnants of food and supplies lay on the ground. A burnt out campfire still smoldered.  He bent to it and rubbed the soot between his fingers. He sniffed the air.

“I grow weary.” He smashed the fire and its timbers across the ground.

Do not give up. You are saving your world from another fall. We will rebuild it for you.

The assassin lifted and looked to the back of the bridge. Just outside it, beneath the sheltering arms of a pine tree, a gnarled arm beckoned. Pale, wrinkled flesh the color of clay stretched along a bony arm with spindly fingers. The fingers called to him, inviting his approach.

The killer stepped out from under the bridge. Clawed fingers curled. A creature hovered just out of sight, a mere glimpse of something more sinister.

Come… it called. I will empower you. I will diminish your fatigue.

“Yes,” he said with rapture. He walked down hill to the tree and stepped behind it. The clawed hand reached up to his mask and caressed it with thin fingers.

###

Catcalls echoed throughout the catacombs. Cold walls sprouted fungus. Shallow light flickered in the distance. Octavius stood before their blood-stained altar in the center of the sewer hub. A network of tunnels snaked off in various directions. He placed his sword on the altar.

“Brothers and sisters, I know it has been some time since we have eaten. Do not lose faith.” He held his hands open.  “Our numbers have dwindled, and although it is less mouths to feed, our power is fading. We must convert others to our way. We must gain more members and only then, will our Lord be happy and praise us with food.”

The remaining cultists nodded and whispered to each other.

“Malek and I have found a group ripe for receiving our communion. So pure and innocent. They not only offer strong members but honorable sacrifices for the feast. You see… our Lord has provided.”

Malek grinned, spittle gathered in the corner of his mouth. He wiped it with his blade and licked it off. “It is up to us to do the rest.”

Octavius patted Malek on the back. “Our Lord is watching. Tonight we hunt.”

The room filled with soft chanting, growing louder and louder as the members swayed in perverse harmony.

###

The sky was covered in misty clouds and the sunlight fought to shine through it. The light that did get through glistened off the glass of the lighthouse tower.

“The clouds are thinning,” Orchid said, carrying boxes of supplies across the beach.

“It’s a good sign,” Morganna said. “The planet is trying to heal. That’s why it’s so important to stop the Eldritch from invading.”

“I just hope we can all stay alive long enough to do that. I know he’s still looking for us.”

Morganna nodded. “He’s already found the bridge.”

“He’ll find us here, too. This time we’re not leaving. We’re gonna stay and face that thing together. We’re going to keep fighting it until it’s destroyed.”

“Then we have work to do. All of us.”

Orchid looked at her and smiled. The ocean breeze was cool and soothing. She heard the call of seagulls in the air. “This must be the only place that didn’t flood. Amazing that you found it.”

“We’re on an arm of the bay,” Morganna said. “We’re too high up to flood. That’s why the lighthouse still stands.”

“Then it’s a perfect place to make our stand. Seeing the ocean might lift some spirits and it’s good to be out of the city.”

“Even if we do defeat the Eldritch’s assassin, we won’t be able to stay. You know that don’t you, Orchid?”

“I do, for now it’s a nice escape.”

“We’ll need to go West if we want to avoid Solomon.”

“Just how much power is this guy amassing?”

“Not enough for him.”

They arrived at the lighthouse proper. Orchid willed the door open and the group filed in, unloading bags and boxes of food, water, medical supplies, experimental radios, clothing, sleeping bags and other essentials.

Lila set her stuff down and spotted the stairs up to the top of the lighthouse tower. Orchid watched her climb up them, she wanted to reach out to her but decided to let her go. The white wolf followed.

###

Lila sat outside on the tower’s deck and watched the gulls circle over the ocean. She liked the smell of the salt water. She mustered a smile but it died quickly. She still felt empty and alone.

“I know it’s hard,” Morganna said from the doorway. Ghost wagged his tail at the sight of her. Morganna entered the deck and patted the wolf. “He is still with you. Everyday.”

“I wish I could believe you.”

“Believe me.” She sat down beside Lila and put out her hand. “Take my hand, I’ll show you.”

Lila took her hand hesitantly. A rush shot through her body when their hands met. Lila was flooded with smells, sounds, sights. All in her mind but as real as the nightmare she’d been living in.  Cameron’s scent filled her senses. She felt his arms around her, holding her tight. “Oh my God…” tears came, not of loss but of joy. Cameron’s spirit burned inside her.

She looked at Morganna. “I can’t believe this…who…what are you?”

“A friend who cares. “

“No, you are much more than that.”

“I’m just a guide.”

“Thank you.”

“I did nothing, I just showed you the truth. We need you Lila. All of us need to work together. We all need to be ready for the dangers that are coming. Ghost isn’t the only animal you can befriend.”

Their line of sight focused on the seagulls in the distance.

“Go ahead,” Morganna said. “Call to one.”

Lilia looked up, the breeze caressing her face, and held out her hand. “Gull to me!”

One of the seagulls left the others and fluttered across the ocean. It sailed to the tower and landed on Lila’s arm. Her eyes widened. A huge smile drew across her face. She reached up and stroked the gull’s feathers.

Ghost the wolf looked on with disinterest then yawned.

###

Just after dusk the group sat on the beach around a small campfire. Someone discovered a bag of marshmallows among the food and supplies. It lightened the mood like nothing else.

Sam and Kyle shared a charred marshmallow on a stick, the sugar melting to their lips and cheeks. They kissed, the marshmallow stuck their lips together causing them to laugh and everyone around them too.

Jack cooked a marshmallow for his son, Justin, over the fire then handed the stick over to him.  “The freaking world ends,” Jack said. “And the one thing that survives, marshmallows.”

Laughter filled the group again. Cesar caught Orchid’s gaze. The two nodded at one another and got up. They tapped Sam and Kyle on the shoulder. “Can we speak to you guys, on the side?” Orchid asked.

The two got up and followed Orchid and Cesar down the beach.

“We’re sorry,” Sam said. “I know we’re overdoing it.”

“I hope we’re not upsetting anyone,” Kyle said. “We’ll cut back on our making out.”

“No, no, it’s not that,” Cesar said. “That masked guy is going to find us again. We’re trying to come up with a plan of attack.”

“Sam,” Orchid said. “We’ve come up with something that uses your talents. We need to know that you’re ok with it.”

“Whatever you guys want. I’m in. I’m getting tired of running.”

“Good.” Orchid smiled.

“He’ll be here by dawn.” Morganna popped up behind them. They all turned, eyes wide.

Orchid rolled her eyes. “Hate it when she does that.”


Aftermath: Chapter Ten

Cesar sat with a group of children, Morganna at his side. He told them all fairy tales and stories of mermaids, witches, princesses and pirates. Jack’s son Justin sat attentively. Ghost, the wolf, sat in between the circle of kids and his new mistress Lila. Protective of both, the wolf kept keen watch on their surroundings.

Some of the other adults with powers stood guard near the bridge’s openings. A man with telekinesis watched one side and a woman with the ability to summon miniature tornadoes watched the other.

The kids listened and giggled. They grew wide-eyed when the action rose. Cesar did his best to entertain but his thoughts were on Orchid and the others. He worried of what dangers awaited them. He didn’t trust the suburbs, the neighborhoods. They were breeding grounds for hidden dangers and other nefarious things.

What if they lost someone? What if Orchid didn’t make it back.

“Orchid can take care of herself,” Morganna said. “She’s the most powerful of us all.”

Cesar grinned. “In my head again?”

“Sorry. Just trying to ease your worries. She’ll return just fine.”

“I wish you could see beyond the immediate future. Would be nice to know how we all end up…the entire race.”

“I don’t have that power but if we don’ stop the Eldritch the future for this world is uncertain.”

###

“Hey peanut butter!” Kyle said, pulling the unopened jar out of the kitchen’s pantry. He set it on the floor and began rummaging through the cabinet beside it. He planted himself on the floor and dumped a whole pile of boxed crackers, bags of chips, canned tuna, jarred pickles and olives onto it. He began sorting everything into different piles

Samantha joined him on the floor. “Olives,” she said with glee. “I love olives.” She pried open the jar and popped two green ones into her mouth.

Kyle glanced at her and smiled. “Can I have one?”

“Of course, silly.” She reached into the jar at the same time he did.

He quickly pulled his fingers back. “Sorry.” He tried to look away, back down at the other food.

“Don’t be.” Sam touched his chin and eased his face up. She gazed into his eyes and kissed him gently.

“I must be blushing,” Kyle said.

Sam laughed. “You are.” She kissed him again.

“Things like this never happen to me.”

“Me either,” Sam replied. “The world has changed. We have to make our own destinies now.”

“Well, I like this one so far.”

Orchid stepped into the kitchen, a box of flashlights and extra blankets in her arms. “Okay you two. We’re moving on.”

Jack joined Orchid and they all moved into the formal living room.  The wall paper was faded, the furniture dusted with soot and torn. The walls were cracked, the fireplace crumbling.

“Let’s load everything up.” Jack laid some duffle bags and suitcases down.

Everyone packed the supplies and food they’d gathered from the entire street.

“We can’t carry all of this back,” Kyle said.

“No problem,” Orchid said. She focused her attention on all of the supplies and every suitcase and bag lifted into the air.

“Awesome!” Kyle said.

Orchid guided the supplies out of the house and into the street.

A shadow stretched across their path suddenly. It seemed alive. It twisted, almost deformed as it grew closer until…Luana stepped into the street. The group froze. Jack’s hand encircled with flames.

“You people are always in the way,” Luana spat. “It’s because of you I can’t conquer that masked monster.  I’ll take the girl instead. The one with the necklace…where is she?”

“Everyone get back,” Jack yelled. “It’s a mutant.”

Luana looked down at her scaly arms. “I’m not a mutant!” She ran to the carcass of a Town car and placed one hand on its hood and the other on the ignition.

The car roared to a start, headlights flashing, engine revving. Luana pulled herself back and the car took off, heading for the group.

The food and supplies dropped into the street as the car plowed through them. Jack jumped out of the way, tossing himself into the front yard of one of the homes on the street.

Orchid gave Kyle and Sam a telekinetic push, sending them out of the car’s rampaging path.  She turned and put her hand up and the car stopped, just inches from her.

She put it in reverse and sent it back to Luana.

The crafty Luana armed her laser gun and shot out the car’s tires. The metal behemoth spun out of control, soaring into one of the nearby yards and crashing into a house. A cloud of fire engulfed it.

“Where is the girl!” Luana cried, taking aim at Orchid.

A fireball zapped Luana’s hand, destroying her laser. Agony, hate, rage poured out of her. Her voice degenerated into hissing.

Jack started toward her, aiming his hands again when a truck screamed down the street. It was Luana’s men. Their battle truck pulled in between Luana and the others, blocking Jack’s attack.

Luana jumped into the truck’s open doors. “This isn’t over!”  The truck sped out of the neighborhood.

“Everyone ok?” Orchid asked.

“Yeah.” Jack dusted himself off. “That was nothing. Another day in the frickin’ life.”

“Let’s just get all this stuff off the street and get back.”

###

“You guys look shook up,” Cesar said, letting the sleeping kids lie. He went to Orchid and checked on her.

“We’re fine,” Orchid said. “Just a run in with a mutant woman.”

“I’m okay too, thanks for asking.” Jack dropped his supplies and went to his son.

“No offense, Jack.” Cesar shook his head. “That guy is so lovable.”

“Forget about it, “ Orchid continued. “We need to get everyone moved by morning. It’s getting dangerous here, very dangerous. I think we should leave the city.”

“But there are still so many resources here.”

“Maybe we should just find another one. A different location to throw some things off our scent. It seems no matter where we hide in this city we’re sitting ducks. No place here is safe.”

“We don’t know that any other place out there is. All of them could be exactly the same.”

“I think we should take the chance.  Maybe meet some new people, add to our ranks. Every city might have others that are like me and Jack. We need reinforcements. We need communication.”

Cesar shook his head. “I just thought the new world started here.” He looked over to see Kyle and Sam embracing then kissing.

Morganna appeared at his side, she took his hand. “It begins where we want it to begin.”

He looked down at her and smiled.

“My people have always believed that,” Morganna continued. “It doesn’t matter where we go that masked champion sent by the Eldritch will never stop hunting us.”

“We’ve got to end that thing once and for all,” Orchid said. “Maybe we should take the fight to it for a change.”

“We don’t even know if it can be stopped,” Cesar said.

“Only one way to find out.” Orchid started to walk away then looked back at them. “Get a good night’s sleep by first light we move.”

Morganna turned back to Cesar: “He’s not the only threat. Solomon, the man who would be king, is coming.”

Cesar said nothing.

###

In the nest of shadows enveloping the bridge, Octavius, leader of the cannibal cult, watched and studied. A twisted, toothy grin cut across his long face. His fingers slid down the blade of his sacrificial dagger. He looked at Malek and whispered: “Fresh meat.”


Aftermath: Chapter Nine

Orchid listened to the sound of dripping water. A chill shivered through her. She opened her eyes and saw the underside of a massive bridge. Parts of it were in ruin. A trailer truck hung over the edge of it, vacant, headlights peering down at her like giant eyes.

“Hey…”

Orchid jumped with a start. “What happened?”

“You collapsed once you cleared the destruction of the school,” Cesar replied.

“Did we stop it?”

“We’re not sure.”

She felt pain wash through her entire body, the worst of it in her arm. Her head ached, she felt dried blood on her face. She looked at Cesar. “I took quite a beating didn’t I?” She said with a grin.

“You sure did. For a second I thought you weren’t going to make it out.”

“I think my arm is broken.”

Cesar placed one of his hands on Orchid’s head and the other on her arm. He closed his eyes. Orchid felt a tingling sensation surge through her arm, spread through her body and flood her head. Moments later her pain was gone.

“My arm…it feels fine.” She said, not quite believing it. “My head stopped aching too.”

“Your arm is no longer broken.” Cesar said.

“You can heal,” Orchid said. “Why didn’t you ever say anything?”

“I didn’t want people think I could heal everything. I can’t heal myself and it used to be only cuts and bruises but with you here, I can do much more.”

“It’s incredible.”

“I only use it when I need to. I just don’t want people thinking I can cure cancer or bring back the dead or something…”

Orchid looked over Cesar’s shoulder and saw Lila sitting alone, her head down. Ghost the wolf laid beside her.

“Where are we?”

“Under the North Bridge. It was far enough away and shelters all of us. There’s a line of trees all around us. Anything that comes through it shouldn’t be able to sneak up this time We’d hear it.”

“Yeah, we’ll want to find something inside and restock some food and water.”

“Already working on that.”

“I should see if Lila is ok.” Orchid stood up and walked over to the silent woman.

She sat down beside Lila, glimpsed the wolf briefly then glanced over Lila again. “I’m so sorry about Cameron. He was a good man.”

Lila lifted her head. Her eyes were red from crying. “He was about to be a father. Now he’ll never get the chance to meet his child.”

“I don’t have the words…”

“It’s my fault. I wanted to come to the city. He always thought it was too dangerous. He said it again and again. He was right. He’s dead because of me.”

“No, Cameron wanted to come here. He knew there were more like him. He felt us out here, just like the others that came to us. It was the right thing to do. We are the path to rebuilding.”

“Rebuilding? We’re all gonna die. That thing won’t stop until we’re all dead. There is no rebuilding. We should have stayed in the mountains. That’s where I should go. Have my baby there.”

“It’s safer with us here.”

“Really?”

“Yes, Lila. I know it seems darker than ever but it will change. That’s why Cameron was given his gift.”

“He passed it to me.”

“He what?”

“That’s right, he passed it to me. Ghost hears my thoughts, I hear his and he obeys me now.”

“I-I didn’t even know that was possible.” Strange and new revelations were discovered every day. Orchid took hold of Lila’s hand. “Your husband gave you so much. Don’t give up now.”

###

The cyborg’s laser beam hit the masked killer in the head. He tumbled over, his face smoldered. The cyborg followed up, stomping over to the prone killer. He hoisted him up with his cybernetic arm and hurled him through the air.

The killer slammed back down in heap of the school building’s remains. He rolled over onto his belly and forced himself onto his knees.

The cyborg leapt through the air with the propulsion of his robotic legs and slammed down beside the killer, delivering a kick to his ribs. The killer was launched again, into a tree this time and cutting it in half.

Luana’s cackling echoed throughout the area.

The masked one let the tree fall over him and to the ground. The cyborg stalked him. When he was within range, the killer opened his eyes, scooped up the broken tree and swung it hard.

The cyborg was hit with a wallop, flying backwards and into the school’s chain link fence. The masked killer jumped up and raced for the cyborg. The two titans collided, falling onto the ground with a thunderous boom. Each traded fists and jabs, the killer driving the cyborg’s face into asphalt, the cyborg clasping his metal hand around the killer’s throat.

The two got to their feet again. The cyborg aimed his laser cannon but the killer tore it off his shoulder and crushed it in his hand.

The cyborg watched the pieces sprinkle to the floor. The killer laughed then took another swing at him but the cyborg jumped into the air.He came down on the other side of an empty school bus and grabbed hold of it with both hands. The windows shattered as he lifted the vehicle and hurled it at the killer.

The bus came crashing down on its side, burying the masked man.

The cyborg waited, listened. Luana’s laughter worked its way into a frenzy. She followed her laughing with clapping which died suddenly.

The side of the bus burst open, metal screeching, and the killer hurled himself out, perching on top of it.

The cyborg shook its head and jumped into the air again. He landed face to face with the masked man, curled his fist and caught him with an uppercut to chin. The killer fell from the bus and landed on his back.

The cyborg soared below, driving his boot down at full strength. The killer rolled out of the way as the boot came down hard on the asphalt, fissures splintering everywhere. The killer took advantage of the misstep and swiped his leg across the cyborg’s, sending him down. The killer picked the robotic horror up with one hand and tossed him. The cyborg soared into the school bus, bashed through the other side and rolled across the parking lot.

The shambling collection of salvaged parts shook his head and climbed to his feet. The masked killer stormed toward him and he followed suit.  The two crashed into each other again, locking hands in a test of strength, pushing one against the other, grimacing, grunting, enraged at each other.

The cyborg landed a kick in the killer’s gut but it didn’t seem to faze him. They continued their face-off, strength against strength, evil against evil until finally the killer broke the deadlock and with one vicious swipe, took the cyborg’s head clean off.

A crackle of static and sparks erupted as the head ripped through the air, a cluster of wires and gears dangling from it, and plopped to the ground.

The killer watched the cyborg’s body crumple to his feet then turned to see Luana watching from the woods. Her face aghast, a forked tongue sticking out at him. She turned and fled out of sight.

###

“So, what did you do before, you know, the world came to an end?” Jack asked Cesar as the group sat sharing the little bit of food they still had. Dusk was calling and they debated whether or not to start a fire.

“I used to be a registered nurse,” Cesar said. “Worked for the city hospital.”

“Huh, that’s cool,” Jack said putting his arm around Justin.

Orchid noted that it was interesting he was a nurse and his power was healing. She wanted to pursue her theory. “And what did you do Jack?” she asked.

“Ah, it was boring. I worked for an insurance company. Investigating arson claims, making sure they weren’t fraudulent.”

“Arson claims,” Orchid muttered. His power is pyrokinesis.

“Cameron was a veterinarian,” Lila volunteered, her eyes welling. “He loved animals. I was his assistant. We used to own our own practice before we headed to the mountains.”

“It’s remarkable,” Cesar said. “There’s some sort of connection to all of our powers.”

“All I ever wanted to be in school was invisible,” Kyle said to everyone. “Now looks like I got my wish. How about you?” Kyle turned to Sam.

“I was about to open a New Age shop. Meditation, crystals, astral…”

“Projection?” Orchid finished her sentence. She looked over at Morganna who just nodded in return. There was so much revealed lately, so many more questions.
“What about you, Orchid,” Jack asked. “What did you do?”

“I…I don’t know. I don’t remember anything about myself. My memories seem to only start in that old house. I woke up and the world was gone. It was raining and…I stopped the storm. I don’t even know if that was really my bedroom. I don’t know where my family is, what happened to my mom or dad.  Just bits and pieces …. Bits…and… why can’t I.” Orchid paused in awkward silence. She felt everyone staring at her. “Why can’t I remember anything about myself?” She glared at Morganna then got up and walked off.

Cesar followed her. “It’s okay,” he whispered. “Not everyone remembers right away. Some of us went through some horrible things to survive and some things are just blocked. It’s not important what our past was, just our future.”

“Thank you,” Orchid said, giving him a peck on the cheek.

“So, everyone,” Cesar turned back and addressed the group. “We need to find some more food and water and a safe place to set up base again. Any suggestions?”

“”I might know,” Kyle spoke up. “I know the rich streets with these big ass houses. Tons of dried food and supplies. We just gotta be careful of mutants. They roam the houses looking for people to eat.”

Jack covered his son’s ears. “Watch it around the kids.”

“Sorry.”

“Ok, let’s get a recon team together,” Cesar said. “Have Kyle take us there and stock up.”

Lila began to get up, Orchid stopped her. “Lila, I think you should stay here this time.”

“I want to help. I have power now.”

“I know, but you need to learn how to use it. It might get too dangerous.”

“Cesar and I will stay with her and the others,” Morganna said. “I can show her how to talk to much more than just the wolf. I can show her how to summon.”

“Ok, Kyle, Jack and Sam are with me,” Orchid said.

“Be careful,” Cesar said. “Try to avoid trouble. Get in and get out. The neighborhoods are just as dangerous as the city streets.”

Orchid gave him a wave as she followed Kyle under the bridge and out in to the trees.


Aftermath: Chapter Eight

There was quite a reaction when Morganna led Cameron, Lila and their wolf into the school’s basement shelter.

Everyone got to their feet and stared. Some gasped. Some held onto their children as they tried to go pet the new “dog” in the camp.

“It’s okay everyone,” Morganna said. “This is Cameron and his wife, Lila. Cameron can talk to animals. The Wolf is named Ghost and he will help protect us.”

“Welcome,” Cesar said with a warm smile. He went up and shook Cameron’s hand then patted Ghost on the head.

Cesar noticed Lila’s eyes widen at the sight of all the dried food and water stacked on tables in the middle of the room–peanut butter, crackers, canned fruit. It was a sight for sore eyes and empty bellies.

“Please,” Cesar said. Help yourselves.”

“You have clean water?” Lila said with a giddy tone.

“Yes,” Cesar replied. “We collect bottled water as we find it and from some of the lakes in the forest and mountains we’ve filtered by hand.”

“Amazing,” she basked.

Morganna left them all to get acquainted and started to the back of the room. She passed by a brick wall and stopped. She looked back. “Very good, Kyle.”

The brick in the wall shimmered and took shape, Kyle stepped away from it and came into view. He gave Morganna a grin. “Better?”

“It was almost perfect. I almost couldn’t sense you at all. I had to stop and look again.”

“Cool.”

“Morganna,” Orchid walked up to the two of them. “You promised.”

“Yes, Orchid. Kyle, I’ll teach you more later. Orchid and I need to talk.”

“Okay.” Kyle walked away, blending into the shadows of the room.

###

Orchid sat down in a private room with Morganna. “What exactly is going on? I know you aren’t who you appear to be.”

“You are right. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I couldn’t risk you not becoming a part of us. You are too important.”

“Why? Why am I so important?”

“You still don’t see? This is going to be hard for you to believe. But it’s time you knew it all. You are the amplifier to all of their powers. You have all the powers of the group in you. Fire, water, camouflage, telekensis, weather control…but you increase everyone’s. When they are with you their powers combine. It is a force to be reckoned with. It’s the only thing that can stop them.”

“Stop who?”

“The Eldritch.” Morganna grew solemn, her tone was very serious. The innocence of her persona dropped away. “They are creatures of another dimension. They’ve been watching your world for a long time…growing jealous, wanting its magic and energy. When the calamities struck, they saw their chance. The disaster has created rifts in the doorways between dimensions or worlds. They can now enter and take over your world. Now that your people are three quarters gone, they think now is the time.

But they can’t just come in and take it. Something happened they didn’t expect. Your world gave some of you gifts to protect yourselves and survive the new landscape. It sped up your evolution. Your powers are a threat. The Eldritch are physically weak but mentally strong. Like you. So they summoned a champion to do their killing. A monstrous creation they’ve poured all of their power into. It will not stop until all of you gifted with powers are dead.”

Orchid sat mute for the longest time. A thousand things ran through her mind. Finally she shook herself awake “So, you’re one of them?”

Morganna shook her head. “No. I am a different being, from another realm. In my realm we are just energy. I have no body. I took one that was no longer being used but my soul cannot exist in your flesh. My spirit is kept in this gemstone and I travel and speak through this child. My mind can occupy your flesh but my soul cannot. The two must never be separated. Like a symbiotic being.

We saw what the Eldritch were doing and I was sent to help. To guide your people. There is someone like me in every country…as well as a killer from the Eldritch in every one.”

“This is all so unbelievable,” Orchid said, having trouble looking directly at Morganna, her gaze tracing the tiles on the floor.

“Is it any more unbelievable then what you’ve already been through? The powers, the fights, the mutants, the end of your world?”

“I guess not.”

“You and Cesar are the only ones who know. Please don’t tell anyone else. We feel it would divide the group. People wouldn’t understand. We all need to work together to rebuild your world country by country.”

“It will eventually get out. You two can’t keep this a secret forever.”

“For now we have to, please Orchid. You have other worlds counting on you. If the Eldritch get your world they won’t stop here….they’ll move onto others…the doorways are opened.”

“Alright… I’ll do my best.”

“Thank you. Now, we need to get some rest. Tomorrow morning someone will need our help. I see another with powers. A young girl.”

“How is it you can do this but none of us can?”

“Our minds are much further along. We see beyond time and space”

“Then don’t you know how this will all end.”

“Of course not. The immediate future is easy. The long term is changeable. There are too many variable, too many destinies, too many decisions that may or may not get made. No soul could know the end of all things.”

“You are still a puzzle Morganna…or whoever you are…still a puzzle.”

The two of them laughed, breaking the tension in the air around them.

###

Moonlight poured in on Luana. She sat in her quarters staring out of the window. She’d recruited more men and women into her growing army. Street gangs abandoned their scavenging and joined her ranks, donning uniforms and carrying uzis.

She offered security, food and protection. Of course the appearance of her street punk cyborg was also very persuasive.

Her arms were growing more scales every day. She was having trouble hiding it. She pulled her boots off. Both feet itched continuously. Actually, she hadn’t seen her feet in weeks.

Luana gasped as bare right foot slid from the boot. Her toes had grown clawed with long nails. All of the flesh had become reptilian scales now. Even more horrifying, she discovered in between each toe had formed webbing. She had webbed feet.

Horror washed through her. What was she becoming? What would her followers say? They could never know.

How much time do I have? Eventually it may become impossible to hide.

She pulled the boots back on and headed for the main command center. Luana stormed over to her cyborg warrior. “Prepare to head out. We need to find that masked man as soon as possible. You’re taking him down so I can get to those othersssssss…”

A hiss escaped Luana and she covered her mouth.

The cyborg stared at her with confusion and fear. She ran off and checked herself in a mirror. Opening her mouth she discovered that her tongue had become forked.

###

Orchid and the others sat around the breakfast table sharing canned fruit, crackers, peanut butter, some bread slices and water. It didn’t seem like much, but these days to Orchid it tasted like heaven.

Jack looked around the table then stuffed some fruit into his mouth. He made sure Justin was eating all that was offered. “I wonder what happened to the white house?” Jack said between bites.

The others looked up at him, Cameron and Lila, Cesar, Morganna, and Derek.

“I’m sure if there was any way out, the President was probably the first to safety,” Cameron said.

“I hear that,” Jack replied. “I’ll bet the White House isn’t even standing anymore.”

“Why not,” Kyle said. “I’ve been in some rich fancy houses in the city, they’re still standing. The White House is much bigger and armed with security.”

“Don’t you think we would have heard something?” Jack continued. “Wouldn’t they want people to know? Send a message of hope? Show us there’s still someone in charge?”

“We’re in charge now,” Cesar said. “We have to rely on ourselves and each other to spread hope and rebuild.”

“Oh sure,” Jack said. “A bunch of people with freaky powers and women and children. That’s so inspiring.”

“It’s a start, Jack.” Cesar stood up. “That brings me to another outing. We need volunteers. Morganna has made contact with another soul that needs our help. I need those with powers to step up.”

“I’ll go,” Kyle stood too. “You’ve all been so nice. I want to help.”

“I’d like to go too,” Cameron said. His wife took hold of his arm.

“Cam…”

“It’s ok, honey. Ghost will be with me. We need to pull our weight here.”

Orchid stood up next to Cesar. “Count me in,” She said, then eyed Jack.

He shook his head. “Alright, alright.”

“You have a great power,” Orchid said. “You saw what we did last time. There’s always a chance the masked man could attack us again.”

“It’s settled then,” Cesar said. “Let’s head out as soon as possible. This young girl is in danger.”

###

Orchid watched Kyle sharpening a tree branch into a spear as the group ascended a steep hill. The trail around them was surrounded by surviving trees with grand, ancient branches, appearing more like sheltering arms in Orchid’s mind.

Ahead of her Cameron walked with the white wolf beside him. What a beautiful animal it was. A shadow caught her attention and she looked up.  Something fluttered across the sky.

Cameron noticed it too. He looked up and held out his arm. “Hawk!” he called.

The group froze as a majestic hawk with auburn feathers dove down to Cameron’s arm. Its wing span was incredible and the sight of the bird was awe-inspiring. It perched on Cameron’s arm and silently eyed the group.

“That’s incredible,” Orchid said. “Before long you’ll have an army of animals at your disposal.”

“I wouldn’t know what to do with it,” Cameron chuckled.

“Guys,” Kyle called. “I found someone.”

Orchid ran to the sound of the young man’s voice. Morganna and Cesar were right on her heels.

They came upon the prone form of a young, blonde-haired woman. She lay unmoving, lifeless.

“I think we’re too late,” Cesar said, disappointment in his voice.

Morganna got on her knees and set her hand on the girl’s forehead.

“Anything?” Orchid asked.

“There’s no spirit here,” she replied.

“That’s because I’m over here.” Cesar’s eye glazed over. His pupils vanished and his voice was not his own. “I had to be sure you weren’t mutants.”

Orchid couldn’t believe it. “Cesar?”

“No, not right now. My name is Samantha. But you can call me Sam. Everyone does. Well, at lease they used to.”

“Sam,” Orchid continued. “What have you done to my friend?”

“I’ve taken possession of him. Don’t worry it’s only temporary. I left my body and jumped into his when you came into view. I can astral project at will. Visit far off lands, take possession of other’s bodies and read their thoughts, control their actions. To others I appear dead and they leave me alone.”

“We’re not here to hurt you, honey. We want to help. We have food and shelter.”

“I know that now. I just had to be sure. I’ll get out of him now.”

Cesar’s eyes fluttered. He lost his balance momentarily before regaining his consciousness. Orchid took hold of his arm.  “You ok?”

“I-I think so.”

Samantha got up off the ground, brushed herself off and smiled. “Hi guys. Nice to me you. How did you know I was here?”

“Morganna saw you, thought you were in danger.” Orchid gestured to the little girl.

“Maybe I was wrong,” Morganna said. “Must have been your astral projection. I had a vision that something was after you.”

“You mean something like that.” Sam pointed behind them.

In the shadows of the trees, at the top of the trail, the Masked Assassin stood. He stared silently at them.

Kyle jumped backwards and blended into the tree trunks. Jack widened his fingers and flames crackled around them.

The killer raced toward the groupl. Cesar pulled Sam out of the way, pushing her and himself into a thicket of brush and trees.

Orchid grabbed hold of Jack and Cameron. The hawk screeched and fluttered its wings. Ghost the wolf snarled, all hair on his back stood up on end. “Focus your powers with mine,” Orchid screamed.

The killer roared to a stop in the middle of the group. Suddenly Kyle appeared out of hiding and drove his makeshift spear right through the killer.

“Kyle no!” Orchid yelled.

The killer ripped the spear all the way through his body, black pus drooling to the ground. He took the spear in both hand, turned and smashed Kyle across the face, sending him flying.

The young man hit a tree, bounced off it and rolled to the ground.

“Kyle!” rage filled Orchid. She turned to her comrades. “All of our powers, now!”

Ghost grew in size, to nearly the size of a bear and launched himself at the masked killer.

The two crashed to the ground, the wolf mauling his chest, attempting to rip the flesh to ribbons. The killer connected a fist to the beast’s ribs, startling it and throwing it off.

The hawk flew into the air and glowed with fire. Orchid watched as it became a phoenix straight out of legends. The bird soared down on the killer’s head, talons ripping at the mask and setting it on fire.

Orchid concentrated on the unconscious Kyle and lifted him into the air. She floated him over to the group where Cesar and Sam gently collected him. She set her gaze back on the killer and willed the thorn patch nearby to wrap around him like barbed wire. The hawk continued to ravage his face as he fell, convulsing, into the thorns.

“Run, now!” Orchid called. “While he’s down.”

###

Get up.

The masked killer obeyed, ripping the thorn bushes up by the roots.

You’ve let too many of them band together. They’re getting strong. Seek out the one they call Orchid in the polka dot dress. Kill her first and you will weaken the rest. Without her their powers are no match for yours.

He groaned and stomped off through the trees.

###

“We should move on,” Jack said, keeping Justin by his side. “That thing is getting closer.”

“We’re underground,” Cesar said. “All we have to do is lay low for a few days.”

“Jack may be right,” Orchid said. “How long before he sniffs us out?”

Their discussion was cut short by a bellow from above.

All eyes looked up. The ceiling cracked and split. A loud thunderous crash rocked the room and the entire ceiling caved in, beams and plaster raining down.

Some in the group were killed instantly. Dust clouded the air. Morganna pulled Justin with her into the shadows and the masked killed dropped into the room.

Before Kyle could camouflage the killer tossed him into the breakfast table, crushing it and rendering him unconscious.

The killer turned sharply and grabbed Orchid by her pale blond hair. She felt her neck crick as he yanked her to him with full force. She swung a fist at him but he caught her arm and snapped it.

She felt bone crack and wailed with agony. He wrapped both hands around her throat silencing her scream. Orchid felt all air escape her lungs. Her sight blurred.

Suddenly Ghost flung himself at the killer, a ball of claws and teeth. Orchid fell to the floor and crawled across it.  She looked up to see Sam go prone. A white, misty form eased out of the girl’s body and entered Kyle’s.

Kyle stood up and walked away from the action. Orchid realized that Sam had possessed Kyle and moved him to safety. Growling filled the room. Orchid turned back to see the killer lift the wolf by the head. The two continued to struggle until the killer clamped his hands around the beast’s jaws, intending to end its life.

“No!” Cameron raced at the killer and smashed him in the head with an iron rod. The killer dropped the wolf and seized Cameron by the throat, driving him into the brick wall behind him. His head cracked against it.

“Cameron!” Lila screamed.

The killer ripped the rod from Cameron’s grip and forced it through his gut. Crimson pooled down the wall. Lila screamed as if her very soul had split in two.

Orchid cried with her, pulling herself to her feet. A ceiling beam lifted at her command and soared at the killer.

He caught it in mid-flight and flipped it back at her. The beam collapsed Orchid into a wall. Dull pain washed down her spine, her head bounced off the wall, she tasted something salty in her mouth. Through blurred vision she saw Lila cradling her husband in her arms.

“Don’t leave me…” Lila wept. “I can’t make it in this world without you.”

“S-s-sure you c-c-can…” he coughed. “D-Don’t w-w-orry. I’ve told Ghost to protect you and our baby.  He’ll listen t-t-to you…n-n-ow.” He cupped her cheek with his hand. Her face glowed with amber light. Cameron’s eyes went still.

Orchid then saw the killer raging toward her like a freight train. Cesar tried to attack him but was shoved out of the way.

Jack stepped in and aimed both his hands at the killer. A funnel of fire exploded, hitting the unstoppable force and sending him crashing into the furnace room. He struck the electrical box and the room exploded in vivid flashes of light and sparks.

Jack’s face twisted with rage, he started toward the flickering room, both of his hands ignited with flames.

“Jack no!” Orchid called. “You’ll set the entire place on fire and kill us all. Get everyone out of here.”

He bent down and pushed the beam off her. “What about you…”

“Just go, now, you and Cesar. Ill be right behind you.”

Cesar picked up the unconscious Kyle with some help from Sam. Jack ushered Morganna and Justin out as he reached for Lila.

“No!” She cried. “I’m not leaving him! Get away from me!” Ghost came to her side and licked her hand with a whimper.

In the furnace room the killer stirred.

“Lila, he’s gone,” Orchid said. “Let Jack and Ghost get you to safety. For your baby’s sake.”

Lila said nothing as she got to her feet and let Jack take her by the arm.

Orchid watched the others head for the stairs to the school’s main floor. She rubbed her broken arm, spit blood onto the floor and wiped her head of debris. She watched the furnace room. “C’mon you son of a bitch…”

As the killer reached the threshold, Orchid looked up at the broken ceiling and brought down the rest of it. It tumbled into the room, filling it with a cloud of debris and dust.

She backed herself to the stairs and tore the rest of the support beams, then the upper roof, then the walls. She raced up the stairs and through the halls–ceiling, floors and walls falling around her until she burst through a set of double doors and out into the sunlight.

###

Luana stood at the outskirts of the school watching it crumble in on itself. She watched the survivors run off into the wilderness, Orchid trailing last.

She turned to the cyborg standing at her side. “Hmmm, looks like they’ve done the work for us.”

She waited for a few moments, the others having vanished from sight and turned to leave when something caught her attention.

Rumbling echoed. Brick and wood shimmied. A loud crack pealed through the air and the Killer fought his way out of the wreckage.

“Looks like I spoke to soon.” Luana grinned.  “He’s all yours my friend. Take him.”

The cyborg clanked his way across the parking lot. His laser cannon whizzed into position. His eye scope zoomed in. “Target acquired.”


Aftermath: Chapter Seven

The cyborg street punk aimed his shoulder laser and fired. The beam burned through a brick wall and struck a trash bin on the other side, setting the garbage inside on fire.

“Very good,” Luana said, adjusting her sunglasses with a gloved hand. “Now, pick up and throw that car over there.” She pointed at the burned-out husk on the front lawn of what used to be a two-family home.

“I don’t think I can do that. I’m not that strong.”

“Yes, you are. I gave you the strength, remember? You’re full of new parts. Now go lift and throw the damn thing.”

He walked over to the car, put his cybernetic arm under it and braced his human one against the front end. He grimaced, his arms flexed, his chest heaved and he bent at his knees. The car lifted from the ground, not with ease but close. He amazed even himself. He tossed it a few feet onto the sidewalk where it rolled onto its side with a thud and a screech of metal. Pieces of glass sprinkled onto the street.

“Excellent!” Luana beamed. “Come to my side.” He thudded over to her. She stroked his muscled arm with her gloves. “You’re almost ready. There’s so much more power out there. What to start with? The necklace that little brat is wearing or the big man in the mask? Seems the big guy and I are both after the little girl’s bauble. I think we should start with taking him out first. That way the girl is free for the taking. I don’t need you to squash a little girl just to deal with her friends. Let’s go.”

They headed back to Luana’s truck, a pair of armed soldiers accompanying them.

###

Get up. The voice nagged. Healing you is weakening us. We won’t keep doing it if you do not deliver more results.

The masked killer sat up and pushed ceiling beams and wall plaster off of his body. Shards of glass covered him. He watched them work their way out one by one and the wounds they left began to heal.

His flesh was scorched by fire but it too healed. Charred, black skin re-grew. Old flesh peeled off in ribbons. Blood-filled, gaping wounds clotted and mended together. Through all of this his mask remained untouched. Nothing could tear from his head.

Finish your mission and kill them all. Not one must survive. This world depends on it. Find them.

“I don’t want your healing…” He got to his feet, brushing glass and dirt out of his face. “Let me die.”

No, no, not yet. Not until they die first then we will return you to the Earth. You cannot defy or resist us. You walk because of us. You see because we allow it.

“It is not a gift. I should not be here. My time was past.”

So was theirs. You agreed with us. They do not deserve this world. Look what they did to it. Remember how you served them, how you destroyed for them? You would let them do it again? Finish what they started?

“No! It cannot happen again. I can’t allow it.” Rage poisoned his body, slithering through his every fiber. His eyes flashed beneath his mask with ethereal light. His hands clinched into fists. “They should all die. They all need to die. This world must heal!”

The masked assassin stormed from the devastated store and crashed into the street. He sniffed the air and picked up a scent. “Vermin!” He started down the nearest alley.

###

“Morganna,” Orchid wept as she cradled the girl in her arms. Cesar stroked her hair and shook his head over and over again.

From seemingly out of nowhere, Kyle appeared, allowing the others to see him. He snuck up behind the mutated creature and bashed it in the back of the head with a tree branch. The creature screeched and went down, dropping the emerald necklace. Kyle picked it up and walked it over to Orchid and the others.

“Here,” he said. “I think this is what she needs.”

Orchid took it and put it gently around Morganna’s neck. The little girl’s eyes fluttered then moments later opened. Orchid felt warmth returning to Morganna’s body. Breath filled her mouth, her chest, and she gasped.

Morganna smiled. “Orchid, is that you?”

“Yes…what happened to you?”

“I’m okay now.”

“That wasn’t the question.”

“Orchid,” Cesar interrupted. “Not here.”

Morganna climbed out of Orchid’s lap and got to her feet. Everyone around them smiled and cheered. Some cried tears of joy. Prayers whispered on trembling lips.

“It’s okay everyone,” Cesar called. “Morganna’s fine. Return to the school.”

Morganna walked over to Kyle, Orchid watched from behind, putting a bit of distance between them. She was stunned. It just didn’t make any sense to her.

“It’s okay,” Morganna said to Kyle. “You don’t have to steal. We will share our food with you.”

“I wasn’t stealing,” Kyle didn’t make eye-contact. His gaze danced around. His feet fidgeted before he crossed them, “Okay, I was but only what I needed. I can’t go back to the old lady I bartered with. It’s not safe anymore.”

“It’s okay, you can find safety here and all the food and water you want.”

“You have water?”

“Oh yes.” She put her hand out to him.

“You’re different aren’t you?”

She nodded. “So are you. That’s a cool trick you have. I can show you how to use it even better.”

Kyle took her hand and walked with her to the school. “Okay.”

They walked past Cesar and Orchid who turned to him and checked on his wounds. “Are you okay?”

“I’ll live,” Cesar replied.

“Great, now tell me what is going on. She’s not a little girl is she? Cesar…is she?”

He lowered his head and whispered. “No. The others don’t know. We can’t tell them.”

“What is she, what is she doing with us?”

“She needs to tell you…you won’t believe me. I’ll have her talk to you.”

“You’d better. No more secrets or lies or I won’t stay with you.”

“Please Orchid, don’t overreact. We need you. You don’t understand what’s going on or what’s coming…”

“What don’t I understand…what’s coming?”

“Just know this…without you and the rest like you, mankind will end right here.”

His tone was more ominous then she’d ever heard before. She looked him in the eyes. “Morganna needs to tell me everything if I’m going to keep fighting this fight. I know what my powers can do with others like me…but how? Why? Who are we preparing against?’

“She’ll sit with you tonight.” He turned abruptly and headed toward the school.

###

The city never slept during the night. Danger roamed the streets, shadowy things hunted and the tides of power changed from moment to moment.

The streets and alleys were choked with shadows. The lights that used to keep them at bay no longer existed. Candlelight and generators were traded briskly and used sparingly. The innocent began to learn not to draw attention to themselves.

It wasn’t the innocent that ruled the streets.

Luana and her men scoured a four-way intersection until their devices led them to an old rundown factory. Her men kicked in the doors and stormed inside. Luana followed, the cyborg at her side.

The first room was filled with conveyor belts that no longer worked, the walls were adorned with cobwebs hanging like tapestry and the floor was crowded with piles of packing boxes, some waterlogged, some chewed through and some unopened.

Her soldiers began opening various boxes but turned up nothing of value or interest.

A crackle filled the room followed by the scuffling of many feet. The room lit up with firelight. Luana and her men found themselves surrounded by the cannibal cult brandishing torches, swords and axes.

Red-robed men stood both in front and behind them, blocking the factory’s entrance. Octavius stepped from the circle of cultists. In his arms he restrained one of Luana’s soldiers with a blade to his throat.

Luana cocked her head then shrugged. “I wondered what happened to Lionel. Glad to see he wasn’t a deserter.”

“I was wondering how long it’d take before we met,” Octavius said.

“I wasn’t.”

“Come now. The two most feared groups in the city. I think it’s time we talked. Think of how much more of the city we could own if we worked together. Pulled our forces together. Made the world bend to our will.”

“Sorry,” Luana said. “I’ve just become a vegetarian.”

Octavius laughed gleefully, baring his knife harder on his captive, drawing blood. “Be reasonable. It’s a mistake not to hear my offer. I mean, I know where my next meal is coming from.” He squeezed the soldier even tighter, licking his face. “Do you?”

“Really?” Luana sneered. “Do you think that I would ever team up with pathetic worms like you? You’re just a step up from bottom feeders. You could never hope to reach my status.”

“Then you and your men will never make it out of here alive. Join us or I start with this one.”

“Oh really?” Luana gestured to the cyborg beside her.

He stepped forward and aimed his laser cannon. A single beam shot across the room and hit the captive soldier in the forehead. His flesh smoldered before he dropped out of Octavius’s grip.

“Threats about my men are the weakest of all, cult. Because I just don’t care.”

“Kill them all!” Octavius screamed.

The two sides clashed, cult against soldier, cyborg against them all. Swords slashed open soldiers as hails of gunfire downed robed figures.

The cyborg’s brute strength served him well. He pulled one cultist off the ground and threw him into another. Two other cult members charged him and he smashed their heads together.

A man with an axe charged him next and the cyborg caught the blade in his hand, incurring no damage. With his other he snapped the cultist’s neck.

Luana watched from the shadows, a smile etched across her face. Her heart raced with the excitement of the killing.

A few more soldiers fell under axe and blade but ultimately the cyborg cut a path of destruction through the factory and the cannibal cult. He threw men through walls, smashed them onto the conveyor belts, punched his fist through their bodies.

Ocativus attacked him with his sword, slashing the cyborg’s human arm open. The cyborg wailed with agony. He swung round and tore the sword from Octavius’s grip. He snapped it in two then tossed Octavius into a group of his own men.  They tumbled to the floor as the Cyborg aimed his laser again.

Octavius used one of his own men as a shield and blocked the laser’s beam. He jumped to his feet, eyes wide with fear. “Retreat! Retreat! Everyone out!”  Octavius ran to the back of the factory and out the exit door. He looked back at Luana who grinned with pleasure. “This isn’t over. We will meet again!”

Luana walked up to her champion and patted him on the back. He looked over at her and wiped the blood from his face. “You’re ready now,” Luana said. “Training is over. Let’s get you back to base and dress that arm.”

###

Cameron and Lila took refuge in the park where Orchid and the others were attacked. He knew there’d been a face off here but he figured lightning didn’t strike twice in the same place.  It would make a safe place to hide for the night.

Lila nuzzled against him, nearly asleep and Ghost curled up beside both of them.

In the morning Cameron would need to find a permanent place for them or head back to the cabin. Things were more urgent now. It wasn’t just the two of them anymore. A new life was on the way. He had to protect this precious cargo anyway he could.

He wished he’d made contact with others by now. He was starting to get concerned.

A snap of a twig echoed.  Ghost lifted his head, ears perked.

“Lila…up…someone’s coming.”

“Huh…what?”

“Up now.”

Cameron was on his feet in seconds, the white wolf by his side.  The patch of trees that secluded them rustled.

Moments later a girl in a white dress wearing a green stone stepped through them.  The wolf’s muscles relaxed and he whimpered.

“Hello,” the girl said. “I’ve been looking for you. I have a safe place for you and your wife and of course Ghost here.”

Cameron’s mouth hung open. He watched Ghost trot over to the girl and lick her hands. “How did you know his name?”

“I know many things.” She patted the wolf who submitted to her. “I know that your wife is with child.”

Cameron and Lila looked at each other with disbelief. Cameron ran his fingers nervously through his hair. “I don’t understand…what’s going on here?”

“It’s ok. All will be clear soon. I am the one you’ve been searching for. Come with me and the others. We can offer you a safe place to sleep, food and water.”

“Food and water,” Lila said. “Cam… is she telling the truth?”

“I don’t know…”

“Trust me, Cameron. Great danger hunts you and those like you. I know why Ghost stays with you. Your ability with animals is a great one. I can teach you more. Come with me.” She held her hand out to him. Ghost’s tail wagged.

Cameron took his wife’s hand. “I think it’s okay honey, look at Ghost.”

Lila was hesitant but she eventually eased her way over to the girl and the three started away from the park.

“Who are you?” Cameron asked.

“I am called Morganna.”  She smilled.


Aftermath: Chapter Six

The masked killer watched the sun come up, the rays spilling over his body, illuminating the destruction around him. He sat on a pile of rubble. His head lowered.

Continue. The voice rasped. Kill them all.

He lifted his head and clawed at his mask with ferocity. It wouldn’t come off. He pounded fists against his head. He looked at the heavens. Patches of blue sky seeped through the dusty gray clouds. “I am supposed to be at peace!”

You have been summoned. You are a killer. You will always be a killer. We need you. Finish your mission.

The killer growled, scratched his own arms then swiped at the air. “They elude me.”

Flush them out. Seek their power. Each time they use it you will know. They must not unite.

The killer eased his tense muscles, shook off his rage and started into the streets. “They will die at my hands, screaming.”

###

Orchid sat with the others in the school cafeteria. Families and loners passed around bread and whatever canned fruits they managed to scrounge up and open with manual can openers. They shared the water they kept hidden deep in the shelter within the school’s basement.

Orchid smiled down at Morganna who took a seat beside her and slid her a plate of canned peaches and bread with some peanut butter smeared on it.

“Thank you,” Morganna beamed. “You’re a very kind person.”

“I was just raised right.” A fleeting memory of her parents crossed Orchid’s memories. She thought of her mother and her pale blue eyes and gorgeous blond hair. She used to sing her a lullaby when it stormed outside and the thunder scared her. It was no wonder the first thing she did with her new found power was scatter a rainstorm back to where it came.

Orchid chased away the memory before the tears came and as Jack reached the table with Justin. He put a plate of food in front of his son before getting any for himself. “How much food do we have left?”

“We’re good for now,” Cesar said from the other end of the table. “We won’t need to make another run for a while.”

“Shouldn’t we stock up every day?” Jack asked. “I mean, the remaining food out there won’t stay out there. We’re not the only ones in the city. Other people are taking, stealing, then there are those mutant things. They eat almost anything.”

“It’s not safe to look for it everyday,” Cesar said.

Orchid watched the exchange with interest, noting Cesar standing his ground. Watching Jack’s frustration grow. It was going to be hard keeping him with the group.

“Maybe we should move to another city, another with more resources,” Jack said. “I mean, if this one is so dangerous. What about New York? I heard there are still military setups there, maybe even some police order and local command stations.”

“New York is gone,” a man with thick glasses and salt and pepper hair said from the table behind them. “It’s all under water. Totally flooded.”

Jack looked over his shoulder. “How do you know?”

“I talked to someone who got out. Made it over one of the bridges before the damn thing washed away. I picked up his handle on my old portable CB. He’s making his way to us.”

“And you trust him? He could be a murderer or thief and you’re just leading him right to us.”

“Jack easy,” Cesar interrupted. “We have to trust. We have to give hope. It’s the only way to rebuild. We have to work together. We can’t just abandon our humanity. I’ve talked to this man, he has two little girls with him. They will be welcomed.”

“You people floor me. Have you noticed the cult eating people out there? The mutants? The roaming bands of killers?”

“We know. That’s where those with gifts step in and protect the others. That’s why we’re together. Starting over. We know some are lost. We’ll deal with them when we have to.”

Jack shook his head. “What about Boston? It’s a great location. Close to water resources.”

“The coast is flooded,” the man with the glasses said. “The inner parts are a wasteland. Something out there has made it that way.”

Morganna looked up at Orchid and whispered: “Solomon.”

Orchid put her arm around her. “He’s not our only concern,” she said to her. “That masked thing is still looking for us.”

“What? Just what are you two talking about?” Jack asked, picking up on the conversation.

“It’s okay, “ Orchid said. “Just another run-in. Happens sometimes.”

“Yeah, right.” Jack took a bite of some stale bread.

“We’ll need some you with powers to go out and make sure the area is secure,” Cesar said.

“Yes, and find the others,” Morganna said. “Orchid and I can go. I feel the ones with the wolf are getting closer. There’s someone else too. Someone new just coming into range. We need to keep finding them before the masked one does. Keep our community growing.”

“Ok, I’m ready when everyone else is,” Orchid said. “Jack will you help? Your power is a great deterrent for anything getting too close.”

He sighed, hesitated his response then saw Justin awaiting his answer. “Alright, but Justin stays inside.”

“Of course,” Cesar said. “Some of the telekinetics will watch over him.”

“Well I feel better already,” Jack said.

###

Kyle waited for Orchid, Morganna, Jack and some of the others to pass before making his move. He peeled himself off a dormant school bus, blending perfectly with its yellow paint and the black lettering running along its side. No one seemed to notice him.

He slid himself around the back of the bus and headed off to the playground.

No one had seen him blend in with the cafeteria walls and swipe some of their canned food when the room was emptying earlier. Now he waited in the playground, becoming the color of sand and mud, lying in wait to see what other items they would find or who else would join them. He still couldn’t be sure they were friendly or if they would see his power as a threat. For all he knew they’d kill him just for being different. Maybe they’d even think he was a mutated freak.

For now he waited and observed. How bad can they be if they’re taking care of all kinds of kids?

###

“I feel someone watching us,” Orchid said to Morganna. “I don’t know how I know that. I just do.”

“There’s much you can do, Orchid. Your purpose will become clear very soon. I know he’s there. He’s been there a little while. He can camouflage really well.”

“I love the way you just drop cryptic messages then move onto something else like it’s no big deal.”

“You have to learn these things for yourself or you won’t be as strong.”

“I hope I am as great as you think I am.”

“I have no doubt.”

Orchid followed the little girl onward, Jack tagged reluctantly alongside them. Trash littered the streets. Junked cars blocked roads and intersections. Some of the alleys had bodies in them.

The air smelled faintly of soot. Past a major intersection a park awaited. There were still trees crowding the small chunk of green and the walkways. A chain link fence surrounded its perimeter. The gates were missing from it.

“This way,” Morganna pointed to the park.

The group moved to the park and walked down one of the trails with caution. Although it was daylight danger still lurked.

The trees swayed with their arrival.

“I feel the wolf is not far,” Morganna said. “There are two with it. A man and a woman.”

“As long as they don’t sick the wolf on us,” Orchid said. She laughed a bit to herself, remembering the antics of her dog, Roscoe. The yellow Lab mix used to do some of the silliest things around the house. Of course that was before the world came crashing down.

Orchid stopped with the group when they found a deadfall blocking their path. She stepped in front of the others and focused on the tree. It trembled a bit then somewhat rolled but basically stayed where it was.

She concentrated harder and the tree lifted a few inches off the ground. Orchid’s mind held it tight as she directed off the trail.  She moved along side it until she was distracted. Orchid looked up to see a huge figure appear on the rooftop of one of the buildings across the street. She knew instantly what it was.

Before she could react the masked killer hurled himself from the roof and slammed down in the midst of the group.

Orchid lost control of the tree and it swung wild.  Jack dove to the ground, the old tree swinging over him. It smashed into a middle-aged man in their group killing him instantly.

The killer swung his arm hard and caught Orchid across the face sending her through the air. She bounced off a tree and landed on the ground prone.

Morganna screamed and the killer turned to her. A dark-haired young woman got between them and willed a shower of stones at the masked man. The rocks bounced off him without harm and he seized her by the throat.

Snap. She fell limp to the ground.

Jack got up and opened his right hand. A fireball appeared in it. He hurled the flames at the killer.

The fire struck the masked man in the center of his chest. He stumbled back and patted the flames with both hands. The downed tree screamed through the air and collided with the killer, sending him crashing into the park’s fence, a rattle of metal resounded as the tree cracked.

Orchid stood grimacing, all of her will concentrated. She snapped herself out of it and grabbed hold of Morganna. “Run!”

Jack, Orchid and Morganna raced out of the park. They heard the trees sway again, branches crackled, leaves rustled. The masked man came down in front of them and hurled a section of chain link at them.

Orchid deflected it with her power. The killer stepped toward them. Panic swelled inside of her. Her thoughts were muddled. Her concentration off. She couldn’t think of her next move. This thing is unstoppable.  Her palms dampened, hands trembled. She swallowed some air.

The killer lunged.

Orchid pushed Morganna out of the way. “Don’t be afraid!” Morganna called. “Connect with Jack. Stand together.”

Jack and Orchid grabbed each other’s hands. Jack wove his free hand in front of them and a wall of fire roared before the masked man. He stopped dead in his tracks.

“I did that?” Jack’s eyes widened.

Orchid felt intense heat wash over her body. Her hair danced in a blistering wind. She pointed her free hand at the fire and a fireball shot out of the flames. It soared with the mass of cannon ball, a more solid fireball then Jack’s previous attempt.

It struck the killer in the gut and sent him flying across the street and into a storefront window. Shattering glass screeched and the entire store burst into flames with an explosion.

“Holy shit!” Jack yelped. “Did you see that?”

“I did,” Orchid replied. “We’re not sticking around ‘til it gets up. Let’s go.”

Orchid helped Morganna to her feet and the three of them fled.

###

“Did you just hear that?” Lila said to her husband.

“Sounded like an explosion.” Cameron looked over at the wolf sitting on the sidewalk. Its ears were up in a quizzical position but it didn’t move.

“I think I was wrong,” Lila said, eating a handful of nuts. “We shouldn’t have come down to the city. All we’ve found are killers and lot’s of danger.”

“No, it was the right choice. Eventually we’d starve up there. We’ve found food here and I know there are other survivors here. Good ones. They just know where to hide and we don’t. We have to find others like us.”

“We should do it pretty quickly,” Lila said. She moved from her perch on the steps of a church and sat down beside Cameron. She laid her head on his shoulder.

Cameron turned to her, concern washing through him. “Why? What do you mean? We’re not going to starve or freeze. And the wolf is…”

“No, it’s not any of those things. I have something to tell you. Soon, I’m going to need more than just food and a place to sleep.”

“Lila, what are you saying?”

“I wasn’t sure before. But, now I am. I hadn’t said anything because I didn’t want to worry you.”

“Lila…” a nervous rush hit Cameron. He stood up, taking Lila by the hands and easing her to her feet. “Are you?”

“Yes, I think I’m pregnant.”

“I …I…don’t know what to say… I always wanted to be a dad but the world…the world is gone and we don’t…” A mix of terror and wonder seized him. A flood of emotion poured out of him and his eyes welled with tears.

“I know, I know,” she threw her arms around him. “It’s not a good time, not by any means. But I see it as hope. Hope of starting this damned world over.”

Cameron wiped the tears from his eyes and stared into hers. A chuckle bellowed out of him. He kissed her and hugged her tight. “I’m going to be a DAD!”

The wolf whimpered and jumped from its spot. It wandered over to them.

“I think you startled him,” Lila said.

“Forget him, I’m startled as all hell. Jesus…my only thoughts have been where to find food, what’s a good place to sleep in without any murderers or thugs. Now I’m going to have to think of baby names and a new member of the family…a tiny, helpless, incredibly awesome miracle!”

Lila laughed with him then looked down at the wolf, starting with bright eyes. “Speaking of names….don’t you think you should give him one.”

Cameron turned. “Guess you’re right. I can’t just keep calling him wolf.” Cameron stared at the white fur and bent to the animal, patting its head. “How about… Ghost. Because you’re white as a ghost.”

The wolf licked his face.  “Guess that’s the one,” Cameron laughed. “Down boy, down…”

###

“What happened?’ Cesar rushed across the school parking lot to them. “Are you ok?”

“We were attacked by that masked thing again,” Orchid answered. “What is it?”

“We don’t know…it only starting showing up when you did.”

Orchid didn’t really know how to respond. “I—”

“That was incredible!” Jack blurted. “I mean, my God, the two of us. We were like some kind of nuclear bomb or something.

“What’s he talking about?” Cesar said.

“Jack and I increased our power,” Orchid said. “Together.” She looked down at Morganna.

“It finally happened,” Cesar said.

“What does that mean Morganna?” Orchid asked, her tone serious. “No more riddles.”

“You had to learn for yourself,” the little girl answered. “You are an amplifier, Orchid. Whenever the others are around you their powers and yours increase nearly ten-fold. That’s why we must find all the others. Only together can you defeat this anonymous threat. You possess many of the powers of the other survivors but you are the only magnifier. With you at their side, there’s almost no stopping them. Together, we can rid this world of its evils and rebuild. Only if they join us. That’s why it’s so important.”

“How do you know all of this?” Jack said as Orchid stood by speechless. “Who are you really?” He walked up to Morganna.

“That’s enough, you’re scaring her,” Cesar stepped between them.

“I’m not gonna hurt her for Christ’s sakes. Something just doesn’t make sense…” Jack eyed the green gemstone around Morganna’s neck. “What is—”

A roar shot through the school parking lot. A half-insect, half human creature crashed into them. A body covered in bristles, its hands gnarled, snapping claws. Cesar was thrown against a bus, hitting his head, a spatter of blood painting the yellow red.

Orchid fell face first onto the pavement. Jack attempted to start a fire but the creature took hold of his arm with a crab-like claw and slung him aside.

The creature turned to Morganna, a twisted mouth wet with drool nipped at her. She made a run for it but it nabbed her by the hair, twisting it in its claws. It hoisted her off her feet and clamped her throat with its other claw.

Morganna tried to scream but it died short as the beast’s grip tightened.

A rubber tire smashed into the creature, sending it across the lot. Dazed, hissing and roaring, it climbed clumsily to its feet. In its claw it held Morganna’s green gemstone necklace.

Orchid watched as Morganna collapsed to the ground. Her eyes glazed over and went still.  “Morganna!” Orchid ran to her side and shook her, pulling her into her arms.

The little girl remained lifeless.

“Morganna! Morganna!” Orchid continued to yell as Jack joined her side. “I think she’s dead,” she said to him.

Others poured from the school. “Morganna! Cesar!” A crowd of desperate people formed around them. Cesar revived and groaned. He looked up and dragged himself to Morganna’s prone form. “No! No! She’s our only hope!”

Orchid sat and stared helplessly as Morganna grew cold in her arms.


Aftermath: Chapter Five

Kyle Yeager huddled in an abandoned mansion that was not his own. All of eighteen-years-old he traded some fuel he siphoned from some cars to an old lady who now baked her own bread, among other rarities.

The bread tasted amazing and was a Godsend right now, since he hadn’t anything else to eat in two days. He was scuttling down what was once the richest part of the city, grand mansions now empty and dark, decadence gone astray, hiding his bread and figured why not.

No one lived there anymore and he’d always wanted to see the inside of just one of these houses. Coming from a working class family, they never had much more than a modest ranch house with three small bedrooms for a family of six.

He didn’t know what happened to them, his mother and father, his two brothers and sister. When the disasters came and the black smoke blotted the sun and the quakes tore the streets open, he was knocked unconscious. He woke in a neighbor’s basement unsure of how he got there. Beside him was the body of Maryanne Milford, one of his mother’s friends and neighbor. She’d cut her own wrists open.

He learned quickly how to survive. Staying hidden at night. Trading goods with others in the city by day. Making allies with the innocent. Minding his own business when he saw something strange or unsettling.

He would move from home to home, rummaging through what was left, gathering supplies and then meeting at touch points with others to trade. So far it worked.

This house was his favorite yet. It had a game room with billiards and dart boards. A small bar in the corner of the room contained a couple of half full bottles of vodka and tequila. He stowed them in his pack and gobbled down the rest of his bread.

He stepped into the hallway. It was carpeted but it smelled musty, the ceiling unfortunately leaked now. Mold spread across the plastered walls, ruined paintings hung askew.

He reached the staircase, a massive twisting banister riddled with scratches curled down into the dark. Kyle stepped onto the first stair and froze. A noise below caught his attention.

Movement stirred, heavy steps, a thud then some crashing furniture. He listened closely and heard snorting, sniveling and huffing.

Kyle backed up, crept down the hall and caught glimpse of a deformed shadow forming on the wall behind him. It was a mutant….searching the house for food. It tore through the downstairs and now headed for the upstairs. It probably picked up his scent already.

Kyle’s heartbeat picked up, his palms dampened. He started back to the game room and in his nervous haste bumped into the wall. A painting tumbled to the floor.

A roar erupted downstairs and the mutant stomped onto the stairs. There was no time, Kyle pressed himself against the wall, reaching for his bag, fumbling for one of the glass alcohol bottles when something incredible happened.

His arm became the color of the wall and blended perfectly with it. He looked down and his legs had taken on the same effect. A grunt caught his attention.

The beast’s bulbous head crowned the edge of the stairs and its threshold. Kyle reacted and pressed his entire body flat against the wall. He blended with it. Flesh became plaster, clothes vanished, even his bag hid inside the camouflage he was able to project.

The mutated creature, a cross between a pig and a human, a wet snout sniffing the air, cloven feet stomping the ground, skulked by him. It hadn’t seen him at all.

Kyle waited as it continued down the hall, punching the walls, kicking doors in. It roamed into a bedroom at the end of the hall and disappeared. Kyle took his chance.

He ran down the stairs and out the front door. “Time for a new neighborhood.”

###

Orchid was awakened by whimpering. At first she thought she was dreaming. She looked around the school’s basement and saw groups of people sleeping together including Jack, cradling his son Justin. Both slept soundly.

She got up and moved her way around the basement. She found Cesar sleeping but Morganna wasn’t with him. Usually she was either with Orchid or Cesar or at least nearby. Concerned now, Orchid searched on. The whimpering started up again. She let it lead her around some furnaces and air ducts. Rows of pipes filled the ceiling, some dripped with water. A supply closet was open in the back of the water heater’s chamber.

Orchid headed for the closet. She reached the door and a mop sailed past her.

“Stay away!” a small voice called.

“Morganna, it’s me,” Orchid said as she peered in and saw Morganna cowering in the corner of the closet.

“Orchid?”

“Yes, it’s me. Come out of there.”

“Where am I?”

“In a maintenance closet. What’s happened?”

“Another vision. Inside my dream.”

Orchid saw the young girl take hold of her green gemstone and instantly calm down. She pulled herself up and exited the closet.

“Are you okay?” asked Orchid.

“I was sleepwalking…running rather. The vision showed me a new man with power. An older man. He was not using his powers for good, Orchid. In the dream he came for me, chased me into a trap. He will not side with us.”

“We’ll just have to convince him then.”

“I don’t think he can be convinced. He’s getting stronger. Knows how to use his powers very well and doesn’t care who he hurts. He is called Solomon. And he thinks he should be king.”

“Just what we need right now, another whacko.”

“The masked man. He will come again. We need to find the others like you soon. Only together can we stop him. He is their weapon, meant to stop humanity from rising again.”

“Who’s weapon?”

“I cannot say just now.”

“Of course you can’t.” Orchid smiled. “Well, will either of these two find us tonight?”

“No.”

“Then c’mon, Let’s go back to bed.” Orchid put her hand out and Morganna took it.

###

“A tasty double feast,” Octavius said, eyeing Cameron and Lila. “Take them!”

Cameron jumped in front of wife and curled his fists. Rage shot through him, burning hot, tears ran rivers down his cheeks, his head dampened with sweat. “Don’t you touch her!” He yelled. “I will rip you apart!”

The white wolf howled…loud and baleful and leapt into the air.

It came down on the first cult member to charge and tore into him, ripping his chest to shreds with sharp teeth and paws.

The other cult members hesitated. Octavius’s face was a mask of anger. “Get them you fools! The God of the Feast demands it! Kill the damned mutt!” He lifted his sword against his own members and they charged.

The wolf’s howl was returned. Many howls cried into the night.  A moment later a pack of street dogs charged the boathouse.

The pack of hungry dogs descended on the cult. Three more members fell to saliva-coated teeth and raking paws.

The cult began to scatter into the streets, shrieking, tripping over themselves. The white wolf jumped from its fresh kill and landed in front of Octavius. The two locked gazes. Octavius pointed his sword at the wolf. “We’ll meet again, beast.”

Octavius fled with the rest of his people and the wolf held his ground.

The dogs circled Cameron and Lila, whimpering, begging for accolades. Cameron turned to his trembling wife. She was in awe. Her mouth hung agape, her eyes were wide.

She hugged Cameron then looked up at him. “How? Did you do all of this?”

“I think indirectly,” he replied. “I’m as amazed as you.”

The wolf came to Cameron’s side. The rest of the dogs got down on their bellies and whined, tongues hanging out, tails wagging.

Cameron looked down at the white wolf and petted him. “It’s okay boy, they can go now.”

The wolf howled at his cousins and the pack ran off into the streets, back to their scavenging.

Cameron bent down to the wolf and put his head to its head. “That was awesome.”

The wolf licked his face.

Cameron laughed and wiped his mouth. “C’mon,” he took Lila’s hand. “Let’s get out of here and off of these streets.”

###

Luana stood over her rescued man and glared through her sunglasses. Seemed any kind of light these days irritated her. She marveled at her handy work and ran her gloved hands over him.

His eyes slowly opened. His lips parted. He finally woke from his surgical sleep. “What’s going on?” He looked down at himself. “What have you done to me!”

“I’ve made you better,” Luana replied. She looked up and down. His right hand was replaced with a metal one, a robotic hand with silvery serrated fingers. The right arm was embedded with wires that connected into his muscles and biceps. Parts of it had been replaced with plates and bolts. The joints were synthetic.

His left arm had a device bolted into his wrist with a small screen for reading coordinates and tracking movement and life signs. It was adorned with nodes and flashing lights. His left eye was covered with a monocle surgically grafted to his face that had a LED light. His left shoulder had a small laser cannon on it.

“With your right arm you can lift a car or take down a tree,” Luana began. “The device on your left hand will track all manner of energy for me, both biological and manufactured. You can command the laser cannon by will and the piece over your eye will give you a flawless aim. You are my warrior. One more powerful then all of my soldiers combined. I’m going to need you to take down that masked dude with all the power. Once I get his power under my control nothing will stop me.”

“You crazy bitch. You’ve turned me into a freak!  I won’t fight for you…ever!”

“You won’t have much choice.”

“Think so? What if I just blow your head off right now?” The laser on his shoulder whirred with a hiss and pointed directly at Luana’s face.

“Please. You don’t think I’ve thought of betrayal? I wrote the book.” She pushed a button on her glove and the laser shut down, his arm went immobile and the eye’s light snuffed out. “A kill switch. One push deactivates your weapon systems. One more push and I stop your heart. Now, get up, we’ve got some hunting to do.” She pushed another button and his weapons and mobility returned.

He pulled himself up, weak at first then gaining control over his new body. He moved slowly, arms and legs heavy, a thud resounded on the floor as he set his feet on it.

“Oh yes,” Luana said. “I’ve replaced the muscles in your legs with robotics. You can now leap to the top of most buildings in the city.”