Aftermath: Chapter Three

A truck rumbled across the scorched landscape, cutting through the curtains of pale moonlight. Headlights streamed through a thick mist that hung lazily in the air. A small satellite dish sitting atop the roof of the truck revolved continuously. The one thing that survived the disaster that formed this new world, ironically, was fuel sources. That of all things was thought to be the downfall of mankind. Little did anyone know it was a simply a committee full of good intentions that nearly destroyed it all.

The truck came to a stop. A door in the rear lifted and a ramp lowered. Two men in makeshift military uniforms stepped onto the ramp and surveyed the area. Armed with uzi nine millimeter guns, their uniforms were stitched together with the pieces of many military outfits from a variety of nations. Nations whose reigns were long over.

Satisfied that there was no clear and present danger, they stepped aside and stood at attention, making way for a woman. Her silhouette appeared on the ramp. She stood for a moment, looked around then stepped into the humid air.

She was clad in black leather from head to toe, complete with knee-high boots. Her uniform was much better put together than those of her soldiers and hugged her curvaceous form like a second skin. Long flowing black hair caught the moonlight as she walked, dancing in the wind that suddenly blew through the land.

She glanced now and then at a black box in her right hand. It flashed with red lights and beeped erratically. With determined steps, she hurried herself along a path only she could see. Her men followed behind her. She stopped suddenly and looked up.

“In there.” She pointed at a small red-bricked building.

Her two thugs burst into the building, kicking in the door and tearing through the interior in a clatter of chaos and destruction. A few moments later, she watched them reappear with a canister labeled DANGER. They brought it to her and she scanned it with her device.

“Ah, just as I thought. Some plutonium mixed with another rare and unstable element. My scanner doesn’t even have a name for it.” She smiled. “Excellent. All of the leftover raw power of the old world is quickly becoming mine.”

“Store this with the other supplies, Luana?” One of her men asked.

“What do you think? Idiot.” She glared at him as if she wanted to kill him. He scampered off. Before she could comment again her device beeped wildly, catching her attention. “What is this?” Her eyes widened with surprise. “It’s big…huge. New to our world? So much power. I must know what it is and I must have it.”

Luana ordered her men back to the truck and followed in a whirlwind of emotions. I may be the last of my family line but soon… this world will know my name and will bow before me.

“Quickly,” she yelled to the driver. “The sun’s coming up.” She glanced at the horizon and the red hues forming across it.  She pulled out a pair of sunglasses and put them on.

The truck roared to a start and rolled off into the fading mist, tracking a new found source of overwhelming power.

###

The morning sun hit the hillside first. The hills were the least affected by the disaster, although some forests were decimated and many were littered with deadfall, the higher and deeper the hills, the more trees and lush forest lived and thrived.

The sun settled on a lone cabin nestled deep in one of the pine forests. Majestic pines flanked the home on both sides, providing a natural canopy of protection. The trails were worn and covered in debris, making discovery of the cabin that much harder.

The cabin’s windows were barred and the inside of them was covered with patchwork blankets instead of blinds or shades. The timbered door looked weak and insecure as if the big bad wolf could come along and blow it down with ease.

Not far from the cabin a crackling disturbed the peace and solitude. Out of the trees a man with blonde hair appeared, carrying a wicker basket full of purple berries. He muddled about for a few moments until a sound caught his ear. He stopped, listened and waited.

His gaze searched the forest, the trees, the bristle patches. Nothing came or at least it wasn’t ready to come. He shrugged and moved on.  He walked back to the cabin and gently pushed open the door.  He shut it behind him and slid a board across it. Not that it made much difference.

Across the room, he spotted his wife sleeping soundly in a bed of moth-eaten blankets and hand-knitted shawls. He slipped up to the bed and crawled into it with her. He stroked her shaggy dark hair that hadn’t been washed in weeks. She opened her eyes. He smiled, presenting her with the basket of berries.

“Cameron, thank you,” she said. She smiled briefly then dug into the berries as if starved.

“Take it slow. There aren’t any more.”

She looked up at him. “You need to have some then.”

“I’m ok. You eat them.”

“Cam?”

“Yes, Lila?”

“You know we can’t stay here. There’s not enough food and water. We have to go someplace where we can find more.”

“I know. I’m working on it.”

“Working on what? We just need to collect our things and go.”
“It’s not safe down there, Lila. I’m working on a safe path to another hill with water nearby.”

“But is there food there?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“Cam, we need to find others, others that can help us. Share their resources or we’ll starve. We can’t say in the hills forever.”

“I know that but not everyone down there is just going to share things with us. Most likely they’re going to rob and kill us or …eat us for food.”

“What?” Lila’s eyes filled with repulsion.

“It’s true. You have no idea what is going on down there. I do. I’ve been watching. I’ve been scouting, learning. Don’t worry, sweetie.” He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “I’m going to get us to someplace safe. With food.”

###

Cameron sat outside with his map, letting the pine-scented air fill his senses. Faintly, in the far distance, he heard another tree slowly fall…crack, snap, a change in the air, a hollow bellow as it toppled. He sighed and put his attention back on his map.

A moment later Lila came out and sat beside him. She laid her head on his shoulder. “I miss seeing towns, cities.”

“There’s not much to see now. They’re like shells with danger roaming on every street.”

“Still. It’s been a long time.”

A rustling caught Cameron’s attention. His conversation with his wife stopped short as he stood. He felt eyes on him.

Lila looked around. “What is it?”

“Something’s wrong. Go back inside.”

His wife stood to return to the cabin and the rustling grew louder and the brush around them thrashed. Cameron tensed. A snarl resounded and something leaped into the air.

A massive white wolf landed in front of them, showing its teeth. Cameron froze. “Honey, don’t move,” he whispered to her.

The wolf stepped closer, locking rage-filled eyes with Cameron’s. The two stared each other down. The wolf broke eye contact and gazed at Lila. She let out a squeal and the wolf growled. It advanced toward Lila and sniffed the air.

“Cam…”

“Don’t move.”

The wolf snarled and jumped toward Lila.

Cameron’s mind screamed and his voice followed suit. “Wolf!”

The wolf pulled back and stopped short. It turned to stare at Cameron. Again they locked gazes and Cameron remained unflinching. “Wolf, no.”

The wolf whimpered. “Sit,” Cameron said and the wolf complied, wagging its tail. Cameron felt something in his blood, in his mind. He and the wolf communicated.  He put out his hand and the wolf came and licked it in submission.

Cameron looked back at Lila. Her mouth was agape. “Did you see that?”

She was speechless.

He turned and patted the wolf with caution, running his hand down its soft white fur. “Something is going on here. It listened to me. It can understand me.” Cameron patted its head. The wolf whimpered. “I think you’re right honey,” he turned back to his wife. “I think it’s time we went back down below…to the cities and towns.”

###

 “Orchid! Oh Orchid…. Get up! Get up it’s coming!”

“Morganna what is it? What’s coming?” Orchid threw her blankets aside and stood up.

“It’s here now. It’s coming for you and the others. But you are the one Orchid…the one that will…”

The warehouse doors rumbled. They buckled and warped. Something on the other side bashed against it.  Another bash and the doors buckled again, the hinges popping. The locks, the sliding bars, all useless. Another bash–

The doors tore apart like scrap paper.

Everyone in the base screamed. Cesar and Sarah rushed to Orchid’s side. She turned her focus on the hole torn in the building, bright sunlight streaming through it. A hulking figure stepped into the light.

Sarah gasped. She pushed herself in front of Orchid and the others and curled her hands into fists. She knelt down and drove them to the floor. Vibrations rolled off Sarah, her skin and clothes rippled, the walls around her trembled. The floor beneath her ruptured as if at the hands of an earthquake and splintered toward the masked assassin.

Men and women jumped out of the way as the floor tore into a chasm but the assassin was unaffected. His body never flinched. He hurled himself into the air, scaling across the fissure and avoiding it completely.

The killer slammed down in front of Sarah and grabbed her by the throat, driving his other hand through her chest. He pulled back and ripped out her heart in a glob of blood. Screams and wails filled the base. People huddled together and cowered.

Panic swept through Orchid but somehow she knew what to do and reacted. She flung her hand up toward the ceiling and instantly the killer launched into the air and crashed through the roof. Splintered beams and shingles rained down as Orchid grabbed hold of Morganna.

“Get everyone out of here, now!” She yelled at the girl.

“What about you?”

“The people first. Go now, all of you! Out of the building, head into the alleys and regroup in the nearest suburb.”

Men, women and children dashed past her, some screaming, some in shock. The building evacuated in seconds with Morganna and Cesar exiting last.

“Orchid, come on,” Cesar called. “Before it comes back.”

Orchid searched above and listened. She heard nothing on the roof. She caught her breath, adrenalin pumping through her, and rushed out with her friends.

The killer fell out of the sky like a comet. He came down in front of Orchid, stopping her cold. “You’re the strongest one yet,” he said to her.

Cesar and Morganna stopped and turned. “Go!” Orchid yelled, “get to–”

A fist across her jaw cut her off.

She sailed through the air and landed in the middle of the street. A streetlight wobbled and fell toward her but she managed to roll out of the way. Her head swam, her body burned with pain. She tried to shake it off and saw the masked man coming straight at her.

Orchid spotted a vacant shell of an SUV on the street corner. She lifted pointed a weak, bloodied hand at it and it lifted into air. The SUV hovered momentarily then flew at the oncoming killer.

The two-ton vehicle collided with him and drove him into the front of a six-story building. A loud crashed echoed, all the windows in the building shattered and its roof collapsed.

Orchid gasped for air, her heart pounded in her chest. All of her energy was drained. She struggled to her feet, trying to catch her breath. Feeling dizzy and weak. She glanced over at the dormant SUV and waited.

“Orchid, please!” Morganna pleaded. “Time to go.”

An arm pushed its way from under the SUV and took hold of it.  Orchid’s mouth gaped as the killer lifted the SUV and pushed it off of him.  “What is that thing?” she cried.

“We’ll fight it another day,” Cesar yelled. “We need to get the hell out of here.”

Cesar ran to her and slung her arm around his shoulders. Reluctantly, Orchid let him lead her away. Glancing back over her shoulder she saw the killer crawl slowly on hands and knees, blood pooling from his entire body. “Why won’t it die?” Orchid said to the others as they scurried into a network of alleyways.

No one answered her.

About John Grover

John Grover is a dark fiction author residing in Massachusetts. He grew up watching creature double feature with his brother on Saturday afternoons. This fueled his love of monsters, ghosts and the supernatural. He never missed an episode. In his spare time he loves to cook, garden, go to the theater to watch horror movies with his friends, read, talk about food, bake amazing desserts, play with his dog Buffy (yes named after the character in the TV show) and draw-badly. Some of his favorite TV shows and influences are The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Darkside, Space 1999, Battlestar Galactica, X-Files, Night Gallery, Monsters, Star Trek, and much more. He completed a creative writing course at Boston’s Fisher College and is a member of the New England Horror Writers, a chapter of the Horror Writers Association. Some of his more recent credits include Best New Zombie Tales Vol 1 by Books of the Dead Press, The Book of Cannibals by Living Dead Press, The Vermin Anthology, The Northern Haunts Anthology by Shroud Publishing, The Zombology Series by Library of the Living Dead Press, Morpheus Tales, Wrong World, The Willows, Alien Skin Magazine, Aurora Wolf and more. He is the author of several collections, including the recently released Creatures and Crypts, 20 tales of over 70,000 words of fiction, as well as various chapbooks, anthologies, and more. Please visit his website www.shadowtales.com for more information. View all posts by John Grover

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