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.