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.”


Stay Tuned…

The story will continue.

I plan to post new chapters every other weekend, schedule permitting. Chapter 5 should post weekend of March 24th.

Thanks for tuning in.  In the meantime I am preparing to post a characters Tab so you can keep up on who’s who and whether they’re a good guy or a villain. Don’t worry, I won’t give away any plot points.

Look for that this week.

Thank you,

John


Aftermath: Chapter Four

Dripping water echoed rhythmically in the catacomb-like sewer system. Shadows wriggled in the distance as weak light danced and reflected over the muck-filled water. The water, now unregulated, had flooded certain areas while in others it drained completely. Larger than average rats scavenged massive piles of garbage.

The corridors twisted into networks of intersections and rung-ladders leading to rusted grates. Tunnels went off into a myriad of directions and doorways swallowed by eternal darkness.

In one of the larger openings, what used to have been working electrical boxes and power cables, scarlet-robed figures gathered before a makeshift altar of cement. The cracked block of gray cement was filled with candles. Some of the men and women held torches.  Under new leadership, the cannibal cult waited to be addressed.

Tall red-haired Octavius stepped out on the altar. He stared at his disciples and held out his hands, palms open. Shorter, white-haired, almost an albino, Malec joined his side.

“Brothers and sisters,” Octavius began. “This is a new beginning. Our former leader was unworthy and he was struck down by the Lord of the Feast. We honor this demand of our God and obey. He has appointed me your new leader. He has charged me to teach his word and provide sustenance for you all. Those of us, the chosen ones, feast on the unworthy, the lost and the blasphemers. They are our food and our feast… is long overdue.”

Collective humming filled the chamber, shadows wriggled against candlelit white walls marred with sludge, the smell of filth and waste hung thick in the air.

“Now go…search the lands above, venture to the outer areas and bring me back one suitable for the Feast!” Octavius lifted his arms over his head and the cult dispersed quickly into the sewers.  He turned to the albino Malec and smiled.  Malec grinned back sinisterly, exposing pointed teeth. He’d filed them himself to sharp points to more easily devour the flesh of the unbelievers.

###

Luana handled a glowing green orb with a pair of tongs. She walked it over to a silicon case and dropped it in, latching the case shut. She slid it under her passenger chair. The truck rumbled over a rocky trail and finally came out the other side of deep thicket.  Luana glanced out her window and stared at the ruined homes, gutted cars and crumbling churches.

The truck screeched to a halt. The back doors and ramp opened and her men charged out. She stood up and switched on her black box. Its lights blinked wildly. “There are big readings here.” She walked outside as the sun was setting. She pulled the sunglasses from her face, finally able to remove them for the first time today.

Outside her men scrambled around, trashing the inside of already desiccated homes, searching car trunks and overturning every bit of debris in their path. One of her men dashed over to her.

“I’m s-sorry Luana,” he stammered. “I’m afraid the electrical power source has already been taken. Electricity is in very high in-demand. Many can still put it to use.”

“Can they?” she never looked up from her black box. “Blake, I am big believer in perfection. In fact, I can’t tolerate incompetence or stupidtiy.”

“Of course,” he answered, his lips quivered.

Luana reached into her pocket and pulled out a sliver bracelet. “What’s even worse than that is excuses.”

He remained silent as she slid the bracelet on her hand.

“At least admit when you’ve screwed up instead of blaming it on other illusive, phantom people who may or may not have taken my power.” She tightened her hand into a fist and a rod extended from the bracelet. She aimed it at Blake and fired. A laser flashed and hit him in the center of the chest.

He collapsed onto the ground and smoldered. The other soldiers stood around and gawked at his lifeless form.

“Nice little gadget isn’t it?” Luana showed them all her bracelet laser device. “Made it myself. Get rid of that.” She pointed at Blake’s body.

Her men picked him up and shuffled off. Luana’s box started beeping loudly again and she tuned into it. “Again…that huge power source….it’s been here.” She looked around and started off down the street.

“Like nothing I have ever seen,” Luana squealed. “It’s like residue or something.” She followed the reading to a cemetery. She walked past open graves, crumbled stones, burnt patches of grass. Dead trees reached for her, a few branches snagging her raven tresses.

The device in her hand grew louder, its lights going berserk. “My God…what is this thing?” She stopped at an open grave, discovering the limp body of a girl. Luana bent down and examined her.  “Whatever this power is, it killed this pitiful creature. Why? What threat could she have possibly been?”

She pulled herself up and headed back to her truck. The crew moved on following the powerful residue that was quickly becoming Luana’s obsession. The truck rumbled down a more suitable road, headlights illuminating the recent dusk.

The truck came to a screeching halt again as a wounded man stumbled out to the middle of the road. He collapsed inches from the truck.  “Luana! A man in the road!” the driver called.

Luana hopped out, two armed men accompanied her. “H-h-help m-m-meee,” the man reached for her. His head was shaved, his ears and nose were pierced and he wore leather pants and a leather jacket with studs and chains. His nose and mouth were stained with blood. “S-some chic with ssstrange powers tried t-t-t-to squeeze me to death w-w-with power lines.”

This caught Luana’s interest. She turned to her men. “Help him into the truck. I may find a use for him.”

###

“It’s okay, Justin, just stay by my side,” Jack comforted his son. Night had fallen and the young boy got more nervous with each passing moment.

Jack saw a tree branch lying in the street before him. He picked it up and curled his free hand around the top of it. When he let it go it crackled with fire, a temporary torch to light their way.

They walked hand in hand trying to stay in the alleyways and avoid the open streets. Jack felt as if they were walking targets, as if mutations stalked them at every corner. He tried not to let his fear infect his son but it was getting harder and harder every day.

Father and son followed alley after alley until footsteps caught Jack’s ears.

“Daddy,” Justin whimpered, clinging to his father’s leg.

“It’s okay, I won’t let anything hurt you.” Jack glanced at his torch and it flared briefly. “Who’s there?  I’m warning you…I’m dangerous. One more move and….”

“We would never hurt you.” Orchid stepped out of the shadows, holding Morganna’s hand.

“Who are you?” Jack asked.

“My name is Orchid and this is Morganna.” The little girl gave a wave. “We’re here to help you and your son, Jack.”

“How did you know my name?”

Orchid looked down at Morganna and smiled. “Morganna told me.”

Jack looked at her in disbelief, his eyes wandered to the green stone she wore around her neck. “How…I?”

“You’re the one who ignites fires,” Morganna said. “Aren’t you, Jack?”

“Yes, I do…how did you know that?”

“She knows many things, Jack,” Orchid said. “I come from a group of people like you and me. I can do things too.” Orchid snapped her fingers and a breeze blew down the alley. She pointed at a window at the building across from them and its glass shattered. “We’re working together to protect each other and rebuild. Morganna knew where you were and she brought me to you. There’s much I need to tell you, but you have to trust us.”

“Well that’s just it, isn’t it,” Jack said, moving his body between them and his son. “How do I know you’re not just some psychos or mutants?”

“Do we look like mutants?” Orchid asked. “As for our sanity, I think you know. Trust your inner voice, trust your instincts.”

Morganna smiled at Justin. He tugged at his father’s pants, Jack still wore his shirt and tie, his dress pants as if he was still working at a corporate office. He looked down at his son. “It’s okay dad. Morganna is nice.”

Justin stepped out from his father’s shadow and giggled. Morganna giggled back.

“It’s okay,” Orchid said. “Come stay with our people. Safety in numbers.”

Jack looked back at the streets behind him, the dangers, the horrors then looked back at his giggling son, the first time he’d seen him laugh in so long. Jack rubbed his face with a sweaty hand and slowly made his way to the girls. “Okay,” he said with hesitation.

###

Cameron and his wife Lila entered the city for the first time in years, even before the disasters they lived a secluded life seeing very few people, living meagerly and planning for a time just like this.  They didn’t plan on running out of resources so fast. One disaster would have been enough but dozens? No one could have accounted for that.

The white wolf led the way, Cameron directly behind it, Lila by his side. Cameron had asked the wolf to guide them safely to the city and to some sort of food source, whatever the wolf’s nose could flesh out.

The three of them entered small town on the outskirts of the city. The wolf crossed the first street they came into contact with. On the other side was a small general store, its windows were smashed in and the interior had been ravaged but there were still prized items to be found.

Cameron crept his way in to make sure everything was clear and that the store was empty. He gestured for Lila to come and together they rummaged around in the dark.

“Cashews!” Lila beamed. “I found cashews, and some walnuts.”

“Great, collect as much as you can into our sacks. There’s some dried cereal here and boxes of dried prunes. Oh and chocolate…my God…chocolate!”

The wolf sniffed his way into the store and stopped at its entrance. He sat and watched his human companions scramble around like kids in a candy shop.

“Chocolate?” Lila called. Her face lit up with a smile and she hustled over to her husband. She didn’t wait nor ask. She tore into the individually wrapped chocolate drops, probably sold as penny candy, and devoured them.

“Slow down, honey. Don’t overdue the sugar.”

“Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had chocolate?” She said with a mouthful of melting candy. She glanced over at the wolf. “Why do I think he keeps looking at me like I’m a chicken dinner.”

“He’s perfectly tame now but you do bring up a point. We need to feed him something…he’ll need some meat. Dried cereal and prunes aren’t going cut it. Maybe I can find some canned meats, like Spam or something.”

“Good luck with that, that’s probably all cleaned out by now.” There was chocolate caking her lips.

A snarl escaped the wolf suddenly. Cameron looked up to see the hair on the animal’s back bristle. The wolf hopped to its four paws and stared out of the broken doorway. Cameron stepped softly and crept to the door to see why his wolf guardian was getting hot under the collar.

Across the street the masked assassin stood. His chest heaved, his muscled arms flexed. Gray eyes glared directly at Cameron. The very sight of him made Cameron’s breath catch in his throat. The wolf growled and bared his teeth.

“Shit, what is that?”

“Cam, what’s going on?”

“Stay where you are. Don’t come to the door. I think we might be in some trouble.”

“Oh God…”

The opposing figure muttered something into the air but Cameron couldn’t hear him. The wolf lowered his head and growled louder, saliva escaped his teeth and he prepared to pounce.

The killer took one step out into the street and a glowing net was thrown over him by a group of soldiers.

Cameron couldn’t believe his eyes. He turned back to Lila. “Ok, time to make a break for it. Take everything you can. Let’s go!”

Lila and Cameron gathered up bags of preserved food and ran for the door. The white wolf leaned back on its hind legs, preparing to attack.

“Wolf no!” Cameron called, sensing the action. “Not now, not time for this.  Come boy!” The wolf abandoned his attack to accompany his humans. Cameron looked back as they ran off…the soldiers threw chains around the great man with the mask, struggling to take him down.

###

The soldiers pulled the chains with all of their might as Luana watched from the shadows. He is it… the power that keeps eluding me! The greatest power on the earth. It might not even be of this world. Such force, such energy. Unrelenting.

The masked man took hold of the chains and pulled…two soldiers flew into the air and smashed into each other. Noses broken, blood spattered. The bodies crumpled to the ground. The killer ripped the energy net from his body as if it was a bed sheet, simply absorbing the shocks that surged through his flesh.

And apparently unstoppable…

More of Luana’s soldiers charged the killer, drawing guns and swords. With one blow he sent one man crashing into a tree. He swung his hand around and crushed the uzi pointed at his face then put his hand through another man’s chest. The third solider managed to sink his blade deep into the beast’s shoulder.

The killer shrugged if off, turned and seized the soldier by the throat. He lifted him off the ground and crushed his neck. The rest of the soldiers backed off and started toward Luana.

“Back to the truck,” Luana barked. “He’s much too strong right now. Another time, boys.” She dashed back with them, her mind twisting, turning, conniving. There’s got to be some way to wear him down. I need something to counter his strength. Until we meet again, my friend.

###

“Where are we going?” Jack asked.

“Still untrusting?” Orchid replied.

“I’m just trying to protect my son. He’s been through enough already. Is that such a bad thing? The world has gone to hell, excuse me if I want to keep him safe.”

“It’s not a bad thing at all,” Orchid continued. “It’s wonderful but you’re not alone anymore.”

“We all protect each other,” Morganna added. The little girl paused and grasped her stone necklace. Her eyes shut and her other hand twitched.

“Morganna what is it?”

“A vision…a little unclear…I see a man and woman.”

“And?”

“There’s a wolf with them.”

“A wolf…that’s new. Are they bad?”

“I can’t tell yet…I…it’s gone.” Morganna opened her eyes and let out a sigh. She was slightly out of breath. “We will cross paths with them.”

“We should be ready,” Orchid said. “Don’t know what the wolf’s story is.”

“He was beautiful.” Morganna smiled.  It made Justin smile back.

“This happen a lot?” Jack asked.

“Only when something important is gonna happen.” Orchid led him to a hill and climbed to the top. There was a parking lot full of crushed school buses, mangled swing sets and hollowed cars. The tar of the lot was cracked and overgrown with sickly weeds. Downed power lines snaked around the ground.

A short distance away a school building sat dark and in distress. Its windows were all shattered. The roof was half collapsed. The chain link fence around it was curled on itself. Through the windows there was nothing but black. Some brittle letters spelled out High School above a pair of double doors.

“There?” Jack said unimpressed and a little disappointed.

“It doesn’t look like much but the basement is set up like a bomb shelter. It’s all we got right now and it serves its purpose.”

“Come,” Morganna held her hand to Justin and the little boy took it without a blink. “There’s some jax and balls to play with.”

Orchid smiled at the two kids then cocked her head at Jack and winked at him.

Jack rubbed his face nervously and finally cracked a smile. “Who the hell are you people?”

###

Luana stood over the examining table stroking her new member’s shaved head. She’d taken his leather jacket and chains away. He shivered a bit. Bruises peppered his face. The once would-be street punk, although glad to be alive, seemed wracked with fear.

“Everything’s going to be okay,” Luana said. “Can you tell me more about the woman who did this to you?”

“S-S-she…had blondish white hair and some weird-ass dress with dots or something. M-m-e and my friends were just trying to get a necklace away from a little girl.”

“Necklace?”

“Yeah, it looked valuable, we just wanted to sell it for some more weapons.”

“I see. Maybe after I fix you up you can tell me where you found this little girl with the necklace. I scratch your back, you scratch mine.”

“Whatever you want…just please make the pain go away.”

“It will, dear.” She snapped her fingers and a few of her men came with bandages and a first-aid kit.

She stepped away while they cleaned him up. Necklace. Sounds like something I need to see for myself. An itch distracted her from her thoughts. Luana looked down at her left arm and noticed a small patch of green scales had formed on it. No. She rushed from the room.

In her quarters she took a pair of black leather gloves and slid them on. She looked around quickly to make sure no one saw then returned to the examining room.

###

The masked killer stumbled down a darkened street littered with debris. He turned a corner and made his way to a shell of a house. There was a picket fence still encircling the yard. He stopped and stared at it then up at the house. Shutters hung precariously off their hinges and dangled, slapping against the house each time the wind blew.

He stared at the shutters then grabbed his head with both hands. He clawed at his mask almost ripping it off but it tightened.  “What am I!” he cried to the night sky. “Where do I come from?”

Enough. A voice in his head said to him. Or was it really in his head? It actually sounded as if it came from the sky. You are here to destroy them all.

“Why? Why do I kill them?”

It is none of your concern. The voice came from inside the house suddenly. You are our sword. They must not become one. Stop at nothing.

“I can’t find them all. It is an endless task. My pain only grows.”

When they are all dead you will find peace. The voice came from behind him now. He turned to the street but it was empty. We have all the time in the world.

He fell to his knees, holding his head in his hands.

###

Cameron and Lila hurried along a fence with a river beside it. The white wolf trotted alongside them.

“Maybe we can stop for a moment and wash our faces, our hands?” Lila asked.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Cameron said. “It’s probably polluted with radiation or acid rain. It might not be safe at all. We should keep moving.”

“I’m getting tired. Can’t we stop for just a little while?”

“Okay, over near there.” He pointed to a small boathouse with some old canoes still attached to them.

They hurried over to the boathouse and positioned themselves behind it out of sight. The wolf went to the edge of the river, sniffed around then walked back, sitting himself beside Cameron.

The boathouse creaked. Cameron looked around it, examining it. There was a thud and suddenly one of the doors opened.

The wolf jumped to his feet with a snarl.

Dozens of scarlet-robed cult members walked out of the house, surrounding the couple. Octavius stepped out to the front and grinned. “Well, what do we have here?”


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.


Aftermath: Chapter Two

The apartment building was ominous and loomed over him as if at any moment it would topple over and crush him. He entered it any way; there was no other choice.

“Emily!” Jack Crandle called, his gray dress shirt was torn, his dark hair, usually parted and neat, was disheveled and he was in need of a shave.

He stumbled through long stretching corridors filled with debris. The ceiling was caved in and the support beams buckled.  None of that mattered. He was a desperate man now and he raced through the building without a second thought.

“Emily, Justin! Can you hear me?” He climbed deeper then higher into the building taking stairs two at a time and noticing the blood that stained them.

Jack came to a dead end. He could ascend no further, the stairs were blocked with rubble and cement. He pulled open the door nearest him and entered another hall. He caught glimpse of a dead elevator with its doors hanging open like an invitation. He accepted and leapt into the shaft, climbing the cables up as high as his arms would carry him.

Finally he reached a hall covered in giant cobwebs, Jack fought his way through the sheer white curtains. He was barely able to see the floor away there were so many webs. A clicking sound resounded nearby and the floor crackled beneath his feet.

Jack looked down and saw that he was walking on bones, cracking them under his weight. He held back his horror and stammered on, seeing the open door ahead of him.

“Emily, Justin?” he said again as he reached the room. He heard more clicking. This time it was not himself. A sick feeling filled his stomach and his heart slammed against his chest like a sledgehammer. He froze at the room’s threshold and for a fleeting moment he thought he heard a moan.

Mustering all his courage, he threw himself into the room and ran face first into the half gnawed carcass of what was once a human being dangling from a thin line of web. He was knocked to the floor with a thud and a trickle of something wet hit him on his cheek. He gazed up to see the dozens of other body parts hanging on the webs that stretched over the ceiling; rib cages, half eaten arms, severed legs, blood-stained bones all tangled in a nest of death.

In the back of the room he saw cocoons, huge silver ones that fattened the spinner of the web’s next meal. Jack pulled himself out of his initial shock and raced to the cocoons in a fever of panic. “Emily! Justin! Hold on, I’m coming! I’m coming!” He grabbed one of the cocoons and tore it bit by bit, strand by strand, the webbing sticking to his sweat-coated fingers.

His fear turned to horror then grief as he discovered he was too late. He took his beloved wife Emily into his arms discovering that half her face gnawed away, bone exposed in all of its ugliness, there were teeth marks in it.

Tears streamed his face as Emily slipped from his arms. Jack stood up in a stupor, about to give up when he caught glimpse of one of the cocoons wriggling. Grabbing hold of it without hesitation, he tore it apart discovering that his son Justin was still alive. He took the small boy into his arms and hugged him tightly, preparing to take him from the room but a noise from above stopped him dead in his tracks.

From out of the webs dropped the web weaver. A half human, half spider thing, the result of a mutation created by the defense field that almost destroyed the planet, stood before him. The right half of the thing was spider with four bristle-covered arms that clicked as they rubbed against each other. Its eyes were pitch black and large pincers protruded from its mouth.

Jack dropped his son and ushered him against the rear of the room. The spider-thing lashed at them using its legs to smash Jack to the ground, with its pincers it tried to bite him and fill him with its paralyzing poison.

Justin cried in the corner as Jack rolled out of the creature’s attack. The thing suddenly turned toward Justin, drawn to the boy by his cries. It turned, pounced on him and—

A father’s fury was ignited. He got to his feet and pulled the beast off his son. “Don’t you touch him you bastard! You killed my wife now I’m gonna kill you!”

The beast shot a strand of web out of its mouth and wrapped it around Jack, attempting to cocoon him. Jack was unaffected; he simply took hold of the web and closed his eyes. The strand went up in flames, spreading across it and catching the beast.

In moments the spider thing was a great ball of fire, squealing and writhing, stumbling about the room in chaos and terror. With his next marvel, Jack stared up at the ceiling and with a thundering crash it came tumbling down on top of the burning spider, burying the nightmare forever.

Jack stared in awe, having just discovered something new about himself. He just used the sheer will of his mind to destroy that creature. He shook his head, felt what might have been a smile cross his lips.  What else can I do?

He took his son back into his arms and carried him to safety.

###

 Morning burnt its way into the ravaged world. The days were as fun-filled as the nights in this strange new landscape.

The masked man found his first destination from a search that lasted the entire night. He stood before a cemetery. Mist hung thick and foul in the air here and the sun barely touched the place as if it was afraid to. The ground was scorched. Dead trees dead reached to the heavens like skeletal hands.

By some miracle some of the stones still stood, some were piles of ash, others were cracked and broken. Graves were unearthed and ravaged, a few smoldered.

The hulking masked figure watched someone ahead of him in the graveyard, squirming. This frail form was down on its knees making some sort of bizarre gesturing.

He moved in closer and got full view of the only other person in the cemetery aside from himself, a teenage girl. She leaned into an open grave, dark hair tattered and disheveled, nightgown stained and filth-ridden.

He moved closer to her, observing her odd behavior and listening to her sudden raving.

“School is open again,” she muttered reaching into the grave, arms streaked with mud. “Ooh that feels good daddy. No, don’t touch that..I…errr…” her words became muffled by munching sounds. “Big truck,” she gurgled. “…big mountain.” Chewing, chewing, chewing. “Yes, yes, yes…”

The hulking masked man now stood directly behind her, feeling the power that emanated from her. He now knew why he was summoned to this half dead world. Looking down, he noticed that she had broken into the grave’s casket and was eating the corpse inside. The carcass was littered with her scratches and bite marks, limbs removed, face deformed beyond recognition.

He watched her suck the last bit of dead flesh from a bone and without hesitation he reached down and pulled her up by her hair like a scolded pup.

“How pathetic!” He roared, speaking for the first time, discovering to his amazement that his mouth could actually form words. It was his outrage at the girl that caused him shout his first words. “You don’t even know what you are. The world would bow to what you are capable of doing. Such a waste!”

A moment later, he took her by the throat and snapped her neck effortlessly, bubbles of blood escaping from her mouth and nose as her body slipped from his hands.

He stood staring at her lifeless body and flexed, a feeling of delight washing through him. His gray eyes expressed the sheer thrill of killing her. Gazing up, he sniffed the air. “There are more, many more out there. I must continue, for they must not meet, it must not come to pass…”

###

Orchid and Morganna crossed into a new city without a single disturbance. A car or truck would hum by them now and then but they were scarce. Orchid watched, a bit unsettled, as a hearse drove by them. An entire family rode inside it as if on a Sunday drive.

“Morganna, we’ve traveled all night. How much further is it?”

“We’re nearly there. Patience Orchid, patience.”

“How did you get so far away from your home?”

“I was taken there in my sleep.”

“You were, who would do such a thing?”

“We were meant to meet, Orchid.”

“Huh?”

There was only silence. Morganna would not give any further information.

They came to a stop at the outskirts of the city. A huge warehouse stood before them, its windows boarded, graffiti covering its walls. An empty parking lot stretched around to the back of it and it was bordered on all sides by yet another dead forest.

Morganna walked up to the warehouse door and knocked softly. She waited a moment and the door slowly slid open. A black man peered out and when he saw Morganna his eyes lit up and a smile drew wide across his face. “Morganna!” he called. “You’ve returned to us. Hey everyone, Morganna is back!”

Morganna took Orchid by the hand and led her into the warehouse. The inside reminded Orchid of an airplane hangar and as they made their way in the others came to greet them.

The warehouse was set up with tents and beds. Lanterns and candles provided light. What food could be found was stockpiled and shared among all. Even pets co-existed in this small community.

Families lived here, husbands, wives, children of all ages and races. Some had armed themselves with guns of the old world, knives and makeshift bows. They had to protect what they fashioned here, many dangers existed on the outside.

Orchid spotted bottles of water stacked in one corner. Her eyes widened. “You have water?” her voice had a hint of joy in it. “May I have some?”

“By all means, Orchid,” the black man said. A short, red-haired woman handed him a canteen. “I’m Cesar. And this is Sarah.” He pointed to the red-haired woman.

“Cesar, how did you know my name?” She was puzzled but took the canteen and drank deeply.

“Your coming has been foretold to us, my lady,” Cesar replied.

“Foretold? By who?”

“Morganna of course. You have come into your power Orchid and have come here to lead us. You are but one of many who will begin the new order.”

“Lead you? Others? There are others like me?”

“Yes,” Morganna said. “They’ll being joining us soon, with people of their own. We will all become one and bring the world back from the destruction. You’ll like them…most of them anyway.”

“I don’t understand. What’s happening here?”

“Soon,” Morganna said. “All will be clear.” Her gemstone glittered.

###

Darkness fell again and the savage lands echoed with barks and roars. Terrible things roamed freely, things gone mad, things that struck terror in the survivors still lost and wandering.

The air was hot and humid, the moon rose casting pale ghost light over the land. The light illuminated a brick tower in the midst of the city, revealing movement at the top.

Nomadic in nature, the cannibal cult moved its base of operations to the top of the desolate brick tower, the only surviving tower from the great factories that at one time crowded the industrial part of town. Thick black smoke used to pollute the air now the only smoke that rose here was that of incense. Candles lit the area as a new blasphemous, perverse ritual began. The cult prepared for another feast.

The bald leader sat in his chambers, maps strewn on the table in front of him. He sat in a chair deep in concentration, hands frozen in a sort of claw shape. Above him some objects levitated; a goblet, plate, candlestick, a shoe. They formed a circle around his head, hovering under the power of his will.

His door flew open and in walked the red haired member, his best hunter. “My Lord?” The objects tumbled to the floor as the leader glared up at him. He swallowed nervously. “Apologies grand one but we are ready. The woman is prepared.”

“Thank you, Octavius,” he grinned. The leader joined his cult in closing the ceremony. He raised his dagger over the naked, painted woman.

“Lord of the feast,” he began. “We give thee praise and thanks. By your word we eat and cleanse ourselves, knowing that we are the chosen ones to inherit the Earth.” With that he cut the woman’s throat. The others dug into her voraciously, cutting and chopping her flesh and drinking her blood.

A horrendous scream stopped their feast as a hulking figure leapt over the tower’s wall. All eyes watched dumbstruck as the masked man came crashing down in front of the cult. His gray eyes flashed with rage. “Is this what is left of mankind…a bunch of flesh eaters!” He roared.

A cultist charged the menace with an axe, swinging hard he sank the blade into him. To his shock he saw no blood flow from the wound, the axe had no effect. The masked man seized the cannibal by the throat and threw him off the tower, his screams filling the night sky.

The masked man stared the cult down as they brandished their weapons, the bald leader stepped to the front and laughed. “So, you have come. Don’t worry my children he is mine.”  The leader stared down at the bloodied dagger in his hand and willed it through the air.

It plunged deep into the killer’s head but he didn’t even flinch. Instead he laughed. “You’re new to your power, foolish one. You are not strong enough.” He pulled the knife from his head, stepped to the leader and forced it right through his eye. The blade ripped through the leader’s brain, the tip of it popping out the back of his head.

The leader twitched, buckled and fell to the ground. The killer’s eyes flashed with pleasure again as he basked in it, the high of snuffing out another one of them.

He looked over at the cult, cowering for their lives. “I have no quarrel with you,” he said to them. “I have found what I need, you may live.” He turned and jumped from the tower. The cult gasped, rushing to the edge of the tower and looking over it. They saw nothing.

Octavius pulled the dagger from his bald leader’s eye. He turned back to the others and licked the blood off the blade. “This was a sign my brothers,” he said. “A sign that a new leader is needed to lead us to our glory. Brothers… I am that leader.”

###

The masked figure walked to the outskirts of the city, a shimmer of moonlight lighting his way. Ahead of him he could see the warehouse, still and quiet. “They must not rebuild. I will not allow it. The ones with power must die.”

###

Morganna woke suddenly, shaking the slumbering Orchid beside her.

“What is it?” Orchid yawned.

“Someone is coming. Danger, there is great danger.”

“Who Morganna, who’s coming?”

“Not one of us, not one of us. Oh, Orchid your first battle is about to begin.”