Dark America, Part 37 – An End

Continued from Chapter 36, here.

We woke it up.

Still knocked down to the ground, I stared up at the huge monstrosity that rose in the place where the mushroom had once squatted. Continuing the plant metaphor, it reminded me of a massive bunch of crabgrass, stabbing up with blades from the ground.

But no crabgrass grew in pale white, or stretched miles into the air, up beyond the clouds.

“Shit,” Jaspers cursed, landing on the ground next to me. “Now what?” Continue reading

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Dark America, Part 5 – Motivations I

Continued from part 4, here.

“So, Texas,” Jaspers spoke up, interrupting the rumble of the big Ford’s engine.  “You gonna keep on sitting there like a clam, or open up about it?”

I glanced over at him, although I couldn’t take my eyes off the road for long.  After just a few miles down the highway, having to constantly slow and navigate our way through the lines of stopped or crashed vehicles, we’d elected to pick up a third truck; one for each pair of us.  We’d worked in pairs before, on training exercises, and easily fell into those same pairings: Jaspers and myself, the two unspoken leaders of the team rode together, as did Henry and Corinne, and Sergei and Feng.  Oddly enough the Russian and the near-mute Chinese sniper seemed to get along very well, as if their silent thoughts communicated on the same wavelength.

Most of the time, I didn’t mind Jaspers.  He could be foul-mouthed and unnecessarily blunt at times, but that bluntness also sometimes cut through all the bullshit and let him get right to the point. Continue reading

Please read, please try to remember!

Okay, I think I type here. I hope this works. Forgive me, this is my first time using this blog site, so I don’t really understand much of it. My graduate student left his account logged in, I guess. Sorry, Sam. Perhaps posting as you will throw them off my trail.

I’m not sure quite what to write here. I guess I could just write it, right? But that wouldn’t make any sense, and they’d probably just delete it. I could maybe use some sort of code, but they’re clever, oh, they’re devilishly clever. Let me think…

Forgive me if I ramble a bit. I’ve been awake for… about thirty hours, now. I think that the caffeine is starting to wear off. I’d better drink another one of these Red Bulls. My graduate student swears by them, but they’re just making my head spin. And I’m still feeling tired, which is bad. Tiredness is the enemy. I need to stay awake. I just need to share this story.  Maybe some of you will even remember it… Continue reading

"Suliman" – Part 1

Usually, people probably aren’t nervous when they’re entering small towns.  Especially dinky little places in the middle of nowhere, Texas, with under a hundred residents and some desperately high-brow name like St. Vermis.  Of course, usually people aren’t hunting for the source of pure evil and various disasters over the last hundred years or so, either.  Not to mention the fact that I didn’t have any registration for the big revolver tucked in between my socks in my hastily packed suitcase.  But maybe I should back up a bit.

To be honest, I never expected my thesis to yield any real results… Continue reading

“Don’t dig here.”

“No, sah. Not here.”

Frowning, I glanced over at Attenib. I’d heard a wobble in the man’s voice that I didn’t recognize. He didn’t sound quite like himself.

“Atten, everything okay?” I asked in a lowered tone, taking a step closer to him. Damnable insects swooped down at my face, biting and stinging. I managed to smack one, and watched with vicious satisfaction as it slammed into a nearby tree trunk and then dropped, stunned, to the forest floor.

I returned my attention back to my guide. After years alongside Attenib, I knew his moods well, recognized the minor twitches of the muscles beneath his nut-brown skin. I’d worked with him long enough to trust in his uncanny ability to know just where to dig.

But now, today, he looked nervous, pale despite his leathery, tanned hide. And when he looked back at me, I saw a glint of unexpected emotion in his eyes.

Fear. Continue reading

Running.

He stepped out into the mist, watching the swirls coalesce around him. He drew a deep breath into his lungs, tasting the moisture, the hint of decay that drifted from the massive trunks around him, craggy bark rising up into the sky to occlude the stars.

He stepped forward, blinking his eyes. All around him, the trees rose up – but out in front of him, a clearing opened up, pale moonlight shining down through the hole in the canopy. The dim light painted the scene in black and white and innumerable shades of gray, a monochromatic masterpiece.

The boy sighed, feeling tension ebb from his limbs. No one else knew about this clearing but him. He nodded when the elders warned him not to venture out too far beyond the limits of the village, not to stray into the darkness.

He nodded – but inside his head, he clung fiercely to this place, this private retreat.

His field. Continue reading

High School Reunions in Zombieland

“Hey, Tallahassee, pull over for a minute!”

Next to me, the big man behind the wheel grunted, not looking over at me. “What?” he asked sourly, not taking his foot off of the accelerator.

“Seriously, come on. See that building?” I pointed out through the windshield, still grimy from an old splatter of blood that I hadn’t managed to fully scrape off at our last gas station. “Head over to that.”

For a minute, I thought that Tallahassee wouldn’t bother, that he’d just keep driving. After all, we’d set our destination as Dayton (“That big race track has just GOTTA have Twinkies!”, he’d exclaimed), and we had a few more hours of driving to go. The sun was already starting to sink towards the horizon.

Rule #9: Avoid driving after dark. Zombies don’t look both ways. Continue reading

It Locks from the Outside

It locks from the outside.

The rental agent mentioned that about the basement, hadn’t he? I hadn’t been listening, thinking about how getting away from it all would help me get back to my roots, let me finally finish the novel I’d been delaying. I just wanted to get the keys and head up to the cabin.

But I’d heard the scratching noise, coming from under the floorboards – an animal, trapped in the basement? I ducked into the darkness, intending to just glance around.

But the light switch didn’t work – and as I turned, I heard the door close behind me.

And click.

My phone was upstairs, and I didn’t have a flashlight, I thought as I felt around, searching for an axe, something, anything that could get me out through that door. Inside my head, I felt panic growing, pushing conscious thoughts further and further away.

I’d chosen to be alone, to retreat from society so that I wouldn’t be bothered.

The basement door locks for the outside – and now I’m trapped…

Nebulous Nightmares

“You all don’t understand!” the man cackled, rocking gently back and forth.  “You don’t know them, don’t realize just how they are.  Ohh, they hunger, but for so much more than you ever can know!”

He didn’t seem to see me, I noted, even though he sat directly across the metal table from me.  His hands were attached to a ring on the table via metal cuffs, but he ignored how the bracelets tugged at his hands when he rocked back in his chair.

“Doctor Angell,” I repeated, waiting for the man to return back to a more lucid state.  “George, it’s me, Francis.  Please, try and stay calm.”

Dr. Angell’s eyes briefly focused on me, but then they darted off again as he kept on rocking back and forth, now muttering indistinctly to himself.  He always did eventually come around, but as of late it seemed to take longer and longer.  His mind’s grip on reality, the doctors at the sanitarium said, was slowly slipping away.

I didn’t know how much longer I had before he’d lose that tenuous grip and fully slip away.

I needed to try something else to get through.  “George, please,” I begged, reaching forward and placing my hands lightly over the man’s own on the table.  “Try and focus.”

Finally, Dr. Angell seemed to come back to himself.  His rocking slowed, and his eyes finally focused on me.  “Francis?” he repeated, his voice quavering.

I nodded, trying to keep the tears out of the corners of my eyes.  “Yes, George, it’s me.  Are you okay?”

Slowly, unsteadily, Dr. Angell nodded his head.  “How long has it been?” he asked, his voice barely above a broken whisper.

“Six months,” I told him gently.  I didn’t lie.  Even as little more than a broken shell, Dr. Angell deserved the truth.

“Six months,” he repeated, shaking his head.  “Oh Francis, I don’t know how much more of this I can take.  I can feel them hungering.  They lurk, they wait, but not for much longer.  They’ll break through when I give in, and I’m so tired!”  He sagged back on the chair, dropping his eyes down to stare at his lap.  “So very tired,” he murmured to himself.

I felt sympathy welling up in my chest until I was certain that my heart would burst.  “George, do you remember what happened on that last night?” I asked gently.  “Maybe if you can remember, you can find a way to beat this thing-“

“Beat it!?” Dr. Angell shouted back at me, suddenly bursting up to his feet.  Only the metal handcuffs binding his wrists to the table kept him from rising up fully, and the whole metal table shook.  Even after six months of wasting away in this sanitarium, Doctor George Angell still possessed his broad shoulders and powerful frame.

I did my best to not show any hint of panic at the outburst.  “Talk to me, George,” I repeated.

Slowly, bit by bit, he dropped back down into the chair.  “Beat it,” he snorted to himself, as if this was some sort of joke.  “Francis, we can’t beat them.  We can’t even comprehend what they are.”

“That night, George.  Please.”

He sighed, but the light in his eyes faded slightly as his memory gazed back.  “I was at the observatory, on the main telescope,” he recounted.  “The previous night, one of my assistants reported spotting a change in one of the red stars we were monitoring.  I tuned in to that sector of the sky, hoping to make the observations that would validate my theory on gas giant eruptions.”

I nodded, not interrupting.  Before his sudden commitment to the sanitarium, Dr. Angell had been one of the best known and most respected astronomers.  His work on documenting the slow burnout of the stars around us had been featured many times in the tabloids.

“I tuned into the sector of the sky with the red star,” Dr. Angell repeated, his voice quavering slightly.  “And there it was, glowing so balefully, red and diseased.  The nebula behind it made it easy to spot, an orb that hung in front of a great gas backdrop.”

“And then… then they came for it.”

At these last words, Dr. Angell gasped, and I could sense that he was on the brink of losing all control.  “They?  They who?” I repeated, trying to keep him in the realm of lucidity.

He shook his head violently, his long, scraggly hair whipping back and forth.  “The nebulas,” he whispered, maddened red eyes staring back at me.  “Oh, Francis, they’re alive!  They hide in the backdrop, slow as glaciers, but so hungry, waiting to devour it all!”

“Focus, George!  Don’t lose it now!”

“And then- the eye!” the doctor screamed, throwing his head back.  I could see his every muscle standing out, taut and stretched to its very limit.  “Oh, that red eye!  It turned on me- Francis, it saw me!  From a billion miles away, it saw me, sensed me, hungered for me!  It reached out – oh, it reached for me-“

The doctor collapsed, his words choking into gibbering babble.  “I felt it,” he gasped out.  “So hungry.  Forever hungry.  It will consume it all, mindless- it won’t be enough-“

I waited, even tried again, but Dr. Angell didn’t speak again for the rest of the visiting hour.  No amount of prodding or cajoling from me could bring him back from his half-paralyzed muttering.

Finally, after the orderlies had taken him away to his room, I stood outside, my hands shoved deep into the pockets of my overcoat to protect against the chill.  The sun had dropped below the horizon, now, and stars lit up the sky.

“He is getting worse at a faster rate, now,” the head nurse told me after Dr. Angell had been escorted off to his room.  “He used to come and go from wakefulness, but now he’s almost always catatonic.  He likely won’t last much longer.”

I nodded, told them to do whatever they could.  I tried to keep a note of hope in my voice, although I knew as well as the head nurse that there was nothing they could do.  Dr. Angell stood no chance.

Now, outside, I stared up at the stars.  Even without the powerful telescope of the observatory, I could see their different colors, could make out the glow of the Milky Way in a band across the sky.  My eyes scrolled across the black dome above me, automatically noting the familiar landmarks of Polaris, Mars, the Seven Sisters, Orion’s belt, and others.

Suddenly, I paused, frowning.  There, just between Orion and Gemini, a reddish blotch glowed faintly against the darkness.  There was a nebula there, I knew, but it was usually too faint to see with the naked eye.

Staring up into the sky, for just an instant, my mind’s eye filled with a long finger, stretching out across millions of miles, stabbing out with unthinking hatred towards that puny mind that dared to touch it.  I saw a huge creature, a gaseous body stretching across a galaxy, a mind so ancient and cold as to be frozen over.  I imagined that I felt hatred, cold and reptilian, seeking to consume all light and warmth, an ocean swallowing the light of a candle.

“It will consume it all,” George had babbled, before he collapsed into senselessness.

As I walked home, most of my mind focused on composing my report to the Royal Guild of Astronomers on the unfortunate fate of the man who was once one of their most prominent members.  It would be a difficult report for me to deliver, but as Dr. Angell’s protege, I knew the duty was mine and mine alone.

Still, a tiny little part of me wondered about his last, mad rantings.  Surely, they were nothing but madness.

But I resolved to spend some time on the main telescope, turning it towards that reddish nebula that now glowed faintly but unmistakably in the night sky.

Morning Routine

I stumbled into the bathroom, blinking as I tried to rub the remnants of sleep out of my eyes.  My bare feet padded across the cold tile, and I vaguely wished that I’d had the forethought to pull on my slippers.

Entering the bathroom, my hand banged against the wall, searching for the light switch.  I found it, and the fan in the ceiling hummed to life as the lights came on.

Glancing up at my mirror, I blinked.  Where was my reflection?

There it was.  For a moment, I’d thought that the mirror was blank, that nothing was echoed on its silver surface.  But no, there was my reflection, blinking back at me with the same mussed hair and half-asleep expression.

I turned on the water, letting it run as I brushed my teeth.  For a moment, I thought that steam was rising up from the bowl of the sink, but when I took a gulp of water to wash out the toothpaste from my mouth, it was ice cold.  I sloshed it around in my cheeks before spitting it back into the sink.

Leaving the bathroom, I returned to my bedroom.  Outside my window, the sun hadn’t yet broken above the horizon, but I had to get ready to leave for work.  I turned next to my closet, pulling open the sliding door.

For a second, I saw rows of pine trees, their heavy boughs covered in a thick coat of snow, stretching off into the distance.  I blinked, and the dark rows of trees became dark rows of coats, hanging from the pole stretched across the length of my closet.  Behind the row of coats, I saw nothing but the blank back wall.

I picked out one of the suits, brushing a few flakes of something white off of the collar.  Sure, that one would work.

Once changed, my tie still hanging half-knotted around my neck, I headed for the kitchen.  Had to get something into my stomach before I left.  I felt a gnawing hunger settling in the pit of my stomach, growling and roaring with each step, demanding sustenance.

Outside my bedroom, in the hallway, my foot bumped against a small crinkly ball, which rolled away from me.  I grimaced.  Jasper, my cat, passed away six months ago, but for some reason I kept on finding more of his toys, still strewn about the apartment.

For a moment, as I passed my little kitchen table, I thought I saw the skeletal outline of a cat lurking beneath, its bare skull glinting as it hissed up at me through exposed teeth.  I pushed the chairs in beneath the empty table.  There was no cat there, alive or dead.

Pulling open the door of my refrigerator, a putrid smell assaulted me, making me wrinkle my nose.  The smell seemed to be coming from the crisper drawer, which I almost never used.  My hand stretched down towards the drawer’s handle, trembling a little, but I changed my mind at the last second and picked up a small yogurt container instead.

I leaned against the counter as I peeled the top off of the yogurt.  When I reached into the silverware drawer, the spoon that emerged seemed to have a fine coating of some sort of dark, clinging slime.  I wiped it away with a thumb before digging into the yogurt.

A glance at my watch showed me that I was about to be running late.  Hurriedly, I tossed the empty yogurt container into the overflowing trash container beneath the sink.  I frowned in at the mound of decaying matter.  I’d have to take that out when I came home.

Heading for the front door, I only just remembered to grab my car keys off their little hook beside the door.  The ring of keys jingled, bouncing together as I scooped them up.

I stepped outside, but as I went to lock the door, I paused.  Holding the key ring up in front of my eyes, I frowned at one of the keys.  It seemed long, elaborately carved from a white substance.  Bone?  I didn’t recognize it.

But there, behind the bone key, I found the key to my front door, and locked my apartment.  I turned and headed downstairs, off on my way to work.

Just another normal day.