Revelations (Sequel to The Fort and Survival)

March 16, 2017 at 12:00 AM

As noted in the title, this is a sequel to The Fort and Survival.

“Baby, come on! We need to go!” Ryan yelled as he slammed the trunk of their Hyundai sedan.
“I’m coming!” Carla called from inside the house, appearing seconds later carrying a gym bag. “I just got some clothes for Kyle.”
She jogged down the steps to Ryan, and he took the bag from her, tossing it on the pile of other stuff on the back seat.
He turned to look at her, fear and trepidation in her eyes.
“Have we got everything?” he asked and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Everything on the list and a couple of extra things I thought of.” she replied, glancing up at the intersection as a siren screamed past. A bang in the distance made her jerk, and he squeezed her shoulder reassuringly.
“Come one.”
He quickly ran up to the house and collected his rifle and ammunition from the table on which he had placed them earlier. Quickly locking the door behind him, he returned to the car and put the Remington on the backseat and threw a blanket over it.
Carla got in the passenger side and Ryan started up the car, backed out of the driveway and headed down the street.
“So when you spoke to him, you made sure he understood that he was to wait for us, right?” Ryan asked, as he slowed at the intersection, before turning right.
“Yes. He understood. He said Graham’s parents weren’t planning on going anywhere and that he was welcome to stay until we got there. But I haven’t been able to get hold of him or them since this morning. Network’s down or something. We should’ve gone straight away.”
Ryan glanced at her, a flash of annoyance running through him.
“We’ve been through this. We don’t really know what’s going on, or how long it’ll last. We can’t just blow out of here without some kind of plan. Look around you Carla, does it look like we’ll be able to stop at the grocery store for food and water and a chocolate?”
She looked as though she wanted to argue, but she slumped back into her seat and said nothing.
The streets were eerily quiet, but Ryan spotted people frantically packing cars, running up the street or speeding past in cars and on bikes.
Reaching another intersection, Ryan slammed on the brakes just in time as a fire truck flew past, sirens blaring.
He took a deep breath and then started forward again, heading to his son’s friend’s house, where he had spent the previous two nights.
The plan was simple. Pick Kyle up and get to Carla’s father’s house. He had a large house in Saxonwold – an up market suburb of Johannesburg where they would stay for a while, waiting for whatever this was to blow over – or to make another plan. Ryan’s older brother Matt stayed in Pretoria, and Ryan had tried to convince him to join them, but Matt had been stubborn. He had insisted that everything was under control and that panic wasn’t necessary. After arguing for a time, Ryan had finally relented and insisted that if he changed his mind they come and join them. He had also been unable to get hold of him since then.
He had seen the reports about children becoming violent – even killing. But so far the authorities had no real explanation. Carla maintained that it had something to do with the asteroid crashing in Texas, but she had always been a bit paranoid. And she loved her space stories way too much in his opinion.
It had been two days since the first big attack in an informal settlement close to the airport. That evening they had agreed that Kyle could spend a couple of nights at his friend’s house, as it was the weekend and the single attack had not concerned them too much. But the next day the attacks had been a consistently growing occurrence and each incident appeared to be getting closer to their area.
Finally, they had started hearing an inordinate amount of sirens and bangs – neither would just come out and say gunshots – and this had prompted Carla to suggest getting to a safer haven. She had argued that their single story house was right on the street in a heavily populated area. At first Ryan had balked. He had said she was overreacting, and that they were perfectly safe, but the next morning footage of children sprinting through the night, attacking every living thing in sight helped change his mind. The news had called it some kind of virus that only affected children, causing them to become extremely violent. They did not know if it was infectious, but all indications seemed to support that assumption. They could however, not guess as to how it was spreading or if it was curable. Adults remained unaffected.
They had phoned her father and he had urged them to hurry. Calling Kyle next, he had assured his mother that he was safe and that he would wait for them.
Carla had wanted to leave immediately, but Ryan had convinced her that they needed to be prepared. So they had made a list of supplies they thought they would need: water, food, clothes, medicine, flashlights. They basically packed everything they would take on a rugged outdoor camping trip – even tents. Soon they had run out of space however, and they had unpacked a lot of lesser essentials, eventually giving up on taking the tents too.
It had taken much longer than planned, and three hours later, when they were ready to leave, Carla was unable to reach her father or son by phone. The radio and TV still worked, giving updates on attacks and emergency numbers, and asking people to stay inside their homes.
“Ryan! Oh my god, oh my god, Ryan!”
Ryan looked to where Carla was pointing and slowed the car.
Three people had exited a house and were running toward them. They were followed by a group of about six teens, who slowly shambled after them. The last of the three was a middle aged man who seemed to be limping, and Ryan saw dark red stains on his shirt and pants.
“Help! Help us!” the first person shouted as the car slowed to a stop. It was a woman of about the same age as the limping man and she was hysterical.
Ryan hit a button and the doors of the car locked.
“What are you doing? We have to help them!” Carla cried and moved as if to unlock her door.
“Stop!” Ryan ordered. “We don’t know what the hell is going on here! What if it’s just a trick to get our car?”
Carla stopped mid movement and sat back.
“How can we be sure?”
“We can’t, but we have to assume the worst. We have other priorities right now. We have to go get our son.”
She seemed to accept this, but she didn’t look happy about it.
“Help, please! They attacked us!” the woman shrieked as Ryan slowly started forward again.
The woman banged on the windows and tried to pry open the doors. She was joined by the second in their group, a young man in his early twenties.
“Come on, man! Let us in!” he cried, tears of desperation streaming down his face.
Ryan picked up a little more speed, and at the same time the group of teens caught up to the injured man.
They pulled him to the ground, and Ryan watched transfixed as one of the teens sank his teeth into the man’s throat, ripping back in a slow, determined motion.
Carla screamed.
The other teens piled onto the man, biting where they could, or punching and kicking in the same slow, methodical way. They looked drunk or high. Dazed somehow, as if they were unaware of where they were and what they were doing.
The young man jumped onto the hood of the car, looking Ryan in the eyes.
“Let us in, man!” he screamed again. “Can’t you see what’s happening?”
Ryan only shook his head.
“Ryan!” Carla exclaimed through tears. “We have to help them!”
Ryan looked at her pleading face, the tears causing her face to shine. He slowed, and was about to stop when a gunshot shook the inside of the car. A hole appeared in the windscreen, and Ryan heard the round exiting through the back window.
The young man had drawn a pistol, and was now pointing it at Ryan.
“Stop the car!” he screamed.
Without thinking, Ryan floored the pedal and jerked the wheel to the side, even as another shot rang out. Carla screamed again, and Ryan jerked the car from side to side, keeping his foot mashed to the floor.
Finally the man lost his grip and tumbled off the side and Ryan straightened the car and kept the speed up until they had put three kilometres behind them.
Carla was sobbing softly in the seat next to him, and he tried to comfort her by putting his hand on her leg, but he kept his attention on the road.
What the fuck is going on? Is everyone going crazy? he thought angrily.
They saw more and more of the dazed children wandering the streets, and a few more people tried to wave them down for assistance or a lift.
Ryan kept going. They saw many cars, fully loaded with people and supplies heading in the direction of the highway and a few near misses with other vehicles eventually forced Ryan to slow down even more, lest they have an accident.
After what felt like hours, but was in reality only twenty minutes, they pulled into Graham’s street. Ryan realised he didn’t even know what his parent’s names were.
He slowed down to a crawl, slowly scanning the street and neighbouring houses. Except for a family hastily loading a mini bus three houses down, the street looked deserted.
Ryan’s eyes were drawn to the family busily packing their bus. The father and mother were running back and forth between the house, returning with boxes and bags, while their young daughter sat on the grass next to the bus. Ryan guessed her at about nine, and she hardly seemed to move. She sat cross legged and stared vacantly down the street, but as Ryan’s car passed, the girl’s head suddenly jerked up and she looked straight into Ryan’s eyes. They looked yellow, and a chill ran up Ryan’s spine. The girl’s face was expressionless, and it looked as if she was covered in sweat.
“The next one. With the black gate.” Carla said beside him and his attention was brought back to his driving.
As he pulled up to the house, he glanced in the rear view mirror, but the girl and her parents were gone. The bus was still parked outside, so they must’ve gone inside.
Carla got out of the car and he followed, nervously looking up and down the street. It was still empty.
Carla trotted through the gate and up to the front door and knocked sharply three times.
A few moments went by and then the door was opened by Graham’s father. His face flooded with relief.
“Kyle, your parents are here!” he called back into the house.
“Thank god. We didn’t want to wait any longer. We’ve decided on leaving as well. We couldn’t get hold of you, so you know… we assumed the worst.”
He nervously wrung his hands.
“My sister… she stays in Jeffrey’s Bay… small town. We’re leaving shortly. We figure as soon as we get out of the city it should get better. We hope.”
Kyle came running out of the house and embraced Carla. She crouched and looked him in the eyes. Ryan felt himself relax a bit. His son was safe.
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah, mom, I’m ok.”
He hugged Ryan fiercely.
“Come on, buddy. Let’s go.”
They thanked Graham’s dad and headed over to the car.
Ryan turned the car around and headed in the direction of his father-in-law’s house, about a thirty minute drive on a normal day.
As they passed the house where the bus was still parked, they heard a scream and glass breaking. Ryan stopped and looked at the house.
“Dad, what are you doing?”
Ryan needed to see the girl again. He needed to see if she had changed into… whatever it was they were turning into.
“That bus is stocked to the max with supplies. I’m just going to check it out.”
“You’re going to steal it?” Carla asked, shocked.
“What? No! I’m just going to… check if they’re ok.”
Carla was about to protest, but Ryan spoke before she could.
“Get behind the wheel when I get out and leave the car running. Wait ten minutes, then go – no matter what.”
“No. Matter. What.” he repeated.
She opened her mouth then closed it again. She licked her lips.
He quickly reached back and took up his rifle. Taking a handful of rounds, he opened the door.
“Lock the doors.” he said and quickly got out. Standing next to the car he loaded his rifle. Slowly, he started forward.
He looked into the bus as he passed, and saw large containers of water, boxes of food and other supplies. He couldn’t see the keys.
Approaching the front door, he saw that it was open and he heard noises from inside. He heard a thud and then something fall and break.
Gently, he pushed the door open and raised his rifle. He took a step forward and then another, and moments later he was inside the house. There was ample natural light and he took another few steps when he heard a shuffling coming from a doorway ahead of him.
Taking a deep breath, he spun into the doorway with his rifle at the ready.
The girl was standing in the center of the living room. Her mother and father lay next to her, the father jerking sporadically. The amount of blood made Ryan nauseous, and a steady stream was still spurting from a wound in the man’s cheek. It looked like a bite mark.
Ryan fought to keep his stomach under control and he started shaking. He couldn’t tell if it was the nausea or the almost crippling fear he suddenly felt.
The girl stood motionless, looking down at the floor, blood dripping from her face and hair.
“What have you done?” Ryan whispered without realising he was going to and the girl looked up.
She started forward toward Ryan, her face still as expressionless as before and he pointed the rifle at her chest. Her eyes were a feral yellow, and her skin was very pale – gray, like ash. Ryan thought he saw thick, black veins running down from her neck.
“Stay back!” he cried, but the girl only trudged forward, as if she didn’t hear Ryan speak at all.
Ryan took a step back, and then another.
“Stay back, goddamnit! I will fire!”
He took another step back and his foot caught on something. He tumbled over backwards and landed flat on his ass, the rifle spilling from his hands. He had backed into another room and had tripped over more supplies waiting to be loaded.
The girl came a little faster now and she opened her mouth in a low, almost mournful groan. Ryan scrambled to where his rifle lay and scooped it up. Turning to face the girl again, she lunged forward and sunk her teeth into his forearm holding the rifle. He cried out in surprise and pain and ripped his arm back, shoving her back forcefully with his other hand. She stumbled back, falling over backwards. He was bleeding, but it wasn’t serious. Shock and horror almost engulfed him, his eyes wide and his mouth open. Looking up from his wound, he saw the girl getting up again and he realised he was trapped. The room had only one entrance.
He raised the rifle again, his hands now shaking so badly that he was almost unable to keep the rifle pointed at the girl’s chest.
“Please,” Ryan pleaded, choking up, his voice a whimper. “Please don’t make me do this.”
A scream from outside made the girl lift her head and turn. Ryan saw it as an opportunity and lunged forward, knocking the girl aside. He tore down the hallway and out of the house.
A woman was stumbling up the road, headed to where the car was parked. She was bleeding from a wound in her side and she was crying hysterically. Two young boys – twins – of about fourteen were shambling after her.
Ryan reached the car and ripped the door open. He waited for Carla to move to the passenger seat, then jumped inside and handed the rifle to Kyle.
“Ryan – what ha-”
“Kyle, the rifle is loaded, please take out the rounds.” Ryan said crisply, slammed the car into gear and took off down the street.
“Ryan? What happened?” Carla asked, unable to keep the panic out of her voice.
“It’s ok. It’s fine. Let’s just get to your dad.” And he could hear his voice shaking and cracking.
Carla put her hand on his leg and squeezed, and she looked at his bloody forearm questioningly. To her credit she said nothing.
They made it to her father’s house without anymore incidents. They saw more children shambling around, more people begging for help, more injured people and even a few car accidents. Emergency personnel were few and far in between and at the places they were, it was crowded beyond belief by people needing assistance.
They made it to Paul’s house a few hours before sundown, and the feeling of relief when the tall, thick, iron gate rolled shut behind them was immense.
The walls were high and thick, with spikes and electric fencing on top. The inside perimeter walls all had motion sensors in the ground and video camera’s covered almost every inch of the property. The house itself was not as secure, as large windows and glass doors made up most of the ground floor.
I guess the plan is to stop anyone before they get to the glass house, Ryan thought for the hundredth time.
Paul was very wealthy. He was a senior partner for a powerful law firm representing dozens of hugely successful companies. He also had a private pilot’s licence and was an avid hunter and firearm collector. Ryan loved going hunting with his father in law, because of his wide variety of weapons.
They might just come in handy sooner rather than later, Ryan thought as they unloaded the car.
Carla’s mother had died many years before from lung cancer, and since then Paul had enjoyed buying and learning exotic things to pass his free time. He was not the type of man who would marry again and when he wasn’t working, he was usually flying or hunting or diving.
When they had unloaded the car and were all inside the house, Carla cleaned and bandaged Ryan’s arm while he told her what had happened. Paul was busy setting Kyle up with the Xbox he had bought for when he came to visit. When he returned, Ryan told the story again. They were horrified and disbelieving, but the clearly human tooth marks on his arm were difficult to argue with. Paul activated the perimeter alarm system and switched the television in the kitchen to show the feeds of the security cameras.
“You think your security company would actually respond to the alarm with all the shit going on out there?” Ryan asked and nodded his head in the direction of the gate.
“I don’t know, but at least the system can warn us if we get an unwelcome visitor.”
Ryan nodded, hoping that it wouldn’t come to that.
Carla and Paul prepared a simple dinner of sandwiches and crackers as the sun set, but Ryan could not stomach even the lightest meal.
The scene with the girl kept replaying over and over again in his head. He would see the blood and become nauseous and then he would again see the girl slowly walking toward him and he would start to shake and break out in a cold sweat.
They were all huddled around the television watching the news, with a second smaller one set to the camera feeds.
The news was a collection of disturbing images: car accidents, mass attacks by children and police gunning people down. Most news channels were reporting that sources had confirmed that it was somehow linked to the asteroid. They were calling the asteroid Revelations. A press release was planned for later that evening out of the United States, which would disclose all the information they had on the virus.
“Ryan.” Carla whispered and he looked at her.
Kyle was asleep on her lap. She motioned for him to take him to the bedroom.
He got up and gently lifted him. He looked peaceful, and his sleep untroubled. Ryan was relieved that his son could sleep. He had been worried that he might have nightmares, given everything that had happened over the last couple of days. He took him down the hall and into the second guest bedroom and gently laid him down. He took off his shoes and pulled the covers over him. Switching off the light, he was about to close the door, when Kyle stopped him.
“Yeah, champ, I’m here.” He walked over to the bed and sat down.
“Are we going to be okay? You know, with everything that’s going on?”
Ryan sighed quietly. “Sure, buddy. I know it’s a little crazy right now, but it’ll get better soon, you’ll see. All this has just taken everyone by surprise. It’ll take a couple of days before they get a handle on everything. But for the time being, rest assured that we’re safe and sound.” Ryan smiled reassuringly in the light pouring in from the hallway, but Kyle did not look comforted.
“Why didn’t we help that woman? The one on Graham’s street. The crying one.”
Ryan didn’t respond immediately. He was unsure of how to proceed.
“Well, the thing is, like you’ve seen, things are a little crazy right now,” he started. “And not everyone out there is a good person, or is honest when they say they need help. Some people will try and take advantage of others that are trying to help, and you have to be careful who you try to help and who you accept help from.”
Kyle seemed to ponder this for a moment.
“But how can you be sure someone doesn’t really need help? How can you be sure we couldn’t help that lady?” he asked earnestly, his eyes welling up with tears.
“You can’t, buddy. Not really. These are decisions a person has to make for himself. I decided not to help, because I had you and your mom with me in the car, and I decided that I didn’t want to take the risk – that I didn’t want there to be even a small chance of either one of you getting hurt.”
Kyle thought for a moment longer and then seemed to give a small nod, as if he understood and accepted this explanation.
“Get some sleep, champ.” Ryan said and put his hand on Kyle’s forehead.
Kyle was burning up and his forehead was moist with sweat.
Alarm bells chimed in Ryan’s head.
“You feeling ok, buddy?” Ryan asked gently, pulling back the covers.
“Just a little hot and I’ve got a headache, but I’m okay.”
Ryan quickly got up and switched on the light.
“Stay here, I’ll go get you something for your headache.”
Ryan left the room and trotted to the kitchen. Carla followed him.
“What’s wrong?”
“He’s got a fever, just getting him something to help.”
“Is he okay?”
He didn’t answer. He opened the cabinet where Paul kept his medicine and pulled out three aspirin and poured some water.
He headed back to the room, dropping in the aspirin to dissolve.
Kyle was sitting upright in bed. He had taken off his shirt.
Ryan handed him the glass, and Kyle waited for it to dissolve completely before downing it.
He handed the glass back. “Thanks dad.”
“No problem, champ. Now get some sleep.”
Kyle lay back and Ryan pulled the covers over him.
He exited the room and switched off the light, pulling the door closed behind him.
Carla was waiting for him in the hallway.
“Is he okay?” she asked.
“I’m sure he’s fine. He drank the aspirin and he’s trying to get some sleep.”
Carla looked worried.
“Come on, baby. Sleep would do us some good too.”
They headed to their room, calling goodnight to Paul.


“Ryan! Ryan, wake up!”
Ryan opened his eyes and lifted his head, blinking into the light. Carla was standing next to him, her face contorted in barely controlled panic.
“What is it?” he mumbled, trying to come awake fully.
“It’s Kyle.”
That did it. He sat up and shook his head.
“What about him?”
“His fever is worse and…” she trailed off.
He stood up. “What is it Carla?”
She motioned for him to follow her and he did.
Paul was sitting on Kyle’s bed and the light was on. He moved aside when he saw Ryan enter and he moved toward Kyle.
His son was soaked with sweat. Thin, black veins, were visible on his neck, running down to his shoulders, arms and torso.
“He’s unconscious. We can’t get him awake.” Paul said softly.
Ryan sat on the bed and leaned down to Kyle’s face. He muttered a quick prayer and then gently opened his son’s eye lids.
They were almost yellow – feral, like a cat’s.
He sat upright and sighed.
“This may be a pointless question, but did you try a doctor?” he asked.
Paul nodded. “I tried with my landline. Some of the emergency numbers ring, but no one answers.”
“What do we do?” Carla asked, her voice cracking.
Ryan didn’t answer and after a couple of moments Paul spoke. “We can only try to bring the fever down.”
They drew a bath of lukewarm water and gently submerged him in it for a couple of minutes. When it felt as if the fever let up, they took him out and dried him off, putting him under clean, dry covers again.
His breathing had become raspy, and the dark veins were becoming darker and thicker at an alarming rate.
All through that day, they watched over him, dabbing his head with a damp cloth and dipping him in a bath when they felt his fever spiked too high.
Kyle regained consciousness once during the late afternoon, but he stared blankly around the room, looking at each in turn as if he didn’t recognize them. His eyes were a deep yellow now, and his skin was pale. After clumsily trying to get up, but held down by Ryan, he drifted off again.
It was around eight o’clock that evening, when all three of them were forcing down some food and drink in the kitchen, that they heard a thud coming from down the hall.
They looked at each other for a moment, and then they hurried down the hall to Kyle’s room, Ryan in the lead. He burst into the room, and found Kyle standing on the opposite side of the bed, with his back to him.
A moment of relief burst through him, but then he noted how still his son stood and it was replaced by dread.
“Kyle? Champ?” Ryan ventured, taking a step into the room.
Kyle’s head snapped around, and Ryan recoiled. His face was contorted in anger and what Ryan thought was hate. His eyes were a deep, wild yellow and his skin was gray like ash. He noticed that the black veins criss-crossing his body looked like they had multiplied and were much darker and thicker.
“Kyle?” Carla asked behind Ryan, stepping into the room and around him.
Kyle lunged. He took one step, planted his other foot on the bed and flew at Carla. Ryan grabbed her by the waist instinctively and shoved her aside, and Kyle tackled him to the ground. He shot his hands up and grabbed Kyle by the chin to keep his mouth away from his face, the image of the bite mark on the dead man’s cheek flashing through his mind.
“Kyle, what are you doing?” Carla shrieked hysterically, but he paid her no mind. His teeth was gnashing as he tried to bite his father, saliva dripping from his mouth like a rabid dog. His arms flailed around him, as if he was unsure what to do with them, but a moment later he started hitting his father, landing fists and open palms against Ryan’s face and neck.
A moment later, Kyle floated into the air off of Ryan, flailing and screaming like a maddened ape. Paul had grabbed him by the waist and had lifted him off, but Kyle fought and resisted with such ferocity that he was battling to keep hold.
Ryan jumped to his feet. He stole a glance at Carla to make sure she was alright. “Get out of the room!” he yelled, but didn’t wait to see if she’d comply.
He started forward to try and assist Paul, but Kyle’s elbow connected Paul’s temple, causing a loud thud. Paul staggered back two steps and then Kyle was free. As soon as he hit the ground, he lunged at Ryan again, but his time Ryan was a little more prepared. He quickly moved low and to the side as his son attacked, and Kyle missed, landing harmlessly a few feet from the door. At first Ryan thought he would turn and attack again, but Kyle’s attention was drawn to Carla standing by the door, looking indecisive about staying or going.
Kyle flung himself forward with a high pitched scream and Carla’s eyes widened.
“Run!” Ryan yelled and Carla hesitated for an instant longer before taking off down the hall. Kyle followed and Ryan took off after him. As he rushed through the door of the room, he heard Paul follow.
“Carla, get to the garage!” Ryan yelled. The garage had a thick, sturdy door and he was sure if she could get through it she would be safe.
He saw Kyle ahead of him, running hunched over. He was extremely quick and he was gaining on Carla.
She wouldn’t make it.
“Carla, left!” he screamed, hoping she would understand that he meant for her to duck into the kitchen.
She had always mixed up her rights and lefts. When she gave directions to him in the car, she would say “Turn at the next one on my side” or “Your side”. He found it endearing and it was one of the many things he loved about her.
So when he said left, she went right – into the living room. The kitchen had a narrow doorway, and he had hoped Kyle would miss the exit, so to speak, and she would have had a few extra moments. But it was not to be.
The living room was a large open space, with comfortable couches and a large, glass coffee table. She ran around a couch, and was out of his sight as the wall obscured his view.
Kyle hardly slowed down. He changed direction and slammed his leg into the couch, causing him to fly forward, right into the coffee table. It shattered with a resounding crash. Ryan winced as Kyle went tumbling over the ground and broken glass, but Kyle had hardly come to a stop, before he was up again, looking around wildly.
“Kyle?” Ryan said, having come to a stop a few feet away. Kyle whipped around to face him and Ryan saw glass shards protruding from his arms and torso. A large piece had impaled his cheek and Ryan gasped, but it seemed as if Kyle hardly noticed, even as the blood streamed down his face.
Ryan was about to speak again, when Kyle opened his mouth and let loose a bloodcurdling shriek. The hair on Ryan’s arms stood on end, and he took a step back involuntarily.
Kyle lunged at him once more, and Ryan had a moment to think Well, shit, before his son tackled him to the ground for the second time that night.
This time he was too late to get his hands up, and Kyle sunk his teeth into his shoulder. Ryan screamed in pain and with all his strength he bucked and shoved and Kyle went flying. He fell against a couch, his head cracking against the wooden leg of the sofa, but it did not seem to slow him down. He was up in a flash, and was poised to lunge at Ryan again when a sofa cushion struck him in the face.
Kyle blinked, and turned to look at Carla, standing on the opposite side of the living room in front of an open door. Before Ryan could say or do anything Kyle charged his mother, but at the last second she fell down onto her stomach and he stumbled over her and through the open door. She quickly jumped up and pulled the large glass door shut and locked it.
She retreated deeper into the house as Kyle turned and ran at her, slamming into the glass door, causing it to shake in its frame.
Paul came to a stop next to Ryan, a pistol in his hands. Ryan looked at the pistol and then at Paul questioningly, but he avoided his gaze. Carla had reached Ryan’s side, and standing in line, they watched Kyle’s insanity. He kept running into the door, headfirst, until fresh blood gushed from his forehead.
Every time he struck the door, he gave a shrill cry, almost as if in frustration.
“What do we do?” Carla whimpered.
They stood in horrified silence, watching their son and grandson continuously run headfirst into a glass door.
Paul was the one who noticed the cracks first.
“The door’s not gonna hold.” he said quietly.
Ryan noticed the hairline cracks appearing around the impact zone. Frankly he was surprised the door hadn’t broken yet.
“Load the car.” Ryan said. Paul and Carla both looked at him, but said nothing.
“We have to get him help. We have to find a doctor, or … or someone.” He could hear the whine in his own voice, but he was powerless to do anything about it.
“A doctor? Haven’t you been paying attention to the news? No one knows what’s going on, or why this is happening, or how to stop it. A doctor won’t help.” Paul countered, actually sounding a bit angry.
“I don’t care, we need to get him to a doctor. Maybe a doctor can do something… anything!”
Paul sighed audibly. “How? How do you want to get him to a doctor? The streets are insane! You saw what is happening out there. And even if you get to a hospital or clinic, there’s no guarantee anyone will be there. And that’s assuming we can somehow get him in the car in the first pl-“
Ryan rounded on him, rage and grief boiling beneath the surface. His voice had taken on an ominous buzz. “What do you want me to say? What do you want me to do? Do you want me to abandon him? Do you want me to kill him? What? Tell me?”
Paul looked down. “That is not your son anymore.” He said quietly.
All the fight went out of Ryan and his shoulders sagged.
The door cracked audibly as Kyle ran into it again.
Kyle suddenly looked to his right, toward the gate, as if something there had grabbed his attention. Shrieking again, he ran out of sight.
Moments later, an alarm screamed shrilly through the quiet house.
“It’s the perimeter alarm. He must’ve set it off.” Paul said.
They moved toward a window looking out at the gate and they saw Kyle pausing. He turned back to the house, the alarm obviously recalling his attention back from what had drawn him first. A moment later Ryan thought he saw the large front gate shudder. Paul moved off to silence the alarm and a few seconds later it was quiet again. Ryan kept his eyes on the gate, even as Kyle slammed into a different door, trying to gain entry into the house.
The gate shuddered again and with the alarm now silent, Ryan could this time hear that something had slammed into it.
“What- what was that?” Carla asked softly.
No one answered.
Another thud. And then another.
The frequency increased, until a constant banging rattled the large gate. A moment later they saw what looked like a teen boy climbing over the gate – the spikes and electric fence having seemingly no affect. He tumbled over the gate, landing on his back. He tried to get up, but his legs appeared to have stopped working.
As they watched, they saw the gate swaying ominously, the rail holding it at the top, severely bent.
“Load the car.” Paul said. “Take only the most important stuff you can think of, we have to get out of here.”
No one moved for a second, until they saw two more clambering over the gate, this time landing on their feet and sprinting at the house.
Carla and Paul moved off toward the kitchen, but Ryan lingered at the window a moment longer. He feared for Kyle, even as he saw him running into the door again. The two newcomers paid Kyle no mind however and immediately joined him in ramming themselves into the door.
Ryan swallowed, looked down and then moved off. He firstly grabbed his rifle and ammunition and then his hiking pack. It was filled with emergency supplies and food and he jammed his ammunition inside.
Carla and Paul had already loaded several items into Paul’s Audi Q7, and Ryan ran back and forth a couple of times, loading more food and water.
Ryan was about to ask Paul about his weapons, when they heard the front gate crash down.
“Come on, we have to go!” Paul cried as he tossed in a final bag, filled with food.
As Carla clambered into the back seat, they heard the front door shatter. Ryan quickly shut the door connecting to the house and got into the passenger side.
“What about Kyle?” Carla asked from the backseat and Paul looked at Ryan.
“We have to leave him.” Paul said softly.
Ryan somehow knew he was right. That Kyle was no longer his son. That whatever he had become, could not be reasoned or bargained with. But it was almost impossible to accept. To know for sure that he couldn’t be helped. He wanted to run into the house. He wanted to find his son. To hug him and to comfort him. To take him with them and to promise him everything was going to be ok.
But that wasn’t going to happen. He knew it in his heart.
“We can’t just leave him here!” Carla said, her voice rising.
“What do you want to do, Butterball?” Paul asked gently. “You saw them, we can’t go after him they’d rip us apart. We wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“But that’s my son! Do you just expect me to leave him here?”
“We don’t have a choice.” Paul replied.
Ryan had been silent.
“Ryan! We can’t leave him here!” Carla pleaded.
He was silent for a moment longer.
“When the others that jumped over the gate got to him, they didn’t even look at him. They just attacked the door like he was doing. He’s one of them.”
“No.” Cara said firmly. “We have to go get him.”
“Did you bring any of your guns?” Ryan asked, ignoring Carla’s statement.
“No!” Carla said again, louder. “I won’t leave him here.”
“Just my pistol and my shotgun, I didn’t have time to get the rest.”
“Ammo?” Ryan asked.
“A lot.” Paul nodded.
“NO!” Carla screamed hysterically, grabbing Ryan’s seat and shaking it violently. She went for the door to get out, but Paul quickly locked them.
Carla was going berserk. She was banging on the windows and hitting the seats in front of her, shrieking maniacally.
“Chances are there’ll probably be some in the way when the garage door opens…” Ryan said, ignoring Carla. He left the fact that they might have to run some of them over, unsaid.
Paul nodded. “I know. I’ll get us out.”
Ryan stared at his father in law for a few moments.
“Where are we going?” Ryan asked.
“I think we need to get out of the city. We could take my plane to the farm.”
Ryan nodded.
“Then let’s go.”
Paul started the SUV and pressed a button hanging from his keychain. Carla had subsided a little, but she was sobbing uncontrollably. As the door opened however, she quieted down.
The large wooden door rolled up, and as it rose, they saw dozens of children running erratically across the lawn.
Upon seeing the garage door opening and hearing the sound of the engine, a few sprinted toward them. Paul put the SUV in gear and started forward slowly, looking at the front door of his house as they moved.
The children’s attention inside the house was drawn to the moving vehicle and they came charging out.
“There’s too many, we need to go.” Ryan urged, but Paul did not increase his speed.
Two of the children came running from the front door, hunched over. It looks like they’re trying not to be seen. As if they’re lurking, Ryan thought randomly.
Two of the children slammed into the SUV, banging on the doors and windows.
“Go for fuck sake!” Ryan yelled, but still Paul crept along.
Kyle jumped onto the hood of the car and Carla screamed. Blood from his many cuts and wounds spattered onto the windscreen and he screamed crazily before slamming his head into the window. He did it again and again, screaming and shrieking constantly.
Paul had come to a stop, and appeared frozen – it all suddenly becoming too much for him.
“Daddy.” Carla said softly from the backseat. “Just go. Get us out of here. Please.”
This seemed to bring Paul back and after glancing at Carla, he gunned the engine. They shot forward and Kyle lost his balance, falling face first onto the windscreen. As they reached the street, they hit one or two of the crazed children, sending them flying. Paul jerked the wheel left. The SUV turned onto the street and Kyle tumbled off of the hood – and straight under the wheels of the large vehicle.
Carla shrieked and Ryan went cold. Paul’s face had become as white as a sheet. Looking out the back window, Ryan could see Kyle lying in the road, unmoving.
“Stop! We have to see if he’s ok!” Carla screamed, again trying to open the door. Neither Paul nor Ryan answered her, and Paul kept his foot flat on the pedal.


Francois Pienaar Airfield was n small airfield between Johannesburg and Pretoria. It was mainly used for training and for wealthy pilots to store their personal planes. Paul had bought his plane ten years before, and had stored it there ever since.
Reaching the airfield had been difficult, but easier than Ryan had expected.
The city had been in chaos. Crazed children were everywhere. People were driving recklessly to try and escape and time and again they had to swerve to avoid accidents and wreckage.
They had first tried the highway, but it had been completely deadlocked. The most disturbing of this had been the children running between the stationary cars on the highway, attacking cars and breaking windows, trying to get to the people inside. Paul had quickly driven over a low embankment to get to a secondary road and although the going was slow, they had at least been going.
Two hours and many U-turns because of dead ends later, they had reached the airfield.
It was located in a fairly empty area, with almost no businesses or houses close by.
Paul had parked beneath a large tree some distance from the gate, and using Ryan’s binoculars they had scouted out the airport. There had been some movement, but Ryan couldn’t see who – or what it was.
After waiting for half an hour, they had decided to attempt the escape.
“I haven’t flown in a while,” Paul said, as they approached the gate. “So I’ll have to do all the pre-flight checks before we can go.”
“Okay,” Ryan replied. “You do that while Carla loads the supplies. I’ll make sure no one bothers us.”
Paul nodded, but Carla had no reaction. She was slumped in her seat, her head resting against the window – a vacant expression on her face.
The gate was closed, but unlocked and Ryan quickly pushed it open and closed it again after Paul drove through. The security booth was empty, and Ryan saw no one else, except for a few cars and what looked like a small school bus. Ryan swallowed hard at the sight of the bus, but he saw no movement.
The small hangar where Paul’s plane was stored was one of the last in the row, but it was close to the runway.
Pulling up outside the hangar, Paul quickly went inside after unlocking the door.
Ryan opened the back door and looked at Carla.
“Baby, we have to go. We have to get out of here.”
She looked at him blankly, but didn’t respond. Ryan opened his mouth to speak again when his phone rang. He at first didn’t register what the sound was, having already become so used to the fact that cell phones hadn’t worked over the last few days.
He pulled it from his pocket – a habit of putting it there even when it hadn’t been working – and saw that it was his brother.
“Hello?” he said uncertainly.
“Ryan! Thank god! I’ve been trying to get hold of you for two days!” Matt sounded out of breath and scared.
“Matt? What’s going on? How did you get through?” he asked, concerned.
“I don’t know, maybe fewer people are trying to call as things go from bad to fucking terrible. I don’t know, but I need your help.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m at the Protea Hotel in Centurion. A couple of hours after I spoke to you, somebody tossed a petrol bomb through our window. I got everyone out safe and sound and headed to the hotel, but now we’re trapped. I went down this morning to get the car ready so we could get out of here, but somebody stole it. We can’t leave on foot!”
Ryan grunted in agreement. Matt had two young children, one hardly even a toddler.
Ryan thought for a moment. He looked at Carla, still staring blankly past him.
He turned and walked out of earshot of Carla.
“Ryan, you there?” Matt asked.
“I’m here. Okay, I’m going to get Carla and Paul on the plane and safely in the air – then I’ll come for you. Stay exactly where you are.”
Matt thanked him a hundred times. He gave him his room number and then hung up.
He walked back to the car just as Paul exited.
“Okay, we’ll be able to go in about half an hour.” He said, then ducked inside and started opening the hangar doors.
Ryan was about to try to talk to Carla again, when he heard a shriek behind him. He whirled around, and saw a single teen running straight at them.
“Carla, start loading the plane, now!” he yelled, and he was a little surprised to see her jump out, grab two bags and run to the plane. He quickly reached into the back and pulled out his rifle. Reaching into his pack which he had made sure was easily accessible he took out four rounds and loaded his rifle.
He raised the rifle and took aim, the teen about forty meters away. He held his breath and put his finger on the trigger. Hesitating for a second more, he steeled himself and squeezed the trigger.
As the teen fell, a thin red mist hanging in the air, Carla exited the building again. She looked over at where the teen lay and then stared at Ryan. She said nothing, but only grabbed more parcels to take to the plane.
Ryan ejected the spent cartridge, just as shrieks and screams erupted in the night air.
He took his ammunition and clambered onto the roof of the Audi. He crouched down onto one knee and waited.
About two-hundred meters away, a dozen children came tearing around the corner, bearing down on them. The youngest looked to be about Kyle’s age, and something tugged at Ryan’s heart.
He took a deep breath and lifted the rifle. He got the closest one in his sights, held his breath and squeezed the trigger. Ejecting the cartridge, he aimed at the one behind the one he had dropped. Breathe in, hold, squeeze, eject. Breathe in, hold, squeeze, eject. Reload. Again.
He found a disturbingly comfortable rhythm in the act of bringing down the crazed children, though some part of him still objected every time he pulled the trigger and one of them fell. Every time he squeezed the trigger however, that objection became less pronounced.
Breathe in, hold, squeeze, eject.
When he had killed the twelfth one, there seemed to be a lull. They had all come from the same area, which he thought was lucky. It gave him time to aim and shoot and reload.
He was reloading the rifle, when he heard another shriek. This time it was much closer.
A boy of about twelve tore around a building only twenty meters from Ryan. He lifted the rifle, surprised, and fired. The round slammed into the ground next to the boy’s feet and he kept coming.
Ejecting the spent cartridge, Ryan fired again, hitting the boy in the arm.
He kept coming.
Ryan ejected the round and was about to fire again when the boy jumped. He smashed against the SUV, his arms just reaching the roof of the vehicle and grabbed hold of Ryan’s ankle.
As the boy fell back, Ryan’s leg was pulled from underneath him and he fell too. He landed on his ass, and the rifle went clattering onto the ground. He felt a powerful tug as the boy pulled him from the roof and he landed on his back, the wind knocked out of him. He tried to suck in a breath, but the boy was on him. He managed to get his hand around the boy’s neck, keeping him from biting him, but seconds later the boy started raining punches and slaps down on him, just as Kyle had done.
Ryan was suddenly angry. No, not angry – furious.
Why was this happening? How did this happen? The world had gone to shit in less than a week and they didn’t even know why or how. His son was dead. His wife was more than likely mentally and emotionally broken. And nobody knew why.
He got a better grip around the boy’s neck and started squeezing – firmly at first, but then with all of his strength. The boy was still hitting him and screaming, but they came out as wheezes and the strength was fading from his blows.
Soon the boy went limp, but Ryan kept squeezing. He rolled the boy off of him easily, the boy’s eyes closed, but Ryan kept squeezing. He changed his position so that he was sitting on the boy’s chest, and he kept squeezing. He tried to squeeze the fear and pain of the last couple of days out of the boy. The uncertainty. The grief.
He squeezed until rough hands pulled him from the boy and he found that he was sobbing. Paul pulled him into a hug, and he transferred him into Carla’s embrace. Together they cried, sobbing at the loss of their world – of their son.
“The plane’s ready.” Paul said quietly behind them. They pulled apart. Neither had any idea how long they had held each other.
The three of them quickly loaded the rest of the supplies into the plane and Ryan loaded his pack with food and supplies when the others weren’t around.
“Ok, let’s get going.” Paul said and was about to climb into the pilot’s seat when Ryan spoke.
“I can’t go with you.”
Paul stopped. Carla had been tying her hair in a ponytail, but she froze.
“Matt got through to me. I don’t know how, but he did. He needs my help. He needs me to go get them.”
This was greeted by silence.
“No.” Carla said firmly. “Fuck, no. We’re not splitting up. That is not happening. I just lost my son, you are not leaving.”
Ryan stepped closer to her and reached for her, but she recoiled, slapping his hands away.
“No!” she cried.
“Baby, I have to. They’re trapped. They have no car and they can’t leave on foot. You saw yourself what it’s like out there. I have to.”
“No.” she said simply, tears streaming down her face. Paul said nothing and stared at the floor.
“We’ll go with you.” she said.
“No, it’s too dangerous. I need you to be safe. I need you to go with your dad. I need to know that you’re safe.”
“Then we’ll wait for you.” Carla said simply.
Ryan shook his head. “You can’t stay here. You don’t know who’ll come along – or what. You have to get out of here while you still can. I’ll go get Matt and Teresa and then we’ll drive up to the farm. We’ll meet you there.”
She shook her head again, but said nothing.
“The only thing that will make me feel better, that will keep me going – is knowing that you’re safe.”
He pulled her into an embrace, and this time she didn’t fight. “I’ll find Matt, and then we’ll meet you at your dad’s farm. Just go with him. Get there. Make it safe. It will be ok. I will find you. I will make it.”
He kissed her, long and deep and with all the love he felt for her. When he pulled back he nodded at Paul and he stepped forward, gently taking Carla’s arm. At his touch, she ripped her arm away, and threw her arms around Ryan.
“No!” she screamed.
Ryan took hold of her, gently putting his arms around her.
“Baby, I love you. Please don’t fight, I need you to be safe.” She struggled meekly, and Paul helped Ryan get him out of her embrace and into the plane. When she was inside and the door was closed, she slumped back weakly into her chair, staring at him through the window.
“Have you got food, water?” Paul asked.
“Yeah, I loaded my pack while you loaded the plane.”
Paul nodded.
“Be safe out there, son.” Paul said simply, and shook his hand.
“I will. Keep her safe.” Ryan said.
Paul nodded and clambered into the plane.
Minutes later, Ryan watched from the Audi as the plane took off and turned away, out of sight.


“So, what do you think?” Tim asked.
Ryan lowered the binoculars. The house looked quiet and still. Ryan could see no movement, but all of the pot plants were alive and he thought he saw the faintest wisp of smoke rising from the chimney.
“I’m not seeing any movement, but in my experience that doesn’t mean much.”
“So…” Tim said.
“Oh, we’re going. We are definitely going. I’ve been trying to get to this fucking farm for three years. Nothing’s stopping me now. It looks like it’s inhabited. Whether by my wife and her dad or someone else, I’m going to find out.”
He walked back to the Land Rover. He checked that the pistol was loaded and then stuffed in the back of his pants. Picking up the AK-47, he did the same and slung it over his shoulder.
“Stay with the car and keep watch. Check through the binoculars every now and then. If it’s safe, I’ll signal for you to come down.”
Tim nodded. “What if it’s not safe? What if something happens? What do I do?”
Ryan sighed. “If you don’t see or hear from me in an hour, I think it would be safe to assume that I’m dead. Then you’re on your own, buddy.”
Tim nodded again, but he looked as if he was about to throw up.
Ryan thought about comforting him and decided against it. He needed to become stronger if he was going to survive. Ryan had been surprised at how weak Tim was. Especially since he had been an EMT. He had gotten to know him fairly well in the time they had spent together, and he had realised that Tim was probably only alive because of his dead friend Jeremy.
“Chin up, Tim, you’ll figure it out.” Ryan smiled. It was a dry, humourless smile.
“And if you don’t, well… then it won’t matter for long.” Ryan winked at him and turned, starting down the low hill toward the farmhouse.

Credit: Pablo Dickens

Come and Play

March 2, 2017 at 12:00 AM

I know how this is going to sound. I know that it sounds impossible. Insane. Bat-shit crazy.
God knows I’ve been over it again and again. I’ve thought of every possible explanation. But I’ve come up empty every single time. Which means that what happened really did happen.
I need you to believe me. I know it won’t change much. What happened, happened – there’s no going back or changing that. But I still need someone to believe me – anyone. For me. For my sanity.
I am not crazy.
This might be my last chance to tell anyone what happened. Tomorrow I’m going into the “Attitude Adjuster” – as they call it here – and no one is ever the same when they come back out of that room. I probably won’t even be able to remember my own name, much less the crazy shit that went down seven months ago.
So I’m writing down everything in this little book. Call it a journal of sorts. I don’t know if they’ll actually send it to you like I asked, but I have to try. And I have to hope that they will.
Don’t feel guilty after you’ve read it. You wouldn’t have been able to change anything. You wouldn’t have been able to help. This is for me. Closure.
I hope it reaches you though.
It started when I moved to that new place in the old part of town. Remember how excited I was? God, if I’d only known. But at the time it was my second chance. My last chance. I had a new job, my debt wasn’t as crippling and I was sober for the first time in three years. Katy had even said that if I stayed sober for 6 months, she’d let me see the kids over weekends.
The place was pretty run down, but it was big. I’d figured I’d start restoring it, getting it back into shape after I’d saved for a couple of months. New paint, replacing the tiles, fixing the ceiling and putting in some new roof tiles were the major things I’d have to address. I’d rebuild the porch and replace the deck in the backyard for the family barbecues I dreamt we’d have. It had a large backyard for the kids and even a big, open basement I’d have liked to convert into a nice gaming area – once I’d installed a new floor.
The house was fairly isolated. Right at the end of the street. Number 113 Harriet drive. The closest neighbours were about a kilometre away, as most of the surrounding places were empty. It wasn’t the greatest neighbourhood, but I’d lived in worse. It was right on the edge of the woods, and there was a path that led down to a small stream where I’d have liked to take James fishing.
Moving in didn’t take long – I didn’t have much. A few pieces of furniture, my bed, my clothes and the kitchen stuff you sent me when I got out of rehab. It only took me half a day, even on my own. Two days later everything was in its place and I was settling in nicely. I’d even bought an extra chair and some cheap paintings to give the living room a more homely feel.
I was happy. It genuinely felt like I was getting my life back on track. I worked hard, and I was exhausted in the evenings, but it felt good. I was working on my second chance. Weekends I slept in, worked on the house through the day and watched old movies on the DVD player you sent me.
It was a simple life, but an honest one. I hadn’t really craved a drink for months and not at all since I had moved in. Like I said, I was happy.
About two months after I moved in, I took some time off. I had built up a considerable amount of vacation time and I wanted to really get cracking at getting the house into better shape.
Saving for the materials also went quicker than expected, since I didn’t have a lot of expenses and I still had some of dad’s money he had left me.
So I bought the materials and got started. I painted first. The whole house, inside and out. I hired a labourer – Kevin – to help, and I was surprised we managed to finish the first coat in one day.
Three nights later was when it started.
I had just finished making myself dinner when I heard it. A light knocking. I stopped, cocking my head and listening again. Nothing. Thinking someone might be at the door I headed over and opened it, but there was no one there. Shrugging, I closed the door and got my dinner. I was just about to sit down and put on another movie, when I heard it again.
This time I could more or less pin point where it was coming from and it sounded like it was coming from down the hall. Setting my dinner down, I walked down the hallway, straining to hear the knocking again.
I was just passing the basement door when I heard it again.
It was the basement door being knocked on.
I recoiled. Someone was in my house.
I slowly retreated back to the living room, keeping my eyes locked on the basement door. I reached for my phone on the kitchen counter and called the police, keeping the basement door in my sight.
A woman operator answered, asking me what my emergency was.
“I think there’s someone in my house. In the basement.” I whispered, picking up the large knife I had cut the chicken with.
“What is your address, sir?”
“113 Harriet drive, the Willows. My name is Derick Reid.”
“A unit has been dispatched. Are you able to leave the house?” she asked, just as I heard the knocking again.
“Yes. I’m moving to the door now.” I whispered, and started to the front door. Moving slowly, I tried to keep the basement door in my sights for as long as I could, and when I couldn’t anymore, I sprinted to the door, ripped it open and jumped down the dilapidated porch.
I stopped at the street, turning to look at my house. With the door standing ajar, it almost looked like a great monster was about to devour me. A chill ran up my spine at the ominous thought.
“Sir?” the operator asked.
“Yes, I’m outside. I’m standing on the street.”
“Ok, a unit was only a few blocks away, they should be there any second. Please wait for them.”
She had barely finished her sentence when I saw a police car turn the corner up the street, heading in my direction.
The car pulled up and two officers got out – a young woman and an older man.
“Are you the one who called, sir?” the woman asked, quickly summing me and the house up.
“Yes, there is someone in my basement.”
“Ok, sir. Please stay here.” she replied and they started toward the house. “It’s the third door on the left.” I called after them and she raised her hand in thanks. They stopped on the porch, pulled their weapons and entered the house.
A few minutes went by and I nervously watched the front door, every now and then scanning the area in case the intruder had managed to elude the police and make a run for it.
Soon the officers emerged from the front door. The older officer was talking into his radio and the woman approached me.
“It’s all clear, sir. There is no one in your house.”
I was relieved, but also embarrassed.
“Are you sure? Did you check everywhere?”
Patiently, she nodded. “There is no other exit from the basement except the door and all the other windows and doors in the house are closed and locked.”
“Sir, I’d like you to please put the knife down.”
Looking down I was surprised to see I was still clutching the knife. I was gripping it so tightly that my knuckles had turned white.
I dropped the knife on the sparse grass of my front lawn.
Looking up at the officer, I saw her eyebrows were raised.
“I’m sorry. I – I guess I was really scared. I just grabbed it. God knows what I thought I would do with it.” I ran a shaky hand through my hair.
“That’s ok, sir. Why don’t we go inside and you can tell us what happened.”
We went into the house, and I was somewhat cautious. Looking down the hall I saw that the basement door was open.
The officer placed the knife which she had picked up on the counter.
I took a seat in front of my cold dinner and the two officers stood opposite me.
“Tell us what happened.” I identified her as Julie Rossi by her name tag. The man was Greg Rickards.
I took a deep breath and told them about the knocking.
Officer Rickards raised his eyebrows.
“So you heard a noise coming from your basement and called the cops?” It seemed as if he wanted to grin.
“No! Well… yes. But it wasn’t just a noise. It was distinct knocking. Three knocks and then nothing. Then three knocks again. Against the door. What could have made that noise?”
“Well, any number of things. But my first question would be why an intruder would knock against the door in the first place.”
Officer Rossi gave him a disapproving glance, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Sir, while we can’t tell you what made the noise, it most certainly wasn’t an intruder. Maybe it was the wind, or the house settling down. Do you live here alone? Perhaps you have somewhere you could possibly stay? Just for tonight?”
“No, no, that’s ok. I’ll be fine. Thank you for responding so quickly.”
I walked them to the door and I actually heard Rickards chuckle as they crossed the lawn. Asshole.
Closing the door I turned and rested my head against the door. Taking a deep breath I crossed the living room and made my way down the hall.
I stopped in front of the open basement and looked into the darkness. Nightfall had come pretty quickly, but the basement was a dark place to begin with.
I flicked the light switch for the basement and waited as the fluorescent light bulb slowly flickered into life.
Taking another deep breath, I started down the stairs. The old wooden stairs creaked loudly as I made my way down. Everything was the way I remembered it. Nothing seemed out of place or odd.
Shaking my head a little I walked back upstairs. I switched off the light and pulled the door shut.
And just as the door latched the knocking came again. Loud and clear. There was no mistake.
I jumped back from the door, slamming into the opposite wall.
How? What? What the fuck? I was just down there! There was nothing there!
The knocking came again, this time much louder than before – and then it was followed by a giggle.
It sounded like a child – maybe a girl.
Without thinking I jumped forward and yanked open the door.
There was nothing.
I stood there, utterly flabbergasted, gripping the door and panting like a wild animal.
Slowly I closed the door and immediately the knocks came again. Before the third knock fell I opened the door and was met with the same sight as before. Nothing. Even the knock had been cut off.
I slammed the door and backed away into the living room. Collapsing onto a couch which had a good view of the basement door, I groaned a little out of fear and frustration as the knocks started up again. It seemed the pauses between knocks were random. Sometimes it was seconds and other times it was minutes. But it was always three.
Every now and then I could hear – or thought I could hear – a little girl giggling.
What the fuck was going on? What was doing that?
What I wanted to do was get out of the house, but I had nowhere to go. The knocks were freaking me out, but the laughter was pushing me to the point of absolutely losing my shit.
I could have gone to a motel, but then what? I had bought this place. I couldn’t stay in a motel indefinitely. Call someone. Who? Katy? Kevin? And say what?
I got up, and moved to the door. I opened it and then retreated back to the living room again.
I waited for almost five minutes, but nothing happened. So the knocks only happened when the door was closed?
I stood up and retrieved my cold dinner. Hungrily I ate, continuing to eye the doorway to the basement. Placing the dishes in the sink after finishing, I also drank a glass of water.
It had been almost half an hour since I had opened the door, and there had been no knocks since – and no giggling. I was feeling a little relieved, but apprehensively so. As if it was too good to be true.
I gathered my phone and headed to my upstairs bedroom, making sure to never turn my back on the basement. Running the last few stairs and the short distance to my room, I quickly turned and slammed the door, locking it for good measure.
I had left almost all the downstairs lights on, but had decided that this was a necessity. Breathing a sigh of relief at being seemingly safe and secure, I went about my pre bed business. It was still early, but I was tired. And besides, I didn’t want to be downstairs.
I got into bed and grabbed the book I was reading, planning to read for a few minutes and then go to sleep, but I must’ve fallen asleep almost instantly.
I woke to a bright and warm morning and for a few moments I had forgotten about the weird events of the previous night. I stretched and yawned, but mid yawn it came back to me. I stopped, and then actually laughed out loud. In the bright morning sunshine the curious knocking and giggling didn’t seem nearly as scary. I mostly convinced myself that it didn’t happen at all and that it had been the work of my over tired imagination.
You called the cops. Well… yeah, that was embarrassing.
I got out of bed, planning to go down and make myself a big breakfast – when I noticed that my bedroom door was open.
I stopped mid stride.
I locked it last night.
I stood welded to the ground, suddenly as cold as ice, despite the warm morning.
I nervously glanced around the room, and spotted footprints. They were small, barefoot and human – it could only have been left by a child. They were pitch black, as if whoever left them had walked through tar. They made their way in through the door and up to the side of the bed. They then turned around and headed back out the door. I stood motionless for several seconds more, trying to make sense of the bizarre scene in front of me. I looked down at myself for some reason, and I sucked in a breath. My torso, arms and legs were all covered in blood red scratches. I felt along the scratches on my left arm, but there was no pain – only the weird sensation you get after your leg or arm has stayed in the same position for a long time. Almost like pins and needles but not quite.
I was scared. Someone or – and before I could stop the thought – something had been in my bedroom while I slept. Someone had managed to open my locked door, come into my bedroom and do something to me. While I slept!
Slowly I crept forward, deciding to follow the tiny, black footprints.
They led away from my door and down the stairs. I followed, first gazing down the stairs for a few moments before taking the first step down. The black footprints never diminished as they would if you stepped in mud and then walked a few steps on. Each one was as black as the previous one, and the footprints going to my bedroom and those coming back were exactly the same shade of black.
I reached the first floor landing and saw that the footprints led to the closed basement door – the same basement door that I had left open the night before.
Fear had completely enveloped me, but curiosity drove me forward and before I could talk myself out of it, I had opened the basement door. I switched on the light and I could clearly see the footprints coming up the stairs and then going back down again.
My feet seemed to have a mind of their own, for they started down. My breath was coming in quick gasps.
The basement was stuffy, which was nothing new, but there was an underlying … smell in the air. A rotten smell – the smell you would get down by a creek or swamp. I was positive I had not smelt it the day before.
Reaching the basement floor, I saw where the footprints had started – and where they stopped.
They led to the middle of the room and then vanished.
I stood staring at the spot where they had started and stopped. There was nothing close enough which could be climbed upon, so that was no explanation.
Suddenly the basement door slammed and the light went out at the same time.
I screamed – literally like a girl. I tried to turn and run up the stairs, but in my rush I somehow tripped over my own feet. I went down hard and for a moment just lay there.
My heart was pounding like a jackhammer and my breathing was wild, but all else was deathly quiet. I could not see an inch in front me – I was in absolute darkness.
I was about to try to get to the stairs in a more calmly manner, when I heard a shuffle behind me – roughly where the footprints had started and ended.
I sat up and turned around. Another shuffle – this time it sounded like a wet footprint. A high pitched moan escaped my throat and I caught my breath, somehow thinking that if I stay quiet, that whatever it was would leave me alone.
A giggle came out of the darkness, a sound which caused tendrils of panic to run through my already tense body.
“Deeee-rick…” came the sing song whisper out of the darkness.
“Come play with me Derick.”
A cold and clammy hand gripped my wrist and I lost it. I ripped my arm away and sprung up, blindly scrambling toward and up the stairs. I stumbled again and again and almost fell back down the stairs, but finally I reached the basement door. I flung it open and tumbled into the hallway. Jumping up I quickly slammed the door shut, and collapsed against it. I heard another giggle coming from the other side of the door and then three soft knocks.
What the fuck was going on? A little girl? Was my house actually haunted? This shit doesn’t happen in real life!
Get out of the house, a different voice in my head said. Why are you still here? It almost pleaded.
But no. Something strange was definitely happening, but I had nowhere to go. This was my home and I was stuck with whatever was going on.
Eventually I got up and went back to my room. It was only then that I noticed all of the footprints were gone. I sighed. I had planned to phone someone – maybe the cops – but no one would believe me now without at least some sort of evidence. I quickly showered, deciding that it would make me feel better and while drying myself I saw that the scratches on my body were fading too, but a blue, almost black, hand print was forming on the spot where I had been grabbed. It was a small hand – like a child’s.
I was exhausted and it was only ten am. I decided to head out for breakfast, to clear my head and to try and make sense of what had happened.
I called Kevin to tell him that we wouldn’t be working today and headed off to a cafe close to my house.
I didn’t have much of an appetite, but I forced myself to eat a considerable breakfast, and after a couple of cups of coffee I was beginning to feel a little bit like myself again.
I went through all of the events of the previous evening and that morning and I could only come to two possibilities. Either my house was actually haunted; or I was going insane.
Exiting the cafe, I noticed a bar down the street, and something awoke in me which I hadn’t felt for a very long time. I had always called it the Thirst. Heaven knows the things that had happened – or which I had imagined – were cause enough to sit down and have a nice relaxing drink.
But it wouldn’t just be one, would it?
No. It wouldn’t.
Turning my back on the bar I headed back to my car.
I spent the day window shopping and eating something small at almost every cafe or restaurant I saw. I was wasting time – I didn’t want to go home.
I was on my way to the next eatery I had Googled, when something occurred to me: Sooner or later I would have to go home, did I really want to get home at night?
This made me stop, and I knew I would have to get home before dark.
I sighed, said a small prayer and headed home.
Nothing was out of place. Everything was as I had left it and all the lights were still burning.
I was full from basically eating the whole day, so I decided to just head to my room.
I first stopped in front of the basement door once again. I opened it quickly and flicked the light switch, and to my surprise it came on. I debated about going down, but quickly scrapped that plan. I closed the door, leaving the light on and headed up stairs.
I locked the door again and moved the dresser in front of it. Looking at my makeshift blockade, I again pondered my sanity.
I took another scalding hot shower and brushed my teeth. It was still early, but I was exhausted.
I had just slipped into bed when three loud bangs erupted from downstairs. Not knocks. Bangs. As if someone was slamming with an open hand against a door or window.
I threw the covers off, but then froze.
I listened and waited and after a few moments the bangs came again. One-two-three. This was followed by a girl laughing.
Even the giggling has escalated, I thought.
I reached for my phone on the table but then paused. What if I called the police and they again find nothing? They would think I was wasting their time. Or that I was crazy. Maybe you are, an unfriendly thought answered.
Bracing myself with a couple of deep breaths, I got out of bed and walked to my bedroom door. I put my ear against the door above the dresser and listened, but I could hear nothing. Everything was deathly quiet.
I was just about to move the dresser and unlock the door when three more bangs slammed into my bedroom door. I yelled out and fell back. The bangs made the entire room and windows shake, and a photo frame of the kids I had on the dresser toppled over. I crawled backwards toward the bed, as another set of bangs rattled the door. And then another. The pauses between them were getting ever shorter, until there were no pauses. It was deafening. A girl was screaming on the other side of the door – hysterical, maniacal screaming. The room shook and the windows rattled and it seemed that the door would explode inward at any moment along with my eardrums. I pulled my knees up and hugged them and soon I was screaming at the top of my lungs, pleading for it to stop.
And suddenly it did.
With tears streaming down my face, I waited for the next set of bangs. But they never came. It felt like hours went by before I could summon the courage to get up. Slowly I moved to the door and listened. Again all was quiet.
Waiting several more minutes, I moved the dresser and unlocked the door. Peering out, nothing seemed out of place – except for a trail of small black footprints leading to and away from the door. The one picture I had hung in the upstairs hallway had fell from the wall and lay in a pile of broken glass. The other upstair doors were all closed, just like they had been before I went to bed. I slowly stepped around the broken frame and moved toward the stairs, trying to look everywhere at once. Reaching the stairs I stood there for several minutes, looking down. The footprints seemed to mock me.
I realized I was still gripping my phone in my hand and debated once more if I should phone someone. Anyone. But again I struggled to come up with an explanation or a scenario where I wouldn’t seem crazy. Surely the footprints would disappear again?
Just go look. If you don’t like what you see, get out of the house and then you call.
Slowly, I descended the stairs.
Everything was quiet. Reaching the first floor landing, I saw that all the downstair doors were open – except the basement. Moving cautiously forward, I glanced into every room I passed, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Again I did not turn my back on the basement, but rather turned and walked backwards toward the living room.
The living room was in disarray, with pictures and small ornaments on the floor and even the small table I ate my dinner on was toppled over.
I stood still for a moment, trying to figure out what to do when three more knocks came from the basement door. They were soft again, like the knocks I had heard the first time.
I turned to face the hallway, and was just in time to see the farthest door just before the stairs slam shut. And then the one next to it. And the one next to it. The doors slammed shut with a violence that seemed unreal and I found myself retreating for the umpteenth time that day. The final door slammed shut and all was silent again. But then the basement door clicked open. Slowly – painfully slowly – it swung open, its rusty hinges protesting.
And that’s when I heard it. The sound that made me lose the final bit of self control I had – the basement steps creaking. Someone – or something – was coming up the stairs. At first I was frozen. I was absolutely terrified. I couldn’t move or think or scream. I just stared at the open doorway to the basement. Another whimper escaped my throat and new tears started rolling down my cheeks. Whatever it was had reached the final couple of steps and I could hear shallow breathing coming from the darkness. Two eyes appeared, and it seemed that that was what I needed to regain control of my limbs.
I sprang toward the front door, reaching it in three bounds, but it would not open. I yanked and pulled at the door, while simultaneously trying to look back over my shoulder at the thing that approached. Looking down, I saw that the door was locked and cursed my own stupidity. I quickly unlocked the door, but it would not open. I could hear the thing approaching down the hall, the shallow, rattling breath getting louder. Despair almost overtook me then, and I knew in my heart that whatever was coming, was somehow keeping the door closed. With every ounce of my strength I pulled, and the door came unstuck. Spilling out my front door I risked a final glance over my shoulder but saw nothing.
I went sprawling. I had tripped on the edge of the sidewalk and I heard a girl giggle again.
“Deeeee-rrriiiiick,” the girl’s voice sang, though I knew that it was no girl. “Come play with me Derick.” I was up in a flash and went sprinting down the street.
When I thought I was far enough and relatively safe, I stopped under a street light and made the decision to call the cops. I explained that someone was in my house and that I would be waiting a couple of blocks down the street.
They took much longer to arrive this time, and I was surprised to see it was again officers Rossi and Rickards.
I was sitting on the sidewalk inspecting my wounds from the tumble I had had when they pulled up.
“Mr Reid. Are you alright?” Rossi asked as she approached me and saw the blood on my knees and elbows.
“Yes, I’m fine, I fell running.” I got up and she asked me to tell them what had happened.
Now I’m not an idiot. I knew how it would sound, especially after I had called them the day before. So I left out the part about me opening the door after the knocking to find nothing. I left out how I had found a child’s footprints in my room and that a girl was talking to me about playing with her; I left out the part about said girl grabbing me in the darkness of the basement – how my bedroom had shook from the banging and that a girl had been screaming hysterically minutes before. I left out how the downstairs doors had all slammed shut. I left out how the basement door had opened on its own and something had come trudging up the stairs.
I shortened it to me hearing something downstairs after I went to bed and seeing someone heading down to the basement.
So they put me into the back of the car, radioed the situation into HQ and headed down the street to my house.
Pulling up, they told me to wait in the car and they once more headed into my house, weapons drawn.
A couple of minutes later they reappeared and they then quietly spoke to each other on my front porch. Rickards then spoke into his radio and Rossi came and got me.
“There’s no one inside.” she said. And she looked at me as if she felt sorry for me.
“Are you sure?” I stammered, hugging myself like those grief stricken women you always see in the movies.
“Positive. We went through the whole house and nothing seems out of place.”
At this I cocked my head to the side.
“Nothing’s out of place? When I left here a while back the house was in shambles. Furniture was knocked over and pictures I had hung were on the floor!”
Rossi looked at me curiously. “Follow me.” she said and led me back to my front door.
I didn’t move.
She turned and saw that I was frozen to the spot. Her face softened – perhaps she could see I really was frightened.
“Come on Mr Reid, we are still here – you’re perfectly safe.”
After another moment I reluctantly followed her.
She led me into my living room – which was completely spotless. All the pictures were hanging where I had hung them when I moved in and all the furniture and ornaments were in their correct – and upright – positions. Even the dishes which I had failed to do the day before were clean and on the drying rack.
“What the f-” I whispered.
“Mr Reid, are you feeling alright?” Rossi asked me and laid a hand on my arm. My mind was running at a thousand miles per hour and when she touched me it brought me back to this horrible unreality. I jerked away from her touch, and she held up her hands.
“ Whoa, take it easy Mr Reid, we’re here to help.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just…”
She nodded her head that she understood. She sighed and looked me in the eyes.
“Mr Reid, have you been drinking?” she asked gently.
“What? No!” I cried. Having heard that question a million times before – what followed was never good.
“Are you on any strong medication?” she asked a little more firmly.
I sighed, suddenly angry. “No, I am not drunk, I am not on drugs and I’m not crazy!” I said a little more forcefully than I had intended.
“Ok, calm down.” Rossi looked over at Rickards who was still outside and he shrugged.
“Sir, I would really recommend that you stay somewhere else tonight. You have obviously had a very emotional day and getting out of the house, even if just for a night might be a very good idea.”
I was about to protest – to tell her to go fuck herself, but then I saw the logic in what she was saying. Tomorrow would be a new day and Kevin would be here to start on the second coat of paint. If something crazy happened again, at least I wouldn’t be alone.
“You might be right. I’ll go stay at a motel. Would you mind waiting for me so I can just throw a couple of things in a bag?” I asked, genuinely not wanting to be alone for even a second in this house.
She agreed and I quickly headed upstairs. I noticed that the broken frame was somehow repaired and hanging on the wall again. I paused in front of it, a shiver running through me. Was I going crazy? I put on some clothes and threw some more clothes, my toiletries and a book into a bag.
When I returned downstairs they were waiting for me in the living room.
“Ready to go?” she asked with a small smile.
“Yes, and thank you for waiting, I appreciate that.”
She smiled again and we headed outside. I locked up, thanked and apologized to the officers and then got in my car.
I headed to a nearby motel and checked in for one night. Walking to my room, I saw a bar across the street. Shaking the thought off, I entered my room and headed to the small bathroom. I splashed my face with water and looked at myself in the mirror.
Was I going crazy? What was going on?
A drink would help calm you down.
I straightened, frowning at the tired looking man in the mirror.
It was not the first time I had a thought like that since I got out of rehab, but I was always able to brush it aside. It never had any real power over me.
But this was different. It wasn’t just the silly, weak voice that had tried to get me to drink after rehab. This voice had substance. Power. I found myself actually considering it. A drink would calm me down. After what I had just experienced – or believed to have experienced – maybe a drink wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. And if I only imagined it, I was pretty much fucked already.
I stared into the mirror for a couple of seconds more.
No, you’ve been doing so well – been sober for so long. Don’t throw it away.
I sighed. I walked over to the bed and fell down on it. I would not go for the drink I so craved.
Switching on the TV I found an old documentary about crocodiles and settled in, hoping I might be able to forget about what was happening at my new house – or in my mind.
The night wore on. I couldn’t shake the memories of what had happened earlier and the more I thought about the police – the way Rossi had looked at me – the more I thought that I might have imagined it. Could it be? Could I have imagined everything? Was I going through some sort of psychotic break? A mental breakdown?
Suddenly I was back in my living room. I was standing at the kitchen counter again, staring down the hall at the basement door. Slowly it creaked open. Fear overcame me, and I was paralysed. I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out.
A hand emerged from the basement. A black hand, with inch long nails. My legs gave in and I collapsed to the floor. A moment later, a great monster had stepped into the hallway. Its skin was black, and wrinkled, like old leather. Large horns grew from its forehead and it had flaming red eyes and long fangs.
It stood glaring at me, and a guttural growl rose from its throat. It sprang forward, moving as quickly as nothing I had ever experienced before. Bearing down on me I cowered into a small ball – and awoke as I fell off the motel bed. I sat up, taking in my surroundings. I was soaked in sweat and my breathing was heavy. Taking deep breath after deep breath, I waited until my breathing returned to a semblance of normality before getting up.
I stood in the middle of the hotel room, indecisive.
“Fuck it.” I said out loud. I headed out the door and across the street.
It was a dive bar and it was empty, save for two men sitting at the bar. The Eagles were softly playing over the speakers and the news was on mute on the small TV behind the bar.
I walked up to the bar and the bartender came to take my order. He was a young man – early 20’s – with a silly looking goatee and an earring in his left ear.
“What can I get you?”
“Double Jameson, neat.”
“Coming up.”
He turned around and poured my drink.
He served it to me in a tumbler and was about to move away again, but I stopped him.
“ Wait.” He turned around again. I drained the glass in a single gulp. The whiskey burned on its way down, but it was a familiar, comforting burn. Relief washed over me, and I immediately felt better.
I gestured to the bartender with the glass to pour another. He smirked, but took the glass and refilled it.
I savoured the second drink. I sipped at it, while going over the night’s events again.
Every drink was followed by another drink and soon I was drunk. It was a comfortable feeling, one that I knew well and I realized that I had missed it. The disturbing events of the evening didn’t seem as important anymore and the constant fear I had felt since those first knocks had melted away.
I kept pouring the drinks down, not wanting the feeling to disappear.
I awoke, fully clothed on the bathroom floor of my hotel room. I had a crippling hangover – my head felt as if it would burst at any moment. Shame filled me almost instantly. I had thrown away my sobriety. Taking a moment to gather myself I carefully got to my feet. Looking in the mirror I saw vomit on my chin. I looked at the toilet and saw more vomit on and around it. Disgusted with myself I flushed the toilet and immediately took a shower.
Feeling a little better, I cleaned the bathroom and got dressed, popping a couple of painkillers I always kept in my toiletries bag.
It was already two o’clock. I went to check out of the hotel, and thought about getting some food in me. Next to the bar across the street was a small burger joint and I decided a greasy burger was just what I needed, but when I sat down I had entered the bar and was ordering a beer.
I sat staring at the golden liquid bubbling away in front of me and an internal war waged.
You might as well drink it. You already pissed away your sobriety last night.
No, get up and leave. Go home. Kevin will be working by now, wondering where the hell you are.
This continued for some time. I ordered a burger while the debate went on, and even finished most of the meal without touching the beer.
But the burger was really greasy. And the bun was dry. So I became very thirsty. At least that’s what I told myself. So I took a sip. And then another. Soon the half finished burger stood forgotten on the far side of the table and I had finished two more beers.
I had just started on my first whiskey of the day when my phone rang.
“Mr Reid? Where are you?” Kevin.
“I – I just went out this morning for breakfast and a couple of things, but I got held up.” I shook my head at myself, ashamed – but not ashamed enough to not take another sip.
“Oh, ok…” he sounded distracted. Almost upset or…. scared.
“Kevin? What’s going on?” I asked, setting my glass down.
“Nothing. I started painting again, because the door was open – I assumed you left it open for me. But…”
“What is it?”
“It’s just that I keep hearing this knocking. It sounds like it’s coming from the basement. I went down to go check, but I didn’t see anything. But it keeps happening. And I could swear I heard a girl laughing down there…”
My entire body went cold and my mouth dried out. A thought then occurred to me.
“Kevin. Listen to me. I didn’t leave the door open, I locked it. Get out of the house, now.”
There was a pause. “Why?” Kevin asked, clearly confused.
“Just do it. Please. Get out and wait for me down the road at the intersection.”
“Mr Reid, are you ok? You’re not making a lot of sense.”
“Just do it goddamnit!” I cried and the other patrons of the bar turned to look at me.
There was another pause and then I heard three distinct bangs in the background. Kevin cried out and I could hear the terror in his voice.
“What the hell? What’s happening?”
“Get out of the house Kevin!” I yelled into the phone, getting up from my table and heading to the exit.
“Hey, buddy, you didn’t pay!” It was the same bartender from the night before.
I stopped, taking out my wallet and tossed all the money I had on the table. Quickly I exited the bar and headed to my car across the street.
The noises coming through the phone were not encouraging. I could hear the banging, though now it was the same consistent explosion of noise that I had experienced the night before – I could hear a girl screaming through the chaos.
Kevin was screaming in terror, but I figured as long as he was still screaming, that it was a good sign.
I got into my car and was soon speeding back to my house.
Suddenly there was silence from Kevin’s side.
“Mr Reid?”
“Kevin? Are you ok? Where are you?”
“I – I think I’m ok. I locked myself in your room.”
“Ok, that’s good. Now listen to me very carefully. You have to get out of the house. Now. Go. Get out. Run down the stairs, and get out. Don’t wait, don’t stop, don’t do anything – just get out.”
“What is happening?” Kevin asked again.
“Kevin! Go now!” I screamed into the phone.
“OK, I’m going!”
“Stay on the phone!” I ordered him as I sped across a red light.
I could hear his heavy breathing and whimpering through the phone. Faintly, I heard a door open and I assumed he was exiting my bedroom.
“You can do this Kevin.” I encouraged him.
“I’m going down the stairs now. I’m in the hallway. What the – there’s footprints all over!” he whispered.
“Just keep going, you’re almost there.”
“I’m in the living room now – wait. What’s that?”
“Don’t stop! Get out!” I urged him.
“The door… the basement door is opening… oh, my god, something is coming up the stairs!” He was petrified.
“Kevin! Run! Get out!” I screamed again.
There was a pause, a moment of absolute silence broken only by our panting.
And then Kevin screamed. It was a blood curdling shriek and I heard the phone drop to the floor.
Kevin’s scream continued for what felt like an eternity, and then he was silent.
What had just happened? Was Kevin dead? Killed by what? If he was alive, what had just happened?
I still had the phone to my ear, when I heard a noise.
It sounded like footsteps, but they were uneven. Almost like something was limping. They also sounded like it would sound if you were walking through mud. Squelching is the word that came to mind.
Terror seized me and I almost lost control of the car.
Finally, I heard shallow, rattling breathing coming through the phone. The same breathing I had heard the night before. I wanted to hang up, to end the call, but I was paralysed. How I did not cause an accident, god only knows.
The thing on the other side of the phone then said something. It was barely a whisper, but I had heard those words before: “Come play with me Derick.”
Suddenly the phone crackled, static shot into my ear and the line went dead.
I pulled over. I gripped the steering wheel in a death grip, my knuckles turning white and I took a few deep breaths.
I had to decide what I was going to do. Call the police?
I was sure if they showed up again and there was nothing to find they would haul my ass off to jail.
But what if this time there was something?
I had to go check first. To make sure Kevin was … ok.
I pulled off again and a couple of minutes later I turned onto Harriet drive.
I slowed down and approached my house at a crawl. The front door was closed and all seemed quiet.
Parking the car, I left the car running and the door open. I wanted a fast getaway if the need arose.
I slowly walked up to the front door and I paused on the porch, listening. I couldn’t hear anything, even after I pressed my ear against the door.
Reluctantly, I opened the door, and pushed it open. I stood on the threshold of my own house, afraid to enter. The smell of paint was clear, but there was a faint swampy smell underneath it. Except for the painting tools leaning against one wall, everything looked exactly like I had left it the night before.
There was no sign of Kevin. He had said he was in the living room, but I couldn’t see him. Shaking my head at what I was about to do, I took a few tentative steps into my house. I still couldn’t see Kevin anywhere. I took a few more steps and slowly the basement door came into view. It was closed.
The front door slammed behind me with a force that caused the windows to rattle and I screamed.
Fuck this, I’m out.
I turned on the spot and ran to the front door, but again I could not get it open. This time it wasn’t locked, and no matter how hard I pulled, yanked and groaned, it would not budge.
Without thinking, I grabbed the extender pole that we used to paint the high, hard to reach places and scrambled to the window. With all my might I swung the pole into the window, but the pole bounced harmlessly off it. A gasp escaped my lips.
“What the fuck?”
I went to town on the window. I swung again and again and each time the pole bounced off the window without leaving so much as a crack. I tossed the pole aside and lifted the nearest chair I was able, using all my strength to throw it at the window, but it had the same result. The chair crashed to the floor in a pile of broken wood as the window held firm.
Panic took hold of me.
I was trapped.
Standing in the middle of my living room, I tried to think of something I could do. I had to escape. I reached for my phone, and as I punched in the emergency number, I heard it.
A scream of fear, anger and frustration burst from me involuntarily.
Louder than before.
The knocks were coming faster and faster, and I heard the girl giggling again.
I pressed the call button on my phone, my eyes locked on the basement door.
The operator answered and I rambled off my address and that I needed help.
Before the operator was able to respond, the phone was ripped from my grasp by an unseen force, and flung against the wall where it shattered into pieces.
I whirled around like a mad man, trying to see everywhere at once.
The knocks drew my attention back to the door. I waited, panting. Then the bangs came again. It emanated from the house itself this time and it was deafening.
Soon the pauses had disappeared as before, and the house was shaking and roaring. I held onto the nearest chair for support. The volume of the bangs increased and I felt a warm liquid trickling from my ears. The girl was yelling again and I swear I was hearing her inside my head.
The bangs stopped, just as suddenly as the previous night, and the ringing in my ears told the tale of my damaged ear drums.
A moment later I was flung across the room, as if a wire had been attached to the back of my pants and had been pulled with extreme force.
I slammed into the wall opposite the hallway, and I bashed my head against the wall, causing me to crumple to the floor in a heap.
Dazed I lifted my head and a searing pain tore through it. Blood was pouring from the back of my head. Faintly, I heard it.
I heard the basement door open again. I was directly opposite the hallway and I had no line of sight on the door itself. Groaning, I tried to get to my feet, but slumped back against the wall.
Again I heard the creaking of the basement stairs as something ascended.
Again I tried to get up and this time I managed it by holding onto the kitchen counter.
I heard the top of the stairs creaking and this was soon followed by shallow, rattling breathing.
A giggle came from the basement as I staggered for the front door again, using the furniture to support me, completely forgetting that I had tried the door already. Reaching the door I collapsed against it. I tried getting it open from the floor, but it wouldn’t budge.
I heard the footsteps reach the top of the basement and turn toward the living room. The steps were uneven – as if it was limping – and it sounded as if it was walking through mud.
I gave up on the door. It seemed that there was no escape.
I tensed as the thing neared the corner, and pulled myself into a ball.
Finally, the thing turned the corner – for that’s what it was. A thing. It was not of this world. I saw a very pale, almost white figure rounding the hallway corner. It looked like a little girl of about nine or ten, frail and thin. Snow white hair topped a sunken, haggard face. Its mouth was open as if it was trying to suck in all the air it could and yellow, rotten teeth protruded from behind its blue lips. But the worst thing was the eyes. Pitch black eyes stared back at me. There was no white to be seen in those eyes – no pupils, only solid black. There was only one emotion in those eyes – hate. Pure hate. Those eyes seemed to look into me and a coldness I had never known before washed over me, causing my body to go limp and to untangle from the ball I had retreated into. My bladder let go and urine streamed down my leg. I could not look away. It was moving in a staccato, jumpy way – as if all its joints were rusted and getting them to move required force, which then suddenly caused them to shoot forward. A thick, black liquid covered its feet, but where it came from I could not say. The thing lifted a hand and pointed at me. “Deeee-rrriiiick,” It sang, though now it did not sound like a little girl’s voice at all. It was a high pitched whine, like a conveyor belt moving too fast, moments before it snaps. “Come play with me.”
In a blink of an eye it was right in front of me and it reached down and gripped my arm.
A pain I had never imagined shot up my arm. It was a cold pain. A cold burning pain – like when you hold a big piece of ice for too long. The cold moved through my body, and in an instant I was shivering. I tried to scream, but the cold had robbed me of my voice. Breathing was becoming difficult, and I saw a faint vapour rise from where it held my arm – almost like smoke.
It lowered its face to mine and I thought it attempted to smile, but it did not work – its face seemed to crack at the attempt.
It was only inches from my face, and I gagged on its foul breath. It smelled like death.
The thing then seemed to inhale deeply, and inside of me there was a pull. It felt as if something was trying to leave my body. Physically it felt like I would vomit, but it was a more intense, disturbing feeling.
It straightened and turned, starting off back the way it had come – dragging me behind it like I was a bag of potatoes. I assumed it was heading for the basement, but I was absolutely powerless to do anything about it. We reached the dark doorway of the open basement and it looked down at me.
“We’re going to play forever, Derick.” Its voice grinded inside my head, scratching away at the last threads of sanity I had left.
A bang on the door behind me interrupted the thing and it let go of my arm.
It looked back into the living room and for just a moment it looked as if the thing was debating its next course of action. Another bang on the door made it decide, and in an instant it was gone.
I suddenly had control of my body – and my vocal cords – again and after taking a deep breath I screamed. I screamed like I had never screamed before. I think I would never have stopped screaming, had the police not kicked down the door. I was dazed and barely conscious as Rossi and Rickards stormed into my house, guns drawn.
Rossi quickly found me while Rickards jumped over me and went into the basement. She knelt beside me and inspected my injuries and I saw her recoil when she looked at my arm. I looked as well, and saw that a large black handprint was on my forearm similar to the other one, but much more severe. It looked like frostbite.
Rossi instructed me to stay still, and that an ambulance was on the way.
I heard Rickards yell something, and Rossi went to look. Moments later handcuffs were being slapped on my wrists and I was being told that I was under arrest for murder.
“What? What… talking… about?” I mumbled as another flash of pain shot through my head.
Rossi replied, but darkness took me.

You mostly know the rest. I blacked out and was treated for a concussion and frostbite on my arm. My hearing was also severely damaged – I was almost completely deaf in my left ear.
They found Kevin’s body in the basement. They had shown me pictures in the interrogation that followed. He seemed to have been drained. Not a drop of blood or water was found in his body. He looked like a mummy. It was like he had been sucked dry. They charged me with murder. I don’t really blame them. I had a shit ton of alcohol in my system from the night before and had been drinking that very day. What were they supposed to believe? Although whenever I brought up the question of how I killed him – how I would have drained them, they only mumbled softly about an accomplice.
The marks on my arm were also explained by that same excuse. As was my damaged ears.
Basically they didn’t know what the fuck happened, but they sure as shit didn’t believe my story.
When they realised that my story wasn’t going to change, that I wouldn’t slip up because I truly believed what I was saying, they transferred me to the psych ward and soon after that, the mental hospital where I currently reside.
I don’t know what I expect you to do with this story, even if you do believe it. I think I just needed to tell it to someone other than the cops or head doctors. The one thing I do know, is do not go into that house.
I can hear them coming to take me to that room, so I don’t think we’ll speak again.
I didn’t kill Kevin. If you believe me about nothing else, please believe that.
I’m sorry about everything.
I love you sis.

Credit: Pablo Dickens


December 6, 2016 at 12:00 AM

This is a continuation of The Fort, so please read that story first!

Ryan opened his eyes and squinted against the brightness of the hot, desert sun. He was dazed, and for a moment he struggled to remember where he was. Lifting his head slightly, he groaned as a trickle of something warm ran down his face. He sat up and as a flash of pain shot through his head, he remembered.
He was sitting in the middle of a narrow road. It was straight, and disappeared into the distance with hardly a bend or turn. He was sure it must have been wider at some stage, but the desert had reclaimed much of the road’s surface.
He inspected himself for any serious injuries, and was relieved to find that he only had the one minor gash on his forehead. Slowly, he got up and trudged over to his bicycle. Ryan lifted it onto its wheels and groaned.
“Fuck.” he sighed.
The front wheel was buckled. He wouldn’t be able to repair it.
He cursed himself for his own stupidity.
Ryan had been making good time, going along at a steady pace, until he had seen the sign that the next town was only 15 kilometres away. Short on water and almost out of food, he had excitedly sped up, hoping that the small city would have what he needed. He had passed through a couple of small towns the previous days, but they had offered the bare minimum. One town had been functioning fairly normally and had even had electricity. But the locals were suspicious of strangers and unwilling to help. He didn’t blame them. He had nothing to offer in exchange for supplies or shelter. Eventually an old man had given him some food and fresh water and politely asked him to be on his way.
Ryan had hardly sped up before he had struck something which had been buried in a pot hole and covered by sand. The impact had sent him flying over his bike and this object was what had crippled the front wheel.
He removed his rifle from the makeshift holster he had attached to the bike and tossed the mangled bike aside. He inspected the rifle for any damage and cursed again when he saw a large scratch on the butt. He would test it later to make sure it still worked. Taking off his pack he sat down again, deciding to take a break.
He took a few mouthfuls of water and looked into the distance. He thought he could see smoke rising in the direction he was heading. It was probably coming from Karasburg which he was approaching.
It was late afternoon already and he’d prefer not to have to sleep under the stars again. The cold desert night was not a nice place to be – not to mention the pack of jackals which he thought had been following him for the last couple of nights. He didn’t think they would attack him, but their calls and scurrying in the darkness, just out of reach of his campfires light were deeply unsettling.
Getting up and shouldering his pack and rifle, Ryan started in the direction of Karasburg.
He walked at a brisk pace, beginning to see more and more dirt roads turning off to farms and smaller settlements. A few abandoned cars were next to the road or sometimes in the middle of it as he neared the town, and he gave each one a cursory search for anything useful, but they were all empty – long ago searched and stripped of anything remotely valuable.
It had been 17 days since Ryan had left Prieska, peddling his bicycle for between 4 – 6 hours a day. He never pushed himself too hard, going at an easy pace – sometimes not travelling at all on some days – preferring to conserve energy and making camp long before nightfall each day. He always tried to find a hill or higher ground, which gave him a better view of his surroundings and he always camped a good distance from the road. Some nights he heard people passing down the road with vehicles or motorcycles, and though they might have been able to assist him on his journey to his father-in-law’s farm, he had always deemed the risk too great to show himself. It was a brave, new, fucked up world, and you just couldn’t assume that anyone had anyone else’s best interest at heart. It was about personal gain. Survival. Hadn’t he himself shown that to be true time and time again?
So he would kick out his fire and hide, out of view, watching as sometimes up to 6 vehicles passed at a time. He could never really see the occupants in the darkness, but he could sometimes hear their voices, laughing or talking, drifting over to him in the still night air.
Sometimes he would hear or spot a vehicle coming towards him in the day, and he would jump off his bike and scramble off the road, taking cover behind the nearest bush or hill. It was on one such day that he had almost lost his life for the hundredth time since the world had gone to shit.
He had been cycling like all the other days before that, just a couple of kilometres after entering Namibia through the Nakop Border post. He was quite content, having found a rifle with ample ammunition after using almost all of his at Prieska. The rifle had been hidden away in a back office at the border post, probably some official’s personal hunting rifle. The official had likely been planning on going hunting after work or over the weekend and had brought his rifle with, before something had changed his plans – had changed the world’s plans.
After Ryan had despatched a lone lurker which had been trapped inside the building with his brand new small axe he had found on the outskirts of Upington, he had searched every room. The rifle had not been in the safe – which was open – but rather had been cleverly stored beneath a desk. The desk was hollow underneath and Ryan had accidentally dislodged the weapon after slamming the drawer shut looking for anything useful.
He was pleased to see that it was also a Remington, though it fired a larger calibre and was much newer than his old rifle. It was in excellent condition and Ryan guessed that the previous owner had cared for it well. It also had a scope and after rummaging around a bit more underneath the desk, he found five full boxes of ammunition. Either the official was planning on shooting a lot of animals, or he had been a terrible shot.
He had cleaned and checked all the rifle’s components then and there to make sure it was in good working order. He didn’t want to pull the trigger an hour down the road and then nothing happened.
He was peddling along deep in thought some time later when he heard the groan of an engine behind him. Ryan cursed, realising that he should have heard it sooner, but that he had been deep in thought, thinking about the hunting trips his father had taken him on.
Jumping off his bike, he turned and saw an old Toyota bakkie coming along rather quickly. There was no time for him to hide, so he placed his old rifle on the ground and drew the new one, letting his bicycle fall to the ground.
The driver of the bakkie saw Ryan and slowed. Ryan chambered a round, but did not raise the rifle. It came to a stop about ten meters from Ryan.
Both front doors opened and two men climbed out. The driver was middle aged, with thick gray hair and a big beard while his passenger was much younger, no more than twenty three – his son, most likely. Both of them had fire arms, the older man carrying a type of shotgun and the younger one a pistol.
“As mens in vandag se dae so in die pad staan met ‘n geweer, is die kanse goed dat jy vrek geskiet gaan word.” the older man said in Afrikaans. Ryan’s Afrikaans had never been great, but he understood what the man said: “If a man stands in the road with a gun in today’s times, the chances are good he’ll be shot dead.”
Ryan looked at each in turn before replying in English. “That may be true, but the people doing the shooting better be damned sure they don’t get shot first.” He knew that he shouldn’t be combative, that he should try to de-escalate the situation, but Ryan had never responded well to threats.
The older man looked at the younger one and smirked. “Nogals ‘n soutpiel ook. ‘n Windgat soutpiel.”
Ryan’s eyes flashed. He responded even worse to insults. The man had called him arrogant and a slang term used to insult English people in South Africa. Soutpiel roughly translated to salt dick, implying that the person had one foot in the UK and one in Africa and that his penis was dangling in the Atlantic.
“I’d be more careful about insulting strangers when you have no idea what they are capable of.” Ryan replied, this time in Afrikaans, and the older man’s smirk faded.
They stared at each other for a few moments more, neither looking away or backing down.
“I think we’ll take those weapons of yours, boy.” the older man finally said when he realised Ryan wasn’t backing down.
Ryan cocked his head to the side, as if he couldn’t hear him.
“Just lay down the rifle, take ten steps back, and we’ll be on our way.” the man insisted, taking on a soothing tone, as if he was trying to calm down an upset friend.
Ryan cocked his head to the other side and smiled. It was a genuine smile, an excited smile. A smile of someone who knew what would happen next – and looked forward to it.
Ryan had by now accepted that confrontation was unavoidable, but he was for some reason looking forward to it. The long hours on the road, the boredom, the loneliness and the demons that he was still trying to best had reached a breaking point. And he decided that it would not be him breaking. He theorized that a fight, however unnecessary, might be just what he needed to refocus after what happened in Prieska – and before.
“Tell you what.” Ryan said, still smiling. “You put both of your weapons on the seats and start walking back the way you came, and I’ll let you live. I’ll look after your bakkie, I promise.”
It seemed as if the older man was about to laugh, but something in Ryan’s eyes gave him pause. He looked over at his son who gave the slightest shrug and then back at Ryan.
“Well? I’m waiting.” Ryan said.
“Let’s just go dad, leave him.” The younger man said nervously and for a second it seemed as if his father would oblige, but something kept him there and made him turn to Ryan once again. It was probably pride.
“I’m going to count to five.” the man said, cocking his shotgun. His son looked at him uncertainly, but also snapped the safety off of his pistol.
“One-” he began.
“Two.” Ryan said, not moving, though the smile had now disappeared.
The man hesitated, but then lifted his shotgun. “Three.” His son had now also taken aim with his pistol.
“Four.” Ryan said and turned his rifle slightly so that it was pointing forward, though he did not raise it.
The man hesitated again, but after a moment opened his mouth to say the final number.
“Wait!” Ryan cried, lifting his arms and holding the rifle in one hand. “Wait, I give up, I don’t want to die!”
Both men tensed, but then relaxed and lowered their weapons somewhat. The older man smiled smugly and was about to speak when Ryan interrupted him.
“Five.” he said quietly and the man’s smile was replaced by confusion. Ryan brought down his rifle and fired at the older man, but it was not his rifle. It was not the rifle that he had been firing since he was twenty one. It was a new, more powerful rifle. The shot missed, hitting the top of the windscreen. The man cried out in alarm and stumbled backward, falling over and firing into the air involuntarily. At the same time, the pistol of the younger man cracked and the round slammed into the ground at Ryan’s feet – also an accidental shot. The younger man seemed to recover and pulled the trigger again – but nothing happened. The pistol had jammed. Ryan needed to get out of the open before the old man could fire again and he set off at full tilt, bearing down on the younger man.
He struggled with the pistol, trying to un-jam it, and stealing glances at Ryan as he came sprinting at him. Finally he dropped the pistol and raised his arms in surrender and as Ryan reached him he struck him with the butt of the rifle in the stomach. The younger man collapsed, curling into a ball and coughing loudly. Ryan quickly scooped up the jammed pistol and shoved it into the back of his pants, then, ejecting the spent cartridge and chambering another round, he pointed the rifle at the young man’s head.
“Your son is on the ground and my rifle is pointed at his head. Try and be a hero and he’s dead. So, slowly come around the back of the bakkie, with your hands in the air.”
A few moments went by when all was silent, save the young man’s whimpering and coughing. Then, slowly, Ryan heard the footsteps of the older man approaching from the back of the bakkie. He appeared, holding his arms above his head, with the shotgun in one hand.
“Toss the shotgun into the back and then move away from the bakkie.” Ryan said and the man obliged. When Ryan felt he was far enough, he told him to stop.
“We weren’t out here alone you know. We have more people that should be coming by any minute.”
Ryan looked at the old man, but said nothing.
“Just let us go. Take the bakkie and go.”
“What’re your names?” Ryan asked.
“I’m Frik and this is my son Jannie.” Frik seemed eager to cooperate now. Perhaps he thinks if he can build a rapport with me they will get out of this alive, Ryan thought.
“So where were you headed and where were you coming from?”
“We’re headed to Ariamsvlei. There were no children there, so the town remains almost completely unaffected. Most days there is even electricity. We happened upon it a year ago. Right now we were coming back from Upington. We needed things that small towns don’t really keep.”
Ryan raised his eyebrows. “Such as?”
“Ammunition, tools for farming and engine parts for our vehicles and tractors.”
Ryan looked into the back of the truck and saw nothing. He raised his eyebrows even higher.
“It wasn’t a very successful trip. We struggled to get into Upington, it was crawling with swarmers.”
Ryan cocked his head at the word. He decided it described the lurkers well.
“Once we finally got in, we could hardly find anything. Everything was looted or burnt to the ground. And then we wasted too much time – we got caught after dark in an old auto shop. We couldn’t really defend it, most of the doors were damaged and they got in real easy. We lost six people that night.”
He looked down and Ryan could see he had trouble keeping his tears at bay.
“We spent a week crawling along back roads into every small town between here and Upington, but it wasn’t a very fruitful week. We lost two more people. We lost so much more than we gained on this donnerse trip.”
Frik was about to speak again when they heard another vehicle approaching. It was a Land Rover Defender and it was flying. Looks like Frik wasn’t lying, Ryan thought.
The Defender slowed as it neared, and then abruptly stopped, coming to a stop with screaming tyres and skidding over the built up sand on the road. Ryan guessed the occupants had seen the situation – a stranger holding their friends at gunpoint. Ryan quickly moved so that the Toyota was between him and the Defender, all while keeping his rifle pointed at Jannie.
“You better tell them to not do anything rash, or this day is going to go from bad to worse for you.”
Frik nodded and moved to go to the Defender, but Ryan stopped him.
“They’ll be able to hear you from here, you don’t need to go over there.”
Frik was about to argue, but stopped. He nodded and turned to the Defender again. Three men exited the vehicle. They were all middle aged, but looked younger than Frik. They were all carrying firearms – two pistols and a large revolver.
“Frik? Are you ok? What’s going on?” the driver called over in Afrikaans. He was tall and muscularly built. He had a full, black beard and wore a Stetson hat and sunglasses.
Frik looked at Ryan questioningly, his eyes asking how Ryan wanted to handle the situation. Ryan’s mind was racing. His odds of getting out of this alive were steadily declining.
“Tell him I’m taking the bakkie. I’m taking your son with me too and the Defender’s keys. I’ll leave them both five kilometres down the road, giving me a good enough head start. You get your son, I get better transport, everybody wins.”
Ryan could see that Frik hated the idea of letting his son go with him and probably also the thought of losing his vehicle, but he dutifully relayed the message over to the man in the Stetson whom he called Darren.
“That sounds fair.” Darren called back and Ryan breathed a small sigh of relief.
“I have a counter offer, though. If you come out right now and drop your gun, I’ll just shoot you in the head and you won’t suffer. But if you don’t, I will make it my mission for the probably limited time I have left on this earth to cause you the utmost amount of pain possible.”
Something in Darren’s voice scared Ryan. He believed every word that he had said. Ryan had leverage, true, but he was greatly outnumbered by armed men and his entire plan hinged on the assumption that they actually cared about Jannie.
“Give me the keys.” Ryan hissed to Frik.
“They’re in the ignition.”
“Get up and get in the driver’s seat.” he commanded Jannie, and he slowly got to his feet. He forced him to climb over the passenger seat and was doing so painfully slow until another hit with the rifle got him moving faster. Ryan quickly followed into the passenger seat and told him to start the Toyota and drive. He did as he was told, but not fast enough for Ryan. He turned to look at Jannie and scowled.
“I told you to drive, for fuck’s sake, now drive!” he growled and the frightened Jannie floored it. The engine roared, but almost immediately another sound was heard above the protests of the engine. Bullets were slamming into the back of the truck. Ryan looked back and saw the three new arrivals all firing at them, while Frik was waving and protesting, obviously concerned that his son might be hit. Ryan was about to lift his own rifle to return fire, when one of the tyres blew. It must have been hit by a round from the firing men, and although they could limp along, Jannie seized the opportunity and violently jerked the steering wheel right. Ryan was flung against the door and it was soon apparent that Jannie had lost all control. They flipped. They had not been going fast enough yet to cause a serious accident, but the sand covered road caused them to slide for a great distance on their side before finally coming to a stop.
Jannie had ended up on top of Ryan, and while his face was close to his, Ryan struck out with his head one, two, three times, breaking Jannie’s nose and cutting his lip. Blood spurted from his lips and nose.
“You little shit!” Ryan screamed, delivering another head butt for good measure.
Ryan quickly clambered out from underneath the dazed Jannie and recovered his rifle and the jammed pistol which had tumbled from his pants. Replacing the pistol and slinging the rifle over his shoulder he climbed to the opposite door and awkwardly clambered out. Just as he poked his head out of the Toyota, more rounds slammed into the chassis of the vehicle and he quickly ducked back inside. Unslinging the Remington, he took a deep breath and leaned out again, but this time he kept low. More rounds zinged about him, but he kept his hands and his breathing steady, and got one of the men shooting at him in his crosshairs. They were running toward the flipped vehicle, firing as they ran. Holding his breath, he squeezed the trigger and the rifle roared. The man dropped, and the other two quickly turned and ran back, ducking behind the Defender.
Ryan pulled himself up and dropped onto the ground, getting behind the Toyota and keeping it between himself and his would be killers.
He took a few moments to think and to settle down. There were about a hundred meters between him and the shooters, which meant that their small arms would be less accurate. At least there he had the advantage. His bicycle was about eighty five meters away. There was no way he could get away. He would have to deal with the shooters before leaving in any way or form.
He leaned around the flipped bakkie and peered through his scope. Nothing stirred around the Defender. Frik had also taken cover. He would need to eliminate them if he was to get away alive. He especially wanted to eliminate Darren. He intimidated him. He looked like a killer. Ryan had come across a few people like him since he left Johannesburg. People like him didn’t care who suffered or who they had to hurt to get what they wanted. They only cared about their own survival and gain. Confrontations with people like him rarely ended with both of them walking away.
Ryan thought he heard the Defender start. He looked through the scope again, but could see no one in the vehicle. They must’ve climbed in through the back door and were keeping low. The Defender started crawling forward. They were trying to close the distance.
He fired a shot through the windscreen, but the Defender kept coming. Ejecting the spent cartridge, he fired another through the windscreen, lower this time and he could see the headrest of the driver side shake as the round slammed into it.
Ryan took a moment to consider his options and then fired a shot into the engine. He quickly reloaded, and upon looking through the scope again, he could see what looked like water pouring out from underneath the engine. He hoped he had struck something important.
This time he aimed for the front tyres, and after four more shots, both had burst.
The Defender stopped, and as Ryan reloaded again, he saw it turn around slowly. Ryan gave a wry smile. They were retreating. He thought that they realised they wouldn’t be able to cover the distance without the Defender getting too damaged, or one of them getting shot.
Suddenly, he felt the Toyota he was leaning against shake, and looking up, Jannie was staring down at him. He jumped down, and Ryan could not raise the rifle quickly enough. Jannie landed on him, using his arms to shove Ryan away. He went sprawling, dropping the rifle. He was up quickly, and he sprang forward to prevent Jannie from picking up the rifle by landing a savage kick to his midsection. Jannie grunted and stumbled back, but in the same movement turned and ran to where the Defender was slowly retreating. Calmly, Ryan picked up the rifle and took aim.
He was angry at how things had gone, and Jannie had especially pissed him off by causing the Toyota to flip and by attacking him.
He held his breath and fired. The round struck him high up on the back and red mist lingered in the air as he fell.
He did not move again.
Lowering the rifle, he saw one of the Defender’s doors open and Frik jump out. He ran to where his son lay and Ryan had an internal debate.
He thought the Land Rover was crippled. There would be no point in trying to take it anymore. He could kill Frik easily as he came running, but he wasn’t angry at Frik and the Land Rover was heading in the other direction. He saw no point. Though, Frik might want to kill Ryan for killing his son.
Ryan pondered for a moment longer before lifting the rifle and firing again.
The round jumped next to Frik’s feet and he stopped. He looked up at Ryan and he could see through the scope the hate and anger on Frik’s face.
“Go back and bring my bike.” Ryan called cheerfully. Frik didn’t move. Ryan fired another shot and this time the round nearly took his foot off. Frik jumped, and glared at Ryan for another moment, before turning and jogging back to where his bicycle was lying on its side. He lifted it onto its wheels, and through the scope, Ryan could see Frik debate about whether or not to pick up Ryan’s old rifle.
Ryan held his breath.
A moment later, Frik was jogging toward him with the bicycle. When he reached Jannie, he sent it rolling toward Ryan before kneeling next to his boy. He gently turned him over, and was soon sobbing loudly.
The bike had fallen over a few meters away from Ryan and he cautiously moved toward it, keeping his rifle trained on Frik. He had almost reached it when he heard the sound of feet shuffling on gravel to his left. He snapped the rifle toward the sound, but could not see anything. A row of shrubs and bushes obscured everything a few meters back from the road.
A low moan rose from behind the shrubbery and Ryan’s blood ran cold. His breathing quickened and his heart pounded. He panned the rifle left and right, trying to look everywhere at once.
Frik had not heard anything through his sobbing, and he continued to cradle his son’s body.
Another moan came from behind the bushes and a moment later a single lurker emerged from the bushes. Ryan had not seen many lurkers since Prieska – a few in small towns here and there which he was able to easily avoid and the one at the border post. He guessed that this one had been around sixteen. The black veins covering its ashy grey skin seemed to suck up the ample sunlight, and its feral, yellow eyes were unfocused.
It spotted him, and quickened its pace somewhat. Images of the hundreds of lurkers charging at him in Prieska flashed through his mind and a small groan escaped his lips. It was late afternoon, and the sun was still shining bright, but Ryan remembered the frenzied insanity with which they had pursued him that awful night with frightening clarity.
“Shoot it!” Frik screamed. He was standing now, between the lurker and his dead son, as if protecting his body.
Ryan lifted the rifle, and was about to fire, when the bushes behind it seemed to vomit lurkers. Dozens emerged. Their moans and cries combined into a terrifying crescendo and all of them turned toward Ryan and Frik after spotting them. The commotion of the afternoon must have caught their attention and lured them from wherever they were coming from. Frik looked as if he would run, but glancing down at his dead son, he seemed to steel himself. He widened his stance and pulled a small hunting knife from a sheath at his side.
Ryand had time to think, Idiot, before sprinting to his bike. The lurkers were much slower and clumsier in the day – almost lethargic. Ryan always thought they looked drunk or high. They were fairly easy to get away from in the day, especially if you had a head start, and Ryan meant to do exactly that.
He quickly lifted the bike and holstered his rifle in the sheath he had made. Then, he started running next to the bicycle, building up some speed before finally jumping on and peddling furiously.
Looking over his shoulder, he saw that Frik had already taken down two lurkers, but that he was struggling with two at the same time and four more were quickly closing in. He has about one minute left to live, Ryan thought. He could also see the Defender slowly moving away from the scene in the distance. It almost seemed to be skulking – ashamed.
Looking ahead again, he screamed in frustration. Ahead, about ten or more lurkers were slowly heading his way. They were apparently coming from all sides. He thought about taking out his axe, but then remembered the pistol he had repossessed from Jannie. He stopped and took it out. The lurkers ahead were steadily making their way toward him, though he had a little time before the closest one would reach him. After removing the magazine and the spent cartridge which had caused the jam in the barrel – stopping the slide from moving – he checked how many rounds were in the magazine. Only one had been fired, which meant that he had fourteen more.
He reinserted the magazine, pulled the slide back to chamber a round and took aim.
The pistol cracked and the nearest lurker dropped, a chunk of its forehead missing. He fired again at the next closest lurker, putting it down as well. Firing a third time, he missed, but pulling the trigger again brought the third one to its knees. Ryan now had some space before the next batch of lurkers was upon him. Deciding that it really was now time to get out of there, he again started running next to his bicycle. Jumping on, he had kept the pistol in his hand and was soon flying toward the monsters that wanted to kill him.
He swerved between them, dodging and ducking as they lunged at him. He shot those he deemed to close before nearing them, but soon the pistol was out of ammo. A lurker almost got hold of his shirt, but its hand slipped free at the last second. Ryan had screamed when it had touched him, and another image of a lurker with its hands around his throat flashed through his mind.
Finally, he seemed to be in the clear. There were no more lurkers in front of him or to either side of the road. He kept up the furious peddling though. He wanted to put as much distance as possible between him and the scenes behind him.
Ryan looked back a final time before the scene was blocked out by a low hill. He could not see the Defender or Frik, but he could see a group of lurkers gathering on the ground near the flipped Toyota. Many of the lurkers seemed to be following Ryan, in their slow, almost lazy gait, and this made him peddle even faster.
Ryan peddled and peddled some more, until long after sundown. After sundown he had wanted to stop and thought about making camp, but a collection of shrieks in the quiet night air had encouraged him to keep going. Though Ryan knew that the screams had come from a long way behind him, he had not felt comfortable stopping yet.
It was almost midnight when he came upon something that he hadn’t seen since his initial exodus from Johannesburg. In the distance to the right off of the main road was a town. And the town had lights. The power was on.
That must be Ariamsvlei, Ryan thought, unable to stop a smile from spreading across his face. I’ll have to get in and out before Darren and his lackey gets back.
That was of course if these people would even allow him to enter.
Peddling much slower now, he turned onto the smaller side road which led to the town. The road was smaller but in a significantly better condition. It had been cared for.
Slowly, he approached Ariamsvlei. It had a single road leading into it, and Ryan saw that a flimsy looking chain link fence had been raised around what seemed to be the entire town. A large gate was closed across the road, and a Ford Ranger bakkie was parked there, with two men sitting in the back of the truck on camping chairs.
He called ahead, not wanting to surprise the men into possibly shooting him.
The two men quickly jumped up, the one lifting an assault rifle and the other switching on a mounted spotlight. Ryan stopped, impressed by the fire power. He blinked into the light, momentarily blinded.
“Don’t shoot please.” Ryan said calmly.
“What do you want?” the older of the two men asked.
“I was just passing on the main road and noticed the lights. If I could have shelter for the night that’d be great, but really I’m just looking for some food and water and then I’ll be on my way.”
The men talked amongst each other for a few moments and then the one jumped down and headed into the town.
“Stay there.” the other said firmly. The one with the assault weapon was left behind.
Ten minutes went by, and finally the man that had left returned with another, much older man. Ryan guessed him to be in his late seventies.
“If you would be so kind as to lay your belongings on the ground and approach the fence?” the old man said.
Ryan obliged. He was exhausted, and if there was even a small chance that a soft bed waited for him, he would be as friendly and cooperative as he could manage.
He stepped up to the fence and when he was about two meters away the man asked him to stop.
“What’s your name?” the man asked him.
“Ryan.” he said.
The old man looked him up and down, taking in the dirty clothes, the shoulder length hair, the wild beard and all the cuts and bruises.
“What brings you way out here Ryan?” the man asked.
“Just out for a stroll, mr…?” Ryan tried, not enjoying the fact that the man knew his name but he didn’t know his.
“Sebastian. I used to be the mayor of Ariamsvlei, though we only had about five hundred people. We were mainly here as a rest stop for trucks on their way deeper into Namibia.”
He paused. “Out for a stroll, hey?” he said and chuckled. “Well, you look a little worse for wear. I suppose you’d like to come in? Perhaps have a bath, some food and some rest on a soft, warm bed?”
Ryan’s heart soared and he couldn’t help but smile.
“I’m afraid that’s not going to happen.” Sebastian said. Ryan was about to say something, to protest, perhaps even to beg, but Sebastian spoke again.
“We are not in the habit of letting strangers into our little slice of heaven, and we’ve never let anyone in after dark. I am sorry, but these are our rules and those rules have kept us safe over the last couple of years.”
Ryan’s shoulders sagged and he looked down at his feet.
“We are however, not cruel people. We will give you food and water to hold you over for a while, but I’m afraid that is all we can offer you.”
Ryan wanted to plead to stay the night, only one night, but something in Sebastian’s eyes told him that he was not the kind of man who changed his mind often. Besides, maybe it was better this way. Darren and his friend might be back at any moment, and Ryan figured that he would not like to be in Ariamsvlei when that happened.
So all he said was thank you.
Another fifteen minutes passed after Sebastian sent a man to get some food and water. Sebastian stared at Ryan, but said nothing. His grey eyes made Ryan uncomfortable and soon he turned away, staring into the darkness. He thought he heard another scream coming out of the darkness, but he couldn’t be sure.
Eventually the man returned with a black bag full of supplies. There were ten litres of water and various canned foods, along with biltong and bread. Dried fruit rounded off the supplies.
“Thank you.” Ryan said again and Sebastian nodded and gave a small smile.
Ryan hesitated before returning to his bike. He thought about telling them about the lurkers – that they might possibly follow him this way, especially if one of them had managed to find his scent after dark. But suddenly he was angry. And tired. He was sick of this world – sick of monsters trying to kill him and even sicker of people trying to kill him after he survived the monsters. But most of all he was angry at Sebastian. He was angry that he wouldn’t allow Ryan inside his little fortress. He was angry that he thought it safer to send a man out into the wilderness, most likely to his death, than to let him stay one night and get some rest.
So Ryan didn’t tell him. It was petty, but he didn’t care. He figured that with their fence and automatic fire power they would be able to handle it.
He thanked him again and walked over to his bicycle. He peddled back to the main road and then found a hill about two hundred meters from the road. He laid out his sleeping bag, but didn’t start a fire or even take off his shoes. He could still see Ariamsvlei in the distance, and that provided some comfort, but he knew he would not get a lot of sleep. Ryan kept his rifle close. It was loaded and a round was chambered.
He munched on some of the biltong he had received and sat in the darkness. Eventually, his head became too heavy and he lay down. He went over the day’s events, and finally drifted off to sleep. He had dark dreams, filled with large castles and pretty girls falling from them. Lurkers jumped out from everywhere, lunging and grasping at him, even calling his name. He had nowhere to run, and the largest castle of all would now be his grave. He was trapped. Suddenly he was atop the castle, and the lurkers climbed, slowly, but with purpose. He had nowhere to go. He had no weapons. Ryan screamed at the top of his lungs. His ear drums popped. Then the bricks of the castle started cracking and popping. A lurker jumped to the roof and screamed, jumping at him.
The sharp pop of automatic gun fire and hysterical screaming woke him from his nightmare.
He sprang up, quickly taking in his surroundings. He looked in the direction of Ariamsvlei, but all he could see were shapes and shadows. Lifting the rifle he used the scope.
Ariamsvlei was under attack. The flimsy fence had been torn down, and dozens of lurkers were storming into the small town. He could not say whether they were the same ones he had encountered that afternoon.
Ryan watched as a woman and a man exited a house close to the gate, running to their car and being pursued by a lurker which had gained entry to their house. The man ripped open the door for his wife and ushered her into the car, but after he slammed it, they were upon him. Ripping and biting and gnashing their teeth, they tore him limb from limb. They punched and kicked and bit and after there was almost nothing left, they rounded on the car with the woman inside of it. They banged on the windows and kicked the doors and shook the car.
Ryan at first wanted to help. He picked a lurker to eliminate and was about to squeeze the trigger when he stopped. It was a long way. He wasn’t sure he could even make the shot. Add to that the fact that if those were the same lurkers from the afternoon, they would now be off his tail and firing a loud rifle in the quiet night could put them right back on it.
He removed his finger from the trigger.


Ryan stopped beneath the sign welcoming people to Karasburg. It was mid afternoon and darkness was still some hours away. He had made good time, walking quickly and hardly stopping. He missed his bicycle though – walking wasn’t much fun at all.
Looking down the road leading into the small city, it looked utterly deserted. Many buildings had been ravaged by fire, and cars were haphazardly parked about the street. Lifting his rifle, he slowly started forward.
He had considered staying the night and going down into Ariamsvlei the next day to scavenge for more food and the assault rifle the guard had had, but had decided against it. It felt like an unnecessary risk. So he had packed up camp, and with the howling, screaming chaos of the town being decimated for background noise, he had moved on again.
Ryan cautiously moved up the street, looking into doorways and alleys before continuing forward. A strange smell hung in the air. Like a braai with meat that had gone bad.
Building to building he moved, and any hopes he had of finding water or food slowly evaporated. The town was empty and destroyed.
Reaching a large intersection, he spotted smoke rising to his right. Turning up the street he headed toward the smoke, the strange smell became more pungent, and he became nauseous.
He reached another intersection and saw that it bordered on what used to be a small park. It was also where the smoke was coming from. Creeping closer, Ryan realized that this was also where the horrible smell was coming from.
A massive mound of bodies was piled in the centre of the park beneath an old, dead tree. The bodies were blackened and crispy, completely destroyed by fire. Moving closer, Ryan saw the tell tale veins and ashy skin colour of lurkers on some of the bodies that were not completely charred. Someone had been killing lurkers and piling them there to burn. Or somehow catching them and then burning them. A gust of wind brought the pungent smell to his nose again, and it was so much stronger this close to the pile.
He retched. He had always considered himself to have a strong stomach, especially given the things he had seen the past couple of years, but this it seemed, was just too much. After a few moments, and with his stomach empty, he wiped his mouth and stood upright. The fire had burnt all of the lurkers, but some hardly seemed touched by it. Ryan noticed a boy who looked to be about eleven years old. He thought that if you took away the veins and the ashy skin, the boy almost looked peaceful – as if he was only sleeping.
He thought back to the day when the first reports of children attacking adults in Johannesburg had surfaced. They had heard about these stories from across the globe, but somehow you always managed to shrug it off, because ‘it’s happening in another country’ or ‘it won’t happen here’. He had just returned from the gym, and Carla was busy with dinner.
He had kissed her and then something had caught his ear on the TV which she liked to keep on for background noise while cooking. He had turned the volume up. The news was reporting a large attack of some kind. Though the reports had been unconfirmed, it seemed that a large group of children had attacked and killed several people in a local settlement not far from the airport. They had viciously attacked and killed over ten people with their bare hands and police had been forced to use lethal force.
Ryan had remembered the previous week’s news, about the same sort of thing happening in the US.
“Where is Kyle?” he asked Carla.
She looked up from the TV, concern etched on her face.
“He’s still at cricket practice.” she said. “Do you think we should go and get him?”
Ryan was silent for a moment. “No. I’m sure he’s fine.”
A noise brought Ryan back to the present. He turned to where he thought it came from, and saw a Land Rover Defender heading down the street toward the pile of burnt flesh. He crouched low, quickly ducking behind the pile of burnt bodies.
“Give me a fucking break!” he hissed, looking around for an escape route.
It was the same Defender that Darren had been driving several days before. He immediately thought that they must be looking for him, but that was crazy right? They were probably just moving on, trying to find a new place to settle down after the destruction of Ariamsvlei.
Right, he thought, because you’re the luckiest guy on earth.
He crept to the edge of his disgusting cover and peered around. The Defender had stopped and three men and a woman exited the vehicle.
He took cover again and keeping the pile and tree between him and the Defender, he crept away, heading to a small shop that used to sell what looked like jams, chilli’s and other delicacies. The door was ajar, and he managed to squeeze inside and slowly pull it shut behind him.
The store front had a large floor to ceiling window, which was somehow still intact, and he moved behind the counter. Again peering out, he saw through the window that they were now inspecting the pile of bodies. He recognised Darren, with his cowboy hat and sunglasses. He had an assault rifle slung over his shoulder. Ryan could now see that it was an AK-47. It was the guard’s from Ariamsvlei.
The others were also armed, either with pistols or revolvers.
Ryan wanted their vehicle. They had obviously managed to fix it and found new tyres. It would make his trip easier and safer. He wouldn’t have to sleep in the open and he would be able to cover a lot more ground each day.
He was going to kill them all.
He didn’t feel bad about it. He knew Darren would kill him in an instant and as for his three followers – well, they were here, so he assumed they would kill him too. He thought about firing from the shop, but there was too much cover for them to get behind after the first shot sounded. He would then be trapped in that little shop with a large window. They would be able to either storm the shop or wait him out.
Darren said something to them and Ryan watched as they spread out, weapons ready, investigating the area. They seemed to be heading to the different shops and buildings surrounding the park. They were looking for something. And he would bet his rifle that they were looking for him.
They weren’t stupid. They were moving together in two’s, obviously not wanting to give him an opportunity to get the jump on one of them. How did they even know I was here? Ryan thought to himself. They’re just making sure, another thought tried to comfort him, but it didn’t work.
He moved backwards into the shop, quickly taking in his surroundings. He noticed a back door, and found that it was unlocked. It led into a narrow alley which they had probably used for storing their refuse and taking deliveries. It was long though, and if he was caught in there it would be like shooting fish in a barrel.
He saw the two other men move into the store next to the one he was hiding in. Ryan was indecisive: did he move out to the alley and try to flank them? Or hole up in another building which provided more cover and wait for a better opportunity? Or did he stay put, take out as many as he could and then use the alley as an escape if necessary?
His decision was made for him. The two men – who he had dubbed Mad and Max due to their stained, torn, leather jackets – emerged from the store next door and immediately moved on to the one he was hiding in. It was a small shop, with the counter taking up most of the space and with no more than six meters from the counter to the front door.
Ryan crouched behind the counter and drew his axe from its sheath. If he could take them out without alerting the others, it would be a major bonus. He laid his rifle and pack on the ground and picked up a jar which he assumed was filled with what was once jam – now though, it was a green, almost black congealed substance which he would have done many things to avoid smelling. With his axe in his one hand a heavy jar full of disgusting jam in the other, he tensed, as he waited for the door to open.
He heard one of them grasp the handle of the front door and it slowly creaked open. Ryan waited. He heard them enter the store and he heard them close the door behind them, probably in some misguided attempt to stop Ryan from sneaking out past them. He waited until they had taken a few more steps into the store and then sprung into action. Ryan was crouching at the farthest end of the counter from the front door and the back door. He hurled the bottle of jam to the opposite side of the counter, being careful for the bottle to stay out of their line of sight, so as not to alert them of its origins. As soon as the bottle struck, it burst and at the same time Ryan jumped up.
Both Mad and Max were half turned away from him. Their guns were up and ready and their eyes were wide. Ryan pulled back his axe and flung it with all his might at Max. It struck the side of his head with a sickening thud, impaling itself in his temple and he collapsed almost instantly. Ryan was already over the counter by the time Mad had turned and Ryan tackled him to the ground with a flying dive. Ryan heard Mad’s pistol go flying, and he was on top of him throwing punches in a flash.
Ryan wasn’t a very tall man, and not very muscular either, but he was extremely quick and stronger than he looked. This soon meant nothing, as Ryan had underestimated Mad completely. After at first attempting to block Ryan’s blows, he now shot out a single blind fist, which struck Ryan on the chin. He was knocked off of Mad and his head spun. Mad was much stronger than Ryan had thought. He had failed to capitalise when he had him on the ground. Ryan shook his head and stumbled to his feet. He would have to figure out a way to take him down before he alerted the others.
But as Mad slowly got to his feet, Ryan got the impression that he needn’t worry. This was the type of man who relished a fight, and he would want to end Ryan himself.
Ryan looked into his eyes. Shit. I think I’m in trouble here, he thought as Mad spat blood.
Ryan quickly turned and ripped his axe from Max’s head and his confidence grew with the weapon firmly grasped in his hand.
Mad smiled, and reached behind his back, pulling a very large, almost machete-sized hunting knife from under his coat.
Well, shit, Ryan thought again. I just can’t catch a fucking break.
Mad rushed forward, violently swing and slashing his knife. Ryan ducked underneath the first swipe and was able to turn his whole body to avoid a downward slash. He dodged Mad’s knife attacks fairly easily, he was much quicker and Mad had no real technique. Ryan thought that he might try and tire him out a little, until an opening for a counter attack presented itself.
Ryan avoided another flurry of attacks, until he overstepped once while retreating, and his foot struck an overturned stool. He lost his balance for only a moment, but Mad was relentless.
Ryan was now on full defence, bringing the axe up to ward off Mad’s vicious attacks. He was no longer in a position to only dodge the onslaught but was forced to parry and fight back to avoid the large knife. He was on the back foot, and constantly off balance, causing openings in his defence, and although he knew it, he was powerless to do anything about it.
Again Mad brought the knife down in an aggressive stab, and Ryan raised his axe to block it. But this time Mad was waiting for him. He quickly brought up his other hand and clutched Ryan’s axe and hand in his large frying pan sized fist. Ryan was trapped. With his free hand, he tried landing punches, but even those that connected had little effect. Mad wrenched the hand that held the knife free, while still holding Ryan’s axe and hand tightly in the other. He tried stabbing Ryan, but he still had some mobility, and he managed to avoid the large blade. But after another successful evading manoeuvre, Mad jerked the hand holding Ryan’s back and up, pulling Ryan closer. He almost lifted Ryan off the ground as he ripped his hand back, and at the same time he brought the knife forward.
It plunged into Ryan’s side.
He gasped as pain shot through his body. Mad pulled him closer, until their faces were only an inch apart. He looked into Ryan’s eyes, grinning like a child on Christmas morning.
Ryan snapped his head back and head butted him three successive times. On the third time, Mad released him, stumbling backward and pulling the knife free. He had somehow come away with Ryan’s axe. Ryan collapsed to his knees, but looking up, he saw that Mad was already recovering, wiping the blood from his nose and spitting it from his mouth.
Ignoring the pain in his side, Ryan jumped up and dived over the counter. Mad was after him, but he was too slow. When Mad reached the counter, Ryan stood up, the rifle aimed right between Mad’s eyes at point blank range.
Mad froze, and raised his arms, dropping the axe and the knife.
“Wait, I -”
Ryan pulled the trigger and Mad’s head disintegrated. Blood and gore flew in every direction as the bullet shattered the large window in the front of the store. Mad’s body tumbled to the ground, falling with a heavy thud as his blood quickly soaked the floor.
Ryan almost collapsed, but grabbed onto the counter with his free hand to hold him up. He inspected his wound. It was deep, and serious, but not as serious as he had initially thought. He was losing a lot of blood though. He needed to try and curb the bleeding, but first he needed to get out of the store. He quickly slung his pack over his shoulders and then limped around the counter and collected his axe and Mad’s pistol. He then headed for the back door of the shop. Ryan limped as fast as he could down the alley, expecting to hear gunshots behind him any second. He actually gritted his teeth more in anticipation of the gunshots than the pain.
But he made it safely to the end of the alley, and taking a quick look in all directions, he headed to the former butchery across the street, mainly because the front door was wide open. He couldn’t afford to get caught out in the open now.
He stumbled through the door and headed into the back. He found a small office, with a table and two chairs. Closing the door behind him, he was disappointed when he saw it couldn’t lock, but moved one of the chairs in front of it. He peered out of the window through the old fashioned blinds, but could see no movement.
Working quickly, he removed the first aid kit he always kept with him from his pack and cleaned the wound as best he could. He would need stitches, but for now he used all the bandages he had, binding them tightly around his torso. He would need time to stitch himself up and somehow Ryan knew this day was far from over. He reloaded his rifle and cleaned his axe and then, pulling another chair to the window, he took a seat and watched.
At first he saw nothing, but after half an hour he saw a couple of lurkers shambling up the street. It looked like they were coming from the other side of town – the way he had been going when he arrived.
Soon more and more of them appeared, and Ryan was amazed at how a single gunshot could lure so many, especially since the shot had gone off almost two hours prior. Ryan could not see the park or the alley from the window he was seated at, but he could see the road that led to the park and he thought he could just see the spare tyre of the Defender sticking out from behind a building.
Darkness was not far off, and he thought he needed to come up with some kind of plan.
He decided that if Darren and the woman did not show themselves, he would hole up here for the night. He didn’t have much of a choice, as it was too late to go looking for better shelter. The fact that the streets were slowly filling up with lurkers and that he was injured, ruled that idea out completely. He was concerned that they might pick up his scent and track him to where he was hiding, but he thought that unless a lurker went right up to the alley and butcher’s door, he would be ok.
I hope.
As darkness crept over the streets, he saw the lukers’ mood and demeanour change. They had been wandering around aimlessly, as if in a dream, but as darkness set in they all started moving faster. Spasms seemed to ripple through them one by one, causing them to hunch over as it passed. They became more vocal. Where earlier, moans and soft cries were all you heard, screams, hisses and shrieks were now heard more often than not. Some of them started sprinting up and down the streets, sometimes running into each other, which caused them to lash out, hitting or kicking each other violently. This only lasted a second though, before they again continued with their roaming of the streets.
Their lurking.
A lurker came right up to the window he was sitting at, as if it wanted to look inside. Ryan hunched down in his seat, holding his breath and gripping the pistol so tight his knuckles turned white. It started sniffing around the window, as if it had found an interesting scent.
A gun shot went off in the direction of the Defender and the lurker’s head snapped up. It gave a screech that set the hairs on the back of Ryan’s neck on end before sprinting off toward the park.
More gunshots followed, and soon Ryan could see every lurker running toward them. A scream rose, but it was not a lurker. It was a woman’s. Ryan assumed it was the woman companion of Darren.
Ryan was restless. He thought he was fairly safe in his hide out. But he was also afraid that Darren might make it to the Defender and escape.
For the second time that day, the decision was made for him. As he stood up to move to another window to try and get a better view, he bumped the butt of the rifle against the window. It had been hanging from his shoulder and as he turned away from the window it had made contact. Unfortunately this happened just as a lurker was speeding by. Ryan froze as it stopped and looked straight at the window. Ryan felt as if it was looking straight at him. Holding his breath, he willed the monster to move on, but it came closer to investigate. Ryan thought it was about to move on, but suddenly it started pounding on the window. It must have seen the slightest movement through the blinds, because it was going crazy. Ryan back away slowly, keeping the pistol trained on the creature. He pulled his pack on with one hand and retreated to the door of the office.
Two more creatures joined the first in its pounding of the window and a second later it shattered. The first one was through in a flash, getting tangled in the blinds and falling, pulling them from the wall. The other two screamed at Ryan and jumped through. One of them couldn’t have been more than five and it was the first one through.
Ryan fired, and the small monster collapsed instantly, a red blotch appearing on its filthy shirt. Ryan fired at the second one, dropping it only a meter from Ryan’s feet with a neat hole in its head. The third one was still struggling with blinds, so Ryan took the opportunity to run. He kicked the chair in front of the door aside and wrenched it open, quickly pulling it shut again. He could still hear gunshots echoing in the distance. Hopefully because of the frequency and the fact that they created more noise the lurkers would be drawn to them rather than to his two shots.
He limped away from the door and initially looked for a back door. But as the pursuing lurker slammed into the closed door behind him, he saw that the door had a huge padlock on it.
“Fuck’s sake!” he cried softly and headed to the front door.
The streets were chaos. Lurkers were sprinting toward the gunshots at break neck speed, stumbling and falling over each other. There must’ve been at least sixty that Ryan could see. He remained unnoticed for the time being, and kept low and close to the building. He waited until a large number had passed, and then crept forward. He was headed to the alley that he had exited earlier that day, but he would have to cross the street – meaning that he would be completely exposed and in the open.
He was weighing up his options, when the lurker which he had trapped in the office emerged from the butcher, screaming and foaming at the mouth. It spotted him instantly crouching next to the building. Ryan had no choice.
He fired and the lurker fell.
A sudden silence filled the street, and Ryan turned to see dozens of lurkers looking at him. The world seemed to be paused for a moment, and then all hell broke loose. Screams erupted all around him, and they charged. Ryan flew up and made for the alleyway. There were four lurkers coming straight at him and he put them down with one shot each. He now had an open road to the alley, but at least forty creatures were chasing him, and due to his injury, they were gaining fast.
Ryan reached the alley, just as the closest lurker reached for him, but firing two quick shots it fell, its hand brushing harmlessly off of Ryan’s chest. Though Ryan was still in deep trouble, the lurkers could now only attack from one side, and there was only room for a few to move abreast.
Ryan now walked backwards, firing as they came.
Six shots later the pistol was empty and he chucked it at the closest one, hitting it on the chest. Quickly unslinging his rifle, he brought it forward and fired. Two lurkers dropped as the round passed straight through. Ejecting the spent cartridge, he fired again, this time dropping three as their heads erupted one after the other in a shower of blood. Ryan fired once more, this time only pulling one down.
He was in deep trouble. After the fourth round he would have to reload, but there would be no time for that. They kept coming, mindlessly charging at him. He would never be able to reload in time. Firing the fourth round, two more fell again.
Ryan swung the rifle over his shoulder again and drew his axe, preparing to make his last stand. He would never make it to the small shop before being overrun.
He killed the first one that came within reach with a single strike to the head, and managed to duck beneath a second one’s lunge a moment later.
As Ryan stood upright again, a horn sounded. It sounded as if it was coming from the direction of the park. The rippling, excited lurkers in front of him paused, and soon those at the back began running toward the sound of the horn. The confusion gave Ryan the opportunity to bring down four more lurkers, viciously hacking at their necks and heads.
Most of the creatures had left the alley by now, and Ryan was able to deal with the last remaining, almost indecisive few. He had brought scores down with the pistol, rifle and axe and the alley looked like a war zone.
Panting, he headed to the door of the jam shop, reloading as he walked, but constantly looking over his shoulder, afraid that another lurker attack was imminent.
The horn was still wailing and as Ryan entered the shop, closing the door to the alley behind him, he crept forward to the counter.
Peering over it, it looked like dozens of lurkers were gathering around the mound of torched bodies in the centre of the park. More and more seemed to enter the park every second, and it was then that Ryan realised that the blaring horn was coming from the dead tree. More precisely, it was hanging from the dead tree close to the mound of bodies.
Confused but intrigued, Ryan looked through the scope of his rifle. He found what looked like an air horn hanging from a low branch. It had been fiddled with – the button had been taped down with duct tape, to ensure it blew continuously. Someone was luring the monsters to the park. The gunshots had ceased for the moment, and as Ryan watched more and more lurkers entered the park. The jostled and fought each other to get as close as possible to the air horn and once at the front, they seemed confused and angry when they could not pin point the origin of the sound. This in turn caused them to fight amongst each other, sometimes killing each other in their anger and insanity.
Ryan thought he saw something move in the branches of the tree and suddenly a liquid fell, spraying the lurkers. Five more times this happened in different branches and other smaller trees, covering all the creatures beneath them.
Ryan was confused. The lurkers paid the liquid that covered them no mind, and continued to fight each other to get closer to the blaring horn, only to fight each other again when they managed to get underneath it.
A small, bright light caught Ryan’s eye off to his right. He looked over and saw that it was a single person. The light seemed to be a Molotov cocktail which this person had lit. Ryan could not see much more. The person was a dark silhouette, his shadow dancing back and forth in the bright light of the small flame. Across from him on the other side of the park, a second flame sprang up as another person lit another Molotov. They each lit two or three more. The lurkers seemed disinterested in them, the air horn attracting their full attention even as more entered the park which was now filled to capacity.
At a sign from the first person, the two people tossed their flaming bottles into the crowd of lurkers and as the bottles broke on the ground and the head of a lurker, a fire erupted with a great whoosh. They each threw the rest of their makeshift napalm into different areas of the group, and soon it looked as if all the creatures were on fire. The fire blazed and grew and it spread to lurkers that the Molotov’s hadn’t even touched. Ryan realised that the liquid which was dropped onto them, was probably fuel of some kind, rigged to be spilled somehow.
The noise of the burning creatures was horrific, as they shrieked and moaned in their frustration and what Ryan liked to think was pain. But the noise was nothing compared to the smell. The sickly sweet, pungent aroma drifted on the wind toward him and he had to fight not to retch again. Moments later, the lurkers started dropping. The horn kept them in the park, even as they burned to death. Ryan cautiously exited the shop, looking for the people who had orchestrated the mass purge, but they were nowhere to be seen. He slowly moved around the park, heading toward where the Defender was parked. He was relieved to see it parked in the same spot as earlier in the afternoon.
The horn stopped, either because it was out of gas or damaged by the fire, but still the lurkers entered the park, drawn to it by the others’ screams and the brightness of the fire. As Ryan neared the Defender, he kept his eyes peeled for Darren. He reached the Defender and tried the door, and it was open.
“You leaving?” a voice said and Ryan spun around, lifting the rifle. It was the person who had lit his cocktail first. He was dressed completely in black, with a scarf of some sort wrapped around his face and a hoodie pulled low over his head.
He lifted his hands as Ryan pointed the rifle. They were empty.
“Whoa, whoa!” he said.
Slowly he pulled away the scarf covering his face, to reveal a young man, no more than twenty five. He was clean shaven and underneath the hoodie he wore, Ryan could see short blonde hair.
“I don’t want to fight man.” he said, again raising his hands above his head.
“Where’s your friend?” Ryan asked, looking around.
“I told him to hide until I give him a signal. Just for safety reasons, I’m sure you understand.”
Ryan gave an almost imperceptible nod.
“The people who came in this car, where are they?” Ryan asked, again looking around as if they might appear at any moment.
The fire was still burning brightly, but it had settled down a bit, becoming smaller as it ran out of fuel. Still lurkers ran into the park, soon catching fire.
“We saw them stop, yeah. The two guys got taken out by you. The lady got ripped apart by the screamers and I don’t know where the cowboy went. The last time we saw him he ran into that building. He was still shooting from there when we rigged the horn to go off, but I think he might’ve bailed.”
He turned and nodded in the direction of an old looking brick building behind him. It looked like the town hall or something similar.
“Look, man. We’ve been in this shithole town for more than a year. We left Windhoek, thinking that smaller towns would be safer. Recently we started luring the screamers into the park and setting them on fire, taking out a whole bunch at a time. We did it mostly in the day, it’s easier, but we thought you could use the help tonight.”
He smiled and Ryan gave an appreciative nod.
“It kept the town safer than most, especially since we didn’t have any weapons. We take out a bunch every couple of weeks. It’s dangerous though, my brother and a friend…”
He looked down, seemingly unable to continue.
“We just wanna get outta here. We’re out of supplies. Our car broke down months ago and we can’t get any of the cars here to run, we’re not mechanics. When we saw you take out those two guys and then later how you fought the screamers, we thought you might be our chance to get out of this place. We can’t fight like you, but we have other skills.”
Ryan looked him up and down. “Like?”
“My friend – the other guy – he was an EMT. He knows his medical shit and if I’m looking at you, it looks like you might need some medical attention.”
Ryan grunted, self consciously touching his side. The blood had started to soak through the bandages and his shirt.
“And you?” Ryan asked.
“I’m smart. I’ve come up with a lot of ideas that’s kept us alive longer than most.”
Ryan thought for a second. One thing was true – he did need help with his wound. And it might not be the worst thing in the world to have some company.
“What’s your name?”
“Jeremy. My friend is Tim. But I call him Doc. He’s patched me up a couple of times as well. I burned myself pretty bad a couple of weeks ago.”
He pulled the hoodie from his head and turned his face, revealing burn scars running from his right ear down his neck.
“Call your friend. Let’s see if the cowboy left the keys so we can get the hell out of here.”
“Good call. When the fire burns out, it’ll be business as usual.”
He turned to a small building on the other side of the Defender and gave a wave, followed by a couple of quick, intricate hand gestures.
Ryan looked inside the Defender and saw that the keys were in the ignition. He also saw blood on the seat and floor. Jeremy saw him looking at the blood.
“That’s the lady’s blood, she made it all the way to the car and opened the door before they got her. If she had three more sec-”
Jeremy’s faced exploded and blood smattered into Ryan’s face as a gunshot rang out. Jeremy collapsed, and Ryan took cover behind the Defender. He heard a wail as Tim came running over. He knelt next to his friend, loudly screaming in anguish. Ryan jumped up and pulled him behind the Defender, even as more gunshots rang out, the bullets ricocheting on the ground around them.
Tim fought him, he wanted to go to his friend. He broke out of Ryan’s grip and was about to leave their cover, but Ryan turned him by his shoulder and hit him in the throat with the palm of his hand. Tim gurgled and coughed, stumbling to his knees.
“Stay behind the fucking car if you want to live!” Ryan said with such ferocity, that Tim immediately settled down, holding his throat with both hands.
Ryan had seen the muzzle flashes of the gunshots when he had pulled Tim back. The shots were coming from the building Jeremy had said Darren had entered. He had probably been waiting there for either a chance to escape or for Ryan to show himself. Why he hadn’t taken a shot at Ryan earlier was anyone’s guess.
Ryan crept to the back of the Defender, and leaned out, looking at the window where he had seen the flashes. It was about forty meters away and even as he looked, another flash appeared and he ducked back behind cover.
Ryan thought that they might be able to get in the Defender and speed away, but he didn’t want to risk too much damage to the vehicle. He thought that Darren might be the type of person who’d rather completely destroy the Defender than have someone else take it.
“Tim, listen to me.”
Tim looked at Ryan. He was terrified.
“If we have any chance of getting out of here alive, I’m going to need your help. The fire is also almost out, so we have to be quick.”
Tim was still coughing, but he frightfully nodded after he had looked over at the waning fire.
Ryan gave him an open, stern look.
“I need you to run out and draw his fire.”
Tim recoiled.
“Are you crazy?” he wheezed.
“Do you know how to shoot this thing?” Ryan asked, gesturing to his rifle. Tim shook his head.
“Well, then there’s not much point in me running out there and you shooting, is there? This is the only way to get him. You run out and draw his fire, and I’ll shoot the motherfucker – the motherfucker who killed your friend.”
Tim’s face hardened and a moment later he nodded.
“Ok then. When I say so, you run to that building over there. Run as fast as you can and maybe turn and change direction a couple of times, but not too much – don’t be predictable. Don’t stop, don’t pause, don’t hesitate. Run like the devil is behind you.”
Tim nodded again and got on his haunches. Ryan again moved to the back of the Defender.
“Are you ready?” he asked Tim and he nodded.
“Then go.”
Tim took three quick breaths and then launched himself forward.
Ryan waited for a moment, then rolled out from behind the tyre. He saw the first flashes of the assault rifle firing before he could even take aim, but the shots were all directed at Tim. The window was dark and he couldn’t see anything but the muzzle flashes. He would have to guess where to fire.
Ryan aimed just above the muzzle flash. Steadying himself, he took two deep breaths and on the third he held it. Squeezing the trigger, the rifle fired and the muzzle flashes stopped. He waited for a few moments, but nothing stirred. Tim returned a minute later, sweaty and out of breath, but unharmed.
“Did you get him?” he panted.
“I’m not sure. He stopped shooting, but it might be a trick.”
“Should we go check?” he asked. Ryan was wondering the same thing.
“Yes.” Ryan pulled his axe and handed it to Tim and he took it without a word.
“Move quickly and try to stay in cover.” Ryan said.
They left the cover of the Land Rover and jogged over to the closest building, aiming to use it for extra protection. Ryan’s jog was more of a stumble, and his shirt and bandages were soaked with blood. The pain was also getting worse as time passed.
They reached the doorway of the building Darren was last seen entering and they paused on either side. Taking a deep breath Ryan stormed inside, kicking the half open door from its hinges. He quickly moved to the room that he thought the muzzle flashes came from and sure enough, there was Darren.
He was propped up against the wall opposite the window in a sitting position, blood gushing from a gunshot wound in his neck. The bullet had hit him halfway up and to the right of his throat. The assault rifle was lying forgotten at the window next to a bloodied cowboy hat.
Darren looked up as they entered and smiled. Blood stained his teeth.
He tried to speak, but he only managed a gurgle and was then overcome by a coughing fit.
Ryan crouched next to him.
“We’re taking your car, asshole.”
He stood and took a step back. Raising his rifle, he squeezed the trigger.
“Get the machine gun. Let’s get out of here.” Ryan said, turning to leave.


Ryan let Tim drive and they stopped twenty minutes later next to the road. There Tim cleaned Ryan’s wound again and gave him stitches. He was professional and efficient and he did it with minimal effort and pain to Ryan.
“Thanks for saving me.” Tim said when they were back on the road again. They had a full tank of gas and the Defender was also stocked with lots of food, water and ammunition for the assault rifle and another pistol they found in the glove compartment.
Ryan said nothing. He didn’t say that his friend would probably still be alive if it wasn’t for him. He had taken a bunch of pain killers and was drifting in and out of consciousness in the passenger seat.
“So where are you headed?” Tim asked, but Ryan didn’t reply.
“Sorry. Get some rest. We’ll talk in the morning.”
“Don’t stop.” Ryan mumbled.
“What?” Tim asked.
“Don’t stop for anything.”
Tim looked over at Ryan and sighed.
“You’re the boss.”
Ryan’s head rolled over and he stared out at the darkness. The darkness was covering a harsh landscape, but somehow in this new world, cities and towns were where the most people seemed to die. Bodies kept piling up, and Ryan was frustrated by the fact that even in humanity’s darkest hours, they still found reasons to kill each other. He was definitely not without blame – god knows he had done his fair share of killing. Ryan wondered if there was a way to come back from that – if there was a chance at redemption.
Maybe there was one way.
I’m coming Carla, Ryan thought and closed his eyes.

Credit: Pablo Dickens

The Fort

August 29, 2016 at 12:00 AM

Ryan reached the top of the hill and looked down onto the town of Prieska. It was a small, one horse town in the Upper Karoo desert. The old church in the middle of the town still stood tall, the clock tower casting a long shadow in the late afternoon sun.
The town looked like it was in a fairly good condition compared to many of the other places he had passed through, though it seemed just as abandoned – which was seldom actually the case.
He sighed, and scanned the streets and buildings for any sign of life.
He had been walking for hours and he was exhausted. The old Ford Focus he had managed to get running in Potchefstroom had finally given in about twenty five kilometers back and he had been walking since. The hot desert sun had not made it easy, but he had made it. He needed to find food, shelter and new transport, and hopefully he would be on his way to Namibia sooner rather than later.
Ryan pulled the pair of binoculars he had out of his pack and scanned the town again for a couple of minutes.
There were a few shops in Prieska which had sold food and supplies, though these would more than likely have been looted since. He was inclined to check the general store, seeing as Prieska was a farm town, but it would probably also be empty. Surrounding farms could prove fruitful and might warrant a trip out, but he would avoid prolonging his stay close to town if he could. Where there were towns, trouble was usually not far off.
A slight movement caught his eye in the window of a building he was examining. He quickly jerked the binoculars to focus on this particular window, and he thought he just caught a glimpse of someone moving out of sight. He examined the building for a few moments longer, waiting for another glimpse at what had caught his eye, but all was quiet once again.
Ryan sighed again. Of course the town wouldn’t be empty, why would anything ever be easy?
Lowering the binoculars he glanced up at the sinking sun. He had to get under cover before nightfall – especially if he wasn’t alone.
He packed away his binoculars, shouldered his pack, picked up his rifle and started down the hill.
He knew Prieska well. In the native Korana tongue, Prieska translated to “The Place of the Lost She-goat”. His grandparents had lived there for many years, and growing up he had often visited. The butchery was where they sold the best biltong he had ever tasted and the small corner shop often gave him free candy when he entered. But his favorite place in town was the old fort on the Prieska Koppie. The British had built it during the Anglo-Boer War, and the sense of history he had felt when he first visited it had always lured him back. He looked up and could see it on the other side of the town. It seemed to watch over the small town in an ominous silence.
Ryan descended the hill and reached the edge of town as the sun was lowering behind the buildings. Time to focus, buddy.
He cocked his Remington and took a few deep breaths to steady himself.
He didn’t know what to expect, and after all this time he still wasn’t sure what he dreaded more; coming across bandits or lurkers. One thing he had learned on his journey from Johannesburg, was that people were capable of unparalleled cruelty, and they could be just as fear inducing as any lurker he had come across. And he had come across many.
He quickly moved up to the closest building, looking in all directions as he approached. Slowly he peered around the wall and down the street heading into Prieska. Nothing stirred.
Cautiously, he headed down the street, staying low and close to the building. It was some sort of government building and held no real interest for him.
Shelter was now his number one concern, as the lurkers became particularly active after sundown. This he had learned early on in his exodus from Johannesburg, when he had at first opted to travel only by night to avoid the desperate people looking for help – and those people who always seemed to thrive in humanity’s darkest times. These people seemed to enjoy the lawlessness – and the suffering, and they were more than willing to add to it if it benefited them.
Reaching an intersection, he quickly scanned both ways and behind him before proceeding.
The residential area started only a few blocks ahead of him and he figured he would be able to hole up in an abandoned house for the night. It was now fully dark, but the full moon gave a generous amount of light.
Ryan had crossed another intersection when he heard a groan and footsteps around the next corner. He froze, and backed up a few steps. Raising the rifle, he steeled himself for what would emerge.
Another groan and then a hiss came from around the corner, and a few seconds later a small figure stepped into view.
Ryan recoiled. He had seen many lurkers, but this was new even for him.
A boy of no more than three stood a few feet before him.
At least, it used to be a boy.
The boy’s eyes were a feral yellow – unfocused and crazed. He was bleeding from his mouth, and his skin had a gray-ish hue to it – like ash. Black veins were all over his body, thick and bulging as if they were struggling to pump the blood through.
This was the youngest lurker Ryan had ever seen. They were always young, but never this young.
He looked up at Ryan, and at first it seemed as if he looked right through him.
Then his eyes seemed to focus, and hate and anger filled them. He hissed like a snake, and sprang forward, coming at Ryan at full tilt.
The scariest thing about lurkers were their speed and what took him off guard even more, was the agility of the young – former – young boy.
Ryan had been frozen when he saw the boy, but now, with a hissing, feral lurker charging at him, his survival instinct which had kept him alive for so long quickly kicked in.
He raised his rifle and fired a single shot, hitting the lurker mid leap and instantly dropping him.
The gun shot’s echo thundered through the small town, and now Ryan was in trouble. If there were more lurkers around, they would come running. If there were bandits around – so would they.
Usually Ryan dispatched single lurkers with the trusty hand axe he kept at his side, but the young lurker had shocked him out of his wits.
Quickly chambering another round, he started forward again, this time jogging.
An instant later he heard a shriek to his left, which was answered by another to his right.
Well, shit.
He started sprinting.
He heard shrieks, screams and hisses approaching from both sides and Ryan started to panic.
He was desperately looking around for a place of safety, anything that could save him from the oncoming death rush.
He glanced over his shoulder, but the street was empty – for now. He spotted a small side street a couple of yards ahead and ducked into it. Clambering onto a nearby dumpster, he was able to reach the roof of the adjoining building and quickly hoisted himself up.
He rolled away from the edge and took a few calming breaths.
Slowly, he peered over the edge just as a dozen or so of the lurkers poured into the street from each direction.
Searching for the cause of the gunshot, they sprinted up and down the street, teeth gnashing. The black veins crisscrossing their bodies were visible to Ryan even from a distance. They quickly found the body of the one he had killed, and anger seemed to ripple through the group. Their gnashing and hissing intensified, and they raced up and down the street, looking for the one responsible.
It had been three years since Revelations – the media had named it after the book in the bible – had crashed into the desert of Texas in the United States. The large asteroid had done considerable damage to the area, but as it had crashed in a fairly deserted area, few human lives were lost. It was what came after that had given the asteroid its name.
Days after the asteroid hit, reports began to come in of first responders dying of some sort of disease. Doctors were baffled, as it started very much like flu, but quickly escalated with ebola-like symptoms. Soon the afflicted would die of massive organ failure, only hours after the first symptoms showed. After the scientists that visited the scene began to die as well, the connection was made to the asteroid and the crash site was quarantined. The last few people to have come in contact with the asteroid quickly died. The families and anyone who had come in close proximity to the responders and scientists were also quarantined, as they had no idea if the disease was infectious. But after days of tests and monitoring, it was concluded that the disease was in fact not infectious and the quarantined people were allowed to leave. They were so, so wrong.
Ryan’s attention was brought back to the present when a lurker entered the side street he had used to get to the roof and started sniffing around the dumpster.
Ryan had quickly learned a few important things about them through his various encounters. They were extremely fast; you can’t outrun them. On top of that, they had incredible endurance – they never stopped coming. Once they saw you – or smelled you, which was another thing that made them difficult to evade – they would pursue you relentlessly, risking self injury and even death to try and reach you – they had no inclination to self preservation whatsoever. The only thing that seemed to drive them was their need to kill. They did not feed on humans – in fact, Ryan had never seen them eat anything – they merely killed them. The only way Ryan knew how to get a lurker off of your tail, was to kill it, or to put enough distance between yourself and it. And that meant kilometers.
Ryan watched the lurker continue sniffing the dumpster and suddenly, it looked up – somehow Ryan had expected this, and was just able to duck behind the edge in time to avoid being spotted. But if it had his scent, it would soon attempt to follow him onto the roof.
Ryan quickly scanned the roof and summed up his options. He saw the neighboring building was a two story and that he might be able to jump onto the balcony. Not really having much choice, he quietly sprang up and carefully made his way to the edge.
The balcony was slightly lower than he was, but it was a fair distance away. He shouldered the rifle and took a few quick breaths. Tensing his whole body, he managed a few quick steps and jumped. His hands caught the railing of the balcony and his body slammed into it, causing it to rattle. He tried to pull himself up, but his left hand slipped on the cool metal, and he almost dropped into the alley below. Hanging by one hand, he looked down and saw several lurkers speeding this way and that. They had not looked up yet.
With a great effort he managed to get his left hand onto the railing again, and started to pull himself up. He was soon able to use his legs to help himself up and seconds later he was on the correct side of the railing.
He was panting, and Ryan stood with his hands on his knees, looking back the way he had come.
He was about to turn, when he heard the click of a revolver being cocked behind his head.
“Slowly straighten. Then drop your rifle and pack on the ground. Don’t turn around.”
It was a female voice, with a thick Afrikaans accent and he guessed the person behind it fairly young.
“Look, I don’t want any trouble. I’m just running from those things, please.” He spoke calmly and clearly.
“I don’t really care. Do as I say or you’ll soon join them down there.”
Ryan slowly straightened, unslung his rifle and pack and carefully laid them on the ground.
The woman stepped forward and Ryan could hear her crouch to grab his rifle. In a flash, he spun around the other way, in the same movement drawing his small axe from its sheath beneath his coat. He grabbed the wrist she was holding the revolver in and jerked it sideways, causing her to drop the weapon. He then spun her around and in another swift movement pinned her arm behind her, slammed her against the wall and brought the axe up to her throat – this all happened in maybe three seconds.
She tensed, but mostly seemed shocked by the speed at which he had disarmed her.
“I don’t want to hurt you. I’m just passing through town and I got attacked. I didn’t even know there was anyone in this place.”
She tried to look at him, but he still held her firmly against the wall, her cheek flat against it.
“Now I’m going to let you go. I don’t want to hurt you, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t – if you leave me no choice. Stay calm, don’t do anything stupid, and we’ll both live through the night so that we can die tomorrow. Do we have an understanding?”
She seemed to think for a second, but then slowly nodded.
Ryan released her and stepped back, quickly stooping to retrieve her revolver.
She turned around, rubbing her wrist and then her cheek.
She was beautiful and young. Ryan guessed her at no more than twenty. She was the youngest person that he had seen since everything had started. Well, the youngest normal person. She had wild, curly black hair and bright blue eyes. Even in the moonlight he could see that she had freckles. She was a great deal shorter than him and was slightly built.
She looked him up and down in return, but remained silent.
“What’s your name?” he asked, opening the revolver and seeing that it was empty.
“Helena.” she said, looking at him and the revolver with indifference.
“Do you even have bullets?”
She folded her arms and shrugged. “I found it a while back. Could never get it open to check.”
He handed her the revolver and picked up his pack and rifle.
“Do you stay here alone?”
She looked back into the room, but it was dark inside and he couldn’t see past the door.
“Not when it started.”
She didn’t elaborate so Ryan decided not to ask.
“I’m Ryan.” He held out his hand and she looked at it for a couple of moments before she shook it.
“I’d say nice to meet you Ryan, but you did just slam me into a wall and nearly tear my arm off.”
Her lip curled into the slightest of grins, though he thought it was just nerves.
“Says the one who held a gun to my head and threatened to throw me to the lurkers.”
“Is that what you call them? Lurkers? Why?” He sighed, looking back down into the alley. It was deserted.
“Have you ever seen them in the day? They walk around slowly, as if they were high or drunk, right?”
She nodded.
“Well, at night they move much quicker, and they walk sort of hunched over. To me it always looked like they were lurking.”
“Huh. I just call them crazies. Are they still human?” She hugged herself and Ryan got the impression that this was an involuntary moment.
“To be honest, I don’t know. But the way they attack you definitely isn’t.”
“Have you killed any of them? Was it your gunshot I heard earlier?”
“Yes and yes.”
She looked him up and down again, this time with what seemed to be a little more respect.
“How did you do that?” she asked as he sheathed his axe.
“Do what?”
“Take my gun away from me so quickly. Are you some kind of soldier?”
He chuckled humorlessly. “I’ve just been on the road a very long time and it’s something I had to learn along the way.”
She looked impressed. “Where are you from?”
“Joburg. Look, I’ll answer all the questions you want, but can we please go inside?”
She looked him up and down and nodded. She headed into the room and he followed.
It was pitch black inside and he could barely make out what he thought was some furniture.
He turned and she closed the glass sliding door. Then she closed a heavy, sturdy looking metal gate, which she then proceeded to lock with two bolts and a key. After this she moved to a corner close to the door and lifted what looked like plywood, which she placed in front of the door and locked in place with improvised latches. Finally, she drew the curtains closed. They were thick, black and spilled all the way onto the floor.
Taking a few steps into the room, she passed Ryan and then bent down. A second later a match sparked into life and she used this to light a lantern. She took the lantern and switched on two more camping lights.
She turned to look at Ryan. “They’re solar powered, so that makes things easier.”
As his eyes adjusted, he looked around. They were in what Ryan guessed was probably the open plan living room of a larger flat. He could see a makeshift kitchen and there were two couches, an armchair and a bed in the corner of the living room.
She saw him looking around. “I used to live here with my mom and sister. There is a downstairs as well, but after … I didn’t need that much space and it felt … safer being up here. I only go down there when I have to go out and then only in the day.”
“That’s smart. They’re not very active in daylight.”
“Why is that?” she asked.
“I really don’t know. So you’ve been on your own since the beginning? How have you survived?” He was really interested, but he knew as soon as he said it that it came across as an insult – literal amazement that she was still alive.
“Hey, fuck you buddy.” she said fiercely.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I meant how did you survive literally – what did you do for food, supplies? Were there bandits and how did you dodge the lurkers? That’s all.”
She glared at him for a couple of seconds, but said nothing.
He looked down at his shoes and then back up at her.
“How did you manage to block off everything like this?” he said and gestured to the fortified door they had just passed through.
Her look softened a little and then she smirked. “I’ve just been alone a very long time and it’s something I had to learn along the way.”
Ryan smiled.
“Are you thirsty? I’ve got quite a lot of water – even a couple of bottles of booze.”
“Water would be great, thanks.”
She moved off to the kitchen while Ryan chose the comfortable looking arm chair that gave him a great view of the door that he assumed led downstairs and the door they had just passed through. He sank down onto it and it really was comfortable. Laying his pack and his rifle next to him, he sat back in the chair and sighed deeply. He had had a very long day and he was exhausted. He closed his eyes.

A few days after the quarantined people were released, the news started reporting some very disturbing things. At first it was only isolated reports in Texas, but soon these reports were coming from all over America. Children were attacking and killing their parents. Well, at first it was their parents, then, it started to look like anyone was free game. News reports about children killing their parents in their sleep were heard. Stories of whole classrooms turning on their teachers and ripping them to shreds came to light. Videos of children throwing their parents and bystanders off of balconies in shopping malls became all the more frequent. Something was making the children in America crazy.
Soon some people started connecting the dots, noting that some of the first attacks by kids were by the children of first responders. The same first responders who had died due to a mysterious disease. Some believed that the disease they had died from had somehow passed to the children, making them insane.
It was around this time that other countries started reporting the same horrific stories. South Africa was one of the first. It had always been a popular tourist destination.
Scientists then concluded, that the only way this ‘sickness’ would be able to spread so quickly, was if it was airborne. It was theorized that adults could carry it and helped to spread it, even though no symptoms were ever noted in adults. Within a few weeks, containment measures were put in place, but it was too late it – it was global and the authorities had no plan, no way forward – and no cure.
Only a couple of days before entire countries started going dark, scientists released the last, and perhaps the most disturbing finding. Babies – foetuses – in the womb were also susceptible and countless pregnant women had died. Though the explanation was hard to swallow, their unborn children had killed them from the inside. Even after the mother had died, and the foetus had been removed, it still showed heightened agility and aggression.
It was also theorized that children up to the age of seventeen or eighteen were still susceptible, but it seemed to also depend on the individual. Some sixteen year old’s remained unaffected, while some young adults of up to twenty years of age were afflicted.
It was literally the end of the world. Not only was all the youth of the world going into murderous rampages, but no new children were being born.
It was the end of man.
Ryan was jerked awake by a loud bang. Grabbing his rifle he jumped up and looked around, fighting off the sleep which he had so recklessly allowed to take him.
He saw Helena standing in the kitchen, eyes wide with fear.
The bang came again and Ryan realized that it was coming from the door through which they had entered earlier.
“Fuck!” he hissed. “They must have followed me here.”
Glass shattered and he knew that they had broken the glass door. The large metal gate rattled.
“We need to move now!” he said to Helena, but she remained still, staring at the covered door.
“Helena, now!”
Ryan slung his pack on and moved toward her.
“The gate will hold, they can’t get in!” she whimpered, tears beginning to stream down her face.
He reached her and took hold of her shoulders.
“Look at me! Helena, look at me!” he ordered and she finally looked into his eyes.
“I know you’re scared. I am too, but we have to get out of here. Nothing holds against them forever – they will get in.”
She sobbed again, but nodded.
“Grab whatever food and water you have, quick!” Ryan turned, keeping an eye on the door while she hurried about the small kitchen, throwing cans of food and bottles of water into a backpack.
The gate was still being attacked, and Ryan heard something break. One of the deadbolts must have broken.
Ryan waited as long as he could, but after a couple of seconds more he felt they had to move.
“Ok, that’s enough, we have to go. Which door?” he took her arm and led her to the two other doors in the room. She pointed at the one opposite the balcony.
Ryan opened it, and found another large piece of plywood blocking their path. With a savage kick he sent it tumbling down the stairs leading down. Quickly, but cautiously, he led the way down, his rifle raised and ready.
The first floor was pitch black, but he sensed that it was a much larger room than the one upstairs.
“Which way?” he whispered, as the racket upstairs continued.
“The back door’s that way, it comes out below the balcony.”
“Front door it is.” he replied.
She took his arm and led him to the right, around the obstacles. As his eyes adjusted, he thought he saw two bodies against a wall, but he couldn’t be sure.
Helena moved out in front of him and bent down. He heard two clicks and then she stood up and he heard two more clicks. She removed another large piece of plywood and a wooden door with a small window was revealed. Light streamed in and Ryan couldn’t help but look back at where he thought he saw the bodies. His night vision had proved to be correct, as two skeletal bodies were propped up against the wall in sitting positions. The one looked to be no more than a child and the other adult.
He looked back at her and saw her staring at them too.
She looked into his eyes and new tears were flowing freely.
He looked down for a moment and then stepped up to the door. Looking through the window, the street looked empty.
A loud crash came from upstairs as the gate came down.
“Come on.” he whispered and tried opening the door. It was locked, but Helena quickly stepped forward and flipped the deadbolts and removed the chain.
He opened the door an inch and peered out. Quickly he stepped out and allowed her to follow, and then quietly shut the door. They could hear the lurkers crashing down the stairs, looking for them. Ryan headed in the direction of the fort, hoping to hide there until sunrise. He felt they needed to get out of the center of town, away from the obviously large concentration of lurkers.
“Where are we going?” Helena whispered behind him.
“To the fort.”
“They’ve got my scent, that’s how they followed me to your place. We need to get out of town and away from them – put some distance between us. If we hide somewhere in town they’ll quickly find us again.”
They stayed close to the buildings, trying to keep low. Ryan had them move quickly, and they could hear the sounds of the lurkers echoing through the town. A couple of times they ducked into doorways or behind trees when they spotted one. It was chilling seeing these former children running rabid around the town, knowing that at any moment, they could be seen and attacked.
The final stretch was open ground. They’d have to cross a road, a small field and a graveyard before reaching the bottom of the koppie.
Ryan scanned the area looking for lurkers, but spotted none.
“Come on.” He started jogging and Helena followed.
They had just reached the graveyard, when they heard a shriek behind them. The same lurker who had sniffed around the dumpster had spotted them – or tracked him. It was about sixty meters away and it was a large one. Ryan guessed that it had probably been a sports star in the old world.
Its shriek had alerted others, and within seconds six lurkers were bearing down on them.
“Run!” Ryan screamed, and Helena took off into the graveyard.
Ryan raised his rifle and got the closest one in his sights. Squeezing the trigger the rifle fired and the lurker dropped. The others didn’t seem to notice – they only kept coming.
Ryan chambered another round and fired. Another one dropped. Ryan again chambered a round and brought another one down.
He turned and sprinted after Helena, reloading as he ran. The remaining three were after him and they were gaining quickly. Reloading while running was not easy, but Ryan had managed it on previous occasions. Finally he was done. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that they had gained significantly, and were only a couple of meters behind him.
He was about to turn to take down one or two more when his foot caught on a broken head stone protruding from the ground. He went sprawling and the rifle flew from his hands. Landing hard, he could hear the gnashing, hissing monsters approaching. He desperately crawled forward to where the rifle had landed, panic threatening to take hold. Reaching it, he grabbed it and turned, still lying on his back.
A lurker was almost on him, and he fired immediately, striking it in the chest. It crumpled to the ground, almost landing on top of him. He quickly ejected the spent cartridge and chambered another, but before he could pull the trigger, the next one was on him.
It dived onto him, causing him to once again lose the rifle. Ryan managed to get his hands up, keeping it away from his neck as it tried to rip his throat open with its teeth. Soon its hands were wrapped around Ryan’s neck and it started squeezing.
Ryan started panicking as his windpipe was cut off. With his right hand he let go of the lurker and reached under his coat. Drawing his small axe, he put it to the creature’s neck and with all his strength and both hands he jammed it upward. Blood spewed from the wound, covering Ryan’s face and chest, but the lurker became limp and Ryan threw it aside.
Coughing and retching, he got to his knees before he was shaken by the sound of another gunshot.
His head whipped up, just to see the final lurker dropping, most of its head gone. Ryan looked to where the rifle had dropped and saw Helena standing there, the rifle in her hands and the barrel smoking.
Ryan collapsed into a sitting position, taking a few more moments to cough and to get his breath back.
Finally he looked up at Helena, who had walked over and was now crouching beside him.
“Thanks.” he managed before bursting into another coughing fit.
“No problem.” she smiled back.
Ryan looked at the one she had shot and saw that it was the big one that had tracked him.
“We have to move, the gunshots will draw them here.” he wheezed, and got to his feet. He took the rifle back from her and reloaded. He only had a dozen rounds left.
They headed to the fort, now looming over them in the night sky, the moon right behind it. In the dark it looked like an old castle. It made Ryan think of Dracula.
They had just started climbing the hill, when they heard more shrieks behind them. He looked back, and saw dozens, maybe hundreds of lurkers pouring into the field.
“Go! Go! Go!” he yelled, and they double their pace.
The hill wasn’t very steep, but the climb was tricky due to lots of loose gravel and rocks. Twice in a matter of seconds they both slid back several feet.
Halfway up, Ryan glanced back and saw that several lurkers had already reached the bottom of the hill. The only thing going for them at this stage, was that the lurkers attacked the hill with such speed and aggression, that they too constantly slid back down.
Ryan thought about firing off a couple of rounds, but there were too many and the effect would be minimal. He focused again on scaling the hill and eventually they reached the top.
They were both panting, and looking down they saw that some of their pursuers were already half way up.
“What now?” Helena asked, panic seemingly just under the surface.
Ryan took a moment and looked around. The fort was a couple of meters in front of them and a small shed was to the right of it, no more than a few meters wide. The fort was about six meters high, and the rock it was built from protruded slightly, giving Ryan an idea.
“Climb the fort.” he said simply.
Helena looked at him as if he was mad.
“Climb the fort. We get on top. It has no door so we can’t go inside. They’ll break down that shed in seconds and we can’t go running into the night over flat plains, they’ll catch us before we had made a kilometer. If we make it to sunrise, we might have a chance. They’re not the best climbers and I still have a couple of rounds left.”
She stared at him for a couple of seconds more, internally debating what he had said. Making up her mind, she ran to the fort and he followed.
He gave her a boost, and followed after she was more than halfway up. They reached the top fairly easily, as there were several good gripping places along the wall. Ryan only hoped that the lurkers’ blind aggression and insanity prevented them from finding them too.
They sat on the edge of the roof and waited. The original roof had caved in many years before and it had been replaced by flimsy corrugated metal. It looked very precarious. They heard the sounds of the creatures struggling up the hill and it was becoming louder and louder. Ryan had given Helena his axe, and he sat ready, waiting with his loaded rifle.
“Was that your mom and sister?” Ryan asked gently.
She didn’t respond immediately.
“Yes.” she said quietly.
“It wasn’t long after we began seeing the things happening in Johannesburg and Pretoria that it began happening here. It was just a street kid here or there, attacking adults on the main street and in front of shops. They were quickly dealt with, either locked up and some were even shot.”
“But then the local kids began getting aggressive as well. My mom was smart enough to keep my sister in the house as soon as she saw the news stories on TV. She always was over protective and paranoid like that. It kept my sister … herself for much longer than the others.”
“Soon the community started breaking down. There were lots and lots of kids in the township on the edge of town and one night they all stormed into Prieska, killing everyone they came across. We hid upstairs in the closet, and the next day we started boarding up the flat. We didn’t have a car, we couldn’t leave. I was just visiting from university and my mom worked in the post office for fuck sake.”
She had started crying.
“So we hid. I went out in the day with a butcher knife if we needed something, and in the evenings we boarded up the house, kept the lights off and hid.” She laughed through her tears. “I don’t know what we thought I would do with the knife if I ran into real trouble, but it made me feel safer.”
“It was about a week after that initial attack that my sister started to change. She became agitated, snapping at us over the smallest thing. Two day later she began running a fever, and her skin became pale. It was almost dark that day when my mom sent me out to look for some antibiotics and something to help with the fever. I could see she didn’t want to, but I insisted. I had to help my little sister.”
“That was the only time I had been out after dark before tonight. Finding the medicine wasn’t that hard, the town was abandoned pretty quickly and most people left everything just like it was.”
“When I got back to the flat, I could hear a commotion inside. I rushed through the door, to my sister standing over my mom, her mouth bloody and blood gushing from my mother’s neck. My little sister had killed my mom.” At this she broke down, but Ryan thought that it was good that she was talking about it. He realized then that he was probably the first person she had seen in almost three years. He laid a hand on her shoulder.
“She came at me. No words or explanation. Not even a threat or a curse. She just attacked. I had raised my hands to protect myself and she dove me to the ground, but suddenly she went rigid and then limp. I was still holding the knife when she attacked – I had actually forgotten I had it, and I had stabbed my own sister in the heart.”
She broke down again, sobbing uncontrollably into Ryan’s shoulder.
“Helena, listen.” He lifted her chin and looked into her sad, blue eyes. “That wasn’t your sister anymore. If you hadn’t done what you did, you’d be dead.” He wiped a tear off her cheek. “And I’d be sitting here alone right now.” he added with a smile. She returned his smile, and suddenly kissed him. He returned her kiss. It was innocent somehow – only asking for someone, anyone to care for her again, to not be alone anymore. For just a moment, both Helena and Ryan forgot their grief and anger and pain, and lost themselves completely in that moment.
But only for a moment.
A high pitched scream broke them apart and brought them back down to earth hard.
The first lurker had managed to scale the gravelly hill, and it was soon joined by another and then another.
Ryan got on his one knee and raised his rifle, but didn’t fire.
The lurkers didn’t immediately spot them, but started running around erratically, looking for them.
“Shoot them!” Helena whispered.
“I don’t have a lot of ammo. If I shoot, it has to count.”
One of the monsters spotted them, let loose a bloodcurdling shriek and sprinted at the fort. The others followed suit and all of the lurkers cresting the hill did the same.
Soon, a sea of lurkers was gathered around the fort, all jostling, biting and hitting to get to the front. The ones at the front were jumping and reaching for the top, but so far none had tried climbing.
Ryan and Helena sat atop the fort, nervously trying to look in all directions, waiting for the first to start climbing.
Eventually one lurker – he seemed to have been around fifteen – jumped and managed to grab hold of a ledge a few feet up. It seemed almost an accident, but it now knew what to do. It grabbed onto the next ledge, but when it tried for the third, in its haste it missed and went tumbling down. It fell over backwards, and landed on the back of its neck. Even through the chaos they heard its neck crack. It was swallowed by the sea of lurkers and they didn’t see it again.
But soon another managed to grab onto a protruding piece of wall. It hoisted itself up, and it made it much higher before also tumbling down. This one returned though, and immediately began climbing again. Others around it saw what it was doing, and several more attempted to climb the old structure.
The first one had made it more than halfway, and was only a few feet away when Ryan finally decided that it was close enough. Firing a single shot, the lurker fell back to earth.
Now though, it seemed as if the fort was being swarmed. All around the fort they were climbing, and the biggest problem they had, was not being able to see on the other side of the structure.
Ryan was forced to fire six more times, sending the monsters tumbling back down.
They did not have long, and would soon be overrun.
Helena looked at Ryan, her eyes pleading for him to save them. But he was all out of ideas for the moment.
Ryan despatched another lurker which had nearly made it to the top when he heard Helena yell. Two of them had managed to reach the top on the other side of the fort. Ryan raised his rifle, but the weapon only clicked harmlessly. He quickly pulled out four more rounds and started reloading, but the lurkers would be on them in half the time he needed to finish.
Helena raised the axe, but Ryan could see her shaking.
The two lurkers jumped forward – and fell right through the roof. The roof collapsed outward, and Ryan and Helena were left standing on the wall of the fort. Looking into the fort, Ryan could see lurkers streaming through the door, now trying to reach them from the inside as well.
He quickly finished reloading. It was his last four rounds.
He was starting to think that this had been a terrible idea.
“Ryan!” Helena screamed. “What do we do?”
Ryan looked at the swarm of monsters trying to climb the walls of the fort, both on the inside and out. One even made it to the top again on the opposite side, but in its haste to reach them, it fell after taking only a few steps due to over balancing.
Ryan was stumped, and despair was about to engulf him. He could see no way out.
For a moment his eyes glazed over, and he remembered the last time he had seen his wife, right before her father’s small Cessna 152 had taken off. She had pleaded to stay behind with him, to go searching for his brother together, but he had refused.
“The only thing that will make me feel better, that will keep me going – is knowing that you’re safe.” he had said to her, through tears. “I’ll find Matt, and then we’ll meet you at your dad’s farm. Just go with him. Get there. Make it safe. It will be ok. I will find you. I will make it.” He had embraced her, but she wouldn’t let go. He had had to forcefully remove her and get her into the plane, using his father-in-law’s help. She had been hysterical, but finally the plane had risen into the air and out of sight and Ryan had been alone.
“I will find you. I will make it.” he whispered. His eyes focused again and he raised the rifle.
“Helena, I’m sorry.” he said, just as the sun started to peak over the horizon.
Almost instantaneously, the lurkers quieted down, and became less frenzied. Their movements slowed, almost becoming lethargic and their screams and shrieks became low moans and grunts.
Helena looked up at Ryan, and a look of frightened confusion replaced the little relief she had shown at the change in the monsters’ behaviour.
“Ryan, wha – ?”
“I’m sorry.” he said again, and squeezed the trigger. The rifle roared and the bullet slammed into Helena’s right thigh. She screamed and dropped the axe. She fell forward onto the wall, and for a moment it seemed as if she would manage to hold on. Ryan stepped forward as if to help her, but only grabbed the pack filled with food on her back. As if in slow motion, she slid sideways and fell off down the outside of the wall, leaving the pack in Ryan’s hands. She screamed again as she fell, and her eyes met Ryan’s. Confusion and shock reflected there, but also sadness.
She disappeared into the ocean of waiting lurkers, and they immediately attacked her – even the monsters scaling the wall jumped off to get to her – albeit in a more distracted way than the frenzied creatures of minutes before.
Her screams erupted from beneath the mass of murdering bodies, and it seemed to draw them toward her. Ryan watched as the lurkers all slowly moved around the fort to the place where she had fallen – even those inside.
He bowed his head for a moment, anguished at what he had once again had to do to try and keep the promise to his wife. He had thought he had learned to live with the things he had done, but this moment had brought them all back.
Helena’s screams were suddenly cut short, and Ryan knew he had to move. Slowly, he crept along the wall to the other side of the fort, and started climbing down. All the lurkers had moved to where she had fallen, and he remained unseen.
Reaching the ground, he quickly moved away, keeping the fort between him and the lurkers.

Using a wide arch, Ryan entered Prieska again many hours later. Moving as quickly as his tired body would allow, he searched houses, shops and any building that he found for supplies and food. He didn’t find much, but more than he would have expected so long after society had fallen.
He then quickly inspected vehicle after vehicle, but could not get one to run. Cursing his luck, he found a bicycle in the post office and a hand pump in the general store. After inflating the wheels, he started peddling in the direction of Upington.
He had decided that he would rather sleep next to the road on the ground than spend another night in Prieska.
As he reached the edge of town, he slowed to a stop. Slowly, he turned and looked at the fort, still standing unaltered atop its koppie. It’ll probably still be there in a hundred years, Ryan thought. Sighing, his tired body protesting at every move he made, he started peddling.

Credit: Pablo Dickens


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