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All Driven Into The Yearning Arms Of Amobolaa

November 22, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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Within The Carcass Of Lunar Rot

I have been sending this distress call repeatedly, and I have been trapped on this moon for what I hope to have only been the past two sidereal days. Can anyone hear this message? Can anyone send help? I do not know what to do anymore and I do not know how much longer the emergency power of this pod will last. I have to keep recording, I have to keep sending this message. In the case that anyone can hear me but cannot respond, I must relay the horrors of this foreign moon.

My memories of before arriving here are hazy, but I remember living back on Tenlithe. I remember the general uneasiness of a coming, petty war. I remember my family.

But here, there is a greater turmoil. I cannot describe the shock of awaking inside some sort of escape pod atop a pile of putrescent and semi-unidentifiable human corpses. I can barely explain further the terror of when I heard some of them groan and their mangled limbs slowly twisted in unnatural directions. I struggled to free myself of the slimy, corporeal entanglement, every one of my senses assailed by disgust and fright, but I eventually freed myself and approached the escape hatch. The pod’s hatch appeared to be set to open on a timer. The hatch did eventually open, but the noxious fumes and the faint movements of the bodies were driving me mad.

After an unknown time, but what seemed to be hours, the hatch opened after much of my wrenching upon it and to my surprise all of the air did not escape into the vacuum of space—I could still breath, at least. I shambled out of that den of horror and slammed the hatch closed behind me. The horrors I saw afterward were even worse.

Similar pods were scattered all over the pitted, ash-like surface in the little I could see over the proximate hills and craters. What the hell is happening here? I scurried to the highest peak I could find and from the dizzying height I spied a jagged out-crop of massive rocks jutting from the otherwise desolate surface, but little else as the beetling surface obscured most of the horizon. The out-crop appeared to be artificial or crafted by some massive, fumbling hands with a shaky composition and tall, pyramid-like shape. And when I later arrived closer every compositional chunk appeared to be of some pyroxene material and was roughly hewn, covered in claw marks similar to the size of my own hands. Over the heavily arced horizon I could only spot a few similar, yet warped, constellations, but no neighboring planet.

The trek from my location to the massive megalith was long, but with no other landmark to see I had very few options. It appeared—and later felt—to be about a three-kilometer hike as I was loosely guided by the distorted Cassiopeia constellation faintly above the horizon. Along the way there were a few of the other pods slumped across the surface, none of them appearing very old, but widely varying in design and condition. The most common appearing to be stout and neutral-colored cans similar to my own.

I was still perplexed by the invisible atmosphere here. How could such a small celestial body seemingly hold an atmosphere such as this? Why was there no light refraction on the horizon? Why was the gravity so similar to Tenlithe’s?

I only peeked into one of the pods, hoping to not repeat my findings from it in the others, for what I found was another corpse-impregnated hull filled with the murmurs of the seemingly dead. The hatch was locked like mine was, but opened easily enough from the outside. This time the bodies bore little resemblance to a human, instead seeming to be limbed and snake-like beings with dark, squamous skin. The hollow chatter of the rattling that emanated from within shook my nerves more than my time within my own pod, even after I walloped the hatch shut and darted away from it into the distance.

The unsettling silence of the alien surface was beginning to perturb me gradually and an enveloping fatigue was setting in just as the shadow of the isoscelean pyramid was covering my rugged surroundings. I stopped to listen for anything, but the aether emitted nothing. The imposing structure was starting to strike more and more fear into me as I, too, was now hidden in its shadow. I noticed how cold the surface truly was without the slight warmth of the distant sun. Oh, how cold and indifferent a horizon of ever-present black and speckles of faint light can be.

I nearly circumambulated the base of the impressive edifice, looking for any sort of entrance inside, only discovering a triangular, oblique hallway a few centimeters taller than myself on the distant side of the square-ish base. Luckily, it was on the sun-lit side and the light seemed to funnel deep into the odd passage. The tunnel stretched almost indefinitely into the heart of the structure and sloped gently downward. My clambering footsteps echoed roughly inside the tight space, which worried me but I was too tired to tread any more gracefully.

The hallway seemed to shrink the deeper I plunged and I found myself having to slump slightly over as I walked. I decided to sit and rest for a while, lying down under the leaning walls. I tried to gather my thoughts, but I found my mind too exhausted to do so and I slowly fell into a frigid sleep. When I awoke, the sun was no longer illuminating the passage and I could not see the ends of either side. I struggled to remember my orientation: Had I slept with my head or feet to the entrance? I could no longer distinguish the gentle slope of the corridor either; it might have leveled out without my prior notice.

I decided to stumble towards the direction of my feet arbitrarily. The thought of waiting until the next sunrise did not please me and the crushing weight of the dark and my echoed movements instilled into me a deep worry. I groped along the wall as my balance was greatly diminished and it felt as if gravity itself was fluctuating in that lunar tomb.

A few minutes after my foot-ward walk I heard a rumbling blast of sound, but was unable to discern which end it came from, even when I turned my ears parallel to the passage. The echoing reverberation rendered it impossible to tell. I heard a series of thin popping sounds followed by a few moments of quiet. Then, the cacophony like that of hellspawn came, but it did not stop. No, this nightmare was forced to continue. I was reminded of the tired and lifeless groaning from within my casket-like pod, but of many magnitudes louder and more varied. This sound I could more easily discern to be coming from a singular direction—the direction behind me, and presumably outside the pyramid.

I froze for a few minutes in fear with my ears covered and eyes shut tightly, trying to finally compose my thoughts. I wondered if it would be better to run deeper into the abyss and hide or to seek possible survivors amongst the din of what could only be a hellish landscape. I could not be the only living one sent here, right? I decided I was too afraid to exit the specious safety of the darkness and turned to head further into the void, but when I lifted my hands from my ears I noticed the freakish groans, rattles, and yelps were louder than before. Panicked, I sprinted as best I could through the narrow hallway, my shoulders and sides rebounding off the walls and the clamor of my steps resounding madly.

I heard another horrific rumble, but this time structured in two specific blasts resembling speech. I could tell it came from somewhere within—or atop—or near—the pyramid, but I could not reverse my course. I continued this run for as long as I could until I could see a pale-green glow at the end of the passage. When I reached the end of the passage I paused to hear for sound inside. Thankfully for my sanity the sounds from outside had subsided enough to the point of only being heard by a careful listen, and there were no stirrings inside either.

Instead of another audible quandary, I walked into a visual one, where inside I was bathed in that green phosphorescence and greeted by the enigmatic architecture of some ancient design. The walls undulated upward in sharp peaks, valleys, and mostly-straight surfaces between, but seemed to do so forever. The room was massive as well and I could but faintly spy the four corners from my vantage from the middle of one of the sides. The emerald light seemed to be emitted from triangular channels carved into the walls in a random and puzzling pattern. Looking upward, I noticed that the aerial void had faintly glistening sparkles emulating stars to my eyes. Horizontally along the floors was a carven script of unknown language to me, it appeared to be somewhere between pictorial and phonetic with some of the characters reminding me of various inhuman creatures.

But most unsettling of all—as my eyes adjusted to the light—I saw that there were innumerable high-relief carvings of monstrous beings along all of the walls. Scarcely any of them were humanoid in shape and many of them eluded all standard description beyond the phrase ‘life-like’ or ‘realistic’. I jerked away from the nearby wall as I spotted the demons portrayed there. There was a multi-headed snake-thing with large, staring eyes topping each branch and a toothy maw at the base of its main trunk nearly twice my size arched over the doorway. There was a rotund and minotaur-like beast lumped to my left with dozens of primitive arms wielding flesh-laden spears. To my right there was a highly erect tripod-thing with a main body resembling a crown. All of these horrors had smaller, but just as grotesque, monstrosities darting between them and my dismay of the entire vista was only amplified by the dull glimmer of the green glow permeating the room.

This chamber of terror was almost too much to bear, but I thereafter kept my gaze down on the cryptic script on the floor and plodded towards the center of the room. There did not appear to be any escape from that subterranean vault other than the main entrance I had come from and I had trouble scanning the walls for another exit both due to the fright and the dark. I sat with my head firmly nuzzled within my collapsed limbs wondering what to do for most likely hours. I only tried to remember the few thoughts of home I had, losing track of whatever sense of time I had. When I lifted my head I noticed a faint glow of daylight from the entrance. It appeared that another sidereal day had come.

Yet another rumble came, but this time easily heard to be from above and of three distinct beats. A slight dusting of soot was loosed from above, leaving an acrid aroma and taste about. Then, a comatose roar came in seeming response from somewhere outside, heavily muffled by the stone walls. It would be moments later when I could muster up the courage to head outside and escape this esoteric megalith. There would be nowhere else to go and help would assuredly never find me in there. On my hours-long exit, I found the journey to be shorter than before, most likely because of the aid of sunlight during the entire walk.

I grew anxious of what I would see exiting the pyramid, and my pace slowed to mirror it, but as I approached the exit I heard absolute silence. Through the triangular aperture I could see the entrance was just as barren, save for those ghastly pods, as when I went in. Still, I felt apprehensive and I galloped somewhat hurriedly back towards my landing site. On my quiet journey back—except for the sounds of my crunching footsteps—I felt an air of peculiarity about, despite not noticing any apparent difference. About halfway back I had again grown exceedingly tired while jaunting away and could no longer stifle my reflex to look back at the towering pyramid. I breathed a sigh of relief when I did not detect neither any lunar abomination clinging to its peak nor any horrible procession scuttling about the surface. Had it all been a hallucination brought on by stress?

It was around this moment that I passed the serpent-filled pod from before, but noticed that its hatch was not in the closed position I left it. I froze. I could not hear the chatter like before and the dusty surface appeared mildly disturbed by a great many bodies other than my own distinct, but obfuscated, prints. I then glanced around to the other pods within the immediate landscape to notice that their hatches too were all open. Surely I could not have misremembered this detail on every pod? I slowly approached the serpent pod with dread.

I stole a glance over the side of its hatch to find it empty. Then, with more courage I stole another longer glance to confirm that the pod was indeed empty of the snake beings. I was not sure which state I preferred: the serpentine horrors nearby and inside the pod or outside, but possibly roaming about.

These mounting experiences began to pile up inside my mind with no clear action being apparent to me. I faintly remembered the science topic of the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response, all of which seemed equally terrible to my mind at the moment.

After some tense deliberation I decided to head back to my prior vantage point on the high-cresting hill where I first saw the pyramid. The climb back up it from the steeper slope was arduous, especially with my nervous grasps of the loose stone surface. This is where I spotted the final horror.

When I reached the peak and tiredly spun towards the triangular monument, I noticed that diagonal to the pyramid, and roughly 30 degrees to the right of my outlook, was a smaller child pyramid forming. It blended into the scenery with the same cinder-colored stone and was only a mere one-fifth its parent’s size at best, but it was definitely not there before. And worst of all, a mass of unidentifiable creatures were straggling around its base.

At this sight, I ran directly away from it. I ran and I ran and I ran. Past the open pods dotting the desolate, lunar crust. Past the vaguely familiar hills I first gazed upon. Past even the pod I emerged from earlier (after further thought I am sure that my perfunctory glimpse into the side-hatch showed it vacant as well). I continued to run for a duration of time I will never be able to calculate. I ran until I stumbled upon this very pod here, with its inner lighting system still in operation and a big, recognizable “Tenlithe #106” identification in crimson on its side. The communication panel is also appearing to be in working order.

I am just sitting here now, safely inside this pod, I like to believe. I do not know how much longer the battery reserves will last and I do not know if I want to. Upon entering it, I saw my reflection for the first time in its clean glass hatch. I am not sure if this person I saw truly is me, but they look deathly ill with an extremely pallid complexion and a blood-stained jumpsuit. I suppose a close death for them is best because they must have seen some absolute horrors recently. . . .

I do not feel cold anymore. I do not feel hunger anymore. I do not feel tired anymore. I do not feel much of anything, but I do feel compelled to return to the pyramid. They need me there. Perhaps when the dark soon returns. . . .

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Day of the Worm

November 6, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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What are dreams?
What are they really? Are they bits and pieces of memories thrown together without design or purpose? Do they whisper secrets of future days to come or hide secrets from days long passed? Perhaps our soul is expelled from our bodies each night, thrust out into the void, traveling to wondrous lands and beyond the limits of our physical form? Consider this; is it possible that our dreams are more than mere nonsense, but premonitions of adventures, not yet had? Honestly, I don’t have any answers for you. However, if I may, I would like to share with you what I do know.

Tell me; have you ever had a dream you felt was so real, your waking life felt distant and dull? Have you ever dreamt a dream that reveals glimpses of your full potential? Do you know of any dream that fills you with such sorrow upon awakening, each morning, to desire with all your might that your eyes will open to a brand new life, yet never does it come? With every rising sun, that is the burden I bare. However, such sadness does not consume me, for I know my dreams are so much more than simple desires and wishful thinking. They are much more than you could possibly imagine. For you see, my dreams are preparing me for great things to come, I know that to be the truth!

No, rolling your eyes does not offend me; you are not the first I’ve tried to tell. You are not first to have mocked my words. Most simply laugh out of amusement and others feign looks of pity towards me. Truly, in their view, only a disadvantaged child would entertain such nonsense in their heads. They are the ones to pity, for they are only capable of seeing a land of make believe, a fairy tale fabricated from the mind of a child! So sure of themselves, that a child orphaned as an infant, who never knew the embrace of a mother’s love or guidance of a father could hold his head high. Nor would they consider such a waif would earn his success with only the determination of his heart and by the strength in his hands. Yet, I hold no malice, for their conclusions are not without logic, albeit sadly shortsighted. That is all about to change for tomorrow is the day when all will be revealed! For tomorrow is my birthday and when I am gone, they will have no other choice but to admit they were wrong!

Tomorrow is the day my dreams foretold:
“Before the sun sets on your five and tenth year of life, you shall return with hope and salvation on your back and light in your hands. By your blade, you will rid the land of the Worm.”

That is what I see every night when I surrender to sleep. Close your eyes and take my hand and let me tell you about my dreams.

In my dreams, there’s a realm so close to our own that only the width of a hair separates the two. Existing side by side, together, and unaware of one another. Yet they are so far apart that traveling the distance would take a thousand years. It is a medieval realm where science and magic live next to each other as beloved friends. Machines and technology, sorcery and magic, they co-exist side by side as as one. No difference comes to mind in matters of wizarding and engineering, sorcerers and teachers, or even the healer and a doctor. This realm is ruled by six great nations, each under a king and queen of virtuous heart and noble blood. Castles and villages, farms and towns pepper the land. All live simplistic lives with a hint of technologies both natural and mystical.

In my dreams, I see a beautiful domed temple made from ivory white stone. The temple is the home to six sacred weapons made of enchanted steel, one given to each nation by a goddess. She offered these weapons in preparation for the day foretold, the day of the Worm. The weapons are wielded by a warrior from each nation; each personally chosen by the goddess herself. But in the center of the temple, in the most revered spot, sits the seventh altar. Upon this altar rests the armor and weapons of the seventh son of a seventh son. Under the darkness of an eclipse of three moons, a child’s bloodline emerged from the joining of a mortal and a god. This child’s spirit will unite the realms in their darkest hour.

The weapons are enchanted steel of silver and blue and my armor is impossibly light. My gauntlet is for my right hand and serves as my shield. It houses a disk that three blades emerge from with a snap. When flung, it obeys my will and lays waste to all of my foes. It then faithfully returns to my hand without fail every time. My sword was forged from the last remnants from Creation and cooled with the very essence of life. It is the mortal enemy of rot and decay. It can never be broken, nothing can shatter its blade, and it is impervious to impact; never will its edge be dulled. The jewel in the hilt is my symbol and banner. It is the eye that shines a light that can ignite the passion of an oppressed people when hope had seemed to be lost.

In my dreams, I see a day in which black rain falls from the sky. Viscous, ropy strands of greenish-black tar pour from the clouds. Anything it touches immediately begins to decay and corrode. The arrival of the Worm is heralded by a clap of thunder as his fortress bursts through the clouds. It pierces the land like a dagger stabbed into flesh upon impact with the land. The castle of the Worm is a jagged and pointed crystalline citadel with bulbous blister-like domes upon it. This is the throne from where the Worm will conquer and reign. The decay spreads from the dark fortress in the form of black mold and writhing masses of tentacles and tendrils, rotting everything it touches; except for one thing: the dead. Every warlord needs its pawns.

The dead are absorbed and used as vessels for the Worm’s decay to take form. They are the eyes, the foot, and the iron fist of the Worm. The Worm fills its ranks with the deceased and slain flesh of the surrounding villages with a gluttonous appetite. The blisters from the walls of its fortress are then released and its army of decayed and mindless drones carry the smelly, rotting mass into the heart of all six nations. It will plant itself into the ground and become extensions of the mind and will of the Worm. From here it will wage war against every man, woman, and child. It will fight with the decomposing faces of their neighbors, friends, brothers, and sisters

In my dreams, I see the goddess blessing the six kings from each of the nations before spiriting away the seventh set of armor and weapons from the walls of the vulnerable temple. She hides the items in a place far from the Worm’s reach where they will wait until claimed by the child foretold to come. In a final act of sacrifice, I see the goddess exhausting the last of her immortality in order to open a door of light. She places a tiny infant within the entrance and before closing the door she says with tears in her eyes, “Goodbye, my beloved. Goodbye, my son.”

It is twenty minutes to midnight, the day of my fifteenth birthday. I sit on the wooden floor and I am trembling next to a heated stove. I tremble not from the cold but from a heart-gripping fear. However, make no mistake, do not think for a moment I’m trembling out of fear of the unknown or of things to come! I am not afraid of marching against a grotesque army of a thousand rotting corpses. I don’t fear the violence I will encounter or the many battles I will fight. I am not afraid! No, none of that scares me! I want the life so much! Do you want to know what really scares me, what has me filled with such terror and dread? What scares me the most is this:

“I am so afraid that when tomorrow finally arrives, it will come and go like any other ordinary day.”

Credit: Killahawke1

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Spooky: Horrors of the Battlefield

November 6, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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It’s a wondrous thing, getting to work in the U.S. military. Sure, to each their own, Army does its thing, the Marines, the Special Forces, the Navy. I always wanted to be in the Air Force, but one part in particular. I am… was, actually, the Gunnery Sergeant aboard the AC-130U Spooky Gunship. See, all that wonder goes out the window when you’ve seen what I’ve seen.
Those of you who do not know anything about the Spectre/Spooky family of fixed-wing gunships need a little background. Many people know about the C-130 Hercules cargo plane built by Lockheed, a turboprop plane that has been adapted for a lot of roles, mostly cargo. What makes the Spooky special? Not too much, just the 25mm Gatling gun, 40mm Bofors cannon and 105mm howitzer sticking out the port side, that and the infrared computer targeting system. If you think that a fighter jet is an angel of death on the battlefield, the 130U is the angel that will fly in a circle, about 7,000 feet over your head, and blasts the living shit out of you, or anything unfortunate enough to be within a block of you.
Being on the gunnery crew my main job is to direct or fire the weapons, but my primary job was to fire the 105mm, the big gun. That baby has the firepower to level an area the size of a Walmart parking lot; the shells are so big that the aircraft can usually only carry nine, or a dozen at most. Why would anyone need that kind of kill-power, you may ask? America, that’s why.
No, seriously, think of it this way. We have some of the most expensive equipment on the planet, and our style of fighting is tuned to invoke the most enemy casualties while saving as many friendlies as possible. If that means using a missile that costs more than a nice car, or 100 of those cars, instead of putting friendlies in a firefight, that’s fine. My job, my crew’s job, is to make sure that as many of our buddies on the ground make it out alive, and, as a bonus, we get to use the equivalent firepower of a naval destroyer, all on one plane.
The American dream, or so it seemed, to work on-board that plane. I was saving American lives on the ground, firing from a mile away at enemies that had no clue we were there. All they could do was run, and they could only get as far as how long it takes to reload a cannon. But part of me wishes I had never signed up. I’ve seen too much now.
Due to the nature of the operation, I can’t tell you exactly where we were, just know that it was likely where Bush had put so many of our boys in a war that didn’t need to happen, and certainly did not need to be ended the way it did. Place starts with an A, shit went down in early 2000 a.c., do the math. It was not too long after 9/11, and most of the personnel still had their fervor for revenge, we wanted to go in there and kick some ass. That was the Army’s job, the Marines, and the Special forces. Me, I was seated up in a non-pressurized aircraft sitting behind a gun that could knock God on his ass.
To be honest I don’t remember where we were exactly, and it wasn’t my job to know. All I needed to know was where the friendlies were, and where to expect hostiles. A lot of people think we see things in all green, that’s not how our night vision works. Military night vision puts everything in black and white, where hot bodies glow bright and white against the black, colder ground and buildings. Makes it hard to distinguish uniforms, which is why all our troops are tagged. So I watched as our boys got out of their HUMVEEs and started their long walk.
The main target, the area where the two Marine squads were storming, was this complex nestled at the base of these adobe-looking hills; pretty well camouflaged by brush and trees. It looked like a castle, with a set of walls, a big gate, and several towering buildings overlooking the outside. I don’t remember why the troops were going in there, in fact, according to what I could hear of their chatter, they weren’t sure either. But none of us, at least those on-hand, needed to worry, we were going in to take out targets. You may think that having the Spooky overhead was a bit overkill, but like I explained, we were there to make it as easy for the Marines as we could.
Everyone on-board the craft was in direct contact with the teams below, and they were in contact with us via squad leaders. I could hear the jarheads talking about nothing in particular, just how this was “another job” and how the hostiles inside did not stand a chance. Sitting behind the collective firepower of a squadron of tanks, I was apt to agree. I struck up a conversation with the first squad leader, a guy named Amos.
“Having fun down there Charlie 1?”
“Don’t you know it, Spook. Approaching the target zone now.”
I heard other voices, random Marines. “It’d be just as easy to get them from here, Spooky’s got the firepower to level the place, and we could all be home in time for lunch.”
“You do know they’re serving tacos again, right?”
“It’s Tuesday?”
“Well, maybe we can have some fun out here anyway, get back in time for dessert.”
I could hear a few chuckles before Amos growled “Alright, alright, tape it up, guys.” The Marines were coming to within firing distance of the compound. I told the boys to be ready. As I zoomed in, I could see that everything was about to go down.
Several glaring white forms showed up on the walls, filling out via doors and climbing up ladders. I saw them huddling behind ramparts, and each of them were armed. I called in to the leaders below to expect gunfire. You may ask, why didn’t I light them up to kingdom come already? Rules of engagement, that’s why. Simply put, you do not ever fire unless fired upon. It’s how we tell friendlies from hostiles, how we try to incur as few civilian casualties as we can. This goes for the Marines too, but I could see their bright forms spreading out, crouching their way towards the walls, ready to dash for cover. One of the defenders was waving his arms, seemingly gesturing to the ground forces, but I could not hear a word, over a mile away.
Over the comms Amos was yelling in the native language. “Spook, they’re screaming at us but have made no effort to fire. They don’t seem too hostile, actually.”
“I dunno, Sergeant, that’s a lot of guns pointing at you. What’re they saying?”
“Not sure, it’s a bit far out to tell but they’re saying something to the effect that they want us to leave.”
“I don’t recall anything in the Intel about having that option.”
“I know, I told them. But… he says that for our own safety we need to go away.”
I could not see any of their guns being pointed at the Marines yet, but every single man was armed, a mix of Russian-made AK-74 assault rifles, G3’s, some older 47’s, and a few RPGs. But all of them were hiding, not yet aiming at the ground forces. “They don’t seem too hostile at the moment, but they’re packing heat.”
“He’s not backing down. He said this is our last chance. How’s the view up there?”
I took count of at least thirty gunmen, and more were climbing up, easily outnumbering the dozen Marines. “Thirty possible contacts, get your boys down and ready, they look ready to dig in.”
No sooner had I said this, that I immediately saw the flashes of white at the end of gun barrels all over the walls, but I could not hear the gunfire from over a mile away, so I called in to the Marines to confirm that they were under attack. I heard a clear confirmation from Amos.
“Everyone, down! Spook, they’re throwing everything they got at us! We are under fire! Repeat, we are under fire!”
The gunfight was on, and all the safeties were off.
The Marines were all lying prone, taking accurate shots and pegging enemies on the wall with precise accuracy, but they were heavily outgunned and the somewhat inaccurate, constant small arms fire was getting too close for comfort. The Marines confirmed targets, and now it was our turn.
I could hear the belching growl of the Gatling gun firing at nearly 4,000 rounds per minute, and could just see the white streaks like a swarm of bees falling on the enemy. The hail of lead tore them to pieces, knocking them off the walls like target dummies and tearing chunks of adobe from the walls. I could not help but stare when I saw more enemies charging up to their deaths, they were not going to retreat.
“God damn it, Spook, we got two tinkers coming out on top of us!”
I heard the call from Amos just in time to see two battered pickup trucks with hastily mounted machine guns peeling out the gate towards the boys on the ground. We call those technicals, and while they may not look like much, those Russian PK machine guns on the back are a deadly threat to infantry. Lucky for the Marines, we were able to respond with far-beyond-equal force.
I authorized the use of the Bofors cannon, two rounds per truck. The gun boomed like a sledgehammer, and I saw the bigger streaks falling like lightning bolts. The first burst of two rounds, a double tap, hit the lead truck dead center, instantly turning it into a giant, white fireball of burning fuel and twisted steel. The other truck must have had a quick driver, as he swerved to avoid his obliterated buddy, causing him to just barely dodge the incoming shells, but to my surprise he then kept driving towards the Marines. These insurgents were fighting to the death, and in that moment I could only wonder if what they were protecting in the compound was worth it. A quick adjustment, and two more shells finished the truck off.
The Spooky provided additional fire support with the 25mm, but the Marines had most of the heat taken off of them. They made their way to the wall of the compound, and through the gate that had been blown open by a hit from the Bofors. The friendly units were too close for comfort now, it was up to them to clear the compound, which they did with amazing speed. As ineffective as the militia were, they fought fiercely, and the Marines did not manage to take any of them prisoner.
Our orbit now took us where I could see the largest building at the back of the compound, farthest from the gate. It was heavily defended with two mounted machine guns, but an earlier strike of Gatling fire had rendered them inoperative. What was strange about the building was the single door, a hulking thing built like a vault door. The “gatehouse”, as I call it, seemed to be just that, made to house a gate and to keep people out. If I knew then what I know now…
The Marines found a switch to open the door, it slid sideways and one squad went in. After that I lost sight of them, and kept in contact over the radio. Here’s what I heard… how I wish I had not.
Amos was breathing hard as his squad went in. “Spook, you should see what we got in here.”
“What do you see?”
I was fed an image from his helmet camera, and I leaned towards the small monitor at my station. I had assumed that the building was some sort of garage, as it was not much bigger than a small hanger, but Amos’s camera showed a long ramp leading down, underground. The tunnel was big enough to drive a tank through, and it was dark (we must have hit the power in the opening bombardment).
“Wow, they really dug in here.”
“No shit. I think we’ll lose comms down once we’re down there, the walls look pretty thick.”
“Roger, Charlie 1 you are cleared to advance.”
The image cut out, and all I could do was settle back. Technically by now the gunship’s job was done, and we should’ve been flying back to base, but we had been given orders to remain on station, which was fine with me. Now I wish we had just flown home.
My attention must’ve wandered because the next thing I remember was some Marine from Squad 1 was screaming into my earpiece. He was panicked and out of breath, his voice an octave or two higher than a Marine’s voice should go. “Shit! Shit! Spooky, do you read! Come in, damn it!”
I shook my head clear and tried to speak calmly. “Marine, what’s going on, where’s your…”
He cut me off like I had not even said anything. “Aren’t you fucking listening?! Use it!”
“Use what?”
“The big fucking gun!”
My face must have gone pale, the Bofors gunner looked at me with widened eyes. I still tried to keep my cool. “Son, I’m not authorized to use the 105, what the hell do you want me to shoot at?”
“Fuck your authorization! We’re all gonna die if you don’t… “
His voice trailed off, and I could now make out noise in the background. His boots clopping on the floor, his heavy breath, and a loud crashing sound, like a semi truck driving through a wall. “No, no, no no!”
After I heard that sound, I felt all the blood run from my cheeks like someone had thrown snow in my face. I can only describe it as a mix of a lot of ferocious beasts, and yet they all sound like mice compared to it. It was a roar, a roar mixed with a buzzsaw, and the shriek of a trapped cougar. I could just hear the last scream of the Marine before a loud racket made me throw my headset off, that awful noise when someone drops the microphone on the hard floor.
I saw that everyone’s face in the gunnery department had gone deathly white, but no one left their stations. I jammed my headgear back on and looked back down the sight.
The Marines in Squad Two had surrounded the massive gate, and had their weapons out, but were slowly backing away. I listened in on their leader, a big black guy whose name I can never remember.
“Everyone, hold position, safeties off, keep trying to get Squad One on the…”
I heard everything go silent, and this hulking beast of a man let out a shrill gasp.
“What the… what the fuck?! How is that possible?!”
He was trying hard to stay calm, but it was not the tone of his voice that scared me.
I could see the massive door, built to withstand a tank blast, bulging outwards, like a bubble about to pop, and whatever was pounding it was hitting the door with such force that I could hear it over the comms, like the deepened tolling of a distant bell.
And then, as soon as it started, the bulging stopped, as did the thunderous pounding, and I could hear the squad leader trying to steady his confused voice.
“It… I… what the…?”
His voice was cut off by static, as the door flew like a massive shuriken, immediately crushing two of the Marines. In my opinion, they were the lucky ones, after what I saw next.
It must have been so hot, this massive, glowing white blur came rushing out of the now vacant doorway, almost as tall as the gatehouse. It was shaped like a boulder, must’ve been nothing but muscle, like a horrifying Hulk. All I could see of it was the outline, the outline that towered over the remaining four Marines.
I heard their pitiful gunfire over the comms, but the thing was barely affected, I saw it backhand one of the Marines in one swing, smashing the elite soldier into a harmless bag of broken bones and crushed organs. It lunged forward, grabbing another, and with the Marine clenched in its gargantuan fist, pounded a massive hole in the wall of a building, and punched the ground several times. I did not see it drop a body, he must have been reduced to a pulp.
The last two did not run, but to be fair, they barely had time to even turn. It came down on one them like a mountain, crushing him under its fists, and it kept smashing. I saw it stop, and slowly turn to the last, poor Marine. I could barely make out his voice over his choked, tearful, final gasp.
“H-h-help me…”
It swooped down, grabbing him by the arms and legs, and with barely any effort ripped the Marine in half at the waist, like a child pulling the legs from an ant. It swung the bisected parts over its head, and threw them to the ground.
I must have done it on a reflex. I could not feel my body, I could only guess how I looked, with my jaw hanging and my eyes so wide as to nearly pop from my skull. Before I realized what happened, my hand had clenched, and the aircraft shook with the sound of a clap of thunder right next to my ears.
I saw the huge, white blur of the 105mm shell, streaking towards the target with pinpoint accuracy. It seemed to glide in slow motion, but in reality, even at this range, it only took two seconds.
It struck the thing dead center; everything in the sights, the bodies, the buildings, and the thing vanished inside a small mushroom cloud of fire, dust, and shrapnel. I saw the nearest building collapse, the lower level blasted in on itself. A second later, I thought I heard the thump of the impact, but I could not hear anything else. I could not tell if my fellow gunners were screaming, muttering, or trying to get my attention. I could not hear the comforting drone of the four turboprop engines, or the beeping of equipment. I did feel my heart pounding in my chest, like the thing’s massive fist had pounded on that door, like the Marine’s hearts must have pounded in their short lives.
I barely reacted when I felt my commander’s hand on my shoulder. He was as pale as the rest of us, and he was likely clenching my shoulder to steady his own trembling grip. As the dust and debris settled, I could see almost nothing was left, nothing but a large, bright mass, a thankfully still one, and a crumpled building.
Surprisingly, I never got in trouble, but you can bet your ass I handed in my resignation and shipped home quicker than you can say “Hell to the fuckin’ no”. Some things should not be seen. Some things should not be let out, I know that now. I saw six men die, and six more died on my watch, yet all I was able to do was shit bricks at 7,000 feet. There ain’t therapy for that kind of stuff. That’s what PTSD really is, it’s the human soul breaking at the seams, seams pulled by stress that the soul was not made to be subjected to.
Yes, I still have nightmares every now and then, but it’s during the day when it’s the worst. Know why? Because I think back to those last few seconds before I went to cry in the back of the plane. Those last few seconds of looking down that gun-sight. Those last few seconds, where I swear, to this day, that I saw that thing still moving.

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Halloween 2.0

October 23, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Hannah pressed the button of her digital recorder.

“New World Podcast, number one. October 31st.” She shook her head and cleared her throat. “Happy Halloween, my new listeners. I started this podcast to let others know you can survive. We are here. And you can find us.

The calendar says twelve months to the date since the first outbreak of the virus. Seems like forever ago. I didn’t understand how big this thing was at the beginning. I’m sure you didn’t either. Life imitating art…or our nightmares, right? My parents knew right away we needed to leave. They moved us all to our cabin until things settled down. My little sister whined about leaving but they said they couldn’t have us listening to the gunshots night and day. We escaped just as the barricades went up. Like one of those cop shows, my dad weaved in and around the blockades. And we have the snowball size bullet holes in the back of our car to prove how close we came to not leaving. Dead Control has managed the hordes that crop up now and then. Hm, DC has a new meaning now, doesn’t it? Not to be confused with the old center of government. But around here, we haven’t seen a horde in two weeks and DC has done a darn good job no matter what the conspiracy theorists say.”

Hannah covered the kitchen floor in newspaper and placed everything else on top.

“Halloween seems to have changed its meaning too. One ritual is still popular, though. It goes back hundreds of years and the first part still makes my stomach churn: opening the top and scooping the slimy inside out. It has to be cleaned out well or it starts to smell quickly.”

The pile grew on the newspaper. Hannah’s dog found it interesting. “Get lost, Jasper. It will make you sick.”

She continued. “After ten months we returned home. Home is odd somehow…out of place. Change takes getting used to. My school holds classes as usual and stores are open for business. I don’t know about where you are. If DC spots a pack of wandering dead, our school goes into lockdown until they pass. Or, if there’s enough time, we’re dismissed. Home is safer. Stores roll down their gates and wait it out. We made adjustments. And finally, we feel safe letting our guard down just for a bit to have some fun and celebrate. Like we used to.”

Hannah took her Sharpie and drew a design. “As you’ve guessed, I’m talking while I’m carving, so bear with me, listeners. This one’s tougher than I expected. I gotta work with what I have and this one limits my options for creativity. Right now, I’m carving the eyes. I love doing the eyes; they’re the most expressive. Round and hollow…Now the nose, and the triangle is easy enough.”

She wiped off the knife and decided what to do with the mouth. The teeth are a cinch but tedious, and she cut and carved as she recorded.

“In ancient times, I was told this ritual would keep away the evil spirits. Now it just keeps away evil.

What else has changed? Oh, if someone dies at home, the procedure is to call DC hotline or fill out the Request for Pickup form online. They take care of the disposal and a remembrance service is held at the house. But our neighbor’s wife died and her husband, who shall remain nameless for security reasons, didn’t call. We found out because we heard the growling and snarling from his basement window. My dad said he wouldn’t call as long as he kept the chains in good order. This neighbor had a pit-bull when we were little. Before. My dad said the same thing about the pit-bull. You can email me and tell me and other listeners what your procedures are. That’s if your infrastructure is up.”

Hannah notched the top as a vent for the candle. She twisted and twisted the top so that it sat on the bottom like a puzzle piece.

“Trick or treating. Now that was fun. Free candy, dressing up as superheroes. It’s too dangerous now to go out. Not so much because of the hordes. It’s more because of the lone, missed strays. People have house parties instead. You’re one of the lucky ones to be invited. Social out-casting hasn’t gone away. Some things haven’t changed. Our family was intact when we returned from the cabin. Many families weren’t so fortunate, and now whispers that we had some kind of secret cure or unfair immunity keeps us from being included. We just left before it got to us. Mo magic there.”

Hannah rolled up the newspaper and admired her work. “I’m done. Not bad, kiddies. I’ll post a picture when it’s sitting in front of my house. When the candle is inside, it will glow on our porch and remind others of Halloween’s new meaning.”

Hannah clicked the recorder just as her sister Tasha entered the kitchen. “Hey, nice! Particularly gruesome this year, Hannah.”

Hannah smiled and nodded. “I have to agree.”

Tasha struggled with a large, orange pumpkin as big as her own head.

“You’re going to give yourself a hernia, Tash.”

Tasha set it down on the floor and said, “How ‘bout this time you use a pumpkin?”

Credit: RB Frank

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October 5, 2015 at 12:00 PM
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Chambliss, the wealthy only son of a prosperous sugarcane plantation owner in Louisiana is madly in love with Camellia, a slavewoman, though they keep their relationship secret from his father, and are separated until the father’s passing, upon which Camellia moves into the house with Chambliss. When a cholera outbreak sweeps across the plantation, however, Camellia is not spared.

The dark room, lit only by the lamp on the table, revealed Chambliss’s grimacing countenance staring back at him from the chipped mirror on the wall above the bed. He looked down into her ashen face, once so ebony and lively-eyed, now cadaverous in the clutches of cholera. He kissed her hand, her cheek, and she whispered in his ear, “Never… let us… part.” Her eyes fluttered closed, and the breath passed her full lips for the last time, in a deathly imitation of a sigh.

“I must have her back,” he cried. “She was my life, who now lies dead, and my heart lies dead, there in her breast.” As he said this, how truly he believed it was so, he could still hear her voice, calling his name, “Chambliss, Chambliss, Chambliss,” like the rustling of the leaves, like the hushing of the sea, like the moaning of the trees. He fled the room, leaving the elderly housekeeper, Jehosephine, to tend the body, as was proper. And the next day she was interred in the cemetery behind the church, not a mile from Chambliss’s plantation home.

Chambliss sat brooding on his porch, watching the sun as it sank slowly lower and lower into the deepening darkness of the Louisiana summer night. He looked to the horizon, towards the Gulf, and saw the mass of thunderclouds slowly rolling across the twilit sky, twisted forms of grey and black, tinged red at the edges. He heard the chanting of far off voices in the bayou, where the ancient witch Zenobia Laveau lived, the distant aunt of the beloved Camellia, practicing rituals of which no living mortal, save herself, knew the derivation of.

Gogo Zena, as the witch was called by her followers, knew of many secrets, beyond those of the traditional magic. Her very reputation was steeped in mysterious incantations and sacraments, and she knew, as one of her kind does, when they are needed.

Chambliss dropped into a slumber, no not a slumber, a trance, cognizant of an electricity in the air, like that of a lightning storm, before it strikes. He followed the current of it, stumbling over tree roots, sliding over trailing vines, into the bayou, as if pursued by the Hell Hounds. He stopped only when he reached a clearing, lit by a bonfire, next to which squatted a wizened old woman, Gogo Zena, her eyes closed and rolling, fluttering back and forth in their sockets, while she muttered in a primeval tongue, guttural and rhythmic, rocking back and forth on her heels. He sat by the flames, and she opened her eyes, apparently expecting this visitor, at the time when the moon had passed the third quarter of the night sky, hidden as it was by the unyielding clouds.

Kon-men lé-z’affè? How are things, misyé? Gogo Zena knows. Konnen much things about any things, men, but what you want, not everything. Kon-men lé-z’affè, misyé? Camellia is not all gone, I know, wi. You are mouri inside, and she is mouri outside, two moso of a tout, pieces of a whole. How to fix it, are de ways, un you go to her, de she come back to you. Maybe work bon, or petèt pa, maybe no.” Gogo Zena rose to her feet, her dark wrinkled face shadowed heavily by the dying flames, her solid body throwing a stout shadow across the dirt and loam. She pressed a packet into his hands, a twisted paper, scented of spoilt flowers, telling him to burn it over her grave by the next dark moon, and lay the ashes in a trail to his house.

The next new moon, a night in which not a single light shone, a silky shroud of black broken only by swirling mist cloaked the land and the sky, as Chambliss carried out Gogo Zena’s instructions. As he walked through the darkness, scattering the ashes as he went, the thunderheads gathered in the southern sky, rumbling discontentedly to themselves.

The storm broke the next morning, soaking the land in a dampness that settled in the joints. From dawn until dusk the maelstrom raged on, the thunderclaps rumbled into the night, a ghastly thunderous night, and though the rain had ceased, the clouds still roiled in the heavens, a war fought by the souls of the dead as they pushed against the gates of this world. In the graveyard, a damp figure crept about, dark-faced and dripping, the vaporous air of the cemetery clinging to her clothes.

Chambliss sat by the fireplace, staring into the flickering flames, the fast flitting fingers that licked at the charred logs. The wind moaned and the thunder crashed, the trees groaned and the branches rattled. He pretended not to notice when he heard the sound of the front door open and close, half-asleep he dreamt of footsteps treading wearily down the hall. In dreams, his subconscious had brought to him visions of Camellia, and now he saw them once again, but this time they were different. Her jet hair in ordered rows upon her head trickled muddy droplets to the floor, dirt forming crescent moons beneath her fingernails and vagrant smudges on her cheeks, her scent of flowers wilted. He rose from the sofa and took her in his arms, kissing her frigid mouth, touching her icy skin. He met her eyes with the longing of a man who thirsts for water but is denied, and with the gratefulness of a man hungry for food who has been granted it. “Never…let us…part…” she whispered, as he stroked her cold forehead, spongy and pliant to the feel.

Credit: Radish

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A Mile Above Hell

April 3, 2015 at 12:00 AM
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The first thing I always remember is the heat.

Even when I could see nothing, hear nothing, even when my brain was trying bury itself in the comfy, dark recesses of unconsciousness, my body was slowly being cooked sunny side down. I couldn’t open my eyes, but I didn’t want to anyway. I was tired, I had been unconscious, the heat was tolerable when I was asleep, and I really wanted to go back to sleep, like a tired kid burying his head into the pillow moaning “I don’t want to go to school”.

My body however was slowly waking up on it’s own. I began to grow conscious of other stimuli, the lightweight cotton green uniform, the heavy combat boots, the open ended gloves that protected my palms but left my fingers to saute on the melted asphalt. Something was missing though…

Finally, I slowly opened my eyes, and the light and heat quickly slammed the doors again. I tried again after several minutes, but slower this time, and this time it was bearable.

I was laying on something hot, a stretch of rough, black surface turned into a warped, bubbly skillet by heat. Some of it stuck to the black, pocketed vest that covered my torso, to the knee pads, and the toes of my boots.

As my vision cleared further, I noticed more and more of the area beyond the black road. Dust swirled about me in dust devils. The heat was not just coming from the ground, the wind was like a dragon’s breath, and it smelled of something burning… a bit of everything burning.
Then came the pain.

I say the pain because there was no one area of it, I felt as if I had been run over by a steamroller from head to foot. My hands were charred from lying on the ground. My body was a little better off, protected from direct heat by a couple layers of cotton, and tactical vest pockets, but my skin was drenched with sweat, the inside of my clothes was a swamp. And my head…

Oh… Jesus Christ, my head. Only way to describe it is to imagine your head being put in a maraca with ten pounds of buckshot lead, and going to Mexican New Year celebrations. It was terrible, and I wasn’t even moving yet. There seemed to be a big blackness on the right side of my vision. It came to me that I had only been seeing out of my left eye, the right side had not opened… or it wasn’t there.

I realized now that little could be done lying on my face like a dead turtle, so I decided to attempt rolling onto my back, and getting a somewhat better look about me. I knew already that this was going to hurt. Some of the melted asphalt had cooled with my face touching it, it would be like ripping off duct tape… only a lot worse. I prepared for blood, knowing that the oily tar would not come off on it’s own, and I could not lie here on my face all day.

At first my arms didn’t seem to work, just laying there like dry docked eels. Then, as they got more blood in them, the pain flowed in. They felt like they had been stretched, balled up, jack-hammered, then mixed with water and spread out alongside the asphalt. However my arms are rather muscular and recovered quickly. Planting my hands against the ground, my elbows reaching above my spine like a spider’s legs, I braced for the pain, and pushed, arching my spine. At first my face resisted parting with the ground, and the pulling my skin caused a sharp discomfort.

This was bliss compared with what happened next. Setting my neck and jaw, I yanked my head backwards and pushed up. There was a most nasty peeling noise, like the pulling apart of two pieces of meat (which is not too far off), a tear or two, and warm, red blood began to spurt onto the smoking tar, My face seized up from the utter agony of several layers of my skin being yanked off. It made me glad I hadn’t grown a beard or long hair, I might have lost my whole face. At least I was able to move, but the pain was making my vision flutter.

Stabilizing myself, I rocked myself backwards, so I was kneeling upright. Now the steady tide of blood streaked down my neck to soak into my thick, green spattered coat. I knew now that before I could look around I needed to find something to cover the wound. Something was falling out of the sky into my hair, building up on my shoulders and gear. It looked like dirty snow. Whatever it was, I needed to clean and dress my disfigured cheek immediately.

I looked around me for some spare cloth, a medkit or… a backpack. I had a large backpack on my shoulders, it matched my forest pattern uniform, probably my helmet too… wherever that thing was. It was held across my chest by several buckles to keep it on my back, so I proceeded to undo them. I then noticed a name tag on the left shoulder strap. Specialist Four, Austin Carver. It wasn’t a name I recognized.

My fingers were so blistered and sore it was slow and hellish undoing the three clasps, but click by click I was able to shrug the gear off. It fell with a thud into the dust, and I felt lighter, the strain on my back lessened. A couple more clamps and it lay open like a little cave.
It was chock-full of gear. Pouches on the outside held a canteen filled with lukewarm water, a couple tube-like grenades, more ammunition for my rifle, which also seemed to be missing like most of my hardware, and a radio, but the materials inside were enough for three men, and it was all mine. I quickly found ample medical supplies in a small red box.

More pain was to come. I would have to dab some disinfectant onto my cheek before I patched it up. I stared at the dreaded brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide before gritting my teeth, biting down on a piece of gauze before applying some to a cloth. I poised it over my cheek, bit the bullet,, and pressed it to my face.

Some pain is so bad it makes you lose control of some other parts of your body. I felt my fingers numb a bit and shake like an electrical current was going through them, but my jaw dropped into a soundless scream as my face squeezed tight. Through it all the offending cloth stayed over the wound. Finally, satisfied that the disinfectant had done it’s work, I threw the blood stained item as far from me as possible, gasping for breath, and grabbed a clean gauze, folded it into a wad, and taped it onto the wound. Before sweat and blood could remove the adhesive, I wrapped a bandage around my head, encompassing my mouth, ears, and the back of my head. I can only imagine it looked like makeshift balaclava for someone in a mental institution, especially when I had to cut a hole for my mouth to breath through. Then I remembered my right eye.

When applying the bandage I had felt a scaly surface over the right side of my head, along with an acute pain. Feeling it again, I rubbed it with my finger, and it came off dusted with something like rust. Dried blood. Somehow my head had been injured and blood had poured over my eye and hardened like a seal of wax. Taking a little more cloth, I dampened it with water and rubbed at my eye. It came away red, but soon my right eye was opened.

Then I turned my attention to my aforementioned head wound, gingerly my hand crept up my skull to the nexus of pain jolts. Suddenly I found the problem.

It was as if my hand were a car and it had suddenly driven off a cliff. A massive dent, more like a bomb crater, shaped like a spear head running about four inches along the dome of my head. It was no wonder I wasn’t remembering much, there was serious damage up there.

My stomach rumbled most audibly, and it felt shrunken. I patted my belly, and noticed that there were some ribs showing. Before I shouldered the pack again, I found some containers near the bottom of the bag, reading Case 4 MRE. Were I in a more comfortable situation I’m sure the rations inside would’ve been left where they were, but as I was I inhaled the food quicker than you would think possible.

More of the dirty snow was falling as I shouldered my gear again, pushing my curiosity more. I needed to examine the environment beyond where I was. At the moment, I had slowly pieced together my surroundings. I seemed to be in a large hole, a foxhole perhaps, but there was asphalt at the bottom. My thought was that maybe an earthquake had caused this part of the road to fall several feet into a fault. The sides were a steep mix of gravel, sand, and several huge fragments of metal beams. I could climb out, but it would be on all fours.

Now that all my immediate issues had been cared for, it hit me like a thunderbolt, so sudden and profound that I nearly rocked back on my heels. Who am I? I hadn’t recognized the name tag, was it my own name? How did I get here? What’s been happening? A thousand questions swarmed through my head so fast my knees buckled, and I ended up back where I had started ten minutes ago.

Suddenly the slopes of the crater I was in became like walls, and they began to close in. A deep seated panic set in and my heart began to race. Blood oozed through my cheek and down my forehead as I clawed into the sand hiding me from the rest of the world. I dug in my toes, and climbed furiously up the slope. Then, like a drowning man breaking the surface of the water, I emerged from the hole, gasping for air.

I lay prone on the lip of the crater for a minute, my stress induced claustrophobia bleeding away with all my head wounds. My hand gripped the scorched sand like a lifeline. My head slowly came up again. I felt serious deja vu from an hour ago when I had awoken in the crater. Mostly because I, again, was lying my face, feeling like death. And, looking up, the area I had now discovered was not much different from the smoking hole from which I had emerged.

It was larger, more open, and set on a softly sloped hillside leading to a peak. A road ran the length of it, disappearing over the top. Many structures lined both sides of the road, a lot of them on fire, some of them unrecognizable, reduced to splintered wood, crushed plaster and scattered tiles. Everything had been sprawled in one direction, like a huge sledgehammer had hit the block and sent everything flying. What an ungodly mess. Some cars were lying on their backs like dead spiders, some twisted or smelted into shapeless masses of steel and rubber. License plates had melted and cooled into shiny green stained icicles on the rear ends of the now dead machines.

I tried to crawl forward, but a tinkling noise and a sharp pain in my fingertips forced me to stop again. Shattered glass carpeted the ground in every direction, you could spit and not miss a shard. Now blood oozed from my fingers, and I was forced to dig into the bag again, fresh warm blood smearing the green material. Soon my hands matched my rather grotesque head bandage. I must have looked quite a sight, my charred green uniform, all my gear, and then these blaring white bandages smeared with red stains turning a deep rusty brown.

I stood up this time, very shakily, to save my fingers more damage and to let my tough boots deal with the glass. Now my head was brushing against a layer of smoke that was flowing parallel to the spread of wreckage that encompassed me. I became conscious of the smell again, only now it was much stronger, a witch’s cauldron of pongs, I could not find one word for it.

The clouds split for a moment, and the light poured onto the smoldering landscape. Something shone into my dazed right eye, which was still adjusting, and I raised my bandaged hands to ease the flash. The sun was reflecting off a large piece of shiny metal, flat, protected from damage by a pile of rubble. It caught my attention firmly, and I felt the irrepressible need to investigate it, to touch it. I stumbled across the street, not bothering to look both ways, it hardly seemed the time to worry about the old common courtesies of times that seemed to have changed dramatically.

I stood over the pile of concrete crumbles and jagged miniature palisades of steel rebar, carefully putting one foot in front of the other in my little quest. While I shambled gently like a colt taking it’s first steps, my eyes took in thousands of images from the endless stimuli of this foreign seeming landscape.

The cars all looked like corpses, some of them were burnt to charcoal. Once charming houses making up a suburb now were piles of splinters and glass shards, like the cremated remains of the dead tossed to the wind.

I finally reached the pile of wreckage underneath which the piece of metal shone like a beacon. I now saw it lay beneath an gutted couch, with bits of stuffing catching in the wind like cottonwood seeds. I even saw some broken picture frames, empty, shattered reminders of a healthy, safe world long gone, bulldozed by un unforeseen event.

The metal was now within my reach, and I grabbed it with both hands, pulling with my back, legs and shoulders. Even with the glove protecting my palms, I could feel the heat of the metal on my exposed fingers, like a cookie sheet taken out of the oven. A screeching of concrete scraping steel, and I felt it slowly releasing, bit by bit, for it was huge, about the size of a plane’s wing.

It was bent into the shape of a dinner plate by the rubble that imprisoned it, it was battered into a surprisingly fetching mix of silver scrapes and turquoise splashes. I now could see what it was, one of those signs in a city that directs you somewhere. It was upside down, and a lot of the lettering had been battered away, so I couldn’t read it yet. Oh how I wanted to read it.

Now I could feel the pain in my muscles, my shoulders especially, it just seemed to keep feeding itself out like a scroll. Finally, after having dragged nearly ten feet of metal from the rubble, it gave, I fell backwards onto the fiercely hot ground, the huge sign clattering at my feet.

I got up shakily, stretching the tensility from my aching muscles. I could feel my face bleed again from my elevated heart rate, and I knew I had lost a dangerous amount of my blood. I would probably find a trail of it like bread crumbs going back to the pit where I had woken up.

I fumbled into the backpack for my canteen of warm water as I stood the sign on it’s side so as to read it. I twisted the cap off, some blood streaking on the edges, making it a bit slippery. I tilted it to my mouth to drink… until I saw what was on the sign.

From what little I could read behind the damage, it read:

Welcome to Denver. Population 554,363. Elevation: 5280 Feet.

It brought back a ton of memories I didn’t think I had, as I looked around I saw flashes of bustling streets, busy sidewalks, windows with faces looking out, and thousands, tens of thousands of people. All of that, the skyscrapers, the bridges, and over half a million souls, all gone in an flash because of some unknown catastrophe.

The hot wind suddenly kicked up with a heavy gust, and the sign fell onto its front, showing the backside. I saw writing, from another author. It was in spray paint, hastily scrawled, with the most atrocious grammar I’ve ever seen. Welcum 2 the Wastland. Populashun: All ded. Elevashun: 1 mile abuv Hell.

The canteen sat on my lips, frozen in place, and my mouth was now very dry. In the reflection of the steel sign, I saw something enormous behind me. I turned around slowly, not out of pain or aching, but out of sheer awe and terror.

There, on the middle of the horizon, towered a rising ball of fire and smoke, looming like a lumbering giant of destruction. It grew and grew, mushrooming into the sky, and clouds of ash blocked out the sun.

The area where I had awakened had fared relatively well, some buildings were still intact, sheltered from the thermonuclear blast by sturdier buildings which took the full force of the missile strike. I looked out into the skyline, the city center about four miles east of my position, and saw nothing but a huge sinkhole of buildings, machines, and bodies, all molten into a vile smelling mix.

I shook my head, my jaw slack in wonder. How had I alone survived? This was a ten second massacre, who knows how many innocent people were turned to ash before they even had a chance to scream for some God to save them.

Then my heart jumped higher than it was made to do, and I ran for cover, before I knew what I was doing I was hiding behind a massive chunk of concrete from a parking garage. I had heard someone moving out there.

It was human, nothing else walks with slow sounding footsteps or is heavy enough to dislodge rubble. It grew closer and closer, I could hear a guttural grunting from a damaged or dry throat. It had to be a survivor. I cleared my throat quietly, and called out in a timid voice.

“Hello? Is there someone out there?”

The footsteps immediately stopped. The world had become silent again. But there was a new smell in the stench. It smelled like burning meat, like bad food, it was a scent that makes any sensible human nervous.

It was the stench of death, and it was here.

I shook off my anxiety, and strode out to the street again. I looked around, seeing no one, but there was too much cover for them to hide in. I planted my feet and called out again, stronger this time.

“Is somebody out there? Are there any survivors?”

There it was again, the grunting. But it had taken on a new tone, less a benign grunting like a pig slopping around. It now sounded more like a dog, giving out the quiet order to move in.

I suddenly became aware of multiple sources, now several unseen assailants were responding to the call of the first like a wolf pack. I could sense the approach of many more footsteps, the sound of gravel dislodged underfoot, it was all around me.

I began to panic, and looked around for a weapon. I could now see shell casings lying everywhere, evidence of a huge but futile struggle against an enemy I had yet to face. There, leaning on the open door on a burnt out husk of a car, was an M4A1 assault rifle.

It had all the attachments and specs of the rifle standard to the United States Army, but I would’ve taken it if it were an age old musket if it meant I had something to defend myself with. I rushed for it, as the sounds were so near I swear I could’ve touched them. I reached the car, and grabbed the gun, ready to level it on the attackers.

I couldn’t move the gun very far, there was a charred, bony hand reaching out of the car like a creepy decoration, clutching the barrel with an iron death grip. I yanked, and pulled, until with a sickening, dry tearing noise like the uprooting of a sapling the arm gave way, leaving the hand still attached to the barrel. I grabbed it, and broke it off, the brittle fingers snapping like twigs and I pulled back the slide, cocking the weapon. I whirled around, ready to fight back, only to find myself dumbfounded again.

There were five of them, all in plain sight now. They, at first glance, looked like humans, standing upright, two arms and legs, and a head above their shoulders. But as I stared at them with horror, I saw they were not human, not anymore.

All of them were charred like burnt steaks, some of them steamed as their flesh boiled. One of them looked like a burnt puppet, all carbon black, moving with creaking joints. All of them were torn apart. There was a woman figure, most of her clothes were burnt off, and her entire front, chest, stomach, and throat, were torn to shreds as if by the teeth of a wild animal. A man crawled on the ground, both legs gone, dragging itself on a trail of it’s own blood and trailing guts. The others, a mix of women and men, looked more intact, but all bore signs of horrific wounds. All had flesh missing, one had the side of her neck gaping open, oozing a black gel of some kind. And worst of all, they all had strings of meat, fat and tendons stuck between their teeth, and drips of blood coming from their mouths.

And in spite of their horrific mutilations, they all were moving towards me. Their eyes were blank, those that still had eyes, they had turned a milky white, unseeing, dead eyes.
The gun trembled in my hand, and I found I could not aim at the pitiful sights. I screamed in horror at the creatures shambling towards me. “Jesus H Christ! What’s happened? What the hell happened?!”
My words seemed to stir them up, and with louder growls, they all raised their arms towards me with the intent of grabbing me. I could only sicken myself imagining what they would do to me. I steeled my nerves, and took aim with the rifle.
My finger acted of it’s own accord, and gunfire ripped the silence. I saw little spurts of black ooze burst from impact wounds on their chests, legs, stomachs. The weapon roared like a cornered lion, and I jammed the trigger as hard as I could, a hail of bullets tore into the abominations.

I saw one take a hit right in the heart and go flailing onto his back. As I started to shoot another, out of the corner of my vision I saw him getting right back up as if I hadn’t shot him at all. I was panicking, and fighting for my life, slowly retreating backwards down the leveled street.

The gun finally clicked empty, and still all five were following me, and now several more had emerged from alleyways and from under cars to join the assault. It was a pack, slowly growing into a horde. I quickly switched the dry magazine for a fresh one from my vest, and began firing again.

This time I was firing semi auto, careful not to miss or waste ammo. I knew I was hitting them, I knew I was supposed to be wasting them, yet they shrugged off everything I gave them. They were unstoppable, and now two more had arrived. I was faced with a wall of the creatures, and I was running out of room, backing into a cul-de-sac with no where to run.

Another mag empty, I was down to two full ones. I was desperate, and I decided on a different measure, I had to take out the heads. It’s a difficult shot, and my training revolved around aiming for the widest, biggest target on the human body, the chest. But there was no other way.
Reloading the rifle, looking up to see more than twenty assorted attackers, I dropped to one knee to steady my aim. I placed the red dot between the white, moonlike eyes of the closest attacker. It was the torn woman, and she looked right back at me down the sight. Why weren’t these things afraid of dying? Maybe they couldn’t feel fear. They weren’t human anymore.

I chanted this to myself as I fired, watching as the bullet flew right into the face of the woman. I saw a tidy blue hole appear in her forehead, and black, grey, and blueish matter blast out the back of the skull. She collapsed, not even twitching. She fell flat onto her back, her fellow attackers took no notice, stepping over her as they continued to shamble in my direction.

That’s all it took, my dander was up, and I felt my nerves turn to steel, and I placed the next target. It was easier this time, by now I had convinced myself, these things were monsters, and I needed to kill them. They needed to die, they had to die!

One by one, I popped their heads like water balloons, watching them fall back onto their own mess of bone and brains. The time blurred, I was winning, and I knew it. Finally, I dropped the 20th and last target, and I didn’t even flinch as I saw it crumple to the ground, it’s head blown clean of it’s brain. I was in hunter mode, I was no longer the hunted. Twenty shots, twenty kills. I felt the adrenaline surging through my once lethargic body. I was so focused on my blood pumping victory, I did not hear something behind me.

It must have crawled from under the wrecked Chevy that lay on it’s back behind me. I first heard it when it began to drag itself across a patch of shattered glass. Before I could turn around, I felt a grip of iron clasp around my ankle.

It’s legs were shredded tatters of cloth and tendons trailing behind it, and the arms were atrophied, but it was like a strongman’s arm, and my legs were thrown out from beneath me. My knuckles banged against the blacktop, and my rifle went clattering to the ground beyond my reach. My head also hit the ground, and everything fogged up for a moment.

I was brought back by high pressure to my toe. It felt like something was squeezing my boot with a vice. I brought my head up and looked at the afflicted foot. The crawler was still there, trying furiously to bite through the reinforced material of my left combat boot like a dog chewing a rubber ball, and it growled angrily, the material resisted its broken teeth.

I jolted back into action, and tried to free my boot, but this creature had a grip like steel. I brought up my free foot, the righthand one, and pumped the heel into the thing’s face. I felt a satisfying crunch as I connected with the jaw, dislocating it completely, rendering the teeth useless. I then swung back my right leg and soccer kicked my attacker full in the head.

I heard a sound like breaking a thick carrot in half, and it’s head snapped to a certainly unnatural angle. It twitched it’s hands for a moment, and then went limp. It’s hands relaxed their grip, and I kicked my left foot free again.

Once I was on my feet, I cast my eye around for my weapon. It had gone about ten feet from me, and I ran to grab it. Before I could get it, something wrapped itself around my waist in a tackle, and I was on the ground again. I felt fists pound my face, jolting my head back and forth.
It was small, a teenager I think, and it weighed so little it was a wonder it had knocked me down at all. I returned the blow, feeling it slam into a thin cheek, and my attacker leapt away, cursing in some language I didn’t understand.

This got my attention, those things I had just fought and killed, they didn’t talk, and they certainly didn’t back down. I looked up and saw my latest assailant in full light.

Goodness, T thought, it can’t have been more than 16 years old. She, for it was in fact a girl, wore a torn hoodie, and fingerless gloves and slim jeans, along with muddied converse shoes. She now had sat down against a wall, crying her eyes out, murmuring in what, years later, I could tell was Spanish.

I immediately felt terrible, although I wasn’t sure why. I edged my way towards her, slowly offering my hand in peace. She wouldn’t look up at me, she was still bawling like a little child. I gained the courage to lay my hand on her shoulder, and to my surprise she didn’t fight me. I kneeled down, and she lifted her tear soaked face.

She was easily young enough to my daughter. She looked me right in the eye, and I again felt miserable when I saw the growing bruise on her left cheek.

“Hey uh, sorry about that” I said sheepishly.

She brushed her black hair out of her eyes back into her hood and sniffled. “It’s ok.”

I was shocked by this, I had heard her curse me in clear Spanish, and now she spoke forgivingly in English. However I didn’t mind the change, I knew no Spanish at the time.

“Why’d you attack me?”

She lowered her eyes at this, as if embarrassed. “I heard gunfire, and thought perhaps some soldiers were here. I ran this way, hoping to get rescued, and I saw you. Your face, it spooked me, all those bandages and all that blood. I panicked, and blindly attacked. I’m very sorry.”

I nodded, touching a new tender spot on my previously undamaged left cheek. “I don’t imagine you’ll be the last.” I tried a weak smile, but the torn side of my face didn’t like it. I pulled her to her feet, and having grabbed the rifle, I began walking. She followed me, staying behind me like one would behind a parent. I began to feel nervous, we were out of the cul-de-sac, and she hadn’t said a word. So, clearing my dry throat, I tried to strike conversation. “What’s your name?”


It was a nice name, and I nodded. But she didn’t say anything more beyond the clipped answer, so I continued.
“How’re you still alive?”

“I was hiding in a subway tunnel from the firebomb, and waited till the flames died down. I stayed far away from the area of the missile strike. I didn’t want to get sick from radiation poisoning.”

“You seem to know a lot about all this.”

She nodded nervously, and wiped her face on her sleeve. “Yeah. My dad, he’s a soldier in the U.S. Army, and we all lived here. We had a nice house, just down the hill.”

Ruby pointed down the road to our left, towards where I had woken up. From here I could see a blazing crater, and many smoldering wrecks of houses. I turned my eye away when I saw three burning corpses lying in the street. They looked like dead beetles.

“…And then it all hit the fan.” She finished, putting her hands in her pockets.

I looked around, and agreed that it certainly had.

We had been walking for about five minutes, when I finally asked her the biggest question on my mind. “So, what the hell happened here?”
She looked at me in shock. “What? How could you not know, the military’s been on the front lines of this whole thing since it happened.”
I reached up, tapping my bandaged skull with the rifle barrel. She looked confused, then seemed to have put two and two together. “Are you one of those guys? I thought that only happened in movies.”

I grinned. “Nope. Must’ve took one big hit to the noggin.”

“Yet you know how to use that?” she gestured to the rifle slung across my chest. ”And how to talk?”

I shrugged at this. “Dunno about the talking thing, maybe that’s built in no matter what. And the gun… it’s all been instinctual. Plus, I think I’m remembering stuff again.”

She nodded. “That’s good.”

After another five minutes, the girl pointed to a large green vehicle parked carelessly in the middle of the road. It was untouched by the firebombing, as was most of this area. She ran up to it, smiled, and patted the armored skin like one does a horse.

It was bigger than a car. I saw a big, mean looking gun on top, and the front, hood and windshield were spattered with blood. I swear I saw some fingers stuck in the grill. Without taking time to look, I yanked open the door.

I was bombarded by the fierce smell that one gets when they return from vacation to find rotten food in their fridge, and I recoiled, covering my mouth and shutting my eyes. Over the intense droning of flies, I could barely hear a frenzied growl. I couldn’t open my eyes, but I felt two bony hands, creaky and putrid, lock onto my shoulders and I felt someone pushing me onto my back.

I heard Ruby scream as we tumbled. It was on me, I smelt the vile breath, and knew that if I opened my eyes I’d be greeted by something very unpleasant. So I wrestled blindly, pushing with all my might, but his hands were like handcuffs, in spite of being half claimed by rot and maggots. How were these things so strong?

I had dropped my gun, so I could use both my hands. I gave up pushing it away, and now got it around the throat, trying to break it’s atrophied neck. I heard it growling, it wasn’t a choked noise, just angry. Suddenly, a loud bang numbed my eardrums. I heard a loud splat, and my attacker went limp, falling on top of me like a puppet, almost kissing me. I felt it expel a cloud a vile cloud of defiled air out it’s mouth right into mine.

For the first time I could remember, I wanted to vomit, and, kicking the creature off of me, I rolled over and pasted the pavement with Case 4 MRE. My stomach emptied, I kinda laughed at the stuff as it congealed in the heat. It sure looked worse than I remembered it.

I turned about, to see Ruby, shaking like a leaf, holding the gun that seemed to dwarf her. She held it like I did, across the chest, barrel pointing safely downward.

She looked at me, then at the dead creature who’s head was oozing what little was left in the skull, and at the gun. “I’m… I’m sorry.”
I waved her concern away, and stood up, shaking even worse than her. “No… no you… you did good kiddo.”

I took the gun back, and draped the strap over the back of my neck. “You used this like a pro.”

She nodded, and smiled a bit. “Yeah, my dad taught me. He also taught me how to use his service pistol. He said ‘they’ll never expect a girl to be looking back at them behind the gun.’”

“Smart man your dad.” I gave the creature a soft kick, just to see if it would try to move. It certainly didn’t. I saw it had a uniform like mine, but without all the gear, just a driver I guess.

Before I could pat her on the shoulder, I heard another growl, and looked around in terror.

In the minutes after the gunshot, a ring of the monsters had emerged from all directions, some of them from the undamaged houses, I saw one crawl from a ditch, two more crawled out of the back of a red pickup. We were ringed in.

Ruby gulped, knowing that her shot had gotten a lot of unwanted attention. “Oh God.. I’m so sorry!”

I took a head count, had to be thirty of them, all groaning and growling like sick dogs. Ruby put her back to mine, and I fumbled at the side of my pant leg. Undoing a strap, I pulled a pistol from it’s holster and jammed it into her wrist.

“Here, more your size.”

Over the echoing chorus of growling and moaning, came a clattering roar from a machine gun, and a huge armored vehicle swung into sight, careening towards us. The creatures began to fall like wheat before a scythe, and those that endured the hail of bullets were splattered on the vehicle’s front end. It came to a stop not five yards from us.

The back end opened, and about ten men in uniforms leapt out. Two of them went to the still wriggling corpses and began began dispatching them with head shots, but the other eight circled us, training their weapons on me. They all wore ominous gas masks, wore thick green uniforms like mine, and were armed to the teeth.

“On the ground!” One of them scream through his mask. I looked down the barrels of eight assault rifles, and felt laser pointers dancing across my chest. I put myself between them and the girl.

“Don’t hurt her.” I said calmly, slowly laying my gun on the asphalt. I kneeled down, my head held high, my hands held palms open. Two men shouldered their firearms and dashed forward to seize me. I lowered my head, and prepared to be roughhoused by the men in masks.

Then we all were stopped by a loud gasp from behind me. The soldiers froze in place, not alerted or scared, just paused in surprise. I turned, and the girl’s face had paled with shock. She pointed to my face, the left side which wasn’t obscured by bandages, and reached out to touch it. She looked into my eyes, and began crying anew. And then she did something that caught me off guard. She threw her arms around me, weeping, but happily so this time.

Over her sobbing, and sniffling, I heard her squeak one word. “Daddy.”

I was floored, and hugged her back. She saw me as her dad, and yet I did not know her. Two soldiers gently pulled her off me, and, holding me by the arms, escorted us into the back of their vehicle. It reminded me of the inside of a ribcage, with heavy cloth covering the frame. It was like a cage, yet it felt safe. It was nice and cold inside.

My daughter sat across from me, between two huge soldiers with their gas masks, her eyes down as if horrified to look at me. I’m sure that, if there were a vanity mirror in the back of these armor plated truck, I would have been too. I tried to smile, but it felt like someone stabbing thumb tacks into the bandages. All we could do was look at each other, before I was lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the transport.

When I awoke, I wondered if I had again woken up in a different world. The truck had just stopped, and I opened my eyes as the soldiers filed out the open back end of the vehicle. My daughter went first, and then me, and I almost fell down.

Overhead swept a deep, blue sky, floored on the horizon by what at first looked like clouds, all towards what remained of Denver. All around me I could see everything bursting with life. Thousands of people filed about, a quarter of them in uniforms of all kinds, a lot them like mine. I saw men and women in work suits, in casual clothes, some of them only had bed clothes and emergency blankets. And children of all ages, many of them had backpacks, they must’ve been in school only days ago.

And the herd wasn’t just made up of humans, I saw dogs zipping about, birds in cages, a lot of cows and horses. A few cats perched lazily or hunted quietly, and I swear I even saw an ox.

I looked beyond the crowd, and saw a high wall made of huge metal cargo containers, soldier and citizen alike wandered the top with guns, firing out beyond the wall occasionally. And beyond the wall stretched mountains and ridges, endless trees, and even some waterfalls. I grabbed the shirt sleeve of a man walking by. He was in a suit, like he had just come back from the office.

“Hey, where the hell are we?”

He put his hand on my should softly, and gave me a sorrowed look. “Glenwood. Everything farther east is gone man, The Eastern Seaboard, the Plains, everything east of the Rockies.”

I had no time to ask more questions before two military officers came and asked me to come with them to be “decontaminated”.

After intensive showers and tests, details were provided to fill the blanks. Some disease had hit the country, coming from the east coast ports and spreading inland. By the time we recognized it, it had hit half the country. Those who got the disease died, and became, apparently, the creatures that now stumbled about. Pretty sad if you ask me, the most intelligent creatures on the planet down to the two legged equal of a bacteria.

Funny statement that, they were carriers of the disease even after death, in all essence a two legged bacteria, a bipedal virus, a mobile sickness.

We had been lucky, it could’ve spread through the airlines, as it can only be spread by contact with infected blood. We had been able to fence it off at the mountains, to save the rest of the country. What little was left to save.

Apparently, my men were deployed to Denver, where everyone was told to just stay indoors, that they’d be ok once the army arrived. But it was far worse there than the higher-ups could’ve guessed. I had abandoned my unit to go find my family, instead of fleeing the incoming bombs, and that had put me in the immediate area of a bomb strike.

Over the course of the story, I heard words like the Denver outbreak, containment failure, and decontamination. They meant nothing to me, not that I didn’t understand them, I just didn’t care. I was still tired and drained from my battle for survival.

I paid attention when I was told that my family… they all died when a napalm strike hit our neighborhood. Except my daughter Ruby, who hadn’t been home when the bombing commenced. Yet I didn’t feel anger, not at first. How cruel is it that you don’t cry for your lost loved ones because you forgot them? My injury caused me to not remember them, not my wife, sons, sisters, brothers, not even my daughter. That thought is what provoked me to cry, I cried because I did not remember them.

I looked out the door, seeing Ruby sitting nervously in the hall, probably waiting for me. I did smile to myself a bit. At least I had her still, I still had a chance to know my family again, to know her again. Finally I was told that, once I recovered, me and my daughter would be moved to a safe zone in Grand Junction.

But before we left, I chanced to ask the doctors what had happened to me. Again, I heard a lot of terms that were meaningless, but then I heard amnesia, damage to the cerebral cortex. It was a miracle that I had survived the wound, never mind the nuclear blast.

You see, one of the soldiers who had picked us up came in with my old helmet. I almost didn’t recognize it. It was bent in half, with a huge crater in the side deep enough to hide a cake. It had been impaled on a steel beam hurled by the explosion, and had not the chin strap broken it would’ve taken my head clean off. I remember running my hand along the helmet, watching my hand disappear into the massive dent. I looked from the helmet to my daughter, sitting in a chair just outside the examination room, and chuckled to myself.

A miracle indeed.

Credit To – Evan Dollarhide

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