It was supposed to be such an uneventful day, but overhead the clouds churned and plotted.
Rebecca Madison saw and heard the roaring of the wind against her car, but she didn’t care. It was warm inside, so what did the fierce cold outside have to do with her? It didn’t matter.
There were only two things that mattered to Rebecca at that moment. The first was the clock, and the numbers on it. “7:46”, it read. It was 7:46 on a Monday morning, and she needed to be at her desk at SMC, a pneumatics manufacturer, by 8:00. Her drive had another fifteen minutes to go, at least, and that was hoping against all odds that she could hit every green light.
She knew that wouldn’t happen, but she didn’t worry about it just yet. She was still far in the country. The road before and behind her was empty. She pushed the speedometer from “65” to “70” MPH.
She worked relations. Not glamorous, but it was all she had, and she was damn good at it. Lately, however, she’d been pushing her luck. She’d made arriving late a bad habit. Well, it’s easy when it’s never noticed. It wasn’t consistent. Not every day, but at least twice a week she slipped in under the bell. The game had changed when her supervisor noticed, and since their little talk last week everything got more complicated. Everything was too complicated as of late.
That was thanks, majorly, to her other concern back home. Her mother.
Rebecca had never married. She lived alone, for many years, and that was perfect. She thought it would be no hassle at all when she asked her mother to move in with her. It had been right after her father died, and she couldn’t bear the thought of her mother alone. No home besides hers would do.
As the years went by, she started to wonder if it had been worth it.
Her mother, nearing an impressive 95 years of age (come next April), was still a very smart woman. Rebecca saw that every morning. The only issue was that her mother could no longer retain that spark. Her mother had fallen prey to sundowners syndrome. Every morning, her mother was still the woman she remembered, sans the folds in her face, but come night the very sight of her was more than disheartening. It was nearly unbearable. Rebecca didn’t want to use the word, but it was an annoyance.
That’s why Rebecca always ran so late. She enjoyed seeing her mother in the morning, dreading the state she’d come home to find her in, and there was so much to manage. She had to lock doors and hide keys so she wouldn’t wander outside. There were so many medications. She had to help her to the bathroom, and get her dressed. She promised her she’d never put in her in a home, and now that promise was more solidified than ever. Rebecca knew that she would never see her mom in the mornings again if she was to do that. It was hard, but Rebecca and her mother did their best. She was determined to do so for as long as they had left.
The thought came to her that morning as it did every morning. She should call her mother, talk to her just for a little bit longer before the day ruined her. That’s all she’d need. Her mother didn’t need to be physically strong to help lift the weight of depression from her shoulders. But, as she reached for her purse, she realized that her phone had never left the bedside that morning. It had been neglected in her panic to get out the door. It made her eyes tear up with frustration, rather than sadness. All she could do was sit in the white noise of the radio, and watch the endless fields of dead corn roll by.
She pushed the speedometer again, up to “75,” and the radio came to the forefront of her mind. Her ear clung to it out of the blue, but, honestly, she didn’t hear it.
“—still are unsure of the scope of the event. All that’s known at this time is that the Chinese government has declared a state of national emergency. At the moment, China has released no official details of the events that have transpired over the last twenty-four hours, and they have ignored all of the UN’s offers to assist them. No sources yet have been able to confirm any further details as communication with the troubled nation has grown difficult, with many intelligence satellites showing major power outages within the nation’s borders. An abundance of rumors, however, have started circulating around that stretch from incredibly believable to the utterly improbable. While the intelligence community has flat-out denied a majority of these rumors, it’s hard not to notice that a lot of them sound incredibly similar to ones that started circulating just last week about Somalia where—“
Rebecca turned the radio from AM to FM. She was in no mood for news that morning. She preferred music. She allowed herself to get lost in it. The country song fit her surroundings like a puzzle piece. A silo grew closer on her right-hand side, a picturesque farmhouse nestled right beside it, and on the left, she spotted an older, blue Ford pickup coming towards her carrying a horse trailer. The sights of Ohio. She felt much younger, and that’s all she wanted. The moment was so perfect that it had perfectly distracted her from the red, raccoon-sized mass that landed on the road ahead.
With a bang, her tire was shredded.
Only once before had Rebecca felt a tire blow, and she’d been seven at the time; her father was at the wheel. She remembered how calmly he’d handled it. He gritted his teeth and willed the truck to stay on the road. He’d tensed up, but he’d handled it expertly. That’s the only way he could do things. She wished he’d passed that on to her. She screamed, and instinctively she jerked the wheel to the right.
The car skidded and hit gravel. She overcorrected again, just barely managing to save her car from sliding into the ditch that hugged the side of the road. The car skidded into the oncoming lane, spinning to face the way she’d just come from as she slammed on the brakes. She gritted her teeth, expecting more, but mercifully her car came to stop without further incident.
Everything came to a stop except for her heart. It was pounding faster than it had in nearly five years. She remembered the truck, but about ten seconds too late had it still been an issue. Fortunately, it was no longer an issue. The man driving the truck had managed to stop about two car lengths away. He was already on foot, and he was almost to her door. The knock of his knuckle on the glass brought her back to reality.
“Hey, miss?” he asked, concerned. “You alright?”
She eyed the older man. He was as thin as a twig, with a bushy mustache and a sundried face. His eyes squinted down at her as she nodded her head in affirmation. He nodded his back.
“My phone’s in the truck, hold tight. I’ll be right back.”
With that, he turned and hustled back to his truck’s cab. As he searched, she relieved herself of her seat belt. She felt like she’d been punched in the chest by a gorilla. Her head was heavy. She realized she was dizzy as she took that first step out of the car. It was like she was walking on jelly. Gripping the door with white knuckles, she fought against the fierce wind. It threatened to at least knock her on her ass, if not carry her away altogether. She closed her eyes, held on, and took several deep breaths. It would have helped her calm down a great deal, had the old farmer not accidentally startled her when he returned.
He must have seen it in her eyes because he quickly apologized.
“Sorry, you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes,” she said, trying to convince herself more than him, “I’m fine. Are you ok? I’m so sorry. Did I spook your horses?”
“I stopped in plenty of time, miss, and it’s an empty trailer. Horses are about ten miles down the road. It’s ok. Your tire blow out?”
She wasn’t too sure. Everything was still spinning.
“I think so. Shit, I hope not, though. I don’t have a spare.”
“It’s ok, miss,” the farmer chuckled as he put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Everything’s gonna be just fine. Let’s go check out the damage.”
He was very kind to her. The farmer cautiously and supportively guided her by the arm, making sure to correct her every sway. They took their time as they moved around the front of the car. Sure enough, when they reached the right front wheel there was almost nothing left on the rim. The rubber had been shredded. It looked like she’d driven it over a field of razor wire.
“Whew!” the farmer said. “Yup, your tire’s seen some better days, I reckon.”
Shaking her head in disbelief, Rebecca felt like vomiting. The wind continued to assault her face with a frigid, ungodly cold. The farmer didn’t seem to mind it as much. His focus was back down the road, towards the rest of her tire.
“We should go clear that from the road,” he said. She begrudgingly went along. It had nothing to do with him; she just wanted to be inside the warm embrace of her car’s heater again. The damn marshmallow of a coat she was wearing didn’t do a thing to help. She took out the fuzzy, black gloves she kept in her pocket and slipped them over her hands. The warmth didn’t come fast enough for comfort. Comfort was knowing that now she had an excuse for being late. That should have taken a load off, but she realized she’d have to prove it. A situation made difficult by her lack of phone.
“Hey, thanks for your help, Mr.—?” She intentionally trailed off, hoping he’d fill in the blank.
“Sanders,” he replied. “Phil Sanders. It’s absolutely no problem at all, Miss—?”
“Madison. Rebecca Madison,” she said, shivering. “Does your phone have a camera on it, by chance?”
He eyed her and smirked. He held up a black smartphone. “Just ’cause I’m old doesn’t mean that I don’t—”
“Sorry!” she interjected, chuckling with him. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Just giving you a hard time, miss. What about the camera?”
“Well, I left my phone at home.” Another wind struck her and shook her. “I was wondering if you could help me out and take some pictures. You know? For the boss, mainly.”
“I hear ya. I think we’ll be able to come to an agreement.”
They were almost at the remains of her tire. The tattered remains sat about fifty yards away from where her gray civic had stopped. The rubber had peeled right off her rim. The treads still faced down, and the torn strands of rubber curled upwards, like a flower petal.
“Hey, looks like it stuck the landing,” Phil said, eyeing the rubber. He bent downwards and gripped either side of the strip. He tried to stand up with it, but he couldn’t lift it. Both ends came up, but the middle held fast to the road like it was glued there. With a huff, he tried again.
“What in the world?” he asked on the third try, grunting hard. He scoffed. “Holy crap, what did you hit?”
“I have no idea,” Rebecca said, hugging her chest. “I didn’t see anything. One second the tire was there and then the next it—wasn’t.”
She hesitated on the last word as Phil tried for a fourth time because she saw something under the rubber. She only got a peek, but she could see that it was red.
“Hold on,” She said, “It looks like it’s stuck on something.”
“Stuck? What do you mean ‘stuck’? On what? Superglue?” He chuckled.
Rebecca looked every which way, checking for traffic. With the coast still clear, she urged Mr. Sanders to try again. When he did so, she saw the red mass again. It looked like a giant piece of bubble gum at first. She was dumbfounded, and she got on her knees.
“It’s stuck on something gooey.”
“Gooey, ya say?” Phil put the rubber back down and got on his knees with Rebecca. He shined his phone’s flashlight under the rubber. There certainly was a gooey mass stuck to the tire, and it was wet and rank. The wind carried its stench right into Rebecca’s nose, and the vomit she’d been holding down almost came. The smell was thick and hot. It was the smell of rot.
“Looks like you hit a coon or something,” Phil said, backing away. “God damn fresh one too. That’s weird though, with the tire. I don’t know why it’s stuck to him. Never seen anything like it before.”
“I haven’t either.” She said, her right hand clasped over her mouth. “I didn’t see any fur on it. It just looked like—like meat.”
“Yeah. If you hit them hard enough that’s what they’ll look like. I’m going to go ahead and call the state boys in real fast. We’re going to need somebody a little younger than both of us to take care of this mess, if you know what I mean.”
With a smile, he escorted her back to her car. He continued talking as he dialed on his phone.
“I also think we should get some EMT’s out here and check on you.”
“No, thank you. I’m fine,” she said, grinning to assure him. She didn’t want the hassle.
“I think the state boys will want it, too. Might as well just ask now, and get everyone here at once,” he said, trying to coax her.
“Maybe, but I’m telling you I’m fine. Just a bit dizzy.”
“You wanna make the call?” he offered. “I’ll let you decide. I don’t want to speak for ya, one way or another.”
He smiled and handed her the phone, which she took hesitantly.
“Thank you,” she said as she took the phone.
“It’s no problem. Now, let’s see what we can do about that tire first. I think I may have a jack in my—”
His question was cut off by a loud thud that came from her car. On her now dented hood, sat a large, bulbous mass the size of a college textbook. Whatever it was held the same consistency as the thing she had hit with her tire. Given a clear look at it, it looked as though it’d been chewed up and spat out. Rebecca looked up, and saw nothing but clouds. She didn’t know what she expected to see, but she had hoped for some clue. The thing didn’t just fall out of the sky. It couldn’t have.
“What in God’s name?” Phil asked, moving towards it. He could only get so close before he had to pull his undershirt up over his nose.
“Was that there before?” Rebecca asked, trying to rationalize the blob’s presence.
“I don’t think so. I think it just fell onto your car. But where did it come from? God, it reeks.”
Step by step, Rebecca brought herself closer to the appalling mass. Her stomach churned faster than the angry clouds above. Whatever it was, whatever it used to be, there was no evidence of it now. It resembled nothing natural that she could think of. It was just a figureless blob.
A red stream of liquid ran off it, slowly dripping down the hood of the car. She pushed the notion that it could be blood from her head. Blood from what? That wasn’t meat, was it?
The only part that wasn’t blood red stuck out of the top like a spine. It was small, white, and whereas the rest of the mass seemed soft to the touch this part was obviously solid. When she got closer, Rebecca saw that it split into two, white prongs. Rebecca took a step back when her mind gave the protrusion a name.
“Is that—is that a tooth?” She asked, even though she was confident in her assessment. She didn’t know what the blob was, but the protrusion was very obviously the root of a tooth, possibly a human tooth. Phil didn’t have a chance to answer before Rebecca finally let loose her stomach on the black asphalt. She proceeded to collapse beside it, her head spinning and pounding.
“It can’t be,” Phil said, his voice shockingly less playful than it had been. “That’s not—”
There was another thud. This time, however, it came from the fields. It was accompanied by a sickening crunch.
Rebecca didn’t want to see it, but she did. Dead stalks were flung into the air above it. Then, before the stalks settled, another blob dropped beside it amongst the husks of corn. Pieces of corn stalk stuck to its sides and held fast. The mass rolled, and jiggled, recovering from the force of the impact. More followed.
Another piece fell, behind them this time. It struck nearly two hundred yards from the road. Before that one had even settled, another one hit the road behind Phil’s truck. Rebecca had watched as that piece fell straight down from the sky above. No arch. It hadn’t been chucked. It had been dropped. Another piece reached the row of barren trees beyond the fields to her left. The weight of the blob snapped the higher branches. She couldn’t see where it landed, if it had landed at all. One struck the top of the silo causing it to ring loudly, the sound echoing inside the structure. The piece stayed there, holding to the top of the silo’s dome with ease. It had stuck like glue.
Rebecca looked up to the sky. Overhead as the clouds swirled and fought, the blobs fell from somewhere beyond them. They started as black ink drops against the gray skyline, but as they plummeted they took on color and grew into the disgusting blobs that now littered the landscape. All around them the drops came faster and faster. The horror of it all struck Rebecca as a piece fell not one yard from her hand. A warm, red liquid splattered across her face.
The sky was raining flesh.
“Get up,” Phil said, also looking to the sky, with caution and disgust. He turned back to Rebecca. “Miss Madison, please, get up now! You need to get in your car before—”
As if out of pure, cosmic irony, a large chunk of flesh, almost the size of a pillow struck Mr. Sanders on his right shoulder. The impact yanked him towards the ground, but he took the hit. He miraculously managed to stay on his feet. That didn’t stop him from screaming.
“Oh my God!” Rebecca exclaimed, quickly getting to her feet and rushing over to his side. The thing was still stuck to his arm.
The unholy thing had molded itself around his shoulder and arm. It formed a grotesque cast, pinning his arm to his side. Extensions from the impact had splattered out to stick to his face and chest. He wheezed in pain.
“I think it broke my damn shoulder. Ah, get it off. Please. Get it off,” he begged her.
“Yeah, hold on,” Rebecca said, watching the sky. With every second, the rain of flesh fell faster. Heavier. With every second she felt increasingly uncomfortable, increasingly terrified that the next one would strike her next atop her head. She pictured it wrapping around her face, and smothering her in rotted darkness.
She turned her attention to the injured old man. Putting Mr. Sanders’s phone into her pocket, she reached slowly for the disgusting mass stuck like a leech to his shoulder. She forced her gloved hands onto the thing, and she gripped it tight. As she did so, her fingers slowly started to sink inwards. She winced as an unwelcome warmth soaked into her gloves. Mr. Sanders brought his other hand up to help. It sunk in deep.
She took a deep breath, inhaling an unfortunate amount of stench, and gave it a good pull. She managed to yank Mr. Sanders forward, but the mass didn’t budge. It was stuck to him like glue. With another tug, she realized her hands were stuck there too.
“Harder!” Phil pleaded through the pain. “Pull it harder!”
“My hands!” Rebecca said, panicked. “My hands are stuck!”
Just once she tried to wiggle her fingers free, but they were stuck inside the blob. She tried again; downwards this time. She pulled with all she had, but all she did was pull Mr. Sanders off his feet. He struck the asphalt hard, and she nearly came with him. They’d accomplished nothing. Mr. Sanders grimaced, and tears started to flow down his face as she pulled him back up.
Rebecca saw that it wasn’t working, so she set about trying to free herself. She didn’t want to, but her survival instincts were in full gear. They couldn’t waste another second outside. She struggled, twisted, and pulled, but the revolting thing was held faster than anything she’d ever seen. She tried pulling with her left hand, and she pushed with her right. Her left glove gave, and part of her hand came free.
She realized she could pull her hands out of her gloves.
“Please, try again,” Mr. Sanders begged pitifully. He could barely keep his eyes open. His shoulder was dislocated at the very least, and she knew it. There was nothing she could do alone to pull that mass off his arm. All that mattered now, for both of them, was that they find cover. Quickly, she fought against the gloves to free her hands. The pounding of the rains grew faster, and heavier. Another piece hit her car, right on the top of the cab. Three struck Mr. Sanders’ truck. All of them were far too close for comfort.
Mr. Sanders didn’t realize what Rebecca was doing until it was too late.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “No, please, don’t. Please. Try again, please. It stings. It stings!”
She ripped her hands free of the gloves with a grunt just as a chunk smacked against her windshield. It was the size of a car tire.
“I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do right now. We need to get to cover. Get back to your truck. Stay there until this is over.”
She didn’t hesitate to turn around and open her door, but Mr. Sanders could only stumble backwards. With a limp, he started to pull himself towards his truck. Groaning, he watched the sky through his watery eyes.
Scared, Rebecca slammed her door shut just as another pounding thud came from the roof. She yelped, and she fumbled for her keys. They were in her pocket, that was good, but then she felt something else. A phone. Mr. Sanders’ phone. She pulled it out and looked out her rearview mirror. Outside everything was consumed by a downpour of flesh, and there was Mr. Sanders limping through. It was by the grace of God that Mr. Sanders got as far as he did. He almost managed to reach the door of his truck. He could have touched it.
A smaller drop of flesh, the size of a book, hit his left foot and glued it to the spot. Rebecca could only watch as he stumbled and fell hard to the ground. On his front, he could only lie there at the mercy of the sky above. Rebecca tried to see him out her rear window, but so many drops had accumulated there it was impossible. She could only watch the terrible scene unfold in her side mirror.
He looked hopeless. The pounding of the rain drowned out any sound, but she saw his head moving. He was yelling for help. A large chunk of flesh struck his back, breaking it. Another pinned his leg. All the while, Rebecca never moved. She was safe, and her fear kept her rooted in that seat. Had a glob not swallowed her mirror first, she would have witnessed another drop strike him right on the back of his head, delivering his face quickly into the asphalt below. It was an accidental mercy.
She started to hyperventilate. She had no idea what to do. The rain outside just kept coming and coming. In reality, the rain only lasted a few minutes, but it seemed so much longer. It seemed like it stretched on for hours on end. For that seeming stretch of forever, all Rebecca could do was scream. She moved to the backseat, away from her cracking windshield, and brought her legs in close to her chest. She hugged herself as the heavy rain fell over her. Consumed her. Soon, the drops would cover every inch of her car and its windows. They ate the light.
She was left, alone, in darkness.
Long after the barrage outside had ceased, Rebecca cried in darkness. Thankfully the windows had held back the physical barrage, but they could not hold back the stench. That had flooded inside almost instantly. It had threatened to suffocate her then. She didn’t even notice it anymore.
Eventually, Rebecca was able to move her arms, and her feet, and her legs, but she didn’t want to. The car had protected her, but Rebecca still felt unequivocally surrounded. Like a child under their sheets, she didn’t want to let one single limb hang free. The monsters might get it.
The darkness wasn’t total. A dim glow precipitated between the masses outside. Red light managed to leak through the edges of the blobs, where pieces met. The jagged lines covered her car like lightning. It did her no good. Not nearly enough light could seep through to offer her any illumination.
When she couldn’t handle the weight of the darkness anymore, she reached for Mr. Sanders’ phone which lay face down on the center console.
She fumbled for it, and accidentally knocked it to the floor. Light flooded out from within. It was blinding, but welcome. After giving her eyes time to adjust, she searched for the flashlight. She was so thankful that the phone had stayed unlocked. She found it, and the entire car was illuminated. She wasn’t ready for what she saw.
A claustrophobic paralysis found her as she beheld the things stuck to her car. Pressed tightly against the glass, the things seemed to embrace her. Most of the glass had held, except for her rear window. It had nearly shattered, but every crack and shard was held fast in place by the revolting masses. They didn’t move. They hugged her car in silent stillness. Rebecca recalled the tale of Jonah and whale, and she imagined this was how Jonah felt. She had been swallowed alive.
She needed to get out.
She flipped over. She hesitated to reach for the door handle; she didn’t want to get any closer to those things than she needed to. She pulled, and when she heard the “click” she pushed. Her whole body pressed up against the door. Her face met the window.
But the door didn’t budge.
The masses outside held the door like glue. They fought against her. It was like trying to move a mountain. Rebecca screamed in protest. She couldn’t be trapped in here. No. Not in here. Panicking, she shoved again. She threw her weight into that door time and time again, but it didn’t move. It couldn’t. She might as well have been trying to beat her way through a concrete wall.
After trying every single door, she found that they all held firm. She was truly trapped, and calling for help wasn’t an option. She’d tried, three times, to dial 911 on Phil’s phone. No matter where she was in the car she couldn’t get any signal. The mass had drowned out the light, and any hope she had of contacting the outside world. It seemed the car was shrinking by the second.
In frustration, she lashed out with her feet. She aimed at the window, hoping maybe it would break. Hopefully the things would fall off, instead of in. If they stuck without the window, she decided she’d cut her way out. One of the shards had to have been sharp enough. With a determined, forceful thrust she brought her heel to the window. The only thing she almost managed to break was her leg as she hyperextended her knee. The pain returned her to her previously curled state.
She began to cry, and plead for someone to help her. Her instincts told her that if she screamed then somebody would hear. Somebody would come along. Help would come. Her heart told her that was a lie, and it was, for a while.
Soon she grew exhausted, and her voice grew hoarse. Not a single sound came from outside her car. The wind had ceased with the rain long ago, and there’d been nothing since. No birds, no cars, no people. That silence allowed the small “Crunch” outside to be amplified nearly tenfold. She froze, and listened. She thought it had to be her imagination. But as another crunch came, and then another, she realized it was real.
It was like the sound of someone stepping on dry leaves. Something was definitely moving outside. The crunching approached her car, and she heard him speak.
“Hello?” The voice was older, and haggard. It sounded muffled through the blobs. “Is anyone in there?”
He didn’t have to ask her twice.
“Yes!” she screamed, flying to the window. “Yes! Yes! Please! Help me, please! I can’t get out. Please!”
The man came closer to the car. He stopped just outside.
“You’re covered. This shit’s almost impossible to move. It holds fast. Give me a minute. It’s starting to dry now. I have some tools at my house. I’ll be right back.”
Rebecca smiled and thanked God. He must have lived in that home next to the silo. It was all ok.
“Yes, please, thank you!” she said, almost all at once. The crunches returned, faster, as the man turned away. Relieved, she knew it would be over soon.
Again, the day sought to destroy her expectations.
Then the crunching stopped. Rebecca put her ear to the window, trying to listen. The glass was uncomfortably warm against her face. There was nothing but the roar of her own blood in her ears.
Then a moan. That moan continued for several seconds before it evolved into a short gag, a gasp. Something had happened to the man. He must have only been four or five yards from the car. He cursed and grunted. There was a louder “crunch” that was followed by silence. That silent moment hung on the air, and Rebecca pushed harder against the window. She whispered a single “Hello?” under her breath. Then the moment was shattered by his scream.
Rebecca pulled her face from the window as if she’d been burned.
“What?” she asked, panicked. “What happened? Are you okay? Hey! Are you okay!?”
She was clueless. Had the man fallen? Maybe he’d rolled his ankle and fallen, but could that cause him so much pain? His scream was primal, like a wounded animal, and it ended for a moment. It was just long enough for the man to take a quick breath, and then he continued; the yell increasing in volume and pitch.
“What!?” she pleaded. “What is it? Please! Tell me! Are you okay? Talk to me!”
He did, in a raspy, shrill, and pained voice. “Stay in the car!” It sounded like he choked on the last syllable as a ghastly, gurgled yell came from his lips. Through his pained cries, Rebecca could only make out so much of what happened next.
“Stay—growing—I feel it—don’t—out of that car! Oh—God—No!”
Then, unexpectedly and instantly, the screaming ceased. The silence returned, and Rebecca shook. Her mind raced, and her breathing came in short, fast gasps. Tears warmed her face. No, she couldn’t let him leave her. She wouldn’t be alone again.
“Hey! Get up! What’s happening? Sir? Sir!”
With a determined fury, she brought her hand and the butt of the phone to the window pane.
That’s when it moved.
Almost in perfect synch with her motion, one of the blobs that had embraced her window stirred. The light showed her every gruesome second. The movement was small; a tiny, half-dollar sized section on the bottom split in two and peeled itself apart. It was unexpected enough to send Rebecca stumbling backwards. At first, it had startled her; then it revolted her.
The small section that split open revealed a new structure below it. Small, round, and moving, Rebecca realized she was looking at an eyeball. A seemingly human eyeball. The thing had opened an eye, and was peering into the car through a cloudy, blue iris. It searched about for just a moment before it locked its gaze right on her.
“No,” Rebecca said, as if saying it would change her reality. Horrified, she couldn’t break away from the unexpected and unwelcome staring contest. The eye held its gaze, and then it blinked.
Rebecca wondered what it was thinking, this thing made of flesh and blood. She couldn’t resist. Its dead stare offered no clues. Could it think at all? Why was it staring at her? Why had any of it happened?
Then, out of the corner of her eye, and at the farthest edge of the light’s reach, she saw it. Another eye had emerged from beneath the pulpy masses. When she shined the light on it, she saw that it, too, was looking directly at her. It didn’t seem possible that it could see her. Once brown, the cornea now wore a red gash across its surface, straight through its pupil. Despite that injury, however, it followed her perfectly, no matter where in the car she moved. Both of the eyes followed her.
Before long, they were everywhere. Every single piece of flesh that had fallen from the sky and stuck to her car eventually opened an eye, a singular eye, and they all stared down at her. She no longer felt alone. Instead, she felt like a trapped animal. A fox in a trap. The hunters didn’t need to make a move. They only needed to watch, and wait. She was their prey.
Rebecca dropped the phone, and the light died. The car was cast into near total darkness once more. The darkness might have been comforting, had she not been so perfectly sure that those eyes still watched her.
She knew the darkness couldn’t protect her.
How long must have passed inside that car?
Rebecca was unsure if she had blacked out, or if time had simply slipped her by, but when she regained some semblance of sanity it was late in the afternoon. The phone, its battery now at a measly 15%, showed the time was 4:55. Rebecca should have been home, but instead, she was lost. Trapped.
She needed to be with her mother.
It may have been that realization that brought motion back to Rebecca’s body. From seat to seat, and corner to corner, she scrambled. The phone’s energy fell, the clock ticked, but the bars wouldn’t return. She couldn’t find a goddamn signal.
Cautiously, she tilted the screen of her phone to the window. Some light reflected off, but just enough was able to illuminate some of the flesh beyond. To her relief, the eyes were closed. She made sure to check all of them. Part of her wondered if the eyes had simply been a product of her paranoia. The blobs had reverted to being shapeless, featureless masses, and that was better. With luck, those eyes had never existed at all.
She wondered if that man outside had been real.
Ever since she’d let the darkness retake her, not a single sound besides her own breathing had come along. The unnatural, deathly silence had been heavier than the shadows around her. She still was utterly clueless to what had happened outside, and what the world looked like. How widespread was the rain? Help still hadn’t reached her yet, and she was doubtful any ever would. Maybe she had been quarantined. Surprisingly, she found that idea reassuring. In that case, it meant that at least people were still out there, and she’d be taken care of eventually.
The alternative was far worse.
Was it even possible the rain was a widespread epidemic? Had it covered the whole country? The world? Rebecca shivered as she remembered China. Something had happened in China and Somalia. Had the rains hit there, too? She cursed herself for turning the radio. Was she alone? Really and truly alone? She’d hoped people were still outside, but what if they’d all suffered as that stranger had? Maybe the car had protected her. Her savior, and her captor.
She was trapped in her own racing thoughts.
Those things brought back memories of her youth. Specifically, she recalled the day her dad hit that poor cat. They were in their old F150, and the sun was so bright. A fat, gray cat had just run out onto the road. It was like it had been waiting for the truck. It couldn’t have timed it any better. She still remembered how it felt; the bump as the front wheel struck it, and the bump as the rear wheel finished it.
Her dad told her not to look. He had pulled the truck over so he could go check on it. Rebecca disobeyed, and looked out the back window. All she wanted was a quick peek to make sure the cat was ok. She paid for her morbid curiosity. She recalled Mr. Sanders’ words from just a few hours earlier as she remembered the terrible scene. Aside from its craned head, and open eyes, nothing on it resembled a cat anymore. They’d hit it so hard that it was more red than gray. It was no longer an animal. Just meat. You hit them hard enough that’s what they’ll look like.
They were all meat.
So that’s what they had to be? Flesh? That seemed the most logical assumption, but so impossible at the same time. She couldn’t bring herself to accept that. Flesh of what? How could flesh rain from the sky? It had to come from somewhere. Didn’t it?
She shut that thought, that word, away. It sickened her. She thought of those eyes. Those very human eyes. Another thought came into being. It took hold like a cancer in her head. The question came. Had those things once, perhaps, been people?
No. They weren’t. It was too much. That was so much death. So much flesh. It was impossible, in every sense. In every meaning. Where would they get all those people? It had to have been millions and millions of people, murdered!
There are millions in China, she thought. Maybe something worse than rain happened in China.
“No,” she told herself. “Stop it.”
Her thoughts obeyed, trailing off like a bad note. It didn’t matter now. She hadn’t paid attention. She’d been worried about her own problems. What good did it do her to wonder? Who cares where they came from? Who cares if they’re people? She gagged. All that she needed to do was escape. Her mother still needed her.
Sweat rolled down her face. The temperature had to be only 30 degrees Fahrenheit outside, yet the car was steadily heating up. Those things were doing it; she was sure. They were warm, and the warmth they emitted was conducted directly into the car. Shedding her coat and sweater, she fanned herself with her white, sweat-soaked undershirt. Rebecca wondered how long it would take for them to cook her alive, if that was possible.
Death by “rank flesh heat”, as she decided to call it, wasn’t an option for her.
Placing the phone on the center console, she moved to the driver’s seat. She didn’t like it. Those pulpous things were far too close when she sat there, but if she let herself roast any longer she wouldn’t get to live to regret it. Back at the wheel, she couldn’t help but think about driving away. It wasn’t a possibility, just a fantasy, with those blobs. The packed windshield blocked her sight, and they also probably held her tires to the ground. She’d never move, and she’d never get anywhere. Wondering if perhaps the noise would agitate the things, Rebecca saw their eyes in her mind. It had been hours since then, and the eyes hadn’t returned. Assured that if they wanted to hurt her they would have done so already, Rebecca started the car.
The engine turned twice and started. More heat leaked out from the vents in moist, heavy waves. She gagged as the fresh stench overloaded her nose. It would take a moment for the AC to turn on. The radio was as silent as she knew it would be.
While she waited, she tried, out of curiosity, to drive. Switching into gear, she eased down onto the gas pedal. The engine picked up in pitch, but the wheels did nothing but flinch. It felt as though she was trying to drive over a curb. She fed it more gas. As she figured, the car wouldn’t move an inch. She cursed the damned wheels, and her damned life.
A groan came from above her.
It wasn’t guttural. It wasn’t those things. It was her car. The roof of her car was caving in. Something was pressing down on it. On the windows, she saw them twitch. The masses were moving now, reacting. It was the car, it had to have been! She’d accidentally woken them up.
Cursing her careless mistake, Rebecca yanked the key from the console. The car fell silent, but the things kept moving. They struggled against each other, wiggling back and forth in their confined spaces. Perhaps they were searching. Rebecca held her breath, and she waited. Their motion had started to rock the car from side to side. The things shook her, harder and faster. The lurching continued until Rebecca felt she was going to throw up. The wheel was all she had to hold onto.
Fortunately for her, the rocking did not persist for long. After just a few seconds, everything stopped. The car fell back to rest, and the calm retook the air. Rebecca sucked in an exhausted gasp. Reluctantly, she released the steering wheel, but as her eyes watered she reached for the phone
She had been tormented enough. Never before had she been so desperate to speak to her mother. Still there were no bars. No signal. The battery fell to 7%. Her heart was already drained. She fell back into the rear seat, too weak to cry. It was hopeless.
Rebecca wasn’t sure what prompted her to check again. Habit, probably. In the backseat, she had subconsciously refused her fate. Looking back at the phone, she was shocked.
It was weak, but finally a connection had finally been made. A signal! There was a signal! Rebecca wasn’t sure if her fingers had ever moved faster in her life. She dialed in the number for home. As she held the phone to her face, she didn’t know if she could even speak. Her hand was cupped over her mouth.
No evil in the world held a candle to the next ten seconds. Every beep hit her harder, and cut her deeper than any of those damned monstrosities outside could ever hope to. Overwhelming joy gave way to grief yet again. She could only hope that God, if there was one, wouldn’t let her down. That’s what her mother would have told her. Her mother always had faith.
Rebecca was rewarded for hers.
“Hello?” a fragile voice came in over the phone. Weak, but alive.
“Oh my God!” Rebecca gasped. “Oh my God, mom? Is that you?”
“Who is this?” her mother asked. On any other day that question might have broken Rebecca’s heart, but today it was all Rebecca needed.
“Rebecca, mom. It’s Rebecca. Are you okay? Please tell me you’re okay.”
“Of course, dear,” she said, unconcerned. “Of course you’re Rebecca. Why, yes, I’m okay. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Rebecca pumped her fist in the air, and she kicked her feet several times in furious, juvenile joy. The smile that spread on her face was unmatched. Thank the Lord! Her mother was safe. That meant there was hope. Maybe her nightmare wasn’t as widespread as she had feared. Maybe, just maybe, there’d be a chance for her. A chance for everyone.
“Mom, what’s happened? What’s happening over there?”
Her mother was confused.
“Nothing much? There’s not much to do here. Someone needs to water the flowers; I should water them.”
“No,” Rebecca stated. “No. Don’t go outside, mother. Listen to me. Can you turn on the TV? What does the TV say?”
“Do you want to talk to Rebecca?” her mother asked, confused.
“No, mom, I’m Rebecca.”
“She should be home by now, my Rebecca. She always comes home. I don’t—I’m sorry, I’m a bit confused.”
Those words broke her heart.
“I will be, mom. I’ll be home soon. I promise I’m coming home,” she assured her.
“Okay, well be careful. I’m going to water the plants. Should I? It’s been raining hard today.”
Rebecca froze. No, it couldn’t be. Could it really be that widespread? Home was miles away, but her mom was ok. Perhaps her mom had just been lucky. She was inside, after all, and as long as those blobs stayed outside she’d be fine. But her flowers. Rebecca knew how she could be, in her confused state, and If she was truly determined then—
“Mother. Listen to me. I have never been more serious in my entire life. Do not go outside.”
“I’ll do what I want. Only Rebecca can—”
“Mother!” Rebecca wailed. “Do not leave the house! The plants don’t need water! Just listen to me!”
Rebecca stopped. If these were the last words she ever spoke to her mother, she didn’t want them to be screams. She took a deep breath, and then begged.
“Please. Mom, please. Wait for me. We’ll water the plants together. Just… wait for me to get home.”
“Okay,” her mother said. “You get here, and then you, Rebecca, and I can go water those flowers. They’re going to need it so badly today.”
“I’ll be there soon, mom.” The last words choked out. “I love you.”
The line went dead. The phone, hanging on 3%, was about to leave her in darkness. But now she had to move. She had to get out. She had let Mr. Sanders down, and she couldn’t help that old man. She refused to let anyone else die. Not herself, not her mother, not anyone. Adrenaline filled her veins, and with the roar of a warrior, Rebecca threw herself at the rear door.
The flashlight burned bright as it sucked the phone’s battery dry. All the power left was so precious, and if it went out then so did Rebecca’s chances. Twice more she threw herself. She gave it her right shoulder, and then her left. The door flinched each time, but it refused to yield. A sliver of light had managed to leak in from the side. Both of her shoulders protested against another blow, so she lay on her back, and with her feet she kicked and kicked.
The battery fell to 2%.
Her feet ached, especially her right ankle as she felt her pain from earlier return in force. Pain didn’t even slow her down. Regardless of how futile each kick seemed, she refused to stop. She was going to escape, or die trying. She had no idea how true that statement was.
One moved in the corner of the light, squeezing its way through the newly formed crevasse between the door and the car. She didn’t see it until it had just about touched her leg. When she did, she instantly brought her knees to her chest. A thin mass, a fleshy tentacle, had entered the car. It squirmed around blindly on the seat. It pulled itself forward with what looked to be a fingernail.
The battery slipped to 1%.
A noise came behind her. Turning her head, she found that she was surrounded. Through the other door, more tentacles were starting to wedge their way through. The center of the seat offered little solace. As both sides grew closer, the glass behind her started to crackle as even more protrusions pushed themselves through the cracks. They pushed their way through shards of glass, carrying each piece with them at the end of their arm.
They were coming for her, but she was done hiding.
If anything, their intrusion only encouraged her. Now it was her and her mother’s survival on the line. With her booted heel, she squashed the singular tentacle that had originally disturbed her space. It wiggled, pinned against the seat. She initially thought it was blood that leaked from it, but it came at a trickle, slow and viscous. It stuck to her boot like syrup. With a disgusted shriek, she pushed the tentacle to the floor, and out of her way. The door had been pulled open by those things to let the tentacle in, and she saw her chance.
She offered up a final, double-legged kick.
The flashlight went out, and with a final yell, light flooded the car.
She’d considered everything, in the last several hours. Every scenario had danced through her mind like terrible daydreams. The memories of that man had fed most of them. She thought about the crunching beneath his feet, and those terrible screams. She wondered what she would find, but she was far more worried about what might find her. Rebecca wondered what the world would look like once she escaped, and to her disgust, nothing she imagined could compare to what she found.
As soon as she’d kicked the door open, and leapt from the car, she suddenly felt like she was standing on an alien world. There was a loud crunch when her boots hit the ground. It felt like she was standing on well-packed snow. Those things covered every square inch below her feet. In fact, they stretched on as far as she could see.
All around, from horizon to horizon, the blobs dominated the landscape. It invoked thoughts of Mars in her head, as there was no green to be seen anywhere. The color red stretched beyond her sight, seemingly into infinity. The land was rugged, and all the trees that she’d seen earlier along the sides of the fields were gone. The only major protrusions on the rugged landscape were where the solidified shells around the houses and cars still stood. They looked they had scabbed over.
Most had remained upright. They spotted the landscape in every direction. The old man’s house still stood; the overhang of his porch had sheltered his front door from their barrage. The now dried, hardened creatures seemed to form a cave around it. It was a relief to see that they hadn’t reached everything.
The silo had fallen. The pieces lay in a messy heap beside the house. The combined weight of the things must have proved too much for it. Rebecca hoped that her house had held better.
When she caught sight of the old man, she couldn’t help herself. She shrieked.
The old man was frozen, on one knee, halfway between her car and Mr. Sanders’ truck. He must’ve been going to check on him, the same as he had for her, when the things got him. She saw it enter through his pant leg. A bundle of tendrils, very similar to the ones that invaded her car, snuck up his pant leg. Down at his ankles, where his skin was exposed, one had seemingly burrowed into his flesh.
She followed the tendrils up. Like a snake, they coiled up his leg. They had crawled along his body, and she thought she could see the tendrils branch apart under his clothes. They snaked around his body, but they all ended before they reached his neck. Blood soaked through parts of his blue, button-up shirt.
The worst part was his head. It was forced back, held in place, and his mouth was agape. Sprouting from it, several dozen vein-like stems that ended in red, plant-like petals rose towards the sky. Liquid circulated inside them, as if pumped in by the man’s heart. The grotesque growths wouldn’t have terrified her as much had it not been for the man’s eyes. They were still open, and they were looking right at her. Then came a single, labored breath.
He was still alive.
She heaved, but her stomach offered nothing to expel. By the old man’s feet, she saw a bulge in the ground, and another bundle of macabre flowers protruding from within. Rebecca knew they marked Mr. Sanders’ grave, if she could even call it that. Was he, too, still alive under there? Was that even possible? She prayed for mercy, and for Mr. Sanders’ forgiveness.
She knew she didn’t deserve it.
No, she couldn’t have imagined this, not in her worst nightmares. Whatever those things were had grown into the man, through him. She let another shriek loose as she saw his stomach twitch. The man grimaced as something moved inside him. Rebecca wasn’t sure if there was a worse fate.
The old man, his eyes wide with fear, gestured down. It took several motions of his eyes for her to even catch it, but once she noticed she followed his gaze down. Rebecca hadn’t noticed them before, but little, fibrous structures stuck out of the blobs. Each one was several inches tall. They looked like red ferns. A similar one was wrapped around the old man’s ankle.
Looking at her own feet, she noticed she’d stepped on one. The pressure from her boot had triggered one of the tentacles to slowly emerge from the blob below. It reached around, blindly, unable to cling to the material of her boots. They weren’t plants. They were snares. She nodded to the man, and she thanked him. He didn’t need to tell her for her to understand that it was imperative that she not let those extensions, those “blood ferns”, touch her skin.
She didn’t want to leave the old man. In fact, she offered to help, but he groaned in disapproval. Exerting himself, he managed to shoo her away with small motions of his hand. Through his stuffed throat, he tried to speak, but no words came out. Rebecca knew it was too late. So, she went to his house, again, forced to leave someone behind. A tear ran down the old man’s cheek.
It was like navigating a minefield, but Rebecca did it quickly and skillfully. The blood ferns were scarce enough, thankfully. If she stepped on one her boots offered more than enough protection. The ground crunched like snow beneath her feet.
When she stepped on something new, it caught her ear. The crunch she heard wasn’t light, like snow, but heavy, like glass. Lifting her boot, she saw it embedded in the mass. Desensitization kept her moving, despite the appalling discovery beneath her foot. There was no mistaking it anymore. She knew she had been right.
She had stepped on a watch.
Through the cavernous maw of the blobs, she made it onto the porch, and she found the door unlocked. The house was abandoned, as far she could tell. She called several times to check, but no one responded. That made her incredibly thankful. She was still alone, sure, but she didn’t want anyone in that house to see what had happened to the old man.
There was a picture frame, hung askew on the wall. In it, the old man stood with his family. He was about five years younger in it, and his wife and three grown sons smiled with him. The eldest son sat a toddler on his knee. He would probably only be about eight, now. She dreaded to even imagine.
It was a stroke of luck that the keys were on the counter, and an even bigger stroke of luck that the garage door had been left open. Inside sat a ’98 Chevy with battered red paint. Rebecca looked at the path before her. Hopefully, the truck would do. If those things couldn’t stop her boots anymore, they sure as hell weren’t going to stop a truck. They were dry, and that meant they could be easily navigated. Hopefully.
She hesitated to get inside the truck. She imagined, dreaded, the idea that the rains would return. They would fall, and again she’d be trapped. This time she’d be without help, and without hope. With a single, calming breath she pulled the door open and took her seat. The engine purred, and it was the sweetest noise she’d ever heard. The terrain was bumpy at first, but she got used to it fast.
She set a course across the alien Earth.
The road was lost beneath the surface of flesh, but Rebecca found her way. The houses, though covered, offered plenty in the way of navigation. They made the skeleton of her map. Memory filled in the rest.
Through the atrocious, unspeakable landscape she drove. Those plants had sprung up in unbelievable numbers. The rain must have infected anything that touched it. The larger the animal, the larger the plant. Passing a farm, she observed large, bush sized growths that sprouted from what used to be cows. They were buried now, but she’d passed them that morning. She was glad that most of the plants were covered. She’d rather not know whose grave was whose.
She did see some terrible scenes during her journey. Cars were scarce, but she didn’t find a single survivor in any of them. She slowed to check, but every car had at least one open door. No one had been able to claim refuge inside. Instead, they found themselves trapped outside. The lucky ones, the ones who weren’t buried, could only watch as Rebecca drove by. One had been glued to the side of his minivan. His arm reached out to Rebecca, but she couldn’t take it. There was a couple, a man and woman, that broke Rebecca’s heart. The woman had gotten infected at the knee when she’d fallen. Her husband’s hand was frozen in place as it clenched the stems that emerged from her mouth. He’d tried to pull them loose, but those vines had used that contact to ensnare him as well. They entered him through his wrist. They stared at each other. Neither even looked at Rebecca as she drove by. They were trapped by their love.
The twisted machinations of her predicament were granted some enlightenment when she saw the helicopter. It had been brought down into one of the fields, and around it stretched something surprisingly natural. It had etched out a crater around itself, a crater of dirt and fire. The fire, caused by the collision, had eaten away at the surrounding flesh. It had managed to etch out a radius about three times longer than the helicopter itself. Rebecca couldn’t believe the sight of dirt and fire would ever have caused her joy. It was good to see the things pushed back. To see them burnt and beaten.
That feeling died as she saw the clouds swirl above. An eye, like at the center of a hurricane, opened above. The winds picked up and threatened to pluck Rebecca’s truck from the ground. Slamming on the brakes, she could only watch in awe what happened next.
From within the eye, three large shapes descended. Blacker than the night, tentacles of enormous proportions dangled from the clouds. Surely they were thicker than skyscrapers, and twice as tall. They hovered over the spot where the helicopter had crashed, examining it. Rebecca couldn’t breathe as one retracted to the clouds, and it’s end split open into five pieces. Five fingers. She could only watch as its, dare she say, hand, disappeared behind the sky, and then reappeared grasping something massive.
Pieces dropped from the hand, like sand from a fist, and splattered against the ground. The giant arm held its hand directly over the barren ground below, and then it started to release its hold. Like rain, pieces of flesh fell from the sky and littered the ground. They covered the helicopter, and they smothered the fire. Within moments, it was like there’d never been a disturbance there at all. The thing above, pleased with his restoration, carried the remaining flesh in its grasp back into the clouds.
The remaining two tentacles swung about the eye, surveying their monstrous masterpiece. One split its fingers apart, and it tenderly brushed against one of the plants. It was a gardener, tending to its garden. It was that sickening metaphor that brought Rebecca the greatest revelation. The rain, all the people infected, they were all nothing more than fertilizer. The creature above retracted into the heavens, and the eye closed.
Rebecca no longer begged God for help. She cursed his name.
The drive took almost half an hour. The town she’d called home her whole life was deserted and lifeless. Thankfully, very few were stuck outside. She didn’t even want to know how many of the obscured figures were friends. Loved ones. She drove past. She figured, hoped, that most had found refuge inside.
Passing stores, she witnessed the truth. The doors were shut, but those things had spread inside anyways. People stood, trapped against the glass, like tortured mannequins. Random movements danced by some of the windows, but she didn’t dare stop. Her home was so close.
It was unrecognizable. Once beautiful, with two stories, yellow siding, and a little stained glass rose in the front window, none of it could be seen beneath the disgusting layer of filth accumulated around it. The dead covered her house, and nothing was more sickening. That was what she thought, until she got out of the truck and reached the back of the house.
Grief was not strong enough of a word to describe how Rebecca felt. After everything she’d seen, and after all she’d survived and fought for, it had all led to this. There was only so much that she could have done. The fates had been cruel that day.
Her mother was on her knees, a full water pitcher in hand. Her old eyes found Rebecca. They were green, and still so bright. The vines hadn’t taken hold completely, but Rebecca could see them moving. Only once, at that moment, was she ever thankful for her mother’s condition. Rebecca was glad she probably couldn’t comprehend what was happening to her. She didn’t seem to be in any pain. With the last energy of a beaten and broken woman, Rebecca fell into her mother’s arms and hugged her. Her mother surprised her for one last time.
“I love you,” her mother said. It was all Rebecca needed.
“I love you too,” she replied.
“You’re right,” her mother whispered into Rebecca’s ear. “I don’t think the plants even need this water.”
Rebecca managed a final laugh as the infection took hold.
Credit: Ryan Brennaman
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