Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
We awoke around midnight to the incessant blaring of sirens. Donned in their slippers and nightgowns, a few brave souls ventured onto their porches while most of us remained inside, glued to our windows. Jacob, my husband, asked me if he had still been dreaming, to which I replied with equal uncertainty:
”I don’t know.”
A part of me held out hope that our consciousnesses had somehow melded into a collective nightmare that none of us were going to remember come morning. Unfortunately, as soon as I grabbed onto his hand and felt it tremble in my own, I knew that this was as real as it gets.
They marched down the streets in single file—the burning men. Past the flames that engulfed their bodies were the charred remnants of actual people, scorched beyond recognition. They shouldn’t have been alive and yet they trudged on, flesh dripping off them like lax with each strenuous step. Fire erupted from their orifices, spewing forth from their mouths and eye sockets as though it came from somewhere deep within.
The local authorities that had arrived on the scene simply stood on the sidelines, kept at bay by the heat. Most of them were probably questioning the legitimacy of what they were witnessing, same as the rest of us. Jacob compared the horrifying spectacle to some sort of parade—an exposition that celebrated the unmaking and subsequent ”cleansing” of the human form. Though I dared not admit it at the time, the symbolism wasn’t lost on me in spite of the innate revulsion.
The congregation was led by a woman whose body and priestly attire were somehow unscathed by the fire. In one hand she held a leather-bound book, in the other a golden scepter. She guided her followers around our sleepy little cul-de-sac, her chanting accompanied by a chorus of moans and the sizzling of human meat. As she passed by our driveway, closely tailed by the queue of blazing husks, I was able to make out the smile plastered across her wrinkled face. Contrary to my own expectations, the woman didn’t come across as deranged or maniacal at all, rather she simply looked overjoyed; as though this moment was the culmination of her entire life’s work.
Reluctantly, an onlooking firefighter finally decided to intervene and threw a bucketful of water onto one of the burning men. We watched the shriveled figure stumble out of line, drop to the pavement and begin to convulse. Its groans turned to shrieks of agony, its limbs bent and flared out in awkward directions. Steam rose from the writhing creature that had once presumably been human, and then it fell limp; reduced to a horrifically disfigured carcass and nothing more.
The marching and the chanting ceased. The burning men stood eerily still, only swaying while the fire ate away at their forms. The silence that followed was rife with suspense, for we all knew it was merely the calm before the storm. A couple of the abominations turned their melted faces in the direction of the now terror-stricken fireman, who dropped the empty bucket and slowly retreated onto our driveway. I saw the priestess raise her staff towards the sky, involuntarily guiding my eyes to it as well.
I’m not sure what I saw up there that night, but it sure as hell wasn’t the Moon. It was shaped like a moon, gave off light like a moon, but it wasn’t our moon. I don’t know how else to describe it apart from looking like it didn’t belong there—like if you were to glue a cutout onto the canvas of a painting. It was masculine, scornful—the eye of a furious god glaring down at us like an abusive father. Whatever it was, it loathed our very existence.
I cupped Jacob’s face and turned his terrified expression towards me. His lips trembled, his bloodshot eyes filling with tears. My heart sank as I saw a pair of glowing circles appear around his pupils, gradually replacing the familiar brown of his irises. Somehow I knew what was about to happen, yet I refused to accept it.
”No no no…” I pleaded, attempting to embrace him, but he shoved me away with every ounce of his strength.
My back slammed against the wall and I slid half-way down before regaining by footing. When I next looked up, I saw him standing there with his arms hanging by his sides and head tilted at an angle. Tears evaporated from his eyes.
”Go.” was the last thing he managed to get out before a torrent of fire erupted from his mouth.
The flames burnt holes through his cheeks and soon engulfed his entire jaw, exposing his gums and singeing his teeth. I shielded my face from the wave of heat that swept across our bedroom. He turned away from me and wrapped his arms around his stomach, groaning painfully while everything in his general vicinity caught on fire.
I wanted to help him—to save him—but I didn’t know how. I was forced to helplessly witness his identity get stripped away piece by piece. When I next saw Jacob’s face, there was nothing left of the man that I had spent fifteen years of my life with—only a pair of hollow sockets stared back at me.
So, I ran.
I threw myself at the bedroom door, bursting through it, and then stumbled down the stairs in a haze of panic and grief. There were gunshots outside, followed by screams for help. I whizzed past the kitchen window, catching glimpses of a female police officer unloading round after round into a group of the burning men, which—at best—only staggered the creatures. My bare feet slapped against the cold tiles as I charged towards the screen door that led into the backyard. I tripped and bumped into furniture. Something behind me fell and shattered, scattering into jagged shards that pierced my soles, but I was too high on adrenaline to register the pain.
Wheezing, I dropped to my hands and knees onto the trimmed grass outside. My heart pounded in my ears, almost drowning out the wails of entire families being burnt alive by their own husbands and fathers. Whatever that thing in the sky masquerading as our moon was, it turned every man whom gazed upon it into a mindless harbinger of its wrath.
My shadow stretched before me, outlined and warped by the light of our home in flames. Smoke filled my lungs. Everything that I had once taken for granted was stolen from me in a matter of moments. My marriage, my refuge, my life—I turned around and watched all of it burn. The sight of the monster formerly known as my husband violently slamming the exposed framework of his face against the upstairs window still haunts me every time I close my eyes. I couldn’t tell whether he was trying to escape his fiery prison or to get to me, though I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
I hardly reacted as more of them started climbing over the fence. One by one they flopped onto our lawn like ragdolls, scorching the ground where they landed, before rising back to their feet and slowly sauntering towards me, encircling me. I remained unfazed. I had already lost everything; what was there left to fear? I regarded the living wall of burning flesh surrounding me with apathy. Their moans filled the night, yet all I heard were the cries of innocent souls trapped in infernal vessels, forced to carry out the will of something far greater than themselves. For what reason, I don’t know, and I fear that by the time we find out it’ll be much too late.
As they began to approach, I calmly made my way over to the outdoor spigot protruding from the side of the house and turned its valve, which redirected water to the sprinkler system…
I was discovered by a rescue team that following morning; soaked to the bone and sitting among the dozen of shriveled, waterlogged corpses littering the backyard of my once idyllic suburban home, now reduced to a pile of smoldering rubble. Being one of few survivors, I was the first to be interrogated about what happened that night. You can probably guess how many people believed my recollection and, frankly, I don’t blame them. I don’t expect you to believe me either, but do me a favor instead:
Appreciate what you have while you have it. Embrace a loved one, spend time with your favorite pet or work on something that fulfills you; because someday soon all of it will be taken away from you.
It’s coming, and it hates us.
Credit : Morning Owl
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