This short story was written based on the writing prompt: A wintry scene and interpretation of the song “Reach” by Neurosis.
We didn’t watch. The explosion ripped through the night behind our backs and we kept walking. Not because we were badasses. No, definitely not that. In fact, we felt the opposite of that, the very black to that white. It wasn’t the first, nor the last, and the screams that still echoed over the raging flames was enough. We didn’t need to watch. I don’t think we could stomach to witness any more of the destruction our path had wrought.
Her hand felt so small, so fragile, in mine. The frozen blood and dirt that crusted our gloves was ground between our clasped palms. Death had, actually, not done us part, as the old saying went. Marriage between two souls sometimes went beyond petty normalcies, especially when the world was far from normal. Even more so when you see the world as it really is. When the veil falls, the gauzy screen is cleared away, and you see the truth of what is going on around you, around everyone. Humans didn’t rule the planet anymore. I don’t know if they had slipped to second place in the past month or year or what, but I knew we were quickly fading. She knew it too. She could see, as I did, that something else was perched, crouched, on the top of the food chain, annihilating its way down.
She was trembling. I couldn’t see her face in the night sky, not well. The half moon placed it in such heavy shadows under the hood of her sweatshirt, but I saw the sparkle and reflections of tears freezing on her cheeks and puffs of white as she tried to control her breathing. She wasn’t meant for this. Part of me felt guilty but a sliver was happy I could still protect her. She was all I had left to protect. If not for me, if not for us, one or both of us would have become one of them. Or we would be dead. Like our children. We didn’t do that. We couldn’t have. If they hadn’t had killed them, trying to kill us, we would have probably succumbed as the majority of the world had. The world failed them. We failed them. We should have never had children. But we hadn’t known. We couldn’t see them. Not then, not yet.
“There’s…” I coughed, partly to clear the smoke from my throat but I knew I was having my own emotional turmoils. Not crying. Not really. “There’s a, um, roadside inn not too far from here. Remember? The one we saw a few days ago?”
“Yes.” Barely a whisper.
“Maybe it’ll be okay. So far away from everyone else, you know?”
“Hopefully. But they might’ve seen the news, the lies they are telling about us.”
“Yeah, maybe. We’ll see.”
“Will we have to kill them too? If they aren’t one of them, but they recognize us?”
“I don’t know.”
And back to the sounds of tired feet scuffing across the snow, ragged backpacks thumping with each step, and labored breathing. A sniffle. A cough. No words. The air was getting so much harder to breathe in. I couldn’t quite make them out, but the massive silhouettes of the mountains were growing in the distance. Our destination was in those. We hoped. We didn’t know, not for sure, but that was what the message had said. There was no way to check anymore, see if it had been updated or some status like ffs, total clickbait, fake news, not safe at all posted in the comments. Nope. None of that.
Cell phones had been the secondary heart of the human race, but with the dwindling of the species, elimination of the devices was the quickest way to cut off all communication, rebellion, hope… anything. It was smart of them. I think it was how they got through to so many in the first place. But it was also how it alerted some of us. How we found out that something wasn’t right. The “conspiracy theorist crazies” had found something. It all started with a damn filter for social media. A quick way to stylishly alter an image. It was supposed to remove “unnatural lighting” from a picture, giving a very realistic image, like super HD or something. Instead, it removed the facade they wore. And then we saw them.
It sounds stupid. I almost want to laugh but I feel her hand, occasionally squeezing mine, and I know there is nothing to laugh about anymore. Nothing to find humor in. Not when the white, wormy looking things stared at you with their pus-colored eyes, reached for you with their tentacle-like arms. Their mouth was but a tube, a proboscis if school-age science memories are accurate. At least that is what I think they looked like. I can’t be sure, thinking back. They wear the people. Somehow. Or maybe they wear something that looks like the people but isn’t completely real. Maybe they aren’t real. Maybe we killed the kids. Did we kill the kids?
“What?” Her voice had moved up an octave. I spoke out loud. I had been doing that a lot lately. Shit.
“Don’t….do not say that. Do not ever say that.” She stopped, stock still, yanking my arm to make me face her. “They did that. We saw them do that. We didn’t have the guns and explosives then. They made them….nothing. They took them and they were just gone! We did not do that!”
“I know, I know, I’m just…I can’t keep shit straight in my head, you know? Like, I don’t remember what they look like or how the kids….It’s getting dark and fuzzy and I can’t remember.”
“They look like snakes. Black and slimy and their eyes are red and evil. Their tongues lashing out of those damn, nasty ass teeth!”
I didn’t know how to respond to her. That wasn’t what I had seen. I didn’t think so.
“Are you sure?”
“What? Yes….maybe, I don’t know!”
She was definitely crying now. Hard.
“Okay, okay.” I pulled her close, sliding my hands around her jacket-layered waist and under the backpack. We had lost so much weight. When had we eaten? “Okay, let’s trying to get to the inn, get some sleep and maybe a shower. We need that.”
I felt her head bob against my chest. Reluctantly, I let her go and we continued on. No more words, again, and I tried to keep my head quite too. Didn’t need any more of that either. The sign for the hotel was dim under the snow but stood vigilant over the small building. Max of ten rooms and barely far enough away from the road for someone to park. Not that anyone would anymore. Unless it was them, though. A bunch of them could load up on a school bus or something and ride around sucking all the people out of themselves so they could plop another one inside what was left. That was a possibility.
“Something doesn’t seem right.” Her whispers sent a chill down my spine, it was as if she was hissing.
“Nothing’s right…” I turned my head slightly, trying to see into her hood from my peripheral.
I thought the light from the motel was reflecting off her skin, or scales, or something. Was I losing it or had I lost her? Either way, we were close to being screwed.
“What?” Her head flicked around, vertical slits shining as they watched me.
I shook my head, afraid to open my mouth. I shook off her hand and hurried up to the glass doors. Before my hand touched the handle, I saw them. Four of them standing around the front desk, staring at the television. A fat slug with beady black eyes was squeezed into a black suit. I didn’t see a mouth, but the captioning at the bottom did well to tell me what was going on a second before our images were on the screen. And then they started turning.
“Run, there here!” I grabbed her hand, glad the gloves prevented me from feeling any scales and pulled her behind me.
We circled around the motel and to the wide expanse of snow behind. But why was I seeing her as she saw them? That had to mean it was in my head, that she was safe. Maybe. I didn’t know how it worked. She saw them differently then I did. There was no manual for when the shit hit the fan. I mean, there was, but not like this. People are Slug-men Out to Kill You and How to Hunt with a Cellphone and Starbucks Straw……yeah. No.
We ran, stumbling in the snow, pulling each other up, pushing forward, our faces hurt, our muscles burned, and the icy mountain in the distance seemed no closer. If the world snapped back to how it had been, we would be able to join the Olympics. Free Runners, solid golds with a training regime of running for their lives all the goddamn time.
The sound from behind us was a massive tsunami of terror shoving us up the mountainside. High pitched screeching with the roar that shook the ground around us. The ground slowly sloped upward and the tremors began shaking the powdery snow.
“Oh shit!” My eyes had bounced up enough to see a side of the mountain sheer off and come blasting down the side.
Trees and rocks began to join the momentum. I pulled her to the right and tried running parallel to the mountaintop, knowing it was a useless endeavor. Within moments, we would be buried under the very sanctuary we were seeking. And they were still coming, unaware or unconcerned about the massive avalanche they were causing. Maybe that was the point. Bury us and be done.
I turned back to look at her, to make sure she was still attached to the hand I held. Our eyes met and she screamed, jerking away from me and falling backward. I slid to a stop, ignoring the chunks of snow and ice falling around my boots as I looked into her terrified face.
“Oh no, no no no no….” Her serpentine head swung wildly from side to side, “They got you. When did they get you?”
“What do you see?”
“You’re not like the others. You look like a night crawler, white and….oh god! How are you talking? Where’s your mouth?”
“Shhh, you look the way you told me they looked. Not like how I see them, but how you see them. I saw it before the motel. And now you see me the way I see them. I don’t think it’s real. I think it’s in our heads.”
“Then make it stop!” Her words echoed a moment and then were muffled as the sliding debris hit us.
We slid down, somehow afloat on the mass, but having to dodge each yank and pull from that which wished to take us under and devour us. I didn’t know where they were. I didn’t care. I tried to hold onto her, but both of us struggled to touch the other. What if we were changed? Maybe they looked different than we were seeing but some hive mind was contorting it all. We all saw what we wanted to see, as we had for ages.
The pain faded as the cold sucked everything from me. Exposed skin went from fiery burning to numb. A dull pain, like a severe headache, throbbed in my bones. I think she was gone. I couldn’t hear or feel her. My arms waved wildly as I tried to stay above the massive landslide. We had been so close to the edge of it, so close to being precariously safe.
And then it stopped. The motel a few yards in front of me. I realized the mountain had been closer than we thought, or we had traveled further, or nothing was as it seemed at all. She was close by. Her face as it was before but more pale and hollow. Her eyes blinked rapidly as her mouth gaped.
“Oh god, are you okay?”
I fell down on my knees and began digging and tugging, trying to get her out of the snow. I needed to make sure she was whole, she was okay. She was all I had left. I leaned over her and saw her neck was steaming, the red pool growing around the gash under her chin.
“No! No!” I didn’t know what to do.
Her eyes found mine, and they were still yellow with the black gash down the center. The eyes of a serpent. I leaned over and pressed my lips to her, the tears freezing on my eyelashes. She tried moving, but gave up, gasping and gurgling. And then I glanced behind and saw them, so close. Within moments, they would be on us. And I would be gone too.
“Not like this.”
There was no use in stopping the blood or comforting her. She was fading. But I wasn’t going to let her go alone. We made it this far together, we would continue on in the afterlife.
I ripped off my backpack, surprised it had stayed on with the straps frayed and tearing at every seam. Inside was more explosives and a few flares. I snatched up the flare, dumped the sticks of dynamite over her and leaned down for a final kiss. I saw their shadows falling over us as I ignited the flare, the phosphorescent light bursting a second before the world blinked white and then nothing.