copyright: 2004 C.E.
Strong and steady, the fresh breeze blew across the mountain path gently stirring the fur on chittering squirrels squabbling for fallen nuts. Small necks craned yet barely acknowledged the two human beings traversing downward the mountain pass. Hastily those gray rodents went about their business of nut foraging in preparation for the coming winter.
Lazily, the man cast his eyes towards the local wildlife setting itself in unison motion underneath the multicolored trees making up the heavily wooded park set aside for hikers and those folks just looking for a good walk through mother nature. A smile had crept upon his face as he viewed nature’s splendor in all its glory.
He loved the scenic areas of this small, Appalachian community in the hills. Even the housing complexes seemed at ease with the natural settings of mountainous terrain going on without apparent end. It was a town like this that he’d grown up. In fact, the man was half tempted to grow out a beard again. He was tired of being a smooth faced real estate broker. This was his country. Chicago was behind him.
The man looked down at his daughter walking beside him. If anyone could stand out in stark contrast to his smiling, happy visage, it was she. A scowl of discontent had worked its way over the girl’s face and she had crossed her arms in contempt.
Oh, Maddie, Maddie, Maddie...The thought crossed his mind, as his smile slightly dimmed. However, he wasn’t content to let that smile fade completely as they continued treading the mountain path.
“God, would you look at this scenery. Isn’t it beautiful?” He gestured with wide arms at the arcing paradise set in panoramic splendor before them. She wasn’t biting.
He knew what the problem was. That boy. She couldn’t forgive her mother for taking the job here, forcing them to move away from the hoodlum with loose fitting jeans and a demeanor that just begged for lawful intervention.
“Look at how blue the sky is here. And just breathe in that fresh, mountain air!” He continued, knowing she couldn’t care less.
He let his arms drop back to his sides and reluctantly returned to just walking in the peace of the country around them. The thirteen year old girl couldn’t keep her silence, though.
“This sucks.” She suddenly spoke, somewhat disturbing her father’s revelry. “How could mom do this to me!?”
“You’re mother has a very important job to do. I for one am glad to have come.”
“You would be...”
“Hey, watch your tone.”
“But, I love him!” She pled looking up to her father.
He could only cast half a smile and shake his head. What could she possibly know of love? At least, whereas experience warranted that was. Maddie hadn’t lived long enough to know what real love was. Where you were willing to sacrifice your own needs to see to the fruition of the relationship and the family.
“There are other fish in the sea.”
“Ugh!” She proclaimed indignantly, with a notable and exaggerated sagging of her shoulders and chest. “It’s soo unfair!”
“Mmmm. God, I love it here.” Her father spoke, ignoring her incessant whining of some juvenile delinquent in Chicago.
They walked further along in a semi-silence. However, it wasn’t long before something strange seemed to settle over the young woman. She squinched her eyes somewhat as a nausea built up withing her stomach. Hands went to her gut as she tried to contemplate what it was. She didn’t think it was her getting sick. And she didn’t think she was about to erupt in some foul smelling incident. But, there was definitely something wrong. She looked up to her father as he slightly hummed to himself with that stupid smile plastered to his face.
“Dad,” She began, trying to remain calm.
“Look, there are leaves falling! Yellows, and oranges, and vivid reds!” He spoke, trying to ignore any further irrational pleas to return to that corroded city. He didn’t bother looking at her because he knew those beautiful, brown doe eyes would be staring right back up at him.
“I...don’t feel so well.” She stated, feeling the pain increase. Something was definitely wrong.
“You’ll get used to it. It’s a new environment. I know. But there’ll be plenty of other boys...” He said, looking ahead. “Wow. I can see the town from here! With the mountainous backdrop, with its hazy tones, it’s so serene.”
“I...I feel funny.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it.” He said and looked down at his daughter, finally relenting to her penetrating gaze. His smile vanished.
Maddie looked up at her father, not understanding what was happening, but just knowing that something was very wrong. She saw her father through a blurry haze as he reached out for her. That something eked its way into her consciousness and rational thought disappeared. Then there was only the darkness.
Cerise Oldega looked around the sanitized lab. Men in white trenchcoats made haste with their proceedings. Odd lights blinked upon consoles littered around the very nauseatingly white room that let out, via a small hall, into another room. It was large and oval with a massive, cylindrical object in the middle taking up at least half the space.
Through a large viewport, Cerise carefully examined the intricate workings of the cylinder. She looked at the plexiglass material encompassing three quarters of the cylinder’s construction and through it to the small sphere rotating slowly within. Serious physics were at play here. Some she didn’t quite understand herself. Quantum mechanics wasn’t her specialty. However, the experiment had to go on.
The best team in the world had been assembled for Cerise’s new assignment here in this lab far from Chicago. All her research hadn’t been in vain for, finally, the higher ups had taken heed in what she’d been saying all along; that artificial gravity was possible and she could prove it.
It had taken some time. Years, in fact. She had met many contacts, including the young physicist Elliot who stood in the next room over. His specialty was Quantum Physics and the mechanics associated with its application. His theories on how to apply gravity waves in opposition to its natural course was genius and well beyond her level of thinking. It was all so abstract as to be impractical. Yet, somehow, it could be applied to her theories on artificial gravity, that Earth was essentially a magnet, to think simplistically, and that one could, in theory, pose an opposite effect to it creating lift. This capability could be reconstructed in space to create a polar dynamic using energy cells that represented the Earth’s gravitational pull and other cells that pulled against it. All of it was very complex and they were about to give it a try.
“Well, Doctor, feeling metaphysical today?” Elliot smiled with a slight laugh that belied the obvious nervousness he had to be feeling.
“As ever as I’m going to be. Let’s get this puppy warmed up.” Cerise smiled back, feeling giddy at the opportunity to apply her theory in real life.
It was amazing to think how much faith her investors had in her to be putting this much on the line. The private space industry had only just begun in earnest and everyone was looking for a leg up on the competition. What better way to say you’re the best than to say “Hey, we have artificial gravity. The other guys don’t. Come fly with us!”
“Alright, everyone, goggles on. This little ball’s in motion.” Cerise said.
The whole lab put on their equipment, getting ready for history. Aides abandoned the chamber beyond, housing the cylinder and the little component that would make this radical endeavor possible. A dull thrum emanated throughout the complex as the device booted up and fingers were crossed as a bright light shot out from the cylinder. Cerise could barely make out the ball crazily spinning suddenly on its axis upon the stand on which it sat. Then, it began to hover into the air and a din of excitement broke out.
It was true. Gravity had been defied as the ball began to slack off in its spin and began its own, slowing rotation. Cerise smiled defiantly at all those who had said it was impossible. None of those so called geniuses were there, of course. But she knew they wouldn’t be happy to be proven wrong.
She turned towards Elliot who was monitoring a screen on his side of the lab. With a feeling of being watched, he turned to take in Cerise smiling at him. He smiled back knowing what they’d accomplished. Cerise gave him a thumbs up. He returned the gesture. She turned back towards the little hovering globe, thinking about her husband and daughter and knowing that they were all set for life. She could now write a book about her theories and continue to push and refine the technology.
“Doctors! We have a problem!” A voice cut in over Cerise’s thoughts.
The smiles on those in the lab dissipated in that sudden exclamation. Elliot and Cerise rushed over to the systems monitor to see what the issue was.
“What’s going on?” Cerise inquired nervously hoping beyond hope that it wasn’t anything serious, her dreams of glory seeming suddenly very dim.
“I don’t know. Some sort of spike in the energy outputs. It shouldn’t be reading levels this high.”
“That’s not good.” Elliot said, rushing over to the viewport to take note of the little ball now bouncing up and down in its own geosynthetic orbit.
Cerise peered over to the ball and frowned.
“How much energy are we talking about?” She inquired, afraid of the answer.
“Uhm...enough to power New York indefinitely.” The woman aide looked up at Cerise from behind her goggles, looking very alien all of a sudden.
“Perfect.” Cerise commented wryly. “Try to lower the levels...”
“Ma’am, I’m trying. But...It’s not responding!” She replied to Cerise exasperated.
Elliot looked back at them. He grimaced but remained calm.
“Take the matrix offline. We’ll see what went wrong and try to correct the outputs.” He said.
“...The system isn’t cooperating with me. I don’t get it.” The woman replied to Elliot, frantically trying to override the system.
“Unplug it.” Cerise commanded to one of the aides nearest the power station.
The man reached down into the safety overrides and shut off all the breakers. Nothing happened. He went over to the wall where serious looking conduits of wires were plugged into the power station and set about releasing the safety harnesses with his gloved arms. He looked up once the task was complete. The power was still on.
“Ok. This is new.” Elliot said, stepping back from the viewport. Strangely enough, the little bouncing globe seemed to now be powering the lab.
“Suggestions?” Cerise asked him, coming beside him.
Before Elliot could answer, a sudden pulse knocked them off their feet and unto their backs. Seated aides were flung haphazardly from their chairs. The room went dark and utter silence prevailed.
A thick dampness woke the man from an uncomfortable slumber. He sat up in an awkward confusion. Something wasn’t right. Where was he? Apparently, he was on a bench in the middle of what looked to be some park. He couldn’t tell. All he could see was a thick fog surrounding the area everywhere he looked. The man sat up and inhaled deeply, placing his right hand to his forehead. It throbbed with the pressure of a very unsettling sleep.
Shit. Goddamn headache. Thoughts of this nature persisted in his mind as he struggled with his center of gravity to stumble to his feet. Apparently, his center was in his posterior as he found himself rather quickly on his ass on a very wet ground. Wonderful. Fortunately, he had a trenchcoat on. An old brown leather one he’d gotten from...hell, he didn’t know where he’d gotten it from. He didn’t know where he was. He didn’t know how he got here. And he sure as hell didn’t know where he’d been. The only thing he knew for absolute certainty was his name; Rysden. Sheridan Rysden.
Sheridan scratched a full days’ growth of accumulated whiskers upon his chin as he contemplated his new surroundings and got to his feet. Turning around three hundred and sixty degrees, he realized that no matter where he went, there was some goddamn fog hindering his progress. He could see some trees. Some paths as well. Grass was in abundance, oversaturated with dew or just rainwater. Or something. He didn’t care.
He chose a direction; that-a-way. And began to plod along to destinies unknown. Grimy and gruff looking hands dug into pockets in his coat and ragged pants looking for money. There had to be a diner in this area. Because, he was hungry. And hungry wasn’t good. Especially in a place you’d never seen before. Better to have a full gut and then think on it than an empty one going hysterical about it. Maybe he’d find a store along the way and get some aspirin.
A wallet came out of his back pocket. In it was one hundred forty dollars. How fortuitous. He thought to himself, suddenly paying attention to his driver’s license. Well, at least now I have some idea where I came from. Point one: me. He stashed the wallet back into his rear pocket, brushing aside his trench coat ever so slightly and continued on his way to god only knew where.
About half an hour passed as Sheridan traversed the terrain. He had found the town the park belonged to not too far along the path he had chosen. You chose wisely, my son. Jesting thoughts came to him as he found a pack of cigarettes in his inner coat pocket and lit one to pass the time. The town was strangely deserted. And that eerie fog only got worse as he continued along the streets. There were no lights. That was a puzzler. He was beginning to wonder if everyone had just packed up and left town when he ran across a figure lying hunched by a guardrail to an apartment complex.
“Hey, buddy.” He said, making a move towards the figure and flicking an ash. “Pal, where the fuck am I?”
Sheridan touched the figure on its shoulder as it lay crouched on the steps. The figure rolled off the steps and onto its back. Sheridan paused and looked at the face. It was a woman. Her arms flopped down on the ground and she looked dead.
“Ah, shit.” He stated and knelt down to check her pulse. “People these days. Ain’t got any regard for human life. Just leave a poor soul slumped on the steps like some...” As he touched her neck, the woman opened her eyes, took one look at him, screamed in terror, jumped to her feet, and jetted down the street like a tri-athalon runner going for the gold. “What the fuck?”
Sheridan stayed there on his knee watching the woman disappear into the gloomy fog without a clue as to what just happened. He shook his head and got to his feet. People these days. And at that, he continued on his way through the darkened streets of some town in the middle of nowhere.
Cerise sat up in a groggy haze. Her goggles had been blown off and the glasses she wore hung loosely on her face. Readjusting those, she glanced around but wasn’t able to see anything for the lights were still out. In her pocket, she grabbed a small key chain light she kept to help her open the lock to her car. She flashed it around the interior of the lab. Bodies were everywhere.
Checking pulses, Cerise was terrified to discover that the aides were dead. She looked around and saw Elliot. A shard of plexiglass had been driven through his skull. Dropping her light, she quickly looked away and felt the urge to regurgitate. But all she succeeded in was a dry vomit.
Dizzily, Cerise found the light she dropped and shone it away from Elliot’s corpse. Tears found their way down her cheeks as she sought a phone line to call for help. However, the few phones she discovered didn’t seem to be working. In an unsteady fashion, she fought her way against her own disgust to get into the next room with the cylinder to find out what went wrong. What had she done?
Jesus. Please! Oh, god! She stumbled into the next room and flashed the light around. The little ball had dropped to the floor but a strange light barely visible persisted at the base of the cylindrical containment unit. She could see inside it for the plexiglass had exploded outward. She flashed the light at the viewport, noting that it had been shattered by the force.
Elliot... Then another thought hit her. Oh, Christ...Paul! Maddie!! A new urge ate at her existence. She had to get out and get to her husband and daughter. The phone lines were out, but that also meant the doors had been demagnetized. It shouldn’t be a problem to get out. At least, she hoped not.
With the greatest of haste, Cerise backtracked to the entrance to the lab and didn’t look back at her colleagues laying heaped on the floor. She couldn’t bear to look at them now. How could she fail them so? A failed experiment was acceptable. Millions of dollars would have been wasted, true, but the human death toll was beyond measure to her. She prayed and hoped beyond hope that the incident was contained merely to the labs and not the whole building...Oh, god, not the town! Please tell me it was contained! Please! She wept to herself, barely in control of her own senses.
One dark hall after another passed as she made her way through the building. It was as she feared. The building had fallen victim to the pulse wave. She didn’t know what had happened. She didn’t know what the pulse wave was. But she knew she had to find out. However, there was a greater drive to check on her family first.
Staggering out into the main lobby, Cerise looked around. There were dead everywhere. Through the halls she had traversed. And now here, in the lobby. Her heart ached. She looked at the massive, glass hewn veranda that enclosed the lobby. Beyond it was the darkest night she’d ever seen. That was because the electricity was out. It was out in the entire town. No...
It was possible, she supposed, that the wave had merely knocked out the town’s electricity. She hoped. Her hopes were diminishing, however. Towards the entrance, she began but stopped short when something came from the shadows. Several somethings. She flashed her light around the dark lobby and saw, to her horror, half a dozen snarling beings of unknown origin. All of them deep red in hue with gnashing teeth and lethal claws. And all of them saw her. They came forward with biting jaws of misery looking to make her their meal. She screamed in terror and turned back the way she’d come. She slammed doors behind her and locked them with the seeming minuscule locks on their knobs.
What the fuck! What the Fuck!! I’m going to hell!! What the... “Fuck!” Sheridan shouted as he looked upon the dark store.
No one would be there to serve him this night. That meant no aspirin. He wasn’t a happy camper. He tried the door anyway and found it unlocked. So, he went into the mini-mart. He didn’t see a soul. Therefore, he helped himself to some aspirin anyway. So, I’m an asshole. I’ll leave a ten on the counter. Not like I don’t got the money. He checked around for anything else he might need, picked up a pack of cigarettes from the counter, didn’t see the clerk, left the money and left the store.
Lighting up another cigarette, Sheridan walked down the bleakly fog drenched city streets, determined to leave this dreary place behind. He turned a corner and walked approximately half a block before he started hearing odd moanings coming from everywhere at once. He looked upward towards the buildings crowding him on all sides and could barely ascertain darkened windows through the thick fog clinging to the city scape, apparently attempting a new type of symbiosis.
He continued on, feeling that he probably just heard the creaking of settling stone. However, the moaning emitted again and this time it was accompanied by distinct, humanoid shapes slowly massing in the shadowy recesses beyond at the building bases. It must have been an alleyway that he was in because there were only two directions to go. Forward, where the shadows were massing or backwards the way he had come.
Sheridan decided to hell with whatever it was and turned around. Unfortunately for his dumb luck, lurking figures were congregating there as well. His nerve was slipping but he felt he had had confrontations with the unknown before.
“Well, people, if this is one of those gang things, I ain’t in the mood. Maybe one of you fine fellows can tell me where the hell I am and into which direction the exit from it is.” He stood his ground, instinctively placing his hands in front of him in some martial stance he’d picked up somewhere.
Whatever false bravado he’d mustered, must have worked as the figures stopped moving and just stood there ever so slightly discernable in the foggy darkness. It was eerie that he could see them at all. And unnerving that all they did was stand there. Then there was a strange round of whisperings that culminated into a raspy din. A conversation of some sort was ensuing.
“You are not one of them. You yet live.” Came a small voice from out of the fog. Sheridan stood a little bit straighter, still not at ease but at least someone was saying something intelligible.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I think it’s safe to say I ain’t dead yet. ...At least, I don’t think.” Sheridan patted his hands against his body, checking for substance and glad he was still there.
Another series of muted mumblings rattled through the alleyway. Then some of the figures stepped forward from behind and in front. He found himself surrounded by minuscule figures. Then realization hit; these were children.
“We are the Missing. You should not be here.” The lead said.
The child looked to be male. He’d come far enough for slight features to be seen. Yet not enough to identify anyone in a potential lineup.
“The Missing, huh? Think maybe your folks might not like you playing so late at night like this? Unnerving the piss out of some poor shmuck dumb enough to walk down an alley so late at night.”
“Travel with caution. The terrors still lurk.” The male child spoke solemnly.
This was freaking the hell out of Sheridan as he placed his back against a wall in a slight lean to keep all the little childlike figures where he could see them. Regardless, he decided to play it cool and blinked his eyes slowly as he began to speak once more,
“Look, this is all very funny and all, but I’d appreciate it if someone laid out what’s going on around here. Playing pranks in the middle of the night isn’t something...” Sheridan said as he reopened his slow blink and looked around.
The shadowy figures were gone. The mad whisperings had ceased. Oh, this is good.
“Fucking kids...” Sheridan said into the night air, not expecting a response.
Anger rose slightly in his person as Sheridan’s pulse caught up with his held breathe. He flicked the long ash that had formed on his still smoldering cigarette and took another drag. This town was seriously fucked in the head and he’d had enough of its mysteries.
A long and narrow path led from the center of the town towards the wooded park surrounding the city on all sides. The intent of such a park was to instill a sense of nostalgia and serenity for days long past. However, all it achieved in doing now was instilling a sense of fear into Cerise as she traversed the dirt path covered in the unnaturally dense fog.
She had made her escape from the demons via a backdoor in the laboratory complex. Arms were huddled against her to still the cold bite in the vapors hanging stalely in the night air. Had the pulse wave caused this? The lights were out and mother nature seemed to have taken the cue to move in. Where was her family? She had to make it back to the house. Maybe they were there, afraid of the sudden blackout. Yeah. That had to be it.
Jesus. It’s so cold. Cerise thought, her breath materializing in a condensed vapor in front of her face. There was nothing to see save for the pitch black of nothingness. A shrieking sound emanated from behind her. She spun around looking for anything chasing along the path. There was nothing but that damned fog.
Turning back toward the direction she was heading, Cerise increased her pace into almost a run. It felt like something was watching from the beyond. Her arms came out to her sides, releasing the hold she had on herself. She broke out into a run, a cold sweat encompassing her body. Her house had to be up this hill. It had to be. Where was she? She was suddenly unsure.
Cerise stopped and panted, putting her hands on her knees. Someone gripped her from behind and Cerise nearly jumped out of her skin. She turned around and was met by her husband, Paul.
“Paul! Oh god! Thank god!” She shouted, embracing him.
Paul didn’t say a word as he looked down upon Cerise. She let her gaze drift up to his face and he smiled that smile of his. She smiled back warmly.
“Where’s Maddie?” She inquired, worry at the back of her mind and quickly making its way through her body.
Paul’s smile faded as he pointed to the side of the path. There, her daughter lay not moving. Cerise screamed and rushed towards her daughter. She checked the girl’s pulse and found none. Noooo!!
“Noooo!! Paul! What happened!? How...!?” She looked up at her husband who was just standing there looking at the two.
Cerise stared in horror as a demon with wings rose up from behind Paul and mutilated the man without passion. It hissed a strange shriek and Cerise stood up to scream her rage. Her hands clenched into fists of temper and defiance.
“Paul!! Goddamnit!! You fucker!! What ARE you!?” She glared at it from behind her steamed up glasses, rage boiling over while fear hacked into her conscience.
The demon landed and howled. Other demons came from the fog and one swatted Cerise, knocking her down and slinging her glasses into the unknown. Looking back up, she saw them approaching. Tears streamed down her visage as her continence wavered and a little voice in her head shouted, Run, you fool! Run! They can’t be saved! Yet, she stared at her daughter’s body and what was left of her husband. Strange that the voice in her head sounded so much like Paul. She didn’t feel like she could stand. She wanted to let the demons drag her to hell for her sins against her family. If that would save them from this misery. However, a force overcame her, and Cerise was immediately on her feet, rushing back towards the town.
No. I have to stay! They’re dead because of me! She plead with herself. No, another voice responded, you have to understand. And she continued to run back down the hill, not stopping for the erratic pulse hammering inside her skull. The fog rushed by in its haze and reality blurred. None of this was real. It couldn’t be. The buildings rushing by her were real. The pounding of her heart, she thought was real. The strong and firm body she smacked into was definitely real.
“Goddamnit!” Came a guttural response as Cerise landed on her posterior and inertia rolled her onto her stomach.
Cerise looked up as she came to her knees, the fear ebbing, not wanting to know but needing to know who had just halted her forward momentum. A man came to his feet swearing. He brushed off his trenchcoat and picked up a cigarette that had been knocked from his mouth. He had to have been nearly six feet tall; dark brown hair and a grissled appearance. He looked right at her. And then offered her his hand.
“You ain’t one of those “terrors”, are you?” The man seemed to quip.
Cerise was fairly certain the man was real. But that fact didn’t still her heart or stave the flow of the tears washing down her cheeks. She took the proffered hand and was helped to her feet. Her eyes never left the face of the strange man before her. But, what he asked was a real puzzler.
“Huh?” Cerise managed to get out, trembling slightly.
“Nevermind. Are you all right?” The man inquired of her, letting loose her hand as she stood up shaking off the gathered dirt from her fall.
Cerise nodded her head that, yes, she was fine. However, she didn’t feel fine. It felt like a leaden spike still on fire had been driven through her heart.
“What about you? Sorry for running into you like that. There was just...” She looked around, her body still shuttered under tearful sobs.
The man seemed to understand without knowing.
“What’s going on around here? This town...where is this? I don’t even know where I am.” He queried patiently waiting for her to get out what it was that had happened.
Cerise didn’t know if she wanted to say. But was a little surprised that the man didn’t know where he was. She cast her eyes at him.
“You don’t know? The events...that’s a little hard to explain. Where you are is in Roanoke. In the Appalachian mountain range.” She responded, carefully examining his facial features as he looked a little shocked. “You don’t remember how you got here?”
The man shook his head in response, struggling to remember in the dark fog of his mind. Cerise stared at him in contemplation, her tears drying somewhat. A new thought was dominating her concentration. What an interesting event. I wonder if it has something to do with the pulse wave?
A shriek sounded somewhere in the distance and Cerise turned around looking for it, panic evident in her every movement. The man just looked at her strangely.
“Something wrong?” He inquired holding out his hands to steady her should she have a breakdown. Cute. Strange. She slowly turned back to look at him.
“Didn’t you hear it?”
“There was a shrieking in the air. Something...that was there. It...it...” She trailed off not sure what was real anymore.
She looked away from the man. Then suddenly turned back, thrusting her hand out.
“I’m sorry. I’m Cerise Oldega. I didn’t get the pleasure of your name.”
“Right...Sheridan Rysden. That’s all I can remember. At least I know that much.” He took her hand and spoke softly, realizing she wasn’t all that keen on sharing the details of whatever had happened. “Roanoke, huh? Never heard of it...that I remember.” He smiled.
Cerise smiled back, trying to remain calm and rational. Despite his situation, this Sheridan seemed pretty rational himself. Hadn’t he seen the demons? Or were they just after her for her sins? She was about to query him on that when Sheridan decided to speak.
“Regardless. I think we should get out of her. This town is giving me the chills. And, to tell you the truth, I really don’t want to know what happened. You coming? There was this other woman, but she wasn’t in a talkative mood. And then there was the Missing...”
“The Missing?” Cerise recited, arching her brows above the rim of her glasses.
“Long story. Well what do you say?”
Cerise didn’t know what to do. Another shriek emanated in the distance and she came to a decision.
“Yeah, let’s go.”
They were coming. All of them. The moans and groans of hungry legions hammered at her skull as the woman ran. How many were there? She didn’t know. Too many. But she had to keep going. One had tried to take her when she, out of exhaustion, had collapsed on the stairs to her boyfriend’s apartment. He hadn’t been home. It was like he just disappeared. Or became one of them. She thought to herself, fear escalating. She hoped it wasn’t true. But, one never knew. She wasn’t willing to stay around to find out. Several days had passed, since the blackout. Then the dead had risen and started walking the streets. Hiding hadn’t helped much. But she had thought them gone when she’d gotten to Billy’s place. His door had been lock so she slept on the stairs hoping he would come home. Then the one had found her. She had to get out of town. Had to escape the nightmare. The dense fog descended upon her as the moans got louder. The woman ran harder and deeper into the thickening fog.
Sheridan walked beside the woman, Cerise, that had run into him. She was shorter, maybe five foot five. But she wasn’t really thin. There was substance to her body structure, not fat, but it looked as if she could be a mother. And she was probably in her late thirties. A wedding ring adorned her left hand. Married with a child, at least one. Tearful. Something happened to her family. There’s fear there. Yet, a solid resolve. She doesn’t want to leave. Thoughts rolled around in his head, as Sheridan continued studying the woman. He wasn’t sure why he was doing it. It just seemed natural.
A road lay directly ahead as they were exiting the town. The intent was to get as far away from Roanoke as possible and get the authorities involved. The closer they got to the road, the surer Sheridan got about himself. He was more aware. Something about the town was preventing him from fully understanding. From remembering.
Cerise was finishing up a narrative about what had happened in the lab. She was being very careful about avoiding what she was running from. And she was evasive about the whole back door to the lab. Strange, but, how she described the lab and the complex it was housed in, didn’t seem to be the type of place to harbor a back door. He was sure she was holding something back. However, Sheridan was trying to be respectful. Still...
“What made you leave the lab by the back door? And what happened to your husband?” He inquired in as mild a tone as he could muster. She started at this at looked at him.
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“Let’s not play coy. Something happened in this town. Now it may have had something to do with the pulse wave you described, however, you weren’t running from a wave.” He looked at her trying to understand.
Cerise sighed a heavy sigh and explained the demons and what had happened to her family. About why she deserved to die in the town with everyone else. She was crying again and he felt bad for it. He wasn’t trying to make her cry.
“It’s not your fault. I find it strange, though, that I didn’t see any bodies or any indication of life having been in town. Well, with the exception of the lunatic and the children of the fog...”
“I don’t know what to tell you. They’re dead. All of them. I did it. I will never be able to atone for that.” Cerise composed her statement then stared ahead in silence.
Sheridan walked in silence beside her considering all he’d been told. It had been a tragedy, but, something was still off. Something didn’t sit right with the tale. She hadn’t lied to him. Though, she obviously only had her take on events. Maybe he should go back and find that woman? Of course, they were already on the road. They weren’t able to find a vehicle in town they could use. And weren’t willing to steal one. Adding grand theft auto to the already wild tale would have been less than ideal.
Around them, the pale silence had dissipated and the fog was lifting. A dark row of forest was surrounding them with this one road running through their midst. Sheridan could see the stars, finally, in the night. A gorgeous moon played its beam across a forest canopy casting eerie shadows onto the paved road. Memories were flooding back to Sheridan. Once, he had been an detective on the police force in Maryland. He had taken up private investigation after a particularly disastrous fiasco with the department involving extortion and a group of prostitutes. He had come to Roanoke looking for a lost relative of one of his clients. Last word had them in this small community in the mountains.
Soft chitterings of crickets in the woods brought Sheridan back into the present, making him realize how good it was to remember. There had been things he’d wished to forget, but those were part of the person he’d become.
Bright beams shone down from the road a ways, disrupting the depth of the night. Sheridan stuck is thumb out to hail the vehicle, some sort of sedan.
“Well, I’m recalling things a whole lot better now.” Sheridan said outloud as the sedan pulled up beside him. “Thanks for stopping, buddy. The lady and I need a lift to the next town.”
Sheridan spoke to the lone occupant in the driver’s seat after he rolled down the window. The man inside stared at him vacantly.
“Yeah, Mrs...” Sheridan turned to face Cerise and found himself standing alone by the side of the road with a sedan eagerly waiting his next response. “Goddamnit. That woman...”
A choice had to be made. Go back to town to find out where Cerise went and what she thought she was doing, or just make a break for it now. He elected on the former, thanking the gentleman for having the courtesy to stop. As the sedan drove off, Sheridan began the trek back to town.
That eerie silence of a dead town remained within Roanoke as Sheridan traversed the town streets. He had seen Cerise on the way back. Not even a track. She must have ran back. He was beginning to wonder why he’d come back. Then thought about the complex that the lab was in. It had to be in the downtown area. But finding the way would take a little guess work.
The fog hadn’t dissipated, in fact, it seemed to have gotten worse. Strange noises were echoing throughout the town now. Noises he hadn’t noticed before. He was getting a little unnerved by everything. Keep your focus. Sheridan told himself, looking around cautiously. He loafers echoed off the building walls as he walked towards what he assumed was the center of the town.
A blast rung out. Sheridan looked around not seeing anything, but noted that the sound had been close. Another blast. This time, a zing whipped by his head barely missing him and striking the wall beside him. Sheridan’s fear had been confirmed, someone was firing a weapon at him. A twenty two by the sound of it. He ducked behind a dumpster, hoping the fog would help mask him from whomever was firing at him.
Perching down in a little corner that the dumpster and the wall created, Sheridan waited patiently and quietly. The dark was masking him fairly well. He could just slightly make out his own hands in front of him. Though a eerie light was playing through the streets with no discernable source. Before long, a quick glean caught his attention as a hunched interloper strolled silently by him. It didn’t see him, which gave Sheridan an advantage he needed.
With a quick motion blurred in the fog, Sheridan effortlessly twisted the handgun from the grasp of the individual that had fired at him. He slung the person against the wall and turned them around to face him. The slight light in the thick fog illuminated ever so slightly the face of a woman. The one he’d seen on the steps. She was screaming now, clawing at his face trying to drive him back. Wrestling with the woman, he managed to pin her arms against the dumpster.
“Hey! Knock it off!! What’s your problem!?” He shouted trying to get the woman to calm down.
“Let me go! Monster! Let me go!” She glared at him with streaks of tears mired in terror.
“Look at me! I am not a monster! Calm down and talk to me!” He shouted back at her. The darkness was making it tough to see her.
The little light available was difficult to keep upon her visage. However, she seemed to be calming down and then stopped struggling, staring at him with her jaw ajar.
“You can talk?”
“Uhm, yeah.” Sheridan said, feeling that maybe he’d gotten through to her, but still wasn’t letting up on her arms.
In his right pocket, the twenty two bumped against his thigh. He had jammed it there during the struggle. Hopefully, she wouldn’t be trying to take it back. The woman let out a sob of joy and embraced him. She didn’t speak a word as he led her to a step closure to a lighted spot which seemed to be coming more and more regular. It was strange. Sheridan had never seen lights like them before. They materialized more or less as opposed to shone. There was no source.
“What happened? Where’d you get this gun?” He asked, regretting immediately having brought up the gun.
“I...I got the gun from the gun shop. I went to Billy’s but he never came home. Now the zombies run the streets.” She spoke, gazing at the ground with distant eyes.
Zombies? What? Definitely, something wasn’t adding up. Cerise said she’d seen ‘demons’. Now, here was a woman seeing ‘zombies’. He had no idea who the hell Billy was. But, somehow he doubted Billy would be showing up any time soon.
“Look, I need your help. You can come with me. I’ll protect you from the zombies. You have to trust me, but I need you to take me to the lab. Do you know where it is?” He asked, grasping her shoulders with his hands.
“Do you really think you can protect me from them?” She asked, doubt heavy in her voice.
“I know nothing is coming near you without getting through me first.” He stated.
She snorted in response to his words.
“Look,” Sheridan continued, “we got off on the wrong foot here. What’s your name? I’m Sheridan.” He placed a hand on his chest to emphasize what he was saying.
The woman stared at him dumbly, fatigue weighed deeply in her eyes. She smiled then.
“Amanda Penway. But, I somehow doubt you are going to be able to protect me.” Amanda stated, but continued abated, “you’re looking for a lab? What lab?”
“A place called the Zyler complex.”
“Ah. Yeah. I know where it is. I’ll take you there. But, keep this in mind, there are things out there that will come for us.” A spooky smile stretched across her face as she spoke and she got to her feet to lead him towards the complex.
Is everyone fucked in the head around here? Or is it just me? The wry thought came to him. Sheridan followed the woman closely, thankful the woman didn’t want the gun back. He kept an eye out for zombies and demons and what not. All these things made him think about how afraid people are of things. He himself had fears, of course. One of those was failing in another marriage, but he doubted the marriage police would suddenly be pulling him over.
They had traversed several blocks when they came upon the complex. Amanda took the lead and guided him up the massive stair ziggurat leading to the entrance. They found the doors open. Sheridan wanted to grab the gun but kept his cool. Thoughts of demons guarding the entrance entered his head, but he didn’t believe they actually existed. Everyone had to be a little whacko around here. It probably had something to do with the pulse wave, he’d heard of weird things happening when electrical backlashes occurred.
“Stay near me.” Sheridan said, leading the way into the room.
He was extremely pleased to leave the fog behind and be able to see clearly again, despite the fact it was still dark. It was weird, though, the subtle light in the fog seemed to be flowing cleanly into the complex bathing the room in a pale blue hue. It was like the moon was suddenly showing. Yet, there was only the fog beyond the massive windowed veranda. Amanda followed a short pace behind him. Then stopped when she heard the shuffling of feet.
Panic gripped Amanda and she saw shadows moving. Screaming, you looked back towards the entrance and saw the silhouetted figures of zombies lurking just beyond the doors. One of the figures pried it open. Sheridan turned towards her.
“What? What are you screaming for?”
“What? Are you fucking blind!? Look!!” She motioned towards the door.
Instinctively, Sheridan’s hand went for the gun. He brought it to bear straining to see anything moving. He only saw the lobby they were in, but she was flipping out.
“Calm down. There’s nothing there.” He let his left hand make a calming motion while his right hand gripped the gun in it pointed at the ground.
Amanda looked at him amazed. And then turned to run deeper into the complex. He obviously wasn’t seeing what she was seeing. Amanda ran as the zombies came ever closer.
What the hell!? Sheridan saw nothing. But he did hear something. The droning of some creature. It sounded like wings. He froze in fear. Sitting on the reception desk not far away, was something that terrified him beyond belief. Something he ran into in Japan a few years back. Sheridan had had the unfortunate luck of running across a Giant Hornet hive. He had run like hell but one of the bastards had still gotten him. He could still feel the welt on his back he had received as a result of the encounter. And now here was a Giant Hornet, staring him down like he was breakfast.
Sheridan aimed the gun slowly and carefully. He wanted to hit it with one shot not piss it off anymore than necessary.
“You always were a little pussy.” Came a voice.
Sheridan didn’t think the night could get any worse as his fear heightened. He turned to look at a woman standing in the center of the lobby. She was cloaked with a smooth flowing silken garment that was transparent. He could clearly see her nude form as she strode towards him. A mix of emotions ripped through Sheridan. Why was she here? He glanced back at the hornet. It was gone.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Sheridan inquired gripping the gun with both hands and bringing it in front of him.
He had to ignore the bee for now. As terrifying as it was, she was worse. The weapon was pointed to the ground for now. But he kept his eyes on her. Though, he couldn’t help to glance at her total self. He had missed holding her. Missed her caress against his skin.
“Why wouldn’t I be here? Have you forgotten?” Silky smooth arms danced out in front of her as a swarm of Giant Hornets surrounded the woman and lit upon her outstretched arms. They crawled all over her body. Under her silken garment. Around her groin, her thighs, her head. Yet, her face was clear. Each of the damn things were as big as his fist. Terror was an understatement in this moment as he struggled wide eyed to figure this out.
He remembered all right. Remembered what she did. Remembered coming home on a storm ridden night, from doing too much work. Investigating a murder, fighting allegations that he was somehow involved in the extortion ring that had been set up from within the department. Remembered the chill wind that blew and a very unsettling feeling overcoming him. He had stopped then. The rain pouring around him. Just stopped and stood and looked up to the second story window. Curtains were blowing in the wind. So was something else. No, this is a mistake! It couldn’t be.
Sheridan had drawn his gun and held out in front of him much as he held the weapon in front of him now, gradually aiming it towards the woman. He had run up the stairs after flying through the door, nearly knocking it from its hinges. Into the room upstairs and froze in its doorway. Light streamed through the open window as the something swayed in the breeze. It was tied to the overhang on the balcony. He turned the lights on. The scene was straight out of a Jack the Ripper story. To his knees, he had fallen, the tears streaming down his face. His little girl lay gutted in the middle of the room, entrails had been used to paint the room red. His son’s torso swung from the terrace. The boy’s head an ornament now on a bookshelf. Rage had surged through his being. And then his wife and stepped into the bedroom wearing only a silken nighty. The same she wore now, except before it was covered in blood. You....YOU FUCKING BITCH!!! He cried out, unloading his weapon on her, a savage smile still plastered on her face.
Rage filled him once more, the fear of the stinging insects gathered around her not enough to sway him away. But, he had killed her. Her death was considered “justifiable homicide” by the same judge who ruled that she was the one in charge of the extortion ring through the police department. That her brother, he hadn’t known he was her brother, was head of the department. How could he have not known? How could she...?
“You murdered our children. And I murdered you. This is some sort of deranged nightmare...” He spoke angrily pointing the weapon at her.
The woman laughed at this.
“Mmmmm. Remember Japan?” She asked him, beckoning a fist sized hornet into her palm. “You swelled up soooo much. It should have killed you, all of them. But, you were destined to interfere weren’t you? You had to be punished. You HAVE to be punished!” She laughed outloud and set forth the hornets that swarmed into a angry battering ram slicing through the lobby towards Sheridan.
He depressed the trigger. Several rounds careened outward towards the woman with vicious intent and connected with her skull, sending the wickedly smiling woman flopping unto the ground. Sheridan unloaded the rest of his ammo on the dive-bombing hornets and realized he wasn’t going to stand a chance against them. He ducked under a desk as they flew around trying to stab at him. He quickly darted toward a door beyond the reception area and received two stings. Grabbing a broom set near the door, Sheridan dodged into the next room and shut the door behind him. He wasn’t alone in his conquest, ten hornets had followed him and were doing everything they could to land on him, to sting him. However, Sheridan deftly swatted the hornets out of the air and stomped on everyone of them. He kept stomping until the anger dissipated. Which didn’t completely.
Sheridan looked out into the lobby through a window in the door. In horror, he witnessed his ex wife standing there, laughing at him in utter contempt. Nooo. Jesus Christ! What the fuck!? He backed away from the door and decided to keep moving through the complex. Maybe he’d find Cerise. He hoped so. He hoped she knew how to kill the undead. Amanda was right; there were zombies out there.
There was no end to the series of halls as they guided Amanda further and further into the recesses of the complex. The things were behind her; pursuing her every step of the way. That Sheridan was a fool. How could he have not seen them? Then let him die a fool’s death. Amanda thought, breath fleeing her as she worked her legs as hard as she could. Down the steps, farther into solitude, she sped. The zombies wouldn’t be able to keep up. They were too slow. At least, she hoped they were too slow.
A darkened room lay exposed before her as she slammed the door shut behind her. Amanda gasped for air, her chest heaving in exhaustion. Where was she? She searched for a light switch mindful of the blackout’s effects but praying just the same. She found a switch and flipped it. Remarkably, the lights came on. Across the bare room, some sort of back up laboratory that lacked any real equipment, she saw a phone on a table. Hurriedly, she flung herself towards it. There was a dial tone.
Amanda dialed nine one one. However, no one answered. She tried any number she could think of out of town. Nothing. She pressed one of the memory buttons and got a line out. Someone answered from some place she’d never heard of; a tactical response company.
“Good evening, Omega Station Tactical Emergency Response. Please state the nature of the emergency.” A soothing woman’s voice answered.
“Please, help! There are zombies! Something’s wrong in this town! I don’t know what happened! Save me!” Amanda shouted, awe stricken that this line got her to someone in such a position.
“Ma’am, please state your authorization code.”
“Authorization code!? Are you fucking kidding me!? I don’t work here! They’re everywhere! Just send help! Get me out of here!” She screamed.
“Ma’am, pl....” The operator began but the line had gone dead.
Oh no. Amanda thought, panicked. A subtle knocking began on the door leading into the room. She slowly set down the receiver. They were coming; the zombies were right outside the door. There was just one other door. The banging got louder and she darted for the last salvation of her hope.
Sheridan burst through a door leading out of the dark corridor. He was halfway down another hall when the lights suddenly came back on. He stopped in puzzlement and hoped that the sudden change in the situation was a good thing. Several doors lined the hall but the one that interested him the most was the one at the end of the hall. So it was there that he decided to go first.
Opening the door and entering the next room, Sheridan saw Cerise sitting at a computer typing away in oblivious silence. He couldn’t believe it. He had hoped to find the woman, but he was still shocked to see her here, just sitting and typing in solitude.
“Cerise? What the fuck are you doing? Why’d you leave and come back here?” He asked, dumbfounded and stared at the woman with his left hand semi-motioning towards the way he’d just come.
“Huh?...” Cerise looked at Sheridan blankly. “I managed to get the electricity back on. And I still have to find out what happened. It’s all my fault.”
Cerise returned her attention to the keyboard in front of her, and stared at the monitor. Bluish light danced across her visage as her glasses reflected the work she was doing. Sheridan stared at her for a moment.
“Look, we have to leave. I just had a run-in with my ex, and I don’t think she was happy to see me.” He remarked, looking at the door briefly then returning his attention to the woman typing away neurotically.
“I can’t leave. There’s too much work to do. I...I can’t...” She said, hesitating minutely.
Cerise stopped typing, her fingers perched inertly above the keys. She stared at the screen for a few moments. Then, slowly, she turned towards Sheridan and stared at him vacantly.
“How’d I get back here?” She inquired of the puzzled man staring back at her.
“I’m assuming you walked...” He replied.
Confused, Cerise stood and cast her gaze towards the floor. Something was wrong. She remembered following Sheridan to the road that led past town. Yet, she couldn’t remember how she got back. She stared at the cylindrical object in the next room over. The glass lay broken on the ground and that glowing persisted within the cylinder chamber. What happened? Can it...?
Sheridan glanced nervously at the door he’d come through and brought his weapon to bear. He heard a thumping.
“Cerise! We really need to go!” He shouted as the door burst open and a legion of hornets swarmed in, covering the walls and ceiling.
Panic ate its way into Sheridan’s consciousness as he stared in horror. The woman entered the doorway, actually gliding into the room like some sort of phantasm come to claim his sole. He tried to fire the weapon, forgetting he had already unloaded the gun.
“Shit!” Sheridan spat, not believing his luck as the woman before him laughed in spite.
Cerise stood still, her gaze still at the ground. Doesn’t she see them? Sheridan questioned himself, fear trembling its way through his soul. The room was starting to go dark from the swarm covering the light fixtures. His ex-wife widened her arms as if to embrace him into the hellish afterlife she planned for him. He backed away from the woman, his nerve wavering.
“Oh darn.” Cerise calmly said.
She climbed up onto the ledge where the glass had separated the room housing the cylindrical tower from the observation lab. She turned towards Sheridan as he looked at her in alarm. Demons were rising up through the floor before Cerise. Though Sheridan didn’t see them. She calmly smiled at him in a strangely reassuring way. He was speechless.
“What the fuck are you doing?” He asked, as he instinctively raised his weapon towards his ex, knowing its futility.
“I’m sorry, Sheridan. This really is all my fault. I should have realized sooner...none of this is real.” She smiled even at the phantasmal demons approaching her, shrieking their exasperations. “Quantum mechanics was never my specialty. I failed to consider what would have happened should we employ its means in the Earth’s gravity well. All our fears, all our shames...We’re just energy, you see. Energy...Energy is perception. And perception is how we view the world. Good bye...and good luck. Thank you for helping me.”
Sheridan could only watch her as Cerise held her arms wide and closed her eyes. She leapt backwards into the glowing void that was center of the cylindrical containment unit. Cerise made a secret wish as she plunged into its depths. My family...If only to shatter this wellspring of self-recriminating hate...
“Cerise!” Sheridan pushed himself towards her, dropping his gun, hoping beyond hope to grab her, but arriving all too late.
Her form dissipated into nothing as if she had never existed. He found himself suddenly alone. He looked around the room and found that his wife too had disappeared. Though that strange glow still persisted. What...the fuck?
Several hours later, Sheridan found himself walking alone along the road leading away from town. He didn’t know what had happened and was still as confused as when he had awakened on that park bench. He had searched around the complex for Amanda, but couldn’t find her. Nor was there any further sign of life around Roanoke. Energy is perception...What did it mean? There was no way of telling. Somehow, though, it was attached to the vision of his wife. Of those children. Of a fog infested town in the middle of bum-fuck Egypt. And regardless of whatever he thought, his nightmare was over at least. Sometimes, there were things beyond human understanding. And he was in no mood to try to understand the events of this night. He stuck his right thumb out as a vehicle was approaching. Fortunately, the driver pulled over. It was a pickup with three young adults in it.
“Need a lift?” Inquired the woman in the passenger side.
Sheridan cast a glance at the fog hanging over the woods in the near distance. He looked back at the three people looking at him. One was in the truck bed.
“You have no idea...But, yeah.” Sheridan responded evenly, placing his hand on the truck door.
“Where you heading?” The driver asked, a young male.
“Wherever. I’m in no hurry.” He replied.
“Cool. Hop in the back.” The driver motioned towards his friend.
Sheridan happily did so. As he sat back and the truck entered motion, he couldn’t help but think on the events of the night. He didn’t want to, but things had a way of sneaking up on you. Forcing you to recognize when something was beyond your understanding. Energy...is perception. He let that roll around his head and lit up a cigarette. And perception is how we view the world. He wondered, not for the first time, just how it was he perceived his world. He blew out a puff of smoke into the clearing, morning air and just let it be as the town was left behind him far, far in the distance.
Amanda broke out towards a clearing away from the town. The door had led to a subterranean exit near the airport. It must have been for evacuation purposes. She was glad for that little bit of reprieve. The zombies had ceased chasing after her. Which she found odd. They had to still be there. They would never cease their pursuit of her. Not after everything she’d done in her life. Not after what she had done. Her boyfriend and that bitch he’d betrayed her for...
Billy...rot in hell, you bastard. You deserved what you got. The thought reverberated through her mind in joyful glee. A smile crossed her face as a thumping sound echoed through the still, morning air. A helicopter was coming. Was it salvation? Had they come to save her? From herself? From Billy? No. She wouldn’t let them. Wouldn’t let them take away her satisfaction. Not so long as she drew breath. Bring it on, you fuckers! She raised her hands to the heavens and laughed outloud as the helicopter flew overhead, nearing the landing.