Apocalypse Smiling

Our tiny corner of the world ended not with a bang, but with a whisper of words. Ugly words that spread like a plague. It ended with men coming in the night for the innocent, with protests and anger, martial law and border walls. 

It ended with fear.

The strange thing, we saw it coming and let it happen, as if we couldn’t believe the chaos. Sure there were protests, and people speaking out, but most sat back and waited. Until it was too late. Until they were herded and segregated and culled.

I was fourteen.

It was my mother and me back then. We tried to run, like so many. 

And like so many we failed to escape.

They caught us fleeing the city, dozens of groups with the same idea. I remember people running and screaming and the sounds of shots. Of my mother being yanked away by the force of the panicking crowd and her hand slipping from mine. I remember the look of horror on her face as we separated.  

They rounded up the survivors and took them back. I can still see the bodies of the dead lying in the streets as the guards dragged us away. One woman had her head bashed in with rivers of blood flowing from her skull.

I never saw my mother again.

It doesn’t matter anymore. It’s too late.

Our hope died that day.

Some still tried for a while after that, appealed to other places for aid, salvation, anything.

But the rest of the world had enough of us.

No one came to help.

We stand alone now, in a cesspool of hate, other countries turning their backs on us with sanctions and restrictions and closed borders. The government runs everything, food and clothing distribution, medical aid, housing, and it’s all rationed. Except the authorized religion, there’s plenty of that. And no music, books, or art that isn’t approved by them.

Nobody protests anymore, they’re too busy trying to survive. Every citizen belongs to an affiliation, little more than gangs, holed up in apartment blocks or old city sections surviving day to day on their government allotments and defending their territories. Their strength lies in numbers as they manage a meager existence. Sometimes there are wars between factions, but they don’t last long. There is order in their lives, brutal, visceral, but order.

Outside the affiliations, life is different. 

Anarchy reigns out here. It’s home to criminals, crazies, and other nut jobs. We’re always on the move, living in abandoned homes and other buildings, looting for what scraps remain and willing to knife anyone in the back for a morsel of bread or the wrong word. The patrol guards keep the status quo, keep us out of the affiliation zones and from making a mess in their order.

But people still leave their safe, ordered pens. Trying to run from their own existence, escape to a better life, or live dangerously, there are many motivations. I had one. I made a home out here.

Most don’t. Most are only fools. They think they’ll be free, yet there’s nothing here but killers and streets lined with closed shops and empty houses. 

And death.

That’s why I came.

That’s why I love all the fools.

If they’re lucky, the guards will arrest them. If they’re not lucky… 

They’ll meet me.

I’m the shark in the cesspool, the butcher in the chaos.

You see, my old world ended but I’ve grown to like the new one. No one cares if I kill, or if I paint the streets a scarlet red. No one hears the futile screams that echo from the helpless and the foolish.

No one cares what I do anymore.

And I can stand in the rivers of blood with a smile.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2019 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

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Out of the Abyss

She heard sound, an echoing thunder. She felt a hard damp surface beneath her. She saw dim shapes.

“Where am I?” The sound of her new voice startled her.

You are in a place called a cave, by a vast planetary body of water. Something named an ocean.

The voice echoed in the confines of the craggy tidal cave. Or possibly in her head. Either way, it didn’t matter. She felt safer. “You’re here. Good.”

Of course I am here.

She smiled. Then frowned. “The eternal darkness is gone.” She shivered. She’d miss it, the inky black chasm of home. A tear trickled down her cheek. another followed. She touched her hand to the moisture. “Oh. I’m leaking. Strange.”

They are called tears. An emotional reaction.

Her lip quivered and a teardrop trickled on its skin. She tasted the wet with her tongue. Salty. Food tasted that way sometimes. A breeze drifted along her skin and she shivered.

“I don’t like it here. This place is so different. Not like home. The Void is comforting, dark and cold. Silent.”

It is not your home anymore. Remember your task.

She closed her eyes, anger surging, and insisted, “The Void is home. I was born there. The real me. Not this fleshy thing I am now. I don’t like it. I want to leave. Why did you send me here?”

Because it is your time.

She sighed, fists clenched. She knew this. She mustn’t hesitate. She looked up, her new eyes blinded by a shaft of light flickering into the cave. She blinked and raised her hand to shield her vision. That surprised her.

“I have limbs. Odd.” She shook her arms, and then her legs. “Only four. A pity. You told me Father grew ten when he left the Void.”

A different place, a different world. Another dawning.

“True, but I would have liked more.”

We adapt to the species. These humans have four.

“Humans? An odd name. What are they like?”

They are violent; an admirable trait. Yet, they are soft and weak as well. They have strange beliefs such as compassion and mercy.

“Mercy.” She shuddered at the thought. “Truly, an inferior creature.”

Indeed. But they will serve the Void. As will you while you remain here.

“How long? How long must I stay?” Her voice betrayed her impatience and wistful longing.

As long as it takes. Do not be weak.

Disapproval echoed in the voice.

She sighed, well rebuked. “Of course.”

Go now. Walk this world. Do what you were born to do. Feed us, child, nourish us. The Elders have blessed you. Make us proud. Fulfill your purpose.

“Yes.” She straightened her new spine and smiled. “I will make you all proud.”

She stood on wobbly legs and walked slowly out of the cave. As she stumbled into the sunlight, water pools turned black and putrid and seaweed shrivelled to dust. She heard the voice instructing her.

Spread the Void. Char the ground in your wake, poison the waters, choke the air with our taint, pile this planet high with the corpses of humans so we may devour them.

She smiled, a dark glow in the soulless hollow of her essence. Ahead of her stretched a pristine beach waiting to be laid to ruin. In every footstep she heard the echo of the voice.

Leave only death and ash, child. Be the Destroyer.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2019 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Pollywogs

There were so many dead, the fire pits had been decommissioned. Now they just loaded the bodies on commandeered cruise ships and dumped them in the ocean. I heard that hordes of seagulls, bloated and flying erratically from the never-ending feast, would descend on the floating corpses like flies. If you vomited on deck, they’d eat that, too.

I wasn’t sure if I preferred to be one of the living or the dead on those ships that stank like an open grave in the summer sun. On account of my asthma, it was a good bet I’d never get assigned corpse duty.

“Jeremy, where did you go to now?”

Destiny snapped her black lace-gloved fingers in my face.

“Sorry. I spaced.”

“I figured.” She smiled with purple tinted lips, the corners of her eyes crinkling. Her hot pink hair caught the last filaments of the moon before it tucked itself behind a black, roiling cloud. I remembered when the skies were black with smoke for months on end, until the government realized they had destroyed an entire growing season and had to scale back the fires.

“You want to tell me why we’re here again?” I said. I did a three-sixty scan of the graveyard. A majority of the tombstones were crooked, many of them shattered by vandals. The vegetation had been left to go feral, the grass coming up to our hips. Critters large and small skulked in the weeds.

“So I can be with you forever,” she said, pouting for added effect. I was a geek, she was the hottest girl in my school, at least back when there was a school. Who was I to say no? Plus, there were less and less fish in the sea to choose from for us both.

Well, the sea was teeming with fish because of all the human nutrients we’d been dumping in it, but you get my point.

No one, except the Crazies, ate fish anymore, by the way. The rest of us would rather starve – and many have.

I sighed, taking off my glasses to clean them with the end of my shirt. Destiny gingerly put them back on for me and lit a kiss on my thin, dry lips.

“There’s no proof that it will work,” I said. “You ever hear of an urban legend? I’m pretty sure this qualifies.”

She shook her head. “You’re wrong. I’ve been reading a lot about it. Couples in eastern Europe have been doing it and surviving.”

A blood curdling shriek echoed over the untended cemetery hills. Destiny pressed herself to my back. I could feel the heat of her breath on my neck.

“The internet is practically dead. Whatever’s on there is just Crazies talking crazy shit,” I said.

“But what if they’re right? I mean, it’s not like it can hurt.”

The shriek was met by an angry growl, this time from the other end of the cemetery. We wouldn’t be going home tonight.

“Come on, I picked out a safe one the other day.” Destiny grabbed my hand, leading me to a small, marble mausoleum. She bent by the iron and glass door, taking a pin and paperclip from her pocket. The lock clicked open and she rushed us inside.

Another cry, this one human, made my blood run cold.

There was little room to move Inside the crypt. There was a folding chair, a vase with dried flowers attached to the back wall underneath a stained glass window, and a plastic bag on the floor.

The most glaring aspect of the tiny death house was that the wall had been chipped away. Bits of grit and marble were everywhere.

“Did you do this?” I asked.

She averted her eyes, a clear admission.

Shit, she’s becoming one of the Crazies.

I clicked on my pen light, saw the coffin that had been wedged into the wall space.

“Destiny,” I sighed. “No.”

“But you have to!” she cried, balling my shirt in her fists. “It’s all easy for you because you know they’ll never touch you! Don’t you want the same for me?”

It was true, but she never understood that I wasn’t too keen on being the last of a dying race.

When the Pollywogs first started pouring out of Mt. Saint Helens, our nation’s embryonic inertia of fear was counteracted by a bloody show of extreme violence. We hit them with everything our military could stuff into a gun or rocket launcher. The Pollywogs, gray skinned creatures twice the size of a man with tapering tails and sperm-like heads with button black eyes, were faster and more resilient than anyone could predict. They were also regenerative. Blow off their legs, and they grew back within hours. Set them on fire and they would secrete a flame-dousing jelly from their pores. Hack them into pieces, and each piece is reborn into a hungry Pollywog.

You absolutely did not want to do that.

While the west coast became a food source for the beasts, the earthquake under Manhattan split the fault line wide enough for the east coast Pollywogs to run free. The hordes met in the center of the country, devouring people like they were Tic Tacs. The same scene happened in every country around the transforming world. I guess the center of the earth wanted some time in the sun.

I shouldn’t say they ate people. Actually, they only preferred their lungs. Healthy lungs. Not lungs like mine. Rapidly, mankind was being whittled down to the weak and the lame.

Destiny tugged at the coffin handle. “Help me get this down and fuck me inside.”

Her eyes were manic, desperate. I knew she didn’t want to be with me forever. She just didn’t want to die. Even now, being asked to have sex with her amidst the rot and ruin of a years old corpse, I couldn’t simply say no.

The coffin crashed onto its side, the latch springing open. The jerkeyed body smelled surprisingly like moldering apples. Shrugging out of her skirt, Destiny wedged herself inside the askew coffin, laying atop its resident. The cries of the Pollywogs were a chorus of hunger.

“Please, Jeremey, please fuck me.”

The legend had it that if you fucked a Craplung, someone like me, atop a corpse, and became impregnated, the Pollywogs would do everything in their power to avoid you. Something about the scent of death and growing a Craplung in your womb. It made no sense and I wondered what Crazy invented it.

Desperate times were fertile ground for insane conjectures.

Seeing Destiny spread her stockinged legs, revealing the brown matchstick legs of the corpse beneath her. I decided it was no use fighting.

Becoming a Crazy or having your lungs devoured by a Pollywog, they were both death in different clothes.

~ Hunter Shea

© Copyright 2013 Hunter Shea. All Rights Reserved.