The Demons in the Fortress

The air in the room was cold and dusty, and as the particles swirled around me and danced in the light, I took a deep breath and sighed. I looked down to the floor, down to her crumpled body and the blood staining the concrete and sighed again.

Oh Jeanine.

I saw her face, on that bright summer’s day we were out in the field in the warm sunlight. I saw her mouth moving and her hair dancing around her in the mild breeze and her laughing and taking my hand and her summer dress swishing around her.

“I love you, Michael,” she said, and giggled. She kissed me on the cheek and then stuck out her tongue. “Even though you’re a big loser.”

And then she ran. She ran through the swishing blades of tall, tall grass going to hay and they rocked back and forth around her and I followed after her, my hands reaching for the flesh around her hips, to grab her with my fingers and squeeze more laughter out of her smiling face.

That had only been a week ago.

I saw her face, last night, in the dimness of the living room, the sky outside the sliding glass of the patio doors black as midnight, though it was only seven. All the joy and laughter was gone and there were only the long, sagging lines of exhaustion. Of disappointment. Of the weariness she felt and the things taking hold of her mind. Those things that had been hiding in the bright sunlight but had now reared their ugly heads again in the darkness.

“I hate you, Michael,” she said, and her words were colder than ice and burrowed into my soul. Her eyes were black and empty and she was a different person, one I didn’t even recognize her anymore. “I hate you.”

I tried to fight the things off, tried to chip through the wall of stone they’d erected around her. Assault after assault I launched against the dark black bricks beneath the ramparts, but to no avail. The demons laughed in their towers, invulnerable, God-like, knowing they’d already won.

“Please,” I said. “Please Jeanine.”

“No!” she screamed, and hit me, and her voice wasn’t hers, it was someone else’s. It was a tortured twisted sound like an animal. “No!” She hit me, over and over again and I just wished those brights beams of sunlight would break through the blackness of the night to heal her once more, just for a moment.

“Why are you doing this?” I said. “Baby, it’s me! It’s me! What’s the matter!”

But all that came in response were the blows and the laughter of the demons from above the portcullis.

I tried to stop her but she knocked me to the floor. She grabbed the poker from next to the fireplace and swung it and the sharp tong on its end dug into the hardwood next to me, splintering it. I kicked her and she she screamed again and I remember thinking at that moment that she was finally really gone. Really, truly gone.

She chased me into the basement, swinging the iron tool like an sword and I stumbled, rolling down the stairs, my back hitting every step and shooting electric fire into me. At the base of the landing I stopped and she swung the poker again and I ducked. The metal sunk deep into the drywall and dry powder flew everywhere. She was screaming now, like a madwoman. But it wasn’t her. It wasn’t the woman I loved. The demons had her.

I ran toward the shelves of the basement workshop, those cheap metal shelves she’d always so hated. Stumbling I fell into pile of old paint cans. As she ran toward me I reached for something behind me and my body belonged to someone else.

Blood came out of her mouth, in long, slow, choking spurts. The handle of the screwdriver bobbled back and forth from the one end of the blade, the other stuck into the side of her neck. She sputtered out wet red gasps. I took her in my arms and fell to the floor and she stared into my eyes and we both knew that she was dying.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

The rage never left her eyes. She spat in my face and her saliva was hot on my cheek. Blood poured from her neck onto the cold grey concrete of the shop floor.

Slowly, she closed her eyes, and in them I saw her last words: I know. I’m sorry too.

Oh Jeanine.

I walked back up the stairs, holding the fire poker in the bloodied hand, its end powdery and white.

The demons will be back for me, I know. All I can do is wait.

The Shower Scene

One time when I was younger my mother told me something that really stuck with me. She told me that when she was a teenager she saw the movie ‘Psycho’ even though her parents had expressly forbidden her to, and after she watched that movie she couldn’t shower for a month, she was so scared of the infamous ‘shower scene’.

Imagine that. Watching a movie with a scene about something as commonplace and everyday as taking a shower and having that make it absolutely terrifying. And, as many people have pointed out, compared to modern films, the shower scene doesn’t actually show all that much of anything – it’s all in what is suggested, which is the brilliance of Hitchcock at work.

I’d never seen the shower scene, in fact, only heard it talked about by others and seen bits and pieces of it when it was referenced in documentaries and TV specials about Hitchcock or the history of film. But still my mother’s story about it terrifying her that much changed the way I thought about showering. It made me realize how strange an act it actually was and how frightening it could really be.

I mean, it’s kind of strange when you really think about it, the fact that each and every day we step into this tiny little chamber, no more than a few feet by the length of the average human body, and then completely close ourselves in. With a curtain. Or maybe a sliding glass door. Frosted usually, so if someone else happens to be using the bathroom they can’t see your naked ass and naughty bits, but perhaps more importantly, it means that you can’t see what’s going on outside. What’s on the other side of the curtain? You have no way to know except to hold it back a little and peek out from behind it.

I guess it was about two years ago. These past two years my morning routine is a lot different now than all the years before, but we’ll get to that in a bit, hold on there. Even then, even before it happened, I guess I never really liked showering that much, after what my mother had told me. I found myself sometimes worrying if I’d forgotten to lock the front door or left a window open, or the back door maybe, with only the old storm door that didn’t shut completely on its own, and maybe someone could break in and rob the house while I bathed myself, or, worse, barge into the bathroom and attack me where I was behind the curtain blissfully unaware.

So, I’ll admit it. Sometimes those types of thoughts got the better of me. Sometimes, I peeked, just to make myself feel better. To reassure myself that I was just being silly. Irrational.

That time I really wish I hadn’t.

Have you ever had the feeling that someone is watching you? Ever just been sitting somewhere, minding your own business, reading a magazine or playing with your phone or watching pigeons flutter away against the backdrop of a blue sky and you know – you just know – that someone is watching you? I remember one of my psychology professors in university liked to say that there’s nothing more powerful than the gaze of a human eye. If we see other people staring at something we can’t help but follow to see where they’re looking. It’s in our nature. Evolutionary. But I think he meant more than that, I knew he did. There’s something about another presence, about something observing you, that you can just feel.

The steam of the shower was hot and the water was too, and just as I was finishing rinsing the last of the shampoo out of my hair, I felt it. A presence. Something watching me. Something there in the bathroom with me. It sounds crazy, I know. I knew I was just being ridiculous but I couldn’t help it, just like my irrational fear that someone would barge into the house while I was defenseless beneath the hot water, I knew this was irrational too. Ridiculous.

But I still had to look. To prove to myself that it was. That the presence I felt was only my imagination, only my mind playing tricks on me.

Ever so slowly, I stepped over toward the far side of the tub, the one away from the falling water of the showerhead, and slowly pulled back the curtain to look.

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. Thank God nothing did. Who knows what would have happened had I made a sound? Terror, sheer, raw, utter terror overtook every part of me in that moment. I wanted to run. I wanted to scream but knew I could not. I wanted nothing more than to flee from that tiny space beneath the falling water and dive into the safety of my warm bed and hide beneath the covers until it went away and I could stop shaking and convince myself that what I saw was not, could not, be real.

In the bathroom, not two feet away, towering over me, was a creature.

I don’t expect you to believe me. Why should I? It’s impossible. But it happened. I know it did. How do you describe to someone something that is beyond belief? The paranormal? The fantastical? The beyond real? I’m doing my best. All I know is that that thing I saw in the bathroom was as real as you and me. And it’s no exaggeration to say at that moment I was more terrified than I’d ever been in my entire life.

The thing was tall, too tall, tall and white, and had smooth, smooth skin. It was facing away from me, so all I saw in that furtive horrified glance I took was its giant back arching toward the ceiling and the rounded whiteness of its skull.

The terror I felt. What did it want? How had it gotten in? And what horrible would the face of this horrible thing look like when it turned to face me? Full of long pointed teeth covered in the blood of children it had devoured. Of previous victims caught unaware in the shower, dozing on the couch, sleeping in their beds. Two sunken black pits for eyes that burned with the red fires of hell.

The water poured down and the steam rose and the seconds passed and the thing, the terrible thing, just sat there and my fear, my complete and utter horror and dread of this thing, was absolutely palpable. I put my hand over my mouth and tried not to make a sound. Not to breathe.

The creature was not two feet away from me. It needed only to reach out the tiniest bit with one of its long spindly arms to touch me, and then what would it do? Impale me on its long bony fingers that I’d seen hanging down to the tile of the floor. Spear me on its claws, slash and tear me until I bled to death and my blood mixed with the water going down the drain, just like that in the shower scene.

Have you ever had to do something you know you must but every part of you screams not to? Have you ever been so terrified that every part of you, every tiny fiber of your being screams for you to turn and run, but you know you can’t, that you mustn’t, that you’ve got to face your fear head-on if you want to survive?

I have.

Ever part of me wanted nothing more than to scream and run from the warm wet safety of my tiny universe, to tear out of the bathroom and run screaming out of the house, down the street, naked and dripping wet, just to escape the horror of that thing that stood waiting for me. But I knew I had to look again. I knew I had to hold back the curtain and look again just to convince myself that it was real.

Holding back my fear, quivering and shaking, every part of me wanting to scream, wanting to run, I slowly pulled back the curtain just a little to reveal nothing.

There was nothing there. I was alone. The water kept falling and beating its rhythm against the bottom of the tub. I had imagined it.

I finally watched the shower scene. And I know now why it must have been so terrifying for my mother at the time. It’s true, it doesn’t show that much, but that’s is precisely what makes it so brilliant, as I said before, and so many others have said before me. It’s not about what you do see, but what you don’t see. Terror is not about what is shown, but what isn’t. The greatest horrors are those that are left to our imagination. The white creature that visited me will always fill my nightmares, but only because of what I did not see – it never faces me, never acknowledges me, but still I know that it is watching. The most frightening thing is that if the very presence of this thing filled me with such dread I cannot begin to comprehend its true nature – what staring into the face of such a thing would have done to me.

I don’t take showers any more. Two years it’s been since then. Two years that I’ve only taken baths, and then only with the door open. I try to tell myself that what I saw wasn’t real. Couldn’t have been real. But when I stepped out of the shower that day, still very much shaken from what I’d seen, on the tile of the floor next to the bathmat were two giant wet footprints.

It’s still out there, watching me.

Excavation

It was on the 10th of March that things first started to get really fucked up. That was the day Briggs shot Meyer in the face, put a bullet clean through his left eye and out the back of his skull, scattering his brains all over the far wall in storage and onto the cold concrete floor.

“He’s dead,” Fritz, the compound doctor had said, bringing his hand back up from the body’s neck. I’d watched him push the eyes closed and his own followed halfway. He’d looked so tired all of a sudden. I saw the blood stain his fingertips.

“He… he attacked me…” Briggs had stammered. “He was crazy. Raving. He came after me! Tried to bite me in the neck. Claw my eyes out. I had to kill him!”

And you know the crazy thing? Everyone believed Briggs. Because of what we found in the tomb.

“It got into him,” he said, eyes wild, hands shaking violently. “You all saw it when we pulled that thing open. That cloud of dust right into his face, those things that flew out – how could anything survive down there for thousands of years, let alone with the cold? There was something down in there, something evil. It got into Meyer when he opened the lid. And now it’s only a matter of time now before it gets into all of us.”

That was three days ago. But let me tell you something – I’m not a superstitious man. They all died, at each others’ hands or Briggs’, because of what they thought they saw. But nothing got into anyone. There was no evil spirit, or virus, or alien life form down in bottom of that tomb. There’s only us here. Us and two thousand miles of God-forsaken frozen rock.

It’s just him and me now. My breathing is heavy. Blood trickles down the side of my face from where the bullet grazed me. I lean back against the wall, clutching the pistol tight with sweaty hands. One shot left. I hear Briggs’ voice echo down the long steel corridor:

“I’m coming, Eddie… I’m coming…”

Father & Son

“I don’t wanna,” Timmy cried, holding the rifle in his shaking hands. “I can’t…” His face was wet with tears and his cheeks flushed.

“Ya gotta,” said Pop. “Ya gotta, Timmy! Remember what I tolds ya. Remember what they is.” The man shook his finger at his reluctant son.

“But they’s people!” The boy sobbed. “They’s people, Pop! I can’t do it to them, I just can’t. They’s people!”

John Angrum knelt down next to his young son. He clutched the boy’s shaking arm around the wrist, the one closest to him, the one that sat beneath the forestock, and slowly brought it up, leveling the weapon at its end with the milling crowd in the distance.

“You know what they is, son,” he said, looking him in the eye. “Tell me what they is.”

“They’s dead, Pop,” Timmy said quietly. The metal of the barrel glinted in the noonday son. “They’s dead.”

“That’s right Timmy,” John said. “They’s all dead.”

Timmy closed his one eye, just as his father had taught him years ago, and pulled the trigger.

Welcome to Crazyland

No one knows how it started; no one know why. A virus? Biological agent? Collective global psychosis? Or maybe one day half the world just woke up and said fuck it, I’m taking what’s mine.

Very soon two classes emerged. The Brawlers, the ones on top, and The Runners, most everyone else. Me, I’m a Runner. I’m no murderer.

I’ve had my fair share of scrapes. I’ve seen them roaming the streets during the day, weapons in hand. Watched them empty assault rifles and shotguns into men’s chests, sometimes for food or resources, sometimes just for the sick pleasure of it. I watched them beat the life out of a group of innocent women and children with aluminum baseball bats and crowbars; so brutal and merciless, so wanton, so bloodthirsty for no purpose or reason at all.

Sometimes they hunt in packs (never more than 3, as far as I’ve seen), but most often they hunt and kill alone. But always their identities are hidden. Balaclavas. Welding hoods. Animal masks. Motorcycle helmets. They never show their faces. And most frighteningly of all, they never speak. They are not an organized body, there is no ruler or order among them, but still somehow these rules, these common characteristics, emerged without ever being spoken and agreed upon.

All we can do is run. Run, and hide. But sooner a later a man has enough. Has enough of hiding in abandoned, decaying buildings between blood-soaked walls. Enough of eating scraps and what vermin he can catch. Enough of running. Sooner or later a man fights back.

I killed one of them the other day. I buried a fire ax deep into his chest and watched until his twitching limbs ceased their jerking. After the adrenaline faded, after my panting breath returned to normal, a strange feeling washed over me, one of elation.

Yesterday I found an old goalie mask in what used to be a sporting goods store. As I pulled it down over my face, suddenly I didn’t feel like talking anymore. Silence seemed a welcome natural state, one of which I’d been unaware of my whole life. No more talk. Just action. Just doing.

The Perfect Drug

Tri-vexil-dimethyl-hexocycaline. Trivex. The Perfect Drug.

Like so many inventions, it was an accident, like the serendipitous discovery of matches; so many government scientists working so many late nights in so many labs trying to uncover the newest biological weapon to win the war on terror, only to find that they were high as fucking kites if they inhaled the smallest amount of fumes of one particular compound. Of course it didn’t take long for one of those aspiring chemists to take that recipe home with him, realizing it had far greater potential recreationally than it ever would for the military. And after that it was only a matter of time before the details leaked onto the internet and became public knowledge.

Vex. The Perfect Drug. It sold itself. Try Vex, the dealers starting saying after time. A beautiful high like none you’d ever experienced, no side effects, no bad trips, no addictive potential – and it could be manufactured by all from simple household chemicals and cough syrup. It was a blessing. A gift from God. And it took America by storm. Suddenly the American government began funneling so many of those precious millions of dollars from the military budget over to the DEA, who now had their hands full with this new little nuisance called Vex.

No one’s ever shot it in liquid form, at least not as far as I know. But I’m on the edge. I’m willing to experiment. I’ve had enough with sniffing this shit out of flasks and vaping it. I need something better. Something more.

The needle goes in my arm, and oh God, it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever felt. A million orgasms’ peaks all thrown into one second of absolute celestial bliss. An existential high. I want to die now so I never have to come down.

And then my arm is itching. I look over, and scratch my fingernails against the skin. Oh god, it itches bad. I’m scratching and scratching and then I feel something hard. Then the skin breaks and I see what was beneath the surface breaking through – a human tooth. Now my arm is being torn apart, exploding into hundreds of them; smoker’s teeth, yellowed and covered in plaque, sprouting from my arm by the crease of my elbow and spreading all down my bicep and up toward my shoulder.

With horror I see that my fingers are twitching and writhing, swelling with bloat and growing into turgid tumescence. They are changing into tongues, tangled in long trails of saliva and covered in moist drops of spittle. They are writhing like they’ve been stung with cattle prods and flinging the thick drops of warm liquid everywhere.

I can’t feel my legs but look down to see that they are engulfed in flames. Horrible grey-green flames, burning brighter than the depths of hell and every funeral pyre erasing the horrors of the Holocaust from human memory.

My fingers – those tongues – itch and I feel them peeling apart like the withered skin of ancient dried oranges. They crack and open and myriad of tiny black specks, millions of baby spiders, emerge from the shattered tips and crawl all over my skin. They engulf the toothy forests of my arms and swarm onto over my torso. Up my neck and into my mouth they scurry as I let out a scream that no one will hear.

Trivex is the perfect drug.

Fifty Cal

Dishonorable discharge and murder in the first degree. I shot him right in the face with my .50 caliber handgun.

No else saw it. I’d known Tucker since basic and so I really knew him. No else saw how his eyes had gone all bloodshot, or how his movements had changed. I think he was the first on base.

It’s not going to be like in the movies. It’s going to be so much worse. I stole a mask from the infirmary. I didn’t let them take it off me, even after I shot Tucker and they wrestled me and the fifty cal to the ground. It’s airborne. This is all going to go down fast.

My little sidearm isn’t going to be enough anyway. There’s another .50 cal in the armory, an automatic. I know if I had that I could survive, on foot or behind a barricade. I just have to reach it first.

They’re getting sloppy. There’s only one watching me at a time now, and sometimes he leaves. So he didn’t see me smash the mirror the other day. And tomorrow when I pretend to be choking to death and he comes into the cell, I’ll slit his throat from ear to ear with the shard in my boot.

It doesn’t matter anyway, he’s already infected. They all are.

Vigilance

Hell of a long day it’d been. Jesus, those bastards. Those greedy, greedy bastards. I tries to be a God-fearin’ man, I tells ya, I do, but this world is just going to shit. Money makes the world go round, no matter how much righteousness a fella has in his heart. And this world’s gonna end because of it.

I tried to raise my son in the way he should go. “The End Times are a-comin’, son,” I told him. “That’s why we’s always gotta be ready.”

I’d take him down to the the cellar over the years, to show him all I’d prepared, right from the time he was little. Canned food to last a century. Reverse osmosis water filtration for the water collected from rain barrels. A generator and stockpile of diesel. Knives. Explosives. And the crown jewel, my old ought-six. “You’ve gotta be ready for anything,” I said, “and we’s ready.”

I had to work late in the city that day, real late for them greedy, greedy bastards. I met with the lawyer and they made me wear my black suit, the one I hate and only wear when someone’s died or getting hitched.

As I was coming back to the farm, the old Ford run clean outta of gas right at the end of the driveway, wouldn’t you know it. Figured it was a nice evening, might as well take a walk and enjoy the air. The lights was on in the house so I figured Clayton was already getting dinner ready. I lit a cigarette and walked along the edge of the fence, admirin’ all the barbed wire.

I stopped as there was a shadow by the fence. It was Clay.

“I buried you, Pop,” he said, raising the ought-six. “I buried you already. You told me to be ready and now I is.”