From his vantage point atop the roof across the street, Kenneth could see straight down the alley; from the street entrance all the way to the dead-ending brick wall where Shari stood. Shari waited in the dim lighting, her back to the wall with terror locked upon her face as she anticipated the arrival of their so-called ‘prey’. Her breathing was quick; coming in short, rapid gasps as she worked to keep her nerves under control.
Positioned beside an industrial rooftop air conditioning unit, Kenneth lay flat on his belly in the shadows. The barrel of his rifle rests on the concrete lip of the roof. He checked the chamber, adjusted the scope, clicked off the safety, and flicked the flashlight on and off just once to signal Shari. Everything is good to go.
Through the scope, Kenneth saw Shari nod. She took in a few deep, slow breaths to calm herself, then sucked in one final breath and let out a scream at the top of her lungs. This was her role; bait. She screamed to draw in the prey and relied on Kenneth to ensure nothing happened. This particular prey was fond of screaming youth. She wasn’t a child any more, but she still filled the requirements.
The time it took could be counted in heartbeats, from Shari’s scream to the first howl. It arrived just a few short breaths after that. The large, lumbering, hairy beast that had terrorized the City of Maytek for far too long poked its oversized, gargantuan head around the building at the end of the alley. Its yellow eyes reflected what little light was given by the street lamps as they settled upon Shari. It glared at the young lady nestled deep within the cavity between the buildings. She smelled like everything it wanted; young, sweet… terrified.
The creature turned its broad shoulders to fit inside the alley. Its size was impressive; 12 feet across, at least, and almost 18 feet in height. The alley was only between 8 and 10 feet, so the creature had to squeeze in and force its bulk through. If it were only a little larger, or the alley a little narrower, it would not have fit at all.
Peering through the scope of his rifle, Kenneth centers the creature’s head in the cross-hairs, only to realize that in his current position, it is a straight shot through the monster’s skull and straight into Shari. If he pulls the trigger, it could potentially injure Shari as well… He can’t risk it.
He can’t risk… her…
“Shit,” Kenneth growls, pulling quickly from his prone position. He lifts the rifle, rolls, and leaps to his feet to run around to the other side of the air-conditioning unit. There is no shot here; a tree, a telephone pole. He curses again and hurries to find a new vantage point.
Shari watches, wide-eyed and on the verge of a panic attack as the creature forces itself deeper and deeper into the alley; closer and closer to her. Its progress is slowed by the narrow gap, further hindered by a lamp over a door, but it pushes forward. Its hunting instinct helps it power through the obstacles.
“Ken!” Shari screams as the monster extends its arm, making its first attempt to swipe at her. It falls several yards short, but too close for Shari’s comfort. She crouches and crawls to a corner, hoping to make herself more difficult to reach, as if the addition of another wall will keep her safer.
“KEN!” Shari screams again, watching the creature’s mouth curl into what could only be described as a satisfied smile, excited by her fear.
The seconds drag on like minutes until Kenneth finds a new point. He had to jump a roof and scale a wall, but now he throws himself to the floor, bringing the rifle into position. He braces the long barrel on the ledge. The large, furry head of the monster falls into the cross-hairs again. Shari is safely out of the way. He settles his finger upon the trigger.
“Heh,” Kenneth says as he exhales. “Goodbye, Mister Bad Wolf!”
... No, no… Delete, delete…
“Heh,” Kenneth chuckles as he exhales. “Hasta la vista, Mister monster!”
God no… Delete, Delete…
“And pop goes the weas
I abandon the keyboard, throwing my hands in the air as I push my chair back from he desk. I remove myself from my work, hunch over, and plant my face in the palms of my hands. A groan of aggravation escapes from somewhere inside me as I rub at my tired eyes. The deadline is two weeks away and I’m still ninety-six pages short of the minimal requirements. I can describe this monster in vivid detail, create a believable fictional and thriving city from scratch within minutes, detail every action exactly as I can imagine it in my head… but I can’t for the life of me figure out what witty, smart-ass comment Kenneth is supposed to make in the eleventh chapter before blowing the Alpha Werewolf’s brain onto a brick wall.
Coffee… Michael needs coffee.
I lean forward, reaching to take my coffee cup off the desk and sit back again. I relax for a second, warming my hands on the mug. Relax. Take a moment. Breath in, breath out. Inhale the smell of coffee. Sip the coffee. Sigh contentedly. Relax. Breath in, breath out, inhale the coffee, choke. Choke!! I jerk forward when I try to drown myself in coffee, straightening up in my seat, hacking up a lung and stretching out to return the coffee to the desk before I drop it.
I drop it anyway, miscalculating the distance between the mug and the desktop. The coffee sloshes about, flowing over the edge and endangering the notes I have been taking for the last two years.
I reach to steady the mug, only to knock it over completely as I continue coughing.
“Fuck!” I rasp between coughs. My chair tips over backward as I jump to my feet, bumping the desk as I do so, much to the dissatisfaction of my knee. The desk shakes, jarring the decorative pencil sharpener I purchased on a road trip through Mexico; it topples over, pops open, and adds its collection of wood shavings to my coffee puddle mess before rolling off the desk. I correct the mug, a pointless action considering it has already emptied its contents upon my desk, and stare at the mess in a moment of dumbfounded, coffee-less confusion.
Towel? Towel… Towel!!
My mind screams at me several times before I think to move. My eyes suddenly snap into action, darting around the room and searching my surroundings, searching the object that matches the word currently flooding my brain.
No towel! Where is it? Where would it be? Logically… it should be…?
“Bathroom!” I yell at myself; it’s a pointless gesture as my body has beaten my mouth to the same conclusion and is already darting out of my room and into the hall. I turn through the open door into the bathroom and almost scream as there is no towel hanging on the shower door. I check the handrail; no. I check the laundry pile by the washing machine; no. I curse myself loudly in my head.
Oh no… oh no… no towel… but! Yes! This will work!
I hurry back to my desk, my hands full of dirty socks which I mash into the sloppy mess. I press them tight against the puddle, then toss a handful aside as I swap soggy socks for dry ones and repeat the process. After a few minutes, I have a freshly dry desk, some notes lightly dampened at the edges, and some new brown socks.
“Come on, baby,” I mumble as I peel the damp notes from the desk, hold them up, blow them dry and examine each sheet. A few pages are stained brown, but they’re pages I’ve already typed and folded back behind the others. Fortunately, the fold had risen the newer notes off the desk just a quarter of an inch and that seems to have saved them. A few droplets managed to mangle a few words and letters here and there, but they are, for the most part, the same as I wrote them. Maybe a few Is look like Ls, and a few Ns are suddenly Ms, but it’s all there. My quick actions saved the day. Go me! I sigh a big, deep, sigh of relief as I rest my hands on the desk and lean into it.
Breath in. Breath out. Calm down… Where is my pencil sharpener?
I lean forward, bend over the desk and peer behind it. The way my room is set up, the desk juts out ninety degrees from the wall; a quarter of my room is sectioned off for a makeshift office. Beyond the desk are small piles of laundry leading to my bed; a simple double thick futon on the floor. The pencil sharpener has rolled across the wooden floors and come to rest under some cloth.
“Oh,” I mutter, “The irony!” I grumble as I round my desk and bend down, reaching beneath the towel to retrieve my souvenir and return it to its rightful place atop my desk.
Well now, all is in order once again. Peace has been restored to my little desktop kingdom. I believe Michael has earned lunch… Breakfast? What time is it? Whatever. CTRL +S, X, Start, Shut Down, and I am off towards the kitchen; first stop, refrigerator. I yank the door open and lean in, examining the menu of condiments: ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard. Questionable science experiment? Or leftovers from the barbecue last month?
No… two months ago. Has it been two months? I check the calendar on the wall, just to be sure. May 6th; two months and three days after I left the city. I’ve locked myself in this cabin for two months and three days without leaving.
Right now, I’m working on a science fiction/horror novel for the young-adult section of the local library. If I’m lucky, maybe it’ll be a best seller! I doubt it will sell a hundred. My friend, back in August, though it was good enough to share the first few chapters with one of his old friends who happened to be high up in a publishing company outside Hollywood. They took interest and asked if I could ‘wrap it all up’ by June. I was working at a small paper in Southern California, but she assured me this could be a hit and more than compensate for missing a few months of journalism. So of course, I said yes.
When my colleagues at the paper heard I was heading out to my cabin in the mountains, 2 hours from Nowhere, California, to hide myself from the world and force myself to finish the job, they threw me a going away party; Piñata and all. After the ambulance had taken Gary, from accounting, away with piñata related head injuries, I had left and driven out here to my Great Grandfather’s cabin. We always kept the place stocked up in case the family needed to escape the city life… or, in case the commie hippies took over and we REALLY needed to escape. That’s what Grandpa always said the cabin was for; the hippy take-over. I had brought my own stock-pile of frozen burritos and waffles, but they seemed to have vanished. I suspect gnomes.
Or, maybe it’s just because that’s about all I’ve eaten in the last two months. Just here with my work; no TV and no phone make Michael… something, something. I was never really a social butterfly, and I enjoy my privacy, so time alone just doesn’t bother me. There’s no one back home to miss, or to be missed by. But, this fridge is baron, and the cabinets match, so it seems I will have to put my work aside and risk human exposure. I will have to drive to the nearest thing called a store and go grocery shopping.
But first… Coffee!
Bottom shelf above the coffee machine, just left of the empty shelf, and right beneath the other empty shelf, is the familiar red can which holds the key to life. I set the coffee can on the counter, pull the filters from the drawer, clean out the old gunk from the machine… Not that old, really; I make a fresh pot every couple of hours these days. After refilling the water chamber, I pop open the can, nudge aside the furry lump, and I grab the Sp-
“Frugally crap!” I scream – my sleep deprived mind creating some fusion of ‘holy crap’ and a foul word – and yank my had from the can and drop it on the counter.
A moment passes before I hesitantly step forward and peer inside, glaring down at the small rodent nesting in my last scoop of coffee. It returns the glare, equally upset that I was trying to steal its last scoop of bedding.
“You,” I say, pausing, then continuing on. “You are in my coffee.”
“You are drinking my bed,” the mouse responds… of course, that could just have been imagined, like I’m imagining its beady little eyes glaring at me with contempt and possible murderous rage. I woke up Wednesday evening and haven’t been to sleep since. Thirty-six plus hours of sleeplessness combined with a lack of caffeine apparently makes Michael imagine talking mice.
“Evil mouse,” I mutter, quietly, under my breath, for fear that it might hear me and become enraged.
I return the lid to the can and the can to the cabinet so that the little critter can get some shut-eye. It will need its energy for the argument we will be having later when I get home from the store and am pumped full of caffeine and life again. In this state, the mouse could probably take me and that’s not what I want written in my obituary; defeated by grumpy rodent. But, with enough caffeine, I could rule the world.
Well, briefly. It would never last. Eventually, people would realize all they need to do is cut my supply of coffee and I’d never leave my bed again.
I suppose I should get that shopping done. The sooner I get to town, the sooner I can get back to work. It only takes a few minutes to get myself half decent. I’m a reclusive writer slash crazy cabin guy, so showing up in town with messy, unkempt hair, several days of stubble, jeans, a robe, and a pair of novelty monkey slippers that ‘ooh-ooh’ and ‘ahh-ahh’ when I pinch the left ear is perfectly acceptable. Unfortunately, there appears to be rain in the great outdoors, so the usual few minutes become fifteen as I hunt down a jacket and a pair of non-slippers. That fifteen becomes forty-five as I accidentally take a half hour nap trying to put on my shoes.
Appropriately dressed and very slightly less drowsy, I am out the door and on my way. There’s no real need to lock up as there is no human life within an hour of here, but I do so anyway so I can have a story about getting tipsy in town, fumbling with my keys, and having an inability to get part A into slot B.
Around the back of the house is the gas guzzling generator which supplies all the power to my humble little cabin. There are no power lines, no city plumbing, no phone service, and, subsequently, no television. It’s kind of nice, not having that constant gentle humming of power lines overhead; just the soothing, gentle roar of a gas engine.
The cabin does have indoor plumbing, though. One of the few things we updated when Grandpa passed. Water is supplied from a well and reserve up the hill a few hundred yards out. It runs into the house, is… used… and dumped into a septic tank.
Come to think of it, the man who delivers my gas is two weeks late. If it weren’t just me in here being energy conservative, I could have run out by now. Fortunately, the large fuel reserve is still a quarter full. I still have another week or two before it runs out. I will have to call them about that when I get to town, though.
I kill the generator and head to my car.
Anyone can navigate these bumpy, hole ridden dirt roads in a monstrous 4×4, but it takes someone with a TRUE sense of adventure to traverse them in a compact, four-door family sedan. My car is just such a car; a true adventurer’s car. Everyone would think it was a Jeep, or a Hummer, but no… it’s a little Toyota. Those other cars can go through anything without any worry, but where is the adventure without worry?
My little car is covered in dirt, mud, chipped paint, and features a little green haired troll doll on the dash with a wedding ring for an arm-band. It’s not my ring! No, I’m not married; never have been. This is something I just picked up at a second-hand shop as inspiration for the end of chapter thirteen when Kenneth proposes to Shari after a near-death experience with a man-eating troll with – can you guess? – green hair.
It usually takes an hour to make it down the twisting dirt roads, but when it rains it can take an extra half hour to forty-five minutes. Subsequently, it takes almost two hours from locking my door to reaching the paved road into town. I reach down and click on my static box; most people refer to them as radios but given my exceptional distance from a radio tower all it produces is static most of the time. On some occasions when I hit the freeway I can get hints of some local public radio station or gospel, assuming the weather is decent, the antenna is appropriately aligned, the car is in just the right place, the sun doesn’t have any flare-ups, it’s a new moon, and all the planets of the solar system are perfectly aligned.
This does not seem to be such a day; I’m blaming Pluto. The radio scans through one dead station after another, sharing nothing but a quiet hiss. Oh well, I can suffer silence for the remaining half hour.
It’s almost nine by the time I pass the sign welcoming me to the small town of Twin Oaks. This place is not found on any maps and very few people know about it. It’s kind of a secret society of extremely rich people; most of them are unknown and wish to remain that way, but there are a few celebrities that drop in as well. If my great-grandfather hadn’t built that cabin and laid claim to that bit of land a hundred or so years ago, my family would have never heard of this place either. We might still never know if the only road leading up to the cabin didn’t run through the town.
The streets are empty, but that’s pretty normal for Twin Oaks; especially this time of year with this kind of rain. I pull into the supermarket’s parking lot and slip in beside someone’s male compensation unit. I exit my car, lock the doors, and hurry inside to avoid the rain as best I can. The doors slide open, greeting me with a quiet whirr, as I approach and I enter the building with the shoft elevator music. They don’t play normal radio music here because sometimes the guests who come in don’t want to hear their own music playing.
The store seems a little messier than usual; some of the carts are laying on their sides and there is another cart abandoned, full of groceries. I shrug it off as I know the employees here know what they’re doing. They get paid a lot, so I am sure it’s either intentional or someone is already rushing here to fix it. I grab a cart from the corral and move toward the produce section.
Carrots, celery, lettuce, these, those, that and the other things that I avoid and walk past. I’m no chef and I don’t cook every night. I’m more of a frozen foods, microwave meals kind of person so I leave the produce section with an empty cart and cross into the frozen aisle. I find a variety of wonderful, low-cost meals meant for the few locals who run the shops and do the laundry. The “staff”, as they’re occasionally referred to, can’t afford to shop at their own stores since everything here is ridiculously overpriced for those with winter cabins and summer homes. I toss a few low budget so-called-gourmet microwave dinners in my cart and move on.
After a visit to the snack and soda aisle, I manage to half-fill my cart and head up front. The cashier is away from the counter so I unload my cart onto the conveyor belt and I wait. A few magazines catch my fancy and I skim their headlines.
A new relation between those two? He’s cheating on her again, again?! My goodness, another baby for her? Oh my!
Several minutes pass and I have added bubble gum and a few candy bars to the stack of froze, packaged goods. I glance about to the other registers, down the nearest aisle, up towards the manager’s window above the customer service counter. I try to focus my eyes as though I can peer through the two-way mirror. There is no one as far as I can tell. I am a patient person, but it’s beginning to slip away from me.
The customer service desk if empty as well, but I smack the bell on the counter a few times. Another minute passes and still no one arrives. I look around again, then walk the front of the store, checking every aisle as I pass and I make a startling discovery; the store is completely empty! There isn’t a single person here. Not a single customer, or employee. Curious… and disturbing. I head to the front door and peer out into the parking lot. There are several cars out there, including one I recognize as belonging to the manager.
I scratch my head.
Where is everyone? Is there a storm coming that I missed?
That would make a lot of sense, considering my lack of radio and the close proximity to the ocean. Storms aren’t a common occurrence out here but once every decade or so we get something heavy. It usually comes in the December through February period as the town gets dumped upon by a dozen feet of snow or so, but there have been a few records of severe rain and mudslides.
The local posting board hangs just inside the entrance, on the right across from the carts. I didn’t notice it as I came in at first because I have no interest in local events right now, but I check it for postings oncoming storms, gas leaks, or nuclear wars. There are no postings of the sorts… only the usual spring festival that will arrive at its regularly scheduled date, and a startlingly high number of memorials and missing persons from the last four weeks. I skim over a few of them; seems a lot of people went missing on a camping trip, and a whole tour bus vanished into the mountains without a word. I notice that the newest article is two weeks old.
“Huh,” I mutter quietly to myself. “I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. I’ve found up in the Twilight Zone.”
I’m sure that I will soon discover I am the last man alive and have all the time in the world… then I’ll realize all the donut shops are permanently out of service and conclude that life is simply unfair.
My mind races, recalling everything I’ve seen and heard since I came into town as I head back to the register. I think I recall seeing someone turn down an aisle as I entered but I’m not sure. I wasn’t paying attention.There were two abandoned shopping carts of food by the entrance, which I AM sure of as I can still see them there.
“Hello?!” I raise my voice, hollering. My voice echoes through the store as it rebounds off the walls. I think I hear whispers, but my ears seem to be ringing now. I’ve been alone in my cabin for weeks and my solitude never bothered me… but there are supposed to be people here. The silence is getting to me.
“Huh, I guess there is a storm coming?” I look down at all the food sitting on the conveyor. Stores don’t usually abandon their posts until a few hours before the storm. I wonder if I will have time to get home. I don’t know anybody in town or I might ask to bunk there. Maybe I can go hide out in the police station? They’re just around the block.
“Well, shit.” I can’t just leave the food here. It could potentially be days before anyone comes back to work. I pile most of the stuff back into the cart and hurry off to shove it into the nearest freezer. I keep only the essentials; coffee, a few microwave dinners, coffee, some candy bars, a six-pack of soda, and, of course, a can of coffee. I’ll come shopping again once the world is back to normal.
I hit the buttons on the cashier’s computer, figuring I’ll just ring myself up so it’s not theft. The register is very helpful and kind as it assists me through my purchase. Scan items. Press here to pay. Credit or debit? Do you want cash back?
I press no, take the receipt, toss the bags back into the cart and head for the exit. I slow by the notice board to see if I missed an evacuation notice, or a big party at the Cruise house, or something along those lines.
The rain hasn’t settled since my arrival, which only furthers my belief in the coming storm. Those clouds on the horizon do look a bit dark. I abandon the cart before stepping into the rain and picking up my pace into a light jog. I reach my car, shift everything into one arm, and fumble for my keys to open the trunk. I slide the keys in and freeze as I hear a sudden and alarming screeching on the other side of the parking lot.
Turning around I immediately find the source and the first signs of life since… well, since I locked myself in my cabin. A seemingly drunk driver swerves around a corner at a very high speed. Their pickup truck wobbles, tipping up onto two wheels for just a second before settling roughly back on all four. The driver seems to struggle to regain control of their vehicle, jerking the wheel around the straighten the wheels and pull out of a fishtail. They almost have it, but a streetlight gets in their way and their truck comes to a very sudden halt through it. The horn blares as they fall on it, the headlights flicker for a few seconds then die, and the front wheels spin in the air as the front end of the vehicle is proper up off the ground, resting on the bent post.
I stare, amazed.
Did that just happen? Holy shit! Did that really just happen? Are they alright?!
The groceries get tossed on the roof of my car so I can fish my phone out of my pocket, suddenly realizing that I’m the only person witnessing this even. I start walking toward the incident as I dial nine-one-one, and pick up into a light jog as I press the phone to my ear. I get a recording telling me that I have no service.
The phone is dropped into a jacket pocket as I pick up the pace a bit further. I’m a hundred yards from my car when a small group of people round the same corner the truck emerged from. I notice the uniform one of them wears and I slow my pace as the group rushes to the truck. An officer of the law; he can do a lot more in this situation than I ever could, and they’ll get there much sooner than I will. They will probably want to talk to me as a witness once they get the driver on an ambulance.
I’m halfway through thinking what good fortune it is that an officer was so close when the world takes a deeper dive into the Twilight Zone. The officer leaps up, springs off the bumper of the truck, and vaults himself into the empty bed. He smashes into the roof of the can, raises his fists and pounds down upon it like an agitated gorilla. Three others round the side of the truck, one bashes at the door, another at the side window, and the third climbs upon the hood to pound on the windshield.
I stop in my tracks.
What the fu-
The side window shatters and the attacker half climbs inside. They grab the limp form of the driver and violently yank them from the seat, pulling them through the glass shards of the window and throwing them to the ground. The others join them, swarming upon the unconscious, or possibly dead form. The driver isn’t resisting or showing any sign of consciousness. The assailants fall upon their prey, crawling over each other as they reach, grab, yank, punch, pull. They throw blows at each other, and at the unconscious driver. Two of them grab the unconscious form by either arm and begin to tug as though trying to tear them in half.
What the hell is happening right now?
My mind searches its database of reality for any sort of logical explanation for what I’m seeing right now but all I can come up with is; there isn’t one. This is nonsense. This doesn’t happen in reality.
“HEY!” Someone yells. It takes me a moment to realize that the someone is me, yelling on some sort of instinct I would have told myself to avoid if I had considered consulting with me before doing so. The officer and the other individual not currently playing tug-o-war stop fighting and look at me. Their stares are lost and confused, but realization breaks across their faces and they instantly start sprinting at me; not jogging, not running, but full-on sprinting.
I manage an “Oh shit!” as I back up a few steps, turn, and begin running back toward my car. The short distance between the car and myself didn’t seem that great just a moment ago, but suddenly it feels like a mile. I run it as fast as I can and slam into the side of my car, not wasting my time by slowing down. I risk a glance over my shoulder as I shove my hand into my pocket. They’re gaining, quickly… and my keys aren’t here. I waste half a second before recalling that I left them in the lock of the trunk. I round the car, grab the key-chain, yank, and snap the key in the lock.
“Shit,” I say under my breath. My eyes yes dart back and forth over the back of the trunk. I’m not sure what I’m trying to think up, some plan, maybe, to get inside? I was another second.
The station is around the block, on the other side of the market. If I can maintain a safe distance from the others for that long, I can get inside to the safety of the police. I take off around the car and quickly regret my diet of cereal and ding-dongs. Those weeks of sitting and writing have left me tired very quickly but my life is at stake here! I’m running on adrenalin. I can’t stop.
I peek over my shoulder; they’re much faster than I am. They’re only 50 feet away by the time I round the corner of the market. I can see the station in the distance. 25 feet away.
Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
Even my internal voice is out of breath.
I reach the last corner. The station is only across the street, but I miss my footing as I hop the curb and stumble into the street. The nearest one dives and manages to grab my ankle. I trip, topple and smack my face into the ground. I roll onto my back, throwing a kick at the face of the man and I see the officer right behind him. He dives into the air, leaping over his accomplice. I clench my eyes shut and wince.
I hear the thunk, followed by the most indescribable pain… and everything goes black.
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