Registered: 1093753376 Posts: 8,527
Reply with quote #1
My brother made a joke about a movie we were watching last night and it got me thinking about writing a story based on some small thing he said. He gave me the idea about birthday candles and I ran with it, so the credit for this story pretty much goes to him. I did a half-assed spellcheck so sorry. Thanks for reading.
*************** CANDLELIGHT The creaking step sounded like a gunshot, a sound that only a few years ago he hadn't heard on anything but the television. Dan shot him a sharp look from two steps higher in the staircase, with a palm out. His eyes said it all; the anger, the pain... the impossibility of it all. I'd only ever seen that look twice in the 15 years I had been on this Earth, and both had happened since the sick and twisted took over this world. It was impossible what he had done, as he had learned so long ago that noise meant death in this new world. He couldn't guess what his own eyes betrayed of himself, but he hoped they pleaded for forgiveness for what he had just brought down upon them. In a flash Dan's pistol was in his hand and he charged up the stairs, his sounds were muted in comparison to the noise being made above them. Dan let out an inarticulate curse and fired twice into the hall upstairs, then hollered, "Junior!" He fired once more. Before this, gunshots were just something on television, but now he heard them more than laughter. Junior seemed to snap awake and shot up the stairs, trying to put his brave face on. The brave face was for show, when he was around Dan's hunting buddies, but it lacked everything it stood for and he knew it. Junior only hoped no one else noticed how much of a lie it truly was. It was the mask he wore in times of need, to ward off the demons of his mind. The demons that kept him from saving those in need. He didn't claim to be a hero, but he was always willing to lend a helping hand to those in need. And that is what brought him here with Dan. Taking the steps two at a time, he sped past the family photos that shrined what this place had once been, a home. Two girls, a successful father and a home-making wife. These were the same stairs those girls had run down on Christmas morning, eyes and minds filled joy and hope. Now, all these years later and on the very same day, Junior would run up them with dread and anger poisoning his mind. He pulled out his hatchet at the top of the stairs and ran down the hall. Big mistake. A dark figure came fast and low out of a bedroom, shooting like a rocket into his midsection. "Blindsided," as Dan would call it. He dropped to the floor with a snaring creature atop him, snapping its teeth and spewing spit onto his upper body. It snarled an inhuman sound, which contradicted its former place in this world. This thing had probably been the father in all these pictures around the house, but instead it was a beast of Junior's worst nightmares. The skin was a gray and the hair had all but fallen out, white and patchy. Long fingernails from years of neglect, and its body odor was the worst he had ever smelled--but its breath was much worse. The teeth were black and loose from years of abuse, gnawing on bones and snapping at people like Junior. The eyes betrayed a well-kindered fire of hate and need, a need to feed on the flesh of everything unlike itself. It resembled a character from a movie that he had seen back when his community had had movie night. The name of it escaped him in this moment of terror, but it had something to do with a ring of power. In short, the thing was repulsive. As they wrestled on the floor, neither one gaining the upper hand over the other, it looked deep into Junior's eyes as if reading his mind. It attacked with renewed vigor, unleashing its core strength to demolish the teenager it was tangled with. Junior was dead set on keeping this from happening. He didn't know where his hatchet had landed, but that didn't matter. He reached to his belt, his other arm straining to keep the beast at bay while he searched for the Ka-Bar strapped around his waist. His fingers brushed over his revolver and he was tempted to pull it out but he had only 3 rounds for it and did not want to waste them. The hunt for his knife continued as the humanoid creature fought to kill him. He found it and unbuckled the strap that held it in place. The muted SNAP did not give the creature pause so he pulled the blde from its sheath and stabbed it into the back of the creature. When he did this, two things happened. He heard Dan calling for him, panicked. The creature on top of him let out a scream the likes of which Junior had never heard. Junior was shoved back against the floor, his head rebounding off the hardwood floors. Dust from the floors billowed up into the air, causing him to cough as the world swam in his vision. His head hurt more than anything he had ever felt and he hoped he could stay conscious. If he fell into the black he was sure he would not wake back up. The creature pummeled him; his face, chest, stomach were attacked with the things boney fists. Even through all that he managed to keep ahold of the knife. And he used it even more. Junior wretched the knife free and through his red-blurred and fading sight he looked into the creatures eyes. There was something new in there. It made Junior flicker a smile. It was pain. And fear. He used all his force to jam the knife into the pitiful beasts side and twist, wrenching a screech from its throat. Blood gushed over his fingers, sticky and wet, but he didn't care. He knew the heart was somewhere around where he had stabbed the creature. Junior grit his teeth and kept twisting the 9-inch blade, half deaf from the screaming and convulsing thing on him. It tried to back off but Junior gripped onto him and held on like his life depended on it. In a way, it did. He wasn't sure he could keep a hold of the knife if the creature backed off of him, the handle was slick with blood and his grip was getting weak. He pushed harder and felt more of the flesh give, and his entire hand sunk into the creature's side. He heard ribs snap as they seperated for his hand to pass through, those sounds mixed with the heated screeching of the beast made the whole world non-existent. It was only the former human and Junior, the only two things that he saw right now. Suddenly, as if Junior had flipped the lights off, the creature collapsed on him. Dead. He was gasping, crying, hurt, angry, surprised. That had felt like eternity. He spit on its face and pushed it off of him, pulling his hand from inside the beast's ribcage with a soft sucking sound. It made him want to through up and his mouth began to water, bile was building up in his throat. But he held it back, wiping his hand and knife off on his pants. He heard a distant sound. Dan was yelling for him, telling him something about the basement. It all seemed so far away, even the room he stood in. He had been in a few close fights with these things before, but never like this. Scooping up his hatchet and replacing the knife in its sheath, he shook his head to clear his thoughts and vision. His head still hurt, and his upper buddy felt mushy and bruised. He would be hurting tomorrow, that was for sure. He called out for Dan and no response was forthcoming, so he left the room to find him. His own voice sounded distant and hollow, like it had come from another mouth. He wondered if his hearing was damaged or there was something wrong with his brain. He hoped it was the former. Taking a tentative step out of the room, he surveyed the carnage. There were spent casings on the floor from Dan's .38 revolver, all dumped in one spot of the floor. A few of the creatures lay dead, a machete slash here and there but most were down from shots to the head. Junior started toward the steps. Dan had yelled something about the basement, so that's probably where he had gone. Moving through the living room and into the kitchen, he found two more bodies, their necks split open from Dan's machete. They had checked this floor before and it had been empty, so Dan must have chased these down here and into the basement. Otherwise he didn't see his partner going down into the dark. The kitchen looked like a wreck, there was a small fire burning and a limp creature right next to it. He heard a gunshot in the basement and went over to the gaping darkness that lay beyond the opening. At the top of the stairs he called out for Dan again and believed he heard a response. It was broken but he thought it sounded like, "come down here!" Dan was the only one who had a lighter, so Junior looked around for something. The fire next to the body was from a small torch but it was quickly fading and would not be of use to him. He walked over to it and his toe sent a small package flying two feet from him. It had come from a drawer that had been opened and thrown in defense, Junior guessed. He knelt down and examined the small box, smaller that a pack of cigarettes. The box held something he had not seen since the last birthday he had celebrated years ago and not since, and he remembered it like it was yesterday. The goofy hats, the presents, his school friends, the cake... The cake. The 9 candles that sat atop letting him know exactly how old he had been on that day. Junior picked up the box of candles and dug out the remaining three, holding them tightly. He rushed over to the torch right before it went out and lit them, breathing a sigh of relief. He walked to the top of the stairs and a painful memory tugged at him when he looked to the candles. His parents at that party. Dan had been there, too. Dan was a neighbor and a close friend for as long as Junior could remember. Now his parents were dead and Dan was all he had left. He was not only his friend but a mentor, the closest thing to a father Junior had anymore. Hearing another gunshot, he went into the gloom. Having a fear of the dark is not a rational fear, Dan's words echoed through his brain. You should fear the things lurking in the dark. Those are the real bastards, The candles brought just enough light to keep him from tripping over the bodies. Some were new and the outcome of Dan's machete, others were old and the effect of old age. There were alot of bones, and I was sure it wasn't because of rot and decay. They were probably licked clean. It made him cringe and want to vomit. He didn't know where they came from but he wished that they would just go back and leave what was left of the human race alone. Something moved on the ground, and it caused Junior to jump. He grabbed at his revolver, but stopped when he realized that it was only a rat. Silently chiding himself and searched throughout the basement, whispering for Dan. That was when he saw it. It was a hole in the wall, knee-level and 4 feet tall and the same width. It opened into the Earth like nothing he had ever seen before. Of course, he had heard about them but had never seen one. Until now he had just dismissed it as an old story--what were they called? Urban legends, he believed. But now he knew they were real. True. A chill went up his spine and his heart raced like never before. These were a catacombs these strange beasts had carved into the earth, for hiding and living... And feeding. Now he understood why Dan had sounded so far away--he had followed the creatures into the gloom. He heard a scream. Not one of the former humans but from a woman. It was followed by another scream--Dan's? His resolve was set in stone. Junior jumped up into the hole and pulled out his revolver, not minding the burning wax on his fingers as the candles burning away. He walked speedily, cautiously fast. He knew doing anything more was suicide, for if the candles went out he had no other way to light them and his world would be plunged into darkness. Nothing would keep them from finding him and he would be defenseless without his vision. The fear of that made him slow more, but he couldn't let that happen. Dan and whoever else would need him. And he was surely not going to let them down. He had a new mask to wear, and unlike his brave face this one was real. Sparked by his only family's need and settled by the determination not to fail, not to waver. His mind raced, hoping he wouldn't be too late. Scenarios kept playing in his head like a sick, twisted game. It clouded his mind with darkness and it almost caused him to walk into a wall. The barrel of his revolver poked into the cold, hard dirt and made him twist so his shoulder impacted the dirt. It hurt, but not bad. He looked around, trying to figure out what had happened and it appeared there was a sharp turn, and a lit opening ahead. He dropped the candles and they defused on their short drop to the ground. Junior squinted at the opening so many yards away and took off in a run toward it. He had not seen any other turns so he guessed that was the way Dan had gone. His body made little sound as he ran, seeing as he had left most of it with a trusted man before coming to this place. This place. No one would believe him. He would tell stories of this place and others would brush it off. Stories were stories were stories in this new world. A world where everyone slept with one eye open and no one could sleep. It was full of these things--these creatures. Coming to a stop a few feet shy of the opening, being sure to stay in the darkness, he listened. The whimpering of a woman, Dan's defiant and heavy breathing he knew all to well, and the muted grunts and groans of the creatures. Junior could not see it, but he imagined there to be quite a few creatures for Dan to be still, as he didn't like the idea of going down without a fight. Junior creeped close to the edge to get a better look. What he saw made his jaw drop. There were at least dozen of those things, he couldn't get a good count because they seemed to shift and move, circling Dan and some woman Junior had never seen before. One of them was sitting on Dan's back as it played with the fear-stricken woman's hair. They all seemed to... Smile. He had never seen that before, and it scared him. The only emotions he had seen these creatures portray were anger and pain, so this was new to him. This was certainly something that no one would believe. Not one person. Another thing he noticed was one of them was ushering the others back, and they listened. They obeyed. This one was the leader of this group. Junior had never heard of there being a hierarchy among these creatures. This was the biggest of all. Dan grunted, trying to throw the creature off of him and it reached down and tore his ear off. The room was filled with a roar of pain, and Junior almost lost what little dinner he had to eat. It was almost too much. It was time to act. When Dan finished his roar he promised, "I'll kill every last one of you, you hear--" he was cut of by a backhand that bloodied his nose. He laughed and spat blood onto the floor. He switched his pistol to his left hand and hefted his hatchet. Over the years he had become very acquainted with this piece--a former tool but now, in this world, a weapon of war. He stared at it, the little light there was casting a reflection of his face. Through the blood and tears and muck that coated his face he saw it. The new mask he wore. It wasn't fake, nor was it a half-assed attempt. It was real. "You're loco, amigo." He breathed and jumped out of the hole. The first thing he did was shoot the leader, aiming for its heart but hitting high on the shoulder. The second thing he did was throw the hatchet, a silvery blur that embedded itself squarely into the chest of the creature sitting on Dan, who looked as shocked as the creature. Once the shock wore off and the creature was falling, Dan yelled something unintelligible and yanked the hatchet from the creature's dead body. All hell tore loose. Junior switched his revolver back to his right hand--being a righty, he needed that--and took up his knife with his left as he rushed to Dan's side. "Can't stay out of shit without me, can you?" Junior grinned at him. Dan looked at him, perplexed. "Who the hell are you? And watch your mouth!" There wasn't anymore time to talk as the wave of creatures crashed into them. Dan went low and tore open a creature's stomach with the hatchet while Junior aimed high with his revolver and shot through the eye of one just as Dan had taught him to aim for the T-Box. It was a method of shooting that was popular with those who shot using .22LR caliber cartridges, as it was a way to insure the bullet killed by aiming for the eyes and nose, which formed a T. It had served Junior well for over a year, when he had found this revolver. He fired once more and dropped the revolver, relying on his knife, solely. There were 5 of them left, after Dan had recovered his machete and gone to work on a trio with both weapons. They laid close by with numerous gouges and cuts in their skin. Junior was surprised to see that the one he had shot in the shoulder, the leader, had remained in the basement instead of fleeing. It showed him it wasn't afraid of dying, but that was nothing new. He fished brass knuckles out of his pocket to replace the revolver and stood his ground, watching. Waiting. Dan gave the scene a once over and lowered his weapons, almost nonchalantly standing there. The woman was in the corner, huddled up and rocking quietly. "Why don't you fuckers just give up?" He asked them. As an answer the leader grunted, cradling his left shoulder. The four stormed Dan and Junior, who quickly brought their weapons to bear. Junior punched one across the face, blood spewed from its mouth as he busted teeth and fractured jaw. Then slashed at the other with the knife, who deftly avoided his cut and started toying with the teen. Junior slashed again with the same result, but he managed to clip the thing's jaw with his brass knuckles this time. Dazed and hurt, the creature attacked low and hard, causing Junior to stumble and fall. Dan swung the hatchet low and caught the first one in the side of the knee with the blunt end, the sound of breaking bone was music to his ears. With that one on the ground, clutching its shattered knee, the second hopped over and landed right in front of Dan, only with his machete lodged into it sternum. It looked down in shocked, the first waves on pain hitting it. Dan had angled the long blade just right while the thing had been mid-air and had lunged toward it with all his strength. The result was a dying beast. Dan spit on it and shook it off his blade. He didn't expect what happened next--he was falling before he realized it. The leader had rushed him and made contact, sending him falling back five feet before he impacted the concrete walls of the basement. His arm flung wildly as he landed and knocked the lantern to the ground, defusing the light and casting the area in complete darkness. Junior, lying on his back, was twisting his knife into the creature's eye socket--the same creature that had escaped his slashes and knocked him down only to be killed with the very same knife--when suddenly the light vanished before his eyes. It was there one second, and then it disappeared. He heard a scuffle close, very close. As if two people were still fighting but no one was getting out on top. Junior pushed the fetid thing off of him and stood, half-crouched, probing his right hand out into the darkness toward the noise while his left hand, holding the knife, was poised to strike. Ready to lash out at anything. It isn't a rational fear, he heard in his head. Obviously, you're not where I am, he answered the voice. He touched something in the dark and it felt alien. He grabbed it by the waist and hauled it up and threw it off Dan, who took a long gasp for air. Junior's first response was to make a smart-ass comment about that, toward the creature, but he stopped himself. He didn't know if these things could see in the dark, but he had heard stories. The stories were of whole settlements, or Safe Areas, being wiped out over night. People dead, people he had associated with at one time or another. It made sense seeing as they preferred darkness, but no one knew. It was just another mystery. He stabbed the dirt where he thought it might have landed and dirt was all he cut. A sharp pain exploded in his side and he was sent rolling. He had been kicked! Finally rolling to a stop, he gasped for air and heard another sound. It was a familiar sound that made him balk and made his stomach lurch and his heart drop. It angered and pained him. It was a childhood thing that his mom had always done when she chided him in a humorous fashion, the sound had been, "tsk, tsk, tsk." He was on his feet in a flash and held out his left hand... Which held nothing but air. He had lost his knife! There was no time to look for it, so he had to rely on his brass knuckles. "Where are you, you motherfucker?" He asked through grated teeth at the still, cold air. "Come on!" And it came, fast and hard. It made him believe those stories of the night vision these creatures have. Something came out of the darkness and socked him in the mouth, jarring loose a memory that he had forgotten long ago that first summer it had been just Dan and him. Part of it he already knew. On those nights when Junior was 9 years old and afraid of the dark, Dan had told him not to fear the dark. Having a fear of the dark is not a rational fear. You should fear the things lurking in the dark. Those are the real bastards. But it continued, Dan had said one thing more that Junior had not remembered until now and it affirmed his belief that it was all going to be all right. ...Unless you're on the side of good, then whatever is in that darkness should fear YOU. Dan had lightly poked Junior in the chest with a reassuring smile. That was years ago. That memory made Junior's eyes grow moist. It was exactly what he needed to stand back up. And he did. He stood and heard a grunt from his left. Junior's eyes looked in that direction and he heard a sharp intake of breath. He could feel the creature now; he could hear it, smell it, taste it in the air. His face transformed into something angry and convoluted, dressed up in blood and mud. He felt the creature tense and he sprang at it, throwing punches and kicks. A few landed, and he could hear the rate of its heartbeat climb higher and higher as it panicked. It knew what was coming. Junior grabbed hold of its neck and punched it across the face, felt warm blood pour out over his forearm as a result. He punched it again, but this time his fist impacted the gunshot wound on its shoulder, causing it to cry out in pain. He rained blows down onto its sternum and chest, the brass knuckles making his own fingers sore and bloody. It lashed out but he didn't care. Its fingernails gouged into his arm and scratched at his cheeks and face. But Junior never let up and finally used every last bit of strength he had to deliver a blow to its throat that closed its windpipe and quieted it. He threw it to the ground and stomped on its neck until it was a still, bloody mess. Only then did he notice the lantern had been turned back on and the basement was once again infused with light. Junior turned, his body ached in protest but he did it, regardless. Dan was standing, with the woman supporting him. He was smiling at Junior, not the smile of a sadistic psychopath but that of the proudest man on Earth. Dan looked him up and down and smiled harder. "Whew, we've got one more block to expand our territory, now..." He told Junior. Junior nodded, and collapsed to his knees. "I'm getting too old for this shit," he paused, "Dan." He had almost called him 'dad,' but hadn't. Dan wasn't his father but he may as well have been. It didn't seem like it would be a bad thing, but he wouldn't tell Dan that. Instead, he looked up at him and nodded again. "Town is going to be happy about that." He licked his dry lips with a dry tongue and searched his belt for his canteen, then took a swig. Dan pointed to the woman, "this is Chrissy. She's not from 'round here." Junior waved feebly, still resting and looking at the floor. After a few moments he stood back up and looked at the carnage, looked from face to face. His eyes rested on the trembling creature, lying on its back as it stared back with wide eyes, which shifted between Junior and the former leader that laid in a bloody heap. The creature was still clutching its knee from where Dan had hurt it. Unable to run, it just lay there. Junior held out his hand to Dan, who offered him his hatchet back. He looked up to the egress window and into the brightening sky as dawn approached. "We've got a lot more to take back," he informed Dan as he shuffled over to the creature. THE END __________________ < agrees to ^