I abruptly awoke into darkness. Screaming, someone was screaming.
“No, NOOOO!!!”, a male voice from beyond the darkness pleaded. That voice: it was so full of terror, so soaked in fear, and with the pitch of one who is about to…a deep snapping squelch cut across the darkness with finality. The screaming stopped.
I held my breath and listened, not moving a muscle. My awareness grew and my heartbeat was deafening in my ears. Surely it could be heard for miles around it was so loud. I had to get control of myself. My thoughts were a jumble but some of them cut through the panic and chaos; what had killed the screaming man? Was I next? What the hell is going on?
I finally had to take a breath and it was loud, at least to me. I did not have time to think about it though as I started to cough, there was dirt in that breath of air and my throat was so raw. Whatever had killed that man, it surely knew now I was nearby and alive. But nothing happened. Nothing.
I rolled over finally. I was on the soft sandy ground. Why was I still alive? I tried to open my eyes; it was an effort really. They were crusted over for some reason. I pushed myself into a sitting position and massaged my eyes. The lids crackled and flaked until I could finally open them and see.
Sagebrush. I saw as far into the night as the dim moonlight would allow; I was surrounded by sagebrush. The sky was full of glittering stars, a half-moon hung low, and the dim shapes of mountains lined the horizon. I was still in the desert. But how did I get here and why was I not on the bus?
I started to roll over then, but I slipped on wet ground. Before I realized it, I was face down atop a wreck of a human body. I froze, fear screaming up and down every nerve to not make more noise, to not panic at the sight of the gore, to not bring death looking.
I slowly pushed myself up and stood over what was left of a man. This must have been the person who had been screaming. His ruined head was bent at an unnatural angle, eyes open with the terror of his last moments forever etched upon him. He was dressed in an orange prison jumper, much like the one I was wearing. A prisoner, me?
It came back to me then; I am a convict; he had been as well. We had been on a prison transport bus together, at least what remained of his clothing told me we had been. Right, we were being moved from Ridgecrest to some new facility in the middle of bumfuck nowhere. How did we get out here among the sagebrush? Where were the bus and the other prisoners?
I saw then that my jumpsuit was torn, much like the unfortunate fellow. Blood was splattered across me, and I felt fresh gashes on my arms. I turned back to the body in front of me, looking more closely. The body, like the head, was broken, sliced, and torn by what I can only guess was a large beast. A bear maybe? But why would a bear be so far from the mountains? No, something else had done this.
A thin howl cut through the night, drawing my sight back to the half-lit sign in the distance. A coyote. Yes, that’s it a coyote. I looked one last time at the ruined body on the ground. We must have tried to escape and a pack of them must have attacked us. Not good. Time to move on.
I turned and started walking into the sea of sagebrush. The night air was cool but not cold and the weak moonlight was more than enough to navigate by. The sound of my footsteps was loud to my ears, but then there were no other sounds to compete with. Wait, no other sounds? I stopped then and listened. I’ll be damned. Not even the sound of crickets or bugs. Just my breathing and a slight breeze. Huh.
I started walking again and looked ahead to my destination. The half-lit sign was much closer now, The Midway Stop read with the MID portion unlit. I could see too, a decent-sized building, an awning with gas pumps under it, several parked cars and…and a prison bus. Damn.
Growling filled the air behind me. Shit. I slowly turned my head, and sure enough, there was a large coyote glaring at me. No, there were four of them, the other waiting behind the leader. Fuck.
I turned and ran as hard as I could.
Turns out I’m a faster runner than I remember. I reached the building, a mini-mart decorated for the holidays from all the signage, and saw a pile of junk next to the dumpster. I reached down and grabbed a good-sized pipe and kept running. I turned and looked behind me, the coyotes were not far behind.
I reached the bus, but the door was shut. I turned around and put my back on the bus. I waved the pipe and yelled a challenge at the coyotes but as I did that an unearthly roar drowned me out. It was a monstrous sound, filling every space around the area and echoing off into the night. What the hell? The coyotes all jumped back and looked around for whatever had issued that noise. The leader took another look at me, turned, and took his crew off into the night, yipping.
Ok, well that’s something. But I don’t want to meet whatever had made that noise. I’ve never heard anything like it. It was definitely not a bear.
When I was sure the coyotes were out of sight, I turned towards the bus door, and with some patient effort, I managed to get it opened. I really wish I hadn’t.
The inside of the bus was…was a ruin. Seats were bent and torn, blood washed the walls, windows, seats…everything. I walked deeper into the bus and no space was undamaged. What had done this? What had turned this bus into a bloody death trap? And where were the bodies? There had been ten other men besides himself and his seatmate. There had been two armed guards and the driver as well. Where were they?
I took a deep breath. Whatever did this, it was gone for the moment. I needed to look for help and a way out. Now.
I left the bus and moved to the nearest car, afraid of what I might find. It was compact, and lite in color but covered in desert dust. It had been sitting for a while. I ran my hands over it and the dust was thicker than I expected. At the driver’s side door, I leaned down and looked in the window, but nothing. The next two vehicles were in a similar state. Where the bus had been a battleground, these cars were untouched as far as I could tell.
I turned then to the mini-mart. The windows were dark save the flickering light over the register area. No, not creepy at all. I took a steady breath and with the pipe in hand walked slowly over to the front doors. The doors were unlocked thankfully. I pushed open one and stepped in.
The flickering light had hidden much. The mini-mart, or what is left of it, looked just as bad as the bus interior, it was a war zone. Shelves overturned, some with massive rips in them, merchandise and food scattered everywhere. And the windows, none of them were broken, but I could see the blood now. Smell it too.
From outside one of the windows, I saw shadow lumber past the bus. I blinked twice. It was gone. The distant coyotes howled then. Fuck this.
I turned away from the bloody window and started going through the front counter. The register was open with some cash still in it and on the floor nearby. I picked up a few bills, but my interest was in anything that could be used as a better weapon. Beyond a dead flashlight though, there was nothing. So, the pipe was it.
A low directionless growl stopped me in my tracks. Ducking behind the counter, I gripped the pipe and peered into the ruin of the store. What the hell happened here? Was everyone dead? I was lucky to be alive and I need to keep it that way. I will not be somethings victim. Need to find a hiding place, then when the sun came up, try for the next town, or maybe go up into the mountains. Disappear. I just had to survive the night.
I took a deep breath and moved away from the counter and into the mess that was the remains of the store. I took care not to make noise, but it was impossible, glass, food, and debris were everywhere. Something or someone had put up one hell of a fight. More blood in the aisles and on the floor but no bodies or parts. So far only the dead man I had woken up next to earlier indicated there were any actual people involved here.
The smell hit me then and a low rumble washed over the area. I froze like a rabbit. Nothing happened so I continued deeper into the store. I came upon a stack of water bottles. Opening one I took a deep drink that helped to clear the grit from my mouth and throat. I grabbed another and tucked it in a pocket and saw that I was near the washroom. Looking at my hands I decided to go in and clean up.
The door surprisingly opened quietly, though the room was also a mess and only lit with one fluorescent light that looked like it should have been replaced a long time ago. I moved to the sink. The mirror over it was broken, its shards mixed with the other debris of the room. No worries, I’m really not the vain type, but with all the blood and destruction, I needed to feel at least a little cleaner.
Turning on the water, I rolled up the torn orange sleeves and stopped. I had felt the cuts on my arms earlier, the surprise though was the other scars, some half-healed but many fully healed. When had I gotten those? What the absolute fuck was going on?? Had I been fighting someone or something and not remembering? How can you not remember the sheer number of wounds? Hell.
I quickly washed my open wounds, hands, and face the best I could. I had to get out of here. Whatever was going on, if I wasn’t already trapped in it, I was going to be or worse. I had to get away.
I turned off the water and turned towards the bathroom door when I heard a loud crash from the store floor. Shit. I picked up the pipe and stood next to the door, holding the handle.
At first, I couldn’t make out anything but then I heard, something moving about the debris. I heard wrappers being torn, and the sounds of low growling and eating. The coyotes? Probably, they were scavengers. If he waited, they’d eat their fill and move on.
A scream cut through everything. “Get away!! Get away!!” a terrified male voice cried out. The screaming was coming from deeper in the building. The storeroom?
I cracked the bathroom door and saw the shadow of a coyote head towards the screaming. Damn. I had to move fast if I was going to help whoever it was.
I slipped out the door, making sure there were no other coyotes near me. The screaming got louder. I don’t know where it came from, but an electric surge went through me and I bolted for the screaming.
The lead-up to the storeroom was the bloodiest part of anything I saw up to this point and I finally saw signs of remains, bits of body, and torn clothing. The door to the storeroom was missing and the floor and walls were covered in deep scratches and cuts. Beyond the threshold, I could hear lots of growling and yipping interspersed with screaming.
I didn’t think, instinct took me over and with that sudden burst of energy, I ran into the room. I was instantly overwhelmed by the smell of blood and death. The shadows were dark and wet. I didn’t look too closely as my attention went to the injured man at the other end of the room surrounded by growling, hungry coyotes.
He was clothed in an orange prison jumpsuit, another survivor from the bus. He held a bloody baseball bat and was swinging wildly at the coyotes, “Get away!”
A deep, deep growl filled the dark room, and everything stopped. The coyotes looked confused, backing up from the injured man. The man was even more frightened than before, turning his back on his attackers, and trying to claw through the cement wall. “Get away!!!” he screamed in an even higher pitch.
With the coyotes confused I made my move and rushed forward, desperate adrenaline carrying me and my pipe to the closest one. I swung hard and kept going, blood exploded next to me. The other coyotes turned then, surprised by the sudden attack. Again, I swung the pipe, another coyote dropped as the injured man raked his bloody fingers over the worn concrete, his bat forgotten. “Get AAAAAWAAAAAY!!!!!” He was crazed.
I didn’t have time to worry about his mental state, the pack leader had regained its footing and faced me defiantly. It was big for a coyote, almost wolf-sized. He bared his teeth and growled. I gripped the pipe, bared my teeth, and growled. The man just screamed and screamed. In a pause between his crazed screams the pack leader lunged.
I moved to avoid the lunge but the ground underfoot was soft and wet, and I slipped. The pack leader tried to turn mid-leap but all it succeeded in doing was not being prepared for the wall it crashed into.
The big coyote stood up slowly, dazed. I too was dazed but I got up fast and we once again faced each other. One of the surviving pack members tried to join in but the pack leader pushed them aside. This was a fight between us alone.
The pack leader rushed then, teeth snapping. I sidestepped at the last moment and brought the pipe down hard. There was a loud crack and the leader fell, its body tumbling to the feet of the frantic man who was still screaming.
I turned to the remaining pack members. I just stared. They slowly cowered away from me and left the store room with little yips. I took a deep breath and wish I hadn’t. The smell of death filled me, and my adrenaline surged. I was still in flight or fight mode. I needed to calm the survivor down and get us out of there.
“Get away, get away, get away!” He screamed.
“They,” my voice caught, the fighting and growling had made it gravelly. “The coyotes are gone; we need to get out of here.”
He didn’t hear me. If anything, the sound of my voice only made his screaming worse. I sighed then; I was going to have to knock him out. I didn’t want to hurt him; he was hurt enough but I didn’t see any other way to calm him.
I moved towards him, my feet stepping on something semi-soft and wet. I tried not to look, but I couldn’t help myself. The floor was covered in body parts, blood, and destroyed clothing. What had happened here? No wonder the survivor was crazed.
I moved as quickly as I could over the gory floor, all the while talking as calmly as I could to the man, but my voice just seemed to make matters worse. I got almost to within arm’s reach of him when he rolled to the side, grabbed the bloody bat, and swung wildly.
Thankfully I was still full of adrenaline from the fight with the pack leader. I easily sidestepped the bat swing. With more speed than I expected I snatched the bat out of his hands and tossed it across the room. “Enough of that, we have to…” He decked me with a frenzied punch to the face.
“Geeeeeeeeeet aaaaaaaaawaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!!!!!” He wound up for another punch.
I grabbed the swinging fist and with all my weight threw it past me. Wait, I threw him past me?? I turned and sure enough, across the room, laying in a crumpled, moaning heap was the crazed man. Shit, I didn’t mean to hurt him, shit.
I rushed over to him but even as I got closer, I could see his limbs were bent at the wrong angles and bone was sticking out where it had no business sticking out. I had thrown him much harder than I realized. He stared off into the darkness, seeing only the thing that frightened him. He muttered “Get away.” several more times before he finally stopped breathing and lay still.
Why had the man been so frightened? I looked around then, the room and its gory ruin now very, very clear. Why was he frightened indeed? Who had done this and why? I sighed then. Since waking up and walking into this nightmare of a pit stop, things had kept getting steadily worse. What the hell is going on?
Something wet hit the floor further in the storage room then. Now what?
I got up and, trying not to look around anymore, I simply moved towards the sound. My heart was pounding again, but I was not frightened like the screamer. I was just done, and survival mode was kicking in. I was not going to run; I was going to fight.
I came around the corner and saw an even bigger horror show. This end of the room was full of bodies, many old but a few were fresh as in hours fresh. The smell overpowered my determination, and I was afraid again. I ran. I bounded across the storeroom and before I realized it, was through a huge hole in the wall. On the other side, I stopped. It took me a few mins, but I took hold of my fear and forced myself to calm down. No use ending up like Mr. Crazy.
I looked about me and could not believe my eyes, there were vehicles of all sorts on this side of the building. I hadn’t seen them from the outside because the mini stop was on a rise of land and below was what I could only describe as a junkyard. A junkyard is full of old cars, trucks…buses. Buses??
I made my way down to the yard and to the closest bus. A correctional bus was almost identical to the one up at the mini stop. This one was aged, dusty much like the untouched cars I found earlier. The door was open, and I hesitantly looked inside. Sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed. It was torn up just as bad as the other bus, as bad as the inside of the mini-mart.
Had we been sent here to die? Seriously?? Fuck that. I’m not dying in the middle of nowhere.
I headed back to the mini-mart; I was suddenly hungry. I know, how could I possibly be hungry after everything I’ve seen? I can’t answer that. All I can say is I was ravenous.
I found some beef jerky and beer and decided to check out the other side of the building. At least I wouldn’t have to look at the gore while I ate, I have some standards. I was halfway through the beer when a station wagon pulled off the dusty two-lane highway and up to one of the gas pumps. Oh no.
A bearded, heavy-set man got out of the car and tried a pump. It didn’t work for him. The man checked his cell phone, grumbled about no bars, and where the hell was this place on the map anyways? The man put the phone back in his pocket and started to make his way into the mini-mart.
I coughed then and dropped the beer. My chest suddenly hurt, and the air was heavy with the scent of something overly sweet, something promising to fill my hollow belly. Hollow belly? I just…
The breeze also carried the laughter of young voices. Another stab of pain ripped through my chest. What the fu…my hands, my hands suddenly spasmed, burning electricity raked across them. Oh, fuck the pain racing up my arms. What the hell??
My body was violently raked with spasms as the electricity I felt earlier engulfed me. The pain, oh fuck the pain… make it stop! Make it stop!! After everything I just went through Is this how I die, from a heart attack?? No, please not now! I have got to get out of here before that man comes out of the mini-mart. The Darkness, I..must…hide in the…da, dar…dark!
He reached the darkness and after long moments the spasms and the pain passed. His eyes open abruptly…yes, he is still alive. Slowly he got up from the ground…when had he fallen?
His ears flicked and jerked towards the gas pumps. What was that? Laughter again from the car? His stomach growled loudly. It only took a few short steps to cross the lot. There they are, in the backseat of the car, sweet prey, sweet warm…what?? Prey?
One of the teens turned around. She screams so, so loud, ah the intoxicating fear! But she and her companion are too small to fill the hunger. They will do it for later though. Movement…at the building! The adult, full and meaty bursts through the mini-mart doors yelling something. It’s only a few steps more and he is standing over the jibbering man. Ah here is a meal! A holiday meal! Yes, he will do nicely.
The panic and desperation are gone; the need to flee, a forgotten dream. His vision turned red and began fading to black. Screaming. Sweet, sweet screaming is the only thing that mattered now, a trembling, haunting carol fueling the midnight hunt.
Gene is a gay indie artist/creator, contributor to The Line it is Drawn, DM and gaymer, maker and occasional streamer. Oh and he loves pizza way too much.