The civilian cart nearest me lurched to a halt; the driver, his wife, and daughter were arguing. “Move!” I yelled without breaking stride. “We have to get to cover! The next wave is coming, and we have to get indoors!”
They stopped at my harsh words and stood there for a moment. Then a distant screeching echoed off the ruined buildings. They dropped everything and ran, the parents half dragging their young child who was sobbing. Urgent yelps of concern rang out down the line of people as everyone abandoned their wagons and freed as many of the mules as they could but time was running out. “Leave everything, including the pack animals!”, Rick yelled from the back. “The streets here are too full of debris and ruin, going on foot is the only way forward. Move!”
I leaped over a wrecked v-dub that cut across my path and landed lightly and continued running, keeping many of the people we had rescued in eyesight. What had these people been thinking trying to brave the Torn Wood Road this close to the next wave? Maybe they thought they’d get lucky and make the Citadel with time to spare. They hadn’t anticipated this phase’s varreon being so relentless. And now here we are, saving their asses from their own short-sightedness.
I scanned the road ahead, this part of the city was a maze of twisted ruins and the street, like all the rest before, was full of the debris of every sort. Too many of the buildings lining the street were just shells, broken walls, and ravaged interiors. There were some intact vehicles here and there along the road and up on the sidewalk – one sticking out of a wall – but none of them were big enough to house the group. Fuck! They were going to have a hard time finding a large intact room here, especially one to hold 20 civies and the rescue team. But we had to, there was no other choice.
Gunfire erupted behind me again. “They aren’t slowing down!” Rick yelled from the middle of the group. “If anyone has a bright idea, now’s the time!” He fired his rifle again; there were angry screeches in answer that put more speed in the civilian’s feet.
“There!” Duncan’s voice cut through my haste, and I nearly stumbled as I quickly looked to my side. My heart leaped, he had caught back up with us, he had survived the ambush! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
The bear of a man pointed a half-fingered gloved hand down the street. It took me a moment and then I saw it, an intact strip mall that was partially buried by the rubble of bigger buildings on either side. “The middle store!” he yelled. “Looks like a good hidey hole!” He smiled through his thick black beard, turned to the civies behind us, and waved towards the center of the set of buildings. “There! Get to that building!”
His words hadn’t even finished echoing off down the street when the world dimmed for a moment, just a moment, and my heart dropped. We locked eyes and then looked back the way we came. The wave was almost here. Nobody waited, everyone raced down the wrecked street as fast as they could.
There was a loud screech from above. I turned around then, lifted my rifle, and fired over the heads of our civilian charges that made up the rear of the group. The thing that had once been a bat screeched as I took out a wing join that exploded in a purple spray. It wheeled to the left and hit a brick wall. Its death cry was short. The near miss put the group in a higher gear. Duncan yelled, “Move people!”
I waited a moment more to make sure everyone was really moving and then I ran.
The team had done a good job, we had found this group of civilians quickly and had only lost two people to the small varreon swarm that had attacked them. The varreon had been beaten back quickly but there had been no time to waste, the next wave was overdue, and being out in the open was certain death or worse. Now they were here, in a dead town scrambling to find safety by the skin of their teeth.
The world had not always been this way. 5 years ago, I was working as a freelance artist and paying for a mortgage. Then the apocalypse wave came and changed the world overnight. We had thought ourselves lucky to survive those first days. But when it became apparent the apocalypse wave was here to stay everything truly went to shit. I lost so many friends and loved ones. I lost…no, we all lost, all of us. The only thing now was to hold on to those we could, survive the wave, beat back whatever horrors it made next from its victims, and make it to the next wave and the next. We had to survive.
I looked to the east, the sick purple and green of the wave were growing nearer. I turned to look back toward the storefront. I took a breath and was hit from the right, hard. I heard loud chittering screams and then a flash of lights as my back hit something hard, causing me to fall to the ground.
I heard Duncan’s voice as if he were yelling underwater. I saw more quick flashes and heard the pop, pop pop of his rifle. Duncan looked so angry, so determined and I had to admit, even in a race for our lives, he looked…there was a sharp angry screech and a large shadow fell to the ground next to me.
“Skylar!” Duncan was looking down at me, his big, bearded face and hazel eyes worried. No, scared. He feared losing, me? But we haven’t even…He was saying something…
“Get up! Come on, handsome, this is no time to give up!” He smiled then, ever so devilishly, “We haven’t had that date yet.”
My head cleared and I smiled up at him. “No one is giving up! And as for that date; given everything else, you said this was our…” My words turned to dust as I looked past his worried face, the glow of the wave had eaten up half the sky.
“Shit!” The world became darker again and this time a pressure oscillation rippled over us. The wave was almost here.
We looked at each other and yelled, “Move!”
Duncan shouldered his rifle and with a big hand grabbed my arm and threw me to my feet ahead of him. My feet hit the ground and I ran, Duncan beside me. There was nothing for it now; run and live or become a victim of the apocalypse wave.
The door to the store was still open, a civvie had fallen and Rex and Sara were trying to get them up. They both looked at us, fear writ large across their faces. They were pointing off to the right
There, on the hood of a car was one of the biggest, ugliest flying creatures that had been chasing us. This close it looked like a rough cross between a bat, a squirrel, and a snake. Before either Duncan or I could so much as take another step in our running; a bolt of sick purple and green shot out from the sky, striking that thing on the hood of the car. It screamed and glowed for a second before revealing a dog-sized bug that lay on its back squealing, trying to right itself.
“Fuck, giant insect verrion this time!” I yelled.
“At least they aren’t zombies!” Duncan yelled back to me. He jumped over some debris as another flash of light just missed him. He stumbled and hit the ground with a solid thud.
“No!” I screamed and somehow found even more speed.
I jumped the same debris, brought up my gun, and looked for the inevitable waiting monster the wave had made while trying to shield Duncan as much as I could. I stopped. There on the ground was…was an unconscious man, not a monster.
“Duncan, get over here!” I moved without thinking and tried to lift the man.
Big hands took the dead weight from me, “I got’m” Duncan said quickly.
The ground was shaking now, and another couple of energy bolts struck out from the sky, turning more of those flying things into huge insects that fell to the ground screeching.
We didn’t even look at each other, we just turned and ran before the rumbling roar of the wave. It was so close now, the world was starting to desaturate around us, with only the purples and greens of the wave highlighting the gray ruinscape.
Duncan reached the door ahead of me and handed off his cargo and then turned to me. I tripped and rolled a few feet. If I survived this, I was going to be black and blue for weeks.
The gray world was spinning, the roaring energy wave was eating everything not protected by four walls and a roof. I tried to stand then, and my left foot was not having any of it. I fell again and hit the ground hard. This was not how I thought it would end. I was so close, I finally had something to look forward to after all the pain and fear this crazy world had brought but I was out of it…that big, gloved hand grabbed my arm and threw me at the door. Someone caught me and dragged me inside.
“Duncan! Duncan!!” I screamed through the pain, but the roar drowned me out. I looked out the open door, he was a silhouette before the wave and its fury. His big legs carried him over the last few feet of eternity and through the doorway which slammed shut behind him with a breath to spare.
The rumbling of the frantic energies of the apocalypse wave drowned out everything. Everything shook and everyone held their breath, would the building hold? Roaring, screaming, unearthly mayhem boiled outside and then ever so slowly it faded. The wave passed. Everyone in the room breathed a sigh, we were alive.
I got up then, pushed someone, I don’t know who, out of my way a bit too hard and grabbed Duncan by his leather weapons vest. He looked at me then with those huge hazel eyes and worry filled them.
He raised his hands in the air and said with a smirk, “Hold on now, this was not my…”
I pulled the big bear down to me and kissed him as long and as hard as I could. I think someone coughed and snickered. I didn’t care, for me, life was worth living again, not just surviving. I pulled back and smiled, “That was one hell of a first date.”
Duncan hugged me, “Hey, it was just another apocalypse, and it is going to take more than that to keep me from you.”
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.