Tuesday, January 15, 2019
By Daniel Skye
Fire rained down from the sky and consumed everything in its path. The flames spread faster than anyone could have anticipated. The unprovoked attacks came without warning. Nobody was prepared for it, no one saw it coming. Nothing could have prepared us for an enemy of this caliber.
Jordan Oliver struggled to navigate his way through the sea of abandoned cars with the plumes of smoke and debris obscuring his vision. There was heavy foot traffic in every direction as people scrambled to try and put out the fires or find shelter and safety.
Pillars of smoke ascended from every part of town. Homes and buildings were reduced to piles of rubble, debris, and smoldering ash. Tunnels collapsed, bridge were destroyed, planes crashed from the sky. There was no escape. We were powerless to stop it. Not even the army was ready for a threat of this magnitude.
It wasn’t the apocalypse. It wasn’t the end of the world.
It was the dawn of a savage New Age.
The Age of the Dragon.
Not many in the area survived the onslaught of the first attacks. Jordan was one of the few lucky ones. The town was decimated, and all initial reports confirmed that the city of New York was in ruins.
Jordan had no clue how many other survivors there were outside the state. It didn’t take long for things to come unglued. TV and radio went first. Then the phones and internet. All contact was severed. Nobody was coming to the rescue. Now it truly was survival of the fittest.
Jordan endured by banding together with a small group of survivors and keeping underground, literally. The bomb shelter provided them with the safety and security they needed.
The group–consisting of Jordan, AJ, Tara, Hank, and Lynn–were in the midst of a heavy debate.
“I say we make a stand,” Hank said vehemently. “I say we fight. It’s now or never.”
“I’m with Hank,” AJ said.
Lynn balked at the thought. “It’s suicide,” she said. “If you want to commit suicide, I think I’ve still got a bottle of sleeping pills in my purse.”
“Winter is coming,” Jordan said. ‘Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll all die off.”
“I sincerely doubt something that breathes fire is going to freeze to death,” Hank said.
“You’re not very optimistic, huh?” Tara joked.
“I’m a pessimist. At least I’m never disappointed.”
“What a way to live.”
“You call this living?” Hank asked. “Hiding underground from those creatures? Sneaking above ground like rats every day to scrounge for supplies? This isn’t living. This is the eve of extermination.”
“Remind me never to invite you to a party,” Jordan quipped.
“You guys can joke all you want. But this is life or death, one way or another. Either we die down here of starvation, or we die fighting.”
“If we’re going to even entertain the thought, we need more weapons,” Tara said. Jordan looked her up and down. She was short and skinny as the pole that holds up a street sign, but she was feisty and she showed no fear.
“I know a place,” Hank said and smiled.
Hank was an ex-Marine. He carried a Desert Eagle on him at all times, but his weapon of choice was a Remington shotgun. The shells of the shotgun seemed to be one of the only things capable of penetrating the rough exterior of the dragons. But he was running low on shells. He was down to his last box. And he only had twenty more rounds for the Desert Eagle.
The group all had their own guns. Not that anyone other than Hank and Tara knew how to use them. Hank had the proper training. And Tara used to go down to the gun range with her father and practice with his pistol. But this new world forced everyone to adapt. It didn’t take long for Jordan, AJ, and Lynn to learn how to use them.
But they were all running low on ammo. And knives were certainly out of the question. You don’t bring a knife to a dragon fight.
“Where?” AJ asked.
“Outside of town,” Hank said. “It’s an armory. It’s hidden. But I know the location.”
“I don’t know about this whole ‘fight to the death’ crusade, but we do need more ammo,” Tara said. “It’s risky. But I think it’s worth the risk.”
“Should we take a vote or something?” Lynn said jokingly.
“Maybe we should,” Hank said. “All in favor…” Hank raised his hand, followed by AJ, followed by Tara.
“You’re all crazy,” Lynn said.
“Is that a no?” Hank asked.
It took a minute, but Jordan reluctantly raised his hand. “It is crazy, but it’s our only hope for survival. It’s too dark now. We’ll head out tomorrow.”
The armory was still intact, the weapons all untouched. They loaded the bed of the truck with as much ammunition and artillery it could carry. They had guns and grenades, and enough bullets to stop an army. AJ had stumbled across a flamethrower while wandering around the armory and couldn’t resist.
“For good measure,” he said as he loaded it into the bed of the truck.
Tara rolled her eyes when she saw the last weapon that Hank loaded into the truck.
“An RPG? Really?”
“For good measure,” Hank repeated.
“Just don’t blow us up with that thing,” Tara said.
“I know what I’m doing,” Hank assured her.
“How long were you in the Marines?” she asked.
“Long enough to know what I’m doing. The Marines was my life. I was always on the front lines. I saw things that nobody should ever be forced to witness. And I lost a lot of good brothers along the way.”
“Life’s a bitch,” Lynn said.
“What kind of name is AJ?” Jordan asked as they finished loading the bed of the silver pickup.
“What do you mean? It’s just a name.”
“Yeah but what does it stand for? It’s gotta stand for something.”
“Your dad…” Tara started but trailed off.
“Anthony Senior didn’t make it,” AJ said. “Neither did my mom.”
“I lost my folks too,” Hank said. “Their house was burned to the ground by the time I got there. I was too late to save them.”
“You’re not alone,” Jordan said.
“Boohoo,” Lynn mocked.
“Damn, you are cold,” Jordan said. “What about your family? Don’t you miss them?”
“You can’t miss what you never had. My parents were gone long before all of this. I never knew them.”
“I never knew my dad,” Tara said. “My mom raised me by herself. She was living in Ohio when all this went down. I lost contact with her. I have no idea if she’s still alive.”
“When all this is said and done, we’ll find you a car of your own and we’ll get you to Ohio,” Jordan promised. “If she’s out there, you’ll find her.”
“I hate to interrupt this lovely conversation, but we have to get moving,” Lynn said. “It’ll be dark soon and we won’t be able to see them coming.”
“She’s a stone cold bitch, but she’s right,” Hank said. “Let’s get moving.”
Hank turned the truck around and drove back down the three-mile, unmarked path that had led them to the armory. He reached the beginning of the path, then turned back onto the main road, heading west.
“Fucking dragons,” AJ muttered. “Who would have seen that coming?”
“Nobody,” Jordan said. “That’s why they’re winning the battle.”
“But they won’t win the war,” Hank said.
They were a few miles from the bomb shelter when Hank jammed on the brakes, the pickup skidding across the road.
“What in God’s name did you do that for!?” Lynn exclaimed.
“Look,” Hank pointed. They still had an hour of sunlight, but a giant shadow had engulfed the road. The winged serpent descended from the sky and landed hard enough to crack the asphalt and make the ground quake.
It was a massive beast with a barbed tail and a crested head; its body comprised of thick golden scales that shielded it like body armor. Its vast wings appeared to be translucent under the fading glare of the sun.
The enormous creature stood its ground, its serrated talons digging into the asphalt. They all stared deep into the eyes of the dragon.
It opened its rigid snout, revealing its jagged teeth. A prehistoric roar echoed through the area as it summoned more of its kind.
“It’s now or never,” Hank said as two more dragons loomed over the horizon.
They exited the vehicle in quick fashion and loaded up. They opened fire and the dragon leapt from the ground and took to the air. The bullets barely left a mark on its tough, nearly impenetrable exterior.
The dragons were swift, agile, intelligent. And worst of all, they were powerful and virtually impossible to defeat.
AJ abandoned his double barrel shotgun for the flamethrower. “Time to fight fire with fire.”
He strapped the tank to his back and used the gun to release a long stream of flames into the air. The dragon hissed and recoiled.
It fired back, expelling a jet of flames from its mouth, and AJ just barely avoided becoming a human rotisserie. He fired back with another steady stream of flames, and smoke billowed from its now charred scales.
“It’s working!” Jordan shouted. “Keep it up, AJ!”
“We’ve got company!” Lynn screamed in regards to the two rapidly approaching dragons.
It was all out war. Hank blasted a deep hole in one with his Remington, but it kept on coming. They were persistent, relentless. This monstrous creatures didn’t understand the meaning of the word surrender.
Tara pulled the pin and hurled one into the air. Lynn dropped her matching pistols and followed suit. Grenades exploded like fireworks in the sky. An RPG soared through the air. Balls of fire rained down upon the road. The flames spread to the old silver pickup and it blew sky-high, leaving nothing but a heap of smoking, twisted metal. Just when it seemed like they had the battle won, the vicious roars echoed in the distance. Reinforcements. The battle was far from–
“Yo, Jordan! Wake up!”
Jordan snapped out of it. “What?”
“Class is over, man,” AJ said.
“Yeah…I guess so. It felt so real.”
“Daydreamer,” Lynn said with a disparaging tone. “Too scared to face reality, Jordan?”
“Give him a break,” Tara said as she gathered her textbooks. “I daydream sometimes during class. It helps pass the time.”
“You know I can hear you,” their teacher, Mr. Hank Friedman said from across the classroom.
A prehistoric roar echoed in the distance. Jordan wondered if he was still daydreaming. Was he the only one who had heard it? Had his imagination gotten the better of him?
Tara’s textbooks slipped from hands and dropped to the floor with a heavy thud. They all exchanged bewildered glances. Even Mr. Friedman looked a little pale and shaken up.
“The fuck was that?” Lynn asked.
The sound came again and they rushed to the windows and stood in awe.
Fire rained down from the sky and chaos erupted in their quaint little town.
Jordan wasn’t daydreaming. He was having a premonition…
Monday, January 14, 2019
By Daniel Skye
Evan Rudd woke to the intoxicating aroma of coffee and the lingering scent of overcooked bacon. It was a quarter past eight, but Ethan had been awake since five o’clock. Evan could hear his brother’s muffled profanities coming from the garage as he made his way downstairs.
That car is going to be the death of him, Evan thought.
Ethan made sure to leave Evan some coffee and a few scraps of charred bacon. He helped himself to a cold piece. He didn’t mind that it was burnt; he usually preferred it that way.
The percolator hissed, as if to remind Evan there was still some coffee waiting for him. He poured a cup with a splash of milk and a pinch of sugar, and joined Ethan in the garage. Ethan was fiddling around under the hood and dropping F-bombs every three seconds.
Lucy. That’s what their father named it. He told them that every car needed a name. Their mother’s name was Lucille and he had named the RM Valhalla after her. Not that she appreciated the sentiment.
Their mother hated that car. Hate didn’t do it justice. A stronger word is needed to describe her feelings. It wasn’t just resentment. It was, for lack of a better word, fear. Something about that car scared the living daylights out of her.
Evan could never understand why she was so afraid of it, or why they weren’t allowed to go near the thing. Only their father was allowed to touch it. He’d go for Sunday drives, sometimes with the kids, sometimes by himself. But never with Lucille. Other than the occasional cruise, the car stayed in the garage under lock and key.
He used to disconnect the battery cables from the terminals and remove the distributor cap to ensure there would be no joyrides in his absence. Evan didn’t mind so much. But Ethan seemed to take it personal. They were just kids, but something about it rubbed Ethan the wrong way. It wasn’t the lack of trust. It something that Evan was never quite able to put his finger on. But it felt like envy.
When John and Lucille passed, they left the house and the car to their sons. But Evan had no interest in trying to repair that clunker, so he told Ethan the car was all his, if he wanted it. And Ethan really wanted it.
The car was a 1958 Valhalla, powder blue in color. RM was the manufacturer, short for Reliable Motors; an obscure company that folded in the mid-sixties.
And the years had not been kind to the Valhalla, hence Ethan’s profanity laced tirades whenever he was working in the garage.
The Valhalla was a long car with a wide body and those sharp fins on the back. Small round headlights, like two white eyes with no pupils or irises. A chrome grill that was begging for a few coats of wax. The whitewall tires were so bald and frayed you could see the wires beneath the rubber.
The hood was dented in the center, and a nest of rust had formed in that deep crater. And that wasn’t the only spot where rust had eaten the paint away. He shuddered to think what the under-body looked like. The interior was stained with coffee and riddled with cigarette burns. The upholstery was bleeding through cracks and slits in the seat cushions. The antenna was ancient, and if you were lucky, you might be able to pick up a few AM stations–If you could get it to start.
Ethan liked to hurl words around like “vintage” and “antique”, but Evan knew what he was really saying.
The car wasn’t vintage or retro or classic. And it certainly wasn’t an antique. It was ancient. The Valhalla was a freaking dinosaur, a fossil from the Stone Age. It was a lost cause as far as Evan was concerned. But Ethan didn’t see it that way.
That car had become a fixation, an obsession. He was infatuated with the machine and let it consume all of his free time. When he looked at that car, he got that same starry, faraway look in his eyes that their father had when he’d take Lucy for a joyride.
“Need a hand?” Evan asked.
“Yeah, you could help by getting me some more coffee. It’s going to be a long morning.” There was a puddle of dark oil seeping into the concrete. There was a crack in the engine block the size of the San Andreas Fault.
Evan shook his head. Ethan had already sunk a few grand into that heap, and he was about to drop a few more before it was all over.
Ethan had changed the brakes, bought a new carburetor, a new catalytic converter, a new belt to replace the one that was cracked and barely holding on. A new metal bumper to replace the old one that was rotting off. And ironically, a new distributor cap. And the car needed a major tune up, which Ethan was currently putting the finishing touches on.
He still needed to replace the tires and hubcaps. And there was the matter of the giant crack in the engine block.
Ethan slammed the hood down out of exhaustion and frustration.
“That ought to do it,” Ethan said, though he didn’t sound very confident.
The driver side door opened with a rusty, hellish scream. “What about the crack in the engine block?” Evan reminded him.
“I used a type of sealant. Should be set by now. Let’s see if it works.”
He twisted the key in the ignition. The engine sputtered, then stalled. He tried again and punched the accelerator to give it some juice. But it refused to turn over. The exhaust squealed and the tailpipe coughed clouds of noxious smoke. It smelled like scorched engine oil and rotten eggs. The combination was enough to make Evan retch.
“Son of a bitch,” Ethan muttered and slammed his fist on the dashboard.
“I’ll get you another cup of coffee,” Evan said, still shaking his head.
Evan went inside and brewed a fresh pot.
He returned with two steaming mugs of coffee. The hood was ajar again and the driver side door was shut, but Ethan was nowhere in sight. The garage door was closed. If he went inside, Evan would’ve heard him come through the kitchen.
“Ethan? Where the hell did you go? Ethan…”
He glared at that dark puddle of sludge under the engine block. There was something different about it. Something different about the Valhalla, too. The paint was brighter. The chrome grill sparkled and shined. The headlights stared back at him, beckoning him, pleading with him to go for a spin. Come on, Lucky called him. Let’s go for a ride.
He walked around the car and examined the tires. They looked brand new, even smelled brand new.
He walked back to the front of the car and kneeled to take a look at the dark puddle underneath. It wasn’t just engine oil.
It was blood. A lot of blood.
The engine roared to life and Evan recoiled and fell back, the coffee mugs in his hands shattering on the concrete floor. The headlights flashed, as if winking at him. The engine revved with power and newfound life. It sounded like a million bucks.
Evan got back to his feet and no longer noticed that deep red puddle of what could only be Ethan’s blood. All he noticed was Lucy. A wide grin spread across his face. He was in a deep trance. And he had that same starry, dreamy look in his eyes that his father and brother had when they looked at Lucy.
He opened the driver side door and got in. “Okay, Lucy. Let’s go for a ride.”
Tuesday, January 8, 2019
By Daniel Skye
Charles Richter–or Chuck, as he was affectionately referred to by his friends and family–stood on his back porch, enjoying his first coffee and cigarette of the day. He used to sit and have his coffee and smokes on the front porch, but Sal Ferretti had ruined the experience for him.
Sal, or Story Telling Sal as Chuck called him behind his back, wasn’t a bad guy and Chuck knew that. The problem was that Sal was lonely and Chuck was not. He didn’t crave the company or the attention that Sal craved. And he was beyond exhausted of hearing the same recycled stories that Sal insisted on rehashing.
He sipped his coffee, smoked his cigarette down to the filter, and used it to light another. His health was of no concern to him. Not much concerned him after Wanda’s unexpected passing. He had gone to hell with himself, and the property had followed suit.
The gutters were clogged with leaves. The pipes were leaking in the cellar. Years of harsh weather had stripped the paint on his front door down to the wood. And his lawn was a sight that made most people in the neighborhood cringe.
In front, the grass was waist high and scorched yellow by the wrath of the sun. Out back, it was even worse. There were patches of dirt where the grass had died off and refused to grow back. In other spots, the grass had turned from a sun bleached yellow to a sickly brown.
Then there was the yellow IROC that had been a fixture in his backyard for years. A crack in the engine block had caused an oily puddle to seep into the earth, killing everything that once grew. All that remained was black dirt and a layer of coagulated oil.
He opened the gate to the fence surrounding the back porch and trotted across his balding, unhealthy lawn. What a shame, he thought. But it wasn’t the grass that really intrigued him. Something else had caught his eye.
He followed a trail of strange looking vines that were coiled around a dense, shady oak tree. The vines traveled in a straight line around the side of the house, where it was clinging to the blue vinyl siding. These vines were not green or purple, they looked in worse condition than his sickly grass. They were black, the color of rot and decay. And they smelled as bad as they looked.
He followed the discolored vines with his eyes and saw that they were growing outward, splitting off and moving towards the brick chimney. The vines extended almost to the eaves of his house.
“See you at the party, Richter!” Sal yelled jovially, doing his poorest Arnold impersonation.
Chuck shuddered at the sound of his voice. It was like broken glass on a chalkboard. “Huh?” he muttered.
“Total Recall,” he said. “You’ve never seen it?”
“I prefer Terminator.”
“To each his own. I saw you out here and thought I’d pop on over and see what’s up.”
“Well, you’re looking at it,” he said and waved with his hand towards the vines crawling up the side of the house.
“Gotdamn! Never seen vines like that before! And jeez, you smell that? Smells like an abattoir. My uncle used to work at a slaughterhouse. He’d come home reeking. Did I ever tell you that?”
“Probably,” he sighed and rubbed one of his throbbing temples.
“Well, these vines smell just like that. The smell of death. It’s sickening.”
“I wonder what causes them to go black like that. Never seen it before, either. It’s strange. They look dead, they smell dead, but they’re still growing up the side of the house.”
“Ya got me, buddy,” Sal shrugged. “Hey, I got another uncle. Not the one who used to work at the slaughterhouse. He lives in Reno. That’s in Nevada.”
“I know where it is, Sal.”
“Well, his wife is a botanist. I probably mentioned it before. I could give her a call and ask her about it.”
“That would be grand,” Chuck said, feigning enthusiasm.
Chuck looked at his sad, unkempt lawn and then glanced across the street. Sal’s garden was in bloom, his lawn was well-manicured. His gutters were clean, his windows shining. It made him resent Sal even more for some unknown reason.
“Be right back,” Chuck said, brandishing his empty cup. “Need more fuel.”
He secretly hoped that Sal would be gone when he returned. He refilled his cup, stirred in a spoonful of sugar and a splash of heavy cream. He went out the back door and looked around, didn’t see Sal.
Oh, thank God, he thought and breathed a sigh of relief.
Muffled screams tugged at his ears. His eyes dashed wildly around the property, leading him back to the morbid black vines. The vines were moving.
Not growing, but moving. They throbbed and pulsated. Plants are living, breathing organisms. But you can’t physically see them breathe. And these vines were visibly breathing, inhaling and exhaling, expanding and contracting.
He followed them back around the side of the house, and the sight made him gasp and drop his coffee mug. It shattered in the hard dirt where a patch of his lawn used to reside.
Sal was pinned to the side of the house, about six feet off the ground, wrapped from his feet to his neck in the blackened, diseased-looking vines. He tried to cry out for help, but the vines were tight around his neck, cutting off his oxygen and crushing his windpipe.
The vines continued to spread at an exponential rate until they enveloped the entire side of the house. Sal was now trapped in a cocoon of darkness; no vision, no air, no way to convey the terror he felt, no chance for survival.
The vines followed their paths, stretching over the eaves of his house and spreading out over the roof, moving in every direction. Soon, the other sides of the house were encased. They enveloped the property as if a giant black tarp had been draped over his house.
Charles Richter wasn’t going to need a botanist. He was going to need a priest.