Since the Bombs Fell: Four

Continued from One, then Twothen Three.

Step, Finn told his legs. Step againJust there. Almost there. This mantra kept his stiff-suited body moving forward, till a Mutant rolled or made a sound. At those times, he had difficulty maintaining the rhythm. He felt sweat pooling at every joint. He felt his heart pounding against his ears. He felt his finger itching to engage the Laserlock’s trigger.

Yet, he gained the supplies room door, leaping the last mound of creatures to do so. Some internal sense or paranoia warned him to hurry; warned that their movements increased with each second he passed among them. He’d be a sitting duck if that were true. “A legless duck, like Patrick,” he whispered.

But Patrick canno’ get you, should that happen, his thoughts reminded. “Damn,” he said aloud.

Finn sheathed his gun to free his hands, looking right to left to back to front as he did so. He did not, however, glance up. Activating a small glow pack on his wrist, he clumped over to the nearest shelf of medical supplies. There, he found an empty case. Near it were scattered bottles and a few ashen strips of material. More bottles and spilled white pills, like gravel, covered the next shelf. Yet another held filthy surgical masks and some sort of tubing.

He pocketed handfuls of pills and gauze, small containers of what he hoped were ointment, and a few liquid-filled bottles. Then, his view fell on a dirt-crusted tin. He wiped at the top, revealing the words, “General Suture Supplies.” Bingo.

At that moment, he thought he heard a scrabbling. Turning, he pulled out the Laserlock and panned it at the doorway. Nothing appeared out of place: the hallway still twitched with random, mutilated bodies. The wheelchair wheel still spun. The ash and late afternoon sunlight still filtered into a decimated hospital entryway and foyer.

Finn let his breath return to normal patterns. Scanning the room once more, he returned the gun to his back.

As his hands closed around the precious tin of suture materials, he heard the noise again. Spinning and backing against the shelf, he arched his whole form in order to look upwards. There, in a hunched, firing position, perched another fully-suited person.

Finn’s shock and tilted helmet made breathing difficult. He backed farther away, arms raised, till he reached the direct opposite corner from whoever this other being was. This other, armed being.

They may have stayed forever staring at one another, had not a moan sounded from the hall. The person gestured sharply with his gun toward the tin Finn sought. Needing no more encouragement, he rushed forward and grabbed it. He scrabbled with a zippered pocket on his suit front, as he heard the distinct shuffling of many bodies. Get in, he told the supplies. He shoved at them and turned to face the doorway.

Like in a nightmare, he saw the creatures’ movements increase in intent and purpose. They were waking. Stretching. Sensing. Shifting.

Finn arched up to view his companion again. The other person had activated a glow pack as well, and seemed to be waving with it. Finn watched for a precious few seconds before realizing he was meant to climb up. He turned and scaled the shelving without hesitation. No need for, Step. Step again; he sensed a rising intensity that lent his limbs a frenetic adrenaline.

Gasping, he reached the restrictive summit. He squeezed in the space between top shelf and ceiling. The other person squatted right next to him, mirrored helmet lens to mirrored helmet lens. Thus, Finn nearly knocked into his new companion when the first Mutants sprawled into the room.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

 

Since the Bombs Fell: Three

Continued from One, then Two.

They were …sleeping. Hibernating? Congealing? Finn couldn’t tell what the humanlike creatures inside the shadowed hospital hall were doing. Since none rose; none joined with its brothers into the mass of bodies they preferred for attacking, he assumed their actions to be a form of sleep.

He found himself gagging; forced himself to breathe. He needed control. Control lent Finn whatever fighting advantage existed.

Once a master of that small, living part of himself, he studied them from where he stood. “I shoulda run scans,” Patrick’s voice said in Finn’s memory. “We coulda ‘least seen how the Muties work. How they live. …If they be livin’.” Finn lifted a hand to his helmet and activated the feed. Half his visor view blurred as controls panned across. He knew Patrick’s regret to be a stupid one. He wouldn’t have wanted the interference, had he had any time for something as trivial as recording them whilst fighting.

Blips of focus reticles attempted to lock onto recognizable body parts. You won’t be findin’ many faces in there, Finn thought. He switched the sensors to heart rates; then, after a few moments, to heat signatures. The creatures stayed as inert as they’d initially been, meaning that they twitched or convulsed without rising. The overall effect unnerved him. He kept his finger resting against the trigger guard; it twitched as much as they did.

One moaned and rolled into the wall. Ash crumbled and fell like snow. “Snow, Finn!” he remembered Mary saying. “Can’t we go play in the snow?” She was so young, even when she wasn’t. Patrick and his coarse descriptions hadn’t convinced her of what really fell outside the shelter.

What fell on these creatures.

Finn stepped back and deactivated the recording. He needed as much view as he could get. His solid boots crunched against the foyer’s detritus, yet the sounds appeared to have no effect on the horde. Maybe, he told himself, Just maybe.

He tried a tentative step forward. No change. He took another step. No change.

The gaping, torn doorway of a medical supplies room stood just beyond a pile of creatures. He needed that room. He needed it for Patrick. Continuing to breathe as evenly as he could, Finn stretched his leg over the first body. He did it again and again, telling his imagination that they were rugs, or bits of desk, or wall. Step by step, he performed the most intricate, deadly dance since the bombs fell.

And, twitch by irritated twitch, he knew: they sensed something among them.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

 

Since the Bombs Fell: Two

Continued from One.

“You are a paranoid skinny,” Finn said aloud. His voice sounded both muffled and loud. He felt like a stiff fish, swimming through the driest ocean of death ever conceived. Stepping over the crumbling wall before him, he skirted a pile of charred remains.

The remains stayed inert.

“But then,” Patrick’s voice came to Finn’s memory, “An arm moved.” Finn felt his heart rate rise; heard his recirculated air pass more rapidly through his mouthpiece. He forced himself forward while his eyes roved over every broken beam, body, and nuclear shadow. The emergency room entrance loomed closer, its automatic door frame hanging at a skewed and jagged angle. Its filthy and cluttered foyer stood in full sunlight, thanks to the shattered glass roof and upper floors.

“I ran over t’side,” Finn remembered his brother describing. “That was the wrong way, but I didn’t know. There were …swarms. Swarms of them everywhere, pouring out the door…”

Finn stood, hesitating. He knew they’d decided the front would be best. He knew his goal ought to be just beyond the foyer. Yet, he also knew how he’d found Patrick, gasping at the last of his air, struggling against a crippled limb, fighting them from within a fallen shack a few meters away.

Mary had saved him. When Patrick didn’t show, she’d looked round the shelter and commented, “Where be Patrick? Shouldn’t he be back now?”

A movement caught Finn’s eye from the hallway past the bright, open entry. He squinted and walked closer. His hand reached back and pulled down the Laserlock. The gun felt solid and reassuring in his arms as he walked. He ducked beneath a bent piece of sliding door. Paused. Did a full sweep. Now fully inside what remained of the hospital, he couldn’t help but feel trapped. He swallowed and forced himself on, toward the movement he may or may not have seen.

There, in the dim light and falling dust, a bent wheel spun atop a smashed, half-buried wheelchair. Finn found himself mesmerized by the spin. How could it do that in this silent, still world?

And that was when he noticed them.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens

 

Since the Bombs Fell: One

Nothing had been the same since the bombs fell.

From skeletal shells of once-laughing houses to shadows where trees had thrived, Finn’s view of the outside resembled a horror film. “Are you sure th’ equipment’s right?” Mary would ask. She’d asked every day, till Patrick snapped and told her to shut it.

Finn was more patient with his sister. Before Patrick stepped in, Finn had sighed and said, “Aye, Mary. They’re right.”

He thought about this exchange as he walked in stiff, clumsy cadence. He thought about Mary and what she might say if they allowed her on surface excursions as well. His breath echoed and amplified in his helmet. The radioactive puffs of dust and crumbling landscape around him struck him as surreal, no matter what he’d told Mary. His hands clenched and unclenched within their constricting gloves; itching to touch it all, to test if it were real.

He shifted his view to right and left, and felt at his back for reassurance. His Laserlock was still there. Of course it was. He’d checked for it only moments before, and moments before that. “You compulsive skinny,” Patrick would’ve told him. Fine enough for Patrick to tease; Finn knew his brother behaved the same when outside. Neither one of them wanted to be caught with his trousers down. It only took once. Just once.

Finn stopped and stood outside the hospital. Most of it was intact; Patrick had learned that on his last trip, right before sunset. Right before losing his leg. Finn flexed his own as if to ensure no one had taken it while he stood there. Irony certainly had a sense of humor. The place where his only brother had been attacked was where Finn needed to go in order to save Patrick’s life.

This time would be different, he told himself. This time it was full daylight. This time his weapon was fully charged. This time, he knew they were there.

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens