I’ve made it to week 5, and I have a new short story to share. Yay!
Though, to be honest, between reading every day and a short story per week, I’m falling behind on my novel. I’m trying to be more disciplined about writing every day, but it’s difficult after eight hours of work.
My mom is one of my primary beta readers, and I asked her advice for which story idea I should write about this week. She liked the idea of something post-apocalyptic. This piece isn’t completely out in left field. My NaNoWriMo novel from last year gives the origin of my fantasy world of Dadreon–the death of Earth. This is what happens after…
Malek put his eye to the gun sight and watched the red-skinned demon sniff through the rubble like a search dog. Shooting would draw more. Sam would not survive then. Waiting meant the likely possibility he would be found. Then Sam would be just as dead.
The boy stood below Malek, pressed against the shell of some derelict gasoline machine. He drew measured breaths and resisted the urge to peek around at the snuffling demon, even though it drew closer, perhaps on his scent, perhaps on something else. The belial weren’t the smartest of their kind, but they weren’t to be underestimated. The wingless, ape-faced demons were the smallest of the Erebus, meaning they only stood eight feet tall and weighed merely three times Malek’s slight build.
The sun hid behind a wall of grey-green clouds in the burnt red sky, but Malek knew it was getting late in the afternoon. He had to find a way to get Sam and himself back underground before dark. Nighttime was hunting grounds for the reapers and hellhounds, ronove and naberius as they were called.
Sam brought his hands up from his sides and spoke silently with his fingers. “Just one? Belial?” he asked.
Malek nodded once.
It was then that another belial came from behind the crumbling edge of a building. Malek shook his head and held up two fingers, staying as low to the roof’s crenellation as possible. The two creatures spoke low in their guttural language
The scout language had been developed through necessity. To speak above ground was to die. The demons had long ago given up capturing humans for whatever tortures or experiments they performed. Now they were only interested in extermination. Even more important than staying hidden was keeping their home secret. New Detroit was the only home Malek had ever known and one of two remaining holdouts left in what had once been Michigan.
The two belial finished their conversation and began sniffing around again. The first one to appear was getting close to Sam’s hiding place. Malek’s finger hesitated on the trigger. How many more were within earshot?
A flicker above distracted Malek and he looked up. Another flicker of light rippled along the bottoms of the dark clouds. He swore silently.
They didn’t have time.
He lined the sight up to his target and fired. The well-timed shot caught the crouching belial in the eye and he went down like a lead weight. Malek fired again, but the second belial moved at the wrong moment, alerted by the first gunshot, and the bullet skimmed off the demon’s temple, causing it to roar.
Malek snarled a silent profanity.
Sam’s eyes widened, but he stayed frozen in place.
Malek looped the rifle over his head and shoulder and hopped over the roof’s ledge. He bounced off a window sill and to the ground, landing in a crouch several yards from Sam. He sprinted at the boy, pulling a hand pistol. The belial saw him and ran towards him. Malek raised the gun and shot. The pistol’s report was louder and echoed off dilapidated concrete and brick.
The belial fell, the socket of its left eye smoking.
Malek held out a hand to Sam and they ran. The man looked up and saw the lightning quickening on the underside of the sulfuric clouds. There was no time. He readied another bullet in the pistol, hoping he wouldn’t need it.
A howl from behind them curdled the blood in Malek’s veins. It was early for the naberius, but gunshots would bring the whole of them out. As soon as the howl stopped, he heard the heavy padding of feet closing behind them.
Sam gasped, looking back at the beast.
Malek kept running, pushing himself and pulling Sam along behind. By some miracle, the boy kept his footing and matched Malek’s pace. Seeing a collapsed building, Malek ran for it. Somehow he found the adrenaline to push harder.
Steel girders jutted out at odd angles like a giant shattered rib cage, but they both avoided them through practiced movements. At the rubble’s edge, they both had to scramble on all fours and squeeze through a narrow gap on their stomachs. Malek pushed Sam’s small frame through and pulled himself along more slowly.
A snarl and snap of teeth met air, and a renewed howl shook the loose rubble, but Malek and Sam were already through the girder maze. The naberius dug furiously, but the concrete and steel held for now. Malek readied his pistol, aiming for the burning eyes that watched him through the space between the rubble.
Sam touched his shoulder and signed that they should hurry.
They stepped lightly through the dark wreck. Both glanced at the manhole in the center, but walked past it. Malek hoped this might be the day the Erebus thought to find them that way and instead met a painful end when the rigged tunnels collapsed down on their heads.
Patters of rain began on the twisted steel and concrete above. Malek frowned.
“We’ll have to run for it,” he signed to Sam.
They squeezed out a small crevasse, coming out opposite the way they had come in and lingered briefly beneath the overhang of crumbling the building above them. The rain came slow and light, but each drop hit the ground with a sizzle and hiss.
The way looked clear.
Malek broke cover and ran. The raindrops fell and each that hit his skin felt like boiling oil and stuck like grease to his skin. He could smell the sulfur and burning hair. He hoped no demons were close enough to smell it as he bit back each cry that threatened, repeating a line of silent curses as he continued to run.
Reaching the shell of another building, he crouched in a small alcove the rain couldn’t reach. He patted at his sleeves and back of his shirt, trying to brush away any lingering rain. It warmed his callused fingers uncomfortably. His hair and clothing smoked.
Sam sprinted through the darkening street, covering his head with his arm. Malek watched the boy’s clothes and skin smoke and heard the nauseating sizzle.
Malek reached a hand forward, waiting to pull Sam to safety.
A snarl echoed through the haze of rain. A naberius, hopefully the same they had left on the other side, came from the rubble pile. Its skin sizzled, but it didn’t seem to notice. It jumped, clearing the distance between Sam and the husk of twisted girders. A whip-like tail flicked behind it and the bleached-skull face growled down at the smaller form of the boy.
Sam exhaled as he hit the ground, but to the boy’s credit, he didn’t utter a word.
Malek flinched and raised the pistol. Before he could line up a shot, the naberius bit down and tore a chunk of Sam’s neck and shoulder away.
Malek squeezed his eyes shut and turned away. He crawled through the chunks of asphalt and concrete, away from the preoccupied hellhound and his meal. The sound of crunching and tearing followed him even once he was out of range of the naberius.
The sought after manhole cover came into sight. Malek pulled it up and grabbed the corner of a time and moth-eaten blanket. Lowering himself into the hole, he carefully, quietly pulled the cover back into place, covering it as much as possible with the blanket, tucking the scratchy fabric under the edge.
Malek dropped to the damp stone below. He wavered for a second and steadied himself against the wall. He stuffed his fists into his eyes and took several deep breaths.
I can’t stay here, he told himself. I have to move.
Lead-lined legs resisted but began to move slowly. The more steps he took, the quicker Malek convinced them to move. He left the entrance behind him and began to seek out each turn of the path that would take him home.
Malek played through his head how to explain to Sam’s mother. Cerah was a friend to Malek’s older sister, Houda. He tried to figure how best to word Sam’s loss, blinking away the moisture that formed at the corners of his eyes.
A splash and an echoey thump pulled Malek from his thoughts. He measured his breathing and turned his head to listen behind him. The shuffle-drag that came next made the man’s throat tighten. He fingered the pistol in its holster and then moved his hand to his knife instead.
A low moan came from the edge of the darkness.
A set of pale blue glowing orbs appearing, getting closer. More joined them, clamoring up from below, from the stagnant sewage water. The moaning, shuffling creatures came close enough for Malek to smell the wet rot.
He twisted the dagger hilt in nervous fingers and took a step back.
A moan came from just over his shoulder and Malek gasped and spun, throwing his hands up just as an undead face leaned in and snapped together a bared set of moldy teeth. The rest of the undead’s face was covered with oily black tendrils that seemed to be holding the thing’s bones together, functioning in place of long-decayed skin and muscle. Its eye sockets glowed with an unnatural, hollow blue light.
It moaned again and leaned forward. Feet shuffled closer and the greasy body pressed against him with more strength than a pile of bones should possess. Creaking and grating against one another, the undead’s bony fingers raised and started to grasp at Malek’s face. He twisted and tried to pull away and saw the other undead getting closer with their stumbling, shuffling gaits.
Malek was surrounded.
He couldn’t bring his knife to bare, couldn’t even pull his hands back from the moaning, snapping undead inches from his face.
Malek pushed away and up. Teeth clacked with growing intensity as the man’s fingers encircled the undead’s face. Malek continued to push. Pops and snaps came from its neck bones as it elongated beyond its natural length. Malek flipped his knife to the ready and jammed it through the bottom of its jaw, before the tendrils could pull its neck back together.
The undead crumpled, the hollow light fading from the eye sockets.
Malek turned just as four more undead came up behind him. He batted two backwards, but the third caught his arm with bony fingers commanded by the oily tendrils. The fourth stumbled forward and grabbed him, biting Malek’s forearm and taking away a chunk of skin.
The man snarled back the pain and stabbed it in the temple. He backpedaled and nearly fell. He ripped his other arm away from grasping, bony fingers and reached for his pistol.
An echoey report blew a chunk of skull from the undead, and its fingers still gripped Malek’s arm as it fell away.
Malek’s pistol still hung half in the holster, and the man flicked a glance behind him.
Two more shots fired, and the other two undead dropped.
Grasping his bleeding arm, Malek gritted his teeth and kicked the second-time dead into the dark sewage water.
A woman with dark eyes and a dark hijab rushed up beside Malek and looked him over. Two others flanked her and looked for additional threats.
He gave his sister a grateful look, but couldn’t form the words.
Houda pressed her hand against her brother’s wound to staunch the blood flow. “Come, we’ll get you home.”
“I need to see Cerah,” Malek insisted, shaky on his feet.
“Your wounds need tending.”
“After I see Cerah,” Malek insisted.
Houda pressed her lips together but nodded. “Let’s go. The mine shaft is up ahead.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This story and all related material are the original works of Awaiting the Muse and Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti. All rights reserved.
Awaiting the Muse by Effy J. Roan AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.