**The story below is a draft **
He woke up suddenly.
It was the nightmare again, the same one that he had most nights the same one that made him wonder often if he might have been cursed to have it consistently forever as some sort of penance for his past and future sins, even here and now in the Apocalypse it seemed there was need to punish those who had already lost everything.
He cleared the sweat from his brow and sat upright, propping himself against the tree he’d slept under for protection against rain should it come, it hadn’t and as such even now the fire’s embers were still giving off heat. He gazed into them wearily. He stared and stared and stared a little longer more as time seemed to melt away, the glowing remains crackled and popped as the fire struggled against the inevitable in an effort not to fade and pass. As he continued to stare, his thoughts returned to the cause of his waking, the bad dream that had disturbed him, it was more accurately a replay, not some fantastication of imagination his mind had created out of fancy but an unwilling reliving of events past. Awake now, his mind performed the same trick of delving into it’s archives of sight and sound as it had just minutes before but now he was in control and with that came a greater clarity of recall and painful emotion.
It came to him, the chaotic sounds of rabble and the the smell of burning everything, dully impressing upon his senses first as his brain served up the memories of recorded sensations, a scene slowly building in his minds eye. As it ‘played’ on the sounds became clearer and more reminiscent of the panicked and frightened people that had made them whilst the burning took on hints of wood, metal and plastics. His mouth now could taste the memory of an acridness, a mouth dry from fear and autonomic reponse to unseen lurking terrors. Slowly but surely he was once more back, back at the beginning of the end of the world.
He was in a street, people were all around him and going crazy as they seemed to flee some unseen threat. A woman with a young child clinging to her leg stands in front of him, her arm huddled protectively round the boy as she frantically asks…
“What do we do? Where the hell do we go?”
He recalls the feeling of his mouth moving and specifically the words he said but the actual sounds he’d made, the sound of his own voice saying those words he cannot recall and yet their’d only been three to remember.
“I don’t know”
He recalls how her eyes grew all the more desperate at hearing her husband admit that having led them this far he was now no different than all the other lost and panicked people about them, witless and vulnerable. An explosion to their left rocked the scene, the pressure wave knocking them to the ground as a plume of smoke formed a small mushroom cloud above what had been a petrol tanker and now a flaming wreck.
He clawed his way to his feet and through a piercing ringing heard screams gain prominence once more, he looked around and saw not a short distance away a large mob of people coming towards them, all rushing and pushing to get ahead of each other like stampeding wild animals. He heard cries going up, shouts of some kind of warning, as he focussed he realised that the many different people were saying generally one thing ‘they’re here’.
He looked to Susan and the boy, they had already started to get to their feet though clearly dazed by the concussive force and she looked at him in puzzlement.
“Run Susan, they’re here, RUN!!!”
Horrible understanding passed across her face and she grabbed the young boys hand.
The crowds of people were almost upon them and though they had started to move the three of them were swept up into the tidal thromb.
“Susan” She was a distance away from him but he could see her.
“Susan?” Shoving and pushing, now he was sure that the woman several metres in front was her, she had the same hair style and height.
“Susan???” He’d lost her. No one looked right from the back and those he clawed his way in front of looked no more similar from the front.
“Susan?? Susan? Jesus, SUSAN???”.
His searching had led him to the back of the pack and he dared for a moment to look behind himself in one last desperate attempt to locate them both. First and to his relief he saw them both, second and to his dispair in the darkness in the distance he saw more. The horde of creatures, shambling at that inhuman pace of theirs, never tiring, never relenting, moved like some dark and deadly wave, spilling and splashing over each other as they rolled in, and their in the middle of the path of this black tide was his wife and child.
Susan knelt behind the boy clutching him tightly and whispering into his ear, they were both facing away from the oncoming menace and she was clearly trying to placate him with empty promises of deliverance. She happened a look up, looking to some unseen force for guidance no doubt and her eyes met his, they bore a look of dead acceptance and to this day he was sure he’d seen something else there too, disappointment.
Something moved in the darkness, not the darkness of distant memory but the very real black of the now barely kept at bay by his almost finished camp fire. He didn’t visibly react but slowly moved his hand to his weapon to cover the trigger with his finger, it was coming forward now, whatever it was he would have only a moment to react lest it be upon him. It wasn’t moaning like a shambler and a human would have come from behind, he strained his eyes for any extra hint to what it might be, he could make out a rough outline now, his heart had started to race and he was ready….
A dog. A scruffy mangy looking thing strode wearily into the circle of the clearing and stopped. He relaxed, this bedraggled looking thing was no great threat to him, he guessed it was drawn in by the warmth, it clearly hadn’t found much to eat these last few weeks and it’s ribs showed through. He considered for a moment if it was a smart move to give up some scraps to or not but then reasoned these woods had much in the way of food for him, he’d killed a deer not but a few days past and had seen several in the last week, whatever he gave to this dog now it would have no impact on when he would need hunt next and so chucked him some left overs from that very evenings meal.
The dog quickly, then hesitantly, then quickly again moved towards where the food landed and eat it greedily, it was mostly bone and skin with some left over grisly meat but for the animal it was a feast. After finishing the scraps it pulled the bone over to the fire and laid down gnawing it, all the time watching him and making sure he didn’t make a move to make the animal his next meal.
He thought for a moment once more about his reliving the past and then decided he’d tortured himself enough that evening and he still needed more sleep and his mind may yet decide to do it for him once again. The dog would serve a good guard whilst he napped and posed no threat, his ears and nose would detect any shamblers or otherwise and so he reasoned he could relax a little. He pulled his gun on to his lap and his blanket round closer and closed his eyes, overhead stars hung in the sky but the moon was nowhere to be found and as he slowly slipped into slumber the fires last embers dimmed and finished, it’s light, piercing as it had been in the blackness, was now all but gone.
Image Attribution : THE Bob Ross