A Story, A Dream
I spent a few hours writing this a few years back in a cold February evening. The story embraced me and I had to see it all the way through, even if it meant staying up way past my bed time. It was worth it. I won't try and pretend this short story is any good, or will even make any sense. It was based on a dream, after all, although I have "fleshed" it out a bit, so to speak.
Originally published February 18, 2012.
There is a thin, wafting fog streaming through the trees, briefly settling on the path in front of me then drifting off again. The large, heavy leaves hang off the trees in the same way that the thick droplets of moisture hang off their stems. Occasionally one jumps off, hurtling itself down to a small puddle to join its fallen comrades.
I encroach upon the dimly lit path slowly, stepping into the puddle and watching the displaced water rush to cover my foot, a vain attempt to recover it's territory. The water always wins, and I'm distracted: as uncomfortable as it is, the water is not my enemy.
The creatures are out there, or at least, supposed to be. I picture a cat standing at attention, sharp eyes straight forward and ears rotating to home in on the slightest noise coming from the bush. My ears aren't built like that and my eyes play tricks on me; prancing shadows appear and disappear quickly, all of them illusions.
Suddenly, real movement in front of me, close to the ground. The leaves are shaking violently, throwing droplets everywhere, disruption their game plan. A quick scurrying as I see smaller plants in the bush shake. Just a small animal: my hunters would cause a much louder, more crashing disturbance.
What would they look like? We've all heard the stories, of dismembered arms, even legs. Rotting flesh and swollen skin. I should be able to smell them before see them, but I'm at a loss even there. We should have brought dogs.
I hear a twig snap under a heavy boot, and look quickly back, flicks of water coming off my hat and spraying my arm. Jake is walking nearly ten feet behind me, the condensation is glistening off his black coat. Why is he wearing jeans? I look down and see I'm not wearing appropriate clothing either for this environment. He looks up at me, a look of nervousness and hesitation. We may be sweating but it could be the moisture in the air. I suddenly become aware of my heavy cotton shirt sticking to my back.
A few feet behind Jake is Lindsay - definitely dressed more appropriately in khaki shorts and a tank top, with a backpack on and flashlight in hand - and she is undeterred by the noise. She is scanning the trees, looking up, darting back down, then through the bush. How long have we been walking on this path? There are two dirt moats with a median of short grass. Perhaps this is an access road, but going where? Did we have an idea when we first set out? I can't remember the game plan.
Before I could ask my companions anything - anything at all - Lindsay's eyes darted over my shoulder, and I rushed to follow her gaze. The mist was parting, being drawn upward and into the bush on either side of this road, almost with a helping hand. I looked over Lindsay's shoulder and saw no mist, and it occurred to me that it had only existed where we were going, but never where we were.
I reached up and pushed forward a small, stiff button on my headlamp. My arm moved autonomously, as if my eyes communicated directly to my fingers without my brain making the decision. My brain didn't know the lamp was there, but it needed one to be. I kneeled down and covered a patch of dirt with my palm, absorbing the moisture. The ground was warm, and I realized then that it had started to rain lightly. I motioned with my other hand to continue, like a squad leader would motion to his squad that it was alright to move forward, even though I had no idea.
The three of us continued on slowly, Lindsay's flashlight making a slow sweeping back and forth in front of us, the shadows of myself and Jake being cast violently from side to side. The rustle of something on Jake, metal on metal, scraping with his every step. The path was getting a bit wider, the grass was growing taller, until we came to an opening. Again, the mist was moving deliberately from side to side, and when all three of us stood together in a line, it dissipated completely, revealing tiny blinking, coloured lights in the distance.
I squinted to try and see better: there seemed to be a pattern. It was becoming more clear, as the lights formed into an outline of numerous buildings. The tall buildings had red blinking lights on their corners, while a soft white light poured lightly out of various windows strewn up and down towers. There was a long string of ascending green lights - two rows, running in parallel to one another - making the format of a long bridge between two smaller, squat structures. I heard Jake whisper, his words foreign to me but the meaning clear. We were in awe of the size of the compound, although we were unaware of what it's function was.
Lindsay was the first to take a few steps forward; Jake put his arm on her shoulder and received a cold glance back. His arm hung in the air as her shoulder moved on, and I followed. Jake rattled on behind us as we cleared the woods altogether. A low hum of electricity emanated from a transformer unit nearby.
"There is still power here." I didn't realize we could talk, but Lindsay made it clear. Again, Jake whispered, and I was confused again.
We could see a tall fence in front of us, various multi-coloured signs sat on it, most likely warnings to people like us. Lindsay was thinking about survivors inside the factory, or plant, or whatever it was, and was hopeful that it was generating power. It would be safe, she thought.
I wiped sweat from my brow as I realized I may have just read her mind. How could that possibly be? Jake was on one knee tying his shoe, when all of our heads jerk to the right as we heard a low growl. It was not the electricity, but something organic, something grizzly. Something human.
Light spilled from a nearby overhead bulb that sat on top of the fence. Beyond the stretch of light we couldn't see anything but black, although the sound gave away the presence of somebody moving closer. We tensed up and stood closer together, my bare arm brushing up against Lindsay, as Jake stood behind us both. The growl would come, then taper off again only to be replaced with the sound of feet trudging through wet grass.
Finally, a foot emerged in the beam of light, then another. A man - no, a beast - was in full view now. Blue overalls charred in black, with one sleeve hanging lazily off his body, it was clear he was missing the contents. His scalp and much of his face were burnt, exposing muscle and flesh. His eye fixed on one of us, I couldn't tell who, and his mouth fell agape. Then came the low, gurgling growl that was only faint before, was very clear now as though the added visual emphasized it. As a group, we backed away, and I felt my hands pawing my pockets for something.
A weapon. I needed a weapon, but there were none to be found. I looked up and the creature was approaching slowly. As a group, we moved backward, when Jake alerted us to another creature stirring behind us. We spun around in unison only to see another, larger man - again, in a blue jumpsuit - lumbering towards us. His innards were oozing from his front, somehow defying gravity and staying together. It became clear to us now that there were even more of these slow moving creatures. Some are standing up, others coming from behind a nearby shed. All of them looking worse than the previous. They were clearly once human, but are now just the walking dead.
It is also clear to me that we had to protect ourselves, but I had nothing on me to do so. Lindsay's back was to me, so I ripped open her backpack. Out spilled a first aid kit, some canned food supplies and matches. I scanned the contents and found nothing that could help. Jake picked up a heavy can of beans that fell to the ground and launched it with major league precision at the head of the nearest creature. It cried out, spitting blood from its mouth and fell like a rag doll to the ground.
"I've seen this level before!" Jake yelled, but he was hysterical. He fell the ground and struggled to get back up. I found us moving slowly back towards the opening of the woods.
We have nothing to help us Lindsay thought. She turned around and locked eyes with me, knowing full well I could read her thoughts. At that moment I noticed her emerald green eyes, long black eyelashes and sharp cheekbones. You are more beauty that I can see. I filled her mind with my thoughts and ran my hand down the side of her face. I could feel the energy flow between us, and I could feel her fear. I tried to erase it, and she tried to look away. With my hand on her chin, I gently moved her head back so our eyes would meet, and with a white flash, we were transported away.
This isn't right, she thought. We were driving on a windy road, dark green trees surrounding us with a bright sun poking its way through whenever possible. She looked to me from the passenger seat and smiled, her eyes knowing only happiness. I shifted gears and set my foot on the gas, then we were holding hands across the table as the bustle of the restaurant blurred into a swirling mess of colours and dull noise. Only she remained in focus.
This is where we belong I replied. But she frowned, and told me we can't stay here forever. Why should we go back? I asked. She smiled; she didn't have to say or even think anything. I know, I thought, as I squeezed both her hands tightly.We closed our eyes and could hear Jake yelling, telling us to come to him.
He was up ahead, on the trail we just came from. I could see his breath in the cold night air. I watched my own breath rise slowly and disappear as the stars in the night sky twinkled. Lindsay removed her head from against me, and I could see her cheeks glowing red from the cold. We moved towards the woods, feeling the warmth bellow out from the trail. Tall, dark trees curled themselves overhead, blocking out the moonlight, and creating a tunnel that knew only one direction.
The shuffling and growling would cease, as we ran further and farther. We stopped to catch our breath when we felt safe. The mist was back, in both directions this time, and parted for just a moment to reveal a small clearing. As we sat in the grass, I looked back up in the night sky. The stars were still there, and the moon shed its light onto us.
I looked to Jake, and Lindsay, and smiled. The dead would not bother us tonight.