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It Took Them

by Kevin E Carlson about a year ago in Sci Fi
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A "Jade Fall" short story

It Took Them
Photo by Xu Haiwei on Unsplash

Maria didn’t like the thing with silver eyes. It wore mirrored aviator sunglasses most of the time to obscure them, but Maria had seen them anyway. Those eyes glowed in the dark, and they were shaped wrong—more like a cat’s eyes. The other survivors called it Lauren, but that was a girl’s name—a person’s name. Maria didn’t trust Lauren and didn’t want to be anywhere near it, but she couldn’t stop staring in its direction. Troubled, Maria rubbed her heart-shaped locket nervously.

Everything had changed on Maria’s fifteenth birthday when the green meteor came and took—well, almost everyone away. One moment, she was in her dining room, surrounded by her family, her mothers, and her brother—and her uncles and aunts—and then there was a blinding green light. Then she was standing alone, still, in her dark dining room. The candles, still, lit on her cake, waiting for her to blow them out and make a wish. So Maria blew out the candles and made her wish, because what else do you do at that moment? Her family didn’t come back, though, and she sat alone, surrounded by all of their empty clothes, and opened her gifts.

She had been in shock, of course. The local pediatrician, who had been her doctor all her life, had explained as much to her. He looked so strange, out of his office and in dirty regular clothes. His eyes were odd too, hollow, dead, but not like Lauren’s eyes. Its eyes were alive and alien.

It turned out that Maria’s experience hadn’t been unique—she hadn’t seen the glowing green meteor as other survivors, and it hadn’t been anyone else’s birthday, but they all had loved ones vanish in that awful moment. Most people were gone—just gone, no trace, nothing left but what they had been wearing.

Since it happened, all of the survivors had been living in the high school gymnasium. Only sixty-two people were left in town, and it was just the simplest solution to keep an eye on one another while they took turns sleeping. People who had insisted on staying in their own homes, alone, would disappear.

The monsters came the very first night after the meteor, the stuff of nightmares, every possible shape—bad surrealist art, made flesh—no two seemed to be the same. Some slinked and slid, while others ran on too many legs, but the worst ones were the ones that flew. And they did things to people—bad things Maria knew.

So, everyone huddled together, night after night, in the cold gymnasium, hoping that none of the things outside tested the locks. They went on like that, every night until Maria had lost track of how long it had been. All she knew, is her clothes were always dirty now, and food was low. She would have still been there, in that dank gym, if it hadn’t come.

Lauren had shown up one day at high noon. The wind was howling, and her long braided ponytail flew behind her like a twist of serpents. She was alone and had come from out of town. Maria had thought her brave—or stupid to be out by herself on an ATV crashing through snowdrifts. Lauren had brought them water filters and purifiers—some food, heavy clothes, and other things, dragged along in a cart behind her ATV. But she had also brought them something dangerous—news of other people—hope.

That’s when the talk began—of going south, to Phoenix. Lauren promised to take them, all of them, and she would protect them. But, Maria didn’t want to go, what if her family came back and she was gone? Besides, getting to Phoenix, Arizona, from Nevada usually would have been a few hours travel—even Maria knew that, but that was before the green meteor and the snow that came afterward. Maria had never seen snow before in her life. And now she was expected to travel through feet of it for over two hundred miles, surrounded by monsters!

On the second day after Lauren’s arrival, Maria saw her—it for what it was—a monster. Lauren had been in one of the big public bathrooms, and its sunglasses were resting on the sink beside it as the abomination considered itself in a mirror. The light was dim. Maria stopped breathing, and sharp fear tore through her guts, threatening to steal the strength in her legs. Those eyes, its eyes weren’t human. The irises were a glowing silver, literally illuminated in the low light, and the pupils were rigid diamond-shaped black holes punched into the center of the optical orbs. They were looking into themselves in the reflection one moment, and then, lizard-like, they clicked over to the reflected visage of Maria in the glass. Lauren didn’t speak before Maria backed out of the room and fled.

An hour later, Lauren demonstrated how it would “protect” the survivors on their journey south. They were all gathered out in the parking lot next to the school. There, Lauren took an empty crossbow it had and aimed the weapon at an abandoned car. Suddenly, a bolt of crackling blue energy sprang into existence and streaked toward the vehicle. With a tremendous thunderous crack, the car ripped in two. The metal of its frame, on both sides, bubbled and melted in rivulets from where it had been split.

The survivors were scared. Lauren explained that it had been changed by the meteor—that this is how it survived—and how it would protect them. Then, to Maria’s horror, the survivors were impressed.

How couldn’t they see? This wasn’t a woman. It was a monster wearing a woman’s skin, come to lure them all out into the snow-covered desert, and do God knows what to them. Give them to its fellow abominations, likely.

While the preparations were made for the journey south, Maria’s concerns were ignored, and she pretended to relent, especially when she noticed Lauren’s gaze on her. She packed her things like everyone else, but she had no intention of following that thing out into the desert to be slaughtered. She would go home instead and wait for her family. They’d come back.

It was early morning when everything was ready. Everyone was in the gym, and the lights were on, burning through the last few fumes in the generator. No one had proper winter clothes or jackets, just layers of thin clothes and blankets perched on their shoulders like cloaks. They talked, drank coffee, all with the warm smell of grease in the air, and they ate well—for a change—this breakfast. It sounded like some sort of Sunday social club gathering—it didn’t sound like a group about to set out on a perilous journey.

Maria had everything she owned—meager as it was—all packed in a backpack, resting on her shoulders. She had her heart-shaped locket clasped around her neck—in it was a picture of her, her mother Carol, her other mother Theresa, and her brother Nick. Then Maria slipped out of the gym, unnoticed, and headed home. She had been back dozens of times, and the house was always empty, always silent. But this time—this time, she was certain, she’d walk in the door, and they’d be there.

It was only a few blocks away when the thing grabbed her. At first, Maria thought it was Lauren, but she realized it had three arms or feet and wings. It was bigger than her, nearly twice as much, and it pounced on her from behind a parked box truck. She felt her feet leave the ground as the winged horror dragged her up into the sky by her shoulders with two of its clawed hand-like feet, while the third scratched at her face. The pain was terrible—Maria’s shoulders were on the verge of dislocating. She looked up into its beak-like face, covered in too many eyes, and screamed as its claws dug into the side of her cheek.

Then, amongst all the confusion, Lauren was there, somehow next to Maria in the air. There was a flash of what looked to be a long curved knife, and then Maria was falling—but somehow, Lauren was now behind her. They fell together, and Maria landed on top of Lauren as they struck the pavement, somehow gentler than Maria expected.

Lauren slid from under her and snapped up to her feet. Maria went to clutch at her locket when she realized it was gone. She screamed in anguish. That thing must have torn it off of her. Before the tears sprang to life in her eyes, she saw Lauren move back and forth, her head swaying to and fro, snake-like, and it was as if she were studying the thing flying away in the air. Lauren’s hand darted up toward the receding nightmare creature in the sky, her fingers curled as if grasping something. The monster in the air screamed an awful keening sound as its wings curled up toward its body and were crushed in an explosion of gore.

After the creature hit the ground with a wet splat, Maria watched with wide eyes as Lauren marched over to it and crushed its head with one booted foot until it stopped twitching. Then Lauren stooped down, scooped something up, and stomped back to Maria while one of her boots squished on the ground, covered in blood.

Lauren roughly yanked Maria back to her feet, thrusting something into her left hand—the heart-shaped locket, the last gift she’d ever got from her parents. Then Lauren grabbed Maria’s other hand by the wrist and none-to-gently dragged her back toward the high school parking lot.

“No! I have to go home,” Maria wailed. Lauren turned on her, so fast Maria didn’t see the movement.

“They’re not there. I don’t know where they are, but they aren’t there,” Lauren said curtly.

Maria was baffled, stunned into silence all the way back to the parking lot. She was silent even when Lauren bustled her up into the back of a running pickup truck which was towing Lauren’s ATV.

Lauren banged on the driver’s side door, yelling, “that’s everyone, let’s move out!” The truck sprang forward a scant moment after Lauren leaped up into the back of the pickup next to Maria. Lauren balanced gracefully as the truck bounced along—a convoy of other assorted vehicles following behind. Lauren pulled a blanket out of a pack with a flourish and draped it over Maria. Then Lauren sat down in the truck bed across from the shivering teenager.

“They weren’t there. They won’t ever be there,” Lauren said.

“Who?” Maria asked, her breath steaming in the cold air.

“The people in your locket—your family.”

“How do you know that?” Maria asked, studying Lauren’s face in a new light. She didn’t look much older than herself actually, maybe five or six years older.

“Because I’ve tried going home too,” Lauren said, fishing something out of her shirt. It was a locket like Maria’s, except Lauren’s was oval, and its chain had a pair of rings and what looked like a dog tag cluttering it. “They weren’t there either.”

There was silence between them for maybe twenty minutes before Maria asked, “So what’s in Phoenix?”

Lauren was silent for so long, Maria didn’t think she would answer, but she did eventually. “People, like you,” she said, and after a slight pause, she continued, “and like me.”

“Who will take care of us?”

“I will.”

“Who is in charge?”

“I am.”

“Why?” Maria asked.

Lauren smiled, and with a quick blue spark, her aviator sunglasses slid down her nose. Maria stared into those unnatural predator’s eyes, and the smile on Lauren’s lips never seemed to reach them.

“Because I am,” it said.

Sci Fi

About the author

Kevin E Carlson

I'm an Indie author, a blogger (Writing in Obscurity), and a book reviewer. Mainly though, I'm just a weird guy on the internet trying to talk to you about books.

Twitter / Facebook / WIO

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