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MOTHS

a short story

By Diego ReyesPublished 30 days ago 17 min read
This photo is AI-generated, therefore it is fake. Much like the foundation of the Israeli government.

MOTHS – A Short Story

The nation of the United States of America crumbled after the war. The foundation of democracy was nothing more than a subject for ridicule by those responsible.

Nobody knew how it all started. The bombs that attacked each state for 48 months left nothing but dust and trauma for those still breathing.

Sands from crumbled architecture filled the lands, mountains were dismantled, and the bodies of those who weren’t lucky were burned by the enemy.

The hills of California were flattened, and the towers of New York were powdered and weathered by neglect. The flat lands became flatter, and the coastlands of Texas and Florida were swallowed in by the Gulf and the Atlantic. With the contaminated waters, nobody could swim out to different lands due to the bacteria brought on by the dead who were dumped there and the camouflaging enemy that monitored the waters. The relentless horrors to the natural landscape and the offenses to Earth’s design were enough to ward away storms – leaving the States to dry. The gods of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards were sympathetic to the scene, and so they, too, abandoned the land.

Nothing was left here. The nation fell under one God. 10 years post-war, the United States of America had nothing but bunker holes and ghost towns.

Gloria, formerly known as the state of Arizona, was one of the few surviving towns. Named after the woman who found shelter within the mystery of the Grand Canyon, Gloria saved 30 families from the bombing. Half of the count died due to famine and dehydration, but the majority were able to survive the years after the attacks.

There were no politics in Gloria. They knew to abandon political and religious beliefs as soon as the first blast wiped the walls of their homes away. They quickly learned that neither law nor God could shield them from the attacks of man. The community was all they knew, and they survived because of it.

Gloria, the woman, was a well-educated geologist. She was head of the Department of Geosciences at the university 30 years before the attack. She knew the mystery of the Grand Canyon – its hiding spots, its water supply, and its hidden ecosystem. Radiation damned her in the beginning, but Gloria found a filtering system and mimicked the mechanics of the natural springs nearby. It took her some time, but she did it. She found a neighboring surviving community in California, Septa 12, who took refuge in the Pacific waters. They partnered and allied in some sort. Water began to be supplied to the community of Gloria, and then scraps of wood were salvaged by the debris from the bombs. And 10 years later they began to regrow.

On the dark day of Gloria’s death, the community sang hymns and buried her under the canyon. The woman was responsible for the rebirth of the ecosystem, the recovery of electricity with the collaboration of a surviving member’s knowledge of manipulating solar panels and supplying the fearful ones with an ounce of hope. They could never repay her. Their only purpose now is to keep the town of Gloria alive.

They solidified themselves as survivors.

Still, the winds of the war will echo and cascade down the walls of the canyon, bringing them the chilling reminder of why they hid in the first place.

Food was brought by Canadian scavengers who heard of the attacks. Countries from around the world were not to step near the barren States. Imported goods were stopped and turned away by the Enemy on the waters, and the borders were stalked by opposing soldiers. The Canadian scavengers slipped away and brought to Gloria three cows, horses, and chickens. Bags of seeds for vegetation were delivered as well.

They were gunned down shortly after they visited the hidden town.

Gloria lived their years quietly. They were not to speak of the war for fear that the children would gain curiosity and climb out of the canyon walls to explore. They were taught to thrive, but to stay hidden. Fires were prohibited outside to avoid smoke signals that could be picked up.

Conversations and verbal celebrations were kept at a minimum, and even indoors did they keep a low volume. The people of Gloria were conditioned to speak with their eyes. The art of body language became the main form of communication, especially during the daytime. There were moments when strange noises from beyond the canyon walls threatened their safety, sure, but Gloria persevered. They were careful but lived in restored peace. Until the letter arrived.

The sun beamed and fired against the roof of Gloria’s Saloon. Manning the bar was Carlos Vincent, Sr. The children called him “Carly” and he humored them throughout the years. Carlos was Gloria’s aide. He worked alongside her, learned from her, and loved her as a son would. During the days of the attacks, their families were displaced and the two found home with one another. In the days before, Carlos worked as a bartender. In the days after, he was a humble senior member of the last standing communities of New America. There were no leaders in Gloria, but hell, was Carlos a good fit!

Through Gloria, Carlos learned to create vodka from the potatoes the community grew. With that, he gladly took charge of manning the Saloon’s bar that fed the daily meals of everyone who lived there. He wiped a wooden cup and asked the four people seated if they needed a refill.

It was quiet, as the years were. It was the kind of quiet that radiated tranquility and Carlos savored every moment of it.

Behind him was a hanging wooden art piece from one of the older members who specialized in pyrography. The scene depicted a woman standing tall among flowers, holding hands with a group of children. It was dedicated to the woman who founded the town, and it was a piece held dear by the people of Gloria.

When Carlos collected a finished cup from one of the patrons, he returned to the bar and faced a peculiar scene.

Flying past the wooden piece, and bouncing from different rims of wooden cups, was a creature Carlos once had forgotten. He hadn’t seen this thing in a long while. Wings of an obnoxious shape fluttered and tattered with an offensive tempo, attached to a compound of fuzzy decay. Thin legs of crooked design swung lazily in the air as the thing searched for a place to land. Carlos was close enough to decipher bristles of hair-like spines that pricked from its body. The head of the thing was most horrific. It was a bulky shape, and disproportionate to the small of its body, erecting two large antennae. The head would franticly flick left and right, and its eyes…emptied of any color. Once landed, the antennae would bob to-and-fro, as if picking up the signals of pure disgust from everyone in the room. It was a moth.

“Why, I’ve never seen one like this in a long, long time,” spoke Margaret, she was one of the Saloon’s volunteer waitresses whose lunch break had been disrupted by the thing that commanded attention on the bar. By the sight of it, she could barely finish her meal.

By then, the other three patrons sat in horror as they watched the thing trot slowly across the bar. Chatter saying to kill it, eat it, or touch it flew across the room. Carlos shut everyone up with one hand raised in the air.

He wanted to speak but was struck by curiosity at the thing’s wings. They stopped their relentless tattering, and rested on the thick panels on the bar, revealing its design. The thing required to be looked at. The base of the wings was ghoulish white as if no dirt, debris, or dust could contaminate it. As if the thing was immune to hellfire. Thick bands of blue so chilling, stretched on the upper and lower part of the design. Then, a strange shape indecipherable sat in the center. The blue was striking. It was unforgiving in its shade, uncomfortable and bold, yet the lines were perfect. As though the thing was delivered, not by God, but by another being. An agent from above, but from where?

Then, the entrance to the Saloon swung open. The sudden noise made the entire room jump and sent the subject of disgust flapping its horrific wings. Carlos dropped a wooden cup as the thing flew right by his nose. The fluttering sound of the wings beat against his ears for merely a second, and the discomfort of it disturbed him more than the bombs that flattened his home 10 years ago.

The boy who ran into the Saloon was pink-faced from lack of breath. His hands were trembling, and the words he struggled to say were incoherent.

“What’s all this for?” The Old Man George stood from his seat and tapped his walker as he made his way over to the young distraught man.

“It’s Nina Martin’s boy,” said Margaret, “sweetheart, why don’t you sit here and collect yourself.”

Margaret pulled out a chair and retrieved the boy a cup of water from the Saloon’s public spout.

“Now what’s got you so upset, Peter?”

Old Man George, Carlos, and Margaret looked at the letter that was strangled by the frantic boy’s shaking grip.

“Boy’s a mess!” Shouted Reverend Harris (important to note that he is Reverend by first name, and not by clergy title). “See what he has in his hand!”

Margaret pleaded softly with Peter to give him the crumbled paper he held in terrible form. Peter gave Margaret the letter. The pink in his face rapidly became white. Whatever sent him here horrified him.

“The stories,” he finally spoke. “The stories of the Bad Men, they were all true.”

Confused at his sentence, Margaret unraveled the paper. Carlos watched her eyes skim the page. It wasn’t long until she raised her hand to cover her mouth, and her eyes to widen at dreadful length. Then, she, too, became silently white and trembling.

The stories of the Bad Men were loosely rooted in the legend of the enemy that brought forth the downfall of the nation that once was. The adolescents who grew up during the building of Gloria teased the younger children with stories of the Bad Men. They took the shapes of wolves, extraterrestrials, and other urban myths. Nothing was proven regarding their existence until now.

Carlos marched to Margaret and retrieved the letter. “Well, someone needs to say something!”

Carlos cleared his throat, and read the contents of the letter out loud:

“To all it will concern,

We commend your tiny village for the work it must have taken to survive all these years. Your western sisters in Septa 12 were only half the success of your townhouses.

Congratulations on everything.

The land you stand on is ours by proclamation. To reject us of our land is to reject God. Our sworn duty to protect the lands of the true King calls for all measures to eradicate those who contaminate the grounds.

To give you time, we order your town to vacate the grounds by dusk. To prevent unjust actions by your people, we have blocked off the manmade exits of the canyon. We will monitor your pace and handle each one of you accordingly.

Should there be any conflict to this request, we invite your best of men to present yourselves by Sunset at the canyon’s north edge. Weapons are unnecessary, but we understand any need for precaution. We will have our negotiators at the ready.

We trust that you will make the right decision.

Signed,

The People’s Army.”

The Saloon stood quiet. The only noise delivered came from the flapping wings of the creature from before. The noise was as sinister as the tone of cynical laughter.

When Carlos turned, he was caught breathless. The thing, with its crooked legs, chipped away at the art that hung at the bar. Carlos watched in utter pain as Gloria’s face, so carefully detailed upon creation, was slowly being eaten away by the damned stranger.

The patrons gathered around Carlos. “What do we do?” Asked Margaret, scanning the bartender’s eyes for a survival plan.

He looked at the moth and said, “Kill it.”

“About the letter?”

“Oh, yes.” Carlos stood numb. The man was unsure. His feet were cold, and his mouth trembled.

Reverend cursed the roof and then grabbed Peter by the collar. He demanded the boy to tell how he got hold of the letter.

“I was getting the morning haul of the tomatoes for mom, when, when, when I heard something from the upper place. I saw a figure looking down at me. I was so scared. I dropped the hauling basket; I was so scared! Then the figure continued to whistle at me – it knew I saw it and it saw me!”

“The point!” Old Man George shouted.

“The…The next thing that happened was it extended its arm. Dropping this letter by the weight of a rock. It wanted me to get it, and when I did, that’s when I ran here.”

“Oh, Carlos, they’ve been watching us. Watching us!” Screamed Margaret.

“We need to gather the men, the horses—”

“The guns!”

“No, no guns, Reverend. They can’t see us armed. If we’re armed, we’re an immediate threat. We need to save that stuff for when it counts. What of the head of the families? Any of them with military background?”

“I think the Jones family boy had combat training. But he must’ve been a child when that happened before the attacks.”

“No matter. Any ounce of experience will be needed.”

“You’ll be going unarmed? Are you crazy?!”

“Carlos, you’re going to… just talk to them?”

“Well, what am I to do?” Carlos backed everyone away.

“Take the Butcher’s machete,” suggested Old Man George. “You can’t be too sure, son. Those people will have something ready. We should hide some ammo here, too, just in case!”

The party in the Saloon spoke no further. They spoke to each other with only their eyes and communicated mutual fears.

Words of the letter reached the residents of Gloria. Panic ensued, and soon the Saloon was filled with fearful families. Though it’s been decades since the attacks, the adults in the room knew of the horrors that could be brought by dusk. The children, too young to register why their families were displaced and took shelter in Gloria, wailed their cries at the sight of their parents’ anxiety and fear.

Everyone looked at Carlos. He had no answer for them. He only called for three volunteers to ride with him to the north edge of the canyon.

The hesitant men who stepped forward were the Jones boy, Xavier, Atlas the Farmer, and then Reverend Harris.

When Margaret ran outside to see the color of the sky, she was short of breath at the pink and orange hues that used to be beautiful. Now the colors seemed so intense, shifting their meaning to looming danger.

Nobody knew what would come from this meeting between the men and the Others. The string of hope that was shared among them began to thin. With every worried look, the threads began to explode.

When Margaret returned, she told Carlos and the volunteering men that it was time.

“Well, there we have it,” Carlos spoke.

“Before I go, please listen to me carefully. For the few of us that remember what the Enemy is capable of, I know that, too. The disadvantage is ever-present. I am reminded, mostly, of Gloria. The founder of our haven. You see, the Enemy didn’t have Gloria. I had Gloria, you all had Gloria. She’s transcended here – among us. Her spirit has lived with us for years. Her strength was not only her stubbornness to live, but the core of it all was her people. Us. The Enemy didn’t have us. That’s why they are here. Whatever happens, just know, that we still have us. Gloria is ours, then and now. I leave you with that.”

As the men left, the townspeople roared within the Saloon walls. The chatter was a fusion of panic and hope. The men left the saloon. He didn’t know if it was his speech, the sudden spur of panic, or the noise of the townspeople he’d lived with for decades, but Carlos felt fueled by the only family he’d known.

The men mounted their horses. Carlos and Xavier concealed the machetes provided by the Butcher at their sides. With a kick, Carlos and the men began to ride towards the north edge of the canyon.

It was a two-hour voyage, but the men rode at a rapid pace.

They were reaching the north edge by the sun’s final minutes.

Carlos grew weary when there was no sight of the men as promised by the letter. He stopped his track, and the other men did the same. The horses halted with curious pace as if they too were expecting the stranger’s company.

“Is this the north edge?” Xavier asked.

“Has to be,” confirmed Atlas.

“They should be here, at least somewhere. Should we search around?” Asked Reverend.

Carlos shook his head.

“Do you hear that?” Asked Xavier. The four men stood still. The horses followed, too.

“We would have heard something if they were here. What did the letter say, Carlos?”

“To meet here, and to bring the best of men from Gloria.”

Xavier grew pale.

Carlos was curious about Xavier’s reaction. He searched for answers within his expression. Then, it hit him.

“Oh, God.”

Carlos ordered the men to retreat and return to the village of Gloria.

Just as they began to ride, a rumbling sound was felt. The horses were spooked, and rose their front legs, kicking the air.

“Look!”

Carlos looked up at the growing smoke from afar. It came from Gloria.

The men wasted no time and raced back to the village.

They were met with absolute disaster.

The wails of the tormented people were blared from the fiery smoke of the houses that were set ablaze. Men in blue and white, strangers to this village, gunned down the running children desperately seeking shelter. Women were grabbed and taken to several tents by the men with arms, treating them as mere cargo. The men of Gloria, who tried to fight back, were laughed at as they were brutally outnumbered and pulverized into corners.

Xavier was the first to charge through. He swung his machete at two of the men in blue and white. It took all of five minutes to watch as the intruders shot him from up above. Carlos snapped his head up and saw they were being looked down by tens of them on either side of the canyon walls.

Carlos ordered the men on the horses to run away, to seek shelter somewhere in the shadows of the canyon.

Their efforts met quick results.

Carlos was unaware of the bullet entering his right temple. The last thing Carlos could see as he crashed onto the grounds, was Margaret running towards him. Bloodied, and shrieking. She, too, fell. Then, a small creature that fluttered from the sky, broke through the fiery smoke and landed on top of Margaret’s head. He saw two wings of white and blue flap two times. From afar, he saw the men in white and blue drop down. Following them was an infestation of the flying beasts, falling down the canyon walls, piling on top of the frenzy. Then his vision went black.

The wails of crying children, men and women were muffled by the sounds of fired bullets and detonated grenades.

*

Ian, formerly known as Gloria, formerly known as Arizona, was now overrun by the strangers who stole the land. They kept a few of the survivors, those who they saw fit for certain purposes.

Margaret, now the male entertainer, was to accompany a soldier every week. There were other women from Gloria forced into the same role. There were no more children, as it would distract the women from the entertaining. Carlos and Old Man George were the only men saved. Carlos was in a temporary state of grace, for the strangers kept him for the liquor until they could get their own imported. Old Man George, well, they felt the bastard’s newly peaked insanity and trauma response was hilarious to mock.

It was Sunday, two weeks from the day of Gloria’s taking. The Saloon was empty, except for Carlos being present. He wore a bracelet on his ankle designed to electrocute him if he were to step a certain distance away from the Saloon. He also wore an eyepatch in the space where his right eye would have been. The left-eyed bartender, another budding joke by the men in white suits, and blue scarves. The colors would plague the little vision Carlos had left, as it was the same colors now of the tiny beasts that flew across the room.

The little bastards had infested the Saloon now. Their horrific colors, now flapping around the ceiling lights, disgusted Carlos to a maddening point. The wood furniture of the Saloon, once evidence of proud woodwork by the survivors, has all been slowly eaten away. This invasive species that claimed their home now won.

Bursting through the door was a soldier who threw Margaret in. The man’s nose was muddied in blood, and Margaret sported a painful blue hue by her eye where she was most likely attacked. The man called her something foreign, but in the manner in which he spoke, it was nothing pleasant.

The man left the Saloon and left Margaret and Carlos alone.

“What happened this time?” Carlos asked.

“The usual,” said Margaret. The woman was out of tears. Both were. “The usual” could only mean that Margaret denied the man’s advances. Which only meant that the man continued his advance, and Margaret retaliated. She’s done this two times now.

Old Man George stumbled in. The poor man could only shake and crawl as the white and blue soldiers took his walker. He was doomed to take hold of the walls. It was a painful sight to see.

The soldiers did allow the ex-residents of Gloria their alcohol, as it meant that they would sacrifice their only meals for the rest of the day. Old Man George chose today of all days. He wanted to be hungry quicker, in hopes that his days living would be cut short.

The three looked at each other in total exhaustion.

In came three men. All wearing whites and blue, except for the taller and heavier man. He wore a more decorated suit. This was the general in charge of the seizing of Gloria. He and the men sat at the center front table of the saloon where they could watch Carlos. They kept their distance from Margaret and Old Man George, as they were Americans.

They ordered drinks from Carlos.

Carlos poured their drinks and gave each their cup. Carlos never broke his gaze from Margaret and Old Man George. The three of them were speaking a silent language.

The soldiers and general continued their foreign conversation. They occasionally looked back at Margaret, snickered, and then back at Carlos.

One of them made a finger gun, pointing it at Carlos’ right side, and mimicked the sound of a fired gun.

Carlos broke his gaze between Margaret and Old Man George as one of the small, winged creatures fluttered by him. The same laughing flaps shook him as it flew by his ear. The thing flew and landed on the art that hung behind the bar. The old wooden piece, the one the pyrographer dedicated to Gloria for Gloria, the piece that meant so dear to Carlos and all who looked at it, was cast into one of the bonfires. No American art survived the seizing. Instead, a stretched, rotten piece of leather from one of the horses the men rode on was hung on display. Burned on the leather slab was a scene depicting the fires that burned Gloria.

“Doomsday,” Carlos called it. It was blasphemous, disgusting, and outright offensive.

Carlos looked back and reconnected his gaze to Margaret.

His eyes said something that clenched Margaret’s jaws tight. She sat upright, then looked back at Old Man George.

The soldiers resumed their laughing, their teasing, their whistling, and their yelling. They ridiculed Carlos, Margaret, and Old Man George some more in their mother tongue.

But as they teased and continued their foolery, they were unaware of the hands of Old Man George, Margaret and Carlos reaching under their tables for the hidden guns.

Short Story

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    DRWritten by Diego Reyes

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