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Unmistakeable Sound

by Jude Orona 4 months ago in Short Story

Time Is Everything

A deep rumbling voice spoke in the darkness, resonating in the chests of Tod and Jess, awakening them from their slumber. They sat up slowly, trying to get their bearings straight. Jess touched Tod's shoulder to reassure him that she was still present in the small cabin, in which they hid.

“What time is it?” Tod asked, as he hastily lit their lanterns.

Jess pulled out a pocket watch from her inner coat pocket. She quickly held it up to her ear, to make sure it still ticked, relieved to find it did.

“Still feeding time,” she answered under her breath.

“Morning yet?” Tod asked.

“Should be dawn.” Jess said with a sigh.

“What I would give to see the light of day again.” Tod shared as he stirred around in the bed. Ever since the monsters came, the sun never rose. It created a kind of winter season chill that made survival from the beast only half the battle. Tod pulled Jess in close to himself. Her body stiffened for a moment, but then relaxed against him, accepting that the presence and warmth of another human being might be her only chance of falling back asleep.

“This is the fifth time tonight it tried to call us out of hiding,” Tod recounted, resting his head against Jess.

She sighed as memories flooded her mind, memories from before the monsters appeared. Thoughts of her husband, which used to bring sorrow and despair, were now white noise amidst her current worries.

“The food supply must be running low,” she said, trying to stay warm under the tattered blanket they shared. But the shiver that coursed through her wasn’t from the cold.

The monster’s hum continued, which they did their best to ignore. The vibrations rattled throughout the cabin and the forest surrounding it, making their efforts useless. Even so, they waited, as usual, keeping their lanterns lit, trusting it would avoid their light. After a few minutes, the humming finally faded away.

“I need some coffee,” Tod said, as he loosened his grip from Jess, making his way to the coffee pot. He struck a match, then lit a fuel tab over a makeshift burner where he boiled some water.

“Could you make me a cup, too, please?” Jess asked, as she rubbed her eyes, accepting that neither of them would sleep any more that night. Tod glanced over his shoulder.

“We’re getting kinda low,” he finally answered.

“Oh,” she responded, feeling embarrassed for even asking. It was his after all.

He poured into his cup and then sat on the bedside next to her.

“Here,” he said, handing her the cup, “we’ll share it.” She accepted it with gratitude.

Living with Tod was an act of desperation, for Jess. No one seemed to escape the monster, making sightings of other people a rare occurrence. Even though Tod was a complete stranger when their paths crossed, she began to trust him more. He was always stoic, which Jess understood and accepted, given that she herself was no longer the person she once was. And, while their relationship began as a means of survival, she started to care for him over time.

She sipped the hot coffee. Its warmth trickled down her throat and spread throughout her body. The feeling was so welcoming that, for a split second, she forgot about their dire situation.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

The sudden pounding at the door startled them both, causing them to jump and hot coffee to go everywhere.

“AH!” Jess squealed in pain as it burned her. Tod quickly covered her mouth with a rough hand, and a look in his eyes urging her to be quiet.

“Please, let us in! Hurry!” a man’s voice begged from the outside. “We need medical aid! Please!”

Jess looked to Tod, who shook his head, hoping to snuff out any foolish empathy she might succumb to.

“I know someone’s in there! She’s going to die if you don’t help!” the man continued to plead. “She's only a girl!”

Jess looked to Tod with more eagerness to help.

“They’ll get us killed,” Tod hissed. “Why the hell are they out right now? Those idiots!”

“Someone is injured!”, she whispered more vigorously. “A girl, Tod!”

“I don’t buy it,” he argued, before hearing the faint whimper of a young girl, who was clearly in pain.

“Dammit,” Tod said under his breath as he looked solemnly to the floor. A few moments passed before he gave up resisting.

CLICK-CREEEEEEEK

The door opened slightly. The man, holding the girl, peered into the cabin; the barrel of a .44 was staring back at him. Tod squinted at him from behind the gun, but upon noticing the young girl’s bloodied arms, he sighed and lowered it. He opened the door wider, allowing them to enter.

Tod’s eyes followed the man, as he gently placed the girl on the bed at the other end of the cabin. Jess threw the tattered blanket over her, to help stop the shivering, while Tod got out what little medical supplies they had, from past scavenging. Large piercing wounds lined up along the side of the man’s abdomen and lacerations bloodied the girl’s arms.

“I was bitten by it,” the man began explaining, while Jess helped wash the wound with a wet rag. Jess paused for a moment and quickly looked at Tod. They stared at each other in disbelief at his words.

“My light must have gone out while we slept. Next thing I know it crashed through a window and tried to pull me out of our cabin,” he explained, “I have no idea how I managed to break its grip… I found the girl cut up from the shratnal when the window burst. Poor kid.” he paused for a moment, and when he tried to continue, the trembling in his voice intensified with each word he spoke, “it got the love of my life a few weeks ago,” he began sobbing trying to restrain his volume seeing that the girl was now sleeping from sheer exhaustion, “I couldn’t save her. I still haven’t recovered from the sight of it. Thank god the girl hid away. It was horrifying!”

Jess put her hand on the man’s back as a gesture of comfort. Tod peered over at Jess with a look of annoyance, but when Jess noticed, he broke his gaze and proceeded to listen to the man’s account,

“The one person that kept me going is gone and twice now I’ve walked away with my life intact. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I was dead.” He concluded.

“Hey,” Tod solemnly interjected, “Don’t do that. You can’t think like that. You’ve kept your little one alive and that’s what matters now.”

“We’ve all lost loved ones.” Jess added. The man was comforted by their kind efforts while he whipped his eyes and nose with his sleeve.

“It’s good you two still have each other,” he said. Tod and Jess looked at each other again, this time with a knowing look.

That look was interrupted when, suddenly, the man collapsed onto the floor. Tod and Jess hurried to help him up, suddenly realizing just how malnourished he actually was. They shared some dried fruit they had stored up before helping him into bed, where he promptly passed out from sheer exhaustion, alongside the girl.

A few hours later, around the time the monster usually hid away, Tod ventured out to the nearby village in search of supplies. Jess stayed behind with the man and girl, partially concealing a revolver in her jeans, which helped her feel more secure in the presence of her new company. With the dim lantern in her hand she walked throughout the cabin taking note of their inventory, often looking back at the two strangers, asleep on her bed.

Jess was counting the bullets remaining in Tod’s ammo box when she caught sight of his money clip, which held a few hundred dollars. She shook her head, realizing how useless such a thing was now. Counting the bullets took only a matter of seconds, as there weren’t many left. They would need to be careful. Their oil, for the lamp, was running low too. Jess looked over her shoulder once more, struggling to discern through the dark cabin that her company was still soundly sleeping. She pulled out her pocket watch for a second, before putting it back, reassured by the familiar ticking.

“Tod must have a good haul,” Jess thought. She looked up from her watch into the darkness again only to find a dark figure standing uncomfortably close to her.

“Shit!” she exclaimed, as she jumped back, colliding with the pantry behind her.

“I’m sorry!” the voice of the man said, reaching out to help her stabilize herself. She pushed his hand away from her and he stepped back. Her heart pounding, she closed her eyes and slowly exhaled.

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” the man said, apologetically.

“I just didn’t hear you get up.” she said, ignoring his apology.

“We’ve learned to be quiet on our feet since all this started,” he explained.

“You can be a little more heavy-footed around here, if you don’t mind,” she snapped, the words coming out angrier than she intended. He nodded, embarrassed.

“You don’t happen to have any more food you can spare, do you?” he asked sheepishly.

His request made Jess feel awkward, as their supplies were already extremely low. She looked down, scanning her list, the man’s eyes also falling upon the paper. Noticing, she immediately pulled the notepad close to her chest and out of his view.

“Tod should be back soon,” Jess said. “Hopefully he found something that can be shared.”

“Can I be of any help?” the stranger asked. Jess looked at his bandaged abdomen, where one of Tod’s shirts concealed his wounds. “I'm feeling okay,” he said. “Is Tod nearby?”

Suddenly, the girl began to stir from her sleep, groaning with discomfort. Jess and the man were at her side in an instant.

“I’m so cold,” the girl said, weakly.

“Could you manage to bring in some logs for a fire?” Jess asked the man. “I can tend to her in the meantime. The wood will need to be split. Here,” she said, handing over a nearby ax. “Don’t get any ideas,” Jess warned, as she flashed her gun.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” he assured her, as he made his way out the door. Jess looked back at the girl, whose eyes were now open.

“Are you hungry?” Jess asked. The girl nodded.

Jess brought her the last of the dried berries to eat. The girl sat up and reached out, eagerly, with her bandaged arms. The sound of wood being chopped could be heard outside.

“I’m sorry about your mom,” Jess said, softly. The girl just shoveled berries into her mouth and said nothing. “I lost my husband to the monster,” Jess said quietly. This confession caused the girl to look up. Jess noted how dark the girl’s eyes were.

“I’m sorry,” the girl said, reaching out and placing her hand on Jess. The act of kindness made Jess smile for a moment.

“Is Nathan better?” The girl finally spoke. Jess was confused at first, but then made sense of the question.

“Oh. Is that your dad’s name?” Jess asked.

“He’s not my dad,” The girl replied. Jess felt a bit foolish for making such an assumption, but this realization made her more curious.

“How long have you known Nathan?” Jess inquired further.

The girl remained silent while she ate a few more berries. When she finished her bite, she answered,

“Him and his girlfriend Shelby found me in the cabin. They looked after me.”

“You were alone?” Jess asked, puzzled by her response.

“Yes.” The girl said,

“Well. It’s a good thing they found you. Nathan feels really guilty. But I think he can give himself some credit for keeping you alive.” Said Jess.

The girl gave a look as if she was thinking deeply,

“They fought a lot.” She began to say, “Shelby didn’t seem to like Nathan all that much. Though she wasn’t much better, I still don’t blame her. He was always yelling, making her go out to find food while he ate everything. Honestly, I truly like to see him tormented.”

Before Jess could ask anything else, she realized that she no longer heard the sound of the ax anymore.

“You enjoy those berries,” Jess said as she got up to look out the window. Looking out into the dark, she noticed the man’s absence from the chopping block, and her nerves began to get the better of her. She discreetly pulled her gun out and walked toward the door. Slowly, gripping the knob, she silently turned it and opened the door to find him, standing there, with splintered logs cradled in one arm and the ax in the other.

“Oh,” Jess said as she tucked the gun in the back of her pants, hoping he didn’t notice. He did.

“Here,” he said, staring at her, as he handed over the ax. Jess took it before letting him inside. She turned around and noticed the girl watching her, and felt slightly embarrassed for her overreaction. The man walked over the fireplace and began to set the wood up. it. Jess handed him a match and some old newspaper. The crumpled paper still revealed a front page headline that said: Wrath of God Inflicts the World?

“Where were you when it all started?” Jess asked him. He remained silent, for a moment, striking a match and igniting it under the logs.

“I was running,” he said, finally. Jess waited for him to continue, but when he didn’t, she pressed him.

“Running from what?”

He took another minute to respond. “From everything. Life, responsibilities, reality, I guess,” he concluded.

“The law?” She blurted out, and the man looked at her, raising his brow in mild shock at the bluntness of her question.

“No. Well, not exactly,” he said, stepping away from the fireplace. “I had a lot of debt, so I just left town and figured maybe I could outrun my problems. Sometimes It sure feels like all of this chaos was a sick answer to my prayers.”

The man could sense that Jess was uncomfortable and maybe even suspicious of something. He didn’t blame her. These trying times made a person's true colors come out. He figured opening up more might give Jess a needed piece of mind,

“I had a family,” he began, “a wife and a kid not much older than her.” He pointed towards the girl who still enjoyed her berries in silence, “one morning I snapped, couldn’t handle the pressure of being a father, or a husband for that matter… I up and left with the woman I truly loved.” He admitted looking shameful, but Jess could discern his honesty. He continued, “we found the girl in the cabin. She doesn’t talk about her family, or… anything. But in spite of what many called my previous selfish tendencies, I guess I didn’t have the heart to leave her there helpless.”

Before Jess could ask anymore questions, a humming noise filled the air. She fumbled for her watch. It wasn’t anywhere near feeding hours.

“What?” she wondered aloud, in a confused panic.

The girl whimpered and scrambled under the bed.

Jess lit the lanterns and frantically looked out the front window, searching for any sign of Tod.

“Get away from there! They’ll see you!” The man urged her from the other side of the cabin.

Jess stepped behind the curtain more, but insisted on staying put. But he was persistent and proceeded to forcibly pull her away from the window. She angrily tried to break his grip, and in the midst of the struggle they tumbled to the floor, causing the gun to fire into Jess’s leg. She screamed in pain.

The man, apologizing profusely, hurriedly knelt down beside her to help, but Jess grabbed the gun and pointed it at him.

“Get away from me!” she shouted.

He backed away to the other side of the cabin, his eyes wide. Jess writhed in pain when suddenly the door creaked slightly, causing them to both shift their attention.

“What was that?” the man asked deliriously.

“Where is the girl?” Jess asked, immediately.

He looked under the bed. “She’s gone!”

Jess collapsed, fully, to the floor, partly from the loss of blood and partly from feelings of fear and defeat.

Feeling defenseless, the man crawled clumsily toward the ax, on the other side of the room. The pain being greater than her motivation to aim her gun, Jess could only watch him grab hold of it as she laid there clenching her leg in pain. She wondered where Tod was, and if he’d ever return.

The hum was fading when Jess began struggling not to doze off. She was weakening drastically and the man, noticing, began silently crawling again, but this time toward her. By the time Jess realized this and tried to point the gun at him, it was too late. He roughly yanked the gun out of her grip and then moved back, aiming it at her.

“I’m not dying today. Don’t get in my way,” he warned her. “Now, relax.” Once again, he inched over to her, bent down and also took the pocket watch from Jess’s coat, convincing her that he intended to abandon her there, all alone.

Suddenly, Tod burst through the cabin door with his gun in hand.

Jess bursted into tears with a flurry of emotion, now overtaken with hope. With Jess’s gun in one hand and the ax in the other, the man realized his predicament. With only a second to decide, he lifted the gun, attempting to fire it at Tod.

Tod was a faster shot. The stranger collapsed dead onto the floor. Jess was still hysterical as Tod looked around for the girl, but he didn’t find her. For a moment he put the two strangers out of his mind to make sure Jess was okay. He brought her into his arms and examined her wound. There seemed to be no exit wound, and she had lost a lot of blood.

He ripped another one of his shirts, tied her wound off and then gave her some of their remaining painkillers. It broke his heart to see her in such agony. There was no way to safely operate on her leg, and he struggled with the thought of her passing, slowly and agonizingly. Tod carefully placed her on the bed. He noted that they were down to their last lit lantern. He placed it next to Jess.

“I’m going to look for the girl,” he said. She nodded, weakly. “I need your watch.”

Jess pointed at the man’s lifeless body. Tod searched his pockets where he finally discovered it in the left shirt pocket. He pulled it out only to find it obliterated by the bullet He had fired into the man’s heart. He sighed with frustration as he tossed it aside and started to make his way out the door.

“I won’t be long. She couldn’t have gone too far,” he reasoned.

Tod journeyed around, surveying the perimeter of the forest that lay on every side of the cabin. Eventually, he saw fresh tracks of mud showing through the light layer of snow covering the ground. They were that of a small child, but instead of retreating from the cabin they were heading toward it. “She must be headed back,” Tod thought, breathing a sigh of relief. He quickly headed back when suddenly the hum started again. Tod ran as fast as he could, hoping he would find the girl before it did. To his surprise, he found her standing next to the cabin, seemingly in shock. Tod scooped her up.

“Don’t worry, I have you! You’re safe with us,” he assured her, holding her close as he hurried inside and secured the door.

“Hide under here,” Tod urged her, placing her between the bed and its adjacent wall. He bolted the door and handed Jess back her gun. They could only wait for it to leave as it always, eventually did. Tod suddenly realized the lamp had flickered out. Before he could do anything, every cabin window exploded, hurling shards of glass and other debris and injuring Tod, in the process.

Jess shrieked as she saw the monster within their cabin. Tod faced it, but before he could fire a shot it lept onto him and began thrashing him around like a bear with its prey. Tod screamed in agony, as it hurled him all across the small quarters. Jess emptied all of her six rounds on the beast, which simply absorbed each blow like a pebble into water. It turned toward Jess, causing her to tumble off of the bed near where the girl was hiding. Jess quickly tried to locate the girl, but couldn’t see her. The monster peered over the bed, at Jess, who quickly closed her eyes, accepting her fate.

Suddenly, a bright, blinding light gleamed through the windows and filled the cabin. The monster wailed a terrible sound, before seemingly vanishing.

Seconds later, four heavily armed men entered the cabin, quickly clearing the room. They saw Tod, who lay mangled and lifeless, and the body of the other man, who also lay dead. One of them spotted Jess with their flashlight seeing that she was barely holding onto life.

“Checked her eyes!” one man said as they continued flashing bright flashlights in her face while holding her eyelids open.

“She checks out,” another replied.

They immediately started tending to Jess’ wounds and brought her into their vehicle parked close outside. One of the men tried starting the engine but it struggled to turn over. As they scrambled to diagnose the vehicle, Jess weakly sat up to view the cabin through her blurring vision. The silhouette of a small child stood beside the cabin. The girl.

Jess tried to let the men know, but she was too weak to form any real words. One of the men opened the door to check on her.

“You’re going to be okay,” he said. “We’re going to get you help.” Watching her movements, he realized she was trying to show her something, so he looked in the same direction.

“There’s someone over there!” He shouted. “Bring them in before it comes back!”

The men began making their way toward the cabin.

Jess let out a sigh of relief. Even after such a traumatic encounter, she felt safer than she ever had before. She leaned her head back and began replaying everything that had happened the past two days. She wondered about the man’s past and about his true nature. She mourned over Tod and remembered his selflessness, even when Jess was surely a burden to him.

Then she thought about the poor girl…how she had lost everyone who had tried to keep her safe. Still staring at her silhouette, Jess’s eyes widened. Through the haze, she saw her body contort and stretch at the same time the unmistakable hum began once again...

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Jude Orona

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