Authors: Michelle Bryan
© 2016 Michelle Bryan
All rights reserved.
Cover Design by Kellie Dennis at Book Cover by Design
Edited by Sun’s Golden Ray Publishing
This book is a work of fiction. People, places, events and situations are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, without the written permission of the author.
For my boys. Thank you for all your support.
To my awesome betas, thanks for the feedback. Michelle L, Kayla, Rebecca, Marie and Mysti.
You guys rock!
To my fellow authors of BB. Thanks for all the advice and laughter. You’re more than a support group. I consider you all as friends. I’m so lucky to have met each and every one of you.
To the many family and friends who have supported me along the way and listened to me
talk about my work without rolling their eyes, thank you.
was twelve years old when the world ended.
Not by any nuclear weapon, or asteroid strike, or series of natural disasters like so many doomsday soothsayers had prophesied. No, nothing so dramatic. In fact, it didn't end with a bang at all. It ended with a whimper. A deceivingly harmless, crystallized mist had covered our world in a day, leaving total devastation in its wake. Maybe if we had known then what the mist had concealed, we would have taken more precaution. Maybe if we had any kind of advanced warning, more of us would have survived. Maybe.
It happened eight years ago, but I remember like it was just yesterday.
I was in the park that day, only a block from my house. I went to the park a lot when my father was home. He was a truck driver, away from home most weeks out of the year. But when he was home- well-he made up for lost time. The drinking began around noon. The yelling around three. The hitting around five. Like clockwork. My mom, she tried to protect me from the worst of it. She carried the scars, some visible, most not, of our never ending battle. She would quietly send me off to the park or my safe zone in the attic when it was too dark outside. She would know when he was about to be set off, almost like her spidey senses would kick in, and she would whisper those dreaded words to me 'go play.' Like she believed if she kept me out of his sight, then he wouldn't hurt me. And it worked...most of the time. There had been the odd time that I hadn't made it to the front door, or gotten the hatch to the attic pulled up, before I was yanked back by the hair of my head. It only happened a few times, before I learned to be quicker. I learned to react real fast, or suffer the consequences.
That day started out no different from any other. Don't even remember what set him off. Maybe he didn't like what she was cooking for dinner. Maybe he found a speck of dirt in the always immaculate house. Maybe the football game on TV wasn’t going his way. Or maybe it was just the sight of my face. Who the hell knew with him? But he was in a foul mood, so I didn't even wait for my mom's warning; I headed for the park.
I knew I wouldn't find any of my friends there this late in the evening. In fact the whole park was empty. No neighbors walking their babies in their bulky, prissy carriages, taking up the whole dang sidewalk. No dogs chasing Frisbees or tennis balls across the green grass. No middle-aged neighbors jogging, trying in vain to work off their paunch. Not like usual. The only company I had was old man Heff, the park’s resident homeless dude. He was sitting on the same park bench that he sat on every day and feeding the birds like usual. He never spoke in all the time I knew him, other than to mumble incoherent words at the pigeons. They were the only creatures he ever acknowledged. So I guess in theory, I was truly alone in the park that day. Everyone else was home with their nice families, having a nice dinner and nice conversation.
Most times I envied my friends. I never could understand why my house wasn't that way. Why my dad wasn't like the other dads. Why we couldn't sit down to nice family dinners and talk about our day. Laugh about silly stuff. Things we did when
wasn’t home. All my mom ever did was cry when I asked why she even stayed, so I gave up on asking. I gave up on a lot.
Instead I sat alone in the park, swinging on the rusted old swing set with its peeling red paint, dragging my feet in the sand, and ignoring the grumblings of my empty stomach. I knew I wouldn't get to eat anytime soon. Not until he passed out at least, and it would be safe to go back home. Another hour or so yet. Mom would keep my dinner warm in the oven until I could come home without waking him up. We had it down to a routine now. All I had to do was wait for the sun to go down.
Across the park, the pigeons suddenly took off in flight with a ruckus of panicked whistling and fluttering wings. I raised my eyes from the ground, wondering what had riled them up. I was surprised to find darkness all around me. My first thought-a storm heading our way. Great, just what I needed to get soaking wet before I could go back home.
But then I realized what was quickly moving towards me, wasn't clouds at all. It was a mist of sorts. A white fog, rolling in and covering the houses and streets with an eerie, ghost like quality. It didn't appear to be smoke, since there was no smell. But the mist was just as thick and heavy as any smoke spewing from some polluting, factory smokestack.
It moved fast, swallowing up everything in its path and turning my world to white. It rolled toward me, surrounding me quickly with its tendrils. The soft wisps swirled about me, darting this way and that, almost as if they were studying me. I remember being enthralled by this ghostly dance, wondering what on earth it could possibly be. It was almost hypnotizing. Glittering crystals floated in and out of the mist...as if they had a life force of their own. It was only much later that I would learn they actually did.
A clump of crystals danced in front of my face like swirling snowflakes, causing me to reach out and try to catch them on my fingertips. I laughed as my touch triggered them to break apart and scatter, changing formation. Then without warning, they converged and swarmed me, covering my mouth and nose like a wet cloth. With every breath I could feel them going down my throat and I panicked. Wrapping my hands around my throat, I coughed and spat...trying desperately to get rid of the blockage. I couldn’t suck in any oxygen. I fell out of the swing to my knees, my vision fuzzy around the edges. The threat of blacking out was all too real. I remembered thinking, "
I’m going to die
And then just like that, it was over. The crystals clawed at my throat as they made their way back up, making me gag. They trickled out of my mouth and into the air. The mist surrounding me reabsorbed them like a thirsty sponge, and then it just moved on. As if the crystals had decided I wasn’t worth the time.
I sucked the sweet air greedily into my starving lungs, spitting out the oily aftertaste in my mouth. Still on my knees in the playground dirt, a cold shiver passed over me and I couldn't help but feel I’d just had a very narrow escape. But from what?
I watched as the wet mist
away from the park, the ominous gloom now moving to the other side of town. It didn't look like a harmless cloud anymore. The way it moved, stealthily slinking over the roads and houses, it appeared to be filled with malicious intent.
What the hell was that?
Suddenly remembering old Heff, I scanned the park looking for him. I needed to see if he’d been attacked the same as me, cause even as young as I was, I knew what happened had been an out-and-out attack on my being. I found him lying on the ground under his bench, unmoving. I wanted to go to him, to see if he was okay. I tried standing, but my wobbly legs had other plans. They refused to support my weight, and I fell back into the dirt. I stared after the mist with frightened eyes, praying silently to God that it wouldn't change direction and come back.
I don't know how long I stayed crouched in the dirt. Five or ten minutes, maybe. I knew I should get up. I should get the hell out of there, but instead I kept huddling like a shivering mass of spineless jelly. Movement at the corner of my eye caught my attention, and I almost cried out in relief as old man Heff sat up.
Then I saw his eyes.
They were oozing a dark liquid. Blood. There was blood coming out of his freakin’ eyes! I tried to run but my body turned to stone and rooted in the dirt. His eyes opened slowly, the whites contrasting sharply with the red. I could feel my own eyes threatening to pop from their sockets as my heart slammed painfully in my chest. The fear soon escalated to heart-stopping terror, for what I witnessed burned in my brain and haunted my dreams for years to come.
His mouth opened unnaturally wide causing the corners of his lips to split open and blood to squirt out on either side. His very flesh tore apart! I heard it tear with a sickening rip, and my stomach rolled violently as I gagged. Strips of bloody meat flapped over his exposed gums and teeth as his jaw unhinged with a bone crunching snap. My eyes refused to believe what they were seeing, as a gray, thick worm clawed its way out of his mouth and exploded into the air with a fresh spurt of blood. For some insane reason, the sped up clip shown in biology class last week of a sunflower seed sprouting from the dirt popped into my head. This looked exactly the same. Like the worm had germinated and sprouted out of old man Heff's throat.
A shrill keening pierced the air. The sound caught the creature's attention, and the disfigured head turned my way. Horrified, I realized the sound was coming out of me. I covered my mouth with my hand, trying to strangle the scream. But it was too little, too late. In response the worm thing splayed opened and from its black inky innards, silver teeth glinted in the evening sun like dozens of tiny blades. Teeth clearly made for ripping and tearing flesh.
I didn't wait to see any more. As much as my brain refused to define what I was seeing, my honed survival instinct kicked in. I lurched to my feet and ran.
My twelve-year-old legs were much shorter than my pursuer’s, but the sound of thick, wet gurgles following me down the street had me practically flying the block to my house. I didn't even think to stop at the nearest house.
mother were the only thoughts in my head.
I ran up my front steps and fell through the door, slamming it behind me with enough force to rattle the windows. I didn't even care that it would be sure to draw my father’s wrath. In fact, I hoped it did. Let him deal with the monstrosity outside.
I stumbled back from the door, my heart threatening to burst out of my chest. I stared at it in dread, fearing any second for it to crash open and that thing that was once old Heff to barrel through. But it remained intact. With bated breath, I listened for any telltale sign that that thing hovered outside. I heard nothing.
Gathering up my last bit of courage, I peered cautiously through the narrow window that bordered the door. The thing was still standing in the street. And that's all it was doing...just standing. It wasn't looking at my house trying to figure out some fiendish way to get inside. It wasn't looking about at all. It was just standing. Almost as if it had forgotten it was chasing me.
I watched as old man Heff stumbled drunkenly away. What was that thing my mom always said, "Out of sight, out of mind?" This seemed to be the case. The thing that undoubtedly wanted to rip me apart only minutes ago, appeared to have forgotten about me. Or maybe it was because it couldn't see me anymore. Either way, it was no longer chasing me and I sobbed a little in relief.
I rubbed at my eyes, wiping away sweat and tears. Crying was a weakness I hadn’t given in to in years, but yet here I was bawling like a baby. My body convulsed like I’d been slam dunked in some icy river. My teeth knocked together painfully, and I clamped my lips to keep from biting my tongue. Wrapping my arms around my chest, I tried to hold myself together. I needed to find Mom. I needed her to tell me everything was going to be okay.
The sound of the TV blaring from the den was almost surreal as I tiptoed past. Now that the other monster was no longer a threat, I still didn't want to poke the one living in my house. Veering off to the kitchen, I brought up short as the smell of burning food hit me. Mom never burnt anything. She wouldn't dare! Hurrying before it got
attention; I grabbed the oven mitts and turned off the oven. Pulling out the tray of now charred chicken and potato wedges, I dropped the hot platter on top of the stove and waved at the smoke with my gloved hand.
"Mom?" I whispered cautiously at the haze filled kitchen. No answer.
The smoke filtered out the cracked kitchen window, and the sight of it hit me like a punch to the gut. The window was opened. Opened to let anything that had been outside, in.
Where was she? The lump of dread in my stomach made me almost want to puke as I stepped hesitantly into the hallway. The old shag carpet sucked at my feet like some marshy mud, refusing to let me turn back. I stopped walking and peered around the corner into my bedroom. It was empty-and just as I had left it this morning. My gaze was caught by the evening sun glinting off the silver framed picture on the nightstand. The picture of me and my mom. It suggested normalcy. I knew today was anything but.