Authors: Ray Wallace
“My God,” said Dana as understanding came over her.
“Inside,” said Thomas and he closed the door behind him after he followed Dana back into the house. Thomas walked over and helped Gerald to his feet, ushered him as quickly as possible out of the room, looking back for only a moment as the first of the bugs started banging up against the living room window. They were big, for the most part, the size of a man’s hand, black with dark red stripes adorning their segmented bodies. These were the only details Thomas took in, the only ones he
to take in, before he practically carried Gerald up the stairs to the second floor. Then he, Gerald and Dana were huddling in the closet in the master bedroom, the door closed, a few articles of clothing covering the crack that ran along its bottom.
It wasn’t long before the sound of breaking glass and the angry buzzing of the insects reached them. Mixed in among the heavy whirring of hundreds, if not thousands, of wings in the bedroom beyond the closet door was a thin screeching noise that gave Thomas the crazy thought that the insects were communicating on some level with one another. The idea didn’t seem so crazy when the thudding sound of insect bodies being thrown in wild abandon against the outside of the door made itself known amidst the cacophony being generated by the freakish bugs. Faster and faster came the thuds until they merged into a continuous drone that threatened to overwhelm the whirring and the screeching. Thomas reached out in the darkness, found Dana’s arm, pulled her in close and told her to press her back to the door, to brace her feet against some boxes which were stacked against the closet’s back wall. Thomas did the same. And they sat like that for what must have been an hour, legs aching, minds numbed by the endless wall of sound, hoping that the door’s frame and their slowly failing strength would be enough to keep the hellish swarm from finding its way into that dark and tiny haven.
Eventually, Thomas thought that he was going deaf as the noises from beyond the door started to fade. His legs were cramping, his entire body aching as adrenaline reserves started to dip. It was hot inside the closet. The air smelled of sweat. He could feel Dana’s arm pressed up against his, the muscles tense. The door felt so heavy against his back, like an avalanche had rushed up against its other side. He wondered how much longer they’d be able to hold this position. At some point he realized he only heard an occasional muted shriek and then those too dissipated after a time. And then there was only silence from outside, the sound of his and Dana’s breathing loud inside their hiding place.
“I think it’s over.” That was Gerald speaking from the corner to Thomas’s right.
“I think so too,” said an exhausted sounding Dana.
“Ease away from the door,” said Thomas.
Dana’s arm pulled away from his and he felt the weight of the door increase on his back. It was hard to tell by how much. Just a little? A ton? After all the energy he had expended the slightest of breezes would have probably felt like a gale force wind. He bent his knees and lifted his back from the door, all the while expecting to hear it groan then crack as he was buried beneath a crushing wave of mutant insect bodies. But the door held. He wondered how much good his and Dana’s efforts had really done, if they’d even been necessary at all. Hard to say. Better safe than sorry though.
He wasn’t sure what he would find when he opened the door. After climbing slowly to his feet, stretching and loosening tight muscles as well as he could, he pressed his ear to the door and stood there for a few minutes just listening.
After announcing his intentions to Dana and Gerald, he turned the door’s handle and tried to push it open.
It didn’t budge. Not an inch. Nor did the slightest trace of light enter the pitch dark interior of the closet from around the door frame or through the crack beneath the door once the clothing that had been placed there was pulled away.
Taking a deep breath he put his shoulder to the door and pushed harder, then harder still. Dana joined him and they pushed with everything they had. The door finally budged. Over the next several minutes they would push and rest, push and rest. Finally the door opened far enough to let in some small light and a few emaciated insect bodies.
Thomas picked one of the black and red corpses up from the floor and examined it as well as he could in the feeble illumination. It was not as big as the ones he remembered first seeing as they hit the living room window. Much thinner, as if it had been dehydrated and now was nothing more than a husk of its former self. As time went on it became easier and easier to open the door. The bodies that started to pour in through the opening were ever more withered. By the time they had forced an opening large enough to grant them exit, the countless members of the once formidable swarm seemed to have hardly the weight or substance of the dead leaves that litter the ground come fall.
“What could have done this to them?” asked Dana as she and Thomas waded out through the dried carcasses into the now unrecognizable bedroom.
He had no idea. “The rising heat?” he wondered aloud. It was a bit warm now in the bedroom. He looked over toward the shattered window across the room, the tattered curtains and blinds that still hung there. Full daylight had claimed the world outside and a humid June breeze drifted into the room. And with no power, no air conditioning… He shrugged. “Old age?”
As he and Dana came into contact with the insect husks they crumbled in upon themselves and were quickly reduced to powder. Dana coughed as the powder rose and floated upon the air as dust. Thomas was sickened by the thought of breathing in the remains of those foul creatures. He lifted the collar of his shirt to cover his mouth and nose but already he could feel the grit at the back of his throat. Now he was coughing too, had to clear his throat several times. Dana sneezed.
“Damn, I hope those things don’t make us sick,” said Thomas.
As if on cue he started to feel dizzy, lost his balance for a moment and staggered. There was the sound of carcasses crunching beneath his feet. Great plumes of insect powder were tossed up into the air.
“Careful,” Dana said before stumbling herself. She made it over to the bed, hidden beneath the waist high sea of husks, and sat down. Thomas joined her. Through his shirt he still seemed to be inhaling the dust; it had a mild, bitter almond flavor to it. Dana was covering her mouth and nose as best she could but the look she gave him let him know that she thought there was something very wrong.
“We should probably get out of here,” said Thomas. “Go outside where the air will be better. I’ll get Gerald.”
He tried to stand up…
And the world around him exploded into a million shards of light.
Dana was gone. The insect husks were gone. The entire damn room was gone. There was only light, a pixilated, shimmering kaleidoscope of color ranging from the deepest reds and blues and purples to the most scintillating whites and yellows and silvers. Thomas had never seen anything so awesome, so beautiful. He felt he might weep at the sight of it. If he had eyes and a body with which to weep, that is, for they too had been consumed by the light, transforming him into a being of pure energy. He was suddenly free of the weighted, clumsy confines of the flesh he had always known. Surely this was what it felt like to be a god.
The light around him began to take on vaguely recognizable patterns. Above him blues and whites swirled like a child’s dream of a perfect sky. Beneath him were the greens and browns of grass and earth, the flowing and undulating blues of rivers and oceans. He floated between the two realms of this virgin world, deciding which direction he wished to explore.
The voice called to him from below, a woman’s voice, instantly and intimately familiar.
He started to descend toward the earth, the trees and rolling hills directly beneath him rising up to meet him. And then he was there, walking upon the grass, so soft beneath his bare feet, reaching out and brushing his fingertips over the bark of the massive trees between which he passed. Birds sang from the branches; the leaves rustled in a breeze that carried upon it the heady scent of the wilderness around him. Sunlight streamed down between the leaves above, painting the forest floor with pools of luminescence and shadow.
The word came from much closer now, somewhere off to his right. There was no doubting that it was Julia’s voice. He turned and began to run in the direction from which it had emanated, nearly overwhelmed with the need to see his wife.
“Julia,” he called again. “Robert? Jenny?”
And then she was there, stepping out from behind the trunk of a tree directly before him dressed in a simple white gown that seemed to shimmer with random patterns as she moved. He came to a stop, his wife a step away. It was a miracle. He’d thought he’d lost her, maybe forever, but now he couldn’t quite remember why he’d felt that way. Something terrible had happened. She’d been taken from him. And the kids… Or maybe he’d only dreamed it. A vivid nightmare? One that had seemed so real that he’d actually believed it was true? He just couldn’t remember. And did it really matter? Obviously his wife had not been taken away. She was here, now, close enough to touch. The kids undoubtedly somewhere close by.
He couldn’t speak. It was just so good to see her. Tears welled up in his eyes. And then he stepped toward her and took her in his arms. He kissed her and her arms encircled his neck, pulled him down to the ground. In a moment she was naked and he realized he was too and his wife, his beautiful Julia, was beneath him and then he was inside of her, making love to her right there on the grass beneath the canopy of swaying branches and the fluttering leaves above. He closed his eyes and did what came naturally. She responded to his motions, moaning all the while. He felt a great pressure building inside of him, the darkness behind his eyes sparkling as if with a million distant stars. Then those stars all went supernova simultaneously and he cried out as all thought, all memory was wiped clean beneath a blinding flash of pure ecstasy. It was some time before he could remember who he was, where he was, and who he was with.
“Oh, Julia,” he said, smiling. “I missed you. I love you so much.”
He opened his eyes.
It wasn’t Julia beneath him. It was someone else. Some other woman. He knew her, although it took him a few moments to remember who she was. Her eyes were closed, her cheeks flushed, her breathing quick and shallow.
She laughed. “Isn’t this… Isn’t this…” She laughed again. “The strangest thing, Bill?”
Now it was her turn to open her eyes.
“Bill?” She wasn’t laughing anymore. Now she was pressing her hands against his chest, pulling herself out from underneath him. “You’re not Bill!”
Then they were both on their feet, staring at one another. Dana tried to hide her nakedness with her hands and arms. “Thomas?”
That’s when the shame came over him.
A sob escaped her and she turned and fled into the forest.
She was quickly lost to sight and the trees seemed to swallow his voice. He thought about pursuing her but the amalgam of emotions swirling within him—the confusion, the hurt, the loss, the remnants of pleasure—left him immobilized, unable to decide on any course of action. He felt rooted to the spot where he stood even as the light faded from the sky and the air turned cold and the rustling of the leaves began to sound like hoarse whispering. There were words there, he was sure, words like “morsel” and “flesh” and “hunger” and still he didn’t move, not until the branches started to reach for him with terrible cracking and creaking noises, only then did he break free of his paralysis and dash off into the deepening darkness of the forest.
On and on he ran, the branches reaching out toward him, clawing at him, flaying his skin like the gnarled and battered fingers of ravenous, ancient giants. Each time he managed to escape the grasp of those wooden, clutching fingers another strip of flesh was taken from him, leaving in its place another searing patch of agony. Fear and pain drove him onward until he thought he saw a thinning of the trees ahead in the near total darkness. The hope of escape quickened his step but also made him clumsy. His feet became tangled in something, a root perhaps, and he fell. And kept on falling as the ground opened up and swallowed him into an even deeper darkness that seemed to have no bottom and therefore no end.
As he fell he screamed until his throat was sore, until he could scream no more. Further and further he fell, on and on until eventually there appeared a light beneath him, a dull red wash that slowly claimed the whole of the blackness below. With the crimson glow the air grew increasingly warm and there came a stench like that of sulfur and something even less pleasant. Then came the screaming, the wailing, the crying of an untold multitude, a dull sound at the edge of hearing which rose into a great blaring shriek that left him incapable of discerning his own thoughts. The red was everywhere, and the heat, and the terrible odor. Other colors appeared: orange and yellow and all the subtle hues in between. Fire, he knew. Lava. Great pools and rivers of it running between shores of coal and scorched earth. And there were people in those rivers, thrashing about and shrieking in agony. Above them hovered human-shaped beasts with long claws jutting from their hands and feet, horns sprouting from their bald heads, and wide, bat-like wings growing from their backs. In their hands they held long, barbed whips or vicious looking spears which they used to further torment the pathetic figures swimming the molten rivers and those who tried to pull themselves ashore.