Authors: Edward Crae
“Fuckin’ pussy,” Dan muttered.
Drew nodded. “Good for him, though.”
Dan was silent for a moment, wondering what it was that made Jerry decide to give up. Dan didn’t have much to live for, himself, but now that things had changed, maybe he could make a new life; one where he mattered. Come to think of it, the apocalypse was every Libertarian’s wet dream. No rules, no regulations, and no laws. Just do what you need to do, and live.
Or die… whichever was better.
“There are some steaks in the freezer,” Dan said. “Let’s burn some flesh and drink some goddamn whiskey.”
“Right on, man,” Drew said.
It was after midnight. The rain had finally stopped, and the sky began to clear. The stars shined through the thin wisps of clouds that floated in after the thunderheads had rolled away. The rushing waters of the creek were the only sound that could be heard.
Dan and Drew stood together at the fortified railing, staring off into the darkness as the frozen steaks sizzled on the grill. They each held a glass of whiskey and a cigarette, and were both reluctant to turn away as they sipped and smoked. Anything could be out there, they knew, and they weren’t taking any chances of being surprised.
“You think the horses are alright?” Drew asked, not really expecting an answer.
Dan shrugged. “Sure,” he said. “And I’m sure they’re dropping road apples all over my garage floor.”
“I wonder if your horse will get sick.”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure if anything could be transmitted by claws. No saliva there, you know.”
Drew grunted. “Hope not. We need those bitches, and I’m not doubling up.”
Dan chuckled. “It’s not a motorcycle,” he said. “I don’t think it counts.”
“No queerbackin’, dude. This ain’t
Dan went to the grill, grinning and opening the lid. The sweet smell of charred meat wafted up, and Dan sniffed it like he was sniffing a hot chick. Same face, same
“Damn, that smells good,” Drew said.
“Yeah buuuuuuddy,” Dan replied, sprinkling his special blend of garlic, pepper, and seasoning salt all over the meat. He flipped them, sprinkling them again, and closed the lid.
There was a splash in the creek.
They both froze. Drew was in mid-sip, and his glass hovered near his lips as his eyes darted around. Dan peered into the shadows, his cigarette hanging from his lips almost comically.
“Did you hear that?” Drew whispered.
“Yeah. It came from the creek.”
“Are you sure the deck is safe?” Drew asked.
“I think so.”
They stood silently, listening intently for anything that resembled another splash. There was nothing but the babbling creek, and the faint simmer of searing meat underneath the grill’s lid. Even the wind was absent. The trees were still, and the clouds were unmoving in the sky. If Drew hadn’t have asked, Dan would have doubted that he had even heard anything.
“Is that meat done yet?”
“Medium rare,” Dan replied.
“That’ll do,” Drew said, backing away. “Let’s eat.”
They sat on the same side of the kitchen table, facing the sliding doors. Dan had turned the kitchen lights out, and they sat with the dim light of the living room lamp behind them. They ate in silence, cutting their steaks without looking; their eyes focused on the area beyond the deck. All they could see was the faint, ghostly outline of the treetops. The barricaded deck railings were too tall to see much else.
On the bright side, the steak was delicious. There was nothing better than a nice, grilled piece of thick, juicy beef. They both washed it down with a cold beer; the last of them. Soon, to maintain their sanity, they would have to find more.
“I wonder if Mr. Patterson has any new info,” Drew said.
Dan had forgotten about the feed. He set his knife and fork down, retrieving his laptop from the living room. There was still a WiFi signal, thankfully, but who knew how much longer it would last. When Dan punched in the URL, the website appeared; filled with links to useful information and the same large video dominating the screen.
“No new video feeds,” he said. “A bunch of new links, though. They must have just posted them.”
He perused the text, looking for anything that might be useful. “Here’s one about animal infections.”
He clicked it, and after a short time, a PDF downloaded. It was entitled
CDC findings on domestic and wild animal infection.
Dan read it out loud.
“With the focus being on the spread of this unknown pathogen from human to human, authorities have ignored the possibility of infection via animal bites, and the infection and transformation of the animals themselves. Sources around the globe have reported that canines, felines, and some rodents have appeared to become infected, and have displayed symptoms similar to those present in the surviving human population. Though no animals have succumbed to immediate death like the human victims, the pathogen has been shown to cause infected animals to become feral and attack humans and non-infected animals.”
“Does it say anything about horses?” Drew asked.
Dan shook his head. “No, and the rest of it is science stuff I don’t understand.”
“Hmm,” Drew grunted. “Canines, felines, and rodents. That’s weird. The most common household pets.”
Dan nodded. “Right. That
weird. Here’s another one called
He read it to himself while Drew finished his steak. When he was done, he related the basic premise.
“The military has attacked quarantine centers,” he said. “They have killed paramilitary contractors and freed the citizens held there. These guys say that the actual military is spreading across the country fighting against the black clothed contractors, and that they are on our side.”
“Well, who told the contractors to come in and do their thing, anyway?”
Dan shook his head. “They work for the big corporations,” Dan said, “overseas, anyway. They’re for protecting foreign interests and doing jobs that the Marines and Army can’t get away with.”
“Or for things that aren’t really their jobs.”
“Right. Oh, hey, here are some files. Phone cracks, and shit. Apps for turning your phone into a direct link to this news site, rooting apps for a bunch of phones, and a few apps for turning off your E911 feature.”
“Ah,” Drew said. “So they can’t track you.”
“Yeah,” Dan replied. “Whoever
“Is there anything about what the hell is actually happening?”
“I don’t see anything specific,” Dan replied. “Lots of opinions, though. Wait, here’s something. It just says the orange mist was iron oxide. Rust.”
Drew snorted, killing his beer. “That doesn’t help much.”
Dan suddenly remembered the cat he had let in. He hadn’t seen it in a day or so. He stood, prompting a curious look from Drew.
“What’s up?” Drew asked.
“I let a cat in the other day,” Dan replied. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.”
“Oh shit,” Drew said, getting up to help look.
They searched all over the house, looking in every closet, alcove, and underneath every appliance. Dan called out to it, using a friendly voice. The cat had been somewhat wild, but was relatively tame, and it had been following him around until he got the call from Drew. It should be around somewhere. He didn’t remember seeing it go outside.
“Fuck,” Dan said. “Canines, felines, and rodents…”
Drew gritted his teeth. “Shit, man,” he said. “It’s probably dead. If it got infected like the coyotes, it probably would have attacked us.”
“We haven’t been here most of the time,” Dan reminded him. “If it’s dead, it probably starved. I forgot to feed it. I forgot all about it.”
“You suck as a pet owner.”
“Be serious, man,” Dan said. “This isn’t good at all.”
They continued their search, going from room to room once more. There was no sign at all; no sign that Dan even had a cat. There were no small piles of cat shit, no fur balls, and no little puddles of cat puke.
Then, Dan heard Drew’s long, drawn out
Drew was in the bathroom, staring into the cabinet underneath the sink. His eyes were wide with fear… or was it disgust? Dan bent down to look. What he saw made his heart skip a beat.
In the back corner of the cabinet was a cat-sized blob of smooth, gray, fleshy material. There were pink and blue veins running through it, and the surface glistened with moisture. It pulsed rapidly, convulsing in a random fashion. It was translucent to some degree, and inside, Dan could see the faint outline of a cat—or what used to be a cat. It was white, ghostly, and horrifying to look at.
“What the absolute fuck?” Dan exclaimed.
Drew bent down next to him, still staring in shock. “Jesus, man,” he whispered. “What the fuck is that?”
Dan was speechless. He had no answers. It looked like a cocoon of some sort, as if the cat had crawled into the cabinet to transform into a butterfly—or something weird and alien.
“Let’s get it out of here,” Dan said.
Drew shook his head, standing and exiting the bathroom to pace the hallway. He was panicking.
“No fuckin’ way I’m touching that shit,” he said, his voice trembling.
“Calm down, man.”
“There’s a fucking cat cocoon under your bathroom sink!”
“I can see that,” Dan said as calmly as he could. “But it’s not staying there. I’ll get a trash bag or something.”
He raced to the kitchen, pulling a contractor bag from the shelf in the utility room. 3 mils ought to do it. He then grabbed the fireplace tongs and returned to the bathroom. Drew was sitting on the floor in the hallway with his head in his hands.
Dan bent down again, looking into the cabinet. He opened the bag, spreading its mouth as wide as it would go, and set it down on the floor. He used the tongs with both hands, reaching out to poke the object. It was soft, and quivered when he touched it with the iron tips. There was a slight squishing sound, too.
“Oh my god,” he said. “This is insane.”
Carefully, he opened the tongs, wrapping them around the slimy thing. He pulled gently, being careful not to rip it open. Slimy tendrils stretched away from the cabinet walls, ripping in half as he pulled. It was some kind of secreted goo. A bio-glue, or something. Dan cringed, feeling a lump rise in his throat.
“You should be wearing gloves or something,” Drew said.
Dan ignored him, slowly sliding the slimy object toward the front of the cabinet. He let go of the tongs with one hand, pulling the garbage bag to the edge.
“Drew,” he said. “Go out to the garage and grab the gas can.”
Drew sighed. “Dude, there was something out there. Fuck that.”
“Just do it,” Dan said. “We have to burn this fuckin’ thing. I’ll be right behind you.”
Drew sighed again, getting up. “Hurry up,” he said.
Dan scooped the cocoon into the trash bag, pulling up the sides and lifting it to twist it off. He held it out in front of him as the two of them went to the door. Drew removed the beam that blocked it and turned the handle. They both stood there for a few seconds to make sure everything was clear before stepping outside. Drew immediately went to the garage while Dan went around to the burn pile on the other side. Soon, Drew returned with the gas can.
“The horses have shit all over the place,” he said. “But they’re okay.”
“Good,” Dan said, dropping the bag on the pile of charred wood.
He bent down to open it.
“What are you doing?” Drew asked. “Just douse the fucker and burn it.”
“Right,” Dan agreed, grabbing the gas can.
He poured a generous amount on the fleshy lump and the surrounding pit, setting the gas can down on the ground behind him, and fetched his lighter from his pocket. He knelt, holding his head away while sticking the lighter toward the pile.
He flicked his
The pile burst into flame, and the heat wave caused the two men to step back. The smell of burning plastic filled the air, streaming up in white tendrils of smoke. The bag melted quickly, leaving the cocoon exposed, still quivering.
“That’s disgusting,” Drew said.
The quivering increased violently as the cocoon began to sizzle. Bubbles appeared on its surface, popping with sickening splats. A low growling erupted from within, and the cat’s body squirmed and twisted as the flames cooked its slimy shell.
“Jesus,” Dan said, stepping back even farther.
Drew backed away, too, glancing at Dan out of the corner of his eye.
As the growling increased in pitch, becoming a mournful shriek, Dan felt a twinge of guilt coupled with his revulsion. He could only watch in silence as the cat’s mutated body writhed in agony inside its death shroud. Then, a claw poked through, bringing a gush of slimy fluid with it that boiled away in the heat of the flames. The smell was revolting.
Dan looked at the claw. It had long, bony toes tipped with black barbs. The skin was white, furless, and glossy; like an albino amphibian’s skin. It flexed and grabbed at the ashy ground, tearing the shroud around it until a large rip appeared around the bulk of the cat’s body.
It suddenly burst out, rearing its skeletal head back and screeching into the night. Dan and Drew covered their ears, glaring horrified at the mutant that had emerged. Its fangs were long and transparent, rooted into the wide, bony jaw. Its eyes were bulging and black, and a membrane of grayish flesh stretched between the corners. The entire body was spindly and emaciated; appearing like a starving, white lizard with long, spider-like legs.