Tags: #Horror, #Short Stories, #+IPAD, #+UNCHECKED
ERIC S. BROWN
- Flashes of Death
- The War Stories
I - The Wave
Jeremy liked being outside, breathing the fresh air and feeling the slightly cool breeze of the warm Carolina night caress him. He lay shirtless, sprawled out on the wood of his deck, looking upwards at the night sky. The air smelled of the freshly mowed grass of his yard below and the portable stereo beside him belted out the chorus to Rush's “Working Man".
He supposed he should be feeling sleepy as late it was. He glanced at his watch, its bright green display showing the numbers 1:58. The witching hour was long gone but he didn't feel tired at all. In fact, he felt pumped up and wide awake. He leaned over and hit the skip button on the stereo. “Fly by Night” replaced “Working Man” and he smiled.
His heart pounded in his chest. He couldn't explain it but for some reason he felt on edge, eager. He lay back down and listened to the music.
Astronomy was not normally one of his interests but tonight the sky seemed different. The stars pulsed hotter burning in the blackness above. It wasn't something he could explain, it was just a feeling that he couldn't shake.
His hand reached out into the darkness beside the stereo and lifted his mug of sweet tea to his lips as he arched his back up a bit to sip it. In that moment, the world changed. The darkness was replaced by a piercing light, like lightening dancing across the summer sky yet it more than that. The whole sky seemed to go white. He dropped his tea, cursing as its coolness splashed over his naked chest. The light hurt it his eyes and only seemed to grow in intensity. Simultaneously the alarm of his wristwatch went off as the stereo erupted into a shower sparks. Geddy Lee's voice shrieked upwards as the volume soured and then went silent. Beneath the deck, his car came to life. It horn honking randomly as its headlights lit up and blew out. The shards of glass clinking onto the gravel of the driveway like rain.
Jeremy screamed then and as abruptly as it had come, the light was gone. Spots lingered before his eyes, purples and greens swirling. His head pounded as if someone had him with a sledgehammer. His temples throbbed and his hand reached out fumbling for the deck's railing until he managed to grasp it and pull himself to his feet. As his vision cleared, the world was black around him. The stars seemed to have vanished from the sky. The lights everywhere were merely gone. His
houses on the distant hills invisible in the darkness. Even the normal specks of moving headlights on 1-40 still farther away below the mountains were missing.
He stumbled across the deck to the sliding glass door of his bedroom and went inside, flipping on the light switch. Nothing happened though he flipped the switch twice more. Bumping his way from the bedroom to the kitchen, he managed to reach to the reach the drawers of the island in front of the sink. He yanked the top-drawer open, wrapped his fingers around the plastic of the emergency flashlight he kept there. His thumb pressed it on but the dark remained. He angrily bashed the light atop the island and shook it but it didn't come on. He threw it aside and felt his way along the island to where the phone hung on the wall. As he guessed, it was dead. His cell was too.
An irrepressible fear began to grow within him. Sweat beaded on his sticky skin mixing with the remnants of the split tea. He stumbled his way back to the bedroom's large walk-in closest and entered it. He pulled his hunting rifle down from a shelf as his knees gave way and dropped onto the carpeted floor. “Jesus, almighty,” he whispered, “what the Hell is going on?"
He shoved a bullet into the rifle's waiting chamber and jerked the chamber closed. Pulling his legs close to his chest, he sunk back against the closet's wall to wait for the dawn, his knuckles white as he held the rifle.
Pittsburgh "What the fuck is going on?” Howard raged as he pushed his way into the crowded control room of the reactor plant. It seemed as if the plant's whole staff was gathered here. There were no alarm klaxons and the red glow of the emergency lights was missing. The only light came from a small fire that burnt in the metal trash can beside Gibbons’ console. The flickering light of the blaze seemed alien and out of place in the heart of the plant. A wave of pleads, questions, and fear slammed into Howard as he entered as if he had walked into a wall of sound.
"Shut up!” he ordered, “Shut the fuck up!” The cacophony in the room dampened but did not end. “Gibbons,” Howard barked, pointing at the pimply-faced engineer. “What the Hell is going on? Twenty words or less. Now!"
Howard saw the young man's eyes go wide with terror in the pale light.
"Everything has gone down, sir, backups, outside lines… everything. The core will breach sir. Without the cooling units functioning, it's just a matter of time."
Howard's mind raced. Backups? Everything? That was supposed to be impossible. This was his damn plant. Things like that didn't, couldn't happen here.
"How long?” Howard asked.
"There's no way to know sir. Ten seconds, an hour. Your guess is as good as mine."
Howard opened his mouth to yell something obscene at Gibbons as he felt the heat wash over him. His flesh melted and burned away to nothingness as the reactor ruptured. The meltdown was visible for miles around as the night lit up like an exploding star for a second time as a mushroom cloud blossomed, reaching for the heavens.
New York The freeway had become a war-zone. Amy lay against her steering wheel wondering how she had managed to survive. Even at this late hour, the freeway had been crammed with traffic moving both ways when the light had came. A light brighter than the sun itself, it seemed like. The shocked
found themselves blinded by the sudden radiance even as the engines of their vehicles died and stalled. Many lost control and the freeway turned into a cascade of death as inertia took its course. Cars slammed into trucks and each other's. Vehicles hit the concrete sides of the freeway or the medium overturning. Flames blazed in every direction and explosions ripped the night. People who were still alive bolted from their cars, creating further havoc. People ran from the freeway as if for their lives while others tried to help those trapped inside the wrecks. Amy watched as one driver of an eighteen wheeler came tearing out his cab, madness in his eyes, opening up on the crowd with some of sort of rifle until another
shot him in the forehead and his limp form crumpled to the asphalt. It was all insane like some sort of a living nightmare. Amy did not leap out of her car to join the crowd. She sat in her seat her body heaving with sobs, too frightened to move. Irrationally, she wondered what her boss would say when she showed up late at the hospital. Her only injury was a scraped place on her hand from where she reached out to brace herself as her car had struck the rear-end of the silver Dodge Shadow in front in her as the chaos began.
She tried to turn on the car radio but nothing happened. She tried repeatedly until the knob broke off in her hand. Finally, she sunk her head back onto the steering wheel and started to the mutter the words of a prayer under her breath as people screamed into the night across the entire freeway.
Washington D.C. President Clark sat at his desk shuffling through the stacks of reports from N.A.S.A. and other organizations about the energy wave that had just struck the Earth. Below them on his desk, rested still more reports from the military and countless law enforcement and government agencies about the aftermath of the wave that had left the globe in chaos. Things did not look good for the human race. Of course, things were even much worse than what he was hearing about. Ninety percent of all communications without the world outside of the city itself had been lost and even inside the city proper he was forced to news by “word of mouth". All forms of technology that required more than simple kinetic energy or combustion energy to operate were essentially useless. The wave had seen to that. Even the back-up systems and batteries were down though already some were coming back on-line with the work of the science staff available.
It appeared that the energy wave's effects on technology were dissipating at an exponential rate but it would still takes weeks, perhaps months for the world's advanced tech to be fully restored. Fortunately, a few of the heavily shielded military bunkers like the one underneath the White House had survived the wave's impact almost fully operational or his knowledge of the outside world would have gone from limited to non-existent.
General McMahan kept insisting that he flee the city and head for a more secure bunker in another state. The General was hard at work with his men and the scientists preparing a makeshift convoy from the vehicles, civilian and military alike, that filled the bunker and the White House's garages and parking areas. He insisted the city was not safe though he reasoned any kind of hostile nuclear act by the former Soviet Union or any other nations were highly unlikely judging from the state the wave had left the U.S.'s own arsenal in. However, the numbers of frightened people seemed to come in droves to the gates of the White House. Pleading for assistance and looking for hope, they disturbed McMahan and put him on edge. Yet even more so, he was concerned about those who were mad from some kind of after
effect the wave had on the electro-biological makeup of the human mind. Clark had asked the scientists about that but their answers had been vague thought they assured him to it would only worsen and that few, if any, would be immune to the lingering radiation left in the wave's wake which seemed to be causing the madness. Some may prove more resistant than others, but in the end most of the world population would be turned into to nearly mindless, violent predators as the days went on.
So far, Clark had refused McMahan's requests to leave. He hoped by staying that his presence would help comfort those still sane in the city and let them know that steps were being taken to face this catastrophe. The weight of the country and the world lay heavily upon on his shoulders and he could only hope his best efforts and those of his staff would be enough to at least ensure that humanity, as a whole didn't perish.
He sat down the stacks of papers and laid his head down on his arms. He closed his eyes and said a silent to God for mercy on them all.
Jeremy awoke as the first rays of the morning sun crept over the mountains and sparkled through the glass doors of his bedroom. He stirred inside the open walk-in closet and rubbed at his neck. It hurt like Hell from the way he had slept leaning against the closet wall. Looking down at the rifle resting in his lap, he felt like a fool. He was forced to admit his nerves had gotten the better of him last night and he wondered what the heck he'd been thinking. He bet the power was already on again. Nevertheless, what was that strange light in the sky? Had that been real or had he dreamed the whole thing? His memories of it seemed unbelievable and more than a bit crazy.
As he walked into the bedroom, he placed the rifle onto the bed and glanced at the digital alarm clock on his dresser. Its display was blank and unlit. So much for the power being back on, he laughed. He desperately wanted a shower but that was out of the question with the power still off so he changed clothes donning a tattered Rush T-shirt and fresh underwear and jeans. Moving into the kitchen, he snacked on a plastic warped muffin from the pantry as he tried the phone again. No luck there either.
As he ate, a vague memory of something happening to his car during the strange light haunted him and decided to inspect the damage.
Glass shards from its exploded headlights filled the drive in front of the car. He carefully avoided the glass since he was still barefooted and opened the door to plop into the driver's seat. He crammed the key into the starter and turned the switch. Nothing happened, not even a sputter. Angrily he punched the dashboard in frustration. He sat there for a moment wondering what he should do next. Luke Thompson lived just up the road from him. The old man was his nearest
and a friend too so he decided he would pay Luke a visit. Luke was inflicted with terrible health problems mostly from his age but his smoking and constant drinking didn't help either. He might need a hand besides Luke's truck might be in better shape than his own car and the two of them could head into town together and maybe find out what was going on. At worst, he was sure he would walk away with a smile and a free beer.
Luke only lived about half a mile up the road from Jeremy's place so the walk was a short one. He took his time with it, enjoying the fields of green by the roadside. Summer was truly here and even the weeds were vibrant and beautiful to Jeremy in a way. He didn't miss the big city in the least and was very glad he'd moved down here a few years back. He was a bit disappointed when he started up the small hill of Luke's drive and didn't see the old man sitting on the porch of tiny shack that passed for a house.
It seemed Luke was always there. The old man enjoyed sitting on his porch and whittling, waiting on passers-by to harass in his own good-natured way. It worried Jeremy a little. For him not to notice meant something might be wrong. Jeremy picked up the pace of his walk, nearly breaking into a run. He hoped the old man was all right. As he reached the house, he yelled. “Luke! You in there? Luke?” He could see the front door to the house was open like always but the outer screen door was shut. Three weathered, cracked concrete steps led up to the door. Jeremy bolted up them. He swung the screen open and peeped inside. The living room was a mess. Some things never changed. He grinned as he stared at the discarded microwavable dinner wrappers, empty beer bottles, and crumpled cigarette packs that intermingled with the stacks of dirty clothes covering the couch and floor. Jeremy stepped inside. “Luke? You here?” he asked again.