Olivia tiredly trudged down the steep, rocky walk toward the village. It had been a disappointing journey for the most part. She hoped this wouldn’t be another town that enforced masks. She always kept one handy, but it frequently smudged the pasty pancake makeup liberally applied on her face. Didn’t do much for her black lipstick and heavy mascara either.
She was barely an adult, not quite twenty. Yet it seemed like she had been searching forever. The scene before her was almost antithetical to both herself and her quest. It could have been a town out of her great-grandma’s favorite movie, the “Sound of Music.” High clock tower, quaint houses and buildings, a study in pastels. And she was a girl of stark blacks and whites punctuated by multiple piercings. For her, goth was not a passing fancy.
Trigger Warning:This story is at least PG-13 with a little R thrown in (I tried to be as circumspect as possible and still retain the overall imagery of the story), so if you’re offended by sensual language with a touch of horror, you might want to stop reading now.
Lilith was always the first to arrive, but as the great mother, she was responsible for preparing the holy site for the others.
“Mother!” Naamah ran into the clearing, and with a gazelle-like leap to clear a fallen log, she fell into Lilith’s arms. If mother and daughter were human, their embrace would appear lewd and obscene, their hands and tongues sliding sensually over each others supple, lightly clad bodies, but for the most ancient of demons, this was a standard greeting, especially after being parted for an entire year (though at their age, a year wasn’t considered very long at all).
They parted as Rahab and Vashti arrived. Then Shelomit, Helah, and Jezebel joined them. As the sun hung low on the western horizon, the others came, and after engaging in the same ritual greeting, which stopped short of becoming a frenzied orgy (for that was yet to come), the hundreds gathered in several concentric circles around the tall, verdant phallic idol.
“What am I doing here? I wanted to get away from it all, but the smoke’s even worse here.” Gary Flowers didn’t hike often anymore, but life in the city and suburbs had been wearing him down over the last decade or so. Married, three children, two grandchildren, divorced, semi-retired, he had in his grasp what people used to refer to as the American dream. Of course, all those who didn’t have the opportunity to seize that dream resented people like him, or maybe they just weren’t in the right place in history he had been when he was up and coming.
Yes, he had grasped the American dream, but then slowly let it slip away. Life had become dull and meaningless. His children were grown and didn’t need him anymore, and besides his grandchildren, he couldn’t say that anything mattered to him these days.
And every summer there were these fires. The governor blamed global warming and the utilities company, and the news agencies blamed the governor’s poor wildfire planning, and his emphasis on social reforms over thinning the overgrown forests.
Remington had lost count of the number of times he had wandered among these stones. It had been so long that he’d forgotten which one was his. When was it? He could hardly recall. Yes, he did remember the Great Heathen Army. His grandfather had been felled by them at the Isle of Portland while serving under King Beorhtric. Remington himself was dispatched by one of their leaders called Ivar the Boneless, a thousand northern savages by his side. Was it at Wessex then?
It didn’t matter. Here he was as if he had always been here. That other life was so brief by comparison, it almost didn’t matter.
“Who’s there?” He hadn’t spoken in so long, his own voice sounded strange, almost as eerie as the woman who called to him.
“No, I don’t want you to try to heal it. I want the imp weak and helpless.”
It had been several days since Dani and Paris found the tiny demon unconscious in a nearby wooded avenue. Thanks to Paris’s book and Dani’s tutoring, Mandy’s knowledge of how to use the local tree bark, roots, and other parts of medicinal plants was steadily growing, and the children felt well enough to resume their journey very soon.
“He’s hardly regained consciousness since you brought him back to camp. What if he dies?”
“Then it dies. It’s a demon. It, and thousands of others just like it, tried to kill us, and they did kill four dragons, or have you forgotten that?” The dragon rider was furious, not so much at Mandy, but at the loss of her four friends, as well as the horrible revelation that Shay had been taken by the demon horde. It added to the plague of the visions and dreams where she saw herself murdering the other teenager and her brothers and sisters.
“I’m just trying to help.” Mandy might have been afraid of Dani if she’d faced her anger when their relationship was new, but now she understood that the dragonrider was in pain, tormented by guilt at what she saw as her failures.
Janellize’s gaze was fixed upon the dragonrider standing before her as were the other four elves, if elves they really were. Mandy kept looking in disbelief back and forth between the Mistress of Direhaven and her new found friend. What secret did the teenage girl possess that was a threat to Direhaven, to the dragons, and to her family?
“I don’t know what you mean, and how do you know my name is Danijel?” She was worried. Janellize was no one to trifle with nor did she seem the sort to make a mistake, at least one of great magnitude. She searched her mind, her memories, her feelings, and all she found was who she was and always had been since she was a child of three.
The dark-haired noble known as Wynjeon stood. “I think you’ll find that there is very little we do not know about those who have entered our city.” His eyes were a deep blue, like a frozen lake, his expression impassive like those of his Queen and the other nobles, and Dani knew that he was her chief accuser.
It had taken five days for teenage Dani to guide the five children across the frozen tundra to near the base of the Dark Hills. They had all grown up in a city and were used to soft beds, a heated home in the winter, regular meals of plentiful food, and all the comforts and pleasures modern technology afforded such children.
Dad and Mom took them camping in the mountains every summer, but they drove to the State Park in Mom’s van, built a campfire near wooden picnic tables and there were public showers and bathrooms just a few yards away. They brought their food in plastic shopping bags and a big cooler and it was like barbecuing in their backyard.
Even in the winter going snow skiing was fun, but when they were through and everyone needed to get warm, they’d go into the ski lodge and order lunch or dinner in the restaurant.
This journey was nothing like that. Nearing the end of their fifth day in this icy wilderness, the Davidson children were dirty, tired, cold and miserable. Their sense of fright had been numbed so now all they felt was the relentlessness of walking one step at a time for minutes and hours, hoping their guide who was only a little older than Mandy knew how to find food, shelter, and safety before they all died.
“…I met this girl…she ruined my philosophy…my heart skips a beat when she comes around”
From “I’d Rather Have A Love” performed by Joe
Writer(s): Derek Louis Allen, Gerald Isaac, Alvin Jerome Garrett
Even knowing this is what her father wanted, what she wanted, Zachary wasn’t sure he could do it. He loved Deborah very much and he believed she still adored him. It was only because of their love for each other that he was now walking across the manicured lawn in the back of his estate in the bright morning sunshine contemplating murder.
No, it wouldn’t be murder for the simple reason that she was already dead; dead, interned, and yet not dead.
The small duffel bag felt heavy in his right hand, not due to the weight of its lethal contents but that of his heart. He’d almost accepted Peretz’s offer to help him, but it would have been a terrible burden to place upon a father who had lost his only daughter once and now was about to lose her again. Yes, he was losing her, but he had convinced him that as her husband, he had to be the one to save her.
The cities were lost to the Grendels and most of the human race was dead. The early news reports Neville Smith heard said that the disease had been introduced to Europe and the Americas by groups of refugees from Somalia, but the conspiracy theory websites released documents stating that something got away from the CDC and it was their own staff that spread the infection causing a global pandemic.
The last report before all telecommunications and the electric grid went down was that up to 94% of the human race had died. Only one percent of humanity was immune. That left the Grendels, well, that’s what Neville called them. Human beings who were mutated by the virus becoming…what? In the poem “Beowulf,” Grendel was cursed as a descendant of Cain from the Book of Genesis in the Bible. The creature was said to devour live warriors and in the real world, the mutants consumed the dead.