“Did you hear that?” Kahlil asked, the poor boy’s breathing was strained, I could tell he was fatigued but we had to keep moving.
“It was probably an echo from my own gun, we are basically surrounded by nothing but hills and mountain ranges.. Don’t let the forest fool you.”
But I had heard it too, piercing through the moans of the countless Risen that had hoarded together, but I knew better than to get my hopes up, especially when death was nipping at our heels.
“It was different than your gun, it was louder.. You think it might be her?”
“There’s no way to be certain, just focus on your footing, those things are right behind us.”
It seemed like we hadn’t stopped running for weeks, and I didn’t want to think of how close to the truth that actually was, there was no reprieve from the risen dead.. or from whatever else there was out there. Buster gave another howl, as if to hastily urge us on, but the two of us could only travel so fast with three legs and arms between us, it was a miraculous feat we’d survived this long at all. I was thankful for my father teaching me everything he knew, I was taught how to survive on my own without me even knowing, on the other hand, Kahlil had never even been camping before.
Our only hope was to find the Betty, then we could do a REAL search for Patience and the rest of our family. Yes, I had come to think of them as such. I had no other choice, I loved them, and they loved me back, we were all we had left.
I remember the very night I had come across Loki in the twilight of the night, he was literally roadkill, or so I thought, coming upon such a mangle body on a deserted highway. I was ready to put a bullet in his head, like I’d thoughtlessly done a thousand times by that point, but he spoke, stopping me before I pulled the trigger. Little did he know, he had saved me that night, I was so alone.. so desperate.. to the point I was searching for a damn dog in the middle of an Apocalypse of the Risen Dead.
Loki did more than reunite Buster and I, he gave me another purpose, he gave me the chance to find and spend time with the love of my life, a true Saint, as fleeting as those moments may have been. He gave me the love of family that had been lost to me for so long, that night, the night he found me..
I was ready to end it all, but now, I was willing to sacrifice everything for him, that’s why I knew I had to keep going, Loki needed our help.
“Ugh.. My beans got cold.” Kahlil complained, shifting his fork around in the can, his young face pouting and twisted in disgust.
“Be thankful for cold beans.. There are people starving out here, hungry enough to eat the flesh from your bones before they even join those that have risen amongst the dead.”
He looked at me wide eyed as I ate the admittedly nasty cold Lima beans, in the can I kept situated with my knees, I was proud of how I had adjusted to the loss of my missing limb, my left hand getting quite the workout, it would ache at times and I had finally stopped reaching for things instinctively with a phantom limb that was sorely missed.
I just shook my head, when the boy scooped the rest of his serving on the ground for an appreciative Buster, who quickly made use of the much needed protein. I’m guessing he won’t understand till he sees for himself, some horrors are hard to fathom, especially for one so young.
I thought of Patience, she was younger than him, and out there all alone.. I knew not to worry, this girl has been brought up by a band of Survivors. Loki, Caiden, my dearest Granny had surely taught her how to fair in a worst case scenario, I had no doubt they were wise enough to bestow her the tools and skill she would need. It made me think of daddy, and our many trips through the jungles and amazons of the world, I was never destined for an orthodox child rearing, some would have called it chaotic, I remember it being adventurous.
Dad had made it a thing after mom passed away, our last great time with her was on a trip to a new architectural site in Nigeria, she had helped him communicate with the local folk, who had taken a liken to her. I remember her smiling the entire trip, she was so beautiful to me, just as timeless as the exquisite tribal women we found there, and it would be the last time she smiled like that, the last she had that gorgeous glow about her.
Later that year she had gotten diagnosed with malignant case of breast cancer, it mastitized to her throat, and after a long valiant battle with the beast, she passed away on my eleventh birthday. Dad was never the same, he devoted all his time into work and home schooling me, the dynamic was so stressful on our relationship.
The next year he decided we would ‘settle down’, so he bought some obscure property in Wisconsin and taught at a local university. The next year or two would be stressful, between our disconnect and the absence of my mother, we were two lost souls in wander around each other.
It wasn’t till the third spring after moms passing, when father was called by an old colleague to assist on an area of his expertise, prehistoric lost civilizations. He was needed on location in northern Zambia, where fossilized remains of an ancient metropolis was just found, the find was big, because first testing results showed it to predate the advancement of civil society in the Mesopotamian region of the Cradle of Life, by nearly two hundred thousand years.
On record, the oldest of the known ancient settlements were the Ubaidians of Sumer, often called Sumerians, many thought them to be the driving force of modern day governance and the first sign of a mass conglomerate of civility in the emerging literate world. Sumerian civilization took form in the Uruk period, which was around the 4th millennium BC, continuing into the Jemdat Nasr and Early Dynastic periods, there was no proof of anything besides hunter gatherer sects littering the world before them, that was until this new Discovery.
Of course, I had to accompany him, once again ripped from normalcy, taken from the friends I had made, abandoning the life I was trying to create, just to go on one of dads Indiana jones excursions in some African Safari. Ironically, it wound up being one of the best moments of my life, something about that trip seem to fix us, as bad as it went.. the events built a bridge in the rift between us.
The trip had been uneventful until the last night, when father and Dr. Treaveu, a handsome French anthropologist that had a handsomely smooth swarthy complexion despite being nearly a decade older than my dad, both ventured into the dig site. From what he told me, they chanced upon a man made cavern that was tunneled out to create an intricate system of pathways, it was father that convinced the man to venture in with him, an act he never forgave himself for.
He described rooms that had what looked like coffins, made of metal and glass, the walls had carvings of an unknown language, some rooms had walls splattered with bright colors and drawings of something clearly otherworldly casting a brightness upon the earth. The ruins also had evidence of a religious shrine, but they seem to worship thousands of hominid figures that came down from the sky, offering these other-worlds men tributes of blood, body, and coin. These sky people brought many gifts with them, and were depicted as fair neutral gods for the most part, thou there were a few in the fringes of darkness and light. The further they travel into the underground system, the more the story progress upon the walls, speaking of a mighty empire ruled by gods for nearly four millennia..
They came upon a depiction of the final exodus of these sky gods, that left much knowledge and many gifts for mankind, but the most striking was the carvings of the thirteen of these other-worlds men that stayed behind, thirteen bloodlines that intermixed the first peoples of mankind. What they found went against everything they thought possible, it was a find that would rattle the modern world’s scientific community, as well as its religious counterpart.
Deep in the belly of Africa, there were thriving communities that lasted thousands of years before the great society fell, the stories on the wall were incomplete, the carvings and art became more scarce the deeper they delved into the seemingly endless labyrinth.
They came upon one final mural, it was the largest so far, and it was splattered in eons old dried blood. It depicted a battle between the thirteen families, the catalyst would begin with the birth of a child, one with the blood of them all. He would bring about the end of the world and its resurrection, he would concur, yet still hunger for more. That hunger would lead him on a quest to the skies, to take his rightful place amongst them, for he too would become a god..
And amongst the gods, he would also concur.
Father had described the collage of eerie images, they were so literate, it seem almost impossible to mistake its meaning as something else. He knew he would need proof, it was the only way they could get someone to believe what they saw was true, it was that need that put them in a world of danger. All it took was dad brushing up against a pillar, it was a secret lever that made the tiles upon the wall where the mural stood begin to spin. Dust and debris fell from the ceiling as the image shifted, revealing itself to be a door, a grand door made of iron and gold.
Dr. Treaveu warned they should leave and return in the morning but dad just felt he needed something to show people, he had spent his whole life with people doubting his research and findings, he knew men need proof of the eye. When he tried the door it had been locked, but he quickly noticed an intricate lock combination mechanism that seem more like a puzzle, which he hated with a passion, he had the other man help him and assist in solving it, which took a good bit of time.
The only sign they had solved it was the deep rumbling of the earth beneath their feet, it’s vibrations soon made the tunnels tremble violently, so much so they began to cave in. To make matters worse, the door started to open, and inside wasn’t some great treasure, the door was actually a prison, the ancients were trying to keep something in, not someone out.
He never really told me what happened next, I do know that Dr. Treaveu didn’t make it, whatever it was, it got to him before the cavern collapsed, taking all the evidence my dad sought in the first place, and one of his dearest friends. He didn’t stop pushing his work, but he ultimately lost all his credibility he had scrounged and scrambled so hard for all these years, written off as a loon conspiracy theorist. He tried to warn me it was something more, there were people out there that would never allow such ancient secrets to be revealed to the modern world, they were happy all proof was buried in the past because they would do whatever necessary to ensure it. These same people were the reason none of my dad’s work had ever seen the light of day, and he was publicly shunned.
Despite it all, he took it stride.. he retired and had a new focus on me and my own dreams, determined not to let his tarnished and tattered legacy effect any I would desire to establish. We still went on trips and adventures, we still remained a family, we were still happy, then made even happier when a small little hound pup came scratching upon our door during a bad thunderstorm, several summers later. Buster was dad’s baby, I thought he would damn near nurse the damn dog at one point, but I couldn’t help but fall in love as well. The years were good to us, the love I craved so much for was there, my dad was there.. But I was here now, here without him, here without that feeling.
“Sera, what was that?!” Kahlil asked in a panicked tone, breaking me from my thoughts, there was rustling in the bushes about a maybe a click to the north, it was incoming and not very far away.
“Ssshh.. Keep your voice down.” I replied, completely putting out the nearly burnt away fire from earlier, while he quickly gathered our things.
I had a sickening feeling in my stomach, it was churning so bad I couldn’t hold back the vomit that came forth, I wiped my mouth and swiftly move to help the boy up. Buster whined lowly, urging us to hurry, I pushed Kahlil faster as we broke off into the thicker part of the forest. Whatever it was behind us was getting closer, I could even hear the moment it made it to our former camp, pausing briefly before making a beeline towards us.
Not far away, I saw thick mounds of leaves at the base of a large oak, and I slung a surprised Kahlil into the largest cluster. I began to bury him in the muddy shed remains and picked Buster and tossed the dog to the left of him, the noise was nearly upon us as I frantically dug myself a hole covering my body with what leaves were left, ending up with more mud instead.
About thirty seconds later something appeared, and strangely, it wasn’t the thing making all the noise, it was a drone. If I hadn’t been looking, I would have missed it, because I damn sure couldn’t hear it. The front of it let out a scanning laser beam that traverse the immediate area for any signal of life. It was another minute before several men garbed in cybernetic advanced tactical gear, the kind I’d only seen in the movies or on tv, with the news claiming it some ‘far away’ technology.
The men walked forward, looking around suspiciously, as if they could tell we were there. One, who I assume the leader, because of his seemingly military decorated suit, stepped towards the drone, which astonishingly folded itself up and attached into a panel of his forearm, it stayed there maybe thirty seconds before he released it again, all I could think was.. Who the fuck were these guys??!
“Are they here?” One of the other men asked, as they all continued to search in every direction for the slightest sign of movement.
“Data is non-conclusive.”
“They couldn’t have gotten far Santiago, it’s two cripples and a little brat, it shouldn’t be taking this fucking long. I just want to find them, put a goddamn bullet in their heads, snatch the little girl and get the hell on back to my comfy bed.. This shit out here is for the dead and damned.”
“Keep your fucking mouth shut, and concentrate, we have a mission to execute, focus is key with these people, trust me..” The leader scolded his man, I couldn’t pinpoint the familiarity of his slight accent but I think it was the fear in me as the drone hovered towards us. “Activate thermal search and switch to night mode, the sun has nearly gone down.”
“You think we scattered the horde enough? I don’t want those rotting bastard running up on us..” Someone asked, as the drone moved on past where Kahlil and I were, continuing its thorough search of the area.
“These new helmets fucking suck, I can’t see or breath in this thing! I know it’s precautionary but fuck it..”
Once one started to remove their helmets the rest were quick to follow, I didn’t recognize any of the faces, at least not until the leader removed his mask as well..
That Spanish bastard was a traitor, he probably couldn’t wait for the Wolf to die to pull some shit like this, he was ravenous for power, willing to do anything to get it. I could feel my blood boiling, I just hope it didn’t set off the sensors. How could he betray us like this? He was helping them hunt us down, the only good news was they hadn’t found Patience yet, at least I hope that was positive sign of her current circumstance.
I could hear some light shuffling in the leaves, and I just prayed Kahlil would remain still, any movement would catch their acute attention. These were mercenaries, casually killing was their occupation, us civilians would be no match for them.
I watched as Bloodhound reached into a compartment of his suit, and pulled out what seem to be a piece a jerky, oddly he whistled before taking a bite, then gave another pricing blow of his lips while he grossly chewed the food. That’s when it hit me, the memories seem to scream for my attention, though at the time the scenario appear harmless. I thought back to our time together on the Betty, how he oddly used to do the same thing, then he would feed Buster. I’d told him to stop because I didn’t want him to over feed the poor hound, but I didn’t think of how he was conditioning him.
As if on cue, Buster whined softly, I wanted to cry out but I couldn’t, No.. This couldn’t be happening..
But it was, I watched as the hungry hound crawled from his hiding place, and lowly strutted over to the mercenary. He seem to know something was wrong, as he continued to whimper, but he couldn’t help but be compelled to approach a familiar person with a treat.
“There you are boy.. How ya been Buster? Did you miss me?” Bloodhound asked him, as he scratched behind the dog’s ear, looking around sharply. “Did you get left behind ol’boy?.. or are you here causes SHE’s still around? Hmm.. el tiempo dirá que?”
All the Mercs fanned out, rechecking every space they already scout to be sure, one came over to where we were, snooping where Buster had emerged from. The man kicked at the leaves, barely missing Khalil’s face but thankfully burying him further, both of us remaining still as possible. Turning up empty again only seem to agitate Bloodhound, and my heartbeat quickened as he picked up the dog, angrily looking around into the surrounding darkness.
“Sera? Serafi?! Come out now!” He commanded, but the only answer was the chirping of crickets, as he got loud I could tell his men worry if the dead would heed his call before I did. “If you step forward now and surrender the girl to me, I promise we’ll have a place for you amongst us.. You’re strong, we need strong women, women like you could could give birth to the future of mankind.. You’re valuable, so it would be a shame for you to lose your life for this.”
I tried to remain silent as possible, but it was hard to measure and stabilize my erratic breathing, my heart hadn’t slowed its pounding in my chest, leaving me anxious enough to throw up again. Tears escape my eyes, when I heard a pained cry from Buster, as Bloodhound yoked the poor dog up into his arms. The animal tried to bite and scratch but the merc gave him another punch to the face, eliciting another cry from him.
“Serafi, I’m not in the business of killing animals, I’m not the sociopath you believe me to be, there is a mission more important than our selfish needs, humanity is at stake and the Earth is lost. Come join us, or you leave me no choice..”
I didn’t know what to think, but I knew it was telling that he hadn’t mentioned the fate of anyone but myself, there was no talk of what would happen to Kahlil or Patience.. No, explanation for Loki, Caiden, and Balthazar’s whereabouts. My heart of heart was telling me not to trust him, an instinct buzzing at the back of my mind. I held my breath when the gunshot roared, followed by a strained wail from Buster as Bloodhound threw his bleeding body to the ground. I grip the cold earth beneath me, squeezing the dirt for restraint, there was no stopping the tears that seem to count the next sixty seconds of silence.
“She’s not here.. She would have come for the dog, trust me, this stupid bitch was searching for him in the aftermath like a lunatic. She’s probably out looking for him now like a one armed fool.” He said callously, turning to his men, signaling for them to move on. “We’ve wasted enough time here, he’ll die out or attract some of the risen to finish him off, let’s see if we can sniff out their trail again.”
The men moved swiftly through the woods, leaving a dying Buster behind, it was killing me, but I needed to wait and make sure they were really gone. I counted every second of three minutes, before I scrambled up to crawl over to my treasured companion, he was more family to me than any human around me, I couldn’t believe I was losing him like this.
“You stupid, stupid dog, what were you thinking? What will I do without you?” I whispered softly to him, as he cried with me, I quickly found the source of all the blood that soaked his fur. “I’m going to see if I can get the bullet out.. I know it’s burning.”
I dug my fingers into his flesh, getting a sharp hiss and whine of pain from the animal, my fingers quickly found the searing metal bullet casing and pulled it out. I didn’t feel any organs hit or arteries but he was bleeding out fast. Kahlil was next to me sniffling as well, I told him to check the bags for a first aid kit, knowing I hadn’t seen any when I’d taken stock of what we had earlier in the day.
We were so distracted by the task of saving Buster, we didn’t hear as a sole Risen wander near. He was about to bite into my shoulder from behind, when suddenly a knife was impaled into his skull, leaving a splatter of blood across my face. My eyes wide open in shock, as I came face to face with another set of fierce but gentle chocolatey eyes, my lips struggle to form the words of a name I’d said and thought about hundreds of times.
She didn’t say anything, she didn’t register that I was standing there or that she had just saved my life, moving forward with her eyes on a whimpering Buster, as he lay on the ground. I had almost forgotten the connection she had to him, the two seem to be able to actually speak at times, and it was an astonishingly weird thing to witness firsthand, but then again, there was barely anything resembling normalcy when it came to this young girl. I was about witness one of those moments, I knew as soon as my ear could hear the haunting tone of her effervescent voice, a voice that could stir the still air.
~ ☆ “Regrets collect like old friends.. Here to relive, your darkest moments, I can see no way, I CAN SEE NO WAY.. and all of the Ghouls come out to play.. and every demon wants his pound of flesh, but I like to keep some things to myself.. I like to keep my issues drawn.. It’s always darkest before the dawn… And I’ve been a fool and I’ve been blind, I can never leave the past behind.. I can see no way, I CAN see NO Way! I’m always dragging that horse around..” ~
I knew there was more to this girl than a voice, there was power in her that escape on the seismic waves of talent and song, there was healing in her gift. She wasn’t just a survivor, she was a savior..
She didn’t have to, but she she did, Patience saved us..
~ ☆ “All of his questions, such a mournful sound.. Tonight I’m gonna bury that horse in the ground! So I like to keep my issues drawn.. But it’s always darkest before the dawn… Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa.. Shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, shake it out, ooh whoa! And it’s hard to dance with a DEVIL on your back.. Mmhmm, So shake’m off..” ~
I found myself sitting on a toilet I had just spewed my guts into, I was crouched over with my face in my hand, crying. It was the third morning since Patience had found us and lead us home to the Betty, I decided we would stay where we were for a couple days, just in case Loki was in the woods as well, he would be coming right here, it’s where’d he expect to find us. There was a soft tap on the door, and I could hear Buster barking in the background, probably at Kahlil.
“Sera.. Are you okay in there? It’s been awhile.. Do you think you are sick? I found some stuff left behind from Loki’s ‘medicine bag’ if you need something..” Patience offered from the other side of the thin cedar door, I sighed because she was right, I had been in here all morning, I was almost too afraid to find out the answer.
“I’m fine, just get everything situated, because today we leave.. I’d rather go looking for Loki than sit around doing nothing, it’s clear we are out of our league. If it makes everyone feel better, I’ll leave a note, and we could always come back later to see if there was sign of him. I’ll be ready to go in a couple minutes.”
I tried to sound assertive, brave even, I was the adult, these kids were looking to me for guidance, I had to be strong. Once again, for the fourteenth time that morning, I pulled the first aid kit onto my lap, I opened it and picked up the rectangular box, reading the instructions.
The whole process took twenty minutes, and by the end I had once again lost my nerve. Maybe it was because a part of me already knew the answer, I wasn’t stupid, I knew what the symptoms meant. The throwing up, the soreness, the swelling.. the fevers. I had seen countless go through this before me, I knew what was up before I even looked down to read the results.
“Fuck.. I’m pregnant.”