The Charred Tree

Wake Up To Reality

This is a continuation of the InMon story from a month ago, The Unanswered Phone. If you’ve not yet read that story, I recommend you start there.  ~DBJ


Peter and Shaun ran through the fading twilight. Neither had a destination in mind, knowing only they needed to be far from the apartments and the chiming phone before the murderous creatures arrived to investigate. Their knowledge of the area since all hell broke loose almost a week ago was what could be seen from their windows. They avoided the jagged edges of a burned out bus and crossed Talbot Street into the unknown.

Howls bounced between the buildings on either side. Shaun held up a hand as he slowed to a walk before hunkering down next to a bus stop shelter. Peter knelt beside him.

How many? Shaun signed.

I don’t know. At least two, probably more. It’s hard to tell with all the echoes. Peter’s hands answered. His mouth was open and he struggled to pull air into aching lungs normally. He noted that Shaun’s respiration was slow and even, hardly winded. I should have gone to the gym with you more often instead of gaming on the computer.

The sky overhead still glowed with streaks of orange and yellow clouds banded against the rapidly dimming sky. You doing good. Too much sound. Feet on ground. Need quiet.

Peter looked around. Yes. Slower is less noise. Walk carefully. We need to find a safe place while we can still see. The power had gone out two days ago and soon they’d be unable to see in the urban gorges between the tall  structures. He had not realized how much he had taken streetlights for granted.  I didn’t realize it would get this dark so fast. No lights. Should have waited for morning.

Had to get out. Going crazy. Smell.

Peter nodded. I understand.

An inhuman wail split the air and both men held their breath. Rebounding from brownstone and steel it faded. Metal screeched and broken glass tinkled on concrete among the muted grunts, growls, and snarls. Peter pointed back the way they had come and shook his head. Shaun’s eyes shone white in the gloom.

Coffee shop. I have the key. Check it out? Peter had worked at the Bohemian Brew a few blocks away and opened the store several times each week. The front was covered with steel shutters and a thick back door secured the rear. If the place hadn’t been looted there would at least be coffee, maybe even some food however stale it might be.

Shaun bobbed his head leaned over the curb to look ahead. Several sedans were parked further ahead and an ambulance had two wheels up on the sidewalk on the far side. He could see no movement in either direction. Nothing. Go. I follow you.

Peter walked around the shelter to the walkway, Shaun a few steps behind. They crept through the dimness, careful of their steps to avoid stumbling into anything that might make betray them. An overturned garbage can and the scattered beer cans around it made progress slow and tiresome. A theater marquis at the end of the block provided cover as they check the crossroad for danger. The moon was low in the east and shone into the valley of Kensington Street. Silver light turned the car-strewn pavement into a mosaic of shadows, each as likely to hide danger as safety. Cries of pain and anger torn from once human throats came from beyond Talbot. They waited and watched for several minutes.

Peter edged toward the curb when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Panic ripped through his body and he barely stopped himself from crying out. He turned. Shaun held a single finger to his lips and pointed into the darkness beyond the intersection. Peter looked and froze. There was movement at the far end of the block. Shaun tapped his shoulder and gestured behind them. They retreated to the deepest shadows near the movie house doors.

Peter and Shaun heard it getting closer—an empty soda bottle skittering across the paving, the bang and roll of an empty trash can, metal scraping against metal. Whatever was down there was hidden from view by a wall of posters announcing the blockbusters of the summer. Heavy footfalls grinding broken glass into the blacktop mingled with a rhythmic scraping and wheezing.

A figure emerged from the shadows on the across the street. Muscles bunched and slid under tattooed skin exposed above tattered jeans. Two others slunk behind him, a tall woman in a pale sundress and a man dressed in the remnants of a business suit. Business Suit’s left foot was turned outward on an obviously broken ankle and he drug it with each step. Tattoo stood at the center line and cocked his head to each side, listening for anything that might mean prey. Sundress breathed heavily. Her nose was at a strange angle amid a mass of dried blood that obscured the rest of her features. Their crouched posture and hanging arms reminded Peter of the gargoyles that guarded the cathedral in the old part of the city.

Peter and Shaun sat motionless in their hiding place. Peter silently cursed himself for not having thought to bring something to use as a weapon. A butcher knife, the bat in the back corner of his closet, anything but his bare hands. But he realized it would be useless if they were discovered. Shaun tried to will air into their lungs without moving.

After minutes that seemed like hours, glass broke somewhere in the distance to their left. Tattoo’s head jerked to face the disturbance. Business Suit did likewise but Sundress seemed to strain to hear something off to the right in Kensington—the same direction as the coffee shop.

A bellow rose from several blocks away and the creatures ran toward it. Shaun gripped Peter’s shoulder and pack in anticipation of the expected attack but it never came. The weighty thuds of Tattoo’s boots, Sundress’s labored rasping, and Business Suit’s painfully grating gait faded with distance. Peter’s lungs burned and he realized he’d not been breathing. The false thunder of something heavy crashing into sheet metal boomed. Shaun and Peter remained motionless until the movement continue beyond the bus.

Almost there. You ready? Peter signed.

Shaun nodded. Quiet. Maybe more.

Crossing Kensington in the stark moonlight made them both nervous but it made avoiding debris in their path easier. The property housing Bohemian Brew was an old building with thick walls of brick and mortar. The shutters protecting the storefront were intact and Shaun kept watch on the road while Peter went to the back door. Peter pulled the keyring from his pocket and cringed as the keys slapped together. He could see Shaun’s silhouette at the alley entrance turn and make a gesture that said better than words or sign:  Keep it down! The key slid into the lock and turned with no effort only a soft clink. Peter waved to Shaun to join him.

Peter felt a moment’s panic when he opened the door, expecting the security alarm warning chime to go off, but the lack of electricity kept the place as still as a tomb. The place smelled of coffee and moldy bread. That would be the pastries in the case, Peter thought. He made sure the bolt was turned and carefully lowered the metal bar to further secure the door. Shaun turned on his flashlight and the storeroom appeared around them. Everything was where it had been left the night before people started killing their neighbors.

“Don’t take the light beyond the door,” Peter whispered. “The shutters are strong but they aren’t solid.”

Shaun glared at Peter. Talk not safe. Sign.

Fine. But it’s been three days since I spoke a word. This place is safe. Steel shutters. Thick walls. Heavy door.

Heard Mrs. Getcham from street. Talk not safe. D-A-M-N-… Shaun lost patience and hissed, “Damnit, Peter, wake up to the new reality—those bastards home in on sound. Silence is our refuge. Get with the program, man.” He pulled a bottle of mineral water from a cardboard box and box of goldfish crackers from the shelf. He walked to the door. Peter heard the flashlight click and blackness filled the room.

Author’s Note: This story was started in response to an Inspiration Monday prompt from a couple weeks back.


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3 thoughts on “Wake Up To Reality

  1. Cool next part! Favorite line: “Everything was where it had been left the night before people started killing their neighbors.” Somehow that really brings it home.

  2. Pingback: Inspiration Monday: footprints on the moon « BeKindRewrite

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