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The Den

The sun rose on a world ravaged by chaos and despair. Beyond the colossal decay, where the streets were littered with debris, and the air was thick with the stench of death, a survivor, Ethan, trekked.

It was the last day of Ethan’s journey. He had been on the run for months, constantly evading hordes of infected, and the monsters that hooted and hunted the forests. Scavenging for food and supplies. The weariness had taken its toll on him. There wasn’t a day he woke without pains. There wasn’t a journey he went on without dehydration lingering as a passenger.

In the early days, the cities and towns had been the most dangerous places to be. The infected were bad enough, but as more creatures crept in, other ailments were magnified. Starvation and disease spread like wildfire. Then, as the people dispersed, either to die alone or attempt to establish communities, the very graveyards of the cities became desolate safe havens. Without a food source, why would the infected stay? There were rumors of savage villages being re-established. Back when Ethan still had a community to call home, the raiders would come back to sell their findings. It was during these neo-lithic bartering moments that stories of crazed people would emerge. Many had said they were just the infected. Some had hinted that they were survivors that never left.

Ethan had no other hope now. The short-lived community he had survived with had fallen. Yet another tick on the clock to their extinction. But still, Ethan ventured on, hoping against despair that some of the rumors had truth to them. Through the desolate city, he couldn’t help but reminisce about the world that had once been. He remembered the laughter of children playing in the park, the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning, and the warmth of a hug from a loved one. Those memories seemed like distant echoes now, lost in the chaos of the apocalypse. The survivor communities were hollow echoes of those lives as well. Ethan couldn’t help but see that most were just trying to recreate some semblance of normalcy before they were horrifically slaughtered.

With each step forward, Ethan felt the weight of the world pressing down on him. He had lost everything. Friends and loved ones, comrades, the multitude of strangers, sacrificing themselves to save him and others. And for what? To come here and die of starvation? The guilt gnawed at his soul, but he knew that he had to keep going, try to find something worth salvaging.

As the sun reached its zenith, Ethan stumbled upon a small, abandoned church. The doors creaked open, inviting him in with a sense of hope. Inside, the atmosphere was heavy with silence, broken only by the distant hoots and howls of hunting packs. They must be starving, too. The infected had rarely been seen hunting in the daylight after the initial collapse.

He moved further into the darkness of the church. There was a rancid smell that lingered with the dust. His chest tensed with panic. The hairs along his neck spiked up. An icy sludge drenched his insides. This doesn’t feel like a church—I should seek shelter elsewhere. A hunting call stopped that thought.

Jesus they’re in the town.

Ethan darted down the center of the church. Misshapen lights of colors blurred the center from the stained glass. The central podium was cast into a dark shadow, where he sat with his back against the wall. He would have to wait until the pack wonder off. As long as he heard hoots, he would be fine. If things went suddenly quiet, well, he would have to figure it out if that happened.

Ethan sank down and rested, putting his backpack between his knees. He sipped what little water he had left as he listened to the hunting packs yip and hoot. It was like listening to coyotes, to imagine those things had once been human was, well, impossible had he not lived through it.

Suddenly, a faint noise caught Ethan’s attention. He pricked his ears and held his breath. It was a faint wail, followed by a choking cry. His heart skipped a beat. There’s no way there’s a child here.

Ethan gathered his things and drew the only protection he had, a snub-nosed revolver. He followed the sound to a back door that went into an administrative area of the church. The hall was long, and one of the office walls had partially collapsed from where something had been thrown through it. There were no windows going down the hall, leaving it a void of darkness the further it progressed.

Ethan disliked using his flashlight. It drew too much attention at night and batteries had become difficult to find, but this had to be an exception. The dim light from his flashlight only provided a beam that revealed just how much dust was flowing through the narrow hall.

Ethan homed in his hearing as an infant’s mewing came and then, grunting. An adult, in pain, straining. The woman groaned in pain.

How do the infected not hear this?

Ethan crept up to the room. The door had been torn off its hinges and thrown over the desks. The office was cluttered from some long forgotten struggle that had happened here. The moaning was loud, somewhere someone was suffering.

Ethan took a tentative step into the office, peering around the corner. A gray mass went crawling out of sight. His beam almost missed it. Was that a child? It certainly had looked like a child. A filthy child crawling away. There was a nook they had crawled to around another corner. Ethan could hear grunting and whimpering. The rancid smell was not as heavy here, but the thick wet smell of animal could choke a man. The weathered and fur like smell Ethan had only ever encountered with dogs.

Ethan swallowed a hard lump. He had to force his legs to take the next step. His human brain and his animal brain were in conflict. The beam danced around, catching the pale movement again.

His animal brain was right.

The light entrapped paste gray flesh. The nude little creature was a caricature of humanity. It had the legs of a young child, and somewhat of the body. The legs were long and wiry. The arms were longer, with large hands and claw tipped fingers. The jaw was pulled down into a snout, the lower jaw was split with two widening mandibles.

The wrenched thing hissed as it crawled onto the lap of a woman. The woman stirred. She wore tattered, soiled clothing that barely hung on her. In one arm, she held another abomination. The blazing insanity burned in her eyes.

“Jesus Chri-” Ethan squeezed a shot off. They’re breeding! The round slapped the woman in the shoulder. She screamed. Not a human scream. A call. A primal threat.

Like a howitzer, Ethan’s gun went off. The world is a series of flashing scenes. Like watching still images. He fired and fired. Soon the six cylinder clicked empty. Ethan backed up away from the scene. His light flickered as it tried to keep up with the small child thing that darted out.

Ethan screamed and went tumbling back over a turned over chair. His flashlight went spiraling off into the dark.

Ethan hurled himself down the hallway. He broke out into the main church and continued to propel himself down between the pews.

They’re breeding, they’re breeding! Oh my god. God-god-god!

Ethan was washed in the bright sunlight. The yipping and howling of the packs buzzed in the air all around.

Ethan hit the street and pumped his legs. Acid bathed his veins, and he pushed himself, and the hooting calls had stopped behind him as the packs had found something to pursue.

I hope you found this thrilling and an interesting start. I have a set of short stories I plan to write in relation to a series I am working on. Continue to check back for more each week.

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