by Chip R. Yde
The black armored car made its way across Gateway Bridge. The eight souls on board left the safety and comfort of the domed city behind.
The Dome blocked out the horizon behind the vehicle. Besides being mankind’s greatest technological achievement it was also the largest structure ever constructed. Having the color and consistency of a perfect pearl it was nearly impenetrable.
The residents of the city inside strived for perfection as well.
Others did not. The anarchy of the lawless Reservations waited for the occupants of the armored car on the other end of the bridge. Like stray dogs loitering in the stinking alley behind a fine restaurant refugees lived off the scraps of the great city. Ahead lay dangers both real and imagined.
The car was tough. Not as tough as the Dome, which was nearly indestructible, but tough enough to keep the government censors inside safe. On top of the vehicle a machine gun was mounted and manned. It swiveled back and forth ready to fire at any enemy.
Inside the commander, Captain Franks, snoozed in the passenger seat. His Regulators in the back slept as well while the driver and machine gunner stayed alert. Franks slumber was interrupted when the armored car left the smooth surface of the bridge for the uneven pavement of the reservation. He decided he did not want to suffer alone.
“Everybody up!” Captain Franks ordered from the passenger seat. He then put his head against the door, closed his eyes and tried to return to his own slumber.
The five regulators in back sat up. They busied themselves double checking the straps on their body armor and preparing their gear.
“My flame throwers busted.” West complained after inspecting it twice.
“I thought you were going to get that fixed.” Kessel asked. He was the squad’s lone noncommissioned officer and second in command to Franks.
“They burnt the repair manuals during the last book bonfire.”
“Great. I guess the Assembly really has run out of books to torch. Trade out with Connors.”
“Hey!” Connors gripped his flame unit like a greedy child clutching a teddy bear.
“I think we’ll all feel safer with you unarmed pyro. We’re on a snatch and burn mission today. If I let you go hog wild again you’re likely to burn down the entire Reservation.”
“It was only a couple of buildings last time.” Connors argued.
“How many refugees were inside those buildings?” West jumped into the argument.
“Stopped the plague from spreading didn’t it?” Connors smiled as he passed the flame unit to West.
Cummins, a petite girl who Kessel figured had lied about her age on her enlistment papers, popped a suppressant. Using a syringe in a moving vehicle proved more difficult than she had anticipated as she poked herself twice before finding a vein. At last she pumped the clear liquid into her body and immediately felt the effects.
“Freaking junkie.” Vynn said. She was the other female on the squad. With her military background she had little mercy for anyone.
“It k..k..keeps me sharp.” Cummins replied. Her pupils were the size of nickels now. She smiled focusing on something in the distance only she could see.
“Some of us take pride in our work.” Vynn said rubbing her shaved head. “That keeps us sharp.”
Cummins ignored her. Her arm continued to bleed where she had been clumsy with her needle.
“Cummins watch the blood.” Kessel cried. It was too late. Red droplets made their way onto Kessel’s black leather boots. “For goodness sakes!”
The other four laughed as Kessel dug out an alcohol pad from his pocket and began scrubbing the blood up. Satisfied that he had gotten all of it he tossed the dirty pad out the gun port. His face was a pinched in a scowl when he looked up.
“Do you all know how many germs can be passed like that?” Kessel only succeeded in getting them to laugh more. “You won’t be laughing when you pick up a bug and your nose is rotting off. The Reservations are full of disease. West, you grew up out here. How many people did you know who died during the epidemic?”
“Too many.” West said without looking up. He stared at the floor and cradled Connor’s flamethrower in his lap. “Are we there yet?”
The squad found no more need for conversation as they made their way to the target. The day had just started and they were already sick of one another. They sat in silence as the driver maneuvered the armored car down abandoned roads between dilapidated buildings.
Structures that had not been maintained for decades could be seen passing by the gun port. Broken windows. Broken columns. Dust was the only thing holding some of them together.
Detours were necessary twice due to Reservation natives blocking the road with abandoned vehicles and furniture.
“They know we’re coming.” The driver called back to Kessel.
“Any fool could see us come across that bridge.” Kessel declared.
“We should mobilize with choppers like in the old days.” Vynn suggested.
“They burnt those manuals too.” West reminded her.
Kessel nodded. There was no other way to leave the city now except in an armored car or on foot.
On foot was suicide. A lone Domer did not last long among the natives.
An armored car meant state censors and that meant more regulations. He knew as well as anyone that there were no secrets in the Reservations. The natives scurried for their hiding places as soon as the car left the geodesic domes of Utopia city.
The next several minutes Kessel spent looking out of the gun port. Dilapidated buildings and decaying sidewalks were all he saw. The only signs of life were barrel fires that had been left burning after the refugees had fled.
Even with no one to be seen on the streets, Kessel was sure eyes were watching the car. A half a dozen times he saw movement in a window or a doorframe. Word had gotten around.
There were three words being whispered on the lips of every poor soul who called the Reservation home.
Regulators are coming.
Kessel looked into the cab. Captain Franks continued to sleep peacefully in the passenger seat. Kessel gave up his watch and sat back. If the Captain was not worried then why should he.
The armored car continued on through the twisting streets of the Reservation. At last they came to a stop in front of ancient remains of a building. It looked institutional with few windows. Kessel guessed that it had been a school once. He just did not entirely know for sure what a school was. It was something that had ended before he was born, but people still talked about it.
There was not a piece of glass on the whole building that was not cracked or broken. The entire structure looked like a gaping mouth with busted teeth. Too long without repair, the school was unsalvageable. The foundation and all the walls were dangerously unstable. It was just a matter of a time now. It may have a few months or maybe only hours until it collapsed. Either way before long the building would return to the earth.
“Looks clear!” The machine gunner yelled from his mount on the roof of the car.
There was a collective sigh from the occupants. They all knew that no matter how it looked that was not true.
Kessel took one last look out the gun port. The gunner was right. There was no sign of life. Unfortunately that was not an entirely good thing.
“Move out.” Franks ordered in a half yawn.
The five Regulators piled out of the back of the car. When everyone was out Kessel used a handkerchief to pass out the gear. Everyone except Connor got a flamethrower. Vynn got the squad’s only gun, a clunky submachine gun that Kessel had little confidence in. Kessel kept the radio for himself.
“I promise I’ll be good Kessel.” Connor made one last plea for his flamethrower.
“Sorry brother. You’ll have to use your lighter.”
“Fine.” Connor reached past Kessel and grabbed a bandolier of thermal grenades from the pile of equipment. He hesitated a moment and then picked up a canister of accelerant as well. Everyone else, including Vynn, shared an uneasy look.
“Just don’t burn down the building until we’re out of it alright Connor.” Kessel asked.
Connor grunted in reply.
Kessel headed for the driver’s side door. He had to knock twice to get Franks attention. Franks waved his hands indicating that he was not going to open the door and instead yelled through the bulletproof glass at his NCO.
“What is it?”
“You coming with us sir?” He asked.
“No.” Franks cleared his throat. Kessel guessed he was trying to figure out what else to say. “I’ll supervise the operation from here. Call me on the radio if you really need to.”
He rejoined the other four at the entrance of the school.
“Is Hero coming?” Vynn asked.
“What do you think?”
“Great.” West said.
Kessel said what was on everyone’s mind. “Let’s get this over with.”
The doors of the main entrance were falling off their joints. Kessel used his handkerchief to push them aside. Vynn went in first with the submachine gun.
“Are we expecting trouble?” Cummins asked. Her bright smile showed that she was still feeling the drug.
“The nonconformist were disarmed years ago. The two civil wars and the plagues have taken the fight out of them. Still it doesn’t hurt to be careful.” West explained. “Stay close rookie and you’ll be alright.”
The inside of the school was littered with nonconformists. They lined both sides of the hallway. Some had small fires going. Others clutched bags and boxes that were their only earthly possessions. They squeezed them tightly when they saw the squad enter.
There were hundreds of them.
“Make a path maggots!” Vynn ordered. It was unnecessary. The fearful looks they received told them that they would have no resistance from the vagrants.
“This place stinks.” Kessel pulled out another handkerchief and put it over his face. The nonconformists were clearly starving. Most of them were just skin and bones. Many of them were also infested with plague. Open sores were oozing with blood and puss on their arms and faces.
Kessel was appalled, but he knew the plague was also a blessing. If it kept up in a few years there would be no conformists left in the Reservations. Then there would just be the Dome and nothing else.
The world in total.
Deep in his heart though he suspected there would always be a Reservation. In reality the Dome needed the reservation more than the reservation needed the Dome. There would always need to be somewhere to put those who did not fit in.
Vynn led the way through the building. She knew her way around from her days in the Marines. .
“This is it.” Vynn came to a stop in front of what had once been a lecture room.
“Connor get the door.”
“You get it.” Connor said. He was determined to be difficult until he got his flamethrower back.
“I got the last one.” Kessel thought of the sick nonconformists in the hallway. “I’m not touching anything else if I can help it.”
“Fine.” Connor grabbed the door handle and turned it. Nothing happened. “It’s locked.”
“Let’s go back.” Cummins suggested.
“Screw that. I’ll blow it open.” Vynn took aim on the door.
“Wait.” Kessel put his hand on the barrel of her machine gun. “Just wait.” He knocked on the door with his elbow so he would not have to touch it with his bare skin. This uniform was destined for the incinerator anyway. “State Censors! Open up in there!”
Cummins laughed out loud for no reason startling everyone. They all turned to look at her. She kept giggling while everyone put their attention back to the door.
No one answered from inside the room, but there was the sound of breathing coming from the other side of the door. Then there was the creaking of the floor and the sound of hurried footsteps. It was clear somebody was in there.
“Baker talked.” Kessel continued. “We know what you have in there. We are going to get it one way or the other.”
Franks had briefed Kessel on the Baker case file before they left the city. Justin Baker had been a nonconformist. He decided that he could not take life in the Reservations anymore. Utopia City welcomed him as they welcomed anyone who wanted to start over. Baker had spent six weeks in the Reeducation Camps. At the end of the reprogramming he had confessed all his secrets. Everyone did. Now he was a full citizen who enjoyed three meals a day.
Kessel was not sure if he should make another threat or let Vynn go at it with the gun. The decision was made for him when the door was unlocked from the inside.
They all tensed as the door opened slightly. A giant stood there. He was nearly seven feet tall with the features of a child. He stuck his ten year old face out the door.
“Dwight I presume. Let us in.” Kessel ordered.
The seven foot tall idiot mumbled something unintelligible back. In the process he sprayed spittle in Kessel’s face. That sent the NCO to his knees. He dropped both of his handkerchiefs and his flamethrower. He struggled with his uniform as he searched his pockets for a bottle of sanitizer.
Vynn did not wait for anymore orders. She kicked the door in. The giant retreated into the room.
Cummins started laughing again. This time West joined her.
With her machine gun cocked and ready Vynn charged into the lecture hall with Connor on her heals. The other three stumbled in after them.
Other than the giant idiot the room’s only other occupant was an old man so starved he looked like a clothesline that someone had hung a skin jacket on.
“Hands up!” Vynn ordered waving her gun in every direction.
“Please, just leave us alone. ”
“I told you last time we had better not run into you again Johns.” Kessel said as he wiped his face. He struggled to get to his feet.
“We’ve heard it all before Johns. Baker told us all about the contraband you’re hiding here. Give it to us and we’ll be gone quickly. Get in our way and we’ll throw you on the fire too.” Vynn said.
Connor ignored them all. He was set on his objective. Attacking a false wall on the opposite side of the room he quickly unlocked a dark secret. He tore off a false circuit breaker box. The hidden compartment held the treasure they were after.
“Books! Lots of books.” Connor was pleased with himself. He began pulling them out and dropping them on the floor. “He has a lot of special interest targets.” Connor held up a copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
“Dozens. You could be facing the electric chair old man.” Vynn sneered.
“Please no. Justin would never have gone to the Dome if he understood what you people would do to him. He was starving and trying to take care of his brother, Dwight.” Johns indicated the retarded man. “It was too much for him. He promised he wouldn’t say anything, but I knew better. I knew he would talk whether he wanted to or not.”
Connor hummed while he unloaded the stash. Cummins and West helped him pile them up in the center of the room. Many of the books were very old and their bindings came apart as they were thrown on the pile.
“Reading is forbidden. Books confuse people. Make them angry. That’s how wars start.” Kessel explained.
“You have no idea the danger you are in.” Johns said. It was not the type of thing a criminal would say. They were normally begging at this point. Everyone paused.
“Don’t threaten us Johns or you won’t have to wait for the Assembly to execute you.” Vynn barked back at him.
“I am begging you to just turn around and leave. For your own sakes if nothing else.”
Connor dug the last armful of books out of their hiding place. He dumped a stack of Bibles and two copies of the Koran in the pile. Next he got busy dumping igniter on top of it. He dumped half the can of accelerant on the pile.
“Stop. That’s enough.” Kessel grabbed his arm.
“Fine.” Connor drained a little more fuel out of the can to show his rebellion and then stopped. Retrieving a butane lighter from his belt he prepared to start the inferno.
“Connor no! You’ll light yourself on fire. West use your flamethrower.”
West, looking unhappy with the task stepped forward. He hesitated with his finger on the trigger. Looking at the others he realized he did not have a choice. He sent a stream of fire into the pile. The fire was instant and intense.
Connor and Cummins smiled.
“Job well done!” Kessel announced.
“You forgot one.” Vynn said staring at West.
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t pull that shit with me. I saw you pocket that book. So did the old man. I think it’s why he finally shut up.”
“West is this true? You’ve been warned twice before. Do you want to go back to the Reeducation Camps?”
“I don’t know what she’s talking about Kessel.”
“Give it up West.” Vynn lowered her gun and leapt on him. They struggled and from his left cargo pocket she pulled out a book. Stunned West grappled and they played tug of war with an ancient leather bound book.
“Break it up!” Kessel ordered. He tried to get between them. The struggled ended with the book coming apart. Vynn got the best of it and the rest ended up on the floor. West held only the front cover.
“No. Don’t.” The old man rushed Vynn. She pushed him away and threw her half of the book on the burning pile with the others.
West threw a punch. It connected with her lower jaw. Blood flowed from her mouth. She fished inside her mouth and pulled out a tooth.
“That book is pure evil. It is full of dark power.” Johns was upset.
“I could not agree more.” Kessel realized that he was losing control of the situation. With two of his Regulators ready to kill each other the situation was unstable. Arresting Johns would have to wait for another day. “All the more reason to destroy it. Consider yourself warned Johns. We better not have to come down here for you again. Let’s get out of here.”
“But…” West mumbled cradling the books cover.
“West I’ll deal with you later.”
“Necronomicon.” West said.
“Necronomicon. The book is the Necronomicon.”
Kessel had forgotten West could read. He had learned during his youth in the Reservations. Due to his recent behavior Kessel was beginning to think the reprogramming West had received in the Reeducation Camps had not been entirely successful.
“What language is that?” Connor looked at the black leather cover and the mysterious words on it.
“One that isn’t spoken anymore.” West answered.
“That book is on the alpha priority list.” Vynn was excited.
“Has anyone ever had an alpha priority bust before?” Kessel asked.
“We all get promoted for this.” Vynn declared.
“Except for West because he’s a criminal.” Cummins said.
“And except for Cummins because she’s a screw up.” West looked like he was fighting back tears.
Vynn took advantage of West’s distraction to grab the remains of the book from him.
“You..” West was ready to leap on her.
“Knock it off! All of you.” Kessel ordered. He searched through his pockets for his state issued camera. “Let’s get a picture of us burning this baby and get the hell out of here.”
Vynn threw the book into the fire.
“That wasn’t so hard now was it?” Vynn gave a crooked smile.
“Time to call it a day.” Kessel said.
The air in the room became very thin. The fire began to burn out.
Suddenly West vomited.
“You can’t leave. None of us can now.” Johns was getting creepier by the second.
“What are you babbling about old man?” Vynn was loosing patience.
“You don’t understand. That book. It cannot die.”
That’s when things got weird.
Without warning West dived into the fire. He was waist deep in flame searching for the Necronomicon.
Cummins grabbed him by the collar and hauled him out. Her arm was burnt in the process. Thanks to the wonders of her trusted pharmaceuticals she did not feel a thing. West had managed to grab the book. It disintegrated in his hands.
Connor padded West down with a blanket. His face was in terrible pain. He clutched the book with claw like hands. Finger bones stuck through his hand’s ragged, burnt flesh.
“Are you alright?”
West screamed. Cummins took a step back. Everyone did. The giant Dwight was the only one who dared approach.
“West we’re going to get you to a doctor. You’re going to be alright.”
“It’s…..dark…..in…..here.” West said.
It was beyond anyone’s comprehension. It happened right in front of the old man and the Regulators, but their minds did not comprehend what their eyes were seeing.
“Should I shoot them?” Vynn said after a while breaking the silence.
“Uh.” It was the only response Kessel could come up with. He wanted to look away, but despite his best efforts he could not.
West had grabbed the giant with his claws hands. Now their bodies were in the process of merging and growing. West was absorbing the giant through his skin. Or maybe the giant was absorbing West. Or both.
Kessel vomited. Connor stood there with his mouth gaping. Cummins, unable to deal with the situation, searched for another syringe to enhance her mood. Vynn, not knowing what else to do, shot the old man. Johns collapsed into a pile on the floor.
“We need to get out of here.” Kessel ordered.
“Vynn shoot it for fuck’s sake.” Connor said.
The West/Dwight thing stood up on the giant’s legs. West’s arms and legs came out of the lump of flesh at every conceivable angle. Whatever they had become looked like it was in terrible pain.
Suddenly two pairs of eyes glared at the four remaining Regulators.
The creature moaned.
“Let’s go! Now!” Kessel grabbed Connor and shoved him toward the door. Cummins came along and dropped the empty syringe she had just spiked with on the ground. Vynn stood her ground.
“Cowards.” Vynn said. “We need to take care of this.”
“It’s the plague. It’s mutated somehow. We need to get help.” Kessel argued. When he saw there was no changing her mind he headed for the door.
Vynn began firing at the creature. That got the thing’s attention. It advanced on her.
Kessel tripped over the old man on the way out. He fell face first onto the floor. Spitting he hoped he did not swallow anything contagious. As he rose to his feet a hand gripped his ankle.
“Take me with you.” Johns pleaded. “I know what to do.”
Kessel hesitated. He took a look back into the room. The creature was moving itself between Vynn and the door. His decision was made. He helped the old man up and dragged him into the hall.
Cummins and Connor were waiting for him at the corner of the next corridor. Cummins had a far away look on her face. Connor had taken her flamethrower. He held it in his hands charged and ready.
“This went badly.” Cummins observed.
“Where’s Vynn?” Connor asked.
“She’s trying to kill it.” Kessel answered.
“We can’t leave her.”
“If this is some kind of new plague then we need to let the Assembly know. Not get killed down here. Vynn can take care of herself.”
“It’s not the plague. It’s something much worse.” Johns interjected. He choked on blood with every word. “It’s Massa. It’s the first.”
Kessel ignored him and lead the group back the way they came in.
“No.” Johns said. “There’s a faster way.” The old man pointed down another hallway.
“Sounds good.” Kessel began dragging the old man down the hallway.
“What? Are you putting him in charge now?” Connor protested.
“Now!” Kessel did not even turn around. Cummins followed without comment.
Connor turned back to the room. The machine gun fire was steady now. After a moments hesitation he followed the others.
Kessel pulled the radio from the holster on his belt. “Commander. Commander. Do you read me?”
“Kessel? Can’t hear….Call….later….Kess.”
“It’s probably the structure. They used to make them out of metal you know.” Connor said.
“Wait I’ve got an idea.” Cummins announced. She looked excited.
“Well?” Kessel asked.
“Well what?” Cummins said not knowing what they were talking about.
“Shut up Cummins.” Connor was aggravated. He looked at Kessel. “What do you want to do?”
“Let’s get back to the armored car and report his.” Kessel saw no other course of action.
“Man she is giving that thing hell.” Connor referred to the machine gun fire. “Judging by the pauses she’s reloaded three times.”
“Yeah she’s a…” As Kessel was about to expound her virtues the shooting abruptly stopped. “It got her.”
“Or she got it.”
A scream echoed down the hallway. It was Vynn.
Connor looked like he wanted to say something, but the words escaped him. They all knew that there was nothing to say that was going to make this alright.
“Let’s get out of here.” Kessel started dragging the old man again.
They continued down the maze of corridors.
“Not the plague.” John’s was trying to talk despite the bullets in his chest and stomach. “Not the plague. It’s Massa.”
“What?” Kessel asked. The group turned another corner. A dead end awaited them where the roof had collapsed. Despite the old man’s promise of a shortcut it seemed that they were moving deeper into the building.
“What’s going on? Where are you taking us?” Connor had had enough.
“Not plague. It’s…demons. Necronomicon is dark magic. Bad magic. Massa. Massa.”
“What did that word mean?”
“It’s Latin. Dead language. Course they are all dead now thanks to you and your masters.”
“The Regulators ensure peace…”
“Shut up.” Johns ordered. Kessel did. “God that felt good. The demon is Massa. It means Mass. Imprisoned in the book. You released him. Now it is going to eat and get bigger. That is all it knows to do. That is all it does. It gets bigger.” A coughing fit interrupted the old man’s explanation. When he caught his breath he continued. “In the basement, the old pool, there is a weapon that can kill it. I hid it there in case of emergency. We must get to it.”
“We’re Regulators, not soldiers. I’m getting my people out of here and getting help. You can tell all this to the Assembly.”
“Rather die than go there.”
“You’ll probably die before we get there.” Cummins patted his shoulder.
Distant machine gun fire echoed down the hallway.
“No.” Kessel put his hand over his face. “It’s a heavy machine gun. Fifty caliber. The thing is attacking the armored car.”
“Nothing can take on a fifty caliber and live.”
The shooting stopped.
“Oh…No…please…Aaaaah.” Came through Kessel’s radio. There was a high pitched squeal and then nothing. Static was the only thing that remained on the frequency.
“Now we’re trapped here.” Connor noted.
“There is no escape. There never was. You must kill it.” Johns argued.
“This weapon. It can do that?” Kessel was unconvinced.
“Yes. If not it will absorb us all.”
“You saw what it did to your friend and my nephew. I think you know what I mean.”
“What do you think Connor?”
“My mother used to have a Bible hidden in her mattress before she was arrested and executed. She used to talk about angels and demons a lot before I turned her in. I never believed any of it.” Connor smiled. “It’s bulletproof. So what? Let’s try to burn it.”
“Any thoughts Cummins?”
“I’m on a pretty big spike right now. I think I took too much.” She examined her hands. “What were we talking about?”
“Concrete will burn if you get it hot enough.” Connor was getting himself worked up.
“How do we get to the pool?” Kessel asked Johns.
“I thought we could get through here, but the collapsed roof is blocking the way. We’ll have to go back the way we came and go through the gymnasium.”
“Let’s see how tough this thing is after I shove ten thermal charges down its throat.” Connor shook his bandolier.
“Can I lie down for a while?” Cummins asked.
Kessel squeezed his temples. A headache was coming on.
“Alright. Let’s go.” Kessel ordered.
The four went back the way they came. The door to the lecture hall was torn off and lying in the hallway. They hurried past and headed for the main hallway. Connor made a discovery as they turned the corner.
“Where are all the refugees?”
He was right. The building looked deserted.
“It’s him. The demon. It is taking on mass.”
A wailing came from the entrance. It sounded like the screams of dozens of people in unison.
“Let’s get moving.”
“No. Let’s ambush it.” Connor raised Cummins flame unit.
“The three of us together plus these grenades.” Connor shook his bandolier. “There isn’t any animal in the world that doesn’t run from fire.”
“No. The old man said…”
“You gonna believe him. Are you forgetting it was his book that this thing was hiding in?”
“A book you burned.”
“You guys do what you want. I’m staying right here.” Connor had made up his mind.
The other three left Connor where he was. Kessel took one look back. Connor was preparing his trap at the hallway intersection. He hesitated momentarily before joining the others. They were halfway down the stairwell when Kessel caught up to them.
“It stinks down here.” Cummins made another startling observation.
“No one comes down here. That’s why it makes a good hiding place.”
Kessel helped Cummins carry the old man down the stairs. Cummins was not much help so the old man ended up being dragged. Taking one step at a time she started giggling again.
“It’s through there.” The old man pointed to a doorway to a large open room.
Kessel did not have to read the sign over the door to know it was the gym. He imagined all the sports teenagers used to play in here. The ball games were all over now.
A high pitched scream erupted from the way they came.
A roar followed.
Against his better judgment Kessel grabbed Cummins by the shoulders. Her glazed eyes stared back at him.
“Take him. I’m going back for Connor.” He pushed the old man in her arms.
“I think Connor’s dead.” Cummins said.
“If I don’t come back…come after me.”
“OK.” Cummins gave him a clumsy thumbs up.
Kessel, unburdened by the drugged Cummins and the injured old man, made it back to the main corridor in a third of a time it took to get to the gym. Even before he turned the last corner he could feel the heat from the inferno.
Priming his flame unit he crept up to the last turn. The weapon was ready when he peeked around the corner. Connor was in the center of the hallway. His empty bandolier was on the ground at his feet. The Regulator’s entire body was engulfed in flame.
Kessel got his first good look at the beast. It was large now. Massa had grown larger than an elephant and with an impossible number of limbs. The creature that was engulfed in flames as well. It was rolling around on the ground trying to put itself out. Scabs caused by Connors attack cracked open as it struggled with the fire. Puss and blood poured out onto the floor.
Connor was in bad shape as well. The flames that licked his body did not prevent him from continuing his attack. Kessel could see he had about had it. There was nothing he could do for him.
He had lived by fire and was about to die by fire.
He headed back to join the others. On the way back he found a security door inset on the left side of the hallway. After yanking for a few seconds the rusty jail bar door slid on its rails. Kessel feared the lock was long ago nonfunctional, but he was rewarded with a click when he got it to the other wall. Kessel looked back at his work. The door was old and rickety. He still held out hope that it would slow down if not stop the beast.
He found the others in the aquatics room. Cummins was on her knees looking at her reflection in the dark, scummy water.
She did not look up.
“I put him over there.” She pointed toward the bleachers. “He had a lot of blood coming out of him and I couldn’t get it back into him.”
The old man was lying in between the bleachers. Judging by the blood on the ground Kessel knew he had reached his final destination. Kessel cursed himself for not bandaging his wounds. He still needed the old man for a little while longer.
“Johns. You still alive?”
The old man twitched.
“Where’s the weapon?”
“Destroyed it all. Not your fault. Its mine. People like me. When the so-called reformists started making noise we compromised. Compromised too much. Gave it all away.”
“Where’s the weapon old man?”
“The pool. In the far drain.”
A high pitched screech came from somewhere in the building.
The screech changed tones and became a low buzz. Suddenly birds came flying through the windows of the building. Doves, pigeons and crows fought for space as they move inside as one flock. They shattered what windows were left intact.
“It’s taking on more mass.”
Rats and mice now began pouring out of cracks in the walls. They followed the birds down the corridor toward the demon.
“Put something in your ears.” The old man tore off pieces of his bloody shirt. “We are not immune.”
Kessel found alcohol wipes in his pocket. He shoved them into his ears muffling most of the noise.
“Cummins.” Kessel called out. “Plug your ears with something.”
When he received no answer he turned to look at her. She was no longer at the pool. Looking around Kessel spotted her heading toward the gym in the direction of the demon.
“Do you hear the pretty music?”
With that she was gone.
“No!” Kessel started after her.
“Let her go!” Johns screamed. “She was worthless anyway. Get the weapon!”
Kessel was taken by surprise. He was angry, but the old man was right.
“What is it?”
The old man laughed. “You’ll know it when you find it.”
Running to the ladder Kessel made his way down into the pool. Even with the demon bearing down on him his mind began to wander to what kind of bacteria was in the slime ridden pool. Distracted Kessel slipped on the third step and went spread eagle into the pool. The water was deeper than he thought. He struggled to get his beneath him.
“Oh no.” Kessel screamed. Some of the water splashed into his mouth. He spit, but it was too late. He could only imagine what disease he would get from this. His hands found the handkerchiefs in his pocket. They were drenched as well. He dropped them into the water and got to his feet.
“I can’t do this!” Kessel yelled. If the old man heard him he did not answer.
Kessel worked toward the center of the pool where the drain was. He wondered how he would find it when his foot sank into something deep. He twisted his ankle pulling his leg out of there. The pain was so intense he suspected he had broken it.
The drain was deep. There was no way to get to it without putting his head under water.
A sudden crashing came from the hallway past the gym.
Massa was at the security door. Kessel was sure it had gotten too big to get through the corridors now. There was no doubt in his head the thing was coming through the walls.
Without another moment of hesitation Kessel dove beneath the water. Putting his hands in the drain he searched blindly for the weapon. Just as his breath was running out his right hand seized upon something hard. Gripping it Kessel pulled with all his weight bringing it and himself toward the surface.
Moving like a man possessed he tore up the ladder ignoring the pain in his knee and ankle.
The beast was close now. There was a crashing noise and then the sound of splitting wood that told Kessel the demon had reached the gym. The bleachers were in his way.
Tearing the fabric away from his prize Kessel was surprised that it was so small. He could only guess that it was poison. Beneath the fabric was a plastic bag. Kessel opened it and found himself looking at two pieces of paper. They looked like pages from the book Necronomicon. The book they had burned.
Kessel raced over to the old man.
“Get up. Get up.” Kessel shook the old man. This time he did not stir. “Please wake up. Please.”
Johns looked him in the eye. “Massa is not the only demon in the book. This is only the beginning.”
With that the old man was dead.
“Don’t go.” Kessel could find on the old man no breath or pulse. “Don’t go. I can’t read.”
The doors into the aquatics room began to creak under the weight of the monster. Mass was on top of him. Kessel figured he may be the only one alive in the building. Of course the others were still alive. They were just part of it now.
Kessel did the only thing he could think of.
He went through the door on the opposite wall. He had no idea where he was going. He did not care. He just kept running.
“When I got outside I could see the building was on fire.”
Kessel finished recounting the events of his last mission. Sitting on a raised platform, watching him, was the Assembly.
“Yes Sergeant. The inferno has spread across a large area of the reservation.” The Spokeswoman explained. She and the six others did not look happy.
That did not bode well for Kessel.
“Anyway I found the armor car right where we’d left it. There was no sign of the captain or the driver. I mean other than the driver’s door being tore off. There was a lot of blood though.”
“Do you have any other evidence to add to your testimony?” The Spokeswoman asked.
“Well I brought the two pages that the old man hid in the pool. They were seized and quarantined at the city gates.”
“Yes sergeant. Trying to sneak written material past a check point is a serious offence. You could pollute the whole city.”
“I didn’t try to sneak them. I told the master of arms that I had them. May I ask where they are now?”
“Destroyed. Destroyed by the master of arms.”
“We might need those. The old man, Johns, he seemed to think that nothing else would stop this thing. If this creature ‘absorbs’ the entire population of the reservations it could be very big.”
“That is enough Sergeant Kessel.”
“The only thing we can hope is that it wanders into the wasteland beyond the reservations. In any case we should get ready.”
“Enough!” The Spokeswoman ordered. “I think we have heard all we need to hear. You are ordered to confinement until we transfer you to the Reeducation Camps Sergeant Kessel.”
Kessel said nothing. It would not make a difference anyway.
With that it was over.
Kessel made himself comfortable in his cell. They listened politely, but they did not believe his story. The only thing he could be thankful for was escaping the electric chair.
He was almost asleep when he heard the city alarm go off. It was a relic from the last war. The whistle was meant to warn of a gas attack, but it was mainly used for tornado warnings now. Ever since they built the Dome to block out the sky the city was immune to both.
And it was not tornado season.
The city defense cannons began rumbling to life less than a minute later confirming Kessel’s worst fears.
Kessel knew the alarm was ringing for something much, much worse.No tags for this post.