Ruins… part I
Michael D. Griffiths
Dust, the world had turned to dust. So much dust that they had lost the road. Tying a rag over his mouth, Phillip could not help but wonder how someone could lose a road. Laughing silently, he figured that if anyone could pull it off it would be him.
Phillip was often called the man in brown, which matched his last name of Brownhurst. Form his sorrel colored fedora, to his aged leather overcoat; mixtures of browns and tans covered his body. This included his rather overgrown hair and his one remaining eye.
Returning to his truck, he climbed in without saying a word.
“So,” Ann prompted.
“It is like a Steinbeck nightmare out there.”
“What around the road Phillip?” Ann’s beautiful face was creased with concern.
They had been through a lot over the last month and most of it bad. She had held up like the marvel she was, never complaining, always helpful, even when their lives had been awful.
Their plan to explore the post invasion world had been a good one and all of the leaders of Barricade had supported it. Yes, the humans had beaten back the off world Caradon and their Xemmoni servants, but the invasion had left the world in ruins and the isolated heroes of Barricade had no clue as to what was going on in the rest of the country. For some reason, which was certainly escaping him now, Phillip had volunteered to find out.
Things had not started off too badly. The warmer southwest had survivors, both Human and Xemmoni. They had befriended the former and exterminated the latter when they could. Often it was hard to tell the difference and he could not blame people for being paranoid and trigger-happy. They usually simply fled from random snipers and the like, figuring that they could be Human. Still, even if they were, they might also be too far gone to be the type of people that they would invite to head back to the crater.
In the beginning Ann had kept a journal of the people she had sent back, but after such things grew more rare, the journal was put away.
Once they had left the southwest things got worse, much worse. The people became fewer, perhaps hiding in the hills, perhaps just gone. Anything they found moving had been evil. By the time they got through Texas, it was not hard to see why people were avoiding cities or even towns, for they had become death traps. Xemmoni bands both, large and small, hunted with complete freedom. As the Human race fell in numbers, the Darkened ones need for their Baal only increased. Since draining the life-force from Humans was their preferred method of extracting their precious Baal, Phillip could not avoid noticing that like his race had done to so many animals, the Xemmoni were now making Humans an endangered species.
Ann was the first one to suggest that they go back. He wanted to agree, but it seemed like they had hardly begun. It was just so hard for him to believe that so much was gone, that just one extreme winter had wiped out so many.
It was starting to get a bit cold again, as they headed into October, but it was still hard to imagine what things must have been like in the colder climbs. They saw the evidence of storms of biblical proportions. Cars had been thrown through the second stories of houses, while in other places whole cities had been leveled.
Still every so often, they found signs of normal folk. They were still out there. Who could blame them for avoiding the towns, which were filled with Xemmoni still trying to live off the corpse of the old world and them?
Returning to Ann’s question, he said, “I’m not sure, I can’t tell were it is.”
“Damn it Phillip,” was all she said, as she buried her face into her hands. Ann, who had been so strong, had finally reached her end point.
Maybe they should head back?
Then they heard the howling. Their eyes met and hers were wide with terror. “Those couldn’t be Embryo hounds could they?”
“I still can’t tell,” he said. “I think we have better keep moving.”
“But where? Everything is so flat there is no place to hide from them. We never should have come here.”
“I would tend to agree, but luck could guide our hand, nothing could be worse that this anyway.”
Of course that would turn out to be wrong.
Driving through rutted dead cornfields during a dust storm, turned out to be no fun at all. For a moment he thought they had lost the hounds, but then he heard them again. Whatever they were, they were holding back, which made him think that they had been ordered to wait for their master.
“Phillip stop, stop!” Ann’s two eyes proved keener than his one and he put on the breaks without knowing why. It was a good thing too, for right as the truck stopped, he saw a wide river crossing their path.
“What now,” Ann asked, like he was not expecting him to have an answer.
Behind him the baying of the canines was becoming louder, he had heard it enough to know that they were Embryo Hounds. Damn, he thought most of those were gone. Did this mean that some sort of crazy Caradon master lurked out there?
“Gather your things.”
“What do you mean?”
“Gather the things that you really need and make sure you bring the blankets.”
The hounds were getting closer. The master must have arrived.
Ann knew enough not to question him and began to gather their prize gear. While she did that, he took up some rope and began to shove out a stack of long large logs, which he had laying in the bed of the truck. He had no real plan for the logs, and had figured they would make good firewood in these barren plains, but was glad he had brought them along now.
Reaching the riverbed, he began arranging them in the shape of a raft. As soon as that was done, he began to snake the rope through the logs. Ann appeared with her first armful of goods, as the hounds began to draw near. He knew how fast they moved. They would not have much time.
After her second armful, he made Ann start on the other side. “Keep going,” he said, “I have an idea.”
Rushing back to the truck, he hopped into the cab. With a whirl of thick dust, he spun the truck away from the river and pointed it at the approaching hounds. He could not see them through the darkening storm, but could hear them fine. He tore the mask off his face and stuffed it into the gas tank. After spilling a Jerry can of gas over the rag and then the bed of the truck, he grabbed his toolbox and ran to the front. The toolbox went on the execrator. Next the rag was lit and along with it half the side of the truck.
Massive forms were appeared through the mists now. They were Embryo hounds all right. Each one of the slavering hounds was the size of a pony and four times as fast. With a yelp, he pulled the truck out of park, nearly losing his arm in the process. The flaming truck roared at the sprinting pack.
Not waiting to see the results, he turned and raced back to the raft.
“It is not done.”
“It does not matter, go!”
Grabbing the edge of the raft, he pushed it into the river. Ann quickly helped him. The current was just starting to take them when his truck exploded. They heard cried of pain and death. A deep chested cursing followed, as the current caught them rushing them downstream.