“The Way the World Ends” by Ben Waters

They caught up to us on my twelfth birthday. Their guns sounded strange, even though I should have been used to it. Every shot was like the branch of a metal tree snapping. A sharp Twang that made my hair stand on end. They killed three of the group before we even knew where they were. Twang mixed in with the blood-curdling cries of the dying.

“Everybody, take cover!”  Hannah sent indiscriminate shots into the forest behind us. I dropped into a low spot, pressing my body as flat as I could. I rolled over, shotgun on my chest. I peeked up just enough to see the opposite hill with trees gripping the earth to keep from plummeting into the sky. A blue flash accompanied the chilling Twang just underneath a massive tree, another one a couple of feet up the hill sent a fistful of dirt into the air, peppering me with the warm soil. The flashes were so quick I would have missed them if I hadn’t been looking right where they came from.

“Side of the hill, just underneath that big oak!”  I shouted as loudly as I could. I could see the lanky bodies, their silhouettes darting for cover as Hannah dropped one. The Crack from her rifle a welcome reprieve from the killing enemy fire. Sid and Ricky took cover behind the same massive pine a little behind, and to the right of Hannah, shooting from each side. Within a couple of seconds, the tree was smoldering from return fire.

“They’re trying to flank us! Riley, watch the left.” Sam called out, sending a handful of hot brass into my hole as he tried to stop their advance. I ripped my eyes from the opposite hill just in time to see them coming through the underbrush. I slapped one in the face with a buck shot, the heavy recoil making my shoulder hurt. They dove for cover, but I caught another one in the leg adding his guttural cry to the chaos. Only six of us still alive—no, make that five as Sam caught an enemy shot with his face. The two remaining aliens to our left had returned fire after recovering from our attack. I sent five more shells into the brush, silencing them for good. Sulfur, ash, blood, sh*t, and dirt permeated the air, making my nose run and eyes burn.

Hannah emptied her magazine into the hill-side. “Dammit, one got away. We can expect re-enforcement, soon.” She dropped her pack and started handing out boxes of ammunition. “Ammo check and empty the packs of the dead; we move in ten minutes. Ricky, watch that hill in case they’re trying to dupe us.” My ears were humming with a high-pitched whine, but I reloaded as quickly as I could.

Hannah was the last of the Marines alive from our group, so she was our default leader. Tall, thin and fit. I wondered if she would be pretty with a shower to wash off the grime and blood. It was strange to think of her like that, and I frowned a little. She kept looking at Sam: one eye was open, staring in our direction, the other one, in pieces. He had called Hannah by her last name. They had taken turns sleeping at night, one of them always walking around. I slept well, knowing they were watching out for me.

“He was a good Marine.” Sid whispered it to Hannah; I thought she might cry. She took the metal necklace he always wore and put it in her pocket.

She nodded. “I’ll miss him, but Marines don’t die.”

Sid was retired Navy, from Alabama. He had led the civilian resistance to the initial landings in his home town, until they were overwhelmed and forced north. He wore an old camo jacket and ripped blue jeans. His left shoe was missing the toe, ripped off by razor-wire during the escape. He had a full beard and tanned skin. The wrinkles around his eyes said he smiled a lot. That was before, though.

Allan’s hands were shaking too bad for him to reload, so I moved in to help, since I was done with my shotgun. One of the lenses on his glasses had a new crack through the middle and he had some wooden chips sticking to a bloody scrape on his temple. He pulled out the map and smoothed it out, his hands still shaking, but he was able to get our position.

“We’re only about twenty miles from The Facility. We should be able to beat them there.”

Ricky stood off on his own. He had met up with our group a couple of days after we escaped the attack. Alone and wounded, but he had plenty of ammunition and food. Originally, he just wanted to trade for the medicine he needed to fight infection and continue on his own, but Sam talked him into joining our group.

“Hey, Ricky, you wanna think about actually doing some shooting next time they show up? It’ll take more than a half-dozen shots from us to send them packing.” Sid had finished two of his mags and was loading the last.

“If you were a better shot, it would only take a half dozen,” Ricky replied. “I’m going ahead to try and scout some terrain, and maybe a good spot to lay an ambush or two.” He gave Sid a dirty look as he walked off. I looked to Sid, but it seemed he either didn’t see the look, or didn’t care.

Sid leans against a thin tree, thinking, putting a cigarette in his mouth he won’t smoke. Sid walks over and slaps my shoulder.

“You did good kid. I thought they had us with that tricky shit.” I nodded and tried a smile.

With the action behind us, I took stock of my surroundings. The clear morning sunlight brought out the green in the trees and bushes. The occasional bird-song broke the now pleasant stillness. Life went on, despite the world being torn apart. I wonder if the whole world will be broken or if some areas like this one would escape the devastation.

BOOM! Deep and low, a sonic boom stilled the life and shook the forest; some loose stones tumbled down the face of the hill.

“Riley, cover, now!”  I dove into the bushes, slamming my already sore shoulder into the ground.

The massive ship screamed overhead, too fast to make out any details through the branches. I noted the smoke trail was thinning; it was landing, soon. Despite being larger than a football stadium, the ship disappeared into the mountains, miles away, in only a few seconds.

Sid broke the spell of shock. “More of them? Whelp, we are indeed up sh*t creek in desperate need of a paddle at this point. Let’s double time it.” He started off at a trot. I followed the rest of the group, my pack bouncing with every step.

I liked Sid from the very start of our time together. He took me under his wing early on and showed me how to shoot. The heavy hunks of metal were rough on my arms, and I earned more than a handful of bruises from the shotgun. But, over time I was getting the hang of it.

“What the hell kind of facility is going to keep them out? You remember how quick they cut through the battalion of Marines last month?  There were only five or six of them this time and they killed half of our group. Even if we can make it to your facility, they’ll just cut us down there.” Ricky’s voice bounced as we ran. Allan, was a little more out of breath than the rest of us, but he was able to work out his reply.

“Well, uh, Ricky. The facility is powered by photosynthetic converters. The water supply comes from the underground water table that couldn’t be poisoned or fouled for a decade—and only even then if they knew where we were. The entrance has a chamber that will fill with toxic gas if an alien steps inside it and tries to open the inner doors, which are made from a combination of hardened steel composites, and blast resistant materials. It would take months of un-harassed work to break it down. The defenses are all automated and capable of being withdrawn and repaired. There is enough food to feed a million people for a year, and systems that farm in underground fields.”

“Dang, Doc. Sounds like you’ve got something to prove here.” I wasn’t quite sure why everyone called Allan ‘Doc.’

“Yes, I do. I helped design the facility.” We ran through the rest of the day, stopping only long enough to drink bottles of water and eat a light lunch.

We caught up to Ricky. He seemed just as disappointed about our arrival as we were he hadn’t found anything. A tall, thin tree jutted above the tree-line where we were.

“Looks too thin for all my heft. You wanna take a look, Riley?”  Hannah was always nice to me. She never treated me like a kid and always asked for my help with stuff.

“Sure.” I slip my pack off my shoulders and start the climb. It’s easy at first; the branches are just thick enough for me to grab. The tree starts to thin out and my climb slows. The farther up I get, the more the tree sways with the wind, but my twelve-year-old frame doesn’t weigh enough to break any of these branches even though they are thin. It’s a little unerring at first but I get used to it. About fifty feet off the ground, the view opens up. It only takes a few seconds to see through the serene landscape to the terrifying truth.

Gently sloping hills covered in evergreens. A thick black plume scars the evening sky. Snow-capped mountains in the distance, hemming in the valley on the western side. The faint sound of heavy machinery drifts across the lazy forest. Birds streak across the view, and the sun is sitting on the edge of one of the mountains, taking one last look over the valley before resting for the night. The trees to the south shake. The sweet smell of a lake to the northwest. The mist from a waterfall behind it. It’s gorgeous. One of the tall ones falls, the direction it falls tells me there is something big, right behind us, coming this way.

I climb down; there’s no time to lose.

“We have to go, they’re right behind us. Some sort of big machine is headed this way. It’s taking out trees tall enough for me to see it miles back.” No one complains, no one questions. Everyone moves. A little faster than before, but not wanting to run ourselves ragged in the event we have to turn and fight. Ricky starts to drift ahead of the group.

Dark starts to set in, making our passage slower. Doc checks his map one last time in the dying light.

“We’re right on top of it, just over this next hill and we should be able to find one of the entrances. If there’s anyone inside, they’ve likely already picked us up on the seismographs, but they’re also getting that machine back there, and they won’t want to take the chance we’re some advance search party and reveal themselves. We’ll have to get into the chamber so they can see we’re human.”

Thankfully it doesn’t take Doc long to get us into the entrance chamber.

The chamber was large, large enough for a pair of crawlers side by side. We stood on the western wall, moving in to the massive space like rats to a trap. Red lights came on, giving us enough of a glow to make out the shapes of those around us, the doorway we entered snapped shut. I could hear the faint hum of machinery, so low it was more of a feeling than a sound. Doc moved to the wall, he pressed a hidden catch and a portion of the stone face slid up without a sound. A little computer screen and keyboard in the hiding spot. He typed into the keyboard, the technology looked ancient. Analog input.

“Sh*t.” Doc stared at the screen. The outer doors started to slide closed.

“What’s going on?” Sid walked over to him. I followed, wanting to know what happened. Ricky moved to the inner doors, using his flashlight to examine the construction.

“We’ve got a big problem. They won’t open the doors.”

“The hell you mean they won’t open the doors? Don’t they know there’s aliens coming?”

“That’s just it, Sid.” Doc had a look on his face I didn’t understand. “The aliens are already here.”

Silence.

I could see Sid thinking. His shoulders hunched a little and his eyes flicked around the room.

Hannah clicked her safety off and looked at Ricky. He was far enough away he might have been out of ear-shot.

“Like here in this room?” I started to shake. Edging closer to the comfort of Sid and Doc.

Sid put his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, kiddo.”

“They say that the sensors can’t determine who, but that there is definitely an alien in this room. They say.. Oh shi..” Doc’s eyes are sliding across the screen as fast as the words are appearing. “We’ve got five minutes before they pump the room full of gas and kill us all.”

“Now, wait just one God-d*mned minute. They can’t just kill five people.”

“They can and they will if they think there’s an alien in this room.” Doc looked at each of us in the red light, our faces nothing but planes and angles. “If even one of them gets through that door, it could mean compromising of the entire facility.”

I started to cry. I didn’t mean to; it just sort of happened. “Maybe their scanner thingy is broken, or it’s just confused because that machine is so close.” I hated how little I sounded, my sobs breaking up my words, but I couldn’t help it. “This isn’t fair!”  

Ricky walked over, his rifle’s safety also off. I clicked mine off when Sid and Doc did.

Three minutes left.

Doc was typing on the computer, but whoever was on the other end stopped replying. Sid fingered his rifle. Our packs were piled up against the wall, We stood in a loose circle, un-easy glances the only conversation.

“Got it!” Sid walked back to Doc. “Tell them to open the outer door up, we’ll walk out, one by one, whenever their alarm thingy clears we’ll know who it is. If it doesn’t, which is what I’d bet on, we’ll know it’s broke.”

“Sid, the only way those doors open, is if that warning light clears. They want to dissect one of them to see what we’re dealing with. We can detect them, we know some of them can make themselves look like humans, but we don’t know how they work. A dead alien is more valuable than the four other lives.

One minute.

“Then they can dissect the alien when we kill it!”  Sid was worked up. Ricky and Hannah had locked eyes, neither one moving an inch.

A line of text flashed on the screen.

“They don’t trust us to kill it.” Doc relayed the message to us all.

Tears continued to stream. I started to sob

“Then I’ll kill it now.” Ricky said it and he shoved Doc into the wall. The rifle barked and Doc fell to the floor with a hole in his chest. The red light stayed on. Hannah moved in front of me and started shooting. Ricky caught one shot in the shoulder, but he killed Sid with his next shot. The red light stayed on. Hannah’s rifle went wide, but Ricky’s third dropped her. Something wet and sticky covered me. The red light stayed on. I blasted my shotgun without thinking to aim, pumping shell after shell in Ricky’s direction, peppering Ricky in the chest, throat and face, slamming him into the wall. He gasped for breath and his chest made a sucking noise.

Thirty seconds.

A line of text came across the screen.

-It’s still alive.-

Ten seconds

Ricky looked at me through hazy eyes. The accusation, the hatred, the anger, were all palpable.

A line of text came across the screen.

-It’s still alive.-

“I’m out!” tears fell from my face, Ricky’s eyes bugged out staring at me. He was alive, but barely. It looked like gallons of blood on the floor. He was getting weaker. “Please open the door!”  I fell down sobbing. “I don’t want to die!”

It had been twenty seconds. No hiss, no coughing. A line of white straight up and down in front of me. It grew wider every second.

The doors were opening. A squad of men dressed in full battle gear with masks on came in, assault rifles at the ready. One of them grabbed me and brought me into the facility.

I left the room at the exact second Ricky’s heart stopped beating. The red light went out.

The facility fell two weeks later.

The aliens got in through one of the ventilation ducts, impossible to find except from the inside. No humans inside survived.

No one, that is, except for me, and my fellow Aliens.

About the Author

Ben Waters.jpg

Ben Waters is a new writer, building his stack of rejections, and enjoying himself trying out different styles and genres. He operates a blog, pentenacity.com, is a part time student, full time father, and active duty US Navy.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s