They came at night. And night was fast approaching. Isaac quickened his pace, through the abandoned streets, his boots crunching over broken glass and gravel underneath, eyes scouring the empty shop windows and the shadows down the alleyways. His hands drifted to the pistol holstered on his belt, and the varmint rifle slung across his back, his mind going over how many bullets he had left for each in his shoulder bag. He glanced at the sun, low in the dusty sky above the ruined city, but still several hours of daylight ahead of him before he returned from the scavenger hunt to his family, to hunker down for the night behind the reinforced metal door of their bunker and wait for morning, for the sounds of the Nightcrawlers to fade away as the sun rose, and venture out again to look for supplies.
This was life in America after the blast. The Great Disaster, as the survivors had come to call it. Isaac and his family still didn’t know what it was. There was speculation among the survivors. Asteroid impact, a nuclear bomb, a satellite falling to earth, even an alien attack. He didn’t like to guess. Terse and practical, as he had been since the military, he dealt with the situation in front of him. He had helped dig the tunnels in the woods on the outskirts of Seattle, helped salvage metal and building materials from the ruined buildings, helped build the bunkers that now housed the several hundred survivors that remained in the city. He had sourced supplies, scouted the empty streets and destroyed houses for anyone who was still alive, and helped bury the dead, which included his wife and brother. And every morning before he set out to scour the city for more supplies, he kissed his daughter Ella on the forehead, and promised her that he would be back soon.
The first few scouting missions to the now ruined city were successful. Several of the men came with him, armed and cautious, but they found no signs of life amidst the dust clouds and thick smog that filled the air. They loaded wheelbarrows with non-perishable food from the supermarkets to bring back to the colony, and repeated this process for the first few days of the new world.
Then, for the second time in less than a week, everything changed.
No one was sure where the Nightcrawlers came from. Some said they staggered out of the Pacific one day, mutants from the blast zone of whatever had befallen the world. Others said they weren’t from this earth, and had fallen here from the sky in the Great Disaster. They roamed the city at night like packs of wild dogs, and any humans they encountered they either ripped to shreds and devoured then and there, or carried off to wherever they made their lair, to meet God knows what end.
But they were only active at night. So the survivors watched the sky every evening with trepidation, and sealed themselves inside their bunkers each night to await the dawn, and Isaac tucked little Ella into the makeshift cot in their area of the bunker, and sat next to her until she fell asleep.
And that is what he promised her he would do again tonight. But first the scouting mission must be complete. His eyes scanned in front of him, looking for the signs of a store that they had not already cleaned out. Some of the men had begun to hunt in the forest behind their bunkers, but most wildlife had deserted the area. The men had to go further and further to encounter any deer or bears, and the risk of getting caught in the woods after dark was too great.
For the moment, these trips to raid the abandoned stores was a key part of survival.
A faintly flashing neon sign among all the grey brick and brown rubble caught Isaac’s eye. He squinted down the street. It looked like an ‘Open’ sign, fluttering faintly in the distance. He turned and gave the signal to his companions behind him, which his companions Chris and Jake returned with raised hands. With his hand hovering over his pistol, Isaac crept down the street, choosing his steps carefully to avoid displacing any piles of stones. The Nightcrawlers hadn’t been known to be active at night, but they were still around somewhere, in this city. Waiting.
He stopped outside the store with the sign, and peered into the darkness within through the grubby windows as he waited for Jake and Chris.
“Looks like we haven’t got to this one yet,” he said when they came up next to him. His voice was low, and slightly hoarse from under-use. “Still a bit on the shelves.”
Chris nodded. Jake looked at the sky. Isaac could see that he was nervous. Unlike Isaac and Chris, Jake had no military or police training, but insisted on coming on the scouting missions, where he scanned shadows and breathed loudly.
“Let’s fill our bags quickly and go,” he said. “Night is coming.” Isaac nodded.
“Follow the usual protocol,” he said. “Fan out, clear the room first, check for doors leading in and out. Then we fill the bags, and get the hell out of here. OK?”
The two men nodded at him. Isaac took the pistol from his belt, and pushed the glass door open.
Part 2 coming soon
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