The store looked to be a large pharmacy chain. Rows of high shelves ran from where they stood to the far wall several hundred yards away. Some of the shelves had toppled, spilling their contents on the floor, and the lights overhead were broken, but other than that the place looked untouched.
Isaac swung to the left, seeing Chris do the same to his right, and then something moved at the other end.
Isaac raised a hand. Chris moved silently down the far wall out of sight, heading in the direction of the noise. Jake had gone pale, shotgun clasped tightly in both hands. Isaac stared at him, caught his eye, and made a motion for him to stay put. Jake nodded, and Isaac crept down the aisle, pistol raised. Rows of shampoo and hair products stared down at him as he passed.
He found Chris at the back wall, squatting on his haunches. Chris saw him, and pointed to the corner, where a family of rats peered back at them from a doorway leading off into the darkness.
“Rats,” Isaac chuckled, as Jake appeared behind him. Chris shook his head.
“Not the rats,” he said. “Look what’s in the room.”
Isaac strode forward and peered into the darkness. Rows of yellow barrel shaped objects glinted in the dim light that made it through the grubby windows at the front of the store.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Jake said next to him. “Fucking gas cylinders. Do we take ‘em?”
Isaac nodded, a smile playing on his lips. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, this is good. We can use these. Take one each. That’s all we’ll be able to carry today. We’ll come back for the others. Fill your bags with food first. We’ll be slower going back carrying the gas, and night is coming.”
He was stuffing boxes of biscuits in his backpack when the shot rang out, echoing through the store and leaving his ears ringing. He dropped his bag and ran to the back of the store, pistol cocked in his hand.
Jake was standing with his hands over his ears, grinning. Chris was lowering his varmint rifle from his shoulder. There was a red smattering and ragged pieces of fur on the floor near the wall, and the remaining rats had fled.
“Good shot,” Jake said.
“Guys,” Isaac said. “Let’s get a fucking move on.” He tried to conceal his anger. Chris smiled sheepishly.
“Sorry, Isaac,” he said, slinging his gun over his shoulder and picking up his bag.
“We don’t have bullets to be playing target practice,” Isaac said. Jake was still staring at the place the rats had disappeared into.
“No, you’re right,” Chris said. “Let’s get the stuff and get back. Right, Jake?”
They turned and froze. Jake had taken up the position Chris had been in, gun to his shoulder, staring down the barrel at the rats that had crept from their hiding place and were now sniffing around the corpse of their fallen brother.
“No,” Isaac roared, “it’s a shotgun,” but the words were only half formed in his throat and drowned out in the ensuing blast as Jake pulled the trigger.
Jake had already pulled the trigger and the scatter from the barrel of the gun sprayed the rats, the walls, and some flew through the open door towards the gas cannisters.
The explosion ripped through the air, a flash of searing heat and sonic energy that lifted Isaac from his feet and threw him into the shelves. He tried to lift himself as debris fell around him, but then the pain set in, a microseconds or so late, and a darkness followed.
There was something rattling next to his head. He struggled against the darkness, fought to swim to the surface.
“Ella?” he called hoarsely, his voice a breathless whisper that he knew his daughter wouldn’t recognise as it left his lips. He pushed, up and up, and out, his head breaking through the surface of the black pool he had fallen deep into and into the light. He blinked, trying to keep the creeping darkness from the edges of his field of vision. He tried to stand, and nearly blacked out again
The rattling persisted and he turned his head. A dirty plastic shopping bag was caught in the shelf next to where he lay, and fluttered in the breeze.
His thoughts were still hazy, but he could see that the windows of the store had been shattered completely by the blast, and the sky outside was darkening as the sun retreated across the sky.
The whole place was a chaotic jungle of rubble, collapsed shelves, shrapnel. He couldn’t see Chris or Jake, but a severed human arm lay several feet away from him.
“Chris,” he called out. There might have been a response from nearer the front of the store, or it might have been the ringing in his ears.
He tried to stand again, and nearly passed out again, before realising that his left leg was pinned under one of the shelves that had collapsed. He wriggled and twisted and tried to get free, but gave up after several fruitless and painful minutes. He still had his pistol, but his rifle lay several feet away from him. He strained and reached, but the strap was just beyond his fingers, so he lay on his back in the darkening room as night fell.
He thought he heard them several times before he actually did. His ears were strained, trying to pick up something, anything, over the ringing. Phantom footsteps from the front of the store, panting ragged breathing from the street outside, maniacal laughter from the rooftops. All these rang through his head as night crept on, and he squeezed his pistol tight, and tried to ignore both the pain in his leg and the small but growing hope in his heart that the night might pass without the Nightcrawlers finding this place.
But when he did hear them, the sound was unmistakable. It was a sound he’d heard before, as he and the men had left the city at the end of a previous raid and listened to the onrushing creatures below, or a cry that split the night in the distance as he sat there next to Ella as she slept.
Up close however, the sound was much worse.
Part 3 coming soon
Message from the Author:
Thanks for reading! I’m always looking to connect with like minded writers and creatives. In today’s world, I think it’s really important to find people who are like minded and doing good creative work, and help raise each other up. If you like what I’m doing here, have some pieces of your own you think I’d enjoy, or just want to connect, reach out to me here or on Twitter at @WriteOfPassage3.