The explosion of the gas cannisters had ripped chunks from the walls, and blown the shelves and their contents to indescribable pieces. There was a smell of burning in the air, and little pockets of fire smouldering on the ground as Isaac’s boots stepped over them. He had his gun at shoulder height, ready to fire. The air was smoky ahead of him, and he squinted to try and see. He was in some sort of corridor. The roof above him was low, and had been torn open in places. The sky glinted outside, a deep dark blue with smatterings of stars, and Isaac thought that it looked brighter than it had earlier. He put the thought away into the back of his mind, and instead pulled out an image of Ella, laughing happily as her mother pushed her on the swings. Another lifetime ago. But a goal to run towards, an aim.
There was a scuttling noise ahead, and he dropped to his knees and pressed up against the wreckage of a shelf, his gun trained over the top down the corridor. Something moved in the smoke.
Behind him, the gunfire started. Rapid and continuous, with a man’s roar clear in the breaks in the noise.
“I need to get clear before he’s overrun,” Isaac thought. “And this place gets blown to hell.”
Something leaped at him from the darkness and he fired. In the flash from his muzzle he saw the Nightcrawler fall, and two more leering at him from the darkness, much closer than he had realised, their bulbous eyes wide and leering. He dropped them with two swift bursts of fire, and moved quickly onwards, because in the muzzle flash he had seen the door at the end of the corridor. His rifle fell to his side and his grip slipped from the trigger, all his focus in his feet, driving them onwards, and then the doorway was filled with Nightcrawlers, scrabbling over each other with saliva flecks spraying from their rabid mouths as their teeth gnashed, and an irate lunacy that burned in their eyes. He was going too fast, was too close to stop, not enough time to raise the weapon. So he let out a bellow, and increased his pace, ready to leap through them and into the night outside, and as his feet left the ground he heard Chris roar somewhere in the building, and then a wave of sound and heat enveloped him.
The explosion caught him and flung him through the air, and he felt fire and burning, and the creature shrieked and screamed as they were flung aside, and then he was out, out in the night air, flying through it as if on a cloud, but it wasn’t a cloud, it was a concussive blast, according to the voice deep down in his head. It bore him several feet through the air where he landed heavily against a concrete walls, and he felt the world rain down on him as the night filled with inhuman cries, and darkness settled over his eyes.
Ella stirred in her sleep. He reached out his hand, and pulled the bed sheet up over her. She opened her eyes. They were wide and full of an easy assurance that everything would be right in the world again. Someday.
“Dad?” she said.
He opened his mouth to reply, but he couldn’t get the words out, only a faint wheeze.
“Dad,” she said again. “Are you coming home?”
Again, no breath to speak. She looked at him sadly.
“Dad,” she said again, but she was fading. He looked around frantically, tried to call out, but erupted into a racking cough. He woke up.
There was something on his chest. He weakly pushed it off, and wiped dust and grime from his face. He opened his eyes, and squinted in the sun.
He was lying in the wreckage of the building, ripped apart by the explosion that had cast him out into the night, but had also mercifully covered him in debris and concrete, so that the creatures had not seen him. He stood up, ignoring the pain in his side, the pain in his shoulder, the wounds in his legs that were bleeding steadily. He looked around.
The store was destroyed completely. He could see piles of bodies littered around where they had been thrown, and he knew there would be even more out front. He stepped gingerly over the corpses around him, not looking at them, and took a breath.
The sun was high in the sky, but he had a long was back, and the going would be slower with his injuries. He was also faintly aware that he was in real danger of bleeding out. He thought of Ella, and Chris’ kid, waiting, afraid, with no news of their fathers. He looked towards the hill, where the bunker lay hidden, and started to walk.