The Clock Runs Down: Half Past the Apocalypse, p.1Joe Kelly
THE CLOCK RUNS DOWN
Book one: Half past the apocalypse
To my mom you were all ways there for me and I miss you.
To my dad, KIA, july 1969 Vietnam, you died a hero rest in peace.
Nibbler the best Dog that ever lived.
Nora, baby you’re the cutest
To all those in service to their country and to all my fellow vets.
Lauren, you’ve been a great friend and immense help.
Nathan who spent days, okay years as a sounding board and always ready with suggestions or to tell me I was an idiot.
Rob who has been a big help and a fan, get your stuff published buddy.
Barbara who suffered, with Lauren, through the Grammar Apocalypse
Nicole a good friend and who put up with my stealing her husband for
hours and hours of discussion over the years.
And to all the others who have faithfully read my writing over the years and encouraged me to publish.
Out — out are the lights — out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
And the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, "Man,"
And its hero the Conqueror Worm
~EDGAR ALLEN POE
When the sun rose in the United States on Jun 18th, 2010, no one suspected it was the last day of the modern world. Like every other day, people rose from bed and went through the routine; they rushed through breakfast, bundled complaining children into their vehicles and headed off to work and school.
The Radio’s played the oldies, the Modern stuff, talk shows expressed their opinions. Tv’s played the morning shows. It was routine, normal, familiar and it was all about to end.
Nashville Tn. June 18th, 2010
Alex Carstan pushed aside his keyboard and sighed heavily. Working at home was almost as stressful as his old office job not that he would have changed a thing. His marriage of ten years had improved and his relationship with his two kids was perfect as far as he was concerned. He glanced at the pictures of his family on his desk and smiled. This weekend he was taking them to Dollywood, his son Freddy had been asking to go since school had let out. Another not insignificant plus was that his stress levels were normally lower.
This latest contract however, the client was constantly wanting changes made then complaining about the changes as if it were his fault. There were times he wanted to tell the man to shove the contract so far up his ass that he would be spitting paper.
He rose from his new if slightly battered modern desk and headed into the kitchen to get some tea then stepped out onto the deck and enjoy a few minutes of the day. Sunlight sparkled off the water in the pool, it wasn’t much of a pool, his backyard was not all that big, but his kids loved it and he and his wife had enjoyed many evening’s in the hot tub beside the pool. What little open ground there was had been turned into a neatly manicured garden of semi tropical plants and deep green grass.
He sipped at his tea and made himself relax, or at least stop considering various ways to insert his monitor into his client’s nether regions without lube and preferably with a pry bar.
Somewhat calmer he headed back to his home office and checked his email, his client was supposed to respond to the latest designs and as much as he did not look forward to reading the man’s response, it was part of his job.
Opening his email app he saw the email he was waiting on and clicked. His eyes scanned the text for a moment and the calm he had worked to build broke.
For a moment the words failed to register but when they did, anger and contempt surged up. Cancel the contract for doing what he had been asked to do. Furious he slammed back from his desk, that stupid son of a Bitc…. His thoughts chopped off abruptly as pain shot up his arm and his chest suddenly felt tight. The pain came in waves, heart attack he thought as he clutched at his chest. NO! he protested as the pain become his world.
Oh god no, I don’t want my kids to come home and find me dead, he thought as he tried to rise. He only made it half way before his knees failed and he collapsed to the floor.
He lay there feeling his life slip away and knew that no miracle would turn back the clock. But the horror of his own impending death was nothing compared to what came next. The light in the room dimmed, as if someone had pulled the blinds on the windows down and a smell, like rotted blood filled the air as a presence, dark and foul filled the room.
Even as his consciousness guttered like a candle in a stiff breeze, he thought he knew this thing. There were a thousand names for it, Names like Set, Satan, Tiamat, but none of those names defined it. It was as old as the universe and just as cold.
It was Evil only by human definition, what it was, was the antithesis of life. It thrived on pain and misery; it nursed on Despair and all the dark passions. But was passionless in any way that a human would define passion and its time had come round once more.
It hung there like pestilence, its touch cold and hungry. He could feel something change inside him, a pollution of the body that spread its corruption to every cell. His limbs grew cold, and the arctic storm front closed in on his faltering heart. Finally, he gasped one final time. His eyes closed his final thought was of his wife and kids and then the darkness swallowed him and his chest stopped moving.
His body, now an empty shell, lay sprawled on the carpet of the quiet house. A clock ticked somewhere deep in the home. Then without warning the corpses eyes opened, cold, cloudy, the eyes of the dead. Outside a car pulled up, doors slammed and the laughter of children could be heard. As a key slid into the lock the corpse of Alex Carstan climbed unsteadily to its feet and started towards the door.
All across the world, those who died opened their eyes, got to their feet and the blood began to flow.
“If thou openest not the gate to let me enter,
I will break the door, I will wrench the lock,
I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living.”
“is all that we see or seen but a dream with in a dream”
The Helicopter, a UH 60 Blackhawk thundered across the blue skies over the Iraqi desert. It was to the soldiers on board a typical day, hot enough to peel paint, they were on their way back to the FOB and hopefully a little R&R after a long month of patrols.
The soldiers were talking and joking seemingly unconcerned with the dangers that lay around them even up here in the sky, especially up there. If a threat materialized there was nothing they could do to protect themselves, so they masked their fears and concern with off color jokes and insults.
Staff Sergeant Jared Stone was looking out the open door, watching the tan colored desert speed by and smiling at a joke when he noticed a flash far below.
In the cockpit alarms came to life. The normally cool professional voices of the pilots were strained as they reported and did what little they could to minimize their target profile.
Locked on the missile raced towards the helicopter and detonated. All things considered it detonated to soon instead of destroying the helicopter it only did considerable damage. The helicopter lurched and slid to one side smoke streaming out of the engine cowling.
Jared grabbed on to the bench seat praying like there was no tomorrow. The Warrant fought to keep them airborne while his copilot was radioing a mayday and status report.
Jared was slammed against the harness repeatedly. Something smacked into his helmet almost knocking him out. Private Anderson died as a bullet from below found him. NO! Jared wanted to shout in denial. Anderson was a newly married man expecting his first child in six months. His head was snapped back as the chopper lurched again causing him to bite his tongue, his mouth filling with blood.
The Warrant cool and professional somehow got the bird under control, it was almost a case of too little too late. “Hang on” The warrant called out as he fought the controls. The chopper spun dizzyingly for a moment then stopped throwing the soldiers against their restraints.
“ten feet, prepare--” The warrant never finished his sentence, there was a screech of metal and the chopper shook off the warrants tenuous hold on control and went crazy. Jared was thrown against the harness yet again as the chopper grounded hard snapping one of the landing gear. The Helicopter tilted crazily then jerked wildly as the rotor struck the ground and snapped. With a loud metallic tearing sound the chopper came a stop canted to one side.
The smell of fuel was heavy in the air as Jared shook his head trying to get his mind working while reaching for the harness release. Fearing the craft might explode helped clear the fog in his mind Jared hit the harness release and got to his feet. “Let’s go, go, go” he yelled spitting blood with each word. Soldiers were staggering to their feet shaking off the crash as best they could as they exited the craft.
Jared hurt all over, his ribs felt like they were on fire ‘but that beat being dead and this damn chopper could explode any time now’. With that thought spurring him on he pushed and prodded the remaining soldiers out of the helicopter. The Iraqis who had shot down the chopper hadn’t arrived yet and if he and his men were lucky they might not. The soldiers rushing from the helicopter would find cover if any existed to wait for rescue that had to be on the way thanks to the mayday.
He turned to find one remaining soldier standing in the middle of the compartment, a dazed look on his to young looking face as he tried to figure out what was going on. “Sarge, I…” The man, boy really, said resisting Jared attempts at getting him off the chopper. The man’s eyes large at the enormity of what had happened, was happening sank in.
“Get the hell off this bird,” Jared snapped as he grabbed the smaller man and literally tossed him out the door. Turning Jared saw the Warrant, who had hurt his left arm, struggling to get the unconscious copilot out of his seat.
“Got him,” Jared said as he pulled the unconscious copilot out of his seat. Helping the warrant officer with the copilot they exited the helicopter and started towards the bone-dry gully where the rest of the passengers had gathered.
The roar of motors and gunfire announced the arrival of the insurgents who had shot down the helicopter. Jared wrapped his arms around the wounded copilot and hit the ground covering the wounded man with his body. He grunted in pain thinking he had busted a rib, which would be the least of his problems if one or more of those flying bullets hit him.
“I got him, you’re the 11bravo” The warrant said pushing at Jared who rolled on to his side, breath catching from the pain of what felt like a broken rib or two, weapon snapping into place. A man wearing a mix of western and traditional clothing appeared in his sight the AK in the Iraqi’s hands already spitting fire.
“Screw you” Jared muttered stroking the trigger sending the man tumbling to the hot cracked ground. He regretted every life taken but it was one of the prices of doing his duty as old fashioned as that sounded to most people. In the here and now it was his life or theirs and he was going to do his best to make them spend their lives.
“We have you covered Sarge, get over here” Private Chris Hayes shouted as the soldiers laid down a withering field of fire. “we have SaR inbound.”
Jared ignored the pain from his ribs as he rose to his feet firing short bursts to keep the attackers ducking. One handed he help the Warrant get the copilot up and moving then slowly backed up covering the Warrant only turning and bolting for the gully once the warrant had reached the relative safety of the old waterway. He never figured out how in the hell he made it there with all the bullets sent his way but he did, leaping the last few feet and tumbled down into the gully banging his head. The pain that flared outwards from his ribs almost made him black out.
“Jesus Sarge you look like shit” Spec 4 Murphy commented as he ducked down to check on Jared.
“Feel like it to.” Jared muttered still face down. “Murphy if your staring at my butt I will shoot you.”
“hard not to, it’s so firm and tight.” Murphy commented with a strained laugh as Jared cursed at the pain and rolled over. Hot falling brass struck him in the face, leaving burn marks.
“I got out of bed for this shit” He muttered, trying to keep the shakes at bay. He checked his weapon, replaced the spent mag. Muscle memory and training for the win, he thought spitting blood. The gun fire from the Iraqis was constant now and Americans were shouting out insults about their beards, hoping to enrage the enemy enough to get them to charge out into the open. It had been known to happen before and was worth the effort if it saved lives.
Private Collins went down, wounded but alive Jared noted. The private grimly bound his wounds then got back into the fight. Corporal Williams was next, a bullet obliquely struck his helmet snapping the man’s head back. Williams collapsed to the ground alive but unconscious.
Overhead something screamed past the gully riding a jet of flame and one of the trucks the attackers were using for cover exploded, killing five men sheltering behind it, fire and roiling smoke added to the chaos. Let’s hear it for the chair forces missiles, Jared told himself. The wounded soldiers in the gully, too involved with staying alive, barely cracked a smile but their spirits rose and hope blossomed as the US Air force plane that had taken out the truck roared over their position.
Will power alone pushed back the pain as got Jared to his feet. He slipped into the zone as he lifted his rifle over the lip of the gully ready to engage their attackers. A flash of color drew his attention, without thought he brought his weapon to bear then he squeezed the trigger. He shifted to the next target and fired.
Darkness engulfed him, and the sounds and fury of combat receded like ripples across a pond. He realized he was dreaming as he found himself in a dimly lit room.
A chill touched his heart as he recognized the old parlor with its strips of peeling wall paper hanging off the wall. There was little in the room, just an old rotting Divan and a couple of antique straight-backed chairs. Hanging from the ceiling was an ornate light fixture covered in dust and cobwebs
Almost against his will his eyes were drawn to the floor. Town legend had said that the stains marked the spots where a person had died, the largest stain, the one at his feet, was were Mrs. Mason had been gutted and bled like a pig.
He had been here in this room once before as a teenager, a night that had literally changed his life. The dream of his helicopter going down and the fight that followed was an old and regular dream. But this place, the Mason place of his childhood was a new addition to the old familiar dream.
The Mason place was, or had been, a land mark in his hometown. A land mark like the killing fields, or the Death camps. It had been the site of family tragedies and Mass murder long before Jared had been born.
Even as a kid Jared had sensed something off about the place, a miasma of death and horror that clung to the old mansion and the feeling that something walked its halls, unseen, dark and hungry. Few ventured into the old abandoned house, not for dares or money and th
Something shifted in the dream room, he couldn’t really put a finger to it at first but then the darkness that lay in the corners and along the base of the walls began to spread slowly out like tendrils of something foul groping its way towards Jared Where it passed the light went out as if swallowed. The Stench of something rotten came with it turning Jared’s stomach.
Deep in the house there was a boom like a hammer against wood, the sound came again louder and closer as if something huge and misshapen was making it way through the dark, dusty halls towards the study.
The presence and that smell had been there that night to, he thought with a shudder, Something inhuman, unseen but undeniably present.
“Welcome home boy” the voice was cold and filled with dark hunger. The tendrils of darkness were almost upon him now, Jared tried to move but his body refused to obey.
This didn’t happen, he told himself desperately. It never happened he tried to shout but his vocal chords refused to give voice to the words. I do not believe in ghosts or the supernatural.
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