Clouds, p.14Nate Allen
As they walked away from the white house with red shutters, they looked back. Blood. Bodies. Hopelessness. Life was this?
Grant imagined that in some other yard out there, Chelsea and Kali Marie were dead. He couldn't imagine anything else.
When Bobby looked back, he thought about his mom. He thought about how she reached for him before dying-how she tried to connect with her son one last time. That human sound that spilled out of the now-dead, made him think that she died knowing what she was. It made him well up to a point of near overflow. He wiped his eyes clear, and continued walking.
They walked next to the other, both reflecting on the events that had just taken place. But, neither said a word.
The town seemed desolate. The air was thick. All that could be heard was the sound of their feet meeting the pavement as they quietly walked toward The Family Restaurant. They were continuing on, but not knowing why. This was the world now-
this dark place with used-to-be humans inhabiting it.
Blood smeared the roads in sloppy paint strokes. The air smelled of old meat. Hollow bodies littered the sidewalks, yards, and street. A month before, they had been the hopeful in the town of Miles. But, now they were nothing but clean picked bones.
Eleven blocks. In looking up, Grant saw blurred stars thinly sprinkled across the black sky. It was oddly quiet. But, it wasn't peaceful. They were walking through the remains of what used to be a close knit community, where the townsfolk had known each other and socialized in that comfortable knowing. It had been a town of close bonds- bonds that neither Grant nor Bobby had understood, or made with anyone else except each other, and the few that remained.
Yet, regret lingered above them the way a storm cloud would sit above a self- loathing man-regret for not having lived when life was available?
Ten blocks. The silence continued, as their walk seemed to become a drag. Both held their guns out in front of them, shining their lights ahead. Some things lit up on the street, like reflective diamonds. But, they were just the eyes on the dead. Some bodies were still in tattered clothing; others were naked and dried out. The flesh was welted, like the way plastic wrap gets when briefly meeting a flame. And then there were some bodies that were merely remains. Their eyes were gone.
Soon, Grant and Bobby just pointed the lights at the ground. Above them, random streetlights were on, displaying the dead in such a simple way, that the orange tinted glow seemed to replace the sun for the few yards it was in effect. But, then darkness came again.
Nine blocks. On Bobby's street, only the streetlight at his corner home shone its simple orange glow. Bobby's house was now in sight. It was different than when they fled from it a month before. Despite the heaviness of the world they were now passing through, something about Bobby's house was even more haunting. After all, it was where it had all begun for the two of them. It was where Bobby's mom changed; it was where Grant killed her in order to save his best friend. And seeing it now was like looking at what had been? and now? what was. Bobby's mom was now nothing but a clean picked body in the house he grew up in.
As they came up to it, Grant's car was sitting out front. Blood stained the street like oil stains in a parking garage. His car was nothing but a smoking, blackened carcass.
Bobby shone his light forward, until it climbed the porch steps. They looked at one another. Bobby thought about the night his mom died; Grant thought about when he killed her. Whether or not it had been admitted, he was haunted by the night he killed Bobby's mom. And sadly, it had changed the friendship. Everything was beginning to unwind at the seams. The undeniable truth was this: everything that Grant loved was slipping away.
As Bobby's light climbed the house, and passed across the broken living room windows, he saw the same glimmer that they had seen on the streets. Something was in there, looking at them. But, it wasn't dead. Suddenly, many sets of glimmers appeared behind the first set.
"Run," Grant whispered.
But, Bobby didn't run. He saw something in there that made him walk toward the house. Maybe his mom was back from the dead, and she was beckoning him to join her. And maybe for a moment, Bobby strongly considered it.
"Bobby," Grant was tugging at his arm. "We need to go,"
No reply. Bobby just continued staring forward as his feet slowly pulled him toward what he saw.
"Bobby!" Grant now looked around, with his eyes moving as frantically as he was. "Do not get scared, Bobby. They can sense it."
Despite what was being said, Bobby continued walking forward, until suddenly what he saw caused him to become as white as the bodies on the street.
"Fear!" with a dash, and the sound of thunderous steps, The Insane came from many places all at once. Half a dozen came from the house. Many more came from the surrounding darkness.
Grant fired into those spilling from the house, as Bobby backed away slowly with his eyes now flat.
"What did you see?"
"Nothing," in saying it, he swallowed a lump of tears. He had seen something incredibly sad-something Grant would never entirely know. Much like how Bobby didn't know of Grant's dreams, Grant didn't know what Bobby saw that night that made his skin go whiter than a dead body's.
But, just like the night he watched his mother die, Bobby wiped emotion from his face. Whatever he saw was now buried deeply. And as an Insane man barreled toward him, he lifted his gun, and blew his brains all over the sidewalk.
The Insane were now coming from many different places. The six from Bobby's house were dead. The chase had begun.
In firing, they swept their guns from side to side. The struck Insane bled as if they were living fountains. But, they did not fall to the ground, and writhe in pain. They regained their footing.
Nine blocks became eight as the chase now continued. Up ahead, the sound of single gunfire appeared.
There was someone else out there. Immediately, Grant feared the worst. He feared that Mr. Hart had been unable to get them to The Family Restaurant safely, and was now trapped in this world. He feared that his girls were already dead: just food for the Famished.
In looking over at Bobby, he saw that they were thinking the same thing. Their pace changed from fleeing to pursuing-pursuing all that was left for the both of them. The Insane fell back as the scent faded.
Two blocks passed. As Grant's house came into view, the sound of gunfire was pervasive. There was only one person firing, only that much was for sure. And it was close, to the point where it seemed to almost echo against the emptiness of the sky.
As they were now sprinting down Grant's street, they heard one single shot. Grant looked at his house, and then down toward The Family Restaurant. The sound came from that way. And in looking, he vaguely saw a single silhouette approaching.
Hunched over and coughing, it came toward them. At first it seemed to be an injured Insane man, but as it came closer they found it to be something different. It was a man who neither Grant nor Bobby recognized, a man who was still Sane, a man who was severely bleeding, with chunks of flesh torn from him. In one hand he held a black pistol; in the other was a severed hand clamping tightly onto his. It was small enough to be a child's.
Tears were streaming down his face as he staggered forward. He walked as if he didn't even know that Grant and Bobby were in front of him. The closer he got, the clearer it became. The man had tied a rag around his eyes. Did he even know that a child was no longer attached to the hand he was holding?
Suddenly, he stopped. "Susan!" he called desperately. "You've gotta stay with daddy, honey. Never let go of my hand." As he got on his knees and dropped the gun, he reached for a daughter's face he wouldn't find. "Where'd you go honey?! You have to stay with daddy. Don't wander? it isn't safe." When he was unable to find her face, he reached down to rub her hand. In the process, his hand rubbed against the bloody slime coating the severed wrist.
Immediately, he began to scream. Grant and Bobby watched like a horrified audience. Neither was going to i
Keeping the blindfold on, the man, still holding onto his daughter's hand, felt around on the ground until gripping the gun. By the way his hand rested around it, relief was conveyed. It was going to be all over very soon.
"Forgive me Susan," he whispered. "Daddy couldn't keep you safe." He pulled the gun up to the side of his head. He pulled the trigger, finding only a click for sound. No pop. No bullet ending his life. The gun was empty. "No! Come on!" He pulled the trigger again: another empty click.
As he began to sob, now wrapping his second hand around his daughter's, Grant closed his eyes, lifted his gun eye level, and fired. The man immediately fell to the ground. His daughter's hand fell with him, and then rolled away.
They left him nothing but another body to litter an already riddled street. Now walking past, Grant grabbed the hand by the finger tips, bent down, and nestled it in between the man's palm. If there was nothing that came after life, all this man had left was his daughter's hand.
Now, Grant could only think about his girls. But, he didn't fear for them like he had when first hearing the gunshot. He knew that Mr. Hart had gotten them safely to the cellar.
As they continued walking forward, he wondered if he deserved to be back with them. If they were to die, like the way that man's family did, would he be a delusional wreck? Or would he be just another Thing feeding on them?
It was an ever present question. No matter how deep he buried it, it crawled back to the surface over and over again-in dreams, in visions, in manifestations of his dead father. And they had slowly worn away at him, now leaving a man who knew nothing real about himself.
If he truly loved his girls, why did he think about hurting them? Why did he dream about feeding on them? Why was he not one of The Insane? If it really was about the heart of a person, why had Bobby's mom tried to feed on her son, when Grant was certain that she had been a much better person? She had believed in God. She had been a woman of integrity, and honesty. But, on the night that the world changed, this good woman became something different. Yet, a man who had bashed another man's face flat, and felt free afterwards, remained the same.
Suddenly, the darkness swallowed them. For a moment, The Family Restaurant had been in vague sight. But, the streetlights lining the road shut off in succession, leaving only a world of sounds to surround them. The Insane were out there. They were feeding. It was an unnerving sound. It was wet and loud-the sound of sloppy chewing followed by an almost gleeful smacking of the lips. The growls were muffled.
Then suddenly, it became quiet. He could hear very soft crying. Hesitantly, he shone his light toward the sounds. Caught in the cast light, was an Insane woman down on both knees. She was shoveling handfuls of guts into her mouth. It soon became apparent that she was eating a small girl who had a missing hand, with intestines sticking out of her split open stomach, tangled and torn. She was feeding on the blindfolded man's daughter. In seeing the light, The Insane woman turned her head to Grant and Bobby. "He-help," it came from her. Holes from bullets were oozing red, and her eyes were leaking tears. She knew what she was doing. "Kill me," it was raspy, and barely audible. The blood from the guts was crusted onto her face, and her eyes were empty. "Pl-please,"
Nodding his head in a nearly numb state himself, Grant lifted his gun. Aiming at her head, he fired. Blood came from her lips in a sputter, and then nothing. She had been feeding on a small girl, while completely aware.
They were less than five blocks away from the rest. But, Grant remained without motion, just staring. An Insane woman had talked to him. She had begged for death, while still eating the innards of a small girl. Yet, she had returned to some form of Human. When the reality hit him, he felt only regret. She could have told him what they were and why they existed. Instead, he killed her without a word.
"Did she know she was trying to eat me?" Bobby's eyes were glossed over in realization. "Did she know I was her son?"
"I don't know," and Grant didn't. But, he wondered the same thing. If The Insane were aware, why were they feeding on fellow humans?
"Something has changed. They are different than when it began. With your mom, she didn't answer when you called. She didn't do anything but try to eat you, Bobby."
"I could have reached her,"
"Will you listen to yourself?! Even while this woman was talking to us, she was eating a small girl. Instead, should I have let your mom feed on you, while you tried to bring her back? Even now, she was still gone-still feeding on someone else. She begged for death."
"Why did she reach for me then? If she didn't know it was me, why did she reach out to me?"
"Maybe-" Grant stopped himself.
"Maybe they come back before they die." he paused. "Maybe the nearly dead know what they are doing before they die. But, they can't stop themselves. They're now just aware."
Suddenly, the streetlights came back on all at once. The path to The Family Restaurant was lit, as was the sight of what remained. Now looking at The Family Restaurant tucked beneath distant darkness, he looked down at the base of the streetlights.
Four blocks. The closer The Family Restaurant got, the deeper his worry became. Whether or not he was a good man was a question he feared would answer itself. There was darkness in him. What if it got out and destroyed everything he loved? Was it beyond his control? Grant only knew one thing. He loved his girls. It was this knowing that kept him from fleeing. It kept him from dying.
Death was around them in every form. The Insane were lurking, and the dead were rotting. The streetlights lit enough of the street, that even some of the houses were lightly sketched back into place. Vague silhouettes stepped from different parts of the darkness, and began to gather. Bobby was a putrid wearer of fear. Grant reeked of worry. And The Insane were beginning to group, preparing to feed once again.
Growls and clotted coughs came from the yards. There was no sound of suffering humans. There were no tears. It was just the sound of used-to-be-humans coming to feed. There may have been an Insane woman who was aware of things. But, they were not.
"Fear," it was quiet and wet, as if the words had been soaked in saliva. And then, for one brief moment, they perched on their heels, and came forward.
In firing, Grant and Bobby ran toward their destination. The bullets coming from both guns caused a few to fall, but there were far too many. They were coming in waves. Those that fell provided a feast for a few; the rest followed Grant and Bobby.
The Family Restaurant was close, now in a distance where its sketched in appearance filled in. There was dark color. There was the neon OPEN sign dangling from its chain, swaying as if it could have fallen at any time. Grant imagined his girls sitting safely in the cellar that at one time had protected him from a Minnesota storm. He thought about the first time he met Chelsea, and how he still felt that way about her.
Three blocks. They ran-both sets of they. Firing shots sporadically caused the same croaking sound to rise from the dying. It sounded human because it was. Before they died, The Insane came back. They knew what they had done, and what they had been before the change. For a moment they returned to the life they had known. They were just mothers, and fathers, and sons, and daughters once again. But, they were still different. They still fed on human flesh, because something in them wanted it-craved it.
From behind, Grant and Bobby could hear very raspy calls for help. They had returned, now aware that they were just food (for a horde-of-what-they-had-been) to feed on. The helps were muffled. Coming from dry, clotted throats, it sounded like laryngitis victims trying to scream. Yet, it was loud enough to be heard by both Grant and Bobby. They didn't turn.
The Family Restaurant continued to form, now presented with blood smeared brick siding. Th
Two blocks. As they progressed, Grant's bones seemed to become rubber-like beneath his quivering skin. It had taken a lot out of him. Not just the chase, but the things he had seen. And in some way, the things he had done. Or hadn't done, but feared would come. The Restaurant got closer and closer. He could almost smell Chelsea's scent; he could almost see the smile his daughter would give. They kept him human, despite his ever-growing concerns.
The final block became nothing but a game of keeping on their feet. Both were men with shaky steps, running toward a restaurant that couldn't seem farther away. The Insane pushed forward, having gathered many more layers to an already thick wave. What called them was a hunger. What kept them was something neither Grant nor Bobby knew. The Insane remained steady, seeming to pick up their speed as Grant and Bobby's drastically declined. Their bloody hands reached out in claws, trying to snag the food they were chasing.
The Family Restaurant appeared closer, with Grant and Bobby now running through the parking lot. It was a building of shattered wide windows. Booths were bloodied and singed. The white tiled floor was coated heavily in accrued gunk and drippings of red. Through a maze of high boards sectioning off a large lounging area into three parts, and past a counter dirtied with pieces of human, the floor held a metal handle that blended into the tile.
One block became a mere matter of feet. They ran through the parking lot, and jumped through a shattered window. Grant landed on a booth table with his stiffened legs that buckled and threw him to the floor. Bobby landed on his feet, only to stop himself before falling over.
The Insane were less than a hundred feet behind, beginning to infest the restaurant as they came through the shattered windows.
Grant was now pulling himself toward the counter, able to kick his legs like weak propellers against the tile floor. Bobby pulled Grant up to a stand as they stumbled toward the counter. They could hear the rasp of growls beginning to surround them.
Grant and Bobby got behind the counter and grabbed the metal handle. It was locked. Desperately, they knocked.
"Please-someone op-open up!" Both continued knocking, once again feeling fear clench hold. "Open up pl-" Suddenly, the door opened, and Mr. Hart held a cocked shotgun.
He fired the gun into what soon became screeches. Wearily, they walked down the steps, and fell to the ground. Grant looked up with his eyes in a blur, seeing Chelsea cuddling Kali, and then collapsed.
Sometime later he awoke to pain in his chest and his sweatshirt beneath his head. He looked up, seeing Chelsea looking down at him with soft, red eyes.
"Hi, Grant." she said softly, with a sniffle.
"Hi," in looking at her, he felt warm. "What's wrong?" he asked, taking a deep breath.
"You don't have to lie to me, Chelsea. I can read your eyes. You're sad." Could she read his?
"No," Grant lied. "Why do you think that?"
"You're not the only one who can read eyes, Grant. You seem frightened."
As if pulling the shutters down over the window that displayed his secret room, he smiled. Could she see the inner conflict-the monster clawing at the seams of his being?
"I'm fine. Just tired,"
"You've been sleeping for a while, Grant."
"A couple of hours at least... you got in here and collapsed."
"He's sleeping. Daddy is holding Kali; they're sleeping too. We're the only ones awake."
"And what are you thinking about?"
"Please just tell me."
In Chelsea's hand was a bottle of water, unopened. She unscrewed the cap. "Take a drink. You are dehydrated." With her hand stroking his forehead, she put the bottle to his lips. Grant lifted his head. It was warm, and stirred his already upset stomach.
"Be honest with me," she whispered.
"We're gonna die? aren't we?"
"No," he licked his lips in thought while closing his eyes.
"Don't lie, Grant. You know what's out there? you know what's left. It's just dead people, and those things."
"There are others." he looked up into her watery eyes. "We saw someone else. A man,"
"What happened to him?"
"? He died."
"Why are we still fighting?"
"What did you want with our future? I mean before the world became this way."
"I wanted to grow old together. I-I wanted a life with you. We were hap-happy once."
"We are fighting for that future: to grow old together, to raise our daughter." it all was a lie that tasted bitter coming from him. Despite what he said, despite what he desired, Grant knew that they would not grow old together. They had been happy at one time. But, that was gone. And now they were left with this?
Grant sat up. He grabbed hold of her hand, and kissed her cheek. His head pounded. His stomach stirred with discontent. He felt like a man void of bones.
The door above them shook. They were safe for the moment. It locked them away from The Insane, who screeched like closing doors as they tried to claw open the cellar door.
Grant found his eyes wandering around the dimly lit cellar. Bobby was wrapped in lingering shadow, resting his head against the cobwebbed, stone wall. His eyes were closed. Mr. Hart was holding Kali closely. They both seemed peaceful. Chelsea rested her head on his chest, and sighed deeply.
"I love you." she whispered.
"I love you too." And he did.
Chelsea closed her eyes, and softly rubbed Grant's chest until falling asleep.
Grant sat and pondered. He had asked himself the same question countless times before, but he couldn't help but wonder how the world had become what it was. Why had The Insane come to be? What were they? Why was he not one of them? The one question he was scared to face continued to find him: "Am I a good man or am I a bad man?"
For five minutes Grant sat in silence, rubbing Chelsea's matted hair, and caressing her cheek. His gun lay next to him; the flashlight was off. He turned it on, and shone it in the corner. Two dead bodies were lying on top of each other. Grant calmly lifted Chelsea up, slipped out, and crawled over to them.
"It's Leon." whispered Grant. He knelt down next to the two bodies, and touched Leon's face finding cold flesh. "You were a good man, Leon."
Tucked beneath Leon's shirt were notes:
I am human. They aren't. What should I say about what I saw last night? Should I sweeten it up for you, or tell you the truth with all the gory details? I don't know what to say. Last night I saw something I never thought possible. Judy and Tom Johnson were sitting in a booth by the bathrooms. They were holding hands, and smiling. They loved each other-I know they did. But, 7:00 pm came, and her eyes closed. Tom tried to wake her, telling me to call 911. But, then her eyes popped open, and she dove across the table, tearing apart his face. There was so much blood.
Throughout the restaurant, many closed their eyes, only to wake up different-Jenny and I barely escaped with our lives. But we did, and now we are down in this cellar, waiting for them to leave. I pray for God to save me and Jenny from this hell. I pray for him to protect my Frankie, and Diane. Faith is all I have left.
April 16th 2014, 8:35 p.m.
According to my watch, three days have passed. It seems that they are only gathering above. They shriek louder. They know we are down here, and They want to eat us. What is happening, oh God what is happening? I still don't know about my Frankie and Diane-I fear I never will.
Jenny only sleeps. When she speaks, the words come out in slurs. Her body is still here, but her spirit is fading. I fear I am going to lose her. Our food is gone. There is still a little water left, but it will soon be gone too. Help me, God, if you care, save us from this.
I am hungry. Anything would quench my hunger right now. But, another
April 19th 2014, 5:39 a.m.
If I can trust what my watch says, then I have been down in this cellar for a week. They are still above me from the sound of it, but I don't care. Jenny died in my arms last night. She smiled, saying she loved me. Her eyes were glossy, but peaceful. I still have faith... I don't know why.
I am hungry, cold, and thirsty. Pain shoots throughout my body in spurts. My stomach aches, and my head throbs. I can't help but look at my hand. Skin is wrapping meat, covering bone. Maybe if I were to tell myself it's chicken?
I know I will die. But, it won't be as bad with something in my system. Most of my body is already pretty numb. I think I'm in shock. I hope it doesn't hurt-if it does, I hope I die quickly.
April 23rd 2014, 10:57 a.m.
Two more days have passed. I think They are still up there, but everything is now just a shrill ringing. Even if They are gone, I am unable to stand. But, They will not get me. I will not let Them down here. This is where I will die. My time is soon.
I ate my pinky and ring finger a couple days ago. It didn't hurt like I thought it would. But, it didn't taste like chicken. The blood was salty and warm, and the meat was like raw fish. I wasn't able to make myself crave human flesh. I am not one of Them.
I am numb-everywhere now. The only sensation I feel is like someone is soaking my chewed up hand in water.
Soon, very soon I will take my last breath. I want to die lying on top of her-becoming one, entering heaven side by side. She'll be waiting for me at the gate, I just know it.
April 25th 2014, my watch has stopped working...
Grant put down the notes, and glanced over at the last people he had left. He found himself in the same situation: waiting. But, when it came down to it, what was he waiting for? Was he waiting for answers to his unsolved questions? Did he want the world to begin again? Or was he waiting to die just like them?
The others were sleeping. Grant looked down. Leon lay on top of a wrinkled skin Jenny. Blood was crusted on his mouth. His left hand had five dirty fingers, his right had only three.
The bodies smelled of rotting flesh buried beneath an old, musty air. Grant covered his nose and looked at the notes once more before crawling back over to the others. He sat next to Chelsea, grabbed her hand and closed his eyes. Bangs knocked against the door; feet ran across the floor. Growls came in sudden rasps.
With his eyes closed, Grant pondered. He pondered life, death, and the places that may come after. Although, stuck in someplace dark, with only a flashlight to lighten it, Grant knew that his inner darkness was mirroring those that he ran from. He couldn't deny that deep down, he was Insane. Maybe he didn't want to eat flesh or crave fear. But, he did want something that a good man ran from.
His mind was foggy and in a haze, just like the room he sat in. In no way was anything certain. Maybe he was a monster. Maybe he was a man. The one thing he wasn't was both. When it came down to a decision determining his true self, there was no gray area. Grant Smith was either a good man or a bad man.
The hours passed slowly, like a snail wrapped in double sided tape sliding across glass. But, eventually mid-afternoon became late evening. The only way to tell time was the wristwatch on Mr. Hart's wrist. The sun still buried its head beneath coal black night, making those around wonder if it had died peacefully, or slept in turmoil.
Grant and Bobby had seen a survivor: a man holding only the hand of a once whole daughter. There were probably more survivors elsewhere. But, what was their condition? What was left of their mind? If all were like the man they had seen, there weren't survivors. They were just poor souls who had yet to die.
"Grant, when you woke up, you said that there was someone else out there." Chelsea broke a quiet air.
"Yeah," Grant said quietly. Bobby looked at him, saying nothing. They both thought about the child's severed hand.
"But, he died?"
"Yeah. There may be people left. But, we have to face the possibility that we are alone, the possibility that we won't make it."
"We already have faced that, Grant." Chelsea said. "But, maybe this is a new beginning."
"To what?" Grant asked.
"A life together." she smiled plainly.
"What quality of life is this, Chelsea?" Bobby interjected. "What are any of us holding onto?"
"This life, Bobby," Grant defended, "We are holding onto this life because there is only one place we go when we die: the ground. Heaven, hell, believe what you want, but don't be shocked if when you die, you don't see a light, you don't see gates, you don't see God."
"Why do you have to argue and try to prove me wrong, Grant?"
"Because it's affecting your decision now. You want to give up living because "heaven" is the far better option. That isn't right, Bobby. It's too early to give up the fight when there could still be a future worth fighting for."
"I'll take it one day at a time, man. That's all I can promise you right now." It was clear that Bobby wanted the far better option.
"I'll agree with one day at a time." Grant responded. "Do we all agree to choose life today?"
Mr. Hart nodded his head without saying a word; Chelsea smiled as she agreed to the same.
That day had been a day where everyone wondered if life was still worth living. But, ultimately, all five of them chose life. They followed that last glimpse of hope like a mirage of water in a dry desert. Hope was all they had left.
A pact had been made. Even though Grant believed it was ending, he promised to do everything he could to stay alive. And his promise was based on honesty. In that day of pondering, and self-reflecting, he had decided life. They all had...
Clouds by Nate Allen / Horror have rating 2.8 out of 5 / Based on36 votes