Demons Walk Among Us

You’ll never know what you’ll miss till it’s gone.

And there are a lot of things I miss.

Like when my only worry was if I  would still be able to catch the 7:15 E -Route bus at the stop at the corner of my street  when I woke up at 7:12. Or if I’d be home in time to watch the new episode of Supernatural after being dragged, tied down and forced listen to a never ending chorus of “ look how big you’re getting!” “ did you start looking for a college yet? I know you just started high school, but it’s never to early to start!”, “ You didn’t eat enough.” at a family dinner that was more painful than water board torture.  Or even if dad was going to remember to get a new carton of milk in morning.

There’s a whole list. I now that I think back on it, I’m surprised I didn’t have an ulcer by  the time  I was fourteen with  all the worrying I did.

I miss having a book  or i pod within constant reach of my fingers instead of an assault rifle, or my duel pistols  – both  with a full  mag of blessed bullets.

I missed the E route bus.

I missed my family.

I missed my dad.

I missed when monsters only existed in my nightmares ,or in my closet and under the bed.

I missed being sixteen in a world where everything made sense, and chaos could be sent away with a press of the channel button on a remote, or by switching off my X-Box when I got bored or stuck on a level in a game.

I hated being seventeen in a world where the chaos wouldn’t go away even when I closed my eyes and jammed my hands over my ears so tightly that all I could hear was thudding of my pulse.

Nine months ago all hell broke lose.  It wasn’t hostile aliens from another galaxy, or a fast spreading  super virus that turned 90% of the world’s population into flesh-hungry mindless zombies, or a chain nuclear disaster that leveled everything like in a Michael Bay movie.  No, these were things that had always been with us, things that had been buried and locked away for ages- right under our very feet.

Things that had been kept at bay for millennia because we had feared them enough to believe they were real, and that fear kept the gate to their cages locked.  But when the age of science , technology and the mind set of “ I’ll-believe- it-when-I-see-it’” had weakened the strength people put in religion, it had also weakened the strength of  those gates until they were weak enough for the demons to rip right through and start walking the earth.

If there was one thing all those TV shows I watched got right, it was the fact that demons liked wearing human skin like a brand new suite, but those are only the higher class ones.  The weak ones can barely latch on  to a newly dead corpse and reanimate it for a few hours before they drain it to dust, but those parasites didn’t start showing up till a couple weeks after “ The Day”.   At first no one had the slighest idea about what  was unleashed on us; they chalked up the storms to a freak and rare weather phenomenon, and the spike in the crime rate and disorder as a logical response to the drastic failure of the economy that was now almost on life support.  It was like a messed up version of the “ Trickle-down- effect”  I had learned about in economics just a month or so before all Hell broke loose.

The stronger demons, what we now refer to as “ S-class”, had possessed the most powerful and influential people in our world, most of which were already like them in  true nature anyway ; Political leaders, heads of the army,  the wealthy,  lawyers, some celebrities, and even law enforcement.   From there they just had to spread their taint , like a deadly disease hidden in infected grain.  The dark and nasty sides of humanity where amplified ten-fold and consumed people until they were no better than demons themselves.  Pride, wrath, pain, gluttony, lust , greed – every one of the seven sins and the evils in Pandora’s box took over.

They became just puppets for entertainment to the new rulers of this world, and the masters let their pets run rampant.  They control the cities now, all the towns and capitols.

We, their entertainment and food source, could only stay locked in our houses, staying hidden while chaos ran the streets, for so long.  Wooden doors and glass windows can’t keep chaos and discord out, and the major populated areas were too dangerous to stay since they were the most densely concentrated area of the demon’s influences.  So we had to stick with the old stand-by they preach in movies  and TV shows: if you want to survive, run.

But there was nowhere to run to. No safe zone.  We couldn’t escape it by going north to a place so cold  that nothing could grow, or to a place that was in the middle of nowhere and away from human contact.

But, we couldn’t stay and fight either- not with beings who had been around since this world was created and who now had every single army in the world at their fingertips.

What else could we do?

Now we live like how our ancestors did before the permanent settlements were created- like how we use to be the last time most of the demons walked free.  A weird modern day hunter/gather society – except we’re armed with guns instead of spears,  and run more like a military.  ( Guess some cliches are there for a reason)

Before all this I was a high school student who was good at english, science, and history,  and lousy at math.  Now, I’m a scout who’s good at re-con and lousy infantry. My grams always swore I took after my granda because I was born just after he passed away, and now, ironically,  I ‘m a runner, just like he was in WWII.  But unlike him, I doubt I’ll be sent home with a purple heart if I’m injured on the battle field.

I’d be lucky if I was sent home at all.

Since we don’t have an actually military to protect us anymore, anyone who is able to fight was automatically handed a weapon ; and out of my entire family – I’m the only one able to.  My older sister can’t see, she went blind after seeing something that mortal eyes couldn’t handle, and my mother is  almost nine months pregnant, on the verge on giving birth to my little sister or brother. The only doctor we have says it’s a miracle she was able to carry to full term at all with all the stress and running we’ve done.   My father……along with the squad that he was in …. has been MIA for  the past seven months.

I’m not entirely left unsupervised though. I was placed in the same squad as two of my older cousins ; Dan, who’s twenty-nine and his sister Kathy, who’s closer to my age but was still out of college before they were all leveled.   At first it was kind of weird being with them 24/7 when before I only saw them on the holidays, but now I think of them as the older brother and other  sister I always wished I had.

Guess total-scale world apocalypse is the best kind of family therapy you can get.

“BOO!”

The book flew out of my hand as I  leapt off stump  I had been ordered to sit on while the others  went to go scavenge the small backwater town down the road from the decaying logging camp we had stumbled upon while sweeping the area.  I wheeled around and instantly raised my rifle, finger poised on the trigger -ready to pull and lodge a hot bullet of blessed metal straight in to the skull of the Dammed – when the husky chuckle of my cousin rung in my ears.  “God dammit Dan!”, I cursed as I lowered my gun and glared him.

Dan was probably as tall as he was older than me – then again, most of the people on my dad’s side of the family were like that. I had gotten the “short-end-of the-metaphorical-genetic- stick” from my mother’s side. He was also one of the better in shape fighters, and someone use to working in dirty places due to being a construction worker before all Hell broke loose.   Things I usually looked up at him for, until he decided to get a kick out of startling me like he had been doing since I was five.

“You know, one of these days I don’t think I’ll be sorry if I do shoot you.”

Dan chuckled again, his blue eyes, which were only a few shades darker than mine, alight with amusement. Even though I hated that he teased me like this- I couldn’t fully blame him.  Happy things were as scarce as a decent meal these day. You took what you could get.

“Even with demons walking the earth, you still manage to lose yourself in a book “, He said with a disbelieving  shake of his head, “ I don’t believe you.”

I snorted and bent down to scoop up the battered paperback copy of “ Alan Wake” I had dropped and dusted the dirt off the cover  on my knee.  It was a novelized version of video game I had been meaning to play but never gotten around to back when I had an x-box, a t.v, and well.. wasn’t living on the run.  I had had a million books in my old bedroom and it killed me that I hadn’t brought a single one.  You would think that reading stuff about monsters and paranormal events would seem pointless now that fiction was our new reality – but it wasn’t.  No matter how real these events now were- a book was still an escape.

There was always a good ending to a story. Always a way to defeat evil.

That certainty didn’t exist the real world.

I had snagged this from the bargain bin at a empty  gas station we passed in town two days ago.  I was already ¾ of the way through the book.  Back in my old life I would have read it in about five hours.

“Did you guys find anything?” , I asked as I slipped the book back into the medium messenger bag  at my side.  What I once would have used to carry around my school supplies I now used to carry around extra ammo, first aid supplies, a flashlight, a half-eaten bag of trail mix.  A teal aluminum water bottle with white butterflies was clipped on to the strap.

“Nothing useful.”, Dan rolled a loose log with his foot, “ Rave took the rest of the guys to search the gas station at the top of the cliff.  I figured would come back and check on you. “

“Well, gee- I didn’t know you loved me so much.” , I checked the clip of my riffle ;  twenty- five rounds remained and I  still had another two full clips in the bag.  There were also the duel pistols in  holsters attached to my belt – not like I used them that often though.  Regular supplies were hard enough to find , the very specific materials needed to make our demon-killing bullets were almost impossible to get a hold of.

Dan sighed, crossed his arms over his chest and gazed back in the general direction the town was, his dark eyebrows drawn slightly together in frustration.

“Careful, your face might freeze that way.”

“This is the third town like this.  If we don’t find some place where we can at least restock some of our food supply – well, we won’t have to worry about any demons finding us.”

“Hey, we’ll finding something.” I said, but the words felt  hollow in my mouth.  I wanted to give him hope; hope was the only like that kept us going – but at the same time, hope was what was slowly poisoning us.

We were hoping for something we didn’t even know existed or was even possible. An end to all of this.  Put everything in the bank and you’ll lose it all went economy hits the metaphorical shitter; but put a little in the bank, and keep a little tucked away at home – and at least them you won’t be totally broke.

Most of us put a little bit of trust in the  hope that there would be an end to this, and a lot if  trust in buckling down for the long haul , and  the depressing reality of cold hard steel and  relying on common sense to keep us alive until then.

Hope was blinding.

I quickly pulled my mind away from that subject , “ Are we going to be heading back?”

Dan adjusted the strap across his chest and  quickly tossed a glance over his shoulder in the direction  the rest of the group had gone.  I followed his gaze a caught a small cluster of bobbing lights ascending up a hill a mile away ; no doubt the flashlights of Rave and others as they followed a road to the old retro gas station perched above them- a sentinel that was only a shade darker than the night sky it stood against. “ Yep, back to camp, kiddo.”

I made a sound at the back of my throat, “ I am  not a kid, Dan.”

“Oh, sorry – I forgot fifteen was the new twenty-one.”, He chuckled.

“I’m seventeen, genius.”  Dan blankly blinked, “ Whoa, hold on, I missed a birthday?”

I rolled my eyes and started crossing the logging yard , hopped  over the rickety chain-linked fence to the paved road, “ You missed two.

Thanks to his much longer legs, Dan easily caught up to me with ease, “ When’s your birthday again?”

I shot him a look, “ What?”   “Wow, you really are related to my dad. “, My father was notorious  forgetting dates ;including my sister’s  and mine’s birthdays, appointments, holidays,  his wedding anniversary, and even his own birthday. “My birthday is the same as your-”

I was cut off by the sound of something rustling around in the undergrowth of the  thick forest that the road carved through. The ease that had been between my cousin and I instantly vanished as we automatically switched into “ survivor/solider” mode and reached for our weapons.   Fear and anxiety licked at my nerves from my fingers and all the way my spine as we stood stone-still and waited for  more movement.  It was then I noticed the light flurries drifting  around us and the absolute quite that came with snow.

There wasn’t anymore  noise from the woods and the darkness was too thick for the beams of our flashlights to cut through, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were being watched by something just beyond the limit of the light.  Alarm and worry churned in my stomach and leapt up into my throat, burning a raw path that left a sour taste in my mouth.

“Dan,” I whispered fighting back the urge to reach for his hand like I use to do with Olivia, my older sister, back when we were much younger and I had to go anywhere dark. I kept my eyes locked on the shadows of the forest,  “Dan,” I said urgently this time, my voice sounding several times louder than normal compared to the stillness around us,   “ Come -on, let’s get going.”  The sooner we get back to camp, the safer we’ll be.

Dan took a step towards the edge of the road, but stopped when I said his name again- this time slipping in some of my mother’s best “ listen to me now, or else” tone.  His brows knit together and his mouth turned down into a hard line, but he back away from the woods , “ Right, come-on let’s get back.”

We started back down the road,  and I had to control myself from braking into a flat out run. Dan patted his side for something, and a few seconds there were a few clicks and he cursed , “ Denise, give me your radio, the dam batteries on mine died.”  I didn’t even bother to ask why, I just  quickly dug my hand into my bag and shoved the bulky black walkie-talkie into his hand.   A moment later there was another click and a whirling of static as he tuned into the right channel , “ Rave, this is Dan  – we got some activity down here by the road. Keep an eye and a few guns out.”

“………….”

The flat response of static was not a good sign. Dan cursed and instantly clicking through the channels , “  Rob, Mark, Rebecca ….. KATHY! – Dammit, someone respond!”

“M-maybe they’re too far out of range?”, I offered lamely, but the lie tasted flimsy and transparent on my tongue.

It was quite.

Way too quite.

My instinct was roaring at me to run – run back to camp. Run back to Olivia and my mother who as due to pop any day now, and stand in front of them like some kind of shield.  “Come-on!” I urged again, finding a sturdy grip in my voice again, “ Dan-”

Whatever I was about to yell at him was lost at as a flicker on the cliff caught our attention, a brief flare of light in the pitch black, and then … a scream that tore right through the valley like an arrow through water.

“GO!”

Dan shoved me forward and I didn’t need to be told twice.  I had been made a runner for a reason;  I was young, I was agile, and most importantly – I was fast. And if what I feared was in the forest – what I KNEW was in the forest- was after us , speed was the only thing that could save me now.

The road soared flew  my feet, the black stretch of asphalt turned into a tarnished silver river winding through trees under the glare of the full moon above us.  I could only hear my breathing , the rushing  of blood in my hears and the pounding of my feet and Dan’s behind me.  But as  I rounded a hair-pin turn, I  lost my traction on a thin layer of snow and slammed shoulder-first into the road.  Dan was at my side in an instant, pulling me to my feet, urging me to keep running – but I had given the thing that was chasing us the one opening it needed.

A black shape bolt out of the trees and landed in front of us.  It was a human shape, I could make out the outline of arms, legs, shoulders, a neck and head with long hair, and as cloud finished crossing in front of the moon – pale light crept up long legs incased in torn jeans, a ruby red fitted shirt with a brown leather jacket, sparkled off a gold triangle necklace around a long column of sun-kissed neck and matching earrings, long  dyed reddish- brown hair  and up and over high cheeks and .. black eyes rimmed in deep crimson.

Fear racked down my spine and lanced into every cell of my body, and I gripped Dan’s arm so tightly I knew I was cutting off blood supply.

The young woman smiled at us ; a feral, deviant smile of gleaming ivory blades.

I didn’t recognize her. I didn’t know her- at least not who she use to be. I knew who, or  more like what she was now ; a  possessed , taken over  by a demon – An S-class one.  The super-model looking ones always were, at least.. that’s what I had heard. I had never seen one in person until now. I had only been graced by the presence of the lower, mindless minions.

The fact that this was an S-class froze my hammering heart. They were the big guns, the strong ones – the elite. If they were here…

“Well, well – What do we have here?”, She purred like a lioness eyeing  her prey, “ A few little sheep who strayed away from the flock?”

A growl bubbled up the back of my throat as every ounce of pain, hate and  anger I had for these things shot to the surface, “ DROP DEAD, YOU BRIMSTONE BITCH!”

Dan’s  fingers dug sharply into my shoulders as if to hold me back from lungeing at her or from doing something equally as stupid and shoved me behind him. The woman on the other hand seemed to find my little out burst amusing, she laughed and clapped her hands together,  “ Oh, a little spit-fire! Ohhhhhh this is goood.”, She cooed  like she was at a pet shop and browsing through a wall  of caged animals, “ You are just my absolute  favorite -so much spunk, so much life! You’re like a frickin’  super battery. “ She licked her  lips, which I now noticed were painted with a thick layer of dark lipgloss, and eyed me hungrily  from around Dan’s shoulder, “ And young too, well.. maybe a bit too young at the moment – but you’ll be ripe in a year or two;  and this one is starting to reach her expiration date anyway – Oh, would you put that stupid toy down?”

The trigger on Dan’s rifle clicked soundly in the cold night air as he aimed the barrel right between the woman’s eyes.  “Denise.. “, He said lowly and without taking his eyes off of her, his tone left no room for argument and it reminded me that his was my older cousin I was dealing with ; that he, unlike me, had killed before. “ Get back to camp. Now.”

“Dan -”

“Go.”

“I don’t think either of you are going anywhere.”,The woman said, “ We’ve been searching a while for your little motley crew.”

“Why?” I spat, “So you can turn us into your new spring line?”

The woman’s eyes flashed as the grin split her face that cause my skin to crawl, “ Oh, I do like you.  Tongue like a whip- a girl after my own heart. But, no, you have something we want. Something .. valuable.”

Somewhere, somehow, I knew what she was talking about and dread settled into the pit of stomach like someone had poured ice and shrapnel down my throat.   Images of my mother, with her swollen stomach, my sister helping her as best her could while feeling her own way around without sight, and my missing father flashed in my mind as she slowly crouched down, again ignoring my cousin, and held my gaze, “ Now, where is that baby?”

—Sara Wiley