Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Land of Shadows - Chapter X: Elias

The host body sat up and opened its eyes experimentally and found them to be in working order. It was so good to have binocular vision again. It let the dual sensations and emotions wash over it. There was an additional strange echo to it though. It could be from an inherent mental instability. The host was healthy, but stupid and weak willed. Usually though smaller minds tended to be more stable. Like bulky old computer chips running lower voltages. Slow but reliable. The takeover had been easy. A black wedge shaped head nuzzled under the hand of the host.

Still wobbly from the transition it yanked the host around like a marionette in the hands of an amateur puppeteer. Three sturdy young wraiths stood guard over him, a fourth stood guard at the door to the small house they had fled to. It checked its reflection in the dusty mirror over the little dresser. The young man staring back at him was young and strong. Handsome by most definitions once you got past the cuts and bruises. Dirty blond hair and blue eyes and built like a gladiator. He should have no trouble luring women back to the nest. Well not this nest. Thanks to that little red haired bitch. He would take his time with her if he ever caught her.

He looked down at his former host. So weak and frail. He found it hard to believe he had ever been desperate enough to consider that a viable host. The belly and chest cavity had collapsed in on itself leaving it withered and shrunken like a raisin.

"So this is what it feels like to look down at your own corpse..."

He returned his attention to his reflection. The wound was a bit sloppier than usual, but should heal fine.

After cleaning up and raiding the closet for some acceptable clothes he left the house with wraiths trailing after him. There was work to be done.

* * *

Dee and Ally were once again on the road. Ally's bike was lost so she was riding in the Volvo with Dee, Bo and Duke. They had not even tried to clean her cloths, they had just gone into a local Wal-Mart and got an entirely new outfit and a few spare changes of clothes. She had lost everything when the wraith had jumped her on her Honda. They had gone back to the scene, but her bike was a complete wreck and her saddle bags were ripped apart. Nothing was salvageable.

Ally wanted to go back into the school to see if Jewels had made it out of the fire, but Dee stopped her by pointing out that the little blue Ford microvan was gone. The wraiths were not able to drive and that left just one known possibility. It had to be assumed that Mr. Fisher had escaped. The wraiths certainly hadn't gone off joyriding in it.

* * *

"That can only be Ally," the boy told her as he lowered the binoculars to the rail. Dotty looked at the red haired youth and back to the thick plume of smoke to the west.

"I suppose you want to go after her?" She asked tiredly.

"I gotta know and the radio still isn't working ... "

"I told you not to mess with it."

"It's an antique, it uses friggin' vacuum tubes, I was just
trying to tweak it a bit!"

"Yeah, well you're gonna fix it when we get back. But first you're gonna load the truck."

* * *

There was something missing, the man thought as he walked eastbound through Kansas on I-70. He had long ago become accustomed to the stillness and absence of people, so that was not it. It was not until he came across a huge Corn King sign at a farm that it hit him. Corn, wheat and sunflowers took up more farmland in Kansas than just about any other crop. He had seen some wild sunflowers and acres of untended wheat grasses, but no corn. He was born prior to the disappearance, and possessed a high level of education even by the standards of that lost era. But he was unaware of the draconian marketing tactics of the seed companies that commercial farmers were forced to buy from. The genetically modified seed corn these companies sold to farmers would produce big plump ears of corn, but not a single viable seed. So large patches of fertile farmland now just grew weeds.

He strolled into North Kansas City barely a head of a storm. The single storey cookie cutter houses on this street were run down as he expected, but he spotted one on which the roof and windows were all intact. He avoided the waist high grass used the broken sidewalk. The front porch was heavily eroded concrete, but steps were usable and he didn't have to worry about his feet falling through rotted stairs. He let himself in through the unlocked front door. The furniture was dusty and the place smelled a bit of mold. Fortunately he had never suffered from allergies. He un-shouldered his back back and his M-16 and set them down, grateful to be free of their weight.

He chose this house mainly because of the big brick chimney he had seen from the street. There was a small stack of wood and a few starter logs near the fireplace. He checked the flue and was not surprised when a shower of debris rained down but a draft of air told him that it was clear. He pulled some wood from the stack, being cautious of spiders. He had gotten a rather nasty spider bite a couple of years ago. Once he had the fire going he began the task of skinning the rabbit he'd snared this morning.

The rain that had been threatening all morning finally started as he set rabbit up to cook. The clouds just to opened up and began dumping water by buckets, He hoped that the roof was intact as it looked. In the kitchen pantry he found several rusted and swollen cans and some well sealed containers of dry rice, flour and sugar and an extra special treat, an unopened five pound can of Folgers Colombian coffee! He had been out of coffee for a couple of weeks now and looked forward to brewing some to have with breakfast tomorrow morning.

He paused in the kitchen long enough to light his propane lantern before opening the door that he suspected would open onto a set of stairs leading down to the basement. The man was just tall enough that he had to duck his head to avoid banging his head on the corner where the floor and ceiling met in the stairwell. The basement was dry now but showed evidence of past flooding. It probably would not stay dry long with this rain he suspected. Aside from the washer and dryer and the other necessary appliances the basement was mostly empty. A few plastic storage bins were stacked up on a wood pallet to keep them up off the floor.

There was a pile of clothes in front of the open dryer and tumbled over basket. He could picture the woman (or man he supposed, sexist of him to think only a woman could do laundry) taking the load out of the dryer, turning to head up the stairs before suddenly being snatched right out of their clothes by some unseen hand, the freshly washed clothes tumbling to the floor. He looked away from the mold blackened clothes and once again prayed for forgiveness for the role he had played in the destruction of the human civilization.

Doctor Elias Hood retreated up the basement stairs, closed the basement door and latched it. He was in no way responsible for the creation of the machine that had been responsible for the disaster. He had just been the first human test subject. But he still felt a terrible debt was owed. And it was not over yet. The worst was yet to come.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

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