Death Saves His Job
“The hour is grave indeed… To think my directive is reduced to this, desperately clinging to a false hope in order to evade destruction… Should I embrace my destiny? I was designed with one purpose, and to be disposed of once that purpose no longer existed. Do I really have the right, the authority, to rebel against my very creation? And what if the Creator finds out, if I am punished for acting against my directive? The end result may very well be a fate far worse than simply ceasing to exist… No, I cannot let fear take me. Long have I steeled my nerves in order to perform my duties, this is nothing more than another job. It merely… takes a different form. I will complete this as any other, and then I will once again be free to collect as I once did…”
Sara hefted the overfilled pack on the ground and quickly swung the straps over her shoulders. With a powerful sweep of her arm she gestured toward a far off, dilapidated building and shouted to the group trailing behind her, "Faster! Do you want those things to catch us?! Move your ass while you still have one!" With that she set off toward the building. She moved swiftly, yet with the gate of one who has traveled far with very little rest. The group she had yelled to looked ragged and worn. This could be seen not just in their tattered clothes and dirty faces, but also in the slow, plodding steps they took toward their destination. It was clear they had no intention of heeding the young woman's warning.
From near the rear of the group, a teenaged boy's voice chimed out a nervous, "Did... Did anyone hear that?" As the boy's words were passed through the group, their movement slowed to a halt. Ears strained, everyone attempting to hear something amid the howling winds that whipped about. The seconds began accumulating, the restlessness of some of the group's members growing as they transitioned into minutes. Finally, a few turned back toward the building and once again set off, their plodding steps filling the silence. Soon the others joined, all save a few who stayed back and peered into the vast expanses around them through cracked binoculars. "My god... RUN!" One of them shouted, pointing behind him as he turned to run to the building. From off in the distance a loud, animalistic screech could be heard, followed by a series of sharp clicking noises. As it pierced through the wind, even the most tired among the groups' members hastened their steps.
The building was a mere 200 feet away when the creature finally entered the groups' vision. Its screeching cries became more frequent as it neared the targets of its latest hunt. "We'll never make it!" A woman exclaimed. A man's voice joined the panic, "By the time you see it it's too late, everyone knows it! We're done! We're done!" Sara, who had stopped about 5 feet from the building to wait for the others, yelled back at the group, "Stop bitching and run!" The group picked up their pace to the best of their ability, but the injured few in the middle made it difficult to move faster than a brisk walk. Here and there people would try to break off and run on their own, but they'd always get snatched and pulled back before they made it more than a few steps away. Many in the group had developed an "all or nothing" sort of mentality, deciding that they either would survive together or die together.
Startled screams broke out as the creature fell upon a man near the rear of the group. The beast drove its spike like appendages through the man's body, impaling him in an instant. Smelling fresh blood, its head looked to the sky as it let out an ear-shattering noise. Its many folding mandibles reached down and tore into its victim, devouring the man's entire left arm. Crimson streaks raced down its carapaced face as it jumped into the air. "A leaper! It's a fucking leaper! Go go go!" shouted Sara in desperation.
The creature descended upon a woman in the front of the group, knocking her to the ground. It once again drew its spiked limbs back, preparing to deliver the killing blow. Suddenly a loud cracking sound broke through the noise. A cracked region in the creature's torso began to crumble and give way, a strange thick, blue liquid oozing out of a newly formed hole. From behind Sara, in the doorway of the broken building, a gruff voice answered the new-found silence, "Got 'im. Y'all might wanna get in here quick, them things can smell blood." With that the man dropped his rifle from its readied position on his shoulder and disappeared inside.
The group filed in in stunned silence, leaving the corpses of the partially eaten man and the strange creature behind. As soon as everyone was in and the door was shut, Sara marched over to the stranger with the gun, "Who the hell are you? We thought we were the last ones, where did you come from?" Her voice was stern, but with a tinge of fear behind it. For all her attempts to remain unaffected by the desolation that surrounded her, situations like these always reminded her of the sad reality she was faced with in this post-fall world. The man let out a slight chuckle, "Hell of a way to treat someone who just saved yer hide," he paused to lift the dog tags that hung from his neck, "Go by Grimm. Don't no one call me by my first name, so don't bother askin'. Least, they didn't, when they was alive." Sara gave Grimm a skeptical look, "Dog tags... You military? I thought you guys died first, trying to save us from... from those things! Are you a deserter?" Grimm's eyes grew dark, "No, I ain't no deserter. I did my part. But once ya dun did what ya can, once yer mission's over and you ain't know what else to do, you gotta find a new reason to live. Nah, I ain't about to just lay down and die... I decided I'd find a way to fix this here mess, to make things right again."
Whispers spread through the group, whispers filled with the tones of something none of them had heard in a long time: hope. Sara looked back at them sadly, but let them have their moment. She turned back to Grimm, "And how do you plan to do that? Last time I had access to a radio I was listening to the last human settlement getting ravaged by those beasts. There's nowhere for us to go." Grimm eyed the girl before him, his gaze purely analytical, judging her not just on the surface but down to her very core. He grabbed a large, rolled up sheet of paper from against the wall and unfurled it on the nearest table. On the paper was a hastily scrawled map, with simple landmarks, a single line for a path, and a circled area at one of its ends. Grimm pointed to the circle, "You want yer chance? That's it right there. Military base, top secret. Wouldn't expect most people to 'ave heard of it, which is what makes it perfect. Likely ain't not a soul touched it since the fall, and anyone who was there would have been deployed to fight. It's got supplies, enough room for a group ten times yer size, and was designed to function on its own for an unknown amount of time." At this Sara leaned into the map eagerly and cut Grimm off, "In other words: it's the perfect place to rebuild." A smirk appeared on Grimm's face as he gave a slight nod, "Ya got it, kid."
It didn't take much convincing to get the group to go along with Grimm's plan. Any chance, any sliver of hope, was better than the inevitable painful deaths they currently saw as their future. The idea was simple enough: Grimm would lead them through the safest path he could think of based on his knowledge of the area from his days in the military. Those in the group who could fight would be armed with the few weapons they could find in the building, and the rest would huddle in the middle. They would move as fast and often as they could muster, to reduce the chance of one of the creatures discovering them. Grimm estimated the trip should take around four days, if they could maintain a steady pace.
As the preparations neared completion, Grimm addressed the group, "Now y'all know yer jobs, and that's all well and good, but we're missin' something. I need a scout. Which one of you got the best eyes and ears?" Looks were exchanged as everyone pondered who'd make the best scout. They knew their lives could depend on this decision. Minutes passed without a conclusion being reached, and Grimm grew irritated, "Y'all ain't got enough time available to ya to be wastin' it like that. Pick someone and let's get on with it already." At this a man shouted out, "What about that kid who said he heard the creature before it attacked?" A series of murmured agreements echoed throughout the crowd. Grimm pointed to the ground in front of him, "Alright kid, get up 'ere." The teenager who attempted to alert the group the day before made his way to the front.
The boy kicked at the ground awkwardly, waiting for something to be said. After Grimm finished assessing him, a quick process that involved him walking a circle around the teenager and eyeing him up and down, he grumbled and said, "You'll do. Yer job is to watch and listen. Constantly. I ain't figured out those creatures' attack patterns. Hell, they might not even have any. They strike when they damn well feel like it, day or night. You gotta keep your eyes and ears peeled. I'll let ya rest when I can, but yer gonna have ta make do with less sleep than the rest of 'em until we get there. Got it?" The boy nodded, not sure of what to say. Grimm put his hand on the boy's shoulder and squeezed gently, "Yer gonna be fine, kid. Hey, you got a name?" The boy squared his shoulders and said, "Clark, sir. Name's Clark. And don't you worry, I've got this covered. I used to pull all-nighters before the fall every other week, this'll be nothing." Grimm chuckled, his gravelly voice filling the heavy air, and pressed a backpack into Clark's hands. "Good," his voice had returned to its normal, neutral tone, "Now get everyone ready to leave."
Within the hour the group set out. Grimm took the lead, with Sara close behind. Clark walked around the perimeter of the group, constantly looking out at all sides with infrared binoculars he'd found in his pack. The outermost members of the group held a mixture of guns and simple weapons -- clubs, knives, and other miscellaneous close-quarters instruments -- with the hope they'd be able to use them properly should the need arise. The central members of the group were those that were either too injured, too young, or simply too weary to help. There was no "women and children" rule here, any who were able and willing to aid the group did so.
The first two days were uneventful. Minor disputes over food and water popped up from time to time, but were always quickly settled. The group knew they needed to work together, or the plan had no hope of succeeding. The third day came and went, and nightfall promised a slight rest as Grimm bode them all to recharge in what appeared to have once been a playground. Some nodded off; others spoke in hushed whispers about what may lay ahead in "Grimm's base," as they called it. The peace was wrenched apart when bright eyes appeared in the darkness. The group was surrounded. Clicking noises filled the air as numerous creatures stepped into view. "Swarmers..." Sara said, a defeated tone in her voice.
Grimm looked back at those he had given guns to, "Y'all ready? Time to prove yerselves. When I tell ya, fire!" Everyone scrambled to grab their guns, quickly trying to coordinate among themselves so as to aim at different targets. They didn't have long to plan though, as the creatures began to charge toward their makeshift camp. "Gun 'em down!" Grimm yelled as he lifted his own rifle and dispatched one of the would-be attackers. Shots began to ring out, as one by one the beasts fell. Just as quickly as it began the attack ended. The weary travelers looked at each other, checking to see if anyone had been dragged off. A few moments passed before Sara made her way over to Grimm. With a deep exhale, as if she'd been holding her breath since the creatures first appeared, she explained, "Everyone's accounted for. We survived... We really do have a chance, don't we?" Grimm looked up toward the sky and paused before saying in a low voice, "I sure hope so..."
The next day passed without a hitch. As the sun rose on the fourth day, Grimm addressed the group. "Now when I told y'all four days, I said that was only if ya could keep up the pace." Breath caught in throats as people worried they'd slowed down the group. "Well, by my reckoning, y'all been movin' faster than I expected. Things go right today, we should get there not too long after the noon day sun starts to make its way back down." Excited chatter rang out, "So you mean we'll be safe this afternoon?" Grimm spoke as he started to head out back along the path, "Yep, sounds like you got the idea." Once he was out of ear shot he muttered under his breath, "Safe from the beasts at least..."
The group found renewed vigor in Grimm's words, and they moved as quickly as they could muster their tired legs to carry them. The hours seemed to drag, but that didn't dilute the energy that could be felt in the hurried steps and intermittent conversation. As the sun reached its apex, Clark yelled, "I see it! There's the base!" Sure enough, off in the distance the outline of hardy looking buildings could be seen. Cheers erupted and a clatter arose that was almost deafening compared to the hushed tones everyone had been using before. Grimm moved through the group and tried to silence everyone, "Shut yer mouths, yer gonna bring them things outta hidin'!" But his voice was drowned out by the people's preemptive celebration.
The celebration turned into cries of fear as a screech far louder than any of the others had-been assailed the group. Its pitch and volume were such that many grabbed their ears in a vain attempt to block it out. As it began to die down, Grimm shouted, "That's a goddamn queen, ya dipshits! Run!" Without hesitation everyone peeled off toward the distant buildings, desperately trying to reach their one chance at safety. A plume of dirt and dust shot into the air, and from out of the ground a mere 30 feet from the group emerged the queen. From the tunnel she burrowed her children crawled out. Some stood next to her, others flew around her, and more still crawled over, almost as if to shield their mother from potential harm with their own bodies.
Grimm gritted his teeth. "For fuck's sake, this wasn't a part of the plan!" He grabbed a few guns from some of the people he passed and began walking toward the queen. Sarah, noticing this, shouted to him, "Grimm, what are you doing?! You can't fight that thing, come on!" Grimm shook his head and began loading bullets into the gun, "Listen here girl, and listen good. You run yourself to that base and you seal the door tight as it can get, ya hear me? Ya keep yer nose pointed forward and ya run. I hear one more peep out of you I'll shoot ya maself, I ain't about to get slowed down for you. Now git goin' and don't ya dare look back, only way you're survivin' this is if you keep your nose pointed toward that base. Now go!" He pointed a pistol toward Sara and a rifle toward the queen. A tear cut through the dirt on Sara's face as she turned back toward the base and ran with all her might.
Sounds of bullets were met with angry shrieks from the queen and her children as the group ran with all their might toward the base. As they neared its entrance, Clark pointed toward an open door, "There!" Everyone pushed through the narrow door, trying desperately to get inside, unaware that Grimm was holding up the creatures. Sara reached the door last, and as she passed through, she paused to look back. What she saw made her burst into tears, and she might not have had the will to continue had Clark not pulled her inside. Two men pushed the heavy door shut and sealed it tight, locking the group into their new home. Clark shook Sara, "Sara! Sara! What is it, why are you crying? We're safe Sara, we're safe!" Through her sobs, Sara simply said, "Grimm stayed behind, for us... And... when I looked back... He's gone, they got him..." Shocked faces filled the room, followed by quiet cries. What should have been a joyous moment was made solemn by the loss of someone the group had come to see as both a leader and a friend.
45 Years Later
A strange figure stood in a dark room, adjusting his long black robe. A skeletal hand emerged from one of its sleeves as the figure grabbed his trusty scythe and brought it to his side. Beneath his hood, a smile spread across his face, “The first grandmother has fallen… Oh how good it is to be back!”