Interlude: Dark Work

Divine retribution comes for a man that has gone too far.

I don’t normally do this, but this story is extremely dark in places. Consider this a trigger warning for victims of domestic violence.

No moon shone on this cloudless night. Heavy clouds had laid siege to it and claimed the sky for themselves. Cold winds carried the sounds of fighting from the house into the front yard.

A woman cried out. “No, please! The baby!” Two gunshots fractured the night. The woman screamed. The baby began to cry loudly.

The front door of the house slammed open, the baby’s wails set loose on the cold wind. A man with a handgun burst through the opening. His eyes burned with anger, mixed with fear. He quickly looked around.

Anger stole across his face, extinguishing any concern. “Stupid bitch deserved it,” he told the darkness. He cried out, flinging the handgun as hard as he could across the lawn.

He pounded to the sports car in the driveway. He backed out of the drive and onto the roadway. The engine roared, rear tires searching for purchase as the car slowly gained forward momentum into the night.

Silence returned once again. The baby’s wails had fallen off to plaintive cries mixed with her mother’s tears. The cold wind blew through the dying leaves of the oak tree standing guard nearby.

With it came a dark figure. It moved silently, reverently across the grass to the open door. Its steps made no sound, its body no shadow. It crept inside the house.

The figure found itself in the dining room of the abode. The woman had pushed herself into one corner. A trail of congealing blood led to where she sat curled on the floor. A smartphone lay at the other end of the room, the person on the other end now speaking up into the still air.

A television quietly displaying a forgotten show murmured in the other room. The robed figure stretched an arm in that direction. A withered, skeletal hand pointed a bony finger in its direction. The television fell silent, its light extinguished.

The baby began to cry once more in her mother’s arms. The mother spoke with hitching words, trying to soothe the child even as her life ran out of her. The baby became more insistent.

The dark figure crouched down. It pulled back the hood covering its head to reveal the face of Death. The wraith tilted his head. The taut, dried skin of his face put forth an image of sorrow as he gazed upon the child.

Death put a single bony finger to his lips. The baby’s cries hitched in her throat, then stopped altogether. The bony face turned to the mother and became expressionless once more.

The wraith replaced the hood on his head. The mother’s bloodshot eyes gazed through the specter to the world outside. He stretched a bony finger towards her forehead.

A black mist emanated from the tip of the finger, trailing to the mother. She looked down at her child as she gasped her last desperate breaths. The baby gazed back up at her silently.

The kitchen filled with an ethereal light as the woman closed her eyes for the last time. Another woman dressed in white stepped into existence. She glanced at Death, not unkindly, and stood before the fallen mother.

She reached out and took the mother’s hand in hers. The angelic woman slowly stood, pulling the mother’s soul up with her. The mother gazed at the other woman. Tears rolled down her cheeks as the realization of her condition set in.

The angel turned, smiling and nodding her head towards the door. The mother shook her head. “My baby!”

“You can visit her always.” The angel gently squeezed the mother’s hand. She spared her child a final look before returning her gaze to the angel. The woman smiled faintly, nodding her head.

They walked towards the door, hand in hand. They faded from sight as they reached the threshold. The light went with them. The baby began to cry again.

Death glided silently back out into the dark night. The sound of sirens stirred the air in the distance. The wraith turned in the direction the man had traveled in his sports car. Righteous anger flashed across his face.

Rain pounded against the man’s charging vehicle as he drove blindly down the twisting country road. The wind billowed behind him, bringing with it a black figure of vengeance. Death soared over the sports car before sailing past it.

“SHIT!” A hulking black figure appeared in the car’s headlights. The man cut the wheel sharply, sending the vehicle skidding across the rain-soaked blacktop. The front end of the car found a tree as the vehicle left the road.

It spun around violently, bouncing into the air on the uneven ground. The sports car flipped twice before landing on its side. It creaked perilously before falling over onto its roof at the edge of a steep hill.

Death waited in the shadows, watching. The car’s engine clunked, sputtered, and finally gave out with a hiss. The man shifted on the ceiling of the car, groaning.

He dragged himself through the shattered window, glass crunching and grinding against his bleeding hands. He bellowed into the falling rain. He collapsed, the sodden grass squelching beneath him.

He raised his head, eyes slitted against the driving sheets of wet. He howled in pain as he pulled himself free of the car. He pushed himself to his hands and knees and crawled a short distance from the wreck.

He used a shallow ridge to push himself to his feet. He wobbled unsteadily as he turned to face the remains of his prized sports car. His face screwed up in rage. “Stupid… bitch.” His breathing became ragged.

A frigid wind whipped around him, causing him to stumble closer to the nearby hill. His foot found a shallow hole, twisting his ankle. He cried out in pain. He flailed wildly in an attempt to keep his footing.

Death manifested directly in front of the man. The wraith’s face was contorted in rage, his ragged mouth contorted, a rattling hiss issuing forth through gnarled teeth. The man screamed in terror, losing the fight with inertia and tumbling backwards down the steep embankment.

The man’s body whipped and cartwheeled violently as he sped toward the ground below. He slammed hard into the unforgiving ground. A loud crack issued from his buckling leg. He screamed into the black sky above him.

Death glided silently down the side of the hill. His empty sockets fixed on the man below him. The man’s eyes grew wild. He shook his head violently. “No!” He turned, clawing at the ground. He screamed as his badly broken leg shifted.

He lay on his back. His breathing came in ragged gasps. Death leaned over him. He glared down at the man, a widening grin forming on his leathery face. A shallow, rattling laugh issued forth as Death retreated.

Low growling issued from the nearby shadows. The man whipped his head toward the sound, his breaths quickening. A wolf emerged from the gloom, creeping steadily towards the man. Two more wolves followed closely behind it.

The man whipped his head back towards Death. “No. Please! NO!” The lead wolf leaped, snarling, and bit down on the man’s neck.

The man’s scream turned into a bloody gargle as the wolf bore down. The other two wolves joined in on the fray, tearing at the man’s clothes and body with their razor-like teeth. The lead wolf chewed and tore at the exposed viscera of the man’s throat.

Lightning flashed nearby, rattling the ground with a vicious thunderclap. The wolves cried out, running for the cover of the nearby forest. The man’s lifeless eyes filled with rainwater.

The blackened soul of the man rolled away from his body. He fought his way to his feet and stared disbelieving at his own corpse. He whipped his head around. Death stood beside the body, scythe at the ready. A single bony finger pointed at the man.

The man again shook his head, stumbling backwards. Something black and glistening shot out of the earth below him and held his leg fast. Another mass erupted, grabbing the other leg. The man pulled and tugged, bellowing.

Black, twisted hands began to claw and tear at the soul’s legs. A sulfurous miasma curled up around him as more twisted arms thrust up from the glowing ground. The man began to scream as his ethereal flesh was rent asunder.

The ground around him burst open. The air rippled with the heat pouring from the fires that raged below. The now-fully exposed demons clawed and stretched up the soul’s body. They gnashed their needle-like teeth, grinning, laughing, as they pulled him down into their realm.

Death solemnly thrust the bottom of his scythe into the ground as the bleeding, screaming soul passed into Hell. The hole closed over him, sealing his fate. The thinning drops of rain hissed as they fell on the cooling earth.

The wraith raised his somber face to the lightening sky. He nodded once, stepping forward. His body faded to ebony smoke that flowed into the frosty wind. His work was finished for the night.

Interlude: The Complex

A boy learns the hard way to listen to his elders as he finds his way through a decades-abandoned building.

The young man pulled himself up onto the sagging roof of the Nagatomi Complex with a grunt. His companion was waiting for him impatiently. “I don’t know if we should be up here, Kyle.”

“Come on, Aaron! We’re teenagers now. Besides, it’s not like help is miles away.”

“Yeah, but my dad said this place is…” Kyle had run out of patience. “Aw, come on, man!”

Kyle ran along the pitted roof, jumping over the old duct work and debris. “There’s nothing in here, Aaron! Come on!”

Aaron breathed in gasps. “Just… wait!”

Kyle slid to a stop in the rubble. Aaron stumbled to a halt and half-crashed into him. “Watch it, dork!” He pointed at a sizable hole in the roof. “Dare me to jump it?”

Aaron looked uncertain. “I don’t know, Kyle. What if you don’t make it?”

“Whatever, man.” Kyle flashed him a grin before breaking into a run. His feet touched down just on the far side of the hole. The rotted roof cracked and groaned, giving way underneath his weight.

Kyle cried out in surprise as he disappeared down into the complex. Aaron ran to the edge of the hole. He was nearly in tears. “Kyle! Kyle!”

The young man was sprawled across a pile of rubble several feet down. He sat up coughing, brushing at the dust covering him. “I’m alright.”

“Just sit tight! I’ll go get my dad!”

“I said I’m fine! I’ll just find my way out and meet you out front.”

“Oh, man! That’s not a good idea! My dad says there’s things in there. Just wait.”

“I got this, dude!” Kyle pulled a 9 millimeter handgun from the waist of his pants. “Ain’t nothing gonna take me out.”

“Whatever, man. I’m getting my dad!” Aaron ran off before Kyle could respond.

“Yeah, whatever…” Kyle stood with a groan, taking in his surroundings. To his surprise, he found he could see deeper into the complex. The emergency lights were still working, albeit weakly, at least a century after the building had been abandoned.

“Sweet. I’ll be out of here in no time.” He spared the sky above one final look before wandering deeper into the building.

The floors were littered with fallen cabinetry and various destroyed furnishings. Long-forgotten reports lay scattered across the rusting metal flooring. The dim, flickering emergency lights cast macabre, dancing shadows at odd angles.

“Just an old abandoned factory.” Kyle talked quietly to himself. He gripped the pistol tightly in his hands. “Just need to get to the stairs.”

He heard something rustle in the far corner. He stopped dead, listening. “Probably rats.” He continued on, moving a little faster.

He swore he heard something speak, very faintly. “I don’t…” It was distorted. “Probably an old computer or something.” Kyle spotted the door to the emergency stairwell and breathed a sigh of relief.”

“I don’t…” The voice was much clearer this time. “I don’t feel…” It was coming from just ahead of him.

Kyle came to a stop and held up the handgun with shaking hands. “I… I have a gun!”

The pile of rubble just ahead and to the left of him began to shift. “I don’t…” Something was pushing itself free of the debris. “I don’t feel…”

A heavily damaged robot slowly rose from the wreckage. Its cladding was missing, leaving the sharp, skeletal substructure visible. The rusting motors and servos whined in protest at being put through their motions after so many decades.

“I don’t feel…” A bright white mask, featureless save for a hint of a mouth and black eye holes stared back at the boy. “I don’t… feel…”

“Stay back! I’ll shoot!” Kyle’s whole body was quivering.

The towering machine stuttered forwards, metal feet squealing on the floor. It stretched skeletal fingers out towards the boy. “I don’t…”

Kyle screamed. He squeezed off two wild shots, then ran for the stairwell. The robot began clunking faster towards the boy. It continued it’s plaintive cries. “I don’t… I don’t feel…”

The boy pounded down the stairs and burst out of the door at the bottom. Faint daylight filtered through filthy windows. He could make out the main entrance through an open door from the room he was in.

“I told you… No problem…” Kyle huffed as he jogged to the other side of the room. He passed through the open door, eyes on the prize.

A loud bang followed by an avalanche of papers and filing cabinets erupted from beside him. He screamed, swinging the handgun wildly and wasting two more shots. He fell backwards against the wall as something emerged from the mess.

Another robot. This one was wheeled, with skeletal, human-like arms. In the middle of its frame was an old, flickering CRT monitor. An odd-shaped black dome sat atop it. The blurred image of a woman’s face appeared on the screen.

The face contorted and began to cry and blubber. The disembodied head shook violently and began to scream. The robot started toward Kyle, arms swinging.

The boy screamed back and started firing the gun. The last two shots struck the dome atop the screen. Sparks flew from the robot. The face of the woman continued to scream, contorting and stretching.

A final blast shot the black dome off of the robot. The screen went blank. Kyle pushed himself to his feet against the wall. He gasped as he peered into where the dome had been.

A shattered inner glass dome held what looked like a human brain. The brackish fluid that had supported it poured down over the rusted metal exterior of the robot-human hybrid. He leaned in, fascinated and repulsed at the same time.

“I don’t feel…” The white-masked robot reached out towards Kyle from around the open doorway. Kyle screamed and ran for the front door. He grabbed both handles and pulled. It was locked.

“I don’t feel…” The robot stared at its destroyed counterpart. “I don’t…” It continued its march towards Kyle, arms outstretched. “I don’t feel…”

Kyle screamed, pulling and yanking on the doors. He gave up, turning to run. He tripped over a fallen filing cabinet and hit his head on the cold floor.

“I don’t…” Kyle fought to open his eyes. The robot was looming over him. He screamed, scrambling backwards. Where was the gun?

The robot bent towards the ground before Kyle. It stumbled, nearly toppling over. “I don’t…” It stood back up, skeletal fingers wrapped around Kyle’s handgun. “I don’t feel…”

Kyle began bawling, holding his arms out in front of him. “Go away! Go away! Please…”

“I don’t…” The robot used its free hand to pull at the white mask on its head. The mask came free with a snap. Behind it was a glass container.

A human skull with eyes stared back at Kyle, flashing a permanent rictus. “I DON’T FEEL…” The robot pointed the handgun at its own head and pulled the trigger.

The glass shattered into a million pieces. The fluid supporting the skull poured out like blood. The robot’s voice box screamed distorted noise and then fell silent. The robot toppled to its knees, then fell backwards.

Something boomed against the entrance doors. Another boom. Another boom. The doors popped open, rusted hinges screaming. A man stumbled through, holding a sledgehammer. “Kyle!”

The man rushed over to the boy. Aaron followed closely behind him. “Dad! Dad! Is he okay?”

Aaron’s father edged around the fallen robot-human hybrid, a look of fear and revulsion on his face. He dropped to one knee beside Kyle. “Are you okay, son?”

Kyle looked back at him, eyes wide. He swallowed hard, trembling. “I…” Aaron’s father put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Kyle flinched, shivering. “I don’t… I don’t feel…”

Interlude: Falcon 419

A small group of mercenaries crash-land on an unforgiving planet.

Sirens blared. The instrument panel of the stricken bird bled crimson light all over the Falcon’s pilot. “General S.O.S. This is the IMS Falcon designation 419. We are going down on planet UE 85. Repeat, Falcon 419…”

His copilot slapped him in the shoulder. “Just fly, damn it! Nobody’s going to hear us out here, anyway.”

The pilot glared at him, but said nothing. He looked over his shoulder. “Better buckle in, Jacob!”

“Just fly the damn ship, Henson.” The grizzled old man chewed on his cigar, latching his harness in place. The ship started shuddering violently. “Can we breathe down there, Coop?”

The copilot looked over the readouts before him. “Air’s a little thick. We’ll manage.” The ship shook violently, tilting to one side. “Shit! We’re in the atmosphere.”

Orange-yellow plasma crept over the nose of the Falcon. The ship shuddered violently, rumbling loudly in protest. The temperature quickly increased.

Jacob screamed to be heard. “Are we gonna fuckin’ die or what!”

“Now’s not a really good time, Jacob!” Henson shot back. “You’ll know in a minute!”

The plasma attacking the front of the ship faded away, leaving the windscreen covered in black soot. Cooper flipped a switch and held down a button. A white electric field crackled briefly across the glass.

The soot broke free of the windscreen, showing blue sky and far too much green and brown land screaming by. “Pull up! Pull up!

“Shit, shit, shit…” Henson pulled back hard on his controls. The control panel rapidly beeped as the ship shuddered, beginning to wobble. “This is it!

The Falcon tagged a hilltop with its aft end, tipping it forward. It over-corrected, digging the aft into the next rise and tearing it apart. The front of the ship slammed hard into the turf.

It slid and jumped for half a mile, jagged rocks tearing at the ship’s underbelly. It crested a steep hill and ground to a stop on the sharp rocks. It rocked dangerously for a moment, balanced on a pin. the nose settled on the ground with a thunk.

Henson silenced the blaring alarms with a few key presses. Smoke began to find its way out of the air vents. “I’m okay! Jacob, Cooper, report!”

Cooper groaned. “I’ll live. Henson?”

“No, I ain’t okay! My ship’s in pieces and I lost my damn stogie!” Henson flipped his harness open. “Let’s get the fuck out of here. Grab pistols!”

The three men coughed as the smoke in the cramped cabin grew thicker. Jacob pushed on the hatch release. It buzzed back at him. “Hatch is seized!”

Henson pushed him out of the way. He entered a series of numbers on the keypad by the hatch. “Stand clear!”

The men pushed back against the far side of the cabin as the keypad beeped rhythmically.  It let out one long beep. Charges on each side of the hatch ignited, blowing the hatch out. It slid clattering several feet across the craggy earth.

They poured out of the exit, running clear of the ship. What was left of the aft end was burning. Black smoke billowed into the atmosphere.

Henson walked to the front of the ship, staring out at the surrounding land from the top of the hill. “Nothing.” He turned and faced the ship. “I don’t suppose you can fix that, Coop?”

“Yeah, I’m thinking no.” He pushed up his wire-rimmed glasses. Best we can hope for is getting it broadcasting a beacon and…” The ground underneath them shifted without warning.

“Run!” Jacob yelled. It was too late. The ground underneath them disappeared, replaced with darkness. They tumbled down a rocky embankment into a pitch black abyss.

The three men laid crumpled in the shadows, groaning. Henson touched his forehead and winced. His hand came away bloody. He spit. “Everyone alive?”

“I’m in one piece.” Cooper pushed himself to a sitting position.

Jacob rolled over, coughing. “I’m still here… unfortunately.” The ground above them began to rumble again. “Oh, come on!” All three men scrambled back from the rubble-strewn slope.

The Falcon dropped slightly and tilted downward. It slipped forward, steel screaming in protest against the rocks. It wedged fast in the hole that had opened before it, plunging the men into darkness.

Henson stared up towards the now-hidden ship. “What a day… What a glorious fucking day!” He screamed at the remains of the ship.

“Flashlights?” Jacob slapped at his wrist in the dark. “Mine’s gone.”

Henson replied in the dark. “Nothing here. Damn it.”

Light poured from Cooper’s wrist. “Hallelujah, money!” He swept it over Jacob and Henson. “Dang, boss. You got it good!”

Henson waved a hand. “Get that damn thing out of my face.” He squinted his eyes, waving a finger behind Cooper.

Cooper turned around and held out his hand. They were in some sort of cave. His flashlight was the only source of illumination. “Doesn’t look good. You suppose we’re trapped?”

Jacob stepped forward. A slight breeze blew across his face. “No. There’s a breeze. Gotta be an opening somewhere down there.”

Henson pulled his laser pistol from its holster on his thigh. “Arm up! We don’t know what lives here. Step up, Coop.”

Jacob and Henson fell in line behind a reluctant Cooper. He stepped deliberately, slowly swinging his light back and forth as he went. Their steps were lost in the cave, the walls absorbing the sound instead of reflecting it.

Cooper stopped. “Do you hear that?”

Henson frowned in the dark. “Hear what, Cooper?”

“It was like a hiss.” He listened quietly for a moment. “There!” A quiet hiss came from their right.

“Point your light over…” Something black streaked at Henson before he could finish the sentence. “Gahhh!” He fired his laser pistol wildly, striking Jacob in the arm.

Cooper pointed his light and his pistol at Henson. The flashlight illuminated an ebony creature as jagged and sharp as the rocks that surrounded them. Its eye flared red in the bluish light, its gray teeth glistening with Henson’s blood.

He pulled his trigger. The red beam of light from the laser hit the alien in the chest. Bright yellow blood streamed from the resulting hole. It shrieked, lashing out at Cooper.

He screamed, grabbing his arm where the light had been. They were in the darkness again. “Henson! Jacob!”

“Henson got me in the arm! I’m alright. I’ll be alright.” He spoke the last few words to himself.

Cooper pulled out a small plastic stick and snapped it. Dull yellow light emanated from it, falling off only a couple feet from where he stood. “Where’s Henson?” He swept the ground with the light stick.

He gasped as the yellow light fell on Henson. His eyes stared blankly at the ceiling. His throat was a torn, bloody mess. “Damn it!”

Jacob stared at Henson, trembling. “No…” He shook him violently. “Come on, man! No!” He shoved at the lifeless body. Something quietly hissed in the distance.

“We need to get out of here.” Jacob didn’t move. Cooper grabbed his arm. “Come on!

“Fuck off!” Jacob pulled his arm back. He shook his head after a moment and stood. He activated his own light stick and pulled his laser pistol back out.

Cooper nodded to him and started forward again. Silence fell heavily around them, broken only by their footsteps grinding in the dirt beneath them. More hissing drifted to them from up ahead.

Jacob hooked Cooper’s arm. He jumped and gave Jacob a dirty look. Jacob mouthed “Up ahead” and pointed with his pistol. Cooper’s eyes flashed there and back. He nodded.

Cooper held up a finger and pointed his pistol in the direction of the hiss. Jacob nodded. Cooper squeezed the trigger. The hiding alien screamed in the red glow of the laser beam.

Another alien shrieked to their right and bore down on Jacob. He screamed, firing his laser pistol wildly. His screams turned to gurgles as the alien tore into his throat and ended his life.

Cooper screamed out, shooting the alien multiple times with his laser pistol. He turned away and sprinted forward. More hisses came from up ahead. He fired wildly at the sounds. An alien screamed somewhere in the darkness.

The gentle breeze grew stronger. The slightest hint of light filtered into the cave ahead. Cooper’s chest heaved as he fought to breathe the heavy air.

He rounded the corner and was blinded by sudden daylight. He poured on one last burst of speed as the aliens screamed at him from the shadows. He leaped into the daylight, tumbling into the grass outside.

He knelt, hands on his knees, fighting to breathe, but smiling. He wearily stood a few moments later, turning to face the cave. “I beat you, you sons of…” His wide eyes trailed up above the cave opening. “Oh, shit…”

A large reptile-like alien leaped down on top of Cooper. Man and alien cried out in unison. It’s long, steel-like fangs tore into his neck, cutting short his scream.