Short Story: “Snapshot of an Apocalypse”

I wanted to throw another story up on here since I haven’t done that in a while. This one is actually from about three years ago, and it’s kind of weird even for me. I wanted to write something that was based around a description of a creature, and I also tried experimenting with second-person POV (aka that thing everyone says you’re not supposed to do). To be honest, I still think my work here still holds up pretty well.

You’re rummaging through what remains in an overturned garbage can when you hear claws clicking on the battered pavement. The night is warm, but the jolt that runs down your spine is as cold as your body will be in a moment.

The old pistol tucked next to your hip still has a bullet or two left: with a little luck, maybe you’ll be able to annoy this creature some before you die. You pull out your gun and cock it, then raise yourself up until you’re peering out at the dark alley stretching ahead.

It hasn’t seen you yet. It’s crouching at the other end of the alley, where the darkness meets the abandoned street. With one claw it carves a gash in the sidewalk, as though bored with killing – or sorrowful that it has nothing left to kill. Raising its distended head, it sniffs the air through the cavity in the front of its face. Dark green scales gleam in the yellow glare of the flickering streetlights. Somehow you’re still alive.

You raise your pistol and take aim. The spot of exposed flesh at the base of their skulls is small, but if you can strike them there, they’ll be dead by the time they hit the ground. You have a few heads to your name by now, just like everyone else. As long as you stay out of their sight, you’ve got a chance.

That’s when its head pivots around on its scrawny neck, and when it stares you right in the face with those eyes.

You drop the pistol and dive back behind the trash can, your hands clasped together. Praying is all you have time to do once you’re targeted: they’re quick little bastards, especially when they’re hungry. The one that bit off your best friend’s head chased her down in three seconds. Since then, you’ve seen many more do the same to other survivors of the first attacks. You can never bring yourself to look away, even at its bloodiest. Maybe you’re too scared to. Maybe you’re jealous of the ones who get to die.

Something is rustling amidst the piles of garbage. A low growl in your ears and hot, rancid gusts of breath in your face: it’s standing right in front of you. By now you’re starting to think you would feel better if the thing would just hurry up and gut you already.

When they first climbed out of the ground, the first question on everyone’s minds after their brains could think again was “What do they want?” The scientists assumed their postures and wrote up their ideas, as they still do for some reason. You watched your television set along with the rest of the world as a captured specimen was brought before the UN for examination – and communication, if humanity was lucky. Four hundred dead bodies later, you had come to the conclusion that all they wanted was blood and death. The rest of the world had gotten the same idea, and so the mutual hunt had begun. Those were the facts.

Then again, the facts also said you had less than ten seconds to live after one of them spotted you. This one’s been staring at your huddled form for close to a minute. What’s it waiting for? Letting your hands slip to the ground, you raise your head and open your eyes.

The monster’s own eyes are the first thing your gaze is drawn to. Can you even call them eyes? They’re huge black orbs bulging out of their sockets, deforming the skull around them. Speckles and lines of brightness are scattered across their dark surface: you see white, but also lavender and pale green and yellow. They look like stars, like someone put the whole universe into a crystal ball, and it seems nearly as deep. You’ve never been able to get over that, always wondering how such a monster could be in possession of something so beautiful.

The one sitting in front of you right now keeps on sizing you up. Its eyes stay locked on your face, and the speckles seem to grow just a bit larger. Perhaps they’re little pupils, thousands of them in one eyeball. Below the eyes, a jagged line appears and spreads down the front of its face: the thing is opening its mouth. Out comes a long, thin tongue covered in rows upon rows of tiny teeth, sharp as knives. Your instincts kick in, making you flinch and drop your head back into your hands. This is what it was planning all along, you think. It wanted to savor your fear before you died.

But instead of wrapping its tongue around your throat and crushing your neck, the ridged teeth brush against your cheek. One of the clawed hands reaches out to touch your chin, and then pushes it upwards. It wants you to raise your head, and you slowly oblige.

When you look into its eyes again, you see something you’ve never seen in them before: a mind. Deep in those starry pits, the creature is observing you closely and taking note of what it sees. It retracts its tongue and cocks its head to the left, assuming an air of what might pass for amusement in a human. A low rumble begins in its throat and comes out as a cross between a trill and a chuff. The thousands of pupils simultaneously widen as it leans down towards your hand as though to nuzzle it.

You’d always thought the beings from another world would be little green men who came down from the sky in chrome flying saucers. Everyone else did. Instead that other world was beneath humanity’s feet, and the monsters came crawling up from the cracks in the earth. It was all the same in the end, though: indescribable power running rampant as the world fell apart.

There must have been hundreds of theories about what they were: God’s wrath, some government conspiracy, an experiment gone wrong and covered up. Still others tried to say it was nothing as unnatural as that. There was talk of similar mannerisms and evolutionary alternatives, and an especially rosy-eyed one suggested they could be reached through ASL. But the hunt was well under way by then and those who spoke against it were chased from their posts.

At this moment, however, you can’t help but wonder if all those kooks were right after all. Only they had thought they’d found the truth about these things – for you it suddenly feels even further away.

A stream of bullets spews out from the street into the alley, peppering the trash cans around you with dents. The creature jumps back and shrieks, then turns to run. A moment later it’s only another shadow melting back into the dark.

You dare to sit up and look behind you, and then flinch in the sudden glare of flashlights held by dozens of armored figures. “Hey!” a voice calls out. “Are you alright?”

After an hour of being questioned on who you are and where you’ve been, you’re riding in the back of a truck with a blanket over your shoulders and a human settlement not far ahead. The soldiers ask how long you were alone with that thing – and, more importantly, why you hadn’t killed it by the time they showed up. “My gun jammed,” you decide to say. It’s safer to have them believe that.

“No matter,” the captain tells you. “We’ll track it down tomorrow, if it’s still in the area.”

That night, as you’re lying in the first warm bed you’ve known in months, you find yourself hoping it found a safe place too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.