Sunday Archive: In This Darkness, Conclusion
One minute to midnight and he rolled free, bleeding onto the rug as the spirits lurched towards him viciously. But he was faster. The next shotgun blast shattered bone and crushed flesh to dust. The hoard stumbled as the mortal shells of their comrades tripped the front ranks and the hallway crowded them against each other. The wind, alive in itself, picked up the useless bones and tried to smash them against him, but it hit only the wall. He leapt up and crab-walked down the hall, gaining momentum as he shouldered past the monsters to the elevator doors. Like all the rooms, the elevator doors had been opened wide. He threw himself inside and feverishly pushed the button for the basement.
Nothing. No good. He’d be trapped!
Adrenaline rushing through his body, he threw himself back out into the storm and jumped into one of the suites as the spirits blocked the stairs. Now, again pressed against a window, McGavin watched the spirits rush into the room with singular purpose: To destroy him. To rip him apart.
Half a minute to midnight. The hands were on him again. He swung his shotgun until it was useless, then he kicked and bucked as they tried to drag him back down to the floor. The casement cracked, his back against the window as he pressed against it and tried to keep himself up.
At the rear of the hoard Melissa leapt onto the bed. “The window, you fools! The window – ”
There was hesitation in the ranks. Melissa dove forward, her rotted body tangling with the others as she clawed her way towards McGavin. “…out! Push…him…out…!”
McGavin’s eyes widened. He stopped punching the faces of his attackers and spread his arms out, palms flat against the wall. The creatures, now united but still acting in a panicked, dysfunctional manner, pressed against him. The glass cracked and shattered and cold air rushed in around him as the aluminum casement started to shift under his weight.
The TV was on in here too, the ball silently dropping over the deserted Times Square.
McGavin felt, for a moment, like a spirit. He wondered if he had died, or was close to dying. The wind eased off a little, though it still felt intense against his face. He thought that he could make out faces in the wind as it pressed against him, urging him through the window. Faces of the dead. He had always wondered what would happen – who hadn’t? – but now the answers were hitting him so hard and so fast his head felt as if it were going to explode. These were answers he couldn’t even form a question to.
So is this death?
Keaton held the shotgun to his head, crying. He was babbling incoherently – shouting as McGavin watched him coldly, crouching in the opposite end of the shelter. If McGavin had known then that Keaton was the last man alive, perhaps he would have acted. Instead, he had watched the poor man suffer. He had watched as Keaton pleaded for McGavin to open the doors, and then as Keaton turned the shotgun on himself. Keaton’s pleas had turned to whimpering sobs, his eyes wide open as he –
Who do we appreciate?
McGavin smiled, moving gracefully through a lifetime piling up. He saw himself at every point, every turn. This was his life flashing before his eyes, washing out the actual. From birth to this…death. The whole thing falling away, then zooming back into his face, only to leave him again. Every moment lived in a second. A heartbeat.
The casement broke. He fell through the window, legs catching on the radiator as hands grabbed him, helping him fall. His arms flailed helplessly, the ground spinning three stories below him and the creatures that had destroyed this world staring up at him with undisguised malice. He screamed as the wind rushed out of the broken window, the spirits riding it a milky blue. The wind spread into the city, the sky, everywhere. He watched his world die.
No…it was already dead.
Oh, how he hated them in that moment. How he hated them all. Such a furious, burning hatred for these creatures. He wanted no part of them, living or dead. That much he had to admit to himself before he could think clearly again. He is his own man, and it’s those words he has to shout to himself. Then he reached out and grabbed a drainpipe. Simple as that. Pure clarity, initiative. At the same moment his feet were shoveled over the ledge and he slipped down, his arms feeling as if they were being yanked out of their sockets as his back slammed against the bricks, he clutched onto the copper pipe with all his strength.
There was one dizzy second as he slid down the drainpipe, his hands losing their grip in the awkward position. If not for the pipe, he would have been dead. But he can’t thank God, can he? Just coincidence – Not much time to think at all as his grip failed him. He fell to the second floor terrace, landing hard on the iron railing and rolling onto the concrete balcony – winded, battered, not believing the sheer dumb luck of the fall. As quickly as he could, he crawled over to the iron bars and glanced up at Melissa’s stricken face – the only face glaring out the third floor window. She was beautiful again.
“He’s still alive,” Melissa mouthed down to him, her eyes numb – glazed. Utterly dead, but still conveying disbelief.
The sliding doors shattered outward, spraying McGavin with glass as a wave of spirits rushed trough. McGavin dropped to the cement, the iron bars keeping them from knocking him off the balcony. A pair of hands seized his throat, others clawed at his face, and others tried to lift him up and push him over. As hands pulled him up, the other hands doing the real damage were thwarted and thrown back.
The fools are fighting each other!
Now they lifted him up and pressed him over the railing. Two floors up is much less daunting then three as McGavin fought to angle himself properly. All right. He decided to go down, but now the trick was to fall just right and pray to whatever that no bones would break.
This is what eternity sounds like: The wind rushing by, nothing but that as the ground comes up. An endless, slow spin as the mortal man fights to control the elements.
The world sparked blue-white, the concussion rolling up McGavin’s spine as his legs gave out instantly and he rolled head over heels through the unmanaged grass. He gritted his teeth as he kept his arms against his body, around his head, and took the roll with as much ease as he could. Blessed be the three years of military training. He found this cold lawn much less troublesome then practice jumps in the Nevada desert. Control…always control.
As the wind built up to a crescendo again, the stinking, horrid monsters fell upon him to devour him and complete the cycle. This is death…these boys aren’t as nice as –
A weight fell across him, the smell of death filling his gasping lungs, numbing his mind. His eyes fluttered, his brain sparking under pressure and pain as everything spread out and away. This is it. Say goodbye to —
What woke him was silence. The deathly still of a tired, demolished city, which has just watched its beloved creators die. All but one: Lance McGavin, who pushed aside the corpse covering him and struggled to his knees.
He looked around, taking in the scene. Pile upon pile of corpses. The monsters that had roamed the streets for seven months finally lay still. It took them one month to unravel all of civilization, and six months to eliminate every surviving man, woman, and child. But they’d missed McGavin. Narrowly. The hotel manager smiled as he struggled to his feet, his body shouting out in renewed agony. But no bones broken. Bleeding, both ankles sprained, and his knees feeling out of joint, he hobbled around to the garage. He punched in his code on the keypad resting within a brick pedestal at the spot where cars once pulled and watched the aluminum doors prowl upward. The hotel still had power; he was elated. He wouldn’t have been able to get back in otherwise.
Once in the parking garage he closed the door and made his way towards the basement. His first impulse, as he stepped through the shattered door into the carpeted basement, was to hide from the night; curl up in the shelter and sleep. But something was calling him upstairs, back to the lobby. His watch told him that it was nearly two in the morning, and when he marched upstairs into the lobby he glanced around in bewilderment. Not a sign of the party, or the spirits. The doors were blockaded, everything else untouched. In the corner the TV was dead.
He lurched as he heard someone coming down the stairs and he pulled the Colt out from under his jacket. The gun was smeared with blood, his jacket looking no better, but he was still ready. He swayed drunkenly as he planted his feet firmly against the ground and waited. It was a chore holding the gun steady as a woman appeared on the stairs, gracefully walking down to the lobby. Then she stopped and turned towards him.
Restored to her former beauty, Melissa stood on the last stair with her hands on the curved railing. She looked McGavin up and down. “You look a poor sight.” She clicked her tongue, waited for him to answer. “This look seems to suit you better,” her smile faded as she stepped down from the stair and strode towards him. “The haggard, defeated man.” She stopped, a respectable distance from him and his gun. “I had thought you were dead.”
“You should have known better,” McGavin hissed.
“Yes, I should have.” Melissa turned away from him, studying the furniture piled against the doors. “But one cannot be everywhere at the same time.” She looked back at him, “You’re going to bleed to death if you’re not careful.”
“What do you care?”
“Contrary to what you may think, I do dislike suffering…” Melissa replied.
“Right.” McGavin snarled. “So what now? Try and kill me again?”
“Why bother?” Melissa shrugged, “Your instinct for survival is disturbingly exaggerated. It would be a waste of energy to battle you again. What happened here tonight will not happen again until next year. But you will be gone by then, hiding from us. So it shall be year to year, this chase. Your life being only this chase. Only darkness.” she turned back to him, her eyes flashing, intense. Then the look seemed to fade and she shrugged again, smiling politely. She took a few steps closer and then reached out under the gun and fixed his bow tie, straightened his torn and bloodied jacket.
“So you’ll let me live?” McGavin asked, the barrel of the .45 only inches from her unflinching eyes. He expected – even wanted – a fight. To finish this.
Melissa’s smile never faded, though. “Oh, Lance, you have to die sometime. Why waste our time when nature will do our work for us?” You haven’t survived, Lance. You’re just going to dream a little bit longer.” She stepped away, bowing her head slightly and looking seriously at him. She raised her index finger and said in a sing-song voice, “Now, you’d better watch after those wounds. You don’t want them to get infected, do you?” Then she faded from view. Shortly, one after the other, the lights clicked off and the power coursing through the building died with a low hum. The lobby was thrown into darkness and, in that darkness, McGavin began to cry. He dropped to the floor, the Colt pointing down to the rug, and he wept.
When the sun rose on New Years Day, he was looking out the third floor window he’d fallen from. Cold air and the smell of death flowed in all around him. The city, dead and quiet, didn’t greet him this morning. His eyes passed over the streets, filled with the dead, and the fires sweeping through distant buildings. He thought about throwing himself out, giving in. How easy that would be.
He grinned, peeling away the tuxedo and falling back onto the bed. “I never give in…” He felt his heart in his ears, the countless wounds across his body burning with each beat as his legs refused to even think about holding his weight. He opened his eyes, stared at the ceiling, and then waited as everything dimmed – a cloud passing over the sun? – he closed his eyes again, resting in the sunlight after a month of being buried in a shelter.