The Grey Monster has led to a global apocalypse. Nat and his group of friends wake to a hellscape when a bioweapons bomb drops in the Jenton orchards. Wolves crawl beneath their skin, and a genetically engineered religious cult decides they are demons worth hunting. Can they find a mad scientist in time before the wolves become a permanent addition to their DNA?
Genre: Slipstream, horror, science-fiction, fantasy, romance, lgbtq+
Gagging, sickening coughs rasped his throat. The stench was that of rotten meat, skunk, foul sewage. Still, there were three minutes before the bell would ring on his alarm for school, and he was exhausted. What had happened? Did the basement bathroom back up again? He peeled open one cold ocean-blue eye and stared at the dust motes floating across his blinds. Rubbing his eyelids, he listened for the sounds of his grandmother hustling around the kitchen, getting breakfast ready. The house was dead quiet.
Overwhelmed by the smell and silence, he pulled on a pair of jeans and dashed out of his room. He crashed down the stairs. The front door was only a few steps away, leading to fresh air. A misplaced glance. A stealing sense of terror snapped down his spine. He froze in front of the hall’s full-length mirror. His college-sophomore frame was not what stared back at him in the mirror.
What stood before him unnerved him. He retained the same facial features, and his body was the same, yet not entirely. Something was off, but he couldn’t put his finger on the change. His eyes were starkly different, though. Burnt glowing gold with deeply slitted pupils watched him warily. He blinked, convinced it was the strangely diffused green light shining in through the windows.
Pressure in his skull was almost crippling as he hunched, glancing into the mirror once more. Who are you? He thought. A rippling, like a million bees in the back of his brain, shifted the floor and his stomach out from under him. An unearthly chuckle echoed in his skull. He looked away, breathing heavily as he tried to regain his composure. He had not barfed since he was a sixth-grader when Ms Norwich had the class dissect a dogfish. He had cut into a putrid organ of some kind, and it squirted bile all over him. He sure as hell was not going to puke now. His stomach had other plans.
He turned from the hall mirror, ignoring the foreign eyes, to find a massive bear of a dog blocking the doorway to the kitchen. Greyed across the muzzle and eyes, its hips were unsteady, leaving it hollow and shaking with age.
He backed away from the dog, wary. His grandfather had been bit by a rabid dog and ended up in the hospital for more than a week once. He was not about to willingly get that close to a dog without knowing its owner.
Dodging the creature, he ran to his grandparents’ room. What lay inside left him baffled. There, in the queen-sized bed, lounged a large, fat caramel-coloured dog with shaggy hair on his grandfather’s side of the bed. His grandparents didn’t own any dogs.
The arthritic beast rolled its head to stare at him. Cataracts hazed out one eye entirely.
This isn’t happening. Where are Na and Grandfather? I’ve gotta get outta here and find Nat. He turned from the room and scrambled to the front entry where the stench hung pungent, mixed with cleaning solvent and shoe polish. He slowed, looking for the grey dog, but it had shuffled off.
Grabbing the handle to the glass front door, he jerked it open. It crashed into the wood-panelled wall as he rushed into the snow in little more than bare feet and jeans. Ice bit at naked flesh. Adrenaline pumping through his veins, he ignored the sting. He raced down the block and through a back alley. Trashcans he failed to dodge clattered. A cat hissed. Rippling nausea built up his spine.
Turning out from the backstreet, he leapt onto the sinking porch of a green and white cottage. He pounded on the door. “Please be here. Please be here. Tell me this isn’t happening. Please. Come on. Hurry up. Open the door.”
Snow fell in fat, sticky flakes, building on the rotted whitewashed railing. He tested the handle of the door. It slipped beneath his hand. Ice coated the lock. The wind picked up, tumbling a trashcan down the black-ice street. “Nat! Open the door!”
Footsteps tapped below the wind. Deck counted them. Seven, and the deadbolt clacked open. The iced handle begrudged its shifting, whining as flakes snapped. Warmth bathed him in welcome relief.
A strawberry blond, green-eyed youth ushered Deck into his living room. He stood a good head shorter and seventy-five pounds lighter than the prior football player. “Alexander Deck! What’s the deal banging down the door at five in the blasted morning? Dude, what happened to you? You look like you’ve seen something bad. Where the hell are your clothes?”
Deck’s best friend pushed him to the wood stove that glowed a faint red. “You are an idiot, Deck. Coat, mate. Seriously.” The waif wrapped several blankets around Deck to warm him back up. Nat dashed down the hall and came back with a pair of slippers from one of the many closets that lined the hall and a massive sweater. “It’s Yeller’s, make sure either he or I get it back.”
“Have you checked your folks?” Deck folded in on himself. Twinging disorientation in the back of his throat and his ears told him he was close to hurling. Nat turned his head in a questioning gesture and grabbed for the plastic wastebasket at the end of the couch.
“Now’s not the time. What is going on, Deck? You get food poisoning?” Nat handed him the bucket. He recoiled as his friend tried to force his stomach to behave.
Deck’s eyes settled on Nat’s arms, the scars at eye level. He zoned out on them as he fought to quiet his stomach, not realising he was staring. Nat, face flushing, tugged quickly at his waffle shirt sleeves bunched around his elbows. Deck’s stomach churned. The bucket proved to be of use after all. “Just do it, would ya?” Deck demanded under the rim of the bucket.
Nat sighed and walked down the hall, scratching his head in confusion as he went. Deck had, in the past, asked him to do many strange things, but asking him to check on his parents at bloody five in the freaking morning? He must have seen a ghost or something. He cracked the door to his parents’ room slowly. The hinges moaned. Gloom seeped through the door crack. Two small glowing red orbs danced about the place where the bed would be. A shaft of cold air crawled down his spine. Nat slammed the door. Trembling, he hurried back to Deck.
“What was in there?” Deck pulled the yellow cable knit on, swamped in it.
“I – I don’t know.” Nat rubbed his arms, hunching into his shoulders.
“I don’t know what was in there. There’s something in there that’s not-not right!” Nat backed up against the wall at the corner where it met the hall.
“Large dog?” Deck pulled the blankets closer around him.
“Maybe, I guess; why?”
“Che-check the mirror.” Deck pointed to the side table across from him. Nat picked up his mother’s small antique hand mirror. His forest green irises and round black pupils no longer existed. Radioactive lime green with a slit of black in the centre of them. His temples throbbed. Pressure in the back of his head made him see spots. Suddenly, what stared back at him was the normal Nat McCormick that had always been there. Reddish blonde shag hair that got in his green eyes was still the same, but the facial structure had shifted. Something was off, but subtly so.
He looked up from the mirror, glaring at Deck. Something was amiss with him too. Maybe he imagined it. It was almost primal, animalistic. “What’s going on?” Nat hissed past another cruel throb. He glanced up as a sharp ringing permeated his ears, the sound breaking at his eardrums like shattering glass. Deck doubled over in pain.
They looked out the window. A cop skidded down the street on a snowmobile. Silver flashed against the single pane glass, blinding Nat. A silver whistle hung from the cop’s lips, a plethora of dogs nipping at his heels. He hit a pothole. The whistle dropped, and the sound in Deck and Nat’s ears deadened. The thud of a rolled paper on the wood door resonated through the long hallway. The howl of dogs drifted through the disturbing silence.
Cursing at the circling pack, the man kick the snowmobile back on, his whistle taking up at the end of the block. Dogs, big husky mutts, continued their chase. A sickening sensation of nostalgia, misplaced like déjà vu, permeated Nat’s senses as he watched the creatures race up the street. He had never seen them in his life. Yet names trickled through his brain, out of reach, each one on the tip of his tongue before they melted away.
Nat eased off the couch and made his way to the foyer, opening the door to a gust of cold snowflakes in his face. Quickly, the young man picked up the paper and pushed the door shut. He stopped dead at the front page. Deck jerked up, anticipating having to catch his friend before he landed on top of him on the couch.
“What is it?” Deck stood to look at the paper. He peeked over Nat’s shoulder. The front page knocked the air out of him.
RWE BOMB DROPPED OUT OF JENTON Last night, while our small town slept, an RWE bomb dropped outside of our peaceful town. The burning of the Richmond Orchard is predicted to impact the business district by this afternoon. Water pressure is causing issues for the few firefighters capable of responding to the call last night. Please evacuate the city by noon today. All city utilities from 3100 block to 4800 block will be cut by 2:00 p.m. this afternoon. Due to a lack of security personnel, we are asking that you take all valuables with you. We will no longer be able to respond to emergencies in the evacuation zone.—Thank you, Mayor Rick A. Rouler
“A rad-waste bomb outside of Jenton,” Nat whispered in disbelief.
“Do you think this explains why there are all these dogs in our houses, the Richmond’s burning?” Deck took the paper to read it a second time.
“No, I – I don’t think it’s the orchards. The dogs you saw in your house, did they seem familiar in some way?” Nat pulled at the cuffs of his shirt sleeve, looking for the comforting texture of the weave. A buzzing in the back of his head threatened to sink him. He massaged his neck in a futile attempt to relieve the pain. The pressure was unbearable. His gut dropped to his feet, and a cold sweat beaded on his brow.
“Kinda. See if you can locate your folks. If not, we need to git. Pack. Looks like it’s gonna get bad.” Deck pointed to the door at the end of the hallway, the one that would lead to Nat’s room.
“See you in a little. Meet me back on my porch, ‘k?” Nat hung back near the woodstove, fighting shock setting in.
“Yeah.” Deck waved him off as he let himself out the door.
“Hey, Deck?” Nat asked before he had walked too far.
“What?” Deck shivered in the rising wind.
“Grab your MREs and stuff. The war finally hit Jenton. I don’t think we’re coming back.” Nat stared at the burning skyline in the direction of the college buildings. Deck followed his best friend’s gaze and nodded in agreement.
Deck dashed back to his house, his borrowed slippers turning damp and cold with every step. He entered his house cautiously. Seeing no dogs, he rushed upstairs and pulled on a pair of thermal underwear, two pairs of wool socks and his army surplus black boots. He stretched into his thermal undersleeves and into a graphic long-sleeve shirt of a woman lying comfortably on a Bahamian beach drinking a margarita. He shrugged on a heavy black hoody, then pulled on a khaki welder’s jacket that he had borrowed from Yeller. The coat was tight with the extra layers, but it would serve against the freeze.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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8 Comments Add yours
It’s nice to be back over on my main site.
So glad to see your work again!
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